Reflections on Consumption: Boots, Handles and Dinnertime Conversation

November 2

Copyright Leigh Symonds
Copyright Leigh Symonds

Today, I finally bought my son some winter boots. They are Bogs. These boots do him well. They keep his feet warm in winter even when he goes on walks through the marsh or wades in creeks in the winter. He teaches me a lot about just being in nature, whatever the weather and he’s like an otter when water is around. A great part of this is that we provide him with gear that can take that sort of play. The Bogs work. And this year, I thought I’d buy my first pair of actual winter boots in years. I often just bundle up my hiking boots. These work to a point, but they have horrible treads for ice. So, hopefully, Bogs for me too, though the store didn’t have any adult ones. As for the price, these boots get passed down to his best friend, and if they last, his best friend’s brother. Like all his clothes. I feel pretty good here: 90% of my son’s clothes come from a second hand consignment store. And then, if they last, they see another two boys through before being passed on again. I could improve on the pants that get ripped or the shirts whose stains won’t come out.

Copyright Leigh Symonds
Copyright Leigh Symonds

I got my Dad’s walker handle fixed, today. $10 repair at Wellwise. That made his life much better and was done in 10 minutes. I also bought some new masks as I seem to be using the disposable ones at the Environment Centre overly much and with winter coming on, our noses will be running more as we go from inside to out and back again. I have been admiring others masks that fit their nose and face better than mine seem to. And these are adjustable. I could have done better here with my choice in terms of both playfulness (they are just plain) and manufacture location. When I got them home, I found out they were made in China. That’s what this journal is for: allowing me the space to reflect on things so that, next time, I can make a choice that better fits my worldview.

I made inroads on reducing plastic today! I brought the greenhouse in from the yard where it had fallen down last night in the winds. This will house my Winter Greens Garden. I carefully collected all the dirt from the pots where plants had not made it and put it in a bag of topsoil. I think I will search for a container with a lid to put the dirt in, so I can recycle it through the winter. That was one issue that bothered me when I tried this, briefly, another time. If you compost the dirt remaining after you have harvested some of the plants, then you have to buy more, which just isn’t right. In the summer, of course, dirt is easy to get from outside, and, quite frankly, that’s where it stays because the garden is outside. In the winter, though, it’s much harder. So, having a small dirt recycling/compose bin might work well here.

At the end of the day, I turned my phone off at dinner and put it somewhere away from the table. I intentionally focused on family discussion and on letting go of distraction. A good choice.

New Year’s Reflections

November 1: New Year’s reflections

Today is the beginning of the New Year in Celtic tradition. I thought it fitting that today, I would reflect on what I want to change. I already have changed in an important way, by downshifting my time commitments last week. This has had important resonances for me already. I have been able to more present with the activities I am engaging in and the people I am interacting with. I am able to be grateful for all the opportunities I have. And, while I am not sleeping well, I am sleeping better.

One change I need to tackle is the time for myself. Time for me to be centred. Time to connect with friends. To reduce packaging in growing greens. To devote time to researching and buying reusable diapers. Time for me to focus and to be present will allow me to tackle the sustainability projects and practices that often hover just out of reach. One flows from the other.

This isn’t something that happens overnight, so in addition to downshifting, I am going to pick a small but mighty change to enact: I will turn my phone to Do Not Disturb at dinner and on weekends. One of the reasons I needed to give up those two days of teaching was that I taken them on to help out friends needed additional school care this year. I found I could not switch off from work as work related issues arose at all hours. This simply highlights a problem that is already there. I can remember too many times when I have paid attention to the bings and dings of text messaging when my focus should have been on my family. While I am not going to ignore my phone or messages in the evening, I will choose when to look at them, rather than to be pulled out of being present for my family by their chirps and beeps.

I am also going to observe what other changes occur. I am finding that this journal is an excellent way to think deeply about my actions. Through pinning them down with words, I can both reflect on how much good I am actually doing, rather than being distracted by feelings of inadequacy (I should really break up that cardboard downstairs to get out onto the grass so that I can easily turn my front yard into a garden next spring!). I can also objectively tackle the things that I want to improve.

These changes combine downshifting, Etzioni’s comments about happiness being grounded in relationships and intellection (2012), and pyschiatrist Dan Siegel’s emphasis on journalling as a way of promoting mindfulness and happiness (Kochenderfer, 2019).

