Update on the Compost Experiment

My bucket in action.

So I’ve been attempting to compost since, oh… March? I live in a condo (with someone who thinks absolutely nothing of wasting food, too, so my bins fill up fast), with about a 200 sq/ft yard in the back and pretty much nothing in terms of yard waste. And I gotta say, it’s been a little less than stellar.

At first I tried “traditional” composting in a 5 gallon bucket from Home Depot that I drilled a bunch of holes into. It… worked? I think? But it’s probably going to be another year at least until it breaks down into anything that resembles soil. Right now most of it is in discernible, bone-dry chunks. It was a failed attempt, and I think I’m just going to throw it all out to be honest. That bucket is taking up precious real-estate in the yard.

About 3-4 months ago, I got a Bokashi bin online to try out, since Bokashi is supposed to be much more apartment/condo-friendly. And for the most part, it is. I managed to get a crappy bucket with a leaky spout, though, so that made for a pretty miserable first batch before I could get back in there and tighten it up. Lets just say that the fruit flies had a field day with the compost tea residue while it lasted.

But then I figured out that you generally have to deal with the food waste when the bucket is full. It doesn’t magically turn into something useful in there all on its own–aside from the tea–and you have to intervene to make that last step happen. And that last step may or may not involve more space.

These are the options you have. From Sunburst Unlimited:

 1.  Bury the contents of the bucket in a hole or trench about 8-12 inches deep.  Use the soil that was removed to cover the fermented food waste.  You can plant seeds in the soil immediately after filling the hole.  Wait 1-2 weeks before planting transplants.

2.  Fermented food waste can also be added around established plants throughtout the year without causing any damage to the plants.

3.  Add it to an existing compost pile.  Just dig in the pile, empty the bucket, and cover fermented food waste with compost materials.

4.  You can make your own “soil factory” in a storage tub:  put some good soil on the bottom, add a layer of well-drained fermented food waste, mix well.  Cover with a layer of soil and flatten.  Cover with plastic or a lid to keep it from getting wet.  After about 30 days, it’s ready for use as “good dirt”.

The last one is what I tried. But still, after more than a month, the food waste hasn’t broken down much at all, from what it looks like to me. I probably did something wrong, but that’s still a time-consuming, and frankly sort of stinky, mistake to make.

Sunburst Unlimited recommends that if your Bokashi compost smells putrid more than fermented, then add some sugar and let sit. My second batch of Bokashi compost looks to be doing much better– there’s white mold growing along the top layer of scraps, and it doesn’t have too much of a smell when I open it up. It smells a little bit like garbage, but mostly like an odd, weak vinegar. (I don’t have much of a sense of smell, though, so I’m not really the one to ask anyways.)

So I’ve got a bucket sitting out in the yard, full of, hopefully, properly fermented compost sandwiched between two layers of soil and sprinkled with a bit more Bokashi bran. I’ll probably have to add more bran and some sugar to help it along at this point.

If this doesn’t work, then I’m not sure what else to do. I might try to dump it in a larger, wider-mouthed container so I can keep a better eye on it, or I may attempt to dig a hole to bury it someplace inconspicuous around the complex. (Good thing I’m good friends with the grounds’ landscaper/gardener!)

Either way, I don’t see how practical Bokashi composting would be if you didn’t have access to any sort of yard at all. I guess you could do it on a balcony (I’d never do it in the house) if you had your secondary container and some store-bought soil handy, but then you’d better have something to do with the resulting compost!

In conclusion, I’m glad that Vancouver is ramping up its curbside compost pickup program, which will be in full-swing for apartment-dwellers by the time I get up there. And while I’ll keep doing it myself as long as I have to, not gonna lie: this is a pain in the butt so far. I will not be unhappy to have the city take care of it for me.

No-Bake Chocolate Tarts

no bake chocolate tarts The recipe, and that wonderful photo up there, courtesy of Free Range Cookies.

Ingredients

Crust

  • 1/2 cup almond meal, packed
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 or 2 teaspoons raw sugar (or sweetener of choice)
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted

Filling

  • 3 tablespoons coconut milk, full fat
  • 1/3 cup chopped dark chocolate or chips
  • Cocoa powder for topping

Instructions

Place 6 paper liners in a cupcake pan.

