Posts tagged inspiration

A Very Excellent Article

Well, you all have heard me sound off about getting away from Big Spending and returning to a simpler lifestyle, but here’s someone who’s written it all down in way better form than I could hope to articulate.  Read this article if you need any inspiration for getting off grid.  In fact, read this article whatever your motivations, we’re in for an interesting ride in today’s economy, and this explains both how we got here and how we can change the future.

Here’s the link: Money and the Crisis of Civilization.  Bravo!

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Coastal Cleanup Day 2008

If you’re in the Los Angeles area this Saturday September 20, join over 11,000 volunteers in the LA basin alone for California Coastal Cleanup Day 2008, a 24 year tradition that’s become the largest volunteer event in the world. Last year, over 60,000 volunteers picked up almost a million pounds of trash across the state, and this year, the Los Angeles event will pick up its millionth pound.  You’ll find everyone from the corner grocer to celebrities shoulder to shoulder attacking the coastal waste that causes visual blight and environmental danger.  Did you know that the North Pacific Trash Gyre, the large swirling mass of trash floating between Hawaii and Japan is more than twice as large as the state of Texas and is growing faster than even the scientists studying it had feared?  Or that plastics, which break down into little tiny pellets after extended exposure to water, are so prevalent that you could cover the surface of the world’s oceans with a saran wrap coating of the plastics in them? Obviously every bottle you pick up helps stem the tide.

If you’re not able to join everyone in Los Angeles (check out the website, complete with map of locations, here), consider starting a similar event in your area.  After all, waste has a not-so-funny way of wandering toward the sea, even from far inland places.  Or if this Saturday doesn’t work, make any day your cleanup day! With a few fliers and an ad on Craigslist you’re sure to attract a like minded crowd to help get some unwanted trash off the streets.  Often, local parks have cleanup days that offer both benefit and beautiful surroundings in addition to an educational afternoon.  Some of my favorite memories from youth are of going to my local park and cleaning up the riverbanks.  Needless to say, cleaning my room didn’t hold the same appeal.

If you can’t do any of the above… (you didn’t think I was going to let anyone off the hook, did you?)… then sit your butt down on that couch if you’re not already there and get to thinking.   The best way to eliminate waste is to avoid creating it in the first place. Find a way to encourage recycling or to make throwing things in the trash more appealing than tossing it on the ground.  Design a better trash can, out of which waste doesn’t blow away in high winds.  Create a non-toxic biodegradable packaging so that when people do throw their containers down, it’s not creating an everlasting toxic legacy.  There are at least as many ways to help the planet as there are people to try them, so find yours and get started! Hope to see all you locals at the beach!

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Hitting Your Stride

Going green or cutting off the power line completely are not easy tasks. We are accustomed to our routine conveniences and live in a world that is loathe to advertise the actual costs of the products we consume.  When viewed in its entirety, the global environmental crisis we are facing is so daunting that many people fail before even beginning by despairing at the enormity of it all and then lapsing into apathy.  Obviously this is the largest waste of creative capacity imaginable on our planet.  You get it, so you’re smart enough to do something about it, yet you don’t.  So don’t let yourself become one of those people.  Do something today. Maybe you already are.  The thing about “Do something today.” that is so great is that when you take that approach you tend to set realistic goals, more on the level of an hour or two’s commitment than the nebulous grand ideas that tend to live largely on paper and never in the real world.  And you set a pattern that defies apathy, even if you eventually change the depth of your commitment. And one day, you will find yourself hitting your stride and it will become natural part of your life instead of a scheduled task.

There are a million ways to break a habit, and only one to make one: practical application.  You can read every book in the library about art, for example, but until you create something, you cannot call yourself an artist.  Your friend’s kindergartener who brings home finger painted pictures daily is.  Which should make potential artists feel better about the quality which one considers art (Isn’t art, in the end, really largely an issue of attachment?), but it usually doesn’t.

What it all means?  You don’t have to be a maestro to get involved.  Just pick something and implement it in your life.  Chances are, no matter what strategy you pick, it will be an improvement over the standard.  Many people spend a lot of time wondering which choice will be best for them, and in the end, don’t get anything, because the spark of ingenuity has faded which led them to that point.  Do your research, but understand that the energy revolution is not a plan for tomorrow, but for today. You’ve heard me say it before.  In the spirit of kindness, I won’t leave you all pumped up with nowhere to go.

