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Barely recovered from the post-Thanksgiving Black Friday mania, I am being asked to step right into Christmas mode. There is no avoiding the ads, the Christmas aisle at the drugstore, the daily mentions of preparations in the paper, and the creeping frenzy that I feel in my surroundings.

Real vs. Fake, Which Tree is Greener?‘ Not only do I have to get a Christmas tree, but beforehand I am to do some research and read a whole page article. Nothing is ever simple anymore. Just reading about the pros and cons of each options was enough to give me a headache:

  1. The new fake tree. It looks so real, you won’t even notice the difference. Some even have a fake smell to imitate the real thing. The stuff will last you for years. Imagine, no more trip to the tree farm every year. No more loading the monster on the top of your car. No more mess of pine needles throughout your house. No more watering. Done, you are set. And why worry about how to dispose of it? By the time you are done with it, it will be years, and hopefully by then, we will have figured out how to dispose of plastics without taxing the Earth too much. Still, there is the environmental cost of producing yet another man made plastic object.
  2. The used fake tree. There are tons of those floating around. You are not generating new plastics. This is a very reasonable option. I can’t help but wonder about the life of those trees prior to being recirculated. Did they witness happy Christmases? Who were their prior owners? How come they got ditched?
  3. The real tree. If you are like me, and can’t stand the idea of a plastic tree, go ahead, indulge yourself and your family, and don’t change a thing to your tradition. Gather your whole crew into the biggest car you own, and set out to your usual spot. Go to a tree farm to cut down your own, or just visit the nearby lot with already cut trees. It’s so much fun trying to pick the perfect tree, not too crooked, not too tall, not too short. Will it fit? We never made it as far as the tree farm, always went to the same lot close to our house. If you are environmentally correct, this is something to think about. How much gas will you use to drive to the tree farm?
  4. The live tree. Forget all that cutting and buying a fake. Instead go to the nursery, and buy a potted tree that you can reuse every year. You can bring it inside for Christmas, otherwise keep it in your yard. Of course, this is not an option for people without a yard. Nothing wrong with that option, that I can think of.

Last year, Prad and I opted for a live tree, and we will be bringing it back into the house next week. The nursery did not have a suitable pine tree, so we ended up with a holly tree instead. I kind of liked the idea of branching out, of not getting the same boring old pine. The children were disappointed. Yesterday, Catherine asked about the Christmas tree. When were we going to get one? I reminded her about the holly tree. She stormed down to her room. ‘Getting a real pine tree, that’s what Christmas is about

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Last week’s Black Friday and Buy Nothing Day, inspired me to write, ‘Finding a Sustainable Middle in a Country of Extremes‘.

Yesterday was Black Friday. Despite all my good intentions, I ended up joining the crowds at the mall. I have gotten much better at taming my consuming urges, to the point where I do not even feel the desire any more. To refuse my daughter, however, that’s another story altogether. She was so sweet, and I wanted to please her. Off we went, and ended purchasing all three items on her ‘need or rather want’ list. If I still had any remaining doubts on the extent of the challenge facing our society, the sight of all these people, happily walking from store to store, multiple shopping bags in hand, and on a mission to find more bargains, put an end to them.

Then, comes Adbusters, and its arresting Buy Nothing Day TV ad with a burping pig, calling for us to put a stop to our consuming frenzy. I did not know about Buy Nothing Day, until a few days ago. Now, it seems everywhere I turn, someone has vowed to not buy anything for a day, a week, and sometimes even as long as a year. You can make it as tough as you like, depending on your own fortitude. The Compact people are gathering momentum, and their two year old Yahoo Group of diehard non-shoppers is going strong with 8,500 members. There is also No Impact Man and his one year experiment.

From one extreme, to the other. Either you can shop till you drop dead, or you are to stop shopping, cold turkey. In both cases, I dare question the sustainability of such extreme behaviors. It is now an established realization, that we cannot keep on consuming the way we do, without jeopardizing life as we know it on this planet. What concerns me, . . .

