I thought becoming a mother would redeem “Mother’s Day” for me, but my feelings around it have not really changed.
“Mother’s Day” is a rough one for me.
I don’t see my mother anymore. I haven’t seen her since I was a few months pregnant. Our relationship began to deteriorate when my parent’s got divorced, got worse through my teenage years, and finally imploded in my thirties.
I know my mother did her best. I know she loves me. I love her. I did not create these boundaries in our relationship because I don’t love her.
I haven’t spoken about motherhood on this platform much. I’ve hesitated because anytime I’ve ever mentioned my own mother in the past, even in veiled references, it turned into a fight between her and I.
You know that expression, “if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all?” Well, I feel like, in my writing life, the expression is “if you can’t write about your mother, you can’t write about anything at all.” Not because every story is about her. Not because I have all of these terrible things to say, but because now that I have become a mother myself, I’ve discovered that mother’s are woven into everything. I can’t avoid writing about my mother, anymore than I can avoid being reminded of her. Mother’s, as a people group, shape all of us; even the absence of a mother. It is not merely “Mother’s Day” that rattles at the gates of our emotions, but it’s the everyday things that either remind us how utterly helpless we’d be without them, or how desperately we long for a mother-figure.
It is for these reasons I haven’t written in over a year. I haven’t allowed myself to write about motherhood, in fear I would reveal my own mother-wound and further unravel pieces of myself.
But I am no longer just someone’s daughter, I am now a mother myself, and I want room to talk about my own motherhood. I want wide open spaces to express the beautiful, messy work of parenting without feeling like I’m betraying the system.
So, I give myself permission to acknowledge “mothers;” my own, myself, and all the spaces in between.
“How has your ‘Gentle Project’ been going since the baby, Ashley?” I am condescendingly asked. “Are you up to your eyeballs in cloth diapers and compost?” Serves me right for being drawn to such smart ass friends.
Yes, since having baby, my blogging for the Gentle Project has taken a bit of a back seat. I arrogantly thought babies just slept and ate all day so surely I would be able to commit to writing… but alas…
With that said, part of my Gentle Project was also about being gentle with myself; my heart, my emotions, and my body. The season of pregnancy, the experience of childbirth, and my survival through postpartum has indeed been a crash course in self-care and gentleness. In that spirit, I wanted to use my final Gentle Project post to share about my birth experience, what I have learned about self-care and the power of gentle thoughts.
Not-So-Gentle Birth Ideas
“Gentle” was never a word I associated with childbirth. In fact, I had never met anyone who, in my opinion, was more afraid of childbirth than me. Fear was a HUGE struggle for me long before I was even pregnant. Television, movies, and other people’s horror stories contributed to me believing that birth was a nightmare women had to survive, as opposed to a natural activity our bodies knew how to perform.
Fast forward to postpartum-me and I can confidently say I enjoyed my childbirth experience. I would even go as far as using the term “gentle.” My pregnancy wasn’t perfect, my birthing experience wasn’t perfect, but I did indeed enjoy it.
My running joke during pregnancy was that I felt great until I visited a doctor and they told me all the things that were potentially wrong with me. With every doctors visit we would learn of something new detected in my blood or something seen in a sonogram, I would panic, and then the next appointment they would say they couldn’t find any problems… so I never knew what to expect, other than that I was expecting.
I started reading and researching about pregnancy and childbirth, even though my doctor told me never to Google anything ever. What can I say? I’m a rebel. A lot of what I read was SO negative and scary, I started understanding why my doctor discouraged me from my internet research, but in fairness, the doctors were just as scary.
There were three factors in me having a gentle pregnancy and birth: a supportive partner, my “doula” friend, and hypnobirthing! When I first heard about Hypnobirthing I summoned images of a stage performer hypnotizing audience members into clucking like chickens and embarrassing themselves. Then as I started learning more about it I summoned images of crunchy hippies lighting serenity candles, and braiding their armpit hair. I remained a skeptic for a long time, even when seeing it’s benefits during pregnancy, but after coming out on the other side of childbirth, I’m happy to report there was nothing crunchy, hippy, or stage performer about it. I could go on and on about what hypnobirthing is, but that would be a different (really long) blog post. If you want more info go to the experts here.
