Green, frugal, sustainable, simple, healthy, happy... No matter what we each call it, we come together here to support and learn from each other.

We are preserving our planet with our lifestyles. We are creating sustainable communities for our children. We are living the lives we want to live. Please join us!

--------------------

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!

Join Us Here, Too


Buy Sustainably

Join us in saving our family budgets and helping our local communities thrive.

10,000 Steps

With numerous environmental, physical and emotional benefits, what are you waiting for? Let's start walking!

Green Your Insides

For your family and our planet, start greening your own home.

Great Reading

Cleanse: Day 14 and 15 - Toxins In Your Home

Some of our household products

It turns out going green and going healthy often go hand in hand!

One of the important things you can do on a cleanse is get rid of the toxins around you.  Toxins aren’t just in your food, they’re in your home, your work, in the air you breathe.  They come from the clothes you wear, the makeup and hair products you use, cleaning products, your printer at work, the formaldehyde in your carpets, etc, etc, etc.

This is not to scare you, but just to show that there are a lot of places in your life where you can eliminate toxins before they ever enter your body.

Matt and I have already made most of the changes we could make in our home environment, so I’ve shared many of my tips with you already (I’ve even created a Challenge for it!).

A Few Posts About Toxins

  1. Toxic Soup
  2. What’s The Matter With SLS?
  3. Non-Toxic, Frugal, & Nurturing Skin Care
  4. Start Greening Your Own Home
  5. What Eco / Green Household and Personal Cleaning Products Do I Use?
  6. Why To Keep Toxic Products Out Of Your Family’s Home
  7. Ten Household Uses For Hydrogen Peroxide
  8. Twenty Uses For Baking Soda (Sodium Bicarbonate)
  9. Vinegar: The #1 Cheapest And Most Versatile Product For Your Home
  10. Organic Ant Control
  11. How To Make Your Own Deodorant (A Very Simple Recipe)
  12. A Non-Toxic, Frugal Way To Wash Your Hair Without Buying Shampoo; No ‘Poo: New & Improved!; A Year Without Shampoo

Day 14 and 15

Blueberry smoothie for breakfast.

Salmon, greens, brown rice from the Whole Foods grill for lunch.

Green smoothie for dinner.

Blueberry smoothie for breakfast.

Aduki beans, brown rice, and chard for lunch.

Chia smoothie for dinner.

Well-Being Meter

I woke up at 10am – I think I slept about 10 hours!

Weight 127.0 lbs (lost 6.6 lbs in 2 weeks).

I felt very normal most of the day, rather than super-normal as I had the past week.  Was it lack of exercise?  Lack of skin brushing (the only day I’ve skipped since I started)?  Just getting used to the cleanse?

I felt so normal, in fact, that I felt a bit hungry. Not sure if it was psychological, or I was actually a bit hungry.  I didn’t exercise today – I sat around the house and did odds and ends errands on the computer.  So it may be habit, boredom, or actual hunger – I’m not sure.

I feel like I’m getting down to my true weight and size. I always thought I was “big boned” or “never lost the childhood roundness.”  But apparently, that was inflammation.

We’re beginning to think about the next step, after the cleanse.  What shall we do in February…?

ALL CHALLENGE CHECK IN!!

Kathy reminded me that it has been an awful long time since we’ve talked about all the challenges!  So… spill it everyone – how are you coming??

The Growing Challenges

The Growing Challenge New! The Growing Challenge Advanced Edition – From Seed To Seed! The Growing Challenge: Evangelist Edition

I planted seeds in my new p-patch 2 weeks ago.  I’m experimenting with peppers and tomato seeds directly in the ground.  Who knows if they’ll come up!

My mom and I spent Saturday morning at the Seattle Tilth and Master Gardener plant sales, stocking up on seedlings for her garden and our balcony garden.  Neither of us had the ability to do seedlings indoors this year – due to travels or too much work.  But I’ll grow lots straight in the ground, and supplement those with organic seedlings!

Evangelizing wise, I’m here and pumping away on the blog, hoping to reel in a few more gardeners here.  I also spoke at Sustainable Capitol Hill a few weeks ago about urban gardening, I’m regularly writing for the city’s Community Garden Post (comes out quarterly), and every time I garden at my p-patch plot I talk to about  10 different people passing by!

Accomplish Your Dreams and Walk 10,000 Steps

Accomplish Your Dreams Challenge

I walk to and from work every day, and I now walk to my garden patch, too!  I very rarely drive now – it’s getting easier and easier to walk everywhere.  I’ve also lost several pounds, and shrunk from a size 12 to a size 6!  :)

As far as accomplishing my dreams, I’m pushing my new business forward and really really really trying to make that work for me financially, socially, and environmentally.  It’s growing, we’ve hired 6 employees with a couple more on the way soon, plus a few sub-contractors!  Each job we take on is more exciting than the one before.  On the path!

