What I Want to Learn in 2013

Happy 2013!  I am excited to be starting a new year– it really does feel like a clean slate in many ways and I am optimistic about what this year holds for all of us.

As the first day of 2013 comes to a close, I want to take just a moment to share some of the goals I have for myself this year.  I’m really not a fan of “resolutions” because I think most people set New Years Resolutions that they have no real intention, desire, or plan to see-through for the year; so, when they fail, they get depressed and disappointed in themselves.  To avoid setting myself up for failure, I choose to rather make lists of things that I want to do, learn, create, and experience in the coming year.

Here are two of my lists for you to get an idea of how I am focusing my energies in 2013.

In 2013, I want to learn how to:

  • Sew
  • Knit
  • Make soap
  • Make candles
  • Shoot a gun
  • Start plants from seedlings
  • Grow a vegetable garden
  • Speak Spanish (at least basic conversational Spanish)

In 2013, I want to create:

  • At least one article of wearable clothing
  • A thriving vegetable garden
  • A warm, cozy living environment
  • A successful online store
  • An organized work space for all of my projects and creative work
  • An eBook

What are your goals and/or plans for 2013?  What will you be learning and creating this year?  Share in the comments section below!

Preparing to Move: Thoughts About Stuff & Consumerism

I’ve been living back in Wisconsin for almost six months now and am finally reaching the point of looking for my own apartment.  I was fortunate enough that when I suddenly decided to leave NYC (after being driven out of my apartment by bed bugs and cockroaches) that my parents allowed me to temporarily move in with them.  Well, I (and I think they) envisioned this temporary arrangement last two or three months.  We are now in month six.

I spent my first two-and-a-half months in Wisconsin figuring out what I wanted to do with this next life chapter, brainstorming what business I could launch, and job hunting, until I was finally hired part-time at a retail job selling jewelry.  Around the same time I took on a temp job for six weeks, as well.  With time (about a month after the temp job ended), the same employer hired me on to a non-temporary position in another program.

So now, with a slightly higher paying job (though it’s only 30-hours a week, so I’m still working retail) that offers a little more job security, I am finally coming to a place where it makes financial sense for me to look for my own place.  Finally.

But as I work on my moving budget, I am reminded that moving entails saving for a lot more than just your first month’s rent and security deposit.  Considering the fact I got rid of pretty much everything I owned during my last two moves, I have nearly nothing to move into a new space with.  This partially makes me very nervous as I picture the price tag that accompanies furnishing an entire apartment, but it also makes me feel excited at the prospect of living a more minimalist lifestyle.

There are basics that I have to get– a bed, dishes, some towels.  But then there are all the “extras” that society makes us all believe are essential– coordinating six-piece bedroom set, enough dishes to have a dinner party of eight people (I never have dinner parties and if I ever did, we’d figure something out), matching embroidered hand towels, a living room set complete with more seating than I have close friends, kitchen gadgets that I don’t know or care to learn how to use, decorative lamps that provide little light, and the list goes on and on.

So as I prepare to move, I am making a realistic list of items that I will actually use on a daily basis and should, therefore, spend money on.  As usual, my preference will be on used items (with the exception of my mattress because I’m scared from my bed bug experience despite having a new mattress then too) to save money, help the environment, and add a bit of personality to my living space.

Basically, I refuse to consume for the sake of consumption.  There are so many more things I could do with my money, such as pay of my student loan debt and start saving to build my Tiny Home.

To help me stick to my plan, I ask: What is on your Essential Living Space list?  I will share mine in a later post after I give it more thought, but share your suggestions in the comments below!

Improving My Skin with Essential Oils and My Decision to Go Dairy-Free

It’s been about three months since I last updated (Wow! Sorry for such a long pause!).  During this time, I celebrated my 25th birthday, which means I have entered my thirteenth year of dealing with cystic acne.  I would love to take a minute to share what I love about having cystic acne:

Absolutely nothing.

I guess I didn’t use all of my minute, so I’ll use the rest to tell you how most non-acne-sufferers interpret your acne (particularly when you are older than 15).

