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.

On Thursdays I Wear Dresses

I figured it was appropriate to write about my Thursday sartorial choices as it’s Thursday today. I’ve written about my progress toward minimalism, including reducing my wardrobe to more of a uniform. I’ve actually made great strides with my closet this year. Nearly every top I own is now blue and bottoms are black or gray. I have a couple oddballs I owned prior to the cleanout, but anything I purchase new must fit into those basic parameters.

Why?

It ensures my clothes all work well together and can be worn a variety of ways. Once I pared everything down it made me want to wear what I loved more frequently – after all, I bought these items for a reason. I was able to release many of those “just in case” items I’d work perhaps once or twice in the previous two years. I’ve decided if I own something, I need to use it. Gone are the days of saving something “for a special occasion.” As the saying goes, you don’t need an occasion to open that fancy bottle of wine: opening the bottle is the occasion. And so it became with my wardrobe.

I’m not an overtly feminine lady but I really love dresses. I think they’re beautiful and easy to wear. Sadly, since I’ve been working in male-dominated industries for the past decade, many of my pretty dresses simply sat in my closet.

Once I reduced the amount of proper work pants in my wardrobe, I found myself looking at my dresses – in particular, two basic black dresses that have stood the test of time and yet were rarely let out of the closet. I decided I was going to take them each for a spin, male-dominated workplace be damned. I was concerned about unwanted attention in the beginning but have (quite thankfully) found it not to be an issue (though perhaps that’s owed more to my decision to forego most makeup and heels these days).

As I shrank out of my dress pants (thanks Invisalign…more on that unending process later) I found I had only three pairs that fit. Thursday rolled around and I would turn to a dress. At first this was unplanned but as the weeks passed I began to look forward to my Dress Thursdays.

  • First, it shakes up my blue-and-gray pants ensemble. Second, I feel a little extra feminine. Third, we have casual Fridays so it’s fun to dress up right before dressing down. And perhaps the biggest benefit for me is mental: I’m not in love with my current job, so this gives me something to look forward to toward the end of the week, when it’s too early to think about the weekend but the days have begun to grow long. When I don my dress (or skirt) Thursday morning, I know the weekend is coming and the routine helps to propel me through the last 16 hours.

Do you have any wardrobe routines? Would you ever consider one?

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.

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.

 

Perpetual Poverty and the Privilege of Sustainability

During our walk yesterday Travis and I talked about perpetual poverty – the unfortunate cycle of how those living in poverty have such a difficult time planning for the future, saving, and growing their money.

I grew up in just such a situation.

I haven’t read it yet, but I’m awaiting the arrival of Hillbilly Elegy from the library. I’m very curious to read about another person’s “escape” and their background – and what it’s like to go back to visit. I’m currently reading my way back through the Little House on the Prairie books and enjoying the stories of a simpler life when, for the most part, you built, hunted, gathered, made, or traded for what you needed – or you went without.

I thought of today’s fast world: fast cars, fast planes, fast food, fast money, fast fashion. So much of everything is “disposable” – but where does it all end up? What’s the quality of life like for someone making a product you use once or twice and discard? Why do we eat vegetables that have been trucked or flown halfway around the world, just so we can enjoy the taste of a watermelon in winter?

Then I considered whether the ability to choose a sustainable life is borne out of privilege, or whether it can be done on a budget.

You see, perpetual poverty and sustainability are connected. The people who are living paycheck to paycheck, or maybe not even able to make the paycheck last until the next one, are the ones who could truly benefit from a more sustainable life. For example, the rain boots I mentioned in the post about need versus want are an example of me living a fast life. I chose to purchase inexpensive rain boots because, when I first purchased a pair a few years back, I didn’t have enough extra money for a higher-quality pair. This inexpensive pair of rain boots lasted me maybe two years. Then I had to purchase another $30 pair, lasting me another two years. Last year, another $30 pair and they’ve already sprung a leak. That’s $90 I spent on rain boots – when I could have spent perhaps $80 on one good pair that would have lasted me these five years and probably another five years.

Often, it’s nearly impossible for someone struggling financially to consider the actual value versus the cost of something they need and/or want. It can be extremely difficult to put money aside when it feels like the bills keep coming in and money keeps pouring out. I know – I’ve been there. I’ve had to go without plenty of times, and I was unable to put enough aside to purchase a sustainable, quality option.

Looking at sustainability, I want to treat the planet with kindness. I don’t want to contribute to the standard THREE POUNDS A DAY of garbage the average American produces. All those leaky rain boots? Trash – whereas one quality pair would have generated zero garbage.

