Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Healthy No Bake Cookies

Well, so much for the sweet tooth being under control! Yesterday, the cravings were back with a vengeance. I'm thinking it has to do with the fact that I was working yesterday and feeling a little like a kid who has to go to school when everyone else gets a snow day.
Regardless, my sweet tooth needed a little something after a very delicious vegan quesillada from my new cookbook, Vegan Express. So, I played with a recipe from Recipes for a Small Planet and came up with this healthier version of no bake cookies. They are very, very good especially if you like sesame. I normally make a peanut butter "cookie" recipe from this book which are also delicious, but I am nearly out of PB (horrors!).
Here's the modified version of the recipe for anyone who wants to try it:
Healthy No Bake Cookies
Cream together 1/4 cup of tahini (sesame seed butter) and 1/4 cup of soy margarine (or butter). Blend in 1/4 cup ground flax seed
1/4 cup of ground sesame seeds
1/2 cup of ground oatmeal (I did just till flaky and put all three together in my blender)
Next, add 1/3 cup of dry soy milk (I used Better Than Milk) or dry milk
1/2 cup of coconut flakes
1/2 cup of honey
1/4 cup of raisins
1 tsp. of vanilla extract
Stir it all together until the batter is nice and sticky. Roll into balls about an inch in diameter and chill on a cookie sheet. My batch made about 20 (but I did eat a little of the dough while taste testing!).

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Healthy Planet, Healthy You

Boy, I really wanted to add another rhyme to the title, like "Healthy Planet, Healthy You, in 2002!". But of course, I'd be a few years off.

It's hard to believe that it's nearly 2009! This last year has been one of changes for me--big changes. First, I quit my job to go out on my own with my writing career. Exhilarating. Wonderful. And scary. Worth it? Absolutely. But that just wasn't enough fear for me to feel in one year, so then I decided I was ready to be a mom. And poof! Just like that, I was "with child". (Must be that healthy vegetarian diet!).

Which brings me to the point of my post--healthy eating and a whole foods diet. Now, if you read all the studies, statistics, books, magazines and other information that inundates us on a daily basis in regards to losing weight and being healthier, you can easily become overwhelmed. I know I am. While information about what's healthy and what isn't is beneficial, I think it can all get to be a little bit much.

Recently, I've been reading Michael Pollan's, "In Defense of Food". I find his philosophy of healthy eating simple and astute. Ready? Here it is: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." That's it! Simple? It would seem so until one heads into the local grocery store and finds 20 "ingredients" listed on popular favorites that you can't pronounce. Pollan states that we should shop like we were with our great-grandmother. If she wouldn't be able to recognize the food item or ingredients in it, that's our cue to leave the food on the shelf.

For the past couple of months I'll admit I've been doing more of a grab-and-go style of eating than is healthy. On top of that, I've been seriously craving sweets and letting myself have them with a little too much abandon. Oh, it starts innocently enough. "Just a couple of hard candies after lunch with a cup of cocoa." But then later in the day the cravings get worse and I feel like crap after plowing through a bunch of cookies or leftover sweets we have in the snack cupboard. "But I'm pregnant! I can't be held responsible for these horrible cravings!" And, I don't know if you are like this or not, but the more I try to restrict myself, the more I want something. The problem is that if you eat a lot of junk, it's taking the place of good, healthy foods that your body really needs. This can set off more cravings and additional craziness in the kitchen.

So I'm trying a new tactic, one that for the past few days I've been doing it, has been working beautifully. Forget what I "can't" have and focus on all the awesome foods that I haven't been making room for. Mangoes. Fresh pineapple. Dried figs. Fresh vegetables prepared in a new delicious marinade. I thank my friend who kindly sent me, "Vegan Express", a new cookbook that is giving me lots of inspiration! And amazingly, so far, after eating lots of fruits and veggies and healthier meals, my sugar cravings are nearly gone.

On top of the wonderful way that you'll feel if you start eating healthier, eating a plant-based, or even decreased meat diet has many benefits on the planet. Global warming is being attributed to, in part at least, the amount of land that is being used up by animals which will later be slaughtered. Methane, produced by animals (ahem) gas, is seriously hurting the atmosphere as well. It might seem funny, but it's actually a really serious problem. Read more about it here. So, we can actually save two of the most important things that we have at our disposal--our health and the health of our planet--by choosing to eat in a healthy, more responsible way.

And on top of all that, it's yummy.

Friday, December 19, 2008

This Christmas will be a difficult one for many individuals and families. Some have lost jobs or businesses. Some might be struggling with ongoing financial issues like serious debt or are feeling the pinch of having lived over their means.

Commercials on TV want us to feel that we're not really "doing" Christmas unless there are diamonds under the tree or a shiny new car in the driveway for us. Really? Is that what the holiday season is all about? How about sharing a good meal with friends or family? What about the perfect, gentle snowfall that makes you feel like you are inside of a snow globe? The peace the comes when all the candles are lit at a religious service and there is a hush over everyone gathered together in the perfect, warm candlelight?

If you are feeling pinched this holiday season, check out these articles. Most of all, let's remember everything we have, even if it's not what we think we deserve. Family. Health. Opportunities. Friends. New chances. Memories. Simple pleasures. The beauty around us.

Pause. Take a deep breath--and remember what the season is all about.

Happy Holidays to you and yours.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Love the Planet? Recycle.

It's very easy to get caught up sometimes in the "big picture" behind the environment and global warming. It's easy say, to blame people who drive gas guzzlers and live in McMansions (even though there are only two people in the family), or to blame the huge corporations that spew toxic chemicals into the air and water near them. The people who don't recycle. The organizations which make junky products that break and end up in the trash sooner than later.

But blaming never gets one very far.

Instead, let's focus on what we can do--each and every one of us. I've compiled a teeny list below, taken from a recent article in Real Simple magazine. For a comprehensive list, follow this link. The articles are called "How to Recycle Anything", and are written by Natalie Ermann Russell. She did a great job on them and offers a huge array of recycling tidbits.

  • Sneakers: Nike offers a "Reuse a Shoe" program where they make courts for kids to play on. If shoes are still in good condition, consider donating to your local thrift shop.
  • Packing peanuts: With the holiday season upon us, we'll more than likely end up with some boxes filled with the puffy peanuts. These can be brought to UPS or Mail Boxes, Etc. stores for re-use.
  • Recreational equipment: Bring to Play it Again Sports, drop off at a local thrift shop, or offer it up on Craigslist or Freecycle.
And lastly, think about pre-cycling. Pre-cycling is trying to buy things with the absolute lowest amount of waste possible. Think bulk food bins at the grocery store, going without plastic carrier bags that we all get far too many of, and trying to buy things in their most natural, plastic free form.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Inspiration for a Monday Morning

My goodness, time has gotten away from me. I apologize that it's been so quiet here on the blog. Chalk it up to good, old-fashioned workaholicism (is that a real word?). As many of you know, I'm a full-time freelance writer. Being self-employed has it's benefits (many) and drawbacks (few). One of the drawbacks though, is a real pain--income and the sometimes lack thereof. For the past few weeks, I have been re-thinking my business plans and have become inspired to make some changes in my career goals.

It's easy isn't it, to get bogged down in all the cant's. "I can't do that, I don't have the money for it. I couldn't possibly do this because it would never work. I could never do this or that because I'm not smart enough/rich enough/popular enough/brave enough."

The fact is, that for many of us focusing on the can't's is easier and more comfortable than dwelling on the possibility of what we can do. "I can stop doing this and start doing this. I can try this. I can believe in this."

Now, what does all this have to do with the environmental and social issues that this blog is dedicated to? Well, a lot really. So often in areas where real change is needed, it is often hard to come by. It's easy to become discouraged over time, to feel like your small changes (re-using plastic bags, wrapping gifts in hand decorated newsprint, composting your kitchen scraps) are all for naught. It's easy to feel overwhelmed by the big, harsh world outside of our doorways. But if you walk out of that doorway with a positive attitude, I believe you will see big changes.

