Friday, 25 May 2012
What does buying local mean to you?
When we go shopping, we try to buy fruit and veg grown by farms in this county or neighboring ones, about a 100 mile radius. We shop in local businesses where we can as opposed to the giant chain multinationals. Why? We believe the slower our money flows back to the global financial system, the more our local area can use it to thrive.
Obviously keeping my fellow Brits in employment ultimately benefits me in times of high unemployment. That said, I know that most of our nations are so heavily indebted to each other, domestic consumption however concerted probably won't make much of a dent. Lack of appetite for exports abroad should everyone do the same spells disaster, we are all so hopelessly interconnected in the global economy for better or worse. I can control only where my own money goes.
My reasons for buying British previously have not been economic but purely environmental. It makes no sense to ship goods from the Far East when they can be shipped just a few hundred miles.The reason those imports are so cheap is often partly due to lack of environmental regulation. So in theory, whilst more expensive, those British goods should be marginally less destructive.
The UK is limbering up for both our monarch's Diamond Jubilee and our hosting of the Olympic games this year. The shops are awash with red, white and blue trinkets and goods, the majority of which are of course made overseas. I won't be buying patriotic paraphernalia, but it has raised the broader issue in my mind. Should I be making an effort to buy British?
Do you make a conscious effort to support your own national economies? Why, and how?
Friday, 16 March 2012
A women's group I'm active in is putting on a Fashion Show as a fundraiser on Saturday. We do this every Spring - reserving the Governor's Mansion as our venue, gathering raffle and silent auction items, getting local celebrities and politicians, men and women, to volunteer as our models. In the past, we've partnered with various local chain department stores for our fashions, letting them showcase their latest Spring styles and trends. But this year, we've decided to go "green" (and not just because it's St. Patrick's Day).
Friday, 2 March 2012
My yellow crocus buds are starting to show some color, the tips of the earliest daffodils and tulips are breaking through the surface, and a few robins have shown up to glean the last of the Russian olives still clinging to the bare branches. Spring is on the way!
And that means it's time to start thinking about starting some garden seeds - inside for the tomatoes and peppers, and maybe a few lettuces and hardy greens outside. I have quite a few of my own seeds, gathered from last year's plants. Over time, it means many of the vegetables I grow are now perfectly adapted to my own local climate. Other gardeners in my area do the same.
By trading seeds, we can insure that the time and effort we've put into saving and perpetuating our locally-adapted seeds isn't lost should disease or animals ravage our own garden. With luck, someone else's plot survived.
A local greenhouse hosts an annual seed swap each Spring. Everyone is welcome to come and get seeds. There's an optional donation jar for those that don't have any seeds to trade, but no one is turned away or denied the chance to grow their own garden.
The greenhouse provides long tables, protected from the wind, little envelopes, and plenty of pencils to label your choices. Some folks show up just long enough to drop off their contributions, others spend an hour or more there, answering questions about the things they brought, trading advice about their best growing or harvesting methods. Cool season crops, such as the brassicas, greens, and peas fill one table, tomatoes and peppers another. Flowers have their own area, and assorted vegetables line the last table.
Caveat emptor - let the buyer beware (except it's all free). Sometimes, especially with the corns, pumpkins and squashes, you're taking your chances on what you'll actually end up with in this year's garden. So many of those seeds cross-pollinate so easily, and while it wouldn't affect the appearance of last year's crop, the seeds harvested then and planted this year might turn out completely different.
But it's a great way to build community, meet with like-minded folks, share tips and learn, and get more people interested in growing their own food. Why not start a seed swap in your community?
Saturday, 25 February 2012
by Linda from The Witches Kitchen
It's raining. Again. Second La Nina year in a row. It's cooler and wetter than usual, but this is the hottest La Nina year on record, with warming seas amplifying the normal La Nina effect.I live high on a hill, well out of flood range, but my garden is too soggy to work in and I'm a bit worried about the causeway flooding again and preventing me getting to work on Monday.
It's times like this that I am very glad that I live in a functional community. We have been flooded in several times over the last few months. The flooding before last washed away a ford over a creek leading into our valley. As a temporary fix, a mob of us spent a couple of hours chucking rocks, by hand, to create a temporary ford. Much too hard a work to do by hand on your own, but with enough people it was not just an effective short term solution, but quite a fun way to spend a morning.
It washed away again in floods this week. When you are isolated, it's nice to be isolated with people you enjoy inviting for dinner, people who you can borrow a cup of sugar from, people who check whether you want anything in town if they can get through, people with the skills to get a pump going or do first aid if needed.
It's times like this though that also show up the challenges of living in a community. We are planning how to go about building a concrete, more permanent ford in the dry season. The decision needs to weigh up a whole batch of factors of varying priority - cost and workload, sharing the cost and workload, enabling fish to move up the creek, keeping petrochemicals out of the creek, a design that will not be washed away in floods, vehicle wear and tear, timing, risk and experiment.
