Showing posts with label People Friendly. Show all posts
Showing posts with label People Friendly. Show all posts

Monday, January 27, 2014

{business 101} The beginning, fear of failure, and why passion is a good motivator.

Welcome to the Business 101 series at The Friendly Home! This is not where I teach you about business. Because I don't know anything. Yet. This is where I share my business journey with you. Maybe you teach me, maybe you learn something from me, or maybe we all just laugh and roll our eyes together.

You see, this is all new to me. I've never taken a business course, never read a book about business (until last week, that is), never tried to understand what makes small businesses work.

But as of Saturday, when we registered with the Colorado Secretary of State, we're officially running a business. (Re-reading that sentence makes me kind of want to slap myself.)

I've heard that running a small business comes with some struggles. Here's my first one, my first gripe: when you try to get an EIN (Employer Identification Number) on the IRS website at 10am on a Saturday morning, you'll end up on a "please come back during regular business hours" page.

Really? Isn't this what websites are for?

I'm sure that will be my first of many gripes.

Oh, wait, here's my second one. Small business owners work at 10am on Saturday mornings. And 10pm, too.

Okay, so that's something I already knew. And it was something that held us back a bit when deciding whether or not to take on this new challenge.

Here's how the whole thing went down. Our friend Andrew, who became our friend when we hired him to re-do our backyard, approached us in November about buying his organic lawn care business, Whole Yards. He is moving out of Colorado and had started this business just within the last couple of years. It's very small and he hadn't had time to grow it in the ways he'd planned, but it has a lot of potential and a decent foundation.

I was familiar with Whole Yards because after Andrew did our backyard, we hired him to take care of our lawn and plants last summer. Andrew knew that we were passionate about organic food and non-toxic living. Combined with the fact that I'd just spent two years staring a gigantic school and community garden, and believing that we are relatively tenacious, loyal, stick-to-it kind of people, he thought the business might be a good fit for us.

And if I step outside of myself for a second and try to see it from that perspective, it is a great fit for us. Or, at least for me. It's important to remember that Scott has a full time job working for a big company. So while I will always say "we" run a business, right now it's actually "me" running the business with Scott contributing when he can. Maybe someday it will really be the two of us working together. That's a possibility we tiptoe around a little. Like if we say it out loud too many times or think of it for more than a few seconds, we might jinx it. If we think about it, it becomes an actual goal. If we don't eventually achieve that goal, we'll have failed.

Failure.

The possibility of failure is what really held me back from saying yes to this opportunity. It wasn't because our market is not very organics-friendly. It wasn't because for the first season I'll be driving a pickup truck with a tank full of compost tea on the back and I'll probably spend days smelling like seaweed. It wasn't because I have no background in lawn or landscape care. What held me back was the idea of failure.

I am afraid of failure. Always. I know it is ridiculous. I know we all fail. I know that failure is one way that we learn. But failure is uncomfortable and embarrassing. And failure as a small business owner is not like failing in your job at a big company. If Scott ever failed to do his job well (which he never does, by the way), his company probably wouldn't feel the effects. His company would adjust and other people would pick up the slack.

If I don't do my job well, it's over. I've failed. Our company has failed.

When I was giving birth to my two girls, the process of labor felt like a long, hard swim practice. I loved it. While I was growing up, I spent enough time on swim team to know how to get through a grueling workout. I know how to put my head down, ignore the pain, and keep counting laps or singing in my head until I get to the end. When I'd get out of the pool and head to class or go home, I'd feel exhausted but triumphant. Like I accomplished something great that day.

This is the lens through which I'm learning to understand what it will take to run a small business. I know how to live in discomfort, but it's been a long time since I chose to do so. It's been a long time since I challenged myself like this, since I purposely put myself in a difficult situation, one where I knew I would feel exhausted and frustrated and scared, but one where I might learn something about myself and about the world. About where I fit into the world and the role I play.

What makes me most scared about this particular business is that I think it is important work. I think that converting people's yards from toxic to healthy is important for us and for our kids. I think that if we don't do it, our kids will continue to grow up sick and our waterways will continue to be polluted. The immediacy and urgency of this task takes the business up a notch for me. Now it's not just, "I'm scared to fail because I'll look silly." It's, "I'm scared to fail because my community needs this change."

And that – the passion that Scott and I feel about this topic – will probably be what keeps us going.

If you're still with me, it's probably because you're looking for some nuts and bolts. Here's what this is going to look like:
  • I will try to continue blogging about home stuff, carpentry, etc. I don't think I'll have a lot of time, though, and so the hobby of blogging about home stuff will move down my priority list while I learn to run the business.
  • We don't officially own the business yet. Andrew was kind enough to give us a trial period. So, while we have transferred the business into our names and we are using all of Andrew's equipment, paying the business expenses, and keeping the profits this season, we have until September to decide whether we want to buy the business. It's nice to work with someone who trusts you and believes in you the way that Andrew trusts and believes in us. It's also nice to have a way out in case we discover that being small business owners is really not for us.
  • The lawn and yard care season in Colorado Springs goes from May or June through September or October, depending on the weather. Until the season ramps up, I'll be spending my time learning more about organic lawn care (here's the manual I'll be using), participating in webinars with BeeSafe Lawn Care, learning how to market a small business, updating our website, setting up systems for tracking customers, talking to past and potential customers on the phone, and visiting potential customers' homes to chat about organic lawn and yard care.
What about you? Are you a small-business owner? Do you have any resources I need to check out? Does failure freak you out as much as it does me?

Monday, November 25, 2013

Homemade play dough with plant-based dyes

The last time I made play dough was about 8 years ago. I made a huge batch so that we could give some away as birthday gifts to my kids' friends. That dough lasted a good four or five years but it was kind of boring. Plain white. What fun is that?

It's a good thing kids have such great imaginations, right?

This time around I decided to try adding plant-based dyes to the dough. I've been wanting to experiment with plant-based dyes ever since we started juicing a few years ago. The intense colors of the juice made me want to do something fun with it...besides drinking it. I decided to try making plant-based dyes for this play dough without doing any research first...just to see how fool-proof it is. Or how smart I am?


I followed the basic play dough recipe with a few modifications to get the dyes to work. For each color, I made a separate batch of dough using the full dough recipe below.

 

Homemade Play Dough (makes almost two cups of dough)


For the dough:
1 C water/dye combined
1/2 C salt
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 C flour
2 tsp cream of tartar

I bought that giant cream of tartar from a restaurant supply
store about 10 years ago!

For three dye colors (purple, green, and orange):
1/2 C frozen blueberries, thawed
2 -3 C fresh baby spinach
1 small red beet + 2 Tbsp tumeric powder


  1. Juice your produce, cleaning your juicer between colors. If you don't own a juicer, chop up your produce and add a bit of water to it (just enough to cover your produce). Simmer it on the stove for a few hours. Strain.
  2. Using one empty jar per color, combine one color of juice with enough water to make 1 cup of liquid. 
  3. To each jar, add 1/2 C salt (and 2 Tbsp tumeric powder to the beet juice jar). Cover the jar and shake until the salt is dissolved or nearly dissolve. I was using coarse salt because it's all I had on hand. It never did dissolve completely, but the dough came out smooth despite the coarse salt.
  4. Add 1 Tbsp of vegetable oil to each jar and shake.
  5. In a pot that holds at least 1 quart, combine 1 C of flour and 2 tsp cream of tartar over medium heat. Add liquid (juice/salt/oil concoction) and stir vigorously with a flexible spatula until the mixture begins to look like play dough. This step took me about 2-3 minutes.
  6. Remove the dough from the pot and knead it until the color is uniform and the dough seems ready.
  7. Wash your pot and repeat the process with other colors, if you're making additional colors.
  8. Store dough in an air-tight container. If it starts to dry out, knead a bit more vegetable oil into it to bring it back to life.
Spinach juice, beet juice (right), and blueberry juice (left)


Juices combined with water and salt. Waiting for the salt to dissolve.

