Friday, June 27, 2008

What a change at Wal-Mart!

You may have read my earlier post on Wal-Mart vs. Bringing Your Own Bags, where I wrote about my experiences trying to buy and use reusable shopping bags at my local Wal-Mart. Soon after I wrote that post, I wrote a letter to the manager of that Wal-Mart outlining the benefits of better training for their staff and a better setup for use of reusable bags. Less than a week later, I received a phone call from the Manager there, but I had just that day left to go out of town for over two weeks so I never had a chance to call her.

Well, today I went back into that Wal-Mart, and I just have to say, WOW! I have no idea how much difference my letter made or if it was something that was already on their agenda, but today's visit was a wonderful surprise. I'd forgotten my bags again but knowing that their bags are only $1 and that they are sturdy and useful for so many other things, I went in search of another bag to buy. I asked someone out on the floor where they had them stocked (since the last time I was in there, I only saw them in the greenhouse area), and she told me that they're now at every register, and that my cashier can pack my purchases right into them as I check out.

I went back to the registers, but didn't see any bags where I'd expected to see them -- hanging somewhere around the magazines and candy. I asked where they were, and was delighted to have the answer pointed out to me: Every cashier-run checkout carousel was set up with reusable bags in one or more of the bagging stations, available not just for sale but ready for the cashier to snip off the tag and start bagging your items. Bags were also at the smaller "20 items or less" registers, though I didn't see any at the self-checkout.

The manager isn't in today but I plan to call her tomorrow to thank her for taking this action. I don't know yet how much my letter had to do with it, but I'd like to think that it wasn't just a coincidence. I'd like to think that one person making a request really can make a difference, even in a store such as Wal-Mart.

I hope that all grocery stores will start making reusable bags easily available, and will train their staff, set up their checkout areas, and establish procedures to make using reusable bags relatively effortless for both the company and the consumer. And if your local store doesn't already have that in place, write to the manager and request it: You never know what might happen as a result!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Lessons my body taught me

Lesson learned: If I spend a month or two eating lots and lots of fresh veggies and relatively small portions of meats, processed foods and low-fiber starches, then I decide for a week of vacation to stuff my body with lots of meats, carbs, and relatively few fresh foods, my body will rebel, big time.


What's surprising to me is that my eating this past week really hasn't been all that bad. I still took home a LOT of leftovers (i.e. kept overall portion size reasonable - most of the time anyway). I've eaten no fast food and relatively little in the way of sweets/desserts/sodas. Most of my meals weren't all that bad when evaluated by themselves (well, ok, so maybe I should have skipped the chicken fried steak & gravy but it's a once in a blue moon thing). But the lack of veggies and the excess of fried foods and the larger portion sizes over the past 10 days finally made my body rebel, and last evening I was feeling quite ill as a result. (TMI alert!) It doesn't at all help that when I'm traveling, I don't take the time to go to the bathroom as often as I should.

I'm ready to get back on track, though. I stopped by Spring Ridge Creamery (local, no hormones or antibiotics but I didn't ask what the cows are fed) for some local butter, feta and havarti (ok, ok, and two scoops of chocolate ice cream- YUM!). I tried several local produce stands but their stock was heavy on things like watermelons for the tourists, and the only local food I found were some squash which are not my favorites. I ended up at the grocery store, and was pleased to find regional organic spring mix and locally made organic bread, plus I got some organic olive oil and some garlic-stuffed olives. Dinner tonight was a huge salad including lots of snack veggies (left over from last week's gathering of siblings at my parents' house on the night before we took them out for their 50th anniversary), along with raisins, grapes, and the feta cheese, dressed very lightly with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and salt & pepper, plus a wedge of bread and butter. YUM.

My body just feels happier. It's telling me very clearly that I need to keep eating like this, and not like I have this past week.

Oh but that chicken fried steak was soooooo good, as was the fried okra, the ribs and onion rings, the seared tuna and creme brule at the little French bistro in town, the Mexican food, the Pad Thai and Thai curries...

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Lessons My Granny Taught Me

I'm at my parents, preparing to stay here for two weeks while they take a much deserved 50th wedding anniversary vacation across Canada by train. Originally I was to be here to take care of my Granny, who until recently lived with them, but Alzheimer's and other illnesses have taken so much of a toll on her that she is now in a nursing home and receiving hospice care, so my role now is to visit her each day, enjoy the precious time I have left with her even though she doesn't fully remember who I am, and take care of whatever needs to be done if something were to happen to her while my parents are away.

I've realized all along that so much of who I am in general, and of what makes this journey towards a sustainable lifestyle seem attainable to me, is because of my Granny. Words written by someone like me, with no great skill at translating raw emotion into something that allows someone else to understand those feelings, don't begin to describe what she means to me. She is the person who taught me what unconditional love and support really feels and looks and sounds like. She is the one who showed me that women can be both strong and nurturing.

