Sunday, April 20, 2014

#160 - A Different Take on Easter

Happy Easter, everyone! In the Christian world, Easter is the day when the resurrection of Jesus Christ is celebrated. At least that's the case amongst Christian adults. I suspect their children are more interested in finding out what the Easter Bunny brought them.

Easter has a different or an added meaning in our household. Two years ago on Easter, our family made the decision to stop consciously eating any and all animal products - no meat, no dairy, no poultry, no seafood. People who knew of my love of steak and five-meat pizza were sure this would be a short-lived experiment. They were wrong.

We are now two years into this change, and I don't think any of us has looked back. Does that mean we never slip? No, but we have done our best to stay on what we see as a healthier, more humane, more sustainable and less resource-intensive eating path. By and large, we have succeeded.

Recently, I finished reading an English translation of The Upanishads, one of the most sacred texts in Hindu spirituality. Throughout the text, I was struck by the many similarities between what the Hindu and Christian faiths believe and profess. I was convinced anew of the truth and the wisdom of the old adage "there are many paths to the mountaintop."

Toward the end of my reading, I was especially struck by a passage in the Taittiriya Upanishad dealing with food. These five lines spoke directly to the reason for our dietary change and served to further underline the validity of our reasons for that change:

From food are made all bodies, which become
Food  again for others after their death.
Food is the most important of all things
For the body; therefore it is the best
Medicine for all the body's ailments.
(Taittiriya II.2.1)
We have tried and struggled at times to reduce if not eliminate our intake of processed food, and it is to this effort specifically that this passage speaks. Thanks to economies of scale and highly efficient production methods, processed food is usually less expensive than the natural ingredients sometimes used to help make that processed meal. To me, something is wrong with that picture.

I believe healthy food is a basic human right. I also believe that people have a right to know where their food comes from, what is in the food they eat (GMO grains, hormones, chemicals, etc.), and how their food is produced (are livestock raised using humane or inhumane methods, for instance).

I also believe those who risk much to expose unsanitary and/or inhumane food production methods should be applauded. They should not be accused of a crime, as is fast becoming the common response across America. (Note the spate of so-called "Ag-Gag" legislation popular in agricultural states in recent years, including Idaho, where we live.)

Some of those considerations played a part in our decision to change how and what we eat. Some of the medical research also played a part (e.g., Dr. T. Colin Campbell's The China Study). Ultimately though, I suppose we made the decision because it felt like it was the right thing to do for ourselves, for our son, and for our planet. How could we go wrong? Happy Easter and healthy eating!

(The Upanishads - translation by Eknath Easwaran. © 1987, 2007 The Blue Mountain Center of Meditation. Published by Nilgiri Press.)

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

#159 - Technology - It's a Beautiful Thing . . . Sometimes

Technology is a beautiful thing – when it works. When it doesn’t, people are inconvenienced, businesses lose money, lives are disrupted.

A recent and minor change in the office where I work brought that notion home to me. The change – a simple battery – caused us to be without access to our internal computer network as well as the external computing world for about 30 minutes. No opening files from remote locations, no sending or receiving e-mails, no surfing on the internet and, because we have internet phones (voIP or voice over Internet Protocol), no incoming or outgoing phone calls.

Once the battery was replaced, regaining access was simply a matter of restarting our computers, reopening our e-mail programs and web browsers, and picking up where we left off. Except for phone calls, that is. This seems to be a problem every time there is some sort of change to our computer network, only no one seems to know where the reset button is for the phones (if there even is one).

Technology is a double-edged sword. It frees us and ensnares us. Thanks to technology, medical and scientific procedures and advances once unthinkable become commonplace. We can map the human genetic sequence and turn once major surgical procedures into outpatient surgeries with small or no scars. At the same time, a computer failure can cause large parts of a major city to lose power or potentially cause a nuclear missile to begin a pre-launch sequence. Because so many of us use e-mail, Facebook, and Twitter to communicate with friends, family, and associates, a technological failure can also cause us to lose touch with the world around us, albeit temporarily.

