What’s in a Name?

I guess I am ready to work my way back into Rioting. I will be frank though, I am very tempted to change the name of my gimmick to Occupy the Home Supply. The two concepts are one in my mind (even if my small efforts are hardly worthy of either) and who wouldn’t want to be part of the coolest new thing? Certainly both names have patent appeal. And isn’t it all about branding?

Name and logo notwithstanding, I am ready to get back on track. Or, to write myself a new track, after our terrifying intermission. We will be moving back to Alaska in May and I want at least a month margin, so I have to finish out by the end of March. It’s a bit condensed, but I think there’s still enough time to get a good groove on.

September/October– Audits and Goals. Anyone still wanting to follow along with me? No pressure, it’s make your own rules, remember? You can follow along without the paperwork, if that’s more approachable. But I’ll email out the audit forms to anyone interested (some of us get a perverted buzz off of graphs and tables). If you haven’t already, leave a comment here so I have your email. I’m sorry not to have sent those out earlier, but y’all can catch up in November.

November–Food. As well as focusing on my garden during this month, I’ve decided to do a week long corporate food boycott (Occupy Your Food Supply). We are lucky to be able to buy a reasonably rounded diet of local foods at the market here: meat, dairy, rice, veggies. It will be challenging for sure, but certainly doable. I’m debating pre- or post-Thanksgiving. If anyone else is interested in joining me on this, state your preference. I know pre-Thanksgiving is very soon. Could be cool to start the day after instead, on Buy Nothing Day. Hell, we could start on the day itself and Occupy Thanksgiving!

December– Stuff. I had planned to take December off from the Riot, since Christmas is already a source of great angst for me. It would certainly be easy to do a ‘Stuff Boycott’ in January, but honestly, kind of a redundant cop-out. Focusing on stuff for the stuffiest month of all is doubtlessly more useful. There won’t be any boycotting (though I personally adore the idea), but it will force me to buy higher quality gifts, instead of resisting gift-giving till Dec 22, then bowing out at the last minute to corporate crap. Which is my usual plan.

January– Garbage, Household Fuel. What better to follow the stuff month than the garbage month right? Also, the coldest month of the year is a little late, but better than never, to consider heating efficiency and leaks.

February– Electricity, Water. Hopefully I won’t wait till February to use the Watts Up I ordered, or build that cool kids water play fountain. But, can’t do it all at once…

March– Transportation, Continuation. This will be my wind down month. Transportation is not a big one for us. We only drive a few times/week and those trips are pretty much non-negotiable, though a little belt-tightening is always possible. Perhaps more importantly, I want to spend the last month focusing on what qualities allow or encourage a person to persist with doing things the hard way, when everyone around us worships ‘the easy way’ with religious fervor. Because while a few months of focus is certainly helpful, sustaining the good habits is the important (and hard) part.

So, you’ve seen my audits (home and food), patchy as they are. Those are the straight numbers, and they are worth something. But I also made out a list of the everyday things, in each category, that I do now to lower our household’s resources consumption (Riot perspective) or contribute less to the top 1% (Occupy perspective). After listing out my good stuff, I made a parallel list of weak spots, specific things I could do in each category. Having concrete goals suits my mind better than an abstract lowering of numbers.

I consulted various online lists for lowering one’s energy and water consumption, both for ideas on what more I could do as well as reminders of what I already do. For example, “Consider re-using bath towels.” Huh? People out there seriously only use them once? Also, apparently the recommended thermostat settings for “saving money” are 68 for winter and 78 for summer, making us semi-radical!

As my Riot progresses, and I focus on each category, I’m sure more goals will emerge, but here’s my current dos and shoulds:

do now changes to make
electricity Hang laundry

Compact florescents

Handwash dishes

Set AC high (79-81)

Toaster oven on porch

Make coffee stovetop

Push mower

Turn computers off between use

Lights off

Fridge/freezer settings up

Test appliances with Watts Up meter

water Handwash dishes

Save rinse water for kitchen clean up

Dip out kiddie pool for plants

Shower only once every 5-7 days (don’t tell!)

