Sunday, September 24, 2006


At exactly 12:03 am, EDT, on Saturday, September 23rd, the sun crossed the celestial equator on its journey south for the winter. In scientific terms, the autumnal equinox occurred when the ecliptic and the celestial equator intersected. Although this journey has happened billions of times before, it's worth noting. At exactly 12:04 am, EDT, autumn began.

For most of us, particularly those with school-aged children, autumn started on September 5th when schools across the country opened their doors for another year. Gone were the careful, lazy days of summer, replaced with the ardent routine of homework, packaged lunches and making it to the bus on time. Evenings are now filled with meetings, practices and other commitments and lives have returned to their pre-summer busy. With it all comes an increased urgency. With autumn upon us, can winter be far behind?

It's a shame really. The autumnal equinox is literally about balance. It marks the time of year when our days and nights are dealt out in equal portions; when light and darkness take equal turns. It's about the sun going down in time for little ones to go to sleep at a reasonable hour; it's about cool grey mornings of serenity before the sun jangles us fully awake.

It's about fulfillment. The summer's furious growing season is coming to an end. Farmer's markets and roadside produce stands are bursting with all good things grown from the Earth. Tiny seeds, planted back in the early months of spring, warmed by the sun and kissed by the rain, have exploded into food for us. After a little more than half-a-century on this planet, I still cannot fathom this incredible process. Life from dirt, a seed, sunlight and water. That's a miracle.

It's also about maturity. This is the season of doing things: moving forward, improving oneself, taking courses, learning something new. It's somewhat ironic that this season of balance seems to also remind us that life is a constant struggle to maintain some kind of equilibrium. Almost as soon as we reach a level of comfort, time steals it away from us, and once again we find ourselves scurrying to find a balance in our lives.

That struggle is particularly difficult for me this year. This past summer I lost my father. It was my first experience with losing a parent, and after my grief began to subside, I realized that his death also marked a dramatic change in my status. In generational terms, I'm now at the head of the pack, the next one up to bat.

The fact that my father's birthday, September 23rd, fell on the autumn equinox this year is a bittersweet coincidence that is not lost on me. As long as we have parents, we can live in that eternal sunshine of endless summer. Their passing marks our own very personal transition into the autumn of our lives and bears witness to the fact that in the eternal changing of the seasons, one day they will stop altogether.

I take heart, however, that at my age, my father had just started his career as an extreme athlete. He took up marathon running at 52 and celebrated his 60th birthday by completing the grueling Hawaii Ironman. In his 70s, he made the Guinness Book of Records when he and his equally aged team mates successfully completed the world's most grueling bike race, the 4,675 kilometer Race Across America Marathon (RAAM). Last year, he celebrated what was to be his very last birthday by cycling 80 kilometers, one for every year of his life.

The greatest lesson that I take from my father as I enter the autumn of my own life - the lessons that we all must learn to take to heart - is that regardless of where we are on the timeline, regardless of the season of our life, every day is a perfect gift. Every time we open our eyes we have an opportunity to celebrate the miracle of life - not just our own, but the life and the seasons of our garden planet. Enjoy.


Wikipedia has lots of great information about autumn.

For free, downloadable autumn coloring pages (or any other season or celebration, for that matter) visit

Geomancy explores the realm where human consciousness meets and dialogues with the Spirit of the Earth. It empowers the harmonious interaction between person and place.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Car Free Day

Global warming, primarily caused by the burning of fossil fuels, the rising cost and diminishing availability of those fuels, and the growing need to preserve and protect our vanishing green spaces has caused a renaissance in urban thinking. Forward thinking planners are beginning to reassess cities that have been primarily built around the use of the family car. But because we've all become so dependent on our cars, surviving without out them, even for one day, seems impossible.

Enter Car Free Day. Celebrated globally on September 22nd, the event initially got its start in Europe in the late 1990s. This year, Car Free Day will take place in over 1,500 towns and cities in over 30 countries around the world and is an official program of both the United Nations and the European Union.

So exactly how does one celebrate Car Free Day? Ask Dan McDermott, Director Sierra Club of Canada, Ontario Chapter, and very busy party planner. Dan's currently putting together a major celebration for Canada's largest and most congested city, Toronto.

"The message isn't 'the car is bad'," said McDermott. "The message is that the health of the planet and the proper functioning of a modern city requires moving people about my means other than the private automobile." For this year's celebration, Toronto residents are invited to gather in Toronto's Dundas Square, preferably on foot, bike or by public transit, and learn about alternative modes of transportation, health issues related to pollution, and the city's new bicycle locker program. While the day will provide some fun for just about everyone, it will also serve to illustrate how Car Free zones can actually revitalize the urban centre.

As cities in Europe have successfully demonstrated, car free zones are good for business and good for cities. They revitalize the urban core and help recreate the old concept of the city as centre. As McDermott explains, car free zones aren't necessarily for commercial zones.

