Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Things 6, 7 and 8

Almost immediately after my last post, I realized that I'd lied. Really it was six things, if I included the pair of sandals at right, (except in red, of course). Super comfy, make me feel like I'm 8 again, walking through the world with nary a care. They should last me forever, or at least a long time...

I don't think I've opened the floodgates or anything, but I did order Things 7 and 8 last night, used from Amazon. Since I'm re-reading Dune (again) and really thoroughly enjoying it, I've realized how big a science-fiction geek I really am. And what a thoroughly under-read science-fiction geek I am.

So on their way to me, are a primo 1972 edition of Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs -- which doesn't seem like science fiction, but is -- and War of the Words by H. G. Wells. Can't wait to get these and eat them up with my eyes. Each book, including shipping, about $10.

The not-shopping is still going well. Actually, as I continue along with this, I think it's less about the not-shop that it is about the thought-shop. Still working on it...

Monday, July 28, 2008

The five things I've bought since Mexico

When we got back from Mexico at the beginning of June, I was all shopped out. I was overwhelmed by possessions after being on retreat and living out of a suitcase for a couple of weeks. Plus, I felt like I'd spent a lot of money on the vacation and it was time to reel things in. I declared a total moratorium on shopping through the end of the month. That's through the end of June, just a couple of weeks.

The interesting thing is that once I got out of the habit of buying stuff, it's gotten harder and harder to spend money on stuff. Just not that into it.

Since we got back, I've bought all of 5 things. This may not interest anyone but me, but I think it's fascinating that I can actually count them. Before this hiatus on the spendies, I couldn't count the number of times I cracked my wallet and purchased more stuff.

For the record, here're my five things:

1. replacement brushes for the robot-vacuum. Love the Roomba!
2. the SodaClub soda maker.
3. a new stainless steel water bottle, from a Canadian company, cool shape.
4. two magazines, InStyle and Yoga Journal (counting these two as one item).
5. a pair of yoga pants.

I could tell a story about each one of them, but will confine myself to two. The soda maker RULES, since now I'm not buying imported bubbly water in glass bottles (ridiculous to ship water from Italy) and can have bubbly water from the tap. Genius! The yoga pants I felt I had to buy since my stupid new stainless steel bottle (#3 above, not so crazy about it now) leaked all over the pants I'd brought to wear to yoga. Seriously, those wet pants were ridiculous.

So two thoughts I'm having about all this. Shopping -- the endless hunt for new stuff -- is a self-reinforcing habit. When you stop doing it, the taste for it fades. Maybe that's what it's like to give up sugar (I am so not going there). Thought #2 is that for years, we didn't have anything, no money, no ease, no basics. So for the past couple of years, now that we have some money & ease, I've been responding to the lack of scarcity by accumulating stuff. And now that I've been at the accumulation for a couple of years, woah, I feel oppressed by it and need to stop. But damn it if it isn't whole lot easier to stop buying stuff when you suddenly realize that you have everything.

It's not as though I've become ascetic in any way. We have seen plenty of movies and eaten delicious food in restaurants on many occasions since the End of Shopping As I Knew It began. But what I love about those expenditures is that they're just experiences, not things. They are just time and taste buds and the company of friends. So much more satisfying than a bunch of new stuff.

Friday, July 25, 2008

On the other hand,

If it weren't for these two, I don't know what I'd do.

Presenting: a little Garage Sale Rock & Roll, keeping me laughing even now...


I think I wrote earlier that this is the year of balance for me. An interesting outcome of my finding-center/finding balance orientation is the huge shifts that are coming out of it. First clarity, then ease, then a gentle rancorless flow into change. The change can be enormous and risky and yet feel completely natural, the next logical step in the progression...

I took a lot of heat last night from various parties (who shall remain nameless), about having become a complete and utter stereotype, with small exceptions. Here's my list of perceived faults:

- Prius driver
- compounded by the Obama sticker on the back
- practitioner of yoga
- eater of organic food
- inhabitant of Marin County

Apparently, I get some points for tattoos, but not enough to lift me out of the particularly shameful demographic I now represent. Another saving grace is my continued consumption of animal products. If I were vegan, I'd be completely f*ed.

Apparently, I have lost my edge.

Which means, strangely enough, that I have succeeded.

The edge was such a defining point for so long, and yet such a totally artificial and silly construct. And I fully recognize how absurd the combination of labels above can look, at the same time that I recognize how meaningless they are, given who I am inside, where I come from, how my mind works. Sure, dismiss me -- soft, Marin County do-gooder -- that's fine with me. All of what I'm doing feels absolutely natural to me, easy, rancorless.

I'm happier now than I've ever been. Think maybe it has something to do with losing the edge?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Caring isn't enough, be willing to change

These two things may not be related, but just 'cause it suits me I'm going to pretend they are. My parents got back yesterday morning from an Alaskan cruise. My mother told the story last night of a canoe paddle they took to a glacier, which has apparently receded tremendously in the past couple of years. She and my father were so impressed by the size of the glacier and yet shocked at how far it had receded. That damn global warming.

