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Archive for February, 2009

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I’ve been very quiet in the blogging world this week. Instead I have been doing lots of reading and lots of planning. I’ve devoured countless documentaries, articles and a whole book this week as I was searching for more information on peak oil. The Crash Course I watched last weekend set something off in me. I had been downshifting to a simpler life, but somehow after all this reading it all seems all the more important that we prepare for a life with less fossil fuels. It suddenly became very clear that the next 20 years are going to be completely unlike the last 20 years, and I want to prepare myself for that. I’m sure I’ll expand more on what I’m thinking, but here’s a quick list of what I’ve been doing this week.

  • I made the very big decision to sell the remainder of my shares. I’ve sold them for quite a loss and I’ll leave the reasoning to a separate post.
  • I’ve prepared a shopping list for a stockpile of food and equipment in the case of disaster. After seeing those terrible fires rip through the southern parts of Australia while the north dealt with cyclones (hurricanes) and mass flooding I thought I really should get myself prepared to deal with a similar situation. I live in Southern California where huge fires or an earthquake are not impossibilities. I rather be self sufficient and perhaps have enough for friends if the power goes out or the shelves run bare.
  • We have our garden cleared and tilled ready for the heirloom vegetable seeds I ordered last week. I can’t wait to get started.
  • I shared my thoughts and plans with my best friend. I was expecting her to call me crazy, but she is completely on the same page. I’m so thankful I now have someone else in my real life to talk to about such things. I’ve also been planting the seeds for more in-depth conversations with both my parents. My sister is a lost cause for the moment.
  • We’ve been doing more by hand. I’m more vigilant about not using the dryer so I went without certain clothes during the recent rains. We’ve also been hand-washing the dishes for the last week. They are small steps, but I feel like I’m setting myself on the path of increased resilience if I had to do without certain luxuries like a dishwasher.
  • We’ve been making meals completely from scratch. No jars, no canned foods. Just dried staples such as flour, oats, sugar, legumes and fresh produce which comes from the farmers market as much as possible. We’ve actually enjoyed the challenge of preparing a meal with what we have at hand rather than rushing off to the grocery store for specific ingredients.
  • We’ve spent next to nothing in the last few weeks. I ride my bike to work and the car has not needed gas, our diet of making do has reduced the cost of groceries, and our entertainment has consisted of free activities like hikes in nature, book clubs, free matinee movies and a home-cooked dinner party with friends.
  • We are also starting to go to local events in our community regarding renewable energy, water conservation, gardening and composting. Just meeting like minded people has been such a boost.

Photo by: h.koppdelaney

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2085541144_b925053054_mThis weekend I have been completely engrossed in watching The Crash Course, which is Chris Martensen’s best attempt to explain exactly how we got into this economic crisis. 

While The Crash Course is divided into small video sections of 3-18 minutes each, the whole thing runs just over 3 hours. We had it on DVD and watched the whole thing from beginning to end. While I already knew many of the themes in this presentation (Economic slump, Peak Oil, Environmental Problems, Baby Boomer Retirement, World Overpopulation), I found The Crash Course  an excellent way of summarizing it all and showing how they all relate.  

I’ve been dedicated to downshifting during the last few months, but somehow becoming aware of all this information has made the task more imperative and urgent for me. As I digest all of this more fully, I’m sure I’ll share my thoughts over the coming weeks and months.

If any of you have already seen this presentation, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Photo by: azrainman

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Inspired by posts from Fabulous Financials and Wide Open Wallet I decided to analyze where my money went last year. For simplicity, I’m only looking at my expenses here in the USA. I have investments incurring some expenses back in Australia, but I like to think of my Australian budget separate to my USA budget. I keep the majority of my money in Australia and have some of my pay sent to the USA for Hubby and I to live on while we are here.

Here’s what my USA expenses looked like for 2008:

2008-spending

  • As you can see a massive 48% on our expenses went on travelling. The vast majority of our travels were made in conjunction with my work trips so I was in receipt of quite generous travelling allowances. Hubby and I usually travel together on far less than I receive. I’ll have to sit down and work out how much we actually spent once those allowances are taken into consideration.
  • Food made up 12% of our expenses and that included grocery shopping and dining out. In reality ‘groceries’ also included household cleaning products, bathroom products and dog food.
  • Hubby and I managed to spend 16% of our budget on ourselves. Hubby used most of his on hobbies and to be honest I don’t know exactly where I used most of mine. It’s terrible that I have thousands of dollars virtually unaccounted for.
  • Bills made up 5% of expenditure and the car was a further 5%.
  • The most shocking discovery in this exercise was that 5% of our expenses were categorized as miscellaneous, un-categorized or cash. What that really means is that 5% of our expenses have disappeared and I don’t know where they went.

I have been tracking my expenses like this for about 10 years. I always thought I was doing a reasonable job of tracking where our money went, but after doing this exercise I now realise that close to 10% of our expenses are not really accounted for. During the month of February, Hubby and I have set ourselves challenge of tracking every single cent that we spend. Hopefully this will get us back into the good habit of being accountable for all our expenses.


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Valentines Day is just over one week away. Typically, Hubby and I don’t do gifts on Valentines Day but if you do, please consider what your gift really means. After Christmas, Valentine’s Day is the holiday that causes the most damage to the environment and exploitation of human health and well-being. 