  1. You don’t take care of your skin.
  2. You don’t know how to take care of your skin correctly.
  3. You aren’t trying hard enough to get rid of your acne (their solution is usually more expensive chemical-based products and/or prescription drugs).
  4. You aren’t aware of just how severe your acne is, so therefore they must tell you.
  5. You eat poorly.
  6. You have some sort of hormonal imbalance, so (if you’re female) you really need to get on hormonal birth control.
  7. You need to see a dermatologist.
  8. Your acne is offensive, so they must either a) stare or b) look away from you in disgust.
  9. You need makeup lessons because if you can’t get rid of the acne, you should at least cover it up.  To assist with this, they will recommend their makeup routine to you, suggest you drop-in to a counter or beauty consultant for a consultation, or inappropriately ask about your makeup routine until you take the hint.

After thirteen years, I have heard and seen every possible reaction to my acne and I have tried everything to “cure” it.  As I last shared, I decided to embrace a chemical-free beauty regime to help address my acne and connected skin issues. Many of you have been asking me for an update, so here we go.

First, what am I using?

I based my new beauty regime off what Paula Davis wrote over on Tera Warner’s site about how she stopped being a Pimple Potion Junkie.  Her  information was truly eye-opening and taught this self-professed “acne expert” a ton!  So based on Paula’s recommendations, here’s what I’m doing:

  1. I no longer use a traditional “cleanser” on my skin.  Paula talks about our skin having an oil-barrier and how traditional cleansers can actually make oily, acne-prone skin worse.  Instead, I wet a washcloth with warm water and add a little jojoba oil to it and rub that gently into my skin.  The wash cloth helps exfoliate the skin as it removes my dead skin cells and acne scabs, leaving my face feeling really soft.
  2. After cleansing my face with the jojoba oil on a washcloth, I spritz a few sprays of a natural toner-like combination all over my face and neck.  The small, amber spray bottle contains water, about 10 drops of 100% pure essential lavender oil, and about 10 drops of 100% pure essential tea tree oil.  
  3. In the morning, I end my beauty routine after spraying the water/lavender oil/tea tree oil combo on my face.  I let it dry, then apply my more-natural concealer to cover any acne cysts/pimples and redness.  At night, I let the water/oil mixture dry, then apply a mixture of organic coconut oil and 100% pure essential thyme oil.  Please note: thyme oil is considered to be a “hot oil,” so it should never be applied directly to your skin or it will burn (trust me!  It does not feel good!) but rather mixed with “carrier oil” like coconut oil.
Chemical Free Acne Treatment

My acne skin care army!

And that’s all I do!

So how is it working?

I would love to report that my skin is acne free after doing this for about 2.5 months.  It’s not, but I don’t blame the beauty regime.  My skin has improved somewhat and feels healthier, despite still being heavily broken out.

Why the lack of substantial improvement? I blame my diet.  You see, going natural with what we’re putting on our face only works when we’re going natural with what we’re putting in our body.  Paula recommends that individuals get plenty of water and eat a nutritious, veggie-rich diet.  Over the past 2.5 months (okay, a little longer), my veggie-rich lifestyle has crashed and burned.  So to summarize, I am sticking to the beauty regime and forcing myself to commit again to my plant-strong eating habits and then seeing how my skin looks.

Why does what you eat even matter?

Despite being told for years  by every dermatologist and skin care “professional” I encountered that my diet had nothing to do with my skin, scientific research proves them all wrong!

Much of our Standard American Diet (SAD) causes numerous health problems for us.  Looking just at acne, the nutritional cause can be overly-simplifiedto be caused by the intake of dairy and sugar, as well as from some nutritional deficiencies in the good stuff that arms our bodies with anti-inflammatory agents.  Kris Carr has a fabulous post on her site going in much more clear detail about the nutritional causes of acne, so I recommend you check that out.  Here is an excerpt:

The dietary pimple-producing culprits—dairy and sugar (in all its blood-sugar-raising forms)— cause spikes in certain pimple producing hormones. Dairy boosts male sex hormones (various forms of testosterone or androgens) and increases insulin levels, just as foods that quickly raise blood sugar (sugar and starchy carbs) spike insulin.

Androgens and insulin both stimulate your skin to make those nasty, embarrassing pimples.

