Toilet-Paper Liberation

In these TP-troubled times, a device more worthy of consideration than ever is the bidet, which has long been used in Europe, Asia, and elsewhere but has only relatively recently caught on in the USA.

Bidets (or bidet attachments designed to fit on your existing toilet) can be expensive to buy and install, though they do come at various prices. My favorite option, and one that I’ve been using for awhile now (as have many of my green-minded friends) is the bidet bottle. This is, simply, a plastic squirt bottle that you use like a bidet. It can be any kind of squirt bottle; I find that a short squat mustard bottle is a handy size and shape. I even take the bottle with me on trips.

Not being dependent on toilet paper is great from an eco standpoint of course (some appalling number of trees are felled each year just to wipe North American bums). Also, many of us feel cleaner with a bidet. And now, with the coronavirus panic sparking a weird reaction of mass toilet-paper stockpiling (I keep telling people it’s a respiratory virus, not intestinal!), not needing to be worried about t/p becomes even more appealing.

After using the bidet or bidet bottle, many people like to pat dry, which can be done either with a square of toilet paper (way less than you’d need if you were trying to use t/p to do the whole job!) or with a square of cloth. The cloths can then be laundered like any other household laundry.

I first learned of the bidet bottle via my fellow greenies in the Journey to Zero Waste group on Facebook (an absolutely stellar resource for reducing trash or other waste in any possible area of life). But as I did further research, I learned that a bidet bottle (or pitcher, or other container) is de rigeur in Muslim cultures, and is known in at least some countries as a Lota. Other cultures are so often a storehouse of riches for best practices in everyday life.

Further Reading:

Islamic Toilet Etiquette (muslimgirl.com)

Secrets of the Muslim Bathroom (Salon): “Instead of fearing the lota, we as a society should tolerate and embrace the diversity of booty-cleansing techniques that are now available to us. Americans eventually accepted hummus and Bollywood music. Could the lota could be next? Regardless, it’s time to put an end to the self-loathing and fear and let the lota proudly step out of the water closet.

Reddit thread: How to use a bidet bottle/Lota: “Lean forward. With right hand, take lota (which you filled) and bring it to your back and lean it forward to get a flow going. You want a good flow, not Niagara Falls. While the water is hitting your buttocks, use your left hand to rub the water around there (nothing too aggressive just feel it out like you would in the shower). Repeat if necessary. Dry if you want, some people do, some people don’t. Wash your hands with soap. That’s basically it.”

A Time to Question “Normal”

As many people are pointing out, the slowdown imposed by the Coronavirus pandemic offers us the gift of time and space to reexamine our priorities and sort out what really matters to us (individually and collectively).

The slowdown in the default frantic pace of life can also be a time to question what passes for normal in everyday USA life. I’m constantly doing that anyway, but the slowdown gives more time for it.

The other day I accompanied a neighbor to the hospital for outpatient surgery. It involved an hour’s drive, by medical taxi, down the interstate to the big city. The drive provided time to think, and a cross-section of “normal” sights.

It’s normal to use tons of concrete. TONS, everywhere. When you’re on a modern interstate the whole world seems made of concrete. I cannot imagine the resources it takes to do this — for what? We need these huge walls and pillars and I don’t know what all else, just to provide a surface for our vehicles to get from point A to point B? Seems like backwards evolution to me. If I were a space alien I might think the resident populace was compulsively using up its resources in order to commit species-suicide.

It’s normal to totally scalp the landscape, even on very very steep slopes. Lay the sod and keep it scalped. Turf companies and mower companies must be doing very well.

It’s normal for people to have health insurance. If you have some kind of government-based coverage, everything is covered, even an hour-long taxi ride to a hospital for elective surgery. Of course many people have no insurance. But the system is totally set up for people who do. If you don’t have it … you don’t fit into the system.

It’s normal for hospitals to be huge, lavish Taj Mahal-like palaces that even keep advertising themselves once you’re inside their walls and have presumably become a paying customer. It’s normal to bombard hospital patients, in their beds, with a constant TV screen of pharmaceutical advertisements.

It’s normal to cram all the used linens into a giant disposable plastic bag. I assume they were being taken to be laundered, not thrown away. In that case why not use a cloth bag and wash it along with the linens? But maybe they were throwing the linens away? In any case, what they were doing is normal.

