Checking in

Well, it has been about 10 weeks since I started this journey of greening my life, step-by-step. I thought it would be worthwhile to check-in and review what I have done, and provide some reflections so far. So to recap…

Reduce Energy Use
Some of the first things I did:

  1. Turn down the thermostat
  2. Turn down the hot water heater
  3. Consolidate chargers on a power bar for easy shutdown
  4. Unplug small kitchen appliances when not in use
  5. Replace every single light bulb with a compact fluorescent
  6. Implement the 4-light rule when the sun goes down (no lights when sun is up).
  7. Air dry all our clothes.

I still have a long way to go in this department. For example I want to look at installing additional weather stripping around doors. I also want to investigate solar panels. I also would love to get an energy audit done on our house. It is older (1956) so I think there maybe opportunities that could save us money and carbon in the long run. 

Reduce Garbage
After getting some easy quick wins above, I really started thinking about garbage. I had just finished reading “No Impact Man” by Colin Beavan at the time. He analyzed a week’s worth of his trash to see where it was all coming from, so that is what I did too. I was astonished to see how much of it was related to food packaging. I especially hated the single-use items like coffee cups, paper napkins and Styrofoam. So I dug in my heels, and now do the following:

  1. Use reusable or homemade gift bags for presents. I got through Christmas without using a scrap of wrap.
  2. Swore off Styrofoam completely. This meant changing where I go out for lunch at work.
  3. Purchased a pretty coffee travel mug. If I don’t have the mug, I don’t get the coffee.
  4. Swore off all grocery bags that are not reusable. I decided that not one more time, would I forget my bags. I keep an extra stash in the car, and have about 20 of them kicking around. This has been really easy, now that I am totally committed to it.
  5. Swore off all other plastic shopping bags. I purchased these awesome little nylon bags that fold up into a pouch in my purse and have not brought home a plastic bag since.
  6. Use mesh produce bags instead of plastic. They are thin and stretchy, and I like how apples and tomatoes bounce in them! I also reuse woven mesh bags you get with some produce. If it comes in a plastic bag, I either don’t buy it, or I wash and reuse the bag.  All in all, I have greatly slashed the number of these that I send to the landfill:
    Thin plastic shopping bags

    Image via Wikipedia

  7. Swore off boxed food. This actually has been one of the biggest changes. I had a large drawer dedicated to boxed items, now it is box-free and filled with my bulk bin overflow. This brings me to my next point:
  8. Purchase all staples in bulk, using as much as possible, plastic bags that have been reused. This has had the biggest change on the contents of my cupboards. Instead of opening up the door and seeing boxes with pictures of the food on it, I open up the door and see my actual food through glass jars. I have way more space. I appreciate what I have, the bounty of selection and variety. I feed my kids different snacks now, such as peanuts, raisins, and trail mix, or other little goodies from the bulk bins.
  9. Reduce food waste. This means keeping better tabs on the fridge.
  10. Bake my own bread. This saves a bread bag every time! Plus, I love doing it, kneading the dough, providing for my family. It is fluffy and yummy and I can’t go back.
  11. I also bake my own granola bars, cookies, tortilla bread and crackers. It started off as a way to reduce packaging and feed my kids foods that is preservative-free. Now I also use local flour and this is a big benefit for me as well. This leads me to the next big set of changes…

Eating Local Food
I was really inspired by the 100-Mile Diet book by Alisa Smith and James MacKibbon. I now realize that a big part of my carbon footprint relates to the goods I buy, and much of what I buy is food. So this is what I now do:

Cover of

Cover via Amazon

  1. Go to the Farmer’s Market every week. I now buy these items exclusively at the Farmer’s Market: eggs, bison, bacon, sausage, carrots, onions, potatoes, beets, cabbage, leeks, tomatoes, cucumbers, pickles, pears, apples, pear-apples, honey and mint tea. This list will expand in the summer.
  2. Look for other local foods not available at the Farmer’s Market. Some of this is available at the grocery store, some at specialty bakeries, and some at Planet Organic. Here is a list of local foods I have purchased around town: wine, canola oil, flour, hot cereal, yogurt, sour cream and goat cheese.
  3. Purchase non-local produce sparingly. I purchase bananas once every second week. I have not purchased oranges in a month. The only non-local vegetable I regularly purchase is broccoli.
  4. Set up an indoor herb garden in my kitchen.  This gives me fresh local herbs at my fingertips, and helps to satisfy my longing for spring and greenery.

I am still on the look-out for local foods and have emailed several local companies about where they source their ingredients. Eating local is not that easy, I will admit. But when I prepare a meal, and bask in the realization that it is made from mostly local ingredients, it feels really good.

