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Michael Schmidt talk at Huron College, March 02 2011

Raw milk and food freedom advocate Michael Schmidt is coming to talk at Huron!  Please join us for this exciting presentation and discussion:
When: Wednesday, March 02, 7-9pm
Where: The Great Hall, Huron University College
Admission is free
For background information on Michael Schmidt, please see the following article:
All welcome!

Flea Update

I’ve been going over old posts and comments (trying to catch up at long last!  I apologize if I have not replied to your comment – I do read each and every one of them and greatly appreciate your thoughts!) and was just reminded of my fall flea problem.  I thought I should post the results of my struggle to rid my home of these pests.

I really did struggle with these uninvited guests and got to the point of deciding to simply use chemicals to get rid of them.  I mean, the dogs were all scratching constantly and their coats were becoming dull and dry.  Clearly they were uncomfortable and I had to do something to put an end to it.  So I went to my new vet and asked for a package of some kind of topical flea killing toxin (other than Revolution, which in my opinion is simply too dangerous to put on my animals).  Well, the vet wouldn’t sell me anything without seeing all my pets first!  I simply did not have the time or money at the time, so I booked an appointment a few weeks into the future and went home, frustrated, to comb the internet for other options.

Surprisingly, I came across something that I had not yet read: a short article explaining that you can vacuum up as many as 95% of fleas & eggs if you vacuum regularly!  The trick is that you then have to dispose of the contents of the vacuum.  Otherwise they just re-emerge and re-infest.  Duh!  How simple is that?

I also went to a local feed store and bought a (40lb) bag of Diametaceous Earth, that turned out to be mixed with clay so it made quite a dusty mess. Nevertheless, I sprinkled it all over my floors, couch and bare mattress.  I stripped all bedding and took all dog beds etc. and put them in the shed.  Then I left for two weeks over Christmas.  When I got home I vacuumed the entire house, brought in and washed the bedding, and voila!  So far, no more fleas.

I do expect to see more of the little critters come spring, but I am now prepared with an action plan.  Basically I will simply vacuum regularly and then immediately remove the bag.  As these bags are expensive (and I am trying very hard to reduce my consumption and waste), I put them into my dog meat freezer and re-use them until they are full.  Only then do I throw them out.  But storing them in the freezer (or you can put them outside) kills any adult fleas and prevents eggs from hatching in your house.

This really is a simple way of controlling fleas and I really hope that it continues to work come spring and summer.  I will certainly post on any new developments.

So What Comes Next?

Reading week break at last!  Thank goodness for this week off teaching as I don’t think I would make it through the rest of term without it.  The last six weeks have been probably the busiest of my life.  Certainly I have never worked so hard, and yet I feel like I am constantly coming up short and never achieving anywhere close to what I need to be doing. My levels of stress, fatigue and frustration are starting to take a toll on my health, so I am very grateful for this week ‘off.’  I hope to get a lot done over the next five days, having spent the first three of the break doing very little other than cooking, cleaning and visiting with my wonderful friend Angela who came to stay for a few days.  She left this morning and now I have to get back to work.

My plan for the week is to get caught up on my backlog of grading, get ahead in my lesson plans, and hopefully do a little cooking as well.  This morning I put a double batch of chicken soup stock on the stove and that will begin my culinary endeavours for the week.  This afternoon I plan on making a batch of fermented veggies to get me through the rest of winter.  Beyond that, I have to spend some time reading through my cook books and coming up with ideas.

Overall, working (more than) full-time while trying to eat local and live somewhat more lightly on the earth than average is becoming a grueling, miserable existence.  I seriously cannot imagine most people being able to sustain such an effort, particularly if they have a family.  Perhaps if you have a partner who is 100% on-board and you work together.  Even better if you can connect with friends who similarly wish to participate in these alternative practices.  For example, Angela and I have very similar approaches to nourishment, yet we live 4 hours apart making it impossible to do more than support each other through verbal encouragement.  And I have other friends & family members who would no doubt be very happy to participate and share the work, but we all live so scattered about that trying to do so may end up actually being more effort than just going it alone.

I have to say, neoliberal capitalism (as the pinnacle of the capitalist project, so far at least) has really done an impressive job of fracturing and fragmenting our society.  As I watch the events in the Middle East unfold, I envy their collective spirit and camaraderie.  No, I am not glorifying their struggles or the tough lives many of them lead, but I am impressed and inspired by the level of collectivity still present in their societies.  I am very doubtful that here in Canada we could ever come together en-mass like this to protest against injustice.  Well, perhaps in the East or in Québec, where the sense of community remains more intact, but here in Ontario I think it highly unlikely.  At least for now.  We’re too busy stumbling along in our zombie state of consumption comma to even be aware that something’s wrong.

That said, I am meeting and connecting with a growing – rapidly growing it seems – network of people trying to make change in our crazy lifestyle.  I am exhausted right now and feeling a bit down and negative, but this gives me hope.  Really I can’t see how we can keep stumbling along the way we do for much longer.  Something’s going to have to give.  Perhaps it already has.

Last week I had a guest speaker come to one of my classes.  She argued that American hegemony is dead.  And along with it, the lifestyle it exports.  It may take some time for its legacy to die out, but the change has already taken place she believes.  Certainly watching the events in Egypt has made me think this way as well.  A decade ago the US would never, ever have allowed something like this to happen to their stronghold in the Middle East. That Obama hasn’t even released a formal verbal response makes clear to me the depth of US impotence.  As we look at Egypt – and increasingly the rest of the Middle East – and wonder ‘what’s next?’, I think we need to put this question to ourselves as well.  If giant corporations, acting through the Federal Government, are attacking single farmers over miniscule volumes of food they, too, must be sensing their impending demise.  Now more than ever, we must live the change we wish to see in the world.

Of course only time will tell what’s really going on.  But I have no doubt that we are experiencing dramatic transition right now.  To what?  I have no idea.  But historians will certainly look back at this era and mark it as the turning point to whatever is coming next.  And let’s hope it will be something better than the present.  Surely our socially and environmentally destructive lifestyle shouldn’t be that difficult to improve upon!

