5 Weird Things I Do: Morning Routine

Hey all!  I know it has been a while.  What can I say.  School.  Life.  The usual things that get in the way of my blogging.  Have I told you guys that I am running a Sprint Triathlon in April?  It’s crazy right?  Like I need more to do.  It’s been pretty great though.  I’ve been swimming, biking, playing soccer, and discovering that I might actually like running!  I’ve been training for the past month or so, and I discovered a new favorite blog:  No Meat Athlete.  This blog is great starting from the adorable jogging carrot, right down to the health and running advice.  I stopped by there a few mornings ago during my usual blog trolling/procrastination loop before getting down to work and saw the most recent post about weird things this blogger does now that he is a vegan.  I loved it, mostly because I thought it was all cool, familiar, and not really that weird.  But it got me to thinking, I’ve spent a fair amount of time thus far telling you guys about new things I am trying to do to make my impact on the earth itty-bitty-small, but I’ve totally neglected to tell you all the things that have changed in my life over the past few years as I strive for this goal.  Some of these things are big, some are small, and some are totally weird.  I just think of them as so normal now.

So, over the next little bit, I will be sharing with you short lists of the weird things I do in my day to day.  Some of them might seem pretty normal to the hippie-eco set, but I hope to teach even the old hat eco-nerds some new tricks.  Here we go with installment one!

Five Weird Things I Do- My Morning Routine:

1.  Baking Soda and Coconut Oil Face wash

My new face washing routine.
Excuse the blurry picture, but this is pretty much what it
looks like before I combine the two ingredients.

I found this little gem months ago and quickly added it to my Pinterest board for future reference. I had been using the Neutrogena Facial Cleansing Bar because it comes in a paper box and I didn’t have to buy a new plastic bottle every time I needed new face wash. However, I was always a little bummed that the bar came wrapped in a little layer of cellophane plastic. So close, yet so far. I’ve always had problems with mild but persistent acne and the Neutrogena had really done the trick for clearing it up and lasted for a really long time (read: it was super cheap!).  Additionally, I wanted a face wash with as few chemicals as possible.  Your skin is your biggest organ, and everything you put on it gets absorbed to varying degrees.  I do not want to put a lot of random chemicals on my body and just hope for the best.  This  was another semi-plus for the Neutrogena face bar.  Everyone should run their skin care products through the Environmental Working Group’s, Skin Deep Database.  It will tell you a lot about the chemicals and risks associated with all sorts of health and beauty products.  But I digress.

So, I was a little resistant to trying this new technique, because I was relatively pleased with my current solution   Despite my reservations, when the time came to buy new face wash about a month ago, I found an on sale coconut oil that was 1) organic, 2) in a glass jar, and 3) did I mention on sale?  I decided I had to go for it!  I figured, I use baking soda for everything and if this doesn’t work I can use the coconut oil for cooking.  How does it work then?  The jury is still out.  I have super, super sensitive skin so each time I switch face washes, there is an awkward period where I get small break outs, so that is still happening.  Additionally, I’m not sure I’ve been doing it 100% right.  The instructions on the website are different than the ones on the pin, which are the ones I have been following.  Right now, I am using a pinch of baking soda and a very small amount of coconut oil (size of a pencil eraser) 3 times a week, then washing my face with warm water and a wash cloth the other days.  My skin looks a lot healthier aside from the slight increase in blemishes.  I have no dry skin and it has evened out my skin tone a bit.  I’m going to give it till the end of April, and see if things clear up the rest of the way.  After all, I have been exercising about 20x more than usual and falling into bed at night without rinsing my face sometimes, so it’s hard to say if this is working great or not.  Someone else should give it a try!  Let me know how it goes.  It’s for sure got less chemicals and plastic associated with it than any other face washing routine I’ve tried.  And, I feel like my face smells nice after…

2.  Baking Soda Deodorant

My deodorant!

Unlike the previous item, this is tried and true for me!  In high school, I was always very self-conscious about sweating a lot, and I was even using one of those over the counter, prescription strength deodorants at one point.  I went back and forth about this into my undergrad days, and then my little sister’s best friend’s mother (long connection, I know) got breast cancer.  This was during the time when researchers were just starting to explore a possible link between aluminium-based components in deodorants and development of breast cancer.  The jury is still out about this health link, and I would encourage you to check out the National Cancer Institute’s summary of the data here.  In either case, I’m not really one for messing around with possible cancer causing agents, so I decided I needed an alternative.  I started off with a sea salt spray deodorant that you can find in most stores, which is Pink Ribbon endorsed.  That worked pretty well, but later that year I was starting to really think about cutting back my consumption of single use plastics.  I read an article online that said baking soda could easily be used as a deodorant.  I gave it a go, and it works so well, is so cheap, and so easy that I will never go back!  All you need is a reusable container and an old make-up brush.

