Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘conservation’ Category

I read a disturbing article from Reuters this week, about children in Fukushima prefecture not being allowed outside to play, even two years after the disaster.   This is beyond sad, and I can’t imaging trying to raise Baby M in an environment where he had to be afraid of the air.

 

Playing outside in our safe, Canadian clean air.

Playing outside in our safe, Canadian clean air.

 

Since Fukushima, of course, there has been a lot of controversy about nuclear power, and its environmental and human impacts, especially when things go wrong.  There are a lot of vocal people who completely oppose nuclear power, under any circumstances.  I can see their point, and sympathize with it.

 

However, a lot of those same folks are also very vocally against the tar sands projects in northern Alberta, and the Keystone XL pipeline that is proposed to take bitumen from Alberta to refineries in the US.

 

I have a bit of an issue with this.  If you are living in a climate-controlled house in North America, drive a car, wear clothing you did not make yourself, and/or eating anything you didn’t grow, you need to recognize that you, too, are dependent on outside energy, and that energy most likely comes from petroleum, or, in many parts of the US, nuclear generation.

 

“Oh,” you say, “I have a windmill and drive an electric car”.

 

Not good enough.  The metals and minerals in your car and your windmill (and your solar panels and even your woodstove) were mined, and were mined using diesel.  The waste from the smelting still ended up in the environment, though probably in China, where it’s easier to forget.  I’ve read somewhere that an electric car takes so many resources to make that, in terms of total lifetime environmental damage caused by a vehicle, you are better off buying a second-hand car, even if it’s less fuel efficient.   As long as we continue to drive and live in big houses and eat food grown elsewhere, even if we slap some solar panels on the roof, there will be more generating plants, more tar sands expansion, more mines, and more environmental damage.

 

The fact of the matter is that windmills and solar panels and electric cars aren’t really a solution.  People don’t like to think about the real solution, which is to simply reduce consumption.   No more new wardrobes every season, or new iPhones every two years or new cars every three years, even if they’re electric.  No more strawberries in Saskatchewan in January.  We need to learn to do without, or, if we can’t, to buy well-made goods that will last for generations.  We need to start repairing things when they break.  We need to take some responsibility for our food supply.

 

Now, I’m no angel, here.  I drive a car to work, and heat my house with a furnace.  We grow a lot of food here, but we buy a lot, too…some of it even imported.  It’s hard to live a low-resource lifestyle in a country that’s set up for commuting and consumption.  But I sure get sick of seeing people drive up to join in a tar sands protest, or type furious internet comments about nuclear disasters on their brand new phones.  We’re all part of the problem, but until we define what, exactly, the real problem is, there won’t be any viable solutions.  So maybe it’s time to face our own hypocrisy and start working towards low-consumption lifestyles.  Then we can talk about tar sands protests.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Today being Remembrance Day, there are a lot of news stories, chain e-mails, facebook posts, and the like, all glorifying our veterans.  In particular, I saw a photo of a little boy, maybe 8 or 10, in a military-style uniform, saluting a casket in a military graveyard.  The caption says “Don’t worry, Dad, I’ll take care of Mom”.

 

This is sad, to me, on so many levels, though maybe not the intended one.  It is touching, and all, but if his father is a recent casualty, especially an American one, he probably died in a war that was not about freedom, or defending his country, or even defending innocents in another country.  Although thinly veiled under a guise of promoting democracy, most of the wars that the First World has taken an interest in are based on resources…mostly oil.

 

You see, First World folks, including myself, and, if you are reading this post on a home computer in a climate-controlled home, probably you too, use a disproportionate amount of all of the world’s resources, including oil.  We have central heating and air conditioning in our homes, drive car long distances to work, import food grown thousands of miles away out of season, and use and dispose of millions of tons of plastic stuff that we really don’t need, or maybe even want, but feel we have to acquire and replace in an attempt to keep up with the Joneses.

