July 23, 2017


Warning: consumerism will not lead to enlightenment.

I am having a bit of a Zen moment lately here on NBA. My last post on Zen Kitties elicited this response from Sophie:

"I wish I had read this wonderful post BEFORE I cleaned the cats' litter box! This gave me a much-needed laugh today."

Reading Sophie's comment led me to think more about Zen and laughter.

Often Linda gives me cause to spontaneously erupt in a belly laugh. She is a very witty person with a wicked sense of humour, one reason I love her so. She is my laughter guru.

In these moments it feels like a window on the Infinite has been thrown open. A brief moment of enlightenment, ala Sosan, the third Chinese patriarch of Zen. He would "awaken" his students with unexpected loud noises, but it seems to me that anything jarring that surprises you could put one in a receptive state.

For me, that is stealth humour where I am caught unaware, and am laughing joyously before I even know I am laughing. In that space I am grounded, centred and present.

In that moment I am one with Linda, with humour, with my environment, and with a very delightful (and often funny) Universe. Even if only for a brief moment, it feels wonderful with all barriers and separations dissolved.

I hope this blog can keep Sophie, and all NBA readers, laughing from time to time with zingers that come out of nowhere.

Clang! There it is - en-laughter-ment.

Other things that I have found that lead me to moments of clarity include the practices of: love, compassion, humility, forgiveness, making music, helping others, and living simply. I wish to share those here as well.

And all the while laughter, as we progress together. Ha, ha, ha. Ho, ho, ho. Hee, hee, hee. You can not possibly have too much laughter.

July 19, 2017

Kitty Mandalas

“You suffer because things are impermanent and you think they are permanent.” 
- Thich Nhat Hanh

I will meditate on this, the next time I wipe my garden clean of kitty "art". Every experience can be seen as an opportunity for learning and growing, if only we are patient, compassionate, and open-minded.

I will call it, "Zen and The Art Of Garden Maintenance".

July 18, 2017

My Empire Of Rocky Soil Under Attack

Our first ever garlic is looking good.

This is it - my summer domain, my playpen, my 8X16 Empire of Rocky Soil. And, as it turns out, my giant litter box.

In the spring, while seeds of peas and beans and acorn squash and such were germinating, what I mostly harvested from my vast track of land, was kale from a second year plant (they are biannual), and cat poop.

Acorn squash flowers are big and bold.

Every morning I went out to collect some kale for a green smoothie (not a brown smoothie), I would also find a smelly gift from a neighbourhood feline. Maybe it was a bobcat, which are common in Nova Scotia, but rarely seen. Either way, poop is poop, and it does not belong where I am growing things to ingest.

While cat droppings contain nitrogen, phosphate and potash, which are all primary ingredients of organic fertilizers, they also contain organisms such as the toxoplasmosis protozoa, and that can make you sick. They are little toxic bombs, and they have to go.

Pole beans are climbing the tripod I made out of sticks from the forest.

I had to defend my borders. I crisscrossed sticks between the seedlings. I kept the soil wet. After reading that cats don't like strong smells where they do their business, I spread bits of orange peel. I didn't want to go to the nuclear option of sitting out all night with a spray bottle of ice cold water. Or giant cymbals.

It won't be long before fresh peas are on the menu.

The deposits dropped in number, but still continued, as did my ritual of cutting kale, then searching for land mines. What did work, in the end, was having the garden fill in. The cat (or cats) have been crowded out, and moved on to a better box somewhere else.

Beans are just flowering now.

Now I wait for the next interlopers, perhaps some hungry caterpillars, or cucumber beetles, or powdery mildew. While the cats have given me a chance to pause for a while, and let my defences down, I must stay alert in order to (organically) guard the food growing in my little rocky domain.

July 14, 2017

Frugal Living vs Extreme Frugal Living

Frugal living - making beans on the stove top. Extreme frugal living - making beans in a heatless cooker.

One search phrase that leads many readers to this blog is "extreme frugal living". I am not sure that is what I am doing here, but it is alright with me to be associated with such a concept. I am happy to have visitors that are looking to become more efficient in their use of Earth's gifts.

It is not surprising to me - everything has to be "extreme" these days in order to capture people's attention. The unwritten motto is, "Anything worth doing, is worth doing to the extreme". So you get extreme pretty much anything.

I am not sure what the exact difference is between frugal living and extreme frugal living, except the later must somehow be more frugal than the former. Maybe it is an ego/competition thing.

"I am frugaler than you are."

"No way, dude. I am the frugalist."

Frugality kind of seems like being pregnant. Either you are, or you aren't. However, it is hard to fault someone for wanting to continually improve their practice of living more lightly on this planet.

In trying to understand what separates the merely frugal from the more extreme variety, I share a few ideas that came to mind.

Frugal living is cutting your own hair.

Extreme frugal living is cutting your wife's hair.

Frugal living is buying discounted food.

Extreme frugal living is dumpster diving.

Frugal living is biking everywhere.

Extreme frugal living is walking everywhere (or deciding that there is nowhere to go because you are already where you need to be).

Frugal living is sleeping in a van.

Extreme frugal living is sleeping in a box car.

Frugal living is wearing the same clothes for a year.

Extreme frugal living is wearing the same cloths till they are threadbare, then making paper out of them.

Is it frugal living, or extreme frugal living? Or just being sensible? It depends on who you ask. Plus, what used to be the way we did things has become the new frugal as we adopt increasingly luxurious ways of living.

Darning socks? Once common, now frugal. Or even extremely frugal.

Either way, the more careful we are about spending money or using resources when not needed, the better it is for everyone.

