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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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We're Moving This Weekend!

Surprise!  I mentioned a few weeks ago that we were thinking we might move, and we decided to take the leap. So on Tuesday morning, we’ll awaken in a new home!

It’s not far – you can can see it from our current apartment (click to enlarge):

5 Reasons We’re Moving

  1. To decrease our footprint. Our current apartment is pretty big, which is great in some ways but also takes up more footprint than we need.  We can do jumping jacks in our bathroom and barely touch both sides of our hall walls at the same time.  Little things make a difference on the sustainability path.
  2. To eat healthier. Sounds strange, but right now we live across the street from a natural foods store and 6 blocks from our garden.  Guess which one we visit more frequently!  So we’re switching: we’ll be across the street from our garden and 6 blocks from the store. I’m looking forward to seeing my garden from our bedroom window. 
  3. To save costs. We’ll be saving $6,000/year living in our new home.  That’s a lot of money to contribute toward paying off our student loans.
  4. To live in the heart of the neighborhood. We’ll be across the street from the community center, community park, local church, restaurants, cafes and bars.  As a result we’re much more likely to be a part of community events and decision-making processes.  We’re looking forward to it!
  5. To live in a more diverse area. Our current rent has gone up substantially, and the residents are changing – it’s becoming a higher-income building.  Where we’re moving, we’ll be in a low- to mid-income community, with some transitional housing, a food bank (to donate extra veggies), and in general more diversity.

We also lost our beautiful view – we used to be able to see the bulk of Lake Union and even Mt. Baker on a clear day.  Our new apartment will have a modest view of the sunset and Space Needle.

5 Reasons We’re Staying In the Neighborhood

  1. Our neighborhood is LEED certified. The entire neighborhood is certified as a sustainable neighborhood, and we’re proud to be a part of it.  We have bioswales in an urban center, 35% of the neighborhood buildings are LEED certified, urban planning has focused on multi-use areas that are walkable, parks, native plants, … it’s really awesome.
  2. We have great public transportation and walkability. We have a walk score of 97.  I walk to work, and Matt walks 2 blocks to the bus.
  3. We’re in the heart of the city. I love walking through downtown every day, feeling a part of the city on a daily basis.  I feel I intimately understand what’s changing, how the economy is doing, where industry is thriving, etc.  We’re in a central spot to our friends and family – pretty much within 15 minutes of anyone we know in the city, right off the freeway, and an easy meeting point.
  4. We love our garden community. We have an awesome plot, with great garden neighbors, and good friends of ours just moved gardens to garden near us.
  5. We have a growing local economy. The neighborhood is transitioning from an old dilapidated manufacturing (and prostitution) center, to a thriving mixed economy.  It’s pretty amazing to watch, and it gives me hope for the rest of the country.

Can’t wait to tell you all about our new place!  In the meantime,

Tell Me About Your Home

What’s perfect about it?  How did you end up there?

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!!

How Is Your Local Government Doing During The Recession?

A few months ago, my husband and I created a video for Countywide Community Forums.  It’s a program that brings policy makers and citizens together to talk about local issues – a really fabulous idea, don’t you think??

We’re creating another film now – I can’t wait to tell you about it.  But in the meantime, I wanted to share the video we created about how local governments are suffering during the Recession – and how we all suffer as a result.

Most of these issues are not specific to our county, or our state.  Most of these issues are not even particular to our country during the Recession.

So if you have a few minutes to spare today…

Government in Challenging Economic Times on Vimeo.  (If you’re curious, you can see a few of my other videos here.)

Sadly, our local government budgets have only decreased since we made this video.

How is your local government doing?

 

Say Hello To 5 Strangers Today

I believe that community building is one of the most important elements of sustainable living.  There are a number of reasons for it: when we live locally and strengthen our communities, we become stronger and better able to adapt to changes in the economy, climate, and energy availability.

When we become a part of our communities, we have a better capacity for creating change within it:  making people aware of important issues and ideas, sharing resources, learning from one another, change local policies, working together to solve problems, and feeling useful, helpful, and a part of a greater good.

Each community is unique and has its own needs, whether it is public transportation, sustainable food resources, strengthening local businesses, reducing carbon emissions, increasing recycling and reducing waste, building community gardens and parks… the list is varied and lengthy.  We can only learn and become part of the solutions if we become an active member of our communities.

So this weekend, I want to challenge each and every one of us to do this:  all you have to do is say hello to five strangers.  That’s it!


Why?

Because in the last several decades we have grown cold and disparate as a culture.  We don’t say hello to strangers anymore, we don’t participate in local events as much anymore, our children don’t play out in the streets together anymore, we hesitate to help one another because we don’t have time anymore.

But have you walked down the street lately, and had a stranger say hello?  It feels good and brings you two people together for a moment.

Generally that feeling lasts a few seconds, maybe a few minutes, occasionally a few hours or if it’s really special, the whole day.  The next thing you know, you  are spreading that feeling of closeness to others – maybe you say hello to someone too!  And that person may then stop into a local store and find themselves chatting with a local shop owner.  And the shop owner, feeling close to his customers, may find a way to give back to the community in some way.  And those who are touched by the shop owner’s giving back are more likely to give time, help, or conversations to someone else.

Your simple “hello” has changed the dynamic of the neighborhood, creating a positive cycle where more and more people become closer to one another.

