Lessons Re-Learned

I’m grateful to be feeling good again. Life has been pretty great over the last few weeks, and I’m ready to dive into some new projects. I’m playing with the idea of balance as things start to get a little busier.

Here’s a list of a few things I’ve learned (or re-learned) over the last few months:

1. The need for the tension of the opposites is an important thing to accept.

I had plenty of free time when I was sick. I got lots of much-needed rest, but the more time I spent at home, the more miserable I felt.

I learned that although I need love and support, I don’t really want other people to take care of me. I don’t want all the free time in the world- and this was a huge thing for me to experience. It’s allowing me to accept the tension of the opposites that Jung talks about. Because even though I don’t like it when I have to wake up to be somewhere at 7- I also don’t like not having a reason to wake up.

I would often think about how fun it would be to be suddenly wealthy, so I could be totally free to pursue my creative interests. And even though I’m sure I wouldn’t turn down a million dollars, turning it down could be the better choice! Because I want to create my own success – there’s something so satisfying about that. And I want to have plenty without having too much. It reminds me of a quote I heard somewhere that said, “Give your kids enough money to do something, but not so much that they can do nothing.” Creating new businesses involves hard work and uncomfortable risk. I was hoping for a natural, effortless evolution as I transitioned into a relaxed, prosperous new business. But I’m realizing that I’m just going to have to dive into some things that are hard and that terrify me! I’ve just gotta close my eyes and jump! There are going to be some things that I don’t like or even hate, but I can accept that and work hard while I still take time to rest and care for myself.

2. Our beliefs about life and ourselves are inseparable from our physical health and well being.

As I was sorting through my health woes, I ran across a book by Louise Hay called, You Can Heal Your Life. The book talks about how our lives are a manifestation of everything we believe- be it our health, our relationships, our work. Louise was diagnosed with vaginal cancer, and she decided she was going to heal her life with nutrition and healing beliefs and exercises. And it worked for her!

I’ve always believed that our belief system can keep us limited, but I didn’t quite know to what extent. I listened to a talk by Deepak Chopra last night that said our bodies renew themselves by 98% every year, which means there’s only two percent of my physical body that’s left from this time last year! In my mind, that creates an amazing possibility for healing.

So I started to experiment. I could feel myself starting down this lengthy road of spending thousands more dollars, chasing a medical diagnosis, feeling awful and sorry for myself. If I looked hard enough, I’m sure I could have found something that was wrong.

But I also believed that I could choose to get better, and I refused to accept that I was going to feel weak and sick for the rest of my life.

So I decided to go kayaking one Saturday, regardless of how I felt. I felt sick during the first half of the trip, but then I felt pretty great. And it’s been mostly better since that day. When I’m tired, I think, “Oh, I’m tired today.” Rather than, “oh, god, I’m exhausted, what horrible illness is this a symptom of?” When I start to hurt, I stop and take a few breaths. Letting go and believing that my body can heal has been a really powerful experience for me.

I don’t say that to discount the pain that so many people are experiencing. I think that pain is very real, and I don’t pretend to know to what extent our beliefs contribute to all pain, tragedy, and illness, but I thought it was worth trying in my own life.

3. Self-loathing often gets disguised as self care.

Another thing I’ve learned is that I was still trying way too hard. I still had an agenda of wanting to “fix me”.

When I first started feeling bad, I didn’t want to see a doctor. I thought, “fuck, I’m already exercising, eating healthy- I don’t have time for anything else related to my health. “

Pete Egoscue, the founder of the postural therapy method I practice says, “Pain is your body’s voice. Listen to your body.” My body was trying to communicate with me, and honestly, all I wanted it to do was shut up.

At times there’s an underlying aggression that permeates the things I do in the name of “self-care”. Self-loathing can easily get disguised as “self-care”. We say we’re going on a diet to be healthier, or we’re going to exercise for our health. When what we really feel is that we are disgusting, over indulgent slobs who need to punish ourselves into shape. But we rebel against that because something at the core of our beings refuses to believe that we’re defective or horrible.

Something within us says I won’t give up until you see the value in me- the value in me just as I am. And I will continue to rebel until you love me, listen to me and pay attention to what I’m saying.

We talk ourselves out of our feelings and desires, we wish we could cut off half of the fat on our bellies or erase the wrinkles from our forehead because some ancient voice is yelling at us saying that life would be easier if we didn’t have feelings, desires or imperfections. If we could just fit perfectly into the mold that our parents or society have set out for us, then our existence would be validated. Then we wouldn’t blame ourselves anymore for the problems that were never ours to begin with.

4. Complete self-reliance doesn’t work (nor does it exist)- I believe that healing is impossible without the support of other people.

I was trying to be way too self-reliant. One of the main reasons that I got certified in Postural Therapy was so that I could treat myself. I thought getting treated was too expensive, so if I was certified, then I would never need a therapist again! But I’ve learned that there is no substitute for having another human being to help us heal and to support us in our suffering. We weren’t meant to live in isolation, and as much as I would like (at times) to avoid the messiness of needing other humans and relationships, it doesn’t work for long.

5. If I try to use my head to make sense of everything, I go crazy.

This health drama has reminded me of a religious quest that I went on in college. After some events in my family caused me to question nearly all my beliefs, I set out determined to find the ultimate truth and to live my life according to that truth. So I obsessively read books, took religion courses, had discussions with friends, and the more I sought out concrete answers, the dizzier I became. When I finally gave up and quit trying to figure it all out, I found the freedom that comes with accepting the paradox and mystery of it all.

And I think I’m learning that lesson again now- if we can humbly exist and rest in the complexity of life that can never be fully understood with our intellect, then we find peace and freedom. As soon as I quit trying so hard and relax into my experience, then I usually feel pretty good. If I can do things that are fun, that’s the best medicine I’ve found. I don’t remember the last time I was hurting while having an awesome time!

So I think it’s been a combination of all the things I just wrote about that have helped me feel better: the shift in my belief system and attitude, the nutritional changes and supplements I’m taking, the love and support of the wonderful people in my life, treatment from some really great doctors and therapists, meditation and relaxation techniques that help me slow my mind down and sleep, remembering to have fun, and listening to my body with kindness instead of yelling at it to shut up. I hope to have internalized these lessons a little more over the last few months, and hopefully they will continue to shape my life and my actions.

I’ve started working with people in postural therapy again, and so far the results have been pretty great. I have a cute little therapy space in my mom’s building in Cahaba Heights. I’m still happy to work with anyone who is interested. Right now, I’m seeing people on a pay what you can basis. I need to cover some basic expenses, but I also want it to be accessible for anyone who is interested. So feel free to shoot me a message if you’re interested- I’d love to work with you! Here’s a link to the post explaining more about the Egoscue Method and postural therapy, if you’d like to read more about it! And I’m planning to start teaching a posture class one evening a week sometime in the next few months.