Upon the discovery of hypnobirthing I immediately changed my approach to birth. Instead of being an experience I had to “endure,” I started looking at it as the amazing life-changing, life-starting experience it is. I started shutting people down when they’d see my swollen belly and feel inclined to tell me about their traumatic labour experience (everyone from the well meaning ladies at work, to random strangers in the grocery store. I also grabbed a stranger-woman’s boob in the grocery store when she grabbed my pregnant belly… but that’s a story for another time. Well, actually, that’s pretty much the whole story. I’m not into unsolicited touch. The end.) I stopped watching TV shows when birth was being depicted as a screaming, bloody, horror show, and I was also careful with how I spoke about pregnancy and birth.
Funny enough, I found a lot of people struggled with me speaking positively about birth. Many felt inclined to “take me down a peg” when I spoke about what I enjoyed about pregnancy or what I looked forward to in birth. I quickly learned that complaining was far more socially acceptable than being positive.
Suubi’s birth was an amazing experience. It did not go as I planned, but I was prepared for my plans to change and to go with the flow… so in that way, it went according to plan.
I planned and hoped for a short labour, no drugs, and natural delivery. That was the dream. I was hoping to be like those women who feel a sneeze coming on and then whoop, a baby.
I laboured for a few more hours than expected (48 more hours actually), and after successfully dilating to seven centimetres, ended up having an “emergency” cesarian section (“emergency” is in quotes because it did not feel like an emergency; we calmly came to the conclusion that c-section was the best route, and 8 hours later, there we were).
Though Suubi’s birth turned out a lot different than I planned, anything I was able to have some control over went beautifully. My time labouring at home was peaceful and quiet. The people who surrounded me were positive, encouraging, and empowering. I listened to music, cracked jokes, and felt an absolute gentleness around the whole experience.
Hypnobirthing helped me not only in pregnancy, and labour, it also helped me during postpartum. It taught me how to speak and think kindly about my body, my feelings, and my baby. It taught me to be prepared with close friends to support me and check in on me. Most importantly, it assured me that I know what’s best for myself and my child, and that I am allowed to advocate for my own care.
I recognize, statistically, that the experience of birth for many women can be quite scary and dangerous. I recognize the privilege I have to live where I do, with the medical care I have, in the skin I have. It is not lost on me the absolute blessing [miracle] it is to have a healthy baby and an incredibly supportive husband.
I wrote this post out probably about 14 times. I was meant to post this in December but kept second guessing myself. I didn’t want to feel like I was rubbing salt in the wound for anyone. I didn’t want to trigger those who have struggled.
But I also think about pre-pregnancy me. I think about the YEARS I spent fearing something that turned out to be one of the best experiences I have ever had. I know how much I needed to hear from somebody that birth could be gentle and not terrifying. I know that not everyone’s experience can be guaranteed, but if I have learned anything from this year of The Gentle Project it’s that there is no harm in attempting to live more kindly, and more gently, no matter how imperfectly.
“Just wait…” and other horrendous things people say to pregnant women
Pregnancy has acquainted me with a phrase I have grown to hate: “just wait!”
Let me take you back a few steps so you can understand why this simple phrase makes my stomach turn.
Before becoming pregnant, and I’d say even going back to when I was a child, I absolutely feared pregnancy and childbirth. I used to tell my parents that if I was to ever have a child it would be through adoption because there was no way I was letting THAT happen to my body.
When I began exploring careers based around childcare my fear only intensified, not because of the children themselves but because of the ongoing exposure I often had to pregnant women. I heard all the horror stories.
Oh the ripping… and the tearing… and the leaking…
It was all too much for me, and I came to the resolve that if my destiny was to always be “fun Auntie Ashley,” I’d be alright with it.
Then of course I fell madly in love, got married, and here I am, 38 weeks pregnant.
Boundaries and other things people love.
