Do we need anymore encouragement? 

The post of yesterday on Wabi-Sabi reminded me of some articles I read in December and recently. 
First this article on Matthew Crawford fell into my lap followed by this post of Nathalie Chanin which started me reading and thinking about this subject. In her post Natalie tells about research done by Kelly Lambert. Kelly suggests that the lack of tangible work with our hands in our society and the increase of mood disorders are correlated. Knitting, planting a garden, cooking or repairing are all ways to bathe your brains in feel-good-chemicals, a kind of meditation. 

A lot of us are so busy that we run to our yoga, pilates or meditation classes just to relax for a few minutes. Meditation increases gray-matter density in the hippocampus, an area responsible for learning and memory, but also decreases the density in the amygdala, wich is responsible for our anxiety and stress responses. This is shown in research done by the Massachusetts General Hospital which is published in Scientific American

So while creating a more sustainable environment we become healthier and more peaceful. Do we need any more encouragement?




garden cuttings
Friday was a good mail day. Mother Earth News is my favorite magazine. I knew it was coming, there had been article snippets, teasing me on Facebook for the last couple of weeks, and Friday it arrived. Last night as I was reading, I had a blog post taking shape in my mind, then I came across an article titled  "Wabi-Sabi Finding the Beauty and Peace in Ordinary Things" and scrapped my thoughts for the post. I wanted to link to the article, but it's one of the ones in the issue unavailable on-line.

Wabi-Sabi is appreciating the balance and beauty in the imperfect. Accepting the cycle of life in ordinary objects and finding use and purpose for them in our daily lives. It is closely tied to Zen Buddhism and the Japanese Way of Tea.

I am not saying that I would go to the extreme extent of finding and using a hand beater. I certainly appreciate technology and believe that homemade, and scratch can be accomplished while using my beloved Kitchenaid. I also don't think we necessarily need to live in sparse homes, maybe just be thoughtful of our clutter. The more and more research I do, I find that what matters is taking important pieces of the puzzle and incorporating them into our lives. So much of Wabi-Sabi we do anyway. Our love for quality workmanship (which seems to come more so in older pieces than newer ones), history, and lovely pieces have led to what we have in our home. Aside from a handful of key pieces that we've purchased or B has made, much of our furniture we have inherited through our families and are important to us because of the memories that come with them.

A part of the article was a box that gave 12 tips toward achieving Wabi-Sabi. It is more than about just the appreciation and re-use of possessions, it is a basis for achieving simplicity in a very non-simple world and cultivating a more sustainable life. Since the article is locked out, I'm going to type those tips in :)

Taken from Mother Earth News  February/March 2011

1.  Cultivate Slowness.  Rebel against the machines.  Hand a towel to a loved one and ask him or her to dry dishes while you rinse.  Take 10 minutes to sweep the floor with a real broomcorn broom rather than filling your space with the roar of a vacuum.

2.  Cultivate Vision.  Start with the container you use to hold your morning beverage.  Treat yourself to pottery that feels solid and heavy in your hand.  Admire your mug's shape, textures and colors every morning to strengthen your ability to find beauty in the rest of the day.

3.  Cultivate Craft.  Making and growing things yourself is a gentle rebellion against globalized mass production.  Spinning wool, making pottery and weaving baskets provides a tactile meditation almost impossible to experience by any other means.

4.  Cultivate Cleanliness.  An ancient tea master described wabi-sabi as "putting one's whole heart to cleaning and repeating it several times."  Every time we sweep, dust or wash, we're creating clean, sacred place.

5.  Cultivate Solitude.  Find a space in the attic or a spare bedroom that you can dedicate to solitude and meditation.  In tight quarters, designate a quiet corner in your bedroom or even living room as your meditation space. 

6.  Cultivate Space.  Clutter smudges clarity, physically and psychologically.  In wabi-sabi, space and light are the most desirable ornaments. 

7.  Cultivate Silence.  To cultivate the Quakers call the "still, small voice within,"   slowly reduce the noise sources in your life.  Less is more.
    ~Leave the television off for one night each week.
   ~Turn off the radio during your morning or evening commute.
   ~Practice a few moments of silence before eating a shared meal.
    ~Make time in the afternoon for a quiet cup of tea.

8.  Cultivate Sabi (the beauty that comes with age).  Antique doorknobs and radiator grates give your home soul.  Building with salvaged materials gives a new house depth and history it couldn't otherwise have.

9.  Cultivate Soul.  A piece made by hand holds the steady, solid vibrations of its maker rather than those of the jarring, impersonal machine.  Surrounding yourself with things made by real people invites a tiny piece of each craftsman into your space.

