So far this week:
- Sunday: Consumption
- Monday: Trash
- Tuesday: Transportation
- Wednesday: Food
- Thursday: Energy
- Saturday: Giving Back
Los Angeles, California
I'm a mom and teacher writing from southern California.
Having grown up in Chicago, where I watched my father toil to bury his fig tree during the winter months, I'm especially in awe of my arugula and Swiss chard, who laugh in the face of wind and hail. I am trying the No Impact Experiment for the second time. I also blog at plantthisgarden.com.
My eggplants are depleted. They spent all summer growing and flowering, only to drop all of their dainty purple flowers, producing no fruit at all. I spoke to the helpful expert at my local gardening store yesterday, and he said that besides the wacky weather confusing the heck out of the poor plants (hot days that encourage growth and bloom followed by cold days that tell the plant it’s autumn and the surprise shock of more blazing heat), my garden as a whole could probably use a good boost of nitrogen. It makes sense, since we’ve powered through six or so seasons of pretty great harvests, through both winter and summer.
This year, however, while my tomatoes did well, and the zucchini spit out a few good fruit, the rest of the garden – the cucumbers, peppers, tomatillos, even the easy little radishes – they didn’t do so well. I’m still very much a novice gardener, and while I understand peripherally the theories from all those mandatory biology classes I had to take as a kid of a plant’s life—energy systems, photosynthesis, etc.—it’s an interesting thing when you suddenly have to make conscious choices that will affect the garden’s quality of life.
So, I’ll be pouring in more humus from our compost bin, amending the soil with fertilizer, and planting fava beans, which return nitrogen to the soil.
I find that the No Impact carbon-cleanse is similar to the process of replenishing my garden. It’s the time now to pause, to consider where I’m depleted, what is filling me up with the right kind of energy, and how to restructure my life so that I can pour in some metaphorical nitrogen. Six months ago, I completed the experiment, and I changed many small habits that I still keep—cloth napkins, reusable bags, shorter showers, technology Sabbaths. I’m looking forward to this week to consider which of the old habits returned, and to contemplate where I can still change.
The eggplants are still growing, by the way. They’re still pumping out those flowers, teasing me with every one. I guess it gives me some hope. I’ve read articles that claim that without widespread governmental and industrial change, we have little impact on the future of our earth’s health. I suppose there’s much truth in those arguments, but I refuse to stop trying here at home. If my eggplants aren’t giving up, neither will I.
I love to walk. I try to walk a few times every week, usually on the weekdays. I follow the same path through a relatively quiet, hilly neighborhood that leads to a relatively quiet and beautiful city park. I find that when I walk, my mind can wander.
I begin slowly, even begrudgingly, almost as if I have to force my legs to move forward. Quickly, though, my mind moves out of my body into the world. I silently describe the world, perhaps finding words to color the sky, testing my memory of the flowers’ names—hibiscus, geranium, iris, oleander, and I remember that it is called dafne in Greek. And then maybe I think about the myth, one of the my favorites, and I see the girl as she turns into a tree.
And then, finally, I focus on my life; I think about concerns, problems, solutions, the parts that are working, the parts that need work. In the book Architecture from the Inside Out, which I recently borrowed from a colleague, Franck and Lepori describe what is called a desire line, which is “the path people mark in the ground by repeatedly taking the same route.” I love this. For me, walking is a meditation. It is a time to breath, one of the only times I am truly off the grid, my body moving, my mind listening to the even beat of my own steps, marking my desires into the ground.
So, there I was this weekend walking, specifically so that I could “replace shopping with an activity that [I] enjoy doing more,” when I come upon this sign: Garage Sale.
See, I usually walk on weekdays, when I can truly space out. Then, on the weekends, here are these signs, blurring my own desire lines, hell, blurring my own desires.
I was tempted – I really was. But I’m proud to report that I didn’t follow the neon signs. I didn’t go shopping, even for other people’s used stuff. I kept my money in my pocket. I kept walking. And then I went home empty-handed, desiring nothing.
