Home for a rest

In this busy time of the year, and with major ongoing life changes happening, it’s become increasingly important for me to have some serious downtime on a regular basis.  By serious, though, I’m really referring to quality, not so much to quantity.  I find that so long as it’s quality rest, I can get by with one full day off per week.  More is better, if I can swing it, but a solid day of quiet downtime is fairly necessary for me to continue to function at a reasonable level.

Since I teach on Monday, Sundays are usually devoted to work prep, although I try to keep them as low-key as possible.  Fridays are usually devoted to errands and anything that needs to get done.  This leaves Saturdays as my day off, and I’ve been trying to make the most of them, and to get into some restful habits that will be easy to keep up.

On Sundays, I usually don’t go out, unless it’s for a bike ride or a walk.  I don’t shop or run any errands.  I don’t turn on my email, read the news, or check social media.  In fact, my only media use on Saturdays is listening to music or watching a movie, or occasionally drafting a blog post if the mood to write strikes me.  Instead, I do quiet things like read, bake, cook, nap, sew, or knit.

Today, I slept in a bit longer than usual, then got up and went for a long bike ride – I’m trying to spend as much time enjoying the last of the nice weather outside while I can.  I came home, made some lunch, and spent some time tidying and then reading on the couch, which also just happens to be where I dozed off for a bit later in the afternoon.  When I got up again, I started the process of making sauerkraut and a ginger beer starter.  With that finished, I made pizza and a berry smoothie for dinner, and ate while watching The Lord of The Rings.

It’s hardly exciting, but hardly exciting is exactly what I need.  Having a day off with little contact with outside world and quiet, restful pursuits is vital to my well-being.  At the end of these days, I feel rejuvenated in a way that no other activity or approach has managed.  This may not be possible every weekend, but as much as possible I’ll be keeping my Saturdays quiet, low key, and restful so I can continue to do the other things in my life that are so important to me.

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Surfacing

River 1Much as I wish it were otherwise, work often gets the better of me and my time writing here becomes limited, if not nonexistent.  Such was the case this last semester – I had quite a few students (and lots of grading), an extra writing project to complete, and various other bits and pieces of life getting in the way, some lovely and some challenging.  Happily, the semester’ winding down and I have a good bit more time on my hands.  Of course, there are new classes to prep and conference papers to write and hopefully some publishing to do, but I feel like I’m surfacing again as I relish the slower pace of these last few weeks and ponder what else I’d like to do with some of my time.

One thing – a big, general thing – that’s front and centre in my mind is stepping up my sustainability and resilience game a bit more.  I’ve allowed the craziness of the last semester to let me slip a bit in terms of some of the standards to which I hold myself.  I need to take some time to get back to basics and build some new habits.  There’s a lot of room for things like producing less trash, reducing what I consume, eating lower on the food chain, and growing and producing more of what I eat and use.  I’m also excited at the prospect of simplifying my life a bit more.  Just yesterday I took a huge load (huge enough to actually be kind of embarrassing) of books and clothes to the thrift store for donation, and I’m only just getting started.  I’m hoping to spend a bit more time on projects that help with these goals and a bit more time here writing about them.  Living more lightly is something that’s always on my mind and I see the summer break as an excellent time to put theory a bit more into practice in a meaningful way.

Resolutions, habits, and goals, oh my

Although the new year is really just a completely arbitrary date, I often find myself wanting to set goals as a reminder to myself of the things that I think are important that I want to work towards.  Having a solid sense of what I want to accomplish still helps me to move forward, and also makes it all the easier to get back to the important things when I lapse or fall of the wagon.  I’m aiming a bit big here, but for the most part, these tend to be also things that I’m already working towards.  This usually means that my goals for the year aren’t really a huge stretch, really just a bit of a formalization of the things that I think are good to focus on.  I also see these things much more as goals to work on and habits to be developed, rather than strict resolutions.  To me, this feels like a gentler approach, which is nice because I don’t really feel inclined to beat myself up over fitting in only one yoga session in a week rather than two.

A lot of my goals are focused on different measures of health – it seems to be the theme for my plans for the year.  After a year of feeling off balance and unhealthy in a number of different ways, I’d like to start nudging things back on track a bit more.  This includes physical and mental health, but also bolstering my financial health, improving my position at work, and an ever-increasing focus on self-reliance.  My hope is that all of these points will feed into each other and help to support a life that’s healthier generally.