Let’s see what happens!

References

Kochenderfer, Rebecca. (2019, October 8). Discover journaling’s positive effects on the brain, with Dr. Dan Siegel. Journaling.com. https://www.journaling.com/articles/discover-jouranlings-positive-effects-on-the-brain-with-dr-dan-siegel/.

Etzioni, Amitai (September 2012). You don’t need to buy this. YouTubehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FN3z8gtDUFE

Reflections on Consumption: Happy Hallowe’en

October 31

Happy Halloween!

And what a different Halloween, with much less spending and preparation for me. We went over to my son’s friends and had an afternoon playdate. My son dressed up in a dragon costume, which just happens to be his everyday onesy. No prep, except long underwear underneath for outdoor play. His friends used boxes as Minecraft heads: Steve and a Creeper. The boxes didn’t stay on for more than 2 minutes, just to show. Then, they had a Halloween candy hunt.

I didn’t in the end, use the glow sticks I bought. Those can be stored for another night. I still have angst over the plastic and again, it is partly a feeling of a lack-of-time that generated that purchase.

I did buy some chocolate for this little celebration. No Nestle. Thank goodness. Instead, I bought a large box of Lindt chocolate truffles. Thinking about consumption, the individual packaging on these bothers me. But they did make good outdoor treats to hide. The kids probably got 10 each. I bought a small package for myself as well.

I do have the option of making much nicer truffles at home. We did this for Easter when we made chocolate DNA. Our plan was to make all the DNA base pairs but we only managed Guanine. This was impressive and fun and educational and much better than going out to a store to buy prepackaged, preserved chocolates. But the issue is time and organization.

Copyright Leigh Symonds
Copyright Leigh Symonds

I also bought a lego set: a belated birthday gift for my son’s friend. I had forgotten that we bought him something he already had and needed to buy something else. The original gift is in the process of being regifted. And again, time and organization come into play here. Halloween, especially this topsy turvy Halloween when the world is turned even more upside down than usual, is a great time to receive a belated Happy Birthday present.

I went to a local bakery and bought three dessert squares for after dinner. This is a real treat for us. My husband is watching his diet for health reasons, so no gluten and much less baking. Again, that time factor for figuring out how to do recipes without gluten.

And, finally, I bought a bottle of my favourite shiraz. It’s from Australia and while I went into the store intending on buying local, I haven’t seen this in years (probably because trips to the wine store are infrequent!), so another Halloween indulgence.

On the grand scale of things, we spent very little for Halloween, nor did we take much time to prepare. On the one hand, we were quite successful in turning a major holiday full of consumption of sugar and packaging into a moderate expenditure of both. However, had we spent more time on the chocolate preparation, we could have had a lot of creative fun and together and reduced our packaging and dependence on large manufacturing companies where we have no say, other than not buying their product, in how they go about doing business.

Am I happy with how the day went! Actually, I am. We had fun (the night was a movie night with stove popped popcorn) and marked the day as something special in a small way. And I got to reflect on the things that would have brought more meaning to me through this blog. If I can keep the blog/journal up past full-filling the course requirements, then this will aid me in our Christmas prep where those homemade truffles might just make an appearance as they have in previous years. And, maybe, I can talk to my friends at the Environment Centre and we can do something magical up there for Halloween next year that doesn’t involve the packaging and consumption.

Reflections of Consumption: Trees and Leaves and Letting Go

October 30th

Today, I bought nothing. Instead, I was gifted with duck eggs. Four large beautiful eggs from two ducks whom my student is training to be therapy ducks. I have not met them in person, but I watched them grow over our Skype meetings in the spring. When I try these eggs this weekend, there will be feelings of gratitude and happiness. I don’t get that from store bought eggs. From those I get worry that even though we buy the organic, free range eggs, the chickens don’t have the same happy life that those my out-of-town friends have. Perhaps this is a signal to search out eggs from not only local sources (which I used to do more pre-Covid) but from somewhere with a personal connection.

It was a GOOD day. I spent it up at the Environment Centre, working with some of my favourite people. One of my student’s Mom’s came in to talk about photography. We are hoping to enter the SPARK photo festival again to bring our passion for the environment to the public and raise awareness of the other-than-human people that live in our amazing world. I feel so grateful to be part of this community where giving of time and talent happens like breathing.

