On top of spaghetti, all covered in cheese…

It’s a cold, snowy night here on the East Coast and I’m stuffed full of spaghetti and meatballs that were neither natural, organic, or locally produced. In fact, the meatballs weren’t even homemade. They were frozen. I bought them in a bag fully cooked, chocked full of preservatives and god knows what else. I’m not going to lie – they were awesome.

Oh, the humanity.

Don’t worry, I’m just following through with Rule #6 and finishing up all the things I have around the house, replacing everything little by little. My next gluttonous bowl full of spaghetti and meatballs will be decidedly different and I’m actually pretty psyched to get things rolling. So psyched, in fact, that I think I’ve finally finished outlining my goals. Yes, that little tablet you see able is six pages deep in semi-organized thoughts about things I want to add to or eliminate from my life. I won’t bore anyone with all the details here – really it’s just sort of stream of consciousness and some of them are really long-term goals, but it helped give me a good idea of what I’m gunning for. I’ll throw a rough form of the lists up in the tabs at the top of the page, if for nothing else to give myself the satisfaction of bolding or crossing out the things I try.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to read up on the debate over sodium lauryl sulfate. Don’t be jealous.


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“It’s not wise to violate rules until you know how to observe them.” (t.s. eliot)

Over the past few days I’ve been slowly emerging myself into the au naturale lifestyle. And by slowly I mean r-e-alllllllllly slowly. I bought organic flour to bake a pie for my Dad’s birthday. I bought and used natural peanut butter and loved it. I also started reading Harriet Fasenfest’s A Householder’s Guide to the Universe. Oh, and I dropped my thermostat down eight degrees, making my husband’s nose cold and nearly killing my goldfish in the process.

That’s when I realized that I needed some rules.

Although I realize that this whole process is going to be trial and error, I know that I’m the kind of person who needs to establish some simple ground rules in order to make this work. See, I’m a little prone to fleeting fantasies and grand, overwrought measures. Right after college I made a super-simple screenprinted t-shirt and for about two days I thought I’d reinvented the wheel and could mass-produce my silly little t-shirts for a living. Before I’d even made my second shirt I was researching the cost of shipping and calling about leasing a warehouse in Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey.

Needless to say, I eventually realized that my fantasy was a little ridiculous and my t-shirt wasn’t really that awesome. I also eventually realized that I hated New Jersey, moved home to Delaware, and never really thought about that very brief (albeit intense) dream until now. The problem is that I see a little bit of that dramatic sense of urgency coming out again now. I’m less than a week into exploring a natural lifestyle and I spent my lunchbreak yesterday researching the price of a tankless water heater and places I could buy redworms for a vermicompost pile. Still full of whatever frenzy possesses me in times like these, I came home and cranked down the old thermostat to 60 degrees, on a night that was below freezing. By bedtime the fish were barely swimming in their bowl and my husband was claiming his toes were blue. Oh, me.

So here are the rules, the ones that I think will work best for me. Your mileage may vary, but I think this is a good start.

1. No extremes. There will be a day where a tankless water heater, a hybrid car, and homemade soap won’t be extremes, but right now they’re more than I can handle. Start small, keep calm, and carry on.

2. No buying into the hype. Even in the short amount of time I’ve been researching natural living, I’ve found that there are a lot of myths, trends, and opinions. I’ve learned that organic doesn’t always mean better for me or the environment, and that sometimes locally grown non-organic food is the better way to go. I’m vowing not to become a victim of misinformation and to really research things and learn everything I can before jumping in.

3. My budget shall not be murdered. I’ve read that organic brands can be 50-100% more expensive than non-organic. I know that energy-efficient appliances can have a higher upfront cost. One thing I can’t do is overextend myself – instead I’ll look for ways to stay within my budget and still life in an environmentally conscious way.

4. We’re gonna need a bigger boat. Or at least a better plan. I can’t do this totally willy-nilly. I need to make a list of long-term and short-term changes I want to make. I’m envisioning a list for personal products, one for household products, another for home improvements and items I’d like to add and subtract from my life. I’m strangely excited to get cracking on these lists – but then again, I’m a Virgo.

5. Repeat after me: to each their own. I’m not here to preach or to judge, and I don’t want anyone to employ either one with me. I’m not trying to become the world’s foremost expert on a sustainable lifestyle or natural living. There are enough of those in the word. What I’m here to do is change the way I live in ways that I think are important. I’m going to make mistakes. I’m going to post about how proud I am to eat natural peanut butter, knowing full well that there are people who grow and roast and grind their own peanuts into butter. The point is, that for me, just making that tiny little step is progress. This entire year may just be trial and error, taking one step at a time. It’s about what works for me.

6. Waste not, want not. Although tempting, I can’t just go buckwild through my house throwing out healf-empty bottles of shampoo and newly-bought processed foods. I’m not replacing anything until I use it up, otherwise I’d really be defeating the purpose of this exercise. The only exception to this rule might come when I explore the cabinets under my sink and (safely) get rid of all the cleaners I haven’t used in months or years. Which brings me to my last rule…

7. It’s okay to bend and break the rules every once in awhile.  Seriously. I’m not going to deprive myself of my nephew’s birthday cake just because it’s not organic. I’m not going to swear off hot chocolate from the packet with dehydrated marshmallows on a snowy night or promise I’ll never snag a bottle of synthetic vitamin conditioner on sale and slather my hair with it a couple of times after it gets dried out from the pool. What I can promise is that these events will be few and far between – or as few and far between as I can manage.

