Welcome to Sing With Your Feet, the podcast in which we pursue our Ideal Lives, every day, little by little and celebrate those little things as golden stepping stones towards our dreams.
The podcast in which we know joy as we live in harmony with the planet in simple, creative and life-bringing ways.
The podcast in which your Wicked Stepsister, Death Doula LiElla Kelly, gives us the lowdown on environmentally friendly burial options, or as she likes to call it, Going Out Green.
My name is Lily Fields, and I am going to be your fairy godmother for the next half hour or so, and as I mentioned, your favorite Death Doula is back with us this week, and I could not be more excited to hear what she has to say.
“Now now now, Lily Fields…” Oh…that? That’s you. You sometimes object to the things I have to say, and I needed to find a way to make you sound different from me. So there you have it. You’re a southern belle. Isn’t that sweet?
Are you going to try to convince me that recycling will bring me joy? Because I’m telling you upfront that this is not going to be the case.
Darlin’ I would never try to convince you that something is going to bring you joy. Because what will bring me joy won’t necessarily bring you joy, and vice versa. What I know is that environment and ecology, which is, incidentally, the topic of today’s episode, is not only about recycling.
There are so many different ways to look at the environment and ecology, and a ton of important things that can be said about it by people far more intelligent than I.
I’m not going to suggest that you should live off the grid (although a few weeks ago I did tell you that you should stop shopping, so I guess I understand why you might be worried about that!)
I’m not going to tell you to start growing tomatoes hydroponically in your sunroom, although if this gets you excited, then hey, by all means! Do it!
But what I want to get you thinking about today is how you can find a way to live out your Ideal Life in relationship to the environment, and how you can seek joy in this area of your life. Because joy is what is going to make any commitment you make to a life more gentle to the planet more bearable.
It’s in many ways going back to what we talked about in Episode 27, entitled Passionately Curious. It’s about using what geeks us out and overlaying that with our concerns for the world in which we live.
Lily Fields, that sounds like crazy talk.
It does right now…but that’s because I’ve barely gotten started. Stick with me, darlin’; we’ve got some magic to make.
We are getting towards the end of our series on The Ideal Life Themes. This week, we are going to examine our Ideal Life as it pertains to the Environment and Ecology, and next week, we are going to be talking about Craft and Creativity, which, you’ll see, is my absolute favorite topic of them all.
Since the beginning of September, we have looked at the topics of: Marriage, Commitments, Contentment and Mental Health. Before that, we talked about Passions, our Bodies and Health, Work, Personal Style, Spiritual Life…and many more.
Each of these topics is one individual aspect of our lives. How your Ideal Life is defined in any one of these areas is unique to you, with your dreams, your life experiences and the time, talent and treasure that you have to invest in them. There is no one-size-fits-all, off-the-rack Ideal Life: there is only an haute-couture, tailored-perfectly-to-you life, in colors that flatter you and makes you feel like a million bucks kind of Ideal Life.
The whole of the conversation, and the premise I have been trying to put forward is about how joy can be found in the pursuit of the overlap of these themes. Once we have defined what our Ideal Life would look like–and we do that by spending some time answering the prompt, “In My Ideal Life, I am a Person Who…” and letting our hearts and imaginations run wild– it gives us a blueprint for our decision making. It gives us direction. It helps us decline opportunities and invitations that do not help us make progress.
Knowing what we want for our lives helps us get unstuck.
Along the way, we have challenged ourselves to ask four little questions every day about our Ideal Life, looking each day at just one of these themes. We do this, because progress towards the life we dream of is our goal. There’s this super annoying business-y adage that says, “We manage what we measure.”
It’s super annoying, yes, but I’m sure we can agree that there are many many examples in our own lives of how it is true. Well, the goal of asking ourselves these four questions is to measure–to take the temperature, if you will– of what is working and what isn’t working, and to identify one tiny thing we can do today to make progress.
