Learning to Live Intentionally

One of the factors in my becoming more environmentally conscious as well as becoming a vegetarian was trying to find a purpose for my life. For those who don’t know me suffice it to say that I have somewhat floundered through life so far trying to find my purpose, calling, destiny, whatever you want to call it. I feel that for the first 40 years of my life I was just trying to survive but not much living was really happening. When I turned 40 I really took stock of my life, as many do at that milestone.

I did not have a career. I did not have children. I did not even have my own house.

I did have a broken marriage, an unfinished degree, and chronic depression.

Didn’t seem like much of a legacy to leave.

So I asked myself what could I do that would really make a difference? I looked into various volunteer opportunities and some of those are still possibilities but still being somewhat in survival mode (bills still have to be paid), my available time is very limited especially now with helping out with Grandma. But I did not want to wait until I had more free time to start doing something. That is how environmentalism and minimalism landed on my radar. These were things I could do now with little extra time commitment that could still make a difference.

Parallel to that journey was my vegetarian journey which had much more to do with the fact that I could literally no longer stomach the idea of eating the flesh of a living breathing animal anymore than I could of doing the same to another human. It was just a bonus in my eyes that reducing my animal consumption to zero and significantly reducing my family’s as well through creative recipes, also had an environmental impact. By reducing the demand for factory farmed meat, we are joining our voices with hundreds of thousands of others who are saying ‘no more!’ The devastation wreaked upon the east coast by hurricane Florance brought to light the horrors of factory pig slaughter plants where millions of animals were left to drown. Additionally the immense amount of manure produced by such a large consolidation of animals mixed with the flood waters polluting streams and water sources throughout the Carolinas. Factory farming is good for no one but the owners and their bank account. It is horrible for the animals. It is taking its toll on America’s health. It is destroying the ecosystem. It needs to stop.

I realize that I am not in a position to travel with UNICEF to help people in undeveloped countries. I am not smart enough to develop anything to help clean up our oceans or make plastic bio-degradable. I’m not rich enough to buy politicians to pass regulatory legislation (not sure that will ever be the answer to the problem anyway). I’m very well of my limitations, but instead of throwing up my hands and saying, “I can’t make a difference.” I decided to figure out how I could start making a difference right here and now.

If you have read any of my other posts, you know that one of the first things I did was reduce my use of plastic. I do not use plastic straws. I carry my own reusable eating utensils to reduce having to use plastic silverware. I buy whatever I can in tin, aluminum, or glass OR refill my own containers rather than buying new ones. I have switched to shampoo bars instead of buying shampoo in bottles. We only use bar soap instead of body wash in plastic bottles. I try to buy in bulk to reduce the amount of plastic produced for those things that can’t be purchased any other way. I say all of this not to toot my own horn, but to drive home the point that if I can make these changes, ANYONE can do it!

Other things to consider that make a huge difference over time and collectively when more people participate include:

Consolidate errands in one trip when possible. This saves gasoline and time (good for your pocketbook) and reduces the overall emissions produced from multiple trips.

Don’t dump your melted ice or ‘old’ water from your drinking cup down the sink. Use it to water your house plants or even your pets (they will drink toilet water given the chance, so they won’t mind drinking after you).

This one some may argue against but read my argument for it and give it some thought. I utilize Amazon a lot. I request limited packaging and either reuse or recycle the boxes and packing material. We live in a very small community and have to drive 10+ miles to get to any type of store. Since Amazon utilizes the Unites States Post Office to deliver and the Post Office delivers to my town six days a week, it just makes more sense to me to use the gas and vehicle that is already coming my way than to run around all over the county (literally) to get what I need. It takes more planning on my part, but I believe it is better on my pocket book and the environment in the long run.

I certainly don’t have all the answers. I am constantly looking for other ways to make a difference either by reducing my product and energy consumption, my amount of landfill waste, even my amount of recyclable materials (we are quickly approaching the tipping point where recycling will no longer be a viable option) or by doing something positive to impact my community, country, and world. One thing I refuse to do is nothing. If I truly believed I could not make a difference with my actions, I would just curl up in a ball and die because what would be the point. Believe me, having chronic depression that is a very tempting prospect. Instead I am going to keep fighting for change, for good, for kindness, for love. Will you?

Difference is as Difference Does

I don’t know about you but for me the movie Forrest Gump is chalk full of great quotes: “That’s all I have to say about that.” “Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re gonna get.” “Stupid is as stupid does.”