In the spirit of all of the above, I have been – yes, once again – trying to figure out what to do with my life after April.  This is the third year in a row where, as my contracts near their end, I am left dangling with no idea of what’s coming beyond the end of the academic year.  I have to say this is getting very old.  Academia’s growing dependency on contract teaching suggests that I would have some kind of job security, even if it only offers a below poverty-line income without even the most basic of benefits (in exchange for 10 years of graduate education!).  But they can’t even tell me what might be available for next year yet.  So while it is likely I’ll find something, there are no guarantees and right now there is absolutely zero work on the horizon.

I’m quite frankly fed up with not knowing what my next step is.  So, in keeping with my new-found conviction that neoliberalism is dead and that I must be the change I wish to emerge from the transition, I have decided that I am now an ‘independent academic.’  I’ve met a few people who claim this title and have long admired them.  I am now claiming it for myself.  And as such, I have decided that I am going to take a sabbatical.  After all, I’ve been slogging away at this academic business for 7 years now (actually 10 if you count my masters work), and one is supposed to take a sabbatical every seven years.  As an independent academic, I don’t have any administration to answer to, so I am giving myself permission to take 2011-12 off of teaching so that I can focus on finishing my dissertation and getting myself published.

My sabbatical begins on May 01, 2011, and I can’t wait!

In the meantime, I have decided to give notice on my house and find a more appropriate home in which to spend this time.  Specifically I need to find a house that is better maintained, and that has some south-facing garden space so that I can get back to growing (at least some of) my own food.  While I love my current house, it is rapidly deteriorating and the landlord refuses to fix anything.  As there are no heating ducts on the second floor, I’ve had to close it off and live in the dining-living room & kitchen for the last two months.  Only a couple of light switches work in the house, the dryer is broken (not that I use it that often), the roof is in such bad shape that much of it ends up on the lawn with every windstorm, and it leaks into one of the spare bedroom.  To make matters worse, in the cold of this winter I’ve discovered just how inefficient the woodstove is (compared to a high-end woodstove, which would be a wonderful asset in such temperatures), and also that the person I bought wood from likely sold me a lot of soft wood mixed in with the hardwood, which burns poorly.  It’s not even the end of February and I’m almost out of wood.  Turning up the furnace (located in an un-insulated basement and that uses uninsulated pipes) is prohibitively expensive.

Finally, my lane hasn’t been plowed once this winter and has been impassable since December.  As such I have to leave my car several hundred feet from the house and drag my bags of books, boxes of food and whatnot back and forth through knee deep snow every day.  Now I should simply be grateful that I can afford the convenience of owning a car, however this is lost on me after working a 13 hour day and arriving home at 11pm at night in -20C.  For the last two months I have been chronically cold, exhausted and fed up with living in this house.  Suffice it to say, I need to find a home that is easier (and cheaper) to maintain for the coming year.  I will be giving my two month’s notice at the end of this month, and trust I’ll find a new place for the month of April.

All of the above is taking a very big leap of faith. I do believe fervently that when you follow your heart, the forces of the universe will align to support you.  But it’s frightening nevertheless.  I’m scared for our collective future, as well as for my own.  But I believe that by acting in good faith, by following my (our) heart(s) and by taking a chance, I (we) can get to somewhere better.  What that will be, only time will tell.

Happy New Year!

Phew!  Made it through another year.  The last few weeks of 2010 just flew by, as did Christmas.  And now here we are in January, starting a new year.  I hope you had a wonderful, relaxing and restorative holiday.  Mine was quite busy, with little time to relax, write or cook.  And then I started back to work on January 03rd, which pretty much hit me like a freight train!  That will teach me to take a few days “off”.

I just woke up from a three hour nap and thought I’d putter about a little before going back to bed.  After tidying the kitchen, I did some prep work to prepare for some cooking tomorrow.  Specifically I have some lentils and some beans soaking so that they will be ready to cook with in the morning.  I spent a few minutes (before falling into a deep sleep for what should have been a short cat nap!) going through Nourishing Traditions and identified several recipes that I have the ingredients to make over the next couple of days: a lentil soup, baked beans, Russian beat salad, and an apple-celeriac salad (this recipe from my Christmas present – Moosewood cookbook).

The next fourteen weeks are going to be very, very challenging.  I am now teaching a 150% course load, plus working part time at another job two days a week.  Last week I already had to pull two all-nighters, and one night with just 4 hours sleep.  And that was just the first week of the semester.  I’m a bit worried about the weeks to come.  My courses are exciting though, and I have great students, so I am for the most part looking forward to the experience.  I just wish it wasn’t going to be quite so intense.

My new year’s resolutions this year are in the form of promises to myself.  The first is to keep my house in good order.  As I wrote about before, I made a very concerted effort to keep my house in “receiving” order during November and December.  That is, keeping it presentable and ready to receive guests at any time, with food in my fridge, and wine in the wine rack.  Amazingly, within a week of doing this, I had three separate groups of people stop by.  I should point out that I never, ever have people come to my house-in-the-middle-of-nowhere, at least not this time of year.  Last year I think I had guests once all winter, and that was a planned event by invite.  So to have people come and visit spontaneously, or invite themselves over, was really amazing.  I am convinced it was not a coincidence.  Since I love to have people over, I have promised myself to keep my home in receiving order at all times.  Who knows who will stop by next?

I have also promised myself to get into better shape.  One of the reasons I haven’t written in a while is that my back went out before the break, which made it almost impossible to sit for any length of time at a computer.  Since I had so much academic work to do, any time sitting at a desk was reserved for that.  I spent some time over the break having work done on my back, and also doing some exercise.  I went to the gym with my brother and felt immensely better afterwards.  So, as much as I dislike gyms, I am signing up for a membership.  The gym I’m joining has a swimming pool (and hot tub and sauna!) and offers aquafit classes, among other things that should be very good for my back.  Come spring, I want to get back into barefoot running.  I think the little I did last summer was very beneficial to both my back and to my health in general.  Certainly it was invigorating.  Not really practical in the snow, however!