And then it hit me: is living a sustainable lifestyle a choice only the privileged can make?

As I pare down and build up my minimalist wardrobe, I’ve been replacing ill-fitting or worn-out garments with higher-quality alternatives. For the first time in my adult life I’ve paid full price for quality items with a lifetime guarantee and made with sustainable business practices. I’m actively seeking out long-term options for typical “throwaway” items like shower caps and cotton balls (yes, they do make a machine-washable, waterproof shower cap, and organic cotton reusable cosmetic rounds). I’m looking at what happens to my clothing when I no longer need it. I’m choosing slow clothing over fast fashion, and quality over quantity. I really don’t need a wardrobe full of dress pants when I have a pair that truly fits well and will last for years. A solid blue sweater is timeless and it’s got a lifetime guarantee from LL Bean.

Then I think back to Little House on the Prairie. Pioneers lived a sustainable life because they had to. There was no choice. There was no garbage dump to which you could haul your trash, no store to go purchase a new dress, no Amazon to deliver the next gadget to your door. You used what you had. Granted, they maybe could have planted a few (LOT!) more trees to help replace the ones they cut down, but overall, pioneer life was considerably more sustainable than modern life. Pioneers didn’t need wealth to choose sustainability – only a strong sense of adventure and the willingness to work. Today, though, most of us don’t have the ability to grow our own food, sew our own clothing, or build our own homes. We exchange our time for money to pay someone else to do it all for us.

It’s time to cut out the middle man and get back to doing things for ourselves. I believe the best way to live more sustainably is by doing more yourself and relying less on others. The more I can do myself, the less I need financial means to live in a way that respects the planets and those living on it: less fuel burned bringing my food to me if I can grow it myself, less waste from packaging from purchased products, less money spent purchasing a finished good when I can locally-source materials and make it myself.

Stay tuned as we continue on our journey to sustainability. It’s not an easy choice – I know it’s hard work to do things yourself – but I believe it’s rewarding to see the (occasionally literal) fruits of your labor.

A Happier 2017 – Choose One Word

I read Gretchen Rubin’s “The Happiness Project” last year and I realized how far from happy I’d gotten. Happiness, it turns out, isn’t a destination – it’s a constant journey. As soon as you think you’re happy, you’re not – at least in my case. For me, it’s because I tend to get complacent with happiness. Once I achieve my goals, I’m satisfied. I can look back at my achievements and see how far I’ve come. But if I forget to set new goals that align with my idea of happiness – and they can be small or large, easy or challenging – I can quickly fall into a routine.

After I finished the book I saw she was coming out with a Page-A-Day calendar for 2017. Since I wasn’t (at the moment) overjoyed with where my life was, I ordered it, and it’s been sitting in my office supply box, staring me down for the past couple of months.

When we arrived home after visiting families last night, I opened the box and flipped to page one. Choose one word to serve as your overarching theme this year. I read it to Travis. “What would your word be?”

“Passion.” Sounds good to me. He’s been working very hard for, well, most of his adult life, climbing the ladder and doing everything right. Although successful in the traditional sense, he’s pretty far removed from spending time on his passions. Good idea. “What about you?”

“I don’t know.” It’s been 24 hours and I still don’t know what my one-word theme for 2017 should be. I considered “musical” because I’d like to get more serious about both practicing instruments new to me and growing my music teaching career. I considered “healthy” because I want to continue on the nutrition and movement journey I’m on – and get even more serious about taking care of my health. I considered “write” because I want to write so much more. I want to finish my book, write more in my blog, and write more actual letters to people. “Adventurous” because we plan to move and make a major life change? “Outside” because we’ll be spending more time in the great outdoors? “Positive” because I want to be more positive?

I can’t decide. Rubin calls this “analysis paralysis” and both Travis and I suffer from it fairly often. With too many options, it’s nearly impossible to decide.

Actually, in this moment, a word came to me:

Quiet.

This is probably the best one I’ve considered yet. I logged out of Facebook to quiet the noise. I deleted unnecessary apps on my phone for the same reason. I’m reading more books and less news. I’m avoiding marketing and advertising as much as possible (choosing public radio, not having television, not reading magazines, using an ad-block). I’m minimizing the noise, both figuratively and literally, in my life. By actively choosing to enjoy the quiet, I can focus on what matters to me.

This year, I will choose to be strong, healthy, and happy by choosing to quiet the noise that surrounds us.

No more newsletters

I’ve mentioned my daily email digests a few times before. They’re how I discovered the Saugerties Lighthouse and Isla Mujeres.

