Easy Ways to Create a Zero Waste Home

Can you believe this blog is over a year old?! I started it when I was a new mom and wanted an outlet and a way to express my crunchy lifestyle. Since then, as some of you may know, I’ve decided to become a web developer/designer and have been teaching myself to code. Between that and being a mom, army wife, living with RA and trying for a zero waste home- life can get super busy. But I still do very much care about my followers and the purpose of this blog- to hold myself accountable to being a healthier, more effective human being and also to document my progress along the way. So far in this blog I’ve covered a lot of topics surrounding gentle parenting, veganism, minimalism, saving money and how I’m striving to achieve a zero waste home.

 

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An easy step to a zero waste home: cloth napkins.These cloth dinner napkins are 3 years old but still look great!

 

Yesterday I joined the awesome facebook group Zero Waste Vegans and noticed a post from one of the members named Mailyne who is a mom, artist, owns a zero waste shop and blogs about her zero waste home at A Dream Lived Greener. I first saw her talking about her Zero Waste journey a youtube video which was so inspiring. I can’t seem to find it again, but if I do I will definitely update you with the link. Seeing her post made me remember about this blog, and my dream of one day living a Zero Waste Lifestyle. I thought it would be a great start to update you all on my progress thus far, and with what I have left to do to get closer to having a zero waste home and life. I will start with the most major changes I’ve made, followed by the changes that were smaller/easier to accomplish.

1. Buy in Bulk

 

I’m not talking big box stores: I’m talking bulk bins like you’d find at a health food store. As readers of this blog likely already know I do most of my shopping at in.gredients in Austin. Check out my blog post about why here. If you don’t know where to shop for bulk you can find other stores that are near you that carry bulk with the Bulk app. I must admit that I was nervous the first time I went to buy in bulk- I knew in theory how it was supposed to work but I wasn’t really sure how I would handle all the accessories and the process, plus juggling my daughter in the shopping cart. Check out this video for a great overview from in.gredients to see how it works.

 

 

Even though I do buy in bulk for most things, I still buy packaged things like toilet paper and soy/almond/cashew milk. I need to work on making more things from scratch and figuring out where to buy items in bulk that is not wrapped in plastic. I know that Bea Johnson from Zero Waste Home recommends buying toilet paper wrapped in paper from a hotel supply store.

Another thing I’d like to do is make laundry and dish soap, which I have done in the past but not consistently. Bea recommends using citric acid, which can be bought in bulk at a brewery supply store. Going to these specialty stores presents a challenge as I’d probably have to drive a distance, but once I buy these items in bulk I will be set for awhile. It’s definitely something that I need to make time for in the next week.

 

2. Garden

 

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Growing in pots on the porch: a menagerie of herbs including sage, mint, dill, marigold and squash that just happened to sprout from the compost that was added to the soil.

 

You certainly don’t need a garden to have a Zero Waste Home, but having a garden certainly cuts back on the cost, and can give you things you couldn’t otherwise find (depending on how robust your local source for bulk and/or farmer’s markets are). I’ve been growing my own herbs growing in containers and raised garden beds which I can harvest continually which is very convenient, easy, delicious and beautiful. Many of the herbs I’ve actually grown from non-GMO seeds that were sent to me in paper packaging which is awesome. The only thing about starting plants from seeds is that you have to have a ton of patience. If it’s wintertime you have to have the ability to tolerate the vision and lack of space that’s a result of soil sitting on your windowsill for months which is not the prettiest or most convenient thing in the world to experience.

 

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basil planted next to strawberries, aloe and summer squash. The spacing on the package is for gardens that you need to walk in, but for raised beds planting close is beneficial because it keeps weeds to a minimum.

Some of my herbs and veggies are plants bought at a nursery, which is nice because you can start harvesting right away. If buying from a nursery, try to get the thicker plastic containers and see if they will take them back for reuse. Unfortunately this doesn’t work too well with the thin plastic containers because they are so fragile and rip very easily. I have some other veggies growing in my garden including tomatoes, peppers, squash, and watermelon, but haven’t yet reaped the fruits of my labors.

 

3. Line Dry Clothes

 

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yep there’s my foldable clothes drier doing it’s job well

A major zero waste home goal is to always look to reduce waste of all kinds, not just physical trash. Drying my clothes outside is pretty simple- just put the wet clothes from the washing machine back into the laundry hamper and bring it outside to hang on a folding rack in the sun. My clothes drying rack looks just like the one in this article that details the benefits of air drying your clothes over using a drying machine as represented by the actual numbers. My drying rack is also still going strong after about 3 years, and is normally stored outside on my porch behind my grill. Another free option is a clothes line, which is simply string tied between two high points such as trees, posts, or a fence. I found using clothing pins on a line to be far more cumbersome than drying on the drying rack because the wind isn’t typically strong enough to blow clothes off of it as they push together when the clothes blow around.

