Natural versus Safe

This is going to be short since I have a lesson to teach, but it’s been on my mind for a while. As I’ve mentioned in various previous posts, not everything natural is safe and not everything created by science and technology is bad.

Case in point: lead. Lead is a completely earth-made, naturally occurring element that happens to be very toxic to people. People still managed to line their water pipes with it and slather it on their faces for centuries. We’ve just now begun to ban it from our cosmetics (which is rather scary it’s taken so long).

I definitely support living a more healthy lifestyle, which in many cases does mean adopting the use of more natural materials in daily life. But I’m also thankful science and technology have come up with ways to extract surfactants from plants to make soap so I don’t have to stand in the hot sun with ashes, urine, and/or animal fat trying to make lye soap.

I think it’s good to be somewhat flexible with goals like this. Trying to live more naturally in a modern society isn’t always easy, and it’s also not always practical nor healthy to go completely in one direction (toothpaste doesn’t occur in nature but it’s important for one’s dental health). My goal is health. I’ve seen family members who didn’t take care of their health suffer for it, many times painfully and for years, and I don’t want that for myself.

I’m not going to swear off using the microwave, but I have said goodbye to commercial deodorants, soaps, makeup, makeup removers, many home/bathroom cleaners, cologne, and more because I can make my own. I choose not to eat fast food because I prefer whole, natural, and unprocessed foods (except pizza. Give me ALLLLL the pizza. And ice cream, although I do often make my own vegan “nice” cream these days). I prefer to dress in sustainable, comfortable fabrics and try my best to shop from manufacturers who don’t mistreat people nor the planet.

But I’m not perfect. I bought a wedding dress because of how it looked, not who made it. I ordered my niece a game on Amazon for her birthday instead of making something.

It’s okay not to be perfect on the quest for a healthier life.

Science and technology are not the enemy. Perfection is.

Maybe She’s Born With It

I stopped wearing nail polish almost a year and a half ago. The last time I painted my nails was for my interview with my current job. I recently threw away the last of my nail polish colors and nail polish remover and it felt good to unload some “stuff” that has some questionable ingredients and smells pretty strongly.

I stopped getting my eyebrows done at the same time. I got them threaded for the same interview, and maybe once after, but then I stopped. My brows have always been thin and light so all they really needed was a bit of shaping. I loved the salon near my last apartment in New York and would visit them about once every six weeks as a mini luxury, but in my new town I found few salons offered threading and the price was much steeper. It wasn’t worth it to me. I could handle the small amount of shaping my sparse brows needed and forego the time and effort.

I very rarely (1-2x/year) get a glaze put in the bottom part of my hair to help old dyed color blend in with my natural color while I grow it out. I haven’t full-on dyed my hair in over three years. I loved the darker color and how it looked against my skin, but wasn’t a fan of the waste and questionable chemicals I was always using. Also, it’s not cheap to dye thick hair that you can literally tuck into your pants. Plus, I think the grays I’m getting look kind of cool. I love seeing older women with long, beautiful, silver hair, and I would be totally cool with that look as I age.

What am I getting at here? This isn’t just a list of “stuff Sarah doesn’t do anymore.” It’s about making conscious decisions when it comes to what I put in, on, and around what my body. Choosing how to spend my money and time. Learning to love myself just as I naturally am.

That last one is pretty huge.

I spent my childhood wishing I had green eyes, black hair, and pale skin. Instead, I had light golden brown (my stylist considers it blond) hair, blueish eyes, and yellowish skin.

Then I discovered hair dye and staying indoors, and my eye color fully developed into – surprise! – green. I spent my 20s black-haired, pale, and green-eyed. I was thrilled to finally look the way I’d wanted to look my whole life. People saw me the way I wanted to see myself. I projected confidence and happiness…until I’d visit friends or family and realize I’d forgotten to bring my makeup, or my un-dyed roots got out of control. I loved feeling “pretty” but I was still insecure with my “mask.”

Once I started weaning myself off the mask, starting with the hair dye, it snowballed into a slow unveiling of confidence in my true self. It helped to have an extremely supportive partner who prefers me to not wear makeup (nor anything unnatural) and actually means it. He doesn’t mean he prefers the no-makeup look, he genuinely doesn’t like makeup (or hair dye, or nail polish, or cologne, etc).

The hair dye, nail polish, and eyebrows were small in comparison to the makeup. I never wore much makeup to begin with. I only wore foundation/powder for photos or special events. My daily routine included eyeliner, eye shadow, mascara, and lip stain. Over the last two years, while I learned more about the ingredients in cosmetics, I started to get “lazy” and cut out the eye shadow. Down to the liner, mascara, and lip stain, but I wasn’t happy with the way my eyes looked with the liner. Some colors were too dark and others made my eyes red so I’d look like I was crying. Finally, I cut out the liner too – down to just mascara and lip stain.