I see positive thinking as something that I need doses of on a daily basis. Like sunshine, healthy eating and exercise, it's something that can boost your spirit every single day. And for people who have a natural tendency toward negative or "realist" attitudes, it's even more important.

One of my favorite positive authors is Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. He wrote many books on the subject of positive thinking and most of what he says really resounds with me. The books, most of which were published many years ago, do have a lot of "old-fashioned" language in them. Some of it is rather comical. But the points he makes are clarifying and the overall feeling of his books is that of personal responsibility. No one else is going to do it for you. Each of us has to take charge of our minds and our futures, to stop blaming others and start looking at what we can do, right here and now to make this place, this life, what we most want it to be.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A Healthy Start

Photo courtesy of publicdomainpictures.net

Well, here we are. The week that marks the official beginning of the holiday eating season. What foods lie in wait for us in the weeks ahead? Pies, cakes, pastries, stuffing, meats and cheeses, white rolls with butter, fudge, Christmas cookies, wine, cocoa, fondue--the list goes on an on.
I'm certainly not posting about all of this to rain on anyone's parade, least of all my own. I love the holidays and I love the special foods and smells that are only around once a year.
But one thing I hate is getting sick after Christmas. It never seems to fail--after the parties are over (sometimes before), I come down with a bad cold and/or flu. The cause? Too much unhealthy foods, particularly sweets, not enough fruits and veggies, too little sleep, too many gatherings. I'm worn out and exhausted and my body is run down.
While I don't want to be one of those people who munches plain carrot sticks and sips seltzer water at parties (not that there's anything wrong with that), I do need to learn to exercise more moderation. Christmas cookies? Absolutely my favorite Christmas treats. So maybe I can overdo on the cookies and not take any pie, which I really don't care for. If there's a party planned for this evening, maybe I can nap this afternoon so that I don't get overtired. Being "with child" this year offers me the perfect excuse to take even better care of myself.
I have already been feeling the effects of overindulgence. Though the only cookies I have in the house are of a low-sugar variety (animal crackers and homemade biscotti), it's easy to reach for those in place of fruit or other healthier options. Last night I was browsing some of my favorite blogs and re-read a couple of posts on the Happy Foody site. No matter what, Sara has the ability to inspire me to want to eat better and live more "cleanly".
I figured fitting in a fruit smoothie this morning was the perfect way to start my day. I put spinach, frozen strawberries, an orange and a banana in the blender with a little honey and water and viola! A yummy, filling smoothie which will hopefully give me the energy I need for the busy day ahead of me.
Check out these recipes on Happy Foody for some smoothie inspiration. Or check out the Green Smoothie Girl's site--You'll be craving a smoothie for yourself before you know it.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Patriotic Spending?

After September 11th, President Bush encouraged us to spend to show our patriotism. In the wake of the recent financial disaster on Wall Street, we are again encouraged by the media to get out there and stimulate the economy.

As someone who is trying hard to cut back, make do, and do without, I find this advice worrisome. Am I being a "bad American" because I'm not spending? Is it wrong to try to live more by the standards our grandparents had then the throw-away standards that are so popular today?

Absolutely not, says Dr. Juliet Schor, an economist and professor at Boston College. Read the whole article here.

Whew. I feel better.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

*Photo from US Government Photos

Maybe if we all got out in nature more often, we'd take better care of the planet.
This is a photo of the Grand Canyon, a place I have yet to visit though I've wanted to for years. In fact, I just got a book recently about a new book Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louv. I haven't read the whole thing yet, but one part that struck me is the phrase he coined, "nature deficit disorder". He is referring mostly to the fact that children spend so little time in nature. They are "plugged in" much of the time to one electronic device or another and when they aren't, they're being shuttled to and from organized sports and other activities.
Honestly, I think he's on to something. I remember spending hours outside when I was a kid. My mother had four children, so sometimes she would kick us out of the house to get the cleaning done! I remember creating imaginary houses within the thick tree trunks, boats out of fallen logs, and magical kingdoms on the little stream that would freeze over in winter. I learned a lot about the woods just by being in them. That old, wet wood peels apart exactly like turkey in flakes and chunks, the smell and taste of clover, the way the leaves turned "inside out" before it rains.
I haven't gotten that far into the book yet, but I wonder if Louv talks at all about adult nature deficit disorder. Because I think that like many problems and bad habits which children inherit, it's normally the adults setting the stage. If more parents were to take their children into the woods rather than to a weekend matinee or afternoon at the arcade, their curiosity about the natural world would be sure to increase.
Parents may wonder though, what to DO with their kids in the woods, especially if their own parents never spent time showing them the wonders of the natural world. Here are a few suggestions:
1) Go geocaching. This is a sort of nature treasure hunt--geocachers "plant" caches in different locations. Seekers must find the cache using only a GPS.
2) Go for a hike. It doesn't have to be long and arduous. Listings of quickie hikes and easy trails should be listed on your state's forest parks and recreation website.
3) Have a picnic. So what if it's cold? Bundle up and build a campfire in your backyard. Spread some blankets around the fire and enjoy a yummy meal together.
4) Garden.
5) Explore your local state or local wildlife refuges. These have some great walking/snowshoeing trails and normally lake or river access for canoeing.
6) Buy a used telescope and explore the stars and galaxies together.
7) Walk the dog.
8) Go on a family walk and clean litter off the roadside as you do it (don't forget gloves!).
9) Go Letterboxing. Similar to geocaching, only you stamp a small log book instead of finding a cache. Requires no GPS.
These are just a few ideas, I'm sure you can come up with a lot more of your own. The important thing is just to try to get out there--even if it's once a week. My bet is that the fresh air, movement, and connection to nature will have you wanting more in no time.

Monday, November 10, 2008


Why do we tend to think that nice dinners can only be had out of our own homes? Sunday I prepared a yummy, warm, fall feast for my husband two of my sisters. The dishes I made were simple and homey, but tasty. Best of all, we could linger as long as we wanted over the Spiced Baked Fruit dessert and cups of decaf. No one breathing down our necks to clear the table and, maybe best of all, no check to fight over at the end of the meal.

Yeah, yeah, I hear you saying. That's all well and good, but it's a lot of work to make homemade meals and clean up afterwards.

Well, true. It is a little work and if you are someone who doesn't enjoy cooking than going out is probably a much better option.

Still, if you prepare some or most of your dishes ahead of time, you can pop them in the oven before guests arrive. I try to keep the dishes cleaned as I go and put things away as soon as I finish one recipe so I don't make a huge mess of the kitchen. PLUS, making a nice big Sunday meal means you'll have at least a day or two of leftovers. I had leftovers for lunch--yummy, free and no work.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Feeling Pinched? Give.

When we feel the most like hoarding, it is the best time to give.

This theory keeps popping up in different places for me. I bet I've read the idea, in one form or another, in three different places within the past week. The most recently was while re-reading Richard Carlson's Don't Worry, Make Money which I borrowed recently from the library.

In fact, not only should we give when we are feeling like there isn't enough to go around or when we instead want to hold tight to every penny in our purse, but we should give out exactly what it is we are hoping to get more of. Want more time? Give some of yours away. In need of cash (who isn't)? Make a donation or treat someone to something special. Want more love in your life? Give love-- to people, pets, the environment, etc.

Here's a paragraph from Dr. Carlson's book:

"Money is "circulation." It needs to flow. When you are frightened, selfish, or when you hoard everything for yourself, you literally stop making circulation. You create "clogged pipes," making it difficult to keep money flowing back in your direction. . . Giving and receiving are two sides of the same coin. If you want more love, or fun, or respect, or success, or anything else, the way to get it is simple: give it away. Don't worry about a thing. The universe knows what it's doing. Everything you give away will return, with interest!"