Copyright Leigh Symonds
Copyright Leigh Symonds

We spent time throwing leaves, laughing snd running and planting trees. The trees will take decades to grow, but each student who planted a tree will have that connection to that special tree-being every time they come. Part of the course will focus on connecting to that tree, to caring for it as it gets its roots established and begins to grow. I am looking forward to that.

Copyright Leigh Symonds
Copyright Leigh Symonds

While I didn’t buy anything, I consumed happiness and connection with others and the world. This is what drives well-being! I think of the pressures that drive us to work so we can buy rather than make. I think of how the gift of a parent’s time has brought me into connection with her. I think of the gift of duck eggs. I want to give back. I think of Etzioni’s (2012) video. Relationships create happiness.

One of my co-workers mentioned a beautiful concept today: the autumn trees are letting go of their leaves. Equally, we need to be able to let go. I think about that through the day. I have let go of some things so that I can grow in others.

References

Etzioni, Amitai (September 2012). You don’t need to buy this. YouTubehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FN3z8gtDUFE

Reflections on Consumption: Tree medallions

October 29th.

Today, I bought nothing. Though I restocked the Environment Centre’s supplies of vinegar, baking soda and drills bits. I also ‘borrowed’ marshmallows from the Centre’s stores to give to my son. I still forgot to get them for the fire.

Copyright Leigh Symonds
Copyright Leigh Symonds

Today, I gave. I tried to make sure everyone had a good day. We were saying goodbye to a couple of students and I was stepping down as leader. I did make an effort to pay attention to my son as much as I did the others. I gave myself the opportunity to imagine with him and his younger friend. We took puppets of flying squirrels, turtles and otters to try to find some birch bark for a fire. We discovered that not all birches give their bark freely and came back empty handed but not empty-hearted. The rest of the day happened, without too much difficulty, though there were all the usual complaints and arguments and repeated requests. But there was also fun and enjoyment of some games. And we had a very nice ending ceremony where we presented the kids with small circles of wood with the name of an animal on it that reminds us of them. We focus on strengths only. We hope they will draw upon these qualities and associations with plants and other animals to give them confidence. This tradition is one of the things that drew me to this community. So, I am happy to give back to other children and their families.

Reflecting on Consumption: Small Stuff

October 28

Today, I bought drill bits, vinegar, baking soda and glow sticks. The drill bits, vinegar and baking soda were to replenish the Environment Centre stock that we had gone through during the fall programming. I am thrilled with the purchase of the drill bits. We had broken a few of them in the second week of classes while we were making bird perches for the Wildlife Centre. I had meant to buy more and kept forgetting. Attention. Presence. Action. And more sleep!

The glow sticks were for my son’s Halloween costume. The only thing I will have to buy this year. He wants to be a robot like he was a few years ago. We’re keeping Halloween low key this year. A playdate in the afternoon and a movie night in the evening.

Copyright Leigh Symonds
Copyright Leigh Symonds

I wince at the glow sticks. They are a single use plastic (as is the vinegar bottle as I’ve mentioned). Wasteful. We don’t buy many. In fact, I think the only other times we have bought them were for firework nights and other dark times where it is easy to loose kids (which was only one year of events to be honest). And the other robot costume (above)!

Copyright Leigh Symonds
Copyright Leigh Symonds

With Covid, there have been no fireworks or night-time trips in canoes up Peterborough’s lift locks (a very fun event!). And my son is getting older. We can also think about to make things light up in some sort of reusable way.

https://schooledbyscience.com/make-glow-sticks-backed-science/

Experimentation would seem to be the thing to do here. There’s many sites with chemical recipes. The chemicals would need some sourcing, unless you had a chemistry lab handy. So, I included one that had everyday products, though perhaps this wouldn’t be as successful. But there are options for next year. :). It would made an interesting chemistry and life lesson, supporting creativity and DYI mentality, one of the key outlooks we need to adopt to live more sustainably.

References

Nichols, Megan Ray (2017, January 3). How to make glow sticks yourself – backed by science!. Schooledbyscience.com. https://schooledbyscience.com/make-glow-sticks-backed-science/

Reflections on Consumption: Purchasing Puffers

October 27

Today, I bought a puffer for my Dad and a blister pack for medication. The puffer bothers me. Always has. It is a little plastic machine that one primes and presses a button to release a specific amount of vapour. After 60 puffs, it is thrown out – or recycled, though I am not confident that it can be recycled.

