Reflections on Consumption: Digging Potatoes

November 5

I did turn my phone to DND and put it aside at dinner. This was essential! The incoming election results were captivating. I was conscious about how much my attention was drawn to it. Again, hyperconsumerism, this time of information rather than time or products. It is interesting to note how the Associated Press’s display of ‘live’ counts can be mesmerizing, as if by paying attention we can will the results to turn our way.

Not that the U.S. election is unimportant in this world. Indeed, it could be one of the most important elections for climate change. But here’s the rub. I can’t do anything about it. And, the truly important changes come from individual actions every day. It would be better to go for a run, to prepare myself for teaching tomorrow, to bring something of myself to this world. But the numbers niggle and tickle at my consciousness. In many ways, I suspect this is what people feel who find they ‘must’ buy something. As I check the results through the day, I make myself pay attention that feeling.

I listened to a talk by Tara Brach entitled Freedom from the Prison of Limiting Beliefs where she focused on ‘metacognition’, of being aware of your thoughts and actions. This awareness enables choice and is an important step in changing behaviour (Brach, 2020, timestamp 23:00). I found this talk very appropos for what we are doing with this journal. Being aware, being curious and opening to change. She also had some interesting things to say about fear-based beliefs being a refuge (I am too greedy or flawed etc.). She notes that fear is a ‘primitive survival energy’ (2020, timestamp 9:33). Today, I am reflecting on the linkages between fear-based beliefs and hyperconsumption. Fear drives hyperconsumption: “an anxiety about not succeeding in life” (Mulligan, 2019, p.35). This is what this journal is all about. Bringing awareness to our thoughts and actions and thereby providing the choice to change. As Brach notes: “whatever the practitioner inclines their thinking toward will become the inclination of the mind” (timestamp: 19:30). Thanks Mitchell!

And so, I am aware of the inclination of my mind to follow this election and to resist it, at least in part.

I take my Dad for another walk out to the pharmacy. My son, having tested negative for COVID, pushes his wheelchair. We enjoy the sun and opportunity to be together. At least in this moment.

Copyright Leigh Symonds
Copyright Leigh Symonds

After we wheel Dad back, we head out to our community garden to dig some late season potatoes! I love growing potatoes. They are truly pommes de terre when they are fresh, so crisp and juicy like an apple. My son loves finding them in the ground, little treasures of culinary yumminess. We were late getting them into the ground so the unseasonable weather has allowed us to be late getting them out as well. This is always a special thing for me, growing our own food. While we don’t grow as much as we’d like, my son is growing up with dirt under his fingernails and an assumption that growing your own food is an expected and enjoyable part of being alive. My mom grew some food when I was young but then we moved into a subdivision and the beans became roses. My first experience of growing potatoes was only a few years ago. In contrast, my mother-in-law was a small scale organic gardener who grew as much food as she could for her family. I hope to build on this and learn more about what delicacies exist in the woods and meadows. I have heard sumac makes a lovely tea. The ignorance of what lies just outside our door makes us unappreciative of the nutritional wealth all around us. Perhaps if we knew, we would care for it more. There’s lots for me to learn here.

Copyright Leigh Symonds
Copyright Leigh Symonds

Later, I check my phone.

But I also prepare for my class tomorrow and focus on the good energies that I must bring to that! I put some of the potatoes we dug in a bag for the student who has given me duck eggs, slip a favourite tea bag in for another student who enjoys tea. I make sure I’ve got my cameras ready and the sheets printed for our Mom who is generously coming out to teach a little about photography. Then I go to bed.


Brach, Tara (2020, September 23), Freedom from the prison of limiting beliefs. .

