Adventures in Natural Building: Strawbale Studio

Walking into Deanne Bednar’s Strawbale Studio in Oxford, Michigan is like walking into the future…or maybe the past.  Either way, it is at the same time homelike as it is ethereal and dreamy.  It is a wonderful, welcoming space in which to find oneself.

Here, you are immediately immersed in a more nature-based state of living: jars of herbs, kombucha, and kefir line the counters, whittling projects lie about the room, and natural trinkets like spiraling wood, herb bundles, and dried flowers can be found in every corner and adorning the walls.

What is more unique to those unfamiliar with natural building techniques are the wonderful Earthen plasters that soften edges, relax the eyes, and bring the outdoors into the home.  Continue reading

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Clean it Green: Laundry Detergent

We recently went to a Sustainability Symposium at the Botanical Gardens. It was a day filled with a variety of lectures related to the impacts of climate change in Northeast Ohio, gardening, and green living.

One of the lectures discussed green cleaning products.  At one point, the presenter showed a picture of what it looks like in the cupboards underneath the sink in a “green” home — lots of cloth rags, vinegar, baking soda, and maybe some borax or washing soda.  She then asked, “How many of you have cupboards that look like this?”

I was one of very few people that raised a hand.  Hmm…I guess there’s still a lot of educational work to be done!  Continue reading

We Must Be the Change

As I observe people around me, I’ve been noticing a trend –most everybody, in theory, wants to save the Earth.   The problem, however, is that far too few people are willing to make the lifestyle changes necessary to ensure a livable future.  The appeal of constant financial progress, of fast food and perfectly temperature-controlled rooms is too great.  The ease of processed foods, disposable diapers, and commuting by car to work is too alluring.  The abundance of cheap clothes, out-of-season foods, electronics, and toxic beauty products is too pervasive to pass by.  We have become perpetual children – looking to others to easily assuage our hunger, temperature, and state of mood.  We expect governmental regulations or some technological breakthrough to fix global warming and the ecosystem issues we fear.  We are unwilling to take the risk that moving toward a new way of living requires.  Continue reading

Homemade Wheat Thins + Palm Oil PSA

Although I’m a few days late with this, I’d still like to share with you that last week was Orangutan Caring Week.

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To Love This Land

Throughout my life, I’ve heard people complain countless times about the region of the world that I live in — it’s too cold, the economy is not good enough, there’s not enough city life, it snows too much, it’s too humid in the summer, it’s too on and on and on… Continue reading

Gardening for Wildlife

My aspirations for living life as sustainably as I can probably began when I was a young girl deeply concerned with the well-being of other creatures. Although my interests and understanding of life and nature have spiraled out a great deal since then to encompass many more concerns and observations that I’ve made, I remain fascinated and indebted to the teachings of wild animals.

So when we’re discussing designs for the future, to me, it’s important to incorporate wild animals into (or near) our spaces.  Nonhuman animals have many lessons to share with us and are also essential to properly functioning ecosystems. Landscapes designed for wildlife are also beautiful and life affirming.

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Hands-On Permaculture

After almost two weeks of intensive living and learning, I have my Permaculture Design Certificate from Midwest Permaculture! It’s my first full day away from the course and I’m a bit sad that it’s all over.

During these past weeks, I learned that life can be full of community, of learning and working with others, of meals and conversations and a fullness that seems to be lacking so often in “the real world” (or is experienced fleetingly). I felt like less of an outsider on the planet and like I had found some place that I have always been looking for where people want to learn to live in harmony with the Earth. I felt connections and relationships blossoming in ways that I rarely do in my day to day life.  And I was learning a tremendous amount on a daily basis.  It’s hard to leave that behind.

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Happy Summer Solstice!

Welcome to the longest day of the year!

Everything is blooming, life abounds, green and sun rule the Earth (in the Northern hemisphere, anyway!).  Do you feel it in your own life, too?

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Message to Earth

Earth,

I’m not sure when and where my love affair with you began, but your winds wrapped around me tightly and I was taken forever, always called to feel my body on your mosses and keep alert to your messages.

At this time in your history, as I walk amongst people that no longer hear your voice, feel your spirit, and understand you as a mother, I am filled with sorrow. Earth, I try to live as an example, but I feel I am failing. People are much more interested in glowing screens than flowing streams, and in making money than making life.

My heart aches and my head drops as I see people disrespect you by throwing plastic into your veins, to choke and kill your lifelines and your creatures; as people continually rip off your skin in misguided attempts to feed our species and create our shelters. Every day, I see people carelessly walk upon your body. They ignore your beauty and bounty.

I have come up with countless reasons to argue for you. I’ve tried to explain how protecting you will make us healthier and happier; why it will save us money; how it is essential to our well being and our future. But mostly, I just wish they could see you the way that I do. They would never need another reason to step more lightly upon you for they would see something so inexplicably divine that they would drop to their knees. They would realize that everything we do to the Earth we are doing to ourselves.

Earth, we are killing you and so we are killing ourselves. However, you will find a way to regenerate and go on. I’m not so sure about my kind. We’re a grain of rice in the oceans of your time, and we’ve forgotten how to live with you. Help us to learn before it is too late.