In a medium bowl, combine almond meal, cocoa powder, sugar, and salt. Add liquified coconut oil and stir to blend thoroughly. Divide mixture among liners and press into bottom and up sides a bit. Let chill in fridge while you prepare filling.

Heat coconut milk until bubbly. Pour hot milk over chocolate. Let sit for a minute before stirring. Pour filling over each crust in pan. Refrigerate (or freeze for quicker gratification) until chilled. Dust top of tarts with cocoa powder. Store tarts in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Let sit at room temperature for 15 minutes before serving.

Mine came out a little gooier than the recipe intended, but they were delicious and easy, and that’s all that really matters. Coconut oil is amazing stuff, I learned. I didn’t jump on the bandwagon with everyone else a couple years ago, but in making this I discovered that it’s really the only single-ingredient, vegan, substitute for lard. Amazing!

These are very ZW desserts as well; if you have access to a suitable bulk section, and are reusing bags/containers, then everything can conceivably be gotten there except for the coconut oil. Coconut milk can be made like any other nut milk, and I’m sure another full-bodied vegan milk would suitably substitute here too if you wanted to make it.

Here’s a photo of mine, though they’re not quite so photogenic:

Breathing Hand Washer Review

For the life of me I cannot recall how I stumbled upon these things–even though it was just a few days ago!–but I’m glad that I did.

A breathing hand washer is a very simple tool used for doing laundry. It looks a lot like a toilet plunger, and functions a lot like one too; essentially, it pulls water and detergent up through the clothes with some force, yanking dirt and grime free of the fibers. This is the one that I bought, though I got mine from Amazon for a few dollars cheaper.

 

Photo courtesy of Lehmans.com

This is what the one I got looks like, though there’s a tin version available too that has more or less the same product rating.

I absolutely love the very idea of these things. They’re very simple tools, easy to maintain and care for, do the job well, and only use a bit of elbow grease to operate.

Personally, I hate doing laundry. Always have. I especially hated it when I lived in the city and had to trek to a laundromat in the snow, paying upwards of $5 for a single load. I would often avoid washing things like blankets, sheets, towels because I was too broke to do them nearly as much as recommended. $20/month for weekly laundry, $260/year, is an arm and a leg any way you look at it. But that’s apartment living for you.

And beyond getting gouged on coin-op laundromats, washers and dryers just waste so much energy. Why anyone is allowed to operate a dryer here in Southern California during the summer is beyond me. (I say this as I sit, waiting for my load of laundry to finish drying. But I’ll get to that in a second.) No, I’m not trying to romanticize the laborious process of doing a family’s laundry with a tub and washboard. It’s plain hard work. and convenience definitely has its place. But what if there was a convenient manual alternative?

Enter this thing!

I’ve only used it once so far, and probably on the worst thing possible: a terrycloth towel. Let’s just say that I’ve forgotten how heavy those things get when completely saturated. But work it did. Such are the wonders of fluids physics! It probably would have been better to wash something I knew for a fact was pretty dirty, and a few of them at once, but practically all of the reviews I’ve read so far have lead me to believe that I’ve got nothing to worry about when it comes time to do some real loads of laundry with this clever little device.

The downside is that yes, while you clothes do get clean, the breathing washer doesn’t have a spin cycle. So because I’m a dupe, I sat for a few minutes, wringing that towel out with every ounce of strength that I had. Lets just say that my arms were jelly afterward.

But in the future, I will definitely be doing a setup like the one explained in this video. Freakin’ brilliant. What’s even better is that the water can be very easily reclaimed from using pretty much any method involving the breathing washer, and used for watering the garden, etc. Assuming you use the proper laundry soap, of course.

The routine I end up with will take some time to hammer out, obviously, but light to medium-weight clothing will definitely get washed this way and go straight to the clothesline during the summer. Terrycloth towels will definitely NOT be getting washed this way, and neither will heavy blankets. Jeans, I’m not sure, though some combination between hand washer/dryer will be what I end up doing.

So yeah. If any of you are interested, it seems like a fantastic investment that will last for years and years– hell, possibly for a lifetime, even.

Eating on the Cheap

It’s 10:30 and I’m just now getting into the shower to start my day. Hello Monday (not that it matters one whit what day it is when you’re unemployed). It’s been 3 months without unemployment checks, and things are getting real tight for me. I’ve got $30 to last me an indefinite period of time as far as food and necessities go, I’ve had to cancel the internet at my office, and I’m thinking about ditching the lease on it too. (Unfortunately, there’s no space to work in my rented room, so I’d have to put all my furniture into a storage unit and grab a coworking membership someplace downtown. Which altogether will save me in the ballpark of $250+/mo.)

