Friday, August 31, 2007


I was thinking the other day about how different generations are known for different things. For example the generation that grew up during the depression were known to be frugal. For good reason, they grew up in a hard time. It seems to be that today's generation is exactly the opposite. This is the disposable generation (no pun intended). It seems that everything that we buy is designed to be disposed of so we can get a new one. I don't think that the generation is totally to blame, marketing and manufacturing play a HUGE role in that. Either way, it's not good.

How many times have you had a computer printer break on you? Have you ever tried to get it fixed? Don't get me wrong, they'll fix it for you, but it will generally cost more to fix the printer than it would to buy a new one. Do you think they expect you to get it fixed? I don't think so, they want to sell you a new one.

I'll be fair, that isn't always the case. Cars, for example, although expensive to fix, are cheaper to fix than replace. Unfortunately with cars, in order to be "cool" you have to have the newest (or put the most money into fixing up an old one... which is cooler than the new cars). Marketing has made it popular to have the new design. Is the new design that much better than the old? Of course, who could possibly live without a DVD player in the back of every headrest? Even if the new design isn't that much better, it is still a status symbol to have the latest and greatest.

Don't think I say that just because I don't especially like cars. Bikes do the same thing. I still have an 8-speed cassette on my road bike. Last year my derailleur hit the skids so I had to replace it. I couldn't find a 9 speed, let alone an 8 speed. So now I have a 10 speed derailleur with an 8 speed cassette. So my bike doesn't shift the best, but I really feel that I have all the gears I need. Most of the time I have the gear I need on my fixie.

Back to the original topic, what was the generation before the depression like? What were they known for? My wife suggested survival. I don't think so. I'm guessing that they didn't know what they didn't have. I bet they could even look back and wonder how previous generations had survived without the convenience of trains and the cotton gin. I don't know. So if you are over 80 years old and remember what your grandparents were known for, please let me know. I wonder if they were known for their prosperity and not taking advantage of it? Or maybe they were also known for their frugality, but they may not have even known what it means to be frugal in the way we are frugal today.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Bigger Faster Stronger

We harvested our squash last week. Keep in mind that we didn't plant squash in our garden, we composted it last year and it decided that it wanted to be part of our garden. We didn't resist the unexpected plants, but next year we will take them out like weeds. Maybe that isn't how I should say it, since we didn't have very good luck with weeds this year either. We will take them out like chestnut trees, we were able to keep out chestnut forest under control.
So the point is, all of my seeds came from one banana squash, a couple pumpkins, a spaghetti squash and a couple of others that we picked up somewhere. The banana squash that we bought last year was huge. I'm sure it was grown with all of the modern pesticides and fertilizers and that is why it was huge. Sure, we got a couple of squash that were pretty big (genetics), but most were moderately sized. At first I was a little disappointed that my squash were smaller (and somehow inferior?) to those available at the farmer's market. I got to thinking about this and it is completely backwards. My squash are smaller because they were grown in competition with weeds that I couldn't keep up with and without fertilizers aiding their growth. My squash grew on compost and water. I know what is in my squash, and it's not artificial chemicals (except for those that the neighbors use and drift our way). I will take my smaller squash over the chemical mammoths at the farmer's market any day.
This is a hard thing for people to deal with. Look at people's choices in houses, cars, fruit, etc. Bigger is considered better. I don't think this is true. Lets take kids for a moment. If you see a plump child (I'm talking preschool and up, not infant) people tend to comment that the child looks, "healthy". Not necessarily.
Even science does it... Average height has been increasing from year to year for quite some time now. Modern medicine is quite proud of itself because surely this is due to improved nutrition. No it's not. Sure, malnutrition is the cause of some extremely small statures, but the extremely tall statures that we are now seeing does not mean that our nutrition is extremely good. What we see is the result of excess insulin (and therefore growth hormone) in the blood as a result of eating lots of sweets, colas and otherwise simple, processed foods. With chronically elevated insulin and growth hormone levels, children are getting taller, going through puberty earlier and simply developing more quickly. While this isn't necessarily bad, I don't think that it's good. For example, taller women (those who have been exposed to higher blood insulin and growth hormone levels) have a much higher risk of getting breast cancer. There are many other examples of this. Taller is not better, just as bigger produce isn't better.
And what do we do for entertainment? We gather around a television and watch physiologic freaks (either through genetic, nutritional or chemical means) compete at professional sports. Bigger, faster and stronger are what we strive after, that is what the "cool" guys are. Except they often times aren't healthy.
My favorite example of this is still from the scriptures. The Jewish people of the old testament were awaiting a Messiah, a King that would save them from the oppression of the Greeks. They were awaiting a mighty military ruler who could overthrow the Greeks and allow their people to return to their promised land. They sort of assumed that this would be accomplished through force and military might. Instead, what they got was the carpenter's son; a man who was meek and humble, hardly a military ruler. Not only was he not a large man or a military leader, but he taught to be peaceful and humble.
Despite the Jew's expectations, they got a man more powerful than their expectations. Not a military leader, but a religious leader who brought with him the forgiveness of sins. A more powerful man, there will never be.
Bigger, stronger and faster is not always better. I'm proud of my smaller fruit because it is natural from the earth. It was produced how God prepared for it to be produced, through normal natural processes. In a lineup of banana squash it may not be very impressive, but its strength lies in its creation, not its outward appearance.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Simple living

