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Oysters and Orchids, Oh Mole!

The first day was just travel and we arrived in Veracruz without incident (although my mother had to throw out her apple since you can’t bring stuff like that into other countries for fear of spreading disease and pestilence).  We were greeted at the airport in Veracruz by our American guide Mike Vondruska and our local, Mexican, English-Speaking guide, Jorge Alberto Vidal Lopezolivera.

Bags were transferred to a large van and we met our fellow tour attendees like deer in the headlights (as often happens when you put a bunch of people together who have just met for the first time but know they have to spend nine days together having no idea how this is all going to go).

We arrived and were checked into the Gran Hotel Deligencias.  My mother and I were in room 419, each in our own bed.  A quick “snack” dinner of oysters, guacamole and chips, and cold cervezas at the hotel restaurant later and we were ready for sleep.  The passionate locals were enjoying loud music until at least 1:00a.m., but we were so tired, we faded into dreamland.

Next morning, we were up at 7:00a.m., showered, repacked and in the elevator back to the hotel lobby by 8:00a.m.  We loaded our baggage in the tour van and walked across the street to Gran Café del Portal Veracruz for a breakfast of café, orange juice and Machaca (eggs with “dried meat” and salsa) and warm corn tortillas.

Bellies full, bill paid and money exchanged, we were in the van on our way to a local town, Coatepec.  Our first stop was an Orchid Museum (Museo de la Orquidea), established by Dr. Isiaias Contreras Juarez over the course of 40 years.  There are over 350 species of orchid from 2mm tall to about a foot tall.  Most were not in bloom, but the ones that were stretched their beautiful blooms (even the ones we had to use a magnifying glass to see). J

Some important things we learned about orchids are:

  • They have a symbiotic relationship with the plant they grow on
  • The changes in temperature they experience throughout the year help them bloom
  • Climate change is affecting their natural growth rhythms
  • They need mostly air (and some water) to live
  • Vanilla is an orchid!
  • The word “orchid” means “testicles” (from the shape of their bulbs)

After the orchid museum, we walked to see a jade plant in bloom.  Then, we drove down the road and ate lunch at a very nice restaurant and enjoyed artisanal bread and dark beer.  Mom had grilled chicken and I had snapper, rice and vegetables with a fresh, salad.  At the end of the meal, the wait staff bought a large bottle of tequila (a casa (“on the house”)) and we all partook.

Then, we were off to our next hotel, a boutique-y place near the town square called Casa Real del Café.

We peeked into one of the local Iglesias (churches) and chuckled at the statue to Santa del Café (the patron saint of coffee).  Then, we walked around the town for a bit and enjoyed people watching a typical Sunday evening in the town square, complete with live singing, couples dancing, artisans selling their wares, children playing and other street performers.

Our final activity at the end of a full day was a cooking class with Art Cuisine, a local mother, Tanya, and her family taught us how to make picaditas (masa cooked on the griddle, pinched, and topped with frijoles and queso, or rojo salsa), chicken and mushroom mole dish, and coffee lemonade (made with local coffee with just the right technique).  And, we finished with coffee gelatin and vanilla and raisin ice cream.

The bed felt so welcoming after such a colorful and adventure-filled day!

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In Search of Coffee, Vanilla and Monarch Butterflies

In July, my mother said she was considering a trip she read about in the Denver Botanic Gardens’ newsletter to “chase the monarch butterflies” in Mexico with my stepfather.  Wow, I thought, that would be incredible!”.  But, when she mentioned it, I was in the middle of a busy summer and was soon after swept into the tidal wave that is life as a blogger, Mindfulness teacher (with new (paid!) gigs), mother-of-three-teens, Vice President of the high school PTSA, wife, daughter, sister (read “life”).

In October, she said “We’re going. You could come with us!”.  “Oh, I couldn’t possibly!” (read “too busy with life”).  She and my step-dad booked their flights and tours through the Reefs to Rockies tour company.’  I was excited for them and thought I wanna go! [but I can’t possibly leave my husband during Valentine’s Day and my oldest right before her 18th birthday]).

The fall flew by, my dad and I renovated my office at Newport Street Retreat and I dug in deeper to my business, teaching Mindfulness at the local elementary school and booking more Mindfulness sessions at the local middle school, I helped make Angel Talks a reality and grow the committees on the PTSA (#MindfulnessAboutOurCommunity), I meditated daily, and joined the After Prom Committee as the Sustainability Co-Chair and agreed to be the Sustainability Chair of the Park Hill Home Tour again for 2019.  Again, life.  But I really wanted to go.  But, I never talked about it…just imagined how incredible it would be.