I, as your fairy godmother, am fond of celebrating progress. Celebrations of any kind are welcome. Cheap or expensive, private or public…all I care about is that when you make progress, no matter how small, that you take a moment to recognize that you just got closer to living your Ideal Life. And I mean, no matter how small that progress is.
Case in point: Last week, I used my birthday as an excuse to thank past me for making my life easier. This was important, because let me tell you, since school started back up again this Fall, I have been deep in the throes of forgetfulness. I was losing things again: my keys, phone, my clothes, my library card, my mind. I gave myself a pep talk. I re-committed to giving items dedicated homes and actually putting them there–and even saying out loud, “I am putting my keys in the key basket” and “I am putting my phone in the front pocket of my backpack.”
At the overlap of the circles of Habits and Routines, Mental Health and Commitments was the joy of celebrating a solution–it was a tiny thing: I bought myself a cookie at the bakery and ate it in glorious triumphant solitude. It’s not something I do often, but it brought me immense joy to celebrate this progress.
Sometimes it is the little things that trip us up in our everyday lives–for me it was keys and a library card–, and that’s why celebrating little things is so important. Sometimes, we need a pep talk to move us forward.
You alone know what it will take to motivate you. I want you to love yourself enough to celebrate your progress. Seek out joy, Cinderella, and you’ll live a life of magic.
Part One: The Ideal Life
The Ideal Life Theme of Environment and Ecology means being a good steward of the space and resources that have been accorded to me, including, but not limited to the planet we live in, the air we breathe and the natural resources at my disposal. This theme, as they all are, is idiosyncratic and it means to you what it means to you, just as it means to me what it means to me.
For me, it covers everything from taking care of my plants and my little balcony garden, how our family uses water, electricity and gas, and considering how much trash we have been taking out in relationship to our recycling. It’s also about, and forgive me for saying something completely crazy, but it will make more sense next week: making something out of nothing.
I know that my family’s teeny tiny little efforts in this area won’t save the planet, but it is important to me that we don’t lose sight of the low-hanging fruit in this area.
In my Ideal Life, I am a person who:
- takes good care of my plants
- reuses everything I possibly can
- recycles everything that can be recycled
- uses creativity to keep stuff out of the dump
- doesn’t buy anything with unnecessary packaging
- lives as close to zero waste as I can
- is conscientious about the origin of what I eat, wear…
- Teaches my kids to respect nature
- reduces my carbon footprint
- can make something out of nothing
- Keeps on top of our recycling and doesn’t let it accumulate
Part Two: Green Parenting
When I was pregnant with my first baby, I had all kinds of hopeful thoughts. I wanted only wood toys for the baby, and none of that plastic stuff. I wanted to use cloth diapers for the baby, none of those landfill clogging disposable ones. I would make my own baby food. I wanted my child to grow up taking walks in the woods and knowing the name of every indigenous species of plant and the scientific name for every animal we came across.
I rejected the thought of a baby monitor. I did not want a baby swing or a fancy crib or baby furniture. Those I managed to stay away from. But the pressure to be a doting parent is intense: how we prepare for the arrival of a baby is heavily influenced by what companies want to sell us, not by what we actually need, to the point that we are already made to doubt our affection for and dedication to our child before they are ever born if we don’t go along with the marketing ploys of modern convenience.
Before he was born, I found myself a copy of the sheet music for the song Nature Boy….You know…made popular in Moulin Rouge as it was sung by David Bowie. There was a boy…a very strange enchanted boy. They say he wandered very far…very far…over land and sea…
At the time, I hadn’t started articulating my Ideal Life. These were ideas. Thoughts. Aspirations. I had zero action plan to make them a reality, and I was missing a lot of information about how this all would go down.
There is a difference between, what we call in French “faire des plans sur la comète”, literally, making plans on a comet, meaning, dreaming big without being anchored in reality, and pursuing our Ideal Life.
