31 December 2011

New Year's Resolutions for a novice subversive

Woodie Guthrie's New Years Rulin's for 1942

I'm not a big resolution maker - even less a resolution keeper, but I thought I would share some of my resolutions this year. While looking for an image for this post, I found this excerpt from Woodie Guthrie's notebook. It turns out that Woodie and I have a lot of overlap in our resolution lists except that I'm already pretty good at number 3 - "Wash teeth if any" so I left it off mine. Here are some others:

1. We've been using credit cards for practically every purchase for years, but this year I'd like to stop giving the credit card company a cut of every transaction. I'm pretty addicted to the convenience, but I'd rather not enrich a huge corporation while at the same time giving them all kinds of information about my spending.

2. On the same theme, this year I'm going to seek out places to do business where credit cards aren't even an option - the farmer's market, freecycle, the local classifieds, the local charity shop etc. I'll be looking for opportunities to support the underground economy through buying used and super-local. I admit, I've been a bit of a tax snob in the past: saying I didn't mind paying taxes because I appreciated the services we received, but now I'm so disgusted with how the government spends money that I will do my best to ensure they don't get any more of my pennies than strictly necessary.

3. I will work harder to grow, prepare and eat local food. This is really a no brainer and there's always room for improvement. I really want to increase the number of calories I produce.  I'm planning to grow a lot more potatoes.

4. I'm going to use my bike a lot more this year. I take the car to run errands because it is easier than riding and it's hard to carry groceries on a bike - but that's a problem that others have solved so not a very good excuse.

I could sum up all of my resolutions in one: I'm going to think a lot more about who benefits and who gets hurt from my activities. And I'm going to be less likely to do something if the one who benefits is a shareholder of a corporation or the one who pays is someone in a sweatshop or someone drinking polluted water or someone vulnerable to extreme weather or someone not yet born. Or, as Woodie so eloquently put it: "Wake up and fight".  This is the year of more undermining and less enabling the incredibly damaging industrial capitalist system we've been told is the only way.

Here's to a happy and rebellious 2012!

26 December 2011

Monday Forest photo: December 26, 2011

2:00pm 1C overcast
It's looking very festive here in Monday Forest. We got several centimetres of snow yesterday, which made for a very pretty Christmas Day, and warmed even my grinchy, several-sizes-too-small heart.

The forest was alive with the song of several dozen robins, along with some chickadees, nuthatches and  a downy woodpecker. I don't recall seeing a robin at this time of year or this many robins congregated ever.

21 December 2011

Longest night

In three hours the northern hemisphere will tilt as far away from the sun as it will get for the year. What a relief. The days will start gradually, but inevitably, to get longer, and the sun will rise higher in the sky every day.

I think I prefer the traditional name midwinter, rather than referring to this as the first day of winter, as we do now. The solstice marks such a turning point and in a few weeks the sun will start behaving much more spring-like, even if the temperatures don't. Mind you, with the weather we've had recently, we've no business calling this midwinter - the freezing rain today is really the first serious weather of the season.

19 December 2011

Monday Forest photo: December 19, 2011

2:00pm 5C overcast
Still no snow here in Monday Forest. We had some pretty cold weather over the weekend and the pond froze hard enough for me to walk on it, but with temperatures well above freezing again, there will be no skating for a while.

Meg found something pretty interesting on our walk today, which you may not want to look at if you are squeamish. I think it is the remains of a mourning dove, though I stand to be corrected. It looks a little angelic.

16 December 2011

DIY economic collapse: no computer hacking or explosive skills required

Some guys living in a shack in the Don Valley in Toronto during the Great Depression. They look a lot better off than the modern homeless ravine dwellers. They have teacups and books.

In my last non-housekeeping or forest photo post, I talked about the brutal truth about climate change. That if we are to limit global warming to 4C (a most dangerous level, but the lowest practical increase from where we already are), we (the world) have to level off carbon emissions soon, then drop them quickly to zero (by about 2050 or sooner). Given the huge inequities in current carbon emissions and the fact that we cannot trust governments to do the right thing, we the people are just going to have to take matters into our own hands. The only thing that has ever resulted in significant year over year reductions in carbon emissions is the fall of the Soviet Union. Therefore, I propose that anyone who is genuinely concerned about the well-being of people in poorer countries in the short term, and their own children and grandchildren in the medium and long term, should be actively working to collapse the current financial system. 

