Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Man vs Nature

It has been an "interesting" week so far.  We got a message from the plumbers who usually close up the water at the cottage.  Apparently we have something living in the crawlspace -- porcupine or raccoon?  They didn't actually see it and didn't stay long enough to figure it out.  But they will not return until we get it handled.  Which doesn't leave us much to go on. 

The cottage is built on a concrete foundation so we aren't sure how anything of that size could get in.  The most obvious way would be from a loose ventilation vent.  There are 4 around the perimeter.  There is also a trap door leading to the crawlspace that something might have eaten through so we really won't know until we see it for ourselves. 

Until we can get up there, we have a local animal guy on the case and hopefully he will find signs and can set a trap.  It's somewhat easier right now as they just got a good dumping of snow (tracks).  With any luck, we might have good news by the end of the week.  Nature is strong willed, especially at this time of year when it is getting cold and everything is looking for shelter.  Basic survival 101.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Arm Yourselves: Food Resources

Here's a small list of Authors to read as you start or continue on your own journey towards Food (World) Awareness:

Pamela Rice does an excellent job introducing the main issues.  If you are new to this information, it will be shocking and embarrassing and sickening that humans are capable of such behaviour.  Highly moving and motivating. 

Michael Pollan is so calming to listen to.  Nothing seems to phase him.  And he knows his stuff.  He has numerous books and DVDs under his belt.  I would recommend anything of his. 

Lierre Keith changed my mind about going vegan.  Read "The Vegetarian Myth:  Food, Justice and Sustainability" whether you eat or never want to eat meat.  It's a book for everyone.  She takes the highly charged issues presented by Pamela Rice and weaves it together into much larger and often surprising pictures.  I would recommend you run, not walk, to get your hands on her book and make up your own mind.  You can read Chapter 1 for free.

Joel Salatin is a champion farmer.  He is so passionate about sustainability and runs his farm in such a logical way, you'd wonder why the heck isn't this the norm?  Well spoken and grounded, he has authored a number of books about farming and his struggles against the industrial machine.  I would spend my food dollars at his farm if I lived in the area.  Luckily we have some pretty great ones around here who follow the same sustainable philosophy. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Wisdom from An Organic Farmer

We recently spent some lovely time with an area organic farmer.  His farm was not flashy and upon our first hand shake, we knew we would get along. 

Originally I thought we were just going there to check things out, buy some produce and would try it over the week.  We ended up staying for an extended visit.  He was very generous with his time. 

Here are some of the things we learned:
  • "The chickens are like humans.  They come in all different sizes".  Wow, what a simple phrase that symbolizes so much.  Factory chickens are bred to uniform sizes.  Having since tasted the meat, I would have to say it is much denser and flavourful.  De-boning a chicken is normally relatively easy for me but I had a struggle with the organic one until I realized it was because the ligaments and tendons and muscles were so much stronger.  Probably from all the roaming around they do.  And the stock the carcass produced was much darker than what we are used to -- Dense bones perhaps?
  • Laying hens have been modified to pump out one egg a day.  While free range hens will lay once every 3 days or so.  They are also about double the size of caged laying hens which are a shocking half a football size.  He named the different breeds of livestock he has raised over the years and which lines were ending etc.  We aren't familiar with any of them so the info went way over our heads.
  • When we asked if he had any pork in stock.  His answer was "I do have some pigs, but they are small right now."  The number of animals he raises is completely dependent upon the amount of feed he can grow.  So the timing of when products are available is cyclical...Another Wow moment.  Aren't we so used to being able to buy bacon anytime? 
  • The beef we bought was so tender!  We also found that we didn't need to eat as much to feel full for longer.  Also, the omega 3:6 ratio is great when beef cattle are fed hay.  When they are fed corn, the omega 3 pretty much disappears.
  • His farm switched to organic in the early 70's because of the amount of chemicals that were being used and from his own physical reaction from being exposed to them.  His gut told him he didn't want to do things that way anymore. 
  • An "aha" moment occurred at the bank while asking ("hat in hand") for a bridge loan to pay for feed because the money from a produce sale had not yet come in.  The bank wouldn't approve it and instead authorized a loan based on acquiring more equity from the farm.  He immediately went home and told his Wife that they were selling their pigs until all their debt (including mortgage) has been paid off and if there were any pigs left, then they'll continue.  If not, they will do something else.  They haven't owed a bank money since the early 80's. 
  • Organic farming was rare back then.  There wasn't any support outside of a few other farmers.  They learned as they went.  It has been consumer demand that has brought the biggest shifts. 
  • The numbers of weekend farmers' markets have impacted his farm shop sales.  There are fewer people making the drive out nowadays.  He believes it is still important to meet the farmer and see the farms but can understand times are changing. 
  • It costs a lot of money to run a large operation as quotas have to be bought.  He opted not to go that route because it would mean owing money for pretty much the rest of his life.  He farms at a volume that he can sustain which means saving seeds each year.  Freedom is more important.  He worries about the current generation of young adults who are strapping themselves to large mortgages and having to have 2 incomes to "keep up" with everyone else. 
  • It has been about 30 years since he had to use a vet for a sick animal.  His farm goal is to improve the soil and natural habitat, provide healthy well balance food for people while maintaining a livelihood for his family.
  • He acknowledged how overwhelming it can be to want to do "everything right" as he too gets fired up over many issues but advised us to pick our battles and go from there.  Every change to a better direction is a good one.  We can't wait to see him again.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Start Where You Are