One incredibly important initial criteria for an Ideal Life statement is that it is about the person I want to be in my Ideal Life, meaning, I cannot impose my Ideal Life on anyone else. I can dream about an Ideal Life devoid of plastic toys that make noise and without disposable diapers, but I am not the only person raising my child, and neither my child’s indulgent father nor I are in control of what that child eventually likes or dislikes or is allergic to, no more than we can control his character, his passion or his interests.
So, nearly immediately upon my child coming into the world, I saw my dream of raising a kind of civilized Tarzan was a bit…foolish. I stayed pretty solidly stuck and stubborn about some of these things for a while. I tried to do the cloth diapers and the daily walks in the woods with a baby in a baby sling. But you know what?
My baby cried all the time. Nothing, absolutely nothing would calm him down except for two things: the sound of the crinkling plastic packaging that came around a bunch of bananas or the sound of the vacuum cleaner. The cloth diapers were great, but my husband wasn’t on board (I’ll admit that they were a little complicated.)
And then we got baby gifts. Toys with batteries and plastic things with lights and sound, the exact kinds of things I had so carefully hoped to avoid. But…the lights and sounds were intriguing to him. They stopped him from scream-crying. So then what?
It made me miserable to see that this Pollyanna dream I had of being a happy earthy crunchy hippy green parent to Nature Boy was already coming apart at the seams.
So I had to regroup.
As is wont to happen, my baby started to grow. I saw that I had been very short sighted, and that I could in no way control him or my indulgent husband–or the fact that I was pregnant again six months after he was born. So I needed to figure out my own relationship with being green, and hold myself accountable to it.
I had to start small, though. Very, very small.
For example, one thing was that, even though we live in an apartment, I wanted to be able to compost our vegetable scraps. I was still making baby food at the time, and this seemed like a good way to create a “no waste” solution.
So I bought a balcony composter that is home to little earthworms who eat our veggie scraps. We got this multi-layered composter seven years ago, and those worms still devour our veggie scraps, much to my delight and to the delight of my children, whose job it is to “feed the worms” by taking out the scraps and spreading them in the composter.
The benefit of this process is that the worms turn the scraps into this beautiful brown soil that I then use in my garden planters in the Spring. No, I can’t have a hydroponics garden and grow all my own vegetables. But I can have a circular system for some of our food waste. And the best part is that our boys think that this is perfectly normal.
It’s not entirely no waste, but it significantly reduces our trash output. And I want to put less stuff into the landfills. So…yay. Success.
Another very very important element to me in regards to my children has always been that we wear out, and I mean, until unusable, every single item of clothing. This means that when an item has a hole in it, we repair it. If it is too small, we either pass it on to the smaller child, or, (and here is where you might start thinking I am crazy), but I have been known to lop off the sleeves of a particularly well-loved long sleeve t-shirt that have gotten too short if the rest of the t-shirt still fits, and finish the edges (or not…) or I have added a few inches of fabric to the bottom of tee to make it longer.
I have mended the knees of some pants so many times that they are works of art.
And when they wear out beyond repair, I cut them up and use them as rags, or use them as patches on other items of clothing.
And the best part about this? My children think this is perfectly normal. They are totally cool with wearing mended, patched clothes. As a matter of fact, they call the patches that I sew inside the knees of their pants, “secrets.” They think this makes them unique and cool.
In the case where an item is still usable and in good condition, I do pass things on to friends who have little boys, in the hopes that those items will get passed on again. My boys have limited wardrobes, but they are happy with that. This makes me happy, too.
When I was growing up we had a neighbor who was a retired doctor. This man was the most frugal, careful man I have ever known. “Want not, waste not“ he used to say. He wore gardening boots that were held together with duct tape and a threadbare apron. To look at him, you would have thought he was in the grips of poverty. But I knew otherwise. This was who he was, and for those of us who knew him, we loved him for this eccentricity.
Do I ever worry that people are judging us for how ragged a merry band we are? Sometimes. But the only people whose opinion of us matters to me are people who know that we are eccentric and not confined to the norms of the world. We live in a bubble of fairy dust.
