Month: November 2015

Two Sides of a Coin

two sides of a coin

Money is typically defined as anything of value. Money is often used as a means of barter, trade, and for transactions. And so money is not often valued for itself, but for what it can get us. Money, then is useful, but not necessarily valuable. In thinking of this, I realize that there are two sides to every coin.

It seems that much time and effort is spent in trying to become rich in order to buy things that are not necessarily valuable or useful using something that is not necessarily valuable. This seems strangely  a waste (rather than a valuable)  of our time. However, most of us live our lives by this axiom; most of us.

The recent upswing in locavore, organic, self-sustainability and other descriptive ways of living seem to be motivated not by money, but by something far more valuable: happiness. The motivation to turn away from money to “do what’s right”, or to “be more healthy” seems to have its basis in virtue.

Virtue is a philosophical ethical theory founded upon a moral education, which is considered by Aristotle as a good in itself because such a life leads to a higher quality of happiness. Without getting into the philosophy too much, the value of living such a life is found in actually living that life. Money is not valuable in itself. However, living a life of virtue is.

So, one side of the coin seems to be the motivation to be happy, and the other side of the coin seems to be the kind of happiness that matters: the quality of our happiness. Money seems to abide by one side of the coin, but not to the other. Don’t get me wrong; I think that money is a viable tool, a useful means to live comfortably and securely. But I’m not sure that it is the best means.

The current movement towards more viable and sustainable agricultural methods and cultural beliefs is certain to lead to jobs and opportunities that are yet to be seen. But these movements do seem to be good in themselves as well.  We have to be careful. On the one hand, money is a motivator for our dreams, but on the other hand money often undermines the dream itself. Perhaps what we must always remember is that what is useful is often not what is valuable, and what is valuable is not always useful: there are always two sides to a coin.

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This Old Hat

old hats

I have an old hat that a friend of mine used to wear.  Now it’s faded and the threads are starting to wear thin.  I’ve washed it a few times, always by hand, but every time I wash it, it seems to get weaker.  My friend, Turid, was from Norway.  She died a few years back of a brain tumor.  When her hair fell out she wore this hat to keep her head warm.  Now I wear it to keep my head warm.

I can’t say that it’s the best looking of hats.  It was bought in the airport in Oslo; kind of a last minute thought.  It’s come a long way from the rack in an airport kiosk.  It is probably my favorite hat, but when I wear it there are many that make fun of me.

“You look like a fisherman in that hat!” they’ll say.

Or, “That’s kinda funky…”

Or, “Have you thought about buying another hat?!”

I smile; they mean no harm.  But, I think of what they’d say if I told them the story of Turid and the hat.  I never do, because I learned from Turi to never say anything that might make people feel bad, if you don’t have to.

I suppose that I could quit wearing the hat and put it up in a special place, a box or frame, to remember her by.  But I’m fairly certain that she would frown upon such a scheme.  “A hat is to be worn…” she might say, “So, wear the hat!”  And I do.

Of course, I’m attached to the hat; it means a lot for obvious reasons, but it has come to stand for more than it means.  I am committed to the hat, one may say.  There are new, and better hats, but none quite so good as this one.  There are warmer hats, and hats that cover my ears on cold days, but none quite so comforting as this hat.

Turid died some years ago, but I had the pleasure of meeting her parents in Bergen Norway, as well as her children.  Her parents made a mark on me; a mark that people rarely make.  They were honest and sincere, and we hit it off right off the bat.  They had dignity and integrity; they had character and were committed.  They were set in ways, not because of tradition, but because the ways were trustworthy, practical, and utilitarian: they are simply right.

Although I only met them for a few hours one night, Turid’s mother hugged me (very un-Norwegian), and told me to take care of Gunnar (Turid’s husband, also a good friend of mine).  Her father showed me his old woodworking bench, worn by years of use.  He, like I have become, was committed.

So, the hat and I have a history and it has become a part of my history.  I love this old, ugly hat but in a way that only those who understand the importance of committing one’s self to something inherently good can do.  I think it’s funny how some cheap, stitched up airport hat can become a treasure and I wonder about those who make a treasure out of things they are not committed to.  This old hat has at least taught me that, and it keeps my head warm enough for all that.

Head or Heart

head or heart

This is part of an old saying: follow your heart. But when I think to follow my heart, my assumption is that in doing so things will somehow “magically” work out. I do realize, perhaps because I listen to my head, that following my heart means a lot of work, a lot of compromise, and as I am beginning to understand: a lot of courage.

Let’s be realistic! Dreams are often best left as such. But following your heart often demands that we forget that fact. In fact, it is often best to do so. I’m sure that many people have realized that much too late. When the dream becomes a nightmare of endless nights, lack of money, and no way out it becomes difficult to remember that it was the heart that got us into the pickle in the first place.