I have had to set up some serious boundaries around my pregnancy, and not the boundaries I expected I’d have to put up. I thought my biggest struggle would be people giving me unsolicited touches in the grocery store, and though that has happened once or twice, it doesn’t bother me nearly as much as people’s traumatic story-telling inclinations. Any woman who has ever had a negative pregnancy or birthing experience merely has to gaze upon my swollen belly, and all of a sudden I’m sitting front row for the re-telling of their birthing story. Instead of flicking hands away from my belly button, I have found myself stopping women (and sometimes men) mid-sentence to say, “I’m sorry, maybe this is a better story for me to hear after baby comes.”
Here’s where the “just wait…” comes in.
I have been working very hard to keep myself in a positive space about pregnancy and birth (hynobirthing is hugely to thank, but more on that later) but I have noticed a pattern develop.
Whenever I am asked, “how are you feeling?” (or any variation of that) and I respond positively, the response is almost immediately receive is, “well, just wait…”
Person: “How are you liking maternity clothes?”
Ashley: “Great! Stretchy and comfortable; I’m thinking about transitioning to maternity pants full time.”
Person: “Well, JUST WAIT until you’re further along; you’ll be sick of them.”
Person: “Being pregnant in the summer is the WORST.”
Ashley: “Oh, it’s actually not that bad. We have air conditioning, so I’ve been more than comfortable.”
Person: “Well, JUST WAIT until it gets hotter and you get more pregnant. You’ll swell up and it’ll be awful.”
Person: “How are you sleeping?”
Ashley: “Pretty good. I’m on summer vacation so if I need to nap, I take one. It’s awesome.”
Person: “Well, JUST WAIT until you have a newborn. You’ll never sleep again.”
Person: “What’s your birth plan?”
Ashley: “I’m hoping to try natural, and see how we do.”
Person: “Well, JUST WAIT until you’re begging for an epidural, because you know it hurts right?”
Needless to say I avoid talking pregnancy and childbirth with a lot of people because it’s depressing AF.
I’m a “7” on the Enneagram; don’t hate me because I’m a positive enthusiast
I am not delusional ; I understand things can be challenging. I also understand I have had a unique experience in that becoming pregnant was not a struggle, and my pregnancy itself has been pretty peaceful. But I don’t think these factors make my experience any less valuable, or un-shareable. I don’t want to live my life in an “Eeyore” state of mind: “it’s not raining now, but it will some day soon.”
I know things aren’t always easy, but I kind of wish more people could have leaned towards the positive side of the “just waits…”
Ashley: “I felt the baby kick!”
Person: “Well just wait until you look at her for the first time!”
Ashley: “I’m trying to be positive about childbirth”
Person: “Well just wait until you see what your body can do; it’s amazing!”
Ashley: “I think my pregnant body is adorable!”
Person: ”Well just wait until you see all of the beautifully weird and wonderful things it does to sustain your baby; it’s a miracle!”
Just wait until you see how beautiful all of this life is. Just wait for the joy, the excitement, the giggles, and the new adventures. Just wait!
SO in celebration of our due date nearing, and soon getting to meet our little bundle, I’d love to hear your POSITIVE “Just Waits…”
Honestly friends, I have felt the pressure over the past couple months to keep up with my Gentle Project. Not so much from any specific challenge, but because I have been attempting to abide by every change, and every “rule” I have made for myself since January.
With every long shower, or animal product I use, I feel a giant wave of guilt… like I’m failing my project.
I read this great quote the other day that provided me with some grace:
“We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” – Anne Marie Bonneau
This is a great reminder, and provides me with some perspective. I’m not looking for perfection, I’m looking to try… to DO. I’m looking to do SOMETHING not necessarily EVERYTHING.
In the spirit of doing “SOMETHING,” here are some of the little things I have learned that have really stuck with me since January:
Little changes DO make a big difference: I have noticed this particularly when it comes to my eating. My goal was to be living a fully vegan lifestyle by this time of the year. I have yet to reach that goal.