Or…as I’ve talked about before, I got a bee in my bonnet to learn everything I could about wool…from the shearing of the animals to the use of a spinning wheel. This became something of a family project, with my youngest helping me wash the wool fresh off the sheep and my eldest carefully carding the wool. They both have shown varying degrees of interest in learning how to knit.
Incidentally, some of the wool we have deemed unusable due to its condition (too much vegetable matter or too matted to card), the boys have used to help me enrich the soil of our garden planters. Nothing goes to waste. Waste not, want not.
Plus, the boys continue to have a relationship with the animals our wool comes from and the people who care for those animals. This gives them a sense of familiarity with an agricultural lifestyle that, as city dwellers, and as much as we would like to, we cannot provide for them. They have a vocabulary for life experiences that many city kids can’t have, because they simply don’t have exposure to it.
The boys have become knowledgeable about these ancient fiber arts, with which, who knows, when armageddon comes or the global supply chain is permanently disrupted, they will be able to clothe themselves and others.
I love that they understand the life cycle of a garment, and it gives them insight into its value.
I will admit that all of this is time-consuming. But it is a choice. It brings me joy, because it is at the overlap of the circles of Environment, Parenting, Passions and Creativity in the Venn Diagram of my life.
My kids throw around the word “wasteful” with abandon. They share their father’s aversion to cigarettes, and have actually warned people to be careful what they do with their cigarette butts. They know the difference between knits and wovens.
None of these were on my “green parenting Bingo card” when I was pregnant with my first child, but I’m pretty happy with the results. It all started with figuring, lucidly, out who I wanted to be in my Ideal Life in relationship to the environment.
From there, it was about making the choices that would get me there. It was about taking my passions and the things that geek me out, and intentionally investing my time, talent and treasures in the way I parent my kids.
Nothing is perfect. I mean, we drive our car more than I would like, and we still have more plastic toys than I would like. I know that there is progress to be made towards keeping a tiny carbon footprint.
I’m still going to celebrate our tiny victories and the unexpected ways that they bring us joy.
Part Three: The Wicked Stepsister and Green Burial
You’ve heard enough from me on this subject. The person you’ve been dying to hear from is LiElla Kelly. She is, in this fairytale, your Wicked Stepsister. Not wicked because she’s mean, mind you, but wicked because she talks about things most of us would rather not think about–but that we should be thinking about. Like Death.
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a dozen times: it is not dark or morbid to think about what we would want our loved ones to remember about us when we are gone. As a matter of fact, pursuing that train of thought can help us articulate our Ideal Life. Death is inseparable from life: it is the period at the end of the sentence. So becoming comfortable with the eventuality of our death can actually help us live more fully.
If this isn’t a topic that puts you at ease, then you need to meet LiElla. She is the very best person to get you thinking.
With all that fanfare out of the way, I am so happy to welcome back LiElla Kelly to the show. LiElla, the floor is yours!
Every other week in the town that I live in, families engage in a ritual. They sort their garbage into bins, plastics, paper, cardboard, glass…then they set their blue recycling bins on the curb for pickup. Where we live, recycling isn’t mandatory. It’s a choice. And even though it’s extra work, as you drive around town, you can see that many people are choosing to recycle. It seems that we feel compelled to do our little part to mitigate our environmental impact. As you may be aware, I am the wicked stepsister to Lily’s Fairy Godmother. And my special brand of wickedness is an ability to find the death slant in just about any topic so I’m back to share the death slant of going green.
So let’s investigate the options that we have available. First, lets take a look at the most common disposition choices in our culture. A little side note, if you’re not familiar with that term “disposition” it refers to what we do with dead bodies. In our culture the most common disposition choices are burial and cremation. We’re going to discuss those processes and the resulting environmental impact.