Wear clothes till they’re truly dirty

Rarely water lawn

Mulch garden heavily

Run washer full

Low-flow showerhead

Recirculating fountain for kid water play

Displacer in toilet tank

Rain-fed chicken waterer

garbage Recycle

Compost/Chickens

Buy from bulk bins in re-used bags

Cloth grocery bags

Cloth diapers

Reuse paper for kids

Scavenge still good stuff from trash cans!

Try switching to cloth diapers at night? (when we’ve tried this before we had leaking and rash problems)

Seek out food with less packagingBuy less stuff

stuff Do without often

Buy used whenever possible

Do without even more

Seek out higher quality, ethical production for the new things we do buy (a very weak point for my uber-cheap self)

transportation Bike and walk almost every day

Drive only a few times/week

Plane travel only once or twice a year

I already minimize my driving as much as I am comfortable with

But, buy more local = less food transportation

household fuel (heating, cooking, hot water) Cook/bake efficiently

Wash clothes on cold

More crock pot

Solar cooker

Turn down hot water heater

food Buy mostly organic and/or local

Research OG companies

Buy from bulk bins

Buy unprocessed

Make at home: bread granola, jams, treats

Use leftovers

Garden

Chickens

Order wheat from Texas

Start buying farmer’s market cheese

See about bulk prices for FM meat

Garden more seriously

Locally grown chicken feed?

It’s essential to note that in every category there is the unlisted, vague, yet crucially important goal to simply be more vigilant. I have already started this, even over these last two derailed months. Just tightening my belt a little, when I can muster the energy. You know I’m all for allowing ourselves a wide margin, but I often find myself having become lazy for no good reason whatsoever. How hard is it really to reach out your hand and turn a light off as you pass an empty room? Yet I had gotten so slack about it, leaving lights on because I couldn’t be bothered to waste that extra action. Absurd!

It’s challenging to remember the importance of these small actions when we are inundated by an (ad-based) culture of could-give-a-shit. It’s extremely profitable to the corporate world to make not caring stylish. They frame it like it’s all or nothing– if you’re not going to save the world then sit the fuck back down. And since no one of us is prepared to give it all, we figure why give any? Sit back, relax, look out for #1.

Even if small habits won’t change the world, they nevertheless do add up to something. But perhaps even more important is the exact thing that makes doing the little stuff so pesky– when you try to remember to turn off lights every time you leave a room, it forces you to think about the lights, and the electricity they suck, a hundred times a day. Which is downright annoying. When you try to live ultra-frugally, it forces you to carry the weight of money and spending with you constantly. I have been there and know how obnoxious the incessant racket of responsible thinking in the modern world can be. But what else is there for us at this point? Blissful ignorance?

Too late.

Bringing the Riot Home

First of all I want to make one thing perfectly clear. My kids have hit a little bit of a stride lately. I find my mothering job getting– not easy by any stretch, the 4yo has re-entered screaming fit territory– but easier. Enough that I sometimes catch myself feeling kind of… bored. The immediacy of survival mode, which usurped me for some year and a half, has abated. I need a project.

The Riot found me at just the right moment. I wanted it, needed it. I needed a way to reinvest myself, to assess where I am at with this punk housewife gig and determine how to proceed. A bi-yearly review if you will. I love nothing, nothing so much as devising a system, and a system for a 6-month household economy audit sounded perfect. As is perhaps always the case with us humans, I had the desire first and then found an explanation.

I don’t know that this fundamentally self-serving motive undermines my project, so long as we keep it in perspective. I have a very active (hampster wheel) brainy brain, I have to use it for something. Why not optimizing the efficiency and ethics of my household?

But let’s just bear in mind that this project is for anyone else who feels similarly available, ready to tackle something new. Not for those of you who are already working at capacity and battling burn-out (that means you Dixie…) Also note that if my own household slips back down into survival mode, all bets are off babe.

That said, there won’t be any contracts for this Quiet Riot. No rules except those you choose for your own family, no catchy emblems for your sidebar, no number competitions. I encourage anyone who feels they have just a little bit of time, energy and desire to throw it in the hat! If want to sign yourself up, in your own mind or here in the comments, that’s fine. Verbalized commitment is a huge help-mate. But if even committing puts you off, or as some of you said in the last comments, you are already at work on a Quiet Riot of your own, you can just dip in here and there over the next 6 months. Take what works.

