Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006


Green and Fabulous

If you want to be green but can’t face wearing hemp, if you get frozen in the supermarket deciding whether to buy the organic Italian apples wrapped in plastic or the non-organic apples that are loose and local, and if you feel guilty every time you let the tap run but still have to bath now and again, then Christie Matheson’s book Green Chic: Saving the Earth in Style is the book for you.

As Matheson says in the introduction, ” … we need to embrace the fabulousness of green living. And it is fabulous. Being green can help you look gorgeous, have a killer wardrobe, feel amazing, travel in style, create a home that’s an oasis, host fun parties, eat incredible food, and drink phenomenal wine, all while feeling more connected to your friends, family and nature.” She says that while buying an eco-friendly cashmere jersey will not stop global warming, it is the change in mindset, in starting to become conscious consumers, that will help us to reduce our individual contributions and encourage systemic change.

This week I bought some clothes for my kid, who needed shorts and T-shirts for summer. I have heard that you should wash new clothes before wearing them because of the chemicals shops spray on them to make them hang nicely, but I had never believed it until now. He put on one of his new T-shirts and within an hour had a rash across his neck. Cue parental guilt and vows only to purchase organic cotton tees from now on. Green is clearly not only good for the planet, but good for our health too.

Matheson’s book is clearly divided into useful chapters, from being green at home, to eating and drinking green, beauty, fashion, transportation and travel. There’s even a chapter on how to throw a green party. When I read blogs on the environment, like the No Impact Man or wonderful books like Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, my main reaction – apart from being grateful that there are people out there who are actually doing something about the environment – is to be intimidated and then feel guilty. Although in many ways we are a fairly green household, there is still room for improvement: we run two cars, still sometimes buy food in plastic wrapping, drink bottled water, forget to switch our computers off, even (aargh, pains me to admit) use paper napkins sometimes. Once I feel guilty, I get overwhelmed and can’t imagine how I could even start to change these things that prey on my conscience.

What Matheson does so well is to praise the baby steps. She’s not saying we all need to get solar panels tomorrow, but she is saying that we should be aware and start to make small changes in our lives. Very kindly, like a lovely big sister, she points out the small changes we can make. Here are some that resonated with me:

* Time how long your standard shower takes and then challenge yourself to cut it down

* Keep a full fridge (if you don’t have a large family like mine, fill it with organic wine instead of food) and only run a full dishwasher

* Avoid PVC in any form – it is evil

* Choose local and non-organic over organic food that has travelled a long distance (but long-distance organic is better than long-distance non-organic)

* Eat more whole food – it puts less strain on the environment than processed food (bye-bye chilli rice cakes … sniff)

* Cut back on meat – it is also a strain on the environment

* Use chemical-free lipsticks – the chemical ones contain a long list of hideous ingredients which we eat since they are on our lips. Yuck!

* Edit your closet so that you only shop for clothes you need

* Buy organic rather than conventional cotton, which is the most pesticide-intensive farming in the world

* Drive smoothly (no abrupt braking) and stick to the speed limit

* Switch the car’s air conditioning off and open a window

* Use the car wash instead of washing it yourself (or you could leave it dirty, like mine)

I have cherry-picked (ahem, nature pun alert) the tips that I can actually imagine myself doing, but there are many more which might resonate with you in this excellent book. For US readers, Matheson includes a long list at the end of her favourite eco-friendly retailers, many of whom have websites.

To celebrate all that is green, I would like to offer Green Chic to one of my fabulous readers. Just put your name in the comments if you’re interested, and in the course of this week I will draw a winner.

Now I’m off to town (on foot) to return some books to the library (borrowing, not consuming)!


The EcoJustice Challenge

Today, as many bloggers have noted, is Earth Day. I have been guiltily noticing some of the bad things I do, including the environmentally not-friendly practice of driving to the gym in order to run on the treadmill. Bad Charlotte.