With respect to food, I’d like to expand my cooking skills.  I have now mastered quite a few basics: simple soups, sourdough bread, cottage cheese, butter, yogurt & various cultured creams, sauerkraut and a few others.  Now I want to expand my recipe base, and further explore fermentation.  I’m planning on buying some kefir grains and perhaps a few other culture starters with which to experiment.  I tried making apple cider vinegar over the holiday, but a mouse decided to go for a swim in it (and drowned), so it ended up in the compost.  Trying to make vinegar again is probably going to be my first step.  Water kefirs and mead will be next!

As for more solid edibles, I want to start cooking more complex meals, or simple meals with several courses.  This was inspired by a conversation I had a few weeks ago:

Me: I have eaten nothing but beet soup for the past 5 days.

Friend: Oh, are you on a cleanse?

How embarrassing!  No, not on a cleanse.  Just didn’t have time to cook more than once a week, so I was making one huge pot of something, and eating it 2-3 times a days.  Even if what I made was the epitome of health (beet soup with fermented beats, beef stock and home cultured cream), this is not exactly a balanced diet.  Time to work on that!

I’m debating building a small incubator to start seedlings with for the spring, but may not have the time.  It might also not be practical.  My life is still very much up in the air after April, and moving seedlings is not really going to make things easier.  Or, should I stay put, there is no place to plant them. Still, I may start a few plants as I really miss this activity.  Which reminds me – time to take out my copy of Fertile Ground, a wonderful guide to growing food that is organized on a “what to do every month” basis.  (note to self: this year’s Seedy Saturday in  London is on March 19th).  January is order your seed catalogue month!  At the very least, I am going to expand my herb garden this year.  I am really, really enjoying making teas from the herbs I dried last year.  I have them all in mason jars on a shelf, and every time I make tea I place a pinch of this and that into a tea ball and then steep.  Delicious and very satisfying on many levels.

With respect to plastic consumption, I have promised myself to become even more vigilant in avoiding this toxic waste.  I am not ready to go ‘plastic free’ – much as I would love to.  But just trying to stick to my guns around my cooking ethic while working such an insane schedule, and trying to exercise and socialize, is enough challenge for now.  Perhaps I’ll take that more radical step in the future.  For now, I will continue to find new ways to avoid plastic, and otherwise continue to say no to plastic bags, packaging in general (where possible) and steadily replace the plastics in my house with less poisonous substances.  My first planned purchases: stainless steel razor, a non-plastic toothbrush, and a hemp shower curtain.

Speaking of which, I have continued to use baking soda and vinegar to wash my hair.  I found that after about 6 weeks, my hair started to be slightly greasy even right after being washed. So it looks like I will need to use shampoo every 5-6 weeks or so.  That said, I had my hair cut this week and I asked my stylist what she thought of the condition of my hair.  Typically she would tell me that it was dry, had residue, needed to be cleansed etc.  This time she said “it’s incredibly healthy!”  I told her my new regime and she was amazed, but not completely surprised.  Seems that at least using vinegar for a rinse is well known to be great for hair in the salon world.

With respect to socializing, I have also been sticking to my guns about making space for that as well.  I make plans for most Friday evenings as I work until 4pm in London so am in town already.  I have been going out regularly with friends and on dates.  This is really making a difference in my psyche I think.  I am energized by spending time with good friends and interesting people, and this helps combat the stress of being overworked.  As a result, while I am tired much of the time, I actually am feeling really good and relatively energetic.  That I worked out a gym is a first for me in years.  I think this is really the true test of how much I have recovered from my chronic fatigue.  I not only worked out, but I felt great afterwards and wanted to do more.  This is a first in nearly 10 years.  I cannot tell you how happy this makes me feel.

So all in all, while 2010 had some bumps, it was a really terrific year.  I found work I love (if a bit too much of it!), re-kindled my social life, continued to reclaim my health and energy, made positive steps towards living life in a more sustainable way and spent time loving, laughing and learning.  Really, what more could I ask for?

Sustainability* in the Bathroom

(*I recognize that using this word without defining it is problematic.  I am writing an entire dissertation on this, and recognize that I am guilty as charged.  This is simply a catchier title for my entry than “How to reduce the disposable, non-biodegradable plastic consumption in your bathroom habits”)

In an effort to prepare for my friend Renata’s visit tomorrow (as well as to be procrastinating productively), this morning I took down my shower curtains and put both the inner plastic liner and the outer cloth curtain through the wash.  This reminded me that I’ve been meaning to write a post about the changes I’ve made in the bathroom this year.

As you may recall, when I left my house in town and moved out to the country, I purged my home of as much plastic as I could possible eliminate.  Most of this was found in the kitchen – tupperware containers, plastic wrap, plastic utensils, plastic dishes and so on.  Kitchens are typically chock full of plastic products.  I now cringe when I visit homes with small children and see all the plastic dishes they are given to eat from, day in and day out.  Regardless of claims now of ‘BPA-free’ plastic, I firmly believe that it is all toxic and want as little interaction with it as possible, especially around food!

Of course avoiding plastic is completely impossible, but we can certainly reduce it in our daily practice.  My food is now only stored in glass, be it Mason jars or Pyrex dishes.  I bring my lunch to work in variously sized Mason jars.   Cooking is done in glass or stainless steel bowls, and stainless or cast iron pots.  I stir things with wooden spoons, and flip pancakes with a metal spatula.

While it took a fair bit of time to identify, and subsequently replace, the plastic in my kitchen, that project is mostly complete now.  It wasn’t long into this purge, however, that I realized that my bathroom was another plastic haven. And surprisingly, getting rid of plastic in the bathroom has posed far more of challenge than doing so in the kitchen!

Why is that, you ask? Well, mostly it’s because the products we (I) use in the bathroom almost all come in plastic packaging, and or are made of plastic: toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss, hair brush, hair clips, deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, skin lotion, make-up, tampons, razor blades, liquid soap, shower curtain, face puff.  The list goes on and on.  I’m a minimalist in the bathroom, but I’ve seen some that could rival a drugstore for how much plastic they contain.

The first thing I did was eliminate everything I felt really wasn’t necessary.  This left me with the list I just mentioned.  But that is still far too much plastic in my house.  So I started to search for alternatives.  And you know what?  There aren’t many out there.  Food has definitely come farther along this path than cosmetics, let me tell you.  Yet the more I learned about what I was exposing myself to (watch, for example, The Story of Cosmetics), the more urgently I wanted to get rid of this stuff.  It’s been a frustrating struggle.