 

Peak oil is a certainty – sooner or later, we will have used up half of the oil that ever existed.  In fact, it is commonly believed that the global peak occurred around 2005.  Not that oil will run out anytime soon, but it will get more expensive, harder to find, and subject to more demand as there is less available.  People get all upset about mining the tar sands in Alberta, but then turn around and support a dirty wars in third-world Middle Eastern countries that are all about resource extraction and have a much greater environmental and civilian toll than the tar sands ever will.   Sometimes, these same folks drive gas-guzzling SUV’s and complain about the price of gas, without apparently recognizing the hypocrisy.   Or buy a new wardrobe a few times a year.  Or always have the latest iPhone.  Eat imported baby spinach and red peppers in January, and meat two meals a day.   Bulldoze trees and agricultural land to build 4,000 square foot houses on 1 and 2 acre lots with HOA agreements not to keep gardens or livestock.

 

I am no angel when it comes to resource use.  Canadians are some of the worst culprits on earth.  I have central heating, and commute 25 miles to work.  I eat imported oranges and bananas.  I have a child (first-world children are huge resource guzzlers).  I recognize this, and am working towards doing things differently, by buying second-hand, driving smaller vehicles, avoiding useless and unnecessary consumerism, growing food, and the like.  I would like to do so much more, but it will be a gradual process, because my corner of the world is not set up for truly low-resource lifestyles, and it can be costly and difficult to break out of that mold.

 

If people really wanted to honor our military and our veterans, we would do everything in our power not to embroil ourselves in pointless and unnecessary resource wars.  We would lobby for better public transportation, urban bike lanes, and higher fuel efficiency standards.  We would support local farmers, and eat the majority of our food in-season.  We would buy durable, rather than disposable, goods, and repair them when they broke down, rather than always having the newest gadget.  We would change our mindset and our consumption.  We would learn to scale back, rather than demand that our men and women in uniform sacrifice themselves for our greed and selfishness.   I do not recall the exact statistics, but I am sure I have read that if North Americans returned to the standard of living we had in the 1950’s, we could be independent of imported oil altogether.

 

There are fights that need to be fought, and we need the courageous men and women in uniform to protect those who cannot protect themselves.  I have nothing but respect for the selflessness of our serving and veteran military members.   Remembrance Day is about remembering our veterans, but it is also about remembering the horror of war, and the reasons to avoid it at all costs.  Let’s make sure that the sacrifices that are made are truly necessary, and not just to support our cushy lifestyles.

 

Read Full Post »

…as in the weather has been hot.  Damn hot.  And surprisingly humid, for a part of the world that normally sees around 16 inches of precipitation…annually.   While it is not as hot as, say, Cairo (37), or Seville (38), or even Atlanta (34) or Houston (33), the temperatures have been up there, lately.  Today, our thermometer read 30 degrees for most of the day, and Environment Canada indicated that our humidity was around 50%, adding at least five degrees to the “feels like” temperature.

 

Our house, being of late-50’s vintage, and having never even had the kitchen linoleum updated, let alone the climate control system, has no air conditioning.  I actually don’t mind this too much, since a/c always makes me feel sick, with a scratchy sore throat and a headache.  Even though Hubby’s car has air, we normally just roll down the windows.  We’re such Luddites…

 

Since the heat effectively grounds the mosquitoes, Hubby says he does not mind it at all, and he has been out working in the garden the last couple of days.  This afternoon, I took him out a big ole bottle of homemade iced tea, to help stave off heat exhaustion.  I stayed to supervise the weeding for awhile, and  got myself a bit of a sunburn…unusual, considering the tan I have acquired this year – one of the better ones I have had since I came back from North Africa.  Turns out, one of the latest meds has photosensitivity as a side effect, I (somewhat belatedly) discovered.

 

While I was in North Africa, I made a bunch of discoveries about coping with heat.  I got so good at it that even the locals in Aswan in southern Egypt shook their heads and called me crazy when I set out on a ten kilometer uphill walk on a 45 degree day.  I was fine, I might add, though I drank over 5 liters of water in just under 6 hours.  What I discovered is that salt, sugar, and caffeine are your friends.   The salt replaces what you sweat out…it may sound counter-intuitive, but you need salt in your system to keep your cells hydrated.  The caffeine helps with that droopy feeling you get when you are too warm – it constricts your blood vessels, which tend to relax in the heat and slow your circulation, making you feel sluggish.  The sugar is a quick energy boost when your body is too hot to put much effort into real digestion.  Then, you need water.  Lots and lots of pure water.  Liters of it, consumed a sip here and a swallow there, before you actually feel thirsty, because in real heat, by the time you feel really thirsty, you will have a hard time getting enough water in you to compensate for what you are losing in sweat.

