Monday, January 14, 2008

52 Weeks Down - Week 33 - Do It In the Road and Scare the Mules

No, no, I'm not talking about *that* . This week's project is to do a little more to let others know about what changes you are making and why.

A lot of what all of us struggle with is looking "weird" and drawing uncomfortable attention to ourselves. In the privacy of our own homes, it might be easy to do something unconventional, but sooner or later someone comes over and asks "why are you doing *that* - and the part of us that really does care what people think (and most of us have that part to some degree or another) starts squirming. We all grew up being told that being normal was important. Heck, my Grandma actually used to say "They can do what they want as long as they don't do it in the road and scare the mules." She was lying of course - few people on earth have ever been as interested in what people did in the privacy of their homes ;-). But now's the time to scare a few mules.

But here's the thing - the only way we'll stop feeling weird for not flushing every time, or hanging our laundry or living with a cube fridge or using cloth menstrual pads is if other people join the club, or at least start thinking of this as within the normal range of behavior. And that means that people have to know that other people are doing these things.

Which is why this week's project isn't so much an energy cut but an advertising campaign. Take the time this week to do something to tell/show others about the changes in your life - and why you've made them.

What should you do? Start a blog with a cool theme "52 weeks of funky clothesline pictures" or whatever. Talk to your friends, neighbors and family - bring it up by saying "you know, heating oil prices have been really high, and our family has found..." or "Here's our latest project..."

Give a talk at your community center, church, synagogue, mosque, temple, school or senior center about lower energy living. Emphasize the monetary savings, the better food, the better health. I give you permission to take anything you want from this blog to help people get th idea.

Give someone the gift of a new idea - I can't be the only one who has had a complete "duh" moment or two when it comes to finding solutions to energy problems. I once asked how I should handle the lint problem without a dryer, only to have someone tell me the completely obvious fact that if I seperated lights and darks, I wouldn't have little white fuzzies on my navy shirt. Duh - but sometimes you need someone to open your eyes. So be that person - if someone says they can't by local because it isn't nearby, suggest that you carpool, or pick a few things up for them or that they find a CSA that delivers. If someone is telling you that they'd use their clothesline except that jeans are too stiff, point out that you could start by drying them on the line and then throw them in the dryer for 5 minutes to soften.

If you are a shy sort, it is difficult to be the one who speaks up, who draws attention to themselves. But every time you do this, it'll be easier next time, and easier on the next people in the line. Refusing to feel weird begins, in part, by accepting that this is the new normal - the way that we are going forward. We're not weird, we're cutting edge. Let other people know you know this.




Anonymous said...

Oh boy -- my family already thinks I am crazy, that is why I had to start blogging about it! (I needed to talk with people who were like-minded!) It is one thing to start a blog without anyone knowing you, but a toally different thing to tell your neighbors you don't flush everytime! *EEK*!

I will see what I can do! :)


Anonymous said...

I've been Diva Cupping for some time now, I tell others about it when the subject comes up, and I'm starting to think ahead about my daughter. Obviously the DC won't be suitable for a young girl to start with, though she knows that I use it. My worry is about getting her off to a good start, attitude-wise, to her life with menstruation. Would starting her off right away with cloth pads and plastic bags and so on just be too much for her to deal with in a school setting? Will she be cast as a "weirdo" (something she already struggles with a bit) and picked on by the other girls? I have been thinking that I'll present her with all the options and their various impacts and then let her decide.

Susan in Ontario

just ducky said...

To Susan in Ontario--As a mother of two daughters (11 and 14)who both are kind of "on the fringe"/viewed as different...I am going to tell you something that will be very unpopular with other readers--present her with the options and let her decide. You could even tell her that on weekends and when she's on school breaks she could use a more environmental way, but when she's at school she could use a more "mainstream" method. That would satisfy her conscious and still keep her from being made fun of. I don't view this as an all or nothing thing especially for teenage girls. I don't know about your daughter's personality or her school, but my daughters get really picked apart at times by the other girls. I hear them voice the desire to "blend in" as much as possible. They are still really good girls with a strong desire to help the environment--It just requires me being creative/resourceful at times to present them with some ecologically sound options that don't stand out from the crowd like a flashing neon sign...

