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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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How To Use A Neti Pot

The Neti Pot’s Impact On My Asthma

I avoided neti pots for years.  Until this past year – when I made it my goal to fully eliminate my asthma medications.  Years ago I never would have thought that would be remotely possible, but now I’m really close!

I’ve been slowly making lifestyle changes over the years that have brought me from a high point of seven medications (at high doses) to the lowest dose of just one medication.

I didn’t do it over night.  Check out this post to find out more about what I’ve done: 25 Ways I’ve Improved My Asthma.

You’ll notice the neti pot wasn’t on that list of 25 – at the time of writing that post, I was down to 2 medications.  Now I’m down to one!

I eliminated the nasal steroid three months ago, and replaced it with the neti pot.

I’m not a doctor, expert, etc, etc – so be safe and careful.  Take it slow.  Listen to your body.  Talk to your doctors.  And definitely do not decrease nor go off your meds if your asthma is not under control.

Other Benefits Of The Neti Pot

  1. Washes away dust, pollen, smog, and other irritants.
  2. Rinses out extra mucus.
  3. Serves as an antidote for dry nasal passages (sometimes this is particularly bad in the winter).
  4. Reduces sinus pressure and the risk for sinus infections.
  5. Relieves some symptoms of colds and flu.
  6. Allows your breaths to be easier, less inhibited, fuller.

What Neti Pot To Buy

I have a Himalayan Institute Eco Neti Pot.  It’s $10-15 in my local health food store.  My pot is made of “bioplastic” and is biodegradable.  It’s also super light so I take it when I travel.

There are a number of different types out there.  The woman at my health food store suggested for the first time that I use one that is plastic and light-weight.  Apparently the ceramic ones are a little more difficult to maneuver because they’re heavier.  In retrospect I don’t think it makes that big a difference.

How To Use The Neti Pot

It is amazingly simple.

What You’ll Need

  1. Neti pot
  2. Non-iodized salt
  3. Warm water (more or less body temperature)
  4. 1/4 teaspoon

Steps

  1. Wash your neti pot with warm soap and water before first use and after each use.
  2. Fill the pot with warm water. The water should be around body temperature, so when you feel it with your finger, it should not feel cold or hot.  Added:  Many people use straight from the tap but to be completely safe I use filtered water, you can use distilled as well.  There may be water-born diseases – not to mention chlorine! – in tap water.
  3. Mix in 1/4-1/2 teaspoon salt.  Be sure to use non-iodized salt without additives or anti-caking agents.  You can buy “neti pot salt” – some are sea salt with more minerals in them and thus feel more mild (I like them better).  Start with 1/4 teaspoon on your first try, but then experiment – you may find you like a little bit more.  I use somewhere in between 1/4 and 1/2.
  4. Lean your face forward over the sink, and then tilt your head to the right.  I was terrified I was going to do this wrong the first time!  But really, it’s ok if you don’t have this “right” – you’re not going to screw it up and you’ll get a feel for this quickly.
  5. Place the neti pot spout inside your right nostril.  Make sure you form a seal with your nostril so it doesn’t leak.
  6. Breathe through your mouth.  Don’t forget to breathe – oxygen is important!
  7. Tilt the pot until water starts to pour out of your left nostril.  Keep pouring until the pot is empty.  I usually have to pause about half-way through to gently blow out the water and gunk, and then I start pouring again.
  8. Relax your neck and shoulders.  No other instructions say this, but boy I tense up when I’m trying to do this right.  Relax – it’s not that hard, you won’t screw it up (and if you do it doesn’t really matter), there’s no reason to be tense.
  9. Repeat #2-8 on the other side.
  10. Exhale through both nostrils into the sink, and then gently blow your nose.  The pot came with instructions to do crazy hand-to-toe exercises afterwards.  I found a couple gentle blows of the nostrils is good.
If you want to watch a video of someone doing it, here is a video.  Just ignore adding the extra drops and such – multiple websites, books and health care professionals say you don’t need it.  (Try it if you want, but it seems like an unnecessary cost to me.)

That’s It!

Not so bad, eh?  Do you use a neti pot?  If not, will you give it a try?

What Are Your Plans For 2012?

I had a transformative vacation the week before Christmas.  I left Seattle thinking I was headed to a sunny resort for a little R&R, and I returned a week later quite changed.  Wonderfully changed.

Matt and I went to Miraval.  I’d never been to a resort before – never felt I could or should.  But this one was different.  The tag line is “you won’t find you anywhere else.”  I admittedly scoffed at it when I first heard it.  But I did begin to find me there.