Several years ago, I dragged my kids to see the IMAX film about the migration of the Monarch butterflies.  I was so enthralled with the end result of watching several generations of these beautiful orange-and-black-spotted pollinators’ journey from Canada to Mexico in about a year’s time.  Seeking milkweed, tithonia and other pollinator-supporting flora, these dedicated, iconic pollinators overcome natural and unnatural predators, climate change, development and ignorance in their effort to survive.

So, when my mom brought up this #ecotour, I knew exactly what it meant: huge trees covered in beautiful, orange and black butterflies instinctively and peacefully keeping each other warm in Mexico.  And, I could witness that in person!

Late January rolled around and my step-father had to have surgery for his gumball-sized kidney stones.  My mother said “I don’t know if he can make the trip.  I don’t suppose you can go?”.  I had an uncomfortable conversation with my husband and an awkward conversation with my almost-18-year-old. and cleared some space, cancelled about four appointments, got coverage for my meetings and yoga cleaning, and applied for a United Explorer Visa and booked the tickets.  It was surprisingly easy to step out of my “oh-so-busy” life and into an 18-passenger van with a bunch of botany geeks.  And, my step-dad can stay home, rest and recover from his surgery.

So, here I am, bouncing around Mexico for nine days learning about all sorts of things on a level I never could have dreamed…in search of coffee, vanilla and monarch butterflies….

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Fruit Flies and Panic

We recently had a fruit fly infestation…in our kitchen.  The solution ended up being a “fruit embargo”…and a fruit fly trap made of a cup of water, a couple tablespoons of apple cider vinegar and a few drops of dish soap (eco-friendly, of course) in a glass set on the kitchen counter until nay a fruit fly remained airborne.  Generally Buddhist, I go out of my way to save all living creatures, including spiders and ants.  But, not fruit flies in my house…and not Japanese beetles.  Japanese beetles are pure evil in the garden.  They decimate beautiful roses and destroy food crops.

It’s not just about fruit flies…

Similarly, I recently had a sort of panic attack due to a “to do” infestation.  I always have a lot on my “To Do” list, and I manage.  But, this was borderline panic after hearing a feng shui theory that every thing we have has a string attached to us.  Every. Thing.  (Yes, even the stuff in the closets, attics and basements…and storage units).  Visualizing that made me panic.  No wonder Marie Kondo has sold multiple books about decluttering and now has her own TV show!

Now, I have a fairly decluttered home, but lately piles have started accumulating as I’ve been renovating my new office space and working more out of the home.  Heck, even working in the home, it was hard to keep up with the piles.  Fostering kittens lead to pretty much every towel we own being out of the linen closet.

But, similar to the fruit embargo, I decided to conduct a panic embargo.  Panic, stress and fear are counterproductive emotions.  They are very real and can be crippling (think “fight, flight or freeze”).  I sat down with my “To Do” list and parsed out what I can realistically do today, this week, this month and in the next six months.  Some things are more urgent than others (bills and library books have due dates, but signing up for that paint ‘n sip class with my husband does not).  I’ve recently been challenged with coming up with four fun things to do in the next two months.  So, although not urgent, those absolutely are important.

Remember to Breathe…

My point is that sitting down, taking some deep breaths, being gentle with myself and thinking “what is realistic, what’s urgent and what can I let go of?” helped.  So, I blocked out some time to tackle ONE pile of papers and get the linen closet back together.  AND, since my marriage is important, I scheduled time with my hubby…it ended up being a Thai dinner date and snuggling back home with a movie I think we both wish we could un-see, but it was wonderful just the same. 

The movie was Burn Before Reading, by the way.  Guess we’re just not the dark humor / Pulp Fiction / brain matter splattered on the back of the closet wall type.

I leave you with this:  if you end up with an annoying fruit fly infestation, there is a way to deal with it.  And, if you find yourself overwhelmed with your To Do list, there’s a way to deal with that too.  Take a deep breath, come up with an action plan and follow it through.  Everything gets done eventually (or it falls of the task list because it didn’t matter that much anyway).  And, well, fruit flies are just another source of protein. 🙂

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Bringing Mindfulness Home

Sometimes it is a bit challenging to practice mindfulness at home with your family.  But, sometimes it’s also as simple as adding in a new ritual.

It can be starting a habit of one minute of gratitude and/or kind thoughts after you get in bed.  Or, taking a Mindful minute of deep breaths before you start to go to sleep.  Using calming music or a Mindfulness app can be beneficial before sleep as well.