 

Another trick is to hold your hands in cold water up to the wrists, or soak your feet.

 

Having never lived in a house with air conditioning, I have also learned tricks to stay cool enough to sleep.  First and foremost, don’t add to your misery by running the dryer, or cooking on the stove.  Those ones are obvious, but I have also found that running a computer can heat up a room in an awful hurry.  Though we don’t have a TV or video game system or big stereo, I would guess that they would also throw off a significant amount of heat.  Pay attention to what is heating up the room, as this can add five or ten degrees, maybe more, and ten degrees can be the difference between a sweaty night of tossing and turning, and an acceptable snooze.

 

Mom always closed all of the windows and blinds first thing in the morning, then opened everything back up in the evening to catch the cool breezes and cool the house.  We don’t have blinds on most of the windows here, yet, and the sheer curtains in the living room don’t do much to keep out the light or heat, so we take a different tactic.  We keep windows on the cool sides of the house (west and north in the morning, east in the evening) open to catch whatever breeze we can, but cover the windows as best we can (even using blankets) when the sun hits them.  In the hottest part of the day today, the house was substantially cooler inside than out, and not muggy at all.

 

We feed the dogs ice cubes and keep their water dish as cool as possible, as our poor husky is really not built for summer temperatures.  The cats, on the other hand, get all offended that I have blocked off all of their sunbeams.  Go figure.

 

Someday I will build myself a summer kitchen, or at least acquire a barbeque, but in the meantime, meals have been along the lines of ricotta and crackers, or milk-and-frozen-fruit smoothies, or veggies and dip.  Ice cream with canned fruit has been a lunchtime favorite lately, and I have been known to snack on frozen strawberries.  I suppose we could do sandwiches, if we had any luncheon meat, but neither of us has really been interested in sitting down for a ‘proper’ meal.  Tomorrow, when it is cooler (the weatherman is calling for rain), I will make up more ricotta, and do any other cooking that might be necessary, like pasteurizing milk and canning up all of the saskatoon berries Hubby picked for me earlier this week.  You have to plan ahead for this stuff.

 

Come bedtime, if it is still too warm inside, and there is no breeze (like tonight) even with all the windows open and the ceiling fan in the living room going full blast, I make a point of going to bed with wet hair.  Even a brief duck through the shower (or, in my case, a bucket of cool water poured over my head) can cool you down substantially.  I also wipe my arms and face with a damp cloth just before laying down.  If it is really hot, I wet a dish towel, then wring it out until it is just damp, and use that instead of a sheet.  Of course, this only works if the humidity is low (which is usually in in Saskatchewan), but as the water evaporates, it cools the towel (and me), which is sometimes the last little bit of cooling I need to get to sleep…

Read Full Post »

Hubby and I have been going for a lot of nature walks lately, as walking seems to help my back, and I have been particularly sore.  I have been taking an identification book for edible wild plants, just for fun, and always keep a few ziploc baggies with me, in case we see anything interesting to pick.  My mother and father were both interested in edible wild foods, as was an auntie who I spent a lot of time with as a child.  There are numerous plants around here that I can identify with a glance, and know what it is good for, be it food, seasoning, or herbal medicine.  I had forgotten about that, after so many years of living in town, and mostly visiting parks and ‘tame forests’, or going high up in the mountains, where the plants are less familiar.  It is fun to be able to walk down by the river and point out to Hubby: “Hey, look, that one is a wild hazelnut!  We will have to come back here in a couple of months.  Oh, and here are some Saskatoons that are almost ripe!”

