Whole Parenting Family

10 ways to live Laudato Si as a midwest, mom of many


I had the great privilege of being a guest on the Jennifer Fulwiler show on the Catholic channel on Sirius XM radio the other week.

Afterwards, I felt so chagrinned. We were talking about living out the Pope’s latest encyclical, Laudato Si, and I totally lost my notes beforehand and experienced major mommy brain during and couldn’t summon up all the thoughts I’d had about the topic. Jen, will you ever let me back on the air??? But we did confirm that despite not compost toileting, you’re probably holier than Haley, right? 😉

The reason I wanted to talk with her in the first place was that upon reading the encyclical, I felt panicked. I need my heat! I need my a/c! Pope Francis seems to ask things we can’t do as normal American moms of many!

So after thinking about it, here’s my list of ways to live out environmental stewardship as a midwest mom of many who can’t live out the beautiful organic farmer life that I pine for secretly in my dreams. (But then I’d have to give up our ancestral home and I don’t think I can do that!!)

1) Recycle.

I’m pretty sure everyone does this. At least, I thought everyone did before I went to law school and met so many people who simply didn’t. Maybe their city didn’t collect it without a fee. Maybe their county didn’t promote it. Maybe they simply hadn’t given it much thought.

Paper. Cardboard. Glass. Certain plastics. The greatest city in the world, i.e., where we live in Saint Paul, Minnesota, has a great recycling program. Yes, they do curbside pick up city-wide. So that makes it a bit easier.

But even when we’re out at the Lodge, I still make that extra effort to recycle. Just open up a brown paper sack from the grocery store & toss your rinsed out recyclables in there. I know it can be a pain to rinse the yogurt container, but do it for Mama Earth.

2) Reuse.

So if you don’t want to rinse that yogurt container for recycling purposes, you can simply wash it super clean and reuse it for your own. Leftovers. Food delivery to friends. Container for paint brushes or crayons that have been meticulously peeled. Piece of pirate hat. You name it.

Food containers are great for reusing but so are disposal bags you receive when shopping. I opt for paper as much as possible because of reports of BPA on the plastics (and my kids can’t keep their hands or heads away from the, so there’s that, too). Bring them back to the store with you the next time (and our coop grocery store, you save $ when you bring your own bags). Costumes for kids. Containers for recycling.

We try to repurpose old sheets and shirts and other clothing items when they’re totally unusable for their original purpose as rags. Instead of reaching for a paper towel all the time, stash your thin rags nearby and use those to scrub.

3) Compost kitchen scraps.

Jen loved this one. Hard wink. In the spring through fall, we compost our fruit & veggie & egg shells & paper towel kitchen scraps. No, you probably don’t want to compost meat or dairy or grain products unless you want the animals to really come a-knocking at your back door. But the other scraps, when heaped together and pitchforked occasionally, turn into the richest black dirt that then you can use on your garden the next year. Coffee grounds, too, almost forgot those. Yummy dirt!

4) Garden.

We have a corner lot with a big backyard that’s almost all hill and nearly no sun. So our backyard gardening is a leap & a prayer every year. Mostly we’ve experienced the epic twinges of blighted potatoes, but do have a happy grape vine and asparagus crop. The tomatoes do well in the soil and the herbs & cukes do well in planters.

Our large sunny front yard is all raspberries on one side, with a hint of strawberries tucked away on the other. In my husband’s wildest dreams, all grass would be eradicated as the weed it is and replaced with fungibles. But I do like the kids to have somewhere to play that’s not the back hill. Surprisingly. Another wink.

5) Farmer’s Market & Natural Food Coops.

We pick out which food items are more important to be local and/or organic. Usually go by the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list. Porous fruits & veggies, meat & dairy. Breads and pastas I stick to ones with less than five ingredients. We prioritize food in our budget and spend the majority of it on what we’re considering healthier and safer foods. This isn’t possible for many families (totally acknowledging food privilege!) and I get that totally. It also isn’t an interest to many folks to go organic and that’s totally their prerogative.