My family is all about simple living, but I think my wife has gone off the deep end. First, she asks me to take Six-Pence's crib down. I know that it's time for him to learn to sleep in a real bed, but this is really sort of silly.

This is my wife putting the boys "to bed". You may notice that there is no "bed" involved. Six-Pence has a mattress on the floor, the Mugwump wanted to be on the floor with little brother, so he laid out a sheet for himself. And mom... I think she was making sure the boys didn't wander off. It looks like she succeeded, nobody wandered off. In fact, I think they were all there all night.

More recently, I came home to find the Mugwump in a cardboard box "fort" in our bonus room. As far as cardboard structures go, it was quite well constructed. I think the Mugwump has a future in recyclable dwellings. I don't know that it will pay well, but we're about simplicity. Without the need for beds and talent in cardboard building, our family could have an exciting future ahead of us.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Utah Miners---Distance II

I previously posted on distance, and I wanted to continue in that light. The original idea was that as things become further from your direct association, we care less about the consequences. I feel that is being used by businesses to make money because they know that we really don't care enough if the consequences, no matter how devastating, are sufficiently distanced from us.

I am sad today because I have been involved in the killing of 9 innocent, hard working men. I'm pretty sure it has received national press, but this morning mine officials announced that the 6 miners who were trapped in a cave-in may never be recovered. Additionally, there were 3 miners killed in a collapse during the rescue efforts. I pray for them, I sincerely hope that they find the missing miners alive, I also recognize that I contributed to the mine collapse and their probable deaths.

You see, I live in Utah (although I feel that responsibility stretches far beyond the state and national borders) and I use electricity. 95% of the electricity I use is generated from the burning of coal. If I used less electricity and thereby decreased the overwhelming demand for coal, those miners wouldn't have had to be mining under dangerous conditions. If I didn't demand that my electric bill be lower, that mine could have spent more money on safety precautions that could have saved the miners.

Can I trace the electricity in my home back to the coal that those miners were mining, or even to that mine? No, there's no way I could do that, so it's distanced from me. Therefore, I'm not responsible, right? I am absolutely responsible. I'm not the only one, but as a consumer of electricity and as a part of society that demands inexpensive power, I am responsible for the demand for electricity and the demand that it be inexpensive (promoting less safe mining practices).

I know people (as in the 4 that read this blog) are thinking that you can't live your life like this, dwelling on every distant consequence of your actions. That is my point exactly, we have to live our lives conscious of the distant effects. Our actions have consequences, often devastating consequences. Frequently it is the actions of many that have devastating consequences, but that is not a license to also participate in the actions.

I don't drive a car frequently because I know of the devastating consequences to the health and fabric of our society. Does the fact that I (1 person) don't drive a car have an impact on the world? No. I know very well that my effort is not nearly sufficient to make any global changes. But if I drove my car I would have to live with the fact that I (yes, me personally) caused the health and societal problems associated with automobiles. Am I being a little hard on myself? Maybe, but if we continue to distance our personal choices from the effects, it is going to continue to have devastating consequences.

