New Ways to Give Up Plastic

Most people are familiar with the fact that plastic is ubiquitous and highly damaging to the environment. It’s not hidden knowledge what the most common single-use plastics are and how to cut back on them, such as switching to reusable bags instead of taking plastic bags from stores, using a reusable metal water bottle instead of buying bottled water, and saying no to plastic straws at restaurants and cafes.

These three examples are very good places to start when cutting back on single use plastic. With a little bit of time and effort, it is possible to give up those three forms of polluting plastic all together. After changing your habits in those simple ways, you can begin to look elsewhere in your life and see where polluting plastic is lingering around (for its short lived lifespan) and ways to replace it or stop using it all together. Below are three ways that I have reduced my plastic use in my daily life. Check ’em out and share how you cut back with me. We can do this together.

Floss

Do you floss? Maybe you do, but not as regularly as you should; however often you are flossing, you are probably flossing with plastic. It is obvious that the thin, string-like hygienic product that we keep in our medicine cabinets is made from plastic if we take a second to think about it. What else would it be?

To be honest, I had not considered what my floss was made from until I stumbled upon silk floss (let me repeat that – silk floss – how luxurious)   in the supermarket aisle one night. After taking a moment to read about the product, I was instantly sold. Never again will I buy plastic floss. Silk floss does the job perfectly and is biodegradable. It costs a little more than cheaper, average floss, but it is worth the cost because it lasts for a long time and doesn’t come with any plastic polluting guilt, however, as you can see, the packaging is sadly plastic, but has a plastic 5 recycling lable so will be recyclable when the product is all used up.

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Sponges & Cleaning Products

Colorful sponges that come in four packs of bright yellow, pink, and blue can be made from polyurathane, a plastic and what makes that even worse is that they fall apart. Have you noticed that after a couple of weeks of use that bits of the sponge begin to break off into your dish washing basin? Where do you think those bits of plastic end up going once down the drain? Even if you pick out the bigger pieces, there are bound to be smaller ones that make their way down your kitchen sink’s drain and into the water system.

Instead of using those Spongebob-yellow sponges I have been using wash cloths. I also found more durable sponges made out of natural cellulose with a fiber on top that resembles coconut husk (it is not, but the packaging does not tell me what the top is precisely made of, it does say however, that the entire sponge is 100% plant-based).  I have used these sponges for my bathroom cleaning mostly and am happy to read on the labels that the sponges can be boiled to sanitize and that they are top rack dishwasher safe, plus It scrubs better than the cheap sponges.

For cleaning products I primarily use a simple vinegar and water solution to which I add essential oils. I also found a blog listing secondary uses for lemon peels; soak them in vinegar in a sealed jar for two weeks and add to the vinegar spray for an added fresh scent and as a way to get more life out of the lemons. When life gives you lemons… make lemonade, and then make lemon scented vinegar from the peels!

I also use borax for more heavy-duty soap scum. Used together with the fibrous sponge brings a smooth shine to my bathtub without any harsh chemicals lingering around to contaminate my next bath.

Tea and Coffee

I mostly drink tea, but sometimes coffee, never, ever do I drink Keurigs – those little pods are completely wasteful, prime examples of single use plastic waste. I thought I was doing pretty well with tea and coffee, buying organic and fair trade when my budge allowed, but taking a closer look at my tea bags I realized that my tea often came in little, individual plastic packets (even the organic kinds sometimes). And if the bags aren’t wrapped in plastic then they are sometimes wrapped in aluminum or paper. Even the expensive triangular tea sachets upon inspection are most definitely made from plastic.

It’s impossible to know what the tea looks like inside the box, so I choose to buy a certain brand of tea that comes in a wax lined paper pouch, all 20 tea bags in one pouch, and no staples, strings, or labels. Limited waste. Even better is loose leaf teas bought in bulk. The brand that I prefer from a box is Celestial Seasonings. For bulk tea I buy from a local grocery store. It has to be said that herbal tea grown from the garden or collected from a wild source, dried, and put into glass jars is the least wasteful form of tea and the most pranic. Herbs and flowers for collecting include mint, nettle, chamomile, Calendula, and lavender to name a few.


Plastic is a vital and necessary part of modern life. It is in our phones, computers, cars, almost everything. There is no doubt that plastic will be a part of our daily lives, but certain types of plastics can be cut out of regular use – single-use/disposable plastic. This type of plastic is overused and has a minute lifespan of sometimes only minutes (think about the plastic spoon used to eat greek yogurt, out of a plastic tub, it only takes minutes to eat that snack and then the spoon and the tub are waste.) Start becoming aware of plastic’s detriments and then decide to abstain from using it and encourage those around you to do the same.

 

Good News in 2018

It’s only mid-January, and all ready there have been some big, positive announcements around the globe regarding decreasing the use of single use plastic and climate change in general. With natural disasters becoming more and more common and devastating (this past year in the U.S. alone was a record setting and expensive year due to natural disasters – hurricanes and wild fires) legislation and commitment by cities and governments is some positive news that is welcome to start out 2018.

The four big news stories that I have seen in the new year came from Montreal, New York City,  China, and England.

Montreal has banned plastic bags. The ban went into effect on January 1, 2018 with penalties to shops who do not follow the law going into effect on June 5, 2018. I visited Quebec just before learning about this ban for a short trip between the Christmas and New Year holidays, while there I noticed that all stores charged 5 cents for each plastic bag, but local Québécois  that I asked were unsure if this charge was local, province wide, or in all of Canada. When I returned home I tried to do some research and in google searching I found the article about the plastic bag ban in Montreal.

