Category Archives: Holistic/Regular Life

Life Update

  • I now have a defense date for my dissertation: October 22nd. The end is in sight.
  • I’ve started a new tai chi class. While the teacher at the Y under whom I’ve been studying for about a year is quite good, the class itself was a little frustrating in that few of the other students trained out of class. As a result, the teacher spent most of his time correcting elementary form mistakes rather than moving us into deeper levels. Too, it was all form work and thus the standard wave-your-hands-around stereotype of tai chi. The new class is taught by a push-hands champ and is all martial technique. In three classes I haven’t seen a form yet but have thrown and been thrown all over the mat. I’m quite satisfied; it complements the form training quite well.
  • The place where I’ve been working as a contractor has hired me full-time. This comes with a raise, benefits, and a title (I’m a vp now!). Yay, health insurance!!


Today when I dashed into the gym for a lunch-hour session with the weights, the login kiosk greeted me with a virtual banner and balloons for reaching a certain number of points for the month.

One of the things that M and I like about our local Y is that the machines in the workout room are hooked into the FitLinxx system that tracks how long, how far, how heavy, etc. Furthermore, when you’re at home you can log in and add other activities. So, when I run outside, I can go and put it in manually.

In recent days, I’ve been working on really embracing this system, and being dutiful about logging my out-of-gym workouts. I find that doing so actually helps me to be more diligent about getting up and doing my tai chi in the morning. The more intentional I am about logging, the more intentional I am about doing, therefore the sooner I accumulate points and, voila, virtual banner and balloons…

So, I found myself thinking tongue-in-cheek, why not a SpirituaLixx? You know, you log your Morning and Evening Offices, your mid-day rosaries and mass attendence. It in, return, keeps you abreast of which collects to use, what Holy Days of Expectation are coming, and—when you acheive your target goals—presents you with suitably ironic icons, medals, statues, and plenary indulgences…

Rule Resource

Don’t miss today’s reading from Speaking to the Soul at the Episcopal Cafe. It’s from Margaret Guenther who, IIRC, was a professor of spirituality and spiritual direction at General. The topic is on the proper form of a rule of life. From the snippet, it looks like it’d be a good resource.

Jack-booted Garden Thugs

Well, the jack-booted thugs that LP is always complaining about came calling yesterday in the form of a letter to our landlord from the management company that “manages” our subdivision.

The compost bin has to go.

We placed the bin under a low-hanging pine tree so that it was darn near invisible and it never stunk or drew animals or otherwise was a “nuisance” but apparently rules are rules…

Our landlord thought it was pretty stupid too. (We got off to a great start the first time he saw the statue of Mary outside our front door—he’s Egyptian and his father was a Coptic Orthodox priest.) He’s got a compost pile at home and has offered to give us some of his whenever we need it.

Now I’m wondering what happened—whether a neighbor complained or whether some employee encountered it and am wondering what this may mean for our container gardening plans. And I’m trying to figure out if a potato-filled stack of tires would fly!

Thoughts on Food via Lee

Lee’s put up a review of a review of a cookbook which inspires me to think out loud a bit about food.

The points raised about cooking are spot on—that is, cooking is an essential skill that Americans need to know. My mom made me learn when I was young and I got experience in Boy Scouts in planning meals, buying food, and cooking it over propane and open fires (and starting said fires, of course…). Both M and I love to cook and we try hard to make the grand majority of our food from scratch.  The result is food that tastes good and where we have  control over the ingredients.

There’s no question that it takes longer to prepare than take-out—but it also costs less and that’s been a huge factor in the course of our life together given our various situations. Again, workinmg from home gives me some flexibility there; I’ve chopped onions and stirrd risotto while on conference calls.

To get back to Lee’s post and the book to which it refers, I was struck by one of the sensible criticisms of it:

It can be easy for someone like me to forget that many people would see Bittman’s plan as untenable, since the kinds of foods he recommends aren’t sold in affordable chain or fast-food restaurants or available prepared or frozen in every suburban supermarket. Some of his advice — carry nuts and fruit around with you for snacks, so you can avoid vending machines — may be tenable for them, but some of the rest will seem even less practical than the Atkins Diet.

This got me thinking about some of the cookbooks I’ve acquired recently that seem to focus on what I consider novelty foods—fruits and vegetables not easily acquired or found outside of run-of-the-mill food stores.  I wonder what we happen if we took sober account of what actually can be grown locally and what foods would be available at various times of the year. Yes, I can cook quite well—but I’ve never looked at recipes weighing whether I could get their ingredients easily locally at all times. I’ve not given much thought to food preservation cooking. Using fresh veggies is great and preferable—but where do cucumbers come from for a January salad? I see three main options if you’re going to remain committed to low-energy, local food options:

  1. You don’t make salads in January, or
  2. they’re called “pickles”, or
  3. start building your greenhouse…

Now I’ve always been a fan of cooking “peasant food” which I define as basic ingredients with big flavors (we don’t go in for delicate flavors so much here). A perfect example is one of our cold-day favorites: potato soup. Potatoes, onions, and garlic sauteed in bacon fat with broth and the cut-up rendered bacon and croutons. Hmm—all ingredients that could be stored and/or harvested through the winter… Imagine that…

Yes, I think it’d be a good idea for people to start acquiring cooking skills, but I wonder if it wouldn’t help to orient them—and even those of us who already know how to cook—back toward the basic recipes and ingredients that make sense based on where you are and what your climate is.