Reaching agreement between a few dozen people on something complex like this takes real skills - framing ideas, listening, admitting uncertainty, juggling not just your own set of factors into consideration but adding more.
I overheard a conversation about climate change in the street yesterday. Actually, it wasn't so much a conversation as a tirade... global conspiracy by scientists to hoodwink the public...all about money.... biggest mob of baloney...country people know the weather just goes through cycles, always has...ice ages...
I thought of all the counter arguments - the implausibility of a global conspiracy of scientists, the independently measured data, the scientific understanding of weather cycles over millenia taken into account, basic physics, exponential mathematics, precautionary principle and the fact that we have only one painfully beautiful planet to run the experiment on.
But all that is beside the point. Listening to the discussion, it suddenly occurred to me: I'm glad I don't have to work with this bloke on designing a ford across the creek.
Independence and self-sufficiency are all very well when everything is going smoothly, but in floods and bushfires, food shortages and fuel shortages, community counts for a lot, and the skills to create it are good skills to have.
Friday, 2 December 2011
Last month, I announced that I would be writing about the value of food, and ways to reduce food wastage (here and here), topics that are very important to me. However, I won't be able to focus on them until the New Year, as I'm in the USA with my family at the moment.
We traveled on Thanksgiving weekend, when airports and planes were packed full with people on their way to spend the holidays with family and friends - more people than I ever imagined. I've always liked Thanksgiving - a whole nation (nations, even, as Canada also has its own Thanksgiving day) taking time away from daily life to be together, and celebrate by giving thanks. So it seems just natural, today, as I'm here in North America, to stop a moment and give thanks to the founder and the co-authors and readers of this blog, from whom I've learned so much.
I've learned new gardening strategies and many frugal living tips, read valuable thought-provoking posts, and just recently, I learned an important lesson: before concluding that your broken vacuum cleaner is beyond home repairs, ask your community for advice. Remember my broken vacuum cleaner? It is now fixed! We fixed it, following the advice of one of the readers - thank you so much Sarah!
This made me reflect on the importance of the support of a community, especially when on the path to self-reliance and a frugal way of living - how many times have we borrowed tools or sugar from a neighbor? An online community, such as this one that Rhonda has built over the years, is just as important: we all pitch in, we all share our thoughts and knowledge, and we all grow a little more self-reliant and knowledgable together.
Thursday, 17 November 2011
Having established a business from home several months ago I have become more aware of what services and support our local shire offers local businesses. As I am a big advocate of supporting local business I was quite 'chuffed' and proud, when I recently discovered just what support our shire does offer.
Although I am told these promotional tools are currently being upgraded I wanted to show you what is on offer. It is my hope that readers may like to share what their local shires are offering or share what support you show your local community.
We have a brochure that lists businesses that sell locally produced products and the outlets that support these locally produced products.
There are swing tags for producers to use on their products proudly displaying that their item is made/designed in the local area.
Local stores have stickers/posters to promote the support of local outlets and I have been given a logo to display on my website.
I believe it is important to support local communities by shopping locally. Not to mention that it is kinder on your hip pocket and cuts back on the miles that we spend collecting a product from afar. Local businesses cannot survive without the support of their community and shopping locally promotes community and creates jobs.
Have you thought about how your supporting your local community may be better for the environment too? By shopping in town we are encouraging spaces that are commuter friendly. People are more inclined to walk thus creating less pollution...wow... there is a lot to it when you think about it!
There is something else to think about too. When you shop at a large department store there are so many franchises..so many shops selling similar products that almost all look the same. When you have communities of small businesses generally they sell products that they are passionate about. Products they source for quality and uniqueness. If I am going to part with my money I would much prefer quality over mass produced, same-as-everyone-else type products!
I want my local community to thrive so that my children can enjoy the same culture we experience today. I am proud to live in the Baw Baw Shire and I hope you are proud to live where you are too.
Friday, 11 November 2011
As a child, I couldn't wait to learn to ride a bicycle. First on the grassy hill in front of the house, then out on our little suburban street - my dad jogging along behind, holding onto the seat, exhorting me to "keep pedaling", until suddenly I left him behind. I kept pedaling, and the world was mine!
I had wheels, and my boundaries grew - from my street, to my block, to the neighborhood defined by the "busy" streets. The bikes grew too, from that first little bike soon passed down to a younger sister, to a bigger one, with fat tires, coaster brakes, and a basket. It was great! As an avid reader, I was overjoyed once allowed to ride to the library on my own - I could get more books whenever I wanted! I taught our little dog to ride in the basket, and the two of us had our faces in the wind every day. Whoopee! I had wheels!
By high school, I had traded up once again - getting a Schwinn 10-speed, and a job. My boundaries had expanded too. Even the steepest hills were no barrier now, and I was old enough to be allowed out after dark. I could now ride for miles, and did. Oh, the fun I had! When I went away to college, that bike did too - providing plenty of exercise along with my new-found freedom.