Making more than one color was a bit of a pain, to be honest, because of all of the containers and cleaning the juicer between colors. (Of course I did the research after I finished making my dough, and read here that you can knead your juice into the dough after making a big batch of plain dough. I also found out that carrot juice works to make orange dough. Duh.) But, I love the three colors I ended up with. And, while I think it's fun to be surrounded by neon colors like you find in the play dough you buy at the store, I love the earthiness of this dough and I really love that I don't have to wonder what's in it. 

If I were to do this again, I'd use carrot, spinach, and beet juice to make my three colors (that would give me green, orange, and pink instead of green, orange, and purple). The purple is beautiful, but blueberries are kind of pricey to be grinding up for play dough dye. I'd also try making one big batch with triple the recipe above and using pure water instead of water/dye mix for the dough. Then I'd knead the juice in at the end. The kneading would take more time, but the amount of time (and water) saved doing dishes and washing the juicer would probably be worth it!

Is this something you'd be willing to tackle at home? I loved experimenting with plant-based dyes. Next summer: plant-based tie-dye!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

{making the switch} Avoiding Palm Oil

This morning a short post on the Yale Environmental Blog caught my attention. I hadn't thought about palm oil in a while, but after reading Yale's report about air pollution caused by the illegal clearing of land for palm oil plantations, I had to take stock of our household's palm oil status.

Unlike a typical American household where an abundance of palm fruit oil, palm kernel oil, and palm oil derivatives can be found in the pantry (processed foods), under the sink (cleaning products), in the shower (shampoo, conditioner, and soap), and on the bathroom counter (body products), our home now (finally) houses very little palm oil. It's something I've been intentional about removing from my home, but it required a few years of adjusting and changing our buying habits before we could totally clean it out.

Palm fruit. Source: fdbusiness.com

If this sounds a little crazy to you, let's back up a few steps and talk about why I want to get palm oil out of my home. Here are a few things that prompted this change:
  • Reason #1. My family's health. While the reason for the majority of the surge in demand for palm oil is health-based (palm oil contains no trans fats, although it is extremely high in saturated fat) the foods that contain palm oil are generally unhealthy, processed foods (with big "no trans fats" marketing appeal). Palm oil comes from a fruit similar to an avocado in that it has a fleshy, oily outer part (from which is derived palm fruit oil) and a big seed in the middle (from which is derived palm kernel oil). These oils are used in processed food because they are very cheap, they are stable at room temperature, and they have a long shelf life. This is like the oil trifecta for cheap American processed food. You can find palm oil hidden in most processed foods (like Triscuits, Wheat Thins, and Oreos) but it is also found in butter-alternative blends (like SmartBalance Buttery Spread) and no-stir peanut butter (like Jif and Skippy, but any no-stir peanut butter you find will likely contain palm oil). None of those food products are good for us, so our family has almost totally eliminated them from our grocery list.
  • Reason #2. Disappearing rain forests. Palm oil producers first log forests and then use slash-and-burn techniques to clear remaining vegetation from vast swaths of rainforest (mostly in Indonesia and Malaysia, although apparently they're now moving into Africa as well), killing everything in their paths. There is so much information available on this and it has been in the news so much in the past few years that it seems redundant to repeat it all here. I thought I'd learned most of what I needed to know about palm oil production, but when I started researching it this morning I was startled anew by the massive destruction caused by palm oil plantations and the ecological devastation left behind. Say No to Palm Oil is a rich source of images and facts about palm oil production -- I highly recommend taking a few minutes to check out their website. It was there today I learned that, at the rate we're going, the rainforests of Indonesia and Malaysia will be gone within 15 years and wild orangutans, who depend on those rainforests for their habitat, will be extinct in 10 years. Not only will wild orangutans be extinct, but in the meantime these animals who have the intelligence of an average 6-year old human will continue to experience unthinkable torture. Orangutans found in and around palm plantations are routinely maimed, burned alive, purposely run over with vehicles and left to die, forced to perform in circuses or live as pets, and even tied to beds and used as prostitutes. You can learn more about the orangutans' plight in this remarkable short documentary focusing on the work of the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation.
Forested peatlands cleared for oil palm plantations in Indonesia. Source: Greenpeace
  •  Reason #3. The ripple effect. When rain forests disappear, we don't just lose pristine habitat for thousands of plant and animal species, we also lose an important part of the global climate system. Peat bogs, like the one pictured in the photo above, help keep 500 billion metric tons of carbon sequestered in the ground. That's roughly "twice as much as is incorporated into all the trees in all the world's forests." By both cutting down the rain forest and decimating the peat bogs, we are doing an environmental double-whammy -- releasing carbon (as the peat bog is drained or dries out) and taking away the earth's ability to absorb more carbon. In addition to losing bogs and trees, we're causing air pollution by burning  forests and causing water pollution by setting aside more land for industrial agriculture and all of its toxic runoff. All of this to say that palm oil production is a catastrophic environmental nightmare.
A palm oil plantation in Indonesia. Source: WWF

Are there sustainable or green alternatives to conventional palm oil? Apparently they are. But they are policed by an organization called the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) which is made up of the giants of the palm oil industry itself like Unilever, Cargil, and Nestle. And since the RSPO came into existence, palm oil production has only gotten bigger, dirtier, and more out of control.

So what do we do to avoid palm oil? It's hard. Really hard. Especially if you use mainstream American products and eat a standard American diet. It takes time and, even if you're paying attention, you'll inevitably end up with some palm oil in your house (apparently 50% of all packaged goods in the supermarket contain palm oil). First, you've got to check out this fantastic list of palm oil and its derivatives at the Philadelphia Zoo website. With that in mind, here is what my family does:
  • We avoid processed food. When we do eat processed food, I check the label to see if the ingredients include palm oil or any of its derivatives.
  • We check labels on our body products before we buy them. Not all of ours are palm-oil free, but the ones that contain palm oil we try to use sparingly or buy alternatives when we can find them.
  • We make our own household cleaners for the majority of our cleaning chores. Sometimes we use 100% vinegar, sometimes we dilute it to 50/50 vinegar and water. For cleaning the carpet we use the water-vinegar mix with a drop of laundry detergent added. Scott still insists on using the "green" version of Clorox toilet bowl cleaner (which contains alkyl polyglucoside, a possible derivative of palm fruit) and, until I decide that I'm ready to take on that job, I have to give in there. 
This graphic is from ForestJustice.org.



    I think that making this switch away from palm oil comes down to awareness and label-reading. And maybe a little bit of fortitude mixed in, along with a some grace on the occasion when you just have to have something that contains palm oil.

    What do you think? Is this a switch you're making? Or one you would consider making? Are there any products you don't see yourself giving up?

    psst...check out the rest of the {making the switch} series here.