July 12, 2017

Happy Birthday Henry David Thoreau

"If a man walks in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer. But if he spends his days as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making the earth bald before her time, he is deemed an industrious and enterprising citizen."   
- Henry David Thoreau

If you are interested in voluntary simplicity, chances are you have been influenced by, or at least know of, Henry David Thoreau. While he was born on this day 200 years ago, his anti-materialist/pro-nature philosophy is more important today than ever before.

"You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment."  - H.D.T.

Thoreau's writings inspired me at an important time of my life. As a young man just starting out, his liberating outlook encouraged me to explore alternative ways of living and being. In him I found a friend in the struggle to come to terms with a set of basic questions that no one else seemed that concerned about.

"Wealth is the ability to fully experience life." - H.D.T. 

While those around me thought they knew "what to do" in life, I thought the most important questions should be asked before deciding what direction one should take.

How best to earn a living? 

How much time should I spend at it? 

How much do I need to live well and to be free? 

Eventually, Thoreau's words moved me to actively search for my own version of the cabin, and lifestyle, of Walden Pond. He assured me that marching to my own drummer was the thing to do, and I have been dancing to that unique beat ever since. What a path it has lead me down.

"Live your beliefs and you can turn the world around." 
- H.D.T.

Today, Linda and I have christened our new Nova Scotia home our "Cabin on Acacia Brook", even though it is neither a cabin, nor is it directly on the brook (which is across the field and down a forested slope).

"This world is but a canvas to our imagination." - H.D.T.

But it is as close as we have come yet to our ideal simple living arrangement where we can live out our most precious hopes and dreams.

"It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see." 
- H.D.T.

So, today I commemorate the powerful influence that Thoreau's words, ideas, and philosophy have had, and will continue to have, on the world, and in my own life. Thanks, Hank. I hear your drum beat.

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived." - H.D.T.

July 10, 2017

10 Ways To Have A Shortened Lifespan

Can you tell me which one tried to kill you?

How long do you want to live? If things continue the way they are, we can expect the average life span to stop increasing as it has for the past few decades, and begin to contract.

For those that have no ambitions in the area of longevity I offer the following guidelines. I call it the "Here For a Good Time, Not a Long Time" plan, also known as the "Better to Burn Out Than to Fade Away" school of thought. It seems that many people are following it.

  1. Don't be concerned with heart disease, cancer, stroke, respiratory disease, or accidents. Most things in a modern lifestyle are potentially harmful, and you have to die from something.
  2. Work as much as possible, preferably more than 40 - 50 hours per week. Live to work instead of work to live.
  3. Eat a meat-based diet heavy on processed and fast foods, and eat extra calories every day. The guidelines of about 2,200 to 3,000 calories per day for men, and 1,600 to 2,400 calories for women, should be considered a starting point. Don't worry - animals don't feel any pain.
  4. Be busy all the time. Allow chronic psychological stress to dominate your life. Success doesn't come easy.
  5. Don't exercise. Who has time? Plus, no one likes to sweat.
  6. Drink alcohol  Life's a party!
  7. Cultivate a negative attitude. It's not pessimism, it's reality.
  8. Don't laugh. These are serious times.
  9. Don't spend time in nature - go shopping instead. Nature is uncomfortable, inconvenient, and often far from amenities. How can you buy anything there? It's all free.
  10. Be a rugged individual! Don't cultivate relationships. Do it all on your own.

I do hope that you ignore these guidelines, and are working toward having a long, happy and healthy life.

“Of the 3,142 counties in the US, McDowell County, West Virginia comes in at No 3,142 in terms of life expectancy. For men, that’s 64 years, a statistic that, as Bernie Sanders likes to point out, is the same for men in Namibia.” - Source

    July 5, 2017

    Plant A Garden

    Grow food, not lawn. We could use about 8 more raised beds in our yard.
    Thankfully, lawn care is included in our rent.

    If you are asking yourself if you should plant a garden, the answer is always, YES. There is much enjoyment, wisdom and food to gain, and nothing to lose. Anywhere, any time, the answer is always - go ahead and plant.

    Most years since Linda and I met, we have had a garden. We are by no means experts, and you will not read much in the way of gardening advice on our blog. But we will say, "Grow one!" without hesitation.

    Nature is an amazingly abundant and magical force, and when nurtured in an organized (or even semi-organized or totally chaotic) manner, wonderful things happen. And since plants are survivors, even temporary neglect can work out, just in case you are worried it will be too much work.

    This year we are growing plants new to us: garlic, cucumber, acorn squash, and onions from seed.

    One year we were gardening with a partner. In theory, what was supposed to happen was that we prepared and planted in the spring, and she would tend things through the summer while we were away.

    As it turned out, it was a case of "If you want the gods to laugh, make a plan". The fully planted garden was untended for several weeks, without additional watering, thinning, weeding and general tending.

    Garlic scapes are starting to grow.

    As it turned out, it didn't seem to matter that much - we still got wheelbarrow-fulls of food for us and our neighbours. Our garden partner was forgiven once we witnessed the out-of-control abundance that was created in that neglected patch of soil. Not the ideal situation, but not planting would have been a bigger mistake than our choice of garden buddy.

    The good things that occur when you grow your own food happen both in the garden, and in your life. You do not need to be an expert, or a work-a-holic. Your garden will evolve to suit you, your skills, and your needs. You aren't just growing plants, you are growing a whole way of living.

    Do as much, or as little as you wish, but by all means - plant a garden. Plant anything. Enjoy.

    July 3, 2017

    Turtles All The Way Down

    Turtle Crossing: Proceed With Caution

    Another bike ride into the wilderness, another amazing turtle encounter.

    My dad used to tell a story similar to the one Stephen Hawking shares below, so I often think of it when I visit with turtles. It is funny that a symbol of Mother Earth makes me think about my father.

    And my mother. And the mother we all share. Enjoy the turtle tale.