Vidad said...


What an excellent entry!

My wife an I have been "weird" for a long time, thanks to our eco-friendly but "eccentric" habits. Like how we put a trashcan with a spigot on stilts to catch gutter water for our garden. Or the fact that we have a bin of worms that eat our kitchen trash. Or that we only have one car.

But... as for sustainability, we're barely getting started! Thank you for the encouragement.

Anonymous said...

to Susan in Ontario..

Very few girls are going to want to be known as "that girl that carries around bloody rags with her all day". People can be very very cruel, and the scars from that last for many years. I would highly suggest that she at least use a disposable product when at school.

I suggest letting your daughter know about all the options, re-usable and disposable, pads, tampons, and so forth; and letting her decide what she's comfortable in using. Having the power of choice about the matter is an important thing, in my opinion.

jola said...

Thanks to you and Leah, after reading your post yesterday I unplugged the fridge, something that had not previously occurred to me to do. Our house is quite chilly with our frugal heating - so why pay to chill food, at least in winter? Duh! With the money saved on the electric bill I'd rather buy extra fuel for the pellet stove. I am definitely feeling a little *out there* with the baby steps we're taking - I have become hyper-aware of how rigid and conformist our demanding consumerist/growth-capitalist society is (I can hardly bear to read The NY Times anymore as a result, or to watch morning shows, or The View, etc., etc.). The drumbeat, manipulative message is that to do one's bit for America one is supposed to shop. Ergo, it is internalized as - not to shop is to be... unAmerican. So it does take inner resolve and fortitude to consciously resist that and to act along a different paradigm. Thank you for your posts, Sharon - you make me feel that even if I am a bit nonconformist (as I sit here in my wool cap, with the milk and eggs in an ice chest) - I'm not alone.

dahlia said...

thanks for the nudge! i outed myself this morning to my vocal local women's email list as a cloth-wiper (at least for pee thus far) to get a conversation going there. i look forward to seeing if anything comes of it!

Green Bean said...

How right you are. It is going to be hard to "save the world" if we're just a bunch of "freaks" living lightly in the privacy of our own homes. The energy saving measures we take need to be accepted and, hopefully, adopted if we want to have a shot at getting through climate change and peak oil.

One of the best ways I've found to do this is to do what you do in public. Let people notice you line dry your clothes, pack cloth napkins in your lunch, see you walking the kids to school or biking to work, planting a victory garden in your front yard. Then they can ask or you can offer or at least they'll get used to the sight.

Thanks, Sharon, for reminding us how we need to reach out to others.

homebrewlibrarian said...

So far the only person who gets the blow-by-blow about all the new reductions in my life is my friend/landlord/buddy Michael. While I don't think I'm doing all I can, he thinks I'm light years ahead of him. And I get eye rolling sometimes and we're not even living together (we do, however, share a duplex)! BUT it's gotten him to think about the food in the grocieries, turn off lights when he's not using them and recycle. The cool thing about Michael is that once he accepts a change and it's become habit, he's very good at talking about it with others. He has a much better way of making it not sound so "weird" than I ever would. I figure that I'll lead the way and once he gets there, he'll be the one to talk about it to everyone else. Each to his/her own strengths!


coffeepot said...

I just had a lady in a store public bath to say to me..

"Ghee the lady in front of me using the stall didn't even flush..makes me wonder what kind of person she is at home."

katecontinued said...

I started my own challenge and my blog at the beginning of the year. And, raw vegan mama, I came out (about my blog) to two neighbors and a vendor at the Farmer's Market this weekend.

Looks like many of us here heard Sharon's invitation to empower ourselves both as environmentalists and as women.