While pimples are not as simple as too much milk or sugar in your diet, both have a significant impact. Nutritional deficiencies, as well as excesses, can worsen acne. Correcting common deficiencies, including low levels of healthy omega-3 anti-inflammatory fats, low levels of antioxidants such as vitamin E, zinc and vitamin A, and including an important anti-inflammatory omega-6 fat called evening primrose oil all may be helpful in preventing and treating unwanted pimples.

Dr. Joel Fuhrman looks at how to prevent acne with diet, as well.  Stating:

For years doctors have proclaimed that diet has nothing to do with acne. That reflects the nutritional ignorance of physicians and their inexperience in treating disease with superior diet. Scientific studies have demonstrated that the diet is very important, because what we eat can affect the hormones that contribute to the oil production, hyperproliferation, and inflammation that cause acne. The acne-promoting dietary factors that have been most extensively studied are dairy products and high glycemic load foods – these factors influence hormonal (increase IGF-1 levels) and inflammatory factors increasing acne prevalence and severity.3,4

After reading what health experts such as Kris Carr, Dr. Fuhrman, JJ Virgin, and Paula Davis have to say about the relation between acne and diet, particularly acne and dairy, I have decided to go dairy-free.  I believe that my body has an allergy to dairy, which it manifests in my severe cystic acne.

When I was eating a more strict plant-based diet before moving back to Wisconsin in June, I had almost no dairy in my diet for six weeks and my acne almost completely disappeared.  I have faith that if I adhere to a plant-based lifestyle again that my acne will clear and, once again, the other health ailments I encounter will go away as my energy increases. I believe eliminating dairy and significantly decreasing my sugar-intake, coupled with the skin regime I outlined above, my acne will clear, and much of the scarring and skin damage the past thirteen years have wreaked will go away.

I will use this space to share my about this process and my progress.  Thank you for reading and your ongoing encouragement!

Tackling My Acne Without Chemicals and Parabens

As I mentioned in my last post, I am ridding my daily beauty routine of chemicals.  So far I have stopped using my hair cream, face toner, face moisturizer, and body lotion.  I have replaced the hair creme and body lotion with coconut oil with great results so far (my hair has never looked better!).

Now I am tackling the rest of my face care products.  I have suffered from cystic acne since I was twelve and, as a result, have tried just about every product available over-the-counter, off infomercials, and from a doctor.  I’ve chemically burned my skin, deteriorated my muscles, and wasted hundreds (if not thousands…) of dollars.

So I’m ready to try something new and chemical-free.  My mom recently participated in the free Body Enlightenment Beauty Mini-Makeover and recommended I check out their recommendations for a natural way to tackle my acne.  As part of the promotion for the launch of this program, Paula Davis wrote a great post over on Tera Warner’s site about how she stopped being a Pimple Potion Junkie.

Inspired by Paula’s success and the easy steps laid out in the free e-program, I went out and bought my supplies.  I am slowly implementing one step a day to see how my skin reacts to the subtle changes.

My army:

Chemical Free Acne Treatment

Jojoba oil, tea tree essential oil, lavender essential oil, coconut oil, thyme essential oil, and a more natural (it still has chemicals) blemish concealer.  The blue glass bottle behind the concealer is to make a spritz with.

I’ve already began using the coconut oil and thyme essential oil before bed.  Today I am trying the jojoba oil as a cleanser and the new blemish concealer (I’m going to brave leaving the house WITHOUT foundation).  I will update you on my progress, including a post with progress pictures in the next couple weeks.

Cover Me in Chemicals! How Our Daily Beauty Routine is Killing Us

I’m sharing this as someone who was raised to not question mass-marketed beauty regimens and doctor-recommended medication and treatments.


I’ve had cystic acne since I was twelve-years-old, which means I’ve tried pretty much every acne-fighting lotion, potion, and drug available over-the-counter, off infomercials, and from doctors.  I read a book proclaiming to have the “acne cure,” which essentially was incredibly high topical dosages of acids that I promptly tried and that promptly left me with a chemical burn.

