Two Plogging Events, One Post

If you haven’t heard of the craze of plogging yet then you can learn about it in our previous post WTH is Plogging? which was posted to teach people about a Plogging & Yoga event hosted by Kara Bemis Yoga the day before Earth Day. That same week, Kara’s twin sister, Kayla, attended a Plogging event in DC. This is a special joint review of those two events co-authored by Kara & Kayla, and if this post inspires you and you’d like to stand up against single use plastic for the ocean, then keep your eyes out for events taking place in early June for World’s Oceans Day, June 8th, such as March for the Oceans in DC on June 9th.

Plogging & Yoga Event – Jamestown, NY

This event was promoted a lot leading up to the day of the event and due to the fact that it was free, was anticipated to have a number of guests. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the event was under-attended. Initially this was a sad slap in the face, but two people did show and those are two more people who now know more about plastic pollution, why it’s a problem locally and globally, and how to change habits.

5gyres_ambassador_rgbThe most important aspect of this event was the 5 Gyres plastic talk, followed by the physical act of collecting litter, and lastly the yoga. The talk was rooted in a 5 Gyres power point that included visceral slides and facts and statistics on the importance of the oceans and the detriment of plastic. Although there were only three listeners to this talk (my husband made it to the event just in time) it was a positive experience to give my first talk on plastic.

The four of us collected an impressive amount of litter in a small radius near the Chadakoin river in downtown Jamestown, NY. It was a sunny, warm day so walking and talking while picking up garbage was an enjoyable task, seeing how much we gathered made it even more worth it.

 

 

The yoga itself was initially planned to be very beginner friendly as I was expecting yoga newbies to attend, but since all of the participants were returning students the yoga I taught was intermediate. The class was nature based including animal and insect poses. Of course vrksasana/tree played a part.

Moving forward from this event I plan to host more Plogging and Yoga events and offer the plastic talk to any group or individual who wants to hear it. Science classes, environmental groups, strangers on the street, anyone.

Plogging Event – DC

The event that I attended was presented by the DC Parks and Recreation (such an under appreciated governmental resource!) and a local gym called VIDA Fitness (VIDA) located on U Street. On the morning o Earth Day registered participants met at a recreational facility in my Petworth neighborhood. Attendance was high, nearly 40 people, which is not surprising considering that DC is the second healthiest city in America. Minneapolis stole our first place stance in 2017, hence the increased DC Parks and Rec events throughout the capital – we can win it back!

To begin, our hosts, VIDA’s Membership Consultant and a representative from DC Parks and Rec, gave an overview of the day, offered a guided stretching routine and gave an informative talk about litter control in DC. Most memorably, we practiced squatting for healthy trash pick up to preserve our ankles, knees, and backs before taking off. The DC government representative spoke for a new initiative at most DC park facilities, in which plastic trash and plastic recycling bags are available for year round plogging enthusiasts to utilize.

Each attendee was furnished with bags and plastic gloves, including a few clear recycling bags, which I was able to score. My boyfriend and I took the mission to heart and split a pair of the plastic cleaning gloves, wearing a single glove on our right hands for trash pick up and keeping our left hands air-accessible while holding our bags. The group ran, jogged or walked through our predetermined path grabbing litter along the two and half mile route. There was even some media coverage at one spot, check out the video here.

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In addition to the fresh air, meaningful community/neighborly time, environmental impact, health benefits and an increased feeling of well-being, I truly felt that our group was an inspiring view for those driving by or viewing us from their stoop. It was fun to feel uplifted by working towards a common goal with other environmental Washingtonians, and to see others smiling at our noble cause. Perhaps we influenced those spectators to do their share by snagging a few pieces of trash on their morning jogs or commutes.

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It was a really enjoyable way to spend a sunny day outside and honor the planet. I hope to see other similar events pop up in my lovely city over the coming months. In the mean time, I encourage everyone to independently do their part by plogging, decreasing their plastic consumption and trash creation and especially by participating in March for the Ocean (M40) on June 9, 2018, in celebration of World Oceans Day. Visit marchfortheocean.org  to find a rally near you, or for information on donating to help in protecting our planet and in efforts to eliminate plastic use.

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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.

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.

 

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. 

 

Mother Earth News Fair, PA

After a short road trip to D.C. and a few stops at farms in Pennsylvania, my boyfriend and I made it to our weekend destination of Seven Springs Mountain Resort in Seven Springs, Pennyslvania for the Mother Earth News Fair. It was a weekend of speakers and vendors, all with the intention of spreading sustainability ideas and practices.

