According to YES! magazine, "This is a chance to lay off the lights, televisions, computers, appliances, cell phones, flashing gadgets, and other stuff that seems to make the world go round. It’s a special time to hang out (or in) by yourself or with friends and family. It is a time to reflect on the well-being of yourself and the planet."
Sunrise - view from the front yard
What exactly is an "eco-sabbath." YES! magazine describes it as:
Ecology – The interrelationship between organisms and their environment
Sabbath – A time of rest
Eco-Sabbath – Together, you and the environment take a break
Flower after the rain
Time for Reflection
One of the activities that is suggested is to reflect upon the past No Impact Week. Consider what worked well, what was particularly difficult, and what could be permanently changed.
When I think about the past week, these are things that worked well:
- Reduced the amount of trash generated. The amount that was recycled was about the same.
Sophia with Bailey
- Reduced the amount of new items I purchased. The only things I purchased during the past week were six bales of hay (for the horses); dog and cat food; one tank of gasoline; and flowers and a card for my dad for his birthday (I was going to make a gift, but have been sick and didn't have the energy to make something. I ended up making a gift for him yesterday which I'll give to him on January 15th when I see him next).
- Used items on hand rather than purchasing new things or going out to eat. I made a miniature quilt and matching pillow using fabric that I have on hand (this is for my dad's stuffed animal - his "Corgi" - which he carries around and provides comfort to him [my dad has Alzheimer's disease]). For all 21 meals this past week, I was able to make them from items I had in the refrigerator, freezer, or cupboards.
Homemade Cinnamon Roll Cookies
- Made food from scratch. I made a lot of different foods this week, and tried some new recipes. There's no comparison to fresh, homemade bread or cookies right out of the oven. What's even better is that I can make the food dairy-free (since Sophia has a dairy-allergy), and there are no chemicals or preservatives in the food I'm making.
- Turned the thermostat lower. Several times during the week, I lowered the thermostat by 1-2 degrees during the day. We also made fires in the woodstove for a couple of the days so the furnace wouldn't turn on. This saved 6-8 hours of heating (propane), yet kept the key areas of the home warm.
Fire in the woodstove
to reduce the amount of propane used during the winter
- Reduced the amount of energy used by the oven. I made a point of filling the oven with items to bake so that I was making everything at once rather than at different times during the day. This worked well, especially when things could be baked at the same temperature. When things had different temperatures, I simply averaged them together and then adjusted the baking time.
- Washed the dishes when the dishwasher and/or sink was full. I normally do the former, but try not to do the latter. This week, I did both and found that it did, in fact, save water by doing a full sink of dishes that had soaked for awhile rather than doing a few here and there. Most the dishes and silverware can fit in the dishwasher. The items I was washing by hand were the baking dishes and cookie sheets.
- Finding inspiring ideas and websites for giving back to the community. I particularly liked the idea of 52 Weeks of Giving or 52 Weeks of Impact where you do something good each week of the year. It's the intention and focus of wanting to make a difference that I like.
These were the items that were difficult:
- I still have not found a good (and practical) way to compost. When I used to have chickens, I would throw out all food scraps to them. The food waste would be gone...and the hens and roosters would be happy. I would love to get chickens again, but with Montague he would end up chasing and trying to catch them which isn't fair to the chickens, and it's stressful for me.
Hand-embroidered chicken I made
(it's small - about 2 1/2" x 3 1/2")
I've tried a compost container under the sink - even ones with the carbon filters - and they still seem to attract fruit flies. Haven't tried worm composting yet...maybe that's worth a try. This is a good introduction to vermiculture for children which I could easily integrate into homeschooling. It would certainly make good, on-going, hands-on science/environmental lessons.
Sophia measuring a worm she found in the backyard
during the summer
- Eating local in the middle of the winter in Minnesota. This is easy to do during the spring through fall when crops are growing, but the ground is completely frozen in Minnesota during the winter. Unless I'm using food I've stored in some way (e.g., canned, frozen, dried), I don't know how to eat food that is locally grown in the winter.
- Not using paper towels. Ironically, I ran out of paper towels right before the No Impact Week Experiment began. I chose not to purchase new ones. There were a few times that I would have much preferred to use paper towels than a rag, but I did make it through the week.