We’ll start with burial. Here’s how it works. Many families choose to have a viewing before the funeral. Generally, funeral homes require that a body is embalmed for a viewing to take place. Even without a viewing, some funeral homes will embalm a body unless otherwise requested by the next of kin. Embalming involves the use of formaldehyde-based fluids. About 800,000 gallons of embalming fluid are buried in U.S. cemeteries every year. We don’t yet have definitive information on the environmental impact of those chemicals but we do know that embalmers who regularly work with these chemicals have increased risks of certain cancers and neurological diseases.
After a body is embalmed, it is placed in a casket. Caskets represent the one-time use of resources such as wood, steel, copper and bronze. At the time of burial, that casket is placed in the ground in a concrete vault, kinda like a Russian nesting doll, a box inside a box. The concrete vault helps to preserve the aesthetics of the cemetery. It keeps the ground from settling under the weight of heavy equipment used in the cemetery of just the passage of time.
The burial plot is now claimed for perpetuity. For years to come, resources will be needed to maintain the gravesite and cemetery lawns. Fertilizers and pesticides may also be employed to beautify the cemetery.
That’s the basic burial practice. What about cremation? More than half of Americans are choosing to be cremated. In the U.S. over 2,000,000 cremations are performed each year. How does this process work?
It’s quite straight forward. A body is placed in a container, anything from cardboard box to fancy casket and placed into the retort, or cremation chamber. The body is exposed to extreme temperatures 1400-1800* F for 2-4 hours. During the process, harmful gases like mercury and dioxin are released. Additionally, about 540 pounds of carbon dioxide are released from each cremated body. In the U.S. that’s over 1 billion pounds of CO2 each year. CO2 traps heat in the atmosphere which contributes to an increase in atmospheric temperature or global warming.
Like I said, burial and cremation are currently are most popular options but they aren’t the only choices we have available. There are greener alternatives. We’ll take a look at three.
First, green burial. Green burial is similar to traditional burial but it does have a couple of rules. No embalming. Only biodegradable materials may be used in the burial. A body can be shrouded in natural fabrics and placed in the earth or a casket of untreated wood can be used. When the grave is closed, native plants can be used to beautify the site. Some conventional cemeteries are making green burial available. These are called hybrid cemeteries. They offer essential aspects of green burial, either throughout the cemetery or in a designated section. Natural cemeteries are also becoming popping up around the US. These offer burial in a natural setting like a forest or prairie. There are also conservation cemeteries which are natural burial grounds on lands protected by a conservation land trust. You can learn more about these options by visiting greenburialcouncil.org.
Our second alternative is alkaline hydrolysis or flameless cremation. This process is a really appealing option for those who like the overall idea of cremation but want a gentler process or lower carbon footprint. Here’s how it works. An alkaline hydrolysis machine is made up of a single chamber air- and watertight chamber which holds approximately one hundred gallons of liquid. A body is placed in the chamber with a solution that is 95% water and 5% alkaline chemicals, either potassium hydroxide or sodium hydroxide. Depending on equipment, heat, pressure or agitation may be introduced to convert soft tissues into basic organic compounds. The entire process will take from 3-16 hours again depending on equipment and mass of the body. The end result will be bone fragments and sterile liquid. The bone fragments will be dried and pulverized in the same manner as traditional cremains. However, one interesting difference is that alkaline hydrolysis results in approximately 32% more cremated remains. And what about the water? The liquid is far cleaner than most wastewater so it can flow into the local wastewater system or it may be used for fertilizer because of the potassium and sodium content. Currently, alkaline hydrolysis is legal in 20 states but that is changing rapidly with more and more states adding legislation to allow the process.
Our third and last alternative option is human composting or natural organic reduction. And it is what it sounds like, composting. So you already get the basic idea just applying composting principles to human remains. Before you start imagining veggie scraps and um…body parts in the corner of the yard, I assure you, it is a bit more sophisticated than that. A body is place in a vessel with plant material like wood chips, alfalfa and straw. The container will remain closed and monitored and occasionally rotated for 30 days. During that time, microbes will convert the enclosed contents into nutrient-rich soil. The soil can be donated to conservation projects or use it to enrich landscaping projects. Currently, natural organic reduction is available in Washington, Oregon, Colorado and Vermont with more states working on legislation.
