Being Human

A lot of people get stuck on their green lifestyle path because they try to be perfect, and they drown in guilt when inevitably they fail to be perfect.

This potato chip bag is here for a reason. This EMPTY potato-chip bag. Yes, I wrote a book on low-footprint living, and yet I eat potato chips and engage in other actions that are high-footprint.

Footprints fluctuate. Also, one person’s easy category will be hard for another person. For example, I may never achieve the pristine diet and low footprint of the people I know who grow most of their own food and have no cravings for processed food (or else they ignore those cravings more than I do).

Everyone’s personalities and life circumstances are different. Some of us engage in “emotional eating” at rough times, or just when we are bored and self-indulgent.

I find it easy to use almost no electricity. Other people struggle with reducing their footprint in this category. Ditto transportation, consumer goods, volume of household trash, and so on through all of the RIOT categories.

It’s OK! Just keep moving forward as best you can. And focus on the personal benefits you are gaining, rather than just focus on what you are trying to reduce or give up. I find it much easier to make progress that way.

Back on the subject of potato chips … I often make dip from local yogurt, chopped fresh veggies, and “freegan” spices. And voila, lunch or dinner. Yes, I am a big fan of what I call the “hybrid meal.” Perfectionism in the food category does not work well for me.

The empty potato-chip bag will be a perfect receptacle for cat poop, which I am scooping daily since I am taking care of a friend’s cat this week.

Freegan Hybrid Lunch

Popping it into the solar oven right now … This is what I call a “hybrid meal”. “Freegan” packaged rice dish, with fresh nutritious wild native plants from my yard.

I usually try to minimize purchases of processed food. But as I mentioned, this was “freegan” – in this case, left by a friend who moved. So it doesn’t count in my “food footprint.”

I have to admit my food mix has strayed into too much processed food and not enough fresh local produce lately. Particularly since my Mom passed, I’ve just been lazy and following the path of least resistance. My go-to meals are a mix of not-necessarily-local veggies, and freegan miscellaneous. And maybe a bit too much Boardwalk pizza for my ideal weight.

I get comfort from using up the “taco seasoning mix”, soup mixes, and other packet mixes that I inherited from Mom’s pantry.

But I am still eating wild plants pretty steadily, as I have for the past decade or so. And recently have begun cultivating veggies at my new house. More about that in an upcoming post!

Takeaway from this post: Our lives are always in flux. Don’t stress out if you’re not living as “clean and green” as you aspire to. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Keep on plugging away, accept fluctuations, and concentrate on the personal benefits you’re getting by reducing your footprint.

Up-cycleable Campaign Sign

Deep-green kudos to my friend and neighbor Anne Ruby who ran for City Commission here in Daytona Beach. Her campaign signs were designed to be up-cycled into dishtowels after serving their political purpose.

Besides being unique and up-cycleable, these signs (which Anne stitched together herself) also cost considerably less than the typical plastic ones. Even if not all of Anne’s signs find a new life as dishtowels, and some instead end up in landfill, they will compost!

But who would want to compost such a useful and pretty object, right?

By the way, on the clothesline next to Anne’s sign are 1) one of the hand-towels I make by cutting up abandoned beach-towels and hemming them; and 2) a big brown towel inherited from a friend who works as a housekeeper. My friend has an endless pile of sheets and towels, because her wealthy clients are constantly discarding towels and sheets once they are a year old, even if they’ve never been used.

Dealing With a Whiny-Complainy Attitude

This post is about how to deal with someone who’s got a chronic whiny, complainy attitude. But not just anyone: YOU. That’s right, if YOU have a whiny complainy attitude and want to know how to deal with it, you have come to the right place: a post by someone who herself has a fairly high default level of “whiny-complainy.”

Now, in talking about my faults, I am NOT trying to engage in some sort of obnoxious humble-bragging (GAWD I hate that!) or some sort of equally obnoxious exhibitionistic public self-flagellation trip. Rather, I’m just being honest. And I’m trying to burst the bubble about so-called “experts.” Yes I am an expert in living a low-footprint life, and if you’re interested in learning how to do that, I can help you. But part of dealing with life and getting what we want, is working with our own less-than-ideal qualities. Everyone is a mix of qualities that are pleasant and desirable, and those that are less so.

