Saturday, 30 January 2010

A Techno-Sceptic Converted (somewhat...)

I'm a techno-sceptic. It's not that I'm afraid of technology (in fact I often have to suppress these urges to buy the next must-have hi-tech toy), I just don't believe that technology is the silver bullet that'll deliver us from the environmental mess we've gotten ourselves into. Worse, I suspect it's partly thanks to technology we're finding ourselves in this current pickle, with not many graceful exits remaining. Even silver bullets kill...

Having said that, I was pleasantly suprised when I stepped into the room I was scheduled to teach our first "Living Off The Grid" evening class at Confederation College. Turns out we had a student (Tom) from Sioux Lookout, a town at about 375km away from the college. A long drive for a 3-hour class...

Buttons, screens, microphones, computers, keyboards - even students!

The solution: the only distance Tom had to travel was to Confederation College's local campus, find the room that was set up for videoconferencing and position himself in front of the screen & camera. He could see & hear us perfectly, we could perfectly see & hear him. And because his image was projected on a big screen it almost felt like he was physically present in the room with the 14 other students.

I like to use a lot of visuals for my classes (hello PowerPoint), and technology helped out again; want Tom to see what the class sees? Just press this button to go from camera (the class) to computer (the visuals), and press again if you want to go back. It worked like a charm and I loved it.

Very cool, very effective and environmentally helpful. Want to experience it for yourself? You still can! There's 3 more classes left (February 6, 17 and 20); just make sure you're somewhere far away from Thunder Bay and sign up. See ya on the big screen!

Sunday, 24 January 2010

"Befriending the Earth"

Maybe I'm on an art streak after last week's installment (the hand-made necklace out of re-used materials), but I thought I'd share one of our favourite pieces of artwork on our wall. It was made by Marg Janick-Grayston, a United Church minister who works at Calling Lakes, an educational centre in Saskatachewan - but also a gifted textile artist.

"Befriending the Earth" (click to enlarge)

I had the privilege to participate in a 2-year course that Marg taught; she also spent some time with us here at the Eco Centre. That's how we became friends.

One time she brought this wonderful wall hanging she made just for us. It's based on a photograph (taken by her daughter) of a big soap bubble floating in the air, reflecting a peculiar view of the landscape all around it: our environment encapsulated in a fragile bubble. Marg called it "Befriending the Earth".

We love and cherish these very special gifts, they make our lives so rich. Our place has several other personal hand-made mementos, I may bring them up later this year.

Sunday, 17 January 2010


Last Monday was Jacomyn's birthday (yaaay!), always a happy source of birthday cards, emails, phone calls and gifts. One of the gifts she got was from her sister Annemarie, back in Holland. Annemarie made this very cewl necklace, a real conversation piece. And the coolest thing about it: it's entirely made out of discarded and reused materials!

kewl or what?

The funky black bits are from a bicycle's old inner tube (the Dutch pretty much live on their bikes) that has been cut in a certain way to come out like this; the wood beads have been reused from an old necklace that had special meaning for both Jacomyn and Annemarie.

Now admittedly, my fashion sense is at about the same level as my sense of direction (I'm somewhat challenged in these departments); but I'm a sucker for all things hand made and well-designed that tell a personal story and are eco-chic to boot!

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Tramping The Trails

We're enjoying a temporary relief of the cold we've been experiencing lately (see last week's entry). The days are sunny, and a balmy -11 C makes it perfect for one of our favourite winter activities: snowshoeing.

We love our snowshoes; they're of the traditional kind, fashioned out of hardwood and rawhide, hand-made in Montreal by a small Metis-owned company.
Okay, so they're a bit pricier and slightly heavier than their modern aluminum offspring, but at least their frames won't freeze, they provide better "floatation" on powder, make no annoying creaky-squeeky sounds, and let's face it: their design is just of a timeless beauty.

calling it a day...

Winter's thick snow blanket seems to radically change our 311 acres personality (130 hectares. And yes, a landscape has a distinct personality). There are no bugs, sounds are muffled, animal tracks everywhere (some of them pretty impressive), everything's absolutely quiet, familiar summer spots unrecognizable, bright sunshine bouncing off the snow illuminates the darkest corners. But the best part: areas that are inaccessible in the summer can now be explored on snowhoes.

It's a great workout, and for some reason an incredibly satisfying way to explore your property; I love to re-aquaint myself with places not seen for almost a year, notice the subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle changes, and work myself through knee-deep snow making trails.

In the far distance we can hear the muffled roar of some folks tearing around on their snowmobiles. I guess there's a place for those, but not on our property. We prefer our surroundings quiet and without exhaust fumes - and I'm sure the countless animals we share it with do too.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Snug As A Bug In A Straw Rug

A nice, sunny Sunday morning. It's 9:00 a.m. I waddle over to check the outdoor thermometer - and don't need my wake-up coffee anymore. Ouch: -34C... And judging by the wind turbine there's also a stiff breeze. Hmm, better stay inside till it warms up a bit!

Inside the fire's not on yet, still it's a relatively comfy +16C. Not bad, considering we stopped feeding the fire around 10:30 pm the night before, and we're keeping the house at 18-19C during the day. In other words, no heat for about 10 hours straight, as the outside temperature dropped - and dropped.

So in case you had any doubts about the effectiveness of straw bale insulation: doubt no more, it works just fine. It'll even help you wake up without adding any caffeine!