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All articles here are written by Melinda Briana Epler (that's me!) unless otherwise noted. I'm a documentary filmmaker, writer, and brand experience designer - I've dedicated my life to living a sustainable lifestyle and helping others do the same. Please feel free to contact me if you have questions or thoughts for articles. Welcome!

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Wellness Plan - Month 4 of 12

I set out on a Year About Me back in January.  I’ve been feeling a bit less deliberate this month, so I wanted to tune into my Wellness Plan again.  First, a recap of what I’ve done and a bit of an update for you all…


I started out with a bang:  a one-month cleanse.  It was FABULOUS – life-changing.


  • I continued to lose weight and feel great, until recently.  I haven’t been eating as well because of my March goal (below) – I’m working too hard.  So I just started getting sick with a terrible bug going around the office.
  • I was doing really well without caffeine, too – until about the same time I started feeling overworked… hmmm… there is a trend here!
  • Matt and I have both been working so hard and not eating as well as we’d like, so we’re going on another cleanse on May 1 to restart.  Join us if you like!


Then I signed up for Beginning Yoga classes.  And it was really great.  I believe it has helped my breathing, my energy, my mental clarity, my strength, and it’s nice to be a part of a local community.


  • I was doing well until a couple weeks ago, when work took over my world.  Working to get back into it – starting tomorrow (no really!).


Then I focused on making smart money decisions.  I began by taking a second contract and filling up more of my time with work.  I’ve loved that contract – creating a few videos for a community engagement program from the County.  We interviewed some amazing people across the county – focusing on equity and economic opportunity at the local level.  Fascinating.


  • We have been putting money into savings, and will soon be paying bigger chunks of my student loans.  I’m really excited about it!
  • I’m glad I did it, but I paid a price – my health has suffered for it and I haven’t been able to write much. Not a sustainable solution, to be sure.
  • I’ve also loved working with my husband – he and I are a really great team, and we don’t get to work together often.


Due to a wake-up call from the community garden coordinator, in April I focused on food garden tending.


  • The results were fabulous: due to March and April’s foci, it looks like we may move closer to our garden plot in a couple months!
  • This month we have carried over our March focus on money management by continuing to work a great deal.  At the end of the month we’ll be able to pay off a large chunk of my student loans.
  • Unfortunately, that has meant that I lost my focus on my physical well-being, built up in January and February.  I have a really terrible respiratory virus that has set me back quite a bit in terms of lung well-being – let alone lack of energy and ability to do much yoga.

So if I could only figure out how to tackle each wish on my list without sacrificing the positive headway I’ve made on other items on the list…  Maybe that will be May’s goal!

I think part of it has to do with a need for routine.

Refresher:  By the End of the Year I Hope To…

  1. Lift my arms over my head!
  2. Learn to live happily gluten free.
  3. Figure out my next career step.
  4. Reduce my medications for asthma to just the rescue inhaler.
  5. Exercise regularly.
  6. Increase my number of social interactions.
  7. Decrease my number of negative thoughts, words, and actions.
  8. Have a healthy garden we regularly eat from.
  9. Write more, and write about the things I want to write about.
  10. Spend more time outside of work with my family.
  11. Become more in touch with my physical and mental wants and needs.
  12. Reduce and maintain a lower weight that feels good.

Do You Have a Wellness Plan?

If so, how are you progressing?  Any tips for the rest of us?

April: Food Garden Tending

In January I focused on a cleanse.  In February I focused on yoga. In March I focused on money management. In April I have focused on gardening.

On the 6th of April, I received a horrifying email from our community garden coordinator, that went something like this:

Hi Melinda,

I’m wondering if you are planning to garden this year?  According to the P Patch guidelines, all plots are supposed to be planted by April 1.

Please let me know if you have changed your mind about gardening this year, so that we can get someone off our waiting list and into the plot.


Gasp.  The Growing Challenge queen almost lost her garden plot! It’s true.