I’m also dreaming about some Passive House projects. I don’t think it’s the right time to start building my Avondale house. But I have been thinking of building an affordable Passive House on a different property to sell. I’m hoping to find some existing Passive House plans that I like and modify them a little, which would make the process much shorter. I’ve also started looking at some historic properties in Norwood and Roebuck Springs, to see if I find something there that I could renovate.

So we’ll see where all this takes me, but thank you again to everyone who let me know they were thinking of me. And to everyone who shared their own stories of similar struggles. It really meant a lot to me.

Straightening Things Out -the Egoscue Method

I’m on a flight back from Colorado as I write this. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks hanging out with some friends and finishing the last part of a certification to become a postural therapist.

I’ve haven’t written about this yet, but over the last 9 months, I’ve been working on a certification to become a Postural Alignment Specialist in the Egoscue Method.
That’s a lot of words to basically say that I’ll be certified to work with people to help them get their body back into a functional alignment to stay out of pain and move without limitations.

I ran across a book in my chiropractor’s office a couple of years ago called Pain Free by Pete Egoscue. I had been in pain off and on for several years after a shoulder injury in high school, and I knew that I couldn’t rely on somebody else to fix me anymore. Seeing the chiropractor every couple of weeks wasn’t helping my pain anymore because I wasn’t helping myself!

As I started reading the book, I was impressed with how simple and logical the method sounded. Pete Egoscue was shot in Vietnam, and after being told that he would never heal completely and would always be in pain, he began to rehabilitate himself. After about a year of experimenting with his own body, he had made a miraculous recovery and through the process of his own healing, the Egoscue Method was born.

When other veterans saw his transformation, they begged him to teach them what he had learned and slowly the word began to spread.

The basic premise of the method, as Pete writes, is, “we can’t live without adequate motion, and our motionless lifestyle is nothing less than a slow death.” Up until some decades ago, our survival depended totally on movement. And now we can survive with just a few steps from the bed to the bathroom to the car to the computer. But we still have bodies that are designed to need the stimulus of motion, so we’re paying for our sedentary lifestyles with pain and dysfunction. Our movement deprived lifestyles have created dysfunctional bodies, so when we do try to move, we often end up hurting ourselves.

The Egoscue Method says we have to believe in our body’s amazing ability to heal itself. We have to first believe that we aren’t broken beyond repair. Then we have to take responsibility for our health and understand that no drugs, surgery or other people can fix what we can only fix ourselves. Egoscue recognizes that our body operates as a unit, so whatever happens in one part of the body affects the body as a whole. And when we are in pain, it’s our body screaming at us to pay attention.

The method is a system of simple stretches and exercises that uses gravity and flat surfaces like the wall or floor to help our bodies get back into a functional position. It uses a systematic approach of deliberate movements to remind the body of how it can and is supposed to function!

When I first began doing the exercises, I was amazed at the results! Within about 2 days, I felt 90% better and was able to start doing things I had quit doing because of the pain.

I’ve always wanted to make a living doing things that I most believe in. I want to share with other people the things that work for me in my own life, and I have a strong belief that we can’t compartmentalize our lives.

As I write this, I imagine people thinking: “Lauren, you’re all over the place! How can you build Passive Houses, be an interpreter, and a postural therapist? I thought you wanted to simplify your life. Can’t you just pick one thing??!” Or maybe it’s my own inner-critic that says that.

But the common thread is sustainability. I can’t work overtime on projects related to green living and sustainability, if my own health is deteriorating. That feels very hypocritical. I think that what we eat, how we move, how we treat the people in our lives, and the kind of choices we make in the products we buy and the buildings we build is all so important and inner-connected. I will never do it perfectly (just in case you see me next week on the street corner with a growler of beer eating Doritos!) but I’m interested in creating a mind-body practice where I work with people to better their quality of life while I work on doing the same thing in my life.

What I imagine my life looking like over the next few years is to continue working part-time as an interpreter, then to have a part-time mind-body practice where I work as a sort of life coach and postural therapist with people. And hopefully, I’ll have some time and energy left over to work on Passive House projects as the opportunity arises.

I’m really excited about the possibilities. I also will be working with a few people for free as I become more comfortable as a Postural therapist, so if you are interested let me know! And if you’d like more info. about the Egoscue Method, check out the book Pain Free or The Egoscue Method of Health Through Motion by Pete Egoscue.

Obsessively Un-obsessing

I have a newfound commitment to not obsess about anything!

Which is interesting, because in the last few weeks I’ve cut my income by about 30%, and I’ve enrolled in a “plant-based” whole foods month long challenge. It seems like the perfect opportunity to get obsessed!

I have all this new time on my hands now; why not get crazy about couponing and all the money I should be saving. Growing my own food, so I can be a good plant-based student, while saving money!

It’s oh-so tempting. There are so many options and so much information out there-it’s hard not to get overwhelmed. It’s ridiculously hard to not constantly pound ourselves with a bunch of rules that somebody else came up with.

I think I’m ready to quit obsessing because I’m finally starting to believe that it doesn’t work. I don’t like rules that aren’t in my best interest. And if someone is telling me to eat kale (whether it’s an actual person or the voice in my head) when I’ve already had 12 servings of oil-free, salt-free, animal protein-free vegetables in 3 hours, I’m going to listen when my body screams “no!”.

I think the reason that diets or food plans don’t usually work is because someone else is making the rules for a body that’s not theirs. It’s because we’ve forgotten that we can trust ourselves.

Sure, there are general guidelines that are generally healthier for the general population. But if you’re forcing yourself to eat salad, when your body needs fat, that’s not healthy. No one can be inside you and say tomorrow at noon, you’re going to need x number of calories, or some vitamin D or calcium or sodium.

We have an innate ability to know what our bodies, minds and souls need. We know when we need green vegetables and when we need chocolate- we’ve just forgotten how to listen.

Our bodies’ signals have been so clouded by our dysfunctional pasts, our crazy culture, and the constant to desire to escape through food, alcohol, work or whatever. And so much of our food has become so distorted that it’s nearly unrecognizable as food. No wonder we’re confused.

But why do we keep doing crazy? Why do we keep relinquishing control over our own bodies and well-being to a set of external rules or to the voices from our childhood?

I think it’s because it’s easier in the short term. Because it can be a long, heartbreaking path to begin looking at why we do what we do. It’s hard to reconnect with a wisdom that we abandoned decades ago. We associate the familiar with survival, so we keep doing what we’ve always done. And maybe we’re scared of what we’ll find or of what we could lose if we really listen. Or maybe we’re scared of what we’ve already lost.

It’s been a process of several years for me, but I now know how to recognize what my body needs. The hardest part is really listening and then letting it shape my actions. Most of the time I don’t want to listen. I’m still scared of what could happen if I really pay attention.

But I no longer believe that someone else knows what’s better for me than I do.

So you may wonder why I’m even participating in this challenge if I don’t believe in rules.