When I get in a car, I think of the exhaust and the diseases it causes. When I drive, I personally contribute to the cardiovascular disease being suffered. When I leave the lights on in a room I am not in, I am personally contributing to the poor working conditions of miners around the world. When I flush the toilet I am taking from the limited reserve of fresh water on this planet and adding it to pools of human excrement so that others have less to drink. We all carry a heavy burden. This life isn't just about our pursuit of happiness, it is about enabling others to also have happiness. That is a heavy burden, but one worth supporting.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


Winter is coming. I have noticed the changes lately. OK, I realize that it's supposed to be over 100 degrees here today, but the heat is coming to an end. Yesterday and today I left the house at about the regular time and I needed to use my lights on my bike for the first time in months. It's staying dark later and it's getting dark earlier. With less sun exposure the temperatures are bound to go down.

I know that you could have looked on a calender and figured out that summer is approaching an end, but that is my point exactly. Among my biggest goals in life is to live it and not just be an observer. I love being out on my bike daily and being able to see the subtle changes that occur throughout the year. I like participating in life and not having to look for an update on Microsoft Outlook (or a calendar if you are old fashioned). Get out and be a part of the world, play the game and make a difference... The spectators are those who pay to see it played (cable TV anyone?)

Another Note
Completely unrelated but a fun occurrence at our home yesterday morning. I was shaving and Six-Pence started to cry in his bedroom. It was about that time so I waited for him to run into join mom in bed. Sure enough, I heard the pattering feet coming my way. Instead of going to the bedroom he stopped and visited me in the bathroom. He grabbed my hand and pointed back toward his rooming saying, "Da". I was running late, but I followed him anyway (how can you turn down a toddler holding your hand, pointing and saying "da"?). When we got to the living room, I noticed his bedroom light was on. That's odd, he's not tall enough to turn on the lights yet. Then I saw in the bedroom and the pointing and "da-ing" became more specific. The Mugwump had climbed out of his bed and kicked Six-Pence out of his bed. There was the older boy, reading a book with a look of suppressed guilt right in the middle of Six-Pence's bed. The Mugwump said he wanted to be in front of the fan (he had survived 10 hours without being in front of the fan, I don't know why at 6am he suddenly needed a fan). I had to explain that it's not OK to kick your little brother out of bed. Last night he opted to sleep on the floor next to little brother (and in front of the fan) rather than in his bed. We may save lots of money on beds this way.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Global Warming

A friend asked me the other day if I was big into the global warming thing. I said yeah, but then I got to thinking about it. I'm really not. I don't want to be misunderstood, I think global warming is a problem and I am sure that humans (or the "stuff" we produce and use) are the cause. I just don't happen to think it's the biggest problem and it's not the reason that I'm trying to simplify my life. So why did I tell my friend yes, I was into the global warming thing? Because it is a buzzword that people listen to (or choose to ignore). Sometimes, especially during an extraordinarily hot summer, people will hear the phrase "global warming" and it will initiate some change in them. So I associate with global warming and will use it to my advantage at times, but really there is much more that drives me toward simplicity.

I'm really against the over reliance on cars. Sure, cars are a huge contributor to global warming, but they are far worse than that. Cars are closely associated with the 5 leading causes of death in the United States. Cardiovascular disease, cancer, stroke, chronic obstructive lower respiratory disease and accidents are the five leading causes of death in the US. The exhaust from combustion engines contributes to the top four leading causes of death to some degree. In addition, the automobile contributes greatly to a sedentary lifestyle which also contributes to the four leading causes of death in this country. To be fully honest, a sedentary lifestyle isn't a huge contributor to cancer or lung disease, but I have seen links to both of these in peer reviewed journals. To this point I haven't mentioned the fifth leading cause of death, accidents. The majority of all accidents involve a motor vehicle.

Of course I don't like that the over reliance on cars is killing people. I wish we could all live longer and be healthier. What really gets to me is the things that I don't have a choice in. I do my best to prevent expelling exhaust. I have a reel lawn mower and ride my bike for the vast majority of my transportation. I don't use much gas. What makes me mad is that my taxes subsidize the use of gas. Gasoline and diesel should cost at least $8/gallon so that tax money doesn't have to pay for gas. (I may go into why gas should be so expensive another time, I have other points I want to make now). So first I subsidize your fuel and then, as a result of your use of the fuel I get hammered with more taxes for Medicare and Medicaid and a huge insurance premium. If people weren't so reliant on cars, there wouldn't be as much pollution making people sick and killing them. I have grown up the son of a capitalist pig (my mom... she admits it openly), and it just doesn't seem fair to me to be charged (through my taxes used to subsidize the cost of gas and diesel) for a product that I don't use and then charged again for all of the problems that it causes. What do I get for my money?

