Saturday, July 25, 2015

No One Can Do Everything?

But everyone can do something! 

Do you feel intimidated by starting to green-up your life? Do you feel like there is so much to be done that you don't know where to start?

I definitely feel that way a lot! There are so many habits worth breaking, but you can't break them all at once. It's kind of like trying to start a diet; you can declare you will only eat plain chicken and broccoli for every meal, but how many days until you fall off that wagon?

I think the discourse about environmentalism can sometimes feel like a broccoli diet. If you aren't totally electric-free, plastic-free, etc, then you are failing, but it's hard to change so many habits at once. Not to mention, a lot of green fixes are expensive, so it can be a big investment!

The key here, like so many things in life, is just to moderate and take some pressure off yourself! It's better to keep making small changes that you can sustain than to try to force your whole life into a new box immediately. Plus, the issue here is scale, so if everyone does one thing they keep up with, it can make more of an impact than if you try to change everything for a short while. Need some ideas of where to start? These are some of the simplest fixes. Commit to one for a month, and if you feel good about it at the end, you can add another thing to the list!

Baby Steps to Try 

1. Give in to the re-useable shopping bag- Try keeping them in your trunk if you have trouble remembering!

2. Stop using plastic bottles- Water bottles are the worst. They are literally just tap water in an environment-ruining package. Invest in a camelback and just keep refilling it. If you are a pop drinker, think about buying your pop in larger containers and refilling a camelback or cup. Also, if you are a pop drinker, I am super jealous of you.

3. Start a recycle bin- You may have to drop it off somewhere, but it will make a world of difference!

4. Only buy napkins and toliet paper made of 75% or more recycled materials- Really, does a tree need to die so someone can wipe their butt? If you buy in bulk, the price difference isn't all that significant.

5. Compost- Better if you live in a rural area (it can be stinky), but you can buy compost bins at Home Depot, Bed Bath and Beyond, or even Amazon. A banana peel decomposes in a week or two, but mixed in with all that plastic garbage, it will never decompose, adding to our huge garbage pile on this planet.

6. Give up plastic straws- Yes, I know, drinking is hard, but you can do it. When your server brings you straws at a restaurant, just say you don't need it and give it back.

7. Stop using produce bags at the grocery store- Why exactly are you trying to keep that peel you are going to throw out clean anyway? I know I have trouble with this one (I kind of miss them) but you can put them all in none grocery bag and wash things as you put them away.

8. Say no to microbeads- Those little plastic beads might make your face feel great, but they are doing real damage fast. You can find natural alternatives, or skip the beads all together.

9. Start Local- If you are looking to make a difference, the best place to look is right around you. People are all over this earth, so if everyone took care of the place they lived in, we might be in better shape. One great step is to read up on what is going on in the environment near your neighborhood and to get involved!

10. Join a Buy Nothing group or start one! Ok, I make it no secret that I love my Buy Nothing group, but it really is awesome. You can give things you don't need to someone who needs it, and you can save money by getting things used from your neighbors. If you don't have a Buy Nothing Project in your area, start one!

Ok, this seems like a lot, but the point is to just pick one thing, here or not, that you feel like you can do! Set a goal and succeed!

For us, this month I am trying to minimize some of our baby-created waste, so I am researching biodegradble baby wipes and may finally bite the bullet and do reusable diapers while we are home. Do you know how many diapers a baby uses before they potty train? It feels like about a million. I will let you know how our mission goes- tell me what you might change!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

How do We Practice Good Stewardship?

Marc Chagall, Adam and Eve, St Stephen Mainz Germany
 "Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law."-Romans 13: 8-10

"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change" -James 1:17

I have been a Christian since I was a child, and my very basic understanding of Jesus Christ and Christianity is this (pardon the crass paraphrase here, I am no theologian). He showed up and told people,  "You are letting these accumulations of rules and religious baggage pull you away from God. The two greatest rules are to love God and love each other." Basically everything else in the red letters, to my mind, expands on this, and he tells story after story about these themes.

In the prodigal son, we see the unconditional love of the father at play, but we can also learn from the "good" son, who stays and works, then feels frustrated and jealous that his misbehaving sibling receives such love. We can learn that being close to God is a reward in itself, and just because you do everything "right" doesn't mean God loves you more. It's the other side of grace.