Health

  • Meditation – 15 minutes twice per day
  • Cardio – 30 minutes five times per week
  • Strength training – 30 minutes five times per week
  • Yoga – 45 minutes twice per week
  • Water – eight glasses a day
  • Veggies – five servings a day
  • Fruit – two servings a day

Financial

  • Have 20 no-spend days per month
  • Save $3000 towards my emergency fund
  • Save $3000 towards a house or land down payment
  • Save $3000 towards retirement
  • Save $1000 for self-reliance related purchases
  • Open a discount brokerage account
  • Switch health insurance to a better plan

Work

  • Submit two papers for publication
  • Present at one conference
  • Read one new article per week
  • Read one new book per month
  • Write 30 minutes per day

Personal

  • Donate to the food bank once per month
  • Have lunch with a friend once per month
  • Have tea with a friend once per week
  • Try two new recipes per month
  • Have one date night per month
  • Read 12 novels
  • Declutter one thing per day

Self-reliance

  • Do the Riot for Austerity again
  • Grow (and use) one jar of sprouts per week
  • Grow another container garden
  • Bake bread once per week
  • Ferment three different things
  • Learn to make yogurt
  • Can five different things
  • Knit a wearable article of clothing
  • Read at least one book each on peak oil, seed saving, breadmaking, fermentation, food systems, permaculture, and urban agriculture
  • Buy one self-reliance related item that I’ve been holding off on (pressure canner, dehydrator, grain mill, water filter, or garden tools)

Outfitting a village

I’m generally against rampant consumerism, but these days I find myself thinking about buying things a good deal more than I usually do.  Apart from periods where I put myself on no spend challenges, I do tend to accumulate stuff.  I bring in books, canning jars, kitchen gadgets, yarn, clothing, tools, bedding, and quite a few other things that have proven to be useful as I try to live a bit more sustainably.  However, I also have a wish list as long as my arm that includes a variety of far more expensive items that are not so easily found secondhand: garden tools, clothes drying rack, pressure canner, grain mill, dehydrator, water filter, camp stove, and sun oven.

Lately, I’ve been feeling that I should use the resources that I have to go ahead and make these kind of purchases. The biggest one on my list is still some land – this is feeling like an increasingly pressing concern, but I’m not yet sure where or how given that my job status is somewhat up in the air and we’re not exactly settled.  But for now, I also feel as though I should purchase some of the tools that will hopefully help to make life a bit more sustainable and a bit more secure both here in our little apartment and hopefully in the future when we have our own place.

The real driving thought, though, is that I don’t just want this for me.  I see what I’m doing as acquiring resources at least for my family, if not for a village (as it were).  My parents don’t really share many of my fears about where the world is headed, and my mother actively seeks to get rid of as much as possible.  My husband is more understanding of my concerns, although doesn’t necessarily share them to the same degree.  Many of my friends share similar concerns, but very few are actively making changes in their own lives.  So when I buy reference books, canning jars, garden tools, or a pressure canner, I feel like I’m doing it not just for me, but for them as well.  Knowing that they aren’t taking any steps on their own makes me feel that one of the most important things I can do is plan to help take care of them as best I can.

To be clear, I don’t think stuff is going to save us, and its certainly not going to do so on its own.  I think we need community and knowledge far more than we need more things, but tools can help a lot, and good quality tools can be shared and used to do a lot of good for quite a few people.  While there are certainly times when I just want to save every bit of money I possibly can, it seems to me that if I have the resources to buy tools that may prove to be helpful to a range of people it might just be worth spending a bit of money after all and taking up some of the space in my apartment to store them.

I also see these purchases as a way to hopefully become more self-reliant and to save a bit of money.  A well-made clothes drying rack may be $100, but will save me $2.50 a load, plus the environmental costs.  A pressure canner may approach $400, but if I can buy and can food when it’s inexpensive and have easy meals ready to go, that saves a lot of money on food and possibly even some time at dinner time.  Good gardening tools aren’t that cheap, but they open up more opportunities for feeding ourselves and cutting down on grocery bills.  And, the more money I save, the more there will be left to purchase more tools, or just to help others.  While I want to do as much as possible for myself, I also want to be sure that I can take care of those I care about the most and help to foster the community and resilience that I suspect will become even more important in the future.

What should I do with my life?