    A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy.  
    At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: "What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise."  
    The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, "What is the tortoise standing on?"  
    "You're very clever, young man, very clever," said the old lady.  
    "But it's turtles all the way down!"

    - A Brief History of Time, Ch. 1. Our Picture of the Universe

    July 1, 2017

    Moth, Rust, and Mold

    Moth, rust, sub-prime mortgage crisis... and mold.

    The bible has a quote about material things that starts,“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy...". Hmm, nothing about mold (or the Great Recession). Probably because the authors were desert dwellers living in simple hand-built homes.

    Basically, no moisture, no mold. And no mortgage, no meltdown.

    For 9 years before moving to the Atlantic side of Canada, we lived 5 meters from the Pacific Ocean. It was more humid than any other place I lived previously, which includes being born in the semi-arid climate of the Palliser's Triangle of the northern Great Plains.

    On the prairies things dry up and blow away, so for many years I knew nothing of the power of molds. Now we live a few foggy kilometres away from the ocean, which surrounds our area.

    I am convinced mold is nature's way of making sure there aren't too many things sitting around unused.

    Mold spores are a common component of normal household dust. They are found everywhere, and can grow on almost any substance when moisture is present. These amazing life forms can grow in temperatures from 0 to 35 degrees Celsius (32 and 95 °F). Yes, they are persistent.

    In a high humidity climate, like on the coasts, things that aren't in use, and circulating in and out of storage, are in danger of molding. It is relentless. A rolling stone in coastal humidity of 96% may gather no moss, but it still molds.

    The worst thing is when something you don't need or want succumbs to one or more of the thousands of known mold types. I guess if it isn't being used, you deserve to have it broken down into its component parts and returned to nature.

    But really, how is it that even after downsizing to the point we fit everything we owned into a travel van, upon arriving here 6000 km away, we realize we still have things we don't want or need? How does that happen?

    I think it is the round leaf sundew stickiness of material things.

    Stuff is easy to acquire, and difficult from which to get unstuck. Almost three years later we are still finding things that are not doing any work for us. And if something starts to mold, it is creating work. Mold in a house is a bit of an emergency that must be dealt with immediately.

    Which makes me think, "How much time do we spend maintaining, storing, moving and shuffling our possessions? Or worrying about them? Or keeping them safe from theft, and dust, and breakage?"

    The answer to that is probably, "Too much time". They aren't possessions, they are possessing. Possessing us and our precious time. Things are so needy, always vying for our attention. When they are taking more than they give, it is time to get unstuck, and let them go.

    We are nearing the end of dealing with our current moldy mini-crisis, which turned out to be yet another wonderful opportunity to get rid of even more excess baggage. The Universe is telling us something, still.

    1. You can live more freely, joyfully, and less moldily, with fewer things, and

    2. Run a dehumidifier (we borrowed one from our landlord) to make sure the things you do need and want don't succumb to the whole moth, rust and mold routine.

    I am getting closer all the time to my ultimate goal of being able to fit all my possessions into a shoebox. Thanks, mold, for helping nudge me in that direction.

    June 28, 2017

    7 Dumpster Diving Tips

    Dumpster Diving Tip #5 - Use your instincts, and your nose,  to decide what to take and what to leave.
    (See more tips at bottom of post)

    Some call it dumpster diving. Others call it shopping for free food, or preventing perfectly good nutrients from going to waste. However you look at it, dumpster diving takes a certain commitment  to ameliorating the crimes of capitalism.

    It also takes a strong defiance towards the conventions of society. It is understood that paying full price for food (or anything) is better than buying it at a discount, or sourcing it free around back of the store after hours, or along the curb in your neighbourhood.

    One is for winners, the other for the desperately down and out poor. How could it be that spending hard earned cash is the preferred option? There is no price better than free.

    This weirdness is firmly in place even if the items being liberated are exactly the same as the stuff in the stores, which is often is. If you put items off the shelf next to those rescued from the garbage, most often you would not be able to tell the difference between them.

    This goes for anything of use found in the garbage, and in my experience, one can find just about everything you might need in garbage bins. Over the years I have freed food, clothing, furniture, building resources, and more, from garbages and dumps. All free, my favourite price for anything.

    If you can get food or other things cheaper, or for free, why wouldn't you?

    The only reason one would pay for something that they could get for free is to purchase convenience and/or to save themselves the social shaming should they get "caught" liberating non-garbage from the garbage.

    Garbage should consist only of bads, and never goods. Then the bads should be eliminated. It is possible to create a waste-free society. What if we took all the non-garbage, that does not belong in the dumpster in the first place, and took it instead to a Free Store?

    Until that happens, or something like it that facilitates the re-consumption of discarded useful food, clothes, furniture, building materials, etc., dumpster diving may be required.

    If you are considering liberating good, free stuff from behind your local restaurant, grocery distributor, or along the curb, here are some sensible tips that should help keep it safe and productive for all.

    Happy dumpster diving, binning, foraging, skipping, and free shopping. Personally, I find it much more preferable, fun, satisfying and adventurous (and way less expensive) than visiting the shopping mall.

    June 26, 2017

    Mother Earth Gives Us What We Need

    In June and July, Painted Turtles dig nests and lay eggs along roadsides or in cultivated fields, as well as in sand or gravel beaches.

    It is true that the Universe will provide you with what you need. Ask and you shall receive. You just have to ask for the right things at the right time, and have Earth-friendly expectations.

    Summer time is turtle time. Yesterday I again asked to see my shelled friends, and once again Nature delivered. It is always a thrill for me to share a moment with my wild relations in the local environment. It never fails to give me hope for the future in a time that hope for humanity is ebbing daily.

    The hatchlings may dig their way out in September/October of the same year. If the nest surface temperature becomes lower than the nest bottom temperature, overwintering is possible. Adults hibernate at the bottom of ponds.

