Once Upon a Garden…

            I remember when I first thought about starting a garden last spring. Since we wanted to be eating more produce, I figured it’d make sense (and cents!) to grow some ourselves.  My mom had vegetable gardens for most of my childhood, so at least I had some experience with greenifying my thumb.  After doing a little research, I decided that I wanted to try the Square Foot Gardening (SFG) method.  The basic ideas of SFG are 1) use less space 2) plant in a grid of squares (as opposed to rows) 3) use weed guard fabric to reduce/eliminate weeds and 4) use a particular mix to encourage good growth.

            I was excited to get started, but there was the problem of the start-up costs.  We debated whether we could afford to buy lumber to build the boxes (part of the method), the different parts of the mix, any tools we might need, and, of course, the seeds and/or plants themselves.  I crunched some numbers and, let me tell you, the numbers weren’t looking good.  I was discouraged…maybe we couldn’t do this whole gardening thing after all.

            And then something amazing happened.  I ran into our landlord outside our house one day (he owns a few houses and properties in the area and lives nearby) and expressed to him my interest in gardening in the lot next to our house (which he also owns).  He agreed that this was a great idea, gave permission, and also told me about Keep Growing Detroit and their Garden Resource Program (GRP).  For $10 a year, we would receive up to 26 seed packets of ‘easy to sow’ varieties, about 2.5 flats of transplants, an informative newsletter, and be able to attend various gardening classes in the community for an amazing discount (typically free – $5).  You know that expression ‘to be good to be true’?  This was too good but wound up being totally true.

            The icing on the cake was that he also happened to have four wooden squares exactly like I wanted already built and not in use (I don’t know why…now I’m curious and will have to ask, lol).  The chocolate shavings on top of the icing was that he told me I could use any of his tools that were around that I might need.  And let me just say that our landlord is a serious collector of items…especially tools.

            Long gardening story short, I had my first garden last summer and it was a huge source of joy (and veggies!).  All we ended up having to buy were the materials for the mix and a few trellises.  I tell you this story for two reasons.  One, I’m super excited to start gardening again oh so soon!  Two, if you are uncertain if you can afford to accomplish something you want to do, I suggest trying to get creative with your resources.  For those of you who cannot find a landlord who collects exactly what you need and likes to bestow magical gifts, here are a few other ideas:

  1. Talk to people.  Maybe a nearby friend or neighbor has tools you can use, extra seeds, etc.  Maybe someone who lives close has also been thinking of starting a garden but is concerned about the costs, and the two of you can share a garden (and the costs) with one another!  The worst thing that could happen is that you get nothing (with, I’m assuming, is what you’re starting with); the best possibilities include making new friends and tapping into resources you didn’t even know existed.
  2. Search the internet.  Perhaps this is an obvious statement to fellow blog writers and readers, but I still think it is important.  The resources we need often exist and are within reach – we just don’t realize they are there!  I never would have guessed that there was a program in place to help people garden, but there is.  Maybe your community has something in place to help you, too.
  3. Do not give up prematurely.  When something seems too difficult at first glance, it can be so tempting to just let it go before you really give it a good try.  If I had accepted defeat after my number crunching time and had never mentioned my hope to my landlord, my garden may never have come into existence.  Allowing ourselves to hope opens up the doors to possibilities we never could have imagined.

How have some of your discouraging moments turned into something beautiful?   

