Happy Earth Day!

Every day should be Earth Day. Gillian and I are trying to live more mindfully each day, making changes that seem little, are relatively painless, but if more and more people practiced probably would make a difference. Here are a list of things that we do (or don’t do) to live in a more earth-friendly manner:

  • Take fewer showers and more “bird baths”
  • Drive less (we’re actually thinking of getting rid of our car altogether and getting into a car share)
  • Bring totes everywhere with us instead of collecting plastic or paper bags
  • Wash the laundry in cold water
  • Hang dry our clothes
  • Change our light bulbs to CFLs
  • Use rechargeable batteries
  • Use cloth napkins
  • Use reusable kitchen wipes instead of paper towels
  • Of course we recycle
  • Buy locally grown and produced foods and goods
  • Eat meat fewer times per week
  • Continue to educate ourselves about environmental sustainability

We’re also going to start composting and gardening this summer. When we shop, we try to be mindful about it, thinking about the object’s usefulness and life time, and think about what’s going to happen to the object after it’s no longer useful.

I was also gratified today to see all of the environmental links that my contacts were saving on Ma.gnolia. Actually, for the past few days.

So what if Bush won’t get serious about green house gas emissions? If he won’t create the policy to get our emissions lower, We The People can still make the life style changes to do so. If I model the behavior, perhaps my friends, family, and colleagues will be inspired to do the same. I know that I learn from the people around me, and have adopted more sustainable living practices.

So happy Earth Day everyone! Do something, however small, good for the Earth today and every day.

Reclaiming Christmas

For years, the adult members of my family have had the tradition of choosing names out of a hat each Christmas. The name you pick is the person you are getting a gift for that year. It is a really nice tradition, relieving us all of the pressure to buy presents for each member of the family. That way, each of us can also sped a little more money on one gift than we otherwise would if we had to buy several gifts.

I have really appreciated this tradition over the years because it did help to get me out of the holiday frenzy. Since I have been an adult (and when or if that has actually occurred is up for debate), I have never really enjoyed the holidays because of the Christmas chaos. I have hated everything about it: the insanity at the malls, the lines snaking out the door of the Post Office, the incessant holiday music wherever I go, the boxes of cookies and candies around the office which I feel obligated to imbibe only to end up feeling sick later, and the flowing cheap wine, egg nog, or other nasty alcoholic concoction that makes me feel even worse. I dread the lines of cranky people with crankier children at the airports going to visit Grandma, the crowded planes. And I, along with millions of others, have persevered through all of this to reach the crazy family at the other end of the journey, whom I love, but let’s face it, at the holidays we’re all a little more challenging than usual.

The pressure of performing at Christmas gives me anxiety. I have chosen some years not to participate, or to participate in a limited way, not traveling, not sending cards, not decorating my house, and abstaining from the candy and cookies. But ultimately I have found that I still get sucked in against my best intentions even so. At best, I would feel inspired to shower my beloved with gifts and spending beyond my means. At worst, I ended up feeling sad about not reaching out to friends that I normally don’t have the chance to connect with over the year, and really sad that I didn’t find a place to hang the stockings or put up the few decorations that I have.

The truth is, I love Christmas. And much in the way that I am in a constant struggle to embrace my Christian identity which has been hijacked by right-wing zealots with a heartless political agenda, so has Christmas been hijacked by the retailers and architects of an economy that is entirely driven by consumers. It is true, and even though everyone seems to know it, we all seem to turn away from the fact that Christmas is the single most important consumer holiday. The majority of retail sales happens between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

And this just isn’t a sustainable way to have a healthy economy. I don’t know much about economics, but I do understand that it is folly for an economic system to rely on our collective ability to make money during the work week, go to the mall on the weekend and buy stuff, most of which will eventually end up in a landfill.

The way most of us celebrate Christmas isn’t healthy or sustainable for many reasons.

I won’t wax nostalgic for times gone by that were simpler and better. I have no illusions that Christmas wasn’t the chaotic consumer frenzy that it is today when I was a kid. I loved Christmas as a child, and I loved the presents (I don’t know how my parents did it with five children). As a child, for me Christmas was about the anticipation of the gifts I would receive. I loved all of the other things, too: the decorations, the carols, the food, the gatherings, the television specials, and the telling of the story of the birth of Jesus.

But for a child, it was all about the presents. For an adult, it has become all about anxiety and stress.