    Call it prayer, or focused intent, but the result is the same. You can't always get what you want, but if you ask with all your heart, you just might find, you get what you need.

    Having said that, be careful of what you ask for - it may be provided in ways, or moments, you'd never expect, or with results that are unforeseen. Keep your needs simple, be patient, and you will get what you need.

    It is when we take too much that we run into problems. Turtle teaches the wisdom of aligning with the cyclic flow of life, and demonstrates that the fastest way is not necessarily the best, for it takes time for things to develop properly.

    Turtle is a powerful symbol of Mother Earth, and reminds us that it does not matter what situation you have created: ask for assistance, and abundance will follow.

    June 23, 2017

    Consumerism Feeds On Consumers

    There is a very interesting flower that I see while on my hikes and rides into the forest around my home. It is a rare carnivorous variety called the round leafed sundew. It is a plant that eats meat.

    "The plant feeds on insects, which are attracted to the glistening drops of mucilage, loaded with a sugary substance, covering its leaves. It has evolved this carnivorous behaviour in response to its habitat, which is usually poor in nutrients or is so acidic that nutrient availability is severely decreased.  
    The plant uses enzymes to dissolve the insects – which become stuck to the glandular tentacles – and extract ammonia (from proteins) and other nutrients from their bodies. The ammonia replaces the nitrogen that other plants absorb from the soil, and plants that are placed in a high-nitrogen environment rely less upon nitrogen from captured insects."

    This amazing plant reminds me of another entity that sucks the life out of things leaving only piles of waste behind: consumerism. So with apologies to the round leafed sundew, I make my comparison.

    "The practice of consumerism feeds on consumers, which are attracted to loaded promises and glistening shiny things, heavy with cultural meaning and significance in a high stakes competitive environment. 
    It has evolved this carnivorous behaviour in response to its habitat, which requires optimizing profit to the point that the well being of consumers not yet consumed by the system is severely decreased. 
    Consumerism uses billions of dollars worth of propaganda, plus intense social pressure, to dissolve its prey's innate drive to be frugal and thrifty in all things. The prey becomes stuck to this system's sucking tentacles at all turns, and funds are withdrawn from their accounts and credit cards to the point of poverty. 
    The drive for profits replaces all common sense, ethical considerations, and social/environmental rights, and companies that are placed in a high wealth environment rarely consider them at all.

    People! It eats people! And everything else it can fit in its gaping maw. Imagine a tree-sized round leafed sundew enticing you with its sticky sweet tentacles, waiting to dissolve you completely for your cash and ultimately your life and your planet.

    Consumerism has a voracious appetite for consumers, and resources, that can not be sated. This carnivore will eat everything you set in front of it until it pops from its own gluttonous behaviour.

    Don't feed this un-natural beast. Living simply is the best way to avoid entrapment.

    Once again, apologies to the round leafed sundew, which is just doing what comes naturally.

    June 20, 2017

    Summer Solstice

    Sable Island, Nova Scotia wild horses in Summer.

    What a light-drenched treat Summer Solstice is at the 45th parallel north of the Earth's equatorial plane, even if we haven't actually seen the Sun for almost a week of rainy, low-cloud weather.

    Here, halfway between the equator and the north pole, full darkness is vanquished for a short while before the Sun reverses and begins its slide back toward the equator. Right now a person staying up all night (something Linda and I like to do at least once a year) would, after sunset (9:12 PM), see twilight in the northern sky until the sun rises (5:38 AM) a short while later.

    Having four seasons is one of the things I love about living far from the equator. Summer and winter are so dramatically different in terms of amount of light alone, never mind the temperature extremes. Since the whole of our existence is solar powered, this time of year is to be celebrated and enjoyed before the darkness and cold visit again.

    Back and forth we go, through the seasons, throughout the years. Such cycles are my centre, my calendar, the yin and yang of my life.

    Now if the clouds would just part long enough to get some warming rays on my skin. Thank you for  your services watering my garden, but I can take it from here for a while.

    Happy Summer Solstice to our Northern Hemisphere readers (and Winter Solstice to those of you in the southern parts of our amazing planet). It's a fine balance, and a good reminder.

    June 18, 2017

    What is My Fair Share of the Planet's Resources?

    Some of us are taking more than our fair share.

    Take the number of people on the planet. Divide that ever-increasing number into the finite number of acres that represents Earth's total resources. We end up with the number of acres per person, which is about 4 acres, and that doesn't leave anything for all the other non-human planetary inhabitants.

    "It is only since the industrial revolution that resource use and consumption has skyrocketed. The US was built on foundations of frugality, yet today, North Americans are the world's greatest consumers. 
    If the world's people consumed as North Americans, we would need five Earths. The link between consumer habits and global warming, war, species extinction, and social injustice are often lost amidst fast paced advertising and a throw-away consciousness." 
    - Jim Merkel

    Human population

    - 7.4 billion

    Acres per person available today

    - 4.5 acres/person

    If we leave 75% wild for the 25 million other species on Earth

    - 1 acre/ person

    Average acres/person used by humans 

    Global average - 5.8 acres

    United States - 24 acres

    Canada - 22 acres

    United Kingdom - 13 acres

    Russia - 11 acres

    Afghanistan - 0.75 acres

    It is not a big stretch to conclude that ecological overshoot can not go on forever, and  that the sooner we do something about it, the better.

    If not everyone can live a modern consumer lifestyle, how do we decide who can and who can't? Can anyone, if it leads to ecological overshoot and collapse?

    June 14, 2017

    Ecological Intelligence And The High Cost of Low Prices

    Want to make buying things more ecologically and socially responsible? The answer, of course, depends who you ask. Big business would say, "No, that might affect our bottom line." I, on the other hand, am all for it, and I am sure many others are as well.

