Book review – Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

24453082Big Magic has been incredibly inspirational, even “life changing,” to a lot of people, but I’m not sold. Throughout the book, I underlined a lot of good ideas and thoughts that I felt were relevant to me. But, I also skimmed over or rolled my eyes at a lot of things. This book made me think about the content well after I was finished, but not all of those thoughts were complementary.

Woowoo

I’m not really into woowoo. I used to be. Or, maybe I just wanted to be because woowoo opened the door to a lot of new, interesting, and non-traditional things for me. But, on the whole, I think woowoo stuff is nonsense: I don’t believe in spirits, I don’t believe in gods, I don’t believe in the the benefits of crystal vibrations, and I certainly don’t believe that inspirations are entities that travel around looking for someone who’s open to their idea. Gilbert does. As an example, she believes that a story she worked on but eventually ignored and lost had actually transferred to another author who nurtured that story into a published book, even though they’d never discussed the premise.

Quotable quotes

I think that one of the reasons this book is so successful is because it’s full of quotable quotes. I would often find myself drifting away from the book when I suddenly found a great line that dragged me back in. I’m pretty sure you could find a good quote on every other page, at least.

Some of these quotes ooze with that syrupy goodness we all love to hate on Instagram and Pinterest, but a lot of them are really good and/or relevant (to me, our times, our society, etc.). I don’t think that she said anything that was new to me or particularly profound, but maybe that’s just because I read and think about things like creativity fairly often.

Mixed emotions

One of the reasons I’ve struggled with how I feel about this book is because it both delighted and frustrated me. Gilbert said a lot of things that really resonated with me and even some things that made me stop, think, and get a little emotional about my own life and my relationship with creativity and art.

But, I also found a lot of her discussions to be frustrating. A good example of this is her advice to avoid fetishizing suffering. I completely agree with her on a high level – suffering is not something we should celebrate or strive for as it hurts us and hurts people who truly are suffering. But, some of her arguments made me feel that she had no understanding or respect for people who truly suffer. I struggled with how to articulate my concern because I couldn’t really pinpoint why I was concerned until I was in the middle of reading Reasons To Be Alive by Matt Haig, a book about depression and his experience living with depression and anxiety. In one section he talked a lot about famous people who’ve dealt with or continue to deal with depression, and he noted that a lot of people (himself included) use creativity as a means of dealing with or mediating their illness. For example, he writes because it helps him deal with his depression.

I think Gilbert’s intention was good and I think that she was trying to remind the reader that you don’t have to suffer in order to be able to be creative or to make things that are worthy. But, the way she did it felt like she was ignoring or possibly belittling the very real and very unavoidable suffering that some artists deal with.

So, if you read the book, remember this: you do not need to suffer to be creative, but being creative may be a good tool for dealing with or processing your experiences if you do suffer.

Confusion

One thing this book does pretty well is champion creativity: anyone can be creative, you don’t have to be “good” to be creative, etc. But, it sometimes felt a bit contradictory. For example, there were a couple of places where I felt like she was preaching that we shouldn’t bother with being professional creatives, but then spent the next several chapters providing advice that seemed geared specifically towards people who were pursuing a creative career. Taken as a whole, the book clearly supports the idea that everyone should be creative, whether you make a career out of it or not, and you don’t have to be a “professional” to share your work. But, her arguments seemed to be a bit all over the place. Maybe it’s the scientist in me, but I found the lack of structure a bit annoying and confusing.

Personally, I found Show Your Work by Austin Kleon and The Shape of Ideas by Grant Snider (see my review here) to be more inspirational and motivating because they presented clear ideas in a more organized manner (read: easy to understand).