- Finding alternative sources of transportation in a rural area. There isn't a good system set up in the country. Biking 5 miles round trip to the post office on a county road (where cars and trucks travel at 55 mph or more) where there's no bike lane with two children under the age of 10 is a bit stressful for me. Biking 26-30 miles round trip to go to Target or the grocery store...I just don't see that as a practical option. Combining errands so I'm reducing the amount of gasoline I use...that's much more practical.
- Accepting that I am not as active in giving back to the community as I once was. Although I try to make a difference by giving back, I have found that (due to family circumstances) my focus during the past year has been of being of service to my family and parents versus the greater community (local, statewide, and international).
What could be permanently changed
- Continue to look for ways to reduce purchasing. The past week made me more aware of the resources that I have right in the home. I should use these before even thinking of purchasing new things. With the amount of fabric, wool, and crafting supplies I have on hand, I could certainly be busy for at least a year, for example.
Wool felt balls I made -
natural eco-friendly toys for children
- Eating locally during the spring through fall. I look forward to growing food in the garden again this year, and would like to add a couple more gardens in sunny and accessible spots. Scheduling time to go to Farmer's Markets would also be enjoyable.
- Preserving more produce. When I'm going to Farmer's Markets, I'd like to purchase extra produce to preserve (can, freeze, or dry) so we can enjoy it during the winter. It would be nice to get a pressure cooker as well so I can can vegetables and/or soups.
- Making homemade soaps, bath salts, and laundry soap. I checked out several books from the library about making homemade versions of soaps for personal care and the laundry. There are so many great ideas and recipes for doing this. Olivia saw one of the books and was very intrigued. "We should do this!" she said. I think she'll be my helper in this area.
- Continue to try to lower the thermostat by a couple of degrees. This is particularly important not just from an energy/environmental standpoint. The propane tank was just filled this week - $847. Combined with $424 from the November bill...that's a big chunk of money.
Granted, the propane is not just for heating (it's for appliances - like the washer/dryer, stove, water heater), but that's still a considerable amount to spend. If this could stretch over two months (the coldest months in Minnesota), that would be ideal.
Although this amount is high, it is a substantial reduction from just a few years ago when the propane bill for the winter was more than double this amount. (Thanks to re-insulating the entire home and adding insulation in many areas a couple years ago due to storm damage, the propane bill has decreased.)
- Look for little ways to make an impact on the community each week. I find that when I write a schedule (or a plan) of things I want to accomplish that I do a lot more. I did this during the holiday season (from November 1-January 1) and enjoyed the variety of things I did to celebrate the season and make it memorable and meaningful, particularly for my daughters. Taking some time to plan the upcoming year in terms of volunteering and giving back would ensure that I could increase the impact I'm making.
The Experiment's Effect on Others
The No Impact Week Experiment encourages participants about how they can go even further. It suggests the following: "Think about how the week affected others and what adjustments, if any, are in order. This is a time to discover and appreciate the bare necessities."
The past week definitely affected my family, though they may not always have been aware of the changes. One of the biggest changes was with food. Even though the Experiment said that new food could be purchased during the week, I wanted to go a step further and use only what I had on hand this week.
There were several "successes" - such as an incredibly good fruit smoothie made from frozen strawberries and blueberries that were picked during the summer; and honey from our bees. Sophia and I combined the berries with some juices (apple and grape) as well as an orange. We mixed it in the Vita-Mix mixer, and it was very thick...almost like a milkshake in a way. "This is the best smoothie we've ever made! We should measure out the ingredients next time and make a cookbook so I can use it with my children!" Sophia said.
Black raspberries that grow wild here at the farm.
They seem to spread and multiply with each passing year!
I used up lots of pre-packaged food (which I'm not terribly proud of purchasing, but have ended up using at times during the past year when I've been rushed or simply too tired to prepare a made-from-scratch meal). This now gives us a fresh start to eating healthier...something that's easier to do when the "not so healthy" food isn't there.
Picking strawberries - an annual activity
I used produce that I canned during the summer - peaches and applesauce - to supplement the fresh fruit and vegetables I served with almost every meal.
Despite the "successes" there were also some challenges. For some meals, I decreased the amount of meat that was served while increasing the amount of other options (e.g., freshly-baked pumpkin bread or cornbread, steamed carrots or corn). "Is this all we're having for dinner?" I was asked a couple of times. Or...worse yet..."I'm still hungry." Those are things that are hard to hear...at least for me. (Note: the girls didn't go to bed hungry...after a little dessert - a homemade cookie or brownies - they were fine. No complaints then.)