Very fortunately, Taina – anti-plastic activist and author of the outstanding and inspiring blog Plastic Manners – has done a lot of research on the subject, and generously shares her findings herean extremely helpful list of bathroom (and household) alternatives to plastic.  She uses a bone and boar bristle toothbrush.  I haven’t quite been that brave (the assurance that the ‘wet pig taste’ eventually goes away has not inspired me to rush out and buy one…yet) and instead purchased a Preserve Toothbrush at London Homeopathy in Covent Garden.  This toothbrush is still made of plastic, but it is 100% recycled plastic.  And, when you are done, you can mail it back to them to be recycled again.  I have just worn out my first one and am getting ready to send it back. I am undecided if I want to go the wet pig route for my next toothbrush, or buy another Preserve one.  The last time I went to London Homeopathy, they were sold out. I’m tempted to order the boar brush as surely natural bristles are gentler on tooth enamel than plastic, and of course hopefully less toxic! So maybe I’ll muster up the courage and give it a try.

I decided to stick with my current hairbrush – it’s mostly ceramic, with plastic bristles.  I also have a wooden one with natural bristles.  Both were expensive and are lasting well, and I see no need to replace them as I’m not ingesting any plastic by using them.  That said, I have seen some nice wooden and rubber brushes that I’d be tempted to try if I was more flush.  Not a priority, however.  And buying a new brush would just generate more waste.

One of the biggest plastic items in my bathroom is my nasty, plastic shower curtain.  I fully intend on replacing it just as soon as I can afford a $100 hemp curtain.  Not likely to happen today, but it’s on my wish list.  Now why replace the curtain if I already have it?  Isn’t that just wasteful?  Well, yes, it is, as there’s no way to recycle it.  I will try to find some other use for it rather than throw it out, such as keeping my kindling dry or covering something in my shed.  But the bottom line is that every time I take a hot shower, the heat causes the curtain to release toxic chemicals.  That nasty plastic odor of a freshly purchased shower curtain?  Toxic fumes!  And just because I can’t smell them anymore doesn’t mean that they still aren’t being released, albeit at a lesser intensity now.  So the curtain must go.  Soon.

What I had the biggest trouble replacing is the consumables: toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, tampons, deodorant.  Potentially toxic in and of themselves, these products also come in non-recyclable plastic packaging.  Thanks to Plastic Manners, I learned that Lush sells (relatively) natural products without packaging, and I recently ventured into their store in White Oaks Mall.  Initially knocked off my feet by the intense perfumes, I spent a good half hour with one of their clerks discussing solid bars of deodorant, shampoo and conditioner.  I settled on a chunk of each and brought them home.  It took a good couple of weeks before I could walk past my bathroom without be assaulted by the perfumes from these products, but that eventually went away.  Now that I no longer use any scented products, items that have been infused with scent I find really obnoxious.

So far, I am quite happy with the deodorant.  It works well, and doesn’t leave me smelling like artificial vanilla or strawberries.  But the shampoo and conditioner were disappointing.  The shampoo bar worked well, but left my hair too dry.  I have found this to be the case with every single ‘eco’ shampoo I have ever tried.  The others all came in plastic bottles, which immediately rules them out now, but I had hoped for something different with the Lush bar.  No luck.  The conditioner, on the other hand, conditioned my hair but left a significant residue.  My hair dresser was very concerned about how my hair felt when I saw her after just using the conditioner twice.  So both bar and conditioner now sit unused in my window sill.  What a disappointment.

Having used the last of my shampoo, needing to go out in public, and deeply reticent to purchase another plastic bottle of questionably safe hair cleaner, I finally decided to take the plunge and try going ‘no poo.’  Not the prettiest of terms for a cleaning process, ‘no poo’ in fact cleans my hair and leaves it feeling better than even my $30 bottle of salon shampoo!  Not only that, it is non-toxic,  extremely cheap, and can be purchased everywhere.  So what is ‘no poo’?  Simple: wash with baking soda, condition with vinegar.

I now keep two mason jars in my bathroom and when I want to wash my hair, I put one table spoon of baking soda (which I buy in bulk, alumnium free, from Eco-Pioneer, but I expect any brand will work just as well) into one jar, and a tablespoon or two of white vinegar into the other.  In the shower, I then fill each jar  with a cup or so of hot water from the shower head.  I start with the baking soda, pour it through my hair and massage it in.  Rinse.  Then rinse again with the vinegar and water.

I have been doing this for over a month now and my hair has never felt better.  It stays clean, feels soft, has no residue build up and looks great.  I will never go back to shampoo with its plastic bottles and unknown toxic chemicals.  Thanks but no thanks!

Regarding the other consumables I use, I now use bar soap instead of soft-soap.  There are many places where you can find bars of soap for sale in paper wrapping, or better yet, no wrapping at all.  Hand made soaps abound at markets and in local gift shops.  Likely you can find someone local making soap, or even learn to make it yourself!

For toothpaste, there’s baking soda (you can brush your teeth and wash your hair at the same time!).  For skin lotion: olive oil.  Coffee grounds make a good exfoliant.  I still haven’t resolved razor blades, and try to console myself with the fact that they are tiny, and at least in part metal.  And unlike a man’s course beard, my legs don’t beat up a razor blade so I can use it over, and over.  Finally, make-up.  This is a very problematic on so many levels.  Do I even need to wear make-up?  Why do I conform to social pressures and do so when I went without for years and years?  The bottom line is that I am getting older, work with perpetual 20-year olds, and, at least in winter, feel I need a little added colour.  There are some really wonderful (and expensive) non-toxic, all-natural make-up lines out there.  I personally use MAC.  Not the company it used to be since being bought out, but it still avoids animal testing and takes back 100% of its packaging.  Lately they have started making eye shadows without plastic containers that you can just insert into a re-usable holding case (sadly, made of plastic).  It’s a lesser of many evils.