I have these really long days at work where I go from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., and I’m running between three classrooms, all on different ends of the campus, teaching and talking for much of those nine hours. By 9 a.m. I’m hungry for lunch, and by 11:30, when my second class gets out, I’m nearly wiped from the sheer amount of social activity.
It’s an interesting thing to have to think about getting off the grid, let alone trying to eat well, when I’m running from room to room carrying everything I own in one bag, like a Sherpa.
My goal this semester was to lighten my load, but unfortunately, with such a hectic schedule that goal was nearly impossible to realize. I have to carry my computer, my rosters, assignments, students’ paper, books, my lunch, my snacks, and enough water to last me all of those nine hours. Believe me, it’s a lot.
I have a giant rolling bag, one that fits all of this, and I pack everything in reusable containers every day.
Since the last No Impact Week, this has become habitual—I bring everything everywhere with me. Colleagues and friends are constantly commenting on how smart it is, how much easier it seems, “how great that you know exactly what you have to eat…” etc., etc.
Quite frankly, it’s annoying. I would love to be able to grab lunch somewhere and then toss out the remnants, plates and utensils, without having to give a second thought to it. But I have to admit, I’ve become used to the reliability of my lunch: no waiting in lines, no indigestion from mediocre food, and the joy of knowing that my food is high quality and tastes great.
To push myself even more during my second round of No Impact, I’ve decided to eat vegetarian for ten days. I tried it for four months when I was a teenager, but...I'm half-Greek, and honestly, it's hard. I really like meat. I don't know that my long term goal is to be 100 percent vegetarian, but I would like to lessen my impact on the environment by eating considerably less meat.
I started my vegetarian mini-project on Saturday, September 17, the day before the experiment began. This date is important to me since it marked 111 years since my grandfather’s birth. He was a vegetarian throughout his life, having made the decision at 17 years old after working the stockyards on the south side of Chicago. He lived to be 97 years old, and he is the only grandparent I was able to meet.
So there I am, day three of my experiment, pulling out my reusable lunch bag, looking forward to the veggie burger that waited inside, to find this:
We accidentally swapped lunches.
Don’t worry, I didn’t eat it.
I thought about it, but I didn’t.
First vegetarian challenge met. Tonight’s challenge? Hamburgers.
Send me good thoughts.
Healthy eating can also lessen your footprint.
Hurrah! Food day! This is my favorite one.
We shop at the farmers’ market nearly every week, so much so that we know the vendors by name. I’d say that I’m fairly addicted to the quality of produce available at the markets.
So, for my second run at the experiment, I’ve decided to try out vegetarianism for ten days. This is tough for me—I’m half-Greek. Enough said, right? I love beef and chicken and pork, and yes, even cute little lambs. It’s terrible, I know.
What’s especially terrible to most of my vegetarian and vegan friends is the fact that it doesn’t bother me that I eat cute, fuzzy, bright-eyed animals. When they read this, they might very well unfriend me on Facebook.
But what does bother me is the fact that that study after study shows that a good amount, 18% according to this study, of the world's greenhouse gases are a direct result of the production of all that meat. Our family does purchase much of our meat the markets—local chickens and grass-fed beef—but I just can’t help but feel a bit guilty every time I eat my really delicious burgers.
So, I’ve decided to complete this 10-day experiment to experience life without them. Today is my fourth day. It’s been going well. I’ve been experimenting the in the kitchen with chickpeas, eggplants, and garlic, all from the farmers market, and basil, from my garden.
The rest of the family is still eating meat. My step-dad has been cooking it for my husband, daughter, and himself. I was worried that the smell might kill me, but oddly enough, it hasn’t bothered me one bit.
The other night at dinner, my daughter was eating the skin off my husband’s chicken thigh. She pointed to it and asked, out of nowhere, “Wait. Is this skin? Like real skin?”
I looked at my husband, unsure of how to answer. “Yes,” I admitted.
“How do they catch them?”
“Um…well,” I fumbled. “They just do.”