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Third day of Daily Footprint Project. Six pairs of jeans. I counted. Fresh out of the dryer.

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Part of my sixteen year old daughter’s biweekly laundry. I took her laundry out of the wash earlier, and put it in the dryer. I did that as a favor to her, and also because I needed the wash machine to do my own laundry. That’s when I realized. With my awareness more turned on than usual, I started counting the jeans. Six. I make do with one jean a week.

A big part of my footprint is related to my green softness as a mom. It is hard enough navigating the treacherous path of teen parenting, without introducing some more restrictions. If I was going to be pure green, I would hassle my daughter about so many things. Turning off the lights. Limiting her laundry. Using the Energy Preferred setting for the dryer. Even better, not using the dryer at all, and start using the drying rack more. Not driving to her school, that is only half a mile away. Not dumping recyclable plastics into the garbage. Turning off her computer. Unplugging her appliances. Eating leftovers. It’s not that I don’t tell her. I just don’t follow through with the kind of consequences and incentives that might make her take me seriously.

Call me weak, but I don’t have it in me, right now. I am fighting other battles, and I am not about to take on one more. If my children were little, that would be another story. The best I can offer, is to inspire her through my example, the small changes I am making every day.

Daily Footprint Project
Daily Log
Day #3  

Water  personal:
toilet flush 12(oops)
wash hands 4
shower 1
wash face 2
brush teeth 2
rinse grapes, apples
full load wash machine
mom:
communal:
rinse salad

Electricity/gas

personal:
desk light
laptop on since 8am
laptop plugged in overnight
microwave tea 2’
microwave oatmeal
microwave
full laundry load wash machine
my load in dryer (except for towels and sheet, that went on drying rack)
electric toothbrush 3’
mom:
cook cream of wheat on stove
put Catherine’s load in dryer’
communal:
lights, appliances

Food

personal:
cup of tea with organic milk
organic oatmeal with organic whole milk
grapes
organic whole wheat bread local
organic yogurt, local
prosciutto, US brand from Virginia
apples
mom:
cream of wheat with organic milk
communal:
organic green salad
pizza carryout (4 for Halloween kids dinner)
Halloween candies for trick or treat
organic bread

Waste

personal:
mom:
lots of plastic wrappers from Ikea furniture
communal:
three newspaper wrappers
plastic bag from organic green grapes
compost from salad/veggie peelings

Transportation

personal:
mom:
wife:
communal:
½ mile late night errand to local grocery store

Non food shopping

personal:
mom:
Ikea furniture for Charlotte’s room
rug, armchair, mattress, lamp
communal:

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‘Mom, can we heat the hot tub? My friends are coming over.‘ I said yes at once. And then, almost in the same breath, this whole monologue in my head. ‘Not exactly green. Big time indulgence. Didn’t I go through all those carbon calculators this morning? But then I want to please her, there is no way I am going to say no. I am tired of setting limits. Tonight, I want to be Nice Mommy. The hell with global warming. Plus a couple hours of hot tub are not going to make a difference.’ I can hear Green Guru’s admonitions, ‘You are being a hypocrite. You are all talk. You say you want to be green, but look at you, you can’t say no to her.’ I hear, I know, and there is no way I am not going to be sweet. I bask in the moment. The sound of four girls laughing, talking, in the hot tub.

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Green Guru got on my case for something else. I have the habit of always buying more than we need. The peaches have been rotting in the fruit basket. His point was, why not buy less each time, especially since I am shopping at Whole Foods nearly every day? That makes sense. Still, I have a hard time agreeing with him. The fear of not having enough, of not doing my job as a mommy and main nurturer for the whole family, is greater than reason.