About six months ago I decided to try a “safer” mascara and see if I liked it. I’d recently purchased reusable cotton rounds for witch hazel/makeup removing purposes. On the first day of wear, when I tried to remove the mascara at the end of the day, it stained the cotton rounds (permanently, although it wasn’t waterproof mascara) and was so hard to remove, I lost a couple eyelashes. Sadly, the “safer” mascara had an unintended effect: instead of choosing a safer mascara, I ended up choosing not to wear any at all. It’s been sitting in my (now-tiny) makeup bag for special occasions only. I’ve now worn eye makeup exactly twice in 2017, both for professional events.

I still wear lip stain as I feel that pop of color does really brighten my face, but I’ve switched to a handmade tube from Etsy with natural, recognizable ingredients. It gives me more of a natural flush than a vivid lip, and that’s okay with me. It helps me look a bit more alive as my lips are naturally super-pale. I feel, at least in professional settings, it’s important to look like I respect my appearance and take time to look professional, and it’s perfect. I don’t feel like I need to look like anybody else, but I don’t want to look unkempt or sloppy simply because I’m choosing a more natural lifestyle.

That said, last weekend was one of the two occasions on which I wore makeup. When I looked in the mirror my eyes seemed red and I felt like I was made up for photos or the stage. Although it was barely any makeup (eyeliner and mascara) I felt I looked much different, and not necessarily better – what a change in perspective!

Over the last few years, I’ve learned to love myself for who I am, to appreciate my appearance as well as what’s within my flesh-and-bone walls. Taking off the mask has allowed me to see more of myself and gain strength. I now focus more on what’s important to me to do, and less on how I look whilst doing it.

Maybe she’s born with it. Maybe it comes from a box, or a tube, or a salon, or a brush, or a wand, or a bottle.

Maybe it’s not what’s on the outside that matters.

A Happier 2017 – Month Three

Another month is behind us already! I know as you get older time seems to pass by faster. It makes sense logically: when you’re five years old, a single summer takes up a massive portion of your time on earth. When you’re 30, 65, 80, a single summer is just a short blip of time out of the many seasons you’ve experienced. And I’m now officially a year older, as I turned 33 last Friday. In keeping up with my monthly tradition, here’s a recap of how I did on my goals throughout the month of March:

Practice mandolin at least once per week with book. Fail. I didn’t pick it up once this month. My wrist is still bothering me but that’s not really a good excuse as I’ve managed to play both guitar and piano. Maybe it’s because I moved the case to the side of my piano where it’s partially hidden by a curtain and I sometimes forget it’s there. But I think there’s a bit more to it (as you’ll see in a few paragraphs).

Pay off my student loan. Obviously this is still done, although I’m still awaiting my payoff letter. Still haven’t received an official payoff letter although I did receive a request to “write my story” about how I paid off my student debt early. I totally wrote my story.

Write 2 blog posts per week. Look at me go! This makes my 9th post for the month. I thought I was slacking off but turns out a few recipes and some shorter posts really rounded out the imagined gaps.

Read “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson as well as at least one John Muir book. “Silent Spring” has been read! Muir’s “The Yosemite” is staring at me from the coffee table right now. I don’t think I selected well for my first book of his. I adore the way he writes but having never been to Yosemite it’s a bit difficult for me to imagine everything he describes. I’ve actually looked up images of the places on Google to get the proper breathtaking feeling his words alone should give me. That said, I’m going to press on and complete it. I read through those physics books when I was 29…this will be easy.

Leave my corporate job. Not yet. BUT: I got my first TWO freelance clients and a handful of potential clients. I am STOKED! All it took was a little courage…and a LOT of time and patience. I believe this point is the real reason behind my lack of mandolin practice: I spent HOURS this month crafting profiles on freelance sites, bookmarking the top freelance writing job boards, applying for projects, and finally, WRITING AND GETTING PAID FOR IT!! HOORAY!!! So I can now say I’m heading in the right direction on this one.

Hike the Long Trail. Still gainfully employed and also, weather. Soon. 

Pay off Round #2 of Invisalign. Still done, and more trays keep coming. I can’t wait to see my smile when I’m done…I will need to pay for retainers when that dally finally comes.