"One of the challenges in creating a car free zone is to do it in an area where people work, play and shop," he said. While we can't make the transition to a car free culture overnight, we can start making changes that will ultimately create a paradigm shift away from our dependence on our cars.

The first step is to try and think outside the box (or in this case, the car). While everybody can't be expected to move into an urban centre overnight, we can be more careful about when and how we use our automobiles. Walk or drive when you can, and commit to taking public transit at least once a week. You may soon find that you enjoy leaving the hassle of driving to someone else.

Incorporating exercise into your daily errands can eliminate another drive - the one that many of us take to the gym. I am frequently amazed at the number of vehicles (most of them SUVs and pick-ups) that crowd the parking lot at our local fitness club. At the very least, walking or biking to the gym would cut workout times in half (who needs to walk on the treadmill to warm up when you've already put in the distance getting there?) At the very best, routinely using pedal or foot power to get around could eventually eliminate the need for costly fitness club memberships altogether.

When Dan's car died several years ago, he and his wife Helen decided to see how long they could cope without an automobile. Years later, they're still car free and enjoying the freedom (and the substantial savings) of not owning a car.

Secondly, with province-wide municipal elections only weeks away, find out how your local candidates stand on such issues as urban transportation and sprawl. Hazel McCallion, arguably Canada's most successful mayor, was once dubbed the Queen of Sprawl. She is now a strong advocate of urban transportation.

"Why?" said McDermott, "Because it makes for healthier, more affordable and more sustainable cities." Now I'll bike to that!


For more information, visit www.carfreeday

To find out what you can do to stop urban sprawl, check out the Ontario Smart Growth Network

Before you slap on that bike helmet, take The Canada Safety Council's bike safety quiz at

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Smart Lunches

With kids finally back in school and work routines returning to normal, the daily task of packing up lunches can be both time consuming and frustrating. Enter Schneider's new back-to-school "Smart Lunch" campaign. Launched in the traditional media and on the web at, the campaign promises parents they can feel good about giving their kids, "Convenient nutritious meals that make lunch preparation easy for busy Moms and Dads." The website is even linked to Canada's Food Guide for Healthy Living to assure parents what a great job they're doing for their kids by buying over-packaged, over-priced, pre-portioned food.

A couple of years ago when the first generation of portioned lunches, "Lunchables" was introduced, I did a pricing comparison. I purchased the same items, both in bulk and in pre-portioned packages, and then did the math. The pre-packaged lunch costs $ 5.58 per day, or a total of $ 27.90 per week. The pack-your-own lunch cost only $ 2.52 per day, or $ 12.60 for the week. This translated into a net saving of # 3.06 per day, or $ 15.30 per week, per child.

And then there is the packaging. In total, packaging makes up 25 percent of our garbage by weight and 30 percent by volume, and adds unnecessary dollars to the family grocery bill, to say nothing of the school board's budget. I was surprised to discover that this is the primary reason why more and more school boards are encouraging parents to send their kids to school with garbageless lunches.

"The biggest reason to promote litterless lunches is that schools have to pay to have their garbage removed. Reducing waste disposal costs means that money can be spent elsewhere in the schools," said Cathy Abraham, a trustee with the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board.

"There's also the question of litter and the pests that they can attract, particularly in the school yard. This can possibly be life-threatening for children with bee and wasp allergies." Uneaten fruit and organic waste such as apple cores and banana peels that are dumped in the school garbage can become an insect hazard especially in the fall when wasps are attracted in large numbers.

Judy Gould is the Waste and Energy Officer for the Durham District School Board. She points out that waste audits done at Durham area schools consistently demonstrate that a significant amount of school garbage is made up of unopened prepackaged foods, uneaten fruit, full juice boxes, etc. As part of its EcoSchool Program, the Durham Board is encouraging all schools to reduce their waste by promoting either a waste-free or boomerang lunch system.

"A waste-free or litterless lunch produces no garbage through the use of reusable and recyclable container," said Gould. "A boomerang lunch means that any uneaten food and any waste material produced as a result of a lunch coming to school is returned home. Any food items are returned home in a resealable container so that lunch bags, backpacks and lockers remain clean. Both lunch programs ensure that there is no food garbage generated at the school."

"When students take this home, it reduces this waste and also allows parents to observe what the student has and has not eaten for lunch," said Gould. She suggests that children be encouraged to take their organic wastes home and add them to the family compost heap.

Last, but certainly not least, is the environmental ethic that we pass on to our kids when we act responsibly. Jean Marchard is the principal at Dr. G. J. MacGillivray Public School in Courtice, Ontario. He says that promoting garbageless lunches sets a good example for our children.

"Teaching the students about conservation and environmental issues has an impact," said Marchard, "But not as great an impact as modeling the behaviour."