My pregnancy food aversions were/are REAL, and I got to the point that I figured eating some animal products is better than not eating anything at all. With that said, I was able to make small, consistent changes to my diet that are moving me in the right direction. Dairy has been surprisingly easy to limit (Almond milk instead of milk, Earth Balance instead of butter etc.), making an effort to find more delicious vegetarian and vegan meals, and education about Vegan-ism and it’s affect on the planet have all been great ways to implement meaningful change. I have also sought out some amazing Vancouver Vegan restaurants and food trucks. Understanding my options has really helped make me make more plant-based choices.
Spend more, get more: As much as I love an inexpensive pair of jeans from Old Navy, or some cheap, easy basics from H&M, they inevitably fall apart quickly, and only fit well enough for me to think “Meh, good enough.” When I plan, save, and purchase more expensive, ethically made clothing items they fit better, last longer, usually end up supporting local entrepreneurs, and reducing that good ol’ global footprint. AND by buying better quality clothing, I’m not getting rid of as much clothing and, again, reducing that global footprint of mine.
Second-Hand Wonders: I have never been a Thrift Store, second-hand shopper. In the past I’ve even had a bit of attitude about it. However, over this year I have had a change of heart and have come to really appreciate second-hand wonders. I have found some wonderful maternity clothes and lots of things for the baby’s room at stores like Value Village, and local stores like “For the Love of Thrifting,” and I am discovering the pure joy in finding a score of a deal on items that I would have spent a fortune on brand new.
Clean Cleaning: Some of my “Gentle Project” goals have indeed fallen by the wayside (why can’t I remember my freaking reusable bags when I go grocery shopping? WHY?!), but one that has not? Making my own hand soaps and house cleaners! It has saved me SO much money and it is so easy it’s dumb! I had a moment of weakness a month ago, and used a chemically product to clean the bathroom and could literally feel my lungs burning, even hours later. Totally wasn’t worth it. I’m sticking with my natural products from now on. For my hand soap I use Dr. Bronners Soap as my base, and Young Living Essential Oils as antibacterial and for the lovely smell. For my all purpose cleaner I use Young Livings Thieves cleaner with water.
Social Media: Social media acts as a constant reminder of the things I don’t have and “need.” I swear my Instagram account knew I was pregnant before I had a chance to tell my husband. Before I knew it I had ads for diapers, baby clothes, and must-have items to be a loving parent who truly cares about their child. To make matters worse, it’s not only the ads that pop up on social media, but also some of the people I like to follow the most. I have had to take some time to reevaluate who I follow, and how often they pop up on my feed in an effort to set up some boundaries for myself and keep myself from feeling burdened by the things I want. If every second post someone puts up is #sponsored I know I need to take a hard look on how it’s affecting me.
For the rest of the summer, I am going to be sharing a little about pregnancy, and childbirth, but I am also not setting the bar super high because, ya know, #firsttimemom. I had never imagined pregnancy or birth as something “gentle,” however I’ve really changed my outlook after learning more about Hypnobirthing, and it has really helped my anxiety and fear throughout pregnancy.
I also appreciate that the topic of pregnancy, and children can be very triggering for some. Though I will try to share our journey in the most inclusive, sensitive way possible, I understand if some need to take a step back from those posts.
I would also love to continue to hear from you: how do you try to live gently? What are some of your small, imperfect steps in living a more environmentally conscious life?
These past couple months have been INSANE! In all good ways, but INSANE none the less. I have been the musical director for a production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dream-coat” and shows began this month! It has been SO much fun, but definitely all consuming. When I haven’t been obsessing about the musical, I’ve been preoccupied with all things BABY! I have really tried not to be “that” person that finds out they’re pregnant and talks about nothing else, and the musical has definitely helped me bring balance in that area, but alas, I get home from a long day at work, and can’t help but think and plan for baby.
Speaking of baby… this is not related to anything “Gentle Project”, but just for fun, here are a few pictures from our Gender Reveal last month:
The good thing about becoming mildly baby obsessed has been that it ties in nicely with my March and April projects. Learning more about chemical-free cleaning, and organizing seems timely.