Once out of school, my commutes got longer (and I was making more money). I got my first car, and the bike gathered dust in the garage. About 20 years ago, I sold that old 10-speed to buy a mountain bike. It wasn't suitable for in-town riding, but made for some fun weekends. As I got older, it got harder to ride the hills - it wasn't as much fun anymore. Eventually that old mountain bike was pretty much just gathering dust in the garage. I still liked being out, and on the move, though. I live in a gorgeous part of the country, with plenty of trails and paths nearby. Hiking and walking was more my recreational speed; with the car for work and errands about town.
I believe in living as "green" a lifestyle as possible. In order to put some effort behind my beliefs, I joined a local organization advocating for pedestrian and bicycle safety. I went to a lot of public meetings, met with a lot of elected officials, and kept speaking out that transportation need not mean only cars. Over the years, and through our collective efforts, we now have a pretty good start on a bicycle-friendly community (and a nascent bus system, too).
And this summer, I figured it was finally time for me to stop merely advocating and "walk the talk" - put my muscles where my mouth is, so to speak. I'm old enough to need my comfort, though. The old mountain bike out in the garage never did work very well other than recreational. I saved up my money, and went shopping for something I could ride about town. I'm amazed at the advances technology has made in bicycling. I was thinking a little-old-lady cruiser-type bicycle, but eventually decided a hybrid would better suit my needs and riding style.
And it does - it's perfect! It has the suspension (oh, what a concept!) in seat and handlebars, and upright sitting and wide, padded seat of a cruiser. But then it has the gearing and brakes like my old mountain bike (definitely a plus, as my house sits up on a hillside). I never liked strapping my purse on the back rack, or wearing a backpack, so I love having a bike with a front basket once again (and now they make detachable baskets - I just lift it off and use it as a shopping basket in the store, and then carry it in the house to store my helmet, water bottle, and lock). And a bell - I had to have a bell! - I'm a town rider now, I wanted a bell :-) I've also found that an Ipod - turned down very low, so I can still hear traffic noises - makes riding so much more enjoyable (I always have the radio on in the car - why not enjoy my music while out on the bike?)
I've rediscovered the simple joy of having the wind in my face once again. I use the bike for running errands about town, even bundling up to keep riding as the weather has gotten colder. I've noticed I can get a little farther up the hill to my house, before having to get off and walk, each time I go out. Before, I'd started having problems with my knees, feeling like I was kneeling on gravel. The doctor said I needed to strengthen the tendon that runs under my kneecap. When I get out on the bike regularly, I've found I can once again kneel without pain. And need I even mention the savings in gas money, or the benefit to the environment? That I'm losing weight and getting in shape? All that aside, it's just plain fun!
Wednesday, 5 October 2011
Harvest time is still in full swing in our garden, and while we are busy, it is still a good time to assess the garden and think of next years garden. Consider growing staples. Staples in the garden are usually easy to grow, and easy to store for long periods. Many take no processing, just harvesting and proper storage. And many don't require any energy to store, just proper attention to the particular vegetable and its storage requirements which may vary. Cool, dry, room temperature, and high humidity are the factors you need to consider when choosing a staple crop to grow and store.
Crops that I consider staples in my garden are potatoes, winter squash, dry beans and storage onions in addition to root crops like carrots, beets, rutabagas, and parsnips. Your list of staples may be different due to climate and growing conditions. Sweet potatoes are a marginal, fussy crop in my area and Irish potatoes are not. The path of least resistance is the most energy conscious footprint for the garden. Grow what suits your area.
The downside to growing staples is that to be a staple, that implies that you need a large amount to last into winter and maybe spring until the garden gets going again. Large amounts of vegetables require space to grow. Growing staples just may become a community building exercise. Garden too small? Ask a neighbor to allow you to expand your garden, or collaborate with a friend and instead of growing all your crops in one place, trade off. Grow up too, the sky is the limit, many plants take well to trellising, and can be trained on various types of trellis materials.
I'm just tossing ideas out there for more pantry building gardens. Soon the garden will be put to bed and seed catalogs will start appearing in our mailboxes. Winter is a good time to rest, rejuvenate and plan for next year. Bring the new seed catalogs on!
Thursday, 29 September 2011
I have talked before about stockpiling food and my reasons before. But as we descend into winter, I realise I have been squirelling away other things, for many of the same reasons.
These smaller stockpiles extend to a few balls of yarn, some fabric (mostly offcuts), seeds, compost, brewing chemicals, glass bottles and jars, cleaning ingredients, children's clothing, a savings account and, erm...toilet roll. None of these are stored to the extent that they are clutter, but are things I ensure that we always have a small stock of. Sometimes we take advantage of offers, sometimes we buy what we know we need at any price just for the security of having them. Many of these are the things that make life worth living, that should we take a financial hit, would allow us to continue the activities we do now - and probably save some money whilst we use them.