Which is, of course, the argument that conservatives have been using to avoid doing anything. It's just that they love money more than poor people or their grandchildren. And many of them are counting on being raptured before things get too warm anyway. And to supporters of any other political party - we're not going to have a prosperous, green economy, and I wish you'd stop pretending we can.

The current financial system looks ready to collapse under its own weight without any extra help from me, but I'm a pessimist by nature, and I'm not prepared to leave such things to chance. The first thing is to question some basic assumptions about how things ought to be. Like, annual economic growth of 1 - 3% is necessary and good.  Actually, annual economic growth is incompatible with a liveable planet for our kids and grandkids. The conservatives are right - reducing carbon emissions will hurt the economy, but luckily, a collapsing economy will reduce emissions. 

So, what to do. The greenest thing I ever did was quit my high paying job. Our family income dropped by more than half, and so did our spending. Canada's GDP went down accordingly. I could write a book on why I think most families should only have a maximum of one full time job each, but for the purposes of crashing the economy, the drop in family incomes and resultant spending would go a long ways. Why do I suggest quitting your job rather than just spending less? Well, for one thing, I know from experience that you are pretty much guaranteed to spend everything you make plus a little. Even if you save half your income, you have to put it somewhere, and unless it is under your mattress, it's going to be fuelling economic growth in some way. So from an anti-economic perspective it makes a lot more sense to not earn it in the first place. This also results in much lower income tax, which reduces government revenue that will eventually enter the economy.

Please don't have any more kids.  I honestly don't think that if I'd known fifteen years ago what I know now, that I would be a mom today. That would be a terrible loss for me, but my kid, like yours if you're reading this blog, has a much higher carbon footprint than the global average. We don't have enough time to reduce the world's population enough to solve our climate problems, but we can certainly work at preventing the population problem from getting worse. Besides, what sort of world would you be bringing those kids into?

Pay down debt as fast as possible, or default on it entirely. Repaid or defaulted debt takes money out of circulation and frees you from wage slavery. Debt has been the foundation of most of the world's economic growth for the last few years, so whatever you do, don't take on more.

There are major benefits of choosing a low income lifestyle. A perk of voluntarily reducing income is that having less money automatically causes you to question all forms of consumption, and you quite naturally come to the conclusion that you don't need nearly what you thought you did when you had more. All those little decisions you might have had to make about whether or not to spend money on something or other are pretty much made for you, when you don't have much to spare. It's easier to take care of a smaller house and less stuff. Family life is very pleasant indeed when everyone is not always in a rush to get to work and childcare and endless activities. The main advantage to living on less now, though, is that it is pretty much inevitable, with the approaching crises of climate, finance and energy, that very few of  us (save the usual suspects) will be more prosperous in the future than we are now. We might as well get used to living simply, so that our expectations lead rather than trail our circumstances. 

13 December 2011

Blog housekeeping note

Yesterday I noticed that if you tried to access my blog with Chrome, you got a security message saying my site contained content from another site (that I didn't recognize) which is infected. Safari and Firefox did not raise any alarms.

I removed the blogroll, and I no longer receive the security message, so I'm assuming something in it was causing the problem. When I have some time, I'll try to find the specific link that was the problem, but in the meantime, no blogroll. Which is too bad, because I like linking to blog friends and other interesting sites.

I only recently started using Chrome because Madeleine said it was faster - which I haven't observed, but I may switch over to Chrome for it's security-mindedness.

12 December 2011

Monday Forest photo: December 12, 2011

11:45am 5C sunny
Today was a lovely, mild day. The tiny bit of snow that is still on the ground is melting, and the birds are singing and it doesn't seem like winter at all.

It was a lot wintrier last week but still not very snowy. This was the view off the back deck.

Oh, and I know I promised my tips for bringing down the economy - sorry. Next post.

10 December 2011

In which I say stuff you won't like after finding out stuff you don't want to know

The last few weeks have provided lots of food for thought on climate issues and I've arrived at a pretty horrifying conclusion.

First, there was my predictably disappointing meeting with Gordon O'Connor, my Member of Parliament.   I knew he wouldn't say anything other than the official party line, because no Conservative MP does, but I had really hoped that by going, I might leave him with the impression that ordinary people want the government to do something to reduce Canada's disproportionately large carbon emissions. He kept telling me that the government just wasn't getting that kind of vibe from people. I had to point out to him that I am also a person, citizen and voter, even though we both knew I'd never vote for him. Not the right kind of people, apparently.