So, there you have it. I feel a lot more focused just having thought out those very rough, rather non-specific guidelines. As time goes on, I might find that I naturally start following more specific guidelines as to what products I’ll use, which ones I’ll avoid, and how I want to do things, but for now this is all I need. Anything more might border on breaking my cardinal rule and before you know it I’ll have turned the heater off and the goldfish bowl will look like Lake Minnetonka in January.

Oh, and in case you were worried about the goldfish (Carter and Richards) you can sleep well tonight. I cranked it up a few more degrees and they’re doing just fine. See?

The Fish are Alright

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Thank you, Dr. Leo Marvin

I’m Jessica, and this is a blog about change; change inspired in equal parts by Bill Murray, Little House on the Prairie, and the old clothesline at my parents’ house. Don’t worry, I’ll explain all of that in due time, but first here’s a little background.

I live in a tiny little ranch/bungalow style house just outside a college town in Delaware with my hilarious husband Jeremy, our naughty dog Winston, and our sweet chubster of a cat, Cooper.  In between working and attending graduate school full-time, running around in a vain attempt to add more hours to my day, and trying to maintain meaningful relationships with my friends and family I found myself burnt out and cranky. I ate like crap, I slept like crap, I felt like crap, and judging by the number of recent Facebook photos I’ve untagged myself from I looked like crap too.  I was so stressed that I was making myself sick and snapping at my well-meaning husband when he suggested I take some time to relax.

Something had to give, and I started thinking of ways to simplify my life – making peace with my aversion to dished in the sink for more than an hour, cooking in big batches, taking walks and getting more fresh air. I couldn’t shake this image of just selling my house and car and running away (with Jeremy and the pets, of course) to some giant sunflower field in Montana and living off the land away from civilization. I had this mental image of barefoot little babies in overalls catching fireflies and my husband fly fishing for our supper and all of us sitting around a warm fire under a blanket I knitted and reading Jules Verne together like a modern-day Ingalls family from Little House on the Prairie. Obviously – this idea has a couple of flaws. For one thing, I suppose you can’t just traipse west and plot some land for yourself anymore – I missed that boat by about 100 years. More importantly, neither Jeremy nor myself has any idea how to live off the land. We can’t go a day without technology, we can’t identify edible plants, we don’t know how to build things or start a fire, we hate bugs, and we’re not at all in touch with the environment outside of our little house in our medium-sized suburb. To add insult to injury, I also learned that sunflowers are more akin to central Midwest states like Kansas and the Dakotas than to Montana.

After almost three decades of living a life wrought with chemicals, additives, carcinogens, pesticides, non-renewables, disposables, instant consumer gratification, and a pretty typical disconnect from nature I’ve decided to take steps towards a most sustainable, natural, organic lifestyle.  Although I’ve always understood the importance of living life that is as simple and environmentally sound as possible, I’ve always made a million excuses as to why my conversion hadn’t fully taken place. First, it was too expensive. Then I was too busy. After that it was too faddish and complicated.
And then, HBO started airing What About Bob again. If you haven’t seen the movie, I highly recommend that you check it out because there is nothing like an early 1990s Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss on-screen pairing. Anyway, without giving too much of the plot away, I’ll tell you that Bill Murray plays Bob, a patient of Dreyfuss psychiatrist character, Dr. Leo Marvin. Bob suffers from a plethora of phobias and Dr. Marvin attempts to treat him with his new therapy strategy – Baby Steps. Bob attempts to overcome his agoraphobia by taking the theory literally and taking teeny tiny steps out of the office and down the hall, the whole time muttering to himself “Baby steps!  Ba-by steps! Baby steps through the office, baby steps out the door, baby steps to the hall, baby steps to the elevator…”

Ba-by st-eps!

And that’s sort of when it hit me – lounging on my couch in my lazy, elastic waisted pants, watching What About Bob. I don’t need to change everything at once. I don’t need to throw out all my chemical based cleaners and replace them overnight. I don’t need to run out and sell a kidney in the black market in order to buy solar panels. I don’t need to trade in my Honda for a SmartCar. I can do one thing at a time to slowly change my  home into the natural, eco-friendly place I want it to be. It might never be a cabin in the middle of a sunflower field, but it could stand a major back-to-basics overhaul.

Baby steps to organic food. Baby steps to natural cleaners. Baby steps to a healthier, more responsible way of life.

Once I made the decision to make some changes, the hardest part was figuring out how. I knew I needed a list, a plan of attack, and some motivation. The list is forthcoming – it’s turning out to be a beast. The plan of attack will follow the list. The motivation? You’re reading it. Chronicling my journey from Purveyor of Processed to  Newly Natural will hopefully keep me on track.

So, there you have it. I’m not a guru of all things green. I’m not a guru of anything, in fact. I’m just a woman on a mission, inspired by Little House on the Prairie, Bill Murray, and… I almost forgot! My Mom’s clothesline. See, for me, getting started is sometimes the hardest part. Even gradual change needs to start somewhere.  I decided to think of one single thing I could do, right away, to jump-start this thing. I thought about my house growing up and how many simple things I’d grown up doing that were really eco-friendly and the thing that stuck out most in my mind was my Mom’s clothesline in the backyard, towels warmed in the sun and smelling like the summer breeze.  I jumped online, found one just like it, and placed my order. Step one: complete.

I know everyone’s ideas about (and definition of) organic food, natural products, green homes, and sustainability are different. I’m not here to preach, to advertise, or to be the definitive answer on anything. I just want to share my trials and pitfalls, talk about what works for me, and learn more about myself in the process. After all, as Laura Ingalls Wilder once said, “It is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all.”

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