Physical goods are all well and good, but the most useful stockpile is the one you keep within yourself, from the knowledge you hold in your head, to the memory held in your muscles from practising a thing over and over. My most important possessions now are my ability to balance a budget and the know how to grow and cook some of my own food.
It is this latter stockpile that I think will serve me best in life. I don't believe that I will ever receive a a decent pension, state or otherwise. I am now 26 and currently eligible to retire at 68, which I suspect will rise much higher in my lifetime. Much of the social security safety net is being washed away as we speak. So we must continue to live the way that we do now and hone that most important of stockpiles - the ability to learn, retain and apply knowledge. I think all of us here are probably avid acquirers of new skills; to the extent that I am tempted to suggest we launch a Simple Green Frugal Co-op achievement badge program. Anyone for a fetching sash?
The stockpile I never really appreciated, being quite an introverted individual, is the esteem of a family, a community. The people that will help you out of a hole, as you will do them, when you undoubtedly fall into one. A community of people who care for you and who share useful skills and tools is as useful as the knowledge you yourself hold. I am now forced to be less introverted, to care more and to express my care to my neighbours and friends, where I previously would have shied away.
So these are the banks where I keep my money. Where do you keep yours?
Tuesday, 20 September 2011
from Spiral Garden
Recently I have participated in some community events regarding our local council's 10 year plan. I have been conversing with many people, trying to explain more about what the grass roots groups in our community are attempting and achieving, and why we are concerned about peak resources, about climate, about the economy and about relocalising our region.
People ask me why I bother? They insist that it isn't worth working with any level of government. They don't understand...
When my grandchildren ask me, in decades to come, “What did you do when the human race was becoming crazy with consumerism, destroying pristine environments, forgetting the old ways and worshipping money…?” I feel proud that I can tell them that I did what my heart told me to... Within the capacity of my roles as a mother, a gardener, an educator, a friend, a volunteer, a writer, a citizen – I shared ideas, and I encouraged action. As much as I could, I always walked the talk.
What will you tell your grandchildren?
(Next time I post, I will continue with the organisation topics as promised!)
Tuesday, 30 August 2011
Who would have thought that when I began to make my Clay Cob oven that I would create such a sense of community? Well I certainly didn't realise the "power of the cob", but now I do!
Over the last 4 weekends, I have been entirely focusing on building this alternative type of oven in which we will bake pizza, bread, roast meat and just about anything else you can cook in an indoor oven. Yet I failed to realise at the time, that the building process has brought many people together, and has made them talk, joke and laugh. This is all before we have even cooked the first meal in it. It has built a stronger sense of community!
So far, over 14 people other than myself have worked on the oven, learning how to build a clay cob oven, and just enjoying getting their hands dirty with a bit of sand and clay. I kept telling them that it was great at exfoliating as a joke, but so many people mentioned that their hands felt so much softer after a few hours lugging, moulding, and smoothing the cob. I smile inside when I reflect back on the joy on the helpers faces and the conversations we had during each subsequent layer. It just goes to show that if you make work fun, then not only does it progress quickly, but lasting, happy memories are built as well.
Have you ever had a project that friends and family have been involved with, that have become more than the project itself or helped to build a sense of community? I would love to hear about them if you have experience the same effect.
Thursday, 4 August 2011
from Spiral Garden
Something which keeps popping up for me in conversations and community work lately is the term 'reskilling'. And I see it's now part of our new header banner here at the Co-Op blog!
Reskilling is "re-learning the skills that our grandparents took for granted, such as how to use hand tools, how to build our own structures, how to mend and make clothing, how to make our own medicine, how to forage, grow, preserve and store our food."
Rob Hopkins, founder of the Transition Town movement
The Great Reskilling refers to how society-at-large will be affected by Peak Oil, Climate Change and Economic Crisis in the coming decase or so.
When considering topics for our local Simply Living Workshops, we first identified the people within our community who have these 'old skills'. We then went about planning our workshop series, which includes:
growing food, including climate-specific workshops
storing and preserving food, including lacto-fermentation
sourdough bread baking
weaving and fibre crafts
alternative building and energy
fermented dairy products
animal husbandry - general
raising and using livestock - from hoof to horn
horse care - basic
Which skills have you learned since reading this blog, or otherwise researching simple living? Which skills do you think we need to add to our list above?
Monday, 1 August 2011
I have long held the belief that a simple, frugal and green life isn't about following a script or ticking off certain things on a list. A simple life in the country isn't so simple if you spend your time yelling, constantly bargain hunting or feeding a tv addiction. A simple life doesn't mean you have to keep pigs and bees or make every single meal from scratch. A simple life doesn't mean you can't work. Instead I view the simple life as a paradigm and a lense by which I view the world; a fundamental belief in focusing on the most important things, seeking to find balance in all I do and living by the principals "less is more" and "living simply so others may simply live".