Copyright Leigh Symonds
Copyright Leigh Symonds

This is not a thing that calls lyrically to the consumer: ‘Buy me! I’m so pretty and if you have me you will feel sooooooo good!’ Nope, this is another kind of commodity, one with with a gruffer voice, scratchy and rough: ‘Tough luck, kid. You’re stuck with me, if you want your Dad to breathe more easily’.

When I am tempted by chocolate or coffee, part of the temptation is to get one with all the fair trade, ethically harvested, good for the rainforest logos. That way, I can feel like I am being good for the planet, or at least better, while indulging in goods that are grown far away from our northern climes. And I can feel that, by making the more ethical choice, I am contributing to consumer demand to shift away from the Nestle’s of this world, toward more thoughtful companies.

But there is no such choice with the plastic puffer. I can at least consider growing my own spinach rather than buying the lovely green organic leaves in large single-use plastic boxes. I can’t grow my own puffer vapour. I’m stuck without any consumer demand to shift from these single use plastic machines. The pharmaceutical industry is less susceptible to market forces. I should probably write a letter.

There are reasons that I won’t get into here why my Dad needs a puffer. Are those related to consuming? Absolutely! When we think about why we need our puffers and our pills, all packaged in plastic, it comes down to consumption patterns. As Super Size Me (2004) made explicitly clear, the fast food industry is disastrous for our health. Ill-health is often treated with medication (and all its packaging) rather than a change in lifestyle (though drs often urge that too!).

One of my favourite books is The Joy of Movement by Kelly McGonigal (2020). In it, she discusses some research being done on hunter-gatherer societies, specifically the Hazda. They are active for much of the day, squat rather than sit and have no incidence of depression, anxiety or cardiovascular disease (McGongical, 2020, pp. 11-14). These people don’t need puffers or the plastic that comes with them. Food for thought!

On a related note, I took the time to be with my Dad a little more, to make sure that puffer was bought during the daylight hours. This is part of the shift to focus more time on being present with my family and my community and myself.

References

McGonigal, Kelly (2020). The joy of movement: How exercise helps us find happiness, hope, connection, and courage. Penguin Random House.

Spurlock, Morgan (2004). Super size me.[Film]. The Con.

Relecting on Consumption: Downshifting

October 26

Today, I downshifted. I didn’t sell anything. Instead, I gave up two days of teaching a week. There were a lot of reasons for that but the one I’m going to focus on here is time. Time is one thing I undervalue for myself and I often find myself spread too thin. This causes me to feel, as Mulligan (2018) observes, “anxious about not succeeding in life” (p. 35). He’s talking about hyperconsumption here and is framing this in terms of products. Equally, I think, we can think of hyperconsumption in terms of time and focus.

We invited my Dad to live with us a number of years ago, putting on an addition so that he could have the facilities he needs (such as a wheelchair lift and accessible bathroom facilities). Dad needs a fair bit of time these days. When I added the two extra days of teaching, I found I wasn’t seeing him at all. The money was nice, of course, but I was seeing my Dad walk less and cough more (he aspirates sometimes when he eats, so movement is essential to combat infection). With the pandemic, I can’t ‘pay’ to have someone else take him out or do things with him.

Furthermore, I homeschool our son. I love it! I love learning about how he learns and all the new, cool things there are out their to learn that weren’t there when I went to school. It’s fun! But it is a continually changing curriculum. When I taught at the university, I really enjoyed the third year of teaching a course, when things flowed and I could throw myself into really conveying the material to the students and working with them to engage in the subject and also in the wonderful stage of life they were in. With homeschooling an only child, it is a constantly changing educational landscape. This is truly exciting. But it also takes time. Again, all I am doing is going from one thing to another and not honouring my commitment to my son’s education.

Copyright Leigh Symonds
Copyright Leigh Symonds
Copyright Leigh Symonds
Copyright Leigh Symonds

And I am running behind in this course. I realized this yesterday and this was the clincher. Years ago, when I was doing post-graduate work full-time rather than juggling family and work and school, I never ran behind. The stark comparison highlights how much I am juggling right now and how much I need to refocus. This MEd is important to me. It is a mid-life career shift. It is also time spent on ‘digging deep’ into issues that I want to learn more about and include my own life practices. I had hoped that these extra two days of teaching would allow me to invest the educational well-being that I am experiencing into the education of youngsters. Without the prep time (and for other reasons as well), this has been difficult to achieve. And the course where much of this new expertise could really make a difference (my WILD course), I have not had the time to develop as I had planned. Again, there is no repetitive curriculum here. And COVID times have shifted what we did last year (no more visits to the Wildlife Centre or the Turtle Trauma Centre etc). I am running from one thing to another without pausing or preparing. There is too much.