I think I have finally found the way to celebrate Christmas in a way that I can really enjoy. My beloved and I did not exchange gifts. We are staying at home together for a cozy day of relaxing, game-playing, reading, eating great food, enjoying each other’s company, and being grateful for all that we have. This year for the family gift exchange we all made gifts to charities in honors of each other instead of buying each other stuff that we don’t need (more about that in posts to follow). We didn’t get a tree that we would have to dispose of later, though we did hang some lights and put up a few decorations. We will send out a few New Year post cards to let our far-flung friends know that we think of them and love them even if we can’t see them.

And I will continue to write these blog postings as an exercise of creative expression and as a way to stay in touch with people. I figure if I keep putting it out there, people will stop by and keep connecting or reconnect. And it’s working!

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Blog Action Day (October 15, 2007)

Okay, so really Blog Action Day has come and gone, and I really wanted to participate. So, I am going to anyway with a post-dated entry. I’m sure my friends and family will indulge me because they all know that on October 15 I was in transit, moving my entire life, me, my partner, and my cat, from Oakland, California to Chicago. Let’s just say that the days preceding and just following that date were a little busy for me.

So, this year, Blog Action Day was about the environment. G and I are actively trying to live more sustainably, embracing habits of eating mostly organic, buying products locally grown and made, recycling, trying to walk more and drive less, and using environmentally friendly cleaning products.

Being in the midst of one of my biggest life changes, moving 2,000 miles to another city, I can say that some of these values were set aside, put on hold, if you will, and some might say chucked out the window because it is either inconvenient or expensive.

This move has put me in touch with just how privileged I am. Movers packed our stuff, loaded it onto a big truck, and as I write this, someone is driving our things across the country to our new home, and more movers will come to carry it all up three flights of stairs. Professional house cleaners came to scour our apartment once it was empty. The day before we left, Gillian and I went to have pedicures.

No matter what, moving is stressful. I was able to hire people to do a lot of the physical labor for me, and I still feel tired. I have done a good deal of heavy lifting to get us here, but nothing like Dan who could carry three heavy boxes at a time down our stairs and out to the truck. I am incredibly grateful, and I fully recognize my privilege.

And even so, I was not able to do everything in an environmentally friendly way because G and I could not afford it. We didn’t want to keep our hide-a-bed sofa, and when attempts to give it away were unsuccessful, we paid some haulers to take it away. The “environmentally friendly” haulers (as they marketed themselves) charged $50 more than the regular haulers that we hired. And they turned out to be a gay couple that we really liked who recycled all of their hauls in an environmentally sound way, anyway.

It’s interesting to me that the “green” hauling company feels that they can charge more for offering the same service that is marketed in a different way. The “green” house cleaners would have cost hundreds of dollars more than the cleaning ladies from our neighborhood, who I’m pretty sure don’t use environmentally friendly cleaning products.

I believe in the “green tax,” paying more for products that are made sustainably and that do not harm the environment. I will patronize local businesses over big chains to support the local economy instead of large corporations. I will pay more for organically grown produce. I have the ability to pay more, and because I want to do my part and be a good citizen, I will. But it is a privilege to be able to do so.

Living green should not be a luxury. It is a responsibility. If we’re going to live in a capitalist economy, and if the captains of industry are really interested in doing good for the environment, then they need to find a way to make green accessible to all. Some say that demand from the middle class will create green trends at all class levels.

While I’m suspicious of WalMart’s new “organic” line of food, I have to ask the question, isn’t this the way things should be going? Sure, WalMart is capitalizing on the whole green/organic movement, but this is also a company that caters to the working class with its low prices. Believe me, I’m no fan of WalMart, but isn’t this kind of marketing the right idea? Shouldn’t the green movement want to reach the working class in any way possible? Can’t the green movement find a way to capitalize on WalMart’s efforts to promote green living?

As we settle into our new home, G and I will clean the coils of our refrigerator with green cleaning products, replace old bulbs with CFL bulbs, educate ourselves about the green movement here in Chicago, support local businesses with sustainable practices, and otherwise continue to pay the green tax here. We will be mindful of the things we accumulate, acquiring things that will contribute to our quality of life, recycling and regifting things that we no longer need or use. We probably won’t shop at WalMart, but I won’t look down my nose at anyone who does. We probably will shop at Whole Foods, which won’t make me feel more virtuous.

I do whatever I can in my daily life to leave a lighter footprint, and I will continue to write and talk about ways that green living should be a responsibility for everyone, not a choice only for those who can afford it. This is the only way that living green will make a real difference.