      Wednesday, April 10, 2013

      Traveling the world...with kids


      I just returned home from an adventure. We decided our kids were ready to travel. And when you're ready to travel (again) and feel like you've been chomping at the bit for a decade while waiting for a chance to get back out into the world, why start small?

      I mean, why go someplace easy?

      We didn't.

      For our first big adventure with our girls, we decided to take them to Asia. It was meant to be a test. We figured that if they could handle this trip, they could handle just about anything and maybe we'd have more trips in our future.

      We started with a few days in and around San Francisco (clearly, San Francisco is not in Asia...but it was a great jumping off point), then flew to Hong Kong where we spent about five days, took a ferry to Macau for a day, and then flew to Vietnam where we spent another four days. All together, the trip was 18 days and our girls, ages 10 and 8, managed the trip like champs.

      For just a second, I want to talk about why we decided to travel with our kids, and why we chose Asia for their first big trip. Scott and I both believe it is important for our children to grow up knowing that there is more to the world than the little community in which we live. We believe that in order to understand that most of the world is not like America, our kids should see the world for themselves. We want their view of the world to be not an us-and-them view, but a we-are-all-in-this-together view. I know that it's possible to achieve these goals without travel (neither Scott nor I traveled as kids and we came out okay) but travel seems like the best way to ensure that our kids will end up with the perspective we want them to have.

      Also, we recently realized that we've only got 8 years left with our oldest kid before she might be out of the house. That's not much time and we wanted to be intentional about spending focused, concentrated time with both of our kids, creating memories and bonding as a family. To us, travel is the best way to do that.

      Most of the people who heard about our trip asked the same thing, "Why Asia?" And some, the more bold of our friends and acquaintances, asked, "Why aren't you going to Europe?"

      There were a few reasons. First, a good friend from my childhood lives in Hong Kong. We've wanted to visit her there and haven't had a chance, so this seemed like a great opportunity. But also, Asia is very different from America. If you haven't spent much time there, Asia shocks you. It's crowded and noisy and looks different and smells different and tastes different. The language is impossible for us to understand. The food is completely foreign. The customs are unfamiliar.

      And also, Europe? I've not been to more of Europe than London (which I realize doesn't even count in some people's eyes), but my impression is that Europe is relatively comfortable. From my experience traveling, I've found that the times I learned the most about myself and the world were the times I was uncomfortable. And the more uncomfortable I was (both physically and mentally), the more I learned.

      While traveling in Asia we felt stupid several times and uncomfortable most of the time. We were laughed at more than once. Not in a judgmental, "You stupid Americans," way, but in a, "How silly that they don't know how to ask for more tea," way.

      And that was good. Being laughed at in that way keeps a person humble. It reminds us that the world does not belong to us and that we represent, in fact, but one small bit of humanity.

      Philosophy aside, traveling with kids is intimidating. No matter how rewarding it might be, it's a little scary.

      Because my kids having tantrums in my house? Where I can send them to their rooms? I can handle that.

      My kids having tantrums on a train in the middle of a totally foreign place? Not so easy to handle.

      So, here are a few things we learned along the way. Hopefully these are ideas you can use, ideas you will use as you drag your children around the globe.

      1. Keep them fed. Duh, right? But it's harder than it sounds. As an adult, you want to get from one place to another and you can fight through an empty stomach, knowing that your next meal is not that far away. We tried this with our kids -- not that we were intentionally trying to stretch them, we were just trying to pack in as many activities and sights and experiences as we could. Brynn (our older one) can handle being a little hungry. Callie, our younger one, cannot. Much like I've heard her father was at 8 years old, Callie falls apart before her stomach even growls. Grunting, groaning, shaking her body, pissed off at the world. And if we let her get to that place where she is falling apart, she won't eat because nothing "sounds good." So once we figured this out, even when it wasn't convenient, we made sure to keep her fed. This meant frequent stops for snacks and it also meant keeping water on hand. Sometimes water was all she needed, but she didn't recognize it. We had to remember to offer it to her regularly.



      2. Build in downtime. During our first couple of days in Hong Kong, we had a lot of ground to cover and not a lot of time. We were staying in an apartment in a great location in the middle of Hong Kong, but it wasn't a place we wanted to hang out during the day. It was small and a bit cramped (as are most places in Hong Kong), it smelled a little mildewy, and it was a little warm. Between not having an ideal place to come back to for a rest and not wanting to sleep during the day for fear of never adjusting to the time difference, plus wanting to see as much as possible in a short amount of time, we may have worked too hard. Callie fell asleep at dinner the first three nights. Head on the table, carried out of restaurants. Meals she normally would have loved she totally missed out on.


      Looking back, what could we have done differently during those first few days? We could have found a place for the kids to chill. Some kind of park or open space (not easy to find in Hong Kong, but I'm certain if we looked hard enough we could have found it) would have been a great place for the kids to let their brains rest while their bodies played. That brings me to #3.

      3. Find other kids to play with. Our kids are 8 and 10. They're not toddlers. They don't need a LOT of playtime. But they need some. And, frankly, Scott and I are not ideal play companions. During this trip it occurred to me that playtime is to kids what sitting back and drinking a beer (or a glass of wine) is to adults. It helps us unwind, helps us chill out, helps us relax so that we are prepared for the next big thing.


      We were lucky that in San Francisco we stayed with friends who have three kids. All three are younger than my kids, but I don't think it mattered. They had a ball playing together and their playtime each evening was enough to unwind the kids for another full day the next day. During the second part of our time in Hong Kong we stayed with friends who have two year old twins. Again, much younger than my kids and, again, it didn't matter. My kids engaged with them and through play were able to chill. In Vietnam we were hoping to have kids around for our kids to play with during the second half of our stay there. That didn't work out as planned, but the girls played really well with each other during the afternoon when we had nothing else to do. In a hot, sweaty, difficult situation, their opportunity to play together is what kept all of us sane.


      4. Have realistic expectations. Traveling with kids is not the same as traveling with adults. We didn't see and do everything with our kids that we might have seen and done had it been just the two of us. For instance, in Macau we planned to spend our first afternoon/evening seeing the Las Vegas-ish side of Macau. Exploring the hotels and arcades and wandering past the expensive restaurants. The next day, before catching an evening ferry to the airport, we planned to wander the old side of Macau which was colonized by the Portuguese. Unfortunately, it was raining. And it rained all day long. Scott had a whole walking tour planned for us, with cool facts about everything we were going to see. He had a list of food we wanted to try. If we'd been there alone, we probably would have sucked it up and done the walk in the rain. But with kids? Forget it. We tried sitting in a coffee shop, waiting for the rain to die down. We tried wandering through the Wynn, hoping that eventually the rain would stop. The rain never stopped, so we cut our losses and headed back to the ferry terminal to try to catch an earlier ferry to the airport. At least there we knew the kids could sit back and read or write in their journals and rest. Of course the sun came out as soon as we got on the ferry.


      As it turned out, there was a problem at the ferry terminal with our Vietnamese visas, so the extra time came in handy. But even if things had gone smoothly, downtime in the airport would have been better than going with our original plans.

