Procrastination and productivity

As much as I like to make things, there have been some things that I’ve been putting off doing recently.  Although I’ve been getting everything done that’s needed for work, I’ve been putting off what feel like more non-essential things, even though these are often the tasks that are important to building a more resilient and sustainable life.  By and large these are relatively small things, but I put them off all the same.  I think I often convince myself that whatever I want to do will take a long time or be otherwise inconvenient, and so I let things sit.

In most cases, however, this is far from the truth.  To combat my procrastination I’ve been trying to do things that I would normally put off just as a matter of routine.  This means they get done quickly – usually the same day, if not as soon as I think of them – and often I find they don’t take anywhere near as long as I think they will.  In turn, this makes it more likely that I’ll keep up with the things that I want to or need to do.  It’s been a bit surprising to me how easy it is to fit in these smaller tasks.

This past week, I changed a flat tire on my bicycle, made sauerkraut, started ginger beer and sourdough starters, soaked beans for sprouting, and put together a sugar scrub and face masque for my sensitive and currently very unhappy skin.  The thing that took the longest was easily the sauerkraut, but even with the chopping and pounding down it took only around a half hour, perhaps a bit more with cleanup (cabbage everywhere).  Everything else took well under 15 minutes.

My recent schedule hasn’t left much time for anything other than work, but as things slow down and settle in a bit, it’s good to know that I can fit in some of the activities that I’ve been holding off on.  It’s important to me to know that I’m being at least a bit productive in ways that don’t involve work, and it’s felt really, really good to be able to accomplish some of these tasks in the free time that I have.

Fighting food waste

 

Food waste is a huge issue.  Research suggests that 30 to 40 percent of food is wasted in America and many millions of tonnes of food are wasted every year.  Personally, I loathe wasting food.  Throwing out something that could have been eaten not only reminds me of the impact on my budget and the waste stream but, more importantly, that waste is an offense in a society where millions of people are food insecure on a regular basis.

Happily, food waste is largely avoidable with some planning and resourcefulness.  One advantage of living on my own now is that I don’t have to cater to anyone else’s meal preferences.  This means that I can much more easily deal with anything in the fridge that’s starting to turn, thereby cutting down significantly on wasted food.

In the case of tonight’s dinner (which I completely neglected to photograph), the starting-to-turn culprit was a bag of mushrooms.  They were starting to tend towards dampness which doesn’t really make for good eating.  Faced with close to two pounds, I decided to make a cream of mushroom and barley soup.  This choice also allowed me to use up some aging yogurt and the last bit of the milk that I bought for my parents’ visit.  The recipe was really delicious, but I was almost equally pleased with the fact that I was able to not waste perfectly fine food.  And, as I was cooking I also found another aging tub of yogurt in the back of the fridge.  With the addition of a probably-soon-to-turn cucumber and a few other ingredients, will become tzatziki sauce for dinner tomorrow.

There’s nothing really groundbreaking here – just a bit of awareness of what’s in the fridge and a general willingness to eat meals based on what needs to be used up.  It doesn’t feel like deprivation or anything close to hardship – just making wiser use of whatever resources are available.

Food storage solutions

It pains me to admit this, but today I threw out a relatively large amount of food.  I originally set out to start cleaning, rearranging, and decluttering the kitchen.  I soon realised that in addition to a nice assortment of veggies decomposing in the fridge, I also had a selection of nuts and whole grain rice that were well past their expiration dates, in some cases by years.  Being uninterested in the stomach issues that typically arise from eating mouldy or rancid food, I disposed of the lot.  Some went to my worms and some to the garbage.  As I got rid of it, I realised that I need to make some changes.  I’m good at the accumulating, but not so good at the management.  I tend to bring home a good range of tasty and nutritious food, but I don’t always get the best use of it.

We have a few things working against us.  We have limited space, so things get stuffed onto shelves and wedged into corners in various locations.  It becomes really easy to forget what’s stored where and how much of something we have on hand.  I also have a tendency to get excited about food and buy a lot of new things to try which has resulted in the acquisition of such things as 15 kinds of beans, eight kinds of rice, and dozens of different nuts, seeds, mushrooms, sauces, and seaweeds.  At the same time, we typically cook a lot of different kinds of food which usually leaves us with a lot of different kinds of ingredients and leftover bits and pieces from trying out new recipes or tweaking old ones.