That last one took me some time to really see the meaning behind the words. It wasn’t just a comeback to being called stupid. It was an introspective look at what is really stupid and what could be called legitimately stupid. What Forrest’s wise mama was teaching him was that the action can be stupid but without the action it cannot be ascribed that title.

The same goes for making a difference. Without action no difference is ever made. Actions that help the environment, animals, and other humans is what makes the difference. People can talk all day about solving problems, but until someone gets up out of chair and goes out and does action, no real difference is ever made. So I had to really look at myself and ask what actions am I doing to make a difference?

If you have followed my previous posts, you already know some of the things I have implemented as permanent changes in my life (vegetarian, recycling, reducing waste, etc.). These have all been actions but they have been somewhat passive actions. By that I mean that they are actions that I take that affect primarily me, my family, and my home. I have not ventured out much beyond my bubble to produce action in my community, city, state, or country. I want this to change. I want to be the change. The change starts here.

About 8 years ago my grandmother was diagnosed with late onset Alzheimer’s. Last year she had to move into my parent’s home for full-time supervision. This summer, that has transitioned to full-time care. Our family has been in crisis mode now for 14 months. The thing is during crisis mode, survival at all cost kicks in. Whatever can be done to make one area of life easier so energies can be focused in other areas is done regardless of cost. I help my parents out two days a week so they can have the freedom to do other tasks that daily life requires (grocery shopping, home repairs, appointments, etc.) or even just a quiet lunch out together. Unfortunately there is a lot of waste that happens when taking care of an elderly person, from adult diapers to plastic bottles of nutritional drinks. My father has always been and still is an avid recycler, but neither of my parents have embraced the ‘reduce’ part of the formula. My mom uses retail therapy to cope with the mounting pressures of taking care of grandma. So from an environmental standpoint, there is not much positive happening with this situation. To be honest, I don’t care.

Providing a healthy, safe environment for my grandma to spend her few remaining days is much more important to me at this moment than advocating for the environment. Does that mean I have gone back to using plastic straws and plastic shopping bags? NO WAY! I will keep implementing these and other changes because I can. My parents have much bigger issues to deal with right now than making their own soap or household cleaners.

Those of us who are able-bodied and not dealing with a major medical crisis in our homes are the ones who need to be even more vigilant about our choices that impact the environment to help soften the impact of those who just can’t right now. I have seen repeated arguments over the plastic straw ban vs disabled people who depend on them. There is a compromise. I’m living it on a much smaller scale with my family right now. Those who are able to should do everything in their power to make our environment cleaner and healthier. Those who can’t (sick, elderly, disabled) should be allowed to take full advantage of modern conveniences without being shamed or guilted. This is the balance that all life requires.

As for actions, I could be the plastic, water conservation, zero chemical nazi at my parent’s house two days a week, but I’m not. Instead I am leading a team to participate in a fundraising walk to find a cure for Alzheimer’s. I have not walked to raise money for anything my entire adult life. This is definitely outside my bubble, but it is still a very personal cause. I am positive this walk will not be an zero-waste event, however I hope that the money raised will help to find better treatments and eventually a cure that will have a bigger positive environmental impact than this fundraiser.

This shift in my perspective is huge for me. I have always been a very black/white, all/nothing kind of thinker. This risk analysis kind of thinking is opening up a whole new world for me and making me a hopefully more kind, understanding, and compassionate person. I want to be a ‘difference is as difference does’ person.

If you would like to help make a difference and donate to my fundraiser walk please go to this link:

http://act.alz.org/site/TR?pg=personal&px=14814147&fr_id=11233

Please Just Stop

I have officially become a political activist. Well sort of. I’ve started a letter writing campaign to all my elected officials from local to national. I plan on writing every week until I get a response. What has lit a fire under me?

Balloons. Not necessarily balloons in and of themselves, but the popular practice of balloon releases. I understand that the majority of these releases are done to ‘honor’ the memory of a loved one who has passed away. I totally understand the desire and need to honor those we have lost, however this particular practice spreads death to animals and destruction of our environment which is not honorable to anyone’s memory. Does anyone honestly think that this is something of which their loved one would support?

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Or how about the fate of this poor creature who died from intestinal obstruction due to balloon fragments that when floating in the water mimic a food source – jellyfish.