No Impact Week Experiment suggested some steps for observing an eco-sabbath. These steps are noted below.
Reflect on Your Days Off
One of the questions the Experiment asked was, "How do you usually spend your day off? Consider how different — if at all — this day will be."
As a mother to two children under the age of 10 and owner of two dogs, five cats, and two horses, I don't think there's such a thing as a "day off." There's always something that needs to be done.
Saw this heron at the bird sanctuary in Texas.
A "day off" for me happens when I am able to physically go somewhere else and not be responsible for anyone or anything. I was able to go to San Padre Island back in May during the off-season. It was quiet, peaceful, and relaxing. I explored the beaches and the tidelines, went to museums, the bird sanctuary, and turtle sanctuary/rehabilitation center. I watched the wildlife there - birds and alligators, mostly. It was wonderful.
An overly friendly chipmunk who enjoyed being fed.
Saw it on the Gunflint Trail in September.
The girls named it "Mr. Chippy."
Today won't be like one of the days off that are relaxing and nourish my soul. I don't know when I'll be able to take a vacation again.
Perhaps the goal is just to use the quiet time here - in the early morning hours - more like a rest/sabbath period than a work time (which I do now). Even dedicating an hour each day when it is quiet and peaceful - and everyone (except me) is resting - to a "sabbath" mentality would be a good goal to have.
Planning for an Eco-Sabbath
The No Impact Week Experiment suggests planning for an eco-sabbath day by determining how to not use any appliances, electronics, motorized transport, or money.
Each day during the past week, the No Impact Week Experiment encouraged participants to keep a list of five things for which they were grateful. Today, look back at the grateful lists and count the number of times a consumable item (something that was purchased) was listed.
For some time now, I've done a "I am Grateful..." posting each Sunday. Although I understand the benefit of taking time to reflect each day about things one is grateful for, for me, it's a nice thing to do on a weekly basis.
Pileated woodpecker on the cherry tree in the front yard.
In doing today's list, I came up with 18 different things that stood out during the past week. On that list, only one was gratitude for a purchased item. Many of the items that I was grateful for this past week were experiences I've had with nature - watching birds, the little vole, or squirrels; or for people (family, friends, and health-care professionals I deal with).
Something that I learned from making this list - as with all the other gratitude lists I've done - is that it isn't things that make me happy. It's often times tiny experiences...some so insignificant if taken at face-value...that truly sustain me and bring me joy.
Montague with his nose covered in snow.
Gretel and Montague enjoying playing outdoors.
Generating Less Trash
At the beginning of the No Impact Week Experiment, one of the activities was to collect one day's worth of trash. Today, one of the activities was supposed to be taking out that bag as well as any other trash collected during the week and empty the contents. The purpose of doing this is to determine if more or less trash was created over the week.
I didn't kep the bag of trash (garbage pick-up was on Thursday), nor do I want to go through the trash in the can. However, I know that the amount of garbage generated is substantially less this week than in past weeks. The biggest area of reduction is in food packaging waste.
Thoughts on Rest and Sabbaths
All life requires a rhythm of rest...We have lost this essential rhythm.
Our culture invariably supposes that action and accomplishment are better than rest, that doing something - anything - is better than doing nothing.
Because of our desire to succeed, to meet these ever-growing expectations, we do not rest.
Because we do not rest, we lose our way.
We miss the compass points that would show us where to go, we bypass the nourishment that would give us succor.
We miss the quiet that would give us wisdom.
We miss the joy and love born of effortless delight.
Poisoned by this hypnotic belief that good things come only through unceasing determination and tireless effort, we can never truly rest.
And for want of rest, our lives are in danger.
This is an excerpt taken from page one of Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest by Wayne Muller. I have had this book for many years now, and I think it's time to revisit it. The book is filled with practical ideas about how to remember the sabbath and taking time for oneself. Some ideas that I like are:
- Lighting Sabbath candles.
- Having a Sabbath meal.
- Taking a Sabbath walk in nature.
- Creating an altar at home.
- Finding and nourishing companionship.
- Thinning - or letting go - of things.
- Cleansing - bathing with fragrance, candles, and music.
- Giving away things to others - especially beautiful, nourishing, and inspiring things.
Be content with what you have;
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.