A good reminder.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Healthy AND Delicious

This weekend I was re-reading another old favorite from my simple living library--Janet Luhrs's "The Simple Living Guide" I was re-inspired by her chapter on nutrition. Fall is a time when I feel my best--I don't know about any of you but there are certain seasons when I feel great, inside and out, and others (like late spring) when I feel icky and out of balance.

Anyway, in reading the chapter on nutrition, the author talks about the importance of whole, unadulterated foods and trying to eat foods as close as possible to the way they are found in nature. By doing this, we can feel our best, build our immune systems, and generally be our healthiest.

The author bases a lot of her health nutrition on that of the Seventh Day Adventist Church (though she is not an Adventist herself). One of the things that Adventists traditionally believe, is that the body needs good, nourishing foods and then time to digest them properly. Luhrs talks about their belief that one should eat their largest meal at breakfast, the second largest at lunch, and a very small, or no, supper. Meals should be spaced about 5 hours apart and one should eat a LOT at mealtimes, as snacking is not looked upon favorably.

I'm not one for a lot of "rules" around food--having grown up in a house where we were always "all or nothing" eating (either all trying to be super healthy or all scarfing ice cream sundaes). I try to be very moderate about my eating habits. However, I did take the authors suggestion of making a pot of healthy, whole grains and having that with fruit for breakfast. I found a recipe for Crockpot Cobbler and scoured my kitchen cabinets Saturday night, putting together the ingredients in my trusty crockpot. This is a great way to use up some of your fall apples AND any stale granola you might have lurking in your cupboards. Plus, it's super easy and fast to make.

It was delicious--warm and creamy, low in fat and high in fiber. And it was a real treat to smell breakfast already cooking when I got up on Sunday morning. I felt like I was at a B&B!

This morning I made up a large pot of kidney beans, from dry beans I purchased at our local natural food store this weekend. Dry beans are a HUGE savings and really aren't that time consuming to make--they just require a little pre-planning to soak before cooking. I'm going to make chili and Mustard Baked Beans with them, and will use any leftovers in my salads. I think I'll try to find a whole grain cornbread recipe to go with both dishes.

Here's to cooking healthy AND delicious foods!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Tightwaddery Gets a Bad Name

Frugal Frannie, Tightwad, Cheapskate, Penny Pincher. Most of these labels bring up feelings of unease. Who wants to be called one of those less than flattering names?

But what if tightwaddery was looked at in a positive light? Back in the day, people who managed their money well and were frugal were considered "good with their money", "careful" and "responsible". In today's society though, being careful with your money is more likely to get you laughed at than respected.

Enter the Tightwad Gazette. This book, and the ones that follow it, are written by the frugality queen, Amy Dacyczyn (pronounced "decision"). I have read them in the past but recently picked up a copy at a local used book store. I read it in three days and enjoyed it (again) immensely. Okay, some of the ideas are a little off the wall like the many uses of old juice can lids. But there are many, many good ideas that can save you money, and in many cases, time. I like how the book is organized. Someone said that it's formatted almost like a blog, broken down into small pieces. I think that's a great comparison.

Another thing I LOVE about the book is the fact (reminder) that many things we do to save money are also great for the environment. In fact, the author talks about these overlapping circles--living in a frugal manner is also good for the earth the majority (I think she says 90%?) of the time. And it's true~think about it. Drying clothes on the line instead of in the dryer--saves money and the environment. Making food from scratch--saves money and the environment (no wasteful paper wrappers and Styrofoam containers), even more so if you are eating local and/or organic foods. You get the idea.
Another important tip? This is actually the theme of the book, in my opinion. Prioritizing. For the author and her husband the priority was to have a big family and live in a big house in a rural area. They knew what they wanted and were able to make saving the money for this type of lifestyle a priority. They could have said that this is what they really wanted, but then blown money right and left on tropical vacations, evenings at the theater, dinners at expensive restaurants, etc., but because that wasn't their priority, they chose to pinch pennies and go after their dream. I think that without priorities, it would be very hard, maybe impossible, to stick with being frugal. You need the goal to spur you on to action.

I also came across this article on The Simple Dollar in which the web site owner interviews Mrs. Dacyczyn--it's a good one and I'd highly recommend it, especially if you are already a Tightwad fan.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

What's Christmas all About?

Hard to believe (though easier for me as we now have snow on the ground!) but Christmas will be here soon. I thought it was the perfect time, now in October, to start thinking about what that means for me and my family. Last year, we talked my husband's family into exchanging names--one person to buy for rather than five. It worked surprisingly well and we had a fun time with it. This year, my family (there are 13 of us) is doing a Yankee Swap. So, that's 9 less adults to buy for. We're still buying presents for the three kids.

What will I do with all that extra time and money? Well, I definitely want to participate in Samaritan's Purse, Operation Christmas Child again. I think that was the most fun purchasing I did last holiday season. For those of you not familiar with the program, you fill a shoebox up with toys, non-melty candies or gum, and personal hygiene items like toothbrushes, etc., and drop the box off at a collection location near you. The boxes are combined at a central location and shipped around the world to children in need, who otherwise wouldn't have anything given to them. The organization asks for a $7 donation to help pay for the shipping and you choose the age group/sex of the child who you are buying for and label your box accordingly. It's so much fun to do and to imagine the child's face when they open their present.

Something else I want to do is sit down and decide what the most meaningful parts of the holiday season are for me. I want to do something in nature--decorate a tree in the middle of the woods with popcorn and cranberries and homemade edible bird feeders for the animals. I want to spend more time enjoying the sights and sounds and smells of the holiday. I want to make Christmas meaningful again, not just a slew of activities to get through until I collapse in the new year. And of course, I want to spend time focusing on the original, true meaning of Christmas for me, the birth of Jesus. Last year was the first in a very long time that I created an Advent wreath. Lighting the candles at each meal and reading a scripture verse was calming. I am considering no tree this year and very minimal, mostly natural decorations.

For a long time I thought, "Well, others will be disappointed if I don't do X, or if I don't volunteer with Y." But I have the entire rest of the year to volunteer my time for causes I believe in, it doesn't have to be just a one month/week/or day thing in December. And I'm sorry if I insult someone by not displaying the holiday decorations or ornaments they gave us--though in reality they've probably forgotten they ever even gave it in the first place!

So, here's my advice for you this season. First, read all you can about alternative/pared down holidays in books like the Tightwad Gazette, Unplug the Christmas Machine, and the One
Hundred Dollar Holiday.

And take some time now, before the rush begins, to determine what you do and don't like about the holidays. If you love giving gifts and can't imagine paring down, could you give gifts that have less of an impact on the earth and it's inhabitants? What about some consumable gifts like fair trade coffee and chocolates, or sweat shop free clothes or accessories? Want to spend more time in nature or creating new family traditions? Start talking to other family member now, don't wait until a week or two before Christmas. For many, many people the holidays are the most depressing time of the year. What could we do to help those who might be feeling down? Animal shelters struggle to pay their fuel bills as winter closes in. Can we help with that? Food shelves typically are bombarded (wonderfully) with food this one time of the year. Could we make a donation for future purchases when people aren't giving so much? Could we "adopt" a local family or elderly person and pledge to leave a box of food anonymously for them each month for the rest of the year?

Christmas is about giving: Giving hope, peace, warmth, food, love. It's not just about giving material gifts.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Fair Trade--Is it Really Too Expensive?

I just read an EXCELLENT article in Relevant Magazine, regarding fair trade items and why it costs more to buy them. A lot of times when people hear "fair trade" or "organic" they are immediately dismissive. "Oh, that's too expensive. It's just a lot of overpriced goods that aren't any better quality than any other products."