In my opinion, plastic bags are utterly useless; they are not strong, therefore they break easily and most people toss them straight into the garbage they live their life cycle of just one use between the store, the car, and the cupboard. People casually toss them straight into their garbage, most people that I have witnessed in my area do not even recycle them. Some stores have recycle bins at their entryway in which to collect used plastic bags for recycling, but they have to be clean and dry, and of course people would have to collect them and remember to bring them with them to the store to drop off, and not all stores have these containers, so it is not convenient.

Rather than go through the process of recycling plastic bags or pollute the oceans by throwing plastic bags in the garbage, why not buy a couple of reusable bags from your local grocery store and use and reuse those for shopping? I wish more major cities would set a standard of banning plastic bags which would encourage states/provinces and countries to do the same. It is a big shift to make, but I am so glad that Montreal is leading the way in doing so in 2018, really proving that they are French Canadian, in the fact that France banned plastic bags as a country in the summer of 2016.

A couple of weeks after Montreal’s ban went into effect, New York City announced that it will be divesting from fossil fuels in the city’s pension funds and that it will begin the process of suing five large oil companies for the negative impacts that their actions have had resulting in climate change and damage to the city – hurricane Sandy, for example. This is big news, especially since it completely contradicts the view of the president, who would rather invest in coal than renewables and whom does not even believe in climate change. Thankfully, some cities and states have vowed to take action against the president’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement; Mayors and governors around the Unite States took a stance to pass their own laws that were in accordance with the Paris Agreement after Mr. Trump pulled the United States out to show that US Americans do believe that climate change is a real and imminent threat and that as individual cities and states they will not sit back and do nothing.

Possibly the biggest news that started this year off in terms of plastic pollution was that China has banned the import of other countries’ waste as of January 1, 2018.  A lot of people are unaware, but much of the recycling collected in the U.S. and Europe does not get processed in the countries where it is collected. About a third of the waste produced in the U.S. is exported, sent to other countries for them to process or bury. Much of it gets sent to China, but no longer. That’s a lot of waste that has nowhere to go now. This news is good in that some of the waste that was exported on container ships would blow off and end up in the ocean creating ocean pollution. But now what will happen to waste at home in the U.S.? Of course the answer should be that the U.S. will have to handle our own waste, and we should, and by facing the waste problem straight on, would give more thought to using less packaging and creating less waste. Likely however, it will get sent to another country because the U.S. does not have the facilities to handle it all. Another negative effect may be that recycling centers say that they can no longer manage recycling waste and therefore may put them instead in to landfills (see the hyperlink earlier in this paragraph.)

 

 

The final big news that has come out since the start of the new year came from Teresa May just this past week. The PM of England declared that England’s newest environmental plan includes a goal of stopping all UK plastic waste by 2042. That is a few steps forward of Montreal’s plastic bag ban, but as some critics have said, it is too far in the future and her plan lacks clear guidelines, but it is a good start to move the conversation towards reducing and eliminating plastic waste.

There has been talk that many UK politicians are getting behind environmental movements due to the Blue Planet II series with Sir David Attenborough. The series is beautifully made, awe inspiring, and full of fascinating information. The fact that a TV series can educate so many worldwide on the sate of the oceans and the wildlife that habitats them is better still if it moves politicians into action.

Although the devastating, recent mudslides in California along with the multiple natural disasters of last year weight heavy on all of our hearts, it is a small comfort to know that governments around the world are beginning to make changes to combat our negative impact on our planet. As information becomes more widespread and people demand change by their leaders, there is hope that governments all over will pass similar laws and will overpower the attempts of some politicians (ahem, Mr. Trump) to take us back in time with environmental regulations. The future looks bright, albeit with a lot of hard work in the process.

Bye-bye 2017, Welcome 2018

Well, that was fast. It doesn’t seem possible that 2017 is coming to a close and a new year will be here full of hopes and goals. This year was a big year for me personally and quite the roller coaster around the world. In this post I want to reflect on my past year in terms of my personal life, yoga, & sustainability, as well as use this platform as a way to commit to a few goals for my 2018.

My previous year was full of primarily of weddings and green cards. On Earth Day 2017 I married my love in our down to earth civil ceremony. The choice to marry on Earth Day was intentional as was the entire day and the way that we designed to tie the knot in the most sustainable way that we could. You can read here for ides on planning your own DIY, sustainable wedding.

My husband I again got married in September which was the big shindig with my large family and friends the came from near and far to celebrate with us. This event we also planned to be as DIY and sustainable as possible. I have not written about our wedding in any blog posts yet, I will post tips bit by bit during 2018 as wedding season gets nearer.

As mentioned above, my year was full of our two weddings and a green card, which belongs to my husband (finally). That was a stressful, long, and moderately pricey endeavor, but it was well worth all of the hard work and sacrifices that we both had to make so that he could settle with me here in the U.S. We completed the entire process with some advice from a few friends whom previously obtained green cards, yet without the assistance of an attorney. Coming in 2018 will be a few posts with tips for others who are going it alone to get a green card.

In terms of yoga, my year was both quite and busy. Unfortunately, I did not attend any trainings in 2017 save a few workshops with my dear friend Mindy and some classes here and there at local studios and during my travels. It is a serious goal of mine to attend a weekend or week long retreat in 2018 and to seek out a YTTC in the next couple of years to continue to build my teaching tool bag.