 

I have been picking things that I think are particularly tasty or useful, like rose petals and yarrow.  There is an important element of conservation to wildcrafting, though – you have to leave enough plants to regenerate for next year.  This is not such a big deal with the roses, as all we’ve been taking are the petals, which still  leaves the fruit (rose hips) to form, as long as you are gentle and don’t pull the whole flower off.  Later, though, we will be careful not to take all of the rose hips, as not only are they the seeds for new roses next year and on into the future, but they are also an important food for deer and wild birds over the winter.  There are lots, and we will remember to share.  With the yarrow, though, we have been taking the whole plant, so I am careful not to take more than one out of three or four, so that the patches can regenerate.

 

Just because of the time of year, most of the focus is on flowers right now.  There is white clover everywhere, and although I have not tried it (yet), I understand it makes a nice tea.  We have some drying in the pantry right now, to try out later.  I have also had an eye out for wild chamomile here at the Acreage; there is lots and lots of it on the driveway, but I don’t want to be drinking something that has been driven over a hundred times.  I am finally seeing some flowering along an old lane that used to lead to all of the granaries, and managed to pick a few flowers today, though that involves a lot of bending, which does not work so well with a sore back.  Maybe another day when I am feeling better, I will go back and collect more.  Chamomile makes a lovely tea, and smells sweet and soothing.

 

Later, we will take buckets with us as we walk, and pick the Saskatoons (probably in a couple of weeks, as they are starting to turn colours already), and hazelnuts, the rose hips after the first frost in the autumn, and maybe even wild highbush cranberries, if I feel I can identify them reliably enough.   For now, the house smells of roses and chamomile while the flowers are drying, and we’re eagerly anticipating the wild strawberries, which I see should be coming ripe soon…

Read Full Post »

There are a bunch of thoughts I have been saving up, nothing big enough for its own post, but ideas I wanted to share.

 

 

Barn Pants:

The barn is…smelly.  In a good way – we clean it pretty regularly, but goats and chickens and cats have…aromas.  Aromas I do not necessarily want to be wearing to work.  Furthermore, chores involve a variety of filth – every morning and evening, we scoop the chicken crap out of the waterers, dole out several kinds of food to the various critters, pet and groom said critters, and milk – my aim is improving, but I still don’t always hit the bucket.  If I were to wear a fresh pair of jeans every day, we would be doing a lot of laundry…and I am pretty sure I’ve made it clear on this blog how we feel about laundry around here.  Therefore, Hubby and I have designated Barn Clothes, that hang in the entryway, ranging from somewhat soiled to totally filthy, and only get washed when it rains and the water is free.  For winter, we will be getting some coveralls, but for summertime, the designated clothing system seems to be working.  Just one more small way to conserve water…

 

 

Emergency Soup:

We have had a lot of storms here, lately, causing several power outages.  No power here means no water (cistern pump is electric) no sewer (ditto the septic pump-out), no lights (for obvious reasons), and no stove (until I get a wood stove, that is).   We have back-up plans for dealing with these things – we keep a couple of jugs of water on hand, for instance, and I have my trusty kerosene lamps.  Back up plans or no, though, these power outages are getting darn inconvenient.   The other night, we came in from chores just in time for a huge crash of lightning and thunder to kill the electricity…again.  We were cold, wet, tired, and hungry.   I had planned to make a quick meal of pasta and white sauce, and a cup of tea.   We waited around for half an hour to see if the power would come back on, but it did not.   We wound up snacking on cheese and crackers, but I was quite put out about it.  I really wanted a hot meal, but I could not justify wasting the time and fuel to dig out the camping stove and put a two- or three- pot meal together, and I was too cold and tired to think up anything easier.

 

Last summer, Hubby and I planned to do a long (week – plus) kayaking trip.  We taste-tested a bunch of freeze-dried / dehydrated camping food, but found most of it over-priced and / or inferior.  So, we bought a bunch of freeze dried and dehydrated ingredients, with the intent of creating our own meals for the trip.   I remembered those ingredients the next day (after the power had come back on, of course), and put together a couple of meals in quart jars – freeze dried green beans and celery, dehydrated carrots and onions, parsley, pepper, and minute rice – all we have to do is add some no-MSG bullion (I can’t tolerate MSG), and some boiling water – voila, instant vegetable soup!  I taste-tested a batch, and it was quite nice.  The next time I want a hot meal during a power outage, all I have to be able to do is boil a pot of water – just one pot, and no thinking necessary.  At the rate the power has been flickering here, though, I may need to come up with a couple more recipes, just for variety.  We are at the end of the road, and not a priority for repairs, I suspect, and it has been a bad year for thunderstorms already…