Cut out the noise and enjoy the stillness. Overall I’m doing okay with this one. I don’t miss Facebook nearly as much as I thought I would. I’ve started using Reddit to help find clients and homestead ideas instead of brainless memes. (Here’s what I did: I went through my subscribed subreddits and unsubscribed to anything I never visited. Then I looked for subreddits that would actually add value to my life: homesteading, camping and hiking, wedding planning, recipe planning, freelance writing, and subscribed to those instead. Now my homepage is a list of interesting points of view, pretty wedding dresses, delicious healthy food, and potential clients. Score!)

Read 12 books (one per month). Seven down. I finished Bill Bryson’s “A Short History of Nearly Everything” along with JD Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy” last month. Both interesting reads. I should write about them.

Do a guided meditation once per week. I did a couple, but definitely not every week this month. It was a strange month as Travis had his surgery and I didn’t go to work as usual for a whole week. Then some students were sick so I used the extra time to write instead of meditate. That said, I DID get in touch with my therapist and have had Skype therapy sessions each week. They’ve been helping me process some things that don’t directly impact my day-to-day life but have been indirectly impacting how I feel. They’ve also helped me get back to the right mindset and remember how to reframe situations that happen to be less than ideal. I won’t be needing weekly sessions going forward but will probably touch base on a monthly basis, just to make sure I’m taking the best care of myself.

Write one handwritten letter per month. Done, but barely. A dear friend and I send each other bracelets when we travel and my bracelet for her from Hawaii had been sitting on my counter for four months. Sorry, Linda. I hope you like it.

Have “Happy Hour” once per week. Nope, nope, nope. But all is not lost as I’ve done a great job ensuring I read and work out almost every single day anyway. I just haven’t given it a name and hit “start” on my stopwatch app. 

Sleep more, drink less. Max 2 drinks per day, preferably wine if during weekdays. Hooray and go me! I had a beer with lunch today. I had a beer with dinner last weekend. I drank a bottle of red wine – over the course of an entire WEEK, one (properly-sized) glass per evening. It now feels much more like a treat to enjoy a drink instead of “something you do.” I truly enjoy wine and beer, but, as with all my other treats, all in moderation. I know it’s a terrible idea to come home from a bad day and dive into a box of cookies (homemade or not), and thus I also know it’s a terrible idea to dive into a bottle of wine. We all do it sometimes, but I’ve definitely started to look at drinking as a bit of a reward to celebrate instead of a background activity to dull the mind. And that said, I’ve been sleeping pretty well too. I picked up a Somnilight reading lamp  and it’s AWESOME! I love reading at night now and I haven’t been waking up in the middle of the night, unable to fall back to sleep. I want to get all their lamps now…and even the glasses. Who knew using a different reading lamp right before bed would actually help me stay asleep? I think I look less tired in my eyes now too. Thank you, Somnilight!

Why I’m a Vegetarian

I’ve been a vegetarian for most of my life and I’m often asked why. There’s a cute little story about how it all began, and I’ll follow it up with why I still am, after more than 20 years.

I grew up on a small farm in Maine. We had horses, rabbits, chickens, and a garden. I grew up eating meat but I never liked it very much, except for my grandmother’s delicious turkey soup. I didn’t like steaks or burgers at all. Once we got a flock of chickens I spent my afternoons playing in the yard with them. One chick in particular was my favorite – a beautiful Bantam hen I named Peeps because she was always making little peeping sounds. I’d come home from school, pick her up, climb the willow tree, and lounge in the branches, reading a book, with Peeps in the crook of my elbow. I would often give the chickens scraps of whatever I was eating. One day I made the connection between the fact chicken nuggets are made out of chickens – the very kind of chickens I was playing with each day. Chicken nuggets look nothing like living chickens – very few meat products resemble their roots – so although I’m somewhat embarrassed it took me so long to make the connection, I’m not surprised.

It took me about two months to completely give up meat and ensure my family respected my decision. I received cookbooks from my grandparents but my mother would continue to feed me chicken-and-rice baked dishes, telling me to “eat around the chicken,” although the entire thing was simmering in chicken broth. I remember during that time we visited a bison farm, and for the first time in my life, I enjoyed a burger. Bison was the most delicious red meat I had ever tasted, but a few minutes later when a bison approached the fence and let me pet his nose, I knew no matter how delicious it was, I wasn’t going to eat it again.

This was the mid-90s when vegetarianism among teenagers was quite popular, and I would be lying if I didn’t say the choice was also partly social. I had friends I respected and admired who were already staunch vegetarians and as we talked about their choices it made sense to me. So, the last meat I ate was bacon at my grandmother’s house – because it smelled so good the morning she cooked it during a visit that summer – and I gave it up after that.