Weeeeellllllll, actually when one purchases organic or fair trade items, they usually are of better quality. More importantly, to me at least, is that I can buy these items with a clear conscience. Fair trade items guarantee that the folks making them get paid a fair wage and that they are working in decent conditions. Many, many times the reason we in the West are able to get such "cheap" items, be it food, textiles, or other merchandise, is because the people making the goods are are working basically as slaves.

As far as organics go, there is another two-fold benefit. Not only are you not putting potentially harmful chemicals into your body, but organic farming is much, much better for the earth and environment. Organic farmers also tend to treat their animals more humanely, and to take better care of their land and farms.

Sometimes in the U.S. I feel we have a "see no evil" mentality. Just because we can't SEE what people in under developed countries go through to produce us with our cheap goods, doesn't mean we shouldn't care about what's going on. It's our responsibility to find out where our goods are coming from and decide if we want to support a company that enslaves children or has horrible working conditions for its employees. I would bet you a million dollars that no company which utilizes these types of practices is going to stand up and tell you the truth about it for our convenience. We have to become socially responsible detectives and do a little digging on our own.

With that being said, there is a true and understandable concern regarding the price of some of these items. Believe me, I'm as cheap as the next tightwad. I rarely buy something if it's not on sale and more often try to make do with something else entirely if I'm in a very thrifty mood. I also buy a lot of used items. Thrift shops are some of my favorite haunts and a great place to get some of my favorite brands of clothes (Liz Claiborne, Ann Taylor, Banana Republic) for just a few bucks. I don't really "believe" in labels, but there is something to be said for the quality and fit of certain items. However, buying used is a fairly guilt-free indulgence.

The article in Relevant also quoted J. Matthew Sleeth, the author of my much loved, "Serve God, Save the Planet" book, who (I'm paraphrasing here) says that if cost is an issue, then we should consume less and still spend our money on the more expensive fair trade and organic items. Hmm.

Consume less. Imagine that.

I'm considering doing a fair trade/organic challenge for a period of time. I haven't worked out all the details yet, but I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Help for Dogs in Vermont. . .

Just wanted to post an update on my gloomy walk from yesterday. I couldn't stop thinking about that dog, so when my husband and I were on our way to a meeting at 5:30, I checked again and the dog was STILL outside. I was so angry. I spent most of the meeting, where I was supposed to be taking notes and acting interested, mulling things over in my head. What could I do? What could I do? On the way home we checked again, and the dog was still chained. By now the temperature had dropped. The dog was jumping up at the windows of the house, wanting to get inside.

My husband asked if I wanted to go back. I said yes, not sure what I was going to do. We pulled into the driveway and the lights were on inside, the television blaring. I said a quick prayer and walked to the door. The conversation went something like this:

Me: "Hi, I just stopped because I was worried about your dog."
Owner: "You were worried about my dog? Why?"
M: "Well, it's really wet out here and she looks cold. You know, if you extended this chain just another foot or two, she could get into the garage and out of the rain."
O: "Oh, she's just out here to go to the bathroom. Don't worry, I take good care of my dog."
M: "Well, I was walking by this morning and I saw her out then. It's been raining all day."
O: "Nalah doesn't stay out. I always let her in at night. She's fine."

I might have mumbled something else before going back to the car. I knew I probably hadn't really helped but I felt better. At least I had the chance to say something.

First thing this morning, at 5:30, I drove back over to the house in my pajamas and a big coat. It was snowing by now and very cold. The dog was still outside, chained, and the house was pitch black. I guess saying "I always let her in at night," must mean something else to other people.

So, I pondered my options.

Luckily, my sister, Faith, remembered hearing about a fairly new organization here in Vermont which people can contact if they see an animal being abused or neglected. The name of it is the Vermont Humane Federation. Their Web site is here. In addition to the contact information, there are a lot of other good articles and legislative information, useful even if you don't live in Vermont. I was instructed by the site to contact my local humane society to file a complaint, which I did as soon as they opened.

Rusty, the helpful woman who took my call, stated that she and/or a local veterinarian would do a drive-by and then speak to the owner within the next day or two. I found out on the ASPCA Web site that in the state of Vermont it is a law that all cattle and dogs should have a minimum of a shelter to keep them from the elements. Rusty reiterated that, stating that dogs need at least a three sided dwelling with a roof if they are to stay outside. There is no law in Vermont currently that prohibits a dog owner from keeping their dog chained outside 24/7, however. According to the Vermont Humane Federation, if an animal advocate talking with an owner doesn't work, an animal is sometimes removed from the premises. I have a feeling this happens rarely though, and most likely in more extreme situations like starvation/beating/etc.

Sometimes I feel frustrated with the small town that I live in. In many ways it's wonderful--it feels relatively cozy and safe. I know a lot of people here. Life moves slowly. We don't have a lot of street crime, but poverty in the area does make drug/alcohol abuse as well as domestic/child abuse (and thus, animal abuse) a huge problem.

So, I wanted to post an update on the dog situation, and hopefully to share some resources that might be helpful to you. Check the ASPCA link out if you want information about your own state animal laws. I'll post any updates about the dog as I hear them. And I'm going to keep researching ways that I can spread the word about the Vermont Humane Federation and the local humane society in this area of the state.

And if you want to say a prayer for Nalah, the dog, I'm sure she would appreciate it.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A Gloomy Walk

It's raining today and chilly. I decided to bundle up and go for a walk anyway, I needed the fresh air.

It started out well, drippy with rain but the crisp, fresh air was so refreshing. And then I saw something so sad, that I literally felt it in my heart. A dog, a very young looking black lab, sitting in the rain, looking miserable. It had a chain on it's collar that was attached to a stake in the ground. There was an open garage door nearby, the but chain didn't seem long enough for him to get inside, out of the drizzle. He looked at me, pleading. I wanted to cry. I stood for a minute. Was there anything I could do? I wanted to run into the yard and yank the stake from the ground, bundle him up and bring him home with me. Instead I kept walking, feeling useless.

Why? Why do people have dogs if that's the way that they are going to treat them? Why would you leave a domestic animal with no shelter, no escape from the elements?

I continued my walk, my heart heavy. As I stared down at my feet, plodding along, I saw something else that made me sad. Sad and frustrated. The sides of the road were absolutely filled with garbage--used tampon applicators, fast food containers, jugs, bottles, wrappers, cigarette boxes. Just last spring a large group of high school students in the area cleaned up all along our road. It looked beautiful. Now it looks dirty and gross. I wanted to scream--why don't people THINK once in awhile! Why is it always the same people who seem to care and the rest who obviously don't?

What is wrong with people?

These are just two very small instances today. Of course, there are the larger, more devastating examples of people not caring--sexual abuse, human slavery, animal torture, cruelty of all kinds. But for today those two things were enough. Enough to make me feel that I'm not doing enough. Enough to make me feel discouraged.

I see why driving one's vehicle is much easier on the conscience. If I had been driving I never would have noticed that soaking wet dog. I would have zoomed past all the garbage and trash tangled in the grass and bushes. And I wouldn't have had to feel one bit of guilt or sadness.

Maybe if we walked more, it would open our eyes.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Little Cabin in the Big Woods

It's amazing the things you think you can't live without that you really don't need. My husband I and stayed in this adorable little cabin for a few days during our fall vacation last week. It was so peaceful. I've always wanted to go on a fall vacation and I was certainly not disappointed. There were hardly any people at the campground, though even if there had been our cabin was so secluded from the rest of the grounds that we probably wouldn't have heard them anyway. It was tiny (very, very small) but it had the basics. Running water (cold only), a cooking stove, a small fridge, pots, pans, dishes, utensils, a bed and a little dining table. It didn't have a bathroom but there was one nearby, just a short walk away. And there wasn't any heat so it did get a little chilly at night, but the cook stove helped keep things fairly warm after dinner.