It’s quite possible that all of these options are not yet available in the state in which you live. Even so, we all have choices for greener death practices. Investigate the options that are available in your area. Ask questions, check with multiple providers. This of course means having conversations but that’s ok because talking about death won’t kill you, I promise.
LiElla is a Death Doula based in Montana. A link to her website is in the show notes, but I also encourage you to look up her podcast, called, “Death Becomes Her”. It’s a fascinating look at some very serious topics, like more about the history and process of embalming, or the Cuddle Cot, an innovation for grieving parents. You can find “Death Becomes Her” on all the podcast platforms.
The Ideal Life Exercise
As we do with each of these themes, I ask myself four easy questions about the theme we are covering.
This is an exercise I do every morning, about just one topic each day. So, this week, we are going to ask those four questions about our Environmental Footprint.
- What is working?
I cannot count the number of times a day I must remind my prolific artist-scalawags that paper is not an eternal resource. Sometimes, when we are really lucky, we’ll have boxes that we can play with until and build things with until they fall apart, at which point we cut them up and use them as artists’ canvases. This always feels like I am winning at being an earth-loving mama when this happens.
I count it as a win when one of the scalawags says, “Oops! I forgot to turn off the light!”, just as much as when one of the geranium cuttings I have been nurturing starts to grow roots or when I remember to save the pasta water to water the plants. I’ve been using vintage bedsheets in an attempt to do fushiki gift wrapping, which makes me feel like I am doing something cool for the environment, too.
- What isn’t working?
This question is usually more aligned to how much we have been driving the car or how much trash we have been throwing out. If either of those elements seems out of proportion to the lifestyle we try to maintain, it’s time to look at why.
- What do I need to think about?
I am always finding an article here or there that will prick my interest regarding how to reduce our electricity consumption, or zero-waste options for groceries. Giving these consideration and seeing how I can make them work in my family is part of this question.
- What can I do today to get me closer to my ideal life?
water my orchids (I only water them once every three weeks, but they bloom for me every year!) I check on my geranium cuttings (I have been doing this every year for as long as I can remember. I just love my hot pink geranium!) Take the glass to the recycling center.
Maybe you aren’t ready to live off the grid yet. That’s just fine. But I want you to consider how can you reduce your environmental footprint in a way that is unique to you, that brings you joy and maybe even geeks you out?
Let me suggest that you start by imagining how your Ideal Life interacts with the Environment, and who you need to be in order to pursue that Ideal Life. Then think about how the different circles of your life overlap with the Environment.
Start small so that it is sustainable, and then go from there. Taking care of our planet should be something that brings us joy, and not just because it is the right thing to do. It’s because we were made to take care of the earth.
Thank you so much for listening to the podcast. Don’t forget to subscribe on your podcatcher, and please, if you enjoy something you’ve heard here please share it with someone you think could use a fairy godmother, too!
A great big thank you to Seven Productions here in Mulhouse France for the use of the song La Joie as the Intro and Outtro to the show. Also, thanks to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.
Talking Points: “Not on my Green Parenting Bingo Card,” LiElla is back!; Geeking out and going out green.
Episode 32 is part of our series on the Ideal Life Categories, this week’s theme being “Environment and Ecology.” The series began back in Episode 15: The One About Our Bodies, in case you want to get caught up!
Learn more about LiElla Kelly, Death Doula, on her website and blog, Leaving Well…The Blog. or on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/leaving.well.death.doula/ or Facebook https://www.facebook.com/search/top?q=leaving%20well%20end-of-life%20planning
You can contact Lily by email: email@example.com, or find her other work here: https://linktr.ee/lilyfieldschallenge
A great big thank you to Seven Productions, https://7prod.fr/, here in Mulhouse France for the use of the song La Joie for the Intro and Outtro to the show. Also, thanks to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.