How to Evaluate a Company’s Ethical and Sustainable Impact

Businesses hold a great deal of power and influence in our society, and how they choose to operate has significant consequences, positive or negative. Some, like Seventh Generation and UPS harness their influence to do good. Others, less so.

You may remember the horrific collapse of the Rana Plaza building that killed more than 1,000 garment workers back in 2013, or the huge Walmart bribery scandal in 2012. See, big business has a habit of wreaking havoc as it drives for profit (often over people and the environment). We have to decide, as consumers, what we are willing to support.

So here’s the question: How do you tell if a brand deserves your business? And how do you tell if they’re operating in an ethical and sustainable way?

Familiarize Yourself with the Issues in the Industry

In order to make informed decisions about what you buy and from whom, you’ll need to learn about the many potential moral issues involved in the process of making and selling goods.

Here are some great places to begin your research:

  • Company Transparency – Reporting methods, audits, openness.
  • Environmental Impact – Use of raw materials, carbon footprint, sustainability.
  • Labor Rights – Ethical working conditions, fair pay, fair trade.
  • Women’s Rights – Prevention of sexual harassment, equal pay.
  • Social Impact – Doing good beyond the minimum, corporate social responsibility.
  • Chemical Use – Organic material, pesticides, chemical dyes, preservatives.
  • Waste – Discarded material, recycling programs, landfill, chemical run-off.
  • Natural Resources – Water conservation, forest preservation.

Use these keywords as guidelines to help you research online. Take a look at the industries from every angle: What’s the state of labor rights in the garment industry? What’s the difference between organic and non-organic fibers? How do most companies handle chemical run-off?

Do whatever you can to understand the status quo.

Check In with Brand-Ranking Organizations

There are a variety of organizations that are entirely dedicated to helping consumers like you make an informed decision. They use complex systems to rank how a brand scores on a variety of issues. Some even feature barcode scanners that will give you product ratings on the go!

I highly recommend you check out:

Ethical Consumer
GoodGuide
Rank a Brand
Free 2 Work

Keep in mind that each organization has a unique ranking approach, so cross-reference if you can!

Dig Around Media Coverage & Company Policy

Google something like “Walmart Ethics” and you’ll be inundated with coverage that may help you get a fuller picture of a company’s track record. If you come across anything sketchy or that signals wrongdoing, be wary.

It’s important to note that while some brands work hard to clean up their act, poor policy enforcement in the past is often a sign that ethical concerns weren’t (and still may not be) important to company leadership.

No matter how air tight a company’s policies may be, unethical behavior can still slip through; so take everything a company publishes with a grain of salt. Remember: image is everything, but it’s not always the truth.

Familiarize yourself “greenwashing” if you don’t know what I mean.

Shop According to Your Values

Now that you have a clear idea of the many pitfalls of modern industry, have resources that will help you get high-quality information on brands and have scoped out what people have to say, it’s time to move from education to action.

If you discover that a brand is not meeting your standards, express your concerns through social media. Share your thoughts with friends, encourage them to shop elsewhere and redirect your spending to more ethical, sustainable brands.

Remember: your purchases have power! Vote with your dollar for what you believe in. It’s up to you to change the story.

Your First 5 Steps to Zero Waste Grocery Shopping

When my husband and I started Zero Waste this year, friends and family had a lot of questions.

“Wait, what is Zero Waste exactly?” (It’s a lifestyle that ensures you produce no trash that ends up in landfills.)

“How do you even do that?” (You make lifestyle changes and buckle down because it’s important.)

“So, can you still buy meat at the store?” (Totally! Just bring your own container to the counter.)

“Do you have to grow your own vegetables?” (You don’t have to, but it sure helps!)

Truth is, going Zero Waste has changed and disrupted a lot of the ways we used to run our lives. We’ve done away with paper towels and use only reusable rags in the kitchen, we make our own toothpaste and we spend a lot less money on disposable products that go straight to landfills.

But one of the greatest changes we’ve made has been in the way that we grocery shop. And surprisingly, it’s actually been pretty easy! Fun, even.

Here’s how we do Zero Waste grocery shopping, and how you can start too:

1) Refuse plastic shopping bags and bring your own canvas ones instead.

Before going Zero Waste, we brought home tons of plastic and paper shopping bags with each trip to the store. Today, I use four cute, colorful, sturdy reusable bags and they’ve made all the difference! To ensure I never forget to bring them with me, I keep one in each vehicle and two by the door. Easy!

2) Seek out products that aren’t shrink-wrapped or otherwise unnecessarily packaged. 

I’m amazed by the amount of products that are increasingly being packaged in plastic. Shrink-wrapped cucumbers, tomatoes in plastic cubbies…the list goes on and on. Buy the regular stickered cucumber and just wash it when you get home! Or buy straight from a farmer’s market and bypass big box grocery stores all together.

3) Bring your own containers for bulk grains, meats and anything else possible. 

We aren’t prepared to transition to a vegetarian lifestyle, but we have certainly decreased our meat consumption since beginning this journey. Meat production is costly to the environment so we’ve found lots of new, healthy ways to seek out alternative proteins in our diet.

When we shop for products other than produce (staples like grains, oils, meats, etc.) we bring our own glass jars and containers and shop at a local bulk bin store! This eliminates packaging altogether and gives you the opportunity to buy the exact amount in ounces or pounds that you need, rather than over-purchasing and wasting the rest.

4) Shop produce that is in season at local farmer’s markets if you have one in town. 

Farmer’s markets are a wonderful thing! We are lucky to have two local to our town, each a little bit different. We can get just about any produce in season that we need, along with goat cheeses, fresh bread, flowers, herbs and eggs! Shopping at farmer’s markets has forced us to consider what products are in season and cook accordingly. We love it!

5)  Meal plan weekly to prevent wasting excess food. 

My husband and I plan out our meals every Sunday before shopping for the week. This has made a world of difference in the way we’ve approached meal prep and has really taken our food waste down significantly.

Well, there you have it. Your first five steps to Zero Waste grocery shopping. Give it a try!

Why Do I Still Feel Hungry After Eating a Salad?

Salad, salad, salad. It’s the colorful, waving banner of the fit and fabulous. Search for healthy lunch recipes on Pinterest and a bright and cheery salad will show up a million times, bursting with red peppers, nuts and beets to boot.

Salads are the very first thing most people turn to when they want to make a change and lose some weight. It’s the sort of meal that most of us wish we wanted; but in reality, salad usually feels like the sad preamble to what we really want to eat for lunch. It sounds good (theoretically), but within half an hour we are hungry again and most likely a little bit bitter toward the greens that tricked us.

“Why is this? How come I’m still hungry?”

Truth is, salad is just misunderstood. We’ve been assuming that limp pile of iceberg with a tomato or two is enough to keep us going strong. In reality, most of us are missing a whole world of delicious toppings and alternative proteins that will take that salad from feeling force-fed and unfulfilling to all the joy it claims to be.

Most dieters believe that in order to lose weight they need to cut calories to the point of relative starvation. And while it’s true that the secret to losing weight is balancing high-quality, nourishing calorie intake with increased activity, starving yourself to skinny is not the same thing. Cutting down to the bare minimum calories (say, that iceberg lettuce and a tomato) really just suppresses your metabolism, making it even more difficult to lose what you want to lose.

The other issue comes when you don’t include enough protein or healthy fats in the salads you make. If your salad is all veggies, odds are you’re getting some fantastic vitamins and fiber in your system, but not enough core proteins to keep you going till dinner. This doesn’t just mean meats. Excellent, lasting proteins and good fats can be found in eggs, nuts, legumes, avocado and maybe a bit of cheese.

If you’re switching from calorie-dense, nutrient-poor foods to large piles of vegetables, you will quickly realize that it takes a lot more of them to make you feel as full. But it is possible, if you follow these tips—increasing the proteins you consume alongside those leafy greens that help banish your cravings.

Here are some suggestions to make your next salad more satisfying. Seriously, it’s possible:

1) Add in enough healthy protein. Think chicken, strips of salmon, eggs, kidney beans, soy. Almonds, avocado, black beans and even chia seeds! Do a little research to find some combos that really make your tastebuds happy.