These days my body can’t process meat. If I eat a soup made with chicken broth, or have a bite of a party dip with chopped chicken, or even eat veggies cooked on the same griddle as meat, I find myself in the throes of gastric distress within a few hours. People often don’t believe that when I first explain, but science proves that when one foregoes meat for long enough, the body stops creating the enzymes necessary with which to digest meat. It’s been more than 20 years – those enzymes are long gone. Should I ever choose to eat meat again I’d need to introduce it slowly and carefully.

I don’t think that’s going to happen. I fought with myself a couple years ago when I began traveling, especially to countries in which meat is extremely popular (especially South America). I wanted to be able to enjoy eating whatever the locals are eating without worrying about tummy troubles due to confusion over ingredients or shared cooking surfaces. I read recipes for meat dishes and considered ordering a chicken dish when I was in a restaurant.

And then I went to the grocery store and saw the meat products sitting in the coolers and I knew I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t take raw flesh and turn it into something edible. Today, I’m not only a vegetarian because I care about animals, but also because I care about my health, and – probably most importantly – because I don’t believe it is my place to take the life of another living being. Of course, the response to that is often, “plants are alive! Plants have feelings too!” Well, yes, that’s true. But I personally have no moral issue pulling a carrot from the ground and eating it.

I could not take the life of an animal – cow, chicken, turkey, goat, sheep, deer, mouse, caribou – with my own hands. I have absolutely no problem with people who choose to do so, and I actually believe strongly in the ability to hunt. I think hunting is a fantastic way to enjoy healthy, fresh meat with which to feed your family, and I much prefer hunting to the industrialized “agriculture” system on which this country currently runs. But I couldn’t do it myself – I don’t even kill spiders or bugs in the house. I put them in my hands and set them free outside. Who am I to decide who lives and dies?

I’m a vegetarian because I believe in treating life with respect – all life. I do my absolute best to never waste food: we freeze our vegetable scraps to create stock and have begun composting on a small scale in our condo. Unless food is clearly and truly spoiled I can find a way to use it or preserve it (soups are awesome for cleaning out the veggie drawer and even giving stale bread a new life). I’m respecting my body by feeding it what feels good. I’m respecting animals by not eating them. I’m respecting the planet as a whole by not supporting industrialized “farming” and not throwing food away.

My life as a vegetarian hasn’t always been healthy and wasn’t nearly always so easy, even for me, to understand. That’ll come in another post. It’s important to make an educated choice to become vegetarian. It’s not difficult but it does involve some effort in terms of nutrition – and that’s why I often offer recipes here too.

Reading Books vs Reading a News Feed

Taking the time to unplug from social media gave back hours to devote to reading books and it’s been awesome. I’m remembering the joys of devouring words for an entire afternoon or evening. One of my goals for the year was to read one book per month. I’m already easily more than halfway to 12 books and it’s barely March. I’ve always loved reading, but as social media crept into my life, I spent more time reading news feeds, status updates, and “content, and less time reading actual books.

Is this really a problem? I’m still reading words, right? So it can’t be that bad.

Not so fast.

A cursory Google search pulls up studies showing how technology is rewiring our brains – and yet it takes about 50,000 years for the human brain to actually evolve, so we’re not adapting nearly as quickly as we think we are. Our attention spans are diminishing while our desire for instant reward grows. As a teacher, I’m seeing this happen faster with younger students. I’ve been teaching for about a decade and students today have far more distractions and far shorter attention spans. They don’t have the discipline to practice because they don’t have to work hard to win a game on a device. We click links to “learn” or “discover” something, but we’re mostly rewarding ourselves with clickbait. “Content” is, by nature, short and engaging, because we apparently get bored when reading an article approaching 1000 words or more.

Stepping away from social media is allowing me to enjoy actual learning, real reading, and delving far deeper into subjects than a status update would allow. I’m currently reading Bill Bryson’s “A Short History of Nearly Everything” and I’m continuously fascinated with how much more creative, intelligent, and innovative people were when we didn’t have so much information at our fingertips. If someone in the 1800s wanted to find out how old the universe is, or why the sky is blue, or at what temperature water boils, s/he had to devise, carry out, and record an experiment.

We live in the information age and yet so little information is sticking. We’re learning to store information outside the body and our brains are creating pathways to use search terms, not remembering the information. For example, our grandparents could bake pies without a recipe. These days, you simply input the fruit and type of pie you’d like to make, and endless options await in your search results. You no longer need to memorize the perfect recipe because you can try a new one every week.

I’d much rather read a book than a status update. I’d much rather write a book than a status update. I haven’t made too much progress on my book, but (as my post history will show) I have made progress on the blog, and that’s a big step for me. I’m focusing much more on long-term rewards, what TRULY makes me happy, and slowing down. I don’t actually NEED to know what’s going on with everyone in my social circle in order to be happy myself. Learning, storing, and recalling information in my own head is thrilling – even with challenging concepts like quantum physics and the size of the universe. It’s fun to challenge myself to grasp these big ideas at a time when it feels we are constantly bombarded by fluff. What really matters?