10.  Cultivate Imperfection.  Real people leave mail piled in the entry, let the  flowers go a little too long in the vase (if they have them at all), allow the dog on the bed and have unpredictable cats.  Wabi-sabi embraces these flaws.

11.  Cultivate Hospitality.  Give every room in your house a soft seat, a blanket to curl up with, gentle lighting and a deep, delicious rug.  Invite people to stay, curled up in afghans and sipping tea.

12.  Cultivate Simplicity.  Less stuff means more time to spend with your family, friends and nature--- a philosophy simple enough even for the most complicated lives.

collaborative consumption

rachel botsman's TED talk on collaborative consumption. i find her a tad optimistic and many of the things she's talking about are only possible in cities - but since the bulk of the world lives in or is moving towards living in cities, it's undoubtedly a good thing.

i haven't participated in any trade schemes, but we do use the local version of craig's list (den blå avis) all the time to find things we need - from old windows to machinery to tools to wood to bunnies. husband even found that house that he tore down for materials on den blå avis. we've developed a habit of looking there first, before buying new.

what do you do to consume collaboratively?


going off the grid

we're going to do it. we're going to install a 5.5kw braun wind turbine on our property. when we intially looked into it, we thought there wasn't a business case in having our own turbine. and truth be told, it will be ten years before our energy is effectively free. but, there is a business case in a slightly larger turbine than we originally considered.

we use about 7000kw hours of electricity per year (we're bad with the dryer, i admit, especially in winter) and this turbine can generate that. so, the money that we would already have paid to the electrical company that only 20% of the time is providing green electricity to us, we will spend on our payments on the turbine and generate our own power. the 5.5kw turbine will easily generate the 7000kw hours of electricity we need. and if we should get better at conserving electricity, we will be able to sell back into the grid, rather than drawing from it.

it's a bit like buying a house instead of renting. the money we used to literally burn - sending it off to the electric company will go towards our investment in being off the grid. only we won't be completely off the grid, as we will be able to sell electricity back into it when we're making more than we need.

during 2010, the laws here in denmark changed a little bit to make these smaller turbines more attractive for homeowners. there are tax advantages and the permit restrictions have eased in comparison to what they were in 2009. in addition, the household turbine companies are a bit hungry and have affordable and sensible financing plans and packages. it looks doable and we're going to do it.

i'll share more as i learn more - the photo above was taken from the braun brochure. i'll definitely be documenting our process here in photos of my own as soon as we get started.


article of interest: food for a dollar

$1 in denmark buys you about 3/4 of a liter of organic 1.5% fat milk (from denmark)
a rather pitfully small piece of prima donna cheese (from the netherlands)
and a little over half of an organic cucumber (from spain)
i just stumbled across an interesting post on one of the new york times blogs. jonathan blaustein, a new mexico photographer, set out to document what could be bought for a dollar (it appears to be all food-related). and it puts in perspective what is valued in today's society and how skewed and shaped our opinion of "value for money" has been by big corporations.

do go read the article here. and check out jonathan's own site for even more food for thought (pun intended).

where do your food dollars go?


Status, class and culture change

I've been thinking about status, class and culture change a lot recently. I know it either sounds like an academic paper or an 80s band but heck, I am/was an academic and I grew up in the 80s! And as beastly as status, class and culture change sounds, I think it is important.

Cultural change has been mentioned a few times on the blog and in the comments. I think many of us feel frustrated that there has been so little cultural change and yet perhaps optimistic that individuals make small changes might lead to a sea change in culture. But why so slow a culture change? As many of us have mentioned, there are entrenched political and economical actors preventing many changes. But what about at an individual level?

I've witnessed both in Canada and here in Denmark how status and class can play out in regards to individual sustainable actions. For example, one family I knew in New Brunswick refused to participate in the garbage collection system which required separating of compostables and recyclables. As he put it, "My wife is not washing garbage!" For him, someone who had come from a less well off background and who now made a middle-class-ish living, the idea of his wife being made to rinse out the food tins was unacceptable. It seemed to threaten that very middle class lifestyle he had aspired to and had achieved the appearance of.

And here in Denmark, although a country of high equity in income, status and class still play out. We rent the bottom floor of an up and down duplex in a brand new "luxury" development. Our neighbours are retired professors, bankers, generals, and supervisors. And we have a huge conflict over air drying of laundry. Three of these retired men believe strongly that the presence of laundry outside diminishes the "luxury" aspect of the development. One of the other neighbours has installed a laundry line rather than using a laundry rack and this has outraged the 3 grumpy old men. She was yelled at by one who claimed that, "It looks like a Gypsy camp" when she had her sheets on the line. They are now threatening her with the sheriff because she broke the condo association rule of not fastening anything to external walls.