2) Include good fats to sustain you. Avocado (again), olives, olive oil…these are all great starts. These good fats will help you feel fuller for a longer period of time and help keep your blood sugar in check so you don’t hit that mid-afternoon slump.

3) Use a base of greens that has some real kick. Don’t settle for iceberg. Try mixing it up a bit and integrate greens like arugula, kale, baby spinach, swiss chard or watercress!

4) Try to pair your salad with a complex, whole grain carbohydrate as a side. If you’re actively trying to lose weight, watch this part carefully, but don’t be afraid to have something alongside your salad. Whole grain crackers, a bit of baguette, or maybe some pita will go a long way.

5) Allow yourself a snack for goodness sake. Most meals won’t last you six hours, regardless. If you reach mid-afternoon feeling hungry, give yourself a boost with a healthy snack. Great options are roasted almonds, a few spears of pineapple, or maybe some peanut butter toast.

What is Lecithin? And is it Good or Bad for Me?

What in the world is lecithin?

In 1845, French chemist and pharmacist Theodore Gobley isolated a fatty, yellowish substance from an egg yoke. He named it phosphatidylcholine lecithine and it’s been injected into our foods ever since.

Today, “lecithin” is a generic term applied to any yellowish, fatty substance that naturally occurs in plant and animal tissues – “a mixture of phospholipids and oil.” In the body, it supports cell membrane health after breaking down into choline; in food manufacturing settings, it’s used as a smoothing agent, as an emulsifier, to repel stickiness, and as a generally homogenizing liquid.

Most of the time, lecithin is chemically extracted from largely available, inexpensive sources like canola, eggs, milk, or sunflowers, and most commonly soy.

Lecithin is often added to animal feed as a fat and protein source. It also has applications in the pharmaceutical industry (it makes your pills swallowable) and in the paint industry (it makes a great protective coat). But most of the time, lecithin crosses our paths as an additive in commercially produced foods.

Check your grocery labels and you’ll find it doing all the hard work in your nonstick cooking spray, or as a dispersing agent in the mass produced breads you pick up in the baked goods aisle. Lecithin is responsible for making a lot of the commercially produced foods that we eat soft, tasty and long-lasting. It keeps our chocolate from separating and makes our salad dressings smooth.

Is it bad for me?

As a standalone, lecithin is essentially harmless. It’s very easy for the body to digest and metabolize and is often sold as an herbal supplement on its own. A number of clinical trials have found additional benefits of lecithin, ranging from being an effective aid in treating liver disease, managing high cholesterol or even preventing dementia by supporting neurotransmission in the brain.

However, many experts suggest that we need to further analyze the variables that surround it.

Phytoestrogens

Soy is pretty commonly known to carry a number of phytoestrogens, a substance that can confuse natural hormonal processes and even lower sperm count. For this reason, it’s often recommended that we avoid soy products and keep those phytoestrogens very minimal. However, soy lecithin isn’t where the problem lies – at least as far as we know today; for generally healthy people the trace amounts of phytoestrogens shouldn’t be an issue. 

GMOs

Most of the soy that is grown in the United States is genetically modified – a process that produces immunogenic proteins and can cause DNA disruptions. Lucky for us, soy lecithin contains very little soy protein (some sources include none at all), so this isn’t too desperate a concern. 

Toxins

Because lecithin is extracted from raw material through a chemical solvent (usually hexane) there is some concern that chemicals may transfer to the final product. The FDA doesn’t regulate the amount of hexane residue left in commercial foods after-the-fact, so it’s possible concentrations are indeed leftover.

The Final Verdict

Most experts seem to agree that lecithin, consumed by a healthy person within reasonable amounts is perfectly harmless. Possible negatives are neutralized by the very fact that they show up in such small amounts that pale in comparison to the other toxins and chemicals we encounter every day.

However, in the end it just depends. If you have a soy allergy, are pregnant or are a breast cancer survivor you may want to steer clear, just to be on the safe side; or consider switching to clean eating principles and avoid processed foods all together!

Do you have any more information on soy lecithin? What’s your opinion on the issue. Let us know in the comments!

How to Balance Aging Hormones with Your Diet

Everyone wants to turn back the clock – back to the days when it seemed like you could do anything and your body was radiant with youth. We start to notice aging most on the outside: little wrinkles start to show up on our faces, hair loses its body. But other things start to fluctuate too.

That’s right. I’m talking about hormones. 

Hormones – such as insulin, estrogen, testosterone, and adrenaline – are “chemical messengers” (high school chemistry, am I right?) that circulate through your bloodstream to organs and tissues all throughout your body.

Hormones handle everything from tissue repair to how our immune system responds to threats. These hormones can affect your weight and your mood, fluctuating seemingly with the seasons; and they have a part to play in just about every bodily process imaginable.

If imbalanced, these hormones can cause some serious health problems, usually signaled by symptoms like insomnia, low libido or drastic weight change.

Most people, understandably, turn to prescription medications to keep their hormones balanced and under control; however, most of the time these chemical adjustmentssimply mask the issue and actually increase risk for other serious conditions such as stroke or anxiety.

I’m here to tell you there’s another way. 

The endocrine system, while extremely complex, can be affected and partly managed by making changes to one very simple thing: your diet.

Here are some ways you can adjust your diet in order to boost and enhance your body’s ability to regulate its hormones, naturally:

1) Avoid Harmful Chemicals – Chemicals found in household cleaners, plastics and pesticides can do some serious damage to your health. Do everything you can to avoid these triggers by cooking in glass or cast iron only, using organic products in your home, and getting rid of toxins in your life.

2) Cut the Caffeine – There is a reason women are encouraged to avoid caffeine when pregnant. Caffeine can do a lot of harm to your endocrine system, especially if you’re already stressed or dealing with other imbalances.

3) Get Enough Sleep – Sleep is the one time that your body has a chance to recharge. While you are asleep, your body gets busy removing toxins, recharging muscles and the mind and creating new, happy hormones. If you cut your sleep short, you’re cutting this process short. Here are some tips to get back to sleep if you’re tossing and turning.

4) Eat More Healthy Fats and Nutrients – The body is always in need of healthy, Omega-3 fatty acids. For this reason, coconut oil is incredibly beneficial to hormone health. Look for good fats in foods like avocado, olive oil, animal fats, eggs, raw dairy, and seafood. Avoid bad oils like canola oil and vegetable oil and opt for coconut oil, real butter, or olive oil instead!

5) Exercise – Just like Elle Woods used to say, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands!” It’s important to note that in the short term, for a person with hormone imbalance, extended exercise (like long bouts of cardio) is not the best. However, gentle exercise or exercise produced in short, strong bursts (like deadlifting, for example) can be beneficial! We recommend you get set up with a personal trainer to get help from if you’ve never done this type of exercise before.

As always, we highly suggest that if you are experiencing what feels like hormonal imbalance that you speak with your doctor and/or nutritionist directly. 

3 Ethical Fashion Companies That Care About the World

Thirty years ago, so called “ethical fashion” was essentially non-existent. The manufacturing boom brought with it all sorts of high profile disasters, from child slave labor to unethical sourcing of materials, and big name brands were disproportionately more concerned with making a buck than creating socially and environmentally-responsible items.

Now, more and more traditional mega brands are recognizing the importance of sustainable fashion. And alongside them, dozens of stylish, ethical brands are finding their place in the sun.

What is ethical fashion?

Ethical fashion has come a long way since its dull, scratchy, eco-beginnings. Today, many sustainable brands lead the charge when it comes to creating classy, beautiful garments that also honor what it means to be a responsible creator of goods.

The Ethical Fashion Forum says it this way:

“Ethical fashion represents an approach to the design, sourcing and manufacturing of clothing which maximizes the benefits to people and communities, while minimizing impact on the environment.”

But what does that mean exactly?