It’s because in general I believe that a diet that consists of whole foods and that’s mostly plant based is what’s best for my health and the health of the planet. And because lately I haven’t been listening as well to what is best for me as I’d like to. It’s great to have a community of support and a place to share ideas and recipes. It helps me pay a little more attention to the choices I’m making about what I eat. I think challenges like this one can be helpful, as long as I use it as a way to support and encourage my own wisdom, rather than as a way to ignore it. Which is why I still eat meat or eggs or cheese a few times each week. Even though it’s not part of the plan, there are times when I feel like that’s what my body needs.

And sometimes I don’t care if something’s good for me or not- sometimes I get tired of being “good,” which is also ok, I just want that to be more the exception than the rule! And the more I make decisions for myself, rather than basing my choices on other people’s expectations, the less I need to rebel.

So when I feel those obsessions creeping in, I try and catch myself. I try and stop that voice before it totally grips me because I know now that obsessively worrying about anything, whether it be calories or money or whether or not the radio waves from my cell phone give me cancer, doesn’t help or change anything. It actually hurts. And it robs me of a whole lot of happiness in the process.

One Year Later

At many times a long the way I’ve wondered if change was possible. Sometimes my old beliefs and habits can feel so ingrained, that it’ll make me question whether or not humans are truly capable of change.

When I started this blog about a year ago, I was hoping to have my new home built by now, but more importantly I was searching for a shift within myself and a different outlook on life.

And a year later, I can honestly say that a lot has changed. My life has become less frantic, and I take time to do things that truly nurture me. I’m saying “no” a lot more, and I have a new overall commitment to my own well being. I cook healthy meals for myself. I take my lunch to work. I’ve reduced the amount of clutter and waste in my life. I take time to write. I spend time most days doing stretches and exercises that help me realign my posture and stay out of pain.

It’s amazing how good I can feel just by taking care of myself.

It’s very different than trying to force myself to live a “healthy” lifestyle or “be good” or “save the environment.” It really comes from a deeper place of wanting to truly live my life in alignment with what’s best for myself and the world around me. And I really don’t believe that those are two separate things. Of course I don’t do it perfectly (not even close!), and I don’t think I would want to. But I’m grateful for what this project is bringing me, and I hope to be able to continue sharing the things that are changing and the ways I hope to shape my professional life to line up with that vision as well.

I watched a you tube video this past week about a family of four who manages to only have one tiny bag of trash every few months. Here’s a link if you’d like to see how they do it.  They say that some people have criticized them and called their lifestyle extreme but that they are truly happier and healthier and their expenses have been reduced significantly by living this way!

Like with so many things, I don’t think it has to be all or nothing. I try to continually, gently incorporate smaller things into my life and see what habits I can gradually change. Things that feel really awkward at first, can become second nature over time. The last time I went to the grocery store, I looked at the conveyor belt and saw how nearly everything I was buying came in a package. So I’ve been saving my packages and buying more in bulk, using cloth bags to put the bulk items into. I keep a couple of tupperware containers in my car or purse to use as to go boxes at restaurants and take my water bottle at work, so I don’t have to use disposable cups. It’s fun; remembering is the hardest part! I’ve also been more conscious about only bringing things into my home that I really want or need. So just a few small changes at a time, that hopefully over a lifetime can make a difference!

Later this week I’ll write more about our progress with the house! I’ve been working on a few construction projects lately, so here are some photos from a Homewood bathroom remodel I just finished, and a screened in porch we tiled in Mountain Brook. In the bathroom, we used a low flow toilet and plumbing fixtures, an LED light fixture over the vanity, low VOC paint on the walls and ceiling, and we re-used the medicine cabinet over the vanity and painted it to match the vanity wood! All of these options were comparable in price to their conventional equivalent.

Here’s a link to my first post around this time last year if you’d like to read more about what this project means to me!

On the Road Again

It’s been a traveling month!

I spent a week near San Francisco, exploring the city and attending a retreat where we worked on our inner selves for a few days.

Then last week, I took a road trip up to Virginia for my friend’s baby shower. I couch surfed at a community house in Asheville that focuses on sustainability. They capture their grey water in buckets and use it to flush the toilets. They dumpster dive outside of a local natural foods store and bring home the slightly damaged packages of food that get thrown away. The have earth paint on their walls, make their own mead, live without air conditioner, and capture their rain water and compost for their organic garden. Their mosaics on the shower walls were made from found broken pieces of tile. It was inspiring to see all these guys were able to achieve in real life. It pushed me to think a little deeper about what other things I could be doing in my own life. It also helped me realize what things I wasn’t interested in, like crapping in a box to make my own biogas!

After leaving the precious historic town of Lexington, VA, where the baby shower was, I worked my way back home.

I headed to Damascus, Virginia to bike the Virginia Creeper Trail and spent Sunday night at the Hiker’s Inn, which is a cozy little inn/ hostel that provides a hot shower and a comfortable bed for the thru hikers that are walking the 2,000 miles of the Appalachain Trail, a footpath that goes all the way from Georgia to Maine.

On my way to Damascus I thought to myself, “I’m really glad I’ve gotten over the urge to hike the Appalachain Trail myself.”

But of course, all it took were five minutes of talking to the hikers, and I was ready to just abandon everything and follow them down the trail!

It’s a strange desire that’s hard to even articulate, but I have such an intense longing for the ridiculous simplicity of carrying everything on my back in the middle of nature with nothing but what I need to survive. It’s rugged and dirty and there’s no pretense. It can be lonely, scary and incredibly uncomfortable, but something about it feels like home. I miss Chris and other people/comforts while I’m gone, but I come home and after a few days, I’m ready to be back in the woods!

It brings the rest of my life into focus, magnifying the things that matter most to me while encouraging me to let go of the things that don’t.

So I guess it’s partly about the experience itself and partly about the contrast that allows me to appreciate all of life a little more.

As one of the hikers from the inn mentioned, “Being on the trail is like life in a capsule.” He said, “In the last six weeks, I’ve been extremely happy, intensely depressed; I’ve gained and lost friends, and I’ve had a relationship that lasted two weeks, but felt like a year! “ And I thought, yeah that makes perfect sense! Six months on the trail is like a metaphor for a lifetime.

Since I’ve been home, it’s become crystal clear to me that I have to make some changes in my professional life. I feel like I’m underpaid and under functioning. I have to find a way to increase my income and create a professional life based more on the things that I enjoy most, or else I will always feel trapped.

My hope is to slowly work on creating a business that helps people live happier, healthier, more sustainable lives! There are some certifications that I’ll be working on this year. One is the training to become a Passive House consultant.

I’m terrified and excited. I don’t know how I’ll work out all of the logistics yet, but I’ve started doing some research and am excited to have some direction.

We’re also making headway with the house! The elevations are done, and I’ve decided to go ahead and start building the garage.

Very few people have looked at my house in Hoover, but I can afford to build the garage even without selling my house. That’ll give me lots of storage space and an upstairs office above the garage where I could occasionally sleep while the main house is being built! That means only having to move once!