    A free exchange of information would empower the consumer and allow a more mindful participation in the process of consuming. It is all about information. Aren't we supposed to be living in the Information Age?

    What happened to the information?

    Presently the only thing most people base their purchases on is what is about the only thing that can bet known, and that is the price. Most people will vote for the lowest price possible.

    And people are voting, often for places like WalMart.

    "Supporters contend that the chain's legendary low prices have democratized consumption, allowing low-income households to afford flat-screen televisions and nine-layer lasagna. 
    Critics say those low prices have depressed domestic wages and exported manufacturing jobs to foreign countries, hurting Americans more than helping them." Source

    What if you want to know more about things like this? Corporations withhold the information we need, creating an unfair playing field. Until legislators and consumers demand it, this information will continue to be withheld to make sure that price remains the sole bit of information we base our purchases on, to the detriment of the environment and workers.

    Just buy it, and never mind the health impacts, or the social and environmental consequences. How can one consume freely otherwise?

    By withholding information about the ethical performance of producers, underachievers continue to be rewarded, and those that excel in responsibility do not get the recognition and encouragement they deserve.

    GoodGuide is one organization that uses extensive data to rate a variety of products on 3 categories including health, environmental and social impacts. The GoodGuide represents a growing group of people that are trying to uncork the information bottleneck so that the data consumers need flows to them.

    Because we are unable to be fully mindful of the life-cycle of our purchases, we can inadvertently cause the very damage we are trying to avoid. GoodGuide recognizes this when they note:

    "It is important that for many products and product categories there is a significant gap in public disclosure due to the lack of U.S regulation around many products commonly sold on U.S. store shelves. 
    This lack of transparency and disclosure make it extremely difficult to perform a comprehensive health, environmental and social issues evaluation of specific products and companies. The most extreme example of this problem is household cleaning products, where there is almost no disclosure of product ingredients."

    Daniel Goleman's book Ecological Intelligence shows how information about the hidden impacts of the things we buy can change our shopping habits, and instigate important Earth-friendlier changes.

    "Imagine what might happen if the knowledge now sequestered among specialists like industrial ecologists were made available to the rest of us: taught to kids in school, easily accessible on the Web, boiled down into evaluations of the things we buy and do and summarized as we were about to make a purchase."

    Lets kick start this so-called Information Age, and actually get information out there that really matters. Let consumers become aware of who and what they are supporting, and the effects of their purchases on people and the planet.

    Surely the majority of consumers are willing to do the right thing if only they had the information to make more responsible purchasing decisions. As Earthlings, we should all want to be ecologically intelligent because if we aren't, bad things happen.

    It is like having a User's Guide To The Planet.

    Until such information is broadly and easily available, I suggest doing the research yourself in places like the GoodGuide. But be forewarned - all that work, and the results of your investigation, will most certainly kill your desire to purchase most of what is on offer in the modern marketplace.

    Living simply could become an unintended consequence, albeit a good one.

    Interested in increasing your ecological intelligence quotient? See under "Web Resources" on our sidebar for more information. I have recently added more links for the ecologically curious.

    June 11, 2017

    The Long Commute

    The history of Europeans in North America is a history of mobility. From earliest times to the present, Americans have always been on the move. Today this often translates into long commutes to work.

    Canada's largest city has the longest commuting times of all cities in North America. At 80 minutes per round trip, Toronto commuters spend 24 minutes a day longer getting to and from work than people in Los Angeles, 12 minutes longer than New Yorkers, and 32 minutes longer than residents of Barcelona, Spain.

    As long as those commutes are, a flatboat pilot working on the Mississippi River in the 1800's would scoff at such rapid transit to and from the workplace.

    Using long poles, these men would float narrow, flat-bottomed boats filled with grains and other farm produce from farms on tributaries of the Mississippi with the current down to the coast. It was a difficult trip that could take several weeks of traveling through what was still pure wilderness.

    But that wasn't the hardest part.

    Once the flatboats reached New Orleans they sold their cargo, for further shipment to destinations far and wide. Since the boats were not designed to return upriver against the current, they were broken up and the wood sold off.

    Then the pilot and crew of four would... walk home. The flatboaters, after delivering their cargo, would often have to walk thousands of miles through the unbroken primal forest to return home.

    When I first read about this ultra-ultra-long commute, I laughed out loud. I considered that most North Americans won't even walk to the corner store these days.

    A round trip could take nine months. Now that is a commute. For the extra hearty. And brave.

    I don't want to belittle today's extended commutes - they are not efficient or sustainable, or enjoyable in most cases. But imagine your commute involving walking thousands of miles through untracked wilderness.

    That is the long commute. And carbon-free as well.

    June 7, 2017

    June 5, 2017

    Our Vision

    Not Buying Anything Blog Vision Statement

    Our vision is a world where simple, eco-sensitive and joyful lifestyles are the norm.

    Big corporations co-opt everything and anything that can turn them a profit. They have even managed to make simple living lifestyles into a commodity, creating a curious conundrum where one buys ones way into the simple life.

    So I decided to co-opt something from the corporate world - the concept of a vision statement. But how could this helpful blurb not be useful pretty much anywhere, not just in the pursuit of making money from selling crap?

    I am all about wandering, serendipity, and letting life flow unimpeded, and yet, sometimes it is necessary to have an idea of where you are headed. Coupled with focus and discipline, one can go anywhere, achieve anything.

    So it is that I share this blogs guiding vision. Along with our recently published manifesto (which is similar to a corporate mission statement, but with a nice anti-establishment ring), our vision statement helps to give our work (and play) focus and intention.

    Will we (and by 'we' I mean all of us that are part of this blog, and the simple living community) succeed, and create a simpler, more gentle Earth that provides for everybody, and all of life?