Heartbreaking as this is for me, I had to realize that I needed to slow down. I haven’t been sleeping. I am anxious. Texts are coming in through the evening and weekends that distract me from organizing my time and focussing on following through with my commitments. I am consistently dealing with feelings of coming up short, with my family, my friends, my colleagues and my students. Perhaps I should call this the hyperconsumption of time?

And what this means is that I am not living sustainably. I am taking shortcuts. I am not making the soups for my Dad that would both be healthier for him and for the planet. Or even spending the time to chat, rather than to just solve problems. I am not getting the greenhouse together to grow winter greens with my son or saying, let’s bike to the library to return our books. And I am not, like I envisaged, starting the day with a chapter or video from our readings as inspiration. I have stopped my morning yoga and meditation. I am not getting up early enough because I am awake too much during the night. And I am not living up to my commitments.

In his 2012 video, You Don’t Need to Buy This, Amitai Etzioni encourages us to ‘unhook ourselves’ (2012, timestamp 3:28). He maintains that there are three things that truly make us happy: Relationships, Intellection (reading, meditation etc) and Political Activism (2012, timestamp 3:50). This change means that I am investing in the relationships and intellection closest to me, most especially my family.

So, I have passed on this teaching to someone who needs the money more and who does not have the additional family commitments that I do. I hope she will flourish with this opportunity! And I will take the time to invest the energies I need into the responsibilities that were mine before this opportunity to expand my teaching happened. I will slow down my consumption of time and look at ways in which I can focus my energies and my expectations in more sustainable ways. I will invest in well-being.

References

Etzioni, Amitai (September 2012). You don’t need to buy this. YouTubehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FN3z8gtDUFE

Mulligan, Martin (2018). An introduction to sustainability. Environmental, social and personal perspectives. Routledge.

Reflecting on Consumption: What’s in the Fridge

October 25.

I don’t do the grocery shopping any more. My husband does. And he cooks the dinner meal for the most part. This is a recent change and I’m loving it. So, while I don’t buy food, I do consume it. Let’s look in the fridge!

Copyright Leigh Symonds
Copyright Leigh Symonds

We eat a lot of whole foods. My husband’s health issues have meant that he’s been working with his diet quite intensively. We are gluten and mostly grain free right now. We don’t buy chips and our chocolate is Cocoa Camino because my husband is happy eating that and its Fair Trade. My husband also makes his own yoghurt and he used to make his own chicken bone broth. I must see if he’ll make more or start making it myself. We buy organic, antibiotic free meat and free range eggs and try to make them local. There are always improvements to be made here. For example, when I have the luxury of having eggs given to me by my friend, the yolks are always a deeper yellow than any you can get at the store. And, when the hens are young, the shells are much thicker and healthier. Having our own chickens would be lovely but I think I’m on a search for a gift exchange somewhere else.

Copyright Leigh Symonds
Copyright Leigh Symonds

Furthermore, enjoy some out-of-season fruit that is non-local. Though, we have been enjoying the Ontario grown strawberries and tomatoes from hothouses (and, yes, there are sustainability questions here too). Still, we buy avocados and bananas and while there is one farm pioneering bananas in Ontario (Canada Banana Farms), it is too far away, and likely too expensive, for us to partake of that bounty.

What we are brilliant at is composting! And in the past, reusing bones in soup stock! We have very little kitchen garbage which makes me very happy, especially as the compost goes to enrich our vegetable garden in the summer.

While we do pretty well on the health part of food, looking in the fridge, there are a LOT of plastics. This bugs me. And, of course, some of it had been affected by COVID and the inability to use bags from home for awhile. We need to regain the good habits we had before.

Copyright Leigh Symonds
Copyright Leigh Symonds

Bags are something we can easily change and do better with. But the internal packaging that comes with our organic and peanut free choices is a different matter altogether. I’ve mentioned the Royal Nuts packaging previously. We’ve reused some but as nuts are a staple of our diet, the extra containers are troublesome. So are the huge plastic containers that accompany the baby spinach which we use in daily salads. But here, perhaps, we can start to make some in-roads. Greens are so important to diet it’s nice to have them year round. One of the things I’d to try, is to grow them indoors in the winter. As non-fruit producing plants, I think this should be possible. Maybe here is one of the places I can make a positive shift in our consumption practices.