But hey, speaking of being completely broke and buying food…!

So there’s a gal named Leanne Brown who runs a food/cooking blog called Leanne Cooks. I was introduced to the website recently for the purposes of spreading the word about her two cookbooks: Good and Cheap, and From Scratch.

Aside from being beautiful to look at, useful, and inspiring, the PDF versions of the books are completely free. You read that right: FREE. In a blog-eat-blog world where everyone’s out to make a quick buck from aping each others’ recipes, I don’t think it’s possible to understate how exciting and refreshing this is to me. Not to mention that Good and Cheap is, essentially, a cookbook for the broke or those living on food stamps. (Because poor people deserve to eat well too.) While the subtitle touts eating on just $4/day, that amount is still quite expensive at $120/month. The good part is that Leanne breaks down her recipes by price per serving as well, and with a little luck (access to decent markets) and practice, it’s possible to cut that in half without compromising too much on quality or nutrition.

Enjoy!

“Beware of Leo Babauta’s minimalist lifestyle”

Some interesting criticisms of the minimalist lifestyle:

I was talking with Leo Babauta a few weeks ago. The topic of the conversation was his new book, focus. But of course I am not good at focus. So here is a picture of a book I just bought that is not Leo’s book, but I really like it: The Selby is in Your Place. It’s full of photos of people who turned their apartments into art. Totally eccentric, often over-furnished, but always totally interesting.

I would not have bought the book if it didn’t match my house so well. More on that later.

I told Leo I thought it was BS that he is Mr. Minimalism and he moved to San Francisco. I told him that the biggest cultural shift for me from New York City to the farm is the surprise shift to extreme minimalism. So I am sure that his move to San Francisco means he is tossing in the minimalism towel.

Leo has great resources on his blog about leading a minimalist lifestyle. But I think minimalism is lifestyle porn. It’s something that people think would be nice to dream about for their lives, but in fact, there is the dirty flip side to minimalism: It’s scary boring, which, I think, is why Leo moved his family to San Francisco—to expand what’s available to his kids.

I have thought often about the slippery slope from minimalism to boring even though I don’t write about my own minimalism issues that much. First of all, my own minimalism is totally accidental, so I didn’t even know I was a minimalist until recently. Second, I think a minimalist life is a product of many small decisions rather than a single big one. (For example, losing all my possessions to bed bugs.)

Plus, I discredit all straight men who do not have a wife or kids and claim to be minimalists. They are not minimalists, they are just bachelors, programmed over thousands of years to use sex to accumulate possessions rather than shopping.

And anyone who is doing minimalist experiments—like not buying anything for a year, stuff like that—isn’t really a minimalist. It’s like doing a dog trick. People clap, and then you go back to stealing from plates on the dinner table.

Read the rest at Penelope Trunk’s blog.

An Introduction to Private vs. Personal Property

In having some discussions about my anti-capitalist leanings with those still very entrenched in the system, one fundamental misconception I’ve run into over and over is that personal and private property are the same thing, which allows the person I’m talking with to construct a strawman about how an anarchist/communist/far-far-left state wouldn’t allow anyone to have any kind of nice things, or that the concept of ownership would be abolished altogether. And that’s just plain silly. Of course we believe in everyone’s right to have personal effects and possessions, to have nice clothes, a house, gadgets and doodads, and even money.

The mixup comes with not making a distinction between private and personal property, and this only seems to happen when someone talks about being morally against the former. (Forget that this distinction is economics 101 that they probably learned in high school. I chalk it up to selective memory.)

The jist is more or less, I believe, this: personal property might be, say, the home you live in, and private property would be the second home that you don’t live in.

To get into the specifics, though, I’m going to need to turn to some people who are much smarter than I am.

From the Communist Manifesto itself:

We Communists have been reproached with the desire of abolishing the right of personally acquiring property as the fruit of a man’s own labour, which property is alleged to be the groundwork of all personal freedom, activity and independence.

Hard-won, self-acquired, self-earned property! Do you mean the property of petty artisan and of the small peasant, a form of property that preceded the bourgeois form? There is no need to abolish that; the development of industry has to a great extent already destroyed it, and is still destroying it daily.