What would Laura Ingalls Wilder do? If she wanted to know how her friends were doing, she’d get in the wagon and go visit, take a walk to visit, or write a letter. There is no need to be so involved in the lives of everyone around us and the content companies generate to encourage us to click. Be at peace with yourself. Be at peace with the silence. Learn to let things go, and what’s important will find its way to you without being constantly connected.

Be Kind to Children

I will be the first to admit I’m not a typical baby/child fanatic. Case in point: a close colleague of mine just had a baby and everyone in the office is gushing over how cute the baby is. I’m mostly just happy my friend is happy, and a little bummed she’s not in the office to trade cute pet photos with now. Travis and I are not having children. I can’t have children, even if I wanted them (which I don’t).

However, that doesn’t mean I actively dislike these tiny humans.

To the contrary, I’ve recently found my aversion may actually be due to how much I truly care about children.

I LOVE teaching. It’s fascinating and energizing to engage young minds at a time during which they’re growing in so many directions. It’s amazing to see my work turn into a tangible skill in the hands of a child. Although I’m generally not a very patient person, I somehow find steel reserves of patience when teaching a child about the wonders of music.

But there’s a bit more beyond my chosen occupation.

Last year, whilst reading The Happiness Project, I came to a page where Ms. Rubin mentioned a statistic that stuck with me: 80% of the messages children receive from adults are negative. No, stop, that’s wrong, bad, etc. Since reading that, I’ve been far more cognizant not only of my interactions with my students but children in general. I want my students to feel comfortable, happy, and safe learning with me, and I want them to be excited about what they’re learning.

Why children in general?

Well, a quick disclaimer: I’ve found I recently tend to have issues with parents, not children (see our previous post about the long flights to and from Hawaii).

I dug a little deeper into myself after a routine trip to the Post Office really bummed me out: I was in line to send something for work. A little girl, maybe 2 or 3, was standing quietly to the side, clutching a stuffed animal, with her mother who was filling out shipping forms. The greeting card display was precisely eye-level with the little girl. “Mommy, look, a mom dog!” the little girl cried with glee upon seeing a silly card with a photo of a dog on the front. I generally try to mind my own business as I’m fairly uncomfortable with strangers, but I looked down and met her eyes. She looked much like my cousin’s daughters: brown curls, deep brown eyes, a big, toothy smile.

Her mother didn’t acknowledge, didn’t turn around, didn’t say anything, and my heart broke.

I know that feeling.

I was that little girl, and although it’s been years, that little hope of sharing something special with another person is still in there.

When the mother finished filling out the forms she finally turned to the little girl, now holding the card she so desperately wanted to show her mother.

“You put that back right now!” the mother ordered.

“I’m sorry, Mommy, I just wanted to show you the mom dog!” the little girl replied. My heart broke a little more. She was just trying to connect, to be sweet and funny, and instead it was shot down and instantly her fault for doing something “wrong.”

I have been that little girl. I once wanted to show my mother a Curious George book in the bookstore and she tugged on my arm so forcefully she dislocated my elbow, trying to get me to focus on whatever it was she had come to do. The next day, after the doctor put everything back in the right place, my mother purchased the book for me out of guilt.

Please don’t be the mother in the post office. Please don’t be my mother. If you’re going to have children, for the love of everything kind in this world, please be kind to them. I am aware parenting is a difficult job (which is why I am choosing not to take it on) and I know not everyone is perfect all the time. But please remember, when you’re little, all the little things matter to you. The way you speak to your child, the way you do or don’t show them respect, the way you do or don’t value their ideas and thoughts will all stay with them long after the incident has passed for you. Please try to treat your children (and other children with whom you may interact) with kindness. Kindness costs absolutely nothing and the rewards are great.

One of my friends had a mother similar to mine, and although she and her husband do not have a lot of extra money, they have a LOT of extra love. Their children will never have to doubt the love and kindness they find at home. My friend knows what it’s like to grow up without it, and she’s ensuring her children will never know that feeling.

Kindness is free, and takes just a little bit of forethought and a tiny bit of decision-making to work properly. Respond instead of reacting. Think before speaking. Actively listen, and try to see what the speaker is trying to show you.

And please, be kind to your children. They need it more than you know. When they’re  just little and the world is so big, they need to know your love and kindness are there to shelter them as they grow. Encourage their creativity and willingness to share. Show them they matter to you, and you value their thoughts. The entire world could use a bit more kindness, and those tiny ripples can create incredibly beautiful waves.