It is absolute madness as far as I am concerned and I am puzzled by the strength of feeling this men have. Our town aspires to be carbon neutral in 2029 so it is not like there isn't awareness of the issue. I've can only think it is about status and class for these men. Somehow the sight of laundry on the line seems to evoke images of, well,  Gypsies, and I think poverty, ruralness and lower class. It again threatens their status as successful men.

Wait until they find out that I want a wormery and my terrace to look like this:

So, how can change happen at that level of status and class? I'm not sure. At the moment, I am leaning towards more top down initiatives and requirements since bottom-up cultural change is not happening. What do you think?

Farm Box Feedback...

 We moved to the farm to teach our kids about sustainability, where their food comes from and how simplifying life is important, especially in our fast paced society. Someday we hope to merge this experience into re-creating ourselves and what we do for a living. Last year we took a few friends on as "guinea pigs" and began to experiment with making our own mini CSA farm baskets. We had some amazing eager friends and as the season went on, we had a waiting list for the future. It was a great experience and we learned a ton. One of our challenges was trying to get everything out and delivered in the crazy heat we had last summer, and me scrambling to make each box special in some way while working and shuttling the kids. Oh, and we so need to buy another refrigerator to put all of the farm box produce in!

Now, we're spending our cold weather time trying to brainstorm how to improve upon our initial efforts and expand to touch more families. As I look through catalogs and previous years' history, I am struck with a sense of excitement and anxiety at the same time. Our seasons can be so unpredictable. Last year was beautiful and extra warm which led to a longer season and amazing produce. But in our area of the North, it isn't unusual to need a sweater in July (not great for tomato or pepper growth)! I feel a tremendous responsibility to those who sign on for the season and since I know that I can't control the weather, I'm trying to come up ideas to make each box special. This week I started making cards with produce tips and recipes to include and am getting them printed and set aside now.

I need your any of you receive weekly farm boxes? What makes them special?


Clothes anyone?

The journey of this blog started more or less with this article on Shareable about Detroit. The fact that a lot of people moved away from Detroit and as a result supermarkets moved out meant that there was a surplus of land and a need of food which combined resulted in large shared vegetable gardens.

Reading the article lead me to the question: What do we, human beings, need and which surplus do we have to fulfill that need? One of our needs is to have clothing that suits the climate we live in. The dividing line between the need and the want for clothes is thin, combined with heavily marketing by the clothing companies gives us a surplus of items. Clothes are more often thrown out than mended these days and the thriftshops are well-stocked with a wide range of items. Will pointed out in his comment on the post Doing more that it is a good idea to have diverse skill-sets. This made me examine my own ability to make clothes. I am able to knit a warm sweater, scarf, hat and with some tinkering a set of gloves but that is all. My sewing machine is still standing in its original box, oeps. So today I have some inspiration for all of us on how to use the surplus of vintage clothes.
Courtesy of Junky Styling

The dress of Livia Guiggioli is made of one of the suits of her husband Colin Firth. Maybe you have no need for a fancy dress like this but a sturdy apron or some kids clothes like this.

If you are in need of more inspiration I recommand you visit Melanie. Although she disappeared out of the blogosphere in november 2009, her legacy for us to see are tons of ideas on her blog and flickr-account.

Enough inspiration for me to start working.



the domestic side of sustainability

i've been pondering our posts in the back of my head, as i move about the house, cleaning, cooking, sewing...doing things domestic. and i realized that what we've written about, on the whole, are domestic ways of being sustainable - recycling, natural cleaning products, cooking. we seem especially interested in food. maybe it's just that we blog when we're hungry, but maybe it's that food is the easiest and most obvious place to begin. a concrete thing that we use every day and where we can, as consumers (because that's what really underlies all of this - consumerism), make choices that seem sustainable - to consider food miles, how the food was grown, whether it was treated well while it lived, whether excessive pesticides were used, how it's packaged. it's a place to start.

outside shots - our new old farmhouse
taken last summer, just after we moved in
as you know, we live in an old farmhouse. it isn't one of those grand old manor houses, nor did it ever belong the wealthiest peasant in the area. our lake isn't a natural lake, but was formed when they dug out peat for heating purposes - it's a peat bog lake. and our house was sort of the peat bog central...there were even once railroad tracks across our field from the lake, where they brought the peat up from the lake to the road. but all of this means that our house lacks nice features and details found in many old houses...high ceilings, nice woodwork, built-in shelving or fireplaces. it's very clear that everyone who has lived here was skirting the edge of poverty and didn't invest much in the house.

