2020 Summer Garden In Review – The Good and The Bad

It’s early September and the garden has been in full swing for a while here in WNY where I live in Zone 5b.  This post is an update on what’s growing and thriving, but also a record of what didn’t work or was attacked by pesky pests, in hopes that these problems can be mitigated next year and hopefully you might find some advice from my garden experience.


The Good

Due to the pandemic, I was home a lot more than a normal spring and was able to start my starter plants indoors from seeds earlier than I ever had before.  I also have a lot more space this year since we moved from our one bedroom apartment into our house, which meant I had more space and windows to grow my seedlings in.


I started a variety of seeds in mid-March including but not limited to: arugala, lettuces, beans, radish, beets, kale, chard, tomatoes, peppers, etc.  Many of the colder weather, hardier plants could have been planted directly into the soil, but I thought I’d start them all indoors, I also direct sowed plants later in the season.  Important to note, I didn’t have soil to sow seeds in until my husband and I designed and built our raised beds.  Our front yard was just that, yard, compacted soil with thick grass.  
After the raised beds were built we had to wait weeks for topsoil since there was a hold up with the landscapers and their supplier.  In May there was a weekend of SNOW, around May 20th, so we had to cover our little babes with a covering and luckily they survived that terrible weekend.  It was only our first raised bed that had any plants in since we still didn’t have topsoil and I only put hardy plants in the ground early around May 3rd including radish, beets, borage, peas, kales. 


The Bad

Here are some of the issues we’ve dealt with this summer and that I am now hopeful I will be more prepared for next season. 


Japanese Beetles

These suckers were extremely prevalent this summer.  Luckily they mostly attacked an inedible plant that was on our property when we bought it, a rose bush, but they also enjoyed our healthiest basil plants.  


Our Organic Solution

After researching how to handle these pests I found that hand collecting in diluted dish soap and water was the best option for us since I had time to walk the garden twice a day and collect.  The beetles appeared in July and were heaviest around mid-month.  It wasn’t just our garden that these guys harbored at to turn leaves into lace, we noticed them all over the neighborhood when walking our dog.  They even entirely decimated a vine growing around a road sign.  By mid-August they were far less prevalent.  I had read that milky spores was good to spread on the ground to kill the larvae, but it is very expensive, so I’ll just keep my eyes out next season and do the same again.  A note that I did not get the bags as I have heard that they attract the little buggers.


Squash Stem Borers

I designed and built a keyhole hugelkulture for my squash plants so that they had as much space as they needed.  It is a beautiful garden that makes a lot of sense because it borders an existing circular flower garden around our well.  All was going well, my zucchini and summer squash plants had large, green leaves that reached towards the sky, but sometime in late July my friend was visiting and noticed some troubling signs that proved fatal for my plants – squash stem borers had entered into the stem of literally every plant as well as mold on the leaves.

  
Our Organic Solution

The next morning I tried to kill the larvae by hand, I was successful with a few, but it seemed futile.  I pulled off leaves that were dead and burned them to stop contamination.  For the mold I sprayed a dish soap solution in the mornings to not burn the leaves in the hot sun.  I have read that mulching more thoroughly around the base of the plants and stem as it grows is a good way to protect against the moths laying their eggs on the plant, this will be my game plan next season as well as relocating my squash plants. 


There have been other lessons along the way this growing season, but for the most part it has been a very successful year.  I have processed and have in stock a few pounds of a variety of the beans that we grew, tomatoes are processed, kale and swiss chard frozen and a lot of pesto.  From this year’s experience I also have a lot of ideas of how to improve our gardens next year. I hope that your growing season was a success as well, as I know many people started gardening during Covid to pass the time, learn new skills, and be self-sufficient. 

Going With the Times

This year would have been Jamestown’s fourth International Day of Yoga celebration and it was going to be bigger and better than ever.  My friend and fellow teacher and I were coordinating with a local non-profit nature preserve to host the event there complete with events for the kids so parents can do yoga and food trucks.  Because IDY falls on the Summer Solstice there were going to be meditation walks in the morning and for the late sunset, as well as a bonfire.  Alas, as you can well guess none of that is happening because we are in the midst of a global pandemic.  Most of us are having to accept that the big trips and events that we were excited for are not going to take place this year.