We thought it was easiest to tackle the area of food first (not!).  The learning curve has been steep as we attempted to identify the sources of the products we consume.  At first we just figured it was as simple as increasing the budget to pay for "organic", "non GMO" etc.  Then he discovered the middle zones of non certified organic or natural farms and grass fed or grain fed and the pros and cons of each...Confusing!

It's easy to be overcome and overwhelmed trying to do the "right thing".  So it was also necessary to take a step back to recognize and acknowledge incremental steps in the "right" direction as also valid.  Not everything can be done at once with giant leaps and bounds...I've always had a tough time with that one.

Turns out that in our province (Ontario), meat raised and sold has to be growth hormone and antibiotic free.  We are more in line than I thought.  They will use antibiotics in cases of illness but are supposed to leave enough time for residues to leave the system before processing.  We've also been told that antibiotics exist in feed, especially with turkeys.  And yes, we have CAFOs in Canada.

There are a number of area farms that run an organic vegetable "produce box" pick up or delivery service.  Some will give you a break on the cost if you are willing to roll up your sleeves and help out at the farm.  My only concern is wastage.  I know we don't eat as many vegetables as we'd like so getting a whole tub full weekly freaks me out a bit.  They will provide recipes to help you out with cooking new to you veggies. 

I think us driving around all over the place to various organic farm stores may not be the best answer either.  I've been busy identifying both certified and non certified organic farms within a 50 km radius of where we live as an FYI.  We had the pleasure of visiting one (learned so much!) over the weekend and I'll be writing a post about our experiences shortly. 

In reality, purchasing medium or large orders at once or having them delivered is actually cheaper and more efficient.  We've also found a service that works with area organic farms and stores (within 100 km) so you could actually do most if not all of your weekly shopping through them for a very minimal delivery charge ($5).  I've set up an account and will be giving them a go. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Early Thoughts -- Grateful / Not Grateful

I'm Grateful for:
  • my luck in being born when and where I was -- I could have been one of 15 people living in a hut with no electricity, water or toilet, doing back breaking work all day -- Instead I've been blogging about being sore after dance and music lessons
  • for reliable and plentiful water supply -- The water documentary said it best -- It doesn't matter who you are or how rich you may be, after 7 days without water, your eyes too will bleed... 
  • being able to afford to support farmers who are doing it "for the right reasons" -- Good reminder that nothing worthwhile is always fast or inexpensive -- D wants to learn how to farm
  • being able to have an affordable education -- Coffee farmers in Ethiopia who maybe make cents a day value education so much they are willing to sell the shirt off their backs and put the funds into building a community school for their kids young and old

I'm Not Grateful for:
  • being given so much choice in a supermarket because it leads me to believe getting all that produce any time of year is no big deal when in fact it costs too much -- I'm guilty of wanting strawberries in the winter and recently, I had a very large papaya sitting on my kitchen counter in an attempt to eat more fruit
  • being told something is "good" for me when in fact it has been genetically modified with harmful consequences -- And law suits are going on pressuring farmers who don't want to switch over
  • the cheapness of water as it lulls me into thinking it isn't worth much when in reality it is in extremely short supply -- How Coke is less expensive to drink than water in Nairobi -- Do we really need to be loading people up with sugar and caffeine?
  • how it is "necessary" for large corporations to "always" show a quarterly profit when not exceeding expectations can still mean millions in profit but often results in stock price drops -- D asked if we need to start looking into investing in more ethically run companies as our "want" of ever growing investment income comes into play here... 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Recommended Documentaries

D managed to throw his back out and we took the forced down time to watch some documentaries. 