    Did Ray Crock think he would sell billions of hamburgers? What if we DID succeed in helping billions of people adopt a joyful alternative to unchecked consumption and the busy lifestyles that are required to support them? What if consumers turned en masse to voluntary simplicity? Before they were forced to by resource depletion and deteriorating environmental conditions?

    For one thing, unhealthy behemoth fast food burger chains wouldn't do as well as they do now. Saying sayonara to the corporate model, and hello to global cooperation, is definitely part of our vision.

    June 2, 2017

    Red Shift

    Rhubarb from our garden space. First fruit of the season.

    To borrow a term from astronomy, there is a red shift happening in my life right now. I can see it all around me as we shift from winter to spring, and from spring to summer.

    Astronomers use the concept of red shift to ascertain how far away an object in space is from Earth, and to tell whether that object is moving toward us, or away from us. Objects moving away from us shift toward the red end of the spectrum, therefore, red shift. It is like a visual Doppler effect.

    Red shift/blue shift.

    Right now winter is moving rapidly away from us, and thank goodness for that. Even spring is moving away from the land, although that shift is a little slower here than other parts of Canada.

    I can see this shift in slowly rising temperatures, and in the life that is returning as the cold and grey of winter recedes into distant memory.

    Trees are leafing out, seeds in the garden are germinating, and colour returns to the land. Some of that colour is red, indicating another kind of red shift.

    Rhubarb is an early spring plant, and one of the first to emerge in the garden. While everything else is slowly waking up, rhubarb bursts forth out of the ground to herald the shift in seasons. Before long its greenish-red stalks are holding up giant green leaves letting us know that the first fruit of the season is ready to harvest.

    Some of our summer neighbours enjoying our feeder.

    While that is going on another bit of red is flying into the scene. This year we got our hummingbird feeder out early to attract these beautifully red-throated visitors as soon as possible. And did they come. So far, the record is five hummers at the feeder at the same time.

    After months of a cold, grey and white landscape we can see winter red shifting away from us. As that happens colour returns, and red is one of the most beautiful, and tasty. Today I watch hummingbirds from my kitchen window as I bake up a stellar rhubarb raisin custard tart.

    I can see summer moving toward us (that would be blue shift), meaning heat and clear, blue skies.

    May 31, 2017

    Internet Archive - Free Learning

    There is a lot of stuff for sale on the internet. Actually, is there anything NOT for sale on the internet? However, there is also a lot available for free. I prefer free, like library free. That is my favourite.

    I have written previously about sites that give one free access to books online. Since then I have also found free audio books online, listened to several, and bookmarked more.

    Books like:

    Analects of Confucious

    Once and Future King - T. H. White

    Treasure Island - Robert Louis Stevenson

    Island - Aldous Huxley

    The site I am referring to is Internet Archive, a place unique to me in all my internet wanderings. It is my new favourite place to go instead of reading the news (although you can find news items there).

    The Internet Archive is a San Francisco–based nonprofit digital library founded in 1996. It's stated mission is "universal access to all knowledge." It offers "permanent access for researchers, historians, and scholars to historical collections that exist in digital format." As a life long learner and chronically curious person, I can get behind that.

    This treasure trove provides free public access to collections of digitized materials, including websites, software applications/games, music, movies/videos, moving images, and nearly three million public-domain books.

    In addition to listening to audiobooks, I have also used this site to do things like research early rock and roll, including listening to a recording of "Rocket 88", a 1951 song some believe was the first recorded number that rocked and rolled in the way that it did.

    A search for Henry David Thoreau returns 1,109 items. So many items, so little time.

    They also have an archive called the Wayback Machine that stores information so that inconvenient truths can't disappear down the memory hole. Not Buying Anything is even archived there, giving this blog an air of semi-kinda-sort-of-quasi-permanence, as long as there is electricity and an open internet. 

    With links to collections from major libraries, the possibilities are endless. And free. 

    Fill your mind. It's a giant digital library you can access from the comfort of your own home.

    May 29, 2017

    For Whom Does Your Government Work?

    I don't know if I am right, but it seems to me that a country that has a government that works for the people (like they are suppose to in theory), would have a lower incidence of poverty. One would also think that rich nations would have less poverty.

    This is not the case, so I wonder - for whom do these governments really work?

    The chart above reveals the priorities of various governments in OECD countries, which are among the most "highly developed". If these countries can't eliminate poverty, in spite of being the richest on the planet, how can any other country get rid of this scourge?

    How about less war, and more help for people? We have everything we need to provide every citizen with a dignified, satisfying simple life. Could it be that our governments are the problem and not the solution?

    For whom does your government work?

    May 27, 2017

    The Good Life

    This little person, and her friend, know how to live.

    “The most sophisticated people I know - inside they are all children.”  

    - Jim Henson

    Does it get any better than this? I think not. This is the good life.

    Our inner child craves the simple life that we all knew when young and still relatively unblemished by culture. A time when a puddle, a feathery friend and blossoms everywhere made for a moment of perfection.

    A time when playing and simply living was our major focus.

    A simple life allows time to play and be.

    Find a puddle. Jump up and down. Enjoy it with a friend.

    This is the good life, that is attainable by all.

    “Everything seemed possible, when I looked through the eyes of a child.
    And every once in a while; I remember,
    I still have the chance to be that wild.” 
    - Nikki Rowe

    May 25, 2017

    Do Nothing

    People are always in a rush to do something, anything. But sometimes doing nothing is a viable alternative that should be considered.

    If you are bleeding profusely, you probably need medical intervention. However, in my experience, things like aches and pains often go away on their own if one is patient.

    Even though we have universal health care in Canada, I try to stay away from doctors as much as possible. The average "medical professional" will want to do something even if doing nothing is the way to go. Sometimes the cure is worse than the issue at hand.