So here are some tips I’ve learned for working with the whiny-complainy in me:

– Trick yourself. When I could not talk myself into attending a community event that I knew would help me get out of my funk, see people I hadn’t connected with in a while, AND participate in honoring a great milestone for our community, I focused on a personal wish that was unrelated to the event itself: the fact that I needed exercise and would enjoy the early-evening walk over the bridge. (The river is so pretty at night. I enjoyed that walk and ended up really enjoying the social interaction at the event also.)

– Harness your better qualities. Yes, I’m whiny/complainy and also lazy. But, on the positive side, I am relentlessly curious, so I’m always willing to do research. In this case, the research subject is me. I am a relentless reader of self-help material, and it helps greatly. Which brings me to …

– Do personal growth. Just about every character attribute you desire is something that can be deliberately cultivated even if you were not born with it, even if you seem to possess it at zero level right now. Though still whiny, complainy, selfish, and lazy, I am much less of any of these things than I used to be. And I am always making progress.

– Focus on your mission (humanitarian, planetary). Keep your eyes on the mission, the greater goal, the process of working towards that. Working toward a higher goal that inspires you and lights you up is extremely effective in quieting down the whiny complainy voice!

– Recognize that at least some of “how you are” is the result of how someone labeled you in childhood. If you were labeled selfish or lazy, chances are it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’m not saying use that as an excuse to not improve, or behave badly, but I am saying you can stop beating yourself up about being “bad”, if that is what you are doing. Recognize your less desirable attributes in a matter-of-fact way; think of them as “faulty wiring” or “bad training”, and set about the business of rewiring yourself according to your preferences.

– Give yourself a little pat on the back. If you are even able to recognize that you have a whiny attitude (or any other negative character attribute), you’re a step ahead of most of humanity, who are only able to see their faults reflected in others. (And if you are one of those who are always noticing whiny attitudes in others, but not yourself, it might be time to look in the mirror.)

– Look into the underlying feeling – don’t just dismiss yourself as “whiny”. One day I decided to take a minute to feel beyond that “whiny” layer. And I noticed that what I was feeling deep down was utter hopelessness and despair. Once I allowed myself a few moments to be with THAT feeling, the “whiny” was gone and I was able to move forward with my tasks and really savor the day.

– Be open to accepting consolation from the cosmic universe, from nature, from other people. I cannot overstate the importance of this. Do not be one of those un-consolable people. Consolation is all around you. Grab the life-ring! The other day I was in full-tilt whiny-complainy mode, but I was ready to do what it took to get out of it. Suddenly I looked out the window and saw a cute little black snake in the garden. The big black snake had had babies! It melted my heart and made my morning. The universe offers an abundance of such “Get Out of Whine Mode Free” cards. Use them!

Being an activist of any kind isn’t easy. There’s burnout, disappointment, anger. But you don’t need to wallow in suffering. You can deliberately free yourself of “whiny-complainy” or any other mode you don’t prefer.

Live Like You Are Dying

Stellar advice. “Live Like You Are Dying.” Life-saving advice.

Last November my Mom died after a year-long battle with cancer and/or the interactions of multiple medications. Yesterday a close friend of mine died after a week in hospice, following a year-long battle with cancer and its treatment. My friend Linda was a zesty, glamorous lady, who managed to have perfect hair even after she lost hers to chemo. My mother was similarly zesty and glamorous.

Over the past few years I have lost a big chunk of my “get up and go.” People around me generally think of me as an upbeat person who is constantly working for positive change in the world, and that is true. However, for the past few years, I’ve been operating on just one or two cylinders. Also, paradoxically, though I am an “upbeat” person, I’ve always been prone to negativity (not sure how that works but it is so), though only the people closest to me know how truly negative I can be.