The Healthy/Happy Changes List

After posting about the start of my wellness journey, I thought it might be helpful to simply list out the lifestyle changes we have implemented (or are in the process of trying to implement!) in an effort to be happier, healthier people. Some of them may seem insignificantly small to you, while others may appear impossibly difficult. As I wrote last time, please remember to be patient and kind with yourself wherever you are on this path (even if you’re just looking at it for now and trying to decide whether you want to walk on it)!
Some of what I will list took a lot of research and discussion; others were ‘no-brainers.’ Some we stay true to easily; others may ebb and flow in terms of how well we stick to them. A lot of this process simply involves these decisions becoming automatic as we continue to make them over and over (especially concerning what we buy and/or eat). We have also learned that some changes really only apply to one of us, which may be the case for you if you are creating these changes in a household with different people.
Here we go!
1. Eliminated high fructose corn syrup
2. Eating smaller portions
3. Choosing snacks more carefully
4. Drinking pop only as a rare treat and instead drinking more water and 100% juice
5. Drinking vitamin-rich smoothies (we buy Bolthouse)
6. Consuming kefir and greek yogurt for probiotic health (good job, hubbie…I’m not there yet)
7. Buying and eating more fruits and veggies
8. Purchased a water filter (we use a container you put in the fridge, not the kind that attaches to the faucet).
9. Choosing whole grain products (and trying to avoid bleached, white flour)
10. Choosing products with lower sugar content
11. Switched to organic milk
12. Learned about the ‘dirty dozen’ and decided to only buy this produce if organic
13. Increased fiber intake (if you like cereal for breakfast, this is an easy place to find high-fiber options)
14. Switched to organic, cage-free eggs
15. Started a garden
16. Discovered ewg.org to help us shop smarter (thank you, EWG!!)
17. Began switching some of our hygiene products (some of these include deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, body soap, & hand soap; some are bought, others are simple DIYs)
18. Started using more natural cleaning methods (say hello to vinegar, baking soda, and lemons!)
19. Replaced some cleaning products with Dr. Bronner’s castile soap
20. Changed many light bulbs (we received free CFLs through our energy provider, but eventually I’d prefer LEDs)
21. We unplug electronics when not in use (this and some of the following are more an efficiency issue, but smaller bills contribute to our happiness!)
22. Winterizing the house for colder months (this year, it’s been about 4 or 5 months!)
23. Purchased and use a programmable thermostat (we have it at 67 when we’re home and 62 for away/sleeping – we make it warmer for guests!)
24. Running an air humidifier regularly
25. Using a humidifier at night (great Christmas gift we received)
I hope to be able to add using all-natural lip balm and essential oils soon…but, as always, one small step at a time! What are some of the changes that you have made?!

Beginning to Change

            I have perfectionism in my blood, but it’s that frustrating, mostly self-directed type.  It is much easier for me to be patient and loving towards others who make a mistake than it is to give the same courtesy towards myself.  I can imagine the head nods and looks of understanding even as I write this.  I know I am not alone in this characteristic, and my gut tells me that this may be more common among us women than our male counterparts (correct me if you think I’m wrong, guys!).  While I can channel this into good work and other industrious outcomes, I have learned that trying to be perfect while pursuing a healthier, happier life is extremely counter-productive.

            If we decide to be healthy only if we can ‘do it the right way’ or ‘go all the way’ and be like those always-snack-on-veggies do-yoga-every-day make-their-own-yogurt people, we are probably never going to make any real steps in the right direction (if any of that describes you, by the way, kudos on making great life choices – even if it does make the rest of us jealous, lol). Our lifestyle habits are just like all other aspects of our story: we are all in different places in our journeys, and our destinations need not be the same.  And while this may be frustrating when we’re not where we would like to be, the variety in our different paths makes life interesting and beautiful.

            When my husband and I decided to create a healthier life, I was easily overwhelmed by all the changes we wanted to make and by figuring out where to start.  My thoughts went something like this: ‘We need to add more produce in our diets…but we might as well start switching to some affordable organic produce…which means we’ll have to change our meat, eggs, and milk…and speaking of healthier drinks, what kind of water filter is best?…Do we need to filter our shower water?!’  Maybe you can relate.  With so much information to obtain and so many changes to implement (not to mention my perfectionist tendencies), how did we ever start at all? By taking one small step at a time.

            The following is my advice for others who, like me, find their heads spinning at the daunting task of creating healthier habits:

  1. Start where you are most passionate and/or concerned.  For me, high fructose corn syrup was the straw that broke the camel’s back.  After hearing about its dangers here and there, I finally decided to do some research and then chose to buy products without it.  This led to an interest in label-reading and understanding exactly what we were eating.  By following our passions and interests, we automatically have more energy and ‘oomph’ to put into the task.   
  2. Surround yourself with support.  I think that accomplishing any goal is easier when you have encouraging support to lean up against.  I am fortunate to have a spouse who is on board with making healthier choices.  If you live alone, reach out to friends or family who may want to join you in making certain changes.  If you live with others who are less than supportive, find encouragement from another community you are a part of, including any online!     
  3. Set realistic goals.  When I first dabbled in more natural and safer hygiene products, I grated a recommended bar of soap to make our own body wash.  It took forever (are my arms that weak?!), and the result was just so-so.  I remember feeling so discouraged; we couldn’t afford a ton of fancy, better for you products, but I didn’t have the time (or desire!) to be grating soap every couple of weeks.  Fortunately, we came to a great compromise – we’d buy the affordable bars and use that instead of body wash (it lathers up great with a loofah, anyways).  I had to accept that it just wasn’t worth it to keep making the body wash.  My perfect little image of me making our own soap in no way fits into our reality.  I now try to always keep that in mind before getting wrapped up in a project that is not realistic for our lives.