I spent a week being me, investigating me, and nurturing me.  I cleaned the feet of horses, meditated using many different methods, faced some of my fears, allowed my emotions to be raw and exposed….

I also did Chi Gong, Reiki, Thai massage, Shiatsu, Ayurvedic therapy, psychotherapy integrating a horse (!), Gin Shou Tui Na (incorporating cranial sacral massage with a Chinese balancing massage), a full Chi journey, and Chi Nei Tsang (an abdominal “massage”).

I couldn’t begin to tell you the details all in one post (I may go through some of those experiences in other posts if you’re interested), but suffice it to say that I am renewed, reinvigorated, and rebalanced – taking life a little differently, a little more thoughtfully, and with greater awareness and presence.

For this reason, I wanted to lay out my New Year Goals before the 1st, so that I can enter 2012 with full intentions.

My 2012 Personal Goals

  1. Increase My Energy Levels with:
    • exercise
    • nutrition
    • meditation & self-compassion
    • balance & alignment
  2.  Increase My Strength:
    • physically
    • mentally
    • emotionally
  3. Increase My Self Knowledge by finding comfort, forgiveness and hope in:
    • the past
    • the present
    • the future

My 2012 Professional Goals

  1. Create a Five-Year Plan.
  2. Aggregate all I know and do into a System that can be replicated.
  3. Grow my business by 20%, following a specific Growth Plan.

My 2012 Citizen Goals

  1. Have a book outline complete by the end of the year.
  2. Become a regular writer.
  3. Work diligently in the garden:
    • as a neighborhood citizen.
    • as an educator and inspirer.
    • as a healthy human being.

My 2012 Guiding Principles

  1. Compassion - for myself and others – without judgement.
  2. Continuous presence - being, growing, and learning from each present moment.
  3. Self-healing – allowing myself those important moments to grow, love and recharge.

What I’m Striving Toward for the Long-Term

  1. Solid personal direction, compassion and resilience.
  2. Forgiveness for what doesn’t matter, empathy and strength for what does, and shining hope for what will become.
  3. Professionally, my every moment has importance and leads toward positive global impact.

I look forward to 2012 with open arms.  I think it’s going to be a good year!

How about you?

What are your goals, big or small?

Will you make yourself a list of goals or a Wellness Plan this year?  You’re welcome to use the outline I’ve created to begin!

The Abyss of Pain

Many of you have written wondering where I’ve been. Many thanks to all of you who left me good wishes via email and Facebook.

A few weeks ago I started feeling a dull pain in my elbow. A week later, I had pretty severe pain in my neck. Soon after, the pain radiated from my neck, through my shoulders, down my arm, and into my fingers. Finally, it was accompanied by occasional numbness and a feeling that my elbow was on fire.

Over a few weeks, I was in so much pain that I couldn’t think straight!

First Stop

First stop on the road to wellness, I went to a conventional physician – a new one because we have new health insurance.  She evaluated me for 2 minutes or so (no kidding) and told me I had nondescript pain in my neck and shoulders, with fairly severe tennis elbow.  Then she gave me a referral to physical therapy.  And that was it.

Second Stop

I promptly called physical therapy, and they told me I couldn’t see one person for those three different things: they had a neck and shoulders physical therapist, and an elbow therapist – I’d have to see both.  And the next available appointment was 1 week away for the neck and shoulders, and 3 weeks away for the elbow.  Oh, and they were in two different locations.

Trying to explain that my neck bone was connected to my shoulder bone, and shoulder bone is connected to the elbow bone… didn’t work. Nope, there wasn’t anyone who could do that.

I was in so much pain my eyes were tearing, I was grumpy, and I was having real difficulty concentrating on my work.  The only time the pain subsided at all was if I was lying in bed in one particular position. And here I was faced with another 3 weeks of this sharp, radiating pain before comfort was even in sight.

Third Stop

So I made an appointment with my Naturopathic Doctor.  He saw me just 2 days later.

Instantly Kevin sensed I was in a lot of pain.  He spent 1/2 hour with me, learning exactly what was going on – by talking, moving and feeling my joints, and testing my strength and mobility.

His diagnosis:  Nerve pain in my neck.  I have a bad disc in my neck, that was probably injured back when I was in a car accident long ago and has now been re-injured.  Ah, I realized, I’ve had tingling in my fingers for a long time.

