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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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Staying True To Your Values Through The Holidays

Winter Greens


During the holidays, I generally eat too much.  I generally “allow” myself to stop and buy foods or stuff that I don’t normally buy.  I generally turn up the heat more than I need to and sometimes I drive that mile to the store instead of walking.


It’s easier to “make exceptions” when it’s cold and you’re busy and you’re stressed out trying to get things done.


But do you ever NOT regret it later?  After the holidays, do you ever NOT regret eating too much and gaining those few extra pounds, or feeling awful from having too many unusual foods in your body, or having blemished skin from too much of something or another?  After the holidays, do you ever NOT regret just a little bit spending all that money, and now having a big credit card debt to pay off as you enter the new year?  And do you ever NOT have a twinge of guilt after driving or turning up the heat?


Extreme cold and grey and wet gets us a little down at times, and makes us want to hibernate.  I challenge you to fight that need to hide from the elements, the seasons, the real life outside!  I challenge you to embrace the change in temperature, as it pushes our citrus trees to produce luscious fruits, our plums and peaches to sufficiently overwinter, our carrots and greens to sweeten in the cold earth.


And I challenge you to resist the urge to give up for a moment on your values as you pass by something that you really want to buy.  Just ask yourself if it’s really perfect, given the environmental, social, and economic impact on you, your family, and the world.  Is it?  Or should you find an alternative that works better for every stakeholder in that transaction?


Make your holiday season guilt-free, happy, and healthy for you, your family and friends, and the world around you.  You deserve it.  And we all deserve it.


If you’re looking for some challenges to keep you on top of your values this season, here are a few:


1.  Eat Local for Thanksgiving

Eat Local For Thanksgiving


2.  Dark Days Eat Local Challenge

It’s not nearly as hard as you think, once you get started.  Try it out!

Dark Days Challenge


3.  Buy Nothing New For the Holidays

If you’re going to give gifts this year, instead of buying brand new things:

  • Give used or antique;
  • Make, bake, or grow a gift; or
  • Give non-material gifts

The Buy Nothing New For The Holidays Challenge!


4.  Buy Nothing Day

If you can’t do it for a whole month, at least try it for a day! Crowded malls, buying frenzy – are you sure you want to go out there?  Stay home and make something or nurture yourself instead.

Buy Nothing Day

 

5.  Freeze Your Buns Challenge

Challenge yourself to keep the thermostat low this winter.

Freeze Yer Buns Challenge


I encourage you to take on at least one or two of these challenges.  We are taking on all 5!


Will You Do It?


Come on, give it a shot!  And please feel free to recommend other good challenges out there as well!


How Do You Participate In Your Community?

by Clifbar&co on Flickr

 

It has been a while since we’ve discussed community building!  I think it’s an extremely important part of living sustainably, and there are lots of different ways to do it.

 

Why Participate in Your Community?

 

  1. To help make your community what you want it to be.
  2. To build a support network in case of a family, town, or national emergency.
  3. To learn from your neighbors.
  4. To borrow and barter rather than pay for new things.
  5. To support your local economy and infrastructure, and make it more self-reliant.
  6. To know where your food, clothing, and supplies come from.
  7. To make our schools, homes, and governments stronger.
  8. To better enjoy our lives by surrounding ourselves with people and ideas that we enjoy.
  9. To help set its course so that you and your children will live in a place you enjoy living in.

 

How Do You Build Your Community?

 

I’ve listed a number of ways here, but essentially you find your niche and go for it.  What do you like to do?  Then go find some other people who like to do it too!  What do you need that you can’t (or don’t want to) make yourself?  Find someone in your community who makes it!  Something not working right in your community?  Figure out how to make it right and then make that happen!  Children’s school need a new roof?  Get together with other parents and raise the money, or build it yourself!

 

I’ve written about how to start forming a group, so if you can’t find the group you’re looking for please read that post.

 

What Ways Do You Participate In Your Community?

 

You all have seen and read several of the ways I participate in my community – from planting roundabouts and buying local food at home, to supporting local infrastructure and bartering with local businesses at work.


I would love to know what you do!  How do you find ways to participate in your community?   What kinds of things do you enjoy?  Please give us all some ideas for ways we can engage more!