So with no further adieu, here are 5 easy ways to keep your house clean, organized, and chemical free:
Stay Organized: I find when everything in my home has a place, it is far easier to keep the house clean. Tidying becomes quick when every item in my home has a place, and quick surface cleaning becomes a breeze. I have become a fan (as many have) of all things Marie Kondo; I find many of her tips and tricks very practical and easy. What do you love? Keep it! What doesn’t make you happy? Get rid of it! What you keep? Have a place for it! Marie Kondo’s Netflix series “Tidying Up” is worth the watch; it’s like a not-as-gross “Hoarders.”
One of the things I love about her style of cleaning and organizing is how specific she is about having a place for everything. Little boxes and jars designated for everything! This way of tidying hasn’t just help me stay organized, but it has made it so much easier to clean the house quickly.
Keep it simple: One of the most helpful discoveries I made this month was the Thieves Household Cleaner from Young Living. Add a small capful to a spray bottle with water and use it on literally EVERYTHING! I used it to clean the kitchen counters, the shower, and even my washing machine on the clean cycle. Having one cleaner (and one that is chemical-free no less) has really helped me clean more often. I also really enjoy not worrying about what I’m breathing in while I clean.
Fresh Air: Such a simple, small thing to change, but keeping the air in the house fresh inspires me to keep the house itself fresh and clean. Our beautiful weather lately has been a great excuse to open the windows, and breakout the diffuser to freshen our home up. I have been slowly ridding our house of harmful, harshly scented candles as well, and instead using my diffuser from Saje.
Norwex: I don’t sell Norwex, or Young Living, but both companies have products I really enjoy. I’ve slowly started acquiring some Norwex cloths and I find they work stupendously to clean the house, completely free of ANY cleaning products. I want to expand my collection, especially with a baby on the way.
Less stuff = More time: I am a ruthless purger of things! But I wasn’t always; I used to have SO many sentimental items that I could never dream of letting go. I changed after I spent some time in Uganda. It wasn’t necessarily my time in a third-world-country that made me turn from my selfish first-world ways and purge my excess belongings. Truth be told, it was the fact that my time back and forth in Uganda (and the fact that I was never sure where I was going to land) caused me to evaluate my stuff more carefully. I found myself asking, “is this thing worth packing, shipping, and unpacking, potentially several times?” Most of my things inspired a resounding NO! I still apply this concept to my life now that my husband and I are settled in Canada, and I must say that having less stuff does not solely benefit ones ability to travel. Having less stuff in our house truly causes us to have more time. It’s good to be clean and organized of course but nearly impossible when there’s stuff consuming every corner of your house. Less stuff means we have more time to things other than clean.
Gentle Cleaning has also caused me to ask some questions (that I fear are dumb, but I’m going to ask them anyway):
Where do you bring old chemicals that you want to get rid of?
Do you have any solutions for an inexpensive, chemical-free, freshly “scented” (or at least leaves your clothes fresh feeling) laundry detergent? I want to try Saje’s dryer balls and get rid of those toxic dryer sheets… but all the other laundry detergent that’s “natural” seems crazy expensive. Any great suggestions?
What about car-washing? Anything environmentally friendly for washing the car?
Coming into the new season of parenthood, how do you stay clean and organized with a baby? And don’t say it’s impossible! How do you control toy accumulation? Organize laundry? Clean your floors easily?
Now, here’s the temptation I often have once everything in my home is clean and organized: I want to shop! There’s space for things, empty hangers, and time to kill… why not indulge in a little shopping? And to take it further, THERE’S A BABY COMING! I NEED ALL THE THINGS! I don’t, but you know, first baby! Who knows what I need? So I should just get it all right?!
Which leads me to my April project: Gentle Shopping.
My Rules for April:
No impulse shopping or mall-wandering
Learn about “Fast Fashion”
My mantra for the month, “I have everything I need.”
Learn some DIY’s for things I’d usually buy
There is no baby here yet, I don’t need to buy baby things this month. Say it again ASHLEY! You don’t need to buy any baby things this month!
I know, I know, I need to conclude my February Vegan month still! If you follow me on social media, you will have seen my husband and I recently announced we are expecting a little Halfrican™ bundle in August. I wanted to wait on talking about being Vegan because I REALLY wanted to address what it’s been like being Vegan for the month AND being pregnant (spoiler alert: it’s been a real treat). It made it hard to talk about vegan pregnancy before actually announcing that I’m pregnant. So look forward to that coming soon.