Rebecca suggested the idea, and I love it. It helps me feel like the project isn’t becoming stagnant.

It will also be great practice; I’ll get a chance to try incorporating all the Passive House techniques on a smaller scale without the pressure of having to get the structure certified.

The plan is to go before the design review board to get the neighborhood approval for the house and the garage on July 11. I have to apply for a variance because the garage takes up more than the allowed space in the backyard, but I’m hoping that won’t be too much of a hurdle. The goal is to break ground on the garage in August, and then start on the house as soon as the garage is finished, which will probably be the first of next year. It’s nice to have a concrete plan for the house and my life!

Jones Valley Teaching Farm

It’s about becoming ”understanding and connected to the life that is giving you life”.

This was my favorite quote from my January interview with Rachel Reinhart, the Program Director with Jones Valley Teaching Farm.

Jones Valley recently changed their name from Jones Valley Urban Farm, and I learned a lot through this interview about the focus of the farm and all they’re doing to better our quality of life and the health of our families, communities and environment. I hope you will enjoy Rachel’s insights as much as I did!

(It’s so long it took me four months to transcribe it, but I think it’s well worth the read!)

Me: Why do you think what Jones Valley is doing is important?

Rachel: I think it’s important for a few different reasons. One is community redevelopment.

Jones Valley is a way to get people back outside, knowing, talking to and caring about one another. Not just at the Jones Valley location downtown, but also through what we help people get started, through other community gardens, farmers markets, food policy council…

Me: Do you feel like it reconnects people across class lines, bringing the community together as a whole, rather than keeping us so compartmentalized?

Rachel: I wish it did, but I don’t think that we’ve really realized that yet, which is part of why we do what we do.

One program I run is a community garden training program. So even if all of our community doesn’t come together, you can start a community garden in your neighborhood, bringing your neighborhood closer together. Then we facilitate a chance for your neighborhood community garden to meet with other neighborhood groups.

Me: So you’re actually showing people how to create their own community gardens?

Rachel: Yes, how to create and sustain them because the hardest part is sustaining them. And the trick to doing that is community organizing, so we also teach community organizing.

So there’s the community redevelopment part of it, and the other part of it that REALLY matters to Jones Valley and to me personally, is creating better access to fresh, healthy food. And that’s partly through the gardens, partly through the farmer’s markets, and partly through teaching people a way to value and actually get food locally that is good for them.

In Jefferson County, we’re number three in the country in obesity, number 2 in the country in childhood obesity and that number is growing. All the diet related chronic health problems that come from that, like diabetes, heart disease, stroke, etc. are all going up, and if we can combat that by providing better food and teaching people to appreciate it, find it, cook it and eat it, then we have a chance of improving their personal health as well as our community and environmental health and safety.

Me: Why do you it’s important that Jones Valley is an organic garden? Or in general why do you think organic gardening is important?

Rachel: I think it’s important for a few different reasons.

One, we’re building on an ideal appellate. And it’s not just physical health or community health. It’s also environmental and economic health. For environmental health, it’s important to be conservative and sustainable with our natural resources, such as soil and water. Organic gardening is the most careful with those resources and promotes the health of the soil.

Organic gardening has a way of building the health of the soil and the health of the plants, so that you actually leave a garden bed healthier than you found it. You’re able to repair and undo past damage.

I think that’s important because in Birmingham we are still recovering from the contamination of our industrial area. We’re still recovering from the contamination of our social set with the racial injustice that has happened and still does happen. And until we tend to our soil and our communities and our neighborhoods, I don’t see that [recovery] happening.

Plus organic gardening produces healthier food. The food is more nutrient dense. It doesn’t have the toxic contamination of synthetic pesticides, or synthetic fertilizers.
It doesn’t create a contaminated water supply by causing toxic runoff into our streams. It helps increase the water retention capacity of the soil, making it more drought tolerant. And it creates a better habitat for bugs and birds and worms, all the small creatures that not a lot of people care about!

Another thing about organic gardening, especially when it’s done on a small scale like we do it, is that it connects you back to the work of producing the food that you eat. So you suddenly become understanding and connected to the life that is giving you life.

Instead of purchasing it in a store, where it doesn’t seem to be part of your own eco-system. I mean when you have a bag of Spinach that came from Atlanta, was packaged in Michigan, and grown in California 6 weeks ago, it makes for a real different connection than planting a seed, nurturing it, watching it grow and finally harvesting it and loving it.

Me: I’ve heard a lot about the difference in the energy requirements for producing plants versus animals. What can you tell me about that?

Well, I can talk about a few different things related to that. One difference is conventional farming versus organic farming.

I recently read a wonderful article from the Atlantic monthly. They were saying that people always say that organic farming cannot feed the world, but there have been more than a hundred studies to the contrary, saying that it can. So the Atlantic mentions and links you to all of those studies. In fact, even agro-business says that not only can organic farming feed the world, but a change in our food systems that includes organic farming is going to be necessary if we’re going to feed a world of 9 billion people. Organic farming requires 50% less energy input than conventional farming because we rely on a lot less mechanization.

It’s also a lot less consumptive of water. Because on organic farms, conservation is a key ethic. So generally, you water with drip tape irrigation rather than by overhead irrigation. Less is lost to evaporation, and the water is more directed, straight the roots of the plants, rather than on the leaves where you don’t need it.

The same article in the Atlantic says that when we compare conventional farming to organic, we should really look at conventional farming as a 75 year experiment that has not necessarily turned out a positive result because we’ve only been doing this centralized factory farming of plants and animals since after WWII. It really didn’t exist like that at all before then. Everything was grown on smaller farms, and families had gardens.

And that’s just conventional versus organic, but when you’re talking about plants versus animals. It takes so much energy just to raise an animal. Even when animals are pasture raised or free range, they still require supplemental feed, medical care, housing, heat, etc., depending on the climate. Then the meat has to be butchered, processed, refrigerated, packaged, transported, etc., and every step along the way adds up.

If you’re looking at conventionally raised livestock, they are now in confined animal feeding operations, usually housed in a building with a concrete floor, where there’s timed, mechanized distribution of their feed and washing off of their waste. Animals kept in confined conditions must be given antibiotics because they’re all so close together which leads to antibiotic resistance among humans because we’ve bio accumulated their resistance by eating their flesh. They’re given hormones to increase their rate of growth, so that they can be turned into food more quickly. And now we’re looking at the possibility that their growth hormones are being bio accumulated in us. Besides that, to keep a whole lot of animals in one place, takes a whole lot of energy, a lot of water, a lot of electricity, and a lot of fuel.

Me: So what are the main programs that Jones Valley is offering right now?

