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Ok, I guess I needed more of a break than I thought. It’s been a good while since I posted (like, the last post was on the subject of hockey sticks, and now shinny season is well over). A few factors contributed to my long silence: 1) my job is kicking me in the ass and it’s been exhausting and depressing me, 2) buying a house is stressful and expensive; and 3) discovering a creepy ex commenting to the blog under false name and pretenses spooked me.

Basically, whatever was going on over the last few weeks was not good conducive to a positive state of mind, and I had nothing constructive to share whatsoever. Actually, I couldn’t think of anything to say at all. So I said nothing, and nothing, and more of nothing.

But here I am, feeling a little better, and ready to say something again.

For the moment I’ll stick to the celebratory: today I took possession of my house. House buying is so weird. I hadn’t seen the inside of my house for six weeks, and over that time I’d become increasingly panicked and convinced that I wouldn’t like it anymore and that buying it was a bad idea and that it would send me into financial ruin and that my neighbours would be terrible etc., etc., etc.

And then I got there today and it was so beautiful and sunlit, and the snow had melted off the backyard to expose a giant sunny garden plot. And the previous owners must somehow have known that I am buying nothing new this year, because they were nice enough to leave me two kitchen chairs, a plunger, a broom, a snow shovel, a rake, and even a couch!

I love my house, and I can’t wait to move in! And since it’s mine and I get to stock it exactly as I see fit, I’ve decided to bid adieu to the nasty chemical cleaning products that I’ve always known (good riddance Comet, Pinesol and Windex!). So today I went armed with my brand new natural cleaning products and proceeded to lovingly scrub the fridge and cupboards. Who knew that baking soda, lemon juice, soap flakes and water would go so far? Thanks Greenpeace! Check it out:

All-Purpose Cleaner
1/2 cup (125 ml) pure soap
1 gallon (4 litres) hot water
For a clean scent and to help cut grease add 1/4 cup (60 ml) of lemon juice.
This solution is safe for all surfaces, should be rinsed with water, and is very effective for most jobs. For a stronger cleaner, double the amounts of soap and lemon juice.

Scouring Powder
Use a firm bristle brush and scrub with pure soap combined with either table salt or baking soda.
Baking soda alone on a damp sponge is also effective on most surfaces. You can also personalize your scouring powder by adding an aromatic herb or flower. Put the ingredients in a blender and run until the fragrance has infused the powder.
For oven spills, scrub using straight baking soda or combine with the stronger version of the all purpose cleaner.
Remember to wear gloves when scrubbing.

Liquid Dish Soap
Grate a bar of pure soap into a sauce pan. Cover with water and simmer over low heat until they melt together. Add some vinegar to the water for tough grease and to remove spots. Pour into a container and use as you would any liquid dishwashing soap.

Mirrors, Glass and Windows
Wash with pure soap and water, rinse with a solution of 1 part vinegar to 4 parts water. Use washable, reusable cheese cloth instead of paper towels.
I scrubbed my fridge til it gleamed, ate my first meal, poked around and investigated every corner and cupboard. I love my house. Tomorrow some nice friendly folks are going to help me move some belongings in. Then I will treat them to another excellent recipe:

Jagarillas
1 part Jagarmeister
2 parts organic root beer
ice

So there you have it. I have lots of other things to say again, so rest assured that you’ll hear from me again before long.

xo n

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to never watch TV again. The wondrous alternatives are endless, and I love the way this dude captures them. Actually, I think his whole ebook, Live Simple, is pretty cool.

Addendum (2/2/07): Upon reflection this started to bug me. Check out my next posting for some elaboration. xo n.

The 1st of February 2007:

Participate in the biggest mobilization of Citizens Against Global Warming!

The Alliance for the Planet [a group of environmental associations] is calling on all citizens to create 5 minutes of electrical rest for the planet. http://www.lalliance.fr

People all over the world should turn off their lights and electrical appliances on the first of February 2007, between 1.55 pm and 2.00 pm in New York, 18.55 for London, and 19.55 for Paris, Bruxelles, and Italy. 1.55pm in Ottawa, 10.55am on the Pacific Coast of North America.

