Saturday, November 16, 2019

This Week (Leaves and Snow, Water Kefir, and Pasta)

(Well, past couple weeks— but who's counting?)

Anniversary trip

Zach and I have been married seven years now, which kind of boggles my mind! We took a mini road trip (in our electric car!) which involved hiking during peak leaf season as well as visiting Cahokia Mounds, the largest ancient earthenworks in North America (I'd only visited once when I was a kid, and was not impressed— coming here as an adult, I was completely blown away!).

Pere Marquette State Park
Monk's Mound at Cahokia
View from Monk's Mound: see the St. Louis skyline in the distance?

Dismantling the compost pile

After two years of "cooking," our compost pile was ready to be taken apart so we could get some of the goodness inside. We pulled apart the pallets, raked off the woody stuff, and excavated more than a cubic yard of beautiful black soil! We hauled this to our front yard and covered half of it with a new layer of compost, into which we seeded some winter rye. The rye didn't get a chance to sprout, though, because sub-freezing nights and then an inch of snow hit soon afterward— crazy weather for this time of year! (We also harvested like three sunchoke plants and already had more tubers than we knew what to do with.)

Zach trimming our 15-foot-tall sunchokes
Getting started on the front yard!
First sunchoke haul of the year
Sunchokes pickling (bottom right) next to some daikon and carrot (bottom left), and sauerkraut and pickled beets up top

Water kefir

We got a new fermented pet— water kefir, which is a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY) that feeds on sugar water, and with some care can produce a sweet carbonated drink. I'll write a more detailed post on it later, but suffice it to say that it tastes like soda with a fraction of the sugar, so Zach is very happy to be working with it!

The "grains" we got in the mail

Homemade pasta and experimental lentils

I'd been wanting to try pasta-making for quite a while, and in the past couple weeks I've tried it out three different times, with success! My favorite recipe is this one because it doesn't require eggs (meaning I'm more likely to have the ingredients on hand to make it), although I used an egg-noodle recipe to make pierogis. Other kitchen adventures included lentil burgers and lentil loaf (like meatloaf), both of which turned out pretty well. We have a ton of lentils in our pantry for some reason, so I'm looking for ways to use them up!

What have you been up to this week?
Pierogis: mashed potatoes, cheese and sauerkraut tucked into a pasta wrapper and boiled, then fried in butter. YUM.
(May I also draw your attention to that delicious red-cabbage-apple-beet-ginger sauerkraut. Also yum.)

Lentil loaf with sweet chile sauce, quinoa, and sauerkraut


Friday, November 1, 2019

The Greener Year Challenge: Rebel Against Consumerism (November)

With the average American exposed to 4,000-10,000 ads per day, it's no wonder that we are wired for consumerism. Buy this gadget. Watch this TV show. Eat this junk food. Skim this inflammatory news article. Get this car so you can take this vacation. If you don't consume, then you're a grinch, a bad parent, a bad American, a workaholic, or someone who is depriving yourself of "self-care" (for only $19.99 per month, plus shipping). These messages are far too easy to internalize, especially this time of the year.

Aside from the moral implications of outsourcing our happiness to material goods, our consumerism is one of the biggest reasons that the planet is getting into trouble:

1. Consumerism prioritizes a constant stream of new and cheaply-made goods. These are usually manufactured in an unethical way in countries with laxer pollution restrictions, and often break or wear out in a few months, ending up in the landfill. The energy use (not to mention the human rights violations) are serious.

2. It trains us to be dissatisfied, always reaching for the next thing rather than helping us appreciate and care for what we already have (such as the Earth).

3. It makes us believe that we should get what we want, when we want, regardless of seasonality, availability, or environmental cost.

4. It is based on the idea of infinite growth, which is simply unsustainable in a finite world. 

If we want to live within the bounds of the planet we've been given, we need to dial back our buying in a powerful way. While we are consumers by nature— we all gotta eat, after all— we should also be creators. Here are some ways to question the consumerism in your life.


Wild sunflowers we saw on a walk one day
Buy less stuff. This is really one of the most important things you can do for the planet— ignore anyone who tells you that we can buy our way out of this crisis. You can start by never purchasing anything on impulse, and by carefully considering whether the problem an item is intended to fix can be solved in a different way. (Many items are unnecessary in the first place, or can be borrowed, made, swapped, or thrifted.)

Consciously appreciate what you already own. Contentment is both a skill and a habit, and it must be exercised in order for it to stick. I find it helpful to make a list of things I enjoy that don't require buying anything new: taking a bath, hiking through the woods, reading a book, crocheting, visiting the library, drawing, foraging, building something out of found materials, cooking something from the garden or the pantry… Take a good hard look at all the things that bring you happiness that have little to do with what you buy. Focus on including them more in your life, and come back to them when you think you need to buy something to make you happy.

Prioritize creation over consumption. Everyone is capable of making something— drawings, meals, poems, flower arrangements, knitted scarves, beautiful photos, interior decor, music. Creating things is a rebellion against the culture that says everything must be monetized and gulped down.

Rethink what you consume. Consumption isn't bad in and of itself, but that all consumption has to be at the cost of environmental destruction is another lie of our modern culture. Consume library books, long walks, free knowledge, interesting videos, foraged and garden foods, swapped goods with friends, laughter, and conversation. 


Celebrate Buy Nothing Day. This holiday takes place on and in direct rebellion to Black Friday, and can be celebrated by doing anything that's not shopping— hiking, eating cake in your bathtub at home, doing anti-consumerism performance art in a mall… the sky's the limit. Learn more about it here

Do a spending freeze. Fasting can be an effective way to look more closely at your consuming habits. Set an amount of time— a week, a month, a season— and don't buy anything but basic food and consumables (soap, toothpaste, gas for the car, etc.) during that time. Write down anything you want to purchase, but don't buy it. What does this list tell you about your priorities? How many of the things could you put off buying, or obtain in some other, more creative way? What do your consumption habits tell you about your impact on the planet?

Avoid advertisements. See my post "How to Combat Brain-Hacking" for specific tips. 

Repair and repurpose goods you already own. Do you know how to mend a tear, do minor repair on an appliance, sew a button, polish wood, fix a leaky faucet, or replace a zipper? Learning these skills helps you extend the life of your belongings, keeping them out of the landfill. 

Foraging is a wonderful skill to learn
Make something instead of buying it. Do you find yourself often buying ceramic figurines, maxi skirts, scented candles, or fancy cheeses? What if you tried making them instead? Think about something you regularly consume and commit to trying your hand at it yourself. You'll have a much easier time knowing its environmental impact when you're the one making it.


Invite your friends to do a spending freeze with you. Solidarity can be fun! See if anyone else wants to tackle the problem of the planet by defiantly not buying stuff for a while, and use social media or other channels of conversation to spread the word.

Create opportunities in your community for people to share. It's your job to show that life is better when everything doesn't come with a price tag. Encourage people to visit the library with you. Give people opportunities to learn your knowledge and skills, and learn from others. Set up a tool or toy library, organize a swap meet, or ask neighbors with fruit trees if you can pick apples in exchange for making them applesauce. The more accessible we make these alternative options, the more people will take them, and we can lighten the burden on the earth.

Systematically develop a skillset that will start to free you from consumerism. Which skills, if learned, will help you avoid buying new things and further stressing the planet? If you learn how to alter and tailor garments, you'll never need to buy a brand-new dress again. If you learn candle- or soap-making you'll have a lifetime supply of gifts for your friends. If you learn how to entertain yourself, no one can sell you expensive distractions. Commit to figuring out the skills that will help you live more lightly on the planet, and tackle them one at a time.

Which of these challenges would you like to take on this month? What would you add to the list?


Previous posts in this series: 

Monday, October 28, 2019

This Month: Coming Home, Little Adventures, and Seeking a New Normal

Mist on the Missouri River

We've been back in the Midwest for over a month now, and I still don't know what life is supposed to look like. Zach is back to Walmart (in online grocery pick-up), I just finished the Legends and Lanterns Halloween festival, and we are both working a lot and trying to catch up with friends and struggling to find equilibrium and direction in our new life back home. It wasn't the roughest transition in the world, but it's been long, very long. 

My instinct is always to rush myself, to get my life together right now, but I'm pushing back against that and trying to take things in bite-sized moments. One step at a time, we're trying to figure out what we want, and what we should do, and what "normal" means in this phase of our life.

Here are some bite-sized bits of what we've been up to lately…

New housemates!

The biggest news is that we have housemates now! Lydia, who's been my friend since high school, lived in and took care of our house over the summer, and it worked out best for everyone for her to continue living here while we moved back in. Our other housemate is Lydia's adorable cat, Eddie he is one of the friendliest cats I have ever met, not even trying to pretend that he doesn't adore us and want to be around us all the time. All the benefits of a cat without any of the responsibility!

New car!

The other big news is that our old car (a 1993 Oldsmobile) finally gave up the ghost, and we decided that it wasn't worth repairing yet again. After some serious discussion and consideration, we decided to buy a very new car— a fully electric one. We are now driving a Chevy Spark EV, which has a range of about 80 miles and we plug into a regular outlet at our house. I'm going to write a whole post about why we chose an EV, so if you're intrigued, stay tuned. 

Legends and Lanterns

As I mentioned, I just finished the St. Charles Halloween festival. Other than a single day of rain, the whole festival had absolutely perfect weather, and we enjoyed large crowds come to celebrate the spookiness! My favorite part of the festival are the regulars who come weekend after weekend— they are welcomed, included, teased mercilessly, and find a place where they truly belong. 

Baba Yaga, the most famous witch of Slavic folklore
A Weird Sister from Macbeth, Baba Yaga, and a Victorian mourner

Making music videos

Our friends Tyler and Adrienne were in town, and we got the chance to film footage for upcoming music videos for our band, Insomniac Folklore. This involved spooky lighting effects, vintage white gunnysack dresses, smearing fake blood on each other's faces, and trying reeaaaally hard not to get blood on the aforementioned vintage dresses! I was so glad for the chance to sing and perform with them a bit before they head back to Oregon. Although the videos aren't up and won't be for a while, you can still check out our YouTube channel:

Taming the garden

It's no secret that our garden is a jungle, and unfortunately we haven't worked on it as much as we've wanted to. I'll post a proper garden update soon, but in the meantime, just know that we've harvested a respectable amount of food with very little effort— raspberries, strawberries, figs, elderberries, volunteer tomatoes, amaranth, daikon radish, some sunchokes (we have a whole forest of them to harvest after the frost), and, of course, ridiculous amounts of kale!

Fermenting adventures

Zach and I are committed to having more live food in our diet, and have gotten some fun ferments going. We've been eating sauerkraut every day, and soon we'll have some red sauerkraut (made with red cabbage, beets, and apples) and some pickled beets to try! Zach has also been brewing kombucha, and, as always, we have our milk kefir and sourdough. Next up: water kefir!

Soft focus on the pickled beets!


It's wonderful how many things there are to forage this time of year! We haven't had a huge yield of anything yet, but we're learning a ton, and have so far foraged pawpaw, gingko nuts, and sumac. I'm going to write a whole blog post about this later.


We've been able to do a bit of hiking— at the Lewis and Clark Trail in Weldon Spring and at Pere Marquette State Park in Illinois— to reconnect to the flora and fauna of the Midwest. Autumn is my favorite season, and I'm so glad that we've gotten to see the leaves turn from the very beginning.

Views from Pere Marquette State Park


Storm of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhorse (Not as good as the first in this Native-American-dystopian series, Trail of Lightning, but still a fun ride.)

The Sacred Enneagram by Christopher Heuertz (A deeply thought-provoking book discussing the Enneagram personality lens and how it affects our spirituality as Christians.)

The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri (A gut-wrenching novel about one Syrian couple's journey to England as refugees. I felt really depressed after reading it, but it was an amazing book that reminds us of what refugees must go through to reach safety.)

Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin (Almost through my third reading of this book. I love it so much!)

What have you been up to lately?


Friday, October 4, 2019

Portland 2019: Cottonwood Canyon State Park, Oregon

The John Day River

Before we hopped a plane to Missouri, we had time (and good weather) for one final mini-trip: a two-night camping trip with Gary to Cottonwood Canyon State Park in the desert of central Oregon.

Cottonwood Canyon was once a ranch, but was recently acquired by the state and transformed into a brand-new park full of amazing facilities— lush campsites along the willow-clad John Day River, camper cabins, bike amenities, free bikes to use while you're there, board games to borrow, a solar charging station, showers, and more! The arid hills rise up on all sides, but are widely-spaced to keep you from getting claustrophobic. 

Our first day, we set up camp and hiked the Pinnacles Trail, which took us 4.3 miles (and possibly further, when we consulted the map) down Cottonwood Canyon and sideways into Esau Canyon, all the while paralleling the river. Ravens wheeled far overhead, sparrows chirped from the underbrush, and we saw many deer hoof prints in the sand. The river reflected the yellowish hills and the blue sky, creating an intense melting palette of blue and orange. 

That night, some clouds rolled in, but we were still able to see some stars, including the thick band of the Milky Way. 

The next day, we did an hour-long road trip over the plateau and amongst huge lines of windmills to the town of Fossil. A chatty and helpful woman at the Oregon Paleo Lands Institute Center gave us directions to a field where we could dig fossils in exchange for a small donation to the local high school. We walked through the sleepy town, climbed a hill, ducked behind the high school, paid a fee, grabbed some of the tools in a crate, and began shoveling through the dirt on a hillside in search of fossils of 40-million-year-old pines, alders, and maples.

It took us a while to get our "fossil eyes" on, but once we did, we found a lot! We took pictures of many, but only kept a few. I searched through shards, while Zach chiseled apart layered rocks to find the fossils sandwiched in between.

That night, back at Cottonwood Canyon, we walked a three-mile trail up the canyon, then started a charcoal briquet fire (regular campfires were forbidden due to sparks) and roasted marshmallows. Some rain spat on us, but it never got too bad.

Zach said that the rocks around here look like low-resolution computer graphics because they're just shards.

The next day we drove home, and Zach and I quickly shifted gears into finishing up our final packing. But I was very glad we got the chance to visit this slice of Oregon's beautiful desert.


Tuesday, October 1, 2019

The Greener Year Challenge: Green Your Home (October)

Can you believe that we're more than halfway through the Greener Year Challenge? Since we've been covering so many huge, heavy issues, I thought it would be nice to change it up by focusing on some tangible improvements you can make for a less wasteful and more environmentally-friendly house. Let's get to it!


Open the windows. Fresh air is a lovely way to improve the air quality in your home, and the more you blur the indoor/outdoor edge of your living space, the more attuned you'll become to the weather, the changes of the seasons, and the ways that nature influences and affects you.

Decorate with nature. Instead of relying on purchased items to decorate, go on foraging walks to find twigs, weeds, and flowers to display in your home. Again, bring the outdoors indoors to maintain your connection with the natural world.

Buy household items secondhand. This has myriad benefits, but here we can just focus on the environmental ones: by using something again, you're taking advantage of the embodied energy and keeping it out of the landfill for longer. (Plus, the item has had time to off-gas any toxic chemicals used in its production…)

Start a stash of rags. Paper towels are largely unnecessary if you have access to a washer; keep a pretty basket of rags in the kitchen and grab them instead to clean up spills. Then throw them in the laundry (or a separate hamper) when you're done.

Clean with baking soda and vinegar. Did you know that you can clean almost anything in your house with these two ingredients? Use baking soda for scrubbing (sinks, toilets, grout), and diluted vinegar for general cleaning (and hydrogen peroxide if you need something really disinfected, which is rare).

Get some cloth napkins. Paper napkins take a lot of energy to manufacture, and someone you know probably has cloth napkins lying around that they'd be happy to unload on you. Just use them like regular napkins and throw them in the laundry when you're done. (They feel a lot nicer than paper napkins, too, especially if you're a messy eater like me!)


Hang your laundry to dry. Dryers are a big energy hog in the house, so try hanging your laundry and see what you think of it. 

Check out household goods swaps. From laundry to cleaning to personal hygiene, eco-friendly swaps are here to help you choose items that are better for you and the earth. 

Choose a less-waste beauty and makeup routine. Check out Polly Barks's list of zero waste makeup brands. (Or you could be like me, who never liked wearing makeup and will gladly walk around looking like I just rolled out of bed all the time.) Check out this link for my hair care routine. 

Consider waste-free menstrual products. Those of us who have periods know that disposable pads and tampons add up over time. I've used cloth pads for years (even when hiking in the backcountry on the Pacific Crest Trail)— and I can't imagine going back to uncomfortable plastic. Menstrual cups, sponges, or even natural cotton tampons are options, too. 

Try cloth toilet paper. Eco-friendly recycled toilet paper is expensive; cloth toilet paper is free! It's not gross, and it's not as intimidating as it sounds. Check out the tutorial here. 


Research eco-friendly options for home improvement projects. Need to insulate your walls, buy a new dryer, paint the porch? Before you dive into the project, take some time to research eco-friendly (or at least less toxic) options. Here are some basic tips to get you started. 

Install a greywater system in your home. Greywater simply means water that has been used once— like the almost-clean water that spirals down the sink when you wash off a head of lettuce, or the barely-dirty water heading straight to the sewer after a load of laundry. Greywater systems aim to intercept the water and find ways to use it at least once more before the embodied energy is lost. Simple systems involve catching bathroom sink water in a five-gallon bucket, which is used to flush the toilet; digging a trench in your yard and filling it with mulch and dumping kitchen waste water on it; and of course, the quintessential rain barrel. To learn more and gain inspiration, check out The Water-Wise Home by Laura Allen, as well as free resources at Greywater Action. 

Install a composting toilet. I mentioned this in an earlier post, but it's worth saying again: this is a great way to save water and energy, as well as fertilize your plants!

Make your home a center of creation, rather than just consumption. I will be talking about this in depth in November's post, but I want to introduce the idea now. The typical western home is an energy guzzler in many ways: we eat up electricity, waste water, numb our minds with endless passive entertainment, and rarely do anything creative within our own homes. But reclaiming our homes for creation— whether that's a garden, a drawing, a dinner party, or fiber arts— is one of the best ways to ground ourselves in the habits that make for a sustainable life. We'll talk more about this next month!

Which of these challenges would you like to take on this month? What would you add to the list?


Previous posts in this series: 

Friday, September 13, 2019

Portland 2019: Pictures from Yellowstone

Zach and I just returned from a whirlwind five-day trip to Montana, where we visited my brother Christian, who works at Yellowstone National Park (department of inventory— you never think about how many office jobs are needed to sustain a park of that size). Although it rained on and off the whole time we were there, we still managed to get in a few hikes and a bit of sightseeing. Here are some pictures!

The next several pictures are from the Beaver Pond Loop near Mammoth Hot Springs

Beautiful gumweed was growing everywhere!

Driving toward the Midway Geyser Basin in Yellowstone

Grand Prismatic Spring! We had never seen it before. Although we weren't able to get parking at the boardwalk that takes you to the edge of the spring, we were able to hike to this overlook. 

Grand Prismatic Spring from ground level

We drove past this smallish male right after seeing a gigantic bull further up the road (and a stupid tourist standing ten feet away to get a good shot). 

Driving down toward Mammoth Springs

Mammoth Hot Springs!

Looking up a hill toward the mountains swathed in clouds— this was on a hiking trail just outside of Gardiner, MT


Sunset on the Columbia River on our drive home