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I realize that I am writing from the Mid West about as far away from an ocean as you can get, but that doesn’t mean that local animals are not affected and not just from ingesting balloon remnants or becoming entangled in the strings, but just the very presence of something not natural to their environment can cause death.

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I’m not trying to be a curmudgeon about events that honor those who have died, but why does the only option have to be so brutal to innocent and unsuspecting creatures? Why not plant a tree or bush? Why not create a group art piece that can be displayed? Why not organize a food drive? Why not volunteer to clean up litter in a park or area of town? There are so many other ways to show how much that person meant without doing something so destructive.

I want to believe that many are done out of ignorance of the issues the releases create, hence why I am writing an entire post about this issue. Get the word out! Stop this before it happens. This is such an easy fix that could have a big impact on animals around the globe.

To be clear I am not saying balloons are evil. They make events festive and make lots of people smile, but they must be disposed of in a responsible manner, NOT released into the air to land and cause destruction elsewhere.

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If you would like to join in a letter writing campaign feel free to use the following template to send to your representatives.

Dear _________________,

I am writing to you to bring awareness to the issue of the damage that balloon releases cause to our environment. I understand this is not the most pressing issue to come across your desk, however it is important because anything that negatively affects our planet is important.

The purpose of most balloon releases is to honor a person who has passed away. The sentiment is beautiful, but the direct consequences are not.

I INCLUDED PICTURES FEATURED IN THIS POST HERE.

I ask you to consider proposing legislation to ban balloon releases. This could be a great opportunity for both sides of the aisle to come together for a common goal – protecting our environment and the animals that inhabit it.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

TMI Ahead (But Hopefully Helpful)

Fair warning, if you don’t want to hear about personal hygiene, specifically regarding feminine products, just go ahead and pass on reading this now.

 

 

Ok so if you are still with me then you are obviously not squeamish and very committed to helping the environment. I had been hearing about Diva cups for a couple of months but was not quite sold on the idea. After talking with my sister-in-law who had made the change, I decided to go for it. At first it was really a matter of getting comfortable with my own anatomy. Then I had to get comfortable with placing the Diva cup properly. After a couple of practice runs, I got the hang of it.

I cannot even begin to say enough about what a change this has been for me. I absolutely love the security of no leaks even over night! I also like that I am not adding any plastic to the environment via tampons or pads. One thing that I did have to adjust was the number of days that I could wear the Diva cup. The first 3-4 days of the cycle are perfect for it, after that for me removal became more difficult with lack of flow.

That is where Thinx panties come in! Underwear that absorb menstrual flow without leaking? WHAT?!?! I bought one pair to try them out to see if they lived up to the hype. I LOVE them! So much so that I requested them for a Christmas present from my hubby who was sweet enough to listen and order them! I now have several pairs for the light flow days. There is a little extra care involved with them. They should be pre-rinsed, washed in warm water, and line dried, but the extra 3 minutes of work every month is so very worth it!

I began this journey in October of last year and have not had to purchase any pads or tampons since! My Diva cup paid for itself the first two months and the Thinx panties will pay for themselves in the next couple of months. When I first started on this journey to zero-waste and minimalism, this was not an aspect I was even really conscious of, however, once I learned how harmful and long lasting feminine care products were in the landfill, I knew I had to at least try to make a change. I am so glad I took a chance and I only regret that I didn’t make this change decades ago!!!! While nothing will every make you have a “happy period” these two products have made it less uncomfortable and have given me a greater sense of security. So ladies, if I can do it, anyone can do it!

 

 

 

One Thing at a Time

Anyone else ever feel like so much is going on in their life and you’re just treading water day to day? That has been my life the past few months. After literally getting my son back on his feet, I took a trip to Colorado which was marvelous. I even converted my best friend to Yeti cups and stainless steel straws! I took in a concert at Red Rocks and breathed the fresh mountain air. It was such a wonderful recharge after the stress of the previous two months.

Once back home we started a small kitchen renovation project that forced me to clean out every single cabinet and drawer. In all I got rid of 4 large boxes of kitchen stuff that I have not used in the past 6 years so I knew it wouldn’t be missed. Now my cabinets and drawers are much less cluttered and things that I do use are much easier to find!

At the end of the summer my family also went through another significant change that had me evaluating every item I owned and asking if it was really important or not. Because of my grandmother’s declining health, she had to move in with my parents which meant there was an entire other residence to clean out and put on the market. This was no easy task for a variety of reasons, but I took away some very valuable lessons.