Meanwhile, it’s March which means new month, new project!
This month I am going to venture into Gentle Cleaning. I am going to overhaul our house and see what I can do to get as many cleaning chemicals out as possible. I am also going to clean like I’ve never cleaned before… which I am beyond excited about. I can highly identify with Monica on “Friends”… except the episode where she has a secret closet where she keeps all her mess, I can not handle that business. And before you say “Oh, you must be nesting,” I am not. My love for cleaning and organizing is just me on a normal day. Same thing with my love for naps and snacking… completely unrelated to pregnancy, it’s just how I roll.
All throughout my high school days, I worked at a wonderful fish market to which I credit for teaching me how to clean. There I learned how to sweep effectively, how to clean sharpie off of a counter top, how to wash dishes by hand and, most importantly, bleach everything! I became accustomed to associating the sensation of something being “clean” with the smell of bleach, and have carried this into adulthood. However, my house is not a fish market, and does not require the same amount of disinfecting. So this month, I shall teach myself new ways!
Here are my Gentle Cleaning goals for the month:
Replace household cleaning chemicals with natural solutions
Experiment with different DIY cleaners
Clean, Organize, Purge!
Continue to reduce household waste
Continue to explore new Vegan recipes
As I have for the past two months, I’d love any tips and resources from those who are wiser than I. Let me have it; what do I need to know about chemical free cleaning?
I went to A&W for a Beyond Meat burger and was very conscientious about stating boldly “NO CHEESE” at the drive-thru window. Then, about half way through eating the burger, I realized it was riddled with mayo. Oops.
Last week, in a famished blur, I saw one of my students with a giant bag of Flaming Hot Cheetos. Before I could even think about Vegan anything I found myself making intense eye contact with said student and muttering, “What’s good?” as I reached out my cupped hands for Cheetos.
In the same way I discovered mindfulness during my January of “Gentle Waste,” I’ve been realizing how much more mindful I need to be to find success living a Vegan lifestyle. No hazy brained adventures to the drive-thru in the morning, every restaurant visit requires very diligent reading of menus beforehand, and cooking at home requires a great deal more creativity and thought.
But with that said, when I put thought into my meals, I don’t feel that I am making huge sacrifices with my eating. One of the first things people said to me when they found out I was going to eat Vegan for the month was, “Sooo, you’re going to eat lettuce?” At that time I would ignorantly respond, “Yeah, I guess so,” however now I know that’s not always the case. Vegans are a creative lot and whether it be “burgers” or “cream” sauces, or “cheese,” I have been able to find delicious replacements for most things. I would choke a salmon with my bare hands for some sushi right now though. I do not have the patience or the time to be rolling my own sushi rolls. That’s another kind of extra that I’m just not.
Stay tuned to my Instagram account as later this month I will have special Instagram live interviews with some talented Vegans.
For those interested, here are some great recipes and references I have discovered so far.
I found this TED Talk from Erin Ireland fascinating. Vegan or dedicated carnivore will find this a useful watch.
Plant Based News has been an interesting resource:
Ecological Footprint: 1.9 earths (down from 2.3 in January), 19.3 hectares (down from 20.3 in January)
I eat animals.
I LOVE sushi, a good charcuterie board, and a breakfast platter adorned in animal products.
I have also proclaimed several times in my life that if I were to ever discover I was lactose intolerant, there would be no need for me to go on. If I can’t partake in a hearty cheese board, what is life really about anyway?
Here’s the kicker: I really love animals. I can not even watch a movie where trouble or harm befalls an animal. I can watch a movie where the entire human cast dies, and not miss a beat, but a dog gets injured and I’m a mess for days. Case in point: the new Dumbo movie is coming out… I sobbed… at the TRAILER! One glance at Dumbo dressed like a clown and being mocked by the circus crowd… Ugh, I can’t even talk about it anymore.
I have been finding myself presented with this idea a lot lately: how in the world can I say I am an animal lover and also consume them? To take it a step further, I would never eat a dog EVER, why do I think a pig is any different? Or a cow? Or even a chicken or a fish (gasp)?
