Saturday, February 07, 2009

The American Way of Life, Obama, and a short list that ends with poop

Here's a short list of the easiest things I've done over the years to green up my lifestyle and household:
  1. Buy the squiggly light bulbs. Duh.
  2. Tack the city's recycling info sheet on the fridge right next to the trash can. I've been amazed at how many items I've automatically gone to the trash with, and then stopped when I realized that they were recyclable and I just hadn't made the connection.
  3. Washing in cold water only. It really does get clothes just as clean, so unless there's a reason to sanitize in hot water, I don't.
  4. Buying a CSA share. We loved our first summer at Honey Brook, but the year after waited too long and couldn't get a share. After that we were too transitional to figure it out. This year we're splitting a boxed share from Honey Brook with our neighbors (who, if you're a Calvary person, you of course know, but I like to be careful with putting people's names on this blog unless I have permission, or know them well enough to not care if they hate it.) If you're not local, you can check out to find a CSA near you.
  5. Cloth napkins. Brent's mom finds a reliable abundant supply of these at estate sales, so they are free (to us), washable of course, a lot nicer to look at than paper, and do a better job of getting Clare's hands and face clean.
  6. Hanging the tote bags for the grocery store on the door handle. It's the only thing that cured my constant forgetfulness when I was trying to cultivate the habit. Now it's a habit, and the tote bags live in a less intrusive place. They are so much easier than either paper or plastic, IMO, because they hold a ton more stuff and there is no worry about breakage. I can almost always bring the groceries in from the car to the kitchen in one trip. Nice when I'm generally also herding Clare into the house at the same time.
  7. Sigg bottles. Thank you Sylva's Nana! I love mine, Brent loves his, Clare loves hers. We have lessened our demand for wasteful plastic bottles and are better hydrated to boot.
  8. Always printing on both sides of the (recycled) printer paper, or, if using less than a full page for multiple copies of something, squishing it down and using half sheets to hand out. Joe's made fun of my CCfB handouts for this (but in a mostly nice way. I think.)
  9. Using and loving Method products. Like the wood floor cleaner and the mop with the reusable cloth you toss in the wash. And the dishwasher pellets. And laundry detergent. And rediscovering how awesome baking soda is for kitchen and bathroom cleaning, and laundry.
  10. Breastfeeding. Think about it. No bottle, no formula packages...
  11. The Diva Cup!!!! I can't tell you how happy I am with this. Been using it for 2 years now. How many tampons have I not used in that time? No idea, but what I really love about it is the luxury of actually forgetting I am on my period for hours at a time. Seriously. Comfortable, simple, easy.
  12. Putting the poop in the potty before putting the diaper in the pail. Yep, Clare's not pooping direct yet, but her poop goes in the potty. Turns out this is 'sposed to be how you handle all 'sposies.
So, I was thinking about this in the shower (perhaps washing with the Holy Cross Monastery's blackberry sage soap inspired my holier-than-thou thoughts?) and this was my short list. It's not really meant as self-congratulatory at all, because all of these things are very small things. Not like getting rid of the family car, or something. Plus, one thing I really wish I could list, but can't: cloth diapers. We didn't do it because of our living situation (communal laundry seemed an insuperable stumbling block), but it would have saved us tons of money, Clare would perhaps be potty trained already, and of course, no enormous bags of stinky disposable diapers piling up week after week.

I would love to hear back from some of you if there are other easy, simple things you've done that you would include on your own list.

But there's a larger point lurking here as well, and that is, these little things represent a deliberate modification of what we might label "JTB's Way of Life." I may have bitched about this phrase, "way of life," on this blog before--I don't remember. I don't remember because I bitch about it so often that I'm like one of those absentminded professors, or preachers, who keeps telling the same anecdotes to an audience who's heard it all before. Because I hate it. I especially hate it in the specific version we hear so often, "The American Way of Life." My automatic reaction to this phrase at this point is to snort derisively and mutter, "and WTF does that mean anyway?"

And then, damn it, Obama went and used it in his inauguration speech. And worse, defended it. And worse, said we won't apologize for it. If I were a cartoon character, my eyes would have bugged out and there would have been funny sound effects accompanying my "whaaaaaa?" headshake.

Because "The American Way of Life" is never defined, simply invoked--whenever we need an ironclad, ask-no-more-questions reason for doing, you know, X (fill in the blank: go to war, torture people, enact a law or amend the constitution get it.) Our American Way of Life may be a blank concept, but it's a sacred blank concept, and one that you can properly consider the possibility of consigning your eternal soul to hell for defending, if that's what it takes.

But here's the thing. While Obama's inauguration speech overtly praised and promised to defend Our Sacred American Way of Life, it also more subtly made a case for the ways in which we must redefine that way of life and the reasons why. So...I'm on board with that, and kudos to the man once again for some kick-ass rhetorical strategy. Once we have a collective way of life that doesn't require apologizing for, I'm all for defending it without apology.

It seems to me that there's an assumption that making any kind of real change to how we live means massive inconvenience and difficulty, and so people avoid even contemplating it. Let's just not think about it, because if we did, then we would have to change, and that would just be too much to ask...I mean, really, that would be asking us to Change Our Way of Life. But my point is that redefining The American Way of Life doesn't have to be scary or too difficult to bother contemplating. There's not a single thing in my opening list that has made the quality of my life worse by doing it. There's not a single thing on that list that even qualifies as inconvenient. Sure, it takes a little work to remember the tote bags. But they work better. For me, and for everyone else too.

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