Saturday, June 5, 2010

My Big Impact

So last night I watched No Impact Man...The Documentary. I remember when he was doing his thing. I saw him on television and I read about him in a couple of magazines. I checked out his blog. Then I forgot about him, until he showed up on my Netflix queue. And he is not even in the running for Weird Things That Show Up In My Netflix Queue.

I guess I was stunned to discover his starting point. And especially his wife's starting point. I mean, I don't know when I became environmentally conscious - but it was way before 40, you know what I mean? I was also a little tickled that a lot of the things we do were considered drastic. I don't feel drastic at all. (I almost said I feel rather mainstream - but I guess that would be a stretch in several areas of my life.)

I don't do all that I could or should. I am a creature of convenience in many ways. But I've been doing the small things for years and years and years. And the bigger things that blew away the friends of the No Impact Family? Well, we know lots of people who do those things. I guess we run in the crunchier circles.

So I'm thinking about what we do that I feel really good about, and what we don't (and I feel yucky or helpless about).

*18 years ago, while pregnant for the first time with Intensely Difficult Needy Child Number One....I decided to go with cloth diapering. Now this was pre-Internet, folks. I went from store to store to store trying to find cloth diapers. Some stores didn't know what they were At All. I ended up with the woven, thin diapers that Jeff's mom showed me how to fold. Everywhere I went people asked me why my baby's bottom was so big :). She was our Big Bottomed Girl....and she made our rocking world go 'round.

Even then, I noticed something rather strange. It seemed that some people would become angry about my choice to cloth diaper. ANGRY. I remember being accosted in the church bathroom (yes - we used to go to church - it was part of the good parenting thing for me, and unlike cloth diapering - it was one that I decided I could do without) by another mom who went on and on and on (spittle flying and the whole bit) about my cloth diapering and how I was wasting water. I was just Stunned. That she cared. At all. Also? She was wrong. Anyway, where was the anger coming from?

People were like, "How do you wash them?" and they looked at me as if they were awaiting the explanation of the dissection of a pig's brain. Sometimes I would say that I took them outside to the stream behind our house and beat them on the rocks for hours and hours and they BELIEVED ME. But usually? I said, "Well, I put them in the washing machine and push the button. When they're done I put them in the dryer and push the button. It is unbelievably exhausting." And they BELIEVED ME.

I used cloth diapers with all the kids - and cloth diapers certainly got better over the years, believe me. They are now kind of trendy. If you want to check out some good ones, go to my friend's online store Go Baby Go. I inspired her to be AP with the baby-wearing and cloth-diapering (I didn't know I was her inspiration at the time) and now she is like the Lady Gaga of the Diaper World.

*Recycling. We do it. When we lived in the city many moons ago - it didn't have curbside recycling. It was the tenth largest city in the US - without curbside recycling. So I paid this somewhat cranky fellow to come by my house and pick up my recycling, which I had to sort. He didn't take everything - there were certain plastics he didn't take, etc. - and so I tried not to buy products that came in that plastic. We had a compost pile in the backyard. We ate very little meat, tried to keep it to once a week (this was mostly for health reasons - when the entire world was shouting that Meat = Bad). Now? I live on a farm without any trash pickup, whatsoever. We rent a dumpster with another family. There is no curbside recycling. But we recycle. Jeff drives it into the city's recycling center when he is going that way. We recycle a TON and that indicates to me that we purchase too many things in packages. We compost all food - not just the stuff that is good for the garden. Everything goes be hauled off by little things like ants and big things like coyotes....or to be composted by worms. We throw away very little and I feel pretty good about that. It takes our family of 7 about two weeks to fill up a large garbage can. But I really want to work on the packaging part - I am afraid to investigate how much of my "recycling" still ends up in a landfill.

*All Natural Cleaning Products. Yeah, been doing that forever, too. What I didn't make, I used to buy by the caseload because you couldn't find any of that stuff in the store a few years ago. There are certain things I won't give up, though. I'm quite certain that the Mr. Clean Erasers are made of some kind of dreadful poison - but GOD I LOVE THEM. Also? The caustic oven cleaner? Love that, too. It makes my stove top shiny. And? The Cascade. I've tried all the natural dishwasher detergents and they suck. If you've got any to suggest, I'm happy to try, again. But mostly, cleaning day smells like vinegar in our house. And I'm pretty sure I could put my soy toilet bowl cleaner on a spinach salad and it would be quite tasty.

