Sunday, December 15, 2013


Next weekend is the Winter Solstice. Friday night, 12/20, is the longest night of the year. Sunset in our area is 4:55, sunrise not until 7:49. Saturday is the Solstice, the beginning of longer days & shorter nights.

This is the peak of my time to look within. I’ve mostly figured out what I want or need to remove from my life. I’m beginning to figure out what I want to bring into my life. Most people save this for New Year’s Eve, which comes 11 days after the Solstice (this year). I use both. Why not? Who says resolutions need to be static? Who says that we can only make resolutions during a set time or day?

This year, I am using the two dates together. Endings are not generally clean cut, neither are beginnings. I want to embrace that transition period. We often see transitions as messy, a time of turmoil – because they often are. For me they very much are, & very much make me uncomfortable. So, I am going to step out of my comfort zone & embrace the turmoil. To see what happens when I enjoy the ride.

On the Solstice, I will establish what things, feelings, or actions I want to exit my life. I may write them down on paper or find a physical representation. And then I will burn the item (if it is safe to do so). Over the next 10 days, I will work to put the various things out of my life. Break the habit, change my mindset, or donate the items, whatever. I will also begin to think on what I want to replace those things with.
Some things I’ve already determined to remove:
Masking wants as needs & allowing myself to stress over what doesn’t get done.
Fear to the point that I don’t try.
Self doubt about my abilities & beauty.
Greed - grasping for things just to feel though I have them.

On New Year’s Day, I will write down the items I want to draw into my life. I will display these things prominently in my home or car. And I will begin the action. Establish a new habit, continue to change my mindset, or rejoice in the space I have opened up, whatever.
Some things I’ve already determined to bring in:
Truly identifying my needs for the day – emotional, physical, mental.
“Courage is being scared to death... and saddling up anyway." - John Wayne
“I am capable. I am beautiful. I am worthwhile.” - Me
Seek quality over quantity – if it is a true want.

For me, the most important part of these actions is Compassion. Having compassion for myself – ALL of myself. Resolutions aren’t about degrading ourselves or considering what to remove as failures or flaws. Even if the item to remove is of negative connotation (bad thoughts about self), that does not make US the failure or flawed person. It’s not about finding ways to make us suddenly “good enough.” If we don’t feel good about ourselves when we determine our resolutions, they will never work.

Resolutions are about growth & change. We all grow, we all change. Acknowledge it, honor it.

How will you approach the New Year? Do you have resolutions? Do you feel good about your resolutions?
Here are some beautiful links to help us along in a positive manner:
The Year of Enough by the Unlost
Unravelling the Year Ahead by Susanna Conway

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Two steps forward, One step back

It would be silly to pretend that I never have moments of doubt or weakness. Doubt about if we are doing the right thing, weakness in keeping to the habits. In fact, I was smack in the middle of it last week. I’m barely through it now. Terrible doubt... utter weakness.

Every day, we are working to pare down our possessions & imagining ourselves in a smaller space. That involves evaluating wants & needs. Removing items. And I completely panicked about it last weekend. Not a small “hmm… how will that work?” No, it was a full on “Oh My GOD I can’t DO this!”

I started to doubt everything we have been doing.
“How will we get away from each other in a smaller house?”
“Where will all my stuff go?”
“How will I function with less of x or y or z?”

And then I resisted.
“I won’t do it.”
“I like the way things are now”
“Why would we do that to ourselves?!”

Along with the doubt came a bout of weakness. Weakness, thy name is Books. I bought books. Not a ton (ok.. well, maybe 6..ish). I love books. I love how they feel, look, smell. I could die happy in a pile of books. “How did she die? She was reading & forgot to eat.” It could happen.
So my love of books is in direct contrast to downsizing & minimalist living. This is because I don’t just want to read them, I want to own them. And just forget trying to get rid of them. As a result, sometimes I feel guilty. And weak.

What’s a girl to do?

Calm down. Step away slowly. Take a break. Realize that sometimes we spend so much time focusing on where we are going, we forget to enjoy where we are. So I have spent the last week focusing on the present.

I haven’t put anything new in the “get rid of” pile all week. I’ve read my new books. I snuggled with James & Shadow (our exceptionally fuzzy beast aka dog). And I feel better. The panic has subsided.

I know there are still things we can get rid of that I won’t even miss. But I’ve remembered to not try & do it all at once. And I’ve remembered to not make downsizing my sole focus. I was ready to step back in today and I went through our CD’s. I wanted to organize them anyway, so I took the opportunity to purge at the same time. Most of our music is on the computer now & while I still love to have most of the albums, some can go. Maybe in the future more will go, maybe not. And when I was done, I walked away.