For meat, we do half cows & partial pigs from local farmers (and only eat meat twice a week). Dairy we try to stick with the glass containers at the coop that you can wash & return–it’s cheaper than organic and the thick cream on top is my kids’ delight. Farmer’s markets are a Saturday tradition in the summer and we try to buy bulk vegetables that we know we’ll cook with that week. We have a membership at the coop so we get a dividend every year–and it’s amazing to grocery shop that week using it up!

6) Costco.

We also belong to Costco and love its many healthy offerings and c h e e s e s. CHEESES. Very important food group for us. Costco has the unbleached & unrefined sugar & flour on occasion, quinoa, organic corn chips, pistachios, and toilet paper. Sorry, I can’t wipe my butt with 7th gen toilet paper. It’s so so so not a pleasant experience.

7) Transportation.

We’re a one car family with family members who live with us with lots of cars if we’re in a pinch. So before I sound like a car martyr, let me clear the air with that.

That being said, AA takes the train to work and jogs home from it. In Jen’s words, he’s embodying Laudato Si! haha. If you do live in a city with good public transportation, take advantage of it! We save a lot of money on repairs, insurance, and gas having only the one car. I also am the one who gets to use it, ergo, I am not taking public transportation with the kids that often, so it’s easy on me.

8) Clothing.

We shop second-hand only for me & the kids. With a few exceptions. Winter gear, formal wear & shoes for me (like I need any more at this non-working-outside-the-home-time in my life), and underwear. Otherwise, I love shopping my friends’ closets on instagram: Grace, Olivia, Anna. And the Just Between Friends consignment sales or Once Upon a Child around the Twin Cities have served my kids greatly. That and hand-me-downs from kind cousins and friends!

AA just got three new suits at Men’s Warehouse which was having a buy one, get one sale. We’d been waiting for a long time (last time we went suit shopping was 8 years ago?!) to get him a few more but just hadn’t found the best deals. Thank you, Men’s Warehouse! #notasponsorofamommyblog

9) Spirit of Gratitude.

Jen made the great point that Laudato Si was about more than stewardship and being environmentally conscious, but also being grateful, and approaching our surroundings with a spirit of gratitude. For example, appreciating there is meat readily available at the grocery store, instead of being outraged when it’s not available in the cut we need. She’s totally right. We should look at what gifts we’ve been given and treasure them and not taking them for granted.

10) Share with those around you.

If you know someone doesn’t have a place to go for a holiday, open your (toy-ridden, spiderweb-infested) home. If you know a fellow Catholic is looking for a parish and hasn’t fallen in love with one, invite them to your church for mass. If you know someone lost their baby to a miscarriage, send them a card with a spiritual bouquet or bring them a meal (my go-to). If you are examining your closet and just never use a few items that are still in fashionably ok shape, pass them to a girlfriend on whom they’d sparkle. If your friend is looking for work and uncertain about her job hunt, offer to look at her resume or do a practice interview.

Your resources are beyond the measure of your bank account. Share your intellect, your passions, and your love with your brothers and sisters in your humble, midwest home and that’s a pretty great way to live out a beautiful calling from our Pope on caring for the environment–which starts with valuing the human lives right around you.


  1. AnneMarie on March 7, 2016 at 5:17 pm

    I love how practical these are! I think it’s super easy for people to get intimidated by Laudato Si, but when you break it down, there are so many little things that we can all do. I am all about reusing items! Plastic containers from the grocery store are awesome for holding leftovers. Though it is scary, because you see just how much sour cream a family of 2 adults + 1 unborn baby eats in the course of a year 😛 If we have plastic bags that have accumulated from different stores, I like reusing those by turning them into some type of household item-like a crocheted water bottle holder or bowl that holds Rosaries.

    • Natural Mama Nell on March 7, 2016 at 11:26 pm

      What great reusables. Thank you for being here!

  2. Kasey on March 7, 2016 at 7:05 pm

    Love this. I feel oh so guilty for not shopping at our co-op more often. I try to make up for it with other earth & people loving activities, though. So thanks for the encouragement as well as the ideas.

    • Natural Mama Nell on March 7, 2016 at 11:25 pm

      We all can only do so much. But those together equal a lot!

  3. Annabelle on March 7, 2016 at 9:03 pm

    I loved this post!