Rachel: In the last year, because of a change in leadership and really a change in focus, we’ve tightened our focus. So what we’re doing now, and this is really new, within the last 6 months, is our flagship program, called the Seed to Plate Nutrition Education Program for grades K-8. And typically Seed to Plate is a field trip program to the farm, with kids coming from schools or camps. The group of kids performs a series of hands-on farm activities, a series of hands-on nutrition activities, and a series of hands-on kitchen activities. Each program is built around a theme, and the kids harvest, learn about the nutrition, and cook or otherwise prepare and eat the food that they’ve harvested.

We’ve found this program to be really powerful. We’ve already served thousands of kids and our aspiration is to serve every kid in our metro area. We want to be a regular stop on school field trips. There is no one else who really does this, and we feel it’s a critical need.

We’re seeing that it’s not being covered in the classroom, so we’ve developed a curriculum and a set of activities that we do on the farm, as well as a curriculum that the teachers can use in their classroom. And this summer we’ll be developing an Alabama Math Science Technology Initiative (AMSTI) kit for teachers to take back to the classroom to use in agriculture, food and nutrition activities. They’ll be able to then connect it back to the core curriculum that they’re required to teach.

So we’ve really narrowed our focus for that to be the main program that we offer.

One of the other two programs that we still offer is Delicious Nutritious, a cafeteria cooks training program. We’ve found in working with schools that the cafeteria staff really loves and cares about the children, and they take great pride in what they do. But most of them, with the exception of the registered dieticians and the cafeteria directors, or child nutrition directors, have never been trained in nutrition or in cooking.

So they still cook things in a way that’s not very healthy. For example taking a giant tray and filling it full of giant cans of corn, putting two pounds of butter and two cups of sugar in it. Because they haven’t been trained any differently. So when we go in and talk about the health statistics of the children and what that means as far as their ability to pay attention in the classroom, and what it means with regards to their long term health outcomes, the cafeteria staff is appalled and says, “Teach us something else to do”.

So we give them recipes on how to use things like fresh herbs rather than salt, or on how to replace some of the battered, fried things with meats and vegetables prepared in different ways. And it’s gone over great.

So far every public school cafeteria worker in Jefferson County has been through at least one training session through this program. And we plan to keep doing it. Pretty much every school that we’ve talked to would like us take over the training of their cafeteria staff. So we have to try and find funding to provide. We had a grant that funded that program, but that grant’s finishing. I don’t think we’ll be able to do them all because we don’t have the staff or the funding to serve that. But what we would like to do is train the cafeteria managers, so they can go back and educate their staff.

And the other program we’re still doing is Grow Together, which is our community garden training program.

Me: Going back to the cafeteria training program, I feel like that’s so important because you’re bringing kids out to the farm, showing them how to harvest their own food, prepare it, eat it and enjoy it. But then if they go back to a school cafeteria where nothing is fresh and everything is processed and unhealthy, then there’s a huge disconnect. It could seem very hypocritical that their school would send them on these field trips while they keep feeding them junk on a daily basis.

Rachel: For the past 2 years, we’ve had a farm to school program, which focuses specifically on changing the policies in the school regarding what the policies allow the schools to purchase and serve and also regarding what education and preparation the staff has in order to provide healthy meals.

That program is grant funded, and that funding is coming to a close. But it’s been a very successful program, so we’re looking for ways to continue that.

Me: So do you think that will come through another grant? Or will it depend on private donations?

Rachel: Everything we do is dependent on private donations, grants, and community and corporate support. There’s no one thing that we do that can live by grants alone, so we’re constantly looking for new funding opportunities.

That’s one of the reasons we still grow produce. We grow produce partly to inform and validate our educational program.

Me: Right, to show people that it’s possible. It’s hard to teach people that organic gardening is possible if you’re not doing it yourself.

Rachel: Exactly, and it’s a demonstration farm for them to see, and it’s also a hands on learning facility for them to do.

So we do that, then we also sell the produce as one of the ways to fund our mission.

And then we ask a lot of people for money! We ask for little bits, big bits, one time bits, sustained donations… and that’s just part of being a non-profit. That’s how the game works.

Me: So would you say that the garden is more about education than it is about sourcing produce to the community?

Rachel: Oh, yes, because we can’t source enough produce to feed the community in a sustained, meaningful way. Our actual mission as it stands right now is “helping Birmingham grow organic produce and healthy communities through urban farming and education. “

So it’s never been our intention to grow a bunch of food and give it away. It’s never been our intention to be a highly productive urban farm. But it’s always been our intention to teach the principles and practices that we have, the organic gardening skills and the nutrition education to promote better health in our community.

We can grow food ourselves. I don’t know that in our current culture we’re going to get back to it. But 2 generations ago, if you had land, or even just a yard, you had a vegetable garden. And you didn’t call yourself a farmer; you just had a garden.

Me: Yeah, I know in the area of Birmingham where my boyfriend grew up, he said it was just normal for everyone to have a garden, and all the neighbors would share vegetables with each other. And that was only 30 years ago.

Rachel: When I was a kid, my parents didn’t garden, but both sides of my grandparents had huge gardens, and the gardens were more important than any other part of their yard.

You know I call myself a lifelong organic gardener because my grandparents would have us picking peas as soon as we could walk. Then after I became a “greenie”, I asked my grandfather about the methods and chemicals he used in his garden. He was a very simple man that never graduated high school, but he said, “I don’t know about organic gardening. All I know is that I don’t even know what that chemical mess is. Why would you put that on your food?”

And the idea that my parents wouldn’t garden was shameful.

Me: So I’m sure Jones Valley has faced many unique challenges. Do you feel funding is the biggest challenge the garden faces right now?

Rachel: We have a few challenges. One is definitely funding because our annual budget is somewhere around $500,000 now. And that’s after shrinking our overall operation considerably. We let go of our Mt. Laurel site in November, and Jim N’ Nicks is now running it.

Me: Oh wow, that’s cool! Is that so they can grow their own food for the restaurant? Are they still using organic growing methods?

Rachel: Oh yeah, Jim N’ Nicks has a big commitment to sustainable food. They use sustainably raised pork, and as much as possible, sustainably grown vegetables. That’s just one of their personal commitments. Nick of Jim N Nick’s actually lives in Mt. Laurel.

It’s in the beginning stages of them taking it over. But they’ve developed a very successful business model, and as their success has grown, they’ve wanted to do things more sustainably. And so far that’s really been working for them.

Me: That’s neat. So was Mt. Laurel just more than Jones Valley could handle with the staff and funding that they have?

Rachel: The idea when we moved out to Mt. Laurel was that it would take us 3 years to turn a profit. But there is a lot that has to go into it as far as infrastructure, etc. The Mt. Laurel property is actually owned by Ebsco Industries and Ebsco is one of Jones Valley’s big supporters, and they subsidized that three-year process. They put a lot of money and assistance into it. Their grounds crew would come out and bush hog anything that wasn’t cultivated, and their maintenance crew would come work on the irrigation systems and any equipment failure, etc. They provided housing to our staff. And they’re tremendously successful, but over time they were looking for it to be self-sustaining. They still own the property, but they were looking at our growth to increase the funding as they decreased their commitment, but that didn’t happen. It is really, really hard to make a living as a farmer, especially if your small scale and organic. So it was consistently costing us more than we were making.