This past year, however, was busy for me as a teacher. I taught in studios and increased my corporate schedule. I continued to teach vinyasa, designing classes appropriate for my students, hatha classes for the corporate students, and some fun workshops and seasonal classes. My 2018 teaching goals, besides training in classes, workshops, and YTTCs, is to push myself more and more to therefore safely push my students to their abilities and beyond as well as to force myself to become more creative with workshops and collaborations.

Finally, and most importantly, I have had some great experiences in my local area, attending educational events on the environment and sustainability. On a personal level I have tried my best to cut back more and more on plastics and have continued my slow fashion lifestyle. Looking towards the future, I am excited to have been accepted as a 5 Gyres ambassador, a title that means that I will host some educational events in 2018 and into the future in which I’ll share the damaging effects of plastics on our oceans. Being an ambassador is a commitment to learn and share and by having an association with their name I have more weight when sharing information with the public as opposed to standing alone on my soapbox. Many people are already aware of the dangers of plastic, but many more are not, and to ask someone to change their daily habits for fish can be seen as a stretch and annoyance, so I am looking forward to utilizing 5 Gyres resources to give myself more credibility.

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This time of the year is an excellent time to reflect on goals and lessons learned from the past year’s experiences and an even greater time to dedicate yourself to personal goals and resolutions. I can’t wait to give 2018 my all and hone my skills and craft with each passing month and year. This yoga thing is such a journey, as is life as a whole. Each new pose is a practice to get there and each teaching experience is an opportunity to obtain more and more knowledge to benefit my students of the present and in the future.

Upcycled Gift Wrap

This holiday season alter your wrapping style from wasteful to thoughtful and hand crafted. Why? Because gift wrapping has an extremely short lifespan and ends up in the garbage seconds after being torn apart. It is a complete waste.

Instead of being tempted by the sparkly, shiny papers and bows at your local box store choose instead to upcycle things already at hand in your house. Use items that are on their way to the recycling center such as newspaper, brown bags from the grocery store, or other paper products like calendars, maps, & magazines and catalogs.

In order to be more sustainable you must think and plan ahead. The same way that you have to remember to bring your resuable bags from the car into the store and to take your tumbler with you in the car before you stop for a coffee, you’ll have to plan to hold onto newspaper and other things to be used for wrapping. This takes foresight, but you likewise buy and keep store bought wrapping paper and bows, so it should be an easy shift to begin storing newspapers and brown bags for wrapping in the same location and stock up for upcoming birthdays and holidays. It’s not that common these days to receive a newspaper since most people consume their news from online sources, so you may have to acquire newspaper from your place of work or from a relative who still gets a daily paper. Junk mail and advertisements that come are another source, for me it is the local penny savers that I keep to use because they are abundant where I live. We must have 3-4 placed in our mailbox weekly.

To jazz up your gift wrap have a search on pinterest for upcycled wrapping ideas, there are many. You can paint the wrap or stamp it with a homemade potato stamp which could make for a great winter craft night in. Here is a detailed blog on how-to make potato stamps. You can also make bows out of newspaper. There are a lot of different styles and techniques to make different types of newspaper bows. A quick google search brings up half a dozen styles that you can create so that your gifts under the tree are unique and look as snazzy as purchased bows made in China. Here is a good blog tutorial to make bows out of newspaper or, a neat idea for those with little ones in the house, to make the bows out of children’s scribbles.

Creating bows will take time, but as I find with most things that I do with my hands to create something, is in the end satisfying and meditative. You’ll need simple household items such as scissors, glue, and tape. Making a patter first for your bows may quicken up the process.

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Other embellishments can be added like twine or other festive string, using twine and other string as ribbon is not necessarily waste free, unless you hold on to previously used string and give it a second life as gift wrap, so I cannot say completely that the gifts that I wrapped are absolutely zero waste, but they are more ethical than plastic based ribbon sold at stores. A more eco idea is to use sprigs of pine tree snipped from the back of your Christmas tree or from outside. If you’re wrapping during another season, for a summer birthday perhaps, then you can use other seasonal plants. Check first to be sure that the plant is not harmful – don’t give your friend a gift with decorative poison ivy on it, for example. This blog has a lot of different ideas including using bits of plants and more.

Crafting your own gift wrap is not hard, it just takes time, so put the kettle on, sit in front of the heater and get creative. The best part about upcycled and DIY gift wrap is that on top of being unique and personalized, it utilizes materials that are easily recyclable as opposed to store bought wrapping paper, which often IS NOT RECYCLABLE and sadly ends up in the landfill.

Plastic Free July

It’s the end of July 2017 and to your knowledge or not it is the end of another annual campaign to cut back on plastics use. Plastic Free July is a worldwide campaign that began in Australia a couple of years ago. I mention that you may not have been aware of the movement because sadly it is still on the fringes of public awareness. My feeds are sprinkled with posts and hashtags, but yours may not be. Mine are because I am a known plastic hater, I seek out information on how to cut back on use and what other’s are doing around the world to make a change to the mindless use of single use plastics.

Plastic Free July is a challenge simply put and you don’t have to think too far out of the box to get a sense of what it’s all about. Of course the challenge is not to cut plastic out of your life for a month 100%-completely, that would be impossible. Plastic makes up the computer I type on, the fibers in the carpet I lie on, the watch face of the sports watch that I wear and never take off, and almost everything else in the room that I am in at the moment (fan, lamp shade, parts on my bike, my phone, my phone case, the list goes on.) No, it would be very close to impossible to give up plastic totally, instead what the campaign is about is cutting back on single use plastic.