This is not just about saving 5 minutes worth of electricity; this is about getting the attention of the media, politicians, and ourselves.

Five minutes of electrical down time for the planet: this does not take long, and costs nothing, and will show all political leaders that global warming is an issue that needs to come first and foremost in political debate.

Why February 1? This is the day when the new UN report on global climate change will come out in Paris.

This event affects us all, involves us all, and provides an occasion to show how important an issue global warming is to us. If we all participate, this action can have real media and political weight.

Ok, so I thought the 100-mile diet was radical until my mom forwarded me this article called “Consumed with less: not buying any food” (Globe & Mail, January 13, 2007)*. It’s about the Freegan movement, which basically takes freecycling to the next (and perishable) level: dumpster diving for wasted food that is still fine to eat.

It’s not something I can personally envision myself doing, probably for a combination of reasons including a slight phobia of other people’s dirt and germs, and the cultural perception of what it means to dig through the garbage. On one hand I have a long and proud history of finding treasures in the trash, but eating only from the garbage probably wouldn’t cut it for me. Eating is not just a political statement for me. It also has everything to do with health, and I find it hard to imagine having a consistently well-balanced diet through Freeganism alone.

That said, I have to admit I like the idea. One girl’s garbage is another girl’s treasure, a truth that undoubtedly holds for food too. Visit www.freegankitchen.com for more info and to see a great video blog about cooking Freegan style that makes it look totally appealing and sexy. And here’s a YouTube clip that’s fun too:

*For some reason the link to the complete article doesn’t work, but I did access it by Googling “consumed with less globe mail.”

For the past two and a half months I’ve undertaken to buy nothing new, and I’ve resolved to keep up the effort for another 290 or so days. Hurtling into 2007 has found me feeling very much like I’ve just scratched the surface of what’s possible with this project, and like it might be time to start taking it to whole other levels. Not all at once, but with clear intention and resolve. (And joy and uproarious laughter, pretty please!) So here is what I am dreaming of and working towards for Subverting Overconsumption in 2007:

1. Becoming financially independent
No small feat, I’m aware. But I’m resolving to practice the nine fabulous steps of Your Money or Your Life until I get there! How I consume is inextricably linked to how I spend, and I want my relationship to money to be aligned with my values. I think that’s what differentiates stated versus actual values (i.e., what we say is important versus the choices we make and actions we take). So Your Money or Your Life is officially being added to the Revised Guidelines for Subverting Overconsumption.

2. Becoming a home owner
I don’t want to give away Canada’s best kept real estate secret, but Regina is probably the last Canadian city where the likes of me (a.k.a. The Creative Class/Working Poor) can still aspire to invest in real estate without being permanently in debt. Of course I’m not talking about buying a new house! I’m talking about a tiny, old, ramshackle Regina character home. Just imagine setting up house and fixing up a fixer-upper without buying anything new! The possibilities are endless: skills exchanges, community sharing of tools (e.g., ladders, lawn mowers, etc.), learning handy skills, scoring recycled or freecycled building materials, taking epic road trips into rural Saskatchewan searching for the perfect vintage living room suite. Documenting the project could be a project in itself!

3. Incorporating food
Ah, food. The grand caveat. The original Guidelines for Subverting Overconsumption had everything to do with “stuff”, but nothing to do with how I actually nourish my body. And man, have I ever been taking advantage of that. Treats and wine and restaurant dining galore!

But in the meantime I’ve been exposed to some inspiring food ideas (The Omnivore’s Dilemma and the 100-Mile Diet, to name just a couple). On top of that, Your Money or Your Life has been kicking me in the ass and raising my consciousness about all aspects of my spending. The combined effect is absolute clarity that ignoring food in any conversation about consumption is just silly. So although I’m not quite ready for the 100-mile diet in Southern Saskatchewan just yet (though I have a friend who’s working at it as we speak), food is coming under the microscope in 2007. For now I’ve started buying Canadian wine (it’s important to celebrate the small victories, right?).