I read a lot, and we napped, walked our dog, Peeka, talked and took pictures. It was so restful: No telephone, no email, no TV, no commitments. We actually talked about that--how rested we felt by only the second day. Time moved so slowly and it was lovely.

We tried to keep the vacation mentality going once we got home as we had a few days left to relax, but it's much, much harder here. The television went on. I had to check my work email account. We had to run some errands. I needed to make a few phone calls and a batch of thank you muffins for my Mom and sister who took care of the pets who remained here at home. The telephone started ringing, the lawn needed raking, the dishes had to be washed.

I can't help thinking though, that there must be a way to bring that peaceful cabin-in-the-woods feeling into our lives on a more regular basis. I noticed that even my thoughts, which had become slow as molasses in the woods, have returned to their jumpy, "don't-forget-to-do-that" ways. While we were away, my mind slowed down enough that I was thinking of only one thing at a time. I had time to really notice things like the gorgeous shades of the leaves, the smell of the neighbor's wood stove, the warmth of the little propane cooking stove, the sound of my breath and my heartbeat.

And those are basics that I want to focus on more. Less rushing, more savoring. Less stuff, more enjoyment. Less media, more time for what's important, for what's real. This post at Zen Habits sums it up really well.

So with that, I'm logging off of the computer and taking some time to study the leaves right outside my window. It won't be long before they are gone and all I'll have left will be the pictures.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Roasted Veggie Goodness

I've been a vegetarian since I was nine years old. Well, let me re-frame that--I was a vegetarian from the ages of nine and probably 22, but then I started eating fish occasionally. So I guess I'm not a true, official vegetarian anymore.

However, over the years, my interest in healthier eating has really grown. I was one of those unhealthy vegetarians for a long time, one that didn't care much for vegetables and wasn't careful about protein intake. That's all changed (thank goodness). Now I love most vegetables and I try to make sure I'm getting an adequate amount of protein daily.

One of my favorite ways to cook vegetables is to roast them. If you haven't tried roasting vegetables yet, you absolutely must. Roasting brings out the natural sugars in the plant foods, making them sweet, chewy-crisp, and delicious.

The sandwich above is one I came up with this week and is YUMMY! Plus, it's healthy.

Here's the recipe:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spread a little oil around a cookie sheet and cut your vegetables up, laying them all around the sheet. Try to leave a little space between the vegetables. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 10 minutes, turn veggies over and bake another 10 minutes. (Tip: Vegetables that are hearty like portobello mushrooms, winter squash, sweet and white potatoes, carrots, etc., roast very, very well).

While your veggies finish roasting, toast a crusty roll and spread with a thin layer of wasabi or chipotle mayo (add a bit of wasabi or chipotle paste to the mayo in a separate dish and stir well). On top of that, add a thick layer of hummus, then layer on your roasted vegetables. Eat open-faced.

Afterwards, make sure you tell me if you eat this and how much you loved it--because I just know you will.

Happy roasting!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

It's a bird. It's a plane. It's 373 birds on a plane!

Yeah, that's winter alright.

There is a meaning behind this cold, icy photo though--it ties in with this awesome, inspiring story that you must read if you are an animal lover. As my Dad said when he sent me the link, "There's hope for humanity yet."

PS Okay, I know the article isn't really about Arctic penguins, but still. . . when you think penguin, don't you automatically think snow and ice?

Homemade Beauty

"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder."
True, but sometimes the beholder doesn't see all the work that goes into the finished product. While a small percentage of women roll out of bed looking absolutely fabulous and stunning, most of us require a bit more work to get that way.
First comes the cleansing, then the toning, followed by the moisturising. Then there is the makeup application, the hair management (how do eyebrows sprout up overnight like that?), the hair styling, the finishing, the spraying.
And what exactly are we putting on and into our bodies by using all of these products on a daily basis? A lot of chemicals, some dye, fragrance and a lot of artificial crap.
If you have ever wondered where your moisturizer ends up after it seeps into your skin, or how those long-lasting lipsticks stay on your lips so long, or just what are all of these ingredients that we can't pronounce in these jars of potions and powders, I encourage you to borrow "Drop Dead Gorgeous", by Kim Erikson, from your local library. (This book is also available through my "Green Lending Library--see left sidebar for more info).
These book changed my beauty routine for good. Did you know, for instance, that some ingredients which the United States allows in beauty products have been banned in many European countries? And have you ever thought about transdermal medication patches like Nicoderm and pain patches? How do these medicines get into our system? Through the skin, our bodies largest organ. If medication can enter our system through the skin, where are all of these lotions and other beauty products ending up?
But don't worry--the book is certainly not all doom and gloom. Ms. Erikson offers many great resources for making your own beauty products as well as a comprehensive list of companies which use natural ingredients in their products.
Here are a few of my favorite natural beauty products to get you started. You should have most in the kitchen cupboard.
Baking Soda: Excellent at removing product buildup in the hair. Mix with shampoo at about a 1 to 2 part ratio (1 part soda to 2 parts shampoo) and shampoo as usual. Leaves the hair light and fluffy. Also works wonderfully as a deodorant. Sprinkle some in your hand and dust your underarms.
Oatmeal: Whiz up in the blender until just broken and store in your bathroom cupboard. Is an excellent, moisturizing exfoliant and very gentle on the skin. Mix into a paste by adding water to some oatmeal in your hand and rub over face. (Stand over the sink as it can be a little messy.) Rinse off and check out the glow.
Almond Oil: The most wonderful moisturizer I've ever used. Use 2-3 drops on your face after washing and massage into the skin. This is a light oil and will absorb quickly. Additionally, use as an all-over body moisturizer. Last year I went through a bottle during winter and it was the first time I didn't suffer from dry, itchy winter skin. (It's rumored that Jackie Kennedy used Almond Oil as her facial moisturizer.)
NOTE: I should confess here and now that I'm not a completely "natural" girl. I still haven't found a great eyeliner or mascara which is natural and will stay in place. I have switched to all mineral face makeup though (powder/blush), and lip gloss. Anyone have any great natural eye makeup sources to share?

Friday, October 3, 2008

I've posted before about my love/hate relationship with news. Of course, I love surfing the Internet, having a zillion bits of information available at my fingertips whenever I want. And it's lovely to research new ideas and possible writing topics from newspapers, magazines, and my RSS feed. But sometimes all that news gets me down. Floods and hurricanes, genocide and serial killers, starvation and war--it's hard to keep a positive outlook with so much negative stuff going on in the world.

But there's hope. If you're just looking for something a little more positive and upbeat to read today, check out Only Positive News. Not only are there some really great and inspiring stories posted here, but they have fabulous wallpaper on the site.

I wonder if they make that for houses?

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Simple Living

Today I'm craving a little simplicity. Just a good, old-fashioned tea time with a slice of spice cake and a mug of something hot.

Sometimes it feels like living simply is an unattainable goal. I have been paring down, giving away, packing up things in the house on and off for the past couple of months. Now we are getting ready to do some room re-arranging and I feel that familiar sense of anxiousness and dread coming. Where will I put everything? Why can't our house be better organized? Why did the builder put that room there? And didn't he think we might like a closet here?

I love my house and I'm grateful for it, don't get me wrong. But sometimes it feels like a huge jigsaw puzzle to me. I have two file cabinets stashed in the closet of the exercise room, along with all our board games. The dining room closet has a big bureau in it, packed with candles and candle holders, gift wrap, and presents for upcoming holidays. The storage container stuffed under our bed has some of my old artwork in it; stuff I can't bear to throw away but don't want out on display.

No matter how well I think I de-clutter, there's always more.

Sometimes I think that this is the reason that vacations are so stress-free. You have a small bag of belongings. . . and that's it! No myriad of shoes to organize, no dozen family photo albums to find a new place for, no videos and DVDs to try to keep straight in the cabinet. Hopefully I will remember all of this the next time I'm at the store or at an online shop and see something that is just-so-great-I-have-to-have-it.