I loathe tossing food, a problem that Wasted Food has a lot of good information on.  Throwing away stuff that once was perfectly good was hard to do.  Shameful is a good word to describe the feeling.  But as awful as actually throwing it was, I’m grateful that it forced me to think through how we store and use food around and to reconsider our current system (okay, okay…our lack thereof).  And so, when I needed a break this afternoon I sat down and drafted a loose five-part plan.

Part one is to use up what we already have. I’d like to not waste any more food if I can avoid it, so I’m going to figure out some recipes to make with the odds and ends and bits and pieces.  Tonight, that meant a dinner of spiced split mung beans and spinach.  The mung beans were the last of the bag and the spinach needed to be eaten before the holidays.

Part two is to figure out what we eat regularly.  The things we stock up on and keep on hand should be the things that we use a lot.  We seem to be doing well with things like rice, cornmeal, oatmeal, flour, lentils, pasta, tomatoes, broth, and sugar, but we still have a bunch of other things that don’t get used all that often.  Focusing on the things that we use a lot of makes the most sense, particularly given out limited storage space.

Part three is to try some new meals.  I need recipes for about ten of those different kinds of beans that I have kicking around, plus a whole bunch of other things (seaweed, I’m looking at you since I’m pretty regularly at a loss on this one).  While I’d like to stick with what we eat regularly, I’d also like to expand our repertoire of recipes that are really healthy and made from ingredients that I know store well.

Part four is to plan for new purchases.  Buying a bunch of food because it’s new and interesting isn’t all that useful if its just going to sit in the closet.  This doesn’t mean we won’t try new things or put them into the regular rotation.  It just means that I have to know exactly what we’ll be using something for before I put it in my grocery cart.

Part five is somewhat longer-term and involves setting up a database of foods that we have on hand.  It’s hard to know how much of everything we have stored, so a system where we can note what’s coming in, what’s going out, and what’s located where would be helpful.  I’m also hoping this will help me rotate food more effectively so we don’t keep opening new bags of beans or rice when there are older ones sitting in the closet – sadly, it seems that good rice doesn’t age quite the same way that good wine does.

This is pretty preliminary and I’ll probably need to tweak it as I go.  However, I’m hopeful that we can establish a system to reduce food waste.  Given the many different social justice issues throughout the world, I find it unconscionable to waste food.  It’s well past time that I find ways to better manage our food resources.

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.

Independence days

I’ve been writing a lot this week, and while it feels good to be writing critically about consumerism, it’s also felt good to stop working for some more practical and tangible things around here.

Plant something: planted kale starts in my existing containers; transplanted some volunteer tomato seedlings; planted more lettuce seeds; sprouted a few different kinds of beans

Harvest something: mint for tea; chives, oregano, and basil for dinners; lettuce for salads

Preserve something: no preserving this week, but I’m trying to plan out a few things that I’d like to preserve, and getting the kitchen in shape for when that happens

Waste not: trash picked a wooden chair and a bucket to add to my container garden; fed veggie scraps to the worms; reorganizing the kitchen to help prevent food waste; pulled out some close to expiring food to use

Want not: cutting back on spending this month so I can add to my savings account and contribute a bit more to some projects I have in mind; stocked up on Dr. Bronner’s soap when it was on sale at the local health food store; accepted a few freebie books from a friend

Eat the food: making meals out of as many farmers’ market ingredients as I can – kholrabi, carrot, and broccoli salad, potato and radish top soup, roasted veggies with pasta, Chinese broccoli on rice, chevre and tomato sandwiches

Build community food systems: shopping at the market and chatting with farmers about food issues; looking into joining the local transition/post-peak oil group

Skill up: more knitting and baking; learning how to work with sourdough and make ginger beer; reading up on herbal medicine

Beyond the independence days things, I’m still biking and walking a lot and trying to make sure I get – and stay – in good shape.  I’ve been thinking a lot more than usual about food and healthy eating, and I’m looking forward to shaping up the kitchen so that it’s easier to work in and I’m using food in the best ways that I can.  Along the same lines, I’m also still working on the apartment, and trying to make sense of what should stay and what should go, what we need, and how we can best use the space since there are just so many things that we do here.  I’m convinced there’s room enough for all the things I want to do, I just have to figure out the best ways to make things work.