It seems like in the very next breath, we were talking about hybrid cars, how they're going to sell my father's car since he can no longer see well enough to drive, and trade my mother's car in for a hybrid. So of course I had to brag about my current gas mileage (49.3) and how I've gotten there.

Just repeating the lesson from the last post: the good gas mileage requires recalibrating your driving techniques, going slower, trading in Speed Racer for pokey, Sunday smell-the-flowers driver. To illustrate it to my parents last night, I said you had to be willing to drive in the right-most lane up Waldo Grade.

Oh no, my mother responded immediately, I can't possibly drive in the right lane up that hill. No way. I used to have to when we had that goddamn Volkswagen Camper, but no way, not anymore...

Which has made me reflect on something that of course I already knew, that we all already know, but bears remembering.

It just isn't enough to care about how shitty things are, to talk about global warming, or to buy stuff or a car that will have less impact. We need to go farther than that and be willing to change our personal habits. Buying and driving the hybrid car -- ok, that's great, it definitely reduces impact, but it's just the tip of the iceberg (so to speak). Why is it important to have an identity as a person who drives fast, who is zippy, has umph? I suffer from this too (check out my coffee addiction, and nostalgia for the brief period during which I was hyperthyroid).

We have to be willing to make what might seem like personal sacrifices -- give up the zippy frame of reference, quit buying so much crap, focus on what matters inside. Seriously, it's so much better for all of us, on the inside and the outside, right this minute and for the future, to make the more significant, personal change to slow down, slow down, slow down.

Sure, buy the car, then take that impact and expand it out bigger.

Monday, July 14, 2008

It's a crappy picture, but makes a point

I had to pull over to take this photo with my phone - which explains its crappiness. I was delighted by the symmetry: an average of 49.2 miles per gallon, and 492 miles to that particular tank-full of gas. By the time I filled up later that day, I had driven 500+ miles since my last visit to the gas station.

The good news, I suppose, is that
I have really improved my gas mileage in the Prius. I learned some tips from Rochelle and Steve on how to go farther on less -- essentially the tips boil down to: drive like a granny, be willing to be annoying. I am obsessed with the power meter, and coast wherever possible, give it only as much gas it required to run off the battery.

More good news is that compared to a "regular" car that gets something like 20 miles to the gallon, over the 500 miles I drove I emitted far less carbon dioxide. Thanks to the carbon footprint calculator on, I know that rather than 500 pounds of CO2, my driving released "only" 208 into the atmosphere.

But it's pretty hard to feel great about 208 pounds of CO2 or 500 miles in just a week and a half. :(

Clearly something needs to change!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

5 Weekly Gallons of the Good Stuff

A cool little combination cafe-bike store opened up in our neighborhood recently (* The owner is a local guy who also coaches the Terra Linda High mountain bike team. We went over there initially a few months ago just to check it out and were blown away by how cool the spot is. It's a funny little corner between the 7-11 and the laundromat that used to house a video rental store (VHS and Beta, way before DVDs), then a mail-order spice business. Bikes and Beans is our favorite use of the space by far.

The day we first checked the place out I asked if I could have the coffee grounds. So now we pick up a 5-gallon bucket a week of used espresso and drip. It's become a new ritual of our Sunday afternoons, and has had the very beneficial effect of driving us to yard-work for a couple of hours.

Here's how it works. I get home from yoga, Joe from his ride; we grab the dog, the clean bucket and our coffee cups and stroll to the corner. Justin brews us up some delicious coffee (from De La Paz Coffee in San Francisco, www., yum!) and we swap out the full bucket for the empty one, then make our way home. I sit on the stoop, drink coffee and get the used coffee ready for prime-time: with both hands, crushing the espresso pods, dumping out and shredding the paper filters. Meanwhile Joe's mowing the lawn or weeding or trimming. We flip the existing pile and layer in the coffee and new stuff, and generally marvel at the worms at the top of the pile, the heat at the center, and how much things have broken down since the last weekend. The apricots, for example, that we put in two weeks ago, are 100% gone. Love that!

There's so much about this activity that I love. There's the connection to the cafe, the elimination of the coffee from the waste stream and returning it to earth. There's the walking there with our coffee cups, and balancing everything + Jasper on our way back, and the meditative process of prepping the coffee for the pile. There's the amazing fragrance and heat of the pile as we turn it, the stages of decomposition we witness and the surprises like the baby praying mantis we pulled out of there today or the little alligator lizard hunting worms that we saw. It's such a simple little thing and so deeply, deeply satisfying.

And in a few months, we'll have gorgeous very coffee-looking soil to add back to our garden beds and feed the next season's crop of lettuce and flowers. When I asked for the coffee grounds, I only imagined it would be a great addition to our compost. What I ended up getting is a regular serving of peaceful simple pleasure every Sunday, a coffee high that I coast on for days.