I could make excuses – I have plenty of them.  But truthfully?  I was a bit lazy.  Lazy. Yep, I take full responsibility for my laziness.

So needless to say, I jumped.  Matt and I planted all sorts of things, I went to the community garden meeting last weekend, and I’ll be doing a photo essay of some of the local garden patches for this season’s P-Patch Post (if you want to check out my past article, the issues are in PDF form in the right side bar of that link).

As it’s currently planted:

All in all, this has been fabulously fun and renewed our excitement about growing our own food.

In fact, it has been so fun that we took it a GIANT step further…


In June, it looks like we might be moving.  A result of March’s focus on money management and April’s focus on gardening, we’re likely going to move to a new apartment that is cheaper and across the street from our garden patch.

Assuming all goes well with our application, we’ll be attempting to grow more intensively in our little garden plot.  Something more like this (click to enlarge):

March: Money Management

In January I focused on a cleanse.  In February I focused on yoga.  In March I have focused on money management.

Over the years, I have made vast improvements in money management.  In my early 20s, I fell into the new student credit card trap.  I received – and signed up for – multiple credit card offers, but had no guidance on financial matters.  As a result my credit was bad for years (seven, to be exact).

Later in life, my accounting and management skills have become much better – thanks in large part to financial education and my husband’s savvy.

We have one credit card that we pay off each month.  We haven’t bought a house because it would be beyond our means right now.  But… we have student debt.  Lots of it.  As much as a house is worth.

So this month, we’ve focused on making smart money decisions.  We’ve cut down on spending little bits of money here and there.  But more importantly, we’ve set a plan for paying off our student loan debt and we started a savings account.

I took on a second contract this month, which means I’m working longer hours but that much closer to paying off our debt.  And we’ve decided to stay in the area for at least a couple of years, so that we can pay off debt and start saving.

It’s the beginning….

What Helps You Manage Your Money Wisely?

I’d love to know what books, systems, and other resources you use!


Our February Experiment: Yoga

January was the cleanse.  February was yoga.

Beginners Yoga

Matt and I enrolled in an introduction to yoga class a block away from our apartment.  I did a bit of research, but not a lot – basically I chose it based on the pictures, the quality of the website, and the location.  It’s only a month, and how can we go wrong with having a 2-minute walk to get there??

We entered the first class with bright new ecologically sound yoga mats and bags.  We stretched our necks and made ourselves as comfortable as we could even though we felt a wee bit awkward.

Soon the class filled the small room to capacity.  The room was abuzz.  The instructor shut the door.

And then he turned up the heat.

Oh!  Somehow I missed that it was hot yoga!!

The heat slowly entered my pores as we sat on the mats listening to the instructor.  A show of hands: how many have are experienced at yoga or are a teacher? 1/3 of the class raised their hands.  Been to yoga many times but at an intermediate level or it might have been a while? 1/3 of the class raised their hands (including me – but it has been a long while).  Just taking yoga for the first time? The final 1/3 of the class meekly raised their hands (including Matt).

So Introduction to Yoga is being attended by mostly tenured yogis and yoginis.  It was going to be a long, hard night.

Very quickly we learned we had signed up for Ashtanga yoga.  Particularly the style taught by Baron Baptiste (who did yoga at the age of 7).  The style called Power Yoga.  Oh boy!

It was grueling.  I have pretty bad shoulder issues so I was hoping to take it slow and ease into strength and flexibility.  But there was no easing into it…

Ashtanga is a particular style of vinyasa yoga that brings you through a sequence of 54 poses done in constant motion.  It’s not really made for beginners.

In the beginning couple of classes, it totally kicked our butts.  The instructors were great in breaking down the poses into smaller chunks, but it is still constant movement in a hot room for 75 minutes.  My muscles were sore after those first few classes!!

But slowly, it got easier.  Not easy, mind you, but easier.