My husband complains that his clothes feel to stiff after being dried outdoors, so with his clothes I just pop them in the dryer for a few minutes to tumble all the creases out (though obviously this is not the best solution for the environment or your wallet). I’ve also found that if you hang the clothes on the drying rack properly, they actually are easier to store as they are kind of pre-folded.

 

4. Replace Packaged Hygiene Products

 

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compostable bamboo toothbrush and my jar of home made tooth powder

 

This one has been surprisingly easy. I make my own toothpaste powder out of a mixture of baking soda, coconut oil, stevia and peppermint essential oil. I just mix the ingredients with a hand mixer and add the contents to a resealable glass jar. I have found that it’s best to make individual containers of the toothpaste for each individual family member as we do stick our toothbrushes in there. It is so good that my daughter will actually try to eat it if left unchecked. You can make it powdery or more like a paste, but it has the consistency and taste like the inside of a junior mint candy.

For liquid hand soap I use Dr. Bronner’s which I can buy in bulk in several different scents at in.gredients, and for the shower I buy bar soap that’s either handmade (bought as a slice from a slab) or Dr. Bronner’s which is wrapped in paper. Contact solution is something I still buy new (not sure how safe it would be to try to make your own). Glasses would be great except for the fact that I hate the way they feel on my face- like they’re too heavy and cumbersome. I also make my own lotion using this body butter recipe here:

I have yet to try to make my own makeup as I rarely wear it and am still using my stash from bareminerals. It’s amazing how simple it is and how much less chemicals there are hanging around when you replace the beauty products in the bathroom a zero waste home.

 

5. Buy Clothes Second-Hand

I haven’t actually had to buy many clothes at all in the past year as I already had so many. I still wear the same pink Sac State hoodie I bought when I was a Junior 9 years ago and it looks surprisingly vibrant, as well as the same wool blend jacket which has lost a button that I need to repair. You can find things that are either new or nearly new at the goodwill. I found a pretty dirty pair of converse which looked brand new when I took out the laces and ran them through the wash. They are still in good condition with heavy wear and I bought them six months ago.

As a side note, it’s easy to forget your reusable grocery bags when you go to thrift stores and other non-food outlets, but if you keep them in the car you can always just go back and get them when you forget! I also have a large purse that I carry all the time which I keep pretty empty so I have room to bring stuff home without a bag. Another zero waste home tip is to turn old clothes into new clothes with a sewing machine, or make reusable bags for yourself or a friend. Other creative options for resewing old clothes into fabulous useful items include: wrapping paper/gift bags, doll clothes, bean bags, line, rags, quilts and napkins.

 

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rags we use as paper towels, napkins and tissues made from fabric scraps

6. Use Reusable Containers

If you buy them from a health food store reusable containers can be super expensive. It’s definitely not the most attractive solution but using washed out pasta sauce, pickle and jam jars has been my go-to source for easy reusable containers. I just soak them in hot water and use coconut oil to rub away the extra stickiness left from the original label. I use these to store leftovers, nuts, dry beans, rice, herbs and other ingredients.

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my reusable jars storing dry ingredients like nuts, beans, seeds herbs and rice

I found out the hard way that it is much easier to use cloth bags for transporting dry goods from the store, and then depositing the contents into the glass jars once I get back home. I used a bunch of old fabric I had lying around and sewed them into different sized bags with drawstrings one afternoon. Bags of varying sizes are great for bulk because you’ll want large bags for flour and tiny bags for expensive spices. I use a big LifeFactory water bottle for myself and keep an also keep an assortment of stainless steel water bottles for when we go out of the house, and make sure to keep clean containers and cloth napkins in the car for when we go out to eat and want to bring home leftovers.

7. Compost

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the little stainless steel compost bin I keep by the back door.

 

This is a big one. It can be annoying to constantly bring scraps and ends from your produce out to the compost, but it becomes second-nature when you do it over and over again. Another option is to have a compost bin on your counter, but because it attracts flies and gnats I like to keep mine by the back door for when it is raining and I don’t want to go to the compost in the yard. I’ve had a worm bin in the past, but it got knocked over by my toddler and I just never replaced it. It was simple to set up and maintain, and really breaks down your compost fast.

