Friday, March 30, 2012

Packing a Lunch

I packed a lunch today.

I packed a lunch yesterday.

I will very likely pack a lunch tomorrow.

I don't do anything fancy, usually just a sandwich with some kind of lunch meat and cheese -- ham or turkey and Swiss or American, roast beef and cheddar, garlic bologna and American -- usually with a leaf of lettuce, or a piece of fresh fruit on the side.

I pack my drinks, too.  I make a fruit punch with 3 cups each orange and grape juices, 1 cup seltzer water, and 8 cups filtered water.  I also make lemonade with 2/3 cup lemon juice, 2 teaspoons xylitol, 2 packets stevia, 4 tablespoons of organic sugar, and 7 cups water.  I freeze them in plastic drink bottles filled 80% full.  I'll pull one out and put it in my insulated lunch box the night before if I'm working in the morning or in the morning if I work in the evening.  The other I'll put in right before going to work.  That way I have one ready to drink right away, and the other stays cold the entire day.

Why am I telling you this?  In part this is a response to Joel Caris's blog post on irrationality in food choices.  In the office where I work we frequently don't have time to go get lunch.  In previous years I would get so hungry I would just grab something from the vending machine.  Consequently, I would always gain weight during our busy season.  This year, in part by making sure I have something relatively good to eat when I do get hungry, I am actually losing weight (and not spending nearly as much on junk food).

Packing a lunch is a simple act, but it makes us look forward and gets us in the habit of preparing for the future.  We are much better able to resist temptations if we have made allowances for our needs beforehand.

The Ascent will be Long, pack a lunch.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Garden Path

And Jehovah God planted a garden eastward, in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground made Jehovah God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil....  And Jehovah God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.  Genesis 2:8-9,15 (ASV)

The vernal equinox last Tuesday marked the official beginning of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere.  For me, this represents the beginning of the gardening season.

I have been an avid gardener for a very long time.  When I was growing up, my father has a very large garden on the east end of our property.  For a couple years the neighbor brought his tractor down and plowed it up in exchange for the use of the field on top of the hill on the south side of the house.  Probably my earliest memory of a garden is hopping from one big clod to another in the freshly plowed garden.

It wasn't too many years later I actively became involved.  Gurney's had a one-cent seed packet for kids.  (Alas, I don't see it in their catalog anymore.)  It was a huge collection of all different kinds of vegetables and flowers.  With that variety, something was guaranteed to grow.  In my case, I had a lot of success with some kind of black bean.  I grew it for several years in a row, until I had a honey jar filled with them.  It would not surprise me if it is still in my parent's house somewhere.  (I wonder if they would still germinate.)

My next foray into gardening came after reading Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholemew.  (If you've never gardened before, I highly recommend it and its successor, All New Square Foot Gardening, which has 10 major improvements.)  Coming home for the summer from college, I thoroughly enjoyed putting together square beds with concrete blocks salvaged from an old basement on the property.  I did enjoy some successes and had a number of learning opportunities.

Shortly afterwards I learned about John Jeavons Ecology Action and his biointensive methods.  I especially like his perspective on grains and compost crops.  I started developing my own variety of rye specifically to use its straw as a mulch.

Around the same time, I entered the Master of Science in Sustainable Systems program at Slippery Rock University.  During my second semester there I took the Permaculture Design Course.  I have been using those principles on my property ever since.

This year I'm coming full circle.  I am taking the correspondence course for teaching Square Foot Gardening, and I've been making boxes and mixing soil accordingly. I wholeheartedly agree with Dorothy Frances Gurney's sentiment:

The kiss of the sun for pardon,
The song of the birds for mirth,--
One is nearer God's heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on earth.

You don't need to enjoying gardening on the Long Ascent, but you'll be better off if you're close to and with someone who does.

Friday, March 16, 2012

There's Always Room For Beer

As we prepare for Saint Patrick's Day, I'd like to share one of my favorite jokes with you:


A philosophy professor set an empty jar on his desk in front of the class.

He proceeded to take a few large rocks and put them in the jar until they reached the top.

He asked the class, "Is this jar full?"  The class all agreed, the jar was full.

Then he poured in some small stones.  Again, he kept putting them in until they reached the top of the jar.

He asked the class again, "Is this jar full?"  The class all agreed, the jar was full.

Then he took some sand and carefully poured it in and shook it up until the sand had filled in all the spaces between the rocks and the stones.

He asked the class a final time, "Is this jar full?"  The class all agreed, the jar was full.

He explained, "This jar is like your life. The large rocks are the most important things in your life, like your job and your family.  You can fill up your life with just those.  The small stones are like your dear friends; they, too, can fill up your life.  The sand is like your hobbies and other interests; they will also fill up your life."