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That’s not great, but it’s ok.  Hopefully we all still have our health which is the whole reason to social distance and cancel major events.  Acceptance is often a teaching of a yoga practice, now is a great real life lesson for all of us to practice acceptance of situations that we are unable to change and to warm heartedly stay home and social distance for the health of others.  Already, three months after quarantine, many places in the US and the world are loosening their quarantine rules, but if we have to go back to being safe, then I hope we will all try our best to do so kindly.

For us yoga teachers it has been a learning curve and a stressful time since classes can no longer go on, but it has also been a time for creativity and developing skills.  In terms of this year’s IDY 2020 in Jamestown, we did not want to completely cancel the event but rather to offer it in a virtual way.  Teachers will film their classes ahead of time to be released on June 20, 2020.  It would have been nice to have the celebration that we were planning, the biggest one this city has seen yet, but with time.

If you would like to practice with us teachers of Jamestown, NY & Samsara Yoga Center, then please visit the event page here and join us on the 20th of June.

 

Studio Review – School House Yoga, Erie, PA

This review has been spinning around in my head since I attended a lovely workshop with my twin sister who was visiting the area from DC for a week in August 2019. It wasn’t for a lack of inspiration that this post has not been written but rather simple procrastination, although that has nothing to do with the studio, it’s my own personal battle.
Schoolhouse Yoga in Erie, PA is located on the east side of the city in a renovated school building which also houses many other cool businesses and organizations. Having studied in Erie, I know that there is so much more of a need for a studio on the east side than the west side, so I was very happy when I realized where the studio is located.
The workshop that we attended was a Sound Bath and Yin class. It was relaxing calming. The studio is an old school room, rectangular in shape, so all of the instruments were in the center of the room while students bordered the old classroom, making for balanced acoustics for all.

 

Before I tell more about the workshop itself, I have to describe the studio which was simply gorgeous. I am biased because I have a deep love for history, but due to it’s corner location, there were two walls of windows letting in so much sunlight on that August morning, and a fresh breeze. The chalkboards were still on the walls, now adorned with yoga artwork. There’s even a coat room, necessary in our cold, winter climates and convenient to have separate space for students’ belongings to not clog up practice space.
The studio was full of props which were handy for the slow restorative/yin style practice that was taught during the sound bath. The teacher took her time walking from student to student to make sure that the props were in a good position to make the pose comfortable. The waves of sound from the gongs were just what we needed to kickstart a relaxing day at Presque Isle with our girlfriends, the workshop was a prelude to my sister’s Bachelorette Party and since we’re both yoga lovers, it was a good way to start.
The studio has a variety of teachers and classes that it offers. This studio has it’s classes arranged as sessions that last for eight weeks. Students are encourage to purchase a pass for the entire session and arrange enrollment through each individual teacher, contact information found on the website. Classes offered include: beginner, multi-level, chair, and interestingly, a class titled Energy Medicine Yoga.
Cost of class passes are: $10 for one class, $36 for four, and $64 for eight classes. The workshop that we attended was priced at a very reasonable $15.
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Avoiding Plastic Tips 2.0

I am obsessed, I can hardly go a couple of hours without thinking about my plastic use, people’s use around me, and use as a community, nation, and global population. In all honesty, I don’t understand how people couldn’t think about it all the time considering that plastic surrounds us wherever we are pretty much every single day. Wherever you’re reading this from right now pause and consider what plastic is nearby you. Maybe it’s the bottle of water in your bag, the plastic casing of the device that you’re reading this from, or quite likely it is in your clothes and home items (curtains, carpet, upholstery, etc.)

As a 5 Gyres Ambassador I always make sure to say during every single one of my talks that I do not hate plastic, it saves lives in hospitals and via medical devices every day. I use plastic in ways listed in the intro paragraph in my home and when I drive my car (plastic dash and other parts) and work at my computer, but plastic production and consumption has really gotten out of control. Therefore, I always try to cut back on my use. I stopped drinking bottled water and other single use beverages a few years ago, I always refuse straws at restaurants, and take other such steps so that I personally do not contribute to plastic pollution. There are the well-known ways to cut back, refusing single use, but here are some larger ways to reduce your plastic dependence, because we all have it.

