How our thrifty, green lifestyle makes it easier to cut ourselves some slack

Longtime readers may have noticed that I haven’t written much lately and didn’t write an article about what I learned during Lent like I have most years.  Well, that’s because this year, I was pregnant for Lent.  No, of course that wasn’t the Lenten discipline I planned!  It was a surprise (not a mistake–we all were happy about it) and I fully intended to continue with it through November, but on Maundy Thursday my ultrasound showed that the embryo might be dead, and 12 days later it was confirmed a few hours before a Tuesday church potluck.  In future I am going to try to schedule all possibly-worrisome medical procedures for days when I can go to church in the evening, because that “peace of God that passes all understanding” that we’re always talking about was really there for me, and my pastors and church friends (as well as my family and other friends) have been so loving and caring!  I’m really pretty much okay now, so let’s get on to the real topic of this article:

For 4 weeks, I was not functioning normally.  It wasn’t quite as bad this time as when I was pregnant with Nicholas eight years ago (I think that had less to do with the embryo’s viability than with my avoiding several mistakes I made in managing the nausea the first time) but it was an almost constant drag–I felt good for maybe half an hour at a stretch once or twice a day, and the rest of the time I was queasy, bone-tired, hyper-sensitive to odors, and dizzy.  (Ironically, when I wrote this article that begins, “Are you pregnant and dizzy?  I’m not, but…” I actually was pregnant but didn’t know it yet!)  There were some things I just couldn’t do and many more things I didn’t want to do!  I work full-time outside the home, and I’ve never been very good at fitting in the rest of my life around that, but at this time we had deadlines looming on several important projects, so I had to drag myself to work as consistently as possible; I delegated a lot of work, but as data manager I still had to check that everything was getting done correctly.  My job had to be one of my top priorities, and eating and sleeping had to be the others!

Also, the whole thing overlapped with our other unexpected Lenten discipline, the one that’s not over yet: On the second day of Lent, we awoke to find the potted plant in our dining room uprooted and its leaves and roots chomped by some sort of animal!  Thus began weeks of trying to figure out what species, how it was getting in, whether there was more than one, and how we could get the whole thing under control.  We learned that a tribe of large, strong mice can get into our basement through those holes in the outer walls that we always meant to get around to fixing.  We eventually got them to stop digging up the plants, but then they invaded our stored food in the pantry!  My wonderful life-partner Daniel has diverted huge amounts of his time, strength, and rodent-tolerating capacity to clearing out the entire basement, cleaning up all the mouse droppings and chewed stuff, and temporarily plugging the holes (easier said than done, since these mice can chew through spray insulation and move a brick!) until the weather is warm enough that he can stuff them with concrete and it’ll dry properly.  It’s fabulous that he’s doing nearly all the work on this project . . . but it meant that he didn’t have the time or energy to leap in and do my normal tasks while I was sick.

So.  Something had to give.  Luckily, we can cut some slack in our lives by cutting back on the money-saving, environmentally-friendly things that a lot of Americans don’t do!  We’re used to doing those things and don’t think of them as being so difficult, but then we wonder how it is that some people have time to watch so much TV. . . .  If your normal life is one of maximum convenience and relaxation, what can you do when you get into a crisis?  I have to wonder, because the main way we’ve been getting through this crisis is to waste some money and resources–just a little bit, temporarily!–to make our lives easier.  I’m appreciating our normal lifestyle even more now that I see just how much slack it makes available when we actually need it!  Here are some of the things we did differently for a little while, some of which we’re continuing to do while I recover and Daniel completes the mouse-banishing effort:

Using the electric clothes dryer.  Normally I line-dry all of Nick’s and my clothes; Daniel, who is responsible for laundering his own clothes and the bedding, towels, and cleaning rags, uses the dryer for about half his loads.  We save a lot of electricity by minimizing dryer use!  But hanging clothes on a line above my head is very tiring when my body seems to be diverting all nutrients and blood pressure to the uterus.  Also, we got the mice to stop throwing dirt around our upstairs rooms by putting three plants in the laundry end of the basement (which has large enough windows to keep plants alive–but the mice ultimately killed all three by chewing them), so they were throwing dirt around there every night, and it’s not been so easy to clean the basement floor as usual because the floor drain is blocked by stuff Daniel has moved away from the walls.  And then there was that huge contraption Daniel had to build in the middle of the floor to lure the mice into the trap. . . .  Anyway, there was barely room to walk to the laundry machines, and the floor was covered with dirt that got on any items I dropped, so it was just easier to use the dryer.  Also, I kept meaning to do laundry for several days in a row and finally getting to it when Nicholas had no more clean pants, so it was convenient to get them clean and dry all in one evening!  (I must say, though, that my feelings about laundry-folding being more of a hassle when I use the dryer still hold.)

Eating more convenience foods.  If I had known I was going to get pregnant, I would have prepared delicious healthy things and frozen them for us in advance.  As it was, I went to Trader Joe’s and bought as many all-natural vegetarian frozen meals as our small freezer would hold.  At $3-$4 each, they cost more than cooking from scratch . . . but less than a restaurant meal.  Each one puts a top-sheet of plastic into the landfill, a cardboard box into the recycling, and a plastic tray into the recycling (if we already have all the snack plates we can use); each one has used a lot of energy traveling across the country in a freezer-truck.  But when Mama has to eat six or seven meals a day, having some of these on hand is really helpful!  I also stocked up on frozen pizzas when Costco had a sale, because even at his most grouchy and picky Nicholas will always eat pizza, and his tired parents were low on energy for arguing with him.