It is no surprise that we can feel embarrassed for our environmentalism. Beyond what our family may have said to us, let's not forget the threat we pose to corporate profits. Billions of consumer dollars might not be spent if our actions are adopted by all of our friends and neighbors. Calling us fruitcakes, nuts and crazy has (sadly) been an effective device to stiffle this for thirty years.

And, as a woman I have been taught that menstruation (not to mention pee or poo) is disgusting and I should be ashamed. Sigh. It is a good thing when the posts I read like this, the comments and my own efforts make me feel it is okay to function as I was designed to do. And . . . I don't need to fund whole industries producing products based on my feeling shame or inadequacy.

Anonymous said...

I have now seen this several times: unplugging your fridge or freezer during the winter to save its energy usage. Be careful with this! My brother did this with a new freezer. He didn't need it so he and his DW stored it in the basement for six months until they did need it. And, the seals had failed and it no longer worked. He is a mechanic and has worked for years with refridgeration technology and never expected anything like that to happen to him. He couldn't repair it.

Many things like cars and freezers are made to be run almost continuously and they don't like it when they are not used for long periods of time. They have to be 'winterized'.

Teresa from Hershey

Rosa said...

I'm totally vulnerable to peer pressure. I gradually opted out of the local activist community under the constant judgements (this is, as has been pointed out to me by a particularly challenging roomate, at least partly my own damn fault). I am *definitely* not in step with the cool mamas.

But I'm definitely not one of the "normal people" either. In fact, i think one of the biggest bars to my own progress is how many of the people I know praise me for how environmentally conscious I am - it's really easy to start believing them and thinking "Oh, I've been good, I'll just let this one slid..."

Because the truth is we aren't even half way there.

BoysMom said...

Well, I don't do much outside drying in the winter here, but I went out today to put up the king sized bedspread (baby-caused washing) since there's nowhere inside to dry something that massive, and aside from my fingers turning instantly numb, it kept freezing to the lines while I was spreading it out!
It's covered with frost except for where the sun's hitting it. I hope it gets dry before dark.
At least my baby tomatos, tomatillos, cabages, spinich, squash, and melons are coming up! Really perks up my spirits.

Suburban Farmer said...

You don't have to tell people everything at once. While cloth pads and toilet wipes might be normal for you now, most people haven't had time to adjust to the idea, they haven't travelled that far down this road. Start with small things - a jar of homemade preserves given to a friend ('oh, yes, we grew the cucumbers'), a cloth napkin at dinner time ('well, it just seemed a waste to pay for something you use once and throw away') or an impromptu loan of a cloth shopping bag ('try this, it is so much stronger than those plastic bags'). The less confronting things can be much more easily accepted by those to whom all this is new.

All that being said, you still have to be prepared to get a few of 'those' looks! :)

Mandarina said...

This is so very important, and not only for the reasons you describe Sharon. So much of our consumption is utterly, utterly wasted, that it makes sense to help others pick low hanging fruit if you're already squeezing yours. It makes a bigger difference to the world for me to buy my neighbour a compact fluorescent bulb (or to cook them a vegetarian meal) than it does to turn off my laptop or cut the wet-food component of my diet further. It's far, far, easier too.

A key part of my consumption reduction goals is to convince two other people to come with me in reducing their impact by 50% over 12 months (their commitment has to include a commitment to convince two others and so on). Reclaiming Malthus. Or something.

Susan Buhr said...

I couldn't agree more. It is so important for others to see what we do, especially if they like us and think we're normal otherwise. It works even when the observers don't know the person doing the behavior. There's a study cited in "Fostering Sustainable Behavior" that said when there was a sign in a locker room urging "navy showers" 6% of people did it. When a model was planted in the locker room and did a navy shower, 49% did it and when there were two, 67% took a navy shower. When I hear people talk about how what one person does is unimportant, I remember that study. And of course, there are little ones watching too.

Anonymous said...