He asked, "So, class, what lesson did you learn?"  One student raised his hand, and the professor called on him.  The student came to the front of the class, pulled a beer out of his pocket, and poured it into the jar.  Then he exclaimed, "There's always room for beer!"


The jar, like our lives, is always full.  All that matters is how we fill it.  If we filled it with beer or sand first, there will be no room for stones or rocks.  On the Long Ascent we need to make sure we make room for what is most important to us first.

Friday, March 9, 2012

My YouTube

Today I posted my first video to YouTube, on Winter Blackberry Care.  Honestly, the production values are not that great.  If you do have blackberries or other brambles, though, you may find watching it worth your while.

My primary interest in mentioning that here is not self-promotion, however.  (It does come in a respectable second, though).   I more want to comment on an interesting developing phenomemon. While there is a lot of silliness being posted to YouTube, more and more serious offerings are showing up there: how-to's, political commentary, financial advice, to name a few.

What makes this interesting is the ease of putting stuff out there.  I spent $40 for the camera, $9 for the SD card, and a few dollars for the batteries.  After a few minutes of filming and a little over an hour to upload, my video is out there for everyone to see.  That level of access is relatively unprecedented.

There is a dark side to all this, too.  I could have given all the same basic information in under a page of text, which would have only taken up a few kilobytes.  If I wanted to be fancier, adding a few good pictures could have told all the details you can get from watching the video, at a cost of a couple megabytes at most.  As a video, however, I uploaded over 300 megabytes (though I presume YouTube compressed it for download.)

Not only does the video take up more room, it is much harder to store it.  As far as I know, there is no legitimate way to download the video from YouTube.  Printing it out would also prove very difficult.  If the information was presented in a text or PDF file, downloading and printing could both be fairly easy.

Of course this also means if you don't have access to the Internet, you don't have access to this information.  While the Internet itself was supposedly designed to withstand a nuclear war, I'm sure there would be nowhere near the ease of connecting as there is today.  For my little piece of gardening advice, that hardly matters.  But if more and more people start relying on knowledge from the Internet, especially in the form of videos, there is the potential for great loss.

We can use technology on the Long Ascent, but we need to ask ourselves whether it is appropriate and what would happen if it wasn't available.

Friday, March 2, 2012

A Multitude of Rs

Back in a simpler age, education was concerned with the three Rs: reading, 'riting, and 'rithmatic.  (Obviously, they weren't so concerned with spelling back then.)  The environmental movement came up with its own version of the 3 Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle.  It is a catchy phrase, but it has become trite.  People rarely think about what it actually means.  We need to carefully reconsider those 3, but in addition, I think several more are worth adding to that list.
  • Refuse

  • If someone tries to give you something you don't want, refuse it. Even something as simple as refusing a glass of water saves the several glasses worth of water and a little soap required to wash it.

  • Rethink

  • Before you consume something new, ask yourself if you really need it or if something else would work as well. A hyper-mileage car may be a good thing, but if you can do without any car, that is far better.

  • Reduce

  • If you do need to use something, see if you can use less of it.

  • Rent

  • If you are only going to use something occasionally, consider renting it. If you only have one week of vacation a year, why own a vacation home or even an RV when you can rent one instead?

  • Refill

  • Not so long ago, when drinks came in glass bottles, it was possible to get them refilled. You still do have the option to fill your own cup with coffee and fountain drinks at many coffee houses and convenience stores.

  • Reuse

  • Refilling bottles is an obvious way to reuse things, but other things can be used over and over even if they are normally thrown away after one use.

  • Repair

  • Usually things don't wear out all at once. As stuff becomes more costly to produce, if something is mostly working, fixing a small broken piece becomes more worthwhile.

  • Renew / Restore

  • Eventually things will wear down or age. When it is something that represents a major investment of materials and energy, like a house, it can be worthwhile to make it like new again.

  • Return

  • One of the problems with being a conservationist in a consumer society is that for many of these options, there are no economies of scale for the end user.  If we were to start returning stuff we have used up to where we bought it, they would have more incentive to deal with it properly.

  • Repurpose

  • This is basically reusing stuff, except it is for a different purpose than the original -- for example, using chopsticks for plant stakes.

  • Redesign

  • Once consumers start returning things they have used, companies will want to rethink how they make things.  Some examples are making things that are easy to disassemble or using standard parts that can be reused if they are still good.

  • Recycle

  • Breaking things down into their constituent materials and reusing them is not a bad option, but it is usually the last that should be considered.  Considerable time and energy has to be expended doing this -- granted, it still usually takes less than starting with virgin materials, but other options are better.

  • Regenerate

  • This is the ultimate goal.  Sustainability sounds like a good idea, but it is not enough.  All the other Rs help minimize the damage we do and keep things going as long as we can, but there is a limit to how much of that we can do.  Focusing on regenerating our resources and world we have degraded is what will propel us upward on the Long Ascent.