Shop Local

This is an obvious one, but it has many positive impacts. Ever since swapping to organic cotton produce bags I have bought more produce in bulk which means I waste less food (before shopping for a household of two would mean wasting a lot of food before we could ever get to it) and I also visit local produce stands more with my produce bags. When shopping at mainstream grocery stores the majority of the fresh section is sadly wrapped in thin plastic bags and if it doesn’t come that way then that’s how it ends up going home with shoppers from one of the giant rolls of flimsy plastic produce bags provided.

Shopping more locally and at a scale that’s better for a household of two means that the food that we eat travels less to our table and therefore maintains more of its nutrients once there. While visiting my in laws in France for an extended amount of time it was fascinating the market culture of the French – they shop frequently and eat fresh. I aim for that type of grocery shopping as much as I can now. Another added benefit is keeping money in the local economy and supporting a family run business.

Mend and Make Do

Modern American culture is extremely consumeristic, shopping has evolved into not just a hobby but into a frequent way of living for many, a lot of it to do with keeping up with the Jones’. It can take a lot of effort, but instead of allowing yourself to replace items when they break or when the newest must-have hits the store, ask yourself if you can repair, or if you know someone else who can repair for you if you lack the skills – Facebook and other social media outlets are a great place to ask such questions, and also ask yourself if you can get by without.

Clothes are the obvious example here. I have a bag set aside with my items that need mending and whenever a road trip comes up I try to remember to take my sewing for the passengers seat. It seems a really old fashioned thing to do, but it used to be the norm before fast fashion took over the world. Women mostly used to spend a large portion of their time mending the families clothing because clothes were either handmade and/or expensive to buy from a store.

IMG_4663The same goes for electronics. The hype around new iphones exemplify this. Not only does buying secondhand or getting your phone repaired if it bites the dust help keep plastic out of landfill, but it is also more ethical since in production and end of life our electronics are very polluting to those who mine for the metals that make them work and  those who ‘recycle’ our electronics by burning them whole (air pollution via burning plastics) in order to retrieve the wires again.

 

Surround Yourself with Nature

When shopping for items for your home or closet opt for natural fibers and materials. This is usually much more expensive, say to buy a wool rug instead of a synthetic fiber rug, but if you cut back spending in general over the long run spending more on fewer items may balance out if you follow a budget. Lately I have been buying a lot of baskets for organizing, they’re easy to find secondhand and they’re pleasing to look at and to touch, as opposed to a plastic organizer that is far more likely to break.

As with all plastics they are not just harmful at the end of life when they often end up polluting land, water, and air, but they are also detrimental from the beginning of production. Plastics are made from fossil fuels meaning they have a direct link to global warming, they also have been found to off gas when littered on land or sea contributing again to global warming and throughout the time that we use our plastic products, plastics release possibly dangerous chemicals. All around bad.

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DIY More

This goes hand in hand with make do and mend, when something runs out do a google search to see if it can be made at home, saving you money but probably not time. Of course it will take more time and energy to do research and learn something new, but it is rewarding to realize how much you can do for yourself and your family. Say for example, laundry soap – I have two friends that make their own, it’s cheap and lasts a long time. I have yet to try their recipes, but did use soap nuts for a while years ago. Recently I was reminded of soap nuts on social media and think I’ll go back.

Other ideas for making for yourself include play dough for your kids, baking and making treats at home instead of buying processed, making your own skin care and cleaning products, and maybe try baking your dog treats. There are blogs and recipes galore on all of the ideas above and so many more to try.

 

These are just a few areas where you can cut back on plastic use if you’ve already mastered the refusing single use straws, cups, silverware, and more. Maybe you’re fresh on your plastic free life or maybe you’re somewhere in the middle, aware of the negative side effects of plastic but still dependent, we all can do our part as the way we spend our dollars encourage companies to shift their packaging and production, so support less plastic production and packaging and be creative as you move away from this omnipresent material.

 

Studio Review – Evolution, Burlington, VT

It was a while ago that I visited Vermont for the first time on a work trip, but Evolution, the studio that an old friend took me to has stuck in my mind ever since the visit. Sure, it was only a little over two months ago, but I’ve been behind on the posting and have been formulating this post because there’s so much good to say about this studio.