“So this came from a real chicken?”
“Um, yes honey. Does that bother you?”
She thought for a moment.
“Nope,” she said, and went back to licking the burnt parts. I went back to eating my eggplant and chickpea salad.
Like mother, like daughter, for now. We’ll see what happens when she gets older and is able to read the news.
(written on September 26th, post-No Impact Week)
I’ve been fighting a cold all week. Funny thing happens when you get sick. You know that it’s your body telling you that you need rest. You know that you’ve worn yourself out, expending too much energy in too many directions, and the last thing you should do is sit down in front of the TV, especially considering the fact that you signed up for this crazy No Impact project, and because you know it will only suck out more energy. Your sinuses hurt, you’re coughing and wheezing, and you should be in bed, in a dark room, propped up on pillows, fast asleep, allowing your body to recover.
Thursday morning, Madeline even tried to make me stop working. She woke up and decided to do the dishes. Seriously. This little four-year-old girl took out her step stool, grabbed a sponge, and started to wash dishes. As she splashed around, I interceded a few times to make sure the dishes were rinsed well enough, and then I proceeded to get the lunches together, cook some eggs, and make my coffee. As I was placing the eggs into the water, she turned to me—my precocious child turned to me and said, “Mom. I told you. You’re not supposed to be doing anything. You’re sick. Let me do it. Just sit down, and stop moving!”
Is that what I did? Of course not. The other funny thing is that when I completed this project back in January, the energy day was my favorite. I shut off the lights promptly at dusk. I wrote by candlelight. I fell asleep at nine and was awake at five, watching the sunrise, feeling refreshed and utterly divine.
So, I was looking forward to Thursday night. I was planning to stop moving in my dark room, just as I had back in January. I spent the day even more away of the buzzing of energy all around me: the brass din of the leaf blower followed by a rushing wave of a miniature street cleaner while I tried to eat my homemade lunch outside; the incessant buzzing of lights and motors in the hallways at work; even in my small, quiet office, the fluorescent bulbs hum over my head. All day, I looked forward to coming home, turning off everything, laying in a dark room, or under a cloudy sky, feeling my body heavy on earth.
Instead, I plopped down in front of the television and let more energy drain out of me. The flashing images that were saved on my DVR were less “must-see” TV than “could-watch-this-next-week-and-even-fast-forward-through-commercials” TV. I fell into old habits, on the grid, sniffling and moaning all the way through.
That was Thursday night. Last Friday night, I resolved to catch up with myself. I canceled my evening plans, turned off the lights and went to bed. I woke up Saturday morning, the second day of autumn, my sinuses clear, my smooth breath returned to my body, my energy restored. I went outside and sat under the cloudy sky, stretching on my yoga mat, next to my garden. About forty minutes later, my daughter came outside with me. We sat down together, watching the birds. “This is nice,” she said.
There’s another funny thing, how that works. When we get off the grid, the grid is happier, and of course, so are we.
I should do this more often, I guess.
We had a lovely weekend, giving back and taking it easy. I’ll admit that I did shop (the farmers market—I couldn’t last the full nine days), we did eat out once (for hot soup for my cold that continues to haunt my chest), and we probably drove more than we should have, but for the most part, we spent the weekend Sabbath-ing and enjoying time with family and friends. When we did drive it was to my daughter’s first soccer team event, to a birthday party, and to Shane’s Inspiration playground for the 5K/10K Walk and Roll Event.
I love playgrounds, and to me, they represent some of the best parts of living with more awareness and kindness. I could spend ten hours at a playground, and many days, we do. We bring our lunch, spread out a blanket, and follow Madeline around the park. I’ve learned to leave my phone in the car, if I can, so that I can just be there, pushing her on the swing, running next to her while she rides her little bike.
Yesterday’s event was even more special because we were able to support Shane’s Inspiration, whose “mission is to create inclusive playgrounds and programs that unite children of all abilities.” They build Universally Accessible Playgrounds so that all children can play together on equipment that is also available for children with disabilities.