This leaves the taboo subject of ‘feminine hygiene.’  Surprisingly, there are more options here than with many of the products I discussed above.  For straight substitution of conventional sanitary products (liners, pads, tampons) I buy Natracare organic products (available at London Homeopathy, LynDys and also in the organic departments of Loblaws and the Superstore).  It makes no sense to be careful to avoid putting toxic chemicals in my mouth, and then use a bleached, toxic tampon.  And so for years I have spent more and purchased the organic version.  These products, however, still have some plastic in their packaging (although this is much, much less than in most conventional brands – or at least it was the last time I bought those other brands).  Regardless, there is still packaging, and the product itself is disposable and ends up flushed down the drain with what otherwise would be drinking water.  It really doesn’t make a lot of sense.

An alternative to using disposable sanitary products is to try something like the Diva Cup.  This a reusable, latex cup that works a little like a reverse diaphragm.  It’s a little awkward to use at first, and unfortunately doesn’t work for about 20% of women (there are only two sizes).  The company will reimburse you if you try it and it doesn’t work out, so it’s worth giving it a shot.  You can also try LunaPads – washable, reusable pads.  And I expect more products will come to the fore as demand increases.

I have not come up with an alternative to toilet paper – quite frankly I can’t even imagine what that could be – and as such just use recycled paper products you can buy at Loblaws and the like.  It is one of the few things I still occasionally venture into a grocery store to buy!

Finally there’s water use.  Last, but most certainly not least.  Reducing water consumption is a very big part of being more environmentally friendly, but it’s not always easy.  You can purchase a low-volume shower head and toilet, or just focus on taking shorter showers and flushing less often.  I’m afraid I tend to use a fair bit of water – hot showers are one of my guilty pleasures and an area I need to cut back on.  Check this little video out on ‘the Bathroom Reconstructed‘ for ideas around where we might be able to go with a little political well.

Well the washer is done, my soup pots need checking (making a 48 hour beef stock) and  those essays are not grading themselves.  Time to make a pot of tea and get back to work.

Saturday Morning Musings

Well how frustrating!  I had planned on spending my Saturday morning catching up on email and other internet-related things (such as writing in my blog!), and my internet is not working.  For some reason it will let me upload the Globe and Mail, but not any of my email programs or WordPress.  I guess my friends and students will have to wait, and I will just write this morning’s entry off-line and post it when things are working properly again.  Few things can frustrate me like problems with internet access, which I find rather amusing when I’m not fuming and cursing.  Why should it matter so much?  I guess it’s because the internet is my main source of communication with the outside world and when it’s down I’m essentially cut off.  It’s also the main conduit for most of my work, and I am really hobbled at times like this.  But I should embrace the forced downtime and do something else.  Like some cooking, or the very last bits of my yard work before snow settles in.  Once I finish here, I’ll likely do just that.

I have opted out of going to market today.  I could really use some fresh greens and a few other things to get me through the week, but I simply have too much work to do today and can’t afford to spend the four hours it would take to go buy salad greens and apples!  I have food enough in the house to keep me going.  Of course I am already dipping into my winter stores, something I don’t usually do until January or later.  I’ll be curious to see what happens this year.  I suspect I’ll run out of food. I simply did not get enough put by this fall, and with this stupid commute to get anything fresh and local, instead of eating what’s still available, I’m devouring what I did put up much earlier than I should.  Well, it can’t be helped!

I went to the Aylmer market on Tuesday and bought about 5lbs of really nice, meaty beef bones from the drug-free butcher.  Today I am going to roast them, add them to several more pounds of beef bones I had already (knuckle bones), and make as much beef stock as this will produce.  I’ll be following the recipe used in Nourishing Traditions.  The author (Sally Fallon) is a very big proponent of eating as much bone stock as possible; apparently it’s full of rich vitamins and minerals and really helps balance out the diet.  Making stock is easy but time consuming.  However it’s something that can be done while I work, checking the pots occasionally as they simmer for hours and hours.  I’m hoping to turn some of this beef stock into a traditional borsht soup, using the beets I started fermenting a few weeks ago.  Should be an interesting experiment!

This week I managed to keep my house and kitchen in much better order.  In part I did so by simply not doing some of the work I should have done.  As a result, I’m now facing a heck of a lot of grading over the last 12 days of term.  But it’s nice to start a Saturday with an already tidy house so that I can do something else with my time.  This morning I did some yoga for the first time in a while, and had hoped to be able to catch up on my backlog of emails!  Looks like I’ll just be getting down to my grading that much sooner.  Probably a good thing.

I’m still struggling with what to do with next year.  It’s really challenging to make such major life decisions so far in advance, but I have to indicate in the next week if I want to continue with my job next September!

I’m considering my options.  I could most definitely continue on with what I am doing.  I have recovered my energy – it seems that a large part of the crash I experienced a few weeks ago was due to the unexpected dissolution of my relationship, which really knocked the wind out of me.  But now that I’ve recovered from the shock and dismay, I find my energy is back and I’m able to keep up with my crazy work pace again.  Indeed, I even had enough energy to be social the last two Friday nights in a row.  So I think I could probably keep up this pace for another year if I needed to (then again I may eat these words next term as my work load increases by 33%).

The problem is that I feel like I’m in a rut.  Things are comfortable – I rent a spacious, if rickety house, have wonderful friends, and a job I enjoy.  But I am not advancing my life goals; I am not making progress toward the things I want to have and do.  I am not making enough money to start saving to buy a little farm, I don’t have enough time to train my dogs or spend quality time with these friends, I struggle to cook one dish per week, and I can’t seem to find time to meet someone for coffee, let alone date regularly enough to develop a relationship.  If I continue on in my comfortable yet stale rut, none of this will change.

I had really hoped to be able to find an alternative before cutting the strings on my parachute.  And perhaps that will still happen.  Indicating interest in staying at this point is not a written contract.  Signing anything will still be several months off, and perhaps I’ll find something by then.  But if I know I have this nice safety net, I may simply not do anything to change.  So… I am seriously considering just saying no thank you.  Just throwing myself to the mercy of the powers that be, taking that leap of faith.  I’m even considering picking up and – at very, very long last – moving to where I would like to live long-term, even if I have nothing in place, and just doing my best to make things work.  Heck, I’ve done it before.  It wasn’t easy, but I can do it again.