A Happier 2017 – Month Two

Last month I followed up on my goals for the year with a recap of the first month of 2017. I outlined my progress with the goals I’d created prior to the year beginning as well as a few new goals. Now that we’re at the end of Month Two, let’s check in on my progress.

Practice mandolin at least once per week with book. My wrist is still bothering me so I’ve continued to be lax here. However, I’ve managed to progress, and I can now play a range of standard I-V-IV folk/bluegrass tunes in the keys of G, D, A, E, and C, which is pretty great. Seeing how the chord shapes relate to one another (just like all other instruments) has been helpful. 

Pay off my student loan. Obviously this is still done, although I’m still awaiting my payoff letter. Come on, Navient…

Write 2 blog posts per week. I slacked off a bit here. I’ll have 6 posts for February by the completion of this post, and if I don’t write again tomorrow, that means 6 for the month. Still more than usual, but not quite as consistent. I’ve started a ton of posts with prompts about topics I want to discuss, so at least the ideas are actually out of my head!

Read “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson as well as at least one John Muir book. “Silent Spring” has been read! Hooray! And boo for chemicals…wow. More on that later.

Leave my corporate job. Not yet. Patience, grasshopper.

Hike the Long Trail. See directly above.

Pay off Round #2 of Invisalign. Done, although I had a little less in my bank account than usual since I sucked it up and paid it right away. But now I don’t have to worry about it. 

Cut out the noise and enjoy the stillness. I’m doing pretty well on this. My daily news emails didn’t show up for a few days so I had to sign up again, but in the meantime, I didn’t bother logging onto a host of news sites to dull my brain. I hop on Reddit here and there, mostly to check out the wedding planning forums, and I limit my NPR listening to my commute home instead of both ways. 

Read 12 books (one per month). Four down, currently reading two which must be returned in a month, so I have to get cracking. 

Do a guided meditation once per week. I’ve been doing them Tuesday afternoons between leaving the office and going to my piano students. They’ve helped me shake off the day before I go do what I love doing, and approach the students and the lessons from a more peaceful place. 

Write one handwritten letter per month. I wrote TWO this month! Go me! One was to my aunt because Travis and I found her a little gift from an art museum in Philly. The other one only half-counts as it was on the back of a (very large) postcard, sending guitar strings to one of my old bandmates. His girlfriend makes awesome handmade jewelry and I’d been saving strings for her for a while. 

Have “Happy Hour” once per week. I mentioned Happy Hour last year and I’ve been wanting to incorporate them into my regular routine a bit more but I’m still not doing very well with it. I have been making a much larger general sweep of reading, writing, making music, and working out without setting the timer, which is probably better in the long run. Still, on those busy days, it’s good to make sure I set aside time.

Sleep more, drink less. Max 2 drinks per day, preferably wine if during weekdays. Epic utter failure. That wine and pizza night I mentioned last time? I haven’t had any red wine since. Our tolerances have really gone way down. I’ve been fine with a glass of white wine or a couple beers here and there, but whew boy was I in rough shape after a “normal” amount of wine. I still love the taste but I’m in no rush to crack open a bottle of wine at the moment. I’ll stick to a post-workout refreshing, replenishing brew for the time being. 

Why Should I Care?

I’m not having kids, so why do I care about the future?

That’s a pretty bold statement, but it’s true. People often say they’re concerned about the world their children are going to grow up in…yet they don’t seem concerned about the world TODAY. I’ve had conversations with people who say climate change issues are so far away we shouldn’t worry about it today. Well, if we don’t worry about it today, who’s going to worry?

Travis and I have been reading and watching a LOT about climate change, pollution, and garbage lately. We’ve watched An Inconvenient Truth and Before the Flood. We’ve been reading Green Barbarians, Silent Spring, The Zero-Waste Lifestyle, A Short History of Nearly Everything, and more. We’ve been talking about these issues amongst ourselves for a couple years, but not with the urgency and action we have now. Digging deeper into an earth-conscious lifestyle has been a great focus for us. We’re making better choices and also spending our time learning. We’re focused less on gathering knowledge and more on taking action – using less water, re-using vegetable scraps, and making homemade cleaners.

But we’ll both be dead within 100 years, and we aren’t having children. When we leave, we’re leaving the planet with our lasting contributions being only how WE treated the earth while we inhabited it. And perhaps that’s why we care. We aren’t leaving the responsibility of choice up to any future generations or children. We know, at the end of our days, what matters to us is how WE treat the earth.