At the same time, I managed also to get tennis elbow – probably from hyperextending my arms in my new yoga practice.  So the two injuries were aggravating one another.  (Because the neck bone is connected to the shoulder bone… and so on.)

Kevin gently and carefully adjusted my neck and back. He gave me exercises. And pharmaceuticals (at that point I was ready). And specific vitamin supplements – for short-term and long-term healing. And orders to rest and ice as often as possible. And orders to make my desk even more ergonomic than it already is.  And to modify my yoga postures when I go back to yoga.

That was 2 weeks ago. I am finally able to concentrate for a full day at work.  Though I still get awfully tired – I have a difficult time getting up in the morning and I’m ready to go home by 4pm, exhausted. The pain is still there but it’s not mind-numbing anymore.

The Abyss Of Pain

I’m sure some of you have been to this place:  the abyss of pain.  It’s a cloudy-headed, self-absorbed, cranky and impatient, dark hole of dispair and disrepair.  In that abyss, your brain can really only focus solidly on the immediate needs before you.

Have you been there?

It’s terrible. I’m lucky that the people around me understand, support and forgive me.

If  you ever find yourself in that abyss, first be sure to tell others around you what you’re going through – otherwise they won’t know, can’t support you, and might be less willing to forgive you for your impatience. And second, be sure to advocate for yourself until you get the care you need to overcome the pain.

Now it’s like a fog is lifting. I can write again. I can see the bigger picture again – the bigger picture of life, of business, of the planet…

Hello again.

25 Ways I've Improved My Asthma

I just received a really lovely email from Liz, who was recently hospitalized for asthma.  Sick in bed, she was clicking around the internet and found us by following a link to How To Plant, Grow, & Prune Blueberries.  Liz, I’m so sorry you’re sick!!

In her email, Liz asked what I’ve done to try to get off my own asthma medications.  I spent the whole walk home yesterday thinking about all the many things I’ve done over the past couple of years!  So I thought some of you might benefit from this, or know someone who has asthma and might benefit.

My husband, who doesn’t have asthma, has benefited from many of these changes as well – he says he’s not sick as often, he gets headaches less, he’s less stuffy in his nose, and his sense of smell has vastly improved!

Brief History of My Asthma

I was very sick as a child – every fall through spring I had a serial illnesses of bronchitis, ear infections, sinus infections, mononucleosis, strep throat, respiratory flus, colds,… it was pretty miserable.  At that time, people recognized wheezing as the only major symptom of asthma – rather than what I had, which was uncontrollable coughing and gasping for breath.  If you want to know how it feels, I even made a short film about it!

So I wasn’t diagnosed until I was in college.  And boy, my world changed!  Suddenly I had enough oxygen on a daily basis – my mind was clearer, I was sick a little less often, and my posture improved a bit (asthmatics tend to hunch over their chest).

When I moved to New York several years later, it got worse.  My doctor at the time said that was normal, and added more medications.  A few years later, I moved to LA.  Of course it got worse.  My low point was taking high doses of steroids, 7 daily medications, and STILL uncontrollably coughing and gasping for breath.

Something needed to change.  So over the last four years or so, I’ve slowly made lifestyle changes that have got me down to just two medications (at the lowest possible doses), with an occasional rescue inhaler (used every few months).  I’ve been sick twice in the last three years.  That’s it.

My goal is to go off all my medications by the end of the year.  Catching a terrible bug going around just recently has set me back a tad, but I’m moving forward again.

A Word of Caution

Be careful.  Listen to your body.  Listen to your doctors.

I am not a doctor, I am only writing about what works for me.  Please take what you can on your road to finding what works for you.

And above all, remember that the most important thing is for your asthma to be under control.  It’s ok to be a bit cautious, because out of control asthma takes a long time to recover from – if it doesn’t feel right to make a change, don’t risk it.  Take your time.  It will get better.