4. Incorporating Culture
See above…even sillier than pretending to be able to talk about consumption without talking about food is trying to talk about it without talking about culture. I want to produce more than I consume (i.e., I want my net creativity to be positive). I don’t want to have a TV again. I think I might not even want internet at home. I don’t think I need to read magazines anymore. I think what I really need to do is write. And make images. Make make make make make.

(Practical steps for producing more including: 1) taking this magazine writing course; 2) adding a Nikon digital SLR camera to the Wish List; 3) joining the Film Pool and Neutral Ground; 4) telling people what I’m trying to do.)

5. Working less
The status quo does not support the philosophy that working less than full-time is justifiable or even possible. People keep asking me how I like my new job, and I keep giving the same answer: it’s good, but I don’t like working full-time. Usually they laugh at me. Or sometimes their response is, with a slight edge to their voice, “Well, we all have to work.” The cultural conception seems to be that you must be lazy to want to work less than full time. But I don’t know if anyone who knows me would use the word lazy to describe my personality. And I can think of several reasons off the top of my head why full-time work might not be an ideal option for a person (parenthood, disability, art, activism…). So what does working less have to do with my intention towards subversive underconsumption? I want to produce more than I consume (in the creative and consumer senses). So I need more time to produce, and I need fewer resources with which to consume.

6. Finding a co-conspirator
I’m probably the most romantic cynic you’ll ever meet. At this point in my life, I am also one consummately single human. But I don’t particularly aspire towards that being a permanent state. I think this adventure would be so much more fun if I had someone really kickass to kick my ass. I haven’t been in this city long enough to justify adding “awesome boyfriend” to the Wish List, but this is me putting the possibility out to the universe.

So there you have it. Think big? Ok, you got me. Go down in flames? Well yeah, sometimes. But this isn’t about success or failure, right? It’s about my goddam process…staying awake to it, and to what the universe sends me. Right now it’s sending me—in no uncertain terms—photographers and debates about the nature of hope, both of which I’m doing my best to receive with gratitude and grace (or something related to grace).

With that I wish you all bountifully underconsumptive 2007s.

xox n

The results of the Subverting Overconsumption holiday poll have been painstakingly tabulated (all 36 votes). Here are the subversively underconsumptive holiday gifts you’d most like to receive:

1st place tie: Homemade foodstuffs and Homemade/crafted gifts (9 votes each)
2nd place: No gift necessary (6 votes)
3rd place tie: Charitable donation on your behalf and Dinner out together (3 votes each)
4th place tie: Products bought used and Re-gifted items (1 vote each)
5th place: Screw off! I want a real gift (no votes (due to some technical difficulty with the suvey itself that I was too lazy to resolve))

Thanks for taking part! For some other sweet suggestions, check out the reader comments on my pre-holiday post.

So how did Christmas Day proper pan out on the underconsumptive gift giving/receiving front? The family members that spent the day together had a $10 price limit for gifts, which took a lot of the pressure off and made things fun (I recommend it). Here’s the debrief:

Gave:
– More enlarged original photographs in thrift store frames
– Souvenir from Thailand that I’ve been hanging onto since the spring
– Door prize I won in the fall
– Purchased foodstuffs (definitely cheating)

Received:
– Cash
– Bath stuffs
– Puzzle game for the “stressed executive” (I guess that’s me)
– Slippers
– Calendar
– Organic fair trade chocolate bar

So there we have it. The most overly consumptive part of the year is almost over, and I’d say that my holiday efforts to underconsume were, for the most part, successful (though I won’t even touch my consumption of shortbread and perogies, neither of which were moderate).

Happy almost 2007.

xox n

I have to admit that I put off seeing Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth for months. I mean, climate change isn’t exactly a feel good topic, so I wanted to make sure I went in with the mental and emotional stamina to handle what I knew would be tough news to hear.

Feeling good and strong, tonight I finally went. Now that I’ve seen it, I can whole-heartedly do what they request at the end of the film and ask everyone I know to please see this movie.

As a film, it’s excellent: well-produced, informative, clear and accessible to a range of audiences. It managed, for me at least, to take on a brutal topic without being overwhelming or depressing. And Al Gore is a killer speaker – his message, while strongly worded and delivered, remains engaging and proactive throughout.