Lately all around me colleagues and friends have been talking about what is important to them, a few even mentioned the term sell out. You see many of them thought in their early 20's that they would make "good choices" (that is their term, I certainly am not value judging their choices as good or bad) but as their lives have developed through their late 20's and 30's they really haven't decided to stick to those "good choices" they once thought they would live by. I spent the last week listening to their examples, some of which were:
- Deciding to commute for 2 hours to work so they could have the "biggest bang for their buck" aka the biggest square footage house
- Not buying free-range or organic meat or dairy because they don't care anymore about animal welfare (this person was very pro responsible farming in her late teens)
- Not taking the option of a 4 day work week after returning from parental leave because that extra day is a weekend in Las Vagas every year.
- Never hanging clothes to dry because it would take an extra 10 minutes and interrupt precious facebook time
- Feeding the family hot dogs, boxed pizza and boxed macaroni & cheese almost every night because that is what is quickest and after 10 hours outside the home, no one has the energy to cook
- Admitting they see less than 10 hours a week of their 4 and 2 year old because with an 11 day work day 5 days/week and a love of bargain/frugal shopping (thus visiting 5 different shops on Saturdays and often nipping to the US for the real sales) the grandparents pick up the grandchildren from daycare Friday afternoon and keep them until Sunday morning. This was a hard one for this friend to admit because while suffering from infertility they swore time with their children would always come first, now they have 2 very good careers, a very large house they just totally renovated and only see their children Sundays.
- Being scared to go without because their friends are richer than they are.
- Becoming so obsessed (their words) with paying off their mortgage, buying a second and third home to rent out and retiring at 55 that they are not really living now
- Throwing away anything with a tear/needing a new button and buying new
As I have listened to these conversations, I have tried not to make any value laden statements but did occasionally ask "so if you know, would you change anything", I further asked one "would you now go to work 4 days a week so you can do the things that used to be important to you and simply shop/eat out less". What was really interesting to me, is that no one said they wanted to change a thing. One, a top city lawyer married to another top city lawyer, who eat out 20x a week and admits they don't see their children at all between Mon-Fri said "nope, I'm a proud sell out - I want as much as I can have for as little as I can get it for, we're not interested in having less money, we want more money". I smiled and pondered those words, asking myself what I can learn from their experiences, choices and definition of happiness/selling-out.
What is interesting to me, is in my experience, the older I get the less I want to "sell-out" and the more comfortable I am going without what most people view as a necessity. It took fostering four very broken and traumatized children to help me see there was another life waiting patiently for me to embrace; they taught me there is so much more to life than work, stuff, money and materialism. And while I don't really have any friends in real life who live like I do (although I am blessed to have one friend on either side of the Atlantic who are at the beginning of their simple living journey!) hearing these friends and co-workers yearn for more money and not desire to change anything about their current circumstances, made me very thankful for places like this co-op, the readers of my own blog, Rhonda's blog and the myriad of others which remind me daily that each day I will face choices, those choices bring me closer to the values I hold or further away. While I do aim to be careful about how much time I spend online, I do feel a bit of a haven in what I choose to read in this amazing place. It was that haven that helped me stick to my choice not to attend a friend's wedding and your words gave me the confidence to stick to my conviction when the bride expressed her anger.
Through my own learning this past month (both from the wedding and the new life that awaits me, as well as conversations with those who live so differently to myself) I've come to a place of both certainty I'm on the right path and also grace - grace in deciding I don't have to be perfect or do things exactly like other simple life followers. I've come to realize if we embrace the simple life as a lifestyle choice, then we are probably all doing the best we can, sometimes under extra-ordinary circumstances and most often without people around us to commiserate or encourage. I've come to accept this path will often be lonely. And maybe when it comes to a simple, frugal and green life, that is OK. Maybe as long as we hold onto that value and don't allow ourselves to totally "sell-out", then our anchor will at the very least keep us grounded through the seasons where being simple, green and frugal is more challenging. Like my current season of vermicomposting - and it failing time and time again. Yes, it may be easier to throw in the towel like many people and not bother with spending more time trying to "do good" but since when is the right choice the easy choice. And by heck, one day I'll get that worm compost system right!
My own personal goal this week is to write a list of things I'm not willing to compromise on, as I begin a brand new and exciting chapter in my life, maybe it will serve as a reminder to hold onto what is most important and leave the rest behind! Because the truth is, whether people see it or not, there is a cost to selling out - a cost to ourselves, our families, those we love, our community, our environment and future generations. By focusing on the most important things, I hope to avoid the real cost associated with selling out and instead reap the rewards of a slower, more balanced, person/community centered path. And suddenly I'm reminded of the tortoise and the hare. And now I can firmly, without a shadow of a doubt, say I'm the tortoise, how about you?
Have a happy, simple, frugal and green week, filled with choices which represent the real you !
