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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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10,000 Steps

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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…?


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?

All Come Free! All Challenge Check In!!

Ok, I’m going to leave this post up for a couple of days as I turn it over to you all:  Is anyone out there still challenging themselves?  And are you enjoying it or is it a pain in the butt?  Is it changing the way you think about things?

We have a lot of challenges going on and I would love to hear about all of them!  So please, check in and say a word – share how you’re doing!

The Growing Challenges

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

Accomplish Your Dreams and Walk 10,000 Steps

Accomplish Your Dreams Challenge

Green Your Insides and Buy Sustainably

The Buy Sustainably Challenge! I\'m Green Inside

Do Tell!

Come, don’t be shy!  Whether you’re formally signed up or not, come share a word.  Tell me – what’s working, what’s fun, what’s awkward, what makes you want to run??

The Four Challenge Check In!

Well it has been a long time since we’ve checked in on some of the challenges here!  I would love everyone’s feedback on these challenges:  are they helping you?  Are you following them?  Are you sticking to them?  Should I keep running them?  And how are they working for you?


10,000 Steps Challenge

The Buy Sustainably Challenge!I'm Green Inside

Just A Refresher


The Buy Nothing (New) For the Holidays Challenge – Challenges each of us to give gifts that have a low- to no-impact on the earth by giving handmade, home grown, antique/thrift store finds, or charity gifts for the holidays.


The 10,000 Steps Challenge – Challenges each of us to work up to 10,000 steps per day, in order to get a good amount of exercise in our lives, and to possibly eliminate some of the short-distance driving we do.


The Buy Sustainably Challenge – Challenges us to really think about impact before making a choice to buy something, instead of doing it impulsively:  do you really need it?  If you do, try to buy it locally, fair trade, green, and high quality enough that it will last.


The Green Your Insides Challenge – Challenges us to use healthy products in our homes and on our selves.  While there are so many products out there that are bad for us and bad for the environment, we have a choice to change what is normal and use things that are often cheaper and definitely better for our families.


In every case our mission is to work toward these goals – we can’t all go cold turkey on this stuff, and that’s ok – but we can start and work toward them, making a bit of progress each day!  If you haven’t signed up but would like to, leave your name in the comments here, or visit the page for the challenge(s) you’re interested in.


Thoughts and Updates!


So are you participating, formally or informally?  How are you doing?  Do you enjoy these challenges?  What else would you like a challenge about?



Ten Household Uses For Hydrogen Peroxide

Be Prepared!Hydrogen PeroxideNon-Chlorine Bleach = Hydrogen Peroxide

This is the third product in a trio of amazingly simple household cleaners.  Check out all the things you can do with vinegar and baking soda, if you haven’t already!

Note that for each use below, we use a 3% hydrogen peroxide solution (comes in small brown containers at the drug store, or 1 gallon drugs at the health food store – sold as “non-chlorine bleach”).  Unless otherwise specified below, I use it straight.  Note that if you want to keep it in a spray bottle, it must be a bottle that keeps out all light (light breaks down the hydrogen peroxide) – otherwise, put just as much as you’ll use in the spray bottle.

1.  Whiten Your Whites and Brighten Your Brights. Works fabulously as a bleach alternative that you can also use on colors.  Just put the hydrogen peroxide in the bleach receptacle in washer.

2.  Stain Remover. Works very well on blood, if you get to it fairly quickly – I learned this from Matt’s mom who is a nurse!  Just pour a bit on a cloth and dab at your clothing; if it has sat for a while, pour some on and let it sit for a couple of hours.   Also, some people just have a chemical difference in their sweat that leaves yellow underarm stains on white clothing.  Or wine stains on a white blouse?  Again, pour some hydrogen peroxide on the stain and let it sit a couple hours.  Then wash as you would normally – this works for me every time!

3.  Antiseptic. Works great to help kill germs and prevent infection on cuts and scrapes.  Make sure it bubbles up first before dabbing it off.

4.  Mouthwash. You can use it straight or mix 1 to 1, water to hydrogen peroxide.  Gargle, Swoosh, Spit, and Rinse.  This works well if you have canker sores or other mouth sores.

5.  Toothpaste. You can make your own toothpaste by using two tablespoons of baking soda and one tablespoon of peroxide.  I don’t do this regularly, but I have done it in a pinch.

6.  Cutting Board and Countertop Sanitizer. Vinegar kills most germs, and hydrogen peroxide kills most of the rest.  The two kill more germs and bacteria than bleach alone, if you do this:  have the vinegar and hydrogen peroxide in two different spray bottles, spray on one first, then the other.  Then rinse clean.

7.  Watering Your Plants. If you tend to over-water your plants, this is for you.  Mix 1 oz of hydrogen peroxide with 1 quart of water, and water your plants normally.  This adds oxygen to your soil, helping stave off root rot and enhances root development.  I do this particularly with plants whose soil is overly dense and more prone to water-logging.