It’s normal to use straws. Disposable, one for every drink. You’re still weird if you question that. And it’s work if you want to try to get a drink without a disposable plastic cup and straw. These things are normal.

It’s normal, even outside a building (as opposed to inside), to have movie screens flashing garishly colored digital ads. It’s normal to intrude on the outdoors in this way. Ditto for intruding on the outdoors with sound (music, ads, etc.), as many businesses do. If you question that, people will just look at you like you’re nuts.

It’s normal to have a car. It’s not normal not to. If you don’t have a car, the default environment is not set up to accommodate you.

It’s normal to view the vast majority of nonhuman species (both plant and animal) as “pests”, and spend millions of dollars trying to eradicate them. Even many people who profess to believe in God, do not think twice about doing this to God’s creatures.

It’s normal to keep indoor environments heated or cooled so far from the ambient outdoor temperature that you need, for example, to wear a jacket indoors when it’s nice and warm outside. It’s normal to construct whole buildings with no windows that can be opened.

It’s normal to try to keep the outdoors “neat” using landscaping practices such as edging, leafblowing, that do violence in the form of noise pollution, air pollution, and disruption of natural restorative processes.

A few years back, I attended a talk by Joel Salatin, a farmer who engages in regenerative practices. He’s quite a speaker. One of his favorite phrases is, “Folks, this ain’t normal!” (describing mainstream industrial ag practices). This phrase might serve us well as we move through our days, noticing the various default settings that pass for “normal” in mainstream USA. Questioning normal is always a healthy reality check, even when what’s normal appears to be working. Especially when what’s normal appears to be working. Because it’s probably not working for everyone or for Mother Nature.

People who question the norm are labeled pests and freaks. I know I have been. Don’t let that stop you. Question “normal”! If you go out today, see how many examples you can find even in just a few minutes, of things that usually go unquestioned but are really crazy. It can feel demoralizing, noticing all the craziness without feeling you can do anything about it. But noticing it is the first step. There might be people around you who are ready to notice it too, and start joining forces to do something about it.

The Task Remains the Same

Coronavirus panic has governments and organizations cancelling events large and small. Events as far out as May, and beyond, are being cancelled. Kids’ schools are shutting down, leaving working parents scrambling for ways to accommodate the situation.

The influenza pandemic of 1918 infected ONE-THIRD of the world’s population and eventually killed one in ten of those it infected. The flu every year kills tens of thousands. So far, coronavirus isn’t showing signs of being anywhere near this magnitude of crisis. It’s killing about 2-3% of those it infects, and those infected are a tiny percentage of the population so far. But then again, the 1918 pandemic started with a milder wave in the spring of that year, and only in the fall came back as the raging monster we read about. Knowing human nature, I can’t really fault people for panicking, or governments and event planners for being cautious.

As I see it, coronavirus is just the latest of Mother Nature’s wakeup calls to humanity. Previous wakeup calls include severe storms, wildfires, drought-flood extremes. By “wakeup call,” I don’t mean anything like “Mother Nature is punishing us,” “God/dess is showing us His/Her wrath,” etc. No. What I mean by wakeup call is, an invitation for human beings in the rich industrialized world to notice where the design of our current systems makes us fragile and vulnerable. And a further invitation to us to build resilience into our households and communities.

Be it a storm, earthquake, drought, flood, or disease, the task remains the same: Build resilience.

The most basic human needs are food and water. At the very least, we need to boost our self-reliance in collecting and storing rainwater, and growing food locally. Not everyone needs to grow their own food, and we don’t each need to grow all our own food. But growing at least some greens at home would be a start. And planting fruit trees in neighborhoods. Potatoes and other calorie crops too.

Other than food and water, our core needs are shelter and each other. The coronavirus panic (like the many disasters that went before, and the many that will surely follow) is a wakeup call to meet our neighbors (if we haven’t already) and start working together on things like food, water, and grassroots aid (for example, teaming up to provide childcare for working parents, and making sure vulnerable seniors are looked after).

Also: Boost your economic resilience by diversifying your income sources, the more local, less commute-dependent the better. Think of a need that you can meet in your community. Mail-order businesses (crafting, etc.) are good too, though of course long-distance transport can be vulnerable to disasters. On the positive side: U.S. Postal Service says not to worry about transmission of Coronavirus via mail; the virus has poor survivability on surfaces.