Or do you mean the modern bourgeois private property?

But does wage-labour create any property for the labourer? Not a bit. It creates capital, i.e., that kind of property which exploits wage-labour, and which cannot increase except upon condition of begetting a new supply of wage-labour for fresh exploitation. Property, in its present form, is based on the antagonism of capital and wage labour. Let us examine both sides of this antagonism.

To be a capitalist, is to have not only a purely personal, but a social status in production. Capital is a collective product, and only by the united action of many members, nay, in the last resort, only by the united action of all members of society, can it be set in motion.

Capital is therefore not only personal; it is a social power.

From ckalhatsu on RevLeft.com:

This topic is about a seemingly simple question that, when explored, actually transports us right through to the core of what an anti-capitalist, communist politics is all about.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Deny

What is the objection to people owning too much stuff? Too large a house, too many cars, etc.?

This kind of materialistic question can potentially be troublesome for a Marxist approach to politics because, as Marxists, we do *not* base our political philosophical principles on issues of *personal* consumption. In short we’re *not* moralists — and, really, *no* politics should be judgmental at the individual level because that’s *outside* of the *domain* of politics. Political matters are, by their nature, about *mass* quantities, and about their *overall* administration / ownership.

[...]

Your questions here contain the answer — we have to inquire as to *how* a person acquires their income and material possessions. We can actually just *scale down* the concept of a *surplus*, to the *personal* level, and examine it in the same way as we examine a mass, *societal* surplus.

Is the person in question really *only* a wage-earner, or — more realistically — have they *financially leveraged* *past* earnings as capital so as to play in the markets and claim portions of *other laborers’* *surplus labor value* — ???…!!!

Additionally we can also look at the person’s relationship to the means of mass production in their role in the workplace. If they are better-compensated they are most likely taking on greater (implicit or explicit) managerial / *political* roles, either internally and/or externally. In other words they may be closer to the company’s “brain trust” that operates as an internal society of consensus, collectively rubber-stamping managerial decisions that come down from above. (Managerial decisions are entirely about providing a return on capital investments, so any revenue not consumed by overhead and operational costs is a *surplus* outside of *both* capital and labor, and yet is *only* distributed to the bearers of *capital* — shareholders.)

If a wages-only worker has *truly* been able to stay employed for decades while only representing their own labor (and possibly that of fellow workers) *without* selling out in the least, then I’d say that they *deserve* whatever riches they may have been able to accumulate with such honest labor and position…(!)

[...]

Quote:
Originally Posted by Deny

Well I sympathize with that as much is anyone else, but what would be the theoretical justification for it? I mean, is there something else to it other than “that’s too much”? Where is the line drawn and why?

I’m going to take this up in more of a future, post-capitalist context, using it to ask how we *might* measure such a thing given the *full collectivization* of the means of mass production to the laborers themselves, far beyond the constraints of the elite population of wealth ownership and their political backers….

Given the end of wage labor and commodity production we might ask what would be worth *doing* with such widespread liberation and what would be worth *possessing*….

I think we’d have to focus on *use* values and “look”, moment-by-moment, to see if a person is actually *using* said possessions or if those items would be better off as *public*, *communal* property. For example, if a person was an avid art collector they may *currently* have the means with which to amass an impressive private collection which could potentially give them greater enjoyment and enlightened sensibilities than an average person who *didn’t* possess such works.

At the same time we *can’t* just shit all over people with means who may have done *worthwhile* things with their privilege — much of the world’s current state of civilization, such as it is, is due to those more noble-minded owners of wealth who decide to engage themselves in matters of *cultural* concern (such as they are). So, by default of ownership they have become the de facto *caretakers* of cultural artifacts that are *not* in the public sector / public domain.

But we *can* ask *how much* a single individual can really *enjoy* or *gain* from their large sum of wealth, in whatever form. At *some* point the wealth has *far outstripped* its use-value to that individual and even the *owner* will admit that they have had to spread the ownership and risk around, as with “offering shares” and “going public”.

As revolutionaries we’re merely offering that such ownership, responsibility, and risk should be spread *even further* outward, to include *all* of society, in the *most* collective way possible, thereby creating a purely *political* society that has surpassed the need for capital altogether through its exercise of mass economic democracy, or a collectivized politically planned economy.

From Infoshop.org:

An Anarchist FAQ- B.3 Why are anarchists against private property?