Thursday, 21 July 2011
From Spiral Garden
Our local LETS group has been leading a Transtion movement across our region over the past couple of years. At a recent film night event, we had a a discussion forum including a panel of representatives from LETS, Transition FNQ and ASPO, as well as Permaculture Cairns, Food Lovers Club, Seed Savers Up North and BioN Water Synergetics. Representatives from our regional council and local media also attended. We had an Indigenous elder give a Welcome to Country speech on behalf of the Ngadjon-jii people, telling about his childhood in Malanda.
The discussion was focused on transitioning our region through climate change, Peak Oil, food security and financial instability. Resilience and relocalisation were deemed the ideal outcomes.It doesn't seem to matter how many meetings and events we run, what sort of newsletters we publish or how much media attention we get... People seem to still need to be reminded as to HOW they can make changes.
Where we live, a possible pathway to these outcomes is working with our local council while they develop a community plan for the next 10 years. We can continue building community and making changes by sharing responsibility for the future of our region.
Some of the personal actions we can take to mitigate any effects of possible crises include:
- supporting our community currency – Tableland LETS
- growing your own food
- buying local wherever possible
- car pooling
- ensure your house uses as little power as possible
- talking to all your neighbours and friends about change
These actions will also save us money and create more secure communities. What other simple actions do you suggest, which people can take TODAY?
Friday, 27 May 2011
I know many of you are busy with work, home, and family. The last thing you need is something else on your calendar. Maybe you'd make time for something fun, but money is so tight right now it's tough to figure out what to cut in order to afford it. I'm going to recommend you look into event volunteer opportunities in your community.
Non-profit organizations have their regular staff and scheduled volunteers. If you have the time and inclination to commit to a weekly volunteer position, by all means go ahead. But this post is about having fun - cheap thrills. Those same non-profits probably put on an annual fun fundraising event or two. And they're often going to need extra volunteers for that. As folks that volunteer know, giving of your time to help others is reward enough in itself. But there are usually other perks for event volunteers.
Maybe it's just a t-shirt. But there's also the sense of camaraderie - the building of your community. Find groups or events that fit with your interests or objectives. I'm active in a local group that advocates for pedestrian and bicycle safety and access - more paths and trails within our community. As an informational outlet, plus as a service to the community, we staff a free bicycle valet booth at our Farmers Market throughout the summer. I've signed up for a couple of Saturdays that fit my schedule. And I love it! Usually, when I stop by the Market to shop, I've got other things on my mind - a whole list of things to do. But the couple of times I work it, I know I'll be there the whole morning. I treasure the time to visit with friends and neighbors I haven't seen in a while.
Or maybe it's some time to yourself - time to just be. I recently spent a Saturday morning working a fun run/bicycle event for kids. Most folks worked the sign-in and start, but I volunteered to work the turn-around spot for the 5K. I spent a quiet couple of hours with my music and a thermos of coffee, gazing out over a green pasture watching the sunlight play over the clouds and the mountains beyond, clapping and cheering on each participant as they made it up to my spot then started back.
But sometimes, volunteering earns even greater rewards. For lots of events, volunteering is the ticket to get in free; oft-times even a chance for some quality time with someone special. My sister and I both like music - together, we'll volunteer-usher concerts we want to see. I've signed up my husband and me to work the local Taste of Downtown event next month. Instead of paying $70, we'll work as greeters at the door at one of the restaurants for part of the time, then "taste" for free the rest of the time. We'll also be working a few evenings at the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare and summer concert series. Since we always volunteer to work both before and afterwards, we get a meal too - gourmet dinner for two and a show under the stars. Date night, free! What's on your schedule?
Sunday, 3 April 2011
With Easter coming up, you might be thinking about dying some eggs for your family. But what if you'd like to host an Easter egg hunt for the whole town? Here's a post from my blog how to go about it:
My fingers are orange. I've been dying Easter eggs. I've been dying a LOT of Easter eggs. Sixty-three cases, holding 24 dozen each, equals 18,144 eggs; plus the 2,000 plastic eggs we filled with candy, and a select few more with vouchers for bigger prizes.
Those whose egg dying exploits are limited to a household dozen or so might be curious about procedures for Easter egg production on such a scale. First, you send out a plea to the community for helpers on the Saturday before Easter. Find an egg source, and some sort of refrigerated space. Then, figure out how you're going to hard-boil all those eggs. In years past, the Nevada National Guard has helped by bringing out their emergency response cooking vats to boil our vast quantities of eggs, but their services and personnel have been stretched too thin to help the past few years.
So, you ask the community to lend their deep-fat turkey fryers. I didn't count, but we probably had at least 15 lined up and cooking. Get the water simmering, and add lots of salt to keep any broken eggs from sticking to the rest of the batch. Make egg baskets out of chicken wire, two per cooker. Set up an unpacking station - taking the raw eggs out of the cartons and filling the baskets. Each basket holds five dozen eggs.