Lessons I’ve Learned From My Grandfather: #2

I wrote this a couple of years ago, when my grandfather was in the hospital for the very first time, and he and I spent quite a bit of time together.

 

Grandfather at the Grocery Store

My grandfather running a grocery store, a few years before he opened his own hardware store.

 

My grandfather owned a hardware store for several years.  He built it literally from the ground up, building and all, and took it to great success.  His brilliant idea was to make a self-serve hardware store, where people could peruse the aisles and pick out what they wanted.  It’s standard now, but that was unheard of at the time.

 

His hardware store was very successful for about six years, until the idea caught on and bigger national stores moved in near his store.  Quickly recognizing that he couldn’t keep up with “price gouging” of the big chains, my grandfather moved his store to a small nearby town that didn’t yet have a hardware store.  That town still had gravel streets and only a few businesses.  If any of you are familiar with the Seattle area, that small town was Bellevue.

 

So my grandfather sold his hardware store within a year of moving it, and stayed on for a year to help the new owner learn how to run the business.  And then, as my grandfather says, “there’s always something new, always someone willing to give me money to feed my family.”  He moved on to build a Savings and Loan literally from the ground up, and eventually expanded it to several regional franchises.  Several years later he recognized that he had ridden that train as far as it could go, and moved on again.  I mentioned earlier that that was in the late 70s, which was just a few years before the S & L scandals of the 80s that brought that industry to its knees.  But now I’m just bragging about my grandfather’s good business instincts!

 

Today he and I lamented at how few mom and pop stores remain in our consumerist world.  When he ran that hardware store, my grandfather loved helping people build their houses, and he worked hard to cater his store to his customers’ needs.  Sure it was a business, but he also considered it a personal, community service.

 

I believe the disconnect between the past system of personal service and the current system of corporate greed is a part of why seniors have such difficulty navigating the world today.  Just opening the mail is difficult, as so much junk mail looks like an official document (sometimes “official document” is even stamped on the front).  When seniors learned to navigate through the world sixty or eighty years ago, “official document” meant something.  Service truly had the individual’s best interest at heart.

 

I currently live in a town with a couple of mom and pop stores left.  And some of those stores do still have an individual’s best interest at heart.  But those stores are still slipping away into nothingness due to “price gouging”, as my grandfather calls it.  By supporting the large international chains to save a bit of cash, we are paying the price in other ways:  we’re losing those individual interactions between community members, that special service, the unique items you don’t find in large stores, and the support of our local economies.

 

So, if you’re going to purchase a Christmas gift or two this season, I encourage you not to fall into a trap of price gouging, and really pay up front what an item is worth.  Support a local mom and pop or boutique store to ensure that they stick around and continue to bring uniqueness, income, and service to our communities.

 

Live the Lifestyle You Want to Live, and Live it Sustainably

The following is a post I wrote for the co-op recently – I posted it late, so it wasn’t read by many.  Because it is a natural progression from my recent post here, I thought you all might enjoy it…


Ellis Exploring the Roof Garden


Last month I wrote about finding your own version of sustainability. Everyone is different, and for that reason, there is no ONE way to live sustainably. From the comments, I gathered that some readers felt I was somehow letting everyone off the hook, that we didn’t all need to live sustainably but we just had to live happily. However, that is far from what I meant. I believe we can, each of us, live the lives and lifestyles that we want to live – and live them sustainably.


In other words, if I am most comfortable in a city, I don’t need to move back to the land to live sustainably. If you hate the chaos of the city, you can find a lifestyle in the country that is sustainable. If I want to fit into society – and not be thought of as someone outside of society – I can find a way to do that sustainably.


If I don’t have time to knit or sew, I don’t necessarily have to make time to do those things – as long as I buy clothing and household items that are sustainably made (and only when I truly need them). If I don’t like gardening, or if I’m not good at it, I don’t have to live in the country and tend a huge garden. Instead, I can live in the city and purchase local, organic foods at the farmer’s market or through a CSA. Often this makes food and clothing more sustainable, because fewer resources are used when things are made and/or grown in bulk. This is not true across the board, of course – no matter what you do, you have to do it conscientiously in order to remain sustainable. But you don’t have to do everything yourself in order to live sustainably.