Here are some apps I recommend to our mindfulness students:

There are more listed here:

Top Meditation iPhone and Android Apps

and

here:

Free Mindfulness Apps Worthy of your Attention

But, the reality is, you don’t need to install and app or listen to a YouTube video to practice mindfulness.  All you need is your lungs and they are free and they are always with us.

Bring it to the Table:

Another option is to create some routines around shared meals.  So, at the family dinner table, you can take a minute to breathe before beginning the meal.  Or, everyone can take turns saying one thing they are thankful for that day.  Setting the expectation that everyone is to focus on the person speaking is another way to be mindful.

Children, but humans in general, thrive on routine.  So, creating a regular mindful activity can really benefit our children, but ourselves as well.

It doesn’t have to be complicated.  It doesn’t have to be “perfect”.  Just give it a go!

 

If you want to dive deeper, here’s another great article about mindfulness apps:

How Do Mindfulness Apps Work?

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Green Up Your Garments

Lisa Curwen

Eco-Fashionista

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Lisa Curwen, a fashion industry veteran and founder of Lisa Curwen Studio.  She got her Master’s degree studying, researching, and publishing on the subject of sustainable practices for the fashion and textile industry. She is a former treasurer of Fashion Group International (FGI.org) and has taught an Eco Fashion course as an adjunct faculty member of the Rocky Mountain College of Art & Design (RMCAD). She really knows her fabrics.  Read on!

Interview with Lisa Curwen:

S3:  What do you focus on mostly in your studio?

LISA:  Recently, I have been designing tablecloths and tea towels for a company called Amelie Michel.  The company is located in Connecticut, but will be having a pop-up sale in Denver at Wash Park Studio. Thursday Sept. 13th through Wednesday September 19th, 10am-5pm every day.

I have also designed home furnishings textiles, many of which are sold in showrooms in the Denver Design Center and at Calico Home. In addition, I re-upholster furniture as a hobby.

 

S3:  What do you see as the more sustainable aspects of the fashion industry?

LISA:   Sustainble practices must include the social (fair labor practices), the environmental (non-toxic techonology and organic farming), and the economic aspects (being able to make a profit). All three have to be present to have a viable model. Historically, it used to be much harder for companies to be profitable while implementing sustainable practices in both the labor market and environmentally friendly textile manufacturing; but it is more accepted now, and almost required, for companies to operate in a socially responsible manner.

 

S3:  What are some ways the fashion industry practices sustainability?

LISA:  Reduce the amount of packaging, reduce transportation (energy usage) in the supply chain by using smaller and more local supply chains, reduce water usage and pesticides for farming, make sure effluents from textile manufacturing don’t go into water supplies,  create prodcuts that use closed loop lifecycles.

 

S3:  What is the best way for fashion consumers to support eco-fashion?

LISA:  First and foremost, do research on companies.  Find the ones that are more socially responsible and support them. 

Consume less! Launder clothing in cold water and hang or dry flat to reduce energy usage. The biggest load on the environment comes at the consumer level in the care of clothing.  Buy organic cotton products.  Avoid textiles that use a lot of chemicals in their manufacturing such as rayon and leather products, however Tencel (trademark symbol) is an environmentally friendly brand of rayon. Resell, recycle, or repurpose your garments. Buy wool, alpaca or PLA (a naturally derived polyester).

 

S3:  What other choices can fashion consumers make to live more sustainably?

LISA:  Buy fewer new clothes and ones that have longevity.  Frequent thrift stores and consignment stores.

Beware of “green washing”! 

Research companies for authentic certifications – Listen to/watch the news and watch for business practices.

Put pressure on companies to be more ecologically/sustainability focused.

Support initiatives that are more sustainability focused.

 

S3:  Do you think “slow fashion” hurts fashion trends?

LISA:   Slow fashion is just a different way to approach fashion.  For instance, it might mean buying more classic styling that can be worn for a longer time.  One could always accessorize with updated fashion items, but keep the bulk of their wardrobe changing less frequently.

 

S3:  What do you see as the number one choice people can make towards living more sustainably?

LISA:

#1:  Reduce energy usage (Consume less, drive less, recycle, reduce at home, change diet, invest in LED light bulbs, change climate controls to be more eco-friendly, turn off lights, etc.)

#2:  Compost (Divert from the landfill)

#3:  Buy less (See above tips)

 

S3:  Which companies would you suggest people who are passionate about slowing the effects of climate change invest in?

LISA:  Socially conscious companies.  Invest from the heart.  Vote with your wallet.

Having said all that, it is super challenging to be a purist.  Taking steps to be more green with your garments is a start.

