40 Ways in 40 Days

Now that the Thanksgiving holiday is over, I suspect many of us are feeling as stuffed as our turkeys were yesterday, with leftovers filling the refrigerator. It’s interesting to see how the first three-day Thanksgiving celebration of praying, fasting and feasting, (yep, we always forget about that fasting part, don’t we?) held in late fall of 1621, and celebrated between the grateful Pilgrims and their new Native American friends, has morphed into a three-day eating and shopping extravaganza. When I think about how difficult life was for all of those settlers, compared to how good we have it today, I feel almost ashamed of my own excesses. But that’s just my good ol’ Southern Baptist guilt and indoctrination upbringing edging in to bother me. I suddenly realized today that the only reason for feeling guilt over my own enoughness would be if I wasted it, so I have vowed to make sure that during the upcoming holiday season I make an extra effort towards mindful consumerism and reducing waste.  Now I’m a natural born soap saver and bag washer, but sometimes I find myself becoming complacent (again!) and that’s where I’ve been more than I like to admit lately. I think recently  reading about the strife and the bombings  between Israelis  and Palestinians, and then revisiting the whole Thanksgiving story yesterday has combined to make me keenly aware of just how privileged I am. I wanted to turn this rekindled awareness into practical ideas and practices that I incorporate into my daily life and then share them with you in this post, especially as they relate to the very premise of this blog.

So today, as I’ve gone through a rather ordinary but quiet day, I’ve tried to pay close attention to some of  the little things I do to reduce waste. I’m a firm believer in how the ‘little things’ add up. I might not be able to install solar panels on my roof, but I can find ways to reduce my energy needs, so that when the day comes that I can afford those panels, I’ll be able to ‘live within my solar means’, so to speak.  Keep in mind that waste can occur in a lot of  different areas: food, water, energy, money, time, whatever. Thinking about food wastes in particular, led me to consider extravagance in general, which led to thoughts about how this is ‘Black Friday’, and how, exactly one day after we Americans give thanks for all our blessings, we start shopping for some more! At noon today, I drug the leftovers out of the refrigerator and realized how unethical it was for me to even consider feeding them to the dog, when so many humans are hungry. In anticipation of tonight’s predicted freezing, I liberally watered my garden before setting up a protective hoop house, and found myself thinking about how many US farm crops failed this year due to droughts, AND  how much oil was used to produce the very plastic that I covered the hoops with. This afternoon I brought in the cushaw squashes from the front porch to protect them from the coming cold weather, and thought about the struggle my daughter (and many, many others) will have with being able to afford to keep warm this winter in poorly insulated, run-down homes and apartments. The whole day reconfirmed my privileged status, and inspired me to share a few of the things I plan to do over the next 40 days to not only celebrate the season, but to do it sustainably and ethically. Why 40 days?  Simply because that’s the number of days left in this year and I feel like I can find 40 ways in 40 days.

Let’s begin with food: Even after sending home my dinner guests home with ‘care packages” yesterday, I still had plenty left. And we ate them today, but slightly in disguise. Turkey carcasses can be boiled down to make rich soup broth. Pick the bits of meat off the bones, add some noodles, chopped onion and celery, and you can feed the whole crowd again. So I made a big pot to share with my daughter and her boyfriend. I saved the really thick, rich drippings from the roasting pan to: make gravy, pour over the dog’s dry kibble, and to make into stock for adding to recipes. The baked sweet potatoes will be made into a pie, while the remaining mashed potatoes and green beans went into a Shepard’s Pie tonight for supper. (I thought such a dish was a great kick off to this particular season, don’t you?)  😉  I vow to look through my refrigerator and garden each morning for the next forty days left and plan my meals around what I find there. Research shows that eliminating food waste is the easiest and most effective ways to improve your own family’s food costs, by the way. I also vow to eat less.

Seasonal Decorations: We’ll be putting up the same Charlie Brown Christmas Tree that we’ve enjoyed since we got married, and just like the family in “A Christmas Story’, we’ll be holding our breath that the lights we already own will glow again. If not, they’ll be replaced with more energy-efficient LED lighting. Call me crazy, but I like the things I’ve collected over the years and see no reason to buy more. That said, I do enjoy crafting natural wreaths or mantelpieces from things I collect in nature, and they cost nothing but time, perked up with some repurposed ribbon or dried herbs. I also love burning candles during the long, dark nights of winter so I vow to shop for soy based candles this year, which aren’t made of, you guessed it, petroleum.