      5. Guide them in their learning. Both of my kids were asked by their teachers to keep journals of their trip. You want to know what those journals looked like at first? "I just got on the plane. Now the plane is in the air. The flight attendant brought us drinks. We watched a movie." Yeah, pretty much a play-by-play of everything we did. I encouraged them to choose one thing that they noticed that day to write about. A smell? A sound? A sight? This worked for Brynn. At 10 years old, she's learned how to write essays and can write well from a prompt. Callie still needed extra guidance, though, and by the time we got to Vietnam, she was done writing. She wanted nothing to do with it. At that point, I actually had to write for her. We would talk about what she wanted to say and then she'd dictate to me. And I had to be flexible enough to be okay with that. We never did get through the second half of our time in Vietnam, but at least now she has experience journaling and I hope that next time will be easier.


      Before Brynn went back to school on Monday, I asked her, "When your teacher asks you what you learned, what are you going to say?" Her answer? "Ummmm, I learned about rice." Seriously? We just spent how many thousands of dollars and how much time and you learned about rice? I know she learned more than that and I know Brynn's teacher. I know that he wants his students to think critically and expects a lot out of them. That answer wasn't going to cut it. So I stopped her and reminded her that her answer didn't have to be so literal. Her answer needed to be something she couldn't learn from watching a movie or reading a book. It needed to be something that required her being in a new place. That helped move her in the right direction. Then she was coming up with answers like, "I learned that Asia is really different from America," and, "there is a lot more of the world that I want to see." Those were answers we could work with and expand on.

      When I think back to my first experiences being in new and different places, I'm not sure that I could have done much better than Brynn, and I was a young adult. I know that the answers are inside her, that she internalized all she saw, but it's hard to make sense out of it. It takes maturity and experience to put into words what you see and feel and learn when you travel.

      6. Pack lighter than you think is reasonable. We tried to pack light, but we could have done better. We each had a backpack and nothing else which seemed pretty good when we left the house, but the girls' packs were too heavy for them (especially for Callie -- Brynn did well). Our trip included some significant changes in weather that made packing difficult. We went from the Bay Area (which Scott says is the coldest place he's ever been) to the Mekong Delta (which was in the high nineties and humid while we were there). I don't mind carrying a heavy pack, and neither does Scott, but next time we'll make sure the girls' packs are as light as possible to make transiting from one place to another even easier.


      7. Don't avoid the hard stuff. For me, the hardest part of the trip was the two days we spent in the Mekong Delta. It was hot. Like 99 degrees plus super humid. It was a long (3 1/2 hour) bus ride getting out there. Brynn left a backpack in the bathroom of a bus station and we had to go through a pretty drawn out process with the police to get it back while our bus was about to pull out of the parking lot. The place where we were staying was supposed to be a "homestay" but turned out to be more of a guest house. There was no air conditioning and no shower. We were dirty, sweaty, and stinky. It was hard and sometimes it was frustrating. I almost suggested that we cut it short and run back to the comfort of our air conditioned hotel in Saigon.

      But I didn't.

      And you know what? The kids didn't think it was hard. Or at least they didn't say so. They had fun. They played. They learned. They met a sweet woman from Japan and a great couple from the Netherlands who were staying at the guest house with us. The girls engaged with these strangers from other parts of the world and caught glimpses of cultures that they'd never seen before. They smiled and laughed and answered questions and were really great representatives of America. They made us proud.


      Old Vietnamese women grabbed Callie's arms and smacked her behind and pointed at her and smiled toothless grins. (We can't figure out why, but old women and animals all love Callie.) Kids waved at us and yelled, "Hello!" through huge smiles. The girls chased minnows in the muddy water outside our cabin. They adjusted well to the heat and humidity.

      As adults, the hard stuff is what makes us physically uncomfortable and makes us nervous because we don't know what to expect. But not for the kids. They took it all in stride and pushed us to be cheerful (or at least pretend to be cheerful) despite our discomfort. For kids, the hard stuff is walking through museums, reading guidebooks, being forced to sit at a table for long stretches of time. For them that isn't fun. Playing in the mud is fun. Meeting new people is fun.

      That last part of the trip, the hardest part, reminded me of why I believe in traveling to challenging places. Sometimes it doesn't feel great. It isn't relaxing or luxurious or simple. You don't return home feeling recharged or revived or ready to take on the world. As I get older I see myself wanting to go someplace simple, someplace where I don't feel so challenged. I want to go lie on a beach or sit in a nice restaurant and drink wine. And we will. We need balance. But the stuff that's hard for Scott and me is great for the kids and so I have to remind myself not to avoid it but rather to seek it out and be intentional about including it in our travel plans.

      I'll probably write a few more posts about our trip, but I'll do it over on our family blog. If you're interested in following along, feel free to check up on The Friendly Home on Facebook or follow me on Twitter. I'll publicize any other travel posts there. Also, we finally joined the Instagram family while we traveled. You can see all of our pics on Scott's Instagram page, here.

      Have you traveled with kids? What would you add? I'm sure there's more to know!

      Monday, February 4, 2013

      {finishing} Using isopropyl alcohol-based stain

      If you google "isopropyl alcohol-based wood stain," it's entirely possible you won't find anything that resembles what you're looking for. There's probably a tutorial out there somewhere, but I haven't found it yet. And although the bottle of concentrated tint that I use for staining with alcohol says, "May be be mixed with water or alcohol to create a wood stain," I've been told that the manufacturer recommends using water as the base.


      But, you know...I'm such a rebel. I haven't been totally pleased with water-based stain and using isopropyl alcohol (aka: "rubbing" alcohol) seemed like it would solve some of the problems I have with water-based stain.

      Alcohol is known for (among other qualities) its quick-evaporation which is why I thought it might work better than water. If you remember from my water-based stain tutorial, I don't wipe off water-based stain like you're supposed to (again, such a rebel). A quick-drying base seemed like it would work better for me since I leave the stain on.

      I also thought using alcohol would probably reduce blotchiness (I can't explain why I thought that...just a gut feeling and probably something to do with the stain drying quickly) and also thought it would limit the grain-raising of the wood, cutting out at least one step in the finishing process (no wetting the wood before hand and then sanding the raised grain back down before staining).

      While isopropyl alcohol is not non-toxic, when using the 70% concentration with adequate ventilation I've noticed no harsh fumes. The final finish is not as perfect nor as easy to achieve as an oil-based finish, but the lack of fumes and easy cleanup totally has me sold. And probably, as the "woodworker," I'm a much harsher critic of my work than anyone else. I doubt that most people (my clients included) would see the difference between my alcohol-based finish and an oil-based finish.

      There's a huge variety of woodworking dyes and tints available in a rainbow of colors (especially in specialty stores like Woodcraft) but the only ones I've worked with are from Vermont Natural Coatings. I've used their Early American tint and their Dark Walnut tint, both in a base of isopropyl alcohol, which I purchased at a drug store. The tints seem expensive at first glance (high price, small bottle) but they go a very, very long way. The alcohol, on the other hand, is super cheap, coming in at only a couple of bucks per pint.

      So, here's how I do it. You know I'm all about trial and error and so if you try this, I hope you'll embrace your artistic side and experiment with scraps before you finish an actual piece of furniture.