Much of the way I eat is reflective of how I grew up. Meat, cheese, butter, and milk were staples; I’m Italian for crying out loud, isn’t that a birth right? My husband makes the same retort; he is Ugandan, therefore it is his right to eat chicken and pork. But just because this is the way our parent’s eat, and our communities eat, does that mean it’s right?
The New Canadian Food Guide
Canada recently rolled out the new Canadian food guide and there are significant changes from what I remember as a child. The biggest changes being the removal of emphasis on meat and dairy, and the focus on eating a plant based diet.
Apart from the animal cruelty involved in the meat and dairy industry (which is indeed a big deal), there is also the matter of the damage these industries have on our environment. Here are just a few statistics from http://www.onegreenplanet.org:
Raising animals for food (including land used for grazing and land used to grow feed crops) now uses a staggering 30% of the Earth’s land mass. (Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options, a 2006 report published by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization)
The massive amounts of excrement produced by livestock farms emit toxic gases such as hydrogen sulfide and ammonia into the air. Roughly 80% of ammonia emissions in the U.S. come from animal waste (The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency).
Animal agriculture is responsible for 18% of the total release of greenhouse gases world-wide (this is more than all the cars, trucks, planes, and ships in the world combined) (Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options, a 2006 report published by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization)
For the past few months I had been trying to transition my diet to “plant-based.” I was doing pretty well until December… and then I fell off the wagon… hard. Like, sausage and egg McMuffin hard. Now for the month of February I am going the cold-turkey route (so to speak that is) and am going to live that sweet Vegan life. My hope is that it sticks for good.
My rules for February are few but mighty!
Eat zero animal products (I am not including yeast, or “bee” products)
Learn from a real life Vegan
Watch: Food Inc., What the Health… Any other suggestions?
I used to think that my menial effort to recycle, and the fact I would never throw garbage out of my car window made me a real tree hugger. I have discovered over this month of January I have a lot of work to do to live more kindly towards the environment. I am by no means an expert now, but here are a few quick changes I have made this month to reduce my ecological footprint.
Be Mindful: This month has been all about self-discovery. My biggest discovery is I am the most wasteful when I am mindlessly going about a task or when I am rushing to complete a task. When I am frantically picking up groceries, or rushing to clean my kitchen, or simply zoning out in the shower I wasted resources, and curiously enough often wasted more time. My best piece of advice for becoming less wasteful is be mindful in your day to day, mundane tasks.
Shampoo Bars changed my life: Fun fact, I HATE washing my hair. I don’t know why it feels like such a chore but it does. However, I recently discovered something that flipped the script for me (do the kids still say that?). SHAMPOO BARS! I started buying shampoo bars from Lush Cosmetics. I love it for several reasons: they leave my hair shiny and smooth, shorter shower time because I only need to use shampoo no conditioner (which I use to think was sacrilegious but now I’m all about it), it’s vegan, it’s completely waste free, it lasts forever, and it smells like heaven! The secret is to also buy the little metal containers that Lush sells and it helps it last for a long time. Here’s the link to the one I use. https://www.lush.ca/en/hair/shampoo-bars/karma-komba/02008.html
Showers: On that note, being more mindful about showers has also been a game changer for me, but I have REALLY had to adjust my mindset about it. I forced myself to remember back to when I lived in Uganda. I remembered that I would NEVER dream of having a 10 minute long cold shower. My showers were 3-4 minutes MAX! With that in mind I had the idea that maybe I should change the temperature of my Canadian showers (not freezing but a little cooler than usual) in an attempt to speed myself up… and it worked. I admit I still have a smokin’ hot shower once a week, but my average shower has become a lot less wasteful. If you’re not convinced, here’s a great article about the benefits of shorter, cooler showers. https://www.bustle.com/articles/152226-how-long-should-you-shower-it-takes-less-time-than-you-think-to-get-clean
Compost those organics: After visiting the Surrey Biofuel Plant, I feel so much more empowered to compost my organics. To know that my city has a resource like the Surrey Biofuel Plant and to not utilize it, seems like a waste in itself. But even if you don’t live in the township of Surrey, composting those organics does wonders for the environment. A little trick I learned from a friend of mine is to keep a paper bag in the freezer and put organics in there; reduces the smell in the house, and it’s easy to transfer into the big green bin!