Single use plastic make up big portions of our day-to-day lives in the modern world, but unlike what was listed in the last paragraph, single use plastics can (and very much should) be cut from your life.

To the point, single use plastics are described in the name but if you can’t think of an example  then let me list a few: plastic forks, knives, spoons, plastic zip lock bags, plastic bags at any grocery store or shop, saran wrap, straws, lids on to go cups, plastic cups, lids, and straws for cold beverages, most packaging of processed foods and many vegetables at grocery stores, etc. These are things that have a life span, or a use of roughly 20 minutes which is said of plastic shopping bags and straws. Oh how I hate plastic straws. Those little buggers get given to us without thought or question at restaurants and cafes. If accepted they’re sipped out of for a few minutes or at the most for the length of the meal at the restaurant which may extend to be an hour or so. After the meal or smoothie is finished they’re tossed in the garbage can – they are not recyclable – from the bin they are put in the dumpster, taken to the landfill, buried underground or possibly first put on a container ship and shipped to another location where they may make their way into the ocean on their way and stay there for quite sometime. Whether in the landfill or the ocean that little straw that was useful for less than 30 minutes will then stay on this earth for up to 200 years.

Think about that. Two-hundred-years. That is a long time for an item that has a life cycle of five minutes from opening the wrapper to tossing in the garbage. If John Quincy Adams, the sixth president of the Unite States, had enjoyed his beverage of choice with a straw, it would still be here today. The next time you’re at a restaurant, cafe, or bar, look around you and notice all of the straws in use there. I bet it’s a lot, and those are just the straws in use while you’re there, think of how many were used during that entire day, week, year… all of them will be around for a very long time.

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It doesn’t take me long to collect straws on my morning walks,.

Straws are almost the worst of the single use plastic items in my opinion because at least with a plastic bag you can recycle it when you return to the store (although I’d argue that most people don’t – I have dug many plastic bags out of other people’s garbage cans) if you don’t recycle them you can use them as trash can liners (which is what I do with all of the plastic bags that I rescue from trash cans.)

To give up single use plastic for the month of July you have to think ahead. You have to remember to bring your reusable bags to the store. You have to tell the waitress when you order your drink that you do not want a straw. Everywhere you go you must carry your water bottle with you – to work, in the car, to your yoga class.

And why? Why do all of this hard work to not use plastic? The dramatic answer is to save the world. Or at the very least to save the ocean and her inhabitants. And if you’re like me and you live hundreds of miles from an ocean so may think that floating plastic islands the size of Texas in the ocean are not only unfathomable to you but do not really affect you living in the middle of a big country, think again. Those plastics break down in the sun, are consumed as food by fish and other sea life, we consume that fish which has chemicals from the plastics inside it’s body, then the plastic is inside of our bodies and they cause a lot of disruption in there. If you don’t like seafood, do you drink bottled water or soda from a plastic bottle or iced coffee from a plastic cup? If you answered yes then the same chemicals are making their way into your system, too.

Plastic is for sure a convenience in our lives, we almost cannot live without. It’s in everything, likely even the clothes that we wear (if you’re wearing synthetics), but single use plastics can be avoided and refused. Learn to say “No straw” at a restaurant and “I don’t need a bag” at the checkout. Those are the best places to start.

The month of July will be over in a few days, whether you knew of the Plastic Free July challenge or not, I encourage you to try the Plastic Free Life from now on. Habits are hard to change, but with effort they can be altered.

DIY – Sustainable – Low-Budget Wedding

There are many reasons to want to have a low-cost and simple wedding, you may be loaded with student debt, don’t see yourself in a princess gown, or like us, need to rush things along for a foreign-fiance visa. If you are a bride or groom looking to save your pennies on your big day, then there are short-cuts that do not take away from the magic of the day. As just stated, my situation was that my foreign-fiance and I needed to tie the not in a three month time frame from his arrival on U.S. soil so that he could fulfill the requirements of his K-1 visa. We knew all of this after months and months of research and luckily neither of us are very fussy or uppity, so a shindig planned in a couple of weeks neither stressed us out or meant that we had to give up big dreams of violin quartets or three tiered cakes. We were however, quite stubborn about our special day being waste-free, ethical, and sustainable – meaning little waste, lots of second hand finds, and DIY.

Here are how we managed to make our Earth Day wedding as down to Earth and friendly to her as possible.

The Dress

18156349_1268217376630846_7658297236323043971_oI am no Bridezilla, but I know how important the dress is and after dress shopping with my mom and twin sister, I know now too just how fun and flattering wedding gowns can be, I cannot however, justify paying hundreds of dollars on a dress to be worn just once, especially not for the garden, civil ceremony that we had. Therefore, while my fiance was across the pond spending his nights researching immigration documents, I was browsing the internet for the perfect civil ceremony dress (don’t worry, I helped with the legal research, too!)