Ethical fashion brands are commonly judged on whether or not the brand cares about the following:

  • Countering fast, cheap fashion and damaging patterns of fashion consumption
  • Defending fair wages, working conditions and workers’ rights
  • Supporting sustainable livelihoods
  • Addressing toxic pesticide and chemical use
  • Using and/or developing eco-friendly fabrics and components
  • Minimizing water use
  • Recycling and addressing energy efficiency and waste
  • Developing or promoting sustainability standards for fashion
  • Resources, training and/or awareness raising initiatives
  • Animal rights

Another way to look at it is through the lens of the “Triple Bottom Line.” This means that—rather than examining a business purely from a profit-perspective—that the brand’s attention to social and environmental aspects is also considered.

With those criteria in mind, here are the five newcomers to the ethical fashion scene! You may want to consider adding these companies to your Christmas gift short-list.

The Simple Kind

The Simple Kind is an ethical fashion company that celebrates women and children by making ”whimsical and timeless dresses that reflect the hearts of the little girls who wear them.” Every item is designed in-house in Denver, Colorado, then carefully made by groups that empower women all over the world.

The company releases just a few specially constructed pieces at a time with the intent to see their high-quality garments last for generations to come. All materials are intentionally and thoughtfully sourced in ethical and environmentally-friendly ways.

You can find out more about the company and its origins here.

UNIFORM

UNIFORM, a new clothing line featuring hip, minimalist clothing, is taking sustainability to the next level. The company was founded by Chid Liberty, a Liberian-American who pioneered Africa’s first Fair Trade Certified apparel manufacturer, Liberty & Justice, and got its start via a Kickstarter campaign.

UNIFORM is on a mission to give back to its West African community by investing in local manufacturing and donating school uniforms to children who otherwise could not attend school.

Help them get to their goal of 50,000 uniforms donated here!

Sseko Designs

Sseko Designs is an ethical fashion brand that “hires high potential women in Uganda to make sandals, to enable them to earn money through dignified employment that will go directly towards their college educations.” So far, Sseko has sent more than 70 women to university.

Sseko Designs blends a financially self-sustaining business model with a cause: sending young women to school in Uganda and other regions of East Africa. Peruse their website to discover beautiful goodies, from footwear to leather bags and other accessories.


Have you ever shopped ethical brands? Which are some of your favorites? Let us know in the comments!

5 Signs You’re Suffering from Desk-Caused Back Pain

A few years ago, a number of articles began circling the web claiming that “sitting is the smoking of our generation.” Reasons for this being: sitting forces fat-burning processes to drastically decline and is inherently a distinct lack of physical activity—two factors often tied to major illnesses like heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Too much sitting also creates some serious annoyances in day-to-day life.

Sitting for long periods of time (for example, a full work day at a desk) can cause back pain, sleeplessness and poor focus, even if you exercise regularly. This chronic discomfort in the back spreads quickly to its neighbors—neck, shoulders, hips, ankles—and before you know it, the chiropractor is your new best friend.

All this stress over sitting led to an uptick in desk workers using standing desks or even treadmill desks, timing sitting and standing to the beeping alert of our smartphones and smartwatches. For a lot of us, myself included, that standing desk felt like the solution to the problem. That and workplace exercise.

While we like to think that opposites ultimately cure—I shouldn’t sit? I’ll stand!—the reality is standing for long periods of time brings with it a lot of its own problems, many of them exactly the same as those related to sitting: back pain, sleeplessness and poor focus. These aches and pains only get worse when you take into account the very abrupt transition you’re making from sitting all day to something entirely different. That’s a serious shakeup!

What we really need is variety—sitting punctuated with active breaks of regular movement. Opt for a walking meeting around the office; take your conference calls while stretching or walking at a nearby park; give yourself a break! This 2008 study showed great benefits to this type of varied movement.

So, with that in mind, here are five signs you’re suffering from desk-caused back pain:

1) The discomfort you feel is in your lower back. The very nature of sitting at a desk for long periods of time means that you will most likely be experiencing pain in your lower back and hip area, seconded by tension in the back of the neck. Look to varied movement to help prevent this, make sure your chair has proper lumbar support and get regular massage therapy if you’re able.

2) Your chair-to-desk height proportions are off. Ensure that your office set-up is ergonomic—meaning, your ideal work environment. Decide on your desired desk height and find a chair to match. You should be able to extend your forearms to your keyboard at a straight, 90-degree angle. Set your chair in a similar way, making sure that your thighs are relaxed and level, not tipping down or up.

3) Your day is mostly spent sitting in one, sedentary position. This is just the nature of the beast. If your work or leisure involves sitting in a rigid, steady position for hours at a time, you’re in trouble. Try sitting on an exercise ball to naturally adjust the way you sit and punctuate your sitting hours with many breaks of walking, stretching or taking part in some other activity.

4) Your computer monitor or workstation is too far below or above eye level. If your computer monitor is too high (likely due to a high desk) or too low (if your laptop is on your lap), move it. Your resting line of sight should be easily and naturally toward the center of your screen. Sitting with your monitor too high or too low can cause a lot of strain on the spine and neck.

5) You have difficulty moving when you abruptly change position. We all know what it feels like to quickly adjust after being in one position for a long time. If you experience tension, pain, any sort of stinging or ache, you’ve been there for too long.

Do you experience lower back pain? What are the odds it’s being caused by too much sitting? What strategies have you put in place to deal with it? Let us know in the comments!

Using Tea to Calm the Effects of Stress

We are all familiar with the common, sometimes awkward exchange of, “How are you?” or “How’s it going?” with the often followed “Good. How are you?” But what if you’re slightly more original? What if you answer a little differently?

Chances are you’ll say busystressed or tired instead. Why is that?

It’s no secret that Americans are royally stressed out. Today, we are some of the most stressed, most busy and least-vacationed people on the planet.

Stress in America

According to a recent survey conducted by NPR a couple of years ago, 49 percent of those surveyed said they’d experienced a major stressful event in the past year. Think illness or death of a loved one, life transitions or big problems at work. Overall, the main causes of stress and anxiety were work troubles, financial issues or just having too much on their plate. The American Psychological Association reports the same findings. 

Work and finance always comes out on top.

Effects of Stress on the Body

Stress is one of those things that can really mess with you. It’s like a pressure cooker. Even the smallest disruptions in our lives can start to feel like monstrosities and be extremely burdensome, both to our minds and our bodies.

According to the same NPR study, among people who had experienced a great deal of stress in the past year, sleeplessness was a number one concern. After that, people started to have major changes in their diet and activity levels.

Here are some other effects of stress you should be looking out for:

  • Sleeping poorly or less than usual
  • Eating less than usual
  • Exercising or getting out less than usual
  • Praying more than usual
  • Eating more than usual
  • Checking out to watch TV or play video games more than usual
  • Using social media less than usual

What You Can Do About It:

Stress takes a serious toll on the body, and it doesn’t just go away on its own. In order to truly combat stress, you need to start looking at the bigger picture and make changes that support peace and health.

Talking to people who love you, asking for a hug, doing everything you can to get enough sleep and continuing to eat a healthy diet are great places to start. It’s also important to create pockets of calm where you can revel in peace and quiet and recharge a bit.

Creating Pockets of Calm with Tea

Stress hurts; it wears us out, makes us anxious and causes us to act differently than we normally might. When you’re really feeling frazzled, a hot cup of herbal tea can smooth out the edges and bring you to a better state.

Not only does tea have the great propensity to boost health, reduce inflammation and improve your immune system, it can also calm anxiety and improve your mood. Some sources suggest that herbal teas can even “outperform pharmaceuticals prescribed for stress and anxiety disorders.”

The very best varieties for stress management typically contain very high levels of bioactive compounds that come from roots, leaves and flowers from around the world—think adaptogensflavonoids and antioxidants. These compounds support better sleep, reduce anxiety and boost energy. All great things!

Use these teas in combination with meditation and mindfulness and you’ll be well on your way to a better, more relaxed life. 

The Best Teas to Calm the Effects of Stress

Chamomile

This may be the best known herb used to soothe anxiety and indigestion. It’s jam-packed with antioxidants and is naturally caffeine-free. Most researchers verify anti-inflammatory properties in the herb and many have also shown that it can manage anxiety disorder.