there are seven different ceiling materials used throughout the house. the electrical board hadn't been touched since 1941 (not even kidding) - you have to pump a metal arm up and back to reset the system. insulation is practically non-existent. it's clear that the radiators in the house have been gathered here and there, probably from the scrap heap at the dump, as there aren't two alike. that bit of recycling i could have done with out, unless they managed to do it with style, which they didn't.  see, already, i put limitations and caveats on the sustainability...if it doesn't look spoiled are we? and by we, i mean me.

scenes from our lake
the lake, taken on the same day as the photo above

but there are some creative solutions that they came up with - those railroad tracks that once brought the peat up from the lake now compose the ceiling of one length of our house. those who lived here for 30-some years (not the ones we bought the place from, but the ones before them), recycled those railroad tracks into bearing beams which hold up the ceiling in the barn (which is shaping up into husband's workshop and will be my "curry kitchen" sometime next summer and where, upstairs, the new blue room will take shape). now, that's the kind of sustainability i like - reusing materials in a creative way, rather than buying new.

old windows we've gathered via den blå avis
and although i'm spoiled and have a definitely opinion on what's stylish and acceptable, in our remodeling/rebuild of this house, we are striving to use as many recycled materials as we can. husband actually worked every weekend for a month, tearing down a house because he could have the materials for free - big bearing beams and roof construction and loads of bricks. all of those will be reused in our project. we have a collection of old barn windows - and while they're not up to today's thermal window, double-glazed standard, they will be beautiful in our "pleasure house" at the end of the garden, and i have an idea for an inside wall made of them.

not only does using recycled materials keep them out of the landfill and keep consumption down, since you're not using new wood or plastics or bricks - it lends character and soul.

and although what i do as an individual on this sustainability thing isn't going to be more than the tiniest whisper of a drop in the bucket in the big picture, we have to begin with ourselves.


Cleaning Day

Daily when we are cleaning we come in contact with all kinds of chemicals. Many of them have labels like "citrus" , "clean linen", "pine fresh". Working in a veterinary hospital, there are no shortage of messes and we have to use specific cleaners to prevent the spread of disease. I've become accustomed to the sanitary and sterile smells that come from strong cleaning products.

I don't think the perception of clean should necessarily be tied to the strong perfumed smells of cleaners.  I'd love to capture the freshness that comes off of the laundry line. A friend recommended a basic all purpose cleaning mixture that I've begun using and I like. She had derived her recipe from this book and I look forward to finding what other tips it has. There are many areas where making greener choices also is much less expensive. These cleaners are made with household items that we have anyway (with the exception of the essential oils used for their germ killing qualities, but once purchased will last for a long time).

Over the years at home, I've tried a couple of homemade cleaners, but never been happy with the results. One reason is, when you start using a homemade cleaner, you have to be patient and use it for a period of time. The cleaners that we purchase at the store leave a film on the surfaces and it takes some time to break that down. The vinegar in homemade cleaners is a tremendous help in cutting through the old "clean". Another great investment for our household has been a bissell steam floor cleaner. The multitude of mopping items I have tried never failed to leave a visible film on my maple floors. Once I started using the hot steam cleaner, the film went away and I had an all natural (can't get more natural than water) cleaner that has made a huge difference.

I have learned, and am learning, that changing our cleaning habits is better for our home, health, and pocketbook!


Intertwangleism in action
Courtesey of Mark Langan

Today I like to share with you some people who found a way to use the surplus of paper that is around us in a different way. The picture above is a piece of cardboard art from Mark Langan.
Courtesy of Erin Klee

This second piece of art is made by Gugger Petter, a danish artist who lives in the States already for a long time. 

But how can we re-use the paper that enters our lives?

You could make a bowl for fruit, small other items you collect or an one of a kind gift. If you happen to have a lot of books and you are in need of a bar why not try to make this one?
Courtesy of House Design

Do you know a person who looks at paper in a different way, share it with us.



thoughts on sustainability

should we be talking about resilience instead of sustainability?  and it's interesting that he mentions a lot of the things we've already talked about...especially with regard to food. but somehow, it also seems to be a loose collection of things and not a concrete answer to the transition to a world without oil. not that i think there's a concrete answer, but it would be reassuring, wouldn't it?  but maybe what it takes is all of us doing some small, but smart part. i guess that's my hope.