This matters to us because we’re learning more about how we are, truly, all stardust. Diving into the combined science and history of the planet, of the universe and its enormity, and the minuscule amount of time in which humans have been here really hammers home the reality that we’re destroying the planet that gave us life. Nature has, of course, run into issues of overpopulation, weather pattern changes, and more, but – always – with time, nature can recover and correct. With the introduction of human industry and invention, we’ve done great things, but we’re also attacking the planet at unrecoverable rates. Our brain power is allowing us to create materials and chemicals nature can’t break down and reuse.

I know making small changes in my personal life won’t save the planet entirely, but I can’t in good conscience make choices that damage the planet further. We are simply visitors here on earth and it’s too easy to forget that in a world where anything you can imagine you may want can be delivered to you almost instantaneously, via drone, car, plane, or courier. We forget what goes into creating what we “want,” or, perhaps more accurately, we simply don’t see what’s behind the scenes. In a grocery store, a chicken breast looks NOTHING like a chicken clucking around on a farm. How much has to happen to that chicken between the farm and grocery store? We don’t see it, but it happens, somehow. What about a cotton plant becoming a t-shirt? I’ve never even seen cotton formed into thread, much less into cloth to be cut and sewn into a garment.

I care because I’m here. I’m not trying to save the planet for my children. I want to treat it kindly while I’m here. And I want to continue to enjoy the natural gifts of the earth while I’m here. It doesn’t add up to me to love being outside more than anything, and then create tons of garbage to simply sit in the ground or poison our oceans. I need to know for myself that I opted out of the system and got more in tune with nature.

I care because I’m here.

 

A Happier 2017 – Month One

About a month ago I outlined my goals for the year. I don’t call them “resolutions” because I don’t like the idea of “resolving” to do something. Rather, they’re my goals for the year – achievements, milestones, and actions to take pride in. To keep myself accountable, here’s my first monthly recap of how I’m doing this year so far.

Practice mandolin at least once per week with book. I’m doing pretty well on this one, actually. My callouses have come back with a vengeance. Those tiny, tightly-wound strings really do a number on your fingers. I will say I was a bit lax this past week due to a wrist injury, but I’ve been pretty consistent.

Pay off my student loan. Done, as soon as we returned from our holiday family trips. What a relief! That said…Invisalign is back (see bottom of post). 

Write 2 blog posts per week. I’m doing it! Once this post is complete, I’ll have 8 posts for January, and for most four-week months, that’ll be a solid average! Downside: January was a five-week month. I have a little work to do, but the habit is definitely sticking. 

Read “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson as well as at least one John Muir book. It’s sitting on my living room table and I’m about 15% of the way in. In my defense, I read three OTHER books this month, plus I have a fourth on my nightstand. I’m doing really well reading more in general. 

Leave my corporate job. Not yet. Patience, grasshopper.

Hike the Long Trail. See directly above.

I also mentioned I’d likely have some additional goals as the weeks went by. I sure do. Here they are, in no particular order:

Pay off Round #2 of Invisalign. Oh boy. Now that my top teeth are looking great, my bottom teeth are looking (and feeling) comparably worse. Luckily, Round #2 is only about a third of the cost of Round #1. This won’t take too long, but I was hoping to bank all that extra money for at least a couple months. 

Cut out the noise and enjoy the stillness. I logged out of Facebook maybe six weeks ago and I honestly haven’t missed it. I keep a page for my teaching, writing, and music, but nothing personal anymore. There are occasions I’ll think, “Huh, I haven’t heard from so-and-so for a while, I wonder what she’s up to,” but the thought will leave my mind just as easily as it enters – unlike before, when I could type any name into the search box and find out unnecessary details about anybody who crossed my mind. Outside of social media, I signed up for a daily news digest and deleted the News app from my phone. No more mindless scrolling. That’s been super helpful as it prevents me from falling down the headline rabbit hole. I will admit to listening to more NPR and less classical music during my commutes over the last two weeks as the country’s leadership has drastically changed and I want to stay informed but I am trying not to let it control me. 

Read 12 books (one per month). Killing this one. I better keep it up. My 12-year-old self would be disappointed in such a low goal. 

Do a guided meditation once per week. I could improve. I think I’ve done four, but I doubled up during a particular emotional week. 

Write one handwritten letter per month. Tomorrow is the last day of the month. Who wants a card? I forgot about this one. Whoops. My grandma turned 80 last week so she’ll probably be the lucky recipient. 

Have “Happy Hour” once per week. I mentioned Happy Hour last month and I’ve been wanting to incorporate it into my regular routine a bit more. However, I’ve been pretty bad about it. I HAVE been making a point of working out, reading, and playing music, but I haven’t actually set the timer to do “whatever” on any of these days. I need to get to it. 