With that visit fresh in my consciousness, last week I hosted a meeting of several environmentally-minded folks from my community including a town councillor. All of us had expressed a strong concern about the lack of action nationally on climate change and a willingness to take action locally. There was talk of planning a county-wide environmental conference that would educate folks about climate issues while also developing a white paper that would be presented to local governments. A similar conference was held five or six years ago to great praise from the attendees and polite disinterest from the government recipients of the resulting paper.

I said that I thought that there was a high risk that we could go to a huge effort to basically preach to the converted, like a Billy Graham crusade, and it was pointed out to me that most of the residents of my municipality are either ambivalent or climate deniers and needed convincing. There were suggestions of an art contest for kids and skits and maybe a place for "green" retailers to showcase their recycled denim handbags and whatnot. I was not left with any sort of optimistic energy at the conclusion of the meeting - in fact I'm still reeling from it, because I truly believe the time for diddling around with songs and skits and talking about ways to use old milk bags is well behind us.

Then I read an article in Grist magazine called The Brutal Logic of Climate Change. I strongly encourage you to do the same, though it will stretch your powers of cognitive dissonance to read it and carry on with life as though the implications are not pants-shitting scary. The executive summary of the article is this:  If there is to be any hope of avoiding civilization-threatening climate disruption, the U.S. and other nations must act immediately and aggressively on an unprecedented scale. Keeping in mind that there is no hyperbole in the above sentence, the executive summary of that is: We're fucked.

The article is based on a report by Kevin Anderson, a professor of energy and climate change at the University of Manchester and Deputy Director of The Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. He produced a paper with his colleague, Alice Bows, called "Beyond 'dangerous' climate change: emission scenarios for a new world". Mr. Anderson gave a presentation of his paper, with slides, that is available here. He gives a surprisingly engaging talk at a citizen level of detail, which outlines the carbon budgets available for limiting global temperature increases to 2 and 4 degrees Celsius. It would be wonderful if everyone took an hour and listened to this talk, but hardly anyone will, and those of us that have are left with this terrible knowledge and nothing to do with it.

The gist of his talk is that there is a limited amount of carbon that can be dumped into the atmosphere to limit temperature increases. The amount of carbon that can be emitted that would have us stop at 2C is so small we have practically no chance of being able to reduce emissions quickly enough to stay within the budget. The carbon budget for a 4C degree increase is larger, but requires us to peak our emissions in 2020, then decrease by 3.5% per year until we reach zero. Zero, zip, nada, zilch (the good news is that the jet ski industry will disappear long before that). Just for comparison, the collapse of the Soviet Union resulted in 5% reductions per year for a few years. In 2010, we increased emissions by 5.9%, so this could be hard. Oh, and by the way, a 4C degree increase in average global temperatures is, according to Anderson, "incompatible with an organized global community, is likely to be beyond 'adaptation', is devastating to the majority of ecosystems, and has a high probability of not being stable." That might affect your retirement plans.

As I write this article, the world is negotiating yet another climate agreement in Durban, South Africa. Canada once again won the "Colossal Fossil" award for it's appalling behaviour and bad-faith negotiating. In response, Michelle Rempel, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment had this to say: "With regard to the fossil of the year award, the member opposite should know that the real award that counts is that our country sits on top of the G7 with regard to economic growth and job creation." And much cheering and clapping ensued from the Conservative benches. If there are terrorists in this country, they are currently sitting in the House of Commons, actively seeking to destroy the environment that is the foundation of life as we know it.

So if you've stuck with me this far, I wonder if you have arrived at the same horrifying conclusion I have? Since there isn't a global reset button and current governments and industry seem only interested in burning fossil fuels as fast as they can be extracted from the earth, the only way to prevent catastrophic warming is to have a complete and swift global financial collapse that consigns us to pre-industrial levels of energy consumption. Perhaps you haven't, in which case I'd like you to read the article and listen to the talk and then leave a comment with your conclusion.

Luckily, world events seem to be leading us in the direction of global collapse, but in my next post, I'll talk about ways that you and I can act to accelerate bringing down the economy. And it will take a bit more than changing our lightbulbs.