We had our nearest neighbour over for dinner, and when husband was making the tea, i excused myself and put some more wood on the stove. It came out in conversation that we heated entirely with wood, and our neighbour gave us the strangest look. Then, he assumed we didn't have any money, and offered us a small loan so we could buy heating oil. We politely told him money was not the issue, told him a few reasons why we did what we did, and took him for a little tour around the garden. I could tell these things were completely foreign to him, but he did admit that the house was nice and warm, and the home grown veg were the best he ever ate, and asked where we bought our seeds. We also gave him a low-energy bulb to try to see how he liked it (which he did, and then bought some more). One step at a time.

As far as the menstrual stuff is concerned, I find a piece of natural sea sponge works pretty well as a tampon, and it can be rinsed out and re-used. but I didn't realize this until after years of using traditional tampons, and I don't know how i would have coped when a teenager with all its pressure to conform in a totally unique way, LOL. It is funny seeing them wear all the same fashions, but maybe a belt of a different colour so they can express their "individuality!"


Anna Marie

Wendy said...

We were featured in our local paper for our all-Maine Thanksgiving dinner. It was very cool ... until people started telling me they saw me in the paper, and then it was a little embarrassing to be getting so much attention ;).

The thing, for me, is that I live in Maine, but I wasn't born here, and so by the very fact that I'm "from away", I'm already an anomaly. When I first moved here, it bothered me, but now I like to live by the credo: Viva la difference!

So, I have a clothesline I use all year long, even when there's snow on the ground (I get some odd looks from that one, I'll tell you :), I have garden beds in my front yard and chickens in my backyard, and during the summer, I pack my two younger kids into my bike trailer.

I'm not even close to where I want to be, but at this point in my life, I don't mind scaring a few mules to get where I want to go ;).

Rosa said...

I just need to learn to be brave about stuff. Or hang out with people farther along the road than me more.

At work, I pick all the pop cans out of the trash at the end of a meeting or training session, and carry them out to the recycling. And if I work late I wander around shutting off desk lamps before I leave.

But it doesn't seem to inspire change, it just makes people think I'm crazy.

Anonymous said...

Good post. And some good comments/stories too; always nice to know there's someone else out there doing these things.

I post things from time to time on my LJ, both living stuff and things in the news. Sometimes friends ask me questions since I started doing this, and it's been great to try to help out with suggestions. And they've offered other suggestions to me (mostly gardening and cooking -- esp. cooking).

We hang our laundry indoors in the winter, as it helps bring up the humidity in the house to near normal range (I have asthma), since we have a fairly typical New England winter... altho' at least we don't have electric baseboard heat! Hot water radiators w/wood-fueled furnace. It's nice not to have to use a humidifier at night anymore -- if we don't have any laundry to hang to dry, we dampen a towel and hang it off the bed frame.

Oh, and now that we're in a smaller bedroom, we don't have to hang curtains off the bed to help keep us warm (if anyone decides to curtain off their beds, remember to open them during the daytime, and not close them if there are multiple people sleeping in the bed and one of them has a cold). The apartment bedroom is probably a 1/3 smaller than the room we had in Holyoke so we had to downsize on clothing, but it's quite comfy at night.

Heather G

spelled with a K said...

I definitely see where you are coming from, being adopted my kids are different enough as is. Against my deepest longings I have not coerced my 8 year old into vegetarianism. As she learns more she can make the choice herself. The 9month old will likely be raised "freak" at least until he's a little older. A fellow vegetarian was talking with my wife about it, lamenting the fact that she occasionally craves chicken. Her stance was that it is best to raise the child with the ethical choice you hope they will stick with, rather than teach them one thing, and allow them to act differently. Its their choice in the end, but can a parent who wants an honest child tolerate lying?

Granted its an altogether different issue, especially given feminine hygene issues, of which I have little to no knowlege of. I think small exceptions can be made (and for someone often accused of seeing only wasted half measures in "middle ground" compromises, that says a lot.

Being a kid is hard enough. We as adults may have the tenacity to swim upstream, but we push a great deal of water out of the way for our children behind us. When they have to swim alone, they don't always possess the strenght to keep going.

And for what its worth I say as far as other adults are concerned...scare the mules. Nobody ever took notice of the status quo.

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