December 29th, 2011

“What is the value of preserving and strengthening this sense of awe and wonder, this recognition of something beyond the boundaries of human existence? Is the exploration of the natural world just a pleasant way to pass the golden hours of childhood or is there something deeper?

I am sure there is something much deeper, something lasting and significant. Those who dwell, as scientists or laymen, among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life. Whatever the vexation or concerns of their personal lives, their thoughts can find paths that lead to inner contentment and to renewed excitement in living. Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is symbolic as well as actual beauty in the migration of the birds, the ebb and flow of the tides, the folded bud ready for the spring. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature–the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after the winter.”

Rachel Carson, excerpted from “The Sense of Wonder”, 1956.
(found in, as usual, the Sun Magazine)

December 19th, 2011

and now it is here. Hundreds of you wrote me actually, (one person threatened to boycott my books over it). The bestselling Wreck this App is now available for Android, also at Barnes & Noble. Just in time for a last minute Xmas gift.

Now quit your whining will ya!

December 13th, 2011

This is a story about a rug. Or should I say rather, about a rug that tells a story. Though I don’t know what the exact story is. Here is what I do know…

On the wall beside my bed is a rug. It is nailed to the wall with four nails in each corner. It measures about four feet by one foot. The pattern on the rug is of six or seven concentric rectangles of different colors, the rectangle in the middle holds seven squares of different colors that are tilted on an angle so that two corners of each square are touching other squares. The colors are rich and beautiful, blues and oranges, a central square of deep red, browns and a touch of purple all work together making the final product rather eye catching and soothing. Truth be told this was not all that calculated. Both the design and the colors were created largely by happenstance, the maker used whatever materials were available at the time. In this case the rug fabric was cut out of a bunch of old clothes, a bunch of rectangles pushed into a large burlap rectangle using an old wooden tool (the exact shape of which has faded from my memory). The design (I am guessing) was probably dictated not by what the maker may have wished to create but instead by how much of each color was acquired, (how many squares the maker was able to cut out of a coat). The colors laid out in much the same way, the widest square being a dark blue, the smallest a strip of purple.

I know this because the maker was my grandmother, and the rug was made when I was a small child. I have images in my mind of her cutting up the squares, and stacking them. I remember the rough texture and smell of the burlap, and the curious tool she had whose meaning I could not decipher at the time. She was using an old technique that was probably taught to her as a small child in Burin Newfoundland where she was born. All craft in those days in rural Newfoundland was made using whatever people had, most often something old, reconfigured and reworked. There was no money to buy something new, so if you had a need you found a way. And maybe (I am thinking) sometimes you wanted something to “draw the eye”. Add a touch of color to a room.

This rug is one of my most prized possessions. In part because it was made by one of the most influential people in my life, but also because of what it represents. Resourcefulness. Minimalism. Simplicity. Soulfullness. Handmade objects. Purity of form. Something from nothing. Indeterminacy. All of the things I value in my work and in life.

I suppose these things are often impossible to put into words. But the meaning of the rug grows for me over time, I spend more time these days looking at it and contemplating it’s nature. I think a lot about how objects do hold an energy to them. Some things speak more loudly than others. These things are not merely material objects but storytellers who hold special gifts for us.

If we take the time to listen.

November 23rd, 2011

…where I was on an expedition searching for polar bears.

actually that’s not true.

but we did have a run-in with a very old one-eyed porcupine who blocked our path as we were hiking through the woods. he reared up on his hind legs and all his quills in the air giving us a menacing warning. his one good eye fierce and unwelcoming. we stopped in our tracks not wanting to disturb him as he slowly munched on his pine needle dinner.

true story. except maybe for the menacing part. he was pretty damn cute.

the backwoods of Canada have soothed my soul yet again and I would have spent the whole winter there if I did not have work to attend to. We had very limited wifi access, which I quite enjoyed as it made me much more present in the world, but did make it hard to get some work done. The heavy snow had not yet hit, actually we only had a couple of days with any snow at all, so I was not able to don my snowshoes. And I only got one night with the wood stove fired up, as it was not so cold as to require it. When I lived there full time some days it was an adventure just going out to get the mail. I smile now thinking about telling my, now present, then future husband from California, “It’s not that cold here”, (I was comparing it to Northern Northern Canada, like Timmins or North Bay). It’s all relative really. Six feet of snow and minus 15 degrees seemed normal to me at the time. I have since experienced his version of normal having lived in Davis California for a year a few years ago, where it was 110 degrees on average in the summer and summer lasted until December. Quite a difference.