A few days ago, Eric at Root Simple wrote a post called How to Answer the Question, “What Should I Do With My Life?” talking about looking at our bookshelves to figure out what it is that we really want to do.  A few other blogs seem to have picked it up as well, so I decided to have a look at my own shelves to see what they say about my current values and priorities.

Most of my book purchases over the last few years have been focused on greater self reliance and, in particular, food.  Even my academic books – once focused largely on technology and assorted digital things – have made way for more books critiquing consumerism and looking at modern food issues in our society (there are actually some rather compelling links between the two, which is what I’m currently working on).

Books 2Apart from my academic life, I’ve also bought a large number of books that are focused on food in a few different ways.  Some of them deal with the social and cultural implications of food and the issues with our current food system.  I’m interested in everything from critical perspectives on what’s not working through to books about the history of food.  On top of this, I’ve also acquired quite a lot of books on producing, cooking, and preserving food – everything from seed saving and gardening to cooking dinner from scratch and making jam.  Beyond food, I also have a selection of books on skills including knitting, crochet, sewing, weaving, bush craft, basket making, natural dyeing, soap making, root cellaring, house construction, bee keeping, livestock care and feeding, and herbalism.

Books 3As for the rest of them, I have a bookcase devoted to fiction and another with sections devoted to a range of topics: folklore, naturalism, graphic novels, communication and cultural theory, children’s literature, poetry, music, fitness, history, anthropology, finances, and social issues.  I suppose it’s also worth noting that I have a fairly large selection of books on things like happiness, mindfulness meditation, and compassion.  These are fairly recent additions to the shelf, and I think they illustrate my desire for a life that is not only more resilient, but hopefully also happier and more mindful.

Books 1Here’s a selection of a few of my current favourites:

  • The Urban Homestead
  • Living Seasonally
  • Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
  • Forgotten Skills of Cooking
  • The River Cottage Cookbook
  • The Art of Simple Food
  • Tassajara Bread Book
  • Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day
  • The Art of Fermentation
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved
  • Square Foot Gardening
  • The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible
  • Four-Season Harvest
  • The Year Round Vegetable Gardener
  • The One Straw Revolution
  • Shop Class as Soulcraft
  • Your Money or Your Life
  • Less if More: The Art of Voluntary Poverty
  • Living More With Less
  • Mindfulness in Plain English
  • The Places that Scare You

I’ve always had varied interests, which are pretty well represented here.  But the large selection of books that are focused on skills makes it pretty clear to me that I’m looking to do more with my life than just think.  I want to be active and productive and find ways to be more self-reliant.  With that in mind, I’m going to get up from looking at my books and actually get down to making something this afternoon – I’m thinking some whole wheat bread might be in order, and perhaps a bit of knitting.

Fantasy and reality

These days, a lot of my fantasies come down to living a more productive, sustainable life at home.  I dream of a small house on a few acres of land, with large gardens and a chicken coop in the back.  Inside, there’s a fireplace and comfortable couches with lots of blankets on which to read, write, knit, and play the guitar.  There’s a spinning wheel and sewing machine in the corner – sometimes I even wonder about a weaving loom.  In the kitchen, homegrown herbs are hanging from the ceiling, bread is rising on the stove, pickles are fermenting on the shelf, homemade jams and jellies are lined up in the pantry, and gingerbeer and sourdough starters are sitting on the counter next to glass jars of home grown sprouts. While I certainly don’t think I can do everything, I picture making some of our clothing, entertaining ourselves through music and storytelling, and producing as much of what we eat as possible. What I think this really comes down to is that, in my head, I imagine a life that’s based on a really tangible, material kind of productivity.  I envision a home that’s filled with work that is at least somewhat pleasant and feels worthwhile because it meets real needs in a concrete way.

The reality, however, doesn’t quite work like this, at least not right now.  Although I work largely from home, I need to be on campus at least three days a week.  On days when I’m not there, I’m usually prepping for class, grading papers, applying for jobs, or researching and writing articles.  That’s not a complaint – I think my work is interesting and there are lots of things that I enjoy about it.  It does keep me busy enough that I’m often exhausted at the end of the day, though.  Knitting, sewing, writing, and playing guitar are often off the table at this point, and reading seems to be the activity that’s most manageable when i need rest.  The garden has fallen to the wayside more times than I’d like to admit.  And there are nights when it’s challenging enough just to make dinner, let alone keep the kitchen clean, bake bread, tend starters, rinse sprouts, and all of the other things that would need doing to keep up the level of productivity and homemade food that I envision.