Since it was an outgrowth of our original enterprise, and although we had a few educational programs going on out there, it was mostly production. We were seeing a lot of our resources going to support that enterprise and not enough was coming back from there to support our educational mission, so eventually our board of directors decided that it was a good effort, but it was longer working for us.

When we first were offered the option to use it, we considered moving our entire operation down there. Because it’s beautiful, huge, and says, “farm.” It doesn’t say urban but it says farm. And it serves a really different population. We saw that we would lose a lot of the spirit of what we’re trying to do if we moved down there. The school buses for Birmingham City Schools can’t leave Jefferson County without a special dispensation, so if we continued to serve school children, they would have to go into Shelby County to get there. Not to say that Shelby County isn’t deserving, but it would have been a real shift in our focus. We decided that education was more important than production, and we were best suited to do that downtown.

Another challenge is that we still don’t have a building. So another thing we’re looking at is having a permanent, stable infrastructure to support our mission and activities. Right now we’re in a construction trailer that was supposed to be temporary, but we’ve been in it for four years now.

And we have holding tanks; we’re not on sewer. The tanks have to be pumped out twice a week because we’re serving lots of people. We’ll have a hundred kids a week or more that use the bathroom. If we have an event, we have to rent port-a-lets. And our events are a big part of how we bring in revenue as well as educate people about what’s happening at the farm, but if we have an event and there’s inclement weather, then we have nowhere for people to go.

We’re looking at where and how we can stabilize and grow our organization. We’re very interested in staying downtown. We love our spot, but again, we don’t own the property.

Me: So who owns the property now?

Rachel: It’s owned by the Rushton Foundation, which is a private family foundation that has very generously allowed us to use the property for years. The Rushton Foundation provides us with financial support and spiritual support. They have a commitment to revitalize the city center especially for the community residents of the city center, and they’ve all been very, very generous with all kinds of things downtown. Initially they asked us to assist with a community garden that was there when the community was temporarily displaced for the building of the Hope 6 project. And as we gardened the garden, we began looking at the whole rest of the block. We approached the Rushton’s and said, “What are you guys planning to do with the rest of this block because we’ve got some ideas!”

So we negotiated a partnership, and they’ve been so wonderful. But we have to again negotiate with them to see if this is their long-term vision for the future of the lot, and if it’s part of their vision to have a permanent structure there.

We’re turning 10 years old now, and we feel we’re an established entity. There’s a lot to figure out right now, and the garden is under new leadership. Our new leader has been meeting with a lot of people and developing a lot of partnerships, and we’ll figure out the solution. It’s just that there are a lot of moving pieces to the puzzle.

Me: So who are the full time staff members at the garden?

Rachel: We have six people on staff right now. The executive director is Grant Brigham. He started in June. I’m the Program Director. Katie Davis is our farm manager. Katie’s been there three years. And Steph Munkachy is the Assistant farm manager. She and Katie run all things growing. Bree Garrett is our Nutrition Director, and Scott Silver is the director of Farm to School.

Me: Is there anything that I haven’t asked about that you want people to know about?

Rachel: I think what I would like to see in Birmingham is this: If people believe in the kinds of things that we’re trying to do, like revitalizing communities with community gardens, like nutrition education for all these children and adults, like connecting people to food resources within their communities. If they think that’s important, they need to make that known to their decision makers. Whether it’s through their neighborhood association meetings, or as part of the Birmingham Comprehensive Planning Process.

Contact your community groups, be it through your faith community or groups of friends or city councilor or commissioner. Because we hear again and again from individuals that they really support us and think that what we’re doing is important.

But when we speak to the community decision makers and legislators, they say that they haven’t heard that from other people besides us. So I would like to see these issues supported, whether it’s through talking to decision makers, or through volunteering to start or sustain your own community garden, or supporting an initiative like ours that focuses on our food systems. We aren’t the only one out there. It could be bringing a farmers market to your neighborhood or volunteering at your local food bank.

For example, my parents’ church, Mountain Brook Presbyterian, started a community garden two years ago. And it’s thriving. They are harvesting 2500 pounds of produce from it and giving it to Magic City Harvest where it’s distributed free to low-income people.

And they aren’t the only one. There are several other churches that have started gardens. They just aren’t as big.

Me: So talking to policy makers, volunteering, doing what we can to support or sustain small community gardens…

Rachel: And also, really advocating and using your power as a consumer to demand better food.

Me: And being willing to make those changes in our own diet. Like you mentioned, understanding where our food comes from and the value that it has for our own health, and then to incorporate all of these concepts in our individual lives.

Rachel: As a consumer, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. And you can ask your supermarkets to carry local and regional produce. The supermarkets will stock what the consumers demand. And if there’s not a demand for something, its availability won’t grow. It’s not just about organic. It’s also about just having access to fresh foods.

Me: Definitely, I was talking to a retired GI pediatric physician the other day, and I was asking him what he thought about organic produce. Because in working as a Spanish interpreter, I see so many childhood cancers and other diseases that seem much more common than in the past. All I can think is that it has to be environmental. It has to be related to the air that we breathe, and the chemicals on our foods, and the prescription drugs and chemicals that end up in our drinking water from our sewers and the runoff from lawns and gardens that have been sprayed with chemicals.

And His response was, “Well, that may be true. But when we’re eating so many processed foods, and we see such a huge improvement when people just begin to eat fresh fruits and vegetables and get more exercise, that should be our primary focus. Once we’ve got that worked out, we can start thinking about eating organic foods.

Rachel: The first step before organic is eating fresh fruits and vegetables. The step before that is just eating fruits and vegetables, and so many people just don’t. If they can eat them fresh, that’s great, but if they can only eat them frozen and prepared or canned, it’s not as great, but it’s still good. If they’re not eating them at all, then they aren’t getting their nutritional needs met. They can’t do appropriate protein synthesis. They can’t heal; their immune system doesn’t work properly. Their energy level is messed up. Their neurons aren’t firing properly.

There are all kinds of things that food makes happen. This is the first generation in the history of the US in which children are not expected to outlive their children because of chronic conditions, many of which are diet related. And when you think about that, that’s really scary.

So as you can tell, Jones Valley is working hard to revitalize our communities, protect the health of our planet, and to provide nutrition education in the areas that most desperately need it. And the best thing we can do is support the things that we believe in, whether it be through financial contributions, volunteering or speaking to decision makers. We can educate ourselves and make choices in our own lives that reflect our deepest beliefs about health, community, sustainability and well-being, all with an awareness of how those choices enhance our quality of lives and of how interrelated our individual well being is to the health of the world around us!

If you’d like to visit Jones Valley’s website, it’s www.jonesvalleyteachingfarm.org.

