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Plant Love: Snake Plant

Although as I child I vowed to my mother that I would never own a single plant because I did not enjoy taking care of hers, I now have approximately 15 house plants in my one-bedroom apartment, plus a small outdoor vegetable and herb garden. My perspective on plants changed when I got my own place because I realized that not only are they beautiful, but they are functional. My aloe plant is great for my skin, my thyme plant tastes great, and all of my plants improve the indoor air quality.

Today I am going to showcase my first and in many ways favorite indoor house plant: the snake plant (also known as mother-in-law’s tongue).

Snake Plant
One of my snake plants…

Anytime someone asks me about my plants and is interested in getting one for themselves, I recommend a snake plant to start. Snake plants are great because they are easy – they don’t like a lot of water or direct sunlight. It seems like the more I neglect them, the more they thrive. The only time I had trouble with a snake plant was when I gave one too much water and the leaves got soggy and fell over. I had a snake plant in my cubicle at a former job where there was only fluorescent light and absolutely no natural light – the beast just kept growing and growing, and it still lives in that maze of cubicles with a friend today.

If you’re interested in getting a snake plant, I’ve purchased them at Home Depot, Ikea, and the indoor plant section of a local nursery.

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Reframing the News

I’ve written here before about my interest in a “low information diet,” which is a strategy to stay focused on what you actually have control over. Although this is a good idea sometimes, I now know that I took it too far. Years leading up to the 2016 election, I had no commitment to understanding the news, and instead got information from Facebook, comedy news shows, documentaries, and a few random websites that align with my interests. I believe that tuning out quality journalism was a big mistake on my part, and I’ve committed to spend some time each day paying attention to what is going on in the world around me and beyond.

Two days after the election results, I deactivated my Facebook account. I’ll be back on soon to stay digitally connected with family and friends, but I’m done using it to read articles and catch the latest news story. I’m horrified at the fake news stories that proliferated through social networks during the election cycle, and how my personal echo chamber was completely different from those who supported other candidates and see the world differently from me. This article and this article sum up my concerns nicely.

So in recognition of this error and my commitment to do better from here on out, I’ve started paying for digital access to the New York Times, the Buffalo News, and I’m about to sign up for a subscription to The Economist. No newspaper is perfect and every journalist comes with their personal biases, but I want to pay for and read journalism that has standards and seeks to uncover what is (closer to being) real.

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Gratitude

Yesterday I made a “plan for my weekend,” which included re-writing a legal article to post today. But I just got back from a walk with my dog, Sunny, and I realized that I’d much rather take a few paragraphs to recognize that I am so grateful for having one of the best weeks in recent memory. I was recognized for doing good work at my job, I had a number of great conversations with new and old friends, I got to see the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra play backup to a Beatles cover band with my family (their rendition of St. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was awesome), I ate well, and I started brainstorming a new creative project with one of my favorite environmental “colleagues.” It’s kind of blowing my mind that all of these wonderful experiences happened over the course of five days.

I’m also grateful for being in the midst of my favorite season in Western New York. Last fall I was distracted with my personal life and driving pretty much everywhere, but this year I am much more present and living in an a city apartment where I walk all the time. The leaves are gorgeous!

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On the Recent Male Birth Control Upset

This week, people got upset because a trial for male birth control was discontinued due to unbearable side effects – mood swings, acne, decrease in libido, etc. Some women were quick to point out that this is pure hypocrisy, because women have been putting up with the exact same side effects for forever, so men should have to put up with it, too.

But rather than bash men for being wimps, I see this as an opportunity to raise the issue that female hormonal birth control is much more dangerous than advertised, and should not be prescribed as cavalierly as it is now. I was on a low-estrogen form of birth control for about seven years throughout college and law school, and the side effects were terrible (both physical and mental). The worst part was that I never considered getting off of it for years (and my doctors kept encouraging me to try different brands). The more I read about hormonal birth control side effects, the more I learned that this is a common problem. Messing with hormones is no joke and it has real consequences.

About three years ago, I stumbled upon my non-hormonal solution of choice: the Lady Comp (plus condoms on “unsafe” days). Did you know that there is only a small window every month when a woman can get pregnant, and temperature fluctuations throughout the month indicate this window? No one told me! So now I take my temperature at the same time every morning, and the Lady Comp tells me when I can get pregnant and when I can’t. It’s over 99% effective, and I have a solid record for over three years. Maybe it’s more work than the hormonal choices, but I don’t have to deal with crazy side effects anymore, and I honestly feel more alive and present than I did all those years on the Pill.

So yes, male birth control is a great idea in theory. But changing male hormones to lower their sperm counts? Messing with hormones is messing with the entire body, which is not good for any gender.

