Monday, May 26, 2008

Birthday Thoughts on Being the Change

Today is my 41st birthday! I'm so glad to find myself still growing and learning. You may already know I am hosting Monique Dupre's Introduction to Sustainable Living on a Budget workshop at my home in NE Portland on July 21st at 7pm. The price for workshops goes up to $35 on June 1st, so register soon! Come learn and grow with us!

One of my mantras these days is Progress Not Perfection. I've been making a lot of the incremental changes toward sustainable living for a while...years in fact. I first became aware of and began consuming organic food in college during the late 1980s, but the changes I made then were small. Three years ago, when my oldest was two I began making more intentional and dramatic changes in my family's diet and home life.
  • It started when I removed all the commercially prepared salad dressings from the refrigerator (though we still have a vast collection of other least seven varieties of mustard and several chutneys and curry pastes). I also began to consciously eschew most processed foods--especially those containing any of the many additives my grandmother wouldn't have found in her kitchen--instead relying more seasonal, local, and organic food. I cleansed our pantry of all the processed foods I no longer felt good about feeding to my family.
  • To maintain our new at-home eating lifestyle after the birth of our son two years ago, I began cooking and freezing batches of stews, soups, and sauces and preparing "freezer marinades" in earnest during the last month or two of my pregnancy.
  • Soon after Luc was born, friends introduced me to Nourishing Traditions and Feeding the Whole Family, and I started cooking with more whole grains and legumes.
  • A year ago, I began a "buy nothing new year," which only lasted six months, but I did replace using paper napkins and towels with cloth equivalents. At the same time, I began purging our home of junky toys and anything that I no longer found beautiful or useful. These early de-cluttering efforts impacted my shopping habits and I now think twice before buying anything. I still find myself shopping for entertainment or when I'm anxious, but more than once I have walked away from a shopping cart full of impulses when I realized what I was doing.
  • In August 2007, I began baking all our family's bread and bagels every week. I was too busy one week before Christmas and another time right before Annabel's birthday in April, but otherwise I've been amazed at how easily I have integrated bread-making into our life. It wasn't easy at first and I baked a lot of loaves that didn't rise properly, but now I consistently make decent bread.
  • For the last several months I have been learning about long term food storage, making cheese, and raw food fermentation, though I haven't begun to put what I've learned into practice, but for a batch of yogurt cheese and quark.
  • I continue with my de-cluttering efforts throughout the house and I donate, freecycle, sell, or recycle as much as possible. I am learning more and more ways to keep my "trash" out of the waste stream.
  • I have also been de-cluttering my calendar, keeping our family's outside commitments to a minimum. This is still hard and I find myself over-committed occasionally, but I am getting better at saying "no" to requests for my time--even when an activity sounds fun or interesting. My husband and I now share a Google calendar which helps us keep our schedules synched. Annabel just has two scheduled activities each week, outdoor school Friday mornings and German school Saturday mornings, instead of the five she had a year ago. She still sees at least one friend a week during my weekly childcare swap and we inevitably arrange one other playdate or outing every week. I worry less, though about getting her "socialized" by other kids and spend more time with her one-on-one.
  • Last week I made another step on the path and ordered a whole Oregon grass-fed steer to share with a group of friends. As I mentioned in a previous post, we've reduced our meat consumption by half over the last few months.
  • After a hiccup in the plan to drink raw milk from a Sequim, Washington, dairy, I picked up a gallon late Wednesday evening and hope to have better luck with persuading Annabel to enjoy it this time. She wants to make cheese with me and I think we'll make some raw milk mozzarella on Tuesday.
  • I'm currently now working on my first Azure Standard order. I've been diligently comparing prices with WinCo, Bob's Red Mill, and New Seasons, and Azure Standard has significantly better prices on everything. It's like Costco for those of us who appreciate whole organic foods, but they deliver.
I have listed all these changes not to brag--not at all--but to demonstrate that these changes take time. I know some people are able to incorporate them more quickly than we have. I still don't have the gardening thing down, despite over six years of trying. It's one of my great frustrations--I come from Pennsylvania Dutch farm stock, afterall! We still eat out more than I would like. Each of these changes has come with some failures and frustrations (bread baking day was NOT as happy time here the first few weeks I tried to experiment with using whole grains, for example).

Success with these changes, I have found, is finding a system that works, attaching the new habits to old ones, assessing what's working and what isn't, tweaking the system, and trying anew. It took me six months of baking bread and making bagels separately every week to figure out that I could bake bread and make bagel dough on the same day (the bagel dough ferments overnight in the fridge). Now, I only have to pull out all my flours and grains and wash my bread mixer once a week. Duh! I can't believe it took me so long to figure that out! I'm sure there will be some issues with this big order of beef and my first few orders from Azure Standard, but I'm also sure I'll figure out ways to make it all work for our family.

I spent my 20s and 30s being an activist but now I find myself more satisfied with making changes at home rather than trying to change the rest of the world. I feel like that's all that I can do these days and maybe that's not enough, but at the same time, I do believe I'm doing exactly what I should be doing. Afterall, I have the next generation watching what I do, very intently!


Hello, I'm Sally. said...

Happy Birthday! Great stuff you are doing. I'm learning stuff reading about your journey. I've been curious about pricing with Azure Standard, maybe I can peek at your catalog?

Chris said...

Thanks, Sally! You can check out my Azure catalog anytime. I'm sick today and imagine I won't be up for visiting the rest of the week, but let's get together soon. Maybe knit night next week?

denise said...

Happy Birthday! :)

We have so much in common, it seems...and we have followed a similar path through the years of changing our habits (buying, cleaning, eating, living, etc.). All awesome! :)

Chris said...

Thanks, Denise! Your blog is so lovely--I want every book on your list! (From the library, of course, 'cuz that's what I do now. Sigh...I'm still getting used to not buying books.)