September 30, 2010

natural stress relievers

Love Party coop 8
chicken-watching: a very natural stress-reliever

The last few weeks have been kind of stressful.

Job craziness, car troubles, all sorts of unexpected household repairs costing too much money, and lots of sickness in our house: it has all added up to way too much stress.

So I'm taking advantage of the fact that it's my turn to write a Sew Green post to give some thought to natural & sustainable ways to relieve stress. Perhaps it will help me chill out a bit.

When I'm stressed out, I am much more likely to do things that are awfully bad for the environment, like eating junk food and buying stuff I don't need. Driving instead of taking the time to bike where I'm going. Stuff like that. Just noticing that sometimes helps me to avoid doing those things. So what are the really positive things I can do to relieve stress? I'm going to make a list. And I really want to see what you all have to add to the list!

I love yoga. If I don't get to class every week, I really miss it. Yoga works out the kinks in my body and my mind. When I'm crazy busy, I don't make time for yoga at home. But if I can force myself to make a quiet space for a few minutes for a bit of practice, it helps so much. When I can hardly make myself do it (which is often), I like to use these short (15-20 minutes) streaming yoga videos from to guide me through a nice little practice.

cooking a meal
Cooking healthy food is one of the first things out the window when I'm feeling stressed and busy. But I also find that it's a great way to break the cycle, force myself to stop and do something wonderful that takes a little time and is good for me. Plus, if you're craving comfort food, making it yourself can be doubly relaxing.

Nothing transports me to my happy place like a good novel. I sometimes find myself desperately racking our bookshelves for a new book to read when things get tough. I love to lose myself in another reality. And I find that reading before bed really helps me to fall asleep quickly and to sleep peacefully (if I can put my book down). Which brings me to...

Oh my gosh, what could be better than sleep?? I am an 8-hours-a-night kind of gal, but unfortunately my life is more like 7-hours-if-I'm-lucky. Nothing compounds my stress like sleep deprivation. The best thing I can do for myself is to go to bed early (preferably with a good book to help me off to dreamland).

Like most people, I need a little exercise every day to help me relax and sleep well. Whenever I start to feel really anxious and full of nervous energy that won't let me rest, it's a sure symptom of not-enough-exercise. The best thing I can do for myself in that situation is to drop everything and go for a long bike ride or a sweaty yoga practice.

time with friends
Today I attended a really frustrating and stressful conference. Luckily I had carpooled with a friend, and just venting together on the ride home helped so much. It helped even more that afterwards I went by her house and had a beer with her family in the backyard. We laughed and watched their chickens scratch around and generally chilled out for a little while. It wasn't a long time, but it sure was therapeutic.

So that's my list. I'd love to hear what some of your strategies are for letting go of stress! Now I think I'll go practice a few downward-dogs.

September 26, 2010

slow clothes

My clothes are disintegrating. Most are over ten years old. Moths have taken advantage of some of them as the clothes have hung on the line to dry. I’ve come to dislike shopping for clothes, even if I appreciate beautiful patterns, textures, cuts. I no longer get a consumer high if I buy a shirt from H+M. The last three years, I’ve bought almost no clothing (save bras and bathing suits) from big or corporate stores. But I’m finding it hard to find hand made, well crafted clothing that I like, even in DIY San Francisco. And I just would rather spend my money on a good cheese. But it is time to start replacing my beyond mending clothing. So my plan is to slowly build a long lasting wardrobe, one well crafted, ideally sustainably sourced/made garment at a time—one item a month.

Above is the first shirt I purchased under my slow clothing plan. The shoulder line isn’t flattering on me, but I really like the print, the red stripe down the back, the feel of the fabric and the company. Seems like the designer is thinking deeply about what she’s making and how it’s being produced—she’s a craftsperson.

Recently I read The Hidden Wound (1968–69 and afterword in 1988) by Wendell Berry, in which Berry writes a bit about craftspeople, though the book is primarily about race and community in the US. (Berry writes about his own experiences as a white boy growing up around black workers/friends on his family’s farm and about how those early experiences continue to inform his thinking about race relations and much more. The book sparks a lot of thought.) Here is the passage about craft:

The industrial laborer subserves an economic idea instituted in machines and in mechanized procedures. This is as far as possible from the work of the traditional craftsman or artist, whose making has never resembled what we now call “manufacture,” but is a cooperation and conversation of mind and body and idea and material. The true craftsman does not waste materials because his or her art involves respect for materials. And the craftsman’s products are not wasted because by their quality and durability they earn respect.
The great enemy of freedom is the alignment of political power with wealth. This alignment destroys the commonwealth—that is, the natural wealth of localities and the local economies of household, neighborhood, and community—and so destroys democracy, of which the commonwealth is the foundation and the practical means. This happens—it is happening—because the alignment of wealth and power permits economic value to overturn value of any other kind.

He goes on to mention what government could do to promote the improvement of communities and protection of the natural world. And since the government will not do what it takes—will not dissociate from corporate power—it will eventually come down to us to restore community life.