As for the books? I love them. So our smaller life will just have to accommodate that. Compromise is the mother of all solutions. I will make efforts to not buy so many but I won’t give myself a hard time when I do acquire more.

We are working to make positive changes. But change is hard. Remembering to give ourselves a break can maintain our sanity & keep us on track better than trying to force what isn’t ready.

Is there something you can give yourself a break about today?

Sunday, November 24, 2013


Thanksgiving, and shortly after all of the December holidays, always brings up the topic of traditions. I have a back & forth relationship with traditions. Some I love, some I dislike, some I love until they are conveyed in a manner I dislike.

Traditions, as in something done over a period of time on repeat, have a gazillion different reasons. Some don’t have any reason at all. And most people get warm, fuzzy feelings thinking & talking about their various traditions. How many happy thoughts begin with: "We always did…"? James & I love to reminisce about our family traditions… and have blended them into our own unique set over time.

Some traditions have no further reason than “Just because” or “That’s the way we have always done it.” Some people eat at x time on Thanksgiving, nap, & then go out for Friday morning sales. Some people have ham instead of turkey. Some always go to Midnight Mass at Christmas. They enjoy it, it works for them. Great, fantastic, carry on sir!

Some traditions have very specific reasons. My mom always put up the Christmas tree on Thanksgiving weekend because that was the last long weekend before Christmas. She always took it down on or after January 6, which is the Epiphany (aka Wise Men arrive). She had distinct reasons why she did it that way. We always had a small family gathering for birthdays. Just Mom & Dad, me, & my 2 siblings. The reason was that it was a chance to be together.

No matter what the reason, people are very attached to their personal traditions. I was crushed the first year Mom didn’t put up the tree. I didn’t even live at home anymore but the tradition had that much power to undo my foundation. I recovered, but learned an important lesson about messing with the traditions of others.

The lesson was simply that each person (or group of people) has their own traditions & they can be powerful. Each approaches events, big & small, in their own way. Others aren’t, or shouldn’t be, expected to do something in the same way as anyone else. I would find it strange to assume someone else did something exactly the same way we do, and kind of boring. But please don't ask me to not participate in my traditions.

Which brings me to traditions I dislike. Generally, they aren’t actual traditions at all, but ways of conveying those traditions to others. I’m not going to mention specific instances. I could, already had it written, but I’m not looking for a fight. We all know it when we see it:

“But it’s tradition!”
“Why aren’t you participating in x?”
“What do you mean you don’t do y?”

Instead, I simply want to encourage all of us to remember – we each come from different life experiences, with different traditions, & It is Beautiful. Share your stories with others. Share the solemn, the joyful, the silly. Listen to the stories of others. Go ahead & acknowledge the differences. More importantly, find the similarities. Look underneath & see the joy people have when they experience their traditions.

Happy traditions!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Changing seasons – Into the dark

More & more, I appreciate the change of the seasons. And after a slow start, fall is here in full glory. The leaves are a rainbow of colors, the air is crisp, & the days are shorter. I find that shorter days encourage nesting or hibernating type activities. After the long, hot summer, the fall is a welcome respite. And the coming winter is a chance to re-center & look within. A chance to rest.

I generally start the dark season with an epic cleaning fest that puts spring cleaning to shame. We are talking a wash the walls, scrub the baseboards type cleaning. I see fall as my last chance to get the house open & clean before winter keeps us indoors. So I take full advantage.

Once the deep cleaning is done, I situate the house plants to soak up the best winter sun, batten down the hatches, & settle in. I set candles out in force, dig out my books & “sitting” crafts (crochet, sewing, etc), & strategically place blankets for easy snuggle time reach.

As odd as it sounds, I also “turn down” the lights. I avoid harsh or bright overhead lights & favor somewhat dimmer task lighting. Artificial lighting doesn’t offer any of the benefits of natural lighting anyway. This allows me to tune into the seasonal changes more. I soak in the daylight that is available & then quiet my body & mind when it gets dark. Aahh, sweet rest.

I use the extended dark hours to not only rest, but to take stock of my life, home, body, mind, & heart. An extended resolutions period, if you will. When we aren’t distracted by outside activities, it is easier to find the time & energy for introspection. I look at what I’ve accomplished & what I still want to do. Sometimes I revise the to-do list – adding & subtracting what suits or doesn’t. I look at what I’ve brought in & what I have removed. This counts for physical items as well as intangible. I evaluate & adjust – maybe something should be brought back in, maybe something else should be removed.

I spend the winter determining any changes, acting on the insights, & repeating. Some efforts are for the short term, others are for the long haul. By the time spring rolls around, I will have refocused, rested, and be ready to rock another summer.

Some parting thoughts:

The air is getting cool,
The world is getting dark,
Now is the time to look within,
Search your soul & tend your heart.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Being Creative in Reducing

I’ve previously discussed recycling & reusing as Where change started. After we got some steam behind those efforts, we set our sights on reducing. We figured that we could save some money if we were more aware of what we consumed. And, again, we could make a difference in our corner of the world.

We started simply by switching to energy efficient bulbs when one burned out. We’ve found that the CFLs are ok, but they tended to burn out almost as quickly as incandescent. Upon further research, you need special “quick on & off” ones that will stand up to turning the lights on & off. Otherwise, they are meant to be left on for minimum 4 hours at a time to last the rated number of hours. Once we found the “quick on & off” ones, we had much better success. We even have a few LEDs in the house, but those are expensive. As the price is coming down, we are buying a few more. We also made strong efforts to turn off the lights in rooms we aren’t currently occupying. I try to avoid turning on a light if I don’t absolutely need to. Natural lighting helps. So does keeping hallways & walking paths clutter free.

There are a lot of little efforts that can add up to big results over time. I grew up saving glass & plastic containers for leftovers & other storage. I don’t save the plastic much anymore but still save glass. I use the jars for all sorts of leftovers, dry goods storage, misc parts in the garage, paint, etc. No need to buy new storage & no need to pitch or recycle what you already have.
I also grew up washing Ziploc & bread bags. We won’t be buying a car with the savings, but we also won’t be buying any new bags but maybe once a year. Buying bags has gone down even further because we buy tortillas that come in a resealable bag. We save those bags & use them in place of Ziploc bags when we need one. I do have a few standards – no reuse after raw meat & no holes. At that point, they gotta go. But I get a lot of use out of them before they get to that point.
We also put out solar yard lights & buy rechargeable batteries – nothing especially hard, but they help make a difference.

Other efforts include switching to a programmable thermostat & making layering an art. We keep the house at 75 (night), 85 (day – not home), and 78 (day – home) during the summer. We keep the house at 62 (night), 60 (day – not home), and 68 (day – home) during the winter. We dress light in the summer & try to keep the shades drawn during the heat of the day. We dress in layers in the winter & keep the shades open to let in the light & heat. Sealing air leaks has helped tremendously. Our electricity & gas bills took a visible drop since we started this. And we stay moderately acclimated to the seasonal temperatures.

We also use timers, though the savings here are debatable. The light isn’t on, but the timer is drawing electricity. Even without the timer, there is the issue of phantom electricity. Small (and large) appliances, chargers, and electronics all pull small levels of electricity at all times. So, we started unplugging most of these. At least 1 tv was unplugged when it wasn’t in use (we have since parted with the tv). The radio, stereo, and all chargers are the same. Some things are plugged into power strips that are turned off when not in use. All extra appliances (toaster, coffee maker, blender) are unplugged when not in use. We even bought special power strips that control all items plugged in when the main item is turned off (computer & components). These are supposed to eliminate phantom energy usage. Results are mixed. Energy is reduced but getting them to work properly is touchy.

We have saved on water too. James built me a 110 gallon rain barrel and bought me another 50 gallon one. About 1 inch of rain fills all 160 gallons. We use the rain barrels for vegetables & potted plants. We refuse to water the lawn, whose only purpose is to hold down dirt – and it does that brown & crispy too. I do let drought tolerant ground cover & flowers grow. If it can’t handle the dry, it doesn’t get to stay. The yard doesn’t look as bad as you might think & we save time, money, & water.
In the winter the barrels have to be drained. I fill up a handful of 5 gallon buckets for watering potted plants indoors. When that runs out, I use water from drained vegetables or pasta. This has the extra benefit of adding nutrients to my plants. I’ve also placed a bucket in the shower while letting the water run to get warm. That water isn’t being used anyway, might as well give it a purpose.

Some of these things involve a commitment to a bit of work or a less than fully convenient lifestyle. Others are fairly easy. But seeing, for example, how much water fills a bucket just by letting it run – resolve & effort are strengthened.

Before you think I am off my rocker, I’ve seen Extreme Cheapskates – no, just no. Let’s be reasonable. We can reduce without being or going crazy. The things we do were added a little at a time & some got scrapped as actual energy savers (timers). Some stuck. We keep looking for new ways to do a little more, here & there. Some things are obvious, others take a little creative thinking.

Is there a small effort you can make today? And then make it a habit? Try walking through the house, or even just down the hallway, without turning on a light. Or have a nickel jar for every time a light gets left on in an unoccupied room. Give it a shot, see where it takes you.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Work / Life balance?

As I was initially writing this, I was lying on the floor trying to unkink my back from sitting all day and wondering why I continue to do this to myself. Why do we continue to do it? Why do we put up with jobs we hate? Why do we give our bodies & our minds to our employer?

Is it for the paycheck or the benefits? Really, is that all? Aren’t we worth more to ourselves, our families, & our friends? When all we have left at the end of the day is anger or exhaustion or apathy, we are no longer living a quality life.

Ours is one of the most industrious nations in the world. But we aren’t one of the most productive. Recent research has shown that more hours don’t equal more productivity. Quite a few nations are starting to average down their work week – and productivity is going up. And, surprise, some of these nations are in the top 10 happiest nations in the world. The United States doesn’t make the list.

So we work crazy hours, are moderately productive, make so-so to holy cow! money, but we aren’t happy. What on earth is the point!? Why did we ever agree to this? Someone, somewhere bamboozled us into this crazy idea that more hours are better and we just swallowed it down. No more.

There has been a shift in thinking for the younger generations that we need to pay attention to. Though some of the joblessness is due to lack of jobs, I believe some of it is also due to the refusal to settle. While it can be a bit naïve, there is nobleness to it as well. Think right now about how your life would be if you 1) had a truly healthy balance between work and home (leaning toward home) and 2) you loved what you did earn money to do. Isn’t it beautiful?

We can make the change, especially if we do it in force. We can refuse to work late, take on extra work loads, or check email after hours. But we have to be in a position & willing to walk away from a job that won’t play. It is radical, I know. I can see dozens of heads shaking now. This isn’t a shift that will happen overnight. But it will happen if we try – a little at a time.

I am not blind, I know that some of us work to just stay alive. And my heart goes out to you. I say to you, do not give up hope – you too can break out of the cycle. Be strong.

Isn’t it time to put a job back in its place? As a money maker for necessities (and maybe a little more). Not as the main time, energy, & soul suck it has become.

Tonight & this weekend don’t check your business email. The world won’t stop. Take back a piece of your life & enjoy.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Simplification vs Minimalism

There is a lot of confusion between simplification and minimalism. More often than not, the words are used interchangeably. They are related – but, to me, they are not the same. When we don’t differentiate, it makes it difficult to articulate what we want & what we are doing.

Simplifying is a matter of reducing obligations, activities, needs, and streamlining processes. I feel that simplifying works in the realm of intangibles more than in tangible items. Simplifying is learning to define our true needs – physical, emotional, and mental.

When we over commit ourselves to clubs, organizations, parties, events, gatherings, etc – we create a go-go-go attitude. This breeds stress and doesn’t allow for down time. Simplifying is a matter of prioritizing who & what is important to us. And learning to say no to anything beyond that. When we can’t say no, simplifying obligations allows juggling room.

Simplifying is a matter of redefining our entertainment. Having a dozen hobbies, all of which require tons of equipment, only causes confusion resulting in lots of time devoted to keeping them organized. Then we end up not actually participating in any of them. Have simple entertainment or hobbies that can be done at an external location. Art shops very often have open studio hours. How often are you really going to make stained glass sun catchers anyway? Comic book stores host RPG or other board games. Share hobbies & entertainment with others, the variety is huge but the investment isn’t. It would be easy, and provide social time if each person in a group owned a different board game or equipment for different hobbies.

Streamlining processes is a matter of eliminating unnecessary steps or rules of behavior. It took me years to break the mindset that I was a failure if I didn’t cook dinner every day. Now, I cook several meals one or two times a week & we eat on leftovers for the remainder. We eat leftovers anyway, why not plan for it? I still put up a tree during the winter holidays, but I have eliminated the majority of the other decorations. Outdoor lights are an absolute no. I hated untangling them, making sure they worked, putting them up in the cold, taking them down in the cold, & trying to put them away so they wouldn’t tangle next year. I like the tree, the other stuff was just a pain. So I don’t do it. However, Halloween is an all out – decorations in every room, my socks glow in the dark, taking the day off so I can get ready for trick-or-treaters – extravaganza. That is what makes me happy, so I have eliminated other things & made space in my life for it.

Is there something that you do just because it has always been done? Consider the why & if it can be changed, shortened, or eliminated.

When it comes to physical possessions, we can eliminate things before they ever become possessions or habits, if we are mindful of why we are considering purchasing something. By doing so, we are allowed the opportunity to Not have to remove it from our lives later. This is the first step toward minimalizing. Do I need that onion chopper gadget thingy? No, I have a knife. Do I need dishes for every season? No, I have a basic, general set that I love. Do I need a dozen different coats? No, I only ever wear one or two anyway. This does not mean I have no frivolous things in my house. I have coffee cups for every season – a whole set. Too many? Oh yeah, but I am working on determining which ones are truly important to me & slowly removing the others. Which is where we cross into minimalism.

Minimalism is reducing the physical stuff in our life. The average American home in 1950 was 938 sq ft. It is 2349 sq ft today. It is in our nature to fill the spaces we have. More space = more things. More things to clean, to put away, to manage, to misplace.

When we are overrun with things, we spend all of our time taking care of them. I did a count the other day. Even after everything we have purged, we still have something like 80 pieces of furniture (I lost count at the end). 80! That is tables, chairs, lamps, beds, dressers. Let me remind you that there are two of us. I could sit in a different chair / cushion every day for 3 weeks. When we aren’t managing our items, we are trying to find them. I own three pairs of sunglasses and can barely find one at any given time.

Minimalism is the movement against more. This is where, after I have decided to not add more activities or things to my life (simplifying), I get to pare down what I already have. I am reducing the number of Everything. Clothing, accessories, dishes, furniture, heavy equipment hobbies, everything. And it has been amazing.

I haven’t gone clothes shopping in over a year. No one has pulled me aside to tell me I look like a shabby bum yet, so I figure I am still doing ok. When something wears out – I get rid of it. I am evaluating what clothes I actually wear. As of Dec 21, I get to see what I haven’t worn in 6 months & get rid of it.

To help mitigate the occasional panic, I have learned a few tricks. 1) No books. I can’t do it. I just cannot let them go. I freak out every time I do. If I actually decide a book is purge worthy, I follow trick 2) Put the items to be purged in a box in a corner. If I haven’t gone looking for the items in the box in 6 months, out they go. 3) Stay alert! It is easy to start accumulating or stop purging or both. Go through the exercises every so often. Grab an empty box & do a quick run through the house. Do it again the next day, the next week, and the next month. Pause, then repeat in another month or two.

My definitions of simplicity and minimalism aren’t the end all of all. One of my favorite bloggers, Courtney Carver at Be More With Less has a different take here. The important thing is that it works for you – or it won’t work at all.

Here are some of my favorite inspiration blogs, people who helped me find my way onto the path of less. Enjoy!
Be More With Less
Becoming Minimalist
Rowdy Kittens

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Find your Happiness

I was talking to a coworker this week & she was telling me about her daughter. Her daughter is in college & is doing very well in an excellent professional program. But she is miserable. She doesn’t want to pursue this path, she would rather study art or music or something similar. But she is afraid… so is mom. She/they know that jobs are easier to find, more financially lucrative, & more stable in the professional field.

We could be discussing James & I. A few differences, but overall the story is the same. Unlike my coworker’s daughter, we followed through with the miserable career choices… all the way into the job market. Her story doesn’t have to end the same. This is not a rant against college or professional degrees. If that is what makes you happy – go for it. Happiness is important because it is a huge factor in mental health, physical health, & job satisfaction. So choose carefully but be bold in your search. Take a range of general electives if you choose college. Even if you don’t want to attend college, or can’t afford it – save a few bucks & take a smattering of different credit or non-credit courses at the local community college. Volunteer. Wonder about construction? Volunteer at Habitat for Humanity. Like to cook? Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Like art? Teach / lead art classes at a community center. You get the idea. Even if you don’t volunteer, explore different activities. Try new things.

No matter what job/career/calling you choose, remember that money doesn’t have to be the driving force if you are mindful in your spending habits. If you don’t fall into the consumerism trap, you have more freedom in your career choices… & the resulting wages. James & I have dug our hole, now we are climbing out. My coworker’s daughter hasn’t dug her hole yet. I hope she never does.

It isn’t all gloom & doom. We aren’t in as bad of shape as we could be. But we still have obligations. We currently need a certain wage to pay those obligations. Perhaps if we had worried less about having a closet full of clothing, adorable knick knacks, the latest & greatest kitchen gadgets, & a big house – we would have the flexibility to do work that was more satisfying to the soul, but not necessarily the bank account.

Lesson learned. We are changing our spending habits & paying down the obligations we have. We are exploring activities that satisfy the soul. I teach yoga part time, James enjoys “junking” (oh dear). We are finding our happiness a little bit at a time. How about you? What is your happiness?

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Embrace the crazy

Have you ever been called crazy? If so, then you are doing it right.

The definition of crazy is a little fuzzy. Or at least it is in my mind. Crazy is making the people around you a little uncomfortable. It is being on the receiving end of strange looks & stupid jokes. Mostly, crazy is doing what you want – just because.

I’m not talking about being ape shit crazy as in everyone gets quiet when you walk in a room. That is a whole new level of crazy, which has its place, just not here.

I’m talking about wearing weird socks to work (if they don’t match your outfit – even better) & wearing crazy hats to weddings. I’m talking about jumping up & down because you are going to the pumpkin patch (turkey legs!!). And having pictures on the fridge that you colored yourself. Trying a new hobby just because it looks interesting. Squealing like a 5 year old because ‘that is the Cutest Dog Ever!’ This is the type of crazy that makes life worth living.

Take these, add in a healthy dose of unreasonable enthusiasm, & the result is often strange looks or head shaking. One point, crazy person. Two points if they back away slowly.

If that isn’t enough, consider the following:
If the little things don’t thrill you, eventually the big ones won’t either. And little things tend to be less expensive.

Being crazy is good for your health. Daily practice of happiness keeps stress levels down & mental burnout at bay. The fun can last for hours & the good feelings even longer.

Being crazy is good for the people around you. It helps avoid complacency & keeps relationships lively. Mild doses of – She is doing what!? – keeps hearts strong. And, again, it is gobs of fun. Public service you can enjoy. Another point, crazy person.

Life is too short to not be crazy. If you take the time to see it, crazy is everywhere. So, skew your view & go be a little crazy today.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Growing our own

Another gardening season is drawing to a close. I’m ready. Don’t get me wrong, I love gardening. I am simply ready for the end of this season.

This year really wasn’t much of a season for vegetables. The weather wasn’t very cooperative & I didn’t devote the time necessary to encourage lots of produce. However, my perennials are currently going gangbuster. Intentional selection of drought tolerant plants has ensured that neglect is not a deterrent for spectacular growth. The man eating rose & 12 ft sunflowers are (literally) living proof.

But it wasn’t always this way. I grew up gardening with my parents but when left to my own devices, I could kill an artificial plant. Well, maybe not, but philodendrons didn’t stand a chance. I don’t really know what I was doing wrong, but a great many plants lost their lives as I tried to get it right.

Then, one day, something didn’t die. I believe it was a cactus (which has since died *sigh*). Eureka! I then tried again, and something else survived. Slowly I got better. I tried vegetables, but having to plant them in pots on a North facing patio didn’t really result in much produce. Then we got the house. I started digging & never looked back. Crazy cat lady? No cats. Crazy plant lady? Guilty as charged.

I started with several small flower beds and a moderate vegetable plot. Those small beds have since turned into huge swaths of yard. I took over the side yard, every edge of the house, the entire back fence, most of the side fence, all along the driveway, and a huge plot in the middle for the vegetables. James put his foot down when I considered tearing out the front lawn. I am not joking. Killjoy.

Somewhere along the way I (mostly) stopped killing plants. In fact, some just will not die. And then spread… everywhere. Need some plants? Never buy anything until you have called me first. I probably have several of what you need, in multiple colors.

And somewhere along the way, James got involved.

Some vegetables & other edibles we grow as staples. Delicious, nutritious, & easy, they are requirements every year. Tomatoes, radishes, lettuce, & kohlrabi make that list. Some we grow as challenges. Ghost pepper? Sure. Celery? What the heck. Giant pumpkins? Challenge accepted. Just as many fail as succeed, but that is what makes it fun.

We garden for the fun of it. We garden as a moving meditation, relieving stress & letting our minds go blank. We garden to be ecologically responsible by finding drought hardy plants & not using pesticides or artificial fertilizers. We garden to create food & habitat for the bees, birds, & local critters. We garden because it gives us a front row experience to the changing seasons. We garden to have control over the food we eat.

Through all of these, I am more aware of the world. And I can easily say, without detracting from my love of gardening, that I am ready for the season to end.

Why do you garden? Please share your comments below, we would love to hear from you.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Making our own out of self defense

Before you read this, stop & consider. Once something is learned, it cannot be undone. Proceed at your own risk.

Often when I tell people that I make my own soap, face scrub, & lotion, I get strange looks. “You do what?!” Yep, I make my own. And sometimes shampoo, occasionally toothpaste. Deodorant, cosmetics, & laundry soap are next on the list. The next question is generally “Why?” Because I can’t afford not to.

In 2006 a giant pile of hot, moldy mulch in our driveway took me down. Hard. We had spent an evening spreading it out & moving it into flower beds. The next morning I woke up to eyes so swollen I could barely see. They burned, were tender to the touch, and blistering red. I looked like I had been beat.
The doctor told me it was a reaction to my makeup (idiot), gave me some steroids, and sent me home. Unfortunately that was not the end of it. The allergic reaction to the mold (not makeup, which I had not been wearing) was only the beginning. My body went into hyper attack mode. It started attacking anything that remotely irritated my system. Over the next few weeks I reacted to all sorts of crap. My boss called me “Itchy” & itchy I was. After numerous appointments with various allergists, pollen tests, chemical tests, & building crankiness, the results were in. I was now (or finally at critical mass) allergic to a whole slew of chemicals, a few natural irritants (pollen), and a couple foods.

I was given a list of what I was now allergic to, including all the various name brands of soaps, shampoos, makeup, perfumes, etc. The list is massive. The chemicals I reacted to are in EVERYTHING.

I did some research on the items I showed an allergy to, and to be honest, I don’t want to use those anymore anyway. Did you know that Formaldehyde is a common ingredient in shampoo? Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen & we are bathing in it daily. Eew. Deodorant often has Aluminum & Parabens. Aluminum has been shown to affect the nervous tissue & has been found in the brain plaque of Alzheimer’s patients. Parabens have hormone disrupting effects (they mimic estrogen) & have been found in breast cancer tumors. Our underarm skin is some of the thinnest on our bodies, after the skin around the eyes, making for easy absorption of these chemicals.
Green & blue eye makeup uses ground nickel for coloration. A huge number of people are allergic. Ever get nasty ears after wearing cheap earrings? Yep, nickel. So we put it on our eyes instead. Eep. Baby oil & Petroleum jelly are made out of Petroleum. Yes, I mean oil. Black gold. Refined to clear & sold in the cosmetic aisle. Holy buckets, what are we doing to ourselves?!

My life was changed. Sounds drastic. Try it. Stop using all of your soaps, shampoos, lotions, cosmetics, & perfumes. Put them in a (probably) giant pile, really let it sink in. Then throw them away. Now, take the very short and often expensive list of fragrance free (not unscented – these contain masking scents, I kid you not), no petroleum, no preservative (or natural only), and no artificial dyes products & try to go shopping. How much can you find? I will admit it is easier now than in 2006, when I could only buy a 9 oz bottle of shampoo from the pharmacist for about $15 – 20, but it is still frustrating.

So, I turned to natural care recipe books. I, being the number cruncher that I am, priced everything out to the ounce & compared it to store bought. It actually comes out about even with the stuff priced in the midrange. Not bad.

When I tried my first batch of lotion, it probably took close to an hour & a half. Now, I can make a double batch in 30 minutes or less. I even found that natural scents, aka essential oils, don’t cause reactions & have preservative qualities. Bonus. My homemade adventures have been fun, occasionally messy, once in a while epic fails. The homemade toothpaste doesn’t have fluoride (good because we aren't going to glow), but the homemade toothpaste doesn’t have fluoride (bad because our teeth need it for strength). Tradeoffs to consider. The soap bases often have preservatives I am allergic to. Beware the melt & pour. Shampoo is a challenge in runniness. Still working on that.

Some people may never have reactions. James is probably one of them. But is that better? What is happening inside our bodies as these things build in our systems? I don’t want James to go through the mess I dealt with. Or get sick, or cancer, or dementia. Initially I was dragging him along my journey kicking & screaming. He asked once “why do I have to do this if YOU are the one who is allergic?” But, as I warned above, knowledge is dangerous. He started reading & learning about the ingredients. He started checking labels. And now he is the one finding new, organic products that are safe for us. We will continue to find better products, make our own, or a combination of both for our own safety & sanity.

It isn’t as hard as you might think. Want resources to do your own? Some of my favorites:
Bulk suppliers of herbs & oils (carrier & essential)
Mountain Rose Herbs
Frontier Herbs

My recipe bible
“Earthly Bodies & Heavenly Hair: Natural and Healthy Personal Care for Every Body” by Dina Falconi

Good luck & have fun. Experiment. And know that you are safer.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Where change started… becoming eco friendly

If this blog is about telling our story… we should actually tell our story. The difficult part is figuring out where to begin. But, as clichés go, perhaps we should start at the beginning.

We are kids of the ‘80s. Anyone who as there with us knows that the late ‘80s & early ‘90s saw an explosion of Save the Planet, Reduce / Reuse / Recycle, & other eco minded initiatives. They even had an animated series (Remember Captain Planet?). I remember when we started recycling. Mom would carefully separate paper from tin cans from plastic. And then there were the aluminum cans. We got money for those!

Thus, our journey began. When James & I moved into our first place, I kept a bin of recyclables to take over to Mom’s since the apartment complex didn’t have a collection site. I did the same when we moved into our second place. Then, when we bought the house, oh glory!, we had (and still have) our own recycling service.

But we thought we could do more. So I saved the glass (which the services didn’t take) & drove it to the collection site. Scrap metal was the same. But it still wasn’t enough.