To help you save money, protect the environment and set a good example for your kids, here are a few suggestions:

* Buy foods in bulk and portion into smaller containers.
* Re-use margarine tubs and other food containers or purchase inexpensive reusable ones.
* Label food containers and lunch bags to make they are brought home again. (Use favourite stickers for younger children)
* Freeze refilled water bottles and place in lunches to keep everything cool. The water will be thawed by lunchtime and perishable food will be kept fresh. (Note: only fill the bottle 3/4 full to allow for expansion when water freezes.)
* Create a reward system to encourage kids to return containers back home.
* Purchase inexpensive cloth napkins at the dollar store. Have your child pick out a favourite colour or pattern.
* Helping kids to pack up their own lunches the night before can help eliminate stress in the morning and encourage children to take responsibility for themselves.
* Packing up lunches isn't just for kids. Adults can benefit from better nutrition, lower food costs and time saved by not having to run to the local fast food restaurant to grab a quick bite.


Smart? I don't think so. Check out

You could skip the advertising and go directly to Health Canada's website and follow the links to Canada's Food Guide to Healthy Living.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

GM's Gamble

General Motors, once the world's largest and most powerful corporation, is slipping. According to Fortune 500's 2006 listing, GM is currently ranked third overall behind Exxon Mobile and retail giant Wal-Mart. And while GM shows 2006 revenues of $192 billion, it also has losses in excess of $10 billion.

This isn't news for GM. The auto giant has been consistently losing market share since the early 1970s to Nissan, Honda and Toyota. Each of these companies has been able to produce smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles that appeal to both the car connoisseur and the wallet. Clearly, it's high time that GM rethought its game plan.

So, will the world's largest car manufacturer produce a stellar line of hybrid vehicles that will help revolutionize the car industry and help the corporate giant regain its Fortune 500 crown? With oil production expected to start declining within the next decade, will GM aggressively promote alternative fuels and electric vehicles? Will it save not only itself but the environment as well?

I don't think so. While GM has put some investment into the development of FlexFuel Vehicles - vehicles that can run on either gasoline or E85 ethanol - the bulk of its energy (both corporately and literally) is going into promotion of gas guzzling monsters. (E85 is a fuel blend that is 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline.)

Take last week's announcement about the rebirth of the Camaro. The car will have a 400 horsepower, 6.0-liter, 8-cylinder engine and a six-speed manual transmission, which likely won't win it any awards for fuel-efficiency. This newest version of GM's popular muscle car of the 70s and 80s was unveiled in January at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

Last week, GM announced that it would be investing $740 million to produce the Camaro at the company's Oshawa plant. The move will reportedly save 2,700 jobs and revitalize the Canadian auto industry. If all goes according to plan, the first Camaro will hit the street in 2009, just about the time that experts predict that global oil production will start to decline.

Since the Camaro isn't designed to meet everyone's driving needs, GM is currently aggressively marketing the H2, the smaller and more user-friendly cousin of the monster H1 Hummer, as an alternative to the family van. In a current TV ad, a young boy is patiently waiting for his turn at the playground slide when a bully pushes past him and climbs the ladder. When the first boy's mother complains that it was her son's turn next, the bully's mother smirks, "Well, I guess it's my son's turn now."

Clearly embarrassed and ashamed, the first mother jumps into her mini-van and drives to the nearest GM dealer where she trades in her modest vehicle for a Hummer. When last we see the mild-mannered mother, she's smiling brightly from behind the wheel of her new H2, while junior beams in the back seat.

If all of this has you mad as hell and you don't want to take it anymore, you're not alone. Consider the FUH2 website that states, "The H2 is a polluter. Based on GM's optimistic claim that it gets13 mpg, an H2 will produce 3.4 metric tons of carbon emissions in a typical year, nearly double that of GM's Chevrolet Malibu sedan."

It continues, "So while our brothers and sisters are off in the Middle East risking their lives to secure America's fossil fuel future, H2 drivers are pissing away our "spoils of victory" during each trip to the grocery store."

Wow. But the FUH2 website isn't all bad news for GM. Consider this statement, also from the FUH2 website:

"The H2 is also a death machine. You'd better hope that you don't collide with an H2 in your economy car. You can kiss your a** goodbye thanks to the H2's massive weight and raised bumpers. Too bad you couldn't afford an urban assault vehicle of your own. Or could you...?"

Which perhaps, sadly, is what GM is counting on.


Check out www.FUH2

It doesn't have to be this way. Check out and watch the mock documentary "Climate: A Crisis Averted." This innovative film looks at the climate crisis from the perspective of the year 2056 and tells the story of how in 2006, ordinary citizens realized that global warming was a scientific fact and not just a scientific theory, and took action to demand clean energy and other planet-friendly options.

For more information about GM's FlexFuel vehicles, visit