Valerian

Valerian root. It may sound like a mythical substance from Game of Thrones, but its as real as can be. Valerian was used by the ancient Greeks and Chinese to promote a good night’s sleep, combat insomnia and alleviate stress and anxiety.

Lemon Balm

This herb is actually a member of the mint family and is able to deal with all things nerve-related. This makes a wonderful tea when used in combination with either chamomile or valerian root. Plus, it’s yummy! Note: Please talk to your doctor if you are currently taking medications for thyroid problems. They shouldn’t be used together in many cases.

Lavender

While most see lavender as an aromatherapy treatment, it also makes a lovely tea when mixed with other herbs. On its own, this flower might come across more like bubble bath or perfume than something drinkable. I suggest combining it with lemon balm instead!

Catnip

Yes, I said catnip. This isn’t just a treat for cats; in fact, just like chamomile, catnip tea can help people relax and sleep better. You can grow this very easily at home for fresh tea, straight off the branch.

There you have it: Five wonderful teas to help you calm the effects of stress on the body. What other teas do you like for stress relief? Let us know in the comments!

 

Originally published for Care2 at: http://www.care2.com/greenliving/using-tea-to-calm-the-effects-of-stress.html

What Your Weeds Say About Your Soil

So. You decided it was time to start a garden and become the ‘green thumb guru’ you’d always dreamed you could be. Things were progressing smoothly until you began to notice a few nasty weeds making their home among your plants.

Don’t be discouraged!

While weeds may be dubbed ‘undesirables’ in the gardening community, don’t be so quick to pass judgment. So many of the plants that have been labeled as troublesome are actually pretty amazing in their own right; each and every one serves a valuable and unique purpose—medicinal, for example—and some can give you some pretty telling insight about the health of your soil.

Say, you notice your lawn is becoming lush with clover when you’d rather it wouldn’t. Odds are, a low level of nitrogen in the soil is causing it to grow. The remedy? Just apply a high-nitrogen fertilizer on your lawn to reach a balance. Now, this isn’t a perfect science, but these weeds can give you useful hints as to what’s going on below the surface if you take the time to observe.

Here are some of the most common culprits to help you get started learning to “read your weeds”:

Dandelions

Ah, dandelions. Everyone knows them and it seems everyone has them. This plant has a bad reputation, due to its amazing propensity to grow and spread like wildfire. However, it’s actually quite a sweet flower that can be harvested for green salads and soups—evensmoothies! The dandelion can break through any soil and even penetrate cracks in concrete. This plant will usually show its face in heavy, acidic or clay-like soils or healthy, fertile ones.

Wood Sorrel

Weeds-1.jpg

Sorrel is often mistaken for clover, due to the shape of its leaves and blooms with yellow, white or purple flowers in the spring. Sorrel is also edible and makes for a lovely addition to salads and soups. This plant often shows up in soil that is both highly acidic and clay-like.

Yarrow

Yarrow is a perennial weed with feathery leaves and lovely little white flowers with yellow middles. It’s indigenous to North America and can be quite beautiful in meadows where wildflowers grow freely. However, yarrow also likes to make its home in gardens and due to its hardy nature can be difficult to remove. If you’re finding yarrow in your garden, chances are your soil is hot, dry and low in fertility. This often shows alongside dandelion or plantain.

Crabgrass

Crabgrass tends to mean that you’re missing calcium and phosphorus. Soils that produce crabgrass often have very high levels of magnesium, potassium and chlorine and a very low pH level. This grass is difficult to control, so try to keep your gardens and lawns well-watered to prevent it taking hold.

Thistle

Thistle is a tough one. This weed is aggressive and has one seriously impenetrable root system if it grows too big. If you don’t want thistle to spread in your garden, get it out and quick! Once it flowers, you’ll have new seeds to worry about. Thistle usually grows in soil that is poor and has low fertility—think sandy soil or clays. It often shows up alongside crabgrass and dandelion.

Chickweed

Chickweed is a low, mat-forming plant with a fibrous but shallow root system. It can spread to cover very large areas and is usually found in moist, dense sites in milder autumns and springs. This plant is extra happy in cool, shaded areas. Bonus: Chickweed usually flourishes in healthy, fertile soil with a pH of 6.2 to 7.0. Lucky you!

Have you learned to “read your weeds?” What patterns have you noticed in your gardens? Let us know in the comments!

Originally published for Care2 at: http://www.care2.com/greenliving/what-your-weeds-say-about-your-soil.html

How to Create Your Own Silent Retreat at Home

Imagine yourself in a place of complete peace—where quiet serenity washes over you, wholly and completely, and dishes and laundry are no more.

This is not a place for tasks and to-do’s or emotional burdens of any sort; no, this is a space full of powerful, empowering love and acceptance. It is a precious pocket of pure renewal.

Sounds pretty amazing doesn’t it? 

Silent retreats (also called mindfulness or seclusion retreats) have been used for centuries as a technique for renewing and resetting the mind and body. The purpose is to retrain the mind to be fully present while giving the body some space to unwind and heal.

In a society where stress reigns supreme and millions suffer from emotional, mental and physical burnout, it’s become pretty clear that as a whole we are in need of a break just like this.

If you’re currently dealing with an overwhelming desire to escape daily life, run back to bed and hide under the covers, a silent retreat may be just what you need to reset and confront the world anew.

While many mindfulness retreats are held at group meeting centers, there’s no reason why you can’t create the same environment at home! Just know that you’ll need to exercise a bit of willpower to ensure your daily distractions don’t get in the way.

Here are my best tips for how you can create your own amazing silent retreat at home with ease:

Step 1: Getting in the Mindset

  1. Allow yourself the luxury of taking time away. Not only do you need this retreat, you deserve it! Set intentions to focus on yourself in a way that prioritizes quality, not quantity.
  2. Prioritize your need to replenish personal resources. You can’t pour yourself into others if you aren’t filled yourself.
  3. Look at this holistically. Focus on rejuvenating all aspects of your health: sleep, nutrition, meditation, exercise, relationship, etc.
  4. Take note of how you feel right now, in the “before” stage. Are you depressed in any way? Are you feeling low-energy? Irritable? Make note of where you’re starting from.
  5. Get over any fears you have about spending time in silence alone. There is no need to fret about being vulnerable to growth.

 Step 2: Preparing and Enjoying Your Space

  1. Start slow. If you’ve never taken a mindfulness retreat before, start by blocking out just a day or two to get used to it.
  2. Set some intentions. What do you want to accomplish, create or grow? Do you want to just relax and let go? Do you want to reconnect to your spirituality or to God? Do you want to feel re-energized? Do you want to get in touch with your creativity?
  3. Ask for the time you deserve. If you have a family, silence is much harder to find. Set up a sleepover or play date for your kids and schedule time when your partner or spouse is away. In this case, it’s time to focus on you.
  4. Set up some structure. Silent retreats are about investing in your emotional and spiritual wellness, not losing all sense of time. Decide how you’d like to structure your days: Meditation, spiritual reading, walking or quietly enjoying a homemade meal are all great options.
  5. Just be. Give your time purpose, but do not force yourself into your bad habits of busyness. Relax and take the day as it comes. Eat when you’re hungry, walk when you have energy, sleep when you’re tired. Just be.
  6. Let “silence be the altar of the Spirit.” Try to create a space for you and just you. But if you must be around people for any reason, remain in silence and focus on you. Fall into that rhythm of seclusion.
  7. Give yourself a media detox. This is not a place for Netflix, the radio or the news. Don’t document your retreat on Instagram. Share what you learned during your retreat later! Now is the time for peace.
  8. Name your fears and establish peace. In day-to-day life, our minds are restless, fraught with busyness and burden. Name those things that come to mind during your retreat and then move on.

Step 3: Focusing on Re-Entry

  1. Know that getting back to daily life can be difficult. It’s easy to want to stay in that “precious pocket of pure renewal,” but daily life calls. Know that every retreat comes to an end.
  2. Create new habits. Your silent retreat should be a time of learning and rejuvenation. Find new techniques for dealing with stress and use them day-to-day until your next retreat.
  3. Focus on the goodness that still surrounds you. Take note of spiritual goodness and presence that is around you and dive into it daily.
  4. Connect with people in new ways. After your retreat, start focusing on what really matters: love, kindness and relationship. Write to an old friend you haven’t spoken to in a while, or meet a buddy for coffee!
  5. Make your mindfulness retreats a ritual. Make it a point to do this again. Decide to do something like this twice a year, or once a month—whatever makes sense for you.