In the good Samaritan, we watch a bunch of people who are supposedly "right" with God turn their back on an undesirable person who needs their help. Like so many of the examples that Jesus sets in his actions, this story shows the value and love in helping someone who doesn't agree with you or who is even your enemy. Your taking care of others pleases God.

I think a lot about the seemingly simple charge to love others and to love God, and what this action entails. These two instructions dominate and organize my faith (and deeply inform my being a liberal and a feminist as well).  If you really accept God as creator of everything, then loving others, no matter what their religion or race or whatever becomes (in my one opinion) an absolute necessity, because they are just like that prodigal son- maybe not on the same track to Him as you are, but equally loved by Him (and it's not your business or your right to judge them beyond that). I know that loving someone means communicating (it's why we pray and meditate, right?), it means to care, it means to "protect, trust, hope, and persevere." We show these people love because God created them, and just like we wouldn't rip up a handmade gift (I mean, no one rips up a scarf from their grandma or a card from a child), we should treasure other humans as specially made by Him.

What could we as Christians do better to love God and show him we are grateful for his creation? One of the clearest (but most difficult) answers to this question is to be better stewards. When God first charged Adam and Eve to take care of the world he made them, the task was relatively straightforward- take care of the Earth and the animals on it. In Genesis, we read "“Then God said, Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

He gave us responsibility for everything on the Earth, to build up his creation and to take care of it. Everything was right in front of their eyes, so if there was a problem, they could see it. Thousands of years later, capitalism has pulled us far away from these things- we (mostly) don't grow or hunt our own food, we don't take care of our own waste,  and we don't make about 99% of what we use (is anyone reading this actually wearing something they made? I am wearing a sweater from The Gap and eating Goldfish, so I know I fail this test.

Green practices, tree-hugging, etc. has become another political issue where I believe in some cases, Chist-claiming politicians are actually fighting against our charge as Christians. The debate about global warming rages on, but no matter what your opinion, can you really say that you are honoring God's creation in how you are living your life? Why does it even matter when it is CLEAR we are not doing what we should as human beings and as a nation to take care of the world around us? Are you encouraging kind treatment of animals, of plants, of the Earth? I know I could do much better at this. If you aren't making it yourself, I believe STRONGLY it is your responsibility as a Christian to vote with your money, to show companies that your won't give them money for treating the earth badly. To me, this would include buying ethically treated animals, shopping at places that treat their workers right, and encouraging Earth-friendly modes of eliminating waste in your neighborhood.

The next response to this line of thinking is "Holy crap, do you know how hard it would be to do all of this?" I totally agree! This is a huge challenge, not to mention how expensive it is in some cases (buying ethical meat is so much more costly for example).

Tough noogies. I think stewardship should be hard. Much like taking care of your home, your body, or the things that are immediate to you, taking care of the world should be continuing labor and it should cost you something. It never becomes something you don't have to try at, but the longer you let it go, the harder it becomes to pull things back together. God made us this way for a reason. Capitalism likes to promise easy, speedy, and cheap, but this lie they sell us over and over again isn' doing any of us any good individually or on a larger scale (see- self-checkout. It's not that much faster, they are literally putting you to work, and you are costing someone their job). The sooner we give up this idea, the better we can serve God through the way we live our daily lives.

So I know we as a family are resolving to become better stewards for the Earth. Not to be perfect, but to try to shop ethically. We are lucky that Seattle has composting and recycling as part of their garbage service, and I have to say, I am blown away by how little actual garbage you have once you compost (it is smelly though, if we are keeping it honest- I don't remember reading about stinkiness in the Bible except for Ehud in Judges, and that is unrelated). The true owner of your home and Earth is God, you are just keeping it right now. He gave us his best, so I am striving to better give him my best at this as well. I think there are some simple steps you could take if you wanted to start small:

1. Canvas grocery bags! Not only are they way way better for the environment, they also hold more stuff. Sure, you get to have the moment where you realize you left your bag in the car at least once a month, but if you are a normal person, the routine eventually takes over (I still fail at this).
2. Walk places or carpool. I know the possibility to do this varies a lot depending where you live, but if you can (meaning to me, less than 2 miles of a safe walk), then why not? It's better for you too! Also, please don't ride your bike. I hate bike riders. They are my mortal enemies (but really, if you can trade a ride in the car for a quick bike ride, I support that).
3. Stop using straws! I think this may have set this whole thing off for me. Do you know how much waste the average American makes just from all those one time use plastic straws? Really people, if you aren't a toddler, you can probably stand to skip the plastic lid and straw at a restaurant. Keep ones in your car like you keep napkins, and when you go through fast food or starbucks, turn down the ones they offer.
4. Use more ethical eggs- Unless you are supergranola Mindy, you probably buy your eggs. Eggs and their farmers have gotten on board with cage-free or organic fed practices more quickly, and in most cases, it is one of the smaller/ more affordable changes you can make.
5. Meatless Mondays (and Tuesdays)- A good way to cut down on meat cost so you can buy whatever you will eat is to have a few more meals with eggs or nuts as the proteins. It can really help, and you can put that money into the better choices at your grocery store if your farmer's market meat is as crazy expensive as ours.
6. Plant things- On a daily basis, we take and take from the world around us. If you can grow things where you live, even on your patio, grow them! Creation is one of the most beautiful things we can do as human beings, so do it more. Not to mention, if you are taking care of even a small percentage of what farmer's are doing, you can better appreciate the labor being put in.
7. Reuse! We receive the message over and over as Americans that we should want the newest, biggest, or best thing. Sometimes, the best thing we can do is figure out how to make the best of what we have first. I know as we have been looking for furniture, there are so many places selling simple things like shelves and dressers used, and you can paint and fix them up for way less than new furniture. The more you can make the best of what you have, the less you are using resources.
8. Actually unplug things! I am the worst about this, but we could probably all use a lot less electric if we didn't have 1 electronics on at the same time. I also read that if you do a better job caulking holes and weatherproofing your house, you can consume a lot less energy heating and cooling it. My mother got solar panels, and she will get all that money back in electric bills she doesn't have to pay. That's a dramatic move, but I think it is food for thought for us.
9. Compost and Recycle- If your community doesn't support it, this may be a fight worth having. Organic waste in regular dumps are much less likely to break down over time, so it only adds to the giant pile of junk taking over- do we really want to live like they do in Wall-E?
10. Write when a company packages things badly- Amazon often asks for packaging feedback- If you are receiving things that use unrecyclable packing material, complain. I just wrote the company we bought our crib from, because it came in all sorts of styrofoam. You can also question a store or company when things are packaged way more than they need to be- why is that even there?
11. This is huge, YOU VOTE WITH YOUR MONEY- If you spend money on something unethical, you are telling that company that you are ok with it, they should put more money into that, etc. If you care about animals, why would you tell them it is ok to treat them badly? Do the research, and if it seems sketchy, it probably is.

Obviously, all of these might be tiny steps, but they add up. After 5 years of using canvas bags, I know we have changed how much plastic waste we make.

Even though you can find lots of ideas for concrete steps to take, I think being a Steward of the Earth is more of a mindset than a simple set of concrete steps, because the world we live in makes some good choices completely unavailable. It also is difficult because so often the Earth-friendly choice is not the cheapest or least time-consuming, but that doesn't keep it from being worthwhile. Here is another (much more comprehensive) list of things you can do for your house if you own one (but some of the things on the list are about shopping, so that might help.  This is another essay on Green Living and Christian stewardship that I thought was sweet and on point.

We are going to try to keep trying and stepping up our lifestyle to minimize impact. If you also try to practice good stewardship, how do you do it?

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Why Do the Buy Nothing Project?

from from
Last month, I joined a Buy Nothing group for our neighborhood, and I seriously love it so much. In case, like me, you don't know about it- The Buy Nothing Project is a large network of facebook groups where neighbors can either post things they have they no longer need or request things they need but don't have. You can't sell things, advertise things, or point people to other groups; the point is just hand to hand exchange of stuff (no money!). I feel like this project is life-changing, and here's why:

1. It Sets You Up to be Kind Everyday- Last week, a woman who is running away from an abusive husband came up to Seattle with her child and a backpack. Someone recommended the group to her, and I was so moved to watch our neighborhood outfit her with furniture, clothes for her kid, food to start, basically everything she needed. It was really moving to see how quickly people will part with their stuff to help someone else. I have also seen new foster parents get outfitted with everything they need And a pregnant woman in the hospital with complications have supplies she needed waiting for her on the porch when she got home.

Since joining, I think I had 5 or 6 people come to pick things up. So much of that stuff (some maternity clothes, skinny jeans sitting and mocking me, a bouncer, already retired baby clothes) that I let sit because "I might need it someday" is being put to real use now, and honestly it feels good. The Boy is worried I will give everything in our house away, but it does feel so good to see someone ask for something and know that we can help them. It feels like good stewardship to just keep things moving and in use.