When I was driving back to work yesterday afternoon I was so enamoured with the scenery. We had a heavy all day snow Monday and it was sticking beautifully like white cotton candy to everything. Then I noticed the power lines that lined the road and the way the snow made a crazy wavy pattern on all of them. This went on for a couple of miles and it fascinated me. I stopped in the middle of the street and hung my head out the window to try to capture it. 

It was almost like you could see the current running through the line. The mass of power that runs the area. I have racked my brain for a concise thought or argument about what this means but I get only a feeling. The convergence of energy forces, the man made covered in the force of nature. It seemed the man made was winning out, but the funny thing about nature, she will surprise you and always hang on.

Have you ever noticed as you are on this journey to a more sustainable life that you are more aware of everything around you and the implications of it?


Technology and Politics

"Recycle or die" bleated the garbage can robots.

Continuing our discussions about technology and politics, I thought I would mention this report by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in the UK that was released at the beginning of January. It is the first report by engineers to tackle sustainability. They focused on population growth (estimated to be 9.5 billion by 2100) and the corresponding effects on food, water, urbanisation and energy. Although very engineer-y, it also clearly points to political solutions. Indeed, they make the political side very clear in their new engineering developing goals:

The Institution's Five Engineering Developing Goals are: "Energy: Use existing sustainable energy technologies and reduce energy waste.  Don't wait for new technologies to be developed. Water: Replenish groundwater sources, improve storage of excess water and increase energy efficiencies of desalination. Food: Reduce food waste and resolve the politics of hunger. Urbanisation: Meet the challenge of slums and defending against sea-level rises. Finance: Empower communities and enable implementation."

All things we can do now and really all do-able with political will. As the New Scientist magazine summed up the report in their editorial of Jan 12, "There are "no insurmountable technical issues in meeting the needs of 9 billion people... sustainable engineering solutions largely exist", the engineers write in Population: One Planet, Too Many People? Switching the world to low-carbon energy, for instance, does not require more research breakthroughs. We need instead to fix "market failures" that prevent widespread adoption of extant technologies, like concentrated solar energy and nuclear power." This seems to me to be what Julie was suggesting about regulations in Denmark preventing the widespread use of domestic windmills. It also echoes Will's comments about the larger political machinations that are at work. So, let's get on it before those garbage can robots get built ;)



The mystery of intertwangleism

Our landfills are growing day by day. If there is anything we have a surplus off, it is what we call garbarge. A enormous amount of things, objects, materials and stuff that is labelled as useless and therefore discarded. The mystery of intertwangleism is the mystery of finding, collecting anything and re-using your find in a special mix.
The man who came up with this -ism, is the one who only wears Liberty denim overalls. A self-taught artist with a many skills. The organizer of the Doo-Nanny in Seale, Alabama, this year held on 25th til the 27 of March. A shy man with a special kind of humor. The one that makes crazy quilts from metal, an avid gardener who lives on an 80 acre family-compound in his self-build cabin. To top it off, he is also the partner of very talented Nathalie Chanin.

The one who walks this path is called Butch Anthony.

May his work inspire you to think differently about garbage.



Food and Family

Jaime Oliver
It seems to me that the argument that many people have with themselves when they are contemplating a change boils down to time and money. Back in the "simpler times" things were far from simple, but the simple necessities were handled well and were a family effort. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the percentage of family income in the United States directed toward food has changed drastically in the last 50 years. We have gone from spending 1/3 to 1/2 of our budget on food, and eating out was a rare treat, to spending roughly 13% of our budget on food and almost 46% of that is eating out.

In the U.S. restaurants in many areas will list the calories associated with menu items. Holy cow, it is amazing that we an get the majority of our daily caloric intake from a single meal! Don't even look at how many calories your favorite coffee drink may have!

So here is where the time and money comes in. What if people began to divert more of their eat out expense to grocery items, organic/local ones even. Would they really be more out of pocket? How much time and gas does it take to drive to your restaurant of choice, to wait for a table, wait for your food? How much of this time are you spending on your PDA while sitting across from your children/spouse? In the same, or less, time you can prepare a simple, wholesome meal, the kids can set the table and you can create a new habit. And, in our home, we almost always have leftovers for lunch the next day....another meal taken care of!

I'm not saying that there isn't a place for eating out. Wouldn't a "date night" be more special if eating out was more of a treat than a typical thing?  I'm a foodie. We love to cook, create, and have a small group of friends who do the same. We will get together and cook slow food, the kids will all play (no child care expense) and we always have an amazing time. We use food that we have grown or that we can get fresh and seasonal. I'm sure I'll bring them up again in the future.