Mindfulness retreats can be a wonderful ritual that keeps us centered, grounded and gives us space to rejuvenate when we need it most. They’re “sacred pauses” in the midst of the whirlwind of life.

Elizabeth Gilbert once said, “This is what rituals are for. We do spiritual ceremonies as human beings to create a safe resting space for our most complicated feelings of joy or trauma, so that we don’t have to haul those feelings around with us forever, weighing us down. We all need such places of ritual safekeeping.”

Enjoy your retreat, dear friends. You deserve it!

4 Mysterious Ways Cats Heal Our Bodies

Cats are amazing creatures. They can drink seawater if they want to, they have patterns on their noses that are as unique as a fingerprint and even have a third eyelid.

Cats also heal us (as if we needed more of a reason to love them) in ways that sometimes feel ‘out of this world.’ Their mere presence lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, helping us to deal with stress in healthy ways without even thinking about it.

Cats are affectionate and nurturing creatures with keen ways of caring for those around them—so much so that some studies show owning a cat can actually increase your lifespan by a few years.

Here are a few more amazing and mysterious ways that cats heal our bodies:

Cats may reduce heart attack risk by 30-40 percent.

In 2009, a long-term study by neurologist Adnan Qureshi of the University of Minnesota Stroke Institute discovered that non-cat owners were 30-40 percent more likely to die of cardiovascular disease than those who were from cat families. Companionship, love and stress reduction goes a long way.

A cat’s purr can actually mend bones. 

For ages people have wondered why cats purr. While most of the time we assume purring is simply an expression of happiness, cats have also been observed purring while in stressful situations or when recovering from an injury.

While it’s still under some debate, scientists have largely demonstrated that a cat’s purr—found at a frequency between 25 and 150 Hertz—is at such a level that it can actuallysoothe and heal bones and muscles. This vibration of energy can improve bone density loss and even speed up muscle growth after atrophy.

Cats support emotional well-being and help us cope with stress.

Everyone knows that cat videos are some of the greatest gems on the internet. Laughing with your kitty or just petting them and having them around, actually strengthens your immune system, slows your heart beat to a state of calm and reduces blood pressure. Treasure the moments you have snuggling your pet and feel the stress just melt away.

Cats can signal impending distress and nurture emotional and physical healing.

Cats seem to have a ’6th sense’ when it comes to knowing if something is wrong or if you’re feeling unwell. There are unending accounts of people who have experienced trauma finding comfort and strength in the companionship of their pet. Their sense is so keen that often cats can signal some impending attack or injury before it happens! Here is an account of a family cat saving a young, epileptic man’s life during a seizure.

There are a million reasons to love these sweet animals and the ways that they love us and care for us and keep us company.

How have you seen your pet take special care of you and your health? Let us know in the comments! 

 

Originally published for Care2 at: http://www.care2.com/greenliving/4-mysterious-ways-cats-heal-our-bodies.html 

How to Cope When Your Partner is in the Hospital

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Nothing prepares you for an unexpected health crisis of a loved one. Everything you thought was stable can be shattered in an instant, leaving you confused and your routine in complete disarray.

We all learn to deal with various minor aches and pains as we age, but what do you do when an emergency catches you off guard? How can you manage the incredible stress of approaching life day-by-day?

This post will take you step-by-step through a variety of strategies you can use to maintain calm and peace when your partner or loved one is in the hospital.

Earlier this year, my father-in-law suffered a very unexpected heart attack while on vacation, far from home. In the midst of all the uncertainty and pain, my mother-in-law Becca—a wonderful woman and counselor—managed the situation with a grace and peace about her that I deeply admired. I hope that her thoughts and experiences help you find your own sense of peace as you navigate the challenges of a hospitalized partner or spouse.

How to Cope When Your Partner is In the Hospital

1) Keep Calm and Stay Positive

Particularly in the midst of an alarming health event, do whatever you can to stay calm and supportive of your partner. Place them in the capable care of professionals, focus on ensuring their physical needs are met, encourage and give them all the love you can.

“[In the moment] I honestly knew that it was going to be okay, because it appeared we had caught his illness early and we sought medical support immediately. Then I realized I was on the other side of the country and I wouldn’t be home for a long time…”

2) Stay Informed and Inform Others When You Can

Make it a priority to get accurate, firsthand information about your partner’s condition, treatments, procedures and medications. Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions and ensure that you, your partner and your doctor are all on the same page. Try to avoid going down the “Web MD” rabbit hole and go straight to your doctor for accurate, up-to-date information.

“The medical staff at the hospital was really excellent and I knew Rick was being taken care of. They were intentional about addressing the family’s need for information and were direct and clear about the state of Rick’s health. The harder parts were the times when procedures went long, when we were unable to see Rick come out of surgery, and when we were generally unsure about his progress. I talked to family during those times so we could encourage each other.
It was really helpful to break down the task of informing family into groups, communicating only with closest family and specific points of contact in other circles (church friends, Rick’s work, my work, etc). Facebook was actually a great medium for this.”

3) Focus on Self Care

We often tell new mothers to “sleep when the baby sleeps,” knowing that self-care is as vitally important for the caregiver as it is for the little one. Do the same in this situation. When your partner is in the hospital, stress can overwhelm. You’ll be of no use if you’re sleep-deprived, aren’t eating or avoid taking a breather. It’s so easy to feel the need to “keep watch,” waiting for something unexpected to happen.

Whenever the moments present themselves, give yourself a mental and physical break! Remember it’s okay to ask for help, take a nap, grab a bite in the cafeteria or step outside for a moment to get some sun. Sleep away from the hospital if you can. You’ll both be better for it if you feel healthy and calm.

“Waiting rooms are rough: sterile, uncomfortable, health workers scurrying about making you wonder if they have news…and they don’t. I tried not to be in the waiting room. As much as possible I went somewhere else, going for walks outside of the hospital, looking around the gift shop and cafeteria; when my husband was not awake or available for interaction, I left the hospital so I could be rested and hopeful when he did need me. I prayed, talked to family and kept people updated as I could.”

4) Make a Plan

It is always best to have legal documents in order before a health crisis ever arises. However, sometimes emergencies sneak up on us. If your partner is hospitalized for something potentially life-threatening, step back and take some time to ensure all your documents are in order. No one likes to think about this stuff, but you and your partner should feel some relief knowing that things are taken care of.

If your spouse is too tired, irritable or distracted for these conversations, try to carefully set aside a chosen and agreed upon time to talk about it. Focus on those practical matters, handle them and move on to better things as quickly as possible.

“I sometimes worried about what would happen during recovery and the impact of such an intrusive procedure on his health, lifestyle and work. There are so many questions…”

5) Stay Present

Nothing is more important than the present moment. Don’t dwell on possibilities, but spend the time you have with your loved one, encouraging them and engaging in conversations that are enriching for you both. Pick out bits of hope and goodness in your life together and focus on those things.

“Rick was always calmer when I was with him. I tried to come visit when he was awake in the mornings and afternoons, when he wasn’t hurting or agitated. We talked about future plans and family and blessings. We read scriptures and prayed together. A lot of the time we just sat together…sometimes he didn’t need to talk or be talked to, but seemed comforted just knowing I was there with him.
The morning before Rick’s triple bypass was really special. He asked our son to prepare a devotional and read scripture. Rick was so calm, which really gave us strength and hope for all the waiting to come that day. Our son and daughter-in-law were also able to share ultrasound pictures of our first grandchild with him…it was a sort of  ’this is what you are living for’ sort of moment. 
That is worth fighting for.

Originally published for Care2 at: http://www.care2.com/greenliving/how-to-cope-when-your-partner-is-in-the-hospital.html

New Interactive Map Shows Grim Reality of Landfills in the U.S.

Do you remember the opening scene of WALL-E?