Green Your Insides and Buy Sustainably

The Buy Sustainably Challenge! I\'m Green Inside

Buying sustainably took a turn for the worse when I started working so many hours and Matt started graduate school.  I continue to find more and more locally-sourced products – there are very few things we buy regularly that don’t come from Washington or Oregon.  But… I’m eating a fair amount of packaged, organic food for lunches and even – gasp – dinners!  I can’t wait until the local farmer’s market opens up again – I think it will help considerably because I can eat a lot of raw fresh foods again.

As for greening my insides, I think I’m pretty much green inside and out.  That’s the one I’ve done pretty well for a while now, due to my asthma.  Soap, moisturizer, deodorant, shampoo, dish soap,… all our body products are low-impact on our bodies and our world.  Yay!

So How About You?????

Natural, Non-Toxic, Frugal, and Organic Hair Color

My New Red Hair

I don’t wear makeup very often, I use virtually no beauty products regularly… but I have colored my hair for YEARS.  Since I was a sophomore in high school in fact!  My natural hair color is a dishwater blonde that doesn’t really flatter my skin tone and it makes me feel very much like I recede into a crowd.  Coloring my hair is fun, makes me feel good, and allows me to shape how others see me.

But in the last 2 years, as I learned to live an increasingly sustainable life, I couldn’t bring myself to use those nasty chemicals anymore!  They are really bad for your skin, your health, and the planet.  I even tried some of the “natural” hair tints in the natural foods store, only to look up their ingredients and find they weren’t much better than the “non-natural” varieties.

A few weeks ago, however, I was feeling low and frumpy and overworked, and I hit my limit.  I needed a change!  I couldn’t bring myself to go to a salon and use all the crazy chemicals there.  So I went to the natural food store and read every single package of hair color.

Ick. This or that kind of alcohol or sulfite or SLS or – wow – I was so disappointed that there really wasn’t anything!

For twenty minutes I stared at these packages, hoping that somehow the ingredients would change before my eyes, or that maybe one of the colors didn’t have nasty stuff in it.  But alas, I began to walk away, giving up.

And then…

In the same packaging it had when I used to color my hair in college 15 years ago… Henna.

Ingredients:  Henna.

That’s all.

I was a bit apprehensive.  There were only 4 colors, and I’m used to having a high amount of control over the color process.  But it was only $6.  Yes, $6!!  So I bought it.

I got it home and looked inside the package:  green powder.  I remembered henna being pretty and giving my hair some nice, natural color and shine.  But I was still unsure.  So just in case, I looked up how to get out the hair color if I hated it.

How To Get Henna Out Of Your Hair

There are instructions inside the box for how to use powdered Minute Maid to remove the color.  Here are further instructions from Light Mountain – they recommend using the first two options within 24 hours:

A. For darker shades make a mixture of baking soda and molasses using equal parts. Make up enough of the mixture to be able to coat all of your hair. Apply this mixture to your hair and let it dry, a blow dryer can be used, until it is hard then rinse out.

B. For lighter shades make a mixture of Crystal Light lemonade mix  and a rinse out cream rinse/conditioner using equal parts. Use 1/2 cup of cream rinse/conditioner to one tub of lemonade mix. Apply to your hair and let dry, a blow dryer can be used, then rinse out.

C. If the treatment is older, more than 24 hours, you can try using a high detergent shampoo and a deep conditioner. The conditioner should be one that you leave on the hair for 20 minutes. You can also try a “clarifying” shampoo, also known as “swimmer’s shampoo”.

Easy enough.  Ok, I took the plunge…

Henna in Hair

Applying Henna To Your Hair

I followed the very detailed instructions that came inside the package.  It’s like putting mud on your hair – it takes a little getting used to.  (Yes, redefining normal:  it’s ok to put a mud-like substance on your hair rather than a chemical mess!)

