Sunday, March 24, 2019

Even a Housewife Needs a Vacation!

Looking northwest, Point Lobos Park

Looking  northwest, Point Lobos Park

On the trail at Big Sur State Park

Looking towards the Santa Lucia Range at the top of the trail.

Banana slug!

Controversy! Could be wild morning glory or a non native invasive monster!

I just got back from spending 3 days on the California coast, down in the Big Sur area. Big Sur is south of Monterey and Carmel, maybe about 30 miles or so. I was actually in a little spot called Lucia, about another 20 miles or so away and staying at a monastery! The place is called New Camoldoli Hermitage and the men who live there are Roman Catholic Monks. They run a retreat/hostel kind of place where people can come to do whatever they wish to do, in silence. It's a spot for religious contemplation of course but also a place where a person can be quiet for awhile. There is no available Internet, no television or radio, and no talking on the grounds. I live in a small rural area that I thought was quiet and not busy. Boy, was I wrong! This hermitage is the essence of quietness and non busyness. That is a good thing!

Anyway, while I was there, I went to a couple of spots to go hiking. The first place was Point Lobos State Reserve, as shown by the first  two shots above. I also popped in to Big Sur State Park (next 3 shots). While I love the ocean, I really, really love a good redwood forest. Big Sur State Park had everything that you might want: redwoods, chaparral, bay trees, manzanita, wildflowers, and banana slugs! When I got to the top of all of the switchbacks, where the bees and manzanita were, I could see 360 degrees all around. I saw the ocean and then turned to see the mountains. What a treat all in one go!

As I was hiking, I must have greeted and talked with at least two dozen or so people. I was heartened to see all sorts of folk-people of color, kids, older people and everyone else in between. Good news I think. I have to say too that this was possibly the most joyful hiking experience I have had to date. I can't remember feeling so connected to my fellow hikers and being so appreciative of my surroundings. I think sometimes you are simply in sync with what is happening around you. And thank goodness for that. 

Before I left on my trip, my friend (and hairdresser) asked me why I was going; what I hoped to get out of the vacation. I honestly couldn't answer her. I didn't have a real agenda other than to be able to pry myself out of my routine and to go somewhere on my own, a place that I picked, and do something. I was kind of amused by staying with the monks and going to a service but that was it. I knew too that I wanted to hike, and I did that. Beyond those things, I didn't form any ideas of what might happen. 

What was the takeaway? I found that with the silence I was able to think a bit (big surprise that the Internet sucks up your thinking time and makes a bunch of mental noise) and to actually hear myself for once. I was able to do some personal writing which helped. I was also able to answer the question of what I was doing. I think that over time, a person can stop paying attention to themselves; can stop taking in new things that add to their own personal experiences. Those new things are part of what "builds" a person. If you are just focused on being part of a group or couple, or focused on working or being on the Internet or whatever it is that has you twisted up, you might stop "feeding" yourself, so to speak. You might even get a little lost. And it's insidious. It sneaks up on you. You might think that you are taking care to feed yourself well enough, but the truth is that you are probably falling short. You won't know it until it's a little later than you might like.

I will share one of the questions that I wrote down. Maybe it's one you might want to think about too? "How will I continue to form my own ideas about God and my place in the universe?" This question, it isn't small! It's worth considering. My answers had to do with openness and flexibility of thought. Keeping an open ended attitude towards both the new ideas of others and your own ideas is important. I think where many of us fall down is in our rigidity of thinking. How often have you stopped hearing someone because you thought you already "knew" about that subject? Or you stopped listening because you already had an opinion on something? I call this a general kind of resistance and frankly, I do it a lot. I don't mean to suggest that every kooky idea must be considered but you can at least stop yourself from totally shutting down and can then say, "Hey, wait a minute. What about that idea?" I think that in the long run, a willingness to consider something (even if it makes you uncomfortable or you suspect that it is flat out wrong) will create a kind of fullness in your life and that may in turn help you to form your own ideas and to see just exactly where it is that you fit in to the world.

