Wednesday, May 20, 2015

A New Beginning

No longer living in our little grey house, I decided to develop a new space to reflect on a simple, sustainable life in the suburbs.

Please join me at

Friday, February 13, 2015

Simple, green skin care

Although I've always loved skin lotions and creams,  I've honestly been fairly lazy when it comes to skin care. Soap (most of the time), moisturizer (sometimes) and sunscreen (always because I'm a ghost). Despite being so transluscent that you could map my circulatory system from a good five feet away, aside from a bit of blotchiness, I don't think my skin looks too terrible. So I've never really bought into the idea that I need 12 kinds of product to look decent. As a teen, I loved to spend my babysitting money on St. Ives masks and different kinds of creams for fun but never really kept up a serious skin-care regimen.

About 7 years ago I started to break out in hives after using my moisturizer. I switched to something more "natural" which I now realize was more expensive, but more or less the same. Very quickly, I became unable to use anything with fragrance and most drugstore skin care brands were off-limits. My dermatologist then told me that most eye creams, wrinkle creams and the like are pure bullshit - its about making money and doesn't make any appreciable difference to one's appearance.

Since then, I've become really interested in (actual) natural skin care. Coconut oil was the gateway drug - luscious and moisturizing, plus the BEST eye makeup remover I've ever tried. A few years ago I added shea butter, for areas that need a bit more moisture. Recently I've started using rosehip seed oil on my skin at night, jojoba oil on my legs after a shower and argan oil on my freshly washed hair.  It doesn't have to be complicated. I've even heard of people using pork fat and ghee as facial moisturizers, believe it or not (my dogs would lick me to death).

I'll do some posts on natural skin care in the near future with some recipes and ideas. Suffice it to say,  you can use bulk goats milk or olive oil soap and pure oils and have lovely skin. As well as a fatter wallet and less crap on your face.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Living Our Values in the Day-to-Day

It is so very easy to lose sight of the big picture, particularly when it comes to making mundane, daily decisions in an ethical way. Budget, convenience, location, aesthetics, all of these factors have interfered at one time or another with trying to live our lives in a more sustainable way. There's also the fitting-in factor; its not uncommon to see people towing their groceries by bike in the city but it sure is weird out here in the suburbs.

As I reflect on the past few years of our life as a family and focus my energy on the forthcoming year, I find myself feeling sheepish at how much we've slipped away from our intentions. Its an ebb and flow, really, and we're not totally lost. Our ideals are still there, the intentions, the discussions - the foundation is solid. Its in the day-to-day that we really screw up.

I took the trash out two weeks ago and was gobsmacked by how much we had accumulated in one week. We're some of the most "sustainable" people we know and yet we throw out so.much.crap. I stumbled upon zero-waste blogs through an article about a Paris capsule wardrobe and I've gone down the rabbit-hole. I cannot stop thinking about ways to reduce our waste and remove poorly-made, disposable or shortly-lived items out of our lives.

I read somewhere that the practice of sustainability is like a table, held up by concepts like frugality, simplicity and some other good stuff that I cannot remember for the life of me now but I'm sure I agree with. Reading the article, I thought "yesssssss". Gardening, permaculture, and the big picture concepts are what turns Jay's crank when it comes to "greening" our lives. For me, its the smaller details that get me going: buying less and buying with quality in mind, choosing fair trade and ethical products, thinking of how our daily choices impact the earth and other people. That $5 t shirt is a bargain for me, but it sure costs a lot to the earth and the person who made it. Minimalism and simplicity appeal because life with young children is chaotic and my brain naturally hums along at a good clip; I crave space and peace and time not spent consuming or cleaning what has been consumed. Jay and I will each play our part in holding up our sustainability table, by focusing on what we are naturally drawn to. That's a comforting thought.

I've been furiously "Pinning" and scribbling notes in my notebook as I come across ideas, blogs and articles. I've decided to organize my thoughts a little bit. Going forward, here are some of my areas of focus (noting that its all connected, buying less is minimalist but its also frugal and sustainable)

1. Making our upcoming renos more sustainable. Some materials have already been purchased from big-box stores, but other purchases can be made more mindfully while staying in budget.

2. Slowly moving away from plastic and disposable items. We've done without paper towels for a few years now (which people think is SO WEIRD when they come over), but there's so much more we can do. Kiss your Spider-man toothbrush goodbye kids, its going to be bamboo from here on out.

3. Buying less, buying in bulk, buying second-hand and buying items with non-toxic ingredients. Buying only what's needed, repairing what we can, making what cannot be purchased frugally, mindfully or fair-trade.