Why don’t I do everything myself? I grow some food in a community garden and work with my mother on a second urban garden, but I no longer have a 2,000 foot garden in the country. I don’t knit or sew, and I don’t always make my own food at home. You can do all of those things and live sustainably and happily. But you don’t have to. And in order to do all of the work I do to make the world a better place, I cannot manage a large garden, sew, knit, cook all of my own meals, preserve foods, make my own soaps, and many other things.


I live a professional lifestyle, and at the same time I consume 90% less energy than the average American. I live a pretty darn sustainable lifestyle.


It is a choice. And I have chosen to do as much as I can at home, and to utilize my surrounding community to help me do the rest to live sustainably. And I do that in order to have a job that helps me reach a lot of people and create world change. Ultimately, I have a larger impact on the world.


I can do things in the city that I could not do in the country, and I have access to people and resources I did not have access to in the country. For these reasons, I can do more world changing things here.


Plus I have a small, energy efficient home here – built with green materials, and sharing energy and resources with other people in my building. I can walk or take public transportation nearly everywhere I need to go. I can find used designer clothing and nice furniture in local thrift and antique stores, I can walk across the street to the farmer’s market and across another street to a green grocery store. For these reasons and many more, I am able to live the lifestyle that I enjoy living, and make the changes I want to make in the world – all while living sustainably.


So I encourage you to live the lifestyle you want to live and make it sustainable. Only you are you, so don’t let others sway you into living a lifestyle you don’t enjoy. Life your life, and make it sustainable.


Living Sustainably in the City

Our Rooftop

 

There is a notion in the world of sustainability and green, that you must live a country life and make everything – and grow everything – and do everything – yourself.  I believed it.  I read books about moving back to the land, of living self-sufficiently.  I learned how to preserve, how to garden at a large scale, how to make cheese, and bake bread daily using our own homemade starter.  I began to learn how to sew and knit and truly believed I would learn to make everything I needed in my life.


I was not unhappy.  But I was not really happy, either.  There was never enough time in the day.  I worked very hard doing things that accomplished the basic necessities of life, and no more than that.  There is something very pure in that.  In fact it was a good way to purify my body – I lost a fair amount of weight, got my asthma in check, and felt good; and to purify my soul – after a rat race of working in the film industry for ten years, working 12-18 hours/day, I needed to unwind.  But it was not a lifestyle that ultimately made me happy for the long-term.


I felt isolated.  I felt unable to do the things I wanted to do to make the world a better place.  I felt lost within day to day living.


It was then that I realized that sustainability meant more than living self-sufficiently, and that simplifying made a lot of sense to me, but for me there is such a thing as living too simply.  It may be perfect for you, dear reader.  I am in no way saying it is not a good life to lead.  But for my own happiness, I’d gone too far down the simple road.


And so I moved back to a mid-sized city, where sustainability was an everyday word – trains and streetcars are returning, the urban center is being revitalized with built-green mixed-use buildings, and people talk unabashedly about changing the world.


In many ways, my lifestyle here is more sustainable.  While we spend more money on rent and the cost of living is higher overall, the wages are higher, too, and we don’t spend money on gas.  I’m not perfect – I do buy some new clothes to support my professional lifestyle (and try to buy them sustainably), but I also find nice used clothes in local thrift stores.  I don’t make my own meals every day – sometimes I purchase locally- and ready-made foods made from organic ingredients instead.  I don’t grow all of my own food anymore – but I purchase local and organic foods from local farmers.


I walk nearly everywhere.  I’m becoming a part of my community in many ways I could never have done in the country.  And I have time to do the things I set out to do in my life:  to change the world for the better in a large way.  I write this blog (and others), I work with amazing world-changing organizations and corporations in my company, I see my family regularly, and I participate in my community in numerous ways.


These things I could not do in the country, nor could I do them if I lived a totally self-sufficient life.  So I am happy with the places I have been, the things I have done, and the lifestyles I have lived.  And I am very happy to be living sustainably in the city.


I hope you have found such happiness as well.  Have you?