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my compost bucket! It has holes drilled in the sides but it still needs a lot of shoveling to get air to circulate.

Although you can purchase devices, composting doesn’t have to be complex. It is simply allowing organic matter to rot and all it requires is time and oxygen from the air. I use a bucket, but you could also just have a pile if you have the space. Using free wood pallets is a great way to get a compost going in your yard. Did you know you can also compost things like coffee grounds, bread, eggshells and even hair? Speaking of hair, though this may not be an option if you’re living in an city, I throw my hair out of the bathroom window and it just blows away in the wind. I have learned to save things like apple cores when we go out instead of throwing them away in a public trash can so that they can be composted when I get home. In some cases you don’t actually need a compost to have a zero waste home. Some progressive cities have municipal composting systems so that you can bring your compost there! In this case, freezing your compost until your trip to the city’s compost makes it easy.

8. Shop Craigslist/Ebay

I’ve written before about how to sell on craigslist, but buying stuff on EBay works if you can’t find the item locally. When my Keurig wouldn’t take the reusable cups, I simply searched Craigslist for the older model of Keurig that would take the reusable cups, and then sold my newer model on craigslist. It cost me no money (actually saved me money if you consider I could simply fill the cup with coffee rather than using the expensive and wasteful plastic throw aways), and saved a new Keurig from having to be made for both me and the person who bought my newer Keurig. It was also completely simple and free of packaging.

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my refillable K-cup. Isn’t it beautiful? Why wouldn’t you use one?

If you can’t find something locally on Craigslist, EBay is another option. Simply filter your search for used items. There are also Facebook groups that are specifically for buying and reselling items such as Waldorf Tag Sale (for natural children’s toys and books- by the way I think my next post will be about  kids stuff in a zero waste home because there’s so much to say on that subject that I’ll save it for it’s very own blog post). There are many categories including ones for clothes, collectibles and local yard sale groups. It is secure if you use PayPal and specify that the payment is for goods/services and the groups are usually closely monitored to prevent members that try and take advantage of buyers. Almost anything you need can be found used online if you are patient, persistent and know where to look.

 

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to successfully find something on Craigslist or EBay, check for items regularly as items come and go quickly!

 

Where are you on your journey to a zero waste home? Share your story with us in the comments! Thanks for reading!

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Earn Huge Savings with Tiny Changes

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There are endless amounts of small changes we can all make to lighten our environmental footprint, which you can learn a comprehensive amount of information about from Zero Waste Home, (Read the book for a definitive guide), this blog specifically focuses on those little habits that keep money in our bank account (which most often does add up to a savings in consumer waste as well). It’s a hassle sometimes to acquire the right tools to keep more money in our pocket. For some examples, it can be a pain to walk outside in the cold to compost a bowl of table scraps. It can be painful to turn down a trip to the ice cream shop. It can seem damn right counter-intuitive to sell something new for the exact same thing in an older model. But all these things are examples of small changes I’ve made, some of them were one time changes while others are daily changes.

Deciding Which Changes Will Be Worth it

A big part of the name of this blog, “The Scratch Paper Saver” comes from the idea of using scratch paper to casually predict outcomes depending on certain variables into the future. For someone who struggled with math my whole life (I swear to god it was a miracle that I passed each math class I took from Sophomore year of high school up until university), this is very doable as long as you take the few minutes to look up the variables to make sure they’re accurate.

one will save $0.61 per coffee by using reusable filters in the Keurig

Oftentimes a quick google search can come up with articles in which others have already done the calculations for you, such as in this case where I quickly googled k-cup vs reusable filter cost comparison and found this awesomely detailed and compelling article  by the personal finance blogger, Squawkfox toward the top of the simple google search pile. So by this article’s rather diligent explanation, one will save $0.61 per coffee by using reusable filters in the Keurig rather than the severely trashy and expensive K-Cups that are relentlessly marketed for use by Keurig owners. So with simple back of the napkin math, if you drink 2 cups of coffee a day (a rather modest estimation by stay at home mom and dad standards), that’s a savings of about $37 a month. And to magnify the savings, just multiply that amount by 12 to find out the savings in a year (Around $450)! With every change, you also have to evaluate the time/effort factor that goes into each change. This is a personal decision that depends on the amount of spare time you have and how flexible you can be with external expectations (not going out to lunch with your co-workers for instance).