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The Beauty of Just Letting Go

This week was emotionally challenging for me because I decided to let go of a close relationship that was distracting me, draining my energy, and leaving me in a relatively bad mood most of the time. Letting go is hard, but I can already feel new space in my life to write, think, exercise, spend time on relationships that build me up, and work towards my goals. Exhale.

So in light of that disruption, here are the things that have been on my mind this week:

  • I’ve been leaning on Tara Brach pretty hard this week. I’ve more than halfway through her second book, True Refuge, and it’s excellent. Going through the book and trying out the meditations and reflections is draining, though. It helps me come back to the present (instead of spinning around in my head) and get in touch with my body and heart, which brings up repressed emotions like fear and sadness. Working through this process is cathartic and I’m glad that I’m putting in the time.
  • The first Presidential debate is tonight, and I don’t plan on watching. I already know who I’m voting for, and I don’t want to spend any more time on this election. In general, I spend some time keeping up with the news and I try my best to stay informed on environmental issues because that matters for my work and writing, but I don’t spend much time learning about stuff that is out of my control, which has been coined a “Low Information Diet.” I’m also uncomfortable with the underlying fear-inducing tactics of mainstream news. Here are two articles by one of my favorite bloggers, Mr. Money Mustache, on what a low information diet is, and focusing on your circle of control.
  • I do my best to avoid chemicals in my household products because they mess with my body and they are not tested for safety in the way that I always assumed (this documentary was eye-opening for me). I’ve struggled to find a deodorant that works, so I bought a new one this week based on this article.  So far so good, but I haven’t sweat very much yet (it’s finally getting cooler – I love fall!). Note: I find that I have no body odor issues when I’m wearing merino wool or 100% cotton versus polyester blends.
  • In Dakota Access pipeline news, the United Nations Council on Human Rights issued this statement on the importance of consulting with tribes on the pipeline and ensuring safe drinking water. I’ve been working on researching this issue a bit more and have been getting more information from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Facebook page. I plan on publishing a more robust article within the week.
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if it is to be, it is up to me

I’m loving the storms that have been passing through Western New York this weekend. It’s been great to fall asleep to the sound of rain, hear thunder, and not water my garden with tap water (the plants grow so much faster and bigger on rainwater!). I’ve been helping my sister take care of my parents’ house and pets while they are on a trip out west.  Unfortunately one of the cats, a 13-year-old tabby named Ben, has been rapidly losing weight, so I took him to the vet, and the diagnosis is diabetes. My parents lean towards the “let nature take its course” pet care approach, so I’m doing my best to spend time with him, keep him comfortable, and feel him food that he likes.

Here are the things that have been on my mind this week:

  • I am participating in MIT’s ULab “Leading from the Emerging Future” course for the second year in a row, and the first live session happened this past week. I was able to participate in the live session on the University at Buffalo campus, and meditate at the same time as over 20,000 people from around the world. I’ve never had that “global meditation” experience before (thanks, Internet!), but it was amazing and I felt infused with energy for the rest of the day. Here is the course website, here is the course book, and here is a sister website.
  • Cat nutrition is on my mind for obvious reasons… I learned that cats are supposed to eat wet food, not dry food. All of the cats I’ve known have eaten dry food, so this is a surprise to me. Here is a Quora thread on wet versus dry food. And here is a detailed chart that gives the nutrition information on many cat foods.
  • This weekend I went to my friend’s workshop on making your own herb-infused vinegar for cooking for medicinal purposes. I made mine with stinging nettle, burdock root, and holy basil (infused into apple-cider vinegar). It’s pretty easy to do (I think these instructions are good, although we didn’t warm up the vinegar and I’m sure it will be fine).
  • The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s protest of the Dakota Access pipeline continues, and there is a growing community of activists at Standing Rock in North Dakota. I’ve had trouble finding information about the protests on a consistent basis through normal news channels, so I’ve been looking at Twitter and searching for #DAPL or #NoDAPL to find the most current information. Below is a video of Van Jones speaking at a rally in DC, and his comments about “water is life, oil is death” are spot on (my favorite points begin at 2:40).
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“We are a Way for the Cosmos to Know Itself”

It’s starting to feel like fall (or less like summer at least), which I am excited about. This summer was interesting – it was my first full summer back in Western New York since 2009, and it seemed hotter than I ever remember. That’s probably accurate considering global temperatures have been setting records for the past few years.

