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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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Great Reading

Do You Use An Eco-Friendly Air Freshener?

I’ve been receiving a lot of reader questions lately.  It seem you all are pushing me to write again!  Ok, I’m trying to clear off my work load so I can get back to writing.  I miss it, too!

In the meantime, anyone have some good solutions for Sam?

Hi Melinda,

Do you have any suggestions on what one could use to freshen up a room or kitchen that is both cost effective and not damaging to ones health?

I use the store bought air fresheners but I am thinking they are probably not all that healthly am I right? There has to be another way? Any comments or advice would be great!

Regards,
Sam

I don’t really use air freshener, so any help you all have would be lovely!

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.

Back In Time: 3 Personal Product Changes

There are big changes and small changes along the path toward sustainability, and from my perspective, they all matter.  As I spend a week in the San Juan Islands, I thought some of you all might enjoy some of the most popular articles here at One Green Generation.

How To Make Your Own Deodorant (A Very Simple Recipe)

Simple recipe, quite effective.  The #1 most popular post on this site.  How To Make Your Own Deodorant (A Very Simple Recipe)

Hair Without Shampoo

A Non-Toxic, Frugal Way To Wash Your Hair Without Buying Shampoo

Think you need shampoo every day or every week?  Think again.  You might just find you don’t need it at all… A Non-Toxic, Frugal Way To Wash Your Hair Without Buying Shampoo.  Also check out No ‘Poo: New & Improved!

Be Prepared!

Replace Your Cleaning Products

Ok this isn’t one post, it’s three.  But I think you’ll like them.

Know Another Great Resource?

Please comment!

 

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!

 

Cosmetic Clays - What Are They and How Do You Use Them?

If you’re like me, you might be afraid of putting new things on your face… or making skin care products at home… or entering and navigating an apothecary or herbalist’s store.  But a dear friend of mine recently picked up the book Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health and promptly signed us up for a class in making body masks.  Amazing how a little class can completely demystify the new ingredients as well as the apothecary.  Thank you, Sarah!

The following information is collated from a course taught by Katya Difani.

The Benefits of Clay

Each type of clay has its own unique properties due to its origin, mineral content and texture.  In general, clay:

  • Absorbs excess oil
  • Binds to toxins
  • Cleans away dirt
  • Exfoliates
  • Improves circulation
  • Reduces swelling and inflammation

Bentonite Clay

Bentonite is from volcanic ash and is high in trace minerals like silica, aluminum, iron, sodium and magnesium.  It is a mild clay, used both internally and externally.

Internally, it’s used to treat mineral deficiencies, anemia, ulcers, diarrhea, hemorrhoids, and more.  It also binds to toxins from intestinal bacteria.  A lot of people drink it during a cleanse or detox – a friend of mine said she did it and it felt like a lump of clay in her stomach.

  • If you want to try drinking it, take 1-3 teaspoons of bentonite clay in 8 ounces of water per day.

Externally, you can add it to your bath or body/face mask.

  • For the bath, add 2-3 ounces of bentonite clay to running water and mix thoroughly.
  • Add one part clay to 3 parts water, mix thoroughly – adding extra water or clay as needed to create an even paste, and apply to your skin.

French Green Clay

French green clay – also called Illite or Sea Clay – is green colored from chlorophyll.  It contains mineral oxides, magnesium, calcium, potassium, manganese, phosphorous, copper (antioxidant), selenium (antioxidant), and much more.

Green clay is one of the more drying of clays, so it’s good for oily skin in particular.  Also, it is a better absorber of impurities, dust, oil, toxins, and makeup – which is why you’ll see it in a lot of spas.

French Red Clay

This is similar to French green clay, but contains higher amounts of iron oxides (thus the red color).  It’s slightly less drying and more balancing than green clay, but is also good for oily skin and can even be used in place of soap as a cleanser.

Moroccan Red Clay

Moroccan red clay is highly absorbent, drawing oils from the skin as it stimulates circulation.  It contains naturally occurring dolomite, silica (good for hair, nails & skin), ferric oxide, and mineral oxides.  It smells very earthy and lovely.

This clay also mixes well with water and oils you might add to your masks.  When mixing with water, mix at a ratio of about 1 to 1.

Rhassoul Clay

Rhassoul clay was my personal favorite.  It’s used a lot in spas because of its balancing effects:  it reduces dryness and flakiness, while a the same time reducing oil and improving skin clarity.

This clay contains high percentages of silica, magnesium, potassium, and calcium.  It’s used as a shampoo, cleanser, skin conditioner, and body relaxer.

White Kaolin Clay

White kaolin clay is the mildest, most gentle, least drying clay – which is why it is the one found in most cosmetics, according to Katya.  It is high in calcium, silica, zinc (antibacterial), and magnesium.

Because of its high drying and disinfecting properties, it can help heal blemishes and inflammation.  It is also used to treat diarrhea, dysentery, and cholera.  Plus it is used in making paint, paper, fiberglass, porcelain, ceramics, and toothpaste.  It’s the Kao in Kaopectate – and Rolaids, Mylanta, Maalox, etc.

You don’t need to add much water to this clay so add little bits at a time.

My Favorites

In order, my favorites were:

  1. Rhassoul
  2. White Kaolin
  3. French Green
  4. Moroccan Red

I have very sensitive skin that is more dry than oily, however.  My friends who attended with me were more on the oily side and liked the French Green best.

Where to Buy Clay

  • Health food store
  • Apothecary
  • Herbalist
  • Or if you can’t find it locally, do an internet search for “cosmetic clay”- there are several online resources

Recipe: Quick Green Clay Mask

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons french green clay – absorbs oils and impurities
  • 2 large lemon wedges – pH balancing, gentle exfoliant
  • 2 teaspoons honey – anti-microbial (raw is best)

Directions

Mix ingredients, apply to skin, leave on 5-10 minutes, rinse with warm water.

Also check out How To Make A Simple Facial Mask, which also lists other ingredients if you want to experiment.

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!!

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…

January

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

Update:

  • 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!

February

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.

Update:

  • 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!).

March

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.

Update:

  • 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.

April

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

Update:

  • 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?