Private property is one of the three things all anarchists oppose, along side hierarchical authority and the state. Today, the dominant system of private property is capitalist in nature and, as such, anarchists tend to concentrate on this system and its property rights regime. We will be reflecting this here but do not, because of this, assume that anarchists consider other forms of private property regime (such as, say, feudalism) as acceptable. This is not the case — anarchists are against every form of property rights regime which results in the many working for the few.

Anarchist opposition to private property rests on two, related, arguments. These were summed up by Proudhon’s maxims (from What is Property? that“property is theft” and “property is despotism.” In his words, “Property . . . violates equality by the rights of exclusion and increase, and freedom by despotism . . . [and has] perfect identity with robbery.” [Proudhon, What is Property, p. 251] Anarchists, therefore, oppose private property (i.e. capitalism) because it is a source of coercive, hierarchical authority as well as exploitation and, consequently, elite privilege and inequality. It is based on and produces inequality, in terms of both wealth and power.

[...]

[P]rivate property is the state writ small, with the property owner acting as the “sovereign lord” over their property, and so the absolute king of those who use it. As in any monarchy, the worker is the subject of the capitalist, having to follow their orders, laws and decisions while on their property. This, obviously, is the total denial of liberty (and dignity, we may note, as it is degrading to have to follow orders). And so private property (capitalism) necessarily excludes participation, influence, and control by those who use, but do not own, the means of life.

It is, of course, true that private property provides a sphere of decision-making free from outside interference — but only for the property’s owners. But for those who are not property owners the situation if radically different. In a system of exclusively private property does not guarantee them any such sphere of freedom. They have only the freedom to sell their liberty to those who do own private property. If I am evicted from one piece of private property, where can I go? Nowhere, unless another owner agrees to allow me access to their piece of private property. This means that everywhere I can stand is a place where I have no right to stand without permission and, as a consequence, I exist only by the sufferance of the property owning elite.

[...]

It will, of course, be objected that no one forces a worker to work for a given boss. However, as we discuss in section B.4.3, this assertion (while true) misses the point. While workers are not forced to work for a specific boss, they inevitably have to work for a boss. This is because there is literally no other way to survive — all other economic options have been taken from them by state coercion. The net effect is that the working class has little choice but to hire themselves out to those with property and, as a consequence, the labourer “has sold and surrendered his liberty” to the boss. [Proudhon, Op. Cit., p. 130]

[...]

Anarchists define “private property” (or just “property,” for short) as state-protected monopolies of certain objects or privileges which are used to control and exploit others. “Possession,” on the other hand, is ownership of things that are not used to exploit others (e.g. a car, a refrigerator, a toothbrush, etc.). Thus many things can be considered as either property or possessions depending on how they are used.

To summarise, anarchists are in favour of the kind of property which “cannot be used to exploit another — those kinds of personal possessions which we accumulate from childhood and which become part of our lives.” We are opposed to the kind of property “which can be used only to exploit people — land and buildings, instruments of production and distribution, raw materials and manufactured articles, money and capital.” [Nicholas Walter, About Anarchism, p. 40

[...]

While it may initially be confusing to make this distinction, it is very useful to understand the nature of capitalist society. Capitalists tend to use the word“property” to mean anything from a toothbrush to a transnational corporation — two very different things, with very different impacts upon society.

(Emphasis mine!)

From Workers.org:

Here’s where there is the most confusion about socialism. Those who really do benefit from capitalism will lie and tell you that under socialism you can’t have your own PERSONAL property. You can’t own your own home or your own boat, etc.

The truth is that your personal property—what you need to enjoy a secure and comfortable life—is a lot safer under socialism than under capitalism.

Until this economic crisis, tens of millions of people in the United States thought they owned their homes, their cars, their furniture and so on. Yes, they sent checks every month to the bank or the finance company, but if you asked them, it was their home, their car.

Ah, but it wasn’t. It belonged to the bank. The people weren’t really homeowners after all, were they? They had a contract. The small print said that after paying on a mortgage for something like 30 years, during which time they would fork over several times what the house was priced at, then they would be the owners.

Likewise, how many people really own their cars outright? Isn’t the real owner GMAC or some auto dealership? Won’t the repo man come and take it away if you don’t make your payments?

Personal property is very precarious under capitalism. For the vast majority, wages are too low to be able to buy outright all the things they need so they have to go into debt to get them.