I went on Accutane at 15 (including the required hormonal birth control that was prescribed with it) until it began deteriorating my muscles to the point I was in chronic pain, while still suffering from acne.  I also had to fight with another dermatologist a few years later to NOT go back on the drug after she tried treating my acne.  She insisted that if they monitored it and added an anti-depressant to the mix, I’d feel fine.  I had to tell her she was wrong and cite medical research on the drug, but she still said that I was misinformed and was not open to the best treatment for my skin.

I believed that if I just kept searching for the next latest and greatest product that eventually I would find something to cure my acne, as well as the scarring, skin discoloration, and dry skin that the chemicals caused.  I went through a phase where I believed that the higher levels of benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid the better.  The longer the ingredient list, the better– I mean, didn’t that mean there was more working to clear my skin up?

As I’ve started embracing a cleaner, more plant-strong diet, I’ve been on the hunt for more natural skin care products.  I found a few that I liked and thought that maybe natural products could work on my skin too.  Little did I know, they actually were just as toxic as the highly chemical ones (more on this in a bit).  After reading a lot natural health websites and books, I realized finally that my skin is my biggest organ.  So how can I be so concerned about what I’m digesting, but not concerned about what I’m putting on my skin?

After finally coming across a concise, well-written list called “Top Ingredients to Avoid in Personal Care Products” from NaturalHomeAndGarden.com, I decided to tackle my stash of personal care items to see what ones had the bad ingredients.

The results: The only items I currently own/use that do not contain ingredients from the list are one perfume, an eye makeup remover, and my shampoo.  Every thing else– my body wash, conditioner, moisturizer, lotion, foundation, mascara, hair spray– all of it contains at least one ingredient from the list (see picture below of the offenders), with several containing 3-5 ingredients.

Toxic Skin Care Products

The most common offenders?

Prefixes Ethyl, Methyl, Butyl or Propyl
What It Is: Parabens
Health Risks: Endocrine disrupters that mimic estrogen; linked to weight gain and breast cancer
Found In: Lotions and shampoos

Polyethylene glycol (PEG, PPG, Cocoate), propylene glycol, polyoxyethylene, polyethoxyethylene, polyethoxyethylene mineral oil
What It Is: Petroleum byproducts
Health Risks: Carcinogen; liver and kidney effects
Found In: Lotions

Dyes: Blue 1, Green 3, Yellow 5 & 6, Red 33
What It Is: Coal tar
Health Risks: Carcinogenic
Found In: Hair color, medicated shampoos

One of the worst offenders I owned?  My Garnier Fructis Style: Curl Sculpting Cream Gel with nourishing shea.

Toxic Garnier Fructis Curl Sculpting Cream Gel

It contained Proplyene Glycol (Endocrine disrupters that mimic estrogen; linked to weight gain and breast cancer), PEG/PPG-4/12 (Petroleum byproducts; Carcinogen; liver and kidney effects), Methylparaben (Endocrine disrupters that mimic estrogen; linked to weight gain and breast cancer) ,Ethylparaben (Endocrine disrupters that mimic estrogen; linked to weight gain and breast cancer).  And those were just the obvious bad chemicals in this product!  I could only pronounce two of the ingredients (Avocado Oil and Shea Butter), so who knows what the rest of the ingredients are.  Also, manufacturers are great at listing ingredients as different names or using abbreviations.

Another trick?  Partial ingredient or hard-to-find ingredient lists.  Since the FDA doesn’t regulate many parts of the cosmetic industry, tracking down a COMPLETE list of what is in many projects is nearly impossible.

The worst offender?  Mary Kay Cosmetics.  Consultants for Mary Kay are able to access ingredient lists on their consultant website, which is not visible to the general public (full disclosure: I was an Independent Beauty Consultant with Mary Kay for about two years).  Their products often come in a jar/bottle that is inside a box.  The ingredient list is either on the box or paper insert with the jar/bottle.  So when you start using the product, you throw out the box and paper insert and are left with no ingredient list.  Through some Google searching, I came across a fabulous list on Paraben Free Princess of which Mary Kay items contain some of the most common harmful ingredients, especially parabens (great explanation of parabens found here on TheGoodHuman.com).

I was particularly pissed when I discovered a Conditioning Clay Mask I purchased from “The Power of Plants Botanics” line included Butylene Glycol among its ingredients.