First, saving “stuff” to reuse but never actually reusing it is pointless and results in useless clutter. My grandmother grew up in large family on a farm in the middle of the Great Depression, so she rarely threw anything away that could possibly still have a use. Over the years she collected so many things to reuse that the items literally got buried in the back of closets, cabinets, and drawers. So while her intentions might have been good, the practical application was completely missing. I did help her out in the recycling department though and cleaned up more cool whip and yogurt containers than I ever want to see again in my life!

Second, just because an item is something I remember from my childhood and I associate it with my grandmother does not mean I need to keep it. Instead I took pictures of items to incorporate in a scrapbook so I can still talk about the emotions and memories that the item triggers for me without having to find a place to store it. This was so incredibly liberating during this process. As many of us age and come to the point of having to clear out the homes of our parents and grandparents, I truly hope that each of us can separate the feelings and emotions for the people we love and the “stuff” they collected over a lifetime. It is not a lack of sentimentality and I did keep a couple of items, but by and large I used the photograph method to document items that meant something to me. Letting go of things is not letting go of memories. Letting go of things is not being disrespectful to the people who owned them. Letting go of things is a shift in perspective and it is so freeing that I hope everyone can experience it and truly live a life free of the anxiety and stress that often comes with having a lot of “stuff.”

 

Long Hot Summer

This summer has been one of tremendous change for me personally. I have made a conscious effort to continue to reduce the amount of plastic I use as well as the amount of trash our household generates. It is very hard to do this as I am alone in this fight among my family to make the world a better place. Even though I have tried to make it as easy as possible to involve them in the recycling process in our home, I get little help. Often I am left digging through the trash and recycling bin to sort the stuff they heedlessly throw in. It is very discouraging, made even more so by the comments made like, “what you do doesn’t matter” or “your efforts are too insignificant to make a difference.”

There have been lots of tears and arguments, but I will not be dissuaded. What I do CAN make a difference. Every little effort helps. Would it be better if more people got on board? ABSOLUTELY! But just because it is a small movement does not mean that it is insignificant. I know my family is often embarrassed when I drag out my metal straw in restaurants or tell the people in the drive thru that I don’t need the offered straw, but if even one other person sees my action or asks about it, it gives me an opportunity to share with them how damaging plastics are to our environment and straws are just an easy way to start to make a difference.

I have also begun to reduce the amount of plastic I bring into the house through packaging. I am doing the no shampoo hair cleaning regiment and loving it! It was a little weird at first to not have all of the luxurious lather on my head, but I still came away with clean, fresh smelling hair, so no complaints here! I use recycled plastic water bottles to hold my cleaning and conditioning solutions, so I will no longer be bringing in shampoo in plastic bottles.

Another change I have made is not using the plastic bags in the produce isle to separate my fresh produce. I take my own bags now. That was a super easy decision and change. Even if I forget to take my bag, I don’t use the plastic bags, I just put my loose fruit and vegetables together for the short ride home. They seem to get along just fine as far as I can tell.

I also initiated a procedure at my job that helps the environment in a couple of ways. I work at a local library and the cards that we give to new patrons come in a sheet of 6 that the individual cards can then be punched out of. What is left is much like the plastic pieces that hold a six pack of soda together only more rigid. When I started, those plastic sheets were simply thrown in the trash. I volunteered to recycle them if everyone would put them in a box for me. Additionally I asked the other employees to cut all of the sheets in half so that there would be no chance of any wildlife becoming entangled in them. Everyone was very encouraging and accommodating of the new arrangement.

I know I can’t make a very significant difference on my own, but I cannot sit back and do nothing anymore now that I know what is happening to our planet. Am I completely plastic free? Not by a long shot, but I keep making changes to use less and that is a step in the right direction. I am reading books and articles about what others are doing to use less plastic and seeing what I can implement right away and what I can make as short and long range goals. The point is that I am trying. I’m not giving up. If you are in this fight and feel all alone sometimes, remember that there are many of us out there doing the very best we can as well. Keep fighting.

An Uphill Battle

A lot has happened since my last post.

First I went to Florida for the first time and I was fortunate to visit both sides of the peninsula. I went to Cocoa Beach on the Atlantic side and Clearwater Beach on the Gulf side. The power and beauty of the ocean were mesmerizing. I saw all manners of creatures from dozens of different kind of birds to a manta ray to alligators to dolphins. Some animals were protected by the people who owned the land they called home. Some creatures were at the mercy of what may be in the wide open ocean. But all were beautiful in their own right.