I fell in love the instant I walked into the welcoming entryway which was warm and inviting with plenty of seating and a desk to sign in at. My fellow yoga trainee (we trained together in Nicaragua graduating with our 200 CYT,) a local of Burlington and also a former teacher at Evolution, got me signed in with the waiver and guided me around the studio. We dropped our belongings off in a back room where students stored yoga mats and where changing areas were located. I then headed to the restroom where, get this, there was a squatty potty. That might not seem like a big deal, but I was quite impressed, especially since I had never used one before, I’d only heard of them and their magic before. It was pretty magical, reminiscent of actual squatty potties in Asia.

It all makes sense when you learn that the owners of Evolution are physical therapists. That also explains all of the books for sale in the waiting room, many technical yoga books along with spiritual. Suffice it to say, it is my idea of a close to perfect yoga studio. When I dream of my future, commercial yoga space there’s always a library, I hadn’t dreamt as big as squatty potties, but they may have made it on to my list now.

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The yoga class that we took on a Saturday morning was Vinyasa I/II, an hour and 15 minute class that was just what I needed after traveling and sleeping in hotels. The teacher taught what to me seemed to be a very traditional or Eastern style of vinyasa, it certainly was not power yoga, which I highly appreciated. There was more explanation, more description of alignment, and more guiding inwards instead of simply a physical practice. That’s not to say that it was easy, however. For my practice it was just right – steady yet full of flows to keep the heart rate up and build strength.

All sorts of styles and programs are offered at Evolution, likely because of the physical therapy background, the studio is more than a place to be guided through yoga poses strung together, it is a place to learn and, well, evolve. They even have a rope wall, which I sadly have never had the pleasure of using before and wish I had had time to attend a class.

The schedule at Evolution is full and classes are priced at $15 for a drop in, however there are multiple class passes that help students save. The studio offers yoga for families, prenatal, and kids yoga – information can be found here. Physical therapy sessions can be scheduled, massage, and they lead frequent continuing education for yoga teachers.

I am grateful for the opportunity to visit Burlington, a city that I have had interest in visiting for a few years, to meet up with an old yoga friend, and grate to her for showing me such an impressive yoga studio. Evolution is everything in a yoga studio that I enjoy – community, healing, continuing education, and more. If you find yourself in Burlington and are itching for some yoga, then I highly encourage you to go no further than Evolution. The studio is located at 20 Kilburn St, Burlington, VT.

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Shaun White & Instagram Inspiration

The 2018 Winter Olympics are in full swing in my second homeland of South Korea and watching expert athletes push themselves to their best has inspired me to push my physical yoga practice as of late. Shaun White especially inspired and impressed in his final run that won him gold in the men’s halfpipe finals.

Concurrently with the Olympics I have been taking part in my very first Instagram yoga challenge, which has turned out to be very beneficial to my yoga practice, keeping me constantly practicing and practicing poses that I generally shy away from.

Let me get back to Shaun White for a moment, though. Sexual harassment settlement aside, the man has skills. He performed a physical feat that most of us can hardly even comprehend. One of the most impressive things about Shaun’s performance is his age. He is one of the older Olympic athletes at 31, one of his biggest competitors was Japan’s Ayumu Hirano, aged 19. More than a decade separates these two, on paper the 19-year-old should have looked better based on youth, but Shaun gave one of the best runs of his life in his 30’s.

Just as Shaun White showed the world, ability is not solely determined by age however, great for us yoga students in or beyond the 30s Club. My good friend and international yoga teacher, Mindy Sisco is training her body, through a lot of hard work, to do yoga poses that she couldn’t do just a few years ago. I witnessed her transform her handstand practice in a matter of years to a point where she can now confidently lift up into a handstand and handstand straddle as if she was born doing it.

Mindy is the yoga teacher responsible for my first Instagram yoga challenge which just ended yesterday. I have seen these challenges before and the first thing I thought when invited to participate was – that looks like it takes up a lot of time – the reality being both yes and no.