It’s really amazing how the universe provides when we really need.  On Thursday, for example, I took my last $15 to my butcher to buy some meat for the dogs.  I wasn’t going to get paid for another six days and was reluctantly thinking that I may have to actually borrow money to feed the dogs (this is the sort of frustration I experience: working 65-70 hours a week yet not earning enough to pay basic bills).  It turns out that my butcher has decided to go out of business – I suspect for political reasons but he said he just decided to retire – and so he was clearing out his stock as fast as possible.  I said I only had $15, which he took.  In exchange he gave me 20lbs of fresh, local chicken.  That is enough to feed the dogs until month end and my next pay cheque!

I know that if I pick up and move somewhere new, as long as I stay centered and confident, everything will work out.  What happened Thursday was a reminder of this – perhaps it was even a sign as I’d been stewing over this very concern that morning.

So if I’m going to do this, the next question is: where?  Where should I pick up and move to?  Kitchener-Waterloo area with all it’s local food and universities?  Kingston, as I have been longing for for so long?  The Eastern Townships of Québec, which I fell in love with last spring?  Wolfville, Nova Scotia – where I have never been but apparently is a mecca of alternative living?  How about Burlington, Vermont, which I’m told is similarly alternative-minded and stunningly beautiful?  It seems the possibilities are endless.

This is both terrifying, and thrilling.

Do I really have the courage to make such drastic change in my life?  Or will I get lulled into staying put by a need for security and comfort?  Perhaps something will happen to make things clear, another sign, some indication of direction, of push or of pull.  I guess only time will tell.  For now, it’s time to make my beef stock.

Aack! Fleas!!

How embarrassing – my dogs have fleas!  Now it’s not anything particularly out of the ordinary for dogs to pick up fleas, but seeing as I am a very big advocate of natural rearing and avoiding all chemicals, this is a particularly touchy issue for several reasons.  First, there is considerable room for finger wagging and ‘I told you so’ing’, or just a ‘knowing’ silence from my many dog-owning friends who have debated with me about whether or not to use neurotoxins on their dogs to avoid pests.  I have for years boasted that I use nothing, and have no problems.  Silly, utopian hippee!  Thinks she can just ignore nature and nothing will happen.  Second, I am fully aware of how hard it is to get rid of these nasty little invaders once they have set up camp, unless you do resort to pesticides.  They may end up forcing me to make some very uncomfortable decisions.

The reality is that I have not had an outbreak of fleas since the mid-1990s.  And I have not used any chemicals on my dogs since at least 1998, which is the same time that I switched to feeding a home prepared and eventually raw diet.  Certainly I have never used – or needed to use – any insecticides on any of the dogs currently living in my home, the oldest one having been here nearly 7 years.  So until now, my aversion to chemicals has been working out just fine!

I am not sure where these fleas came from.  I suspect we may have picked them up when we traveled south of the border at the end of September.  The climate is different there, and perhaps so are the fleas.  Or maybe they are just more abundant.  I know the person I was visiting was having a flea problem, and it’s quite possible that I brought some of that back with me.

It really doesn’t matter, however, how they got here.  What matters is that they are in my house.  And on my dogs.  Who are itching and itching and itching.  Poor things.  Ross is by far the most sensitive to them, which is not surprising given his weakened constitution.  Fleas are parasites and are attracted to the weak, and also an off-balance life force is more likely to develop allergies.  So poor Ross both attracts more fleas, and reacts more strongly to them.

So this morning I declared war on the fleas.  I set up a dog wash and soaped up and soaked down all four dogs in a row, using a lovely lavender pet shampoo made locally by Lavender Blue.  Lavender is a natural insect repellant and so the shampoo worked well as a flea shampoo, as well as making them clean and soft.  Certainly there were a number of dead fleas in the bathwater when we were all done.

Next I put my wet dogs outside so the fleas could vacate out of the house.  While they were drying off in the sun, I vacuumed the house top to bottom.  I stripped all linens – from my bed, the dogs crates, the dog beds and so on – and put them through a hot, soapy washer, and hot dryer.  I sprinkled Diamataceous Earth (DE) on my mattress, the bare dog beds, the floor around where they sleep and hang out, and on the carpets.  I then washed all my floors with lavender castille soap and hot water.  My house has never been so clean!  You’d think I had relatives coming for a visit, rather than a flea problem.  One upside to all this at least!

Tonight the dogs are all relaxed and lounging comfortably.  No one is scratching, no one is chewing.

While I may have won the battle today, I am concerned that I may lose the war in the longer term. I certainly will have missed a few adults, and there will be eggs hatching regularly over the next weeks.  I think the flea cycle (I need to look this up again) is about one month long, so I will need to do what I did today roughly once a week for the next four weeks.  And even then it might not work if I miss any adults.  Which is highly likely to happen, given the size of my house and the number of animals in it.  It is really, really hard to get rid of fleas without resorting to pesticides.

I have already given myself permission to apply an insecticide if absolutely necessary.  I am not going to leave Ross to suffer – my homeopathic vet already advised me that this would be more harmful than a dose of something to kill the fleas, and I agree.  Furthermore, I am visiting other homes over the holidays and don’t want to pass on the problem!  But I am still not  going to resort to toxins without trying other options first.  So I’ll be cleaning and scrubbing regularly, and the dogs will be dipped in lavender shampoo as often as necessary for the next couple of weeks.  Oh, and I’ll be adding raw garlic to their diets, which I am told is an excellent deterrent for fleas.

Wish me luck, and I’ll keep you posted on our progress!

Almost There!

Another week has flown by.  Again it was a busy one.  Classes went well, marking is never ending, and the end of term is just that much closer.