Here are some tips to “green up” your garments:

  • Go to or host clothing swaps (have a party with friends and swap outfits)
  • Fix it when it’s broken (sew back on buttons, darn socks, repair zippers, tears, etc.)
  • Give clothing to charities when you’ve out grown them. Even clothes that can no longer be worn are useful for certain charities like The Little Red School House which turns fabrics into rags for shops and cleaning companies.  (Second hand clothing is sent to other countries like Kenya)

 

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Dealing with Pests in your Compost Pile

Composting is a great, satisfying endeavor.

However, sometimes other little beings decide they want to use it as a food source and sometimes even set up camp.

Mice and rats are not an uncommon variety of these unwanted guests.

Unfortunately, mice and rats can spread disease through their feces and you really don’t want them hanging out in your compost pile.  If you have an above-ground tumbler, this shouldn’t be a problem.  But, it’s good to take precautions if you have a pile (or a box, like we do).

I found this article which is helpful should you find yourself facing this challenge:

Mice in Your Compost?

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CHALLENGE DAY 21

HAPPY EARTH DAY 2018!

Today’s challenge is to slow down…

…is there a way you can create more time to allow to make your lunch? 

Make your own bread, jam or yogurt?

How about just taking some time for self care?

Life today is busy and stressed for most people.  I don’t think we are on this planet to live busy and stressed.

Mindfulness about ourselves, our community and our planet means taking the time

to “look around once and a while or you might miss it ” (in the words of Ferris Bueller)

Ferris Bueller Quote

So, today, can you take some time and go for a walk? 

Observe birds chirping, the color of the sky, the color of the grass. 

Have you seen bees yet this season?  They are critical pollinators for our food sources. 

Can you sit and take 10 minutes to focus just on your breath?

Can you lovingly make a meal for yourself and your family?

Can you make time to bake a loaf of bread with care?

That is all.

Just slow down today.

And, enjoy.

Thank you to all of you who participated, took a look and asked questions or made suggestions.  This has been a fantastic journey!

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CHALLENGE DAY 20

Today’s challenge is to D.I.Y.

We are super addicted to packaging in modern society.  The item we are really purchasing is sometimes wrapped in plastic and again in a plastic container.  And, again, plastic (although recyclable in most cases) is not biodegradable.  So, today I’d like you to invite you to make something on your own that you normally buy in a container.

Try making your own.

Here are some examples of products you can make at home:

bread, yogurt, jam, frozen fruit, juices, granola, trail mix, tea, nut butters, canned veggies/fruit, household cleaners

To make this easier, I am providing a couple recipes, but feel free to do your own research and get creative!

When I was growing up, my mother made her own bread, refried beans, cookies, cakes, etc.

As I’ve become a mother, I’ve learned about canning, juicing and making my own household cleaners and tea.

Yes, it’s more time consuming than just running to the store.  But, can you turn it into an exercise in Mindfulness?  Being aware that by making your own bread, you know where the ingredients came from, you know how it was handled and prepared.  And, you can put the love in!

I keep a little spice container by my cooktop labeled “LOVE” and as I am cooking, I sprinkle a little into the dish I am preparing.  It’s technically empty, but it is a reminder to get present to what I am doing and be Mindful of my current activity.  Sometimes I’m in a rush and forget.  But on those days, the meals are definitely not as delicious to my family or myself.

(I’m not making this up…)

Is THIS why your mum’s meals taste so good?

One of the world’s best chefs says you can taste the love in really good food

How does one put love into their cooking?

COOKING WITH LOVE VS. HALF-ASS COOKING

As always, if this challenge does not work for you today, please do one of the Optional Challenges today!


Here are a couple recipes to get you started (hopefully with ingredients you already have at home):

 

 

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CHALLENGE DAY 19

Today’s challenge is about your dishwasher!*

When was the last time you really thought about how your dishes are cleaned by that machine?  It’s not a riveting topic, but have you found yourself mumbling as you unload your dishwasher something like “THAT didn’t come clean” and fling it in the sink for further scrubbing?

HOW we load our dishwasher makes a big difference in how many dishes we can fit in there and how clean they come out upon unloading.  I jam pack my dishwasher and 95% of the time the dishes come out sparkling clean.  My secret?  I read my dishwasher user manual.  Also, you can help your machine do its very best job when you be sure to rinse off STARCH (rice, bread, pasta, etc.), EGG and BIG CHUNKS.  There is no need to obsessively rinse the dishes as that just wastes water and energy.  A quick scrape of the plate or bowl ought to do it.

Which dish-washing detergent you use can make a difference as well.  I recommend using PODS because they are measured doses and therefore less wasteful.