When a band was playing music she liked, Linda boldly danced by herself (sometimes even if there were lots of men around who would have loved to dance with her). Her nails were always done. She never went out looking like a shlub, and her last words in hospice were phone messages to her friends to “bring me some decent clothes.” I’m sure that if there were any attractive men in the hospice facility, she found them and made an impression on them.

She was full of love, and always wanted her house to be filled with people. All too often it was not, particularly toward the end. She could be very abrasive and demanding, but life had dealt her harshness. And underneath it all she was full of love. And she was unbelievably bright and creative.

I missed out by not spending as much time with her as I could have. Still, we had a real connection, and I was able to give her some of what she needed. And she exerted a strong beneficial influence on me.

Over the past few weeks I have felt myself getting back on track, recovering my old get up and go. I am actually not that much of a self-starter, and am dependent on a steady influx of beneficial influences. I read constantly; I talk to 20 or 50 people in the course of a day; I’m constantly on social media picking up good news. And I will be doing that til I die, which could be right after I finish typing this sentence but hopefully won’t be for a long time yet, because I have plans to help steer civilization toward a steady state of peace, enlightenment, and creative play.

Hey, as a person, I may be negative, and sometimes petty, and sometimes withhold from people the very thing that they need, and sometimes hog too much of the conversation, and sometimes blah blah blah mindlessly, and am self-centered and UNBELIEVABLY, MIND-BOGGLINGLY LAZY and lots of other undesirable stuff. But I’m the only ME I’ve got to work with, and despite my many faults I believe I still have much to contribute to making a better world. I’m the only ME I’ve got, brown thumb and lack of mechanical aptitude and middle-aged doldrums and all — I’ll take me, and work with me. It beats the alternative. And, like anyone else, I can improve.

The video linked at the end of this article (and that I took the title of this post from) made a profound impression on me. It’s just over 30 minutes long, and worth every minute to sit through (which is not speaking lightly, coming from one who prefers reading transcripts to watching videos because she can read faster than a video can speak). “Live Like You Are Dying.” It’s about tiny houses, and addressed at people who dream of living in a tiny house. But really, it’s about life. And about ANY dream. If you have a dream, don’t make excuses. Don’t be one of the 99 percent who sit around talking about their dreams but never achieve them. Be one of the 1 percent who DO. John Kernohan, co-founder of the United Tiny House Association, says it better than I ever could. Watch his talk!

John Kerhohan video: Live Like You Are Dying

And, also in the realm of beneficial influences, here is one of my recent finds: this incredibly rich article by Rick Hanson and Forrest Hanson, on how to wire your brain for resilience.

Appropriate Technology: What’s “Appropriate”?

Many people assume that low-footprint living entails a rejection of technology, but that’s not true at all.

In fact, some technologies are enabling people to radically reduce their footprint. Skype and other teleconferencing software, which has allowed workers and companies to pare their travel overhead, comes to mind, as does educational software for online learning.

Social media, and the internet in general, has been an enormous boon to permaculture design and other grassroots movements, allowing them to spread like a beneficial virus.

Rather than reject technology, a better approach is to be very discerning about which technologies we use and which we try to minimize or eliminate. In permaculture design, we use the phrase “appropriate technology.”

At the end of this post I provide a link to a succinct article on appropriate technology, from Permaculture News. Here’s a brief excerpt: “There are no universally appropriate technologies because we live in a diverse world where different contexts affect the ‘appropriateness’ of each place. Agrarian author Wes Jackson states that nature must be our measure of what is right and correct for each place. We would add that the realities of the community where we live should also be an important factor regarding how we are to live in our places.”

Sometimes what seems like technological progress can be damaging to the social or economic fabric of a place. In permaculture design class we learned about a village where the old village well was replaced by pipes and indoor running water. Of course most people would call this a positive development. But it turns out the village well, where the young women went to fetch the family’s water, was not only the water source but also was the vehicle for young men and women to meet and court. Many “old” technologies serve multiple functions in this manner, and when they are replaced by the more advanced “new” ones, unexpected consequences arise.