Toxic Power of Plants Botanics Clay Mask

Yes, I know some will argue that Butylene Glycol isn’t considered carcinogenic.  However, as pointed out by health advocate Ann Marie Gianni:

As someone who wants to apply only natural, nourishing ingredients to my skin, I would recommend that you avoid butylene glycol, mainly because it is derived from petroleum, and doesn’t really add to the health of your skin. (Kind of like eating a Twinkie—may not hurt you, but certainly isn’t going to help you.)

So, Butylene Glycol is not an ingredient I want in a product that’s professing to harness the power of plants!

As I’ve shared with people my plans to start ridding my skin/body care stash of chemicals, most ask: “So what will you use?”

Growing up, I had fairly sensitive skin.  In recent years, my sensitive skin has gotten worse as it now reacts to most fragrances and dyes by swelling up with red, hot welts.  So, I am taking my time with this process to make sure I am only adding quality products to my beauty routine that don’t contain toxic chemicals and won’t cause any sensitivity reactions with my skin.

At this point, I have added Coconut Oil.  I am working on a full post about all the different ways I am using this product and natural oils to replace about half of my skin/beauty care products.  I won’t leave you hanging though– here’s one example of why I love coconut oil!

Coconut Oil and Thyme Essential Oil

Remember that toxic Garnier Fructic curl cream?  Since last week, I’ve been washing/conditioning my hair like normal, then applying a small amount of  coconut oil once my hair is brushed and damp.  That’s it.  No creams, gels, sprays, spritzes, etc.  My hair has never looked better!  I have bouncy, tight curls that I haven’t had since I was about 6-years-old.  And the best part: No toxic chemicals!  The only ingredient: mechanically (expeller) pressed naturally unrefined virgin organic coconut oil.

So there you have it: my take on toxic chemicals in our skin/beauty care and how they’re hurting our bodies.  I have a series of posts coming about what products I am using to replace the toxic ones I was using.

Have you switched your beauty routine to be chemical-free?  What are you using?  Share in the comments below!

Can I live on used goods?

I’m volunteering for The Angel Museum today by sitting at their rummage sale site and taking donations. As I sort through donated holiday decorations, kitchen items, and glassware, I wonder if I could commit to significantly limiting the new items I purchase.

I could obviously still buy food and hygiene items, as well as non-self-makeable items for my crafts (I.e. super glue, spray adhesive, etc). But what if I committed to only buying my clothes, household goods, furniture, and books used?


Why I’m Bartering

I’ve decided to start bartering— trading goods and services without the exchange of money.  To facilitate this, I set up a new page on my site listing the current things I need and the things I am able to trade for them.  Obviously, most of these require that you are in or around the Southern Wisconsin/Northern Illinois area where I live; but there are some items you could do via mail.

So here’s why I’m bartering:

-It’s Good for the Environment: We live in a “throw-it-away” society, where if something stops working, begins to wear-out, or we just don’t like it anymore, we throw it away.  We have landfill upon landfill full of our old belongings that could be upcycled or repurposed.

A second issue comes from the environmental impact that the manufacturing of new goods causes.  By swapping goods, we can limit the amount of new items that need to be produced, thus limiting the amount of toxins being released into our environment.  By bartering goods you no longer want, you keep the items out of the landfill and prevent toxins from being released from new manufacturing.

-It’s Economical: If you’re trying to save money, what better to do it than by not spending money.  The classic example: You’re a plumber whose kids need dental work done.  Find a dentist who needs plumbing work done and barter.  Money saved.

-It Let’s You Try/Have Things You Otherwise Wouldn’t: On my list, I have various lessons included in the section about what I want to trade for.  Yes, I could take lessons through a local college or pay someone to privately tutor me, but I don’ t have money in my budget for that right now.  The solution?  Offer up something I do well in exchange for someone to teach me what they know.  One woman got trapeze lessons in exchange for financial advice!

So that’s why I’m bartering: I want to help the environment, save money, and try something new.  Are you bartering?  Be sure to check out my list and email if you want to swap.