How do you see food? Is the ultimate direction of our society that food is an inconvenience that must be satisfied in the most quickly processed way? Do you see value in not only the meal preparation, but the interactions that come as a result of it (most parties we attend everyone ends up hanging out in the kitchen, have you ever noticed this?) Isn't a large chunk of a healthy food movement a matter of willingness to embrace an old idea and the commitment to trying it and making it the norm?

cooking conveniences

i think a lot of people connect sustainability with a degree of luddism - that it means you have to do things the old fashioned way, by hand, without the assistance of machines or technology. i'm not sure if our notions of that came from the laura ingalls wilder books (where they admittedly had no choice) or the amish or from the do-everything-the-hard-way ethic that tom and barbara displayed in the good life.

well, i don't subscribe to that view. the reality of modern life is that it very often takes two incomes to run a home and that means that there's no one at home to cook or bake bread or generally slave away all day in the kitchen. we need to feed our families wholesome, fresh food, but there's no reason not to take all the help you can get in the form of kitchen appliances.

i make bread 2-3 times a week and it's largely because my kitchen-aid mixer does all of the work for me. i can throw in yeast, flour, a dab of honey, a glug of olive oil, some salt and flour and it will mix me up a pizza crust while i grate the cheese and slice the tomatoes and pepperoni. because it allows me to save the time i would have spent kneading the dough and use it for other preparation, we can pretty much have a homemade pizza in the same time it would take to run down to the local pizza place and get one. and i can tell you, i'd much rather have the homemade one.

my food processor is another kitchen appliance i wouldn't want to do without. i might not use it every day, but i use it pretty much every other day - it mixes up a pie crust for a quiche while i sauté up the leeks. in fact, i was reminded of how easy it is yesterday, because i forgot to buy a ready-made tart crust when i went to the store (i'll admit i do that too, to save time). instead, i threw the ingredients for beth's wonderful crust into my food processor and ended up with a crust 10x better than the store-bought kind, with very little effort on my part. i don't think i'll be buying those ready-made crusts anymore.

and right now, in my mixer bowl and in my oven, a batch of amy's gooey, delicious chocolate chip cookies.  so i say, embrace your kitchen appliances and cook your way to a more sustainable life. no need to suffer while doing it.


it's a fine line

as i stood in my kitchen today, putting away the groceries, i thought about this project. and how much easier it seems in my mind, now that i'm sharing it with like-minded souls and anyone else who cares to read.

but i also thought about how it's such a luxury to be able to think about these things and even more of a luxury to act on them. to be privileged enough to be able to make the choices i make at the grocery store, for example, always buying organic if it's available (tho' i do wonder about organic do they know where the bees have been? and isn't all honey organic?). with organic milk, i'll actually often to go another store if the first store is out of it. but there's also a kind of arrogance in it, isn't there? and i'll admit i do look askance at those in line ahead of me if their cart is filled with ready-made pizzas and chips and non-organic skim milk. and i feel a little smugly superior about it. even if i'm not really that proud of myself for feeling that way.

because i do realize that not everyone feels they can buy organic products at the grocery store. because they are still more expensive. and some may feel they can't afford it. and it may be that they actually can't afford it. but we as consumers have to shape what's available and what it costs, through the basic principles of supply and demand. if we demand more organic products, the market will supply them and hopefully, the prices will come down.

ever since seeing hugh fearnley-whittingstall's program on how chickens are produced, i don't ever buy the ubiquitous skinless chicken breast at the grocery store. i occasionally splurge on a whole organic, free-range chicken that has been fed naturally, not pumped full of hormones and which got to scratch around outdoors during its life. i'd rather go without eating much chicken, than support the chicken industry as it exists today. but, it's obvious when i look at the meat counter at the grocery store that i'm in the minority, as there are an awful lot of water-filled plump boneless chicken breasts in the case.

what i'd like to find is a way not to seem arrogant about it. but also not evangelistic. because to me it seems like the most rational, sensible course of action - feeding your family on the best available fresh produce that hasn't traveled halfway around the world to get to you. preparing it yourself in your own kitchen, hopefully assisted by people you love. we'd all be healthier, happier and kinder to the environment if we did that. it just makes sense. but how not to sound like an elitist spoiled brat in the process...