Gore is convincing in his passion and commitment, and I came away from the film with quite a deep respect for the man (or at least for the character portrayed on screen). I appreciated the incorporation of personal anecdotes from his life, which I found helped me to relate to the issue of climate change in a more direct, human way. On a personal level climate change is such a difficult issue for me to deal with – I struggle to find a way to engage with it in a positive, action-oriented way, without becoming overwhelmed and hopeless. I fould that bearing witness to the human element of Gore’s relationship to the issue was both comforting and supportive.

To be honest, the main reason I put off seeing the film for so long was that I assumed it would devastate me. I already know all this stuff, I figured, so why put myself through an experience that’s just going to leave me even more depressed? But amazingly, I left the film more inspired than when I went in. Not that there weren’t a few emotional moments (I have to figure out why the idea of polar bears drowning in the Arctic is the single most devastating thing for me), but exhausted computer animated polar bears aside, I actually came away from the film with a lighter heart and greater feeling of connectedness.

Afterwards somebody mentioned that it was too bad Al Gore didn’t make this movie before he lost the US presidency to Bush. I thought about it for a moment and then had to disagree. I guess it’s possible that releasing An Inconvenient Truth several years back would have won Gore Florida and put the US on a direct course to ratifying Kyoto and stopping climate change in its tracks, but I doubt it. I think what’s more likely is that we would have simply found ourselves with a different twit in the White House.

My logic? Being a politician means, unfortunately, being in the business of pleasing as many people as you possibly can. It’s unfortunate because the end result seems (inevitably?) to be a watering down of every issue to the most simplified and commonly accepted party line. However, when a politician exits their political career (willingly or unwillingly) they can get back to speaking what’s really true for them, and not just what will get them the most votes.

In arguing this I realized that there’s someone Al Gore reminds me of, and this helps explain my inspiration. Like Mr. Gore, Stephen Lewis also seemed to capture the full strength of his values and voice after he stopped being a politician. He too is a phenomenal orator who demonstrates compelling vulnerability by offering something of himself in the process, a combination I’m convinced is key to making both men so effective. Lewis has been on my list of heroes for ages, and now Gore gets to join him, which is great, because you can never have too many heroes!

Now don’t get me wrong – I think it’s absolutely crucial to encourage people of substance, strong ethical fibre and open-mindedness to participate in our political systems. All I’m saying is that politics in this particular time and place don’t seem to nurture the kind of strong values and action that is needed, or that is evident in the kind of work that former politicians such as Gore and Lewis are doing (or that activists everywhere are always doing). I think it was actually Al Gore’s presidential loss that made it possible for him to get back to being able to speak frankly and passionately about something true, without having to worry about political fallout. For the state of the world, I think it’s a blessing! For the state of democracy, I suppose it’s just another inconvenient truth.

So if you haven’t already, please see this movie: visit www.climatecrisis.net for more info.

Hmmm…Not as naughty as it sounds, but these posters from Take back Your Time are still fun.

It’s true! There is a correlation between how much time we spend working and how much we consume. In general, the more we earn, the more we spend. And the more we work, the less time we have for everything, including making conscious choices.

Check out www.timeday.org for more info.

Waste Less

Adult Playground Rules

When Subverting Overconsumption it’s important to pick one’s battles intelligently. Without that basic ability, it’s entirely possible to drive oneself mad. Case in point:

In 1999, not more than a babe in arms at the tender age of 22, I snuck online at a temping gig and used my virgin MasterCard to make my first-ever online purchase: The Keeper menstrual cup.

The Keeper was a most excellent investment, and it’s served me well for over seven years. To put it into perspective, I haven’t used a single disposable menstrual product in over 84 months – that’s a savings of well over 400 tampons or pads. My Keeper has paid for itself many times over, and it’s worked like a hot damn.

But even the best things don’t last forever, and though it’s been hard for me to accept, it’s high time that my Keeper was retired. Now, reinvestment in something so grand should probably be a no-brainer, but when I got my period yesterday I found myself debating whether I could justify the purchase of a brand new Keeper. Though it clearly falls under the “self-care” clause of this experiment (see Guidelines for Subverting Overconsumption), I still managed to create worry and guilt for myself over it.