I’m already seeing the benefits of yoga, after 7 classes.  So much so that I actually miss class and yearn for it during the days between.

It’s not as hard as it was in the beginning, on a few short weeks ago.  It’s still hard, my shoulders still have a long way to go before downward facing dog is comfortable and the “relaxing break in the routine” that it’s supposed to be.

My muscles are stronger.  I’m more flexible.  I have better posture.  I am more aware of my breath (good for an asthmatic like me).  I am more relaxed.  And I feel more energetic.

Matt and I love coming home to eat dinner together after yoga class.  We both smile a lot, are completely relaxed, and really enjoy the evening together.

I never would have guessed it, but I actually enjoy hot yoga.  I sweat like heck (bring a towel and a water bottle), but I really love it.  We plan to buy monthly passes to the studio.

Cleanse: Two Weeks Later

Our New Juicer!!

First off, I’d love to hear from everyone who decided to do the cleanse – how are you doing?  Are you feeling good??!  Are you learning about your body, and learning to nurture your body?  I’d love to know!

Ok, are you ready?


First off:  Weight.  You all want to know, don’t you?

I wasn’t sure how this would work, if I’d stabilize or gain it all back.  The verdict…

  • Last day of the cleanse: weight 126.2
  • Two weeks later: weight 124.8

Of course it’s not just about weight – I wrote about overall puffiness being the biggest change in me.  I dropped 2+ pants sizes. Crazy, isn’t it?  I think I’m an extreme case, so don’t expect all that from the cleanse if you try it.  But wow, right?


Menstruation is a woman’s reality for 1/4 of her life between puberty and menopause.  This a natural aspect of women’s daily lives and it’s something a lot of people don’t talk about, so I do talk about these things here on occasion.  However, if it offends you, skip it and read the next paragraph.

So – no cramps again.  Wow.  Just wow.  And really nothing in the way of PMS, either.  That’s huge, compared to my past.


Haven’t had any.  I did have one cup of mate over the weekend, after kind of a long night the night before.  But no coffee, no tea.  I’ve wanted it on occasion, but decided to see what would happen if I didn’t drink it.  Most of the time, I forgot I wanted it within a few minutes.

Reintroduction of Foods

We reintroduced the top food allergens slowly and methodically per my naturopath’s instructions.  Briefly, if you do this yourself you should eat each food in its purist form (not mixed with anything else if possible), preferably 3 distinct times in one day.  Then wait 2 days and record in a journal anything different physically or emotionally.  After 2 days, move to the next one.

Here are my results….

Dairy (Raw) – We broke up our dairy experiment into two parts: raw cheese and pasteurized cheese.  I have a friend who is terribly allergic to cheese but found recently that raw cheese provided enough digestive enzymes that she could actually eat a bit of it without feeling bad.

Result: Raw cheese is awesome, no reactions.

Dairy (Pasteurized) – We had some lovely blue cheese.  Since then I’ve tested other pasteurized cheeses as well.

Result: Quite stuffy nosed, with a puffy face the next morning.  Nothing that would keep me from it entirely, but I will try to limit my intake.  My naturopath suggests not eating it more than one every 4 days to let my body recover.

Wheat – Yep.  I was supposed to eat a piece of bread for breakfast, one for lunch, and one for dinner.  But I didn’t make it past breakfast.  First I had an asthma attack for the first time in several weeks.  Then I became so depleted, I laid on the couch, barely able to lift my arms and legs.  And it was all topped off with a nice migraine for the first time in months.

Result: I have a wheat allergy.  It’s likely gluten.  I thought so, but now I know so.  My naturopath said, “well, you had the top two food allergy reactions – there’s no need to get tested.”  Strict avoidance is key.  Wah.

Corn – We had popcorn.  It’s our fun evening snack while watching a movie.  We buy organic, heirloom popping corn because it’s fun and a whole new level of taste.

Result: Just fine.  Whew!