    Preventable medical errors are the third leading cause of death (after heart disease and cancer) in the US, a statistic that reflects what can happen in any modern medical system with a do-something-at-any-cost mentality. And the cost of these errors in the US? 1 trillion dollars per year.

    "It has taken a lot to prove to [the medical community] that many of these deaths are not a natural consequence of the underlying disease. They are purely failures of the system." 
    - Ashish Jha, MD, Harvard School of Public Health

    I have often found that things I initially thought were problems, given the passage of time, were not anything I needed to do something about. The problem fixes itself without my intervention, or I discover that I was wrong, and no problem existed in the first place.

    Either way, nothing needed to be done.

    The best is when you do have a problem, then wait patiently, and find that the problem fixes itself. It can happen. Often, vehicle issues fall under this category. Linda and I call this "self-fixing", and it has happened often in the vehicles we have owned. Only once have we ever been stranded at the side of the road. At that point it was time to do something.

    I have to wonder if self-fixing has something to do with the power of thoughts, quantum mechanics, and the underlying reality of the Universe. What if we are way more powerful than we think?

    Or when one has a broken heart. What is to be done? Nothing. Be patient and let time work its magic.

    If you have a gash in your skin and you are bleeding all over the place, you should do something about it, and right away. But we do not always need to spring into action for every perceived "problem".

    In the right situations, all we need to do is give ourselves permission to do nothing.

    May 22, 2017

    Simple Living Manifesto

    I am living simply in order to learn some truths about the world and myself. I am living simply to oppose the forces of a brutal and violent exploitation of people and planet. I fight with gentleness and kindness born by keeping my expectations realistic and wholesome.

    Living a simple life liberates me from the lies and myths of the dominant consumer culture. In stripping my life to the essentials, I take back my birthright as a free human and can share my discoveries with as little interference as possible.

    I will rethink everything I have been taught, and remember what I am doing here on this beautiful planet, at this beautiful moment in time. Simplicity is as close to perfection as we can get.

    This is why I will continue to maintain a simple life: to eliminate all manufactured distractions, to live slowly and deliberately, to really live and feel. I will not be a cog in their machine and support a dead end way of life. I will not be part of the shopping dead.

    I want my life to be an example to others. I want my message to be one of possibilities, freedom, and connection. I want to blow away the unnecessary and replace it with the essential. I want to live and speak freely.

    Our success isn’t measured in money, or possessions, or fame. The success game has always been rigged in order to keep us in line and exhibiting culturally appropriate behaviours that support a corrupted and broken system. I may not have much, but am I enjoying life? Am I challenging myself to take advantage of all events to learn and become a better person? Am I living in the moment? Do I feel at peace and harmony? Do I feel the freedom that all of humanity should be enjoying?

    I don’t live simply in order to save the world. That is a tall order for one person. I live this way to plumb the depths of reality minus the filter of cultural programming, and belittling propaganda. That will save me. I might be able to help others save themselves. Then, when we reach a critical mass, our simple lives will affect everything.

    I have decided that the best possible life comes from tapping into the universal wisdom, from living fearlessly and with the utmost integrity, without apology or explanation. You do not need stuff to do that.

    I believe a simple life is armour against a global assault that tries to force us to feel small and insignificant. We are neither. I share this simple living manifesto to inspire, and remind all people of the freedom and joy that can be had when you choose simplicity as your way of life. It represents the path back to an empowered citizenship, connection, and contentment.

    A simple life that is materially sparse, but spiritually rich, opens the door to experience life without limits, as it is meant to be lived. Refusing to participate in the destruction that is the modern, consumer dream allows one to return to participating in the creative side of things, to be an artist again. Through making your life your art, the truth will be revealed, and it will be amazing.

    Against all odds, we must fight the forces of progress for profit with voluntary simplicity. The time to act is getting shorter every day. The best time to start living a more simple, enjoyable life is now. This very moment.

    Get started, and transform your life. In the process, we will transform the world.

    May 20, 2017

    Seedy Saturday

    Old buckets found in a midden on our property, holding radish seed pods.

    This weekend has traditionally been the time to plant a garden in most of Canada. Climate change is altering that a bit, with spring weather often coming one or two weeks earlier than usual. Our garden was planted a week ago, so this weekend we are sitting back and watching it germinate. 

    While we wait for that magical moment when sprouts reaching for the sun break out of the soil, we are enjoying watching the green and growing garlic sway and play in the wind. We also have a couple of last years kale plants that we are growing for a second season in order to harvest some seeds this fall. 

    Mmmm. Seeds. Magical packages of potential. Food for stomach and soul.

    A carton of seeds, anyone? Left to right - marigold, radish, summer savoury, cilantro.

    Last fall I collected a bunch of different seeds beyond what we needed to save for this year. I kept them around because they were so beautiful that I didn't want to compost them right away. It doesn't seem right to dispose of seeds. 

    Any seeds. Ever. 

    Today's seed hoarders are tomorrow's seed stores. Plus seeds are all so unique and beautiful in their own right. And many can be eaten - beans, and peas, and squash seeds (lightly salted, and baked with a bit of olive oil) for example.

    Come on seeds, we're cheering for you. 

    Note: I shouldn't joke about seed hoarding since it could be a potentially harmful situation, like any other hoarding behaviour. See here for a Seed Hoarders Anonymous thread on a gardening website. 

    When I visited there, I noticed there was an advertisement for seeds at the top of the page... probably not a good idea. But there are some amazing stories there if you want to quell the urge to buy a bunch of seeds you don't need or can't afford. Free seeds? Well, that's a different story. 

    May 17, 2017

    Staying At Home

    In a consumer society all the good stuff is "out there". The thing to do is go out and get it, whatever it is. Staying home is not recommended. You can't spend money and access the good stuff if you don't go out.

    Fear of missing out is one way they pry us out of our comfy nests. If you don't go out, you will miss out. They want us out and about as much as possible. This is because when one goes out, one must spend money.