Debating if I Should Get Rid of My iPhone

After reading the post on The Minimalists about how Joshua Fields Millburn got rid of his phone, the idea of ditching my iPhone has been stuck in my mind. (Here’s the update on his challenge)

I got my first cellphone around the time I got my driver’s license.  It was basic flip, prepaid phone that I was only allowed to use for emergencies or to call my parents if I was coming home late.  My parents paid for the minutes on it and monitored the usage.

I got a real cellphone right before I moved in to my dorm my freshmen year of college.  It was a basic flip phone.  It was part of my parents plan, so I could make calls, but not send texts.  I finally convinced my dad to add a texting plan to our account my senior year of college.  I think it was something like I paid $7 a month for 250 messages.

After graduating college, one of my first “real adult” acts was getting my own cell plan and a Blackberry.  I went all out– unlimited minutes, unlimited texting, data plan, and a cool pink case.  Having a Blackberry equaled adulthood to me.  Never-mind that I didn’t have a job at this point and really couldn’t afford the phone…

After relocating to NYC in August 2011, my Blackberry could not get a signal because (unlike what my regional cell provider told me before moving), it had no service in NYC.  So at that point, I terminated my contract and went with a national carrier, which meant I had to get a new phone.  And in came my iPhone addiction…

the iOS family pile (2012) © blakespot

Luckily, I just have the one iPhone, though the damn Apple-lifestyle has me itching for an iPad and MacBook. Photo © blakespot

I’ve had some great times with my iPhone.  Apps are fun and good time-wasters.  It’s convenient to have all my email inboxes (I have 12.  Maybe more…) feeding into one place.  I love being able to tweet and post every random thought that pops into my brain.  It’s great to check the comments and traffic on my websites I manage while on-the-go.

But the trade-offs are what have me thinking I may be further ahead ditching the smartphone for a “dumb-phone,” where I can just make calls and text.  For starters, my iPhone costs me $110-$130 a month (depending on the minutes plan I’m using that month because I can’t find one that works for me).  A regular “dumb phone” plan with unlimited texting would only cost me about $55 a month, a savings of $55-$75 a month or $660-$900 a year!

Smartphones makes us perpetual consumers.  New phones are constantly coming out promising to be better than all previous phones.  We’re suppose to drop a few hundred (or more) dollars on each new phone every couple years.  How much money in our lifetimes will we spend on phones?  What happens to our old phones?  What impact does this have on our environment?

Also, as my smartphone usage has increased, my ability to focus has decreased.  I can’t carry-on a conversation without checking my phone every 10 minutes.  I’m constantly thinking about the next thing to post online instead of paying attention to what’s happening around me.  I sneak glances at my email, Twitter, Facebook, etc. while driving (terrible habit!).

I recently started working a part-time retail job where I’m not allowed to have my cellphone on the floor.  Though many coworkers break this rule and sneak their phones in their pockets, I see this rule as a much-needed respite from my phone.  An eight-hour shift without my phone is a relief!  The only thing I truly miss during that time is texting because, in the land of technology, it most closely simulates direct communication with another person.

On paper (or blog), I’ve convinced myself to ditch my iPhone and go back to a basic flip with no data plan, but can I really do it?  I’m still mentally preparing myself for this one.

photo credit: blakespot via photo pin cc

Why do we conserve only when we’ve over-consumed?

Whenever we’re about to run out of something, that’s when we decide that it’s time to conserve it.

At one of my jobs today, I was shredding documents.  Before starting, I was told that we were out of the plastic liner bags for the machine, so I should manually stuff the contents from the bin into a previously “full” bag to make sure there was a enough space to finish shredding my pile of papers.

When they thought there were more bags, they deemed the bag full.  When it turns out there were no more bags, we suddenly had to conserve space and cram more paper in.

I do it when I’m almost out of minutes on my cellphone plan (usually while swearing at the companies who put me on hold for 30 minutes at a time!).  I have friends who do it when they went out partying one night and over-spent, so they conserve their cash by eating Ramen for week.  Many believe that the only shot we have at our government seriously investing in alternative energy sources will be when we run out of fossil fuels.

But why do we do this?

Why don’t we live like we’re almost out of bags/minutes/cash/energy? 

Because, in all reality, we are almost out.