Here’s a little inspiration for you for things that won’t take more than a few moments:

Plant a tree. The EPA estimates that a mature tree provides the same amount of air conditioning as five AC units.  You can take cuttings of most plants and root them, or simply plant a sapling or seed that you find in your surroundings.  Of course, if you then take care of it, making sure it has enough water to survive the first crucial year or two, then you can count that as doing something in the future too.  But by then you’ll probably feel so good from doing that, you’ll have a whole colony of trees somewhere.  Estimated time: 10 minutes, and time spent finding a tree to plant (or cultivating stem cutting in moist plastic bag).

Buy recycled shopping bags. It’s no accident that reusable shopping bags are popping up in stores these days.  What used to be the exclusive realm of whole foods has become big business.  And when you think about what you’re saving in terms of landfill space, and add in the fact that most large retailers give reusable bag discounts, you really can’t argue against them.  Of course, you’ll need your shopping bags if you take the next step and start shopping at the local farmer’s market once a week instead of a comparable grocery store trip.  Local farmers supported, all for the price of a little gas. Estimated time: under a minute.

Hydroscape your yard.  Print a Google map of your house and yard and draw on it the places where water tends to collect when it rains.  These are the low points, and when planned right, you can save a lot of money on property maintenace just by regulating the flow of water across your land.  Create a conceptual path through your area, create a path for water flow, and raise beds surrounding this natural flow to minimize your need to water.  This also gives you the opportunity to have a larger variety of plants, because you create tiny climate zones specific to each bed.  Estimated Time: a few hours planning, 2 hours per bed.

Freecycle something. Find something in your house that you don’t use and offer it to the local population at large for free at http://www.freecycle.org .  If you’re feeling generous, offer to post the item through the mail to the lucky recipient.  It really IS a good way to keep things out of landfills and it fosters your non-retail community.  Estimated time: ten minutes, including finding something to post.

Buy at least one solar light. These days, you can buy a set of solar lights for $10 -15.  The nicest ones I’ve seen are floating pool lights which change color, but there are also lots of varieties of solar yard lights, and also solar Christmas lights.  I particularly like the Lampion, pictured above. Try leaving these lights outside during the day while you are out of the house, and then using them to replace a light you use at night.  Carbon free power and mood lighting might prove the perfect combination for your evening.  Estimated time: half an hour on eBay and a minute a day.

Use greywater to flush your toilet.  Unscrew the pipe below your sink and place a bucket under the now-open pipe.  Use this water to trigger the toilet’s automatic flush response.  Combine it with the old “milk jug in the tank” trick and you’ll use a lot less water.  This will save you however much water you use at the sink by recycling it at least once.  Estimated time: fifteen minutes, and a slightly altered routine.

Visit your local library instead of the bookstore. Similar selection, better price.  And since you share the book with your community, you save resources and encourage further government spending in future libraries.  How many books do you read more than once anyway?  Donate the ones you own (outside your core library) to the local library so others can learn too.  I hardly have to explain the benefits of that!  Estimated time: Twenty minutes to clean out your closet.

So there you have it, something you can do today.  One last freebie: write a suggestion below, so that others can learn about your own great action idea.  =)

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Eating Locally: A nationwide movement

If you’re trying to cut down on the number of food items you import into your life from great distances, you’re certainly not alone. People across the globe are realizing the social and environmental costs of the “distance to plate” factor of their diets. Of course, in such an individual sport as buying food, it’s easy to think you are going it alone, or to get a little sidetracked by the seeming lack of options available to you in your particular region. But no more!

Locavore Nation

Locavore Nation is a year-long project housed at The Splendid Table (a great recipe resource), in which fifteen individuals from every region of the country attempt to live for a year on at least 80% local foodstuffs, buying organic whenever possible. Each participant keeps a blog, which can be accessed at the link above, about their particular experience. So there’s at least one blogger participating from your area for you to check in on.

What a great idea! Even if you have no interest in eating local, you should check out this innovative way in which the Splendid Table had brought together a community that serves both local and international appetites for practical information. Maybe you could organize a similar project for your topic of choice. After all, real-world reviews offer learners a chance to glean information never found in textbooks, which is the true learning revolution that spurs practical change.

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QUICKIE: Map of California’s Solar History

Interactive Map of California’s Solar History

Interactive map of Solar installations

If you’re wondering whether solar is here to stay, just check out this great Google mash-up from coolerplanet.com.  It goes year by year to show the progress of solar installations all over the state. Every state should have one of these!  Next up, adding YOUR installation!