What were the first steps you took towards a big life change?   

No TV Day

                I want to let you in on the funny irony I feel as I’m writing this post: my husband and I don’t have a tv.  I cannot tell you how many people have passionately offered us an extra one they have or an old one they are getting rid of when they learn this about us.  Others often seemed shocked and even concerned, as if they just realized we’ve been living without food in our home, or sleeping on a cold, hard floor.  We always decline these kind offers and try to reassure the well-intentioned worriers.  Because, to be honest, we love not having one.

            Of course, we still watch tv – thank you, Netflix!  In fact, we just finished the final season of Burn Notice and are casually going through Last Man Standing, Undercover Bosses, and LOST (I was one of those crazy fans back when it originally aired; my hubbie is a newbie).  But after a long day at work, it can be all too easy to spend too much of our evening zoned out in front our laptop.

About the time we began vocalizing this concern to one another, our church community began talking about fasting in preparation of the Lenten season.  We connected the dots in our lives and decided to schedule ‘No tv Wednesdays.’  While the topic of fasting probably deserves an entire post of its own (spoiler alert to an upcoming post, lol!), I want to focus this space on what I’ve learned during this journey, so far.

1)      We have more time than we think.  As I’ve mentioned in other posts, time is a hot commodity in our household.  I’m sure we’re not alone in often feeling there is not enough time to do what we need and want to do.  I am always surprised at how much longer the evenings feel when we choose to refrain from watching any tv shows.  Time just feels slower when not being sucked away by our technology.         

2)      Watching shows is not the only way to unwind.  While I wouldn’t call myself a tv fanatic, I do find it very relaxing to cuddle up and watch a show.  Perhaps that is because it is an easy way to ‘escape’ from our thoughts about our own lives and instead get caught up in another story.  Of course, novels are another way to do this (I’ve loved to read my whole life), and taking a break from the tv helps create more time for pastimes such as reading.  Getting out of the typical routine also provides an opportunity to get creative – one of our first tv-free days, I pulled out a coloring book and enjoyed an activity I hadn’t done in a long time!

3)      We need breaks from sensory stimulation.  We are a fast-paced, verb-focused, and entertainment-hungry society.  We go, go, go, and do, do, do.  We watch, listen, and share videos, music, and data faster than ever before.  This, of course, has its good points.  However, I often find myself overwhelmed at all the visual and auditory information that is constantly bombarding me.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  I can choose to ‘unplug’ and allow myself to be quiet and still, enjoying the benefits of doing so.

Do you have any ways you ‘unplug’ in your life?  

The Magic of Sabbath

            I think Sabbath can be an intimidating word.  It’s heavy with religious tradition and has been around long enough to have many misconceptions attached to it.  But at its core is a simple yet revolutionary concept to many Americans (and others in fast-paced, performance-centered cultures): rest.

            Followers of Christianity and Judaism get this concept from Genesis.  God created the world and then set aside a specific, intentional time (the seventh day) for rest.  Later, this becomes a huge debate between Jewish followers who wonder what exactly they can and cannot do on this special day.  Jesus shows up and, in a typical Jesus move, tries to tell them that they’re missing the point.

I think we’re still missing that point.  We all know we need rest, but building it into our everyday lives can be difficult.  We stay up late watching TV and then try to get up early to hit the gym before work.  We stay late at the office, pick up extra weekend shifts when we can, and cram every moment not at work with errands, chores, and as much fun as we can handle with what little energy we have left.

I reject this harried lifestyle, even though I partially live it (I’m working on it!).  The following are three characteristics to consider as we attempt to embrace Sabbath a bit more in our lives, whether we consider ourselves ‘religious’ or not.

  1. Individually – Your Sabbath should be just that – your’s.  Everyone has preferences for how they best rest.  Some may want to be alone, but others may rather rest with a partner, or even as a family.  Some may want to lounge in their PJs all day, whereas others may want to head to the park to ‘play’ or picnic.  It’s not so much what you do (or don’t do!) as much as that you feel rejuvenated.
  2. In Increments – While I really need a full day of rest pretty regularly, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the benefits of rest if you don’t have an entire day to spare.  Even just a few moments of closing your eyes and breathing deeply at work can help you feel more at ease.  Find whatever time you can – whether it’s five minutes or two hours – to begin enjoying periods of rest.
  3. Intentionally – For most of us, beautiful chucks of nothing are not going to magically appear in our schedules (as much as we may wish they would!).  Reaching towards Sabbath may initially involve a bit of work and planning on our part.  I think saying no plays a big role; that may even mean saying no to a fun event on a weekend that is already filled with plans.  Know your rest needs, and don’t be afraid to actively pursue creating space in your life! (Sounds like this goes back to boundaries…)

Do you have Sabbath in your life?  If so, what does it look like?  If not, how can you make it happen?