A company had been stuck in my mind since watching the eye-opening documentary, The True Cost, the company is People Tree, which I instantly fell in love with when I watched the film. They are a U.K. based, fair trade, and sustainable company. After browsing their site, I found the dress. A cream dress with a navy, red, and carmel floral print, boat neck, knee-length, vintage-style, organic cotton beauty. I shipped it to my beau, and tried it on for the first time a few months later after he landed here to be with me – and it fit! If you are planning a laid-back wedding or will be married with a civil ceremony, then looking at dress shops instead of bridal shops will save you hundreds of dollars. Thrift stores or a friend’s closet will cut the cost even more. My dress is of a much higher quality than most low-end wedding dresses (which are priced mostly for the “w” word,) because it’s made of a thick, organic cotton with strong stitches at the hem whereas many wedding dresses are of polyester and are likely made in factories in developing nations where the women who sew them together are not paid fair wages.

The Rings

My engagement ring is a family antique from my husband’s side, no blood diamonds for us! I can’t state how much I love the fact that the ring that began our lives together forever comes from his family history and not from a store (which really came from mining, which when you think about, is blowing up a mountainside in order to pry out it’s natural resources.) Not to mention, the idea of needing a diamond engagement ring is a relatively new one, women around the world got by without a shiny rock on their fingers for hundreds of years prior to the late 1940’s, but now it’s the norm – good for De Beers, not always so good for the savings accounts of young couples.

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My wedding band is likewise not from a big-name jewelers, instead it is from a smaller producer in California that I found on Etsy. My husband’s band is also from Etsy. They don’t match at all, but they are what each of us liked and they did not break the bank. In order to know my ring size for ordering I went to multiple jewelry shops to get sized, playing that I was browsing there, I then ordered from Etsy. The seller was quick to respond to my order and even asked when the date of our wedding was so that he could have it to me in time, which it was, and I only ordered it a few weeks before our Earth Day wedding. My ring came from this seller. Pictured is Freddie, practicing being ring-bearer with the pillow I had stitched him.

The Cake

I made it! Yes, it was slightly stressful to be making homemade frosting to then frost my chocolate, Greek yogurt cake with only two hours before walking down the aisle, but it was better, in my opinion, to make a healthy,  homemade cake than to make one from a box or get it from a shop. I used all natural ingredients and made it to out specific taste – rich chocolate. It must be said that making my cake myself was possible because I only expected a total of six people at my ceremony, that’s including the bride and groom. For a larger shindig it may not be so do-able, but a local bakery would be better than a grocery store if ethics and health is on your mind, however a grocery store cake would do just fine for a large crowd and a small budget.

I also made my cake topper which was Pinterest inspired. I used burlap ribbon, embroidery thread, and paper straws to hold it up. It was made with the same burlap ribbon I used to make my ring bearer’s pillow, so tied it all together, plus the colors matched the print of my dress. By making my cake and having a low key venue of my grandmother’s garden and kitchen, I was also able to ensure that our cake-cutting was absolutely zero-waste – no paper plates or plastic forks. (The cake topper we kept and it is now adorning one of our house plants.)

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Flowers

My mom and I researched wedding bouquets at local florists, but in the end I decided to go with a simple bouquet of tulips bought from a local grocery store. I would have liked to have supported a local florist for their skill and work, but it seemed to me that just like wedding dresses, wedding flowers are pricey because they are labeled to be for a wedding. The twelve tulips cost $12, the cheapest bouquet I could find online was around $40, and to make them fit in with our earthy theme I cut the wrapper down and wrapped twine around the stems. By the end of the ceremony they were very droopy, likely because they traveled in the car out of their vase, I suggest keeping your flowers in water as long as you can to avoid this.

The Groom

Rather than go out and buy a new suit or rent a tuxedo, my fiance wore khakis, a navy button up that matched my dress, and dress shoes which were all purchased from second hand stores; costing a total of roughly $10, but to be honest, that’s probably a high estimate. Everything that he wore he had bought prior to our engagement except for the shoes which we lucked upon about two weeks before the wedding. Yes, your wedding ceremony is a special event and a special day, but if you can come to terms with you and your groom wearing items already owned, then you can save yourselves hundreds of dollars.

There are many ways to save money on your wedding, especially if you have a civil ceremony with a low number of guests. Make your special day uniquely you by adding special touches that match you as a couple. Keep your eyes out in the months ahead at thrift stores and estate sales, or your friend’s and family members’ houses for items to borrow and return. May your civil ceremony be as romantic and cheap as mine, the two can definitely go hand in hand.

 

The Maloca: Types of Natural Building

A couple of weeks ago I wrote an introductory post about natural building, explaining briefly about what it is. As mentioned in that post, I have been very fortunate to have had multiple opportunities of traveling to multiple countries to learn more about natural building. One trip took me to Re-Green in Greece where I stayed, learned, and laughed with some of the most amazing people who I’ve ever met. While there I also had the marvelous opportunity to teach yoga in the stunning Maloca, which is the magnificent meeting room at Re-Green. The Maloca, is a round structure that was built by hand using multiple natural building techniques and it derives its name from the Amazon where a maloca is a long house used for communal meetings.

Not only is the Maloca a place of beauty and a space used for yoga, but it is also an exhibition of multiple natural building techniques. Each wall is built using a different technique and as is common in natural built structures, each wall has its own truth window. Truth windows are cute little peeks into what’s underneath the plaster. It’s a way for owners and builders to display the technique used to build the space. Generally there are small shutters or doors that you open to find Plexiglas which shows what lies behind and between the interior and exterior walls. The Maloca has exactly this on each unique wall, but without a door or shutter, it’s simply the Plexiglass displaying what’s really there.