Yes, to participate fully in an Instagram yoga challenge, which to clarify, is a predetermined list of poses, one for each day for every day of the challenge; yes it does take time and commitment, but yoga as a whole takes time and commitment. Mindy’s challenge took place over 16 days and included poses such as urdhva dhanurasana (full wheel) and adho mukha vrksasana (handstand). For each day of the challenge I had to prepare my body for the pose that was to be photographed. Many of the days involved backbending, which is a shape that does not come easily to me, and therefore, a shape which I do not much enjoy. That meant that I had to warm up and prepare my body more than I would have for a different type of pose that m body is prone to, such as a forward fold. I joked on my Instagram feed that I was annoyed by yet another backbend, but to be honest, I was partially annoyed and partially grateful, because in my own home practice I barely ever incorporate backbends, but this Instagram challenge forced me to practice them.

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Yes, the challenges take commitment and time, but not a lot of it. I would say I averaged ten minutes of warming up and taking pictures. That’s not that much time. By completing the challenge I completed 16 days of challenging poses, the practice may have been short at times, but at least I got on my mat. I believe it is Jason Crandell that says, “Fifteen minutes of yoga is better than zero minutes of yoga.”

Shaun White and IG yoga challenges are two recent places where I have garnered inspiration from lately. It was exhilarating to watch all of the winter athletes display their skills in the Olympics, such precision and expertise which surely means a ton of conditioning, practice, and discipline. A good reminder that any type of practice is also a discipline. If you practice an instrument daily, then it is a discipline; if you practice an instrument every other month, then it is a waste of time and you will never see much improvement. Yoga is a practice that requires consistency and diversity in poses practiced.

What’s inspiring you these days?

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You can find Mindy on Instagram at @kaizenkorea You can follow me with yoga, travel, and sustainability posts at @karabemisyoga

Peace, Love & Wellness, Warren, PA – Studio Review

This  is a bit overdue, but three months ago I visited a somewhat local yoga studio to attend my first gong bath at a wellness studio in Warren, Pennsylvania, which is a short drive from my home. Warren is an old oil town with monstrous Victorian homes and a little downtown area next to the river, which is where the yoga studio is located. To call Peace, Love & Wellness a yoga studio is a little bit of an understatement however, because the studio also has massage space, an inviting seating area, a sauna, and Kelly, the owner offers wellness coaching to individual and corporate clients. Peace, Love & Wellness is not a yoga studio, it is a well-rounded wellness studio.

Back to the gong bath, my only other experience with gongs in yoga had been at another local studio attending a Kundalini class with the same teacher offering the gong bath at Peace, Love & Wellness. My first experience was magical, the gong vibration flowed up and swirled around the room before crashing down on to me. That may sound hippy dippy, but try it for yourself. It feels great.

The gong bath class at Peace, Love & Wellness also involved some Kundalini kriyas, which can be more challenging than a vinyasa practice. A lot of dynamic endurance is required, as opposed to a still, static endurance for a yin practice. I have done Kundalini kriyas in which I swore that my arms were going to fall of. Luckily, difficulty did not reach that extent at the class in Warren before it was time for the gong bath. After some sun salutations we were brought down for relaxation. I layered up because I am always cold, and closed my eyes to absorb the gong. It was similar to my first experience except that this time the teacher had a second gong that offered a sharper sound, reminiscent of whale song, and it lasted for a longer time. I left the experience feeling relaxed and settled.

Classes at Peace, Love & Wellness are various and plentiful. Check out the schedule, here.  Yoga styles offered include hatha, buti, vinyasa, and kids yoga.  Classes can be bought as a part of a monthly or yearly package, which include massage and sauna services, or as drop in classes. The gong bath that my husband and I attended was reasonable at $15/person.

To get to the studio, go to downtown Warren, PA right on the Allegheny river and the studio is located at 338 Pennsylvania, Ave. You will see large letters spelling out YOGA in their second story front windows. The studio is located right above a lovely little cafe that I enjoy visiting when in Warren, the Arbor House Coffee House Cafe & Tea Room. Might I suggest that you make a day of your trip to historic Warren and visit the cafe after your yoga class, a plan for a fantastic day trip.

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What I Would Have Said

I hosted a clothing swap this past weekend in Jamestown, NY. It was the third swap that I have hosted in the area and I was determined to speak at this one about the ethics behind the event. At the previous swaps that I hosted in Korea I spoke to attendees about my reasoning behind hosting, how I disagree with the modern, fast-fashion industry, and the primary problems with the industry in terms of labor and damage to the environment. However, back on U.S. soil in the small city near the small town where I reside and teach yoga, I could not give a similar speech.