 

 

The Wayward Cat:

Earlier this week, we opened up all of the barn doors, and finally let the three new cats roam free.  We had been putting it off, due to inclement weather, plus various construction projects we were still completing – Stevie is a bit…tightly wound…and we were afraid the pounding and sawing would scare him off.  Sure enough, even without the pounding and sawing, Stevie immediately disappeared, and did not turn up for supper.  Bobby did not want to come back into the barn to be locked up for the night, but at least she put in an appearance.  We really want to keep everyone in the barn at night, as there are so many predators here – owls, foxes, coyotes, and apparently even bears and wolves, though we’ve never seen either here.   Today was about day four with no sign of Stevie, and we were beginning to give up hope.  We were feeling pretty bad about it, as he was a nice cat, even if he was a little sketchy.  Lo and behold, though, at supper chores tonight, who turned up but Stevie, hungry and a little ragged-looking, but otherwise unharmed.  Sighs of relief all around!

 

Read Full Post »

It rained yesterday, finally.  The weatherman had called for rain on at least six separate days lately, with no luck.  Even yesterday’s shower wasn’t exactly a downpour, but enough to properly water the garden, at least.

It was also enough to have Hubby running around outside, putting various containers under drips from the eaves.

There are only so many water conservation tactics we can use in our situation.  I have to shower more frequently than I might bother with if I were not dealing with the public every day, for instance.  My “showers” (bucket baths, as the shower is not working, and not all that high on our priority list right now) only take 5 or 6 gallons, but I do that most every day, which makes a dent in the water supply.  We re-use the bathwater for watering the freshly-planted trees, so we are getting two uses out of every gallon, at least.

My clothing also has to be presentable or better.  With cats and dogs and living in the middle of nowhere where it is either dusty or muddy almost all of the time, we do a fair bit of laundry.  We put off doing some things – kitchen floor mats, for instance, or the doggie beds – but it all needs washing eventually.  We were holding off, waiting for the rain, since every full load ‘costs’ us 60 gallons of water.  And water costs a fortune.  We need a front-loading washer or some other low-use option, but for the moment, money is tight, so we have to improvise.

So with the rain, I sorted the laundry while Hubby hauled buckets of water in.  To do the laundry with rainwater, we load up the washer, add the soap, and start pouring water in.  When we think we have enough water in the tub, we shut the lid briefly to make sure the washer does not try to add more.  We make a note of how much water we added, so that we put in enough for the rinse cycle.  Then we run downstairs and turn off the water supply to the machine.

You have to pay a lot of attention when you are doing laundry this way.  At the beginning of the rinse cycle, the machine makes a funny noise, which sounds like it is straining for something.  We have been careful to add water right away, so as not to burn out any motors or anything.  Hauling the water is quite a bit of work.   However, with this rain, we managed to do five loads of laundry (two normal loads of clothing, and three loads if stuff we had been saving, like towels and dog beds and the like), and did not use any hauled water at all.  The laundry smells quite nice, too.  Hubby was a bit dubious about using the water off the roof for the rinse cycle, as there was some dust and pollen in it, but our laundry looks as clean as ever.   Anyone with a rain barrel could do the same.

Hopefully it keeps raining at least once a week, and we can keep doing laundry cheaply until we can afford that darn front-loader…

Read Full Post »

So we had our TV – less home invaded by two adults and three kids (aged 4 to 10) for the weekend – Hubby’s brother and his family.  I say invaded, but really, we were absolutely delighted to have them.  They drove all day to come and help us dig holes and plant things and cut down trees and bushes.  They said they wanted to do some ‘real work’ for awhile.   And take pictures of their kids doing ‘country’ things like building forts and planting trees.   The kids were pretty disappointed that we did not have chickens or goats yet, but made do with the house pets.   One of our dogs outweighs any two of the kids put together, but by the end of the weekend, even the littlest one could boss her around – the pooches soaked up all the attention.  The cats were less impressed, and mostly hid out, but that just gave the kids a new thing to stave off boredom – cat stalking.