8.  Kill Shower Mold and Mildew. Spray on the surface and let sit, then wipe clean.  Or spray after your shower to prevent mold from forming.

9.  Toilet Bowl Cleaner. Pour 1/2 cup hydrogen peroxide into the bowl, let stand for 20 minutes, and scrub clean.You can do the same thing with vinegar.

10.  For Faster Germination When Soaking Seeds. This is a new one to me – I just read about it and haven’t tried it yet.  Apparently if you soak your seeds in 1 cup of water mixed with 1.5 t hydrogen peroxide, the seeds will germinate faster.  Has anyone tried this yet?

Bonus:  Pretty Much Any Time You Run Out Of Vinegar While Cleaning, you can substitute hydrogen peroxide!

Alright, Y’all, What Else Have You Used It For?

Is there anything not on this list that you have tried?  Or have you heard any other ideas?

Is There A Sustainable Solution To Cat Litter?

Raisin Keeping Clean


It’s the bane of my sustainable existence.  I’ve written about this before and the problem hasn’t gone away!  Back when we lived in the country, the most environmentally sound way to deal with cat waste is to let our cat go outside to do her duty.  But that proved unsafe for her, so we kept her inside.


My next solution was to bring the outside in – I collected a large container of dirt from our yard, and Raisin used that as a litter box.  But it was impossible to clean between changings (so I had to change it every couple of days), it smelled strongly of dirt in the bathroom, and she kicked it all over the place because she didn’t like it.


Then we tried Yesterday’s News, which is made from recycled newsprint.  We hated it and our cat hated it.  They’re huge pellets that are ok for pee because they sort of absorb it, but the poop just sorta sticks to the pellets and – well, it was icky for cat and human.  She kicked it around everywhere, and it had to be changed every couple of days because it had zero deodorizing qualities and boy it stunk quickly.  Not only bad for humans, but cats hate that.  Changing the litter so frequently was costly and wasteful, but the worst part was:  that’s when she started using our house plants as an alternative.


Out of desperation at that point, I went to the internet and read everything there was to read (which is very, very little by the way – few people seem to talk about sustainability and cats – it’s sort of a hidden problem).  Then Matt and I went to the pet store and stared at all the packages.  There are wheat and corn products.  Matt felt that there was something unethical about growing food for cats to pee in while people starve.  And I had a problem with it because industrial farming has many prices – GMOs, pesticides, replacing ecosystems with monocultures, to name a few – so it felt like everything that was wrong with our food system was encapsulated in that one bag of cat litter.


So on that day, we decided to go with what seemed like the lesser of evils: natural clay, without any of the fragrances, crystals, and whatever else they put in almost all cat litter.  And we really had to search for one that had nothing in it!  After we bought it, I came home and read about clay mining.  It’s not good at all.  But all that research did for me was to make me feel more guilty every time I buy it, and to make us more determined to stretch it out as long as possible.  We had looked at all the alternatives, and none of them was good.  This one still seemed to be the least harmful in our minds.


And then a few months ago, I found a partial answer.  One Earth Cat Litter is made from corn husks and pine shavings, the by-products of the agriculture and forestry industries.  Here’s what the company says:


One Earth products are created with a commitment to preserving nature’s delicate balance. Only premium natural ingredients are used in order to ensure the optimum wellness of your pet. Absolutely no toxins, post-use pollutants or artificial flavors are used. Up to 3% of the retail sales of One Earth pet products goes towards World Wildlife Fund to help support conservation work throughout the world protecting wildlife and their habitats – including fisheries, forests, wetlands, and open lands. “  It’s made by 8-in-1, the makers of Nature’s Miracle, if any of you have used that.


So, it’s from a good company, using industrial byproducts.  Our cat really likes it, we like the smell (fresh pine smell from the shavings).  What’s wrong with it?  It’s not easy to find, and it’s expensive.  Our solution to that is to order it online (which has it’s own problems, I know), order several packages at a time, and then mix it half and half with the clay.


That’s it, unfortunately.  There is no perfect solution that I have found.  This is as close as I can get.  I just encountered a great article here that came to the same conclusion.


Ways To Stretch Your Cat Litter

There are three ways I know about to stretch your cat litter so that it lasts as long as possible:


  1. Use the least amount of litter that your cat will allow (no need to fill it to the top of the box – experiment to see how little you can get away with before your cat gets mad, while still making sure you have enough that if you scoop out the clumps for two weeks, you won’t end up with zero cat litter in the box)
  2. Make sure you scoop the litter carefully every day (get every one of those little clumps out, and be careful not to break them up)
  3. When the litter starts to get smelly, sprinkle baking soda over it and mix it in


Will you please share your experiences? Has anyone found better alternatives?  Or good tricks? I’m sure all the cat owners here would love to know! 


Last week I received an email from Theresa, asking what solution we’ve found to kitty waste.  Thanks, Theresa, for asking the question!