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.

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)

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.

Come as they will

StonesOnce again, it’s been a good long while since I’ve written here.  No excuses, just life taking over, as it does.  Since the start of the semester, my focus has been primarily on work, but also on keeping at least a bit of a balance between work and life.  Last year was the first time I was teaching full time, and with new courses and new versions of old courses, I found it challenging to do much other than work.  This year, though, I was determined to keep on top of the work while still making sure that I was keeping on top of taking care of myself.

These past few months I’ve taught a bunch of classes, spoken at a conference, and applied for a number of jobs. I’ve worked on papers and done some research.  I’ve managed to keep (relatively) on top of exercise, with regular walks to campus and bike rides around the neighbourhood.  I’ve made sure to get in some meditation, yoga, and the odd weekend morning where I did nothing but sleep in and read Agatha Christie mysteries in bed.  I’ve read some good books, made some delicious dinners, and spent time with friends and family.  Some weeks have definitely been more harried than others (last week, I’m looking at you) but, all in all, I’m feeling a good deal better than I did this time last year, which is a significant relief for a whole bunch of reasons.

Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a lot of time for writing here.  What time I do have I’ve focused more on doing things rather than writing about them, which is probably as it should be.  When I can, I’ve been getting in some gardening, cooking dinners, baking bread, knitting, walking, running, meditating, and the like.  Life goes on, there’s just little in the way of a record of it, and I’ve decided that I’m okay with that.  There’s still a lot I’d like to write about here, and I have a large list of semi-written posts, but for now I’m content to let them come as they will, even if “come as they will” is starting to look a lot like “pretty damn slowly”.

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.

 

 

Independence days

In the interest of hopefully making my life here a bit more sustainable, I’ve been doing Sharon Astyk’s Independence Days off and on for a few years now.  Independence Days is based on the premise that we can routinely do many different things that will help us to become more independent, and that even consistently doing what seems like a little bit at a time can be really valuable in the end.

With the coming of summer, some extra free time, and a strong desire to be productive and get back on track with some of my long-term projects, now seems like a good time to have another look at the challenge and get to work.  The goal is to inspire and motivate, but also to recognize accomplishments by reporting in weekly.  Ideally, in any given week, participants should try to:

  • Plant something
  • Harvest something
  • Preserve something
  • Waste not
  • Want not
  • Eat the food
  • Build community food systems
  • Skill up

Garden2013This week, I’ve been pretty focused on applying for jobs, completing an online course, doing some research on consumption-related issues, and working to get our apartment decluttered and into better shape than it’s currently in.  But I’ve also managed to work in a fair number of independence days activities, and I’m pleased with the outcome and how productive I feel as a result.  It’s also been a nice break from more work related tasks.

Plant something: planted tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, cress, celery, chard, chives, sage, thyme, mint, spearmint, and basil; sprouted mung beans

Harvest something: chives, basil, and thyme for some of this week’s dinners

Preserve something: dried lemon balm

Waste not: turned aging bananas into banana bread, frozen lettuce into smoothies, and leftover veggie bits into stock or compost; bought secondhand copies of The Economy of Cities, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Year-Round Vegetable Gardener, and Jamie’s Food Revolution; received rhubarb, lemon balm, and a t-shirt from a friend

Want not: stocked up on French green lentils, garlic, yeast, tinned tomatoes and beans, tea, whole grain rice, pasta, and toilet paper

Eat the food: tried a new recipe nearly daily, including butter lentils/chicken, sweet corn soup, shrimp with broccoli, everything bagels, strawberry fool, and banana bread

Build community food systems: shopped at the market and talked about food issues with the farmers; chatted with a friend about starting foraging walks

Skill up: learned new cooking recipes; practiced making bread and bagels

For next week, I’m planning on getting a few more things planted, working on my knitting, and hopefully preserving a few things – it’s strawberry season, and I’d love to put up some jam this year.  But for now, this feels like it’s been a good start – the food’s been tasty, the community building eye-opening, and the gardening relaxing.

Summer plans

Oh wow – it’s been a lot longer than I though since I’d last written anything.  Life, as usual, tends to get in the way, and I’ve been finishing up a very busy semester, attending a conference, visiting family in New York, and just generally trying to get things in order around here as I try to sort some things out and think some things through – you know, all the deep, heavy, thought provoking stuff.

Technically, I’ve been “off” work for awhile now, although I’ve spent a good bit of time catching up on various things.  The rest of the time, I’ve been thinking about next steps and how I want to spend the summer.  For the first time in…well, forever, quite possibly, I’m not working for someone else through the summer doing research or editing a journal or planning a conference.  The shift is odd, and I’ve actually had a bit of a hard time settling in and figuring out what I want to do with myself, but it’s nice to have a bit of flexibility and freedom.

I have some work to do around redeveloping courses, learning some new technologies, and writing, writing, writing, but my time is a good deal less scheduled, which is both a pleasant shift and a bit of a difficulty since it’s easy to put things off for a bit. At the same time, I’m also trying to focus on many of the more personal things that I let slide this year.  But with this sudden wealth of time – especially coming after what’s been a fairly challenging year – I’ve found myself thinking more about what I want to do than actually doing it.  Given my startling realization earlier today that mid-June has somehow snuck up on me, I’ve decided that I’ve done quite enough thinking and actually need to act to get something done.  This is true of work tasks, but also true of the many things I want to do around family, friends, food, health, and generally taking a bit of time for me.

So, from here on in, it’s action time again.  Papers will be written.   Container gardens will be planted.  Bread will be baked. Technology will be learned.   Socks will be knit.  Books will be read.  Time will be spent with friends.  Food will be preserved.  And the summer will continue to feel too short, but at the very least I’ll have done something with it, and will hopefully feel a whole lot better about how I spent my time when September finally rolls around.