Fair warning, this is not an antiperspirant.  However, everyone I know who I have convinced to actually give this a try has ended up loving it!  Antiperspirants use those aluminum-based ingredients to actually clog up the pores in your armpits, preventing you from sweating.  And did you know that sweating is actually really good for your body?  It helps you maintain your temperature and gets out bad stuff, like toxins you might have absorbed through the skin.  That’s one of the reasons people feel so great after coming out of the sauna!  So, when you initially make the switch you might feel extra sweaty, because your pores are trying to get rid of all those clogging agents you’ve been rubbing on everyday for years!  After the adjustment period, I (an those who I have gotten to try this!) felt less sweaty and smelly overall!  Seriously.  Do this.  If you aren’t into straight up baking soda, there are a ton of recipes for smelly-good homemade deodorants on the internet.  If you don’t want to make it yourself, and you have some extra cash, my boyfriend has been using Lush’s solid deodorant bars as of late.  He loves this one.

I have not yet sold D Lo on the green smoothie,
so his is sans kale.  Hello toes!

3.  Drink My Breakfast Smoothie with a Stainless Steel Straw

Yes, I love smoothies.  They keep me really full until lunch time, they give me a lot of energy in the morning, and, because I’m obsessed with green smoothies, they give me all the benefits of dark leafy greens!  I also love straws.  Maybe it’s a leftover from my childhood.  I had stopped using them for the most part because they are made of plastic…and you just throw them away.  However, when we moved this summer, our new roommate had a ton of straws in this cute little container.  I couldn’t resist and started using them again.  Bad Rachel.  The solution?  I used my birthday amazon gift card to buy these cool, reusable, stainless steel straws!  It really is the little things guys.

4.  Coffee, Coffee, and more Coffee!

My morning and afternoon pick-me-ups.

I, like everyone else in America, need my morning cup of Joe   Unlike normal people, graduate students need at least two cups of coffee a day (on average) to keep on trucking.  I’m only half kidding about this.  Anyway, as a result, you can end up purchasing a lot of coffee, which comes with the baggage of a recyclable plastic lid and cardboard sleeve and non-recyclable cup.  Plus, $1.50 or more for a cup of coffee every morning can really add up over time!  I generally opt for the cheaper, less wasteful solution of making my coffee at home.  I purchase my coffee in bulk, and store it in a reusable container.  Then, I brew two cups every morning.  The first cup, I drink hot right then and there.  The second cup I put in a reusable glass jar (which probably used to house peanut butter!) with a little soymilk and stash it in my office fridge as soon as I get to campus.  By the time I need a mid-afternoon pick-me-up, I have iced coffee!  I save money, and I cut down on waste.  Win, win.  Need more reasons to remember your reusable mug or just make coffee at home?  Check out this awesome infographic by Mother Nature Network:

5.  Get on My Bike and Ride!

The Silver Fox (my bike)!

I love my bike, and I love biking.  Our little town is the most, extremely bike friendly place I have ever lived, so it makes biking a lot more convenient.  I bike to school almost every weekday, and I bike to quite a few of my weekend destinations.  D Lo actually doesn’t know how to ride a bike (gasp!), so that is on our to do list for 2013!  Bike riding makes the most sense for a lot of reasons.  It costs no money and makes you healthier, while driving your car costs you money and leaves you sedentary.  For me, getting to and from campus each week would involve 20 miles of driving.  My poor car only gets about 20-25 miles to the gallon when I’m driving in town.  So, driving to work each day could easily cost me 4-5 dollars a week (thanks CA gas prices).  That doesn’t include the cost of parking on campus (7 dollars a day…and a lot per quarter.  Honestly, I’ve never checked it out because I know I can’t afford it!).  Additionally, when I’m driving I’m just sitting there.  News flash, I sit at work all day.  Being an ecologists usually means that for 9 months out of the year I am sitting in front of my computer/microscope/lab bench not really moving.  The other three months, hopefully, I am doing field work and running about outdoors!  However, during the day to day that is the non-field season, by biking to work I burn about 65 calories each way (according to this calorie burn calculator).  So, biking is the obvious choice for both my wallet and my health.

Biking is also a great choice when it comes to ecological thinking.  Each week, by biking to work I keep 0.01 metric tons of carbon out of the atmosphere (based on this carbon footprint calculator).  That might not seem like a lot, but it adds up over time!  That means each year, just by biking to work and no other destinations, I can stop 0.56 metric tons of carbon from entering the atmosphere!  That’s a lot, all thanks to little ol’ me.  I know biking to work isn’t reasonable for everyone, but surly there is one location you visit at least once a week where you could bike instead of drive?  Maybe you can make a little extra effort and start a carpool to get to work?  Get creative!