I thought I would write a little bit about what has been on my mind this week:

  1. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline is fascinating for a number of reasons. It’s exciting that a group is taking a serious stand against a pipeline that has been approved through the business-as-usual, plenty-of-red tape-but-will-probably-stand-up-in-court, administrative law process. It’s frustrating to think that this is one of many pipelines being proposed and approved across the country right now, with little media coverage (see Klamath, Northern Access, and google “gas pipeline” for others). It’s scary that a private company set out attack dogs and pepper sprayed protestors. It’s uplifting to see the federal government listen to the protests and step in, even if it’s temporary. It’s great to hear voices that I haven’t heard before.
  2. Last night I watched Episode 1 of the 2014 Cosmos (hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson) on Netflix. I watched the series episode-by-episode in 2014, but decided it would be a good idea to watch again because I am trial-by-fire tutoring a woman for her high school equivalency exam, and the chemistry questions are really hard for me. I didn’t plan on re-visiting atoms or the Periodic Table of Elements ever again, but here I am. Cosmos is an amazing series. It can be a little dense and challenging to understand at times, but it’s worth pushing through because it does a great job explaining science, and opens up your mind in the process.
  3. A Facebook friend posted a link to this amazing cartoon wombat video. “This is your home. It’s the only one you’ve got. Cherish and protect it.”
  4. I’ve been choosing to interrupt my sleep schedule lately, and I’m noticing that I don’t feel as sharp during the day compared to when I prioritize an uninterrupted 8 hours. Sleep has been really important to me since I learned about the benefits in college. So it’s time to get back on the sleep train and get some mental clarity back.
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On Taking Care of Your Body

Your body is your greatest ally, and it’s critical to take care of it and treat it with respect.

This past weekend, my 17-year-old cousin, who was visiting from out of town, went into septic shock and ended up in the ICU. When an infection broke out, her body was not strong enough to fight it. Everything is okay now, but it was scary for a while.

This event reminded me of my life in January 2013, when I experienced a serious illness episode that changed me forever.

Cause

In early January 2013, I got the flu and was laid up for a week. I had been working crazy hours at my law firm job, writing a legal article in my spare time, eating whatever was in front of me, trying to meet holiday obligations in Texas, and missing my Western New York family and friends terribly.

I didn’t know what the flu really was until I got it. I had a fever, chills, cold sweats, mouth sores, and my body ached everywhere. I went to the doctor two days in, but it was too late to take Tamiflu and he told me to ride it out, so I did. For the next week, I couldn’t do anything (TV, talk, read, Internet, etc.) except toss and turn in my bed. After 27 years of being a relatively healthy person, I finally understood how people died from the flu and other infectious diseases.

Despite the awfulness of the flu, I am forever grateful that I got it because it changed my life for the better. I suddenly realized that my life was completely off balance and I was not taking care of my body. I had been prioritizing my job above everything else, I was too busy, I had too many things, I didn’t exercise enough, and I did not eat well.

Changes

Living a healthier and more balanced life is a constant work in progress; I don’t think I’ll ever be done. Three years have passed since I got the flu, and in that time many things have shifted for me. Here is a list of the most important changes that I have made in my life, all in the name of taking care of my body and overall wellbeing:

  1. My body is my ally. For most of my life, I treated my body like it was a thing that I had to battle against. It didn’t look right in the clothes I wanted to wear. My period was painful, gross, and something to hide. My hair needed to be washed in chemicals, dried with electric heat, and flat-ironed into straight submission (side note: my hair is naturally really straight). Although it’s hard to overcome years of habitual thought, now I do my best to treat my body like a friend and ally. What I put in and on my body must be healthy and safe. A loving attitude towards my body matters. Here is an article about loving your body, and I also really love the book Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach (I realize that both of these links are of the Buddhist persuasion, and although I’m not a Buddhist, I find many concepts wonderful for everyone).
  2. “Eat real food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” This is the mantra of Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food, Food Rules, and Cooked. You can watch the documentary version of Cooked on Netflix.  Michael Pollan is not super inspiring on screen, but he is an incredible researcher and journalist who has weaved together science, history, and human behavior to create a beautiful blueprint for eating and preparing real food that nourishes your body, connects you to the natural world, and bonds you with other people. As for the “mostly plants” part, I love the documentary Forks Over Knives (although I am not a vegetarian, let alone a vegan), and the cookbook Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone (it is so much more than a cookbook).
  3. No more added sugar. This one is huge, and I already wrote about it here.  For a slightly inappropriate but hilarious take on added sugar, see what John Oliver has to say.
  4. Green smoothies are amazing. I haven’t gotten into juicing because I like consuming the roughage parts of the plant that remain in smoothies. The book Green for Life is a great source of information on green smoothies and why they are so important for digestion, energy, blood sugar regulation, and overall health. Also, a Vitamix is completely worth it.
  5. Yoga for balance, flexibility, strength, and awareness. Yoga is my favorite form of exercise. Although I grew up participating in strict, competitive, rule-based exercise and sports programs, I gravitated towards yoga as an adult. There are so many kinds, and I like the ones that focus on breathing and longer stretches, like yin yoga. Going to a yoga studio once a week to start is helpful to learn the basics, but the nice part about yoga is that once you know a few poses, you can practice it anytime on your own, whether or not you have a mat. Yoga has completely fixed my lower back problems and whenever a muscle is tight, I know a stretch that will get at the right spot.
  6. Meditation. I’ve been trying to set aside time every day to focus on the present moment for a little over a year, and I absolutely love what it’s done for my life and mental health in particular. I’m not going to try to explain meditation here (it’s a personal thing you get into on your own), but the book Wherever You Go, There You Are is incredible. I also like the apps Calm and Headspace.
  7. Minimalism. One of the first things I wanted to do after recovering from the flu was get rid of the clutter in my life. Miss Minimalist really helped me with de-cluttering. I also love this article about the Japanese woman, Marie Kondo, who wrote The Art of Tidying Up.
  8. Financial Independence. I’m still on the road to getting rid of my student loans and gaining financial independence, but I love Mr. Money Mustache‘s blog for inspiration on how to live a less consumer-driven lifestyle. Early retirement is not my goal, but I want to stop worrying about money so I can be a creative person and live the life that I want without finances hanging over my head.
  9. Acupuncture. I know that needles are scary, and acupuncture seems totally crazy, but it works. I started doing it in Austin, and it helped me manage my mold allergy, recover from a dog attack, and reduce anxiety. I also think it’s contributed to me having a faster metabolism. Overall, acupuncture gives my body the energy tune-up that it needs to take better care of itself. I’m lucky to be able to go to an acupuncture clinic that only costs $15 (I sit back in a recliner in a room with other people receiving the same treatment), but a lot of health insurance providers cover it because it’s so effective and safe.
  10. Avoiding chemicals. Chemerical is a tough and slightly unbelievable documentary, but it inspired me to get rid of all of the chemical-filled household products that are unhealthy in ways that I’ll never fully understand. In short, your body absorbs the chemicals in household products, those chemicals have serious health effects over time, and no one is regulating them in a human-safe way. So in light of this information, I’ve used this amazing book to create my own natural cleaning and beauty products, which are effective and way cheaper.
  11. No hormonal birth control. Your body doesn’t have walls between organs, and hormonal birth control impacts every process in a woman’s body. I believe that every woman should be issued one of these at puberty (tracking your cycle is great), and must understand that pumping their bodies with synthetic hormones every day has serious side effects. Here is a good book on the topic.
  12. Walking outside. I try to always remember that I’m a human being, descended from people who spent a lot more time outside than I do now. I try to get outside for a walk at least once a day, if not more (dogs are great for that). Hiking in the woods and being around plants and trees and wildlife regenerates me, and directly contributes to my health.
Effects

The above list of changes I have made over the past three years represents an overall intention to connect with my body and respect it as the only vehicle I have to get me through my life. I have lost a lot of weight and about four dress sizes, and I also have more energy, I’m a better listener, and I am less anxious. The results have been noticeable to everyone that knows me.

I hope that this information can help or inspire others to be more mindful about their actions and how it affects their body. The changes I’ve made have been working for me now, but I expect that I’ll be doing things differently over time.  Also, other people are going to gravitate towards their own ideal ways of living. The important thing is to pay attention and take action to make the changes that feel right for you.

 

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Climate Change is Everything

Happy Earth Day!

Last night I went to hear New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman speak about climate change and its ties to income inequality, and how there needs to be a united progressive movement to combat the selfish and devastating actions of the fossil fuel industry.  AG Schneiderman is leading the charge to investigate fossil fuel companies, most notably Exxon Mobil, to see what they knew about the effects of burning fossil fuels versus what they told the public and investors.

Now that he is getting attorney generals from other states involved, he has become the target of a smear campaign, which questions what he is doing and suggests that he is violating the First Amendment right to freedom of speech. His quote from the New York Times article, that he repeated last night:

“The First Amendment, ladies and gentlemen, does not give you the right to commit fraud.”

I am so grateful that I live in a state that is taking action against the fossil fuel industry, but I did feel removed from the Attorney General’s fight. I tried to be an environmental litigator for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, but I only lasted 10 months. Litigation just isn’t for me. Still, I support his actions and am so grateful for his courage.

The thing that really stuck out for me last night was Attorney General Schneiderman’s plea for the progressive movement to form a cohesive, united front against the selfish fossil fuel industry.

Climate change is not an environmental issue; it’s an issue that captures everything about our failing economic system, unsustainable lifestyle, and disconnected values. Climate change is connected to poverty and race because the poorest people and communities of color suffer the most. Climate change is connected to the economy because it destroys human structures and closes businesses (I just received an email from a dog boarding facility in Austin that is closing because they couldn’t recover from last year’s Memorial Day floods). Climate change is connected to mental health because it’s scary to live in a world where future safety is uncertain.

So happy Earth Day! Now get outside 🙂