It’s worth mentioning that spousal involvement is optional in this most basic of challenges. At our house, this sort of thing is all me. My Man is patently not the type of person who enjoys saving receipts or making rules for himself. Correspondingly I am not the type of person who enjoys guilt tripping, nagging, pressuring or any other kind of spousal manipulation. I read on someone’s blog that she was ‘quite over following her family around the house reminding them to turn off the lights.’ I’m not interested in even starting. I already battle martyrdom at the dinner table, and that’s perfectly enough.

I have taken a look into our bills already, and I can tell you, it is not encouraging. Which is revealing. Here I am, doing what I consider quite a bit, given my circumstances, and still barely managing to keep my consumption to 80% of the American average. The big Riot’s goal of 10% is truly outrageous. Like I said in my first post, I think that’s awesome. I love outrageous. They will be able to make a very real political statement with 10%. Nevertheless, I do think that goal is only achievable for people who

  1. have already started on the path (ie: are already operating at a lower consumption rate, going from 50% to 10% is quite a bit different than 90% to 10%)
  2. own their own home
  3. have the monetary resources necessary to buy new energy saving appliances
  4. have either no small kids, or family support nearby to help with childcare

Of course, on one hand, it’s just a line-up of excuses. If My Man and I really believe in change, maybe we should move to Spokane where grandparents could provide that childcare and we could own acreage in a hospitable climate for farming. I won’t say we haven’t thought about it. But, we’re not moving to Spokane. When we finish here in New Orleans, we’ll be moving (quite gleefully!) back to Alaska, where we own our own home in a walking friendly town, with abundant wild fish, game and firewood resources, but no grandparents, laughable farming conditions, and a jet flight away from anywhere else.

[In Spokane we would have help with childcare and great farming possibilities but My Man would have to commute at least one hour per day to get to work. Which is the eternal rural vs. urban debate. Unless you are prepared to largely extricate yourself from your culture/community, rural living = driving.]

But back to the task at hand! Haven’t I already defended myself against imagined attacks on my soft-core riot? Time to quit bitching and get to work!

After my audit I’ll set some goals. I’m not sure if I will set percentage reduction goals. I know that can be useful, but it seems like one of those ‘rules made for breaking’ things. I won’t drive to my friend’s house across town, forcing her to drive to me instead, so I can meet my gas goal? Or do I just quit seeing them altogether and lose out on one of my best friends who coincidentally has two kids, just the ages of mine, who are not in “school” like everyone else, who my kids equally adore? No, not an option.

I’m thinking my goals will be more of the general ‘try harder’ and specific project kind. Establish better habits for turning lights and computers off, something I’d gotten much too lax about. Put more concentrated effort into garden efficiency and production. Stop buying crap cheese (my last industrial dairy hold-out) and start buying the good stuff from the farmer’s market, at (gulp) $12/pound. Turn my kids’ little plastic pool into a DIY fountain, so that I don’t have to make them stop playing with running water (one of the great joys in the world!) but can recapture at least most of it– our water bill is truly outrageous.

I want to spend each month focusing on two of the big Riot’s categories. I’ll list out the ways I am already working towards lowering our consumption, offer up ideas, links and resources and tackle special projects. My calendar will look something like this–

September. Home economy/consumption audit. Identify weakest links and highest return projects. Goal setting.

October. Electricity, Heating Fuel and Water. Get those good habits going! Weatherize (for me this is against heat, yes still in October, but for y’all this would be against cold) Make the kids’ fountain.

November. Food and Cooking Fuel. This is the biggest month for me. From gardening to grocery shopping to cooking, there’s a lot to think about. I want to start this month out with an Austerity Fast, cutting my luxury foods out completely (except coffee, god help me!) for two weeks. I don’t expect that anyone else will want to do this, but I have a terrible sweet/fat tooth and indulge much more than I ought to. Cookies after lunch and ice cream after the kids go to bed? Every day. Add in a trip or two/week to the bakery for chocolate croissants. Ahem.

December. Take a break. For others this might be a perfect time to tackle the Stuff and Waste categories, but I already have enough stomach-clenching angst at Christmas. I do my best, and that’s that. I’m not willing to give up family or make everyone else’s holiday miserable just to impress my ideals.