Sugar – We splurged one night and had frozen yogurt at a yogurt bar.  It was fabulous and fun.

But it did hurt a bit later.  It was a lot of sugar.  I definitely sense the blood sugar spikes now, and am not thrilled with them -  I will not see sugar exactly the same again.  But I’d be kidding myself if I said I wouldn’t eat sugar again.  I’ll be cutting down, but not cutting out completely.

Result: Definitely spikes followed by lows.  The lows are the worst part.

Alcohol – Tested it a little too much this past weekend, if you know what I mean.  I don’t do that very often.  Fortunately, even hangovers are lighter after a cleanse!

Result: Some of it makes me stuffy, and all of it makes me feel puffy faced the next morning.

Eggs – I have yet to reintroduce eggs.

Soy – I have yet to reintroduce soy.

Tomatoes – After the reaction during the cleanse, I decided I do want to pay attention to this – but I haven’t tested tomatoes yet.

Overall Well Being

Both Matt and I still feel really good.  We adopted the morning smoothies into our lives for a while, and then recently bought a juicer.   We love our juicer!!  I will post recipes – we’ve had juice every morning for the last several.

I’ve kept the weight off and seem to be dropping slightly still.  I’ve also kept most of the energy, though reintroducing some of those foods has definitely taken a toll.  By keeping at least one meal a day a liquid meal and to remain for the most part on the Elimination Diet, it has helped recover from those foods faster.

And finally, I’m more excited than ever to heal and nurture my body (and mind) and to continue on with the Year About Me.  Please let me know of any suggestions you think I might try!

So, Have You Started The Cleanse or Are You Thinking About It?

I’d love to know!

Recommendations For an Emotional Cleanse?

Now that I’ve had such an amazing experience with the Clean cleanse, I’ve been thinking about doing an emotional cleanse of sorts.

There are a good deal of emotional toxins within me – I think we all have them to some degree, where we find ourselves returning to the same negative feelings, excuses, and inhibitions. Some are good, of course, but most of mine I’m sure I’d be better without!


I believe that physical health and well-being are tied very much to emotional health and well-being, and the overall self well-being that lies in balance between the two.  So the more I further my physical heath – with massages, acupuncture, naturopathy, and exercise – the more I wonder if I shouldn’t be furthering my emotional health.  Not that I’m a terribly mis-aligned person or anything, but I’m certainly not perfect!

I also believe that the answer to the next stage in my life will come forth more easily and more fruitfully if I can clear the air of some of those negative thoughts.  Allowing myself to focus on what I need and what I want, rather than past ailments and fleeting negativity.

What Do You Recommend?

Have you found any books or other things useful?

When I mentioned this idea the other day, Michael suggested The Option Institute and Mark suggested Bhudda’s Brain by Dr. Rick Hanson.  I have already picked up a copy of Bhudda’s Brain and am finding it very interesting.

What else?

  1. Do you know any good breathing or meditation books?
  2. Any good books about other peoples’ spiritual journeys?
  3. Any programs or thought processes or other things that have helped you?

Please Share!!

Thank you!

Cleanse: Day 21 - Celebration

BEFORE – Cleanse Day 1, 9am

AFTER – Cleanse Day 20, 7pm

Before And After

I know it looks a little like those Weight Watchers before and after pictures, with the pictures in different locations (hall vs. kitchen) with different cameras (iPhone vs. 35mm).  But even so, I think you can tell there is a difference.  I just looked at these myself and was kind of shocked!

(Note: I wore no makeup in either shot.)