  1. Protect. The package comes with gloves.  Use them!  Henna will color your hands a pretty color, too!  Also moisturize your face beforehand, and apply some kind of oil to your hairline around your face – I use jojoba oil, but olive oil or any other type of oil will work.  This keeps the henna from dying your face.  But don’t worry – chances are that you will drop some on your skin, and just make sure to get it off right away so it doesn’t sit there long enough to dye your skin.
  2. Mix. Pour the henna in a NON-METAL bowl with NON-METAL utensil.  In a NON-METAL container, boil 3 cups of distilled or filtered water.  Gradually stir in enough water for it to be thick but not too thick – about the consistency of pudding.
  3. Let it Sit. Let the mixture sit for 10 minutes to 2 hours – the longer you let it sit, the deeper and faster the color (I let it sit for 2 hours).
  4. Apply. Apply it as you would apply any hair color:  divide your hair into sections with a NON-METAL comb or brush and NON-METAL clips.  Apply from the roots outward with your hands, comb or brush.  Cover with the plastic bag that comes with the henna.
  5. Heat. Optional.  Heat will enhance red shades in particular, and decreased the amount of time you need to leave the henna in your hair.  I blow dried my hair for about 20 minutes – I felt guilty about using the electricity but was too vain not to.  You can also sit in the sun if it’s a warm day.
  6. Leave In. Up to 2 hours.  The longer you leave it in, the deeper the color.
  7. Rinse. Rinse with warm water.  If you like, you can use a dilute baking soda mixture to help rinse out the henna, but don’t shampoo.  Wait for 24 hours before shampooing, so the color has time to set.

Hair drying henna

The Result

Seriously, my $6 application of henna came out just the way a $125 hair color would (and has) in a salon!  Not only that, but it is healthy for my hair rather than a depleting process, it doesn’t make my skin break out the way salon dyes do, it smells nice, and I’ve received a whole lot of compliments.

I’m hooked!  And I’m glad I didn’t have to use the Minute Maid.

My New Red Hair

What Do You Use?

Do you color your hair? If so, what do you use?

Watch Garbage Dreams Airing Tomorrow Night!

The following post is written by one of my lovely and talented writers at Re-Vision Labs, Martina Welke. Look for more of these posts in the coming months, as we aggressively build our Environment Lab to help environmental organizations to do their work better, faster, and more effectively.

Garbage Dreams

Waste Not, Want Not

This week, Director Mai Iskander’s film Garbage Dreams will premier on PBS as part of the station’s Independent Lens series.  The documentary features three adolescent young men “raised in the trash trade” in Cairo.  Adham, Osama, and Nabil are part of the Zaballen community, which is one of the oldest urban recycling cultures in the world.

The Zaballeen people saw economic opportunity in trash collection over a century ago, and have built their livelihood around the business.  Since there is not much money in garbage pickup, the Zaballeen make the majority of their revenue from recycling.  About 80% of the trash they collect is recycled by hand and then sold as raw materials.

The film chronicles the Zaballeen struggle to maintain their recycling program after the city of Cairo hires foreign corporations to take over garbage disposal in the city.  Although the corporate program recycles only a small fraction compared the to Zaballeen, the city government prefers the foreign companies because they are perceived as modern.

In an effort to combat the foreign competition, the Zaballeen community launches a grassroots campaign to organize the enterprise, modernize their services, and educate the surrounding community.  The community sponsors a Recycling School that teaches reading , writing and computer skills as well as safe recycling practices.  Iskander includes a few community meetings and some footage of door-to-door canvassing efforts, but I found myself wanting to see more scenes focused on Zaballeen community organizing than the one-hour time frame would allow.

One of the most interesting segments of Garbage Dreams is when two of the young boys, Adham and Nabil, are selected to travel to the United Kingdom in order to study modern waste management.  The boys are appalled at how much garbage is wasted at the high-tech plant they visit.  Adham tellingly remarks, “Here there’s technology but no precision.”

In a very brief segment near the film’s conclusion, Iskander included updates two years after the launch of the Zaballeen campaign.  Unfortunately, the foreign corporations seem to be winning the battle.  Yet there are still signs of hope, as one community member notes that people around the globe are finally starting to care about trash and understand its environmental, political and economic importance.

Garbage Dreams is the kind of documentary that left me wanting to see more, learn more, and do more.  Luckily, there is a fantastic interactive website that allows viewers to do just that.  The site is packed with additional information, discussion guides, and lesson plans to help people learn from the film.  There’s even a game that simulates the Zaballeen business process and challenges players to match the 80% recycling rate they have achieved (no easy feat, even for a die hard recycler like myself—I only reached a 32% on my first attempt.)

Garbage Dreams premieres tomorrow, April 27th on PBS.  Check local listings here.

What Else Can You Do With Trash?

$25 Gift Certificate for Abe's Market: Giveaway!

Abes Market

Abe’s Market is an online natural foods market founded by Richard Demb and Jon Polin:

For a long time now we’ve talked about starting a business that we’d feel great about – a business that is wonderful for both businesses and consumers and that would have a positive impact on the environment. As natural product enthusiasts, we envisioned a place that would enable shoppers like us to discover fantastic, hard-to-find products and to really connect with the product creators – the way markets were once run.