Perspective and Slot Canyons

We’re driving back from the Grand Canyon today. A group of us through UAB Outdoor Pursuits has spent the last week driving cross-country to the slot canyons in Utah. We spent three days in the backcountry of Paria Canyon, hiking through freezing river water that they call a trail and pooping in plastic bags.

The canyon walls are beautiful and terrifying. I would find myself thinking of what I would have for dinner or planning my escape route in case a flash flood were to come. It was like those thoughts were keeping me grounded. They were keeping me in touch with the menial tasks of this earthly existence, so that I wouldn’t be terrified of the vastness and wilderness surrounding me. At times while I was hiking, I felt extremely happy and grateful, splashing through the freezing muddy water. At other moments, all I could think about were my painfully frozen feet as I struggled to make it through the shaded areas of the canyon.

Everything is more complicated in the wilderness. It’s difficult to find a clean, flat rock to set your morning coffee cup on. It’s hard to pee without getting your shoes wet. If it’s cold, I fall uncomfortably asleep with several layers on, dreading the moment when I’ll have to crawl out of my warm sleeping bag into the freezing air. I miss fresh fruits and vegetables and cappuccinos.

But I love it so much. I love how ridiculously simple everything becomes. I love that I totally forget about my to-do list at home. The things I was worrying about the day before I left, suddenly seem extremely petty as I’m surrounded by hundred foot red canyon walls. It’s a humbling experience that reminds me how fragile, yet how strong we are as humans. It gives me the perspective and feeling of aliveness that I so desperately long for.

Yesterday as we left the Grand Canyon, I felt a physical ache. I wanted so badly to be down in the canyon by the river staring at the canyon walls and the layers of earth’s history. It’s hard to get too caught up in my obsessions when I think about them in the context of 4.5 billion years!

There are moments when I want to leave everything to be a backpacking vagabond. The park rangers live in dilapidated trailers, tents, and most of them get no retirement plan or health insurance. Why is it hard for me to be happy with a 2,000 square foot house and $3,000/ month? Why not risk a secure future that may never come to truly enjoy the moment?

I know for me it’s about balance. As much as I love travel and the wilderness, I also like stability, comfort, and being close to loved ones.

These trips are my reset buttons. They bring me closer to the things that I value most, and they help me appreciate the luxuries I have in my day-to-day life. They remind me that more than fancy things and retirement plans, I value simplicity, relationship, nature and authenticity. It’s important for me to remember that as I build my house, so that I create a home that provides me with more freedom to be closer to what I love most.

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Eat your veggies! (and fruits and whole grains)

I recently watched the documentary Forks over Knives, about how food can be our most important medicine. It’s a GREAT documentary, and I was reminded of how important what we feed ourselves is to our own health and the health of the world around us.

Sustainability is so interrelated. There’s no way to talk about sustainability in construction or any other area without including the rest of our lives. Such as where our food comes from and how it affects us.

Food is such a universal thing, kind of like breathing! It’s relevant to everyone, and I’m a big fan of talking about things that are fundamental and go beyond any cultural, geographical, political or religious barriers.

The documentary was great because it addressed in depth the scientific findings that two different doctors had found (without wanting to find them) regarding how bad our Western diet is for our health. We have become so accustomed to treating the symptoms of our problems rather than the root of our problems, and our diets are often at the root of our diseases.

The two doctors, completely independently of each other and over the course of decades, consistently found that diets high (20% or more) in animal protein, were actually turning on our cancer genes. They also found that plant-based, whole foods diets with 5% or less of animal protein could actually reverse cancer growth and heart disease that had been activated. And aside from the effects on our health, meat production requires 10 times more energy than plants (not to mention that our animals are now being mass produced as if they were plastic bottles instead of living creatures!).

The doctors’ findings were really fascinating. I won’t go into more statistics or details in this post, but if you get a chance to check out the film or the book, The China Study, that the film was based on, I think it’ll really make a difference in how you see nutrition and modern medicine.

This is old news, but with Alabama being second in the country in childhood obesity and other diet related health problems, it’s so important for us to have better access to fresh, healthy food and to educate ourselves about how to use food to enhance our health, rather than using it to slowly poison ourselves.

(Which is sometimes easier said than done! Chris and I decided after watching the documentary that we would try eating a plant-based whole foods diet for a month and see how we felt. It wasn’t too far of a stretch from what I was already doing, but the next day all I could think about were French cheeses and Milo’s hamburgers. So I still eat meat occasionally. I have to listen to my body and find a way to balance my rebellious psyche with my health!)

When it comes to education and fresh, healthy food, Jones Valley Urban Farms is one community garden that has been a front-runner in this movement. Their current mission statement is “helping Birmingham grow organic produce and healthier communities through urban farming and education.” Since the garden’s beginnings 10 years ago, they have had an unwavering commitment to reuniting our communities, reconnecting people to food, educating our families on the importance of health through nutrition, and encouraging sustainability through agriculture that actually revitalizes our land instead of destroying it.

I was fortunate enough to interview Rachel Reinhart, the program director at Jones Valley regarding the role that she sees the garden playing in the community, the programs they offer, why she thinks it’s important, and what we can do to help.

I really appreciated her insights, and soon I’ll be sharing the interview with you! But in the meantime, eat your veggies!

Getting Ecologically Friendly

9 tips about a few small things that have worked for me:

1. Home garden

We’ve eaten lots of collards and cabbage this winter from the backyard garden. Collards grow so well here, and the bugs don’t touch them! The herbs have also done great. We had a crazy surplus of basil and parsley this summer. We also had some thyme, and the cilantro does well during the cooler parts of the year.

Cabbage and Collards

We didn’t have quite as much luck with our tomatoes this summer. I think we ended up with eight wee tomatoes, enough for one veggie sandwich! But it’s so fun to cook with things that come from your own backyard.

It makes sense on so many fronts. I use the water from the rain barrels to water the garden. (The hardest part is making myself walk down the deck stairs to the garden!) We grow the veggies organically, so there’s no pesticides used. There’s no energy wasted in the food being transported, and I don’t have drive anywhere to pick it up. Plus it costs pennies to buy the seeds and organic fertilizer, compared to the cost of the produce itself.

I know the idea of a garden can seem like an overwhelming amount of work, but if you do it on a small scale, it really doesn’t require much maintenance. Some things like herbs, lettuce and tomatoes can even be grown in pots on your porch!

Parsley from the backyard

2. Chemical free lawn

I don’t use any chemicals to treat for weeds in my lawn. The chemicals get absorbed into our groundwater and are found in the runoff that goes to our lakes, rivers, and streams, compromising their delicate balance and biodiversity, and ultimately ending up in our drinking water.

Zoysia is a very dense, shade-tolerant sod, making it difficult for weeds to grow through it. I put zoysia sod in my backyard over the summer. It’s a little more expensive on the front end but can make for less maintenance in the long run. I’ve also found some natural weed killers that I’ll use occasionally in natural areas, but they can be pretty expensive if you’re trying to cover large areas. Vinegar and water is another suggestion that I’ve heard, but it didn’t bother my weeds a bit.