I am proud to say I stayed straw free and only purchased three bottles of water on the entire trip. It should have been two but I forgot my cup (with my stainless steel straw) at the hotel one day.  I made a conscious effort to really look around me and see what was happening at the beaches. My son and I even picked up trash before it could be swept away by the tide. The throngs of people at the beaches with all of their plastic baggies that the wind so easily snatched away, made me re-evaluate my own use and disposal of baggies. I thought about how I could use reusable containers instead with only a little more effort on my part. Sure it takes a little longer to pack things in containers with lids, then haul those containers around after they are empty, and then my least favorite part, washing the darn things, but if that extra effort helps to reduce the amount of plastic introduced into our planet’s eco system, then I’m willing to do it.

Does that mean I went home and immediately threw away all of my baggies. No. But what I am doing is committing to not purchasing any more and using the ones I have very sparingly so that they will last a long time in my drawers only coming out when needed in a pinch. When I can, I am also washing and reusing them within reason. I have flown twice already this year and I am still on the same little baggie for the airport.  I am keeping it in my luggage and plan on reusing it until it rips rather than running to the baggie drawer for a new one every time I pack.

Did hauling around my own cup cause me any hardship on vacation? Nope. In fact often when I went into a dine and dash restaurant and told them I would get a drink but that I had my own cup, they would not even charge me for the drink!

As soon as we got home, we celebrated a high school graduation. You are probably already asking how on earth can this be related to reduce, reuse, recycle? This is my first attempt at actively reusing something – gift cards. I have been very guilty of using up a gift card and then simply throwing it in the trash or leaving it on the table or letting the cashier dispose of it. But guess what? They are ALL RELOADABLE! So as my grad and hopefully his friends use up their cards, I am collecting them to reuse for other occasions throughout the year, especially Christmas time. Not only will this keep those plastic cards from entering the eco system for at least one more round, it will keep me from running to the store to pick up a gift card every time I want to give a gift. I can just go to my stash, call the number on the back or go to the website, and reload it.

Three days after graduation, the unthinkable happened. My new grad was in a serious car accident. He is lucky to be alive, but had a broken back that needed surgery. I’ve spent the past week camped out at the hospital with him. He is going to be ok, but there is a long road of recovery and rehabilitation therapy ahead. The good news is that he can walk and will be able to live a full life still. So what does this have to do with plastic or the environment? Not a darn thing. In fact, I’ve used straws this week. Well I’ve utilized straws to help my son be able to drink since he can’t sit up all the way. Do I feel bad about it? Not enough to stop using them for him. Even though my stainless steel straw has a natural bend to it for convenience, it does not have nearly enough flexibility to make it useful for patients like my boy. I have continued to take my own cup with my own straw everyday because I can. I am more than happy to use a plastic straw for those who can’t. I will continue to try to convince people I come in contact with to forgo using a straw or bring their own with them. I will continue to do so myself. I will not be so dogmatic and uncaring as to not admit that there is a time and place where modern conveniences like plastic straws are not only acceptable but preferred. Does this make me a hypocrite. Maybe. I’d like to think it makes me a compassionate human being who just wants to make a suffering human being a little more comfortable.

Why straws?

In case you were asking why not using plastic straws was one of my first changes, check out the video at this link: 

I just could no longer use a plastic straw knowing that it had the potential to cause so much pain to a wonderful creature like that. 


Now I use stainless steel straws, but I know of others who use glass straws. I take one with me whenever I leave the house, then I simply bring it home and pop it in the dishwasher. 

Here is the link to where I got my straws:

Stainless Steel Straw Set – Reusable Pack of 2 Curved & 2 Wider/ Straight Straws – For Smoothies, Coffee & Drinks – Cleaning Brush Included – Eco-Frie https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01MS88YOK/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apip_I9JeR7krcudMx

I was also inspired by a story I read about a young boy who wanted to reduce the number of straws entering landfills and the ocean. He talked to every restaurant owner and asked their permission to place little table tent info cards asking patrons to tell their servers if they did not want a straw automatically put in their drinks. Every restaurant in his town agreed. The restaurants spent less money on straws and fewer straws were thrown in the trash. I call that a win-win for everyone! What a great idea!


Small steps can make big changes!