05 December 2011

Monday Forest Photo: December 5, 2011

2:00pm 6C light rain
Another surprisingly warm day today. Normally, if it gets this warm at this time of year, we can expect lots of rain to go along with it, but we've only had a little light rain - mostly just clouds. We have had enough rain in the last couple of weeks to recharge the swamp at the back of Monday Forest. 

Meg figured it was warm enough to have a bit of a splash.

30 November 2011

I thought this month would never end

Whew. Thirty consecutive posts. I enjoyed the exercise, and I feel like I cracked the writer's block that was plaguing me. There were certainly posts I wouldn't have bothered with if I hadn't set myself the challenge of a post a day for this month, and there are topics I would have expanded on if I had more time to work them through. Well, I say that, but writing longer pieces is much harder and I have a tendency to completely disagree with myself by the next day, so perhaps that bit is fantasy.

I expect I'm not the only one who sets silly challenges for myself and then fails to follow through, so I'm kind of proud of myself for sticking with this. Gold star for me. Now if I can just think of something interesting to say on a reasonably regular schedule between now and next November when I will very likely do it again.

I ought to give a shout out to Canberra Canuck who was a pretty faithful commenter here or on facebook all month. Thanks.

29 November 2011

A proud Canadian moment

So the first day of negotiations at the United Nations Climate Change talks in Durban has gone and Canada has scored first and second place in the fossil awards. It got first for planning to withdraw from the Kyoto protocol (in December after the talks are finished - talk about bad faith bargaining) and second for this statement by our Environment Minister, Peter Kent: ‘Emerging and developing countries need to stop “wielding the historical guilty card” and asking for a free pass on emissions reductions just because in the past, industrialized countries had more emissions than the rest of the world’. Yeah, developing countries. Stop asking for free passes. Don't you know free passes are for North Americans?

Third place goes to the UK for making a deal with Canada to bring tar sands oil into the European Union by undermining the Fuel Quality Directive. Hey, I'm considering that a win for Canada, too.

While I was googling around on this topic, I came across some "conservatives" cackling about the awards with glee. So if you thought it was just our government that hates the environment, you're wrong. Some Canadians do too, and they walk among us. Or more likely, they idle their SUVs in the drive-through lane at Tim Horton's.

28 November 2011

Monday Forest photo: November 28, 2011

11:30am 5C light drizzle 
A mere 5 days ago, it was a winter wonderland here in Monday Forest, but the temperatures have been well above freezing ever since and the snow is long gone. It's a cold enough climate here that we expect to see snow on the ground all winter, but it can take a few tries at the beginning before it sticks. In the meantime, depending on one's perspective, one waits with dread or anticipation for winter to finally arrive.

This little cluster of cedar cones caught my eye. It made me think of the preparations all the wild ones make for winter. Much more life and death than remembering to empty the rain barrels.

27 November 2011

They thought there would be cake at the grand opening

The girls got a first look at their new sunroom/rain shelter this morning. Yesterday I finally got the plastic on because rain was forecast for today, and I don't like to let the birds out to free range in the rain - they're just not very good at staying dry. Soggy chickens are pathetic little creatures.

The chickens have been sharing the winter coop now for a week, but they still keep to their own groups. The two white chickens and two red chickens nearest the ramp are the old ladies, and the rest are the teenagers. From what I can tell, though, everyone is getting access to the food and water and there isn't any violence.

Dax doesn't seem to fully appreciate that she is among the 1% of chickens. Hopefully, she'll enjoy the new space this winter.

26 November 2011

See ya later, sunset!

The view from my kitchen window one day last winter
At this time of year I start to get kind of squirrelly because of the very short days. Because my days are my own, and most mornings I don't have to get out of bed to be somewhere before it gets light, the primary day length issue for me is what time the sun sets.

I spent a little time perusing a sunrise/sunset calendar for my area and made a wonderful discovery. Today the sun set at 4:25 pm. In just over a week, on December 5, the sun will set five minutes earlier at 4:20 pm and that will be as early as it ever sets. Ever. Oh, the days will continue to get shorter, and sunrise will be later and later until January 5, but that critical sunset time bottoms out in 9 more days.

I may just make it this year, and I'll try to appreciate the the view.

25 November 2011

News Flash: the government doesn't care what I think

   Brick Wall

 I did a bit of citizen activism today. I dressed in my least no-good-sit-n-thinker clothes, brushed my hair and went to speak with my (Conservative) Member of Parliament about climate issues. I'm sure that if I had made an appointment to speak with a brick wall, I would feel much more satisfied than I do now. And if I had banged my head against that wall, at least I would feel relief when I stopped. 