Winter Reading List

There are so many things to accomplish once you start changing your way of life, it is difficult to resist the urge to want to do all of the things you want to do....right now. The reality is, you have to pick, choose, and do a lot of investigating into what will work for your family. We began this process in earnest almost 4 years ago. I think for me the hardest thing is feeling a little guilty if I can't get as much done as I would like. I have come to the realization that any steps that we take are important. What I have found so interesting is how many people are interested in what we are doing and how so many people are also taking steps for their families. I think that making healthy choices for our families is precious and something each and every one of us has control over, especially in today's crazy world .

This time of year especially when we are bitterly cold and there is lots of snow, the focus comes down to planning and doing a great deal of reading. Some of my favorite resources I keep handy. The first book we bought when we were waiting for escrow to close on our little homestead was John Seymour's Concise Guide To Self-Sufficiency. From there I loved reading the family journey in "Animal, Vegetable Miracle". It made me focus more on what I was buying at the store. I began to only purchase things in season locally and then as our garden and food preservation efforts grew, I can say that I've purchased next to no produce other than fruit and a few extra onions in the last couple of years. I'm excited to see if the berry patches that we established last year bare us lots of fresh fruit this year! A great book for people on any sized property is The Backyard Homestead. It has loads of invaluable advise on about everything you would want to dabble in. I received "Canning For A New Generation" from a staff member for Christmas and I'm getting ready to crack it open this evening. What is on your bookshelf right now that you reach for?

Air drying laundry

I admit that I am absolutely obsessed with air drying our laundry. I have been since I was a teenager and either my mom or I (it is still a point of discussion!) shrunk some very cool vintage clothes that I had worked hard to buy. Anyways... back to air drying laundry. Do it. It's simple, it is free and it saves your clothes from shrinking and wearing out.

Many people think laundry can only be hung out to dry in summer. Of course it is easiest in summer when it is hot and windy. But it is also possible to do it all year long. In the other seasons, but especially winter, the trick is getting the laundry up and outside as soon as possible as it will need longer to dry. Although it seems weird, it is also possible to hang up the laundry in below freezing temperatures. On those great sunny but cold days, when the laundry is hung up you can even see steam rising from your clothes as they freeze dry. That's the trick, although they do stiffen and freeze, they are drying. Gently place them in the basket and let them defrost for a bit (I usually leave them to the next morning) and they will be dry.

Another option is to dry the laundry indoors on a rack. I try to avoid doing this because of the condensation it can cause but needs must. There's a great post over at designsponge about drying your clothes indoors in winter.

Anyway, I figure winter takes a big enough bite out of our cash flow with extra heating costs so by air-drying our laundry I am saving money and the environment!

Tedtalks crush 
Julie and I both have a mild crush on TedTalks and one of our recent finds is a talk of Dan Phillips. Although I might never build my own house, he gives enough to think off when it comes to re-cycling, the appollonian and the dionysium perspective and plenty of examples to make listening worthwhile


Sustainability in a small city

Hi! I thought I might introduce myself as we get started. I am Jude and I am doing things slightly differently. In August 2009, we left a small town in New Brunswick, Canada where we had a 1/2 acre vegetable garden, participated in the local CSA (community supported agriculture), supported our local farmers' market and producers, and had a fantastic garbage collection system based on separating home garbage into wet (most things compostable) and dry (recyclables) which we added home composting to. All that was fantastic of course but we used the car all the time because there was no local bus system and the winters were mighty cold! A job opportunity for my husband came up in Denmark and we moved here.

So here we are trying to be green in a small city. We choose to rent a flat close to town and work so we could do without a car. Thankfully Denmark does have great bike lanes! So we walk and cycle as much as we can, use buses and the train, and rent a car when we have to. We still hang our laundry out to dry despite some tensions with some neighbours about doing so. Last summer, we grew tomatoes and zucchinis in tubs on our balcony and hope to expand that this summer. We eat a largely vegetarian diet and eat only organic meat when we do. We use hankies and cloth napkins/serviettes even if this makes us the only people in all of Denmark to do so!

But it has been interesting to see some of the differences between Canada and Denmark and indeed between the image of Denmark and the reality. As Julochka mentioned, Denmark does a good job at the green rhetoric but isn't so good at the practice of being green. Although there is recycling 'depots' at various spots in town which collect paper, glass and aluminum cans (pop cans), tin cans, plastic, and cardboard are not collected. There is a larger recycling station/dump which collects more items but it is out of town and only accessible by car; there is no home recycling collection. As a difference, most of the cities I have lived in Canada have home recycling collection and some include compostables.

