Greetings, and the very happiest/merriest of holidays to you! I hope this blog finds you in good spirits and surrounded by those you love most. It’s been such a big year for this world, and I’m personally feeling very fortunate to have the comforts I do.
This year has also brought some big changes for me, which I will hopefully be more diligent about sharing in the new year. To catch you up briefly, I am now a graduate student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in a multidisciplinary master of science program called Environmental Ethnography. Essentially, I’m mixing anthropology with environmental science and natural resource management. It’s the best of all worlds for my interests, and I’ve just finished my first semester successfully! I have another year and a half to go, but I think it will be both challenging and rewarding. I work with some really outstanding faculty, and enjoy the lack of pretension and absence of any “good-old-boy” system in my academic experience. We spend a lot of our research time on the Kenai Peninsula, so it’s great to be involved in a study that focuses on local issues close to my physical and emotional home.
Through my graduate program, I’ve become more and more aware about the delicate balance that our planet exists in, and how close we hover to the brink of losing much of what we know as our home. Our environment has never seen such dire straights, and whether or not you agree that humans are the cause, we still have a big problem on our hands. So, I’ve decided that the biggest impact I can have right now is in changing my own self and habits. Thus, I’m in the process of giving up all chemicals for my body and diet, and reducing my own impact on the environment. That means I’ve cut my hair short (though I love having long hair, short hair uses less product which means shorter showers and shampoo lasts longer), given up conditioner for my hair and any fancy body washes. Instead, I’ll be making a vinegar rinse today with apple cider vinegar and peppermint extract (for scent and tingle!). Updates on that to come. I’ve also switched to soaps only sold in paper packaging (since you can recycle paper and cardboard in Fairbanks and it’s much more difficult to recycle plastic containers) and free of all sulfates and laurates. I find coconut and oatmeal additives instead of harsh scents and flavors are great on my skin, and using castille based soaps is cheap, easy, and very environmentally friendly. I’m in the process of switching from store-bought face washes to a homemade sugar scrub, and from deodorant to baking soda dusted on with a make-up brush. I’ll be detailing these various cosmetic adventures more frequently as the changes get underway.
All these efforts may sound extreme (trust me, I get a lot of weird looks), but I really believe that humans did just fine without all our fancy products before, and we can do just fine with them again. I haven’t had a problem with weird odors thus far, and my hair feels just like it did pre-conditioner quitting. If you have any questions about this process, please ask! I’m still in the learning process myself, and get my inspiration (and recipes) from several blogs. I really recommend them! They aren’t pretentious at all, and the wonderful women authors are very honest about their experiences and what does and doesn’t work. Even with these efforts, we all still make mistakes; it’s more about making the effort at all, and slowly adapting your lifestyle to low-impact choices. If you get a chance, definitely check out these blogs:
1. The Zero Waste Home – a fantastic blog by a woman with a husband and kids who is trying to reduce their waste to absolutely zero! She’s been really successful, and has a lot of great, easy ideas to reduce your waste (and eco-footprint!). Her motto is refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle (and only in that order!).
2. Life Less Plastic – this woman is awesome! She is trying to eliminate all plastic use from her life (a really noble goal in my opinion), and write a witty, honest account of her journey. This can be such a hard goal to accomplish since plastic is such an integral part of our lives, but it can actually be fun to shop at the store and challenge yourself not to buy plastic wrapped products.
3. Skin Deep Cosmetics Database – This is a really great site that I use frequently. It’s a huge database that evaluates many popular cosmetic brands in terms of their environmental and health impacts. Here I was using St. Ives products thinking I was being good to my body, and then I looked them up on here and went, “Wow!”. It’s amazing that even “natural” looking/sounding products are really not natural at all, and instead are full of harsh chemicals. The database is easy to use, and considers many variables, such as the effects of all product ingredients on your body’s various systems all the way to the effect on workers as they handle these ingredients. So cool! The higher the number associated with an ingredient, the more harmful the effect on you and the environment. Check out your daily regimen and see what you’re really putting in your body, and then look at the database to find healthier, lower-impact versions of the same products!
In other news, I’m also an EMT with my local fire station. I’m enjoying it immensely, and hope to become a Firefighter I and EMT II this coming year. It can be a lot of work, and at times very scarey/challenging, but I feel that I grow with every call. This fall, I was sad to lose my first patient, but it was a reminder of the fragility of life and how important it is to treat all those you meet with respect and dignity; you never know when you may be the last person they ever interact with. This gig also shows me regularly the relationship between our health and what we put in our bodies. I think most of us recognize the dangers of poor eating and lack of exercise, but we all still feel fairly invincible to the cumulative effects (I know I do!). It’s so important that we recognize we are not excluded from these risks, and that the old adage of “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” could not be more true in an age of rising health costs.
I’m keeping up with my volunteer work by being involved with the local public radio station (KUAC 89.9 FM – you can listen online if so inclined!), and volunteering with the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. I have an awesome “little” in 3rd grade, and we have a good time giggling about silly boys, practicing her math and reading, and talking about science. She wants to be a forensic scientist when she grows up, and I think it’s so cool that she wants to pursue a career in science. She comes from a home without any female role models, so it’s a great experience for both of us; she helps me learn to not be anxious about kids and to be a good role model, and she gets to spend some good girl time with someone who encourages her dreams and can teach her about her future goals. People sometimes ask how I balance being involved in multiple volunteer programs, but the truth is that it really doesn’t take that much time each week; sometimes just a couple of hours! I really encourage everyone I know to volunteer in their community; it’s so rewarding, and it’s amazing how much you learn about where you live. Imagine how much more I could do if I would just give up facebook! 🙂
Last but not least, I’m fortunate to be seeing a wonderful young man who brings wit, kindness, and friendship into my life. Thomas is originally from North Pole, Alaska (where letters to Santa are sent!) and we met at the campus pub at UAF. We’ve been together for four months now, and are still going strong. It may not seem like much, but with my previous track record, I’m pretty impressed with us. We’re departing on the 29th to begin a two and a half week adventure to southeast Alaska where we’ve planned a self-guided ferry cruise through several small fishing communities. We also hope to do some skiing, snow shoe hiking, and explore the local fishing industries. We’ll be couch surfing along the way (through www.couchsurfing.org), so I’m looking forward to the opportunity to meet locals and get to know the communities from their knowledgeable perspectives. More than anything, I feel lucky to have a partner enthusiastically willing to visit SE in January and take on these adventures with me. We’ll be blogging regularly about our experiences, so we hope you’ll read along with us!