Then I chanced upon Emily’s EcoJustice Challenge, launched today! It’s a challenge that hopes to get us to change bad habits like the one mentioned above. I quote verbatim:

So, here is how this challenge will work. The first step is for anyone who wants to participate to pass the link onto at least five other people (or even if you don’t plan to participate, if you like the idea, please pass it on). If you have a blog of your own, this can easily be accomplished merely by linking to this site in a post on your own blog. Below is a list of things you can choose to do. Once every quarter between now and April 21, 2009, I will add to this list. Your challenge is to choose something from this list, to experiment with it, and to post about it here. Or, if you’d rather not post, that’s fine. You can just choose what you want and leave comments on this blog. You can choose to implement as many or as few from the list as you would like. You can choose to stick with one (or more) for an entire quarter, or you can mix and match (one — or more — this month, a different one next month, etc.). My hope is that by the end of the year, at least one item from the whole list will have become a way of life for you and your family. And if you’re already doing some or all of these things, come up with others you want to do, share them with us, and post on them instead.

To join the blog as a posting member, please send an email to: ecojustice08 AT gmail DOT com with your user name and the email address you’d like to use for the purposes of this blog. I will add you to the list of users. Also, please post on your own blog, if you have one. That’s it. And now, here are your choices for this quarter:

1. Choose one day a week in which you will not use your car at all (barring a major emergency, like having to drive your spouse/child to the hospital for stitches). Before you immediately dismiss this one, because you have to drive to and from work every day, please think about it. Is there no one with whom you could carpool two days a week? If so, the day you’re not driving would be the perfect day not to use your car at all.

2. Choose one “black out night” per week. All lights and all electrical appliances are off by 7:30 p.m. and don’t go on again until the next morning. What will you do without lights, television, your computer? Well, the weather’s getting nice where many of us live. Sit out on the porch/deck and tell stories. Read by candle light. Write letters by candle light. Play games by candle light. You know, people did this sort of thing for thousands of years. My guess is that if you have kids, this will be an exciting and fun challenge for them.

3. Choose two days a week in which you are only going to eat organic and/or locally-grown food. Do you know that inorganic farming is one of the best examples of evolution that we’ve got going these days? All the pesticides that have been used to grow our food have helped to create “super bugs” who are becoming more and more resistant to our chemicals. We’re definitely losing this battle in more ways than one. Talk to the people at your local farmer’s markets. Many of them are growing their food organically anyway; they just aren’t certified, because it’s a difficult and expensive process to be so. Buying locally, of course, cuts down on the oil used to transport food long distances.

4. If you need to go anywhere that’s within a 2-mile round trip radius of your home, walk or bike. Where might this be? The first place that springs to mind for me is your children’s school bus stop. Perhaps the post office is close to your home. The library? For me, it’s both the post office and the bank. If you’re super lucky, maybe you have a farmer’s market that’s close by. Or maybe you don’t live close enough to anything, but you do work close by to that deli, say, where you always drive to pick up lunch.

5. Read that challenging book about the environment that you’ve been putting off reading, you know the one you don’t want to read, because it might make you a little uncomfortable (e.g. The World without Us, Diet for a Small Planet, Affluenza). Read it. Post about it. Maybe implement an idea or two based on what you’ve read.

6. Buy only those things sold in recyclable packaging and make sure you recycle that packaging.

Hooray for Emily. My plan for this quarter is to do 1 and 6. I will choose and commit to a non-driving day (and jog out from house rather than on a treadmill) once a week. Also, I plan to read and post about Affluenza and The Omnivore’s Dilemma, both of which I already own.

Please post about this, pass it on and commit to one or two of Emily’s challenges. Together, we can do it!


2008: Where Hedonism and Ascetism Meet

I’ve been pondering my word for 2008. My word for 2006 was travel, and for 2007, it was beauty. However, this year I realised I needed a more spiritual word, a word that would encapsulate the things I want to achieve in my fortieth year, my goals both public and personal, and a word that would inspire me whenever I returned to it. My word – with such a lot of baggage wanting to attach to it – was eluding me, but I am glad to say I have found it. My word for 2008 is:


I am good at luxuriousness and at rewarding myself. I don’t stint when it comes to food, books or long, hot baths. I love a delicious glass of red wine and a langourous chat with a friend. I can wallow. When allowed, I can lose a day on the sofa. I am not afraid of fun, laughter or pleasure. Living in the moment, relishing the now, is not a challenge for me. I am a big fan of the here and now.

That said, I feel my inner ascetic call. Healthier eating, regular daily writing, more frequent exercise are all required to nourish my soul. Self-discipline means organizing my work better, being more up-to-date with my taxes and getting my invoices in on time, but it also means soul work. I want to be the disciple of me – allowing my self to grow and develop through more regular disciplines of daily writing, exercise and cleansing eating.