Using a Compounding Interest Calculator to Estimate Long-Term Savings

To make things even more mouth wateringly juicy, use a compounding interest calculator to play with the savings amount when that yearly savings is invested in an index fund with a 7% average return. This is where you put the pedal to the metal when it comes to the phrase, “A penny saved is a penny earned” my friends, as we are now very  quickly and easily going from 61 cents to thousands of dollars. Now when you throw away one of those flimsy K-cups you can simultaneously imagine reaching into your wallet, pulling out several dollar bills, and tossing those in the trash too. That thought right there should be enough to get us to take the 30 seconds needed to compost those coffee grinds and rinse out our own filter in the sink with a smile!

Small Changes Worth the Effort

    • Go to the library over purchasing new books. If you do purchase new, resell them on eBay.

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    • Sell your unused stuff on Craigslist. Learn from my mistakes here

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    • Make as much home made meals as you can from scratch.
    • Prepare a to-go breakfast the night before such as soaked steel cut oats or chia seed yogurt
    • Take a sack lunch to work
    • Freeze prepared meals for the work week on Sundays
    • Use the crock pot to make dinner while you’re at out
    • Stick to the memorable slogan, “Something to Wear, Something they Need, Something they Want, Something to Read” for your child’s holiday gifts
    • Simplify or opt out of traditional family/friend gifting

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    • Discover even more money saving (small) change that are worth the effort in this post.

 

What other money-saving changes have you made? Please share in the comments!

My First Weeks as a Nutritarian

There was a waiting room, followed by an exam table, the doctor typing on a computer, taking my blood pressure and looking over my lab results. But unlike any other doctor appointment I’d been to, this doctor gave me zero prescriptions to fill. Instead I got a complete diet overhaul, and an order form for nutritional supplements as well as tests for adrenal stress and other blood work to be done. I was told to continue practicing yoga every day to keep my blood circulating and for stress relief.

Looking over the many printouts when I got home, I soon discovered I was on the autoimmune protocol designed by Dr. Joel Fuhrman, a plant-based doctor with a nutritional approach who founded the ANDI nutritional food scoring method used to easily determine the nutrient density of foods. Logically, his diet is designed around the idea that one should eat as much of the foods with the highest ANDI scores as possible.

So for the past two weeks I have been OFF the pharmaceutical drugs and on a very specific food diet that has nothing to do with counting calories and everything to do with consuming nutrient rich foods. Here is an example of what I eat in a day:

Breakfast: Cup of steel cut outs with raisins and ground flax seeds, 10 oz fresh green vegetable juice (80% cucumber or celery, 20% anything else including carrot, apple, greens, etc).

AM Snack: Fruit

Lunch: salad with spinach, lettuce, arugula, radish, celery, cucumber, carrot, any vegetables topped with sunflower seeds, 10 oz green juice (leftover from the morning)

PM Snack: Protein drink (inflammacore plant-based protein powder and water)

Dinner: another vegetable salad with hemp seeds, a bowl of vegetable/pea soup, steamed cruciferous veggies with brown rice.

Dessert: coconut milk/berry/banana smoothie with chia seeds

I’m also taking a digest supplement with every meal, probiotic, multi-vitamin, omega fats marine oil, and a liquid vitamin D.

It has been difficult to keep up with eating the correct foods and avoiding other types of foods, and getting used to not using salt or sugar has been a challenge. Overall, the ease of eating this way came about after the first week. Now I wake up and look forward to my fresh juice in the morning, and more and more I’m enjoying the taste of this simple food. My arthritis symptoms have gotten worse, but I keep reminding myself that there is still a lot of work for my body to do to heal itself and it will not happen overnight. Some people take 2 months or more to see results. Reading Dr. Fuhrman’s books have been eye opening, and motivate me to continue on with eating this way even after I heal my autoimmune disease.

When you know better, you do better.

I look forward to continuing on this journey and being amazed at the results!

 

10 Ideas for an Eco-Friendly Christmas

1. Keep it simple.

Just pick the most important traditions that have meaning for you, leave the new fads behind. When I was pregnant I babysat for a family with three kids who had the popular “Elf on the Shelf.” The kids all loved the elf but one day when I arrived the mom explained to me her kids would be upset because she forgot to move the elf. She was frantically pouring out flour onto a cutting board and trying to set the elf up so it looked like it was making a snow angel before they woke up. The holidays already have enough traditions to keep everyone happy, do we need to buy into marketing’s attempts to make more just to increase profits?

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2. Reevaluate the gift giving tradition altogether.