Normally he can't handle more than one or two but surprised me, partly due to him not being able to move all that well for a couple of days (luckily it was the weekend) and also because the subjects touched us both deeply. 

Books on the matter are great and I've read my share of them but seeing and hearing the issues hits home in an entirely different way.  I would highly recommend the ones below:

We are committed to doing even more to ensure we are buying products that are fair trade, ethical, organic, local and non GMO.  The above programs made us feel extremely uneasy (nauseous). 

Our budget will be changing to reflect our increased commitment to our environment and to improving the lives of our fellow humans.  I plan to elaborate a bit more on those changes in future posts. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Adventures in Adult Ed

My ballet and violin classes have recently gotten delayed (not on my part) for different valid reasons.  Part of the frustration I'm feeling stems from not wanting the momentum to wane as well as the difficulty I encountered with even finding lesson opportunities in the first place.

Most schools cater to kids and for good reason.  To become proficient in something like music, sport or dance usually requires an early start for developmental reasons.  Those larger sized classes are often the bread and butter of the schools. 

So when an adult calls or emails looking for availability, the times offered (if there are teachers with openings) are understandably what is left after the core classes are taken in consideration.  Looking for lessons during the day is even more challenging as instructors often have "day jobs" too. 

Some schools don't taking adult learners seriously.  One place actually told me it would be OK to show up to a ballet class in yoga pants...Huh?  Maybe they get their share of "mid life" crisis people who just want to have fun and are tired of it.  Try finding a violin teacher willing to teach an adult beginner and you'll see what I mean.  I had to pass an "interview".

Nabbing a good learning spot has become a big deal.  The reason I haven't continued my ballroom lessons was because I lost my lesson slot when I broke my wrist learning how to figure skate 5 years ago.  That's why I was so stunned and excited when my recent dance opportunities came about and why I was tempted (still am) to do both.

I favour private lessons because you learn faster and more.  The costs are often double or triple.  It's not because I'm a snob when it comes to group classes.  It's just that group lessons times are usually in the evenings and I'm too tired and hungry on work nights.

Now that D and I are doing art one evening as well, there are limited other nights available when you add in us heading up north on a week night.  Also, we look forward to and enjoy our unhurried dinners, after dinner walks and evenings together. 

I get that my requirements aren't the easiest to accommodate either.  When it does work out, I'm uber anxious to get going, making any deviations feel that much more difficult. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Cards & Thoughts

I don't know if I ought to feel ashamed for this or not, but I haven't bought a card outside of a package of Thank You cards (which doesn't count) for years and years.  You know the type where you actually spend some time browsing a Hallmark Store for? 

Traditionally I've never been a fan of cards (can admire beautifully made ones though) as I found them to cost way more than the value I placed on it.  Personally it makes more sense to spend more on the gift than on the packaging. 

D used to buy me cards, quirky handmade ones for all occasions until he realized I wasn't really into them so he pretty much has stopped.  I have enjoyed getting the odd really cool one as he knows I'm a huge fan of the "Where's Waldo" books. 

Last week I found myself at a card store looking for something to accompany a "care package" for the buddy of mine who sent me the gift of the BB app.  He is going through some seriously difficult times (which made his gesture to cheer Me up that much more touching).  I'm sure he had a good laugh when I shared just what it took for me to be ready to buy that app.

It makes me squirmy to not be able to help solve a problem as I'm such an action person.  I'm one of those people who when asked if I'd like to donate to such and such a cause at the check out line or outside of a store or when travelling, the answer is Yes. 