Eating more meals in restaurants.  Compared to a lot of families with two employed parents and a grade-school kid, we do pretty well at minimizing restaurant, take-out, and convenience foods.  In a typical week we average about one restaurant meal as a family, one or two restaurant lunches for me, and one or two for Daniel (who works at home but likes to get out of there once in a while)–and we almost never get take-out because it comes with more trash than dining in the restaurant.  I think, unless I’m forgetting something, that we did avoid take-out throughout my 4 weeks of nausea.  But I went out to lunch 3 or 4 times a week because I had such a hard time handling food that I wasn’t eating; packing a lunch was difficult.  Daniel’s been going out to lunch more to escape the feeling that filthy rodents may start running all over him at any moment.  Normally he cooks our weeknight dinners from the menu I plan, and I cook on weekends; while I was feeling sick, menu planning was difficult, and I was having trouble cooking anything I could smell or standing up long enough to chop ingredients, so we went out to eat as a family more like 2 or 3 times a week.  We could afford all this because of all the money we save with our normal thrifty habits!  Oh, and we did bring our containers for leftovers; in fact, I started bringing a container to lunch, too, because although I was eating more overall I was able to eat less at one time.

Lowering some standards.  We normally eat very little meat.  However, I suspect that one of the reasons I was so sick and weak when pregnant with Nicholas was that I wasn’t getting enough protein or iron because I insisted on sticking to a vegetarian diet and, at that earlier stage, wasn’t so experienced at packing in the nutrients.  This time I made more effort to eat plenty of beans, yogurt, nuts, and eggs . . . but also, I decided to trust my body and honor any craving I felt, so when I craved turkey (twice) or steak (once) I got those meats at restaurants I trust.  When I got the steak sandwich, Nicholas was with me, and I let him get a steak sandwich, too.  We still ate a lot less meat that month than most Americans and still had a lower environmental impact!  And boy, did that steak sandwich make me feel stronger!

Letting some food go bad.  Daniel and I are such sticklers that normally we throw out maybe half a cup a week of stuff that was once edible food.  But when I was pregnant, not only were my standards of freshness higher (and forcing myself to eat something a little bit spoiled might be dangerous) but sometimes I just couldn’t stand to eat any of the already-open foods in the refrigerator, in favor of opening up something new.  Oh well.

Missing some good grocery deals.  I couldn’t stay awake to peruse the sale flyers and clip coupons.  I didn’t have the energy for a lot of shopping.  Daniel did some grocery runs, always to the nearest store and always buying only what was on the list instead of grabbing some extra good deals like I do.  We didn’t stock up on fresh food that would be a good deal only if we used or froze all of it within a week–because we knew we wouldn’t get it done.

Using the car a little more.  Lots of useful places are within one mile of our house, and normally we walk a lot.  While pregnant, I continued walking Nicholas to school and walking from there to the bus to get to work, but I allowed myself to drive on some other errands within walking distance because I was so tired.

Using some disposable panty liners.  I had not bought a box of these in at least ten years.  I don’t consider them a convenient luxury item; I consider them an inferior substitute for the real thing!  But because I did not miscarry naturally, I had to have a D&C, and for several days afterward the bleeding was very light.  One of the odd things about cloth pads is that a heavy flow that didn’t dry completely is much easier to remove than a light flow which kind of bonds with the fibers.  I had just had surgery, for heaven’s sake, and didn’t feel like scrubbing things!  Nor did I feel up to traveling to a store that would have an earth-friendly disposable option.  So I went into the nearest drugstore and bought regular, chlorine-bleached, plastic-backed Kotex Lightdays like I used to buy 20 years ago, and I was happy to see that they still pack a lot of them into a small box with no individual wrappings or other gewgaws.  I used and trashed about a dozen of them.  It’ll probably take me until menopause to use up the rest of the box.

See how the thrifty, green lifestyle makes life easier when we need life to be easier?  By doing the right thing most of the time, we give ourselves lots of options for slacking off temporarily when we’re low on time and energy.  As I’m beginning to feel better, I’m returning to my usual standards–while writing this, I’m eating soup, left over from the batch I made from scratch last Sunday using mostly local and/or organic and/or on-sale ingredients, out of a reused salsa jar–and it feels good to be taking better care of myself, my budget, and the world’s resources again.

It worked for me!  Visit Your Green Resource for more environmental articles!

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About 'Becca
author of The Earthling's Handbook, about the environment, parenting, cooking, and more!

6 Responses to How our thrifty, green lifestyle makes it easier to cut ourselves some slack

  1. Jackie says:

    Sorry to hear of your miscarriage. I had the same experience of a missed miscarriage and needing a D&C. Glad you thought of some good ways to cut yourself some slack.

    • 'Becca says:

      One thing I have learned from this experience is just how common miscarriages are. We think we are so modern and high-tech, but the fact is that about 1 out of every 3 conceptions goes wrong and stops growing at a fairly early stage, and there’s really almost nothing doctors can do about it. Then if the mother keeps up her end of the pregnancy even though the embryo has quit (this, too, is very common, from what I’ve been hearing) the only option is this very clumsy reset of emptying out the uterus and leaving our hormones to reboot and recover on their own–kind of like “fixing” a computer by turning it off and back on!

      It’s sad that so many families go through miscarriage, but it’s been good to feel a lot of empathy from the many people I know who have experienced it themselves. Thanks for your sympathy, and I’m sorry you went through it too.

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