All in all, I am just as pleased as punch that I went. I was able to make the drive which is no small feat considering the shoulder, neck and back pain that often plagues me. The weather was pretty great and there were plenty of wildflowers to check out. My room was spartan but serviceable, I had my quilt and electric blanket, enough to eat and lots to see. Not a bad trip for a housewife!

Alright, thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

On The Soap Box Again!

COACHELLA Reusable Produce Bags Washable (10-Pack) Heavy-Duty, Recycled Mesh Net Storage Totes for Fruits, Vegetables, Food | Ecofriendly Toy Bag, Zero Waste | Sale Compact, Portable Mesh Produce Bags

When did shopping become a struggle in decision making? Part of going vegan almost a year and a half ago has been adjusting my buying habits to reflect my evolving morals. Not wanting to eat animals or to exploit them for my own benefit has morphed into trying to do right in a general way; trying to live responsibly in the world at large. It's very difficult because each choice that is made that benefits me also comes at a detriment to some other living creature. It's a real pickle.

Most decisions are a mix of good and bad outcomes. For example, when we bought my car a while back, I asked the salesman if the car contained any animal products such as a leather steering wheel. (It does not so that's good.) But, a car runs on gas (we did not buy a hybrid car) and gas is a petroleum product which is a fossil fuel. Burning fossil fuels  harms our environment by contributing to pollution, global warming, and tearing up the landscape (which affects the creatures living on said landscape) to dig for that oil. 

Here is another example of a decision with a mixed outcome. Most of us realize that plastics, specifically plastic bags and bottles, are a serious issue. We have plastic garbage floating in our oceans and rivers, littering our landscapes, and piling up in our garbage dumps. This is indisputable. We are told to reduce, reuse and recycle. Great. Super. I can get behind that. With those concepts in mind, I purchased some mesh bags to use at the grocery store. One set is made of certified fairly traded organic cotton. The manufacturers claim that the product is compostable. The product is also made somewhere in China, likely in a factory that utilizes fossil fuels to power its operations, perhaps underpays its workers and which is massively polluting the environment. Not to mention the fact of the cotton fabric production itself and that impact on the environment. Oh, and by the way, these bags were shipped from China and arrived eventually at my house via a UPS truck. But, it's all good because I won't be using those pesky plastic bags anymore to buy my organic produce. Or will I? The second set of bags that I bought is made from recycled plastic bottles. That's a win right? Yes and no. The same problems exist for these recycled plastic bags as described for the cotton bags above. 

I could go on, really. What do you do as a consumer? How can you make a decision at all, let alone a "good" decision? My evolving solution to this problem involves both conscious choice and flexibility of thought. Essentially, a decision comes down to selecting the lesser of many evils. Each decision contains some benefits but ultimately will affect some living creature or the environment. Decisions are not made in a vacuum and are not made without consequence. Here then are some things to consider when deciding to buy a product.

1. Necessity:

Have I run out of this product yet or do I simply want to replace it? There are still Ziplock bags in my pantry. Do I recycle them and buy better bags or use up what I have? I chose to keep using the bags as long as possible, wash them and recycle them. Waste not want not right? I realize that this decision may or may not impact workers somewhere that manufacture these Ziplock bags as well as the companies that sell the bags. (I am trying not to focus on the water needed to wash the bags either.) The other question that falls into this category has to do with desire versus need. Do I just want something because I want it or is it really going to benefit our household? Deprivation sucks and honestly, sometimes you do just want something. But by and large, I try and ask if the item is really pertinent or can it wait to be purchased.

2. Human Impact:

With each purchase, who am I impacting? In a global economy, workers everywhere get paid to produce, repair, assemble, fix or maintain things. They grow our food, harvest it, package it up and get it shipped off. Workers in third world countries are often exploited. Many are not paid a fair or "living" wage and perhaps have no chance to live a better life.  When you choose not to buy something, you are affecting someone. Not buying a particular product, even if the production of that product harms someone, might eventually affect someone's employment status. On the other hand, we are told to be the change that we want to see in the world. If that's true, we should buy from companies that pay fair wages, treat their workers well, and minimally impact the environment. Not easy to do.