From reading the above bits, I think about how sitting in front of a computer all day at work (which, in the interest of full disclosure, for me is a place with altruistic intentions whose work is funded in large part by corporations) I miss that cooperation and conversation of mind and body and idea and material. My body tells me this regularly. It wants to move around more. My hands want to build and shape and fit, not just click. I think about how the powerful food industries block regulation and information that would (among other things) improve food safety, and about how most consumers only count the monetary cost of food (instead of also considering the toll of industrial ag on people and land ). I think about how as the climate crisis snowballs (bringing storms and food and water scarcity), we will be forced to rely on our communities, our local farmers. our craftspeople and friends. I think about how the erosion of our communities and the misuse of nature (through natural resources depletion, industrialism, pollution, “free” trade) is largely what brought on climate change in the first place.

So yeah, slow clothes in addition to slow food.

September 9, 2010

The 3 Rs - Part 2

Way back in June, I posted about the first R - reducing. A week later, our garage was broken into and my very nice Norco Vermont was stolen. The kicker was, we had made the momentous decision to take our car off the road only 6 weeks earlier. I was now totally without wheels.

I had a good cry, called the police to report the theft, and then started surfing around on Kijiji and Craigslist to see if anyone might be dumb enough to try and sell my bike there. No luck.

So what's a girl to do?

In my case, get incredibly nostalgic and buy a 1970s Sekine 10-speed that is the exact same bike I had as a teenager. I need the bike for commuting, not for racing, so I immediately headed over to the Orioles Bike Cage and with the help of the lovely volunteers I swapped our the handlebars and brakes. Then I headed to my friendly local bike shop for some new tires, rack and handle grips, and my sweet new ride was ready to hit the streets.

Orioles Bike Cage is the most amazing place. It is all about the second R - reuse. It is located behind the community centre in a building that was formerly the shop / office at the wading pool. The wading pool is now the velodrome (20 laps = 1 km) and the building is full of assorted parts and tools. On the afternoon that I was there, there was also an assortment of people hard at work on an assortment of bikes.

I live in the inner city and the bike cage is my neighbourhood encapsulated. Wayne is an older guy of indeterminate age with a grey handlebar moustache. We chatted amiably about the gang house next to his house, and how glad he is that they've finally moved on. Tim, the young guy helping me, doesn't live in the area, but he is a bike enthusiast and is there to share his skills and spread the love. Jacob is a 10-ish First Nations kid who clearly lives at the Bike Cage, since he's been there every time I have been. He's fearless and independent and totally into his BMX (though he's saving up for a skateboard).  There is a pixie-faced hippy chick who clearly knows her way around a bike and is restoring a gorgeous red cruiser from the '40s or '50s. There is a Filipino guy with his two little kids building a bike from the frame up. A big dude who looks like he rocked out in the '80s (and is still rockin') is doing the same thing. An older woman who didn't speak English very well is waiting for help with her flat tire.

I'm sure everyone is there for different reasons, but lack of money is definitely one of them. The Bike Cage takes money out of the equation. There, with a little work, anyone can have a bike.

Just in case you couldn't tell, let me say it: I LOVE the Bike Cage. And I love my new old bike as well.

September 2, 2010

Better Back-to-School Shopping

I've had a bad morning. My USB memory stick is broken. And I don't just mean "error message" broken, I mean the circuit board has snapped from the plug. It was my fault, I forgot to take it out of the port last night (it was in the back of my laptop instead of the side, as I had another device plugged in its usual spot), and at some point between then and turning my laptop on I must have knocked it. I admit that I cried a little when I saw what I'd done. Luckily in this age of facebook and flickr, it's not the end of the world... just a major inconvenience and a little sad.

But this had a strange sort-of relevance to what I want to show you today. It's that dreaded time of year, and just hearing the words used to send shivers down my spine -- it's Back to School time. Actually, it still does send shivers down my spine, and every year the shops seem to put up those awful banners earlier and earlier. This year, they went up weeks before the end of term! Of course, I always found that going back to school had some advantages -- new pencil case, for example. New book bag. New lunch box. And these days, new USB drives too. It must be a huge money-maker for the high street, but why give up your money for the same old mass produced school wares when you can buy all this stuff handmade, eco friendly and vintage? What an easy way to stand out from the crowd. So I've compiled a small collection of my favourite back to school finds from Etsy - click each image to see more:

(Oh, and check out this simple bookbinding tutorial if you feel like making your own notebook!)

The Highlander VERTICAL bag by Kibber, $99 USD

Organic Linen Messenger Bag by 11m2, $89 USD

Reusable Organic Snack Bag by BebelooshMini, $6.99 USD

I Love Book Zipper Pouch by kukubee, $12 USD

4GB Lego Brick USB Flash by 123smile, $59.95 USD

Blue Octopus Bookplates by boygirlparty, $4.50 USD

Set of 16 Stickers, Creatures Collection by paperexploits, $4 USD

Emerald Lepus Mini Sketchbook by deermayor, $8.50 USD

You should also check out Dawanda, Folksy, and Misi for indie handmade treasures from my side of the pond. (:

Have you found any drool-worthy back to school treats?