As cynical as I am, I actually came away from my conversation even more pessimistic that there will ever be any meaningful change. The thing that surprised me was that my MP and I pretty much agree that things are going to get warmer - much warmer. We spoke of the need to reduce consumption, and he advised me to tell my grandchildren to buy land along James Bay, because it will be a sunny resort area in the future.

The thing that startled me, given his acknowledgement of the problem (though he tried to lecture me on natural climate variation - I wouldn't hear it) was that he was absolutely certain that the government would never take any serious action because people didn't want it. When I reminded him that I had made an appointment to tell him I wanted to be carbon-taxed and that I was probably representing at least one or two other people in the riding, he merely shrugged. He said the government just wasn't getting that kind of vibe from people. I told him I hoped he got my vibe.

I suppose I wasted my time today. Apparently, there is nothing to be said against the status quo. I guess if the system won't change, we're going to have to change systems.

24 November 2011

Where's Sergeant Pepper?

You've no doubt seen lots of images of the pepper spraying cop photoshopped onto all manner of iconic and not so iconic images by now. If not, check here for lots more. I'm glad that this thing is going viral and that folks seem genuinely disturbed by the casual violence against peaceful protesters. Our new overlords majority Conservative government is taking a turn in a much more authoritarian and cruel direction and no doubt we'll see more of this.

I was a bit surprised when the various city governments in this part of the world were so tolerant of Occupy protestors at first. In Canada, occupations started on October 15, and mostly were sent packing this past week, though some were cleared out earlier. The protesters were moved out using provisions of city bylaws designed to prevent homeless people from camping in public parks. (I feel sorry for the homeless - it's practically illegal just to exist, let alone all their other problems) They got the parks all tidied up and now nice people can use them again.

There was an interesting article in the paper about how police infiltrated an anarchist group for a year before the G20 summit in Toronto last year. Two officers joined a group, but one was exposed because he wasn't a very good anarchist and he saved his receipts. That little nugget really struck my funny bone - I'm not sure why but I'm still chuckling about it. I have no idea what good came from this undercover operation - it didn't seem to prevent any violence and there weren't very many serious criminal convictions in the end.

Full disclosure: I'm married to a cop, so I'm not anti-police, but I hate to see them used as pawns when the full force of the state is brought to bear against those who would speak out against a system that is already rigged against them.

23 November 2011

First snow

The first fall of snow is not only an event, it is a magical event. You go to bed in one kind of a world and wake up in another quite different, and if this is not enchantment then where is it to be found? - J.B. Priestly
When I no longer thrill to the first snow of the season, I'll know I'm growing old. - Lady Bird Johnson

22 November 2011

A very big trip

There was a bit of a milestone in our household today. Madeleine wanted a ride, not only to the city, but across the city, to volunteer at her old school for the day. I wanted to drive in rush hour, twice, to drop her off and pick her up like I wanted to stick needles in my eye. So I agreed to drop her off and pick her up at the park and ride. She managed all four busses and hour plus each way trip and arrived back at the station in one piece at the end of the day. She had not gotten lost, molested or recruited into a cult. She had realized that a lot of things in the city were now accessible to her that otherwise might not be if they required full chauffeuring services from an unenthusiastic parent. Now if I could just talk her into hitchhiking the rest of the way home, she'd have all the independence a teenager could want and cut our carbon emissions, too.

Speaking of emissions, the picture above is of an electric city bus from the early twentieth century. I know, I know - there are still emissions, except they're belching out of a smokestack at the local coal-fired generating plant rather than the tailpipe, but it's interesting to ponder how things might have gone if electric vehicles had prevailed over internal combustion engines. Perhaps we'd all be driving slower, lighter vehicles and listening to birds and people rather than the traffic noise we've gotten so used to.

21 November 2011

Monday Forest photo: November 21, 2011

1:30pm -3C sunny
A beautiful crisp, cool day. A cold front blew through last night, bringing clear skies and chilly temperatures - just right for a walk with the dog.

There's not a lot of greenery left in Monday Forest, but this fern is still standing proud.

20 November 2011

Chicken nuggets

Today was the culmination of Project Flock Blend. This project started back in June when we got five new day old chicks who took up residence in the large winter coop while the original flock of four spent the summer and fall in the chicken tractor. I knew from the beginning that we'd have to move everyone into the winter coop before winter. The girls have been free ranging in their two separate flocks for months now, but don't mingle much, though the old ones do chase the young ones away from goodies.