Let me explain that technically I could have and the people attending would most certainly have been polite and receptive, but at each of the three swaps in the U.S. the time for speaking came and went. I felt that there weren’t enough people and if I spoke to a handful of swappers, then it would have felt too much like preaching. At this last one I even advertised that I was going to speak on the ethics, but as the clock ticked closer to my time to speak everyone seemed to funnel out of the door. Do I think that this was intentional? Maybe on a few accounts, or maybe they had elsewhere to be and had already done their swapping for the afternoon. There wasn’t a massive collection to browse, so this is a very feasible option. Whatever the reason, my audience left the room.

I was bummed, but upon reflection I realize that “preaching” to happy people swapping their clothes for others’ may not be the best way to go about it. Posting on my website might be a better way to share my views on fast fashion and why I avoid it. For if I were to have spoken to people who happily (and blindly) shop fast fashion then it may have been perceived more as an attack, like a vegan lecturing a gang of omnivores on the detriments of factory farming at a party, at a Korean BBQ restaurant.

There is also the sad truth that environmentalists can come off as being major Debbie Downers (I have been extremely guilty of this in the past) when they share how the world is slowly ending at the hands of consumers, also known as people. That last statement, was of course a cynical joke – mostly, but on a serious note, people having a good time may not want to hear about pollution and labor rights. But if you have made it this far into the post, then you may be curious enough reading about exactly those two things and more depressing facts of fast fashion, if so, then carry on reading.

Why I Host Swaps… My Unspoken Speech at My Most Recent Swap (altered slightly for word and general public, main ideas the same)

The reasons that I host swaps can be summed up in four words: labor rights and environmental degradation.  The fashion industry today looks completely foreign to how the garment industry of the last century looked. As recently as the 1990’s, 50% of clothes sold in the U.S. were made in the U.S. Thirty years prior to that in the 60’s, around 97% of clothes were made in the U.S. for a U.S. market.

Today? A measeley  TWO PERCENT or in numerical langauge – 2%. Two percent?!?! We went from almost 100% in my mother’s generation to almost 0% in mine. For the United States that is an entire industry nearly completely lost. Jobs lost. Skills lost. The reason being? Globalization.

The textile and sewing industries were shipped to developing nations where labor could be paid far less than an American worker. Where labor rights were skim, so workers could be forced to work 10 to 12 hr. days, for very little pay, and in unsafe conditions. My fashion revelation and shift in consumerism occurred as a result of learning about the tragedy at Rana Plaza in 2013. Rana Plaza was an eight story building that housed seamstresses in a shoddy building. In a day in April, 2013 the building collapsed killing 1,134 people.  Read more details here about Rana Plaza.

My other gripe with fast fashion is how utterly unsustainable it is. We do not need even a fraction of the amount of clothing that we buy these days and we certainly do not need close to the amount of clothes that companies and the media try to convince us that we need. Fashion trends come and go, and come and go, and come and go again and again and are so in our faces that we feel lesser-than if we don’t keep up. Luckily for us we can generally afford to keep up with the trends because clothes are becoming cheaper with the outsourcing of the work and lower grade fabrics. Clothes have become so cheap, that they are disposable.

We buy without limit. Sometimes we buy without even liking what we buy and definitely without knowing anything about the item. Without knowing that a lot of water, air, and soil pollution was created by production. By material being shipped around the world to be dyed, cut, sewn, and shipped to a shop near us. That those dyes are harmful to the communities that live near the factories that produce them. That most of the items at fast fashion shops are made of synthetics, many of which (polyester & acrylic I’m glaring at you) are plastic based – i.e. come from oil production.

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[Sidenote – It is this sort of information that makes me feel slightly sheepish for sharing. Nobody wants to be the bearer of bad news, but isn’t it better to be aware of how our choices affect others half way across the world? Anyway, it’s about to get a little more positive.]

This is where the clothing industry has evolved to. It is totally different from the past when people used to make their own clothes or buy from a skilled, local tailor in their community. But we don’t have to shop fast fashion all the time. We have options that are more ethical that we can use to supplement our closets with.