In the movie, we enter on an Earth that has been entirely abandoned and left behind, piled up with heaps of trash as high as skyscrapers, save for a single, friendly, garbage-crushing robot named WALL-E.

The cause? Mass consumerism, alongside a distinct lack of foresight about its possible consequences.

Now, WALL-E was never really designed to make a damning statement about consumerism, at least not in the beginning. Rather, the film’s focus is at its core: relationships, love and nostalgia for a simpler time. But the movie does make a valid point:

Are the wasteful habits and routines that we make for ourselves damaging our ability to live a wholesome, healthy life on Earth?

The Landfill Issue

This year, premier alternate energy resource, SaveOnEnergy, released a fantastic study and interactive map entitled: Land of Waste: American Landfills and Waste Production. You can find it on their website, here!

The study covers everything you’ve ever wanted to know about our waste trends and the state of America’s landfills. We all have those burning questions:

  • How much of an issue is it, really?
  • Are we actually running out of room for our trash?
  • Where are the landfills, anyways? I’ve never seen one.

For most of us, “out of sight, out of mind” could hit our ideas about trash right on the head! We don’t deal with trash in our everyday lives. We buy it, we use it, we toss it and a wonderful human being in a big truck takes it away from our homes to an unknown location where it will live for the rest of its days. Also known as forever. 

According to SaveOnEnergy, the average American tosses 4.4 pounds of trash every single day.

Every. Single Day.

That’s roughly 728,000 tons of garbage daily—an amount that could fill 63,000 garbage trucks.

Land of Waste

It can be extremely difficult to wrap our minds around the impact of our waste. 728,000 tons? What does that mean to me?

The problem with this abstraction is that the removed, hidden nature of the waste industry (or “trash trade“) keeps us in the dark. We don’t know the extent or the impact of our waste and so we carry on. We keep producing trash like there is no tomorrow, though there is. And it matters.

This ignorance of our impact on the Earth is exactly what the team at SaveOnEnergy is hoping to prevent.

What You Can Do

  1. Learn! Explore the Land of Waste study and learn about the state of American waste over time.
  2. Cut back! Bring reusable bags when you go shopping, refuse to take home plastic and opt for reusable containers when packing meals.
  3. Buy in bulk and deny double packaging.
  4. Compost your food scraps and either use the compost at home in your own garden or donate to a community that can use it.
  5. Cut back on paper use, cardboard and junk mail. Remove yourself from as many mailing lists as possible, refuse paper statements and reuse printed paper as scrap paper.

To learn more about landfills in America, where your trash goes, and what you can do about it, please visit the SaveOnEnergy website

5 Places You Should Visit to Get the Most Bang for Your Buck

Well, we’ve crossed the threshold into August! For many of us, that signals a lot of impending changes: fall feels like it’s just around the corner, the new school year is steadily creeping closer and it seems as though that feeling of summer freedom is slipping through your fingers.

I’m here to tell you, your vacation doesn’t have to be over!

Think about all of those cool, global locales you’ve been dying to visit in the future…Maybe it’s your lifelong dream to see the vibrant, Latin culture of Central America or the mysterious, desert landscape of North Africa. Maybe you’re eager to visit every baseball stadium in America or experience the country music scene like you never have before. Our world is full of fascinating, unique places that can excite us, inspire us and make us better, more well-rounded people!

As you’re reading this, I would guess you’re a little bit skeptical, thinking: “Yes, Lauren, of course I want to explore Central America. That would be amazing! But isn’t travel like that for people with a serious nest-egg and all the time in the world to spare?”

Not necessarily.

I will say, from firsthand experience, some of the most awe-inspiring trips I’ve taken in my life have been to countries that are just a bit under the radar. So, take a minute and explore this fantastic roundup of five, diverse places you should travel to get the most bang for your buck!

Nicaragua

Where is Nicaragua? Nicaragua is nestled tightly in the middle of Central America. It’s bordered on both sides by ocean—the Caribbean on the east and the Pacific on the west.

What’s so great about it? Many people say Nicaragua is the new Costa Rica, which essentially means it’s on its way up in the tourism world. Make sure you get there while it’s still partially undiscovered! Nicaragua is known in particular for its adventuring opportunities—think surfing, hiking and zip lines and jungle beauty. Be sure to eat at thefritanga (buffet style restaurants) and take whatever local bus transport you can find. And feel free to haggle!

What are the can’t-miss destinations? The capitol city, Managua, ocean fishing, colonial architecture in Granada, the Plaza de Independencia, Antigua Catedral, coastal town San Juan del SurMasaya markets, the ancient footprints of Acahualinca and any of the many volcanoes in the area.

What will it cost me to visit? With airfare, lodging, food and entertainment, most well-managed trips will run you just $25 per day.

Morocco

Where is Morocco? Morocco is located on the Western coast of North Africa, touching Algeria to the East. Morocco sports some of the most stunning beaches in Africa and culture like you wouldn’t believe. You’ll be amazed for sure!

What’s so great about it? In Morocco, the richness of the African desert is at your fingertips. Full of Arabs, Berbers and Saharawis, Morocco is a beautiful meshing of ancient history and architecture. Here you can explore the dunes of the Sahara, take in the serenity of oases, or explore exotic medinas to do some shopping. Here are a few cultural tips to get you in the mood to visit Morocco.

What are the can’t-miss destinations? The High Atlas mountains, the Tizi n’Test pass,Essaouira, Marrakesh, the popular Fez medina, the Djemaa el-Fna street-theatre, Jebel Toubkal and more! Here’s a link for how to see much of this on a budget.

What will it cost me to visit? With airfare, lodging, food and entertainment, if you avoid the spendy tourist fares most well-managed trips will run you around $55 per day.

Croatia

Where is Croatia? Croatia is an Eastern European country just a hop across the Adriatic Sea from Italy and on the edge of the Dinaric Alps. The landscape is diverse and full of breathtaking beauty; you’ll find everything from Mediterranean beaches to hinterland mountain regions glistening with crystal water here.

What’s so great about it? Croatia is right at the intersection of Eastern and Western European culture and demonstrates this in its architecture, history and cuisine. You’ll find a lot of people speak Italian here—second to Croatian of course—and the castles and forts are to die for! Be sure to taste their truffle delicacies, seafood and local cheeses for a truly Croatian experience.

What are the can’t-miss destinations? The capitol city of ZagrebDiocletian’s PalacePlitvice Lakes National Park, the Church of St. EuphemiaMljet Island, the City Walls of Dubrovnik, and the Roman Amphitheatre in Istria.

What will it cost me to visit? With airfare, lodging, food and entertainment, most well-managed trips will only run you around $55 USD per day!

Nashville, Tennessee, USA

Where is Nashville? In the United States, the city of Nashville, Tennessee is well-known as the country’s heart of country music. It is nestled in the southeastern United States and located on the Cumberland river.

What’s so great about it? Nashville is aptly nicknamed “Music City” and it is jam-packed with a number of fascinating, fun-filled American attractions. It’s glitzy, bright and free, and there’s something for everyone, from country music hot spots to a burgeoning foodie scene—much of which is extremely budget-friendly. Spring and Fall are the optimum times to visit Nashville if you want to get the best, most temperate weather.

What are the can’t-miss destinations? Be sure to check out the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, the Grand Ole OpryHonky Tonk HighwayNashville Palace, thePancake Pantry, the famous Bluebird Cafelocal barbecue and fried chickenRCA Studio B, Civil War battlefield Lookout Mountain and any local concert you can find!

What will it cost me to visit? With airfare, lodging, food and entertainment, most well-managed trips will run you around $87 USD per day. Try to save where you can on food and local entertainment to get the most out of this city. Bonus savings if you’re already local to the USA!

Indonesia

Where is Indonesia? Indonesia is a Southeast Asian country known for the vast variety it offers visitors. Indonesia is made up of over 13,000 islands and sports numerous volcanoes, sandy beaches and exciting urban cities. 

What’s so great about it? You can’t go wrong with Indonesia. From Bali to Jakarta, you’re in for a real treat. Be sure to let the island life take hold of you. Go diving, visit a few UNESCO world heritage sites and get to know some of the cheeriest people you’ll ever meet! A big bonus? Local food is delicious and cheap! Eat on the street to save some cash.