If we lived in the same city I could offer to baby sit, take him out for a meal, meet for a drink, have them over for dinner etc.  But from this far away, email and the occasional phone call when time zones and schedules match up, end up being our primary mode of communication.  The last time we saw each other was 4 years ago.  It's tough to not be able to do anything concrete when I can so clearly hear his pain. 

So I decided to send a package filled with snacks and treats appropriate for grown ups -- Something to remind him of fun times.  I have been tracking the delivery and am thrilled it had finally arrived and been signed for.  I hope receiving it brings on a smile even if the contents may not be exactly to his taste.  Either way, it's nice receiving something by mail and be reminded that someone out there is thinking of you. 

Speaking of which, have you ever tried to find a "Thinking of You" card for a guy recently?  And if so, were you able to find anything that wasn't floral or twirly?!  Writing an exam seemed easier.  I finally settled on the least feminine one they had at a whooping cost of $8.19 taxes in...Inflation has definitely hit the card sector.  HE is worth it and I can afford it, but the card itself really wasn't.  Next time I'm going the homemade route.

Monday, November 5, 2012


We awoke to a scraping noise Sunday morning.  To our surprise we saw a couple of girls on our sidewalk stuffing leaves back into our paper leaf bags.  A vandal decided it would be neat to empty out all 7 of our large full bags of leaves overnight. 

It was our neighbour across the street's daughter (B) and friend (who slept over) who were busy fixing the wrong doing. 

D flew out of bed and put some clothes on to head outside.  They were all done by that point.  We were so touched by the thought and act of kindness D asked if it would be OK if he paid them.  Their reactions were priceless -- Complete surprise.  That said it all. 

A few minutes later, B came knocking wanting to return some money as we paid them too much.  D told her we didn't and that we appreciated their willingness to help so much we would not be taking any money back.  And D trying to be "smart", told her to just keep it and not tell her parents...To which she replied she could not do that!

I was upstairs getting ready for the day and when he told me that, I told him you cannot say things like that!  You have just told her to lie to her parents!  This is not an adult you are talking to.  Kids aren't going to get it as a joke.  So off I went across the street to thank B myself and to tell her parents what a great job they are doing.

Turns out my neighbour have had a number of rough incidences recently including a car accident, job transfer to a neighbouring city requiring a long daily commute and a death in the family.  Also turned out they have had a number of Halloween decorations stolen over the years. 

B and I discussed how often people who do such things may not know what it means to own a home, pay for it for a long time, take pride in it thus not be able to empathize with what it feels to wake up one morning to find a deliberate mess.  We revisited the morning payment thing after I thanked her again and suggested she donate what she felt the overpayment portion was to a cause that was meaningful.  She liked the idea. 

Goes to show you just how human our collective experiences are despite appearances and the happy hellos you may hear from each other every week.  This act of goodwill has brought us closer and I am real grateful for it.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Music & Dance

Almost every thing or situation (outside of nature) I can think of can be improved with music. 

When working out, music is a must.  I choose tunes reflecting my energy level.  A couple times I didn't do that and the results were painful.  Both involved listening to much faster music than appropriate for my run. My body ran faster to match the beat and the result was I could barely crawl up or go down the stairs for the following 2 days.  D had a grand ole time laughing at me.  He doesn't need music to run.

Last art class, the instructor, who usually plays classical music during, decided to mix it up with a great album to make sketching still life palatable -- Keane's Hopes And Fears.  The first track is one of my favourites.  It made all the difference as drawing fruits and vegetables isn't the most exciting thing.   

I'm emerging from my "quiet period".  The last 7 years have been pretty devoid of music -- Playing, dancing and listening.  Too much thinking instead.  I've happily explored new areas but missed a lot of old favourites.

You may be hearing of a lot whining shortly as I will be regaining something I haven't done for decades.  A couple of my new leads came back and I got the opportunity to take private ballet and ballroom lessons!

It would be just like me to do both but having earned some wisdom over the years, I've chosen ballet.  I was doing leg stretches on our staircase in preparation while D (wearing my Afro wig and his Elvis glasses) handed out candy Wed.  The kids likely thought I was part of the whole set up.

If a 28 min library Tinkerbell Studio ballet DVD wearing me out is any sign of things to won't be pretty.  There is nowhere to hide in a studio full of mirrors wearing leotards. 

ps.  It's Snowing!!!