Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Radical Homemaker in the Museum of Science and Tech

There is a new exhibit on energy at the Museum of Science and Technology, here in Ottawa.

I actually had an interesting opportunity to participate in the exhibit, in a small way. A close friend of mine was on the team responsible for the project and back in September 2009, he asked if I would be willing to sit in on a brainstorming session to talk about ideas for an area of the exhibit that would engage visitors and get them thinking about their personal consumption of energy.

It was a fascinating conversation with the museum folks, industry people and sustainability organisations. I felt pretty small fry really, with my ideas for simple living on the homefront, silently wondering what the heck I was doing there, while a strong 'technology will save us' current ran through the room. I don't know if I contributed much of value, but my participating got me an invite to the launch this September, and I was happy to wander around the exhibit and learn more about how energy is produced and consumed, from hydro, to oil sands, nuclear, wind, solar, natural gas....they cover it all, well, except for any mention peak oil.

I did spend most of my time in the area that looked at personal energy consumption. It was fascinating.

(Clicking on all the pictures will make them bigger and easier to see!)

I really appreciated how well this display illustrated just how much every single aspect of our consumer lives is underpinned by oil.

Did you know that when electricity finally began to make it into most people's homes, it was only ever used at night? Families used electricity to replace candles and oil and gas lamps, so they didn't need it during the day when the sun lit their homes. The electric companies, not happy with such a small profit from little demand, remedied the problem by inventing the first electric appliances like toasters, irons, fans and electric heaters. Daytime consumption of electricity shot up and hasn't really ever stopped since then.

This stat, blew my little, clothes-hanging mind.

Then there were these interactive trivia touch screens that I found very enlightening.

A number of quotes on various aspects of energy use lined the walls in this section.

About a year ago, my friend asked if I could provide a quote to go up on the wall. They wanted the voice of Jane Public I guess. I had no idea what to say, or how to encapsulate my thoughts into something pithy and coherent, but I said I would give it a shot. I ended up next to an environmentalist named Bob Oliver and Thomas Edison.

Looking at the quote a year later, I'm still happy with the essential idea, however, if I could change it, I'd probably play around with the words a bit more. I might use something like 'lifestyle transformation' instead of 'personal behaviour changes', for instance, to better convey the fact that only swapping out lightbulbs and switching to reusable bags ain't gonna cut it.

I might even make it more personal too, saying something like, "Since transforming my lifestyle into something much simpler, that uses a fraction of the energy I used to, I have never been happier or more fulfilled. I am debt free. I work less hours than ever, but my bank account keeps growing. I have time to pursue my passions and be with the people I love."

Well, the absolute best part about going up on the wall was being able to give a nod to Shannon Hayes' Radical Homemakers! If even one visitor looks that up after the exhibit, and digs a little deeper, that would be awesome.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Lifetime of Quiet Adventure

Well it's official. I completed my permaculture design course! It was such a rich, full course with fantastic instructors and a great group of fellow participants. My brain has a lot to digest over the coming months and years. I recently heard permaculturist and author of Edible Forest Gardens Dave Jacke say in relation to the practice of permaculture that, "we have a lifetime of quiet adventure ahead of us." How lovely is that? A lifetime of quiet adventure. Yes! Bring it on.

Now that the course is finished I finally have time to do all my fall gardening, foraging and harvesting. Everything's getting done in much smaller chunks now that the days are rapidly shortening, but I like the pace. It means I'm home with plenty of time to make dinner and can also spend some time catching up on chores inside the house. Things tend to descend into a state of organised chaos during the summer months when most of my free time is spent outside, but come fall I like to fluff up the nest and give it a thorough cleaning in preparation for hibernating.

I'm planting garlic right now and I'm so grateful for the mild weather we're having. We'd like to double our garlic harvest next year, so the 140 bulbs or so are going in 20 or 30 bulbs at a time in various patches throughout our four plots. In true permaculture fashion I'm stacking functions by harvesting dandelion roots at the same time.

Yes folks, it's dandelion season! I harvest roots in the early spring too, but I find the fall roots have a richer flavour. It's a good time to harvest leaves as well, as the frosts will have taken some of the bitterness out and sweetened them up a bit. For me though, I'm all about the roots. I love roasted dandelion root coffee, and this year I want to harvest enough to last me all winter.

My method is pretty simple. If I see a dandelion growing in my garden beds, I welcome it with open arms and give it room to grow. I'll harvest flowers and leaves and if it starts taking up a bit too much space, I might cut it back once or twice. I make sure to let some flowers go to seed, ensuring a continual crop. Some dandelions I leave for a season to get nice and big. But when it's time to work and plant a bed (like I'm doing now with garlic) I harvest any dandelion roots in the bed by gently loosening the soil around the roots with a garden fork and pulling them out of the ground.

Yes, washing, chopping, drying and roasting is lengthy and labour intensive, but I find it enjoyable work and I know the rewards will be great. Amazing even. It's that good. Here's a nice description of the process.
And some more sources on the awesomeness of dandelion:
Steve Brill on Dandelion

Dandelion: Unsung Heros of the Plant World

Mother Earth News

Speaking of quiet adventure, I borrowed a friend's van and the ADG and I went out last night and liberated about 40 bags of "yard waste" from the neighbourhood and brought them to our plots where we'll use them to mulch beds and create leaf mold. Hopefully, one day I won't need fossil fuels for the job, because the food forest that is in my future will generate its own!

I hope you all are having many wonderful, quiet adventures!

Thursday, November 3, 2011


"And lavender, whose spikes of azure bloom
shall be, ere-while, in arid bundles bound
to lurk amidst the labours of her loom,
and crown her kerchiefs with mickle rare perfume."

~William Shenstone, The School Mistress 1742