Love,
Me

Fears, Risks, & Following Our Dreams

It had been brewing for some time. It would bubble up and haunt me, but I would talk it away – “you’re just asking for too much” I would tell myself.

“You just need to find more balance”, I would rationalize.

And yet there came a time when looking at my dissertation proposal thinking, “This is not what I want,” could not be ignored any longer. (I may have been a lump sobbing on the ground.)

The process of following one’s dreams, intuitions, and inner guidance, however, is not as easy as we would like. It requires facing fears that we have long ignored, taking risks we have felt too scared to take, and learning more about ourselves than we ever have before.

Is it even worth it?

YES.

As I write this now, I feel confident in my decision and so much more excited about my life, my place in the world, and delving into my true passions.

Was it easy to get here?

No.

First, the Fears

They’re those dehabilitating, gut wrenching, sleepless-night causing, distracting thoughts that surface all too easily and frequently when we are faced with a huge decision that marks the difference between following our dreams and continuing with the life-sucking business as usual.

Some common ones that surfaced for me were:

  • I will have wasted so much time. I had already put 4 years into my PhD program, how could I possibly turn away from that? How could I ever recover from having spent so much time on this pursuit only to leave it behind?
  •  What will I do instead? Although I had a vague idea of the direction I wanted to move in, it was not solidified (and it’s still a work in progress). All I knew for sure was that my current direction felt wrong, and that I was about to commit myself to at least 3 more years of the same.
  •  What about money? If I was to leave my position as a Graduate Research Associate, where would I get paid? How would I have rent money? Insurance?
  • What will people think of me? How would I explain the decision to leave? Would people think I’m crazy to give up this role?
  • Who will I be? I’d labeled myself as a PhD candidate for so long and became so used to the way that people responded to that. How would I define myself now? Who am I anyway?
  • What if I make the wrong choice? How would I truly know if it was the right decision to change my path? Would I regret it later?

Then, the Risks

Despite all of the fears, something deep inside kept nagging me that I was on the wrong path, that I would get stuck in a life that wasn’t what I desired, and that I would remain dissatisfied. In the face of overwhelming fear, I decided to take some risks and trust that:

  • I hadn’t wasted time. The lessons that I learned while working and studying at the zoo were invaluable. They helped to shape my understanding of what sustainability really means (and that I couldn’t reach my ideal for a sustainable life working in a zoo), allowed me to practice and further develop my critical thinking and writing skills, and left me with a lot of fun memories and experiences that many people will never have. And I still got a Master’s degree in Biology out of it.
  • My true life direction would become available to me. As soon as I made the decision to leave the zoo, doors began opening for me. To be honest, at first I was not excited by this because I felt so guilty and worried that I made the wrong decision, but now these doors are my constant reinforcement that I am following the right path.
  • My friends and family wouldn’t let me be without food, water, and shelter. People have helped support me in ways that I could not have imagined were possible before I started thinking about taking a new direction in my life. And things have worked out so that I haven’t had to depend on anyone else for my basic needs (at least not too much – maybe someone who only lives with me ½ of the time now helps me with part of my rent – thank you!), and I’ve certainly depended on others for moral support (and it would have been ok to ask for more if I needed it)!
  • My own goals, desires, and dreams are more important than what other people think. And it also turns out that people really respect you for following your dreams. It’s a rare enough thing that it impresses others when people are actually willing to do this.
  • I am a dream-follower, authentic human who doesn’t need to be attached to labels to help give myself meaning or prove that I’m intelligent. So what if I don’t have a PhD? Maybe I’ll get one sometime in the future, or maybe I won’t. They don’t automatically equal intelligence and the life of your dreams.
  • There are no wrong choices, only moments for learning. That’s just the way it is.

And Then You Realize How Much You’ve Learned

Through all of the sleeplessness, the false alarm emergency room visits for heart attacks (this was a hard decision!), the tears, the fears, the worries, and then the risks, I have learned a lot. Not only about myself, my strength, and my capacities, but also about the life I want to create and how to do it.

Facing such a major decision made me want more than just intuition-based feelings that I was making the right decisions, so I also came up with long lists of real-world reasons that my decision would make the best sense for my desire to live a more healthy, sustainable, and freedom-based life. They fed right into and supported my intuitions in ways that provided me with strength to do the right thing.

I could make another bullet-point list of things that I’ve learned, but that’s what this blog is about, so look around and stay tuned for more insights!

What about You?

Are you a risk taker and dream maker? Are you living your authentic life?

Sadly, I don’t think many of us are. But you can! It might take some hard work, inner searching, determination, and de-conditioning from cultural expectations, but it’s worth it.

I believe the world would be a much more inviting, exciting, likable place if we were all following our passions and dreams rather than living in a belief system based on fear and what-ifs.

So name your fears. Acknowledge how scary and terrifying they are, and then defy them!

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P.S. Although I enjoyed the elephant encounter shown above, I would prefer that we not keep elephants in zoos.