[...]

What capitalism does protect big-time is capital—that is, the kind of private property that is used to exploit workers and create profits. That’s why the capitalist government was so quick to bail out the banks and corporations when they were facing bankruptcy. It has now spent trillions of the workers’ money to save the corporations and banks that exploit them.

You might be asking yourself what all this has to do with the blog, with environmentalism, with the ethic of Zero Waste, and to you I say: a lot. Eliminate the culture of exploitation, of the systemic dismantling of collectivism, and you not only free the worker, but you free the environment from thoughtless destruction in the name of monetary gain also. True environmentalism is political.

A Love of Artifacts

Photo courtesy of bluray.com

It wasn’t a year ago when I would still have conversations with my husband about our love of artifacts and how we couldn’t imagine having a digital-only collection of anything.

I’ve been using the word “artifact” in the context of art-making for a few years now, whether to reference books, figures, physical works of art, prints, and so on. More  generally, though, I mean for it to reference an object that has been touched and processed in some way by human hands, and obviously so. A stick isn’t an artifact, but an incised one is.

We would talk about the preciousness of artifacts in opposition, always in opposition, to its intangible counterpart, the realm of digital works. How if, an EMP were blasted at us by the sun tomorrow, what an even more terrible world we’d live in if suddenly all the art disappeared along with the lights. And  for a far less catastrophic scenario, what if your hard drive fails? What if there’s some natural disaster, a tornado or earthquake, where the servers that host your cloud content are located? And that’s not to mention the immensely high carbon, energy, and space footprint of the buildings where these servers are located and the infrastructure the ties them, and us, together.

E-readers are awful. Digital comics are frustrating to read. Netflix sucks. Amazon is no better than Walmart when it comes to business practices.

And then there’s the question of who has your cloud-based media collection. Apple? Google? Google has gone down the shitter over the past 6-7 years in terms of user privacy. Their motto used to be “Do no evil.” What happened? Is it “Do no evil when people are looking” now? There’s also the issue of proprietary file types and software. If you pay nearly full-price for a piece of media, and the company that you bought it from goes under, what do you do if it takes everything you bought with them and you’re left with nothing?

See where we’re coming from? It’s not so simple to say “I don’t want the dead tree version”.

On a purely superficial level, I realized that I hated the look of extensive DVD and music collections displayed in people’s homes when I was reading Bea’s book. The sheer visual overstimulation of  being in the same room as 400 movies has made me incredibly uncomfortable in the past. Libraries, though, I’ve always found to strike just the right balance for some reason.

But the issue comes incredibly close to home when taking my passion into consideration: cartooning. I’ve been toiling away on a 600-page behemoth for several years now, and it was always meant to be read in book form. I can barely tolerate reading my own work online, where it’s currently available for folks who can’t or don’t want to buy the dead tree version (as I do personally believe in making art as widely available as possible). I don’t want sales of my book to suck, I want to be able to pay a few of my bills with that hard work. And I want my friends throughout the industry, who also have dead trees to make ends meet from, to be successful too. But at the same time… so many dead trees.

So many books I’ll only read once. So many books that I’ll never read because I wanted to support them but just never got around to cracking the thing open.

So much clutter.

I’ve never had much interest in digital art for purely aesthetic reasons too. No, I’m not saying that we should be going back to the days of manual color separation, not at all. But truthfully I’ve never seen a digital painting and thought to myself “I want that on the wall”. For me, there’s a psychological barrier preventing me from really appreciating the possibilities of digital art in physical space. To me, it belongs on the computer, in the cloud. It’s inherently disposable. And that kind of freaks me out a little.

Why? Because I will never own a piece of digital work. It will never be uniquely mine, or uniquely somewhere else, of which I have a copy. It exists everywhere, equally. In a sense, it belongs to everyone.

And that’s when it occurred to me that I don’t necessarily need to own all the things I want access to. That’s a philosophy of self-sufficiency and hermeticism that I’m actually rather ethically against: it’s a kind of “every man for himself”.

I got an e-reader a couple years ago, and I remember my husband sounding a little bitter when I told him about it. I very quickly realized that no, I really don’t need to own every book I ever want to read. I really don’t.