Start boiling. Cook each basket of eggs about 30 minutes. Normal cooking time at our altitude would be around 20 minutes, but adding that many eggs to the water cooled it down some, and no one wanted to take a chance with an undercooked egg breaking in a child's basket. The cooks would test-crack an egg to check doneness, so there were plenty of eggs for snacking. In the meantime, get your hot dog crew to start setting up - these volunteers are gonna want some lunch soon. Having a beautiful spring day for an undertaking of this size is a definite plus.
Set up your dye vats with cool water and plenty of vinegar. We use food coloring dye by the pint and vinegar by the gallon. Do your primary-color dye batches - red, green, yellow, and blue - first. When you have enough of those colors start some mixed and diluted batches to get orange, purple, apricot, pink, and yellow-green.
Dip and dunk and swirl and tip the baskets of hot eggs in the dye until the dye chiefs are satisfied with the color. Take the eggs over to the packing station and dump them (carefully!) into that color's tub. If you're working this station, an old shirt and latex gloves are a necessity - those folks are very colorful, to say the least. Repack the eggs into single-color cartons and pass them over to the people packing the cartons back into the cases, also labeled by color.
The cases are then wheeled over and packed back into a refrigerated truck, for delivery to the Sunday egg hunt the next day. Get more volunteers to scatter the eggs, line the kids up, and turn 'em loose!
Thursday, 17 March 2011
from Spiral Garden
Interested in joining this movement? It's not just goods which can be exchanged, services are equally swap-able. Here is just a sample of the initiatives thriving worldwide right now -
A to Z Barter
Community Exchange System
Friends with Things
Urban Garden Share
And don't forget local city libraries and toy libraries, seed bank groups, community gardens and textbook exchanges. Do you know of a fantastic collaborative consumption opportunity? Please share a link in the Comments section!
Sunday, 14 November 2010
Readers of my personal blog will know that its been a very busy few months here for me. I'm at the final stages of closing a major chapter in my life and starting a new one. I'll be moving soon!
And as with any endings and beginnings, I can't help but reflect over the good and the bad of the last 15+ years.
One of the things I'm going to miss is my neighbourhood. For outsiders, this may seem very strange. At first glance, my neighbourhood seems to be an eclectic mix of very UNlike-minded people. We all lead very different lives and have very different outlooks. I am the only person in my community who is committed to ethical to consumption and simple living.
And yet, I do belong and am supported by this community. Let me share with you an example of what happened only a few days ago...
One day, after work, I decided to mow my lawn...but my lawnmower wouldn't start. My neighbour noticed and came round. With a bit of tinkering he figured out what was wrong and it finally started.
...so I started to mow my lawn. And 5 mins later, I hear another noise of another lawnmower...the neighbour who helped me start mine has gotten his lawn mower out and was mowing the other end of my lawn (I have a VERY big front lawn).
And with 2 mowers going we finish the yard in record time...and we notice that our other neighbours' lawns were also unmown....
So we took both our mowers across the road and we mowed their lawns. And when we finished that in record time, we then took it to the next house and mowed the front lawn there too. And while we were doing that, his wife came round and got my kids weeding parts of mine and her gardens so I can continue mowing other people's lawns.
Then it got dark, so we trudged back to my place and enjoyed a couple of glasses of wine.
The next day, I come home from work and I noticed that another garden bed of mine had been weeded...the neighbours who's lawns we mowed finished the job of weeding our gardens for us.
And that's my community...they may not believe in simple living or ethical consumption - indeed, we often (good-naturedly) clash on these topics (and others including religion, politics and most contentious of all...home and garden decor :P).
However, I have since learned how far a bit of kindness, generosity, tolerance and a sense of humour can go in building a community with people who are very different from me. They may not live the same kind of life as I do, but they still help me live that life.
So as I prepare to leave this community, I can only hold on to those same community building values and hope that my new neighbourhood will one day, also be my community.
I hope you are all having a wonderful weekend.
Friday, 21 May 2010
Living the Frugal Life
My mother and her four siblings have regular get-togethers that really work for them. Each of the five siblings, who are spread over four states in the northeastern part of the US, hosts all the others and their spouses once per year for what they call a work weekend. This tradition was instituted about twelve years ago, and began as a "sisters' cleaning weekend." That was just my mom and her sisters, pitching in together to tackle some of the biggest and most tedious house cleaning chores. But then one of my uncles caught wind of this and wanted to know why he hadn't been included. Thus the work weekends were launched.
The way it works is that all the siblings and spouses show up at one sibling's home on Friday night. The host sibling puts everyone up, feeds them for the weekend, and creates a list of projects to be accomplished. It's very much to the host's benefit to be organized in terms of having on hand whatever tools or materials will be needed for the work weekend, otherwise a run to the hardware store might interrupt work. Everyone pitches in for a full day on Saturday, and a half day on Sunday, so that everyone can get home at a reasonable hour. (Some of them have very long drives.)