Gifts can be wonderful to give and receive, but often gifts may not be the right fit for the individual, or maybe they already have everything they need. The wrapping, shipping and packing materials of presents on such a large scale uses precious resources and creates a monumental amount of waste in the environment. Everyone can donate to one another’s favorite charity, volunteer together, or just spend time doing an activity like going to the movies or for a hike. Gifts can also be in the form of gift cards or certificates for experience activities such as a wildlife reserve, a playhouse or a museum. You also could simply ask your loved ones to spend time with you instead of getting gifts. You can see the letter I used this year: Dear Friends and Family.

3. Re-imagine gifts.

If you do give physical presents, select items that you know for sure the receiver will need and use. For instance if you know they drink a specific type of tea regularly, you are guaranteed to give them something they will appreciate and use. Alternatively, any gifts that are made from natural materials, or that can be used up such as homemade cookies, soap or candles are likely to be well received. Thrifting items such as vintage cookie tins or eclectic frames to use to children’s artwork can make wonderful heartfelt gifts as well.

4. Promote an existing tree to “Christmas Tree.”

 

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By using a tree (or a bush, or a plant) that’s growing instead of going out and chopping down a Christmas tree or supporting an industry that does, we’re honoring the beauty in a living tree’s ability to absorb carbon and emit oxygen.

On first glance it would seem that buying a fake tree would be eco-friendly but the truth is that these trees often are made from synthetic materials that emit harmful gases, they tend to break or become bedraggled after a few years, and eventually find their way into the landfill. Not so cheery. Alternatively, you can string up your ornaments across a threshold, mantle or wall which actually causes you to look at them more often and more closely, enjoying them every time you walk by!

 

5. Use nature, or food items as decor.

It is a wonderful thing to have heirloom ornaments you use year after year, but unfortunately the vast majority of ornaments today are the exact opposite- quite disposable. What better way to bring beauty to your home than creating ornaments from the beauty of nature? String a popcorn garland, use found pine cones, create snowflakes out of sticks, or try drying orange slices to create beautiful 100% free and biodegradable ornaments.

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6. Go out into nature.

Going out around the holidays often encourages needless consumption, whether it be buying a Styrofoam cup of hot cocoa or sparkly mass produced ornament that catches the eye. If you do go out, it’s best to have a plan that is sustainable- think a tree lighting, the ice rink, going caroling (do people still do that anymore?) or visit a friend. Though it is probably cold, bundling up and going out into nature fosters appreciation for the natural world, gives us a chance to exercise and breathe fresh air without creating waste. Snow can be very beautiful and playing in it with our family provides us with endless fun and precious memories.

7. Rethink the Christmas card.

Send an e-card or family video instead of greeting cards. If you must send greeting cards, select postcards which cut on paper used and require a cheaper stamp as well.

8. Cook and bake from scratch.

Cooking and baking as a family can be an enjoyable tradition unto itself while also being practical. Not only does making food from scratch taste way better, it also cuts down on packaging (especially when you buy bulk and bring your own bags and jars!) and is almost always cheaper in the long run. When we bake from scratch we know exactly what went in to the food we’re eating, and we don’t have to worry about toxic preservatives and artificial dyes.

9. Give back.

Go through the cabinets and donate any unwanted canned food. Also go through the closets and give any spare coats or other items to a homeless shelter or other charity shop. Host a soldier, pick an angel from a giving tree to prepare gifts for deserving children, volunteer at a soup kitchen or make baskets to give to families in need. There are so many ways to give back. Check your local library, community center or college to see what opportunities are available to serve your community. This simple act allows us to feel the magic of community, feel happiness in giving and lets us have gratitude for what we already have in our lives.

10. Consider staying home.

Of course, public transportation is the next best thing. Traveling cross-country? Take the bus for the smallest carbon footprint. Next best, a fuel-efficient vehicle, train and at the bottom of the list-air travel.

However you choose to spend the holiday season, I hope it is filled with peace, joy and simplicity!

Letter to a Former Vegan

Dear Friend,

I’m not here to pass judgement, I’m not here to lecture or go into detail about how the factory farming industries are hurting everyone and everything. I’m assuming you already know (if you don’t know, there are plenty of documentaries you can watch to enlighten you). What others do is their choice and I’m just here on my own journey with enough of its own hurdles and hardships. Recently going vegan was not a choice that I made out of compassion (although it was the first time I made the choice over a decade ago). It was not a choice I made for the environment, it was not a choice I made for humanity. It was a choice I made for my own health. Naturally when I decided to become vegan, I reached out to other people on the same path. Most vegans arrive at veganism through the avenue of choosing to face the truth about the horrors and atrocities suffered by animals in the factory farming industry, and they honestly just cannot bring themselves to eat meat without thinking about who it was, where it came from and what it experienced there. But more and more vegans are stepping up their diet choices to battle health problems that are exacerbated by the traditional American diet. This is awesome and I’m pleased this is happening more and more. But similarly to vegetarians trying to subsist on vegetables and rice, it’s not sustainable for the majority of us on this path.

