Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Ecologically Friendly Hausfrau

I do not know why I feel compelled to write about the importance of making ecologically friendly choices. What does any of this have to do with my long term career decisions or my roles in my family or on this farm? Am I not getting off track by continually hammering the different ways that I can tread more lightly on the planet?

Nowhere is it written that the role of a housewife is inextricably linked to choices that are beneficial to the environment. In fact, some might argue that increased income affords more flexibility to source local farmer’s market fare, environmentally safe cleaners, soaps and detergents and maybe even cloth diapers and a diaper service to go with them.

However, since I stopped leaving home to get to my place of work and gave up a second income to play with, I am finding the opposite is true. My new routine allows me to take the time to think about my decisions. I also now have time to learn new skills that allow me to be more self-sufficient on the home front. This has usually translated incidentally into saving money as well. Unspent money is better than an income, I have realized. And inevitably these choices end up having less impact on the environment.

Before now, life has been moving at a breakneck speed since we moved on to this farm. Much has been accomplished and much has been left unfinished in the wings. We bought a can of paint 7 years ago when we first moved here and I have just now finished painting the original living room with it. It never seemed to make it as a priority. Our new addition was built 4 years ago and until last month the drywall screws and seams were still showing, unpainted and bare. Some number of years ago the glass window in our barn broke onto the grass below (where no animals or children ever went) and I only recently found the time to clean up that glass.

Now I simply find there is more time to plan, organize and be thoughtful about my choices. In the past, I have accomplished things by looking like a chicken with her head cut off. I would not have known what I was doing any of it for. I would have forgotten to eat. I was frantic, thoughtless and, all about getting it all done so that I didn't drown in my to do list.

I recall actually using a joggers pace to get back and forth from the washroom at work and to and from my car in the mornings and evenings. I remember making lunch dates with friends and finally getting around to them without canceling months later. Piles of paper would accumulate on my desk, none of which were particularly organized and I just barely knew where everything was but could find what I needed when I needed it. I was constantly reacting to the demands of each minute trying not to fall behind.

Our water supply at home would run dry and rather than look for a long-term solution, we would just get through it by showering less and doing fewer loads of laundry. There was no time to think ahead or plan. No room in my head for presence of mind. People around me began to part the seas when they saw me coming. I was the wide-eyed doe in headlights headed for some task or three without knowing if it was the most important or urgent. I was just getting it all done.

I didn’t drop too many balls during this period. But the anxiety that came along with keeping all of those balls in the air was too much for my sanity. Somewhere along the way, I lost one too many marbles off of my speeding train and there were not enough marbles left to slow the whole thing down. It felt like I was just barely surviving. I made an appointment with my doctor to ask the simple question: ‘is this just what it is like for a mother, a career woman, a farmer…?’ I can’t believe I needed someone else to answer this for me. I can’t believe this quality of life was acceptable. I’m going to let you figure out what she said.

These days the nutritional quality of what we take time to supply our fridge, cupboards and freezer from our land is the best you can get. There are no residual contaminants and we know all of the ingredients, where they came from and how far they traveled. I call this my preventative health insurance policy (that also takes into consideration the lack of antidepressants and anxiety medication I would likely be needing by now).

Now I don’t sit for 8 hours at a desk and drive for 2 more to get to and from work. Instead, I am physical all day long, moving from task to task mindfully and with more heart. The bonus of not driving to work every day is that I use a lot less fuel. I also get the added benefit of not driving a slippery highway in snowstorms watching other cars take the ditch (I call this life insurance).

In my new life, I throw away a lot fewer take-out containers. I bake more bread than I buy. I’m even pinching far more clothespins than I ever thought I could in a week. I go to church instead of out for an expensive brunch. I do barn chores and return with milk and eggs instead of driving to the store for my staples. I hit the movie theatres on the cheap days and bring my own healthier snacks.

I recently read the Girlfriend’s Guide to Getting Your Groove Back by Vicki Iovine. It is the fourth in a series after the Girlfriend’s Guide to Pregnancy. All of her books let parents know they are normal for what they are going through. This one offers guidance on how to reconnect with yourself, friends, your husband etc. I love her wit and her willingness to state the scary stuff in a humourous way. It always makes me feel a little less crazy. What I did not agree with was that it was acceptable to continue letting our lifestyles (how we spend our money and time) derail us. The book seems to accept the reality that a mother will be disconnected and over-scheduled no matter what she does. And I don't agree.

We may not all have a choice to quit our jobs or drive to source our food. We may be battling illness or loneliness or a recent divorce. But we can control how we spend our time and money to a certain degree and put more efforts into the basic skills that are both better for our emotional and physical well being as well as the environment.

I like to imagine that I am writing the Girlfriend’s Guide to Homesteading. It is an account that is only my experience and that of the farmers, mothers, wives, friends and neighbours that I know. Not the ultimate truth by any stretch. This is only about what has worked for me. What I know for sure is that there are thousands of women like me scrambling around looking for a new solution to simplifying their lifestyle, improving their health, wasting less, contributing more…I see this everywhere I go. I may not have all of the answers, but hopefully I will touch on just one thing that makes sense to someone, somewhere.

If every woman was suddenly given extra time in her life to do with what she wished, simply to catch up (and pick up that broken glass!) or to rebuild what was deteriorating in her life, each of us would probably choose to do different things. I always thought for me it was a quiet, warm bath with a magazine. After the first one of those, I realized I needed much more. I have always valued treading lightly on this earth, and I will continue to do so. What is different now is that my lifestyle is no longer impeding my ability to make the choices I want to make.

I would argue that how we source our food stands to be the most important ecological act of our days. Mostly because of how often we must do it. For our health, for the environment, for our families and our communities, the least we can do is offer up presence of mind as we are making our food choices.

And that has everything to do with my career, my farm, my family and my food.

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