We have decided to do some non-commercial Xmas rituals for our family, which I will write about a bit more here in the weeks to come (I think). Time is so limited with two little ones. So our first idea is to have a candle lighting ceremony on Xmas eve. So I am off to research making our own candles today, something I have not done before.

If you have any leads let me know.

November 5th, 2011

I will take a short break from posts of a politcal nature for just a moment. I was writing a friend today and mentioned that I recently fell in love with a movie, which I thought was about penguins, and so streamed it for my son while he was sick on the couch. I quickly learned that the film was not so much about penguins but more about the Poncet family, five explorers (three of them small children) who live on a boat and travel around researching penguin colonies. The above photo is Jerome Poncet, the father, a kind of Jaques Cousteau of the Antarctic. At which point I got really excited, and a little bit giddy. Lately I am feeling like explorers are my version of rock stars. I have been copying, studying and researching exploration for a top secret project I am working on (which I can’t really talk about here because, well, it’s top secret). But let’s just say it involves exploration and artifacts, and top secret information. And public art, but that’s all I’m saying for now.

So, where am I going with this? So I was glued to the screen while this beautiful, blond, intelligent, (I should add slightly wind blown and in need of some lip balm), Aussie mamma talked about how she felt her children were learning so much by experiencing the world directly, the best form of education possible. Her offspring flitted and jumped about on rocky coastlines, amidst seals and whales, and ran carefree and pantless on the deck of the boat in the middle of a frigid and icy ocean. Enough to make this mamma inhale deeply and feel pangs of panic at the precariousness of it all. A bit of envy sat in the pit of my stomach at how calm she seemed, not at all worried. Able to let her children (all boys) run wild, in the wild. And me barely able to let my son run wild in his own backyard, lest he fling himself off his favorite climbing tree, of which he is able to climb up two feet. I suppose I should let myself off the hook a bit given that my oldest is three and a half, while hers are five, seven and ten. So I have a few years to go in learning to let go a bit more. Anyway, I am digressing here.

As you already know I am big on knitting and so I was also envying the hand knit (or what look to be hand knit) items worn by the family. Most noticeably the above balaklava which Jaques seems to never take off which gives him that stereotypical french explorer look (that and the french looking nose). There is also a beautiful tweed fisherman’s sweater worn by the five year old. The whole family wears these balaklava’s and I’m thinking it’s not only cool looking (look at the pom pom perched on top), it’s totally practical. No scarf needed. Why didn’t I think of that before? I must knit it. Balaclavas are this year’s chunky cowl. We can make them cool. It’s all in how you wear it. How can you argue with Jaques style? Look at him. That man is tough as nails, (I started to wonder if the handrolled cigarette was actually glued to the side of his mouth for looks).

Alas, a quick search on the internet for a pre-existing pattern of the same design turned up nothing. I am not sure if my knitting skills are up to the task of creating this masterpiece on my own. Even though it is really much like a hat with a hole in the middle right? The bonus of this design is that with the slight brim, you can fold up the bottom and wear it just as a hat, as Jaques so casually does in one scene. It just screams “The world is my oyster.” I am solidly convinced that the mother knit them all. Not only is she beautiful, intelligent and daring but she can clothe all of her family, knitting up these warming treasures while on the high seas and cook fabulous french cuisine on a one burner stove in the galley kitchen. What greatness I tell you.

Anyway, if any of you knitters out there know of a pattern of similar nature to this one, or have the skills to share with me some ideas for recreating it, I would love to hear from you.

I won’t be surprised at all if this catches on. You watch. Admit it. You want one too.

November 1st, 2011

After much thought, and some insight from readers I decided to put this list together. I do not attempt to do all of this perfectly, certainly there are many areas where it is hard to be as discerning. You do not have to move to the country and grow your own food to opt out of some unhealthy corporate dependencies (though this is a beautiful thing to do if you choose). And to be honest it becomes much harder to take time now that I have two small children to care for. Certainly we all have our own contradictions and there are some areas where the options are quite limited (internet providers, insurance, etc.). But we do our best to make some healthier choices for our family, and to show our children that they have power over what goes into their bodies and minds. I see the mind as no different than the body, what you put into determines and effects your mental health on a daily basis.