From Friday early afternoon through late afternoon on Sunday, it was speaker after speaker on topics ranging from managing worm farms to how to make DIY skin care and everything in between. Searching through the schedule and circling my top picks every morning felt like being back in college looking through the course catalog choosing my subject of study. Sitting in the hour long lectures taking notes was also reminiscent of being back in school, and I am such a book-wormy student, writing down page after page of notes. There certainly was a lot to learn throughout the weekend. I listened to talks on diet, gardening, business, natural building, mushrooms, permaculture, and livestock.

The fair was just what I needed and came at the right time. My return the U.S. has been a little difficult after five months of travel around the world visiting homesteads and learning how people live as sustainability as possible.I have had great opportunities learning about plants, animals, food, and wellness systems all in beautiful locations with equally beautiful people. Returning home has been great to see my friends and family, but I have been missing the alternative lifestyles that I witnessed while traveling, so finding out about the Mother Earth News Fair couldn’t have come at a better time.

Really good things are happening in this country as hard as it is to keep in mind during this outrageous election time. It’s not just the election, there are other things that have been hard for me to adjust to upon my return to this country. Any repatriation is probably difficult no matter which country you call home, but I think many would agree that now is an absolutely crazy time to come back to land of the “free.” Attending an event full of hope and innovation was just what I needed. I may be a long ways away from having my own yoga-rescue-dog-homestead paradise, but it’s never too early to start planning.

The only down falls of the fair were the food and a lack of yoga. I expected to find grass fed beef burgers and fresh produce, it would have only made sense, but instead the food was that of the ski resort. Overpriced and packaged in plastic. We opted to picnic the last two days and skip the unhealthy resort food. I know yoga isn’t a given at a sustainability fair, but I think it can be woven into anything. It’s so holistic and universal; maybe they need a yoga teacher for next year? Regardless, I hope to be returning year after year to the Mother Earth News Fair.

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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?

The Magic at Re-Green, Greece

This has been a summer of travel for me. After leaving Korea back in February I started travelling, meeting people, and learning through experiences in countries such as India, Greece, Poland, Czechia, and now Canada. I’ve been able to do so through a network called Help-X which you can read more about right here. One of my favorite stops in all of my travels and all of my Help-X past experiences has, by far, been at Re-Green in Greece.

Now before I get started and carried away, typing out hundreds of words on the wonders that I found at Re-Green, I’d better reign in my thoughts right here and right now. To make things easy on both of us, I’ll narrow down my thoughts to just four simple bullet points. And before I do so, let me also explain that I hope that this write-up can stand as a review for those considering trying to volunteer through a work exchange network there, or those who may attend one of their many workshops (including yoga and PDC.) More than a review, maybe it will open your eyes and mind to some cool new ideas that they’re doing over there. If nothing else, may Re-Green inspire you on your path to sustainability, whichever route it is you are taking to get there.

Why Re-Green is Magical

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  • Their View on Life – The people over at Re-Green have called their homestead-retreat center/little-piece-of-paradise Re-Green for a reason. The name stands for a conscious lifestyle that is about living a sustainably by doing more than recycling and buying energy-efficient light bulbs. To Re-Green is to work with each other and nature in order to live harmoniously with the surrounding environment, which is exactly what they strive to do at their home.  You can read  more on their website about what Re-Green stands for. A real life example of Re-greening that they have there is turning an old trunk into a solar oven to bake your potatoes in for dinner. It was so cool.

 

  • The People – From the first time that Ben and I were picked up on a cold cloudy day  in April by a big white, windowless van (I know that sounds more scary than magical, but it turned out just fine in the end – don’t let the media scare you out of having adventures!) The friendly people in the van were of course the owners and stewards of  Re-Green. It’s not always that you meet new people and instantly click, but that’s what happened. During the weeks that we stayed there were a handful of other volunteers from all over Europe and they too we jived with straight away. Lots of late nights sharing stories and laughing. It was easy and obvious why so many new friends were made there, it was because people were drawn there who believe in a philosophy of bettering the world by enhancing nature.

 

  • Surrounded by Beauty – Stunning mountain peeks surround the valley that the retreat center nestles in and almost every day I found myself wondering how I’d ended up at such a majestic place on earth. Looking closer to the ground you’ll see wildflowers and abundant gardens blossoming all around. Cuteness overload with puppies, ducklings, and little baby chicks added to the happiness.  On clear days you can see down to the Gulf of Corinth; the view of the sea from the middle compost toilet is especially lovely. At night-time the stars take over and during rain or cold, it’s the natural buildings that inspire.