One wall shows straw bale, another rammed earth, there’s earthen bags, and straw clay, plus cord wood,  and adobe brick. That is six examples of natural building in one 100 sq meter beauty of a building. The quite literal icing on the cake is the masterfully constructed reciprocal roof, pictured as the feature image and below (it’s so beautiful I had to show it twice.)

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To break down those techniques a little more here is an outline of each of the six techniques displayed in each of the Maloca’s truth windows.

Straw Bails

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Straw bales

Straw Bail houses and buildings are becoming somewhat more known in the U.S. and the rest of the globe. They are as they sound, houses built of straw bales – Three Little Pigs style, I’m sure one of them made a house out of straw! Well these walls won’t be blown down by a nasty wolf nor a nasty north wind. As you may have guessed, the walls are thick, as thick as a straw bail as a matter of fact! Now of course there’s more to it than stacking bails on top of each other into the shape of a house. To finish the walls earthen plaster (mud) is applied to the exterior and interior. This keeps the critters out.

Straw Clay

Straw clay is likewise made from straw, but this time the bails are deconstructed and the straw is blended right into the mud-clay mix, either by hand, taking handfuls of loose straw and drenching it in the mud mix, or by mixing it with machinery. A structure must be built first in order to hold the straw-dipped material inside. The wood is put together so that there is a hollow space in the middle where the straw clay will be packed, and it must be packed tightly or hollow spaces will be left, where those same nasty critters could burrow in through the tiniest of holes in the external wall; trust me, you don’t want squirrel pee soaking in to your living room wall! Pack it tight!

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Straw clay

Rammed Earth

A rammed earth wall is a show piece of a natural home. Rammed earth is layers of soil and clay rammed down hard so that it becomes sturdy and permanent. Did you ever go to a state fair and fill a glass jar or vase with different colors of sand through a funnel to make an elementary master piece? Well, that’s pretty much what rammed earth looks like. Layers of earth-tones on top of each other. These walls take a lot of time and brawny muscles, so an entire house is not likely to have all of its walls made like this, but an island in a kitchen or a wall near a fire-place could be examples of ways to use rammed earth as show pieces. Structural and beautiful all in one.

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Central, under the window, is rammed earth, shame that it’s not a closer shot as you miss the beauty. To the left is clay brick.

Clay Bricks

Clay bricks are commonly known in the U.S. as adobe. These types of buildings are, or were, prevalent in the south-western United States. These are bricks made from clay that are molded or formed and then dried in the sun. they then are mortared together to form walls. Unlike hobbit-house straw bale houses, which are more organic in shape and can look like they’ve come straight out of Middle-Earth; adobe walls tend to be straighter and more uniform. Adobe is also good for building more complicated forms such as arches.

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Imagine a big tree that’s been timbered and the logger starts to cut the tree like slices of bread creating great big circular remnants of the tree. Now imagine that those pieces of the tree are inserted into a wall, that’s what cord wood looks like, although of course the cord wood isn’t just inserted into the wall, it is inlaid slowly as the wall is built. Cord wood structures are quaint and very reminiscent of the nature from which the wood has been derived. One thing to know about building with pieces of a tree is that wood moves, breathes, and contracts with the weather, so gaps may form if the malleability of the wood is not kept in mind while building. You can see an example of a cord wood wall behind the gang of us after a morning yoga class at Re-Green, a superb backdrop for any photo.

Earth Bags

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Earth bags just behind this gal doing a handstand.

Earth bags are large bags filled with soil then piled on top of each other to build a wall. This is a form of natural building that is quick and relatively easy, although of course, some building knowledge is required. The gags are filled with earth that contains some amount of clay or another substance such as volcanic rock. This is a good technique to use if your build site does not contain much clay, as less is needed. Of course the major elephant in the room is the bag which the earth fills. The bags are as most bags are in our modern world – plastic. Now you know how I detest plastic bags, so I would not choose to build with earth bags if I could build anoterh way, but I understand that using earth bags is the lesser of the two evils when the alternative is to use conventional building supplies that have more chemicals and are likely not produced localy.

 

And there you have it, the techniques used to build the sacred space that is the Maloca at Re-Green, Greece. There is a lot more to say about each and all of these styles of natural building. For now I’ll let you day-dream over your little hobbit house, a great day dream to have as winter surrounds us. Just picture sitting by the wood stove, wrapped in a blanket (or not, these houses are energy efficient, but the blanket helps the vision of coziness I’m going for here,) sipping tea, reading a book with your dog at your feet inside the natural house that you built with your own hands. What a dream, and it’s a dream that becomes more and more realistic the more you learn about natural building. I can almost guarantee that once you get your hands in the dirt, you’ll be back for more, just as I was.

I hope that these photos of the Maloca have directed your day-dream in the right direction. Keep following this blog for more information on natural building and other things natural and yoga.

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Come On, Get Real – Pranic Food

I wrote a few weeks ago about trying to eat as many whole foods in my diet as I can and to try my best (it’s not always easy) to steer clear of processed food. There are definitely nutritional reasons to do this. Food that comes in boxes, cans, jars, and bags may resemble what they’re striving to be, or may very well be a frozen or only semi-processed version of what’s pictured on the label, but some processed foods are far and removed from real food. Take Lucky Charms as an example: the carbohydrate cereal part is an odd, cardboard color and the “marshmallows!” From my memory of being younger, I remember those marshmallows being hard to the bite, much unlike an actual marshmallow, and dying the milk all sorts of shades of pastel. I think we can all agree that Lucky Charms and other such sugary, grainy, processed cereals and food are very much unlike real food and therefore if placed on a scale would rate very low as to how much energy, or prana, that they provide the body.