A technology that’s appropriate in one place may be destructive in another place. Recently I heard of an extremely powerful lift that allows a truck to be loaded or unloaded in a fraction of the time that it would take human laborers to do. Deployed in a disaster area overseas, it garnered much praise; the volunteers and military personnel found their workload reduced. But was the labor savings such a good thing for the locals, who might otherwise have been hired to do the work of unloading the trucks?

Sometimes, people assume that low-tech is only for people in “poor” countries, and only until they can “graduate” to the more advanced technology. Few people would dispute that a solar oven can be a godsend to a village in a less-developed country, where people (generally women and children) must walk miles each day to gather fuelwood, and where respiratory ailments from indoor wood fires are rampant. But not as many people realize that a solar oven can also be a godsend in a wealthy industrialized nation, where the conventional energy source for cooking (electricity or gas) seems perfectly clean on the user end, but is wreaking large-scale destruction on air, water, and land in some remote location conveniently far from our own backyard.

Perhaps my favorite example of a technology that’s universally appropriate, is the compost toilet. The standard modern practice of using fresh, drinkable water as a vehicle for flushing away “waste” is becoming more and more unworkable. Our modern sewer infrastructure is expensive, and when it fails, it fails big. Compost toilets are a household-scale alternative that uses almost no water; requires no plumbing or electricity; and produces a valuable product: compost! In short, compost toilets are appropriate in places where little or no sanitation infrastructure exists; AND in places where the infrastructure is costly, and fails big when it fails.

Once you familiarize yourself with a few basics, a compost toilet system is simple to use, and anyone can make one using readily available tools and materials. It’s much cheaper and less failure-prone than a flush toilet – imagine never needing to hire a plumber, or fuss with a flush toilet valve. Unfortunately compost toilets have not yet gained widespread acceptance, and there are legal restrictions in some places. But if this topic sparks your interest, then I would say start learning about it and get started as circumstances allow. If nothing else, you’ll gain the skills to simply and safely manage household sanitation, and maybe even sanitation for your whole neighborhood, in the event that a hurricane or other disaster should cause the water and/or electricity grid to go down.

The Humanure Handbook by Joseph Jenkins (see link below) is the best book I know on compost toilets. There are lots of great YouTube videos out there as well; one is linked below. Enjoy!

Further Exploration
This article from Permaculture News aptly sums up what defines appropriate technology. Note how the endeavor of digging the pond became a rewarding, ongoing family project rather than requiring expensive professionals and large mechanized equipment.
The Humanure Handbook, by Joseph Jenkins. Winner of the Independent Publisher 2000 Outstanding Book of the Year Award, deemed “the book most likely to save the planet!” … The Humanure Handbook is listed in my book DEEP GREEN as an essential resource for low-footprint living.
YouTube video on composting humanure.

Meadows: Low-Maintenance Beauty

I always say one of the best things we can do to reduce our burden on the environment is BE LAZY! By which I mean, eliminate work that isn’t productive – stop doing things that shouldn’t be done in the first place.

One of the best things you can do for the environment, while also saving yourself a bunch of time, money, and energy, is allow all or part of your yard to exist as prairie or meadow.

Here, a lot in my neighborhood that had reverted to natural dune vegetation. Unfortunately, after existing in this meadow state for a long time, the lot was finally mowed very short (perhaps in response to someone complaining about “weeds”). Now the mowing will probably continue and if it does, the grass will take over and the flowers won’t have a chance to grow back.

First photo shows what the meadow used to look like when undisturbed by mowing. The flowers only grow to a certain length and are self-maintaining. Contrast with the photo showing the field after it was scalped.

Fortunately you and I don’t have to make this mistake. We can turn our lawns, or parts of them, into prairie and meadow, creating multiple benefits:

– Save time and money by reducing mowing & irrigation (or eliminating them entirely)!
– Create habitat for butterflies, bees & other wildlife
– Help the soil retain nutrients, thus reducing water pollution and reducing the burden on stormwater infrastructure
– Promote a more sensible, less fussy standard of yard maintenance

If you want to help the planet while freeing up time and energy for the things you love in life, consider allowing all or part of your lawn to revert to meadow.