Daunting? Perhaps. Inspiring? Hells to the yes.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Bulk Barn Hates the Earth

 bulk food
Lately I've been inspired by reading blogs and articles focusing on low and zero - waste. Its a lofty goal, to be sure, but there are certainly easy ways to reduce superfluous plastic and garbage from our lives.

And so it was this weekend, when I needed cinnamon and some peanut butter, that I decided to gather a mason jar and a spice tin in a reusable cloth bag and head to my local Bulk Barn.  From what I had read, one simply asks the cashier to weigh the containers before filling them and subtract the weight from the final price.  Simple.


Not at Bulk Barn. A smirking cashier at the first location told me it was not hygenic to use my containers as they couldn't be sure how clean they were. She was not amused by my "oh, are the plastic bags you have here sterilized?". I said it sweetly, while smiling, I swear.

Nonetheless, she sent me on my way. Sadly, I don't like to be told "no" and so I drove to the next nearest location (the irony of driving two places in the pursuit of sustainability is not lost on me, by the way) to give it another shot. This time, the employee I asked looked downright offended. He said (loudly) "the Health Department would NEVER allow that!". I asked what the specific health concerns were and he said (loudly, again) "Look, I don't make the rules. Y'know what, you'll have to just call corporate headquarters ok? I have no idea". People were honestly staring at this point, that's how loudly he was speaking. I thanked him for his time, put my items in the appropriately spic and span plastic containers available at the store and went to the check-out.

He found me. Again, speaking at a volume that was clearly intended to get the attention of other people, he said "I just though of something else, how do you expect us to weigh it all?". I explained he could weigh my jar empty and subtract that from the final weight, which caused him to throw up his hands and scoff "well, I don't KNOW. I don't make the rules! Call head office!".


Upon further Googling, it seems that Bulk Barn has a corporate policy to not allow reusable containers in their store. In fact, you are not allowed to wash and re-use their own containers either. Despite the fact that many other bulk retailers are able to get around this issue and the Big Bad Health Department's rules, Bulk Barn cannot.

Or should I say, will not.

I do plan to write an email to corporate head office, though from what I've read many others have done so to no avail and in fact without receiving so much as a reply from the company.  I probably will not shop at Bulk Barn again, hopefully finding another bulk store close by with a commitment to environmental stewardship and customer service.

In the meantime, I'll dream of shopping here.

Friday, January 30, 2015

(Belated) New Years Resolutions/Intentions/Whatever

I'm sort of a half-hearted intention-setter or resolution-maker, whatever you want to call it. I make 'em and then, quite often, break 'em with nary a second thought.

This year, I do have some pretty significant goals that I'm actually excited to work towards:

1. Read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and really get serious about reducing our possessions. Its been a three-year journey of decluttering and changing the way we think about material objects and I'm glad its been a slow and steady process. I definitely feel lighter and more content with fewer things, particularly when those items are high quality and bring me joy. This book is apparently The Decluttering Book, so I'm excited to read it and implement some of its advice.

2. Maintain a regular meditation practice. Consistency over quantity. In whatever form feels right, whether it be in silence in front of my home altar, walking meditation in the snow, yoga practice, guided meditations over podcasts. I've given up on trying to be perfect when it comes to finding the "right" form or method, I'm just going to do me instead.

3. Run a half-marathon. A friend and I decided last year that since we're apparently hot shit, to run a half-marathon this fall. This is terrifying to me, who resembles an arthritic gorilla while running and has only (once) managed to complete a 10K and not a graceful one at that. I said I was going to do it though, and I shall. It promises to be ugly, but I'll at least have earned a gluttonous brunch and two or three mimosas after the fact.

4. Complete an obstacle race. Same friend, actually a group of us together, and I'm really pumped for this one. Both the preparation and the actual race.

5. Participating effectively in the family garden. It all went to hell last year and I'm going to take on a more active role in growing our food this year, since I'm the family member who works part-time. I'm reading The All-New Square Foot Gardening book and planning all the wonderful things I'm going to effortlessly grow in abundance. Ha.

6. Make many of my own skin-care and hair-care products. As a lifelong lover of skin care products and makeup, most of which have begun to irritate my skin in recent years and as someone who is  very interested in the concept of zero-waste and low-waste living, I've decided to take this on . I've stocked up on shea butter, coconut butter, glycerin, almond oil, beeswax and lanolin and I'm excited to make some new stuff. First up, chapstick for my poor little guy whose lips have been cracked and bleeding all winter.

7. Continue to improve my commitment to make things myself (as per above), buy secondhand, borrow and repurpose. This weekend I've been knitting some washcloths and making cloth napkins. I've fallen back into the habit of nipping out to Target to pick something up for the sake of ease and affordability, but that's not living my values. I need to slow down and do a gut check before spending, evaluate needs vs. wants, and consider the items I want to bring into my life.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

This blogger is my spirit animal

I discovered, and devoured, a new blog last night over a glass of wine.  Called Paris-To-Go, it is written by an American living in Paris (jealous), who is passionate about minimalism, sustainability, fashion, travel and healthy living. Pretty much all of the things that really get me going.