I have some really big eating local plans this coming year. Eating local here in Canada means you have to store and preserve your produce for winter. So starting this summer, that is exactly what I intend to do. I want to preserve tomato sauce, salsa, peaches, pears and berries. I want to make pickles, apple sauce and jams. I also want to freeze local peas and local corn.

Finally, I want to grow my own food. This is super local. I really want to pass these skills on to my children. Part of me fears that they are going to need these skills in an uncertain future with an uncertain food supply (yes, even here in Canada). But for now, I really want them to have a connection with nature, with the land. I want them to have an appreciation for food. For example, a few days ago I was talking to my 5-year old son about how vegetables grow. It turned out that he did not even realize that all food was grown in the ground! Then just yesterday, he made up a song called the “Farmer of Life”. It was so beautiful. The song started off about a little boy who did not have enough food to eat. Then the little boy met a farmer, and the farmer grew food for him, and became the “Farmer of Life”. Just having this little conversation with him inspired this burst of creativity and my heart beamed with pride. I want to take this further, and let my kids get dirty in the garden.

Reduce Consumption
This was a big one. I made a commitment to not make any purchases that are not related to food or toilet paper for the first 3 months of 2011. Well, one month later, and it has not been a problem. I don’t even miss it. In fact, I am enjoying it (as is my bank account).

Reflections
I have made many changes since I started 10 weeks ago, and have really mixed up my daily habits and how I spend my time. Some of the changes have been totally easy, like the shopping bags and the travel mugs. Some changes have saved time, like the no-shopping rule. However some changes now take up more of my time, like air drying clothes and baking bread. Some take a lot of research, such as eating locally. Overall though, I am enjoying it. I do feel busier on the weekends, between the extra laundry time, the Farmer’s Market and the bread… But I am doing things that mean a lot to me, and that I actually do enjoy doing. My life feels enriched. I feel like my actions have purpose. I feel like I am making a difference.

I feel good.

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6 thoughts on “Checking in

  1. That’s a remarkable list for ten weeks, Sherry. I think it’s taken me years to make as many changes as you have. (And alas, my bread did not turn out very well, and I’ve been too intimidated to try again — any tips on kneading?) In January I tried saving my vegetable scraps for stock in the freezer. February’s experiment is to see how well the odd assortment actually comes together!

  2. Yeah, I am hardcore like that. :) I have changed a lot of things though, and it is driving my husband a bit crazy. For bread – perhaps I just have beginners luck. However, I use the live active yeast instead of the quick yeast, I let it rise more than it says (normally because I have to run out or do something and bread is like a 3 hour process) and I kind of do a triple-rock knead thing. So for example, you are supposed to fold the dough towards you, then rock away. I don’t rock once, I rock like 3 times. I do this for 10 minutes, and it is a bit of a workout. My biggest challenge is adding enough flour so it isn’t so sticky and really messy to work with, but not too much flour because then it will be too hard. Good luck!

    • I admire people who get out there and start making big changes all at once. I really don’t like changing my routines, so it takes me a little (ok, a while) longer to think about it, get over my hang-ups, try it, and adopt it. I’m going to try making my own cloth pads this week; I like the ones I bought from Etsy, but I want something thinner, and my sewing machine is rusting with neglect anyway.

      About the bread: I guess I tried to knead the dough the way I wedge clay (to get air bubbles out, I use the ‘ram’s head’ swirl that…er, kind of pummels clay into submission). My loaf came out crumbly yet dense and just about inedible. My clay comes out nicely wedged & usually bubble-free, though!

  3. Hello Sherry!

    Your blog is so inspirational! It takes a lot of effort and a lot of courage to make such sweeping transformations in your life. Thank you so much for writing about them here for us to see, I can’t wait to keep reading your posts and seeing where your green adventures take you!

    I love the pictures of your herb garden!

    Thanks a lot
    Brad

    • Thanks for stopping by Brad! I am trying to change the things I have control over (like my part in this world) and hope to get people thinking along the way. I am so glad that our City has a team like you guys, to lead us through a transition to a greener, cleaner and more sustainable place to live. Thank you!!

  4. Great job, Sherry! Keep up the great work! I know how tough it can be to go through with all of these changes, especially if you’re the only one really wanting it. I admit I’ve slacked off in my journey to live greener, but am ready to jump right back in (moving to a new place has helped jumpstart my motivation). I would love to grow my own food too! I’m hoping to start planting a container garden in my new place, and start a worm bin. I want to plan out my meals with more consciousness, respect, and real intention, in order to save on food waste (and money too!), and try to live according to my beliefs about food.

    Another project I want to start working on is cutting up more old T-shirts to use as tissues. The first time I did it was more experimental, and I have some tweaks/adjustments I’d like to make. But I never ended up going over it again. But it’s going to happen! Thanks for sharing your experience, Sherry! Helps keep me inspired and motivated :D

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