It takes time, but it also starts somewhere.  So let’s start somewhere simple.  This weekend, let’s each of us come out of our shells and Say Hello To Five Strangers.

Will You Do It??!

I’m going to do it too, and we’ll all check in on Monday Tuesday* and see how we’ve done.  Shall we?  Let me know in the comments!  Come on, you can do it – I know it!

(*Y’all get an extra day to say your hellos!)

Our New Garden!

It seems like we are destined to have a new garden every year!  Each year for the last several years, we’ve taken over old, unloved land and nourished it.  We leave behind for others gloriously fertile soil and beds just waiting to be planted.  The bad part? We leave behind a lot of blood, sweat, and tears – and planning, too.

Sigh.

If you’ve been following along, you’ll know we moved from Los Angeles, where we had a potted garden on concrete, to Geyserville, where we had a 2,000 square foot garden.  Then we moved to Seattle, and I started a garden with my mom and we gardened on our fire escape.  Then we got a community garden plot (aka “p-patch”), a couple miles away.  Then we moved to a neighborhood closer to work, and the p-patch became 3 miles away.

And now I’m sooooo excited to say we have a new plot just down the street!  Hooray!

Ok, here’s what we did last weekend….

Our New Community Garden Patch

Here we are, with loads of work to do.  A very unloved patch of land, full of horrible, horrible weeds (morning glories, among others – they have long, long roots and seem like they pop out every where).  There were several weird wire cages and fences, and numerous old metal and wooden poles and posts, plus raspberries all over, and clearly pretty poor soil.

The pots you see are garlic and rhubarb from our old plot.

So we dug and carted and weeded and dug and carted some more.  Brutal work!  But alas, we moved the raspberries to one place in the plot, rescued some beautiful chives, and cleared our new land.

Baren Land

Then we went with some friends down to Cedar Grove Compost, our municipal compost location, where we bought a truck load of “Booster Blend” (compost mixed with aged manure) for $11.  It’s great for us city dwellers:  we compost at home, it goes to Cedar Grove, they mix it with microbes and age it, and we buy it back for a small amount of money.  Not bad!

Several hours later...

After wheeling and dumping and digging and raking in several barrels of compost, voila!  We have a plantable garden!  I transplanted the garlic and rhubarb, and we now have a blank slate of good, nurtured soil.

This weekend we will plant!

The space is about 15 by 20 – almost twice as big as our old plot.  It doesn’t seem like much, probably, to those of you who have large garden spaces.  But it is a good amount of space if you use it well.

So… What Shall We Plant?

Currently, we have rhubarb, raspberries, chives and garlic.  What else shall we plant?  What’s your favorite unusual vegetable?  What space-saving varieties have you found?  Please help us maximize our garden space!

What Is The Hardest Part About Living Sustainably, Frugaly, or Green?

A long while back many of us shared the most difficult things to change in our lives – on our paths toward sustainability.  We have so many new people joining us, and life has changed quite a lot since then.  So let’s do it again!

Once we share them here, we can help one another to make those changes over time.  Shall we?

For me, the hardest things have been:

  1. Making the time to cook.  Particularly at lunch,  I eat (organic) frozen food.  Ack – it’s true!
  2. Making the time to help other people make lifestyle changes.  Particularly lately, I haven’t made time to help others by way of the blog (sorry guys!), speaking, and other ways.
  3. Being a real part of my new community.  I don’t spend enough time at local events, I don’t volunteer locally (there are lots of local organizations that could use my help), and I don’t feel like I participate in my new neighborhood.

What Change Is The Hardest For You?

Think a bit, and then please share!  What do you wish you were doing, but you just can’t make yourself do?  What do you feel guilty about doing?

I will tell you it feels good to write them down.  Now that they’re there, on paper, I see what I need to work on.

Try it!

What Is Your Favorite Local Business?

Handmade Toys

We haven’t discussed local living for a while, but I believe it to be a big part of sustainability. Essentially, I believe :

  1. One of the best ways to reduce your carbon footprint is to buy locally-sourced goods.
  2. Supporting local businesses you believe in is of the best ways to build a like-minded community that will help support you economically, emotionally, and sustainably.
  3. Local economies support you, and make your neighborhood more resilient to national and international crises. (For every $1 spent in a local business, almost 70 cents remain in the local economy; for every $1 spent at a national chain store, however, around 40 cents or less remain in the local economy – Civic Economics.)
  4. You’re supporting local jobs, and generally you’re supporting businesses that provide a living wage.
  5. You can often walk, which saves money and energy on gas and helps keep you healthy.
  6. It’s fun to connect with real people who care about you.

I sat and thought about it for a while and realized my favorite local place is the wooden toy shop down the street. I walk past every day on my way to and home from work. On the way in the middle-aged toy maker smiles at me, and I smile back at a man who so clearly loves his work. In the evening I walk past when the toy maker has long since gone home, and I peer through the window marveling at the new toys he’s crafted. The store also sells mobiles, bags, and toys made our of different recycled materials. It’s fabulous.

But you know what? I’ve never been inside! It’s one of the most warm and cozy neighbors, but whether it’s because I’m starting a new business and expendable cash is not a luxury, or I haven’t yet found a reason, I haven’t gone in!

Tomorrow I might just make the time!

Tractor Toy ferry

What Is Your Favorite Business?