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  • Experiences Not Things – Going to a retreat center that hosts events from yoga, to learning about detoxing herbs, to preserving the gardens gifts, means that you are bound to learn loads. Sharing ideas and ways with other volunteers and guest teachers will also translate to learning and as a volunteer the learning will be hands on and practical. If working on your vacation sounds like torture then check out their events on Facebook and visit as a guest. The rooms alone are reason enough to spend a weekend there, they are housed in an old, stone farm house with so much attention to detail in the remodel (they’ve been Re-Greened you might say!) While I was there I was in heaven doing yoga, teaching yoga, learning about vegetation, hiking, natural building, cuddling dogs, reading books, pulling weeds, and the list could go on.

 

This post is not so much a review as it is a gush of a place that I absolutely fell in love with. They had me at their description of their purpose and I hoped, and prayed, and crossed my fingers back in January 2016 when I applied for my boyfriend and I to volunteer there that they would take us, and then I jumped for joy when I got an email that they would. Our six weeks there were so absolutely astounding that we never wanted to leave. Maybe one day we’ll do as so many others who have visited there have done – move our lives there. Previous volunteers have fallen in love with the place and the people so much so that they bought land to become part of the Re-Green community. Moving to the mountains of Greece may just be a day dream of mine for now, but I can still day dream. If you likewise find yourself daydreaming about living life in a  real-life-sustainable-fantasy-land, then make it a reality and get yourself to Re-Green.

Plastic Free France in Plastic Free July!

Plastic Free July is an initiative that challenges us to say no and refuse single-use plastics for the entire month of July (and hopefully the newly strengthened habit will carry over into August, September, and every other month.) You can read more about the campaign on the official website here.

Examples of plastics to say no to for the rest of the month are plastic forks/knives/spoons, red solo cups, plastic bags at the check out, and straws. Shop smart by choosing items packaged as lightly as possible, and go to a farmer’s market and buy your produce there, have them place your fruit and veg straight into your reusable bag instead of using those pointless produce bags at the grocery store. Bonus! – you support local farms and eat healthier, local foods!

What’s the big deal about single-use plastic anyway? Well quite frankly, it sucks. Sorry to be blunt, but there’s no other way to put it. These items of “convenience” are produced with oil (polyethylene) and other chemicals at very high temperatures (500 F), packaged and shipped out to stores, where they’re freely given out or are charged at a very low price, carry your items where you are going and then likely get tossed in the garbage.

If you’re raising your eyebrows thinking, “But wait, I recycle!” well then I am grateful that you take that extra step, and everyone should be recycling by now, it’s 2016 after all, but I’d argue that the energy used in transporting, cleaning, and processing the recycled plastic is unnecessary. Consider if instead we all used real knives and forks (or any other real, multi-use item instead of a single-use plastic one) and then washed them after use to be used again, and again, and again. Recycling is energy intensive, and although yes, it is better than tossing plastic into the trash or on the street; I don’t think that it’s the answer to all of our problems.

I’ve gone off on a tangent. This is not a post about why we should refuse plastic, no that can be found here  and here, and tips on how to cut back on plastics in your life are written here. No, this post is actually a celebration of an entire country banning plastic bags – an entire country! That country my friends, is France.

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This is what happened: starting on July 1, 2016 all shops and super markets no longer carry thin, single-use plastic bags at their check out. Instead shoppers are encouraged to bring their own, or buy heavy-duty bags that cost more than the typical 10 cents. Bags that yes, _DSC4495are plastic, but that are meant for multiple uses. Plastic bags generally have a life span of carrying your groceries from the store check out line to your car and then from the car to your kitchen where they likely get tossed in the trash, recycle bin, or in a designated area where they’ll sit with all of the other useless plastic bags that have come home with the shopping and that have no other purpose. It is a beautiful thing that France realized the waste and inefficiency and made laws to get rid of them all together.

What’s more, is that starting on January 1, 2017 in France plastic produce bags found next to the fruit and vegetables will go from being plastic (the norm) to being paper or a compostable corn-starch plastic. A lot of waste is going to be saved in France not just in the shops and super markets but also in the weekly markets and night markets that are still alive and thriving in  almost every small town and village.

Thank you, France! What an inspiration for all other cities and countries to aspire to. In my most optimistic dreams the U.S. will follow suit one day, and I will anxiously be awaiting that day.


*Note on Photography: All photos were taken on the ground near Bordeaux, France by my accommodating partner, Ben Lear.