      I start with a measured amount of isopropyl alcohol in a jar that has a top. For this table, I started with one pint of alcohol. To it, I started by adding 10ml of concentrated tint. I put the top on the jar, shook it, and tested the tint on a scrap of wood from the table. I could tell immediately that I would need more tint, as the color was not dark enough and had sort of a purple hue to it. So, I added another 10ml of tint and tried again. I was keeping track of my ratios, so at this point I was up to 20ml to a pint of tint. Dark Walnut is meant to be a dark color (obviously) and getting the depth I needed was important. A color like Early American, on the other hand, is meant to be much lighter and for me it is easier to work with.



      I used this 20ml to one pint ratio to stain the underside of the table so that I could be sure I was happy with the color. As it turns out, I ended up needing an additional coat to make the color work at this ratio. As much as I'd like staining to be a one-coat process, using an additional coat actually gives me some wiggle room in finishing. If the stain is a little too concentrated in one spot or a little bare in another, the second coat evens it out. It also gives me the opportunity to lightly sand a spot that might have come out too dark.


      For stain application, I used a foam brush to apply a generous amount of stain (not so much that it drips or puddles, but close) following the grain of the wood and starting and ending my strokes at the wood joints. Since I know I can't go back and wipe off the stain, laying down the stain on the wood has to be done carefully and with some precision. (This is where oil-based stain has a clear advantage -- it's much more difficult to mess up than working with water or alcohol.)


      On this table, the aprons needed three coats of stain while the rest of the table was fine with just two. The aprons were different species of wood and absorbed the stain differently.

      For the sealer on this table, I used the new Heirloom Wipe-On PolyWhey. When you're using poly (any kind of poly) you have to lightly sand between coats in order to make the next coat adhere to the one before. Occasionally I'll sand with too much gusto and take off some of the stain. In order to deal with those little bare spots, on this table I added a few drops of tint to my final two coats of poly, replacing the color that I accidentally sanded out. Using 400 grit sandpaper and a really light hand can keep this from happening, but when I'm working I almost always end up with a little bare spot somewhere, so this trick saved me a lot of frustration!

      If you're looking for a less-toxic, non-fumey stain that is easier to use than water-based stain, this might be your solution. Just keep track of how much tint you add to your alcohol so that it's easy to replicate later!

      Tuesday, January 29, 2013

      Square pedestal table -- a table of firsts

      A friend recently requested a small square table for her kitchen. She wanted a small version of the farmhouse table, preferably using reclaimed wood. I didn't happen to have the right reclaimed wood on hand, but I did have leftovers from an earlier table -- in fact, all I had to buy to build this table was one 2x6, some bolts and screws, and finishing supplies.

      Besides being built from what were essentially scraps in my garage (which is always an exercise in creativity), it was also a good test of my skills in creating a piece of furniture without a plan to follow. I used Ana White's Triple Pedestal table as inspiration for the pedestal, but spent a lot of time standing in my garage with the table pieces upside down, trying to figure out the best way to put it all together.

      For me, that's a fun process.

      But then, on the day I delivered the table, Ana posted plans for a square pedestal table, also inspired by the Triple Pedestal table. Those plans use only one leg for a center pedestal instead of a trestle like the one I built. Maybe next time...


      This was also my first time using alcohol-based stain on a table (I've used it on chairs once before). I'll post a tutorial this week for working with it. I think it's easier than water-based but it doesn't stink like oil-based. For this table, I used Vermont Natural Coatings' Dark Walnut tint in isopropyl alcohol followed by Vermont Natural Coatings Heirloom Wipe-On PolyWhey in satin.

      That wipe-on poly is the best sealer I've used yet. Not kidding. I'll do a post on it, too. Promise.


      In addition to all the other firsts, this was my first time using hex bolts to attach a table top to the base. Actually, it was my first time using them for anything other than decoration (on the X Tables). For me, it's fun working on a project that stretches me, that forces me to learn something new.

      What about you? Have you been learning anything new lately?

      Thursday, January 17, 2013

      {finishing} Water-Based Stain


      You all know how I try to use the "friendliest" materials when I'm working around the house, right? Oil-based stains and conventional finishes give me headaches and I know they're not good for the environment.

      But, as much as it hurts to say this, it seems that most "friendly" finishes have a ways to go before they achieve the look, durability, and ease of application of more traditional finishes.

      I'm always experimenting with finishes, trying new things to figure out if there is something I've missed, something that works well and looks great and won't make me (or my kids or the earth) sick. That's how I ended up trying water-based stains.

      Here are the drawbacks that I've found with water-based stains:
      • They raise the grain
      • They have less "open" time (not easily wiped off)
      • They seem more opaque than traditional stains (this could also be a benefit)
      • Not widely available
      • Hard to predict the color when you dilute the stain

      And the benefits:
      • Easy to dilute using water (rather than having to keep mineral spirits on hand)
      • Super easy to clean up (you can wash applicators in the sink rather than worrying about how to dispose of them "appropriately")
      • Have very little, if any, odor. Most of what I smell is just the smell of wet lumber
      • Available at specialty stores with employees who *might* be able to give you good finishing tips (or they might not have tried water-based stains and will tell you to try something else)
      • Environmentally-friendly

      Through lots of experimenting, I've managed to find ways to get around a few of the drawbacks with water-based stains. If you're used to working with oil-based stains, the transition to water-based takes some practice but it's worth it.

      First, when I'm using water-based stains, I do two things before I start staining. I always rub or paint water onto the raw wood before the final sanding. This raises the grain in the wood. Once it's been raised and dried, if you sand lightly the grain-raising will be minimized when you stain. If you sand too hard, you'll get down to wood that wasn't touched by the water the first time around, and your grain will end up raising later.

      Second, I usually use wood conditioner. I really don't know whether the wood conditioner helps after I've already done the water step, and it probably depends on how dark I want the stain. If I'm going to let the stain be pretty opaque, then I might not need wood conditioner. If I want to see lots of grain, then I absolutely will use wood conditioner in order to prevent blotchiness. When you buy wood conditioner, be sure to look for one that is meant for water-based stain. Minwax has one, and so does General Finishes.

      Third, if I want to see the grain at all, I dilute my stain even more than the can says is appropriate. I don't follow any of the other directions on the can, so why follow that one? The can says not to add more than 10-20% water, but I find that 20% just isn't enough. Sometimes I add as much as 50% water or even more. The problem is that sometimes a diluted color can look very different from the full strength color. With the colors I've worked with (usually darker, less yellow-based tones), the stains tend to get cooler as they're diluted, so I test it on scrap and then mix in warmer tones as needed. If I need to warm it up, I actually really like mixing in a tiny bit of General Finishes Yellow Ochre glaze. I'm sure it's against every rule in the book, but it seems to work for me and I only need a touch to get the warmth I'm looking for. I've considered mixing in some honey-toned stain to add warmth, but I never seem to have any around, so I go for the next best thing -- yellow glaze.

      In the image below you'll see some photos of different pieces I've done using General Finishes Espresso stain. The top two are full strength (100% stain) and super opaque. The bottom two let some grain show through. One is 60% stain/40% water, and the last one is around 15% stain/85% water The last one, where I used mostly water with a touch of stain...that was kind of a mistake. I was nearly out of stain so I thinned it enough to get through the project. I was finishing some closet shelves and just needed to get them done.

      I'm sure nothing like that has ever happened to you, right?

      But I'm actually happy with the rustic-ness of it and it was a great lesson in how much water I could add to the stain and still get some color out of it.

       I think it's also important to remember that you can always go back and add more color to your stain for a second coat, but if you start out too opaque and you're not happy with it, you pretty much have to sand the whole finish off and start over.