Last Word:  I get really sad when when people start talking about their feelings of helplessness when it comes to the environment   That little voice in our head that says “What I do doesn’t really make that much of a difference” can be really discouraging.  Unfortunately, in some ways, that is true.  We need a real societal shift in order to get our world back on track.  But where do societal shifts start?  That’s right, with individuals.  Like me.  Like you.  We really can do this!  These “5 weird things” were changes to my life originally, and changes require activation energy, but once I overcame inertia and just did it, I don’t even think about these things anymore.  They are just…my life.  Pick one, or two, or more and give them a try.  To quote Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, don’t nothing just because you can’t do everything.  

What do you think?  Are there things you do on the daily that others think are strange?  Share them with me, I would love to give them a try or talk about why you choose these actions.  


Low Impact Travel: Going to the Snow

My feet in my snowshoes!

I think, a lot of times, people perceive a ecology-centered lifestyle (or green…I’m never really sure what terminology to use) as being restrictive.  It’s not an outlandish conclusion to come to, really.  Essentially, when making decisions in an ecosystem context, you’re thinking not just about yourself, but the system in which you live.  In that framework, sometimes the easiest, most convenient, or even funnest option isn’t the very best choice.  This can seem like, well, a bummer.  However, I think you will find that with a little effort and proper prior planning you can still enjoy the activities you love!  I’ll give you an example of an adventure I went on with some lady-ecologists this past weekend.

Not like the snow was deep or anything

One of my friends in graduate school, A, is from Florida originally, and since winter has rolled in she has been jonesing to get to the snow!  Lucky for her, I am always game for an outdoor adventure, and we quickly found a few co-conspirators.  With a little quick research, A found that we could rent snow shoes from the campus outdoor club for 10 dollars for the whole weekend.  Renting or borrowing equipment that you will only use occasionally is one excellent way to lessen the impact of your adventures.  You can think of it as reusing on the social level!  So, on Friday, after my TA meeting, I tottered on down to the outdoor adventure accessorizer, and rented my snowshoes.  Easy peasie.  I also borrowed a pair of gaiters from one of the other girls coming along because I lack proper snow-playing  gear (I’d been living in SoCal for 3 years).

Lake Tahoe from afar

Originally, A and I had planned to head up to Lake Tahoe on Saturday night with a full car of friends and stay at a fellow student’s parent’s cabin, and another group planned to drive up Sunday morning early and meet us for the day.  However, around 3:30 Saturday afternoon, due to a number of circumstances, the volume of passengers in the car dropped to just A and myself.  We regrouped and called the Sunday morning crew.  Did they all want to carpool together on Sunday morning?  The deal was done, and we all had more time to do work (oh joy).  Carpooling is an extremely important part of lessening the impacts of your adventures.  If your schedule is flexible, taking the train or bus are also great options!  I used this carbon footprint calculator to estimate the emissions from our trip.  With 4 of us in the car, I estimate we emitted 0.09 metric tons of CO2.  That’s only 0.023 metric tons of CO2 each as opposed to 0.04 if we had stuck with the original plan and driven in pairs.  Additionally, considering the vehicle you choose to drive is key.  If I can avoid it, I never take my car on adventures unless it will be FULL of gear, surfboards, or people because the gas millage is not the best.

You have rented, you have carpooled, and now you are on your adventure!  Time to have a blast and/or marvel at nature (depending on the brand of adventure you have chosen).  Make sure you pack your own food and water to the greatest extent possible to reduce the unnecessary plastic wrapping associated with buying food on the go.  I go into some examples of the types of foods I like on the go here.  On this adventure, I had a few granola bars (weird composite wrapping, too bad) and lots of fruit!

Lower Echo Lake
How long could we have resisted?

After this weekend, I would highly recommend that everyone go on a winter adventure ASAP.  As we discussed on our hike, the deep snow makes LNT (leave no trace) hiking super easy.  You don’t have to worry about messing up trails, damaging vegetation, or contributing to erosion because…you’re just walking on top of the snow!  It was also wonderful to get out into nature as it really helped me to decompress.  I’m never sure how much to write about it here, but being a graduate student is really stressful.  I’m busy a lot, and that’s why my posting here isn’t super regular.  However, when I spend time on non-academic things on purpose, I’m much more productive during my week.  And running around this winter wonderland was a great use of my time!

Really guys, don’t even try and park here.