*Tasty - that brings me to food. I am thrilled with the organic choices we have now. And we have a garden but I can't imagine using it to live off of. I have the book, Gardening When it Counts, which is kind of a doomsday book about how we'll all need to grow our own food once the New World Order has taken over, and it just seemed so complicated and difficult. I mean, what would it take to be completely self-sustaining?

I am not a good gardener. I tend to get busy and let weeds take over. We have a lot of bugs here in Texas - and they tend to get the better of me, too. Right now we've got rows and rows of tomatoes and something is eating the leaves for sure, and then the grackles swoop in for the kill once the tomatoes begin to ripen. I have lovely rows of strawberry plants but they're not producing berries. I was told I waited too late to plant them. I have some eggplants hanging in there, and the peppers are growing like crazy. Corn is coming next, and we usually have pretty good luck with it. We have yellow squash growing on our watermelon plants (the boys insist this is the case - they refuse to entertain the thought that they might have actually planted squash instead of watermelon) and that is pretty easy to maintain. But could we live on it? No way. And when it gets really hot later, I won't be able to afford to keep watering it.

We raise our own meat and pretty much don't eat meat that isn't ours. And we eat our own very sparingly. We raise chickens and they lay eggs. I've got turkeys arriving any day now. But the apples on my counter didn't come from anywhere near here, nor did the bananas. Or the coffee. The organic chips in my pantry are made with all sorts of processed flours and cornmeal. I don't do a lot of processed foods, but I do some. It seems to be unavoidable. I don't bake my own bread. I'm trying to avoid soybeans after watching Food Inc, but soy is in things you wouldn't expect. Like everything. So I've got a long way to go with food, and buying it locally and seasonally.

Now Jeff's family used to live on this farm and I think they were pretty self-sufficient. They used irrigation pipes to water their huge garden (from a well) and his mom canned and canned and put away and froze yada yada yada. Jeff says they never bought produce at the store. When they no longer had a milk cow they purchased fresh milk from the farmer next door. They raised all their own meat. And it was probably a full time job for the entire family - but especially for his mom. My style of parenting is different - my kids aren't in school and they have lots of interests/activities....the older they get the more they do....and I don't have time to homestead. And I don't think I'd be all that good at it, if I tried.

*Paper usage. I'm a hypocrite. We don't use paper napkins or paper towels - haven't for 24 years. But we use a ton of paper, in general. The kids scribble on it. I haven't made the calls necessary to stop my junk mail. The cloth napkins freak people out. They're afraid to use them, even though they are frayed and stained, for the most part. And again with the, "You WASH them?" business. Into the washing machine, push the button. No biggie. We use toilet paper. Horrible, rough toilet paper made from recycled paper products. We know families who go paperless in the bathroom and we considered doing it, ourselves. I'm not grossed out by it, just never got around to sewing the little cloths that would be necessary to fully activate the system.

*Personal Products. El and I use very little makeup. We use natural soaps. We use almond oil for moisturizing, and olive oil and sugar for exfoliating. We use natural deodorants. We're investigating all-natural and waste-free "feminine protection products." I love that term, by the way. Feminine Protection. I imagine Wonder Woman with her Madonna Cone Breasts holding her gnarly whip in one hand and a tampon in the other. Anyway, we know families who don't use shampoo and we tried it for a summer. Now, after 5 kids honestly don't have much vanity left, but I do like my hair. I usually straighten the curls out and it is really thick and luxurious if I do say so myself. When I was going without shampoo and conditioner, combing it out was a total pain in the neck and so I wore it curly. I briefly considered dreadlocks but Ellie literally lost all the color in her face when I talked about it. I did the baking soda and vinegar and totally naturally curly thing for several months. When I hugged Jeff he was say in a rough, sexy voice, "Mmmm....coleslaw." Then one day I was tempted by a tiny little hotel-sized bottle of conditioner and I fell off the wagon and have remained in the gutter ever since. But still, compared to most people, we have very little in the way of cosmetics and lotions and soaps, etc.