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BOOK REVIEW: How to Survive Anywhere

How to Survive Anywhere

I read this book after arriving home from hiking last week, and came away from it feeling like I’d learned some useful tips for future trips.  The most interesting sections I found were the discussions of edible foods, which contained several commonly found entries I’d not heard of being foodstuff, and the discussion of making ropes, which I was able to put into practice immediately using dried palm leaves from the neighborhood and other shreds of string around the house.  It’s kind of addictive, like meditation.

In fact, putting things into practice before you need them could have been the unstated theme of the book.  After all, do you want to be figuring out how to coax fire from a magnifying glass AFTER the disaster when you’re already tired and hungry?  The main focus is on preparing a site, making utensils, tools, and weapons for your later survival. Places to find potable water are discussed, as well as how to purify water that isn’t so palatable.  But once you’re settled in, you’re on your own. There isn’t a lot of discussion about HOW to use things once you make them, but if you follow Mr Nyerges’ experienced advice (he’s a respected teacher who has lived in MANY different improvised and off-grid places) and practice, then you should be all right when the disaster hits.

Recommended especially for people who want to more closely examine the potential for survival in an urban setting, as he covers this topic very well.

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World Peace Index

World Peace Index 2008

A brilliant site, the world peace index from VisionOfHumanity.org is a year-by-year graphical comparison of the nations of the earth based on their peaceful existence. When visiting this site, you can not only check out the map (2008’s is reprinted above), you can also see how the countries stack up against each other and read more about the various qualifications used to make the comparison.

When I visited the site, I took advantage of the comparison feature which lets you compare up to five countries side by side. I chose the United States and two countries I thought would fall on either side of the US in the stack. Switzerland, Syria, Ghana, and Peru. Boy was I in for a surprise. All you fellow freedom-loving Americans, we came in dead last in this heat. Yep, the “land of the free and the home of the brave” ranks a dismal 97th in world peace of around 200 nations. Don’t send that report card home to momma!

Check out this great site today to learn more about why we did so poorly, or to figure out where you’ll head when the inevitable grid-crash arrives.

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BOOK REVIEW: Skinny Bitch

Skinny Bitch

Even though it doesn’t sound like an off-grid living title , read this book! Let me repeat: Read this book! It won’t take you more than an afternoon or two, and if it’s straight talk you need to scare yourself healthy, well, these gals have plenty of that. Written by a former agent and a former model who met at Ford models, the book is officially geared toward the female health and diet crowd. But the diet talk is minimal, and the text is full of totally gross-you-out quality secrets that the government and food industries can’t afford for you to know. ‘Cause, trust me, once you know, you won’t look at their products the same ever again. I finished the book yesterday, and suddenly, my morning tea had scary ingredients today. Liquid carcinogens, artficially processed sweeteners. Oh, boy, it’s not even 8 am yet.

Besides an excellent (graphic) discussion of the meat industries and another on food additives, the highlight of the book to me was the focus on applied action. Rory and Kim implore you to make a decision today… right now!… to change at least one habit that isn’t doing your body or life any good. Then, once you’ve mastered that, take on another item. This is the strategy that has worked best for me when trying to change habits. For example, want to quit smoking? Don’t scare yourself thinking I’ll never be able to smoke again! Instead, train your focus on “Don’t buy another pack”. It’s a specific action that takes effort (and a financial transaction!) to complete anyway, so it’s easier to regulate than reaching for a single ciggy. Concentrate on that, and by the time you’re moving on to “don’t smoke” (ie. you’re getting tired of bumming smokes off your dragon-breathed buddies), you’re already in the habit of thinking about your action: you’re halfway there!

Anyway, back to the book. Authors Rory and Kim have recently expanded their line of Skinny Bitch offerings to include Skinny Bitch in the Kitch (a cookbook) and Skinny Bastard (for men). So no matter what information you’re jonesing for, there’s a book for you. If you think you know a lot about what’s in your food, these ladies likely know a whole lot more. But even though they’re straight talkers (to put it politely), they never talk down to you. It’s like having two big sisters who kick you in the ass, but you know it’s because they love you and for your own good. They are very careful to explain the difference between an awesome vegan Skinny Bitch and a skinny bitch, which no one wants to be. As for me, after waiting months to get this book from the library (which arrived with curious “shelve with fiction” stickers all over it… huh? I WISH it was fiction!), I’m once again on the waiting list, this time for the cookbook. Read Skinny Bitch today and start feeling better tomorrow!

