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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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Great Reading

How Have You Redefined Normal Lately?

Amaranth in Our Community Garden Plot


Good morning.  We have a lot of new readers lately, so I was hoping together we could give each other some new ideas for how to go about our lives a differently – deliberately and conscientiously.


A while back, I wrote about redefining normal.  I mention it occasionally, and I’ve tagged several posts with this term.  If you haven’t yet, I encourage you to read the original post.  Here is a bit more about redefining normal…


Redefining Normal


In each of us there is a fear or a level of insecurity that often keeps us from changing the way we do things.  Maybe we don’t want to rock the boat, or we have to keep up a “normal” look and act at work, or we don’t have time to deal with change because raising our children takes all our time and energy, or it even just seems weird to stray away from what we’ve always known.  But what we haven’t always known is that our planet is changing, that the things we put on and in our bodies are often harmful, and that we can make a difference even as we go about our daily lives.


Slowly we can change our lifestyles – one act at a time, one change at a time.  And even small acts make a difference.  Imagine – last year, I stopped using shampoo.  In one year, I’ve probably saved $100 by not buying shampoo and conditioner; I’ve probably kept 10 or 12 plastic bottles from being created out of oil, put onto trucks and shipped, and eventually gone through the recycling process; I’ve saved the crazy ingredients from being created, shipped, and made into shampoo; I’ve saved my skin from breaking out due to the chemicals in my shampoo; and I’ve shared that experience with several thousands of other people.  Even if  just 10% of those people make the switch, my small changes have multiplied by thousands.  And that’s just the changes that have happened during the first year!  Since I am sticking with this change for the rest of my life, the affects will continue to accumulate, becoming ever larger.

 

One act at a time, one change at a time.


Today I “wash” my hair with baking soda, and rinse it with vinegar.  That’s what I do now.  A few months ago, I traveled and forgot my baking soda, so I used the hotel’s shampoo.  It was strange, seemed artificial (those suds are made by chemicals in order to make us feel like it’s working – weird!), it dulled my hair and made my scalp itch, and I really didn’t like the smell that carried with me all day.


That’s not normal anymore – not to me.  To me, simple and effective baking soda and vinegar is normal.  My normal is no longer defined by a marketer – a marketer who tells me their shampoo is all that will work on my hair, that I have to look and act a certain way in order to fit in, that I need to strip my hair with shampoo chemicals and then try to put them back with conditioning chemicals…


My normal is defined by me.


And so I make small, incremental changes over time.  Once I get used to each one of those changes, I redefine what is normal in my life.  And when we all make similar choices, together we redefine what is normal in society.  Lo and behold, that is what changes the world.


So How Have You Redefined Normal Lately?


And feel free to add what are you thinking of taking on next. Please chime in!


Gardening With My 98-Year-Old Grandfather

 

Many of you have been following along as I learn from my grandfather.  When I was a young child, he taught me a lot about gardening.  During the Depression, he grew food for the family.  When he moved to a multi-unit building (in the 60s I think), he petitioned the city to let him garden on a bare patch of land at the end of the street.  It was enormous, and he was known as the guy who feeds the whole block.  He continued to tend that patch until he moved to a retirement home about 10 years ago.

 

 

About a year and a half ago I was talking so much about our garden, and bringing him goodies on occasion, that he got excited and signed up for a garden patch at his community.  This spring his name came up on the waiting list, and we planted the garden together.

 

Cherry Tomatoes

 

We planted three tomato plants, which he and Marion have been eating straight from the vine.  The tomatoes look beautiful, of course – he has not lost his touch!

 

Grandfather Tending the Garden

 

Everything we planted is finger-food type veggies:  tomatoes, peppers, carrots, radishes, kohlrabi, and broccoli.  They eat in the cafeteria almost every meal, so these are nice and healthy snacks to eat between meals.

 

Orange Pepper

 

My grandfather was a bit apprehensive as we began planting in the late Spring.  He was afraid he’d forgotten how to garden, and looked to me for much guidance.  But as I’ve been sick and moving for the last month, he has been tending the garden on his own.  It’s clear he’s really enjoying it – the excuse to get out of the house, the feeling of nurturing with his hands in the soil, the freshness and sweetness of the fruit, and the joy of sharing his harvests with friends.

 

Thinking About What To Plant Next Year

 

And we’re already talking about what to plant next year – they’ve extended his patch, so he has more room to garden next year.  The possibilities!

 

Walk to the Garden

 

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.


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