Copyright Leigh Symonds
Copyright Leigh Symonds

The other is adult diapers. My Dad is incontinent, sadly. And most of our garbage results from his diapers. If there is one thing to target to get our waste down, this would be it! The difficulty is getting something that is both comfortable and absorbent. Oddly, the thing that has stopped me before this, is the amount of time needed to research, buy and try products that none of the ‘wellness’ stores aimed at the aging populace carry. Again, this is putting the onus on the consumer to do their own research and to find alternate places of purchase. And perhaps that is where the acceptance must come. That time is well spent pursuing this research and that it’s not about money. I am reminded of the treadmill in the videoThe Story of Stuff (Leonard et al., 2007, timestamp 16:17).

And perhaps herein lies the rub. I often feel guilty about purchasing in general, despite the fact I am not a shopper. And I often feel I don’t have enough time in the day to keep up with my responsibilities. These are both states associated with hyperconsumerism. I reflect here Tim Kasser’s (2018) discussion of well-being in his video The High Price of Consumerism. The impact of consumerism on happiness and well-being further figures highly in Mattison’s (2012) dissertation on affluenza where she quite clearly links materialism with unhappiness (pp. 21-24). Perhaps, one ‘intervention’ (Mattison, 2012, p. 79) that I can make is to shift my own perceptions and to feel good about discovering alternate products that make our lifestyles happier. There is something here that has been stuck and needs to shift. I am greatly appreciating this journal because it allows me to take the time and consider not only the things that we could improve on but also the things that we do very well. Too often, I have been concerned about what I haven’t been doing. This leaves me with little energy to make changes. Conversely, feeling that you are making positive contributions to your lifestyle generates energy to go further and do more. Here, is perhaps, a key change I need to make.

References

Canada Banana Farms (2020). Canada banana farms. Canada Banana Farms. https://canadabananafarms.ca .

Kasser, Tim (January 2018). The high price of materialism – how our culture of consumerism undermines our well-being New Dream. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DtwXryPNciM.

Leonard, Annie, Fox, Louis, & Sachs, Jonah. (December 2007). The story of stuff. Free Range Studios. https://www.storyofstuff.org/movies/story-of-stuff/.

Mathison, M. (2012). Emancipation from affluenza: leading social change in the classroom. Unpublished dissertation Antioch University.

Reflecting on Consumption: A Car for a Dollar

October 24th.

Today, I bought a car for a dollar.

Well, it’s a bit more than a dollar once the transfer tax and vehicle inspection take place but what my friend and I exchanged was the shiniest looney I had. Definitely a good price! And it underlines why I love the friends I have.

But let’s backtrack here and just talk cars. As I mentioned yesterday, we have a 2007 Prius. It is the best car I have ever owned and really hasn’t cost us much. It’s taken us to west coast and to the east. The west coast was the big one for me, back in 2008, when gas prices were high. One of my best friend’s weddings was going to take place in Victoria. We priced out plane flights. And then looked at each other and said, let’s drive! It cost us a fraction of the price and I got to see some amazing parts of my country I’d never have seen otherwise. It also was a good choice environmentally. In Jonathan Porritt’s (2011) video The Trap of Materialism, Pooran Desai notes that one flight to Australia equalled eight years of saved carbon expenses from living in the BedZED eco-village in Sutton, Surrey, England (2011, timestamp 28:00). We definitely won there. And we had a great time: our choice of not flying increased our happiness. This is something pychologist Tim Kasser reflects on in his 2018 video The High Price of Materialism.

Copyright Leigh Symonds
Copyright Leigh Symonds

Our Prius is getting old. My husband has done a number home repairs. As I mentioned yesterday, the hood release is now a wire tucked into the grill that hooks up to a modified latch system because the latch he ordered didn’t quite match up. The trunk release has also seen the tender care of my husband. The lights have been changed. And we might have to replace the starter battery sometime as it doesn’t hold a charge for long: don’t hold your foot on the brake if the car is off (unnecessary habit anyway), turn off the internal lights if you are working on the car with the door open and, under no circumstances, start the accessories without starting the engine and leaving it running for awhile. We’d like to keep the Prius on the road as long as we can for as little money as possible. Its little aging issues sometimes mean it’s off the road for a little bit while we fix whatever it is that needs fixing.