*Plastic Bags - a big No-No to us!! I've been using canvas bags forever. In fact, there were times that store managers were called to the register because the checker wasn't sure the canvas bags were ALLOWED. A few years ago I wrote an article about plastic bag usage that appeared in a local newspaper and people got all ugly with it - like I was a Communist or Socialist or Something. But since then? Man oh man but more and more people here are using reusable bags!! I am no longer an oddity.

Do I sound self-righteous? It is because self-righteousness is an instrument used to cover up inadequacies of enormous proportions. At least I recognize that. See how I'm being self-righteous again? We do a lot but we don't do enough. Not nearly enough. And I have two really big sins I commit, and am not sure how to avoid them. So - it has been a really long time since my last confession but here it is: Gas and Air conditioning. My biggest sins.

We live in the country. We are nine miles from the nearest small town and grocery store. We are 30 miles from the nearest large city. We reproduced ourselves out of a mini-van and into a full-sized commercial vehicle bus-type thing. And I drive it. A lot. I alone am responsible for the downsizing of the polar icecaps. Right now, I could really use a smaller vehicle. I used to drive around with 5 kids (plus a friend or 2) in my van, but now it is usually just me and 2 or 3 kids. But our big van is totally paid for and I can't bring myself to run out and buy a smaller one.

I have a couple of rather passionate kids. And their passions cannot be fulfilled close to home. Ellie lives/eats/breathes piano. We started out with lessons close to home, but she quickly needed more advanced instruction. Her lessons are a full hour away - once/week. In fact, today I'm driving her a few hours away to participate in a music festival. On Wednesday night I pick her up and drive her into Dallas (6 hours away) for a competition. Drive. Drive. Drive. This is her life path, her career choice, her current reason for being. So it is necessary to make the drive.

Camille is a dancer. Again - she started off close to home but then needed and wanted more advanced instruction. The good news is that her Thursday lesson coincides with her sister's piano lesson and they are about a block apart! The bad news is that she also goes on Mondays. And as she progresses (if she sticks with it) we are eventually looking at 4 times / week. People say, "Just make her quit!" But I can't do that. I would do that if dance were a casual thing for her. But it isn't. She lives for the next lesson, she never balks at having to drop whatever/whoever she's playing with in order to get ready for the hour long drive, she reads ballet books and watches ballet videos in her spare time and has done so since she was about 3. This is not an externally originating thing - it is something that is coming from inside her. So into the city we go....guzzling gas and emitting carbon the whole way. So the oil spill in the gulf? I claim my share of responsibility for that.

My other big sin is air conditioning. We have friends who go without. Jeff's family went without his entire childhood. But I cannot. I'm not going to give a lot of reasons for this or try to make it sound as if it is justifiable. It really isn't justifiable. But I cannot / will not shut off the air conditioning. Every time the compressor kicks in I have pangs of guilt. But I'm not turning it off.

So it seems that I make sacrifices when they aren't really sacrifices, doesn't it? And our world suffers for it. I'm a work in progress, that's for sure. I'm waiting for technology to save me. I'm waiting for a clean and affordable method to crop up that will allow me to drive all over the place without belching carbon. I'm waiting for the solar panels and wind generators that could power my air conditioner to become viable and affordable options. In the meantime? I tell myself that I'm doing more than the "average person." So thank you, Average Person, for allowing me to continue fooling myself. What would I do without you?


  1. I too went without air conditioning when I was a kid and did it very close to where you are now. And it was *miserable.* I feel guilty about my A/C consumption too, but not enough to lay on the cold tile like a bump all summer because I can't bring myself to move around in 100+ degrees.

    At least I switch from truck to motorcycle today. Assuming the darn thing is actually fixed. :)

  2. Average person here... I have curbside recycling and I don't even use it all that much. I do feel guilt though.
    Now, do you hate me or are you happy that I have made your air-conditioning seem like not that big of a deal?