25 Ways I’ve Improved My Asthma

  1. Remove all toxic and fragrant products from your home. I may not be starting with a small one for some of you, but this is where I started.  Shampoos, soaps, detergents, floor cleaners, carpet sprays, window cleaners… all of it.  Replace them with very natural versions (no artificial scents, and preferably no scents) or make them yourself.
  2. No fragrances or toxins on the body. It was hard for me to give up perfume, but I did.  It is incredible how much of a difference it made.  Lotion – find the most natural, non-fragrant one you can find.  Deodorant.  Bath oils… you get the picture.  This is not about deprivation, it’s about getting healthy and staying that way!  You’ll get used to it.
  3. Exercise regularly. Every day if possible.  It doesn’t have to be strenuous, just get the warm air going through your lungs.  In the winter, wear a scarf and put it over your mouth and nose to keep the air warm.  I walk to work every day, about 2.5 miles round trip.
  4. Learn about asthma. Learn how it works – it’s fascinating and useful; learn what to look for in a trigger; learn what medications there are (your physician may not know all the answers).  I started with Asthma for Dummies (I know, but it really is helpful).  Talk to your doctor as much as he or she will let you.
  5. Reduce stress. Or Increase calmness.  Maybe a little of both.  Take it as it comes.  Learn to say no.  Be ok with staying home if you’re tired and need a little “me” time.
  6. Be the master of your own medical plan. I had to make my own appointment to see a pulmonologist – nobody referred me.  It was one of the first catalysts for getting my asthma back on track.  Now I’ve gone so far as to see a naturopath and do acupuncture.  But that’s not all.  You and only you know when you need an increase or decrease in medication.  You know.  You know when it’s time to try a different medication or doctor because one isn’t quite working.  You have to ask, you have to keep track, you have to read up, you have to know your body better than anyone else, and you have to advocate for you.
  7. Find your triggers and get rid of them. In my home, I found that I’m allergic to wool, latex, and sesame oil – along with dust mites of course.  It took a while to figure those out!  I had to really pay attention to what was making me cough.
  8. Cover your pillows, mattresses, and duvets. Dustmite covers are all over now – you can buy them really cheaply at Target, or get expensive organic ones that last forever online.  I recommend not getting the super cheap plastic ones, as the fumes from the plastic are pretty bad.
  9. Wash your hands. That’s an easy one – yay!  Don’t be afraid to feel a little crazy at how much you wash your hands – it’s better than being sick.  Wash before eating, after being around sick people or in well used public spaces.  Carry anti-bacterial stuff with you in your purse, but wash whenever possible.
  10. Invest in good air filters. Replace your heat/air con filters per their instructions – at least annually – and buy good ones with a HEPA filter if possible.  We have a separate HEPA filter in our bedroom that runs all the time.  It has made a huge difference.  We have this one.  It’s really expensive, but it has lasted forever.  Most others break after a year or two.
  11. Take daily vitamins. I take a food-based women’s multi-vitamin as well as vitamin D (because we have so little sun in Seattle).
  12. Eat healthy, balanced meals – not too much, mostly plants, and not late at night.  I have been a vegetarian since 1989.  You don’t have to get that extreme, but eat organic, whole foods as much as possible.  And make sure you don’t eat anything 2 hours or less before bed.  GERD is a huge asthma trigger.
  13. Eliminate food sensitivities aka triggers. I knew sesame oil was a problem, but had no other food allergies that I knew of.  And then… there was wheat.  I had no idea!  The change a gluten-free diet has made for me… is the biggest change yet.  I highly recommend doing a cleanse to find out what you’re allergic and sensitive to.
  14. Do a Cleanse or Detox. Gets all those toxins out of your system, makes you feel GREAT, eliminates the foods you’re most likely to be sensitive to, and gives you a clean slate to test out foods you might be allergic to.  You can do it with your doctor’s guidance.I did it and LOVED it.  Alternatively, do the Elimination Diet.
  15. Keep your chest and breath warm. I have my own fashion:  I have a ton of scarves.  I’m always wearing them.  The secret:  they’re to keep my chest warm!  A pulmonologist told me this once, and it totally works.  I don’t leave home without wearing a scarf unless it’s pretty warm outside.  I also bring one out to dinner or movies, or friends’ houses.  Your lungs are so reactive when you have asthma, that they react to cold as well as actual allergens.
  16. No ice. For the same reasons as #15.  I always used to have asthma attacks in bars.  I was complaining to my pulmonologist, and she said “do you get drinks with ice in them?” So I tried not having ice, and she was right!
  17. Stay clear of highly polluting substances. If you don’t have to walk along the freeway to work, don’t.  If you can put your printer far away from your work station, do.  If you can live in a place without floors with formaldehyde, please do (many carpets and wood floors are glued with the nastiest of chemicals!!).  Stay clear of the smokers…
  18. Learn to nurture yourself. Take a break when you’re sick.  Get a massage (it can loosen up chest and shoulder muscles that are keeping your chest from fully opening).  Try acupuncture.  Drink warm tea.
  19. Yoga. Exercise plus de-stress plus lung opening equals asthmatic friend.  I love it.
  20. Know your own limits. Know when you shouldn’t push it, and know when it’s ok to push it. For instance, learn when you’re feeling so good for a while that you might try a little less medication for a day and see what happens.  Learn your edge.
  21. Have a supportive partner or family if possible. If you live with someone, tell them a little about what you’re learning and what if feels like.  They likely have NO idea that you feel like a fish out of water.  They might be able to help cut down on the toxins in your home as well, and may be able to help recognize when you’re starting to have an attack so you can catch it early.
  22. Hire cleaners. It took a long time for me to come to terms with this one.  But every single doctor has told me I can’t be the one to clean our home, because cleaning stirs up so much dust.  So I took the plunge and we now have green cleaners that come once a month.  Don’t forget you also have to leave the house when they’re cleaning!
  23. Detox your workplace. Printers, dirty carpets, perfumes,… there are a lot of things you can’t control very well.  I have plants all around my desk to help purify the air, as well as a little desk HEPA filter I use on occasion.  Keep your desk clean and free of dust.
  24. Work to solve other health issues you have. Often asthma is not a lonely culprit – it is often aggravated by, or aggravates, other health issues.  For me it was GERD (until I stopped eating gluten), grinding my teeth (I now have a nightguard), shoulder and chest weakness (which yoga is helping with), and gluten intolerance.
  25. Read and learn regularly. There are always new medications and studies being done.  You may find that a new study has indicated asthma may be caused by something or other, or a new exercise is thought to make a difference.  Try it.  It may or may not work, but I’ve found a few ideas that way!  In fact, I’ve learned there are breath coaches out there and I’m wondering if that my be my last push to freedom from medication.  We shall see!