This is not just a response to the excesses of Christmas, birthday and New Year in 14 short days, but also a genuine need to tame my tendency to lavishness with a more streamlined personal approach. I want to shop less, acquire less, need less and with that spare time I want to think, write and meditate more. Also, I feel very strongly as I approach 40 that I need to include in my daily life things that are good for my soul. It is a discipline for me to remember and perform them.

Having come to this decision, it was fascinating to have read parts of a book that once belonged to my grandmother and that is now being lent to me by my mother. Joel S Goldsmith’s Infinite Way Letters 1955 is a series of meditations on leading a spiritual life. As I flicked through it before starting to read, I came across a passage noted in my grandmother’s beautiful curlicue handwriting. “V. important”, she notes. It reads:

For all the glorious Gifts of God, the great price is self-discipline. Each of us has the right to accept these Gifts in proportion to the degree to which we develop our ability to discipline ourselves. This is the price of truth!

I will probably have to meditate for some time to understand exactly what this means for me, but how apposite that my darling grandmother had this passage already marked for me, that my mother decided to send it with my brother and that in the last few days I’ve had the time to pick up the book and browse through it. Always my spiritual teacher, she has sent me a message through the years and in the pages of an old and crumbling book.

Along with this more serious bent, comes some different goals for my blog. It’s nearly two years old now, which makes it a grown-up in blog years. I gave myself serious blog fatigue in November posting every day, and now I want to swing away from that towards fewer posts of higher quality. I need to take some time away from blogging for my own writing because this is the year that I am committing to writing and submitting work. Blogging has opened my eyes and my mind to a new and fascinating world but it can also be a vortex into which I am sucked. I will be trying to discipline both my blogging and my reading of blogs into smaller and more manageable chunks of time, leaving time for creative writing, reading and thinking. However it is more than likely that I will break down, take part in memes and tease the Germans.

I have had fun reading everyone’s resolutions and goals for 2008, and I wish you all a wonderful, creative and happy year. I hope your dreams come true.


Blog Action Day

Today is:
Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day

The idea is to get as many people as possible blogging about the environment. Today. Right now.

(I was alerted to it by Lia.)

I’m not an good environmentalist. I do bad things: use plastic nappies, forget to switch my computer off sometimes, leave a bathroom light on at night for kids who are scared of the dark and I love a full, deep and very hot bath. However, since it’s Blog Action Day today I thought I’d note, for my conscience, some of the environmentally-friendly habits I have got into:

1. Recycled loo paper: I have bought recycled loo paper ever since it’s been on the market, or since I became a householder, whichever came first. It’s scratchier, but we’ve got used to having a little less loo-time luxury.

2. We use fluorescent light bulbs.

3. We allow daisies to grow in our grass for the bees to enjoy and don’t use any chemicals in our garden. We are happy to share it with nature and enjoy the company of a variety of birds, lots of bees, a few hedgehogs and a parliament of owls.

4. We participate fully in the local recycling schemes available in our corner of Germany (monthly glass recycling, separation of rubbish into compost, recyclables (paper, metal etc) and compost). We return empties to the shop for a small financial incentive.

5. We share bath water. The kids always share a bath, together or separately, and I either add some hot to that for my own luxury soak or offer my husband my bath water later. Romantic, no?

6. I use my car infrequently. I try to walk wherever and and whenever I can. All kindergarten drop-offs, play-dates, extramural activities take place per leg power. We are also teaching our kids to love their bikes, trying to inculcate the good German value of ‘why drive when you can cycle?’.

7. We’re teaching our kids to love nature. Ollie attends a forest kindergarten, where he spends three hours a day outside. He is learning that a stick and a tree and some chestnuts make good toys, just like cars. They also love technology, but we believe that the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

8. We try to shop local, going to the markets and consciously choosing products made closer to home. It’s not always easy because it’s hard to resist the delicious Italian or French products that turn up, but we are being more conscious about our shopping decisions.

It’s very small in the grand scheme of things but the words that should be highlighted are: participate, consciousness and habit. That’s the very least that we can do on an individual level – develop good habits, be more conscious of how our decisions affect the environment and participate in any local schemes available.

I’d love to hear what you are doing.