(If you’re interested in this subject, I highly recommend Lauren Winner’s book Mudhouse Sabbath.  Only one chapter covers this specific topic, but the others are very interesting, as well.)    

Boundaries

This may seem like a strange post on a blog about loving life (Boundaries? Ick!  No fun!), but I’m realizing more and more just how essential boundaries are for experiencing peace and joy in our lives.

 In fact, we had an unpleasant lesson on this topic in our home just recently. An impoverished and ‘somewhat  homeless’ neighbor we have had a relationship with for years was in our kitchen alone while my husband went to check for empty cans & bottles we could give him.  Later that evening, we realized some money was missing from an envelope that we had forgotten was laying on a nearby counter.  We did some legwork in hopes that our initial conclusion was wrong, but unfortunately, all the evidence (including a peanut butter smear on the envelope) pointed to this man that we had called friend.

 Our boundaries with him are now going to change. That doesn’t mean we no longer care for him or that we hate him or that we want to completely cut him from our lives.  It means we are making adjustments in our relationship with him in response to this saddening occurrence.

 Boundaries are important in multiple areas of our lives, but I want to focus on what I consider three of the most obvious:

  1.  Relationships – As my mom always said, ‘You teach people how to treat you.’  I’m pretty sure this concept shows up in many psychological-based books on relationships.  As much as we want to, we can’t ever change other people; we can encourage and help growth, surely, but we can’t make the actual growth happen.  What we can control is ourselves and what we allow in our relationships.  This often involves some uncomfortable conversations (like the one we now have to have with our neighbor), but being honest about what you expect from others is a great way to grow those relationships and – hopefully – weed out negative behaviors.
  2.  Work – This one can be tricky.  As an employee, you are paid to do certain tasks and, as such, have entered into an agreement of work with your employer.  Obviously, none of us want to piss off the person signing our checks. All communication regarding boundaries requires tact, and perhaps this is most evident in our work lives.  But if your work load has continuously increased with no compensation, perhaps there is a manager or someone you can go to about such concerns.  Or maybe you’ve been picking up more and more slack for a co-worker and you feel they’ve begun to take advantage of that.  There’s nothing wrong with finding a good moment to tell them how you feel and explain the limits to how much you are able to help them from now on.
  3.  Time – As you may have already realized, good boundaries are set in place as a form of protection.  They are not walls; they are not created to keep people out, but rather to ensure the enclosed space is both defined and respected.  I find that time is one of the areas my husband and I have to be most on guard to protect.  It’s like we could blink and – poof – four days in a row are filled with plans with little time for rest or each other.  So we carefully consider when we make social plans, how much we can volunteer, and how many different activities we can commit to.  This takes honesty about our wants and needs, as well as some hard-core prioritizing.  But I think protecting our time is well worth it.

 What areas of your life might need some better boundary building?

Welcome!

Hi! Thanks for stopping in. I’m a first-time blogger (though life-long writer) who is looking for a way to use up some extra creative energy I have jostling about within me. After daydreaming more times than I can count of quitting my office job and pursuing my dream of (depending on the day and my mood, insert yoga instructor, holistic healer, home elder companion, non-profit position, Etsy creator, or author here), I decided I really need more creative expression in my life. And I don’t think quitting my job is the solution – though a girl can certainly dream.

I have a lot of interests, so while this blog may seem to be a bit all over the place, I hope everything I share can be applied to better living – and loving – life . I predict topics spanning from going green & eating healthy to racial reconciliation & various social justice issues to relationships & organization to travelling and…well, you get the picture. I don’t see a reason to limit this space to one topic when that is not really how most people work. I’m a messy collaboration of passions, sure, but I’d rather be that than have no passions at all!

So, here’s a little about me: I’m in my twenties and am very happy with my life. I am married to my best friend (yeah, yeah – corny, I know) who is the most delightful combination of loving, smart, & goofy. We have many wonderful relationships with family members and friends, live in Detroit, and love to volunteer both at church and in our community. I’ve been known to over-organize and make massive lists and also to blow off my to-do’s to venture into Netflix land (except for Wednesdays, which is currently ‘no TV day’).

Life is a crazy journey, and I feel so grateful for where I’m at on this winding path – where are you?