Wednesday, October 24, 2012

How To Cook Your Life

Have you ever read a book or watched a movie that you liked the first time around, but the second time you came across it - that's when it spoke to you?

About a year and a half ago, Jay and I watched How To Cook Your Life, a documentary following Edward Espe Brown, a Zen Buddhist monk and chef, as he teaches people how to cook healthy food while nourishing their spirituality. Zen Master Dogen wrote a cookbook of the same name which  "taught that it is possible to discover Buddha in even the simplest of kitchen duties, such as washing rice or kneading dough, and so reflect on one’s own actions and behaviour in the world." At the time, I really liked it - Brown is an endearing, complex and funny character and the subject matter was interesting. What stuck with me after that first viewing is something he said when teaching his students in the film - "when you wash the rice, wash the rice" - essentially a cooking-related lesson in mindfulness and staying in the present.

Over the last several months, as we've made changes to our lifestyle and philosophy, we've noticed that certain things appear to be connected - where we read about permaculture, Zen philosophy often comes up. Take for example, One Straw Revolution, a must-read book for anyone interested in permaculture and organic gardening - many say that Zen beliefs are a central theme in Fukuoka's approach. Buddhism promotes compassion for each other as well as the Earth, less interference with nature, a focus on simple, healthy foods. Obviously, these are all ideas Jay and I can get on board with. Noticing this link between simplicity, permaculture and Buddhism, I decided to watch the movie again last night.

We found ourselves nodding throughout the show, agreeing with Espe Brown that our Western culture as it relates to food is totally out of whack. That we, in fact, have very little relationship to our food. That we are so focused on being on the go, on saving time, that we can't even be bothered to cook anymore. As he says in the movie, when you're cooking "your hands get to be hands again". Isn't that so true.

The film's focus on simple, organic food, preparing it with gratitude and mindfulness, wasting as little as possible, and slowing down enough to enjoy the fruits of your labour - how can you argue with that?

These are great lessons to take with you outside of the kitchen and into your life - be present, be mindful, respect each other and the Earth, value yourself enough to nourish your body and spirit rather than fill your body and mind with junk, enjoy simplicity, slow down. I think its possible to change how we think about food, about the earth, about our lives and I'm enjoying watching these little pieces fall into place in our own home and family - better food, less stuff, more time together, a mindful approach to life.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Fair trade fashion

The Minimalist Mom just did a great post on the real cost of cheap clothes. This has been a huge issue in our house - way too many cheap clothes, purchased on a whim only to languish in our closets unworn for years and then sheepishly stuffed in a bag and sent to live at Value Village or Goodwill.  Jay and I both have far too many clothes and are making a concerted effort to give things away and donate them. But that's only part of the problem - we need to buy less. More importantly, we need to buy less often, but higher quality. Higher quality and higher ethical standards.

Its no secret that most of what we in industrialized nations wear is made in developing countries in deplorable conditions, by people getting paid a pittance. Its shameful, and many of us pay lip service to the fact that such practices need to change, but we often feel that we have no choice. We want to stop supporting companies that don't engage in fair trade practices, but then what do we buy? Can we even afford ethically made clothing? And how do we know something really is fair trade?

After years of saying we wanted to change the way we buy clothes, Jay and I recently discussed the need to examine this issue. We really can't claim to be living a greener life if we don't at least try to change this rather large aspect of our spending. I'll admit, we feel a bit lost at this point but its something we are going to be looking into over the next little while.

Our first discovery has been clothes at MEC, a Canadian retailer with a commitment to sustainability, and we've purchased some lovely Canadian-made items for ourselves and the boys. We've been impressed with the quality and plan to make future purchases from them. Now, to find more ethical, sustainable, work-appropriate attire.

Are you mindful of where your clothes come from? Why or why not?Have you found any good-quality, work-appropriate clothing, preferably Canadian-made? Any recommendations?

Monday, October 15, 2012

I love kale, Mommy

Our journey towards a healthier, more sustainable, simpler life really began in conjunction with our parenting journey. Everyone tells you a child changes your life, and oh boy - does it ever. However, its not just the sleepless nights, the acute knowledge that this little person depends entirely on you for their very survival, or the realization that Friday nights are now often spent passed out on the couch at 9 pm from exhaustion rather than booze. For us, it highlighted the need for more conscious choices in every area of our life - how we spent our time, the food we choose to eat, the lessons we pass on to our babies.

