August on the other hand, is a big month for me personally. Firstly, my youngest daughter turns three, and secondly, it's my two year blog-aversary!
Our simple/ green-living "journey" as I call it, started two years ago when this same daughter turned one. Being most definitely my last child, this event suddenly drove home to me that my last "baby" really wasn't a baby any more; she was walking and talking, feeding herself (with her battle cry of "I do it!") and even picking out her own clothes (although dressing herself was still a challenge LOL). In so many ways it felt like we, as a family, were from that point onwards embarking on a new phase in our lives together.
I'm sure many parents can relate to that feeling; after so many months (years!) of being in demand around the clock to do everything for your defenceless bub/s, you can finally sit back for a second, take a deep breath and actually look around at the world for a change.
It was at that point that a number of factors in our lives started to converge, particularly the relatively recent discovery of our middle child's sensitivities to preservatives and additives in foods, and the re-awakening of my pre-children interest in the environment. Not that the latter went away per se, I had just never had to factor children into my green tendencies, and boy, does having children open up a whole new world of consumption and resource usage! Apart from getting rid of toxic cleaning chemicals by switching to using Enjo gloves and giving consideration to the environmental impact of disposable nappies, at that point I realised that I hadn't really given everything else much thought, much to my shame.
I had just finished reading the book Fed Up by Sue Dengate, which discusses the impacts of (amongst other things) artificial additives in food on sensitive children (what a revelation that book was to me!), so we had begun eliminating processed, commercially-preserved foods from our diet, and I was learning to cook from scratch.
At that time I was also getting increasingly fed up with the poor taste and regularly substandard condition of the fruit and vegetables I was buying from our local stupormarket, as well as doing lots of online research into the health and environmental effects of the foods we were eating. In light of much of that research, the logical progression, it seemed to me, was to reduce (and try to eliminate) the amount of conventionally-farmed pesticide- and herbicide-contaminated fruit and vegetables from our lives as well, so we decided to go organic.
Since I was (and still am!) suffering from the effects of a bad case of "baby brains" (all you mums will understand ;-), in order to have somewhere convenient to record all the information I was beginning to research about food and green living, I started blogging.
Then, on the same day I found a new local organic grocer, the books The Ethics of What We Eat by Peter Singer and Jim Mason and Living The Good Life by Linda Cockburn jumped out at me from the shelves of a bookshop I was browsing through, and I brought them home.
Well, what a revelation they were too! Since reading Singer and Mason's book I have never, ever looked at meat and eggs in the same way since. In fact, almost overnight we dropped our meat consumption from 6-7 nights a week, to once or twice a week, consuming only organic and/or free-range meat. I've not bought a caged-bird egg since. And Linda's book showed me that it is possible to live sustainably in an urban area, albeit a large block, and that you don't need to have a lifetime of survivalist skills to do so; just a sense of humour and the willingness to work hard.
Just as I finished those books, another major catalyst for our journey took place - we went to see Al Gore's film about climate change, An Inconvenient Truth. I knew about global warming, sure, part of my university degree studied climatology. But we were both stunned, gobsmacked. We were quiet for a while afterwards as we absorbed it. Then we talked about it, in depth. And then we decided that, if nothing else, we owed it to our kids to do something about it. Starting right there and then!
The research I've done since then has been on so many varied issues - the ethics and environmental impacts of our food choices, climate change, peak oil, consumerism and "affluenza" to name a few - but they all come down to one issue for me:
Everyone in the world is entitled to an equal proportion of the planet's resources, and my family is using more than our fair share.
At first, I felt like we were trying to swim against the flow of mainstream society, but then I stumbled upon the Aussies Living Simply forum, found U.S. peak oil writer and mother-of-four, Sharon Astyk's blog, started following her Riot for Austerity: 90% Reduction group aiming for a personal 90% reduction in resource use (the CO2 reduction touted by global warming expert George Monbiot as that required by the western world in order to prevent the worst effects of global warming) and gradually discovered a growing band of fellow bloggers out there trying to do the same thing. What an inspiration!
Initially we did all the things that are listed on the various green-living websites: we switched to GreenPower, installed CFL light bulbs and low-flow showerheads, started timing our showers and used a bucket to collect the first few litres of cold water, turned electrical equipment off at the wall, combined car trips and reduced the number of kilometres we drove, insulated our western windows and installed ceiling fans to reduce our reliance on the air conditioner, stopped using the clothes dryer, bought rechargeable batteries, installed a slimline rainwater tank, and offset our car emissions through Greenfleet. We checked our ecological footprint and found that we had halved it, but were still along way from living sustainably.
So we started taking it further in small steps: We discovered the Slow Food Movement, I ordered the first of our own fruit trees and began replacing the original ornamental plants in our garden, started growing a couple of cherry tomato plants and making my own laundry powder, started buying food in bulk to minimise packaging and began learning how to make my own preserved foods like sauces and pickles, just to name a few.
The seemingly small - but always consistent - incremental changes we've made since our journey began have become an amazing cascade of positive effects in all aspects of our lives, the likes of which I could never have imagined when we first began this journey.
Who knew that paring back to the basics and getting rid of half a house-full of "stuff" could enrich your life? I didn't.
Who knew that having less toys to chose from would make my kids happier and more creative? I didn't.
Who knew that walking a few steps out into your backyard and picking your own, organically-grown, fresh vegetables for your family's dinner could provide such an enormous rush of achievement and satisfaction (even including the misshapen carrots and grub-chewed cabbages)? I certainly didn't.
I didn't know that I would come to find the site of a row of snow peas on a trellis, dripping with sweet pods, far more beautiful than the carefully selected Balinese-themed ornamentals they replaced.
I didn't know that watching my kids pick cherry tomatoes off the bushes and stuff them in their mouths like lollies would give me more of a thrill than any academic achievement ever could.
I didn't anticipate how much I would enjoy getting into the shower of a morning and seeing only a handmade soap and couple of plain, unlabelled bottles of bicarb soda "shampoo" and homemade cleanser, instead of being visually assaulted by umpteen rows of half-used, brightly coloured, petrochemical-laden commercial products.
I didn't expect to be so inordinately excited by completing my first knitting project or by the first time I turned an old shirt into a dress for one of my daughters.
We might not be financially "well-off" by western standards, but we now know we are definitely rich in a way that has nothing to do with money.
We've still got a long way to go in this journey toward simple and sustainable living. Phew! The thought of all the things on my mental To-Do list makes my head spin some times, and I most definitely still struggle with a simple-living view of housework. You know, I want to think of it as nurturing my family, but when faced with a choice between dealing with sorting and ironing Mount Washmore or getting out into the sunshine with the kids and planting some bean seeds... Well. Let's just say that unexpected knocks at the door fill me with dread ;-)
So, even though we've come a long way in the last two years, I have to resist the occasional urge to become complacent and keep plodding along in the right direction because there is so much to do and so much to learn. Both DH and I are more "thinkers' than "doers", which is to say that neither of us are very good with our hands, so unfortunately for us, making and building things is not something that comes naturally. We're not dumb though, and although I worry that we are running out of time to learn the skills that will help us get through the transition between cheap abundant oil and a post-peak oil society, we can both read books and follow instructions, so provided that we have some patience and a bit of commitment, we will get there eventually. My cooking will always look "rustic", my sewing and knitting will never win any awards and our future potato towers and chook shed might be a bit hard on the eyes, but they are all part of the learning process.
It will all be worth it though because at the end of the day, we want to be able to look into our children's eyes in 30 years time, when they ask how the world ended up so radically different to how it is now, and truthfully answer "We tried to make a difference".