The temperature is forecast to hit -10C tonight, which seems like winter to me, so Madeleine and I grabbed each of the four old chickens and put them into the big coop with the pullets. Everyone was a bit miffed at the disruption of their ordinary routines, and there was much complaining.

The old chickens captured the floor level and the young chickens retreated atop the straw bales which are stacked under the roosts. The old birds partook of the offerings of both feeders and the waterer while the young ones watched, annoyed. When we left, after half an hour or so, there was an uneasy truce, and it was starting to get dark.

I'm sure there will be some jostling for sleeping space tonight, but chickens do enter a kind of nightly torpor, which should prevent any conflict overnight, and hopefully they will wake up slightly confused but well-rested and genial (or at the very least refrain from maiming each other over breakfast).

In every flock, certain chickens stand out for some exceptional trait. Martha, our Plymouth Barred Rock, shown above at the far end, is notable for her lovely appearance and stupidity, even by chicken standards. Martha frequently finds herself lost and was voted most likely to be eaten by a coyote.

Uhura is the chicken who comes running towards me when she sees me approach. She seems to speak for the pullets and objected the loudest to having new roommates.


Photo credit for all the chicken portraits to Madeleine.

The coop is undergoing an expansion this year, with the addition of a sun room. It's still under construction, but I'm sure it will be appreciated this winter.

19 November 2011

Northern Red-Bellied Snake

I love the days when I see something I've never seen before. Today on our walk we saw this tiny snake on the trail. According to google, it's a Northern Red-Bellied Snake, a snake one doesn't often see because it is very shy and likely to be found under a log or rock. Also, it's the smallest snake in Ontario, so it's just plain tricky to see, especially in this dark grey colouration. This one actually appeared dead, though apparently they are known to play dead. It didn't move at all, even when we picked it up. Luc placed it under some leaves off to the side of the trail where hopefully it snickered quietly at its subterfuge and waited for us to leave before slithering off to wherever snakes go at night.

It seems kind of late in the season to be seeing snakes, but it has been a particularly mild fall and these snakes seem to be able to endure cold winters as their range extends up to Lake Superior.

While I was doing the research for this post, I discovered a project called the Ontario Nature Reptile and Amphibian Atlas, which seeks to "improve our knowledge of the distribution and status of Ontario’s reptiles and amphibians by collecting observation submissions from the public, carrying out field surveys and amalgamating existing databases." They accept observations from "citizen scientists", and I will definitely register to participate.

18 November 2011

A depressing tour of White Tail Ridge

Meg and I went over to White Tail Ridge for our walk this afternoon. White Tail Ridge is a controversial suburban-sprawl type development plunked down a couple of kilometres from town in a rural area. The advertising has been misleading to say the least. I saw one ad that proclaimed that WTR was "in the heart of vibrant and eclectic Almonte". Uh, no. There are road signs along the main road from Ottawa that show the distance to WTR, except that every single one understates the distance by several kilometres. There must be marketing science behind blatant lying about obvious facts, though the strategy is lost on me.

I like how the sign says "Imagine the Possibilities"and shows a picture of an olympic size backyard skating rink. Your imagination will get a workout here.

I stuck my camera in over the edge of a dumpster outside a house which is currently under construction mostly to see if there were any goodies in there. I was pleased to see some workmen had tossed their beer cans in the dumpster, as they mostly they seem to toss them into the ditches.  It seems kind of European to be drinking at lunch, but I suspect these guys are not old world craftsmen.

Construction is proceeding (but not on this weekday afternoon) on three houses. Customers don't appear to be lining up to buy these homes, which are priced similarly to houses in the city, except they come with a bonus half hour longer commute. 

I threw up a little when I saw this monstrosity. Luckily it will blow away when the first big wind comes up.

The forest here is gradually being blasted away to make room for roads and storm water drainage. Of course, as houses are built, the remaining trees will be cut down too. Sigh.

While I was poking around, I found a sign which reveals the site's previous use: Welcome to "Stan's Slaughtering Plant". It's hard to get too romantic about something like that, but I'd rather see a local food producer here than a bunch of oversized, vinyl and chipboard dream homes.