Going vegan for our own health is enormously hard, because we’re only accountable to ourselves, we are only motivated by the benefits we reap. We have to say “no” to foods that would make our taste buds scream YES!, we can’t eat at certain restaurants or shop conveniently at some grocery stores. We can’t make the same meals at home as we used to. We have to get used to things tasting differently, and used to the fact that we will be the odd man out in many a social gathering, even facing stigma and occasionally ridicule. After struggling with all of it and still feeling the craving for meat, it can seem that abstinence from animal products is not worth the personal health rewards. We start to lose sight of what it was within us that made us make the switch in the first place as we feel the guilt of having these carnivorous feelings becoming too heavy to bear. But there’s a way to lighten that burden.

It becomes much easier and simpler if we remember that with every single vegan choice we make, we are saving not just ourselves, but our fellow creatures, the planet, and our fellow humans as well. We’re being the change, even when we can’t immediately see the change. Veganism needs us as much as vegans of all motivations need each other for strength of conviction in a world where we are immersed in a culture that deliberately creates vehicles designed only to get us to make choices in what we consume that support violence and destruction of our natural resources, our animal friends and even ourselves in the name of profit.

Making the decision to give up veganism to eat meat because there are just too many other problems with humanity and the world that need fixing first is merely looking too closely at just one small piece to a huge puzzle.

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Of course, we can continue to fight for what it is we believe in while being vegan. Being vegan does not mean we are willing to die to save the life of an animal- it just means we’re willing to make different choices with our diet than most- we’re willing to be just one part of the force for good in the world. It is not as complex as it seems. It actually requires no effort other than choosing food and consuming food, an activity that we’re already obligated as humans to be doing no matter what  particular cause we were fighting for. All that is required is choosing food that is vegan over food that is not. It cannot be over emphasized how amazing just this simple act of non-violence is for the planet. Even more than that, all of the problems in this world do not exist in a vacuum. They are interrelated and influenced by one another. The way we treat animals reflects the way we treat each other, the way we treat mother earth reflects the way we treat ourselves. It is all related on a spiritual level. Having compassion for IT ALL (including ourselves) is the solution.

Given that, we of course cannot devote our lives as one individual to every single cause that is deserving of our attentions- it is simply not humanly possible with time limitations of hours in a day and days on earth. But we can all make this simple decision at every meal and with every purchase. In fact, I’d argue that we should all make the best passive decisions (that is choose the more sustainable option whenever we have to do something anyway) we can. Toss it in the recycling bin instead of the trash. Buy the organic version. Buy the natural version. Buy from the mom and pop shop instead of Amazon. Go to the wildlife sanctuary instead of the theme park. Adopt a pet instead of buying from a breeder. If you do choose to eat meat, buy from a local small family farm. The power we have as individuals just passively consuming is substantial when it all adds up.

If you decide to stop being vegan, I will still be your friend. I still love my husband, my family and my country, my world even if I don’t agree with the choices that everybody makes. I’m just one person, and I do my personal best to make a difference with who I am and what I have. Consider this open letter to you, and everyone who reads it as more of an open invitation to joining (or re-joining!) the vegan movement, to joining the green movement, to joining the local movement, to joining ANY and ALL movements for good. Even just making positive actions in the world as often as you can helps- any intentional action at all helps. We mustn’t lose sight of the big picture, we mustn’t forget that we’re not alone. Let’s make a pact to follow our hearts and our passions, make steps toward our big dreams through our small decisions. Let’s shine our light in every place we can reach from our own little corners, and slowly but surely we’ll make change happen.

 

Claiming A Creative Life

“Remember to stay inside the lines” said the spinsterly teacher abruptly, making me jump in my short plastic chair. Looking up, I saw the black pits of her nostrils as she peered down at my work through the  impossibly small glasses propped on the end of her nose. Sitting there under the fluorescent lights, at the woodgrain laminate table with my peeled and broken crayons scattered around my stark white Xeroxed worksheet, I felt a hot flash of anger rush straight up from my stomach to the skin of my cheeks. As I burned with the rage of an angry boar, I swallowed hard, gritted my teeth and forced my head to jerk down in a quick nod, dismissing the intruder that interfered with my artistic flow.