So I guess I might start looking at Netflix and Hulu and Amazon Prime as media sharing tools instead of framing the whole thing through the lens of ownership and hoarding. Speaking of the word “hoard”, it always reminds me of a theory that a friend of mine has regarding Norse folklore. Namely that the image of the dragon that we’re all familiar with, this big monster laying lazily atop a big pile of riches (but never doing anything with it), is related to the draugr, an undead person that refuses to pass on because of greed. (Notice the similarity between “dragon” and “draugr”, too. The Danish version is actually almost phonetically identical, being “draugen”.) Whether they stay in their tomb, surrounded by their treasure and wergeld, or creep out at night to terrorize locals, the cause of their monstrous transformation is a single thing: desire for material wealth.

I am also reminded of a professor’s explanation of wergeld, made plenty of reference to in Beowulf, and generally comprising the gold rings and torcs worn by those loyal to their king in the northern European world. Despite being made of gold, these items weren’t thought of as currency, but rather represented the deeds the wearer had performed in service to his lord. (It also determined his value should he be killed and restitution paid to the family.) These are the riches that he was often buried with upon his death, and, I’m assuming, the riches he comes back to haunt should he turn into a draugr. Lords who were greedy of their wergeld, and were stingy with giving it to their loyal retainers, undermined the entire system and would sometimes face being overthrown.

Even though I love my artifacts–the weight of a book in my hand, the liner notes of a CD, the special edition box set of a beloved TV series–do I want to be a draugr in this life? Do I want to be a zombie bedecked with gold?

“If you love something, let it go” is a maxim I’ve heard a lot throughout my life, more often tongue-in-cheek than not. It seems to be the spiritual spark notes version of this longer quote:

If you love a flower, don’t pick it up.
Because if you pick it up it dies and it ceases to be what you love.
So if you love a flower, let it be.
Love is not about possession.
Love is about appreciation.

― Osho

The first phase of my ZW/minimalist purging phase involved a lot of regular objects– clothes, trinkets, books I didn’t care about, cosmetics, and so on. This next phase is going to be me figuring out how to divvy up the artifacts in my life. My movies, my games, my TV shows. Small drawings friends have done for me. My own childhood drawings. Truthfully I don’t have as much as most do, seeing as how I’ve been broke for the majority of my adult years so far, but this is still an opportunity for me to figure out how to move forward. What to digitize, what to outsource to the cloud, what to keep, and what to refuse altogether. (Of course, always considering who will have access to my things once they’ve been given up to the cloud.)

And once again, I’m bumping up against the need to reframe my internal discourse altogether: from one of absolute ownership, to one of sharing and letting go.

Photo courtesy of Apartment Therapy.

ZW Muffins

I made a batch of these this morning and they came out uh-may-zing. Definitely getting filed away as a staple recipe! I didn’t take any pictures of mine because I was too busy eating them (and yes, they’re heaven with a schmear of honey on top), but they came out looking exactly like Jordan’s, so I’ll just let you ogle her pics instead. Recipe from The Fitchen:

30 Minute Vegan and Gluten-Free Muffins

30-Minute Vegan and Gluten Free Muffins

  • ¼ cup cane sugar (I used brown sugar)
  • 2 tablespoons coconut butter (just used whatever vegan butter I had on-hand)
  • 2 flax eggs [2 tablespoons flax meal + 6 tablespoons water --allow to thicken for 3-4 minutes]
  • 1 cup gluten-free flour mix (I used 3/4 c. gluten-full flour and 1/4 c. almond meal instead– glutinous flour thickens, obvs, so I had to add more milk)
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ cup coconut milk (I used my homemade almond milk)
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla (I used my homemade vanilla)
  • rolled oats for topping
  1. Preheat oven to 350º.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, cream together sugar and coconut butter. Once flax eggs have set-up, lightly beat them in.
  3. In a separate bowl, mix together flour, salt, and baking powder. Slowly pour the dry mixture into the wet mixture along with the vanilla and combine.
  4. Sprinkle with rolled oats and a pinch of sugar.
  5. Fill 8 muffin cups ⅔ full with the batter and bake for 20 minutes.
NOTES
If you’re a batter taster [like me], you might notice that this batter doesn’t taste very sweet pre-baking. Have faith! When they come out of the oven, they’re just right. Sweet, but not too sweet. A good drizzle of honey or agave, or even a slather of coconut butter turn these into a treat. But as is, they’re also great for a running-out-the-door breakfast or a tasty road trip snack. If desired, you could fold in ⅓ – ½ cup of blueberries, raspberries, or whatever kind of berries you happen to dig.
(My batter was very sweet, almost cup-cakey. Due to using brown sugar probably? I also didn’t use liners as I hate those things. Just greased up the cupcake tin instead.)