  3. I do as many conscientious things as I can to reduce/reuse/recyle. I even have a 2nd hand dog.

    But you know, probably all the people who read your blog and all the people reading mine COMBINED are greener than Al Gore.

    That's good enough for me.

  4. In my hopelessly starry-eyed way, I believe that so long as we KNOW we need to improve how we treat this world, and we all talk about it, and long for it, and pray for it, it will come. I don't know what to do about our gassy cars, either. What is the alternative? My sister moved to a small town to drastically cut down her work commute. That won't work for everyone. But we need to persuade the unbelievers out there that there is a problem, and it is us.

  5. I like this post. Most likely because I personally like sitting around thinking about all the things I am doing better than other people :)
    Around here, we try our best to do what we can, and try not to sweat it when we can't. It's priorities... no AC would make me a bad mother (and not in the Samuel L Jackson kinda way) so I don't go without it. Just sank a ton of money into my car to get the AC fixed. Ah well.

    Oh, and don't let the sewing hold you back from "family cloth" (the name makes me giggle). We use the baby washcloths that we used when we were cloth diapering. And any towel or washcloth that gets too raggedy gets cut into squares, which I refuse to hem. When THOSE get too raggedy, you could compost them.

  6. Cat Woman - I freaking CANNOT wait to see you riding your motorcycle. Seriously. Can't. Wait.

    Heidi - I love you (but you need to recycle).

    Ami - we are secondhand dog magnets over here.

    Julie - yes you are starry eyed :). And there is no problem - just a natural warming trend!! And it has nothing to do with us.

    Owl Mama - I love it that right now you are sitting there thinking about how you wipe your a** better than me. 'Cause you totally do! Maybe we will revisit the idea of the family cloth :).

  7. Okay - I can/might/will-ish start to recycle as long as I can keep my TP. Maybe. Next week.

  8. *SNORT*
    I totally didn't expect that response! (and it's totally NOT what I was thinking, btw... better than most people, maybe. Better than you? Never)

    Thanks for the chuckle this morning!

  9. All right. You motivated me to check out the no impact challenge. Truthfully, I think we do a lot of this already..but have a lot to learn as well.

    I registered me and la familia. (Won't they be pleased?) Summer dates are not set yet, but I figured "why not?" Maybe it will push me from "almost aware" to "more fully aware." I'm sure the dates of the challenge will be inconvenient.But that's the point, no?

    Want to join us? We can blog in unison about the experience.

  10. Alright, I get it! You're WAY better than me. Seriously though, I do love you because you are not saying "you better do it this way or you're an awful person". Plus, you admit your own sins which is pretty big of you. Actually, I wouldn't read a person's blog anyway if they were trying to shove their ideas down my throat. If I did, I would comment on their Blog about driving around for hours in My big minivan going though McDonald's drive-thru(s) and then tossing the bags out of the windows. I don't do that stuff but it would be fun to torture them.
    I do try to get better all of the time but you really do have to make an effort not to waste. And of course, I try to justify everything. Here's an example: When we adopted John(the oldest), I used cloth diapers for 2 or 3 months. Then I said to myself, "Mark, now you know his Mom wouldn't have used cloth diapers there in the inner-city, why are you"? So I gave them up basically saying that these children were already in the world and would have used disposables. Is that awful reasoning? Yeah, I guess it is. I still feel guilty about that but I do work hard on other areas just so you and your followers won't hate me too much. If it helps, we do live, work, and play all within 10 miles? True, we do make trips and outings but we are pretty much close to everything. Have I said too much? I don't know.
    Here is my point, I want to do better and it's stories like yours and the way that you tell them, that make me want to try harder.
    So, Thank you very much.
    p.s. You didn't take away from my Rue McClanhan tribute.
    Your Friend, m.

  11. Sardine Mama, while we are indulging in this mutual appreciation-fest, I have to say that I was thinking, when you become famous for your writing, that I will be able to say ... I knew her before she was famous! And, I am proud to say, I had an influence on her, too! You are my stepping stone to the world. (Just remember that when you're famous.)