As I sit and wait for the telephones at work to resume functionality, I am struck by the thought that most if not all of us would be lost and completely unable to function in a world without the technology we take for granted. While our 18th and 19th-century ancestors were largely independent and self-sufficient, we are largely dependent (the objections of some notwithstanding) on one another and upon our economies of scale. Such changes are more efficient and perhaps make life easier, but disruptions are more noticeable and create more inconvenience on a larger scale.

Although they are never mentioned as part of the argument, I suspect such potential pitfalls lend credence to the suggestion (even argument) that each of us needs to occasionally unplug and disconnect from our electronic lives and plug into and connect with the physical world around us. Our e-lives allow us to reconnect with people and places we might otherwise lose touch with, but they are no substitute for the world that exists all around us. As The Police sang in their 1981 song, “we are spirits in the material world.”

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

#158 - The Perfect Rig

RVSue, a blogger who lives full-time with her two dogs in a 17-foot long Casita travel trailer, recently posted an entry detailing how she came to choose the type of RV she did. Her post resulted in an interesting discussion of rigs, and it got me to thinking about what constitutes the perfect rig.

Of course, there is no wrong answer just as there is no one right answer. One person’s “perfect” rig could be another person’s nightmare. That’s why there are so many different types, brands, and models. Different people also have different budgets and financial comfort levels, which is why you also see such a wide spread of model years still in use.

Other things will also dictate one person’s “perfect” rig  and cause it to differ from someone else’s. Those things include: the aforementioned budget, the desire for new versus used, floor plan and amenities, storage needs, and the type of usage.

That latter factor includes considerations such as: weekend use, extended trips, or full-time living. One must also consider whether the RV will spend most of its time in a full-service campground with electricity and water or camping off the grid. Staying in primitive campgrounds or even outside of campgrounds will require plenty of  battery power and likely some means of recharging those batteries, be it solar panels or a generator or some combination of the two.

We started our RV adventure with a 10-foot pop-up tent trailer. Once we added a dog to the mix, we decided we needed something bigger. The normal progression, so we've been told, would have been to a travel trailer. Not being normal people, we went instead to an older fifth-wheel. That rig taught us a lot about what we liked and did not like in terms of layout. So we moved to a different fifth-wheel (our current RV), which added some living space at the expense of kitchen prep space. Still not our perfect rig.

Now we have begun thinking about what comes next. This time, in anticipation of living in the RV full-time and hopefully doing some traveling, we are focusing on Class A motorhomes. (For those not versed in motorhome types, the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association has a page detailing the various types.) To narrow the focus further, we are concentrating on diesel motorhomes (for now) in the 33 to 36 foot range. We figure this will give us more flexibility than the larger rigs in terms of where we can go while still providing some of the creature comforts. This is roughly the length of our current fifth-wheel, so there is no need to adjust to having a smaller space (other than the major adjustment of living in a smaller space all the time).

At first, we were focusing solely on the Tiffin brand as it is made in Alabama (my wife’s home state), and it has a good reputation for customer service. Since then, we have added the Newmar brand to the mix. It, too, seems to have a good reputation, plus some of the floor plans seem to fit our desires and needs a little better than the Tiffin models we’ve seen. With either brand, we would be looking to buy used as we don’t have Donald Trump money or large government pensions to allow us to buy new, and we don’t really want to finance anything. We’ve worked hard to get out of debt, and we want to stay that way.

We’re still a couple of years or so from any change, so there is still time for us to decide to go a different direction. As we look, we see that no rig is perfect. One may have a well laid out living space but almost no kitchen prep space. Another may have a great kitchen but a tiny bathroom. A third may have a great living space and kitchen, but the TV is in a location where the best viewing angle is standing up at the opposite end of the RV. As is usually the case in a marriage, any rig we choose will be the result of compromising some of what we want versus what we truly need and will also involve some discussion of which shortcomings we can work around. (For instance, in some RVs, the lack of kitchen prep space might be alleviated with the addition of a rolling cart that can be used as a small kitchen island.)

The next couple of years promise to be interesting and exciting as we go through the exploration, examination, and evaluation stages as we head toward the execution of the purchase or the decision to something completely off the current radar. To use the old worn out cliché, only time will tell.