I’ve reached a point where I’ve come to terms with at least some of the discrepancies between the fantasy and the reality.  I’ve had a good hard look at what’s possible right now, and I keep reevaluating as I go and my situation changes.  Practically speaking, there’s only so much I can do.  Keeping my job is pretty important since it pays the bills, so I need to work around its demands. Whatever else I do has to fit around this keystone, and sometimes the need to work is simply going to have to take priority over things I’d rather be doing.  There are, after all, only so many hours in the day and so many things that can be done out of a 750 square foot apartment with a bit of grass outside.

This is largely where the “if not here” idea came from (although it was also heavily influenced by Sharon Astyk’s “adapting in place”).  I could put off trying to do everything I want until I have the time and the land and the house and the kitchen and the garden and everything else that exists in my fantasy life.  However, I deeply believe that these are things that are worth doing now, even if things aren’t as ideal as they are in my head.  But even more importantly, they’re things that I can still do now, just maybe not to the degree that I’d like.  I may not make bread every day, but I can probably manage once a week.  I may not make everything we wear, but I can slowly work on a cowl, some gloves, or a pair of socks.  I may not produce everything we eat, but I can cook most of our meals and rinse the odd batch of sprouts or feed a sourdough starter when I have a few minutes here and there.  I may not be a fantastic guitar player, but I can practice a favourite song every now and again.

When I was working on my dissertation, I was often reminded that “the perfect is the enemy of the good”.  I think this idea applied equally well here.  I can’t do everything I want now, but I can do some of it, and that’s still a pretty powerful thing.  There’s no need to wait until I’m in the ideal situation.  I can make this situation more ideal by doing the things that I want to be doing to the best of my ability right now.  And, as each step gets easier and faster, it becomes possible to add in something new every so often.  I probably won’t ever get to the point where I can take care of all of our needs, and I believe that being completely sustainable is, at best, very difficult.  But for now, I can do what I can in the situation we’re in and work towards graducally building the life that I want, whether that’s on some land in the country or here in my little apartment.

Home making

DeskI’ve always been a homebody.  I prefer home to petty much anywhere else and I’d much rather stay close by than go on far-flung vacations.  Over the past few years, home has become increasingly central to my life.  To varying degrees, this apartment has become my restaurant, bakery, grocery store, homestead, yoga studio, gym, library, office, writer’s retreat, movie theater, music studio, workshop, classroom, craft studio, health spa, and probably a number of other things that I can’t think of right now.  In brief, it gets a lot of use, although not always a lot of care.

For a long time I didn’t do much to the apartment other than fill it with thrift store treasures and many, many books.  I wasn’t sure how long I’d be here.  What I thought might be a small amount of time has now turned into eight years, so I didn’t give a great deal of thought to many of the details.  Now, with the degree done and me still here, I feel like it’s well past time to make a few changes.  Ever since I was a child, I’ve loved arranging things to make spaces feel more comfortable and more like home, and I’d like to get back to that again.  Although we could still move at any time, we could also be here for many years to come, and to put off making this space even more functional, useful, and comfortable has started to seem somewhat shortsighted.

I don’t expect the apartment to ever be a showpiece, nor do I want it to be. We live here and use the space, so it’s always likely to look somewhat lived in.  I would like it be a bit nicer to actually live in, though.  Part of this comes down to decluttering, since there’s a lot in here and everything should be easier to manage and clean up after with more things gone.  The other part is focusing on some of the details that I haven’t paid a lot of attention to.  There’s nothing that big or that expensive on the list, but things like moving some of the furniture, rearranging some textiles, and hanging some art (finally!) would go a long way to making this place all the nicer for us to live in on a daily basis.

I think there’s a value in home that is often under recognized.  Home can be just a place for sleep and storage, ir it can be a showpiece.  For me, it goes much deeper than either of these things and become a place of rest, relaxation, and respite from a world that often feels like it’s moving far too fast in the wrong direction.  When my home is clean, comfortable, and well cared for, it becomes a place that I really want to be in, work in, and rest in.  At the same time, I think all of these things are useful in living a more sustainable life – a life based around home can save money, time, energy, resources, and stress.  As simple or perhaps even as indulgent as it might seem on the surface, making my home a bit nicer has value in terms of encouraging me to stay in and find what I need as close to where I are as possible.