Richard Demb and Jon Polin

Launched in the summer of 2009, Abe’s Market features stories about each of their sellers – with videos, photos, and interviews.  “Discover remarkable natural products.  Meet the real people who make them.” Nice thought, isn’t it?

They also host periodic webinars featuring their sellers; plus you can reach Abe’s via live chat, phone, or email.  It really is like an old time grocery store, but on the internet.  I love the idea.

I believe that if I can’t find what I need locally, buying from a good company like this is the next best thing.  So….

Abe's Gift Certificate

$25 Gift Certificate

One lucky someone will get to try out Abe’s Market!  The winner will receive a $25 gift certificate, which can be used to buy anything on the site, it’s good for one year, and it doesn’t have to be used all at once.

Please leave a comment below if you’d like a chance to win.  The winner will be drawn on Sunday 2 May at noon!

Time-Saving Tips For Sustainable Living

When I asked you all recently what was the most difficult part of sustainable living, many of you said “not having enough time.” I will admit this is my number one issue as well. So let’s tackle it!

I have been perusing the internet searching for time-saving tips that are in line with a sustainable lifestyle. Below are the best ones I found – many of which I know…. but don’t practice. So over the coming few weeks, I’m going to tackle this list. Please feel free to join me!

And if you are one of those people who has begun to master the art of getting everything done that you’d like to get done, please tell us your tricks!!

Time-Saving Tips For Sustainable Living

  1. Give Up Perfection and Focus On Being Human. I am a perfectionist.  I want my garden, my home, my work, and my life to be just the way I imagine them.  That is to say, I want them perfect.  Like the movies, like advertisements, like the picture in the recipe book or the photo I took on my own blog a year ago.  Alas, it’s time to give up perfection for something slightly more human!
  2. Find Something Constructive That Releases Stress. Most of us have the urge to plop on the couch after a long day’s work in front of the television.  Even those of us who gave up television, might go through phases of watching tv or movies via the internet or video rental (cough, cough).  And while that de-stressing time is incredibly valuable, I will be looking for ways that help me de-stress while at the same time being constructive.  For example, reading my book for my new book group, or planting greens on our balcony, or looking up tips for saving time.  Some of you might find knitting or sewing or cooking does the trick.  I’m going to start working on the latter more!
  3. Keep a Notepad Filled with To-Dos and Ideas. Keep a running to-do list to keep track of what you need to do on a daily basis, and group your to-dos into logical chunks.   Write down ideas you have throughout the day (I do this with blog post ideas all the time).  Also make sure to keep these all in one place, so you don’t have search for them and so you don’t have ten to-do lists in various spots.  (Right now I think I have 5 or 6 running to-do lists in various spots on paper and on the computer!)  Finally, make sure to check off things you’ve accomplished.  That’s the best part!
  4. Play Speed Games. While a slow and deliberate life is important, there are likely some to-dos on your list that just don’t need to be done very deliberately, or you don’t have time to complete them slowly.  My sister and I used to play “speed dishes” when we were kids:  who could get done all the dishes fastest, without breaking anything of course!   Maybe play speed grocery shopping, where you focus on getting everything on your shopping list as quickly as possible.  Or play concentrated cleaning, or if you’ve brought a little work home for the night play speed work and get it done quickly.
  5. Delegate Tasks. Whether you’re at work or at home, sometimes you can delegate work to someone else and have it done more effectively and efficiently.  At work, teach your coworkers or interns how to help.  At home, teach your children – teach them to tidy their rooms and those of the rest of the house, to do the dishes, to clean the laundry, to mend, to walk the dog, and to water the garden.  I am incredibly grateful my mother taught me these things!
  6. Organize and De-Clutter. You should see my sock drawer!  Sometimes it’s full of nicely folded and matched socks, and sometimes it is an array of odds and ends.  I cannot believe how much time it takes me – let alone the frustration – to find 2 matching socks when the drawer is in disarray.  The same goes for anywhere I keep daily items.
  7. Prioritize and Be Ok With Not Doing Everything. At work in particular I find it difficult to say no when a colleague or employee asks for help.  At home too, I want to go to every social function and take advantage of every event in my building.  But sometimes I have to say no.  It’s a tough balance I’m still learning.  I believe the most important thing is to figure out my long-term goals, and make sure I prioritize the tasks that will get me there.
  8. Create a Routine. I always feel better when I get up at the same time each day, go to bed at the same time each evening, and have a pretty steady routine in between.  It helps me plan my day better and I don’t have to think so much about each element of the day.  Big bonus points when I make my lunch as a part of that routine: it’s cheaper, easier, healthier, and often saves time.  I might just try making it the night before…
  9. Cook In Larger Quantities. Whenever we fill the crock pot for dinner, I have my lunch ready-made the next day.  We’re not very good about eating the same thing for dinner two nights in a row, but we do freeze unused portions for later.  Ok, time to do more crock pot dinners!
  10. Calendarize. A year ago, my husband told me I needed to live by my calendar.  I hated the thought, and felt it was way outside of my personality.  But slowly, I started keeping a regular calendar and using it to prioritize my day, schedule my week, and see the big picture.  I can track my goals, so I accomplish the things I want to accomplish!  I don’t forget birthdays (much), or anniversaries, or important social events.  I can also see my husband’s calendar and know what he’s up to, which is surprisingly useful.  This is one thing I do pretty well – phew!