My lawn doesn’t look perfect, but it’s nice enough, and I’d rather have a less-than-perfect lawn than to unnecessarily put more chemicals into the ground.

3. Sentricon termite bait system

The soil of most homes is pretreated during construction with hundreds of gallons of chemicals to prevent termites. I opted for a system called Sentricon. Sentricon is a system of small baits placed around the house that are monitored quarterly by your pest control company. If any termites are found in the baits, then they treat for termites.

Sentricon Bait Station

I use Wayne’s Pest Control, and the only downside to this system is that is costs $75 quarterly for the monitoring and termite bond, but there is no upfront cost. And again it’s worth it to me to avoid having all those chemicals pumped into the ground.

The blown Cellulose insulation that I mentioned in a previous post can also be a deterrent for termites and other critters. Since I’ve been in my home, except for the occasional roach, I’ve had very few bugs, so maybe that’s had something to do with it!

4. Mohawk SmartStrand Carpet

Mohawk has a carpet made partially from corn fibers. It is made from 37% renewable resources, requires 30% less energy to produce, supposedly releases no VOCs (volatile organic compounds found in paints and carpets that can be toxic to humans), and emits 63% less greenhouse gas in production.

Aside from these environmentally friendly things, the quality is superior, even though the cost (when I built my house in 2007) was comparable to other medium grade carpets. It’s naturally stain resistant and never loses its texture. Mohawk installed this carpet in the rhino enclosure at the Birmingham Zoo for two weeks, and after being cleaned it looked as good as new! I’ve been in my house for 4 years now, and it still looks new, even after spilling red wine on it!

Mohawk Smartstrand Carpet

5. Low or no VOC paints.

Low VOC paints have come a long way in quality and affordability in the last few years. Lowe’s, Home Depot, Sherwin Williams, and Benjamin Moore all carry affordable versions of a LOW to no VOC paint. When we first used them about 8 years ago, there was a noticeable difference in how many coats we had to apply and in the quality of the paint. But that’s not true anymore. You can save yourself some exposure to some volatile-ly organic compounds for a comparable price!

6. I-beams

I-beams/ I-joists in my basement

A timber I-beam or I-joist uses one-sixth the wood of a conventional joist for the same strength. They are made of wood composites so can be made of younger, more sustainably sourced woods and they’re lighter and easier to cut. They’re stronger than regular lumber, keeping your floors level over time, and also allowing you to span larger distances or create more ceiling height. When I built my home, the price of lumber had gone up, and I also had large, open spaces on the main level that needed to be supported, so in my case, it cost about the same as regular lumber to use the I-beams in construction.

7. Change out yo’ light bulbs

A Virginia Tech professor, Tamim Younos, and undergraduate student Rachelle Hill carried out a research study on the water-efficiency of some of the most common energy sources and power generating methods. For one part of the study, Hill calculated how many gallons of water are required to burn one 60-watt incandescent light bulb for 12 hours a day, over the course of one year. She found that the bulb would consume between 3,000 and 6,000 gallons of water, depending on how water-efficient the power plant that supplies the electricity is.

“The numbers are even more staggering if you multiply the water consumed by the same light bulb by the approximately 111 million U.S. homes,” said Hill. “The water usage then gets as high as 655 billion gallons of water a year.” By contrast, burning a compact fluorescent bulb for the same amount of time would save about 2,000 to 4,000 gallons of water per year.

And with LEDs becoming more and more affordable, the amount of money, energy and water you can save just by changing your light bulbs is incredible. Here’s a link to a great blog, The Simple Dollar, where you can find more specifics about how much you can save. With the current cost of LEDs, over 10,000 hours of usage for 12, 60 watt bulbs, you could save about $750.

8. Reuse

me and my jar

I try to reuse and repurpose as many things as I can. Especially glass jars! People at work freak when they see me eating cereal out of a Tostitos jar, but why spend money on Tupperware, when we can just wash our salsa and spaghetti jars and reuse them! We also save ourselves from being exposed to toxic chemicals that can be found in plastic.

Chris and I also bought a glass bottle-cutter online and have cut some of our wine and beer bottles to make drinking glasses and vases. It was more work than we imagined, so the whole mass production of artsy, upcycled drinking glasses didn’t quite work out. But it’s a fun way to never buy drinking glasses again!

9. No bags at the grocery store

People in the check-out line get bewildered when I say that I don’t want any bags for my groceries or other purchases. Within the last couple of weeks I’ve heard, “Well, they might think you’re stealing that.” or “I’ll just feel weird if I don’t put this in a bag.” Those were really cute responses, but it just amazes me sometimes how attached we are to our way of doing things. If I remember, I try to carry a reusable shopping bag, but if not I just put stuff directly in my car from the buggy and then grab the bags when I get home. I’m sure this could be more of a challenge if you live on the third floor of an apartment building!

Just a few ideas that have been easy for me to incorporate!

Next week Rebecca, David, and I are meeting all together for the first time to finalize the schematic design of the home. David’s going to help us understand the Passive House concept in more detail, so we can keep that in mind as we work on window placement and other final design elements. I’m really looking forward to it! I’ll post the latest version of the floor plan before our meeting and then keep you posted about our progress.

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Get Yo’ Self a Rain Barrel

The more water we save, the more energy we save and vice versa! We need energy to get our rain and waste water to the treatment plant, more energy is then used to treat the water, making it potable, and then it has to be pumped back to our houses. The water for our lawns doesn’t need to be potable, so why not collect it in a barrel from your gutters and save it a trip all the way to the filtration station and back! While saving yourself some money in the process! It’s also a small step in reducing run off and erosion, keeping unwanted things out of our lakes, rivers, and streams.

The Alabama Environmental Council offers rain barrel workshops that I believe cost $30 including all the needed supplies. They also offer DIY instructions on their website www.aeconline.org or already made barrels at the center for $60. I attended one of the workshops and made two barrels. Chris helped me spray paint them brown, and then it took me 6 months to get around to installing them! I broke a hacksaw in the process, but once I finally did it, overall the installation was pretty easy. I used some rocks as a stand to raise the barrel a couple feet off the ground, so gravity would help with the water flow. I set the barrel to one side of the gutter and then cut out a section of the gutter that was higher than the rain barrel. I attached a 6 foot piece of brown flex gutter to the top gutter with screws and then placed the other end of the flex gutter over the wire mesh in the opening of the barrel. The barrels have an overflow hose, and I was too cheap to pay $50 for a diverter that redirects the water back to the gutter when the barrel is full, so Chris had the brilliant idea of placing the overflow hose in the bottom part of the gutter which made for a homemade diverter! You can see the pics below.

I love watering with the barrels. There’s something very fun about knowing that I did something to capture that water, and it’s a good reminder that water is not an infinite resource.

If you have any questions, or would like help installing a barrel yourself, feel free to shoot me a message!

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