 

Being Sick and Sustainable Aren’t Mutually Exclusive

So I’m a spoonie, right? Someone that suffers from some form of chronic illness. And one of the narratives that really grinds my gears that I see coming from environmentalists, from minimalists, from voluntary simplicity folk, from zero wasters, is the sort that implies that health issues are moral failing, something that could be fixed if only you’d led a greener, and more natural life…

This post was originally going to be a photo of my “pills” system, with an explanation of what each bottle is for and why. But that didn’t seem like the right approach to an issue that’s so personal for me.

To give a little background, I’ve got some issues. I suffer from depression, anxiety, addictive tendencies, and since overcoming an infection early last year, I now have IBS, GERD, and chronic fatigue. I’ve got some other stuff going on that I don’t really put in these categories; swayback that leaves me in pain from standing for more than an hour at a time, a bad knee, and endometriosis. A few of these things can be managed with medication, but most of them can’t. Looking at me, you wouldn’t have any idea that I had any problems. For all intents and purposes, I look like a perfectly healthy young person capable of holding my own against all the other perfectly healthy young people out there. But that’s just not true.

I can’t get a job in retail or the service industry because I can’t stand for long periods. Some days I’m so tired that I sleep for 12 hours and don’t leave the house. Sometimes I don’t have the energy to shower. Sometimes I can’t sleep because laying down makes my GERD flare up and I could wake up choking on it or get nauseous to the point of vomiting. Sometimes I almost faint when I get up too quickly. Sometimes my lower back seizes and I catch myself just before falling down the stairs.

My life is a little bit of an obstacle course now, and I have to plan my days ahead so that I don’t prematurely run out of energy or stomach resilience. (I operate by a 3 Strikes rule when it comes to food and drinks and have to plan my meals accordingly.) I used to have an iron gut that I could pack full of chicken nuggets, Dr. Pepper, doughnuts, and Jack in the Box tacos. I used to be able to stand for longer. I used to be able to get by on 7-8 hours of sleep. But sometimes you get sick, and there’s nothing that you could have done to avoid it.

Needing special accommodations, access to medical care, and medications doesn’t make me a bad sustainability advocate. There will be sick people in our greener future, so you all better make room for us now.

Story time: One of my parents was raised in a Christian Scientist household, them being the 3rd generation. CS is, by many, considered to be a religious cult, and teaches that the physical body is, essentially, an imaginary construct, and that medicine exists to turn us away from god, who is the ultimate healer. It also teaches that ailments of the body and mind are likewise imaginary, and symptoms of wavering faith and infrequent prayer. Essentially, if you get sick, then you just don’t believe enough and eh, god’ll sort you out.

CS is famous for its members being exempt from many state-mandated child vaccination requirements. Unfortunately, they’re also famous for a few relatively high-profile manslaughter cases involving negligent care of children and the elderly. One case that never made it to the news, though, was that of the death of my would-be uncle who died when he was an infant. My grandparents knew something was wrong that evening, but they believed that doctors were snake oil salesman, and instead chose to watch him die in his crib. My aunt had always said that the rest of them were just one infection away from meeting the same fate.

I cringe every time I read about an American family downsizing, simplifying, and getting rid of their health insurance as part of that plan. I grind my teeth, I shake my head. Many of these people have small children. What happens if one of you gets into a car accident, or develops fibromyalgia? Living lightly, eating locally, eschewing plastic… none of those things prevents disaster from striking, or prevents someone from getting sick. And if your way of dealing with it involves nothing but herbal tea and a juice detox, your simple, photogenic life will go down the drain. And you will be setting up the injured/ill person for a world of hurt.

How can it do anything but hurt to insinuate that vitamins are only for the wasteful? That doctors visits are for the unsustainable? That good health and a strong body are rewards for the environmentally clean and pious? My knee gave out while I was on a glacier hike in Alaska, for your information.

Yes, this is a sore spot for me. Someone I should have grown up to know and love and spend time with died before his first birthday because he wasn’t pious enough, somehow. Because his parents’ worldview didn’t adequately account for sickness and disaster.

I hope that yours does.