It's that time of year again - I've pulled out my books on organic gardening and vegetables, and I'm starting to daydream about seedlings. In years past, I've started my ever-leggy seedlings on a sunny porch but now I'm hankering for some naked 40-watt bulbs in my laundry room. I've been making space, after all. I've polled the five year old (she really wants to grow watermelons and pumpkins in our half-of-a-community garden plot -- why not?) and lovingly perused the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange online catalogue.
This year, I've decided to grow things I'd like to grab daily (like herbs and lettuce) and those that might benefit from containers (potatoes and upside-down cherry tomatoes) on my south-facing back stoop. And I've decided (GASP) not to grow tomatoes or bell peppers in the community garden atall because they didn't ever really ripen last year. I'm sure fried green tomatoes are fabulous (I just threw mine into tomato sauce) and undersized bell peppers are, um, okay, but I think I'm going to go with what thrives this year. My dozen-plus basil plants? Are still supporting my pesto habit as we head into February.
I think this attitude aptly captures my feelings about greening my life at the moment, as well. I've long thought that starting with the low-hanging fruit of enviro action is smart because it builds momentum and, as any teacher knows, feeling successful leads to setting ambitious goals down the road. It turns out there's a lot of low-hanging fruit out there -- so many individual actions turn out to be really quite easy. And it's so interesting to see what thrives.
Recently on DC Urban Moms and Dads (my local parenting listserv), there was a query from a mom asking for easy alternatives to paper towels. Immediately, a chorus of voices chimed in about how easy it is to use rags -- that it doesn't create any extra laundry, or require any purchases (just cut up some old t-shirts). Then WormLady chimed in, noting that her 4-year old had pushed her toward making cloth wipes for their bathroom (isn't that a waste of paper, mom?). I'm not there yet, but I now realize that what seems easy and attainable is always shifting. You make a few changes, absorb them into your routines so they become automatic, and then you're ready for something new. Right now, I'm really into worm composting (which happened with the help of WormLady to begin with), thinking about cooking seasonally, reading up a storm (from cookbooks to environmental nonfiction -- I'll put some book reviews up soon, I promise), and planning my garden.
I've also been pondering the balance that I need to live a simple yet full life in the modern world. No, I'm not saying I desperately need a McDonald's fix. But while my kids had coughs all last week, one saddled with pneumonia, I got them some Amy's frozen mac and cheese because we were all at our limit from lack of sleep and I couldn't bring myself to cook. I can't remember the last time I bought some of that gooey yellow kid carbo-delight. It came packaged in a gratuitous plastic overwrap (just like my cheese, crackers, and pasta -- it's not like I live a plastic-free life). But somehow the convenience food angle, the fact that it doesn't have organic cheese? Just irked me.
We all have our thresholds. I don't make my own pasta like I'm sure some of you do (and my great-grandmother did). But I *do* usually make my mac n cheese. For this very reason, though, it gave us sweet relief to just grab some from the freezer. And, whoa baby, we needed some relief. So whatever it is that you're about to wear an enviro hairshirt for even contemplating? I'd love to provide you with some virtual absolution. It's all about the long haul. And it's all about balancing belief and relief so we can achieve what Gunilla Norris calls a "joyous limit."
Speaking of Norris, I love her dual exhortation to cut myself some slack and to consider that I've probably simultaneously set the bar too low, made my "intention too small." It's a beautifully complicated message:
"In deciding to grow anything, don't I need to describe the space it needs? Don't I need to limit the scope of what I am attempting?
How often I have taken on too much or found I have failed in trust and made my intention too small. How big is the border, the vegetable bed, the raspberry patch, our work in the world, our capacity to maintain and sustain what we start? Will we let ourselves make proper limits -- to do just what we can do -- and no more?
What we put on our plates can bloat us or starve us. That is true of food and activity. Today, what is a just limit, a joyous limit, a comfortable limit? Can we be helped to know what is enough and to live it?"
-- A Mystic Garden (Working with Soil, Attending to Soul) by Gunilla Norris