But unfortunately today there is no cake or hot mug of anything waiting for me. Just a large room with many windows which will, if all goes as planned, hold our dining room furniture, my home office, and craft/art supplies in a somewhat tidy manner by the end of this evening.

Wish me luck.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Government Clean Up

I wish someone would bail me out of my financial woes. I came across this article while perusing the web this morning. Now, honestly I try not to get involved in political matters. Politics makes my blood boil for the most part, and since GWB took office it's gotten nearly impossible for me to follow along and not feel like I'm going to have a seizure or a stroke. So mostly I try to avoid all things in Washington. I don't read newspapers. I don't watch the news. I try my best to avoid anything but the bare minimum about the upcoming elections. (This is all rather ironic since I make my living writing and providing information to the general public via regional and national publications!).

But this whole Wall Street bail out is one of the most ridiculous things I've heard of recently. In fact, if it wasn't so absurd it might be funny.

But it's hard to see the funny side while the government is debating bailing out these extremely large financial firms on OUR tax dollars. Our national deficit is out of control. The government says that they are trying to avoid a more detrimental economy. I guess I can't see how spending $700 billion dollars helps our economy, especially when we are already so far in debt.

My parents taught me very well when I was young that money doesn't grow on trees. But apparently the United States government, with GWB leading the way, thinks that in middle class America, it does.

One thing this whole mess is reminding me, is how important it is to have my own debt paid off. In addition to the money not growing on trees thing, my parents also drilled into my head how important it is to owe no one. Own your cars, pay off your mortgage, don't carry credit card debt if you can help it. And make sure you give back--God will take care of the rest.


Thursday, September 18, 2008

Do you like Auctions?

Remember when Ebay first came out? It was so exciting--a world of good deals, and some pretty hideous knick knacks at our disposal 24/7.

Ebay has certainly changed over the years. A lot of people have made a lot of money selling a lot of crap. Okay, there's been some good stuff, too. Like this adorable set of vintage Pyrex. Yum Yum!

There are other sites like Etsy which I absolutely love. Etsy is a HUGE online mall of artists and crafters who make the most wonderfully creative stuff. Though my little shop is currently empty, I'll be filling it back up at some point.

But thinking about Ebay and Etsy, got me thinking that I have some things I could auction off. And instead of selfishly selling these items for my own profit, I've decided to raise money for causes that I believe in.

I'd like to hear from anyone who would be interested in having the option of a silent auction here on A Chick with a Conscience. Now, just being interested in seeing what is for bid doesn't mean you have to place a bid, so don't worry about saying "Yes, I'm interested" and then not bidding. It's not a problem.

If enough interest is generated, I'll post the item(s) here, and anyone interested can email me privately with their bid. I will set a time limit so that you aren't waiting weeks to find out if you've won. At the end of the time limit (say 7 days), I'll post the big winner here.

The hardest part will be choosing a charity. There are so many incredible ones out there, it will be hard to pick just one. But I will have to do just that, if the auction is a go-ahead.

So, post a comment in the "Comments" section if you are interested in seeing an auction on this site. I'm curious to see the results. . .

Monday, September 15, 2008

TV Pacifiers

Are any of you concerned with the amount or quality of television or movies you've been watching lately? I'm re-reading Dr. J. Matthew Sleeth's book, Serve God, Save the Planet and just finished a chapter on the negative aspects of television.

Now, before anyone lambastes me for trying to make them feel guilty for watching a little TV now and then, let me share a scary statistic with you. The average American citizen will spend 10 years of his or her life watching television before she dies.


I'm not a big TV watcher, but I do love movies. I love going to the theater and renting movies at home. Love, love, love it.

My husband is a big-time TV watcher. I bet if I didn't live here, it would be on just about all the time. But, the truth is, if it's on I will usually watch it, sometimes even against my will--I get sucked in. In fact, I even asked him to buy a headset for television watching because I cannot seem to keep my focus on what I'm doing if the television is on.

So lately I have been thinking that it's time to pare down on the television watching a bit. I just came across this great Web site which offers you 101 emailed ideas of what you can do instead of watching TV. I'm signing up.

The site also lists a lot of the reasons to turn off the "boob toob" (my parents favorite term for the television). And really, reading through the list, it did make me think: When's the last time I watched television and felt all happy and energized afterward? Does it ever make me inspired to do things that will positively effect my life? What else am I missing out on by watching too much TV?

"But it's just so eeeeaaaasssssyyyy. . . " I can almost hear someone responding. It's true. Watching TV is easy--incredibly so. Now televisions are installed in places I never thought they would be--in the back of minivans, at the grocery store, in restaruants. What did we do before all this constant TV watching? Hmmmm, I think we used to do something strange, called conversing. . .

Make sure you tell me if you sign up for the email ideas, okay? I'm curious to know what others think--I'll try to post some of the more interesting/unique ideas on this blog.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Fall Gimmes

Ugh, just when I was feeling so smug that I haven't had to deal with the gimmes lately, they've struck again. Of course, this always happens in the fall. Autumn is my absolute favorite time of year. I love the cool weather, sunny or rainy days, the smell of woodsmoke, and the fall-only activities like apple picking and leaf peeping.

But with fall always comes this deep desire to have a new wardrobe. And a new house. And a huge new creative project or two, just to keep things interesting.

I think it's because I feel so energetic and happy at this time of year, that I want to celebrate--for me that means spending money and eating too much chocolate. I can't take all the blame for that. . . my mom used to give us "treats" to celebrate events when I was growing up. They usually involved shopping for new clothes or eating ice cream in some form.

But I digress. What's a girl (or guy) to do about these pesky gimmes?

Perhaps I should seriously think about freeganism. But I think I'm still a little too squeamish to eat food from a dumpster. Unless it was super clean. Like brand-new clean. And everything inside was wrapped in mounds of un-earth friendly plastic or secured in very sturdy glass or something.

Maybe I should join The Compact? That seems much more do-able. I've been following this blog by Katy about her experience trying to live more lightly. She's a Compact member and seems completely cool.

But all of these things are simply distracting me from what I really want to do--rush to the mall (which I normally avoid at all costs) and shop, shop, shop. New clothes, new music, new home decor--then a trip to a big bookstore to shop some more. Books, a journal, magazines, a new yoga DVD. And of course, we can't forget Michael's Craft store.

Maybe instead I should look for some new ways to celebrate things that don't involve overeating or overspending. And hey, when the gimmes pass, I might just have an extra hundred bucks in savings and still fit into my jeans.

"I have learned to seek my happiness by limiting my desires, rather than attempting to satisfy them." ~John Stuart Mills

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Happy Foody

Lately, I've been craving sweets like this little crispy treat above. And check out the foil wrapped Lindt chocolate on the right of the tea cup! Yum. Almost too pretty to eat.


But these days I'm trying to eat more healthfully. Even my husband has gotten on board lately, asking for extra fruit and vegetables and cutting back on soda and chips. I know in my heart of hearts that eating good food makes me feel good. I know that eating foods full of sugar/fat/salt don't make me feel so hot. So if I know all that, why is it still so hard to eat good foods?

If you've been wondering that same thing, I have the perfect Web site to share with you: Happy Foody. This girl is a true inspiration to me on many levels, but one of the best things about her site is that she makes you absolutely crave crunchy fresh vegetables and sweet, wholesome fruits as though they were cake and candy. Her photos are amazing and she includes some fabulous recipes.

PLUS she's super environmentally friendly. You can learn more about her and her family's recent trip across country in a veggie-oil RV here.

Very inspiring.

Here's a delicious recipe from Dr. Weil's site that I just tried out today.

This makes a perfect snack or dessert when you have a sweet tooth and is nice and healthy.