Anyways, I hope to bring a slightly more urban perspective to the table. I am really looking forward to this discussion about how we might live a sustainable life!

the little things

sustainable ideas

1. hand-painted seed packets, 2. 'Centred', 3. the whole collection!, 4. Untitled

i'm really pleased at the conversation that has already started here! it's even better than i had hoped for! and it got me thinking about small ways that we, as individuals, can do our part to make a difference in what seems to be an overwhelming and insurmountable problem. i did a quick scour of my flickr contacts, just this morning, and found the small ideas above. from handmade seed packets of seeds harvested from your own garden to give as gifts to using old clothes and vintage textiles to make something beautiful and meaningful, to creative use of items you might already have around the house (the measuring stick stars), there are a multitude of things you can do to reuse and upcycle items you already have, whether you live in the heart of the city or out in the countryside. 

we have to begin somewhere. 

upcycling inspiration: Project ReStyle group on flickr and the eco quilt challenge.


doing more


denmark is the birthplace of the modern wind industry. on an average day 20% of the electricity needs of the country are satisfied by wind power. on a windy night, it's 150%. both numbers are far more than any other country. and we can sleep well, knowing our energy is some of the greenest in the world.

but (you knew there was a but), in my view, it makes us a bit complacent. being able to be this green, without any effort on our part, allows us to rest on our laurels. and i don't see a whole lot of other green thinking going on in denmark. this is partially due to a government with a lack of vision - for example, if you are a private person and you want to put up a 1-6KW wind turbine on your own property, to satisfy your own electricity needs, you have to jump through the exact same hoops and satisfy exactly the same requirements as if you were the power company putting up a bunch of 3.6MW wind turbines for a wind farm. and you actually have to PAY to hook your turbine up to the grid - you have to pay in order to sell the electricity you generate. we calculated the payoff of such a turbine to 15 years! it's just a bad business case. in other words, the laws and regulations actually prevent people from being green on their own property.

so we find ourselves looking for other ways we can be green. we live out in the country in a rather sparsely-populated area, so a car is a must for us, but we have decided we can get along with one car for our household. it's a trade off, because living in the country also means we have plenty of space to have a large garden and room for a chicken coop and even space for a couple of pigs. so come spring, we're going to have those things. i'm looking forward to the day when the garden is producing enough that i can cancel my weekly organic box delivery. i'm also looking forward to gathering the first eggs from my own hens and to feeding our scraps to the pigs, rather than sending them for green recycling at the dump.

elizabeth, jude and i have been talking about these issues and exchanging links to articles of interest for some time now and we decided it was time to take the dialogue a bit more public, hence this blog, where we're going to be thinking out loud about issues of living a more sustainable life - so the planet our children inherit will be one they can actually use.

we hope you'll join in our conversation.


The start of a new blog

A few days ago I read an article on the net called: Detroit, resilience and the american dream. This article became the start of a string of articles and video's. The article made me think of all the talk about sustainability, about consumerism, about good food, about how western countries manufacture less and less, about creativity and going back to the village.

For years I have been reading articles of all sorts, sizes and colors. Each time I am struck by it and each time I think how much worse does it need to get before the message arrives. And here is a town that is in total ruins because their main industry, the car industry, is totally collapsed. More than half of the population has left the city. The infrastructure is still there but crumbling down, there is hardly any public transportation since why would they need that when everybody has a car. Office buildings are empty, productionplants abandoned and houses are left to the weathergods. Even the large supermarketchains moved on.

About 800.000 people, mainly african-amercians, are left behind. They chose to stay and start anew. The loss of the availability of fresh produce in their neighbourhood was something that needed to be addressed, the need to eat fresh vegetables hadn't moved out. Something so simple started a number of shared gardens since there was more than enough land around. A special highschool was started with learning farmingskills on the curriculum. These activities led to a healthy environment for bees and the another possibility to earn money.

Besides the agriculturel activities artists found a surplus of space and abandoned materials which led to a number of art-galleries. Since a lot of chainstores also left the city, small businesses took the chance to take over. They are now thriving because they also contribute to local pride. The local pride grows because people started connecting to each again, they meet and make plans, they raise money together or for example via kickstarter.

Now maybe you are thinking, that is nice but what has all of this to do with you? Well I live on an island with the highest unemploymentrate of Danmark. A lot of variables are different but a lot of people are out of work. In Detroit people in their 20's and 30's are the catalysts, here on the island that group, for the large part, already moved on. All of this left me with questions:
  • how can we, the citizens, help ourselves to live a more sustainable life?
  • how can likeminded people find each other?
  • how is creativity stimulated?
  • how can we raise awareness to see local pride?
 Can you help me to find the answers?