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

Reflections on Consumption: The Gift Is In the Giving

November 3

Today, I took my son for a COVID test and bought him a small box of Minecraft Lego for being brave (he’d had the nostril swab in the summer and REALLY didn’t like it!). We didn’t technically ‘need’ to go. He just had some sniffles that were getting better. But, as I said to him, this isn’t about him, it’s about my Dad and the careworkers that come into our house and it’s about the students I see on Fridays that have immuno-compromised family members. While there were almost tears, he was laughing and high-fiving me by the time we were across the parking lot. Apparently, it wasn’t as bad this time. He also wanted some of his Hallowe-en chocolate, which he doles out to himself with admirable self-restraint.

Lego is one of those toys, I don’t feel bad about buying. I gave my son my lego from when I was young. I don’t like that it’s plastic but, as toys go, it sure has staying power! I also love the creativity that my son indulges in with it. While he always builds the set, within days, he’s altered it to make something new. This is what I look for in toys.

Looking a little deeper into Lego, in addition to being something that is passed down to other kids, they are also in partnership with the WWF to produce a more sustainable product by 2030 and sustainable packaging by 2025 (

I also bought a book for a friend’s kid that wasn’t feeling well and delivered it. Gifts are important and books are wonderful as they can be treasured in people’s shelves like old friends or given to others as one outgrows them.

Still, both these gifts were bought and not made. Did I really need to get my son some Lego? Probably not. Etzioni’s comments in You don’t need to buy this(2012) are clearly in my mind. My son’s resilience does not need bolstering by Lego. And here, perhaps, I need to think more closely about what a gift is and where gifts should be given. I am much struck by Robin Wall Kimmerer’s (2013) discussions of reciprocity throughout her book, Braiding Sweetgrass. I had reasoned with my son that going for the COVID test was not for him but for the reassurance of others. Was a gift needed in return? Or was the gift in the giving? Something to ponder.

I turned my phone to DND at dinner and checked it at an appropriate time after dinner. This helped to focus energies on family and on shifting from the day’s activities and responsibilities to night-time care. As a whole, I am sleeping better.


Etzioni, Amitai (September 2012). You don’t need to buy this. YouTube

Kimmerer, Robin Wall (2013). Braiding sweetgrass. Indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge and the teachings of plants. Milkweed editions.

Lego (2020). Environment.

Reflections on Consumption: The Lure of the Election

November 4th

So, I got sucked into the U.S. election! I did very well leading up to it, but today, the phone was out at dinner and we were checking stats and looking up numbers and all the rest of it. It brings into sharp relief the importance of turning it off and how addictive it can be. It also highlights how much weight world affairs can have on our daily lives.

On the plus side, it was a politics lesson for my son and my Dad was engaged as well.

My decision to cut back teaching time paid off today as I was easily able to sub in half a day for a colleague who wasn’t feeling well. I had a great deal of fun with the kids! And I was able to support my teaching team. We don’t have a lot of leeway with additional teachers right now, so this was one thing I could offer to the Environment Centre as I scaled back my days. I couldn’t take Gabriel in and we had to juggle some care for him but it worked out well.

I was still able to take my Dad for a walk when I got home in the afternoon. This was the highlight of my day! The weather is glorious and I always feel strange when I have been able to be out all day, I am not able to provide this for my Dad. COVID makes this more difficult as there are places and people I would normally reach out to.

I also had a massage. I have some shoulder and leg issues which dogged me last year and this year I am determined to make sure that this problem gets resolved. I was doing quite well in the summer and focusing on stretches and on getting back into running. WIth taking too much on, this self-care came to a halt. Added to this, my regular massage therapist ended up injuring herself and taking a needed break from her practice. As an outdoor educator, I need to be taking care of myself, not the least because it’s too easy for the kids to outrun me! 🙂

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!


Kochenderfer, Rebecca. (2019, October 8). Discover journaling’s positive effects on the brain, with Dr. Dan Siegel.

Etzioni, Amitai (September 2012). You don’t need to buy this. YouTube

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.


Etzioni, Amitai (September 2012). You don’t need to buy this. YouTube

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.

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.


Nichols, Megan Ray (2017, January 3). How to make glow sticks yourself – backed by 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.


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.