I had a lot more to say, but I stopped... you should be grateful. Cars have also contributed to the downfall of social ties. How many people walk into their garage, start their car, drive to the parking garage at work and walk inside without every being outside and without ever corresponding with another human being? Oh, I know they have cell phones for that (further contributing to the fifth leading cause of death), but I will save that soapbox for another time. On my bike ride to school, I pass at least 3-5 cyclists going each way. Most of whom I have talked to and look forward to talking to again. How often do you meet a new friend in a car? Dr. Putnum has written extensively on social capital and cars are destroying it. We just don't get out and talk with people anymore and it's destroying neighborhoods.

If I have to take a stand against global warming to get cars off the road, I'll do it. Not because I think that global warming is the worst problem we face, but because if there are fewer cars on the road, it will help alleviate the other problems that are wreaking havoc on our society. I also don't believe that cars are bad or that they should never be used again. They are sometimes needed, but people rely on them far too much and I think that everyone should be able to make a smooth transition to living without one if it was necessary (that means that most people need to make a drastic change!)

Wednesday, August 8, 2007


I remember a college psychology class where we talked about a study that hit me. The study was about electrical shock... I don't remember what they told the participants they were studying, but they lied to them. There was an actor behind a window/blinder so that the subject could hear, but not see the actor (the subject also didn't know that the person there was an actor). There was a guy in a white lab coat who was a leader of sorts who gave commands (I think he was the study administrator). The subject sat at a desk and was in charge of giving electrical stimulation to the actor (who didn't actually feel anything, but would pretend he did). The subject was directed to press a button to give an electrical shock to the actor, wait a moment, turn up the voltage and give another shock. As the voltage increased, the actor would make louder expressions of how much the shock hurt. The subjects would generally look to the supervisor to see if it was OK to continue, he would indicate to continue. Although a few would refuse, the vast majority continued to shock the individual, thinking that they were administering a substantial amount of pain to the actor. At a certain voltage level, after much screaming, the actor would stop making any noise at all, leaving the subject to wonder if he was unconscious or even dead. Many of the subjects would continue to shock the non-responding actors even after they stopped responding to the shock.

Looking at the results, psychologists say that it was the guy in the lab coat (which certainly makes them all knowing) saying that it was OK to continue was a major contributor to the continuing shock. The subjects felt distanced from the actor, they were merely following orders. It certainly wasn't their fault that this official looking guy was directing them to administer pain and possibly death. The subjects felt distanced from the outcome because it was just how things worked. They were part of the situation and unable to make a difference.

How would I react as the subject in this situation? I don't know. I like to think I would stand up and walk out, or better yet, go rescue the poor guy being shocked. Most people didn't do that. Am I that special someone who would take a stand, or another lemming that would just follow along? Do I want to know the answer to that? Of course I don't want to be another of the multitude that would have continued administering pain to another human being. But if I were one of the select who was able to stand up and walk out, does that increase my responsibility in this life? I think it does, but I don't know that I can make the differences that I want to see made.

In how many other aspects of our life our we distanced from consequences so that we keep doing something that is really detrimental for ourselves and others around us? I spend a lot of time studying obesity and weight maintenance. We are distanced from the consequences of over eating by time. If every time you overate a little you felt terrible and gained several pounds and had to buy a new wardrobe, i don't think that obesity would be the problem that it is. Or even more obvious, if when you overate, you died of a heart attack, fewer people would overeat... or we would have a lot fewer people in the world.

Another place where we are distanced from consequences is driving. Automobiles contribute to the five leading causes of death. Those are cardiovascular disease, cancer, stroke, pulmonary diseases and accidents. Automobile exhaust and/or the sedentary lifestyle promoted by car travel are major contributors to the first four leading causes of death. The majority of deaths caused by accidents involve a motorist. While I don't think we need to get rid of all motorized vehicles, we do need to rethink transportation to make it safer. I've heard it argued that putting in public transportation infrastructure is expensive. Isn't health care also expensive? We need to look beyond the price tag toward long term consequences. Automobile traffic is contributing to the death of my family. I am unwilling to put a price tag on that, health is the most valued asset that i have, even beyond the convenience of a car.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Sans' summer

I'm going to take the liberty to post what Sans has been up to while we've been visiting family in Washington. He is very happy that we're back, not only because he has company again, but he doesn't have to survive on noodles, zucchini, and ice cream anymore, and he can stop working on crazy house projects! At least for a while, anyways.