17 November 2011

Stephen Harper and his corporate puppeteers don't speak for me

I engaged in a bit of slacktivism this afternoon. The Council of Canadians has a campaign to let European Union decision makers know that the Canadian government is acting as a shill for Big Oil and does not speak for a majority of citizens. The Canadian and Alberta governments are lobbying against the EU's Fuel Quality Directive, which seeks to reduce carbon emissions from transport fuels by discouraging the use of high-carbon fuels such as tar sands bitumen. They say the FQD is "discriminatory" and "unscientific". Apparently you must remove your conscience before you crawl into the pocket of Big Oil so that you do not mind spewing complete bullcrap in public.

So Madeleine and I took each other's pictures holding this fancy sign and uploaded it to a Flickr group, called I'm Canadian and I Support the EU FQD. This is slightly more effort than signing an online petition, but not much, and I would encourage anyone who is concerned about reducing carbon emissions to go to the Council of Canadians website to get more information on this action and how to participate. Do it. Go now. Oh, and why not leave a comment here once you've done it?

16 November 2011

Experiencing Mental Difficulties: Please Stand By

I am completely at a loss for today's blog, so I am cheating and posting this picture of some stuff on a rock for your viewing pleasure. Regular programming resumes tomorrow.

15 November 2011

Is there decent health care in debtor's prison?


There's a tumblr blog I go to quite frequently called We Are the 99 Percent which is simply photographs of people holding a sign that describes why they feel they are part of the Occupy movement's 99 percent. I have a hard time figuring out why I find this so compelling. The site has hundreds of these pictures of people who are in debt, un- or underemployed, insecure about food and housing, and often sick or disabled. So many of these accounts are of folks who are carrying debt from student loans, underwater homes or medical bills. This debt renders them indentured servants, but with no guarantee of employment. 

Quite honestly, I can't really relate to most of these people. By far, most of them are American, and as much as Americans and Canadians may be indistinguishable to the rest of the world, there are some major differences that are particularly relevant here. The real estate bubble hasn't burst here, and in many parts of the country there is no real estate bubble. Most Canadians are not underwater on their mortgages and there hasn't been any spate of foreclosures. Most universities here are publicly funded and tuition fees average about $5000 a year for undergraduate programs. The biggest difference, though, is our publicly funded health insurance. Every Canadian has a provincial health card that provides all basic health services for free. Ok, it's not free. We pay for it through a reasonably progressive taxation system. Poor people pay less than rich people, but everyone receives the same care. Every emergency room visit, every hospital stay, every doctor's appointment (specialists too), diagnostic tests, surgery, childbirth - all free. No worries about pre-existing conditions, co-pays, HMOs (whatever they are), unaffordable premiums or bankruptcy due to medical bills. Oh, we complain about wait times. Sometimes people have to wait longer than they'd like for MRIs and elective surgeries. And for people under 65, drugs aren't covered unless you have supplemental insurance, usually from your employer. But, a catastrophic illness isn't automatically a financial catastrophe.  

I don't know why Americans are so vehemently opposed to the kind of reasonably civilized health care enjoyed by most citizens of the developed world. From my outside perspective it seems that a significant number of people are being condemned to suffer for an obviously failed ideology. 

14 November 2011

Monday Forest photo: November 14, 2011

11:30 am 17C cloudy
 This weather is strange indeed. A southwest wind is blowing up warm air and we're having temperatures I thought we wouldn't see again until April or May. As lovely as it is, at this time of year there's a nagging feeling that it's not quite right to be this warm. All good Canadians used to say something along the lines of "we'll pay for this" when the weather was unseasonably nice, and now we worry that this particular instance of weather is yet another sign of climate change. Geez, why can't we just enjoy it?

There are a lot of snags in Monday Forest and some bear some striking mycodecorations.

13 November 2011

Today's post brought to you by the artful lodger

Rainy day in a small town



After being silent for a while, our artful lodger is back at it, and this time with a vengeance. Madeleine is taking the semester off school, ostensibly to recover from a health issue, but evidently to do art. She's the kind of kid who completely throws herself into whatever is the current passion, and for now it is visual art. More of her work can be seen at her art blog.

12 November 2011

Confessions of a crunchy granola shelter porn addict


Well, I suppose I had better acknowledge the problem before it gets out of hand. I can't stop looking at pictures of people's rooms. This is a strange fixation for someone who rants on about the end of the world as we know it, and currently lives on painted plywood subfloors. When I open my browser, Apartment Therapy is there. I have no intention of moving - ever - yet I check real estate listings just about every day, and I can tell you how much and whether the kitchen is updated for most houses currently on the market in my town. I was thrilled, thrilled, to discover that we now live in an area where the IKEA catalogue is delivered in the mail.