I read today in Plenty/The 100 Mile Diet, about how many people are now many generations removed from raising and preserving their own foods and being close to and aware of their food sources. It made me realize how blessed I am to have the knowledge that it can be done: My Granny, alone, tilled, planted, tended, and harvested a garden twice the size of her home, fed some of those foods to her family just minutes after harvest, and preserved others through canning and freezing to eat throughout the year. I remember the soil, brown and rich enough to tempt my toddler brother to eat it. I remember the pantry off the carport, its shelves to the ceiling filed with double rows of beans, beets, tomatoes, apple butter, jelly, the chest freezer, big enough to drown in, stocked with everything from bread she had gotten on sale to meat from a local farmer/butcher.

I grieve that there is so much of this that she can no longer remember. I regret that I never had any interest in learning these skills from her when she had the strength and memory to teach them. It makes me intensely determined to remember for her. I want to work towards having a garden that is large and diverse enough to provide much of my family's sustenance and stop making excuses about being too busy; after all, she did all of the work on hers after long days of factory work, still caring at various times of her life for three children, or a sick husband, or a dependent daughter and granddaughter. I want to learn to can, to someday see shelves in my basement lined with beets and beans and apple butter.

I want her to look down from the heaven that she's been ready to go to for several years now, the heaven where she believes her beloved brothers and sisters are waiting for her, and see that the lessons that she taught with her life were not lost.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Frugal living / accumulating wealth

It's interesting that many things that I read seem to presume that if you strive to live frugally, then you have no wealth and little likelihood of accumulating wealth, and conversely if you are working to attain wealth then you're not going to be interested in living frugally - you'll want to "enjoy" your wealth.

I'm blessed that I know people and I'm finding resources that defy that stereotype which really shouldn't be on in the first place. To paraphrase a saying at much too late at night to remember the exact original, most folks don't get to be rich by spending their money foolishly.

I also have issues with but am trying to feel some acceptance for the word Wealth. A piece written by Professor Steven Hackett at Humbolt State University for his ECON309 class titled "Economics, the Environment, and Sustainability" includes the question, "What is the meaning of wealth in a more sustainable society?" One part of his definition of wealth in that context is:
  • Enough nutritious, healthy, tasty food
  • Access to clean water
  • Meaningful work
  • Support for maintaining physical and mental health
  • Opportunity to meaningfully participate in democratic decision-making that affects ones life
  • Physical security
  • Adequate shelter for physical comfort and security
  • Freedom from exposure to harmful chemicals and radiation
  • Opportunity to live near and visit areas of natural beauty
So it's been with those ideas in mind that part of this journey I'm on must include not just the isolated act of eating locally, but the bigger goal of living frugally in order to attain this particularly type of wealth.

My skills that might help me towards this goal are mixed. On the good side, I'm someone who managed to go from being told ten years ago that I have no choice but to declare bankruptcy, to now having zero credit card debt, a home with a reasonable amount of equity and a fixed-rate mortgage on which we do value-raising renovations all paid in cash. We have emergency savings, retirement savings, and we pay extra on everything in hopes to have our mortgage paid before we retire. We have a basic budget that definitely includes the old adage of paying ourselves first (savings, retirement, etc.), and so the everyday money management skills are good.

But the long term skills really pretty much suck. I have my retirement money diversified in a bunch of different money market accounts that I pretty much picked randomly. That is not good. I know it's not good. But any change I make will be another random choice.

There is so much I need to learn. I need to learn to take the financial results of our frugal, careful living and invest it in ways that will not only allow us to have a sustainable and sufficient cashflow when we retire, but will also allow us to do things that we feel are important: Help our grandchildren go to college. Provide scholarships. Contribute in various ways to the local immigrant community. So many things.

So that's one of my current goals: Learn to live more frugally, and learn to accumulate wealth, as defined from a more sustainable-lifestyle perspective.

I'm looking at a lot of different things that could help to that regard, and I just linked one of them to my blog: Money Ning, which is a personal finance blog written in a way that I think could help me with this goal. There is some good serious advice there, as well as things such as a post justifying a Wii as a good investment. Some of the advice given is UK specific, but I like the general tone and hope to keep up. I'm hoping to find other blogs that will help me towards this goal as well.

Some things I didn't expect to be hard to give up

I'm realizing that in order to eat local, there aren't just foods that we'll have to give up, there are subcategories of foods that are available, but not in the way we're used to having them. The big issue continues to be meat: I still haven't found a source for local fish and seafood, which was until now our primary animal protein source. I did find a source for chicken, but I'm realizing that if we stick to eating local, there's no more buying packs of leg/thigh quarters so that we only have the pieces that we each enjoy the most (Partner prefers legs, I prefer thighs). There's no more buying a bag of wings to stick on the grill and munch on. There's no more buying chicken already cut up or deboned. It was already an interesting experience to take three freshly-processed hens and cut them up into pieces, cut out the backs to go into the parts bag for stock and soups. But I can see now that we're going to work our way through the dark meat then have to create ways to use the white.

As for a Challenge update: One night down, 29 more to go. I can do this. I just have to keep remembering that it's all about self-control: I am more powerful than the cravings that lead me to fix foods I don't need, foods I'm not even hungry for.

Oh and one other serious local challenge: Lime. OK, not just lime - tequila (margaritas) and rum (mojitos), though there is a local brewery that makes their own rum. Even though the ingredients aren't local, I can still count it as local if it's distilled here, right?!?