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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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Recovery And Renewal

Your words in emails and comments have been so lovely for us both to read. You all are very kind and loving, and we’re glad you are there.  Thank you.

Matt is home.  His face is pale, his skin is full of needle marks from blood being drawn.  I joke that he looks like a drug addict, but the truth is I am just glad he is home and alive and on his way to a full recovery.

He was discharged from the hospital on Thursday evening, just in time for us to make it to Thanksgiving dinner with my parents and grandparents.  It was a subdued Thanksgiving, to be sure.  We were full of thanks.

A year ago my grandfather went into the hospital – it was two days after Thanksgiving.  So this year, my Thanksgiving toast was that next Thanksgiving, no one goes to the hospital!  We are lucky to be together, we are lucky to be alive, we are lucky to be whole.

My heart goes out to the people of Mumbai.  To the people of Iraq.  To the people of Somalia.  To the people who have lost their jobs or homes recently, and the people who’ve never had jobs nor homes.  We have a lot of work to do to make this world whole.

I am gathering my own strength back from the hospital visit – it seems it takes an extraordinary strength to sit by a loved one’s side in the hospital, to help them fight, to make them eat, to help them walk.  Yesterday I tripped walking down the sidewalk, and fell to the ground, skinning my knee and hands.  My body is sore.  (My husband jokes that I just wanted to better empathize with him.)

But as I lay in bed with him, watching a marathon of dvds, eating good food again, nursing us both… I feel I am gathering strength.  I’m gathering strength to fight harder, to do more, to make bigger and better and more lasting changes in this world.  Because it needs it.

A Trip To The Hospital

We rushed to the hospital early Tuesday morning, a day after my birthday. Matt had lost about half his body’s blood supply in just a few hours. After a day of tests and procedures, we finally found out that a pretty large ulcer is the cause. They’ve given him a blood transfusion and they’re now watching him to make sure the bleeding doesn’t start again.

I spent last night in a reclining chair at Matt’s side, making sure he got through the night ok. As the day progressed today, some color returned to his face. This evening, we watched stupid television and laughed (and marveled, because tv-watching is so rare for us). His body grows stronger.

Thanksgiving is a strange holiday, and for non-Americans it’s probably mystifying. I’m not sure any of it revolves around pilgrims and Native Americans coming together in peace. Rather, it seems to have become more or less an (over)eating fest, with football and maybe a ‘toast of thanks’ thrown in.

But I feel I have a lot to be thankful for today. I am thankful to be able to feel my husband’s smile and excitement as I walk into the hospital room after being gone a few hours. I am thankful to have wonderful pets with blind love, who jump for joy when they see me as I run home to care for them. I am thankful to have such wonderful people around us who have expressed their love for us in their thoughts and words. I am thankful for my husband’s life, for my life, for our life together, for our friends and family, for my new ventures, and for our future.

I am exhausted and will write more when I can. But I wanted also to mention to you all how important it is to utilize our resources when you need them. Go to the hospital if you think you or your loved one might be in danger. If you have any doubt. A relative of mine died from internal bleeding from an ulcer. So it’s important to act quickly, it’s important to be cautious, and it’s important to advocate for your health and safety and that of your family.

I wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving. Please take a few moments to truly think about all the things for which you are thankful today.

Celebrating Local Foods At Thanksgiving

Winter Squash Wagon At The Market

Today is my birthday.  And for my birthday weekend (yes the whole weekend!), my wonderful husband has been making me delicious local foods. Last night we had pumpkin ravioli with sage from the garden. This morning, Matt’s biscuits and jam. This afternoon, a snack of yogurt, granola, and apples. Tonight, a Thanksgiving-themed extravaganza: homemade cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes with mushroom gravy, baked delicata squash, herbed stuffing, and for dessert:  pumpkin pie.  

Every ingredient in each of those wonderful meals is locally-sourced and organic!!

Celebrating Local Foods

I want to encourage you to give your thanks this week to the local farmers, to the food sources that keep your local economy growing stronger during lean times. Please try to buy from them as many ingredients as you can. There are many reasons for eating locally, which I’ve mentioned before. And I’ve compiled a comprehensive list of places to find local food, as well.  

There are several local food challenges out there for Thanksgiving:  Crunchy Chicken has a challenge. There’s an Eat Local Pledge here in Puget Sound (with a great list of where to buy local food for Thanksgiving). 100 Mile Diet is hosting a 100-Mile Thanksgiving with partners Eat Local ChallengeBALLE, LocavoresLocal HarvestNational Farmers’ UnionFarm Folk/City Folk, and SPUD. The Consumers Union and Eat Well Guide have partnered with Alice Waters, Mario Batali, and Dan Barber to ask you to take a local & organic pledge and share your favorite recipes.  And I’m sure there are others I’ve missed.

Crunchy Chicken:  Eat Local for Thanksgiving 2008

Puget Sound Fresh:  Eat Local For Thanksgiving

100 Mile Diet:  100-Mile Thanksgiving

But whether or not you formally take a pledge, please buy local, humane, and sustainable foods this week.  It is important. And fun. And tasty. And I must say, there is so much more pleasure in eating homemade, seasonal and organic food that supports our local economy!  

How To Inspire Sustainable Change At Your Office

We’ve discussed before that there are many ways to change the world, many ways to feel good about what you do, many ways to fight today’s environmental and social problems:  

  • You can raise conscientious children, giving them love and compassion, knowledge and awareness, that they will then pass on to others.  
  • You can change your own lifestyle to become as sustainable as it can be, and become an example to those around you, who will be inspired to make changes themselves.  
  • You can work within your community to make it more adaptable, to encourage others to change their lifestyles, and to help others in need.  
  • You can give money or time to international causes.  
  • You can vote and participate in local and national politics.  
  • You can do all of these things together (and I hope some of you find the time to do so!).  
  • And… you can use your skills for a good cause, making money and making a difference at the same time.  Or if you can’t do that, you can make enough money and live frugally, so that you are able to give a portion of your money to important causes.

But here’s something else:  if you work in a place that doesn’t really fit within your values, you can take steps to make it more aligned with the rest of your life.  How?  

Ten Ways To Make Your Place Of Work More Socially & Environmentally Responsible:

  1. Write a climate action plan to reduce CO2 emissions by 2010 or 2015, and rally management to fully get behind the plan.  Also consider gathering a committee to write a corporate social responsibility plan for the office.
  2. Work on recycling and composting programs at your office.
  3. Encourage the office to buy silverware, cups, mugs, plates and bowls from a local thrift store, not only to reduce waste (from plastic and paper), but also so that employees can comfortably eat in the office during tough economic times.
  4. Work on energy efficiency in the office:  replace incandescent bulbs with CFL bulbs, plug computers into “smart” power strips or turn off power strips at night, reduce heating and air conditioning in the office, have the last one in the office turn off lights at night, etc.
  5. Inspire fellow employees to bike, carpool, and bus to work.  Also encourage the office to install secure bike racks, and offer possibilities for telecommuting.
  6. Install a water dispenser or water filter on the sink, as an alternative to individual bottled water.
  7. Reduce paper usage by encouraging electronic documents and double-sided printing.  Reduce company mailings in favor of emailings.  Also use post-consumer recycled printer and fax paper.
  8. On the exterior grounds, replace ornamentals with native plants – or even an herb or vegetable garden for employees.  These special touches often inspire long-term employee loyalty.
  9. Stock the breakroom with fair trade, organic coffee and tea.  And encourage company gatherings to serve local, sustainable foods.
  10. Create a social giving committee for the office.  Ask that employees consider giving canned food once a week, or a few dollars a month for local causes.  Ask management to consider giving 1% of sales or profits to an important cause.  Both of these are a great selling point for the business!

Obviously the office won’t make all of these changes overnight.  But present a list to the powers that be, and ask that the office slowly works to tackling the list.  It might make sense to get several interested employees together to make this list, and you may want to approach management before you start and ask for their support in creating a committee to focus on these things.

If you don’t think your workplace would go for these types of changes, pitch that these things will not only make their employees happier and more likely to remain in their jobs longer, but it will also be a selling point for clients and it will likely increase profits as it decreases costs (in energy, garbage, etc).  Green will be the next bubble, and since the economy isn’t doing well at the moment, anything that can be done to help business grow is important right now.

Please Add To The List!

I’m sure that I’ve missed many things here.  Please add more!  Does your office have a climate change plan?  A CSR plan?

You Don’t Have To Do Everything!

Me, standing in the leaves

1. Scratching The Surface

When I began learning to live sustainably, I started with the basics: namely food. But quickly I entered the universe of sustainable and simple living, where I read website after website and acquired several books along the way. Matt acquired books, too. He worked on learning how to make bread, cheese, and daily meals out of homegrown ingredients. I worked on learning how to grow things, preserve our harvests, and use natural cleaning and bathing products. And together we learned to reduce our waste, compost, and get by using fewer resources.

But that hardly scratched the surface of sustainable living! What about sewing, knitting, root cellaring and other more serious preserving, harvesting rainwater, making our own alcohol (beer, wine, and more), making soap and candles, raising chickens and ducks and goats, making our own biofuel, growing and grinding our own wheat, drying laundry by hand, and – my goodness, I know there are a million more things to put on this list! You all know what they are. And of course on top of all the rest, you must add the minor detail of spreading the word and building your community!

So… that’s a lot. It’s a lot for one person to do. It’s a lot for two people to do. If you have a bigger family, I imagine it’s still a whole lot to do. And I think we often believe that we can – and we should – do it all.

Pile Of Fall Leaves

2. Jumping Into Society

Can we do all of it? Maybe. Probably, if we ran ourselves ragged – but we wouldn’t have time for much else.

But. Very few people in this world – in the present or in the past – ever had to do all of this themselves. Shall I say that again? There are very few people that have ever had to do everything all by themselves.

Why? Because we have this glorious thing called society, and it surrounds us. There are others who do these things too, and there are others who do some of these things probably better than you can do them. And you can probably do some things better than most – or all – of the people around you.

Ah, but then, you say, you must do these things in order to live frugally. Here is my answer to that: even if you are trying to live frugally, you only have a certain amount of time in the day. And so, it is important to prioritize. What really decreases your costs? Or, to put it differently, what decreases your costs most? Is it preserving? Mending? Making soap? The answers will be different for each of us, I’m sure.

And furthermore, what about that age-old form of commerce: bartering? What if I got together with my friends and family and we all assigned ourselves certain tasks: I’ll make jam, you knit scarves and socks, she’ll make soaps, they’ll build the root cellar, and so on? Is that just an Amish ideal, or can’t we do that in our urban and suburban worlds, too?

What if you don’t have friends and family who are interested in these things? You know my answer to that: find people who are! You’ll probably enjoy yourself immensely. Chat with the people at the local yarn shop or CSA, take a soap making class and ask your fellow students, join a green book club or some other club – there are a myriad ways of meeting people. (I have written many more suggestions here.)

This is starting to sound like community building, isn’t it? Or maybe pre-community building, it’s more like community networking or creating connections. Or… just making friends.

Maple Leaves

3. Finding Equally Good (or Better) Alternatives

When we first moved into this apartment from our 1/2 acre in Geyserville, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to survive without growing 90% of our own food. After just a year growing our own food, we really grew accustomed to having fresh organic food daily, full of nutrients and complex flavors.

Well, after being in Seattle for a few months, I learned that I can find amazing produce at the farmer’s markets. And that there are actually a lot of choices for local foods – lots of local farms, CSAs, and other delivery services. We have grown some of our food this year, but the vast majority has been from local growers. Yet we are still eating about 90% locally-sourced foods. And I am still losing weight and feeling great!

By allowing other people – good people – to grow my food, I am able to spend a lot more time in my community, working to make it stronger, more adaptable, and socially and environmentally responsible. Not only that, but I have supported my local economy and sustainable agriculture by buying from local organic farmers. And I have helped support families who grow things very well.

That is a lovely, lovely thing.

A Beautiful Tree I Encountered While Walking Down My Street

4. Reminding Yourself of Your Main Goals

Sometimes I have to remind myself of the important over-arching goals I set for myself. Because in this world, there are a lot of ways to live our lives and everyone has their opinion about it, but only I know what works best for me.

My Goals: Finding and maintaining maximum health and happiness for my family, reducing our impact on the earth as much as possible, encouraging others to reduce their impact as much as possible, working within my community to make it more socially and environmentally sound, helping others around the world to live happier and healthier lives, and spreading lots and lots of compassion to others.

And so I am reminded. From those over-arching goals, is there anything that says I have to grow my own food? Not if I can still be as healthy and happy as possible, and reduce my impact on the earth! In fact, I can help others in my community to live happier and healthier lives, by supporting local organic agriculture.

I want to live sustainably. As sustainably as I can. But living sustainably does not necessarily mean living self-sufficiently. Because we humans have society to help us. We can – and should – take advantage of all the wonderful things society can offer us. Namely, sharing the work. And working together.

Reminding myself that I don’t have to do everything in order to live sustainably, simply, and frugally is something I need to do on occasion. I hope it has helped remind you, too…

What’s Growing?

The Growing Challenge

I will update you in the next couple of days as to the state of our garden… but in the meantime I was reminded that there hasn’t been a Growing Challenge post here in an awful long time!  So, rather than make you wait longer until I compile my post, I’ll put it out to you all:  tell us what you’re growing!  

Are you harvesting?  Preserving?  Enjoying your garden?  Or just longingly thumbing through the pages of your seed catalogues?  Have you northerners met up with frost yet?  

As always, if you have your own blog, feel free to leave links to your gardening posts here!

Recipe: Fresh Pumpkin Pie

Best Pumpkin Pie I've Ever Had!

Pumpkin pie is one of my favorite foods.  My birthday is around Thanksgiving, so it has often been my requested birthday “cake.”  So I wanted to share with you a recipe my mom and I created last Thanksgiving.

We made it out of a 30 lb. pumpkin from our garden.  Actually, that pumpkin made 2 pies and enough pumpkin soup for 6 people to have for two different meals!!  It was delicious.  Truly.  The pumpkin pie was the best pumpkin pie I’ve ever had – and I’ve had a lot of pumpkin pies in my life!


Continue reading Recipe: Fresh Pumpkin Pie