      That, my friends, is a total drag.

      Lastly, I try to avoid wiping off water-based stain. The directions say to put the stain on, wait a few minutes, and then wipe it off, but I haven't found a way to wipe it off evenly. That's what started me diluting the stain, so that I could just lay it down and leave it. You have to be more careful with your brush strokes when using this method (the fuller strength the stain, the more the brushstrokes show), but it seems to work for me.

      If you're curious about trying water-based stain but you don't want to go buy a whole can, grab some leftover paint and water it waaaaay down. Now you've got water-based stain. I know, it's crazy simple but it works. This is a great way to get colors and greys or whitewashes. For traditional wood colors, I buy a can of stain. But for fun and funky colors? Just grab some paint and start mixing!

      Thursday, January 10, 2013

      Little grey side tables


      They're kind of like your favorite little black dress, only more fun.


      Little grey side tables finished in CeCe Caldwell's Pittsburgh Gray paint and clear wax.

      I wish I had before photos. What is wrong with me? Laziness? They were so hideous. For more on their before, check out this post.


      Now they're done! The center panel of fabric is super cute, covered by a 16x20 pane of 1/8" glass and trimmed out in 1/4"x 2" wood painted to match the tables.


      I don't think I told you this...my original vision for these tables was to turn them into little ottomans. But after I got the center panels upholstered with foam underneath I wasn't happy with the result, so I took the tables apart and kind of started over.


      I also considered using burlap for the fabric in the center. It probably would have made selling them easier, but the fabric that's in there now is so unique and textural, I just couldn't pass it up.

      It's funny how a simple Goodwill purchase like these tables can take on a life of its own.

      These two tables will be for sale at the Sweet Pea Boutique in Fountain, beginning at their grand opening on January 26th!

      Monday, January 7, 2013

      An Eat To Live secret for cutting calories

      It's not really a secret, not if you've read Eat to Live or Engine 2. But it might be new to you.

      This is something I want to share with you because I've heard of so many friends making resolutions to lose weight and get healthier, and it's something that has been a really simple change for me and a change that I think played a huge part in my weight loss last year.

      What is it?

      Use less olive oil. Or any kind of oil, really.

      I've never been the type to eat much fried food, but I do eat sauteed food, like almost every night. When I'm cooking now, I sautee my veggies in low sodium veggie broth instead of olive oil. And when I make salad dressings, I'm more inclined to puree an apple and some vinegar and spices in my blender rather than throwing together olive oil and vinegar.

      I still use some olive oil or coconut oil or grapeseed oil, depending on what I'm making, but where I used to sautee in two tablespoons of oil and then add another two as my veggies started to dry out (I never cook in nonstick pans so moisture is a must), now I might use one tablespoon or less, and then I add veggie broth a little at a time until I'm ready for the next step of my recipe.

      When I started subbing low sodium veggie broth, I did some mental math to figure out how many calories I was saving by leaving out the oil. The numbers were too big, really, when you consider there are 119 calories in one tablespoon of olive oil (as opposed to 15 calories per CUP of veggie broth), and I was using at least four in each meal I made, not to mention the salad dressing. Over the course of a week, those really add up and they are, essentially, empty calories. Yes, you need some fat in your diet but, according to Dr. Fuhrman of Eat to Live fame, you're better off getting your fat from nuts that you incorporate into your meals (not snacks by the handful) rather than added oil in salads, main courses, and sides.

      Veggie broth is not expensive and it comes in really easy to use cartons. I buy my organic low-sodium broth from Whole Foods, where the regular price is $2 per carton. Our Costco just started carrying organic veggie broth too, but it's not low-sodium, six cartons for about $9, I think.

      I used to kind of laugh at baking recipes that gave you the option to replace oil with apple sauce. It seemed silly -- let dessert be dessert, right? And that is still my attitude, mostly because we don't eat much dessert-y food here. But cutting out oil in food I eat every day? To me that makes sense, and I wish I'd known sooner about the veggie broth option. Here's hoping a few of you can save some calories, too!

      Wednesday, November 21, 2012

      The making of a "happy" Thanksgiving dinner

      Those of you who have known me for a long time know that for about the last five years I've differentiated between "happy" food and "unhappy" food. For those of you who are new, here's a little primer for you. Happy food is sustainably grown and harvested, sustainably, ethically, and humanely raised (obviously referring to meat and dairy there), and usually (but not always) organic and local. Now that we've moved to a diet of mostly high nutrient density foods (like Eat to Live or Engine 2), our definition of "happy food" has expanded. Now it isn't just about how the food was grown, raised, harvested, slaughtered, etc. but also about what it does to our bodies. So, for example, local organic kale is just about the happiest food ever, right? Cool Whip, on the other hand, uh...yeah. Cool Whip is like really, REALLY unhappy.

      Making a Thanksgiving dinner that reflects a high-nutrient-density food pyramid.
      Can it be done? I think it can!
      Although we've moved away from a diet that includes meat and other animal products (they simply don't have the nutrient density that our bodies crave now), we still have our 21 cubic foot freezer in our basement...an artifact from our local meat buy-a-whole-hog-at-a-time days. And it still has some meat in it, including a beautiful organic turkey that I bought last year at Costco after Thanksgiving.

      And shortly after I bought it, we went vegan. And now we're not really into meat.

      Luckily, our kids still like meat (although when Callie eats too much meat and/or oil, she pukes -- case in point, last night she puked up a gigantic Pei Wei dinner all over her bedroom carpet). We're having Thanksgiving with a family who eats meat, too. And I'm sure I'll have a slice of turkey, but not because I crave it or feel like I need it. Just because it's there.

      Here is what we'll be eating this Thanksgiving, besides the turkey.

      We'll have a Gardener's Pie (aka: vegan shepherd's pie) stuffed with lots of veggies and topped with mashed potatoes.

      We'll be eating Kickin' Corn Puddin, a vegan spicy creamed corn recipe that we got at our last Whole Foods Health Starts Here class.

      We'll have our usual Tangy Cranberry Chutney, similar to this recipe. I've been making this since our first Thanksgiving together and it might be my favorite part of Thanksgiving. It's got apples, raisins, a little cider vinegar, cloves, and a ton of sugar. This year I'll be experimenting with subbing dates for the sugar. But...shhhh...don't tell my kids, okay?

      I'll make some baked Stuffed Apples. I plan to hollow out some of the apples from our local CSA, stuff them with the same stuffing I'd usually use to stuff a turkey (mine always has nuts and dried cranberries in it, along with the usual onions, celery, and blend of herbs), and bake them for a while. How long? I dunno. Until they're done, I guess. This is how dinner happens around here.

      I'll make some gravy to go with the turkey. I was thinking of including some chantarelles that I picked up at Whole Foods for about half-off, but I don't really want them to get lost in the gravy. Plus, the kids like gravy more than anyone and I don't think they'll appreciate the chantarelles. So if you have some ideas for what to do with 1/4lb of chantarelles, speak up. Seriously.

      My friend Emily, who is much better at following recipes than I am, will bring over the Maple Mashed Sweet Potatoes and the Tarragon Green Beans from the Forks Over Knives companion book.

      For dessert, I bought an unhappy but probably quite tasty Pumpkin Cheesecake from Costco. I'm pretty sure it will satisfy everyone who feels like eating dessert. I, for one, will have a bite but would probably be satisfied with a good cup of coffee after dinner.