The weather co-operated, sort of.  It was clear and sunny, and sweltering – almost thirty degrees Celsius on Sunday.  Not ideal for yard work, but certainly better than cold and rainy.

On Saturday, I grabbed my hand pruners to cut a couple of eyeball – poking – height dead branches from the crab apple tree.  Five minutes later, I was searching for pruning shears for two kids to help.  Twenty minutes after that, their mom came out with the bow saw, and by the end of the morning, we had cleared a big, gorgeous area under a maple tree that had been completely obscured by caraganas and lilacs.   It took hours and hours, and our sister-in-law spent even more time cleaning up the ground and raking everything out.  It was not a job we had planned to tackle, but it is much appreciated – now we’ll have a shady spot to kick back with beverages on those thirty-degree days.  Sis says it is her housewarming gift to us, and I can’t think of anything I would have liked better!

Meanwhile, the boys (all three of them) dug post holes.  The little guy was really enthusiastic about digging, and motivated the adults to keep at it, which was an accomplishment all in itself.  While Hubby was digging by himself, one of the ground squirrels came by to tell him off, and was so busy watching Hubby while it ran that it fell in one of the post holes.   That one was good for a laugh!

The kids were fascinated by the hummingbirds at the feeder, and the littlest one would holler every time one came to have a drink.   “Hummingbird!  Hummingbird!  Hey. guys, come see the…oh, it’s gone now…”  It was pretty cute.

Somewhere along the way, I wanted to identify a couple of plants that I was wondering about.  I had my wild plant book and a ten year old shadow, and we wandered off into the woods beside the house.  it turned out that yes, in fact, we do have stinging nettles, and also tons of  chokecherries and possibly wild gooseberries or currants, though I will have to see them bloom to be sure.   We also disturbed a frog.  Instead of shrieking and being grossed out, my niece tried to catch it.  When she couldn’t, she asked me to help.  We dragged the poor little guy in and set him in a jar on the windowsill until suppertime, when we let him go again.

Having kids around really brought back memories of my own summers on my Auntie’s acreage when I was a kid.  I hope they had as much fun as I always did.

I was also very impressed at how little water an extra five people used.  Now, this family has been on missions to third world countries where water is precious, and know all about conservation, but really, the five of them used less water than the two of us usually do.  They did, however, eat more than we had accounted for.  After going through a loaf and a half of bread and a whole box of cereal by the end of the first day, we made a quick run into town for groceries.  It would have been less of a deal if the weather had been cool, and we could cook on the stove without heating the house too much, but in this weather, we were kind of down to sandwiches and cut veggies.

We accomplished a lot over the weekend.  The boys finished digging all of the post holes for the goat yard, and started putting the posts in, as well.   They also dug a bunch of holes for our latest delivery of trees and bushes, and my sister-in-law and I planted blueberries, currants, blackberries, hazelnuts, cherries, apricots, apples, pears, and a plum.   I now have four big circular flower beds in the front lawn, though they mostly won’t hold flowers this year – we never got around to building the raised beds for the strawberries, so they are living in the flower beds with the roses.  It will actually probably be quite pretty.   Brother-in-law figured out how to get one of the painted-shut windows open, and we took down storm windows and hung screens for the summer.  Hubby and I also put in fifty asparagus plants and a couple of rhubarb roots.  Those ones looked kind of dead, so we will see if they actually grow or not.   Sister-in-law and the kids moved most of the brush pile for the kids to build a fort with – ‘coincidentally’ in the spot where we had wanted to move the brush pile to.   Then there was a lot of pruning, and clearing the sitting area.  All in all, I am not sure if they will want to come back, with all the work we made them do, but it moved us forward by weeks on the digging, planting, and building, and we are very grateful for that.

Of course, now the forecast is for frost tonight, so it appears that planting out the peppers and tomatoes was, in fact, premature.  Oh, well – we’ll find some old sheets and towels, I guess…

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »