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 clich├ęs 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.