      While this isn't a super high nutrient density Thanksgiving dinner, it is a mostly-vegan Thanksgiving dinner that will satisfy our desire for traditional Thanksgiving foods, but in a healthier way. I'll report back on what is popular and what isn't and I'll share some recipes. Maybe I'll learn something that you can use for a healthy meal during this holiday season!

      Sunday, November 4, 2012

      {juice} Double Dare


      I'm sure that this admission will date me, but I'm going to go ahead and say it anyway. I used to watch Double Dare. Do you remember Double Dare? That kids' game show on Nickelodeon? Maybe I didn't really watch it; maybe it just happened to be on tv when I was home, and I happened to see kids getting buckets of green slime dumped on their heads when they answered a question incorrectly or failed a DD challenge.

      When I was looking for a name for this juice recipe, DD came to mind immediately. Green slime. That's what it looks like. The color, at least. Not so much the consistency, since it isn't slimy at all. Actually, it's refreshing and tart and packed with nutrients.

      I make this juice the same way I make most of my juices. I put the first five ingredients through my juicer, then transfer the juice to my blender and add the last ingredient. In this one, spinach gets added at the end. It creates some foam, but once it sits in the fridge for a few minutes, the foam dissipates and all that is left is lovely green juice. This recipe makes about 3 medium or two large juices -- enough to share.

      What a way to start your week! Happy Monday!

      Wednesday, October 31, 2012

      A green paint and varnish stripper that doesn't suck

      I've got a few pieces out in the garage that I'm working on refinishing. Two will go up for sale, the other one might go up for sale. Scott is pretty attached to it so it would take a hefty price tag to separate him from it. Here's a photo of that one (*cough* makeanoffer *cough*). It's an antique Hunt trestle table and benches. Sturdy, rustic, timeless. Scott's really in love (but we have nowhere to put it!). The top is a little bigger than 2'x3' and it is normal table height. It would be a great game table or breakfast table for two average sized people or four smaller people (or average sized people who don't mind sitting close together).



      I haven't quite decided how I'm going to refinish it, so if you have ideas leave a comment! Keep in mind that it may end up outside.

      And then there are these two other pieces -- they will  definitely be up for sale. Here are before shots of them:



      Typical 80's-early 90's honey oak, right? So, as I started to give them a light sanding to get ready to paint, I noticed that some of the sealer was flaking off of the end table. I decided to try a little oxidizing solution to see how I liked it. Usually oak turns black with the vinegar and steel wool solution, but I figured it was worth a shot.

      And it was perfect.

      So I grabbed a few bottles of stripper and went to work. Here is what they look like after getting stripped.



      Better already, right?

      If only oak could keep that light, sandy tone after being sealed. But it doesn't. It turns orange. I think if I dilute the oxidizing solution enough, I'll be able to get exactly the grey that I want, and then I'll probably wax it. I'm afraid of going with my usual PolyWhey because I'm pretty sure it will turn the grey to orange. I promise to keep you posted!

      In the meantime, let me tell you a bit about the stripper that I used.


      I've tried a few different green strippers. The one I've used the most is a citrus one. I've also used Peel-Away. I've not been happy with either one. But this one? Mötsenböcker's Lift Off? It actually works. And, it doesn't make you feel sick nor does it eat through your skin. Bonus, right?

      Can I get a hallelujah? Because this is kind of exciting...for me.

      Mötsenböcker's Lift Off went on really thickly -- it is a gel. It stayed wet plenty long to release the finish and it didn't leave too much gummy residue. Yes, some residue, but not as much as other strippers I've worked with. I was planning to use these mineral spirits to clean it up, but I only had this paint thinner around, so I used it and it worked well. Möstenböcker's Lift Off is supposed to clean up easily with soap and water but I wasn't ready to try it that way yet. I didn't want to raise the grain of the wood and I haven't had good luck with other strippers that are supposed to clean up with soap and water. Basically, other water-based strippers have traumatized me and I was being lazy for fear of creating more work for myself. Next time I've got a piece to strip, I'll try the soap and water clean up and report back.

      For now, I just wanted to share with you that there is a green paint stripper out there that actually works! I picked up mine at Lowe's -- I hope you can find some, too.

      This is not a sponsored post. Möstenböcker's has no idea who I am and did not pay me to say nice things about their product.


      Thursday, October 11, 2012

      Last-minute cole slaw dinner

      After my post about how my family and I went plant-strong, I got several questions from friends asking what I eat and what recipes I use. I don't use many recipes and when I do, I treat them like inspiration (much to the chagrin of friends and family who need plant-strong ideas). But, I thought I could give you a little window into what my dinner-making process looked like tonight. Here we go.


      It's 5:30pm. Like most nights, tonight I don't have a plan for dinner. I look in the fridge to figure out what I'm going to make.

      I've got kohlrabi. I have kale. There are carrots and apples and green onions. I've got sliced almonds in the pantry.

      Decent beer is, of course, a necessary ingredient for any dinner-making adventure.
      Sounds like a big cole slaw to me.

      Here's how it came together.

      Dressing (all measurements VERY approximate, so use your best judgement):
      1 T toasted sesame oil
      1 T seasoned rice vinegar
      2 T soy sauce
      1 inch fresh ginger, peeled
      1 medium apple, cored and roughly cubed
      2 T peanut butter
      (One whole peeled orange or a lime would be good, but I didn't have one. I forgot to add garlic, but you probably should. It would also be good with some red pepper flakes, but Callie is way spice-averse.)

      Blend all ingredients until smooth. (I used a Vitamix high speed blender.) Taste and adjust if needed. Refrigerate.

      Cole Slaw
      4 small apples, cored
      2 medium kohlrabi, tough peel removed
      6 medium carrots
      1 bell pepper, seeded (I used green because I had it on hand. Yellow, red, or orange would be better.)

      Shred ingredients listed above. I used my food processor with the shredding attachment.

      Add: 
      1 bunch of kale, finely chopped
      3 green onions, sliced
      1 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped

      Pour on dressing and toss.

      Add:
      1 C of sliced almonds

      Toss one last time and serve.

      I just used what I had on hand to make this, but you could add ingredients like broccoli, purple cabbage, edamame, or bean sprouts. If you're looking for more substance, this would be good with rice noodles or mung beans or even lentils.

      I ate two big bowls and felt full. Scott also had two servings. Brynn had one big bowl. Callie ate one medium bowl and then she had a couple of dried dates for dessert. For us, this was enough. If we were going straight from a chicken-and-ribs lifestyle to a plant-strong lifestyle, this dinner would obviously raise some eyebrows at the table. But, since we eased into it, a meal like this is expected and satisfying for us.

      I hope this helps!

      Wednesday, October 10, 2012

      The end of a lifelong struggle

      I've struggled with my weight and my body image my entire life. I've never been obese, but I've always been overweight. Even in high school when I was at morning and afternoon swim practices, probably swimming as many as 8000 yards a day, things were never quite right. I played sports year round and was always an athlete, but always carried extra weight. I didn't eat candy, I didn't drink soda, I didn't eat typical junk food or much processed food. My mom said I was fine and my doctors said I was fine, so I didn't worry too much about it. I just never felt great about myself and I always figured someday I'd shed the extra pounds.