What a royal waste of energy, and most certainly not the purpose of this project to fritter away precious time debating whether or not to invest in a sustainable alternative to all the lame mainstream options.

Mental note: buy a new Keeper and preach its virtues shamelessly at every opportunity.

For more info on menstrual cupts, check out:
The Diva Cup (Canadian product)
The Keeper

Trying to buy nothing new for a year is definitely challenging me to think outside the box when it comes to my consumption habits. In other ways, however, Subverting Overconsumption is requiring me to play some things old skool. It turns out that sometimes the solution I’m looking for has always been there, just waiting for me to notice it.

Take the public library for example. This past Saturday I visited the central branch of the Regina Public Library (RPL) to get myself a library card, something I haven’t had since I was about ten years old. While I was there I visited the art gallery that’s housed on the library’s premises, and checked out the schedule for the RPL theatre, Regina’s only repertory cinema. I received a brief introduction to the library’s services from a RPL staff-person, got my card, and before leaving spent a bit of time browsing the stacks and the online catalogue.

One visit was all it took to fall in love with my public library! I feel particularly lucky to have moved to a city where the library seems so especially excellent, and where the central branch is only a few blocks from my house. It’s possible that all city libraries are as cool as the RPL, but to be honest, I’ve had my head up my ass too long to know one way or another. For the past 20 years I’ve been completely oblivious to this most excellent of public spaces/services.

I’m not sure why the public library disappeared from my radar for so long. Living the majority of my adult life in a city where my first language wasn’t the official one probably had something to do with it. Plus I think I just got caught up in the romance of owning books. There’s just something undeniably sexy about having one’s own library. When I visit someone’s home for the first time I invariably check them out via their books, and I assume nothing less of my houseguests. There’s cultural capital in having interesting books on one’s shelf. (It doesn’t matter that I often buy fabulous sounding books only to have them sit on the bookshelf for months or years before I get around to reading them.)

When I decided to try to buy nothing new for a year I was scared that not having access to new books would make me out of touch and ill-informed. So thank heavens for the RPL. As I begin to update my ideas about what a public library has to offer I realize that things have likely changed a little in the 20 years since I had my last library card. For example, the Internet and digital media happened. On my way into the library on Saturday I passed a youngish guy with an armload of DVDs, and before that moment it had honestly never occurred to me that it was possible to borrow DVDs (for free!) from the public library. It turns out the RPL has 11,000 DVDs to choose from, a collection I can browse online from the privacy of my own home. I may never have to set foot in a Blockbuster again!

I know how all this must sound to you open-minded and intelligent public-service utilizing citizens out there. It’s like I just woke up from a 20-year coma and am stunned by how far the world has come while I was asleep. The point I’m trying to make is that sometimes it’s the simplest things that this project is getting me to notice, just by forcing me to take a little extra time to think about the ways I consume. Things like the public library that have always been there, right under my nose and free, seem incredibly exciting and innovative. In the case of the library, the very thing that makes it so special – its accessibility – might be the same thing that makes it so easy to take it for granted. As one of our last truly public spaces, my fear is that dimwits like me will keep sleeping through the wonders of the library until it does finally disappear into the oblivion

Some facts that make me love the RPL even more (courtesy of the RLP website):

  • “The RPL Film Theatre began as a community film society in the mid-1960s. We are the only cinema in the city to consistently present and support critically acclaimed Canadian, foreign and independent films.” (Adult admission is $6 or $9 for a double feature.)
  • “The Dunlop Art Gallery is dedicated to engaging, researching and presenting a diverse range of visual artwork…We are fortunate to be located within the Regina Public Library. A place people go looking for answers. At the gallery we pose questions.”
  • “Library Art Rentals: There are currently over 200 works of historic and contemporary paintings and graphic art by Canadian artists. This collection circulates through loans to individual patrons and organizations with a Regina Public Library borrower’s card for a modest fee. Works are not available for sale.”
  • “Homebound Service: Available for Regina residents of all ages who, for reasons of ill health, disability or age are unable to visit the Library; are unable to leave their homes for a period of three months or longer.”
  • Internet, free of charge.

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