Cocoa-Banana Frozen Dessert

4 bananas--quite ripe
2 Tbl. cocoa powder
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 Tbl. real maple syrup

Whiz together the bananas and cocoa powder in blender or food processor. Add vanilla and maple syrup and process until very smooth. Transfer into custard cups and cover. Freeze a few hours until set.


Monday, August 25, 2008

How can I recycle this???

I try to recycle. But sometimes it's hard to find a place to recycle certain things. For instance, I have this broken 7-in-1 blender/chopper/smoothie maker/food processor that's been sitting in my basement for years because it's missing one little, tiny part. I contacted the company several times, but unfortunately, they aren't making this particular unit anymore. I refuse to just throw it in the garbage though--there must be some way to recycle it. Perhaps into a lovely smoothie- maker planter?

For all of you who have those pesky items sitting around gathering dust in your
garage/attic/basement or closet, I have a great site to share with you: "How Can I Recycle This?" is a fabulous blog which will give you a thousand (or at least one or two) ideas of what to do with things which you can't recycle traditionally, but hate to throw in the landfill.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Play with your food

My sister sent me this link quite a while back. I have to warn you, it's addictive. You can test your vocabulary and simultaneously earn grains of rice to be donated by the United Nations. Every correct answer will add 20 grains of rice to your "bowl". But who can stop at 20 grains? I played up to 600 this morning and had a hard time stopping there.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

"That really gets my goat!" my mother would say. This is something that really "gets" me. Waste and the apparent disinterest on the lack of most Americans in making a difference for the environment. 'Scuse me while I hop up on my soapbox for a minute. . .

I understand that some people just don't care about nature. They maybe hate trees due to an unfortunate incident when they were small, or fear grass because of it's pointy-ness--I'm grasping here. So it sort of makes sense that they wouldn't give a hoot about nature or the environment. But what about the rest of us? Those who adore spending time hiking and gardening and playing in the dirt. The farmers who work the soil, the mothers that like bringing their children to the park and playing a game of pickup softball, the men who love extreme Frisbee and mountain biking? How does such a disconnect happen between us (humans) and the natural world? What allows us to shut off the voices that tell us that dumping chemicals into our gardens and rivers, and driving huge, gas-guzzling SUVs because they're "in"? How do we decide as a society that it doesn't matter if people in other countries don't have enough resources, as long as we Americans have all we need?

To me the lack of interest in, and worry over, the environment ties into our whole consumer culture. I like to call this the Christmas Tree Shop mentality. Have you ever seen commercials for this store? If not, consider yourself lucky. The commercials generally show women parading around the store, snatching things of the shelves and immediately turning them this way and that to find the price tag. "Oh, look Marge. Isn't this a cute potholder? And it's only $.99! I'm getting five!" Plunk, plunk, plunk as Alice throws handfuls of potholders, which she may or may not ever use into her hugely full, towering cart of crap.

But it's worse in real life as I would guess that 90% of the items in this store aren't necessary to daily living. This is not to say that I never shop there. Occasionally, I have found nice books, cards, or gift wrap for presents. And once in awhile I do pick something up there because it's inexpensive, like tea light candles or flower bulbs. But I can't help but notice that mentality more and more--not just in this one store either. It's like shopping and having more than everyone else has become some sort of national disease. And where are we putting all this stuff? Sometimes we store it in little extra "closets" a.k.a. storage units that we pay for each month. Sometimes we fill our houses with it to the point where it's not even comfortable getting around. But eventually most of it, nearly all I would guess, ends up in the landfill.

I guess I just wonder how we, as Americans, have turned from a country of do-it-yourselfers into a culture of wasters. I wonder what our grandparents would think, or the founding fathers of this country, if they saw where we are now. We're ruining the environment to make things "better" for ourselves. We've stopped questioning government policies that allow the total annihilation of once perfectly natural environments. We are addicted to oil and shopping, and having more, more, more. And all of this at our own expense, or at the expense or other people who we share the planet with who are less fortunate than ourselves.

I'm re-reading a wonderful book right now, called "Serve God, Save the Planet". It is in the Green Lending Library to be borrowed (or will be in a few days). It is written by J. Matthew Sleeth, M.D., a man who once "had it all". He worked as a bigwig doctor and had a huge house, a flashy sports car and everything else that the so-called American Dream tells us successful people have. He and his family, however, changed their ways after they realized how out of line their choices were compared to their values. Sleeth shares in his book how important that realization was to him.

"After I became a Christian, I went through a process of examining my life. It was filled with sin and hypocrisy. . . At the time, I considered myself an enlightened environmentalist. The United States uses more resources than any other country in history, and my crude audit showed that my family used slightly more energy than the average American household. Despite our modest recycling, carpooling, and electricity conservation efforts, we were living an unsustainable lifestyle. We were going about living our life as if we were the center of the universe, and there was no tomorrow to protect." --J. Matthew Sleeth, M.D. Serve God, Save the Planet

I am certainly not saying that I'm immune to the gimmees, that I never waste gas on unnecessary trips, that I always think first of other people and the environment when I'm shopping. But I do try, and I think it's important that we all try, to be more conscious of our choices. How does buying sweatshop made goods affect people? How does buying conventional versus organic products affect our planet and the workers who farm the fields their grown in? How does my deciding I need a big SUV for my safety affect the person whom I collide with and who is hurt in their modest sized or small car? How does adding chemical fertilizer to my garden affect my neighbor's children who's well is located near my yard?

Just being conscious is the difference. Can't sell your SUV? Maybe you could use it less or use public transportation more. Don't have the money to buy all organic foods? What about at least avoiding the foods with the highest amount of pesticides in them? Can't afford all sweat-shop free clothes? Try used. This saves money and resources as you're keeping one more thing out of the landfill.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Living Simply

"Live simply so that others may simply live." I love this quote though I can't remember at the moment who is famous for having said it.

Simple and frugal living have a rather bad rap if you ask me. So often they are thought of in the same vein as "deprivation" and "poverty". But that's not what it's about at all. Living simply and frugally is about taking into account what matters the most in your life and paring down the extras so that you can focus on what's most important to you. Let's say you absolutely adore sailing. You live far from the ocean and rarely get a chance to be on the water, between working full-time, keeping up your house and tracking your stock portfolio. But, wow. You really do love sailing and would like to make it a huge part of your life.

Someone who was dedicated to living more simply would take all these things into account and then start creatively brainstorming ways to add more of what he loves into their life. He might decide to pare down his belongings, sell his house and buy a sailboat big enough to live on. Doing this might mean that he needs less income, so he could work the summer months giving tours or sailing lessons with his boat in the US and then spend the winter off the coast of the Bahamas fishing and relaxing.

There are so many real life stories similar to this fictional story. So often when we are faced with a problem, we hurry and throw money at it. Something breaks in the house? Rush out and find a new one at the store. A family wants to start using cast iron pans and pots instead of their current non-stick cooking ware? Hurry, get to the store and buy a new set.

To me, living simply and frugally is really about being more creative. If something in your house breaks, pause for a few minutes before running to the store. Is there something else you could use instead? Does a family member or friend have an extra of these items gathering dust at their house? Could you buy it second hand? Thrift stores are much more than musty basement deals with shabby clothes. Our local Goodwill has a ton of great kitchen appliances and some brand new items like dish towels, curtains, rugs and more. The next time my coffee maker goes on the fritz or I am in need of something else for the house, I'll check there first.

It's not about deprivation, it's about looking at things another way. Taking the time to be creative saves you money, and it also saves resources. Every single "THING" that has to be made uses valuable resources. It also is one more thing that will eventually land in the trash one day. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle--and RE-THINK.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

On Letting Go

Letting go can be hard for some people. Very hard for others. When you let something go, or even contemplate letting something go, there is sometimes this feeling of panic. "What if I never, ever, ever find a vase/dress/house/potential mate like this again?" Some people have a hard time letting go of objects which have sentimental value. Other people have trouble letting go of people in their lives, even relationships which no longer serve them or are toxic.