The Paper Towel Revolt: A simple change I made to cut down some of our waste was to use cloth rags instead of paper towels. When I was sick this month, I even took it one step further and used a handkerchief instead of Kleenex. I thought the whole idea was disgusting honestly, but my husband pointed out to me how much toilet paper I wasted blowing my nose (and he even got me a nice new hanky) so I had no excuse.
Learn how to Recycle: This goes along with becoming more mindful. Knowing how and where to recycle makes a big difference for the environment and my household. Here’s a great site for BC residents to help navigate recycling more efficiently: https://www.recyclebc.ca/what-can-i-recycle/
Ladies Only: A game changer for my time of the month has been Thinx Underwear (or as I affectionately refer to them as: period panties). I use them at the very beginning and the very end of my period when it’s the lightest, and then swap over to tampons when it’s heavier. They are super comfy, and I’m amazed at how clean I feel. They have helped cut down my tampon/liner usage significantly. Next step is to build up my confidence and try the Diva cup; I’ve heard really good things (money saver, kind on the body, kind to the environment, etc.).
Cut down the Take-Away: My husband and I are pretty good at making home cooked meals, but now that our schedules are reversed I am definitely guilty of leaning towards eating out instead of cooking something just for myself. “It’s only me! Why would I make a big meal! That’s wasteful. This is waste-free January. Sushi here I come!” The obvious problem with this is (other than the waste of money) most “eating out” requires a great deal of packaging. Meal plan, and skip the take-away.
So far my month of Gentle Waste has been enlightening, but I definitely have work to do to get my household less wasteful!
My biggest challenge has been cutting down my showers. I timed myself at the beginning of the month and my average shower was about 10 minutes (shorter if it’s a quick “back from the gym” shower, and longer if I wash my hair or shave my legs). I love using my showers to warm me up in the morning, but I have had to consistently remind myself that that is not actually what showers are for. I have, however, found a few practical solutions to help make my showers shorter (and better to be quite honest). I will share some of those solutions in my final post for the month of January.
Cutting down on my plastic use this month has gone quite smoothly when it comes to my grocery shopping. Where it’s been more challenging? Snacks! I’ve realized how much I use plastic sandwich bags for my snacking items. I know I can use my Tupperware containers but, I confess, I don’t want big bulky Tupperware containers all over the place (which they would be in my car, in my purse, lost at work etc.).
Has anyone every used those silicone snack bags? I found some on Amazon, they seem pricey… but potentially worth it? These are the ones I have been scoping out:
If you’ve used these ones or something similar, I’d love to hear your thoughts. They look like they could be a potentially helpful solution.
I also had the chance to visit Surrey’s Biofuel Plant where I learned more about how composting my organics positively affects the environment. Surrey’s Biofuel Plant is the first closed-loop waste management system in North America. When I drove up to the facility I was surprised by the fact that I couldn’t smell the organics (I was expecting to be gagging my way through the place). The Biofuel facility processes the city’s organic waste into 100% renewable natural gas which is then used by natural gas powered service vehicles. The most fascinating part of the tour for me was when I ventured into the organics “viewing area” (at least that’s what I’m calling it). I was shocked to see how much garbage made its’ way into the organics piles; the most shocking malfeasance was the white plastic lawn chair protruding from the mountain of banana peels and coffee grounds. The facility not only processes organic waste, but also has an education centre where school groups visit and learn more about renewable natural gas and compost. There was something about watching a bunch of 14 year-olds re-learning how and what to recycle that really warmed my heart.
The past 15 days have helped me realize how many things I do mindlessly through out my day. There have been a couple times I have been out, bought a coffee, and then once the dang thing is in my hands I curse the sky remembering my “no coffee without a reusable mug” rule.
My biggest revelation from this month so far has definitely been: being less wasteful has a lot to do with being more mindful.