January. Here’s where I will take on Stuff and Waste, after those damning holidays. A month long Stuff fast. Also, prepare yourselves for some shit talking and finally, finally! I swear to you, I will write a tutorial for the waxed cloth produce bags I made two years ago.

February. Transportation. This one is relatively easy for me, as I’ve explained before, we are set up for foot power. I do drive, once or twice a week, and I’m not likely to give up those two trips (see ‘friend’ caveat above). But there’s always room to shave a little off, surely. I’ll finish out the Riot with a special focus on how to keep up doing things the hard way, when everyone around you does them the easy way.

Even if you don’t want to participate directly, don’t think you get let off the hook! I’ll expect advice and tips from all of you every month as well. Cough it up, folks!

The Quiet Riot: Navigating Between Challenge and Overwhelm

I ran across Sharon Astyk’s Riot for Austerity the other day. For some reason, though I had come across Sharon’s name dozens of times, and looked carefully at both her books on Amaz*n, something refused to click, and I just hadn’t read any of her work yet. Dixiebelle tipped me off about the Riot and, intrigued by the name, I checked it out.

Apparently the first Riot for Austerity was in 2008. As Sharon describes it,

“We set two goals. First, we would spend a year trying to get our emissions down by 90% over the American average. Second, we’d use this as part of a larger public strategy to point out that it can be done – that we don’t have to wait for political action – indeed, that we can’t wait.”

Sharon is all about peak oil and climate change. Although I do absolutely believe both are occurring (My Man is in school to be an environmental maritime lawyer, partly so that he can work on climate change issues back in Alaska), they have both become such glamorous catch phrases that my renegade back arches when I hear them. I hate to get caught in a fad without an umbrella, if you know what I mean.

It’s a shame that I let that such an aesthetic style point get between me and some great work. Sharon’s website looks fantastic (her tongue in cheek post 12 Books is hilarious! And here I thought she took herself too seriously!) and I will be inter-library loaning her books as soon as I can get to the library.

In the meantime, I continue to be intrigued by her second Riot for Austerity, which is just now getting off the ground. My Man and I often despair that solutions to environmental problems always end up reduced to one or another ‘alternative’– paper cups instead of styrofoam, corn instead of plastic, coal instead of petroleum. No big campaigns ever promotes just using less, where the money in that? And no one likes to think that they might have to sacrifice something to make change in the world. Just like the endless parade of eat-what-you-want diets, get-rich-quick schemes and deoderant which promises to get you laid, we so desperately want to believe that there is a magic formula which will effortlessly fix everything. How did we get so damn lazy?! How did we come to loathe effort and struggle, both of which make life worthwhile?

Austerity is just the thing, really. “Morally strict, ascetic; markedly simple or unadorned.” But there is a political aspect to the word as well, “In economics, austerity is a policy of deficit-cutting, lower spending, and a reduction in the amount of benefits and public services provided.” (Wiki) Which of course makes perfect sense, when the government decides it’s time to tighten the belt, they always start with someone else’s belt. Apparently austerity measures have been the cause of protests and even riots in the past, which puts an interesting spin on Sharon’s Riot.

I love the astonishing goal of living off of 10% of the American average. I love that there are people in the world who can and do lead the way with such ballsy confidence. I love the attitude that our private lives can and should direct politics. I have always admired hard-core radicals, and even was one myself for some years. I lived on $2-3,000/year in my hey-day, using no petroleum products directly except kerosene for our lamps, and eating beans, rice and wild plants.

My own Austere Years required plenty of effort, but there was no strife, no hardship. They were a great joy, in fact, a highlight. That’s what I wanted and needed to be doing at that time. I truly feel like each stage of life is different, and each person’s life overall is different as well. Some people are born with just the right mix of character, and blessed with the tools and community necessary to keep up such impressive standards throughout their entire life. Other people, like myself, get a shining 15 minutes of fame before returning to the implicit compromise of the masses. Yet others tow the line of consistent small virtues throughout their entire lives.