And speaking of economics, the closures and event cancellations underscore the importance of acting as individuals and neighborhoods to support our local businesses, local nonprofits, local artists and musicians through this time. Hey, it’s what we need to be doing anyway, right? Times of trouble are a fact of life; might as well use them for the good.

Modern industrial societies right now are the opposite of resilient. We are too dependent on flimsy supply lines (conventional wisdom says the typical grocery store has three days’ worth of food) and long-distance travel, and every crisis gives us a peek at how fragile our systems are. So do we just keep on pretending this isn’t so, or do we take the cancellations and quarantines as an opportunity to get our house in order?

The Riot for Austerity, the grassroots movement of people aiming to cut their eco footprint to 10% of the US average, turns out to be very sensible disaster prep too. For example, if you know how to get by on five gallons (or less) of water per person per day, and you have a thousand or even just a hundred gallons of water collected in rainbarrels in your yard, you’re obviously a lot better off than someone who’s lost without running water (or storebought bottled water).

If this post rings true for you but you aren’t sure where to start, drop me a line. I can steer you to resources that will help you and your community become more resilient. One good place to start is the Transition Towns movement (linked in the sidebar). My heart is with you on the journey we all share.

The task remains the same as it has always been. Build resilience. And, use the pressure of difficult times as an opportunity to clarify what matters most in life.

Further Reading:

“The Theory of Anyway,” by Sharon Astyk (co-founder of the Riot for Austerity). “My friend Pat Meadows, a very, very smart woman, has a wonderful idea she calls “The Theory of Anyway.” What it entails is this – she argues that 95% of what is needed to resolve the coming crises in energy depletion, or climate change, or most other global crises are the same sort of efforts. When in doubt about how to change, we should change our lives to reflect what we should be doing “Anyway.” Living more simply, more frugally, using less, leaving reserves for others, reconnecting with our food and our community, these are things we should be doing because they are the right thing to do on many levels. That they also have the potential to save our lives is merely a side benefit (a big one, though).”

“Sharing with Your Neighbors” (Madisyn Taylor, DailyOM): “Creating a network of neighbors who agree to pool certain resources and share daily duties … Together, you will need to decide what chores you want to do communally and what resources can be shared. Ideas for community sharing are child care, errands, housework, keeping a joint garden, cooking for the group, and carpooling. For instance, if you cook large meals for four neighbors once a week, you take off four nights after that.”

Botanical Superheroes: Comfrey

Every plant has its place in the ecosystem. But some plants are extra useful to those of us human beings who engage in organic gardening, be it to grow food/medicine, to support wildlife, or both. For purposes of this post (and maybe for other posts in the future), I have decided to call these extra-useful plants “Botanical Superheroes” or “Super Plants.”

I’m using this term to describe a plant that has as many as possible of the following attributes: 1) grows wild, but can also be cultivated; 2) has a wide geographic range, the more continents the better; 3) grows profusely and is good for land restoration, soil remediation; 4) provides food or medicine (for humans, livestock, or both); 5) supports wildlife. Note, this is not a formal classification; it’s just a term I’m suggesting.

One example of what I’m calling Super Plants is comfrey. From the checklist above: 1) Yes; 2) Native to Europe and Asia, but grows wild in Africa and the Americas also; 3) Yes – nutrient accumulator and mulch; 4) supplemental chicken feed, herbal medicine, and other uses; 5) Yes – supports pollinators, as well as insects that prey on garden pests.

We learn about comfrey in permaculture design courses, and “permies” love it because, among other things, it makes a great “chop and drop” mulch, and it can be used as a supplemental food for chickens. I have not yet incorporated comfrey into my garden, but now that I’ve read this post from Happy DIY Home, and have found some other good articles on comfrey (see links below), I plan to do so!

(As I mentioned, we did learn about comfrey in permaculture design class. But I never latched onto it because I don’t raise chickens (at least not yet), and also maybe because I wasn’t paying enough attention to its many other uses! Sometimes it takes me multiple go-rounds for useful info to sink in. Depending on the circumstances, it can be years later!)

The general word on comfrey is that it grows profusely, so you want to be sure and pick your spot carefully. (I will test out this claim with my black thumb and my deficient-in-everything beachside soil, and will get back to you.) In recent years, as drought-flood extremes become more of an issue all over the country and world, I have become more focused on useful, profusely growing plants as part of the solution. Robust plants help mitigate drought-flood extremes by uptaking rainwater and helping to slow its runoff, creating richer soil and a “juicier” landscape. Living storage of water and nutrients!