That was the beginning of my rebellion. I was in second grade summer school because I couldn’t pass math. I remember sobbing over my miniature primary colored counting bears as my Dad would try to demonstrate the simple concepts over and over and over. I was able to pass, and eventually went on to take all the math that was required to get into college, and miraculously, to cobble together enough algebra and statistics courses to get a bachelor’s degree. At each and every gradual level, I struggled and worried and sweated over my assignments and exams. At the end of each semester, I sighed in relief when my grades confirmed I had made it by the skin of my teeth.

Of course it isn’t remotely uncommon to struggle with math in an academic setting, but I’ve really never been cut out for any type of activity that depends on exact and precise maneuvers. When a very strict process of completion is required I become extremely tense and agitated. After second grade, I slowly began to detest school more and more as the years went on. Art class, and art activities offered a space where I found peace. I also took respite in a few other places at school- anywhere that granted me freedom- to write, to cut wood, to play music, to perform a poem, to do anything the way I wanted to do it, really.

a chalk drawing from high school.
a chalk drawing from high school.

Sierra gasps in surprise and points, shouting happily, “Look, Mooom, an American Flag!” every time she discovers one when driving through town. Our city, being home to the biggest army post in the country, is extremely patriotic, and somehow at the age of 2 she is already buying into the concept that that piece of fabric is revered and celebrated by everyone. Despite all the pitfalls of this country- my biggest gripe being over-consumption (by our citizens AND our government), I love this freedom that has been granted to us. I have an understanding and gratitude for how precious and protected this freedom is and must be. But what good is this freedom that we have if as a society we are put in a position where we aren’t encouraged, or even allowed in some cases, to use it the way we want to, the way our souls were meant to?

A little over ten years later, I found myself once again under the fluorescent lights of a public school classroom, this time standing next to a professor peering at my art work through her black frame glasses.

“The composition of your piece on the right is much better” she asserted.

“I kind of prefer the left one’s composition, myself.”

“Why are you here? Why do you come to class if you don’t want to learn?” she snapped. She continued on a diatribe about art theory that I again forced myself to nod along too. She never again approached me to critique my work.

It is extremely easy for conscious and creative people like us to stumble upon and conjure up thoughts, ideas, plans and dreams throughout our waking and sleeping hours. But how can we stake a claim outwardly in our practical lives so that these stirrings and impulses can become a full expression, a living fruition?

We do it by ignoring the critics, the naysayers, the “professionals,” the detractors, and most frequently, those who use the excuse of “having our best interest at heart.” We must block the negative energies and the poison arrows from flying into the camp of our deeper feeling. We must look out for the trojan horses- the advice that on the surface promises safety and comfort, but inside is full of all manner of chains and cages designed to cripple our creative forces. We fight for the time, the space, the resources to do our creative work- not just for a a half hour on Sundays but as a regular routine in our lives. We must consider our creative work with the same non negotiable priority that we apply to practicing personal hygiene and eating regular meals. Going to work, keeping clothes on our backs and a roof over our head allows us to survive in this world, no doubt about it. But what good is survival for the human body when the soul of the person is suppressed, banished and exiled?

Of course many of us are completely happy with the types of lifestyles and activities that can effortlessly be acquired and maintained in our society- for some of us the choices we wish to make happen to be those that are widely agreed upon by the popular culture, and we will face little to no adversity. But if you’re reading this blog, it’s more than likely that you are like me. We aren’t made to color inside the lines. We weren’t made to blindly be lead by people that happen to assume positions of authority. We were made with eyes that see beauty and light, with ears that hear to the call of the wild, with hearts that feel the pang of deep emotion, with instincts that smell the rancid breath of those that use fancy words to attempt to manipulate us into submission. I promise you that we have the power within ourselves to overcome anyone who would try and stand between us and our creative work. All that’s needed is a recognition that the power is there, and the conscious awareness to use that power.

When we begin to express our innermost soul urgings outwardly, people start to spot us from a mile away. We begin to stand out like a beet stuck in a bundle of carrots. We probably won’t fit in so well, if at all, and people will innocently start to ask us to please just maybe be a little less red, a little more orange, less rough, a little thinner, a little sweeter. It is then and there that we must immediately use that power, that trust and strength of conviction that courses through our veins. All that is left is to keep doing the work that we’re doing, the work that we’re loving- the way only we can do it, and not stop until WE are satisfied- when we know we have successfully brought our soul baby from the ovaries of our spirit into the earthly realm.

I can assure you, it won’t be easy to do. but I promise that for the artists, the musicians, the writers, the activists, the philosophers, the poets, the witches, the dancers, the builders, the designers, the gardeners, the scholars, the cooks, the adventurers that we are- it’s as essential to our soul lives as oxygen is to our physical bodies.