I once again haven’t done much with respect to food this week.  I have my very basic staples and have been surviving on those: milk, yogurt & cheese that I make, the very last of my bread, the last of my frozen ratatouille, a little parsnip soup, yogurt & frozen berry smoothies.  I also broke down and added a few non-local items to keep at least a little variety in my diet.  Two weeks ago I had lunch at Veg Out in London, which was absolutely amazing.  I ordered a quinoa & avocado salad, and a banana, coconut & date smoothy.  I couldn’t eat them fast enough!  Clearly my body was really craving some of the ingredients in those meals.  So I decided to buy some dates, some coconut milk, a few bananas, some quinoa and a few lemons.  I haven’t made the quinoa salad yet, but the other stuff has been gobbled right up.  Fortunately I was able to find these items in the organic section, and the bananas were fair trade.  The way I devoured them tells me I need to broaden my nutritional intake as I’m clearly not getting enough of something!  So I’ve decided to allow these items into my diet from time to time.  This is added to salt, pepper, olive oil, various vinegars (although I mostly use apple cider vinegar, which is local, and I really want to learn how to make my own wine vinegar as soon as I have a spare moment), rice and a few other cooking basics I use to supplement my stores in winter.  I have to say this has made me a little more peppy, even if it’s just in my mind!

I had planned on spending a few hours this afternoon doing some cooking, but instead I continued to tackle my house.  I have really done a lot of work on it over the last couple of weekends and it’s starting to look quite good.  I have been making a point of being social, going out on at least one weekend evening, and even dating a little.  So I’m getting my house ready to receive and entertain.  Come the end of term (only three weeks away!), I intend on inviting people over for Christmas dinner parties and so on.  I also have a couple of visitors coming to stay for a day or two in early late November & early December.

Through this process of revamping my home, I’ve really become aware of how much our environment is a reflection of our state of mind.  At the same time, the reverse can be true.  So by changing our environment, we can change where we’re at mentally.  Simple, yet complicated.  And very cool.

As such, I’ve also been working hard at turning my bedroom into a real bedroom.  When I moved into this house, I was sharing with a friend.  My bedroom is large, and so I set up my office area at one end of it.  When she moved out, I started to work in the dining room.  Over the last couple of weeks I’ve made this more formal, bringing down my bookshelves and all my books and much of my paperwork.  Having this all in plain sight on the main floor of the house will require that I keep things well organized and tidy, which is a good thing.  And my bedroom is now free of any “work” vibe.  It’s also free of much furniture as well, and that needs to be addressed.  But it’s a clear space that I can now turn into something relaxing. A friend recently pointed out to me how important this is, and I agree.  So one more room to overhaul, and then I’ll be all set to get back to focusing on food and training my dogs.  And given how bored my dogs are, and how empty my pantry and freezer are, this can’t happen soon enough!


Almost Ready for Winter

Another week has flown by and winter is clearly starting to settle in.  While the temperature has remained comfortably above freezing, the leaves are gone, the harvest is almost over, and everything has turned a sleepy shade of brown.  In short, Mother Nature is settling in for her long winter’s nap.

I am settling in for winter as well.  I have purchased and now neatly stacked roughly six pick-up trucks worth of wood with which to heat my house for the coming months.  My landlord said this should be enough, but we’ll see.  At least this year I know exactly how much I am starting with (8 face cords), and come spring I’ll know if that was enough for not!  Even if I don’t spend another winter here (and I do not intend on doing so, although never say never), this will give me a good feel for how much wood is needed to heat a moderate size house during a Southwestern Ontario winter.  I love heating with wood so much that I fully intend on doing so wherever I live in the future.  So this is good knowledge to have.

I’ve also almost finished winterizing the rest of my house and yard.  I still have a couple of items to break down and tuck into the shed, some temporary fencing to dismantle, and a few last ceramic pots to empty and put away.  I hope to do this tomorrow as it’s supposed to be warm and sunny.  I also want to clean my car out and put on my snow tires.  I may also rake up some leaves to mulch the little garden beds I built up this summer in hopes of saving what little grew well.

Inside I need to dismantle the room that has the leak.  I am going to use this room as storage for things I don’t need right now but don’t want to get rid of.  However I will remove all linens and other things that can be damaged by dampness.  The room only leaks (so far) to the extent that one wall starts to get very damp and puckers after a lot of rain, but I don’t know what to expect over the winter as the roof continues to deteriorate.  The landlord informed me that he will not be fixing this, so I have to shut off the room.  Technically I could withhold rent, but I don’t want to get into that kind of a struggle.  I simply do not have energy for it, and I don’t really need that room anyway.  I love the house and the landlord welcomes my animals, so it’s a trade off.  Likely I will simply pack up and move out come spring and not worry about it.

I have spent the past week focusing on re-claiming my balance, and I seem to have done a good job of it.  I continue to sort through the remainder of my stuff, organizing and purging what I don’t need.  My house is feeling a little more zen every day, and a little more ready to receive.  This weekend I picked up a cute little red loveseat for the living room (second hand, thanks to Kijiji!), so I now have somewhere cozy for guests to sit.  The room is welcoming and I want to spend time in it for the first time since I moved here 18 months ago!  It’s hard to move into a space constructed by someone else and make it your own.  It took pulling everything out of the room so that I could envision how I wanted it before I was able to set it up this way.

I have also made a very conscious effort to spend some time on myself every day this week, and that is making a really big difference in how I am feeling.  Even if it’s just 10 minutes of meditation as soon as I get up in the morning, my mind is remaining clear and calm, and I feel centered and capable of handling what comes at me.  The days I teach that’s all I’ve been able to do, but the other days I have claimed a little more time, doing yoga or just sitting quietly out on a sunny rock in the woods and enjoying ‘being’ while the dogs hunt mice and frisk about.

I still have done very little cooking, but I fortunately keep finding things in my freezer to keep me going.  Last weekend I purchased a second freezer (for only $30, again through Kijiji – what a wonderful resource!) that I am going to stock over the Christmas holidays so that I will be able to eat well next semester. I’m excited to have this additional freezer space at last, and am in the process of finding ways of organizing the food I have currently to keep it accessible.  I may have one freezer for meat, and the other for everything else.  I’ve been researching local, grass-fed beef and now have the room to buy at least a quarter, if not half a cow.  I have already purchased two lambs from the wonderful farm I bought a lamb from last year.  I go through roughly 150lbs of meat a month (nearly all for the dogs) so this extra freezer is going to make a big difference.