What are the can’t-miss destinations? For a true island paradise, visit the Gili Islands to go snorkeling. I also suggest: The capitol of JakartaKomodo National Park to see ancient, dragon-like creatures, Hindi PrambananBromo-Tengger-Semuru National Park, theBunaken snorkeling region, Borodudur Temple Compound and Denpasar.

What will it cost me to visit? With airfare, lodging, food and entertainment, most well-managed trips will typically run you, all in, about $30 USD per day. Some of the morebackpacker types say you can get by with $15 per day!

I sincerely hope you feel inspired to take a trip soon! Now name your dream, make a plan and save up those vacation days. You’ll be traipsing the globe in no time!

What under-the-radar travel destinations have inspired you the most? Where do you suggest we take our next trip? 

 

Originally published for Care2 at: http://www.care2.com/greenliving/5-places-you-should-visit-to-get-the-most-bang-for-your-buck.html

15 Creative Re-Uses for Cardboard

Cardboard, Cardboard, Cardboard. Our world is full of it. From the millions of boxes used to fulfill our online shopping addiction to cereal boxes and packing material, cardboard really crops up.

For many of us, when a cardboard item comes into our home, our initial reaction is to toss it willy nilly into the recycling bin as soon as we’re through with it. It’s been drilled into us that recycling is the savior of our consumption problems. But in the end, recycling isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

While recycling is an incredible process that has changed the way we handle certain types of waste (mainly paper), it has a dark side of its own that should cause you to rethink just how often you use the service.

The Dark Side of Recycling

Recycling requires an immense amount of energy to take care of the mountains of material we throw at it, and it produces a lot of pollutants–both from the recycling plants themselves and all of the recycling collection vehicles that make their rounds in our cities weekly. Recycling plants are among the top polluters of our nation. A little bit ironic don’t you think?

But that’s not the half of it.

Recycling is not a perfect science by any means. And when items of two types end up combined in the same recycling process (say, spray can bottles and soda cans), toxic chemicals can spread where we don’t want them to. Recycling can also be prohibitively expensive, recreate low-quality products and cause chemicals to leach into local soils.

Recycling is a bit of a ‘catch 22′ in the sense that it convinces us it’s okay to buy too much and be too wasteful. It encourages insane consumption, rather than empowering us to do more with what we already have.

With that in mind, it becomes all the more important for us to limit our consumption of things that come over-packaged and find alternatives, then to find ways to reuse the cardboard before it ever hits our recycling bin.

Here’s what you can do instead!

I’ve done my best to pull together a number of reuse ideas for cardboard and paperboard that are usable and should fit into your daily life. By using these ideas, you’ll be taking a step toward protecting the environment, limit overcrowding of cardboard in your home and save money that was previously used to purchase items that these creations will replace.

1. Save large pieces for your children’s school projects and posters in place of buying new poster board.

2. Create handmade greeting cards, envelopes or gift tags like these ones!

3. Keep easy-to-cut sections of paperboard for craft projects of all sorts.

4. Make a cat scratching post for your adorable feline.

5. Trim boxes into drawer organizers.

6. Make your own paint paletteBonus: Use milk jug caps for the paint!

7. Collect large boxes for an upcoming move. No need to buy.

8. Create an indoor planter for windowsill herbs or flowers.

9. Keep a range of sizes that are ideal for mailing packages. Never buy boxes at the post office again! You can also use cardboard as padding.

10. Create a coupon filing system.

11. Make storage totes via this amazing tutorial from Brit + Co!

12. Retain boxes that are still in good shape to serve as gift boxes at Christmas and reuse them for years to come.

13. Make a bird feeder like this.

14. If you’re really ambitious, get crafty and make one of these gorgeous wall sculptures.

15. Create party decor like this.

Originally published for Care2 at: http://www.care2.com/greenliving/15-creative-re-uses-for-cardboard.html

6 Reasons Why Unplugging is Good for Your Health

We all know what it feels like to be "always on." Always connected. Always multitasking to the point of exhaustion.

We wake up to email; we go to sleep to email. We're glued to our phones, reacting instantly at the slightest *ding* to make sure we haven't missed something important.

Our smartphones are our lives wrapped up in a device. Today they are our connection to the outside world, our calendars, our alarms, our cookbooks and our self-help guides. They're our maps, our cameras, our banks and our entertainment.

When was the last time you checked your phone? Are you using it now?

Technology is not a beast in and of itself. In fact, used responsibly, it could be considered one of the more wondrous inventions of this day and age. That being said, has it become unhealthy? Can we go as far as to say that we are addicted?

Here are a few stats to help you decide:

  • The Daily Mail (UK) discovered that mobile users check their devices every 6.5 minutes.
  • 84% of cell phone users say that they wouldn't survive a single day without their phones.
  • 44% of smartphone owners sleep with their phones next to their bed so they don't miss out on any alerts or updates.

But is it really that bad? What's the big deal? Smartphones help us keep in touch with family and friends who are far away. They ensure we never miss out on big news or that a moment never escapes where we are not entertained. Isn't it better to stay occupied than be idle?

Not necessarily.

Here are six powerful reasons why unplugging is good for your health, and why your technology addiction may be harming you more than you might think:

  1. Unintentional open office hours mean we never get a break. But, unplugging gives us time to recharge before going back to work.
  2. Constant connection to social media breeds unhealthy feelings of envy, loneliness and jealousy. But, unplugging keeps us grounded and more in touch with our own strengths, abilities and purposes.
  3. Watching other people's lives happen before your eyes causes FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). But, unplugging cultivates contentment with our own circumstances, helps us become more creative with our time, and provides some inner peace.
  4. 24/7 access to notifications, messages, and alerts crowds our minds. But, unplugging empowers us to find solitude and form our own thoughts in moments of quiet.
  5. Smartphone addiction is just that: an addiction. But, unplugging removes the stimulant and helps us to see where our psychological well-being is being harmed.
  6. Constant entertainment does nothing to lengthen or ultimately enrich the physical part of our day-to-day lives. But, unplugging energizes us, because at the end of the day, life is about people.

How have you seen technology addiction affect your own life? What ways have you enjoyed unplugging? How has it made you healthier, in both body and spirit?

Why is My Cat Throwing Up?

Vomiting is not a pleasant subject; and for many of us, the very thought of an upset stomach turns us green. For people, vomiting is usually a sign that something is acutely wrong -- maybe a nasty contaminant made its way into our food or we caught the stomach flu in passing.

In cats, the cause is often a lot less alarming. However unpleasant, vomiting in cats here and there is actually quite normal and can be triggered by the most seemingly inconsequential things.

Here are a few common reasons why your kitty may be throwing up at home:

Why is My Cat Throwing Up?

The Cause: He ate too fast. Regurgitation of swallowed food happens often when your cat gets a little overeager at mealtime. If your cat throws up whole pieces of kibble very shortly after eating, it's likely that eating too quickly is to blame.

The Remedy: Feed smaller meals. Try to help control your cat's eating speed by feeding him more often but in smaller amounts.

The Cause: He switched food types recently. House cats have fairly sensitive digestive systems. If his stomach has grown accustomed to a certain type or brand of food, it may be somewhat jolting to swap to something new.

The Remedy: Mix new food with old food. Try mixing increasing amounts of a new food with decreasing amounts of old food over time.

The Cause: He has a food allergy. If your kitty acts normal in all other ways (is a healthy weight, throws up only occasionally, is of normal energy levels) this is a possibility.

The Remedy: Identify the allergen and make a swap. Look for possible intolerances and see if your veterinarian can help you find an alternate option.

The Cause: He has a hairball. Every cat ingests some hair during grooming and may get a hairball from time to time. Don't stress it.

The Remedy: Wait it out. Hairballs are normal enough and just require a little bit of patience. If this is the cause, you'll notice a small clump of hair in the vomit.