We took on each new challenge as it came and luckily, we've been on the same page when it comes to how we want to raise our children - the examples we want to set, the way we shape how they spend their time, what we put on their plates.  It hasn't been easy - many, many people have looked at us like we're crazy because most of our choices have been somewhat unconventional. We've received criticism for everything from using cloth diapers, to sending our child to a Montessori school, to not taking him to McDonalds. By no means are we the most crunchy-granola parents - rather, we parent by instinct and common sense and eschew parenting labels and categories. However, we have done things differently than our parents did, and than many of our friends currently do. Its difficult not to wonder sometimes, are we doing this wrong? It feels right, but when others around you give you the ol' raised eyebrow and skeptical questions ("you don't give your baby baby food? You just give him, like, people food? Right away? Doesn't he CHOKE? Isn't that DANGEROUS?"), its hard not to be consumed with self-doubt.

Lately though, I've really started to see the effects of some of our choices and I'm so pleased. When my 3 year old says to me, "I LOVE kale, mommy", somehow I know that even though he will eventually eat at McDonalds and he'll have too much candy at Halloween, that the seeds have been sown for him to have a healthier life than many of his peers. He knows the names of vegetables and that they come from a garden. He watches me make yogurt and understands that it comes from milk, which comes from a cow. I can ask him to get me some basil from the garden and he knows where it is and how to pick it.  He tramps around with Jay in the garden, wearing his galoshes and begging to help water the plants, harvest the food, clean up the garden for the upcoming winter. He's proud when the food he helped grow and pick shows up on his plate. I believe this is why he is willing to try new tastes and flavors, even though he won't care for everything.

Its so gratifying to watch him grow up this way and to know that we've played a part in shaping his world-view. That we've filled his little body with good food and the knowledge that a healthy diet will make him grow strong. That not only has my choice to work outside of the home and send him to a Montessori school not damaged him, its helped him to thrive and develop a love of learning. By no means do we have this parenting gig figured out, and we certainly don't think our way is the "right" way for everyone. On the contrary, there are an infinite number of ways to parent. We are just so happy to see the connections our big little guy is making, particularly in understanding nature, food and the environment, and at the end of the day its nice to feel that you're doing something right. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

Earthship featured in the Globe and Mail

Earthship article

Jay and I were so excited to read this article today in the Globe and Mail, featuring a couple just a few hours from us who are building their Earthship with their own two hands. Its so amazing to see this form of sustainable building flourishing in Canada and we hope to join the ranks of those who've built their own Earthship in a few short years!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

It's coming along..

Five months post-move, and the dust is finally beginning to settle. Literally, some weeks. (Two kids is buuuusy). I am so proud of how much we've been able to simplify; we've gotten rid of so much excess in the last few months. Although we still have a long way to go, I'm happy to be living with less (still too much, but less than before) and our environment is more peaceful because of it.

Here's what we've done so far:

 Reorganized and streamlined the pantry. 

In an effort to get rid of food we don't often use, and also in a bid to improve our health, I recently gave away a ton of pantry items to friends and family who can put them to better use.

Held a garage sale.

It wasn't a total flop but we didn't exactly make a killing, either. We did get rid of a few things and Jay took the rest directly to Value Village. You can almost see the garage floor now!

Cleaned out the closets.

It was a ruthless cull, and it continues. I try to re-evaluate each item that I come across in my wardrobe and be brutally honest about its usefulness. If I haven't worn it the next time I come across it, I donate it. I think this ongoing process is important - there's so many things I've hung on to the first time I went through the closet that I look at again later and realize its not actually that important to me.

Organized toys and started a toy rotation.

We reorganized our playroom storage so that the room itself is much less cluttered. There's more play space and less "stuff" cluttering it. There are three large bins in the garage with toys that weren't seeing any action. In a few months, I'll rotate a few items in and some out - whatever doesn't get use then will be donated.

Ruthlessly reduced the baby clothes collection.

We are still undecided about having a third baby, so we decided to keep our favorite items and sell or donate the rest. The clothes that our older son has outgrown are in labelled containers in the closet under the stairs - I allocated one bin per size and that was it. Everything else had to go. You'd be shocked to see how much we had, I know I was.

Despite still having way, way too much stuff, I can finally see a light at the end of the tunnel. Its much easier to clean and stay organized and this house is really starting to feel like our home. I love the feeling of peace that comes from a decluttered space. And now the challenge is to keep it this way.