3. Impact To Other Living Beings:

On one hand, this decision is easy. I don't eat animal products so that is good. On the other hand, I benefit from animal exploitation, which is bad. Starting with the medicines that I take, the glue that holds my shoes together, and the animals that get killed when fields are plowed to grow my food, my choices have a tremendous impact on other living beings. It's inescapable. This is the one area that bothers me the most since animals cannot speak up, engage in collective bargaining or walk off the job if they are unhappy. What can be done while striving for a clearer conscience? Knowing that there are some things that I cannot bypass, I am going to try and continue to do a few things: make good, better and best choices when it comes to buying something; be informed; continue to learn about the impact of humans and non humans living together and be consciously aware of my decisions while being as honest as possible in my thinking. Continuing to learn and to be thankful for the sacrifice of those that can't speak up may be the only responses for now.

4. Impact To The Environment:

We live in a rural area, by choice, without much in the way of shopping options. A lot of what I buy for our household comes to us on a truck, a plane or a train. I see that UPS has some clean air vehicles, which is great, but by and large we are talking about the use of fossil fuels. My initial thoughts are that these trucks are already out on the road. By not getting in my car to drive somewhere to shop, I become one less person impacting the infrastructure. It's not always possible though to have everything I order come in one shipment or from one vendor. I then have to ask myself how badly do I need the item and can I make due with something else? Lately, I have been trying to ask these questions prior to each purchase. I don't always get it right but the point is to think and to ask.

Specific Examples: Things to try

Where can you start?  I have 10 ideas that I am currently working with. These are as good a place as any in which to begin the process of hopefully reducing impact.

1. Use cloth napkins and towels instead of paper towels and paper napkins. Also, substitute handkerchiefs for kleenex (old flannel sheets work nicely for this).
2. Try switching out your coffee: fair trade that doesn't impact orangutans, the rain forest or workers. You may have to pick your battle here.
3. Gradually switch out your makeup and other personal hygiene products. One  thing at a time.
4. Buy dairy locally if possible, including eggs if you eat them.
5. Re use existing plastic bags as much as possible and slowly replace with cloth, recycled plastic or glass containers.
6. Use up what you have first prior to replacing it.
7. Consider whether or not Costco fits with your goals. I'd like to ditch the place but my husband thinks otherwise.
8. Look specifically for products with minimal and recyclable packaging.
9. Try the library. It will help to keep this resource alive and viable and will also keep the volunteers busy.
10. Turn the lights off when you leave a room.

It all seems overwhelming doesn't it? Questioning each purchase requires conscious effort and as I mentioned above, flexibility in decision making is key. Accepting the imperfection of choice is critical to maintaining some sanity. It isn't an excuse to employ sloppy thinking but instead a call to be more educated and vigilant. I hope my decisions are supported by logic and reason (even if they may at times be a little illogical!) My final point is to remember to realize that any decisions I make will impact others. Even if I make the best decision available, someone or something is still going to be affected. Be grateful for options and be mindful of others. It's the best I can do.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Hiking: A Matter of Perspective

Mokelumne River as seen from Middle Bar Bridge
New Melones Reservoir, Table Mt hike, Jamestown, CA

Table Mt., Jamestown, CA

Lake Hogan, CA

Indian Warrior Princess, EBMUD trail
Valley Springs, CA
I haven't done a hiking post in awhile though I have been hiking. Winter and early Spring are the perfect times in my area for lower elevation hiking. The weather is just right for being outside: cool, high 40's to 50's, maybe some sun and clouds but more likely to be overcast. This year it has been particularly rainy so getting outside has been tricky. It pays to have a flexible schedule so that responding to the forecast is easy.