These exchanges really do build community in the neighborhood I am in, moreso than anything else we are involved in so far in Seattle. The Buy Nothing Project is large enough here that they have it split into neighborhoods, so I am meeting many more people nearby (I think our group is going to break in 2 soon as well). It sets up cycles of gratitude and giving, and it really is amazing.

2. It Minimizes Waste- Did you know the average American will produce 60 times their weight in plastic waste in their lifetime? Sixty times! And that stuff isn't going anywhere. When you have a baby, you go through so much stuff so fast, it's practically one time use, but if you keep passing that bassinet or excersaucer along, you can get so many more years of useful life out of it. There is this narrative that we need everything, but you only really need things while you need them, and if 5 babies use that same onesie for 3 months each, you have really made it worth it (baby clothes is also a great place to do this because it is near impossible to find made in America or Ethically made little people wares).

3. It can Save a Lot of Money- In the month I have been involved, I have seen people give away fancy strollers, televisions, furniture, and all sorts of baby clothes. I have also seen tons of kitchen stuff and even fresh veggies from gardens go. Our group is even starting special clothes exchanges so similarly-shaped women can share dresses instead of buying new ones for every event we go to. If you can use the group to save (oodles) of money, you can make more ethical/ healthy choices elsewhere as well. It makes me think of my brother who is moving across the country.

You aren't going to be able to stop buying anything (at least I don't think so), but you can give yourself some cushion to only spend where you absolutely need to/ where you can be doing good with your money. It can totally shift your paradigm, and change how you spend your money.

So yeah, I love this project.

You can learn more about the Buy Nothing project here. You can find your group here. There are also lots of places in the US that don't have one yet, so if your area isn't covered- think about starting one! I really think it would be simple once the page is set up, and if you don't want to fight with that part, I would happily help.  I think it would be an amazing service to your area and it is a great opportunity to be a good steward for the environment!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Something to Feel Good About: Ruckabye Baby

I am going to highlight something great going on if not everyday, as often as I can, because the world is hard, but people really are good to each other.

Ruckabye Baby is an organization that gives baby wraps to wounded veterans who may not be able to carry their children otherwise. I love this idea, and I feel like that sweet cuddliness would be so great for bonding after a long separation or even calming and healing nerves after going through so much. i feel like it is a genius idea and a super cute premise, so if you just want to see some adorableness today, check this out!

Am I Raising Mad Max?

 "We have not inherited this earth from our parents to do with it what we will. We have borrowed it from our children and we must be careful to use it in their interests as well as our own." -Moses Henry Cass. 

Since my son was born last November, I find myself increasingly aware/ overwhelmed with information about our planet and the way we are treating it. I literally stay up at night worrying about animal extinction, plastic usage, overpopulation, and our insane consumption. I think about all the ways I have messed up, and I really want to leave a world for him that I can be proud of, not that is crumbling around him.

I would not call myself an environmentalist- I don't much like animals, I wouldn't strike you as outdoorsy, and I have never hugged a tree. That being said, I feel motivated to do more than I am doing. I am sick of feeling like I am sending my tiny spawn into some sort of Mad Max world with no water and too much Mel Gibson.

I don't want to spend the rest of my days dwelling on how big the problem is to the point of feeling helpless. That's a fool's game, because there are lots of things I could be doing better. So this is a blog about that. It's a blog for parents (or grandparents, aunts and uncles, concerned neighbors, etc) who want to leave their world a little better for their bubs. It's about always considering how to be a better steward, treating the world, the environment, and the people around us as precious and important. It's about trying to do good, instead of what doing what is easy.

I am a Christian, and I believe that our mission as Christians is to love God and to love others. This is a blog about how to love others better in how we spend our money and time. It doesn't seem like picking baby clothes could be a huge decision on how we treat strangers, but when you realize someone else's baby or mother could be slaving away in unsafe conditions so your child can wear his "genius" onesie, you realize the stakes are always high.

Sometimes, I just wish I could find information more easily- what toys or strollers are made in America? How can I help the churches that were burnt down last month? How do I start composting? Some of this information is easy to find, but a lot of it isn't, so I am going to try to do that here. We'll see how it goes, but I am excited about the possibilities, and at the least, I will try to collect lots of other great resources for you here, so we can all try to do a little better!