At that point, we put another “R” into practice: Reuse. My dad has always been a saver & a scrapper. Most of anything he fixed had a hodge podge of bolts or screws he had saved. And we learned well. Anything that can be parted out & repurposed, is. At first, we pitched the big stuff & kept the bolts, screws, etc. But we got bolder after one or two “holy cow xxxx is Perfect for that!” events. We have our limits, because we don’t want to be swimming in junk (the opposite of simplifying), but bolts are Useful. And screws. And old boards… Ahem. Now we always look twice at something before scrapping it. We have ended up with some really cool yard art that could have easily been relegated to the trash heap. But we looked again & were rewarded for our creativity. Something neat that cost $0. Two points, Schneider family.

Then we turned our attention to reducing. I grew up buying “family size” aka bulk, so that wasn’t a hard habit to establish. Other things, like bottled water, simply required that we pay attention. We recycled, so it was ok that we drank 1 – 3 bottles a day, right? Our recycle bin (the big one on wheels) was overflowing weekly – not really helping the planet. So we switched to a Brita pitcher. Wow. Then we stopped buying boxed meals & canned veggies (switched to bulk frozen). Wow again. And then we got a garden compost pail. All veggie bits, egg shells, coffee grounds, & tea bags go to the composter, not the trash. Holy shit. We went from a semi full trash can (also the big one on wheels) to 1 bag of kitchen trash every few weeks and one half to mostly full recycle bin every other week.

Can we do more? No doubt. How? Whenever we take a further step, we make sure the others have firmly established themselves as habits first. New step, learning curve, habit. Repeat.

It is easy to get caught up in trying to save the world & then crashing in defeat. Start with your own corner of it. It will save your sanity. If your corner of the world is bright & clean, others will want theirs to be too.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Anyone can change

Anyone can change.  We discovered years ago that if we want something different, we have to be willing to do it.

We may not have been the traditional "black sheep" but we both always thought & acted a bit different.  So maybe it wasn't a big leap to change our ways of thinking & acting.  And yet... the power of the pack is nothing to scoff at.  We each supressed some of our non-conforming ways under the pressure of family & peers.

Over time, we began to honor our differences more often - and the new directions of thought we were discovering.  New directions of thought began to drive new actions and new actions began to drive new directions of thought. 

Our current changes revolve around downsizing our life. It has been exciting & frustrating & terrifying. We make strides forward & then stumble back. An entire room in our house was empty at the beginning of the summer. And a few weeks ago, it ended up full of furniture again. So, we have learned & we move forward again.

Some changes that we have made met with disapproval, some have met with strange looks, some with resounding applause.  That isn't important.  Let me repeat.  That. Isn't. Important.  Never change for other people.

Anyone can change.  You just have to want it.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Our back story...

We were fairly typical 20 somethings. We worked & saved our money, went to school & got degrees.  When we joined the "professional" workforce (both accountants), we were living in a modest 1 bedroom apartment with a moderate amount of possessions.  I distinctly remember being able to clean the entire apartment in a few hours.  Even before the (what we thought were) big paychecks, we had all the standard wants - house, nice cars, gadgets - but we didn't have the money.  And we were happy.  We could come & go as we please, little debt, few worries.

Then we had money.  Our wants (disguised as needs) changed & got stronger.  And bigger.  We bought into the theory that a mortgage is better than renting.  We ignored the positives of renting completely.  But not just any house would do.  We Needed the 4 bedroom, 2 car garage, 2000 sq ft, big backyard house.  And we bought it.

Fast forward 6ish years.  We had the house & all the things to fill it.  And we were (moderately) miserable.  We couldn't do what we wanted, when we wanted - we had a house to keep clean, or a lawn to mow, or something to fix.  We both hated (and still do) our jobs.  And we knew something was wrong. 

We realized that up until that point, everything we had bought or done was because that was "how it was supposed to be done."  But no one could tell us why.  We looked around & felt trapped.  That was when I discovered an article about minimalism that led me to some blogs (who I will reference, probably frequently).  I was amazed.  I told my husband.  And we began the slow process of changing our attitudes.  We began to get the idea that if the "game" isn't working for us, leave the "game." 

In the 2 years since our "Ahh Ha" moment, we have begun to downsize.  We are in the same house but some of the rooms are empty or much reduced.  We have stopped buying things (mostly).  We still have a few weak moments (like books).  We have been giving away or selling a lot of what we already had.  We have begun to look for a smaller house - with a smaller mortgage.  We are arranging our finances so we can leave the "traditional" workforce within 5 years.  We are encouraged by our progress, and frustrated all at the same time.

A work in progress

We've never done a blog before.  Please be patient as we figure out how to format this and add content. Here's to trying something new!