A clothing swap is one, or second hand. Buying fair trade or organic is another way. Or simply getting by with what you have and ignoring the billboards of what’s new and desireable. Ask yourself when you shop: “Do I really need this? Do I have something in my closet already that fulfills this need? Is there a more sustainable way that I can obtain a similar item? Can I just borrow from a friend?” And hopefully by having that dialogue in your head you will realize that you can happily go without another polyester tank top in your closet.

 

That is roughly what I would have said if I had had an audience to say it to. Changing habits is hard, especially when the habit you are changing is one that brings you a lot of joy. Retail therapy, anyone? But you can still feel the buzzy high of finding a good find a thrift store, or a really well made top of environmentally friendly fabrics and made by fair trade labor. The shift may take some time, but it’s still fun and much more rewarding.

Learn How to Love

As Valentine’s Day nears I have had love on my mind and those thoughts have seeped into my recently taught classes. Most prominently, the book 5 Love Languages has influenced my thinking and outlook on love. 5 Love Languages is a well-known, self-help style book on how to save loveless marriages written by Gary Chapman.

Don’t let that description scare you off though, I would recommend this book to anyone in a relationship. It’s an easy read and at just over 200 pages, a quick read youthat could get through in a weekend. The first part of the book describes the five love languages with anecdotes of couples struggling to communicate their love to each other. The second half of the book is more interactive with a quiz to find your love language and deeper advice in a Q & A section on how the languages can apply to you and how you can apply them. And if you’re still not sold, Mr. Chapman has another book called The 5 Love Languages for Singles if you’re unmarried and not in a relationship but would still like to better communicate love with family and friends.

In two recent yoga classes I used the book as an example and compared learning the intricacies of your body through yoga as being similar with learning how to best show love for others. In descriptions of my class I tell prospective students that through yoga they will learn how to read their bodies; in other words, by being mindful in an hour yoga practice and by listening to just how far your body is able to go at that moment, a student will gain knowledge about the abilities of their body one class at a time. As yoga students we build upon that knowledge and can be careful with old injuries or tight muscles all while building strength, balance, and flexibility. Without this acute awareness, an injury could occur as the ego nudges us to go further, to get in the pretzel shape of instagram yoga bodies.

Namaskar

Tune in and listen to your body.

Likewise, learning how your partner or loved one expresses their love is a practice that requires mindfulness. If you read the book, you’ll learn that the five love languages are: words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, and physical touch. As an example, say that your partner learned to express love by receiving, and therefore giving gifts, but your family was never big on gifts or spending money on each other so to you gifts are not important. When you fail to give a thoughtful (or expensive) gift at a holiday, or small little gifts throughout the year, your partner will not feel as loved as he or she could. Once you pay notice and realize that your partner’s love language is gift giving, then it is your responsibility to make strong efforts to change your ways. After expressing your love in a way that is thoroughly understood and felt the idea is that your partner will reciprocate. Make the discovery a dialog, go online and take the quiz and work together to best show your love for each other.

Again, this does not have to be solely for romantic partners. I used the example of 13603703_997196337066286_6480232972816819961_oexpressing love to pets in one of the yoga classes as a relationship that isn’t romantic. Say your dog loves walks but you show love with cuddles, that’s nice for you because you get strong positive emotions from the cuddles, and your dog may too, but that dog just wants to walk! And sniff! Make your dog the happiest dog she can be by making time to walk her. Give her a life full of love and walks. And don’t pull her if she lingers on a scent, let her sniff, because she may love walks mostly for the scents and not for physical activity, but the physical activity is a bonus for you both.

This Valentine’s Day season be inspired to learn how to love. To remember that love is a noun and a verb and to realize that the action of expressing love has to be personal for each relationship. Sure it will be more work, but it will pay off. Just like rolling the mat out is often near an impossible task early in the morning of a cold, dark, winter’s day, but the time and dedication will pay off with each effort you make.

 

Thank You for Your Labors

This weekend is a long, holiday weekend in the U.S. Monday marks Labor Day, generally a weekend in which everyone gets together with friends and family to eat, drink, and be merry knowing that they don’t have to go to work on Monday. Labor Day was started in the late 19th century by union workers  and laborers as a way to recognize those that work day by day. It has been an official American holiday since 1894, always falling on the first Monday of September. This year I decided to get back to the roots of the holiday and celebrate some of my favorite activists, commending them for their dedicated work – on top of the typical barbecues and bonfires.