Besides comfrey, other plants on my list of Botanical Superheroes include amaranth, sorrel, and clover. What are some of your favorite “Super Plants”?

My purpose in writing this post is two-fold: to let you know about a useful plant; and also, to give you an example of how, in a more general sense, we are surrounded by invaluable allies (plant and otherwise) that we might not know about. And therefore, I want to encourage you to keep your antennas out for the many allies all around you: plant, animal, human, and inanimate!

Further Reading:

How To Grow Comfrey: Care, Types, and Growing Tips (by Elizabeth Waddington on HappyDIYHome.com) (also linked in my post above) is a great all-around intro to comfrey. “Comfrey is one of the most useful plants to grow in an organic garden. If you are interested in taking care of our planet, its people and wildlife, and creating a way of life that is truly ethical, green and sustainable, this is one plant to include in your growing scheme. In this article, we will discuss this useful flowering perennial.” (Note, I am also adding this article to the Further Reading list of my post on knowing your wild edible and medicinal plants.)

Comfrey: Its History, Uses, and Benefits (by Paul Alfrey in Permaculture Magazine): This excellent article from Permaculture Magazine goes into detail from a permaculture land-management standpoint, as well as describing medicinal uses.

(***CAUTION!!!: While comfrey has historically been used for various medicinal applications (one of its folk names is “bone knit”), and has even been eaten as a vegetable, it has been linked to cancer and liver damage, and is not now recommended to ingest by mouth. I am not in a position to recommend this plant for human food or medicinal applications. As with any plant, do your own research, which needs also to include consulting with your local experts in person.)

And one more comfrey article I found useful: Growing and Foraging for Comfrey, on growforagecookferment.com offers additional advice from a permie perspective. For example, the authors grow it around their fruit trees because it brings up nutrients from the soil through its long taproot.

Wrapping up today’s “resource roundup” for you, I want to share with you a website called Jen Reviews. It’s the sister site to Happy DIY Home (source of the first comfrey article linked above). I’m giving Jen Reviews a boost because 1) it offers lots of practical info, such as this article on ways to control 13 common household bugs without using toxic chemicals; and 2) Jen Reviews offered to share my blog with its readers, in exchange for my sharing their site. (I would not have agreed to this unless I liked their content, which I do.)

Jen Reviews describes itself as “the authority on everything food, fitness and home,” and says “All our writers are experts in their particular niches. Our expert team includes former Olympians, doctors, registered nurses, executive chefs, mountain guides, yoga instructors, certified dog trainers and more.” I appreciate being contacted by the editors of this popular website. And hope you will check it out, and will find lots of useful stuff there!

Retro-additions to posts

As I’ve mentioned (and as some of you may have noticed), I sometimes expand old blog articles by adding new resources as I come across them. I don’t typically issue any notifications when I do this (it would get cumbersome and cluttery).

That said, I’m about to do one such update to an old article. Once that’s done, I will add the article title and link info to this post, and will also make a post on my “Deep Green Book by Jenny Nazak” Facebook page.

Usually when I add to an old article, it’s because I have belatedly stumbled on an additional resource (article, video, etc.) that I want to share with you on that topic. But this time, I’m doing it because a fellow eco/health blogger alerted me of such a resource. It’s a milestone for this blog, because the fellow blogger who emailed me is a stranger who stumbled on my blog, read my old post, and found it good enough that they asked me to include their article in the “Further Reading” section. That’s really cool!

Every single one of you readers, be it a longtime friend or a stranger, is precious to me. I’m here to support each of you on your paths to creating a kinder, greener world. Though old readers are every bit as precious to me as new ones, I take the appearance of a new reader, who I have no personal connection with, as a sign that my effort to spread the #GrassrootsGreenMobilization is catching on. And for that I am so happy!

I’ll be back in a bit with that post update info for you!

Enjoyment vs. Denial

It’s OK to just enjoy the moment. A beautiful sunset, the laughter of a friend, the taste of a fresh-baked cookie, the feel of sun shining on your hair after a long cold rainy spell, a favorite song on the radio, a good book, a ladybug in the garden, a grilled-cheese sandwich, the sound of a passing train, the scent of sun-dried sheets. Enjoying the moment doesn’t mean you’re in denial about the state of the world.