The first pic shows an area that I enjoy quite a bit, the Middle Bar section of the Mokelumne River watershed. There are several trails there that are challenging and which afford views of the river and the surrounding hillsides. The next two pics are from Table Mountain in Jamestown, about an hour or so away from me. The mountain formation is so distinctive and does indeed look like a tabletop. Once you get up there, the views are quite wonderful and include some of the peaks of Yosemite. The fourth shot sort of sums things up don't you think? And the last pic is from a walk on the Mokelumne Coast to Crest Trail in Valley Springs where I live. 

There is just so much to see here and I feel so blessed to be able to hike around and have a look. Hiking not only provides beautiful scenery to enjoy but also presents the opportunity for thinking and reflecting. Just recently I had the chance to hike a section of one of the above trails on my own. Afterward, a new friend was kind enough to ask me what I had thought about while I was walking along. Honestly, not too much! I sort of just enjoyed the silence, listened to the birds and the breeze and kind of hummed to myself as I went about the business of walking. No heavy intellectual lifting in other words.

There are times though when I do work out things in my mind while walking or hiking. I think a bit harder. I know that paying attention to my surroundings is what I should be doing but really, my inner dialogue just gets going. 

Lately I have been thinking about the nature of problems, how considering different perspectives can serve as a coping strategy when things seem overwhelming. I love constructs, ideas or theories that are subjective and not objective. Constructs are how I figure things out, how I explain what I think and feel and how I sort out the reasons why people do what they do. It's useful to be able to build a theory and to make an intangible problem tangible. Here is an example of what I mean.

About a month ago I was told that I could have a problem. Without getting into what it is, I'll say that at first I agreed with the pronouncement. It does feel like I have something going on. So, I made a plan for getting more information about handling things. Hopefully I will know more soon. There isn't any real urgency though. It's not like having cancer or a toothache or some other acute medical issue where acting quickly is important. Time is not of the essence, so to speak, so there is the space to consider things. 

The lack of any time constraint allowed me to get down to some thinking. Can I handle things on my own for a bit? Is there anything I can do right now? The answer is yes, of course there is. I realized that apart from professional input, there is also the personal assessing of a problem. Thinking about the problem, what light to see it in, can be a matter of perspective. 

As a way to gain a kind of perspective on things, I have been putting an idea into action. Each day I have been asking myself some questions about the situation: Am I ahead of the problem, behind it or smack dab in the middle of it? I think this is a useful way of looking at things while you are waiting for other solutions to fall into place, particularly if you don't have control over those solutions. On some days, I feel like I am out in front. Things are getting  handled, I am taking positive steps to cope with things, maybe even get ahead, and every little bit of effort counts. On other days, I am far behind where I could be, where I would like to be. I accept those days and tell myself that tomorrow will be better. If I am feeling especially positive, I even look for ways to improve the situation right then. Mostly though I have my eye on a new day. That does help. I admit that there are lots of days when I am right in the middle of things. I can't see anything clearly, good or bad. It really is like purgatory in the sense that you are neither here, nor there. There are even some days when I feel that I am the problem. Those days aren't good. Again though, I just try to get some perspective by telling myself that improvement is possible and hopefully nothing is forever.

The above question and answer scenario is a construct to me. I love having theories about things, even if they  are scientifically unfounded, based more on my observations and interpretations. And I love things that actually work and this exercise does work. It's effective for me, a visual kind of person, because I can literally picture myself out in front, in the middle of, or behind a problem. My internal "gauge" tells me how I feel about things which helps in placing me on that spectrum of bad, somewhere in between, and good. And most importantly, I feel as if I have some kind of control in a situation where I am waiting for answers from People In Authority. 😏

My friend asked me what I was thinking about while hiking alone. Truthfully, it may be nothing or it may be something. My thoughts could be about the landscape, the birds and flowers, or my hiking buddies. Mostly though it is this other kind of thing, this "thinking" kind of thing where I am working on problems and ideas. Hiking provides a real freedom for exploring all sorts of landscapes, both inner and outer. And a chance to see if you are behind, in the middle or out in front!

Thank you for reading and if you have a comment, let me know:

Perfect In My Imperfection!

Recent haul from Sprouts market The other day I told a friend that veganism is an imperfect way of living. At best, you can only hope to...