Copyright Leigh Symonds
Copyright Leigh Symonds

That’s actually why the Cube originally made it into our driveway! Last winter our friend’s wife suddenly and tragically died, and we while were ferrying him back from the bus the starter battery on the Prius gave out! That was my leaning on the brake habit there. He had two cars, so he lent us the 2010 Cube while we got it fixed. It took some time to sort out the fact that we didn’t really want to afford the $300+ battery when I could change my habit of leaning on the brake when the car was off.

In the meantime, it made our winter! Having two cars made it much easier for my husband and son to take advantage of a great homeschool ski-school (out of town) while I could continue to teach my course. The Cube also had a higher seat, so my Dad, who lives with us, has an easier time getting in and out. The Prius requires deep knee bends which are a bit difficult for my 87 year old father who has significant ambulatory challenges. My husband’s mother is also lives alone in a different town. My sister-in-law doesn’t drive. So, we’re the ones on call when she needs extra body around.

Copyright Leigh Symonds
Copyright Leigh Symonds

I have expanded my work at the Environment Centre, though am likely pulling back due to being over scheduled. My husband does the shopping and the cooking right now, so he ends up doing short haul shops. And to be honest, my husband’s mood has significantly increased with access to a car. He’s had a number of health issues that have kept him from working all but the most minimal amounts. Having the Cube to run errands on his time rather than mine has had a significant psychological benefit and gets him out of the house.

I also consider the lovely gift our friend has given us. He was happy to just shift ownership as he had no need of the money. This keeps the car out of the wreckers yard and retires it to low-moderate usage. This also means that we can afford to bolster our other aging car along, prolonging our need for a new car. Furthermore, should one of our friends need a car for awhile, we have the opportunity to lend them one of ours. This reciprocal economy ends up looking more like shared resources, than the exchange and purchase of vehicles.

But, why not bike? Both my husband and I love biking! And the cars are really about town vehicles for the most part. And Peterborough is not a large town and it’s recently invested in some snazzy new bike lanes. We have the panniers and the bike gear from before my son was born when we both used to bike a fair amount. I truly think my bike commute to and from the university contributed to my love of teaching and my ability to reach out to students.

Copyright Leigh Symonds
Copyright Leigh Symonds

Here’s the rub! My husband’s neck/ear injuries keep him from biking, his number one love when it comes to exercise. Reflecting on the difference this car has made in getting him out of the house, into the community and doing more, I realize that it’s not a black and white problem for us. There have been years when he used to walk to work and didn’t drive. We gave up my car because of that. Now… there are more factors.

Copyright Leigh Symonds
Copyright Leigh Symonds

My Dad can’t walk more than about 20 meters at most and is often in a wheelchair when we go out. We need a car for him. And my work, while on university grounds, always includes my son. My son is an avid cyclist! And he bikes at a leisurely 10km/hr. A year ago we went up to Lakefield and back, a round trip of over 30km. It took us the entire day, including stops for ice cream and fries. I start work at 8-9AM snd leave about 5pm. Adding two hour bike commute with my son just isn’t in the cards. As for my husband, bending his neck at the angle needed for biking causes his tinnitus to truly excruciating levels. We’re considering a recumbent but those are pricey! More about what the Cube would have cost if we had bought it from a dealer.

So, we are now a family with two cars again, aging beasts that they are. We will treat them gently and try to use alternate transportation when possible. As with many things, this purchase had practical advantages for our family and was an opportunity hard to pass up because of that. Was it the most sustainable? Possibly not. But it’s where we are right now.

This reflection is certainly helping to clarify for me that I need to return to my own love of biking and to keep on biking with my son. Perhaps, too, we should really consider that recumbent!

References

Bioregional (n.d.) BedZED: the uk’s first large-scale eco-village. Bioregional.com. https://www.bioregional.com/projects-and-services/case-studies/bedzed-the-uks-first-large-scale-eco-village.

Kasser, Tim (January 2018). The high price of materialism – how our culture of consumerism undermines our well-being New Dream. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DtwXryPNciM.

Porritt, Jonathan (December 2011). The trap of materialism. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DtwXryPNciM.