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).

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