Here are some eco-friendly brands I’ve personally tested that work well:

Trader Joe’s PODS (not the other powder in the green box**)

Ecover Pods

Seventh Generation Pods

Nice! Dishwasher Packs

My favorite web site for evaluating products is ewg.org.  Here are their “A” rated products:

EWG.org’s Web Site for Dishwashing Detergent

Also, doing a regular quick scrub of the filter helps keep trapped bits from clogging up the drain and helps the dishes get cleaner more efficiently.  This is not something you have to do each load (like removing lint from your dryer), but a once monthly clean-up helps.

How you load your dishwasher will depend on your machine; but, generally speaking, drinking glasses, plastic containers and smaller, loose items (like lids, knives, long spoons, etc). do best on the top rack.  Then, plates, bowls, casserole dishes and cutlery do better on the bottom.  Because they get sprayed from both sides, they come cleaner down there.

Rather than just run it, run the hot water in the kitchen sink and turn on the garbage disposal (if you have one) to clear it.  Then, once hot, turn the water and disposer off and then start the dishwasher. This helps use less electricity as the machine doesn’t have to do the initial heating.  (a little trick a plumber taught me after replacing our garbage disposal).  This also clears the line so you don’t end up with gunk in the washer while it’s working on cleaning the dishes.

*If you hand wash dishes

or have already read your dishwasher’s user manual,

this challenge does not apply to you.

Feel free to do one of the Optional Challenges!


For more reading on this, you can read my blog post on the topic here: https://sustainablethree.com/2018/02/15/to-dishwasher-or-not/

Also, it’s a good idea to make sure you are using a high-efficiency dishwasher for energy savings!

Find out if your dishwasher is energy efficient

**Despite their “Next to Godliness” labeling, many of Trader Joe’s cleaning products actually get “D’s” and “F’s” on EWG.org’s web site:

Not so “Godly” Trader Joe’s Cleaners

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CHALLENGE DAY 18

Clean up Your Cleaners

Today’s Challenge is to find out if your dry cleaning service is “green” (if you have your clothes dry cleaned).  This should be as simple as a phone call or Internet search.

What does that mean?

Dry cleaning chemicals have historically tended to be highly carcinogenic (psst…that means they cause that nasty thing called CANCER).   

Articles like this one about PERC are disturbing to say the least:

https://www.webmd.com/cancer/news/20100209/dry-cleaning-chemical-likely-causes-cancer#1

(If you don’t want to read the article, let me sum up for you:  PERC (which is short for a chemical I cannot pronounce (perchloroethylene or tetrachloroethylene).  It has been found in the air, water, people’s blood and breast milk.  It most likely causes cancer and brain damage.  IF that is enough to get you concerned, have no fear.

One helpful choice is to have your items washed and pressed at the cleaners instead of dry cleaned.  With skilled technicians and the most up-to-date machinery, wet cleaning can be as safe and effective as dry cleaning.

100 Percent PERC Free

However, you may have some clothes that have to be dry cleaned.  Thankfully, many dry cleaning companies have switched to more eco-friendly practices.  I would highly recommend you follow some of the guidelines below (see links down further) to find out which chemicals your dry cleaners are using.

You could try one of these searches to find one near you:

Eco-Friendly Dry Cleaners Search

or

Green Dry Cleaners Search

If you already take your clothes to a “green”/eco-friendly dry cleaners, ask if they have a reusable garment bag option.  Our local dry cleaners offer a service with a one-time investment in a reusable garment bag.  That way you aren’t getting those plastic dry cleaning bags that you have to then deal with (hopefully) responsibly.  If you have a bunch of those plastic dry cleaner bags and hangers, most dry cleaners will recycle them, so you can add dropping them off to your next combined errands trip. 🙂

Also, when you take your clothes to the dry cleaners, it is helpful to have a dedicated bag in which to take them.

If you don’t dry clean any of your clothes, then today you can do one of the Optional Challenges!


For more on dry cleaning and PERC, check out these links:

Dirty Laundry Should I give up dry cleaning?

(One of the links was broken in this article, so I found this: Alternative Solvents: Health and Environmental Impacts and am going to take it to my local dry cleaners and ask which products they use).

This is a simpler (and prettier) breakdown of dry cleaning chemicals that may be used by your dry cleaners:

What Chemicals Are Used in Dry Cleaning?

Do you OSHA?  Then, here’s a lengthy read for you:

REDUCING WORKER EXPOSURE TO PERCHLOROETHYLENE (PERC) IN DRY CLEANING

And, finally, now that the Chemistry lesson is over, here’s a good quick read for a laugh:

https://www.fashionstork.com/blog/10-dirty-secrets-your-dry-cleaners-know-about-you/