If you want to preview the book, check it out here at Google Books.

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ILoveMiceElf.com – Treat your senses

Part of falling away from the grid involves rethinking your purchasing power. Instead of supporting Walmart, which imports a staggering 30% of all goods that enter through US ports, aim to create local relationships and to buy products that eliminate or minimize the “distance to table” effect which governs not only food but all your purchases. With the amazing power of the internet, “local” can be anywhere in the world: support an individual or team of craftsmen rather than mega corporations.

ILoveMiceElf.com

Ever since I ran into the founder of ILoveMiceElf.com, heard her speak about her organic hands-on approach to crafting bath products, and then ordered some of her creamy soaps, I’ve been in soap heaven. Most bath products are so heavily perfumed and are filled with glycerins and alcohols and ingredients I can’t pronounce. The natural products at this website, however, are hand-crafted using only natural materials that are so good you could almost eat them. Which you shouldn’t do: I have to tell you this because you may actually be tempted by some of their flavors. The cinnamon oatmeal soap is the best I’ve ever tried, anywhere. Very creamy, great scent, and exfoliating oatmeal throughout.

According to Ms. Green, the master craftswoman, she sought to create products using only natural ingredients that won’t cause allergic reactions and would appeal to even the most hard-core natural products users. And this devotion shows in each batch. Try it to believe.

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Today’s Menu? Egg Jello

Ahhhh. I’m finally back on my laptop, after three weeks of it acting like a teenager going through puberty. First, the wireless card broke after a week of intermittently kicking me off. So, I freecycled for another (if you don’t Freecycle, read my previous post) and received two. I tell you this entire story basically to show how even in difficult situations Freecycle can brighten your day and your esteem of others. Lovely. But no, that wasn’t good enough for the computer, which promptly sent a spark to the power cord and disabled that about ten seconds after I obtained the driver for the card. Another week and countless trips to the library since, I’m happy to be back at the helm.

Another reason I tell you all this is that over the three week period, I had a lot of time to think about the importance of technology in my life. If there’s an electrical equivalent to a nasty Coffee Bean habit, I have acquired it. Sure, if all the major cities were wiped out tomorrow, and there was no grid, I’d manage. And you won’t see me typing away on some gadget while on vacation either. But most of the time, I missed being on the box, enough so to use my friends’ computers at any opportunity (mostly to post on this blog!), and to actually use my little PDA to surf the web or (horrors!) as a notepad instead of as an expensive solitaire game. What can’t you live without? Do you have a backup plan? Do you really need it?

You see, I kept very busy without my computer, managing to finish several of the books that have been collecting dust lately, cook several great meals, not to mention making the new cooker (and scrounging for its materials!), and taking a little more time to smell the roses growing in my neighborhood. So sweet. Not that you’re probably too interested in what I did, but it goes to show that the greatest thing you might dislike is the IDEA of change should your own situation receive what Hank Williams Jr. so aptly called an “attitude adjustment”.

Now, I promised you egg jello, and egg jello you will get. Yesterday, being 100 degrees with not a cloud in the sky, was a beautiful day for cooking. I decided to break out the ingredient that foiled my cooking skills on the windshield shade oven… eggs. The books I’ve been reading make them sound so easy, but if you remember my post, they came came out lumpy, liquid, and VERY messy. Will it be a repeat, or a redemption?

Not wanting to spend too much time on the ingredients, in case things went wrong, I simply broke up six eggs, beat them in the round baking pan, dumped in a small can of sweet corn, added a little milk, and shook a little Chef’s Essence on the top. Out in the sun at 10:45, and I settled in to watch Babe. Midway through the film, I went out to check on things. The top and bottom lids had glued themselves together with the eggs, and when I pried them open, everything was still liquid. I’m seeing visions of last time in my head, so I doubtfully put everything back in, and went to finish the film.

At film’s end, heartily cheered by the cute story, I went out again. And… it was solid! No way! I took it inside for a taste test. It was nice and light, and had the consistency of… jello. Wierd. At least, that was my initial reaction, but after a bite or two, I got used to the texture and liked it quite a bit. I think it would be better to think of this as custard than as a breakfast food. My mistake. Next time, I’ll skip the spices and make a sweet pudding instead, which is pretty much how it came out anyway. Highly recommended, and here are the pics. I’m finally back on my feet with this cooking thing, and the future possibilities are dancing around on the old noggin. Until tomorrow~

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