The main project he did was the kitchen. He put in new cabinets and painted; I love it! He kept scaring me that it was too bold, but it's great. We have tons more storage and I love the colors. It has a whole new feel. I'm doing my best to keep it clean. It helps that we have a dishwasher now, even if it does make awful grinding noises. :)

Sans also painted a few other rooms. The playroom/laundry room is "nectarine fizz." I was a little nervous, but it's a great color for the space. Notice the new reed shades, too? He put those up all over the house. Again, I love them! They filter out the heat but still let lots of light and fresh air in.
Paint project #3 was our bedroom. It is probably the most relaxing room in the house now; the color is really calming. It was a good choice.

Sans also did a surprise project for me - he put in a new bathroom vanity, sink, and cabinets! Other than some major leaking problems (caused by a split valve) (not due to the installer's abilities), it's been great, too. I love the big sink and more storage! It's funny how we try to live a simple life, yet it's always nice to have more storage. Isn't there something wrong with that?

He also did other projects that are great and were lots of work, but not quite as picture worthy. The ceiling texture he blogged about turned out great, but would have made a not-very-interesting picture. He finished the shed, hung the bikes up in the shed, and got one of my favorite pictures framed and hung in our room. He installed our new fancy-schmancy under the cabinet radio (thanks, Grandma!), which allows our kitchen to be more streamlined and frees up precious counterspace.

I feel somewhat guilty talking about all these new things Sans did over the summer, when we're trying to simplify our lives and live with a small ecological footprint. While we do our best on those things, I also believe that having a home that is comfortable and welcoming that you want to be in is important, too. It is easier for me to focus on the things that are truly important in life when I can feel at peace in the place where I am. Thanks, Sans, for all your hard work.

Here are a couple bonus pictures for those of you who are itching for to see those kids! While in Washington, we went to the King County Fair and the kids were in a cowboy skit. Mugwump was a singing cowboy and Sixpence was a cow.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

The hose dance

I was riding home from school the other day and I saw a guy in his yard coiling up a hose. This guy was really good at coiling his hose, in the end he had uniform circles that set nicely in a pile. Not only that, but his movements as he coiled the hose were smooth and rhythmic, like he was an expert hose coiler. Have you ever tried to coil a hose, and every time around you have to stand on the hose to keep it from going in its own direction? Have you ever noticed that hoses have a way they "like" to lay and if you don't do it their way, they will rebel and not stay put? Trying to force a hose to coil how you want it to coil never really works, you have to submit to the natural laws of the hose.

I think the same principle is true with nature. There are natural balances that keep everything running smoothly. Sure you can force the issues, but eventually nature will have its way and go in the directions it wants to. I think that our car culture is forcing nature in directions that it doesn't want to go and it's about to unravel itself. The internal combustion engine has been around for about 200 years, creating exhaust that doesn't exactly make nature go the way it was designed. Just like coiling a hose, you can hold it in place for quite some time, but we are losing hold of the hose and it is going in directions that we hadn't planned. For example, global warming, smog, dependence on foreign trade, etc. There will be a time when we realize that we have to either tend the hose forever (if that is even possible), or start over in the coiling process.

So how do you coil a hose? The first thing is that you can't force it to do what you want it to. Sure you want to be superior to the hose and impose your desires, but if you do that, the hose won't stay. What you have to do is dance with the hose, keep the hose appropriately twisted (or untwisted, as the case may be) so that it wants to lay down nicely in a pile of little circles. You have to dance with the hose, twisting and bending to meet its desires so that it will accommodate your ultimate goal. It is in your compromise and extra effort that the hose will lay nicely in your garage without springing everywhere.

It is the same with nature. You can't force it. We have to play along with the rules or things will spring out of control. We can't pump tons of CO2 into the atmosphere and expect nature to just except it. We need to find how natural processes work and then mimic nature in order to obtain our goal. Mimicking nature through organic farming, biodiversity and utilitarian transportation will be the best way to get ahead. You have to play by the rules of nature or things just won't work out right.

Next time I won't use an analogy from a rubber/plastic object to demonstrate my point.