Gift Giving: Michael and I sometimes buy one thing for ourselves at Christmas. Last year it was a Vitamix Blender and the year before, a Kitchen Aid mixer. But this year, there’s just nothing  we need and since neither of us feels that a gift is necessary to help us feel festive, I may just vow to buy some really good Fair Trade dark chocolate for him to give to me. The rest of my family has slowly but surely reprogrammed their  idea of what constitutes a ‘good’ Christmas and they’ve  found that it ain’t Just about the gifts. The whole season has become more doable, manageable, affordable and FUN with this mindset. We put the emphasis on seasonal music, special rituals and foods, family games, visits, video nights and time together, with occasional small, thoughtful gifts that are often repurposed, regifted, recycled or consumable. One daughter gives me a case of tangelos, bought to support her local school, each year. Tangelos now SMELL like Christmas to me, and I look forward to them all.year.long. My most economically challenged daughter often receives a box with everyday items like toothpaste, shampoos, soaps and light bulbs in it. It helps her meet her daily needs and offers her some financial relief. And I always include some kind of little luxury in the box, to add to her fun. The point is, none of us are rushing out to attend the Black Friday sales, and yet, we don’t feel we’re missing anything. And when it’s over, there’s no gift returns, credit card bills due in January or huge trash bags filled with trashed gift wrap either. This simplified approach may not work in all families, and it sure hasn’t been an overnight success with mine, but a slower, smaller, quieter Christmas agrees with all of us.

Gifts Wrap and Cards: For the 13th year in a row, I vow to not buy any wrapping paper or bows, nor any Christmas cards. Not because I’m a scrooge, but because I’ve found alternatives to both that satisfy my desire to give a prettily wrapped gift and to reach out with my pen to out of town friends and loved ones. I save every suitable metal tin, gift bag, yarn, ribbon and pretty paper I can to present the requisite homemade Buckeye candies that mean Christmas to my clan. I also send out the many unsolicited  new cards I receive in the mail after my name is sold to yet another non profit’s mailing list, and pass on those I can’t use. I save the fronts of any cards I receive throughout the year and bulk send them to kids at St Jude’s Ranch to be made into new greeting cards that they sell for a small profit.

Water: I vow to shower every other day and flush less. I also vow to wear an apron when cooking and wear my clothes more than once before washing. I’ll wash FULL loads of clothes and dishes. Using a dish pan allows me to reuse dish water to scrub the shower, rinse the toilet, or scrub the floor. I also drain any liquids from canned veggies over the dog’s dry kibble- she loves it  and I like to think it adds some nutrition to her diet. When I make that turkey stock this weekend, I’ll be sure to reuse the water that I sterilize the jars with to wash dishes in. Then, once the canning is completed, I’ll cool the canning water and use it to water houseplants or fill the dog’s bowl. Canning and processing foods takes a lot of water and energy, so eliminating food wastes saves both, by the way. 

Speaking of energy: We’re only in the first heating season here in our new home, but have been pleasantly surprised to find our 112 year old house is fairly tight and comfortable and can be heated primarily with a little natural gas stove that sits in the fireplace. Still, I vow THIS WEEKEND to install those foam insulators behind all the light switches and electrical sockets. And I vow NEXT WEEK to make a couple of those old-fashioned draft dodgers to put underneath the front and back doors. I’ve got a bucket of sand in the garden shed that I hauled here from our old house for just this purpose along with lots of fabric scraps suitable for making the tubes. Now that I’ve publicly made this vow, I’ll be sure to get it done!

More energy savers I’ve used with much success: I’ve always used the heat from the kitchen oven to cook multiple dishes, and have found that if recipes call for temperatures that are no more than 25 degrees difference, they can be easily cooked together at the lower temp. If you use a clothes dryer, clamp a knee-high hose over the end of the dryer hose and vent that hot, moist air  into your house during the winter. Open your dishwasher to air dry after it completes the wash cycle, have your family shower back to back so the warmth from the bathroom is retained, run your ceiling fans on low in a CLOCKWISE position to push warm air from the ceiling down, and hang insulated curtains or even quilts at your windows to conserve energy. Caulking and weatherstripping are still two of the cheapest energy savers there are though!

I challenge you to use my ideas or come up with your own 40 Ways in 40 Days to simplify your  holidays, while saving resources of every kind forever. Little things do make a difference, I promise.


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