Walking Is Better Than TV


On my walk home from work yesterday, I realized that I am extremely entertained by life as I walk through the streets of my town.  While many people rush home to watch television in the evenings, I stroll through life.  But more more than observing life as it goes by – as I would observe a television show (which by the way is totally made up) – I participate in life.  Real life.


I have a connection to my city.  I have a connection to the homeless woman who feeds birds on the same bench every morning.  I have a connection to the businesses struggling in the new economy, as I watch the sales come and go.  I have a connection to the doorman in our building, who I would never see if I went straight down to the garage for my car.  When I come home in the evenings, I say hello to the men having a cigarette after a long day working at Fare Start (a restaurant down the street that brings people out of homelessness by giving them job skills and a resume).


I have a connection to the atmosphere – the weather, the air quality – I know which way the winds are blowing, how the seasons are changing in intimate detail.


And the exercise… Yesterday it was a bit chilly walking to work, and when I got to work I had beautifully rosy cheeks and felt invigorated and ready to start the day!


I am proud to say “I walk.”  I walk to work.  I walk to the store.  I walk to meet friends for happy hour.  And I walk to walk.


I feel connected.  As I walk, my city surrounds me and becomes a part of me, as I become a part of it.  I am a part of my community.


Let’s walk together, and share our experiences.  Feel free to share your experiences below, and to join us in walking.


10,000 Steps Challenge


Surprise….!

We moved!


Here’s the scoop:  Matt and I have been ever so slowly saving up a bit of money while living fairly frugally in a small apartment.  Small?  Yes.  A bedroom, a living area, a kitchen, and a bathroom – for a grand total of around 500 square feet.  It is a lovely old building, but overall we were just not quite where we wanted to be.


Our apartment was above an alley that is unfortunately a bit too crazy for our tastes – a bit of drugs, a lot of alcohol, and generally too much mayhem at all hours of the day and night.  And it’s small.  And our building has been through 6 managers during the time we lived there (a little over a year), and not a single soul in the building lived there longer than we did (yep, a little over a year).

 

So we have been waiting for an opportunity to move somewhere a little nicer, quieter, and more permanent….


Two and a half weeks ago, we encountered the deal of a century.  Matt and I have had our eye on these new condos that were built in a revitalization project at the edge of downtown (South Lake Union, for those of you who know Seattle).  We didn’t want to buy in this economy, but they were beautiful, built green, and in a perfect location.  Basically, we just gawked at them and sighed every time we passed by.

 

Well, fortunately the economy has worked in our favor for this particular situation, because nobody is moving to condos right now. So, there is a crazy local law that says by the time it opens, a condo must have sold 50% of its spaces, or they have to convert the building to apartments.  Voila!  The condos we had our eye on became apartment buildings!

 

On top of that, because there was an overbuilding of apartments and condominiums in Seattle over the last couple of years, there are amazing deals on apartments right now (2 free months rent, extremely low deposits, etc).


So in a whirlwind, Matt and I decided to move to a brand new condo-turned-apartment building in a nicer area, that is built green (LEED silver), twice as big as our old apartment, super energy efficient, on the top floor (down the hall is a rooftop garden), and our apartment even has a little balcony (bigger than our fire escape) with a little view!  All for just a bit more than what we were paying before.  Yeehaw!! 

 

I have been bursting to tell you all about it, but right after we decided I to move I became ill, and then it truly became a whirlwind of packing, moving, and unpacking.  I feel I have betrayed you all by being gone so long without a peep!  Well, know you know where I have been – and I can’t wait to share with you the details of our new place.

 

Already, I feel my blood pressure dropping, my stress level diminishing, my contentedness increasing.  Raisin and Ellis love the new place – there is a great ledge for Raisin to look out over her domain (the city), and Ellis is happy to have more space where he can be a crazy dog.  Plus nearly every household here seems to have a dog, so there are lots of neighbors to meet and sniff!

 

My walk to work is almost exactly the same distance (and I like the new route better). The round trip from home to the p-patch, office, and then back home is exactly the same distance it was.  So I just have to make that my new routine. There is a p-patch in our new neighborhood, so I’ll put us on the wait list for that one – but it will likely be a year or two before a spot opens up.

 

There you have it!  I can’t wait to tell you more!  Oh yes, and our Walkscore?  It’s 100.  : )

 

Pictures soon….