But like love, the heart is a fickle thing, and to truly follow the heart, to make that dream a reality (nightmares and all), often means to follow many paths least followed; often for good reason. When I think of following my heart I always remember that we wake from our dreams and that nightmares end. I remember that money is often found at the end of rainbows.

Perhaps the head or heart question, when I ask it, is already answered and I simply don’t realize it? It’s good to remember that unlike the head, the heart does not ask for permission, directions, or if a dream makes sense or not. The heart is the two year old that we all have inside of us that follows the floating paper in a brisk wind, stumbling down the road with only one goal in mind.

So, the question: do I follow my heart or do I follow my head is in fact a meaningless question because as soon as it has been asked, it has been answered. To not realize this little fact is to live with regret, but only the heart realizes this.

a Dead Leaf

a dead leaf

Fall is often looked upon as the end of summer. In fact, as I ride around the area where I live, I see everyone sweeping up the remains of the summer: the leaves on the ground, now brown, yellow, and red. They bag these remnants up and leave them on the curb to be picked up. The trees stand lifeless and the mess which is nature is uncovered for all to see. It is as if we hide behind the fullness of life until our secrets are revealed with the death of a leaf. However, a dead leaf is much more than the end; it is in fact, the future.

I cannot stand the sight of leaves being crushed in the middle of streets under the tires of cars. This unconscious act seems to denigrate the value of death because it is often seen as the end. The leaves have done their job and are discarded, unimportant and we busy ourselves “cleaning up” the mess left behind without thinking of the cost. The trees sometimes seem disgraced in their gnarly nakedness; nothing left to the imagination. However, it is the fallen leaves that hold the future and our lack of imagination the dooms us to repeat the mistakes that we seem to believe justified.

Gardens in the fall do not help. Our gardens have produced and are now left flat and unappealing; the dirt mocking the very labor that we have spent the summer on. The end is all around us and we sweep it into bags and under the eaves of the house. We prune the leftovers almost wishing that no one will notice the seeming ugliness that we uncover.

The fall is not the end, but the beginning. A dead leaf is much more than the end, or even a representation of the end, it is the beginning. In fact, the deadness of the leaf is only an illusion because it is the life that it holds that counts. The dead leaf holds the key to the future. It is such a simple concept; an endless cycle of birth and rebirth, Buddhist in its nature. I picked up a leaf before throwing it into the shredder and looked upon its brown acquiescence. I thought as I threw it into the machine that it was at my mercy. But I was wrong: it is the other way around.

We are at the mercy of the fall and what it promises us. The fall is in fact the beginning of what will be. The labor of the summer is a direct consequence of our understanding that it is we that are at the mercy of the leaves in the fall. It is they that hold the answers and them that hold our future. Within the thin, crackly membrane of a dead leaf is the necessities of life. If we do not understand this, we are in fact, doomed.

So, grab those black bags that hold so much; rip them open and spill their precious contents over your garden, over your lawn, over your land. Remember, the land will only give back as much as we let it. The dead leaf that you crumple in your hand is a deciding factor not only for your garden, but for our lives. A society that does not value the importance of a dead leaf, is a society that is unable to value the importance of a sustainable life.

Freedom of Food

canned food

When I first began finding the joys and understanding the necessity of growing my own food, I hurriedly began finding the necessity and understanding the joys of canning my own food. After all, what good is a garden if what it produces goes to waste.

Canning is pretty straight-forward and does not rely upon refrigeration. The basic principles are the same no matter what you can, but I really enjoy canning tomatoes, red cabbage, and beets. It’s a nice feeling to open the cupboards of your kitchen and look over the summer’s work. Also, it’s a great thing to look forward to all the freshly canned food that you will have when you are working on those hot, summer days in the garden.

So, get your canning on!

  1. Grow your own food without pesticides or artificial fertilizer.
  2. Pick, eat what you want, and save the rest.
  3. When ready, get some heat-resistant bottles for canning
  4. Boil the lids and bottles for at least 15 minutes.
  5. Prepare the food to be canned.
  6. Always, always make sure everything is clean, clean, clean.
  7. After canning the veggies, boil the newly bottled veggies for about 10 more minutes.
  8. Take the canned food out and listen for the wonderful  “pop” of the lid.
  9. Try different recipes, or just can some veggies.
  10. Mark the tops with the date including the year.

There are some important things to be aware of. First, some of your canning endeavors will fail. This is called compost in the canning world. Secondly, some of your recipes will not taste as good as you’d like. You have two options: compost or creativity. Mix some of these with other foods and sometimes you’ll be surprised.

I have read that growing your own food and putting it up is the ultimate revolutionary act and have found through the years found this to be true. So, if you want to taste true freedom, true self-sustainability, and experience what I would equate with being human, grow and can your own food!

It’s an amazing sense of freedom and the food, well, it tastes great!