The thing that's so neat about this family tradition is that it has really brought them all together, five times per year, and the visits are now enjoyable for everyone. Previous family get-togethers had tended to be contentious if not acrimonious. Having productive work to do together has really changed the family dynamic in profound ways. My mother's family are all hard workers too. So although it is a lot of work for the hosting sibling in terms of organization and accommodation, an amazing amount can be accomplished in a very short time.
The projects that my parents, aunts and uncles have worked on over the years are remarkably diverse: bathroom renovation, staining a deck, window cleaning, kitchen cabinet cleaning, breaking turf for a new garden, planting fruit trees, stripping and painting furniture, building raised beds in a garden, installing a fence, repointing a brick chimney, building a deck or shed, clearing brush, chopping firewood - you name it, they've done it. After a hard day's work, there's always dinner and dessert, which are usually excellent because most of my mom's family are very good cooks. Nickel-dime-quarter poker always follows dinner, and there's usually six or seven of us around the table. Yes, I turn up for the poker whenever I can, even if I miss the work!
Because you see, although my cousins and I turn up at some weekends and pitch in, the generational divide has been made very clear to us. We're on our own for work weekends. Our parents have their yearly schedule, and they're not going to commit to travel and work for my generation. Which is fair enough.
Though I've tried a few times to interest my cousins in organizing a work weekend exchange, it just doesn't seem to be the right time. Most of my cousins now have small children, and traveling the distances that separate us would be burdensome for them. It's not the same time of life that our parents started their work weekends; they waited until their kids were out of the house. So instead, I've arranged a work weekend exchange this year with three local friends who are interested. We've modified my family's arrangement somewhat, because we're all local. No need to put anyone up for the night, and we've agreed that the host is only responsible for lunch, not breakfast or dinner. We're also only working for one full day out of each weekend. While the plan is to work on Saturdays, we decided that everyone would reserve the entire weekend, just in case of rain. The host can decide to take the rain date, and have everyone work on Sunday, or just organize a list of things that can be done indoors if it rains all weekend.
So far we've had one of the four work weekends, and it mostly involved window cleaning. My turn is this weekend though. On my agenda is adding a lot of compost to the garden beds, some weeding, and some lasagna mulching. The plan for lunch is to set out roast chicken, beans, brown rice, avocados, shredded cheese, sour cream, salsa, and warm tortillas so that everyone can roll their own burritos. A cheap, healthy meal that should keep my workers fueled. And yes, I know how much it pays to treat your work weekend participants right, so chocolate chip cookies will be on offer too. There will be beer for the end of the day as well.
I wanted to mention this tradition that I'm attempting to borrow from my own family, because I know what it's like to have great ambitions for projects and yet feel like it's impossible to find the time to get it all done. Work weekends require a commitment of organization, as well as the obligation to work as hard for others as we do for ourselves. But I've seen first hand how much of a difference working together can make - not only how much gets accomplished in very little time, but also how working together knits relationships more densely together as well. The old saying is that many hands make light work. I've also seen that many hands working together over years and years have made my family much stronger, closer, more trusting, and more available for each other in bad times. We still crack jokes at each other's expense. There's still drama and hurt feelings from time to time. But we know deep down - for certain - that we're there for each other as an extended family. And I'm not sure that would be true if not for the work weekends.
So I'm hopeful, going into my own first time hosting a work weekend. The participants in this case are friends and not family, not even close friends yet if I'm honest. I'd certainly love it if I could someday have a work weekend arrangement with my cousins. But I'd rather get started with friends who may someday become as close as family than wait for my cousins' kids to all grow up. I might end up with chosen family out of the shared work.
Does your family have any similar tradition? Could you commit to working hard several weekends out of the year if it meant a willing crew of workers were available to you once per year? What project would you most like to tackle on a work weekend?
Friday, 14 May 2010
Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden
I've mentioned LETS before, when describing some of the ways our family are attempting to connect with our community. Today I thought I'd share some more information, as I'm so excited about the growth and activity within our local system, which I've been co-ordinator of for two years this year.
A Local Exchange Trading System (LETS) is a non-profit community organisation. It lets ordinary people share skills, talents and resources using alternative currency.
Our LETS group
LETS in Australia
LETS Australia on Facebook
For our family, LETS is part of our everyday economy, as well as a means to enjoy little extras that we normally can't afford. Some of the things we've received recently include: two new ukeleles for my children, soap, furniture, horse riding, yoga classes, fishing gear, crockery, delivery of a washing machine, books, fresh produce, take-away food, phone credit, a crocheted rug, cleaning products, cheese, CDs, Italian lessons for my teenagers and stock for Spiral Garden (my business). And some of the things we've offered include: macadamias, plants, vegetables, eggs, Spiral Garden products, books and magazines, tutoring, garden labour, outgrown toys, cow manure and preserves.
LETS increases our family income by the equivalent of over $2000 per year, and that amount grows as our local system does. Could you use some extra income, without the commitment of more working hours? Perhaps LETS can work for you, too.