Ah the last days of summer. So bittersweet. And I'm not talking about saying goodbye to the weather. I'm referring to spending a few weeks at the decidedly ungreen family beach house. I've been coming to this shore house since I first met the babe's father, over a decade ago. It's owned collectively by his father, aunt, and uncle, and rented out for most of the season. But the end of August is family time, and they - we - descend in droves. There are highlights, for sure. But over the years as I have grown greener, I find it harder and harder to relax and have fun as I witness the insane amount of towels that get washed daily, the piles of paper plates and napkins that get trashed nightly, and toss and turn on the heavily fragranced sheets. Constant upkeep includes new (off-gassing!) wall to wall carpets, regular (VOC-heavy) paint jobs, and the worst conventional cleaning products on the market. Another sore spot: a passel of heavily scratched Teflon pots and pans. Ack!
I'm painting an ugly portrait on purpose. Vacation often means loosening the organic reigns. You can vote with your dollars and try to find an eco resort, but in general you don't have much control over your away-from-home environs. This house gets to me because while I can't green it the way I do my home bubble, I can exert some influence. And I wish I could do even more. And this is what I try to tell other moms unhappy about leaving their bubbles for a week or so. Green where you can. I'm lucky that the babe's grandparents are in charge of maintaining the property and are very open to suggestions. Changes that have been made in the last few years include swapping in eco-friendly dish soap, dishwasher soap, laundry detergent, and all purpose spray. Still, I have found cleaners I won't use under the sinks but I gather these are used after we leave and before the next renters come in. I am trying to have that policy changed. The last time they painted the interior of the house, low VOC product was used. They're starting to use better light bulbs. When the weather isn't hot and humid, the central air is turned off and we all make an effort to open the windows and let the breeze pour in. (It's wafting all over me as I type.)
I tend to take over a shelf in the fridge and another in the cabinet where I keep my organic staples while we're here. I'm not sure how this makes people feel one way or another but when there are twenty five people in the house - it often swells to this number - I can't really be responsible for keeping everyone in organic eggs. Perhaps my past few years of doing this has rubbed off as this year I notice most of the staples - eggs, milk, butter - are organic. Pretty awesome.
One thing I'd like to implement this summer - though realistically it will likely happen next year - is to limit the towel laundry. To this end, I'd remove the stacks of clean towels that are out around the house, near the showers. Instead, I'd give each person a few towels at the beginning of the week, all with a giant color-coded diaper pins attached to them (families can be one color). As the situation stands now, even if you're trying to use only three towels - or less - someone swoops in and takes them as they're drying. Not only does this make for some serious laundry, it's not entirely hygienic, either. I'm not so interested in drying my babe post beach with a towel some random relative just used post-shower.
Another thing I'm trying to cut down on is plastic consumerism. The garage of this house has the largest stockpile of sand toys and pool floats I've ever seen. It makes me shudder to see so much. And yet...every year people buy more and more - noodles, water wings, rakes, floats. It's clearly not necessary. I'm trying to gently suggest that people shop the garage before heading to the local 5&10 en masse to buy more bubble blowing wands, water guns, and kids goggles (they always break no matter what anyway). We're also tossing those Teflon pans and replacing them with safer stainless steel and cast iron versions. And I'm trying to load up the cabinets with glass food storage containers. We always have leftovers from dinners that get devoured as lunch the next day. Which means the aluminum foil, plastic wrap, and plastic storage bag situation is currently out of control.
I have other tips on how to green my own room within this non green bubble but they're pretty basic - I bring my own pillowcases and so forth. At some point greening outside your home needs to happen. And where better to start than enlisting your family? When I talk about trying to green schools, for example, I always suggest parents get in tight with management. I couldn't be tighter with management here. And they're slowly starting to listen. When I prod, it turns out assorted relatives have much bigger eco-ideas of their own - someone was just talking about investing in a geothermal heat pump. How cool. It will probably take a few more summers, but I get the feeling this place will soon be its own bubble.
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