The Benefits of My Cleanse

As you all have watched over the last 3 weeks, I have some of the many benefits of the Clean cleanse to include:

  1. Sounder sleep
  2. More limber
  3. Weight loss – and more importantly puffiness loss
  4. Softer, glowing skin
  5. Greater energy
  6. No menstrual cramps or PMS
  7. Heightened mood
  8. Greater mental clarity
  9. Increased awareness of mental toxins
  10. The ability to function effectively without caffeine
  11. Clear sinuses for the first time in years
  12. Generally more in tune with my body
  13. Knowing what foods I’m really allergic to (to come – see below)
  14. I’ve found a common link to many of my medical issues
  15. I learned to put my mind over culture in order to give my body what it needs
  16. I’ve learned to love water, and drink it waaaay more often than I used to
  17. I’ve learned a TON about my digestive system, I’ve learned to love and respect my colon!

The Negative Effects of My Cleanse

  1. Funny dreams about Doritos and potatoes
  2. Restricted diet, making it more difficult to socialize at times
  3. Dry skin in the beginning (though it quickly went away after I bought the skin brush)
  4. Hyper sense of smell (it’s both good and bad, depending on where I am!)
  5. My talking about this cleanse with everyone who will listen!

What I Will Change After the Cleanse – Aka, My New Normal

  1. I created a Wellness Plan, and I’ll stick to it – I’m excited to reach those goals!
  2. I’ll be reintroducing the most common food allergens over the coming weeks, so I’ll know for sure how/if I react to any of them.  That list includes wheat, soy, corn, eggs, and dairy.  I’ll be testing a few other things as well, like rye (another gluten-containing grain), tomatoes (because of the bad reaction the other day, as well as some skin sensitivity), and raw cultured cheese (just in case raw is ok for me but pasteurized is not – raw has more enzymes to help you break it down).
  3. Less alcohol consumption.
  4. Little to no caffeine – I’m going to see where this takes me, but if I need caffeine I’ll first be reaching for the green tea.
  5. More raw foodsDr. Junger suggests 51% or more of your diet should be raw, because of those fabulous enzymes that help you digest the food.  Something to strive toward!
  6. Smoothies in the morning. I must admit, I never ever would have pegged me as a morning smoothie drinker, but I really love the way it makes me feel in the morning!
  7. Buy new clothes. I know!  I had no idea that only a few pounds would shift my clothing size so substantially.  But it’s rather ridiculous, so to the (thrift) stores I go!

Day 21 – The Final Day of Our Cleanse

Blueberry smoothie for breakfast.

Carrot, beet and celery juice at the farmer’s market.

Market fresh and fabulous local dinner (see below).

Well Being Meter

Are you kidding?  It has been an absolutely amazing experience.  Of course it wasn’t always easy, but it was jaw-droppingly informative and beneficial.

Our Celebration!

It has been cold, cloudy, and rainy here for many days on end, so we decided to treat ourselves to a mini vacation celebration.  We drove up to Vancouver, BC and spent the day sightseeing in the sun.  (About 2 hours north – the first time we’d driven much at all for some time.)  It was fabulous!

We spent the morning perusing the Farmer’s Market, the early afternoon perusing Chinatown, the late afternoon enjoying the park and the sun, and the evening EATING.  Eating fabulous local, organic food.

It just so happened it was “Dine Out Vancouver” (a part of a whole movement of restaurant weeks around North America – many are listed here).  So we had a three course meal and wine pairing at an astoundingly low price.

I will say I was hungry.  Not famished, not starving, not wasting away, but definitely ready to eat.  I could feel my insides doing lots of stuff, since it didn’t have any digestion to do.  That was a strange thing.

I still resisted the rolls – no wheat yet.  Everything I ordered was gluten free.

I ate an amazing arugula and wild mushroom salad, then local white salmon with potatoes over a fennel/leek salad, a cheese course, and finally pumpkin creme brulee.  And wine.

I know you’re supposed to very gradually reintroduce foods – dairy, sugar, alcohol in particular – but we needed a celebration for the hard work.  (Don’t we deserve it??!)

What Were the Effects?

I didn’t drink one of the wines I had because it made me very flushed – from the oak or sulfites, I’m not sure.  Otherwise, I felt pretty good afterward.  Except for the sugar low on the way home – I fell asleep for an hour!