For me, the hardest thing to let go is my idea of how something should be. Even if the truth is staring me plainly in the face, yelling "Yoo-hoo! I'm right here~Pay attention to me." I will sometimes keep going right along doing the same thing I've always done and wondering why things are the way they are.

It reminds me of that saying, "If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got."

Working for myself has been eye opening on many levels. One thing I noticed is that I'm a boring boss! What I hated about previous jobs were being micromanaged, feeling chained to my desk, and feeling that I didn't have any freedom to come and go as I pleased. Looking at the way I've been working over the past few months has made me take a step back. Yes, I do have the freedom to come and go as I please, but I haven't been doing it very much. Instead I've been sitting at the same desk, in my same office, in front of the same wall and window everyday. I type, I write, I do transcription, I invoice, I make phone calls, I fill out deposit slips and pay bills all at this desk. Why? Because I feel guilty. "Real self-employed people don't fritter away work hours doing frivolous things. Real writers sweat blood to write good articles. Real bosses put their noses to the grindstone and work hard, even when they don't feel like it."

Well, I've been trying this method, and I have to say, it sucks. Not only that but it's making me very unhappy. I have even started dreading work (again).

So, no more. This week I have made some small changes and I'm going to keep making changes until things feel right, feel better and more natural to me. I have let go of a small medical transcription account that I've been doing for about a year to free up more time and energy for what I love to do--write. I am going to take more time to research new work and spend more time working on my fiction which I absolutely love to do. I'm also going to build in some breaks to my day. And yes, if I decide I really need a 15 minute cat nap or a 20 minute yoga break I'm going to take it.

What's the sense of trying to be in control all the time? It's not reality and it's not fun either. My goal now is to learn to just go with the flow.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Mr. C

Inspiring. Absolutely. If you want to see a superhero in action, a modern day Bible disciple, check out this link.

Also check out this link to a video of Mr. C. He makes all his own clothes. From scratch. That alone makes him slightly heroic in my mind. . .

He's crazy, wonky, and absolutely in love with all he believes in. He's also written a fabulous book, "The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical". This is the book I mentioned a few weeks back--I finished it in about four days, but needed time to really absorb it. . . I'm not sure I really have done that fully.

It will be added to the Green Lending Library. If you'd like to read it, email me and I'll mail it to you.

Today, I wanted to write something inspiring. Something hopeful and fresh. But I feel sick today and am having computer problems--two things that don't pair well with happy, inspirational posts.

So instead, I will talk about my new writing friend, Peggy. We met at a writer's conference a couple of weeks ago. It was a wonderful conference and very informative. But the part I liked most was meeting other writers. Sometimes writing can feel very much like a big bubble, like I'm alone on a desert island of writerdom.

But getting back to the inspirational theme of this message. Peggy has the awesome fortune of writing for Guideposts and Positive Thinking magazines, two publications which I love for their positive messages. She also has an adorable dog who is her diet partner. Check out her blog to learn more. I bet you will come away from your computer feeling inspired.

Monday, July 7, 2008

On Creativity and Saving the World

Sometimes it's rather easy to let one's creativity fall by the wayside. Like many "do gooders" I tend to let my worries about the world get away from me. In fact, it can feel downright frivolous to want to "waste" time painting or playing with my art supplies.

It's been months since I last had a creative project. This is in part because I was transitioning into my new career as a writer (finally, work that I love!). But it's also partly because I feel a little guilty spending time on creative stuff when there are so many more important things calling my name. Volunteer here? Donate there? Could I swing a short-term mission trip?

But I've been reminded that without replenishing my well with some creative endeavors, I will run out of steam. I just re-started reading Julia Cameron's "The Artist's Way" I'm not sure if I can follow her full 12-week program, but just reading the introduction this morning helped me unclench my stomach and take some deep breaths. "It's okay to play now and then," it reminded me. "It's not going to make less for someone else if you run a paintbrush through watercolors or tear some paper scraps into a collage. It's okay to do some self-nurturing."

That's a message I really needed to hear.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

It's Easy to Forget

It's easy to forget in our day to day lives, that people elsewhere are dying of hunger. It's easy to forget when we have enough in our cupboards, that cupboards in other kitchens are bare. It's easy to take for granted the warm bed we slept in last night, hot shower we had this morning, the fresh cup of coffee, the relative safety of our homes.

When I stop and think about everything I take for granted in a day, everything I believe I'm "entitled" to, it's mind blowing. Things I don't think twice about (ibuprofen in the medicine cabinet, shoes on the closet floor, blankets if I'm cold, a fan when I'm too hot). These are things that I feel are a necessity (ok, I do realize and freely admit I have too many pairs of shoes on the closet floor), are things that people in other countries may have never had. Never. Had.

I am reading a great book which I'll tell you about later. The author, who worked for a summer in India with Mother Theresa, one of my heroes, spent time with the sick and dying, the poorest of the poor. And what he took from the experience was how lucky and fortunate he was to be there. Not because he realized all the stuff he had back home and felt grateful for it, but because the experience changed him. The sick and dying and people with leprosy gave him more than he had ever thought was possible.

One of my dreams has always been to do mission work. When I was young I wanted to go to Romania and work in an orphanage. I still do.

But what's the long-term solution? My volunteering for three weeks or three months will help, but it won't change anything really, in the long-term. What will? Donating money? Starting a new non-profit? Working with an existing non-profit? Selling all my possessions and giving money to a charity?

I don't know the answer. Do you?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Joneses

The term "keeping up with the Joneses" is certainly not new, but have you ever thought about the "other Joneses"?

We think of the Joneses as people who are better off than ourselves. They have cooler cars, a bigger pool (or a pool anyway!), they take fabulous trips and wear the trendiest clothes. Their houses l0ok ready for magazine photo shoots. All the time. And they're always on the move, shopping, improving things at their house, planning for their next world-wide adventure.

Often though, in our jealous peeks over the fence, we don't see the whole picture. We don't see the stress that the Joneses marriage suffers when another fight about money erupts. We don't see how neglected their kids feel when Mom and Dad shove toys at them to make up for the overtime they work to buy all that expensive crap.

But what about the other Joneses? These Joneses have much less than us, but for some reason we never think to compare ourselves to them. In the book "How Much is Enough?" by Arthur Simon, I found a passage that really sank in this morning.

"Which Joneses are we trying to keep up with? Almost always the Joneses who are ahead of us. Perhaps we should stay behind those Joneses and compare ourselves with the Joneses who lack food, clothing, and medical care."

Simon goes on to explain our desire for things that others have. This is a natural in children, the author explains, and seems to follow most of us right into adulthood.

"A child does not expect an ice cream bar for lunch. But if a sibling gets one, then having an ice cream bar suddenly seems not just desirable but a dire necessity. A child does not instinctively long for a particular brand or style of sneakers, but if "everyone" in his class starts wearing them and commenting on those who don't, lack of those sneakers will make him feel deprived and inferior. Kids want what other kids have. In this respect, they are strikingly like adults."

Hmmm, kids want what other kids have. This is true for us "big kids", too. Throw in a multi-million (billion?) dollar marketing industry showing us what "everyone" else has, little suggestions that we need to "treat" ourselves to something special, and it's easy to see how not only keeping up with, but surpassing the Joneses becomes our goal in life.

But life is so much more than things. I remember when I was small breaking some jars that my mother told me not to touch. I stood their crying, feeling terrible that I disobeyed and that they'd broken. She wiped up my tears and held me. "They're only things," she said. "They can be replaced."

That is a message we should all learn. All these possessions are just things that can be replaced. Relationships, helping, loving, caring, teaching, learning, compassion--those mean more than any physical object, and they can never be broken or taken away.