For those of you who are unaware of prana, it is commonly translated into English as “Life Force Energy,” or more to the point as energy. Primarily prana is used to refer to the energy that is sent throughout the body by use of the breath. You may hear yoga teachers say something along the lines of, “Use your breath to send prana into all areas of your body.” Pranayama is the Sanskrit word meaning “control of the life force” and in yoga class is used to describe an array of various breathing techniques to utilize for a more advanced yoga practice, for as we know, yoga is a heck of a lot more than just asana (physical posture.)

Now, when it comes to diet and prana, then prana is the energy provided to our bodies by means of nutrition, and not all foods are created equally when it comes to nutritional value. And if you’ve studied Ayurveda at all then you’ve heard of the three doshas, (I’m afraid that that’s too deep for me to include in this post and would be better left to a person more versed in Ayurveda than I) and in order to create balance in the body and in life, then each blend of the doshas should eat foods specific to their doshas, but again, that is for another post and I don’t want to lose you, but you can’t very well write a post about Ayurveda and not include a mention of the doshas. I want to be much broader here and think of food in terms of its energy value, and I’m not talking about a caloric number.

Consider when you grocery shop, eat out, or prepare a meal how much prana, or energy that the food you are preparing and eating has within. Now I know what some of you are thinking, “Wow, this is some hippy-woo-woo crazy talk!” but stay with me here. Fresh, organic, whole foods contain a lot more energy, or nutritional energy, or prana than food that comes from an aisle and has a shelf life of many months. I understand that packaged and processed foods hold their value in low-cost and convenience, but I think that we would all agree, that eating whole foods is better for us than eating packaged foods.

I’ll use an example for clarity; think of coffee, and I know – coffee is not very Ayurvedic, but it’s a food item that most people consume daily. Here are two examples of a highly pranic coffee option and some processed, lifeless options.

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Organic, fair trade, whole bean, freshly roasted, freshly ground close to the time of consumption. See photo of green coffee beans in a basket, freshly roasted dark or medium roasted beans (all organic and fair trade,) organic milk and organic raw cane sugar all set up for sampling by my friends at Ironwood Coffee Company of Owen Sound, Ontario. Check them out via the hyperlink. This is coffee that will give you energy!

 

Non-Pranic Coffee

20161210_155823.jpgPre-brewed, cold, highly sugared with high fructose corn syrup, sat in a cooler at a convenience store, packaged in plastic with a long shelf life; or grounds sat in a plastic (non-recyclable might I add!) K-cup; or coffee grounds bought in bulk at the grocery store that has a use by date of one year after roasting. These examples all processed more than the freshly roasted beans above and therefore have lost prana along the way.

Once you begin to think of food in terms of life held within it gets easier and easier to see the difference and make better choices when out shopping. Organic produce and products beat out non-organic, and of course freshly picked, grown in your back yard with organic compost has even more prana. While staying at the Ashram in Zdaric u Skutec, Czech Republic, Jan, my host ground his own flour on site in his kitchen because it contained more prana than flour bought at a store. He then prepared Ayurvedic meals with that flour and other local, fresh ingredients. The featured image of a meal on a tray was taken during my yoga training in India. The food served there was Ayurvedic, freshly prepared, vegetarian and full of zing. The nan shown was prepared fresh, by hand for every meal, the vegetables cooked with spices and love. Not pictured is freshly made yogurt made with milk from the cows that lived in the goshala on the Ashram grounds – now that’s pranic food! Fresh, probiotic, real living food.

Whether or not you think that prana-Life Force Energy is a load of baloney, or you’re delving deeper into your yoga to include healthy choices off the mat and into the kitchen, making wiser choices of eating fresh, whole, and when you can, organic foods is going to feel a lot better for your body than eating processed food. You don’t have to go to the extremes taken in an Ashram, start small and build up as you learn bit by bit about your body, it’s digestion, and which foods fuel it with the most prana. Live well.

Thoughts on America’s Busiest Shopping Week

Last Thursday was Thanksgiving, a time to meet with family and share a meal. It’s an odd holiday that no longer represents anything much historically, thoughts of relationships between native cultures and the population at large have been substituted for turkeys and shopping (a statement that surely can’t be denied with the ongoing strife happening at Standing Rock – Native Americans and protesters freezing and being sprayed with water cannons and rubber bullets while we all sit down to a hot meal. It’s been on my mind a lot, I couldn’t stay silent on a post about Thanksgiving without bring it up, I hope you couldn’t either.) After the turkey and potatoes have been consumed thoughts quickly jump to the deals the box stores and malls. No, let me correct myself, thoughts of the deals happen much earlier than the day of Thanksgiving as the advertisements flood television, newspapers, and the internet weeks before Black Friday.

Now, I’ll admit it, I like a bargain. As my Mom likes to remind me, I am cheap, and there’s a reason for my cheap behaviors beyond trying to keep my savings account as it is. One of my primary reasons for obtaining my clothing via hand me downs and second hand shops is that I have come to disagree with mass consumption because of the harm it does to people working in factories far away as well as the land that surrounds them. So while I can understand why people get excited for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, I try my best to refrain from buying unnecessary items, no matter how good the door buster.