Trusting Intuition

Intuition is a deep feeling in our gut we get when we add moments of silence to our days. We are all born with this deep intuition, this psychic ‘knowing,’ but there is so much noise in the world in the form of visual, auditory and socially engineered input flying at us from every direction that finding this time for quiet contemplation can be a battle unto itself. First a quick update on how my week of self care is going:

I haven’t been keeping notes or marking off any dates on the calendar, but I’d say my week of self-care that I had proposed to start in last week’s post has been a success. I ordered myself a new book from Amazon, (Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D.) which is a book that when I first started reading it, was very skeptical about, but has slowly penetrated down to my soul. I highly recommend it for everyone- feminists, free spirits, housewives- women- and men too- of all walks. After I put my daughter to bed each night at 7:30, I have done something for myself. Usually it’s been making a cup of chamomile tea, putting my most favorite essential oil combination in my bedside diffuser, rubbing lotion, taking a bath or putting on a face mask, and lying in bed naked (how I sleep best) with the book and my tea, ready to relax utterly. I used to find that I had to put the house in order every night before bed, and while yes, that is a great idea, at this time I think it’s more important I prioritize that quiet, restful, pleasure-ful time by myself. I’ve found that I have no problem catching up on the dirty dishes and floors, and the toys scattered all over the living room the next morning as my daughter is playing. I’ve found that prioritizing these little “rituals” with and for myself, I have something to look forward to and also find myself more willing and able to take on the day when I wake up in the morning.

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But now for our regularly scheduled programming. Our intuition already has these seeds deep down inside- seeds of ideas. The seeds will sprout and begin to grow at different ages and stages in our lives, the trick is to get to that quiet, trusting place where we can identify when a seed tells us it’s time to start growing. Then we need to give it the water (time) and sun (attention) that it needs to grow. The larger the seed grows, the larger our idea becomes, and the harder it is to ignore and the more pressing it becomes for us to turn that idea into a reality- to transplant the bud from within us to the outside world. Sometimes these ideas involve a process of “giving up” something. This is much in line with the post about me giving up TV, but I want to talk about it now in terms of a more general idea of adaptation.

As humans it is in our instinct to “gain.” We get great pleasure and find security in having “more”. More options, more safety, more money, more amenities. To an extent, these things are all good. We need certain things to live- and of course in this culture we have in the West, money is right up there with oxygen unfortunately. But the first step is realizing that there does come a point at which ‘enough’ turns in to ‘too much.’ Commerce would like us all to ignore this point, and it would make them so happy if we had no concept of this point existing at all, as many people do. But of course, we aren’t like those people. We have given ourselves thought, energy and space to hear our own intuition out, even, and sometimes especially, when what our intuition is telling us is going against the grain of our larger culture. We’re the types of folks that when we give up something, we know it’s to gain something else- something better. Most often, we’re giving up material possessions in exchange for non-material, but still very real, commodities or intangible aspects to our lives. These elements that we gain, though you can’t hold them or necessarily see them- they are felt. Some examples: the immediate choice of trading TV for more free time, trading unhealthy food for a longer, more exuberant life, trading expensive cars for our future financial independence, trading a high-paying job that is soul sucking for a lower-paying one that makes your heart soar. A bigger house for a tiny one which is easy to pay for, maintain, and keep organized (even to move around the country!)

For me right now, it is food. I’ve gone whole foods vegan several months ago. Recently (in the past few weeks) I’ve also gone gluten-free and cut out nightshades and high oxalate foods (you can check out this youtube video with a detailed description of the lesser- known last term from a nutritionist). Also check out this humor-filled video about gluten free folk (we have to poke fun at ourselves from time to time so as not to take ourselves too seriously).

Cutting out all these other foods that I loved, and was so used to eating (we’re talking about dishes I’ve made myself for DECADES), has been painful for me. I’m still at the rounded area of the steep learning curve. Finding new recipes, new ingredients, serving my daughter foods that I can no longer eat as well has all been a struggle. But I know my body needs as little obstacles caused by my nutritional intake as possible considering all my other health issues that it’s battling. I’m embracing the concept of food being my medicine. I know that no condition of ill health is worth nutritionally yucky food- no matter how temporally satisfying it is. The video below is one that has rekindled my fire for making all these dietary changes, and bird jokes aside, I hope it will light or kindle your fire within to keep you going on the sometimes painful changes you’re making in your life for your ultimate health and happiness. Let me know about what changes you’re making and how it’s going for you. We’re in this together!