 

Jamie Oliver

You might just think of Jamie Oliver as a chef with a funny accent, but he’s much more than that. Jamie digs into our modern industrialized food system and delivers displeasing knowledge. (Pink slime is a prominent example.) His primary work was with school lunches in both his home U.K. and also here in the U.S. That’s noteworthy, a famous chef who champions for quite literally the little guys.

Food these days has transformed into chemically-laden, pesticide-pumped, GMO, never-rotting, highly processed science of convenience. Now, do I eat processed food now and again? Yes, but I try to keep it out of my kitchen and my body as much as possible and to educate myself on nutrition and health. Do I think that America’s and the world’s children should be protected from being fed it daily in their homes and public school cafeterias? Definitely.

Jamie had a reality show back in 2009 in which he embedded himself in America’s most unhealthy city, Huntington, West Virginia. He investigated what the children were in eating in their schools and it wasn’t appetizing. The rest of the series Jamie worked with schools and the community to educate them about eating fresh and healthy foods as opposed to quick and easy processed food, attempting to alter the way that food was prepared in the schools and homes in the area.

Since then Jamie has spearheaded a Food Revolution, click on the link and read articles about how to be healthy and current write-ups on the food industry.

 

Safia Minney of People Tree

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“slow fashion” fair laobr

Another Brit is my notable hero – Safia Minney, founder & CEO of People TreePeople Tree clothing, a U.K. based, slow fashion company. I first heard of Safia in a great documentary, The True Cost which is about the horrendous industry that is Fast Fashion. In the documentary Safia is not only inspiring because she is a female CEO, but also because she displays her fluent Japanese, which she uses when working with craftsmen and women in Japan who make pieces of art for People Tree’s clothing. Having a second language has always been inspiring to me. If you get a chance to watch the documentary I highly suggest it as it outlines the problems with the fashion industry today while at the same time giving alternatives such as People Tree.

But back to Safia, she is a woman of power who promotes fair trade in an industry that generally treats it’s labor extremely poorly. People Tree not only pays attention to the way that the people creating the clothing is treated, but they also source traditionally made, artisanal materials that help keep traditional crafts alive. The company also uses organic cottons and other sustainable materials that are better for our bodies and the earth.

Leo & Jin of BAPS

BAPS stands for Busan Abandoned Pet Sanctuary and is a dog rescue organization in Busan, South Korea. Although BAPS has grown in the years with many expat and some Korean volunteers helping the organization, donating time and money, and fostering and adopting furry best friends; the vast majority of the work done for the completely privately run dog rescue organization is done by two people alone. They are Leo and Jin and what they do inspires me completely. Leo and Jin are a married couple, one expat one Korean, who started BAPS in 2008 and have saved the lives of hundreds of Korean street dogs and abandoned pets.

They not only run the shelter, but they also have a dog kenneling business, and have recently started an international pet travel company although they have been assisting with international travel of countless dogs to their new forever homes for years (including my very own Freddie.)

The Day We Fostered Fred

We instantly fell in love with that little face with big ears the first time we walked him and he kept looking back to make sure that we were still with him.

The kindest, most from-the-heart work that these two do is run a related organization called Wendy’s Last Meals. This is heartbreaking work that I am certain I would not be strong enough emotionally to do. As the name suggests, the work involved is providing a final meal to dogs at a pound in Busan whom have not been claimed or adopted and therefore face certain euthanasia. You can read more about the process and how you can help by donating by clicking here. Before the meals are given, Jin takes pics of the dogs in a last hope effort of getting them rescued, so if you’re looking to find your new partner in crime, then have a look at the beauties that are waiting for you.


 

There is great work being done around the globe to help fight for those dis-empowered to do so for themselves such as school children, laborers working in developing nations to produce our clothing, and dogs left on mountain sides by families unwilling to continue raising them.  I am so grateful for all that they do and am motivated to do my own positive work to make a difference in my community.

Who are you tipping your hat to on this Labor Day weekend that works hard and inspires you?