New Year Prognostications

A number of folks have linked to a quite memorable set of predictions for the forthcoming year from James Kunstler’s Fustercluck Nation blog. I think that 2008 has demonstrated the fragility of our current economic system. In particular I think that the combination of the credit crunch, fluctuations in energy costs and the Madoff scandal have further eroded whatever confidence folks had in Wall Street. Coming as all this does at the beginning of a new president promising change,  that leaves a whole lot of question marks up in the air.

Again, although I think the basic facts underlying Kunstler’s predictions are correct, I’m suspicious of their apocalyptic cloaking. I don’t foresee a collapse of America-as-we-know it in the coming year. I do think things will get worse; I do believe that we will start to see a shift in the MSM from the r-word (recession) to the d-word-that-rhymes that nobody wants to mention yet.

Whenever I reflect on our world situation, my mind keeps getting drawn back to Joseph’s dream of the seven lean years—recognizing here that sven is not intended literally but as a substantial space of time. We’re there.

And, more worrisome than Kunstler’s apocalyptic is this even-toned article from The Oil Drum on Energy Return on Energy Investment. Here’s a quick-n-dirty summary:

  • The energy expended to produce oil energy ratio has been steadily becoming less productive
  • In the 1930’s the ratio was roughly 1:100 (energy expended [in kilojoules]: energy gained)
  • By the 1970’s it was more like 1:30
  • The ratio is now somewhere between 1:18 to 1:11
  • “In fact, if the rate of decline continues linearly for several decades then it would take the energy in a barrel of oil to get a new barrel of oil. While we do not know whether that extrapolation is accurate, essentially all EROI studies of our principal fossil fuels do indicate that their EROI is declining over time, and that EROI declines especially rapidly with increased exploitation rates (e.g. drilling).”

This tells me that whether everything comes to a head in 2009 or not, the oil economy really is on the way out and we’d best get very busy about preparing for its end.

There’s an old saying about “making a virtue out of necessity” which has floated to mind a couple of times recently. In relation to that I think we’d be wise to start cultivating virtues before they become necessities. I do believe that “sustainable” is going to become one of the coming year’s most over-used words that will cease to have any rhetorical force by its over-exploitation by February so I’ll return to less secular and less comfortable words: “simplicity” and “ascesis”.

M and I know that we have too much stuff and are attached to too much stuff than is good for us. Letting go will be a theme this year. Intentionality and discipline need to occur this year especially as they apply to how we structure our time and how we consume.

In short, it means further consideration of a rule of life in personal terms, in household terms, in traditional terms, and outside-the-box terms. We’ll keep you posted on what develops…

A Monk on Climate Change, Sustainability, and Moral Theology

Go read it now!

The key to addressing sustainability, he suggests is a return to the roots of of our moral theology.

Virtue: Justice, temperance, fortitude, and prudence exercised in harmony. Cultivating these and collaborating with others who seek them is the goal. The church’s distinctive touch are the three theological virtues: faith, hope, and love.

Furthermore, he points to the Transition Towns initiative as a way forward, with which I heartily agree. The Transition Towns concept is not about legislation or top-down change but local networks doing what they can to spread awareness and changes. The governments, the systems, are not going to save us.

The Platform I Wish I Could Vote For

Well, I went and did my civic duty. Can’t really say I “dropped the handle”; “touched the screen” doesn’t really have the right ring to it…

This election for me was a lesser of two evils decision. If only McCain had run the platform he ran in 2000. If only Lieberman had been his running mate. Oh well—we rarely get what we want…

But I did start thinking about what I want. I think it’ll be a term for that. With—most likely—a Democratic president and Congress, it’ll should provide space for thinking about the shape of politics to come. Here’s what I’d like:

  • A moderate coalition
  • fiscally conservative (pay as you go only)
  • economically moderate with a focus on conservation and localization

To expand a bit on that last point, I’m not a free-trade capitalist. Some interference in the markets is necessary. And, for the desperate cause of moving away from a cheap energy economy that means  tax credits and incentives for:

  • business and households that reduce energy consumption/are fitted for demonstrable energy conservation (including incentives for telecommuting and mass transit use)
  • emphasize local industries
  • support a move away from service industries and cultivate local food production and small manufacturing industries
  • tax out-sourcing for investment in local community colleges/vocation programs 
  • stop fuel subsidies by taxing fuel to the real cost of production and use the tax gains to work towards a lower energy infrastucture (electrified railways, et al.) 

Would this look like protectionism? isolationism? On the first, yeah—it would. On the second—not in principle but in practice. 

On social issues? Give me a break… We’re tired of the culture wars. I have yet to see a cogent argument for how gay marriage is an attack on hetero marriage. If you want to protect marriage, then make marriage counseling mandatory for couples of all sorts.

I don’t know—it’s still stuff I’m kicking around. And it’s not like anyone’s going to ask my opinion anyway—it’s just what I’d like to see…

Final Spider Bite Update

At long last we close this painful chapter…

Ten months after the original bite, I’m 100% back to normal with no more infection. From not being able to walk for two months, I finished an 8K cross-country race yesterday. 

In the aftermath of the bite, M and I have been doing a lot of lifesyle reassessment. The doctor told M at the time that the only reason I was survived was because of my good physical condition. Since then, we’ve committed to keep ourselves in better shape. Last month M made the determination (and I jumped on board) that not only would we run more and get into decent cardiovascular shape but that we would enter at least one race a month to give us something to shoot for. She ran her first 5K last month; my first competitive race since high school was yesterday.

My time qualified me for our next big training milestone: The National Half-Marathon next March in Washington, DC. If any of you DC area readers want to join us, just let me know…