Simply put I want to increase the soulful, life sustaining, mind expanding stuff, and decrease or eliminate the junk food. Each of us has to draw their own lines where it feels most comfortable. I give myself permission to change and grow on the journey. Many things that once felt okay for me, no longer do and in some areas there is room for improvement. I am finding this journey to be more “self directed” in the world incredibly satisfying and soulful. Making things, clothing my children, cooking from scratch, have made my life more meaningful and rich. Taking a hard line on blogads lets me sleep well at night and makes me feel good about what I am teaching my kids. That we do have a choice.

I would love it if you have anything to add, please put it in the comments.

1. Use your purchasing power as a political statement. Shop locally, ethically and in moderation. Ask the question “What do I really need?”

While you cannot remove yourself entirely from mass culture, and for those who may not want to make their own clothing, (in some cases I still shop with Amazon when I cannot find it anywhere else), you can research companies and choose one whose ethics and practices are more mindful. Commit the time to seek out alternatives. We used a non-profit cell phone provider called Earth Tones for years, who were committed to political action in various forms and funded a variety of environmental projects. I use Etsy quite a bit for more homemade options and supplies.

2. Turn off the TV. (need I explain this one?) I will say that after I got rid of the television many years ago, my productivity soared and my imagination flourished. I read much more. I believe there is a correlation to my career beginning to do really well and my giving up TV. My brain became rewired and much less passive as a result. I still watch movies and the occasional series, but I get to choose where and how (no ads).

3. Make your own stuff as much as possible. I have begun making my own cleaning products with simple ingredients, and recently I purchased a great resource to help with all kinds of things that you can do yourself. I highly recommend the book Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World by Kelly Coyne & Erik Knutzen (I don’t need to add that I have no connection to the authors). Having looked at many books in this category I can safely say that if you are interested in homesteading or just getting off the consumer treadmill, this book will help you do it. I am soon going to try giving up the bottle (of shampoo that is), and give some of their alternatives a try. I’ll let you know how it goes. I already gave up hair color during my second pregnancy, choosing to let my grey hairs go loose and wild!

4. Use an Ad-Blocker program for the web. While this does little to actively stop the advertising, it does cut down on the visual overload and the adcreep we experience while surfing. I use Adblock Plus, which was created by a friend of mine. It is totally free and works like a charm. I’ve used it for years and love it.

5. Move your money.

6. Support media that is ethical and ad free. I have cut down on what sites I visit regularly, choosing ones that are ad-free over ones with ads. I do value when people write about products they like if they are things that I enjoy using (in my case wool, books, environmentally friendly clothing/toys, recipes), but now they must be ad free for me to trust them. In some cases this has been a really hard choice, as some were sites that I enjoyed (a few written by friends I love). But in almost ALL cases, as the ads increased on a site, so did the feeling that the writing began to serve the advertising.

7. Participate in Collaborative Consumption, interactions and economies that involve swapping, sharing, bartering, trading and renting.

8. Begin to perceive value in different ways, not just in terms of money. In the book The Good Life, authors Helen and Scott Nearing felt that having cut and stacked fire-wood that they acquired themselves, was better than money in the bank. It provided more for them physically and spiritually (in the work) and also in keeping them warm throughout the season. What about looking at your skills as being of incredible value in your life? Your ability to sew, cook, knit, grow, build, etc.?

9. Ride a bike or take public transit. Obvious I know, but I had to add it.

10. Use raw materials more, packaged products less. I suppose this goes under #1 and #3.

11. Buy used.

12. Repair your old things. I recently taught myself how to darn socks and sweaters. It is incredibly satisfying. I also learned to repair wool items using needle felting, it’s like magic.

13. Change your language. Name the object, not the brand (i.e. Kleenex v.s. tissue). Words are powerful. -from Kelsi

14. Choose independent businesses over chains. Use public spaces, museums, galleries, bookshops. -from Johnny, Diana & M

15. Pay with cash. When you use debit the bank gets a fee from the vendor. When you use cash the money goes to the owner of the shop. -from Diana

16. Don’t buy bottled water (carry reusable bottles). -from Jeanette

17. Become a minimalist. Cut down on your worldly possessions. -from Anne (read :mnmlist for tips)

(I will add to this list as things come in).