Sleep more, drink less. Max 2 drinks per day, preferably wine if during weekdays. Meh…I had some whisky when we went to the jeweler to design a setting for a Colombian emerald I have. And by some I mean I’m glad I wasn’t driving. Otherwise, I’ve been pretty good, although I’m meeting a friend for wine and pizza Wednesday and I may have more than two glasses there as well. Still, now that Travis and I have both cut back on the booze, we’re sleeping better, waking up more easily, and feeling more alert. The problem is we really enjoy the taste of a rich, dark beer or a full-bodied red wine – we just don’t like the effects. Le sigh. 

And there we have it. My list of goals grew, but remember, I accomplished my 30 Before 30 list in a year, and those were some pretty big goals. These are more like habits – much easier to achieve.

How are you doing with your resolutions? Do you prefer goals or resolutions?

Homemade All-Natural Two-Ingredient Deodorant

I started to get more into natural personal care products when I got back into backpacking. Although today I can’t believe I ever managed to go so long without camping, my college years were decidedly more metropolitan than the years before and after. I’m not here to tell you all modern personal care products are horrible for yourself and the environment. That’s not my call to make. But I WILL say going homemade is easier on the wallet by a LONG shot, I feel way better not contributing as much waste from prepackaged goods, and it’s awesome becoming more self-sufficient. I now make the following personal care items and will be posting the recipes for each in coming posts:

Deodorant

Face wash

Hand soap

Baby wipes

I’ve unsuccessfully also tried my hand at dish soap, but I will here admit that retail dish soaps seem to have the right surfactant blend for cleansing power that my homemade mixes just haven’t yet found. And I use coconut oil as a moisturizer but that’s hardly a recipe so I can’t claim it as one.

That said, I’ll start with the deodorant recipe. This was the first homemade care product I made. Let me preface all of this with the fact I’m sweaty. There, I said it. Or so I thought. I was always buying the “prescription strength” “marathon” “all-day 24 hour protection” deodorant. I started using men’s deodorant because the percentages of anti-perspirant ingredients were higher (plus who wants to smell like sweaty baby powder after a run?). I would stock up when they were on sale because those little sticks were running me upwards of $11 each.

After spending more time backpacking without deodorant, I realized I had no idea what was in those, and it probably wasn’t too healthy to prevent my body from sweating which is a normal activity.  So I bought some “natural” deodorants – not anti-perspirants – and tried them out. I didn’t like one stick because it was too sticky. I didn’t like one spray because I just smelled like sweaty dirt by the end of the day and it wouldn’t wash out of my clothes. I thought about the deodorant crystal but I really wanted to make something myself.

So I researched. I tried coconut oil by itself first, but I realized smelling like sweaty coconuts is really unappealing. Then I remembered baking soda is an awesome anti-odor agent. To the kitchen I went!

After many batches and experimentation, here’s my formula for homemade two-ingredient deodorant, which I’ve been using exclusively for almost two years:

 

Two-ingredient Deodorant

2 parts coconut oil, softened

1 part baking soda

Stir to mix well. You may need to let sit and stir again to prevent all the baking soda falling to the bottom if the coconut oil is very liquid. Keep in a sealed jar (I re-used a clean small face moisturizer jar).

Rub lightly into underarms with fingertips after showering and allow to dry. I’ve found the best thing is to shower at night. If you don’t allow it to dry, you may stain your clothing.

You may need to play around with the ratio. I tried half and half but that irritated my freshly-shaved underarms. Any less than 1/3 to 2/3 and I don’t get the odor protection.

A note: if you’re traveling or live somewhere warm, keep the deodorant container in a baggie. The oil may melt. You may need to stir it up again, or the container may leak.

 

Since I began using this daily, guess what I found? I’m not really a sweaty Betty. I still sweat, sure, but not NEARLY as much as I did before. I’ll sweat mostly whilst working out (obviously), if I’m nervous, or if there’s a major change in temperature due to AC or heat. My underarms aren’t nearly as swampy as they managed to get with antiperspirants. The rest of my body sweats less. Apparently it’s good to let your body breathe and sweat naturally. Plus, I don’t smell. At all. I don’t smell like coconuts, or baby powder, or frat boy, or dirt. Nothing. Just my natural skin smell, which we all have, and is frankly more appealing than a bunch of chemicals mixed with alcohol and aluminum. And I’m saving tons of money. I buy a big tub of coconut oil at Costco which lasts me about a year-18 months (and I use it for EVERYTHING). A box of baking soda is about a dollar. A jar of deodorant lasts me about six weeks. I doubt I even spend $6 making it per year now.

If you make it, let me know what you think in the comments!