I was so very happy to stumble upon this gem because I sometimes feel a bit lost in the world of "green living", permaculture and sustainability. Although I know this is silly, it sometimes feels as though there isn't a place in that world for someone who feels naked without a good red lipstick. I've often had to encourage myself to find a balance between the side of me that loves being stylish, having a nicely decorated home, and eating delicious food with the side that is passionate about homemade things, sustainability and minimalism. Its nice to see an example of someone who is really living those values, something I'm still and always striving to do.

Its worth reading the blog simply for the author's writing style. A sample, about eating out gluten-free "I have one rule when dining sans gluten - it should taste like gluten. I don't go out to eat healthy. I eat out so I can press the skin on my arm down afterwards and feel coagulated blood." 


Friday, January 16, 2015

Holiday Creep and How We Celebrate Bodhi Day.

 This post is approximately one month late. Better late than never? 

We've all heard and perhaps participated in the ongoing grumblings about the holiday creep over the last several years and I've been no different. A few years ago, my eye-rolling had more to do with the utter ridiculousness of advertising Christmas before Halloween as well as the jarringly consumerist/materialist focus of the holiday in general, particularly compared to what I remember from my own childhood. In the last few years, holiday creep has been bothering me for different reasons. In fact, I've been having a little bit of a crisis over the last few years in determining how best to honor the traditions of my ancestors and my childhood, while incorporating my values and spiritual beliefs and/or non-beliefs.

I've begun to wonder, how does one celebrate Christmas when one is not only not-Christian, but has now decided they are Something Else. Buddhist, in our case. How does one respect the beliefs and sanctity of the holiday for those who do believe, while allowing ourselves to participate in family traditions and the nostalgia of our youth? How does one participate without cheapening it? How the heck do I explain all of it to my kids? (Most importantly). 

I've polled like-minded friends, who celebrate out of tradition rather than religion, and heard a variety of answers most of which involved something like "well, we try to focus on the meaning of the season as being about family and togetherness".  I'm down with that.  I loved Christmas as a kid and I still love it. I have really fond memories of hanging out at my Omi's house on Christmas Eve, eating cabbage rolls and watching the adults twitch nervously hoping the lit candles on the real tree didn't result in a four alarm emergency. My family celebrated Christmas in a secular way. I want our family to be able to continue some of those traditions, develop new ones, and leave some behind. I want to be able to continue to celebrate the secular stuff that means something to me without being disrespectful of the fact that its not a secular holiday at all.

So this year we decided to emphasize a Buddhist holiday, Bodhi Day or Rohatsu, which falls on December 8th and condense our Christmas-ey stuff into a two week period after that. The intent behind this was to shift some of the focus away from Christmas and towards Bodhi Day in order to place emphasis on things we do believe in. I feel like we reached a good balance this year. We started our Christmas stuff later, made the holiday more simple, emphasized the things we wanted to emphasize and felt that we were being true to our own values. 

Here's how we celebrated in our house:

Advent Calendar - In previous years we've had a simple advent calendar consisting of ornaments in little numbered bags. Each morning, our older son would place an ornament on the tree. He loved it and it was simple, but our younger guy is old enough now to want to participate. After the Great Felt Calendar Fiasco of 2014, I ended up placing little cards with activities on them in numbered envelopes for the boys to open. And every few days, they'd get a chocolate covered pretzel with the envelope which thrilled them. 

From December 1-8th, the activities were related to Bodhi Day rather than Christmas. They included colouring mandalas, buying food for donations, making a Three Jewels craft, baking leaf-shaped Bodhi tree cookies, and lighting the Bodhi Tree. 

Bodhi Tree - On December 8th, we wrapped a little Ficus Benjamina with multicolored lights to represent the many different paths to enlightenment and placed our Buddha statue underneath.  The tree was lit every night for a month.

Rice Milk - This is a significant meal because it was the offering of rice milk to the Budhha by the young girl that brought him out of his ascetic quest and set him on the path of the Middle Way. I made a delicious rice pudding from this book which we enjoyed in new bowls for breakfast.

Small gift - the kids received a new book and their own chopsticks. 

Stories - We talked about the  story of the Buddha's Enlightenment and why we celebrate Bodhi Day. The kids have lights strung in their room which we lit each night for 30 days as well. We lit a candle and incense and three smaller candles representing the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. The kids were a bit young for all of this but I was happy to start a tradition that they will grow into.         

Overall, this holiday season felt more "us" than previous years and I think we struck a good balance between tradition and belief.