I used to harshly think that only the hard-core radicals mattered (when I was one. Ha). As I’ve gotten older and come face to face with the limitations of sharing one’s life with spouse and children, family and community, and trying to lovingly balance out everyone’s needs/desires, I’ve softened quite a bit. I see the use in the middle road now. We need all those types of people, we need everyone who earnestly tries to do good in their life, each has something important to offer.

There’s no way my family could get anywhere near to the Riot for Austerity’s 10% goal right now. Living a fairly typical American life in a rented house in a big city, far from our Alaskan home environment, with a 1 and 4 year old makes in completely impossible. I have just barely begun to emerge from the tunnel of second-baby-survival-mode to where I could imagine cutting anything. But here is where the possibilities of the middle road open up.

I read that there were some thousands of people participating in the first Riot, worldwide. Which is a lot, but also, hardly any. The vast majority of people in the first world will read about the Riot as pure entertainment (if they read about it at all). The idea that their own family would participate in it would be ridiculous. Even, I suspect, most of you Apron Stringz readers will feel that the Riot is for ‘better’ people than us.

It’s impressiveness is it’s downfall, in a way. Not because of the Riot itself, or any fault of it’s creators. The extremity of the Riot is fantastic, perfect. The downfall is our own. Our black and white thinking, with which I am so intimately familiar. Either kick serious ass or step down, I say to myself. Or, used to say. Extreme radicalism makes us uncomfortable, there is an implicit mandate that we feel embarrassed to fall short of. And so the whole of responsible action can become closed to people, reg’lar folk, who feel entirely too intimidated to join in.

But what a bullshit way to proceed with life! Hallelujah for those righteous radicals who keep this big oil tanker just shy of the rocks. We don’t have to be them, or hate them, or anything. A goodly dose of mutual respect, and self respect, is in order. Rejoice in their way, and make your own way. Responsible action is accessible to anyone, to everyone! Start where you are, and do your best from there. If 10% of the American average is an impenetrable goal, don’t let that crush your desire to participate. Make your own damn goal! Don’t use this as a ticket to sloth and indolence, rather determine what you feel comfortable with, then push it one little step farther. Challenging yourself just beyond what you think you are capable of is inspiring.

And so, without further ado, let me introduce my Quiet Riot. In solidarity with the righteously awesome Riot for Austerity, I am going to do a 6 month ‘little riot.’ I won’t be publicizing this anywhere but here, I don’t want to water down the force of their statement. I don’t delude myself into thinking my Quiet Riot will be influencing carbon emissions policy. No, this is just for myself, and for any of you readers who would like join in.

If you feel even remotely inclined to join up with the real thing, oh my, please do! For your sake, for my sake, not to mention saving the world. But if you feel entirely too intimidated by the big riot, you can start here, in good company.

My Quiet Riot will begin with an audit of our home’s consumption, using the Big Riot’s seven categories (I have already taken a quick look and I can assure you, much to my dismay, we hit almost the full American average for electricity and water and probably somewhere around 50-80 percent for everything else). From those numbers I’ll set some rough goals for myself, probably different for each category. I’m thinking more along the lines of cutting 10% off of our current use, rather than cutting down to 10% of average.

After the audit month, I’ll get to work. I’m going to try to make little cuts everywhere, but with special focus on two categories per month, with a break for December. (Need I explain?)

If anyone is interested in joining in, I could run things with a bit of structure, offering audit guidelines, detailing ideas for cutting consumption, hosting discussion, etc. I imagine everyone would set their own goals based on their family’s current situation. This will be much more intention than rule based. Rules can be cheated on, but your intention is always true. Only you will know if you have ‘succeeded.’ And for this Quiet Riot, that’s what counts.

It’s a fine line between challenge and overwhelm. Between excuses and the limitations of real life. I feel that everyone needs to hear something different. The polished ladies who smuggly shop at Whole Foods after yoga class might need a good ass kicking, but I know many sensitive, earnest souls like myself who can become completely debilitated by guilt. Which is not remotely helpful, of course. Sometimes I feel like this blog and my writing style have grown up together to be almost like motivational speaking. My ‘calling’ seems to be a sort of cheerleading for those of us who’s heart and dreams sometimes outpace our ability and the confines of our very real lives.

Not that I don’t benefit from a good ass-kicking now and then. Thanks Sharon.