Independence days

Despite being waylaid for a few days with a particularly nasty sinus headache, I’ve gotten a few things done around here under the Independence Days umbrella.  I seem to be especially focused on food, and it’s been lovely to spend more time gardening, cooking, baking, and shopping at the market, all of which has left us with an abundance of food and a lot of really, really tasty meals.

Plant something: started sprouts from mung beans; added three new containers of lettuce and peas (for the shoots) to the container garden

Harvest something: gathering wild yeast in my new sourdough and ginger beer starters

Preserve something: no preserving this week, sadly

Waste not: made a number of thrift store purchases this week – bowls (to replace a few broken ones), handmade pottery, a skein of Canadian wool, a large storage jar, another vintage wool blanket (it’s really as much a collection as anything else, at this point), three shallow plastic bins to add to my patio container garden, and copies of Forest Farming and World Vegetarian (which has been on my Amazon wish list for over two years now).

Want not: bought some extra seeds to have on hand; stocked up on brown rice and some dried beans; cleared out stored food to put into rotation

Eat the food: tried a few new recipes this week – cheddar biscuits, butter chickpeas – and ate a lot of salads and fresh farmers’ market fare

Build community food systems: more shopping at the market and chatting with farmers

Skill up: still working on improving my knitting; working to improve our bread baking and our favourite bagel recipe

Beyond these things, I’ve still been biking and walking everywhere, which feels great and keeps getting easier over time.  I’ve also been getting in some runs, so I’m feeling a lot fitter than I have in awhile.  In terms of home, I’ve been working hard to get the apartment decluttered and cleaned up, since it’s long overdue and I’m not really known for my extreme tidiness.  There’s a lot of stuff to get rid of, so we’ve been loading up the cart once or twice a week and schlepping things up to Goodwill – this, I assume, is my penance for bringing too much stuff home in the first place.  And, on a somewhat related topic, I’ve been noticing that in the summer, when it’s nice and I’m off work, I go to the thrift store more often than I normally would.  This is something that I think I’m going to consciously cut back on again – perhaps with a no spend challenge for July.

Independence days

Due to a sudden job interview that required some prep time, I was a bit off my independence days game this week and didn’t get nearly as much done as I wanted.  On the positive side, I generally seem to be a good deal more aware of what I’m doing and why, and I’m consciously spending more time working on activities that will should help to make us a little bit more independent – every bit counts.

Plant something: planted more lettuce and cress

Harvest something: chives, basil, oregano, mint, and lettuce

Preserve something: froze rhubarb

Waste not: fed the worms produce scraps; bought a secondhand shirt and a handmade pottery bowl from the thrift store

Want not: stocked up on dried lentils and dried fruit

Eat the food: tried a new recipe nearly daily, including homemade pizza, corn and potato soup, tomato soup, buns, and strawberry-rhubarb pie

Build community food systems: shopped at the market; discussed food issues with friends; started planning food documentary screening; tried an independent local restaurant for dinner

Skill up: learned how to change bicycle tires; getting back to knitting (slowly, this time – no more starting with a sweater right off the bat)

In addition to these activities, I’ve gotten back to commuting on my bike, and I’m working to get in better shape than I currently am by biking, walking, strength training, and getting in some yoga.  I’m also spending some time meditating daily, in an attempt to quell some of the worry and anxiety that is a pretty regular feature of my life.  In an effort to make more room for these different activities, I’m actively trying to clear out and reorganize the apartment, and I’ve put together a pretty sizable donation pile – hopefully the first of a few – that’s ready to go out the door.

For next week, I’m planning on planting some more chard and perhaps some kale.  I’d like start preserving herbs early this year, so I don’t have such a glut right at the end of the summer, so I hope to get that going.  I also have some research that I want to do about a few different purchases that I’ve been considering, quite honestly, for what seems like forever.  And finally, In the interest of doing something a bit more entertaining, I’d like to spend some time learning to play the guitar again, and work on some folk songs to play and sing along to – although food’s crucial, music can be pretty important too.