Good luck and I wish you the best of health.  Please ask me any questions – I’ll answer if I can, or try to point you in the right direction if I can’t!

 

How To Make A Simple Facial Mask

A friend of mine took me to a class in making body masks recently.  It was FABULOUS!  As I do a cleanse this month, I’m looking forward to detoxing my face with a mild, homemade mask….

The Problems with Store Bought Facial Masks and Scrubs

I spent a good deal of time in health food stores looking for a super mild facial scrub and/or mask during my first cleanse.  Most of them are extremely abrasive, many have a lot of chemicals in them, and they all have very strong scents.  These are all negatives for my sensitive skin.

The closest I could find to something I would put on my face was Giovanni’s D:tox collection.  While it still has a scent, it’s fairly mild and the scrub is not too abrasive.  Though, of course, it’s expensive.

All facial masks you find in the store have preservatives in them!  According to our lovely course teacher, Katya, clay only lasts a week or two when it’s wet – before it begins to grow molds.  So be sure to store your homemade masks dry, and just mix up what you’ll use in a week.

Recipe: Simple Facial Mask

The following recipe is by Katya Difani, and adapted from Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health

Ingredients

  • 1 cup clay (she recommends white kaolin clay)
  • 1 cup finely ground oats
  • 1/4 cup finely ground almonds
  • 1/4 cup finely ground lavender or rose petals

Instructions

  1. Grind the oats, almonds, and lavender or rose into a fine powder – using a mortar and pestle or a coffee grinder.
  2. Combine all ingredients together.
  3. Seal in a glass jar until ready to use.
  4. To use, mix 1-2 teaspoons with a small amount of water (purified is best) – just enough to make a smooth paste.
  5. Gently massage into your skin.
  6. Leave on for a few minutes.
  7. Rinse with warm water.

This mask is very gentle and mild.  The white clay is not very drying, and still draws out toxins from your pores.  The oats are soothing, cooling, and moisturizing.

Other Ingredients To Try

The list is fairly endless!  Here are a few ingredients that caught my ears and eyes:

  • Blueberries – antioxidant
  • Acerola cherry – antioxidant, stimulates collagen
  • Licorice root powder – anti-inflammatory, awakens the skin
  • Lemon juice – exfoliating, antibacterial
  • Honey – antibacterial, moisturizer
  • Green tea – antioxidant (you can also spray your face with tea before applying the mask)
  • Papaya
  • Avocado
  • Yoghurt
  • Camomile
  • Poppy seeds
  • Corn meal
  • Ground coffee beans
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Essential oils – citrus oils in particular
  • Body oils – the three I liked best were jojoba, grape seed and rose hip seed – but even olive oil would be nice

Coming Soon:  How to Make a Simple Facial Scrub & Cosmetic Clays Demystified.

Please comment if you have other ideas.  And have fun treating yourself!!