    We also have very good luck taking jars and containers to our grocer, asking them to tare, then heading to the bulk bins, peanut butter grinder, etc. Oh and netted bags or cloth for produce! (maybe you could add those to your shop!)

    • Natural Mama Nell on March 7, 2016 at 11:25 pm

      Love it! Great ideas!

  4. Hannah Hilgendorf on March 8, 2016 at 9:31 am

    Delightful post!

    Even worse than yogurt: peanut butter. Ugh. It’s very stubborn. Thank goodness for sprayers at the kitchen sink!

    A couple other little ways we try to live out Laudato Si’:

    We only get groceries about once every nine days, and I try to use up as many of our fresh groceries as possible before getting new ones. This minimalizes waste and unnecessary grocery runs.

    We reuse water bottles. For normal drinking, we use glasses, but there are places where water needs to be unspillable (bed, where nursing the not-so-wee-anymore bairn leaves me parched) or accompanied by as little extra weight as possible (our miniature-duffel-turned-diaper-bag, where everything tumbles together and meets in the deep, whence water is always the first to be sought after and dug out on any expedition), so when our water bottles are emptied, we refill them.

    We reuse gallon ziploc bags. I love our Pyrex storage containers and use them all the time, but there are some things they don’t work for, especially bread (I bake all our bread, usually using sourdough), so when a bag is emptied, it gets washed and rinsed out, much as I dislike that job.

    Gratitude is a huge deal! We keep a gratitude journal open in the kitchen and jot things down in it (unfortunately not nearly often enough!)

    We use small t-shirt rags for baby wipes, as well as using hankies instead of tissues (unless my husband’s sinuses flare up, in which case I can’t keep up with the laundry).

    When the weather permits, we make use of the laundry line. I’m glad it’s spring so we can start that again! I have learned to give myself some grace with this one, though. Do you know how long it takes to hang up a week’s worth of baby wiping rags, all the while with your baby strapped onto you or else trying to find all the yucky trash in the yard that the neighbors left and haven’t cleaned up? It takes a long time. But it’s such a marvelous opportunity to get some fresh air!

    We don’t generally wash clothes unless they’re smelly or stained. This isn’t as big of a deal now we have kids, but without kids, it’s not unusual to be able to go quite a long time without needing to wash any given article of clothing! Longer times between washes means longer life for clothes, too.

    The great thing about most of these things is that they’re also good ways to cut costs, which my frugal heart loves. Except rinsing the last smears of peanut butter out of the jar. That’s just a lot of work.

    • Natural Mama Nell on March 9, 2016 at 8:52 pm

      All wonderful wonderful ideas!!

  5. Lis on March 20, 2016 at 8:13 pm

    I don’t understand why you don’t buy second-hand underwear?! 😉 TOTALLY kidding.

    Space doesn’t permit for us to have a garden at our apartment, but I make my own yogurt, granola, and I just got a cheese cloth so I might start making cheese if I can gather my courage! 🙂

    • Natural Mama Nell on March 23, 2016 at 1:24 pm

      hahahah–totally amazing you do the yogurt! I tried briefly but couldn’t keep up with the demands of my children’s stomachs or ever get the consistency right. Cheeses. ROCK ON!

  6. Elizabeth on March 23, 2016 at 6:01 pm

    You can compost meat and dairy scraps in Ramsey County https://www.ramseycounty.us/residents/recycling-waste/organic-waste (I think there’s a Mac-Groveland specific compost site too.) I haven’t done this yet, we moved and have yet to start backyard composting again, suffering a lack of browns for the mix! Saving up meat and dairy sounds like a lot of… maggots. I was going to start in the winter but just didn’t manage. Maybe some dedicated deep freeze space could make it work?
    (From a fellow one-car, three-kids, no-screens St Paulite)

    • Natural Mama Nell on March 24, 2016 at 3:59 pm

      Okay, so we must be twins. COFFEE DATE??

      • Elizabeth on March 26, 2016 at 11:46 am

        Maybe a park? My kids seem to lose all their awesomeness in coffeeshops. Email me after Easter if you’re serious 🙂