Personally I have primarily acquired my clothing from clothing swaps, friends, and thrift stores for the past 2+ years. The last time I went shopping at a mall for fun was the summer of 2014, which was a major change of habit for me; shopping used to be one of my hobbies of choice. I’d go out, find a deal that I may or may not have needed, and go home to call my sister to tell her about it. It’s how we used to bond. With time and awareness however our phone calls about our recent buys have switched from bragging about a good deal found at the mall to telling one another of a new item that was Made in America, fair trade, bought second hand, or made locally. We’re ethical shoppers now.

The change wasn’t easy and I don’t write this in a self righteous way. My point here is that we as Americans are consuming far more than we need to. The cost of our purchases are low to us monetarily, but high to those who produce them in terms of their health, general well being, and to the degradation of their waters, air, and land. And even though the products are produced and assembled far away, an environmental cost is incurred to us  in terms of CO2 emitted in the atmosphere in production and shipping, and then there’s the wonder of what to do with all of the things that we had purchased in the past, things that no longer give us a shopper’s high, they either take up space in our homes unused or get sent to the landfill –  out of sight out, of mind.

Let me stress again that I am not trying to preach that shopping and consuming is entirely bad, but rather I wish to convey that it is completely possible to limit consumption and in doing so to become a conscious consumer. Seek out companies and products that are made of natural materials that are safe to the earth and to our bodies. Support items made in your country or better yet in your local area (helping out the economy as you shop, not just massive corporations that produce their products in unethical ways.) Learn to live with less, it takes time but is doable. I haven’t conventionally shopped in two years, but I still have a closet full of clothes and never struggle with what to wear, I have given up concerning myself with trends and sales, but I am so much happier for it.

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As you check off your Christmas shopping lists in the coming weeks give consideration as to whether there is a better way (and there always is.) Shop local, shop small. Show your love in other ways than monetarily, I don’t know when Christmas morphed from a time of religious celebration and being with loved ones to showing we care with our credit cards, but it feels as if it has. It will take time and dedication to cut back on consuming and to shop mindfully, but after some time it will become your new norm.

How are you and your family ethically sharing love for one another this holiday season?

Natural Building an Introduction

My path to a more sustainable lifestyle has brought me to a very interesting and enjoyable place, to a whole morning and afternoon spent splattering and spreading a wet mix of clay, sand, water, and little strands of straw onto a wall. A morning of hands-on-learning in the field of natural building. Playing in the mud may sound odd, but this sort of building technique is ingenious – and it’s old. It is is a style of natural building, possibly dating from as early as the 13th century in England with other types of natural building originating all around the world, because if you think about it – in the past we all used to have to build our own structures to live in, so clearly in every corner of the world there lies an historic tradition, passed down generation to generation, as to how to build a house to live in.

Nowadays, however, it is quite rare that a family builds their entire house from the ground up. In modern times it is more normal to hire a company, or rather a plethora of companies to build components of the building where you will spend most of your time. Separate contractors are hired to plan and design the home, dig and lay the foundation, and do everything in between until the very last sheet of drywall is nailed into place. Then decoration begins which is also commonly hired out to an interior designer. Modern homes are often beautiful structures made for convenience and luxury living, but they often lack authenticity. What they don’t lack however, is quite a lot of toxicity in the materials used for building and decorating. Not to mention price tags that will make anyone’s jaw drop. Natural building can offer an alternative to conventional building; you can learn to build an entire house, a second structure, or spruce up the interior with natural modifications to existing rooms in your home.

Learning to build or modify an existing structure using natural building techniques is a great way to make your house your unique home while at the same time saving you, your loved ones, and your furry friends from exposure to toxic chemicals. Natural building uses as often as possible, materials that come straight from the earth. Some common materials used are straw bales, bare tree limbs, and good old clay and mud. Examples are the structures that still exist in Wales and England today. They’re called cob and they’re being reinvigorated and recreated in countries all over the world by normal, everyday people just like you and I.

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A cob building in construction, by a totally normal dude.

Examples of natural building that I have seen and wondered over have ranged from cob ovens, whole cob-hobbit-like houses, to the most stunning and thoughtfully/naturally built yoga studio I have ever seen. The ovens and houses I have seen in places like the U.S. and Greece. Houses I’ve seen were in Canada, Greece, Czech Republic (featured image,) and the U.S. And the yoga studio, majestically called the Maloca, is situated on a cliff side surrounded by mountains at the awe-inspiring Re-Green. (A detailed write up featuring the Maloca to come in the future.)

Natural built structures can be described as adorable, fairy-like, hobbit homes and the like. Unlike conventional homes lined up row after row in the same color with the same basic shapes, natural buildings are unique and organic. They get formed slowly, thoughtfully, and beautifully. After seeing natural homes around the world I wonder why anyone would want to live in a square, white box when they could live in a warm, cozy, hand-built house.

There is a lot to be said and shown regarding natural building. Just like yoga, it’s hard to give a brief introduction because both natural building and yoga have such depth, history, styles, and detail about them. For that reason I’m going to cut this intro short and end it here. Look for more posts with descriptions and inspirations of natural building in the future.

For now if you’d like to see more fairy-like natural building, simply type in “natural building” in google search and click on the Images – so many beautiful, hand-built, non-toxic structures to admire out there on the interwebs! Or satisfy yourself with the pics provided in this post.

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Straw bale house in construction, Ohio, USA.

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Admiring the rain on the garden of the largest cob house I’ve ever seen in Canada.

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A cob, tadalakt finished cob oven, in use! Re-green, Greece

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Natural Building techniques to make a beautiful facade on an ashram in the Czech Republic.