Last Word:  Adventuring while living an environmentally conscious life is possible!  All you need is a little bit of creativity and desire to make a good plan.  Knowing I put in just that little extra effort makes me feel even more excited about my current/future endeavors   Over the last weekend, my major green decisions were to rent/barrow gear, carpool, and pack lots of snacks!  Next time you long for an adventure, try to implement at least one (maybe two!) of these strategies, and try to find a way to measure the results.  I love looking at the numbers and seeing the impacts of my decisions.

 What do you think?  Are there things you could do to make your adventures easier on the planet?  Any tips for low impact travel that I haven’t mentioned in this post?  I would love to hear them!     

Reduce/Reuse: DIY Salad Dressings

As most of my friends and relations can tell you, I’m a very easy going person.  But, there are a few things in this big world that make me squirm.  One of them (as I’m sure you have already gathered) is excessive waste in all its forms.  Another big thing that really makes me go “squee” and have a mini-internal crisis is paying a lot of money for something I know costs very little to produce.  And when these two pet peeves team up, I’m very likely to vote with my dollars and refuse to buy a product.  So, last week, this is how the scenario went down:

Stage 1: Realization– It’s Saturday, grocery shopping day, and we are totally out of salad dressing.  Unluckily, all the available options at [insert the name of your local chain grocery here]:  (1) Are packaged in plastic, (2) Contain high fructose corn syrup, (3) Don’t have 1 or 2 but do cost more than 5 dollars.
Stage 2:  Moral and economic dilemma!– I sweat, I ask D Lo to make a decision, I get frustrated and say I need time to think about it.*
Stage 3: Denial– I don’t buy salad dressing and end up mooching off my roommate for the week, because she already bought it, so even if I have an issue with it…it’s there…   
Stage 4:  Acceptance– The next Saturday, I resolve to pay a little more and buy dressing in a glass jar from the Co-op, because I’m lucky and I have that option.  I shell out $5 for a 12oz jar of dressing.
Stage 5:  A) It’s delicious!– Eat my yummy dressing until I return to Stage 1, or B) It’s super gross!- I paid 5 dollars, and I’m super disappointed in the product, but I soldier through because…you know…it cost 5 bucks!
Stage 6:  Overcoming Resistance– Resistance is the force that keeps you from doing things that you really want to do/know you really should be doing.  Every time I bought that 5 dollar bottle (or just bought the plastic, high fructose version because I am a poor graduate student), I knew there was a better way. 

*This is the part where I always feel INSANE.  Am I the only person who has a moral crisis over salad dressing?

And this, friends, is really why I wanted to start this blog.  I know there are other people out there who really want to make some changes in their lives, but they don’t because they think it will be too hard/expensive/time consuming.  I totally feel you; I deal with that feeling daily.  What always helps me is reading a blog or talking to a friend who tells me how simple and fun these changes can be.  So, here is another small solution to our big ol’ ecological problems.  And, in this case, the solution takes about as much time as comparing the labels on your standard store bought salad dressings!


Homemade Italian Dressing (modified from original instructions at Penniless Parenting)

1/2 cup of the vinegar (any type, I used ACV and some red wine vinegar)
~3/4 cup of olive oil or other oil (I used 1/2 olive oil, 1/2 cheaper vegetable oil)
1 Tablespoons of water
1/4 Tablespoon garlic powder
1/4 Tablespoon onion powder
1/4 Tablespoon honey, white sugar, agave nectar, or any other sweetener I would imagine
1 tablespoons dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 Tablespoon dried parsley
1/2 Tablespoons salt

* I halved the original recipe because my jar was not going to hold the original quantities.  I also doubt I added a full 1/2 T of salt because adding salt to things always makes me really nervous that I will destroy the product.  One too many slips of the hand I guess.

Homemade and yummy! 

The glass jar from your yucky-overpriced dressing…or any re-purposed receptacle
Measuring cups
Measuring spoons

Instructions and Tips:
Literally dudes, this took me less than 10 minutes to make, and that includes the time I spent looking for my freaking onion powder.  You just put all the ingredients in, and shake shake shake.  Quite honestly, not my favorite Italian dressing ever, but I do prefer it to the ones I have bought most recently in the store.  There are, however, TONS of salad dressing recipes online, so try your hand at recreating your favorite flavor. 


Final Word:  You can see the whole reason for why I think homemade solutions are more green here in my first DIY post. In this particular situation, it was all about not wanting to buy plastic (or a product pumped full of what I deem to be unhealthy ingredients) and not wanting to fork over a bunch of money. I literally had all of this stuff already in my kitchen. Major score, right?

What do you think?  Do you have any amazing salad dressing recipes?  Or maybe an inspirational story of overcoming resistance?  We’d love to hear it!