      But, I was never willing to do anything difficult to get there. I'm still not, actually. I am not and never will be a runner. I despise running. I love food and am not willing to feel hungry. I can't make myself throw up (although I did try, probably like most teenage girls who are unhappy with their weight). Once in fourth grade, the meanest boy I know called me a "110 pound whopper." I don't think I weighed that much and I know I wasn't huge, but I still torment myself with that comment.

      My struggle is over. Do you hear that? I'm done. Not because I no longer care. Not because I've decided to restrict my calories. Not because I'm exercising myself to death. I haven't done anything extreme. I've just tweaked my diet a little bit. That's all it took.

      My diet has changed from the majority of calories coming from animal products, grains, and oils to the majority of calories coming from plants. I use significantly less olive oil than I used to and recently I completely removed chocolate from my house (that was hard, actually). I did not get rid of cocoa powder, mind you, but chocolate.

      For the past four or five years, Scott and I have only been eating meat as a main course three or four times a week, and it was always from local ranches and farms -- never from the grocery store. But we never cut out cheese or milk or completely eliminated meat. And, actually, we still haven't gotten rid of them completely, but we did cut way, way back.

      When I say the "majority" of my calories are coming from plants, I don't mean 55%. I mean like 85-90%. I mean the vast majority. Scott and I started by going 100% vegan for six weeks. We didn't rely on bread, pasta, and other grains to fill us up. We filled up on salads and veggies and beans. We significantly reduced our olive oil use. We mixed nuts into our salads and we started to juice veggies. We were not hungry. We did not count nor restrict our calories. In the first three weeks, pounds of fat literally disappeared from my body. I lost about 14 pounds in the first three weeks. Things slowed down after that and I've slowly continued to lose weight since then even though I'm no longer trying. I'm down about 25 pounds now and today, for the first time ever, the weight listed on my driver's license is accurate.

      Not that I meant to cheat when I got my Colorado driver's license eight years ago. I think I was close and was headed toward that weight. But then I had Callie and never made a conscious effort to get back to my pre-baby weight. After going plant-strong, I'm now below my pre-baby weight and in the healthy BMI range for the first time in my life.

      This was in June. I'm down another 8-10lbs since then!
      I will never be a tiny person. I will never be skinny. That's just not who I am. I am 5'8" and built like a tank. A feminine tank, but still, I'm the cliché "big-boned" person that every fat person thinks they are. In high school my friend Gretchen and I used to talk about how our hips were built for twins. I never had twins, but the doctor who delivered Brynn said I have "the Cadillac of uteruses." Brynn was born 9lbs 14oz. We are not small people.

      Will I always kind of wish I were that little person? Yes. Do I realize that my build is not related to my health? Yes. And I am so thankful to have found a healthy lifestyle.

      If you're interested in learning more about a plant-strong lifestyle, I'd suggest that you start by reading Dr. Fuhrman's book Eat to Live. That is where we started and it turned our ideas of health upside-down. The book has several testimonies from Dr. Fuhrman's obese and really sick patients (ie: diabetes, heart attacks, super high blood pressure) who used his plan to get healthy. We didn't relate so much to those stories, but the rest of the book was packed with information that is useful for anyone. I also read (and purchased, which is big for me) Fuhrman's book Disease Proof Your Child. It is a great guide to getting micronutrient-dense plant foods into your kids and setting them up for a lifetime of health. It's not so much about weight-management as it is about preventing diseases like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. I've paged through The Engine 2 Diet and think it is totally on-target. I own the new Forks Over Knives cookbook -- it is vegan, plant-strong, and super accessible. No weird ingredients. The Forks Over Knives and Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead documentaries are really motivating and available for instant watching on Netflix.

      Have you changed your health lately? Or dropped weight without struggling? I'd love to hear about it.

      Wednesday, September 26, 2012

      No more ziplocks!


      A few years ago I found a new way to reduce my dependence on oil...I decided to quit using ziplock bags. Because, as I'm sure you know, the manufacture of anything plastic requires a good bit of oil. To replace plastic bags I made a big batch of fabric snack bags. I made some of the bags the size of sandwich bags and some the size of the smaller snack sized bags.

      My first bags...they're still in use!
      That was two years ago. I haven't bought ziplocks since.

      I know! It sounds so...un-American!

      Yes, sometimes I get complaints from Scott when he's packing for the airport and wants ziplocks for his toiletries (I haven't had a problem getting through security with my toothpaste in my regular ditty bag). Other than that, I think we've adapted pretty well.

      For my snack bags, I've used both cotton and nylon liners. I like the cotton liners better because I don't have to worry about what kind of weird chemicals were used to make them (although conventional cotton is sprayed with lots of pesticides and then later it is bleached...but I try to use fabric that's been washed several times). If I'm sending a messy sandwich in one of the bags, I just wrap the sandwich in parchment paper (I buy the pre-cut squares of deli paper at Costco) before I put it in the bag. My girls pull out their sandwiches wrapped in paper and use the paper like a plate when they eat at school. We use the bags several times (shaking them out when necessary) before tossing them in the washing machine inside-out.



      I played with several designs before landing on this one. The rounded top is forgiving and the small piece of velcro is all you really need. I tried bags with full velcro closures, but they were hard to open and close. We've never had problems with this design -- the food we put in the bags seems to stay in the bags!


      I want you to be able to join the no-ziplock revolution, so while I worked on another batch of bags over the past few weeks, I took (poorly lit because it was usually the middle of the night) photos of each step.

      Let's get started.

      First I cut out two pieces of fabric (one for the outside, one for the lining) using a pattern that I created. The pattern is made of one 8 1/2"x11" piece of paper taped to another piece of paper with a rounded top edge. I traced a mixing bowl to get the rounded edge. The total pattern height is 17 inches. When I'm cutting a sandwich bag, I use the full height of the pattern. For a snack bag, I fold the lower sheet of paper in half, so the total height is 11 1/2 inches.



      Place the fabrics with the wrong sides together (these pieces are cut to snack size).


      If you're going to use a ribbon tab on the rounded flap of the bag, now is the time to cut it. I make mine about 2 1/2".


      Fold the fabric tab in half, center it (as best you can) on the rounded top edge, and pin it between the two wrong sides with the cut edge poking out.



      Sew along the perimeter of the bag, but leave the flat bottom end open.


      Press the seams open and then turn the bag inside out.


      Press the edges flat and do your best to round out the top -- sometimes this can be challenging!


      Fold the raw bottom edge inward and press it. You're going to top-stitch it closed.


      Pin the pressed edge.


      Top-stitch the bottom edge. Sometimes it is fun to use contrasting thread for this part...if you're confident in your ability to sew a straight line. I'm not, but I use contrasting thread anyway!


      Now add velcro to the outside of the bottom part of the bag.


      Fold the bottom part of the bag up toward the rounded flap. I use my best judgement on this rather than a precise measurement.


      Once you've figured out where you want your fold, top-stitch all the way around the bag, starting from the top right corner of this picture, down around the curve, and then up to the left corner. I don't go across the bottom -- I just leave the fold.


      You're almost done! Match up the rounded flap with the velcro on the bottom and add a piece of velcro to the inside of the flap.


      That's it! The bag I was working on in the photos is a snack sized bag. For the sandwich bag, follow the same steps but make your fold in the appropriate place to get the size bag you want.