Chocolates

Six chocolate manufacturers process half of the globe’s cocoa, giving them tremendous leverage to dictate prices and conditions experienced by farmers. As a result of this hyper-consolidation, conditions in the cocoa-growing world tend to be wretched. In the Ivory Coast, where 40% of the world’s cocoa beans are grown, cocoa farms often run on forced child labor

Fair trade chocolate organizations work to ensure the certified chocolate you buy does not involve slave labor, is pesticide-free, grown and manufactured without genetically modified ingredients, and farmers and cocoa workers receive fair wages. Global Exchange reports currently less than 1% of the $13 billion dollar chocolate market is fair trade certified. Go to GlobalExchangeStore to find organic and fair-trade gifts from small, sustainable farms.

Flowers

Flowers have an ugly side most consumers don’t know about. Approximately 40,000 flower workers in Ecuador and more than 100,000 in Colombia work to grow, harvest, and package flowers and carnations for North Americans. Flowers are one of the top pesticide-intensive agricultural crops. The Green Book estimates if all the roses purchased for Valentine’s Day in the USA were organically grown, it would prevent the use of 22,700 pounds of pesticides. One report also indicates that flower workers experience higher-than-average rates of premature births, congenital malformations and miscarriages.

A greener gift choice would be to consider a native potted plant from your local nursery or buy organic flowers from one of these local growers.

Gift cards

Each time you purchase a card made from non-recycled paper you are contributing to the erosion of forests. More than 370 million tons of paper products are used each year in the world. The paper trade is considered to be a non-sustainable industry because there are not enough wood resources to continue to supply global paper demand indefinitely. 93% of paper still comes directly from trees.

Cards made from sustainable materials like hemp, animal dung, cotton rags, hosiery cuttings, bananas, flowers and straw are just a few of the materials papermakers around the world recycle into tree-free cards and paper. Why not try Smockpaper for all your gift cards. All their cards are printed sustainably on pesticide-free bamboo paper and 1% of all sales go to environmental causes.

Photo by: lay d lay

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Since Hubby and I are home for the entire month and not traveling anywhere, I’ve decided to get involved with a monthly challenge over at Crunchy Chicken. The challenge this month is to reduce the amount of food waste in our household. 

We don’t deliberately waste food and we always make an effort to turn food which is on its way out into something edible. Inevitably though, we forget some feta cheese in the back of the fridge or find some old rubbery celery in the crisper weeks after it resembled anything edible. Thankfully we have a dog who eats almost anything so most of our waste isn’t going into landfill and once we have our compost system up and running, we’ll eliminate any food going to landfill at all. That’s not really the point though, wasted food is still a waste of money and a waste of energy. A lot of energy has gone into the growing and transporting of our food and throwing it out just means our environmental impact is higher than it needs to be.  

Ok, so what will we be doing this month? It’s pretty simple. Our goal is to try to reduce the amount of food we throw out, feed to the dog or put into the compost. We’ll keep track of the food that we have and make sure that it gets eaten or preserved before it goes bad and needs to be disposed. It will take a little planning, some organization and the willingness to be creative, but I’m sure we are up for it. 

Our first job yesterday was to go through the fridge and cupboards to see what’s getting close to its expiry date or is starting to go off. Here’s what I threw out:

  • Two bottles of salad dressing
  • A tube of sundried tomato paste
  • Two packets of Starbucks coffee (Didn’t even know I had them)
  • Half a bottle of very old Coca-Cola (from a party last June)
  • Quarter of a bottle of Powerade (from our trip back from Central America a month ago!)
  • Half a bunch of baby spinach 
  • Baby potatoes gone to seed
  • Dried apricots
  • A whole collection of interesting things given to us by friends as they left (pickled onions, jello, gravy mix, food collouring etc)

Here’s what’s close to expiring and which we’ll need to eat up soon:

  • Two boxes of cereal and oats
  • Gravox
  • Bread crumbs
  • Custard powder
  • Feta cheese
  • Tinned fruit
  • Long-life milk
  • Green Apples

I’m amazed at how much stuff I had to throw away. It was really quite painful, but I think it was a very necessary step to start the month with a clean slate. Now we just need to come up with some recipes to use up what’s soon to go off and then be more mindful of what we buy and eat for the rest of the month.

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February 09 Goals

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Finances

  • Finish working through Your Money or Your Life 
  • Keep track of every cent that Hubby and I spend for the month
  • Submit 2008 tax return
  • Claim all medical receipts from my health insurer
  • Chase up refunds due to me

Work/Business

  • Complete assignments for two work courses
  • Tackle some more in-depth topics on this blog

Personal/Spiritual Development and Education

  • Document my vision for the future and set my 101 in 1001 goals
  • Read daily and participate in bookclubs
  • Download podcasts and listen to them while walking the dog

Relationships

  • Write letters to all my Grandparents (including in-laws)
  • Have a good chat to my sister about her finances
  • Go on a couple of dates with Hubby

Social/Fun

  • Research ‘Must see’ things in New York City and find a bargain on a hotel
  • Get in touch with all my friends located in Washington DC prior to my visit in March
  • Go to a murder mystery night with friends
  • Have a hot tub party with friends

Health

  • 23 no alcohol days
  • Train three days per week with Hubby
  • Go on four 2+ hour hikes
  • Continue to take weekly measurements to track progress

Household

Photo by: pasma

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