    "Which is worth more, a crowd of thousands,
    or your own genuine solitude?
    Freedom, or the power over an entire nation? 
    A little while alone in your room
    will prove more valuable than anything else
    that could ever be given you" 
    - Rumi 

    Go to a movie. Go out for food. Go to a concert. Go to a bar. Go for coffee. Go for a vacation. Go to town. Go shopping. Go here, go there. Go, go, go. Buy, buy, buy. Repeat.

    Don't go to a park, that is free. If you do, buy something to take with you first.

    Instead of going out, we should spend more time staying at home and going in. The answers are not "out there". The answers don't cost anything. Freedom is here at home.

    Don't be afraid - you aren't missing anything by not going out, and you may gain everything by spending a little time alone in the comfort of your own home.

    May 15, 2017

    Why Isn't There A Maximum Income?

    22K Gold Toilet Paper - $1.3M a roll

    There is a lot of talk about providing workers with a minimum income. You know, an income that a person can actually live on. But why isn't there any talk about a maximum income?

    Because it would kill innovation and motivation? Wrong. Curious people with their integrity intact would continue on as if money didn't even exist. Science started with an attitude of inquiry and a desire to improve life. Not patents or profit.

    People rarely use large profits for good. Money should be seen as a curse beyond a certain point. Too little is not good. Too much is even worse because invariably it will be used in ways not conducive to planetary health.

    “Do the very rich suffer from maladjusted conditions that lead them to accumulate more than they could ever need, or are they just greedy and selfish?”    
    - Ontario Coalition Against Poverty leaflet

    Look at the evidence. The rich over consume to the point of ridiculosity. Does one really need gold plated anything?  The conspicuous consumption and greed of the money hoarders infects everything, leading to social strife and environmental degradation.

    Therefore, why not a maximum income?

    It would most definitely enable a minimum income for all workers and their families, and avoid the corrosive effects of income inequality, and the struggles of the working poor.

    What would be fair at the top end of the wealth spectrum? 1 million/year? 1 Billion/year? A trillion?
    How much would be enough?

    Research shows that somewhere between $50,000 and $75,000 is the income sweet spot. Any less and life might be a struggle, any more and the extra fails to increase happiness.

    That sounds about right, although from personal experience I know that one can get by on much less and be happy and content.

    May 14, 2017

    Thanks, Moms

    The sun rise this morning from our high point in Digby County, Nova Scotia.

    Happy Mother's Day to my mom, Margaret. And to Linda's mom, Belle.

    Happy Mother's Day to your mom, (insert name here).

    Happy Mother's Day to you, (insert name here), if you are a mom.

    And Happy Mother's Day to OUR mother - Gaia.

    May 13, 2017

    Distressed Bucket For Distressed Chives

    Since moving from the west coast in 2014, I have lived on an old potato farm just above the ocean in Nova Scotia. There is an ancient disposal system that comes with a property like this, a sign of the times and the evolution of waste disposal.

    Yes, across the field, down  a slight slope, then just into the forest, and one finds several small middens.

    Midden is a Swedish word meaning "an old dump for domestic waste", and that is what I came across while exploring the margin of the woods. For someone that loves sourcing found things for free, the midden is a treasure trove of vintage discoveries.

    In these piles I have found mostly glass and rusted metal, but in the top-most layers a new material makes its ugly and permanent appearance - plastic. It is the most uninteresting and unattractive stuff in the piles.

    I also found a vehicle licence plate from 1954, and that was toward the top of the pile, so the midden may be older than that. Considering the European presence here since the 1600s, it could be much older.

    The items that drew my attention were several galvanized metal buckets in various states of breakdown. Some were squished, others rusted through. But they all looked beautiful to me, and I needed something for some stressed out chives planted in an unattractive broken plastic container, left here by the previous renters.

    I'm not much of a decorator, but from what I know, distressed is de rigour "whether your style is primitive, modern, or shabby chic".  Even better if you style is like mine: found and free.

    Next midden rescue project? A large group of intact vintage canning jars.

    May 12, 2017

    Hedonism vs Helping

    NBA reader JC asked a good question in a comment in response to my post "Living As If The Planet Really Is Collapsing". If we are in a state of collapse, why do anything? This is an excellent question that is probably being asked a lot right now, all around the globe.

    Here is my take.

    At this point we can do one of two things.

    A. Take 60s rock star Jim Morrison's hedonic advice:

    I don't know what's gonna happen, man,  but I wanna have my kicks before the whole shit house goes up in flames.

    Four years earlier he wrote The End in which he said:

    “What have they done to the earth? What have they done to our fair sister? 
    Ravaged and plundered and ripped her and bit her.  
    Stuck her with knives in the side of the dawn, 
    And tied her with fences and,  
    dragged her down.”

    He could obviously see trouble coming, even back then, and made his choice about how to respond - in a typical rock and roll fashion.

    Fast forward to 2017, and it seems that many people are choosing the hedonistic route, deciding to get their kicks, and not concern themselves with the consequences.

    But when has that ever worked for us? Morrison was dead by 27.

    When you choose Option A you will get the same result as any other hedonic pursuit - instant, but short lived gratification, and a further deepening of the problems to which one is responding.

    The other option is:

    B. Choose to help. Do something to improve the world in spite of evidence which shows it might already be too late, because what if it is not?

    Even if it is, choosing B is a more mindful and joyous way to live. Choosing B is not giving up. B is right living and setting limits, even when no one is forcing you to do so. Self-control and delaying gratification leads to lasting happiness and improved feelings of self worth.

    It is possible that eventually the problems will be solved. Maybe unlikely, but possible.

    Each of us must decide our own response. I have made my choice. It will be interesting to see what everyone else decides as we circle the drain.

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