What else?

I want to say again that I truly enjoy living deliberately and slowing down when possible.  But with my own business still ramping up, I work more than I want to and don’t have enough time in the day to do the community building and living locally that I’d really like to do.  So over the next few weeks, I’ll be working hard on prioritizing and using my time more deliberately and effectively.  Please feel free to join me, everyone!

Also, please share what has worked for you as far as time saving goes – and special tips you’ve come across?

Ten Meaningful Ways To Celebrate Earth Week

I know what some of you are thinking:  Every day is Earth Day and every week is Earth Week. I agree.

However, I believe Earth Day, Earth Week, and now Earth Month succeed in helping normalize a respect for the planet.  I hate to say it, but in this day and age, the Earth needs a good set of marketers to bring a celebration of the planet into our collective conscience.

And for this reason, I celebrate Earth Day:  not because I need to be reminded of my impact on the earth, but because the more we all collectively celebrate this day, the more Earth Day becomes a part of the mainstreamAnd the more Earth Day becomes a part of the mainstream, the more people will say “Every day is Earth Day.” Every year this sentiment grows, and that is a good thing.

So for those of us who don’t need a reminder, and don’t want to buy stuff or let Earth Day turn into a day of buying stuff, let’s celebrate the day in our own way:  in our communities, in our families, and within our lifestyles.  Let’s celebrate it visibly and internally, so that it means something to us, but it also helps redefine normal in the mainstream.

Ten Meaningful Ways To Celebrate Earth Week

  1. Start/plant a garden in a public-facing space. Try planting vegetables or fruits in your front yard, in a community garden, on your parking strip, in your church yard, or in another neighborhood space.  Celebrate eating locally and sustainably!
  2. Take a week off of buying things. A good way to counter the consumerist aspect of Earth Day is to remind yourself and those around you that celebrating the earth is about not buying more than you need.  So go on, try not buying new things for one week, and let your friends and family know how you’re celebrating Earth Week.
  3. Spend time reflecting on your surroundings. Take family walks each evening, walk or bike to work, go for a local hike or bike, sit on your porch and soak in the neighborhood… There are so many ways!
  4. Support a local Earth Day event. There are more and more Earth Day events each year.  Pick one that you believe in, and volunteer for the day or for a few hours – help them spread the word about Earth Day.
  5. Have a family staycation. Camp in the backyard, have a picnic in a local park, eat dinner by candlelight, tell family stories around the dinner table, …
  6. Eat locally all week, or all day. Changing the way we eat is so important for our own well-being as well as that of the earth.  Some of us jumped right into this idea and live quite locally and seasonally.  However, for others it is more difficult, so start slow: eat local meals for a day, or even for a week.  You might find it’s addictive!  Check out Local Harvest if you don’t know where to begin.
  7. Volunteer locally. There are many local organizations who have needs in the spring.  Local environmental organizations likely have work parties to plant native plants, for example.  Local community gardens likely need help harvesting and growing food for local food banks, local charities can likely use your help in numerous ways.  Call, email, or visit them – I’m sure they could use your help!
  8. Give up plastic for a week. Need incentive to give up plastic?  Check out Fake Plastic Fish for loads of ideas.
  9. Give away things you don’t need. Go through that stuff in your closets, basement, and garage that you haven’t used for years, and give it to a local charity, thrift store, Freecycle, or a neighbor or friend who will use it.  Not only does this free your home from clutter, it also keeps others from buying new things because you give them hand-me-downs.
  10. What else? What else can we do for Earth Week that is low- to no-cost and stays true to our values?  I’m sure you’ve thought about it, and if you haven’t take a moment now to think about it, and leave a thought for us in the comments.  I’m sure your comment will help someone else.  What are you thinking of doing this week for Earth Day or Earth Week?