(This is a note to self. And I’m posting it here in case anyone else needed to hear it too.)

Reflections on Shoes

In my Facebook ad feed yesterday I found an ad for a company called Rothy that makes women’s shoes and handbags out of recycled bottles and ocean trash. (Sometimes that “personalized” Facebook ad feed really hits the mark, as much as people like to revile it!) The shoes sell for around US$125.

I read through some of the several hundred comments. A lot of the commenters were complaining about the price. People in the USA are used to being able to get a pair of shoes for $20 or $30.

It struck me that being able to buy a pair of shoes for just two or three hours’ wages (or, if you are white-collar professional, perhaps a mere half-hour or even a quarter-hour’s wages!) is probably a historic and geographic anomaly. Throughout history and across the globe, people probably spent several days’ pay on a pair of shoes, if they could afford them at all.

I wonder how many pairs of $20-30 shoes end up in landfill, not only because they break or wear out but also because they are priced cheaply, so people don’t think as hard about throwing them away.

For me it seems reasonable to pay a day or two’s wages for a pair of shoes. But then again, I expect the shoes to last. My main pair of shoes right now are a pair of Xero canvas boots I bought for $90 last summer, and hope to have for several years. They are the most comfortable close-toed shoes I have ever owned. Generally I do not buy new shoes. If I didn’t have to wear shoes, if I could go barefoot all the time, I probably would. My other main pair of shoes is a pair of flip-flops which were handed down to me. And I have a pair of black wedge-heeled Crocs, also hand-me-downs from a friend. (Those are my “dress-up” shoes.)

According to an article I found at newdream.org, the average USAmerican man owns 12 pairs of shoes; for women it’s 27 pairs.

Though I only have five pairs of shoes right now (two of which I never wear and should donate), I have not always been a shoe minimalist. For about 10-15 years, starting in the early 1990s when I lived in Tokyo, I had about 30 pairs of shoes, most of them platform shoes of various kinds. The neon-green vinyl boots and the brown velvet embroidered boots were my two favorite pairs. I also had a pair of gold glitter-encrusted platform shoes that I called my “Elton John Museum Shoes.” But I really could only hobble a few yards in those 7-inch steep-pitched heels, and only by leaning on a friend’s shoulder or holding his/her hand. So those beauties mostly just sat on a high display shelf that I built specially for them.

At the time I bought and owned this flotilla of ornamental footwear, I wasn’t particularly thinking about their footprint (no pun intended). I cared about the environment and set out to conserve in many many areas of my life, but shoes were not one of them. And, I firmly believe that it is possible for a person to have an indulgence of this kind and still be an eco activist. (If I were ever to get bitten by the shoe bug again, this time around I’d just buy them at thrift stores. The selection can be huge and the prices are as low as $2 or $5!)

For some years, my go-to shoes were a pair of Minnetonka moccasin boots, tan suede. I bought them at the Cline’s Corners truck stop in 2007, on my bicycle trip from Austin to Santa Fe. A few times over the years, I re-stitched small areas where seams split in the uppers, and I was able to hang onto those boots til 2018 when the soles wore holes in them. Actually I still have those boots. If I can’t get the soles replaced I will use the leather! A stunning bargain those boots were, at about $70. I walked countless miles in them.

How about you? How many pairs of shoes do you have, and how many do you wear regularly? What do you think is a fair price to pay for shoes? Would you spend a few days’ pay on a pair of shoes if they were super versatile and would last for years?

I remain interested in shoes, and am passionate about fashion in general. I’m particularly keen on street fashion and DIY “edited” thrift/vintage clothes. I’m also interested in finding out more about Rothy, which spins a thread from used plastic bottles to make its shoes. The company claims to have upcycled over 50 million plastic bottles so far.

Back in 2011 I did a portrait of those beloved Minnetonka mocs. It was one of the pieces in my first art show. A friend bought the original. I gave my Mom a print, and that print came back to me after she passed in 2017. Posting a photo of it for you now.

Further Exploration:

What a fun link I found just now!! Got a broken pair of flip-flops? Here’s a Pinterest page of ways to upcycle those old soles into custom sandals! You can make new straps by crocheting, braiding old t-shirts, etc.