Back in my early twenties I used to buy magazines and persisted in that habit until I couldn't afford them anymore. Then I found them and big coffee table decorating books at the library. Now I get my fix online. More shelter porn every day than I could ever have dreamed of back in the day. I don't know what this says about me. I don't have a fabulous house and no grand plans to create one. I don't have the time, actually, because I haven't seen all the pictures on the internet yet. And I can stop anytime I want. Really.

11 November 2011

Kombucha don't know what this is

I've often got something growing on my counter. No, not because I don't clean it occasionally, but because I have jars of kefir, yogourt, sourdough starter, ginger bugs, or fermenting veggies on the go. So it wasn't out of character for me to seek out a kombucha starter to join the menagerie.

Kombucha, in case you're not familiar with it, is a fermented sweet tea drink. You make a sweet tea, then add a kombucha scoby, which looks like a tentacle-less jellyfish. The word scoby is an acronym for Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast. You leave it to ferment for a week or so, by which time the scoby will have spawned a baby jellyfish, which you can use to ferment more tea. You do all this because kombucha is reputed to be an amazing health tonic (the lights dim at the server farm when you google it) and is also a refreshing, lightly carbonated beverage.

So maybe you can't see why I was so keen to try this new fermenting adventure, and at this point I can't actually remember either. The first step was to find a kombucha culture. I don't actually know anyone in person with any scobys to spare, so I went bravely onto the internets. There are lists of folks who will send you a kombucha baby, along with its pedigree, for the postage. I sent a few emails, and didn't hear anything back, so I decided to purchase one from the one Canadian outfit selling them online. I won't mention the cost, but it turns out that the unit cost of drinkable kombucha has been embarrassingly high.

The starter arrived in the mail, packed inside 2 freezer bags and floating in some kombucha, which smelled suspiciously like apple cider vinegar. I'm pretty sure that's what it's supposed to smell like. I followed the instructions, and a week later I looked into the jar to find not much of anything. I left it a few days longer and harvested my first batch of kombucha, along with a baby scoby. I made two more batches and checked on them a week later, to find mold growing on the surface of both jars. The instructions had cautioned this could happen and offered advice about dealing with it. One batch looked bad, so I threw it out, but I rinsed off the other and started another batch -another batch of mold and some previously unknown lifeforms as it turns out.

I'm kind of surprised my kombucha adventure has turned out to be such a flop. The animals in my counter zoo usually die of boredom (and neglect) after a long life. They don't usually perish under my active guardianship.

10 November 2011


One of the benefits of living close to Ottawa is being able to visit the National Gallery of Canada. Madeleine and I went last week and had a fabulous day soaking up all kinds of art. Perhaps the largest piece in the gallery's collection is the giant bronze spider called "Maman" that inhabits the square in front of the gallery. Maman is huge: she's 9 metres tall (30 ft.) and weighs 6000 kg (13,000 lb). She has 26 marble eggs in her egg sac. 

I love that Maman looks like she is about to devour the city.

09 November 2011

The tao of Meg

Meg is our two and a half year old border collie. She is pretty much in constant motion. When she is happy or excited she jumps and twirls and zooms in circles, practically all at the same time. Luckily, many things make Meg happy: the prospect of a walk, seeing someone after they've been out of sight for a moment, letting the chickens out in the morning, seeing the dog next door, fetching slippers, letting Madeleine know it's time to get up, being invited onto the bed, chasing a ball, rounding up the chickens, licking a cereal bowl, running on the trails or being brushed. Her big ears, which don't fold down like most border collies' (she might miss something), are constantly rotating like two furry transceivers. She jumps into the UPS truck to meet the driver, rather than wait for him to come out with a biscuit.

A few things aren't so popular with our Meg. The stove timer, vacuum cleaner or smoke alarm are pretty scary things. Meg sneaks downstairs to crawl under Madeleine's bed until the danger has passed. She stoically endures car rides by curling up on the seat and waiting until it's over.

Good or bad, Meg lives in the present. She doesn't stress about the future or harbour regrets. Her life is a moment by moment adventure and if things get a little slow, well, who's up for ball?


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