October 31st, 2011

What is often missing in modern culture is this depth of connection. When you see a culture dividing into simplistic polarities — which is all of our politics nowadays and most of our religion — what’s going on is a loss of soul. People who are in touch with their soul know what they’re supposed to be doing in the world and what their way of contributing to life is, in the same way that people know what music they love and what food they enjoy — not just life-sustaining food, but food that has flavor, that makes you feel nourished, even inspired.

The U.S. has become mired in spiritual materialism. People are substituting material accomplishments or possessions for the thing the soul loves, such as music and meaningful speech. The soul even loves suffering when the suffering produces realization. In a mass effort to find superficial comforts and avoid suffering, the whole culture has lost soul.

Everyone needs some help learning who they already are. That’s the root of genuine education and the task of real culture.

-Michael Meade
(from an article in the Sun Mag which I have read and reread many times this week.)

thoughts (unfinished)

-media used to be the only thing that was commodified (magazines, newspapers, television, radio), by commodified I mean that advertising began to influence the content. Now with the advent of blog advertising (and we could also add social media) it is our very lifestyles that have become commodified. Our lives are now advertisements. Everything is for sale. The clothes we are wearing, our children’s clothing, their toys, the cream we use, our shoes.

-As with traditional media, and now with the prevalence of blog ads at some point the content exists merely to feed the advertising (no longer does the advertising support the content). Loss of honesty/integrity results.

-our relationships with people should not be connected to or influenced by consumerism.

-it used to be that culture was created by the artists. They held strong beliefs, had very strong political ideas, integrity was everything.

-now the lines between entertainment and advertising are becoming more blurred/non-existent. Advertising is entertainment. Thus advertising is culture. So culture is now formed by corporations who have no interest in the greater good of society or the planet and are self-serving and profit driven.

-what are the implications of growing up in a culture where everything is a commodity? what are we teaching our children to value?

-what is most surprising is the apparent acceptance of advertising and product endorsement as just part of the culture, especially in places where it was formerly taboo (i.e. Mothering Magazine). What has happened to the cultural consciousness that makes this okay? So-and-so is doing it so it is okay for me to do it too?

Culture is not about what we buy, or what our friends are buying.

What we really need…

What we are craving is true connection with ourselves and the people in our lives. That means deep and messy interactions. The internet makes everything tidy and keeps relationships at arms reach.

is to place value on things that actually benefit society (social welfare, health, soul, art). take the power away from corporations.

I am thinking about these things as I prepare to do another interview on the advertising and culture (re: web and social media).

October 26th, 2011

The Austrian Ministry of Science has nominated “How to be an explorer of the world” (“Wie man sich die Welt erlebt” in german) to be voted as science book of the year? Until next january everyone is free to give her/his vote for it here: wissenschaftsbuch (I had to use Google translate to read it).

I feel so very flattered and grateful for this, you cannot even imagine. I’m on top of the world today!

October 24th, 2011

We are responsible to ourselves for our own existence. Consequently we want to be the true helmsman of this existence and refuse to allow our existence to resemble a mindless act of chance. One has to take a somewhat bold and dangerous line with this existence, especially as, whatever happens, we are bound to lose it. Why go on clinging to this clod of earth, this way of life, why pay heed to what your neighbor says?

“What have you truly loved up to now; what has drawn your soul aloft; what has mastered it and at the same time blessed it?” Set up these revered objects before you, and perhaps their nature and their sequence will give you a law, the fundamental law of your own true self. Compare these objects one with another; see how one completes, expands, surpasses, transfigures another, how they constitute a stepladder upon which you have clambered up to yourself as you are now; for your true nature lies not concealed deep within you, but immeasurably high above you, or at least above that which you usually take yourself to be.

-Friedrich Nietzsche, excerpted from Untimely Meditations, found in this month’s The Sun magazine

October 20th, 2011

Look it Over

I leave behind even
my walking stick. My knife
is in my pocket, but that
I have forgot. I bring
no car, no cell phone,
no computer, no camera,
no CD player, no fax, no
TV, not even a book. I go
into the woods. I sit on
a log provided at no cost.
It is the earth I’ve come to,
the earth itself, sadly
abused by the stupidity
only humans are capable of
but, as ever, itself. Free.
A bargain! Get it while it lasts.

~Wendell Berry

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