They’ve also inspired a super-long list of places that might be nice to go to, but were never on my personal list for any particular reason. Instead, they fueled a wanderlust I didn’t really have. It’s true, I still want to experience everything on this planet, but do I need to experience the same things as everyone else? If someone else already went and showed me the photos, I can go somewhere different. Just because another person went there and said it was life-changing doesn’t mean it’ll be the same for me.

It’s important to carve our own paths in this wide world. It’s important to seek out experiences that speak to us as individuals, not just following a list of ideas from a trusted travel site. It’s important to be true to ourselves without letting fear of missing out drive us to a new experience that doesn’t change our lives.

I’ve unsubscribed to these travel newsletters. I know where to find the sites, should I need a recommendation for a location to which I’ve traveled, but I don’t want a website to tell me where to go next. I want my inner voice to tell me.

Need versus Want

In Hawaii our horseback guide and I talked extensively about sustainability, self-sufficiency, and living off the land. She brought up the difference between want and need in perhaps a more serious way than most of us think about the two. She lives in a rainforest valley in a very wet environment, and she told me, “I WANT rubber boots because my feet get cold and wet, but I do not NEED rubber boots.”

I bought a new pair of rubber rain boots this past spring simply because it rains here sometimes and I want to look stylish protecting my feet from water when I leave the house. Her statement gave me some weighty perspective on need versus want. I do not NEED the new rain boots I got. I thought I did. I told myself I needed them because my older boots had cracked and my feet had gotten cold and wet whilst packing my car in a rain storm last winter. But in the true sense of the word, I WANTED those boots. I didn’t NEED them.

What do we truly need to survive? Not to look presentable at a job, not to be even more comfortable, not to relieve boredom, but to survive? Not much: food, water, shelter. In contemporary American society, many of us are so far removed from basic necessity that we begin to confuse the extraneous with the essential. It’s been a journey this year reducing our possessions and I’m still working on it. I’m also going to consider future purchases even more carefully. Do I truly need something new, or do I just think I want it? Is this extremely important to me, or simply adding convenience?

Happy Hour

In this busy season of our already-busy lives, Travis and I dreamed up a little concept we dubbed “happy hour.” Clearly, we aren’t very original, but it’s not happy hour in the traditional bar-hopping sense. Instead, our version of happy hour is carving out a full 60 minutes each day to devote to whatever makes us happy. It’ll be different every day, and the minutes needn’t be consecutive, but the focus is on taking that time to be happy.

I haven’t been very good at it myself, but I do feel accomplished on the days I have managed to set my timer and – even with pausing and restarting later – I get my full happy hour in. Some days I choose to read, write, practice music, work out, or call a friend. It’s usually a combination of some of the above. I try to get a little meditation in sometimes. I’m not very good at it, but it does help relax my ever-whirring brain. It also helps me focus on what’s truly important to me – something that’s a constant work in progress.

I don’t let myself fall down the internet rabbit hole during my happy hour. No researching recipes, travel destinations, or ideal living situations. It’s a time to be present and enjoy the present. No working, no cooking (although I do enjoy cooking), no cleaning. It’s time I’ve set aside to get back in touch with myself in any way I wish. It’s tougher than you’d imagine, especially on the days I work hard at a job I don’t really connect with on a deep level. On those days, I want to come home and veg out, turning my brain off in ways that are often unfulfilling and unproductive.

One of my new goals for the coming year will be to prioritize my Happy Hours. I won’t hold myself to a standard of perfection, but if even 3-4 hours a week are focused completely on doing what makes me happy, I know it’ll help me to become more positive in all areas of life.

Got my photos to my phone

Kind of a silly mini post, but I finally got my photos to sync to my phone so I can share travel and adventure photos more easily. I didn’t use my phone to take pictures in some areas so they’ve been waiting for years to get out of my computer and on to instagram.

I kept getting too many photos to sync so I ended up exporting everything in Photos to desktop folders. Then I reviewed the folders and copied my favorite photos back in Photos, and finally turned on PhotoStream. Now my top photos are accessible, and I’m not bogged down with tons of random pictures adding themselves to my phone. I need to cull the collection again – I don’t NEED 2000 photos hanging out on my computer – but this is a good start to seeing which images are actually important to me.

Can you tell I’m scrambling for short topics? I have tons of ideas for longer posts or photo posts, but typing those on my phone isn’t easy. Time is ticking to hit my (self-imposed, completely arbitrary) goal of 52 posts for the year.