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Charlotte came back from her one week vacation in Mexico with her dad. I was so happy to see her. She suggested we go to Urban Outfitters to shop. That was perfect, I needed to go there anyway to buy Ahna’s birthday present. While at the mall, we also decided to swing by Anthropologie. I was so good, I did not buy anything for myself. The truth is, I am shopped out, and there was really nothing I wanted in either place. Had I been tempted, I would have probably given in. On our way back, I thought about how far Santana Row is from Palo Alto, and how much gas we used driving both ways. Could we have found the same things closer? Probably not. Were our purchases essential? Definitely not. If I was a true green girl, at a minimum, I would have suggested to Charlotte that we take the train to the Urban Outfitters store in San Francisco. Better even, I could have suggested other ways to spend time together, or other more environmentally sound places to shop like vintage stores. Same with Ahna, I could have asked her to think more creatively about things to get for her birthday. As a mother, I hate to spoil the fun with my green ideas. It is a territory I do not feel comfortable exploring yet. Shopping (at the mall) with, and for my children, is such a part of who I am as a mother.

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Being on vacation, made me realize that, being green is work. Why is it that all that is worthwhile, requires work? One needs to work on relationships, work at work, work at being a good green citizen. . . Here in Paris, I just want to enjoy, indulge, and be lazy. This morning, I played tourist with the girls, and rediscovered Montmartre. We had lots of fun looking for bargains at the Marche St Pierre, where the Petit Bateau shirts went for 3 Euros. The Sacre Coeur disappointed us with all its tourists, and its Las Vegas makeover. In the shop, Catherine bought a medal for herself and her sister. Everything was for sale there, even the candles, at 10 Euros a pop. It is easy to take a vacation from being green, not so much from consumerism

The one good thing about Paris, is the transportation. We are learning to rely on our feet again, to go from place to place. In two days we have walked, taken the subway, the bus, and the Batobus on the Seine. No car, with the exception of my brother giving us a ride from the airport. We are eating so much, and still, we are losing weight from all the exercise. I wish California was not so dependent on cars. The people would be healthier, and the air would a lot more pure.

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Living with Green Guru – Prad’s nickname, of late -, is not easy sometimes. This morning, I had the unpleasant surprise of my electric toothbrush running out of electricity, half way as I was trying to brush my teeth. Without telling me, Green Guru had decided to unplug it the night before. Little did he know, that it needed to be recharged. I was not pleased, and I let him know.

Yesterday, we had another squabble, after he informed me of his intention to unplug the dryer. His plan was to have us all quit using the dryer, cold turkey. It was met with plain outrage on my part. Yes, I do plan, some day to make the shift to a clothesline, but not yet. Give me some time, I need to psych myself up, for such a radical shift. There is also the issue of the kids, and of bringing them along in the decision. Ours are teenagers, still protesting from the recent blending of our two families, and going through some major angst of their own. I suggested to Green Guru, that maybe he could first install a clothesline in our backyard, and inspire us all through his example. In the mean time, the dryer will stay plugged in.

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Yesterday, I threw away a whole uncooked burger. The day before, it was a whole chicken. Prad and I have this ongoing battle about the amount of food I throw away everyday, usually enough to feed a whole other family. Prad thinks I should plan better and not buy, unless I am sure it will get eaten. When the kids were little, it was a lot easier, I knew we would all be there for dinner. Now that they are teenagers, I never know who to expect for dinner. Still, I insist on cooking enough for the six of us, each time. Lately, it has become clear that those family dinners have become the exception. Charlotte and Catherine both drive now, and they are out almost every evening. And Prad’s children have most of their meals at their mom’s house. It is time to downscale, and to resolve myself to twosome dinners. That one wasted burger was the equivalent or four kilograms of CO2. Eight burgers a day is the same as driving a Hummer for a whole year.

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The baskets in the laundry room are overflowing with dirty clothes. The children are supposed to do their own. I want them to take responsibility. The amount of clothes they go through every day is getting to me, though. It is not unusual for my teenage daughters especially, to use two or three changes of clothes a day. Each time, instead of putting their still clean clothes, back on hangers, they drop them on the floor, and when the mess becomes too much, dump them into the laundry basket. As a green parent wannabe, I know I should intervene. My kind comments have gotten me nowhere, and I do have to pick my battles. This is not one of them.

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