More Serious Causes & When to See Your Vet:

Each of the causes of vomiting listed in this blog are fairly commonplace; all cats will throw up from time to time - it's just the way they work. However, it never hurts to be vigilant and on the lookout for more serious concerns. Vomiting daily or several times a day, or to the point of an empty stomach, is not normal.

If you notice one of the following symptoms, you should contact your vet immediately about the possibility of hyperthyroidism or kidney problems:

  • Uncharacteristic weakness
  • Non-stop vomiting to the point of bile
  • Pain or distress
  • Diarrhea
  • Bright blood in stool or vomit
  • Evidence of dark blood in stool or vomit

 

 

5 Steps to Forgiving Someone Who's Hurt You

Alright friends, it’s time to dig deep. Ask yourself this question: Are you angry with someone in your life right now? Why?

Living with anger and forgiveness can be a truly damaging thing to our emotional health and well-being. It can be incredibly difficult to be at peace when someone we love has harmed us; we feel betrayed, broken down and often very, very far from wanting to ever see them again.

This is never a good place to be.

Why is forgiveness so difficult? Because for many of us, revenge or vindication feels much more just. Most people have a tendency to punish those who’ve hurt us, sometimes directly (hurling back insults with vengeance or taking offensive action) or more passive aggressively (giving people the silent treatment, wallowing, giving glaring looks, gossiping). And in the end, are we better for it? Usually not.

Forgiveness is not a feeling; it’s a decision that we make with a clear mind and a settled heart, with the full intent to let go

So what does real forgiveness look like? And how can we free ourselves from the burden of hurt?

Step 1: Name the issue. One of the most important things you can do as you process an offense is to name the issue in your heart, to its full extent. What happened? What specific actions harmed you? Why? Is there a reason this struck a chord? Get to the core of the issue to the best of your ability.

Step 2: Name your fear. Once you’ve named the issue and identified the real reasons you were hurt by it, identify the barriers you are facing to forgiveness. Are you afraid that by forgiving this person, you open yourself up to hurt again? Do you worry that forgiveness is vulnerable?

Step 3: Choose compassion and courage. We have amazing control over our own wills. Make the conscious decision to choose compassion and courage over bitterness. Even when every fiber of your being resists, choose to be the bigger person. Remind yourself that everyone is human, no one is perfect, and think about how you’d feel if you needed someone to forgive you.

Step 4: Surrender your hurt. It takes much less energy to let go and forgive than it does to stay bitter. Do not dwell on what happened, but open your heart instead. To truly surrender, make these four promises to yourself and others who can hold you accountable: “I will not dwell on this pain,” “I will not use this incident against you in the future,” “I will not gossip with others about this issue” and “I will not let this incident stand between us.”

Step 5: Set a pattern of love. Try your very best to do right by the other person. Send them smiles, treat them with kindness and turn the relationship around, if appropriate. Almost every situation can be mended with love and attention. If the person you feel hurt by is a toxic person, it’s okay for that extra love and attention to go right back to you.



Originally published for Care2 at: http://www.care2.com/greenliving/5-steps-to-forgiving-someone-whos-hurt-you.html#ixzz4CpVoeJLc

How to Handle Bad Behavior in Cats

Someone once said, “Thousands of years ago, cats were worshipped as gods—and they’ve never forgotten this.” Now this may be a sort of silly way to think about it, but I believe most cat owners will agree with the notion that cats are highly independent and like to live by their own rules.

So what does that mean for cat lovers? Training them can be quite a challenge.

The Nature of Cats

The trope that cats are “stand-offish” or “independent” is something that has persisted for centuries. Cats, unlike dogs, are solitary predators and have a tendency to act within that natural boundary. In the wild, this independence is an incredible asset. Just think how difficult it would be to perform a hiding and pouncing tactic in a pack!

With this in mind, it’s easy to empathize with a cat’s natural desire to make independent decisions and behave as they please. However, when this behavior turns naughty or destructive, it’s a different story. 

In order to be successful handling bad behavior in cats, we need to unlearn some bad habits when it comes to discipline and learn some new ones:

1. Cats don’t understand English; they learn by experience.

Training your cat by speaking harshly, yelling or explaining your frustration just isn’t going to work. Cats don’t tend to associate angry words with bad behavior; it won’t cause them to stop what they’re doing. Rather, cats will do what they can to avoid unpleasant experiences. Getting your whiskers caught in a candle flame isn’t something to be repeated, right?

2. Cats don’t learn from isolated instances; reprimand isn’t the answer.

Many people tend to get frustrated when they can’t “catch a cat in the act of crime.” Waking up the next morning to a broken vase or shredded drapery and attempting to discipline hours after the incident just won’t work. He won’t be able to associate the reprimand with the crime.

3. Cats aren’t mind-readers; they require consistency.

If one moment you’re reprimanding your cat and the next you’re ignoring him, this sends mixed messages. Too much problem correction can severely damage the bond you share with your pet. He may decrease his trust in you, fear your approach or avoid you because he doesn’t know what to expect. Don’t let your cat become unsure!

4. Positive reinforcement is the name of the game.

The key to nurturing good behavior in your cat is to give them consistent, loving attention and care. Stay calm when you’re in a frustrating situation, praise him when he does something right and reward good behavior, even if it’s just a step in the right direction. Treats are a great place to start!

5. Cats become overly active and destructive when they’re bored. Keep them engaged! 

If you have a cat who has a seemingly unending source of energy and has a tendency to behave destructively while you’re away, you may need to find new ways to give him attention. For tried-and-true tips to keep your cat happy, active and mentally stimulated throughout the day, check out this post on entertaining your cat! 

6. Set up your environment to do the talking.

Rather than spending all your effort punishing your cat for what not to do, create a living space that clearly defines what he should be doing instead. A great example? Retraining a cat who loves your sofa can be a challenge. Rather than spraying him every time he starts using his claws, set out a scratching post in an ideal location that’s perfect for his needs. Make sure it’s tall, exciting, covered in an appealing material and fun to use!

Have you had any particular successes training your cat? Leave your suggestions in the comments!



Originally published for Care2 at: http://www.care2.com/greenliving/how-to-handle-bad-behavior-in-cats.html#ixzz4CpU9ldgD

3 Colors That Can Make You Better at Your Job

If you’ve ever lived in a place with a room painted an odd or dull color (or just boring old white), you’ll know just how much it can affect your mood.

While some of us are more tuned in to color variances than others, we all experience the subconscious psychological effects of color. This is called Color Psychology: the study of how different colors and hues affect our behavior.

Color Psychology has some pretty strong scientific roots. We know that it affects what we buy (which explains why it gets so much attention in sales and marketing), how much we want to eat and can make remarkable differences in the beauty of our homes and the state of our well-being.

But we also know it can greatly affect  focus and productivity, and might actually be sapping your energy.

While there is no magic shade that will have you making millions overnight, there are many ways you can create a more productive environment for yourself, at home or at work.

Here are the three colors that can make you better at your job!

Orange

Orange is a highly energizing hue that, according to ancient Feng Shui principles, promotes concentration, organization and pinpointed focus. Perfect for someone who needs to move quick, this is a “wake up and get moving” sort of color and can be extremely effective as a booster, even in small amounts. So, if painting all the walls in your office bright orange sounds a bit too overwhelming for your taste, try spicing up the room with orange accents—drapes or a decorative vase.

Green

Depending on your line of work, green can be an incredible option for your office. If your work is more creative or requires a great deal of levelheadedness and empathy, green will help promote peace, creativity and stability. Because green is the color of nature, it can help people feel balanced and reassured day-to-day and can even improve collaboration and mutual understanding. Bonus: Green pairs well with other more stimulating colors like red on the opposite end of the color spectrum.

Blue

There is no color steadier and more reliable than blue. Most people associate this hue with calm, trustworthiness and consistency, and it’s been linked to improved cognitive performance. There’s a reason why wearing blue is so highly recommended for job interviews! Blue has also been associated with creativity, making it another great choice for an office setting.

So there you have it! Three great color choices that will keep you energized, creative and organized in your workplace, wherever that may be. Now get painting!



Originally published for Care2 at: http://www.care2.com/greenliving/3-colors-that-can-make-you-better-at-your-job.html#ixzz4CpSA3Q5n