Today I started some sourdough bread for the first time in weeks, as well as a double batch of this superbly delicious chocolate sourdough cake (most of which will be brought to work) with the leftover sourdough starter.  I made this chocolate cake recipe a few months ago and it was probably the best I’ve ever made.  Topped with butter icing, it’s out of this world.  I also have a milking that I need to process into yogurt, butter and cheese.  That will be it for today.  I hope tomorrow to make some soup.  Oh, and at the market this week (London’s Farmers Market, the closest one still going strong this time of year) I purchased a bunch of leeks to chop and freeze for winter soups.  With these leeks I finally have the basics for the coming months, even if my pantry is a bit sparsely stocked this year.

Finally, with my centre of balance back, I have been working effectively and have made considerable progress academically this week.  This feels really good and I’m back to enjoying what I’m doing.  Today I have some grading, and some planning to do for the week’s lectures, as well as a little research for next term’s courses.  Too much work to make time for my dissertation, but one more productive week like this and I may actually be in a position by next weekend to get back to writing.

The last few weeks have been really tough, but they have taught me much and I am in a better place for the struggle.  The most important thing has been the recognition of how important it is to keep space open in my life for me, for just being instead of always doing.  Even a few minutes a day makes an astounding difference.

Reclaiming Balance – Part II

I thought I had set my last entry as ‘private’ but for some reason it still got published.  I struggle over how much to ‘put out there’ so to speak, in terms of revealing what’s going on with me personally.  Writing is one of my main ways of figuring things out.  A dialogue with myself, so to speak, that helps me sort out what’s going on in my head.  I can re-read it later and reassess.  I do hold back a fair bit from this public forum – but I also deliberately put some things out for public viewing.  I’ve had readers react negatively to this, but I actually have a reason for doing this.

Life is a struggle, and trying to live life even somewhat outside of the mainstream is really tough at times.  I have read many blogs that provide all sorts of fabulous information on how to live more lightly with our Mother Earth, but this info is often presented in a way that suggests that these efforts are easy.  That anyone can do it.  And while it’s true that the changes I’ve made in my life are simple – each one on its own that is.  The sum-total shift in living has been extremely hard.  Indeed, impossible at times.  And so I share this struggle because I don’t want people to read my blog and feel badly, or offended, or – worst of all – give up what efforts they are making, because they cannot find time in their life to cook everything from scratch, or they still use plastic bags or whatever.

What I am doing is an experiment in social change, and I put myself through a lot of strife in the name of ‘research.’  I have come to believe deeply in what I am doing, but I have also become quite clear on how the changes I’ve made in my life are not something that can be implemented on a wide-scale within the current neoliberal (i.e. free market) capitalist model of our economic system.  This system, as I alluded to in my last post, drives people to have to work more and more and more, while earning less and less.  I read an article yesterday that pointed out that the average American now works one whole month more per year than they did 25 years ago, while real wages have declined since 1972.  It’s no wonder we’re all at the ends of our ropes most of the time!  How on earth are we supposed to be also cooking from scratch, growing some of our own food, and avoiding toxic plastics and chemicals?  Furthermore, 70% of the American economy, again according to this article, is driven by consumption.  In short, we are in a vicious cycle of shopping and working (as beautifully depicted in the Story of Stuff video).  Indeed, when I lived and worked in the US, this was exactly my experience and my observation of those around me.  Things are less stressful in Canada, but we are heading in this direction in a big hurry.

So now that I’ve returned full-time to the working world, all of this is hitting me at once.  I’m tired and have been spending little time focused on what is most important to me.  The result is that those elements of my life that I cherish most deeply are slipping through my fingers like sand.  My relationship failed, my pantry is almost empty, my dogs are untrained and bored.  My house is a catastrophe.  My life has become solitary.  And all this after just two months of full-time work! Of course much of the trouble I am sure is readjusting to such a crazy pace of life, but it’s also making it very clear to me just how stressful life is for most people.  It’s the ‘stewed frog syndrome’ so to speak.  When it happens gradually, we don’t  notice the constant  ratcheting up of pressure that is cooking us.  When it happens all of a sudden, we are scaled!

I have been scalded.

So what to do about this?  This is my new challenge.  I am determined to figure this out.

This weekend I didn’t work.  Instead I spent my time focusing on getting what I can back into balance.  I slept.  A lot.  I did yoga.  I hiked my dogs.  And I cleaned my house.  Actually, I didn’t just clean my house, I attacked it!  I tackled my long ‘to-do’ list and got on top of a lot of things that were constantly nagging at me. I purged things I don’t need, or that left me feeling cluttered.  I even dragged my landlord’s ugly couch out of the living room, put up shelves along the windows and placed all my plants and books around the room to make it cozy and inviting.

I’ve decided to adopt an ‘if you build it they will come’ approach to my home and life.  By this I mean I need to live the life I want to be living, not just think about it.  This is what I did this summer – I fixed up  my house so that it could simply but comfortably welcome guests.  I cooked up a storm so that I had plenty of food for any visitors.  I kept good bottles of wine in case the mood struck us.  In short, I made my home inviting and lived in it as if I expected it to be full of love, and that’s exactly what happened!

And then this fall things got busy.  I let my guard down, I let things slide.  I took on too much.  And before I knew it, the space in my life for what made me happy quickly closed.  I justified this based ideas that I could put this on hold for a few weeks or months, and on the conclusion that no one would come visit me out in the middle of no-where in winter, so why bother?  Well of course no-one will come if there’s no space for them here!

And as for putting things on hold, this was a big mistake.  With the intense pressures of today’s society for us to put all that is important on the back burner in the name of earning an income, constant vigilance is in order.  We must guard that space, defend that balance.  We must work on it constantly, even if we only have a few minutes a day to do so.  How to accomplish this?  Well, that is now my challenge.  I need to figure out how to keep a roof over my head while simultaneously keeping room in my life and heart for friends, family, love, food, community, nature and of course, myself.

This is not going to be easy.  But even after two days of taking some time to focus on balance, I am feeling like a new person.  Rested and in a peaceful surrounding, my heart is on the mend and I am once again feeling energetic and happy.  I have created some space in which to find my centre, just as in the dream I had a few nights ago where I walked into the zen-like room and felt good.  Now I must defend it, nurture it, help it grow.