The good stuff

Despite my frustrations with the book, I did enjoy it (and, to be fair, I didn’t realize how much the book frustrated me until I thoughts about it and reviewed my notes – so, maybe don’t think too hard about the book). Gilbert said a lot of things that I need to be reminded of often and that I believe to be true:

  • Being creative doesn’t just mean being an artist
  • Your dedication to your creativity is more valuable than talent
  • You don’t need anyone’s permission to do something creative
  • Originality is over-hyped – focus on being authentic to yourself
  • Good enough is better than not at all
  • Don’t look for your passion, just be open to curiosity

You made it; you get to put it out there. Never apologize for it, never explain it away, never be ashamed of it. You did your best with what you knew, and you worked with what you had, in the time you were given. You were invited and you showed up, and you simply cannot do more than that.

I will keep my copy of the book, for now at least, because it has a lot of notes that I think might be valuable when I’m feeling frustrated with my art. But, I’m not sure if this is a good book, or just a well marketed book with great quotes. But, hey, if you get something out of a book, then it’s worth the time it took to read it. So, if the premise interests you and you feel like you could use a pep talk about creativity, then this book is worth considering. If nothing else, you can skim through to the bits that you need most.

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Plastic Free July – plastics I still own

Plastic Free July - Choose to Refuse 300ppiI’ve been doing a lot of reading and lurking on zero waste and eco-living websites lately. One of my favourite resources is the Green Indy Blog, run by Polly who’s a zero-waster with a realistic view of life. She is open and honest about when plastic or waste happens and why. And, she’s unapologetically reasonable about her choices. For example, she talks a lot about how to make low to no cost changes and she admits to times when she’s allowed (not accepted, but consciously allowed) waste. She’s taken a very open and welcoming approach to zero waste that allows people to simply do their best, instead of demanding perfection.

I think that a lot of people are starting to take this approach because they recognize that demanding perfection is unhelpful – if people can’t be perfect and/or can’t sustain big changes, they’ll stop trying as hard or simply give up. If we can foster a community that shows people that it’s not about being perfect, but about being more conscious about our decisions, then we’ll make it easier for more people to start making those changes and, hopefully, keep working towards a low-impact. This means that we’ll be more successful at finding new community members or allies, and we’ll have a bigger impact.

So, to do my part, I’m going to start sharing how I’m working towards being plastic free or zero waste, where I need to make changes, and when I allow waste. I’m going to start with my farmer’s market trips simply because I happen to have a decent picture of my most recent market haul.

This is what I bought this weekend:

  • Beans
  • Raspberries
  • A dozen cookies (plus 2 bonus cookies because they were broken)
  • 2 dozen eggs
  • Peaches
  • Blueberries
  • Spinach

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Please note all the plastic. There’s loads of it! Let’s look at my haul from the perspective of packaging:

Beans, raspberries, and cookies

I bought these plastic containers about 2 years ago for market trips. I buy a fair amount and walk/bus to and from the market, so things get squished or bruised. These are cheap containers, but they’re lightweight and very useful. When not being used for the market trips, I use them to hold veggies. Ideally, I’d use something that isn’t plastic, but: (a) glass is heavy and breakable making it a difficult option for market trips, and (b) metal is expensive, so I’d need to save up for new containers.

I would like to replace these some day, but I have no problem with using them. I’d rather

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What my fridge typically looks like after groceries and market – my plastic containers are used for any and all veggies, fruit, etc. And, I do have a few glass containers that I also use, but they’re not convenient for market trips as they’re heavy.

use what I have to keep this plastic away from the landfill for as long as possible. And, if I lose or break a lid? No problem – I can either find another lid option (ex: reusable waxed cloth) or find another use (ex: using them as lidless containers in drawers or cupboards).

I can also use these for bulk or deli foods at the Planet Organic nearby.

Eggs

Stonepost Farms takes back egg cartons (theirs and others), so I return my cartons each week and will give them other cartons if I ever have to buy eggs from elsewhere.

In the winter, there’s another vendor that I can get eggs from who also takes cartons back, though I don’t think that they take cartons from other brands. But, egg cartoons are both useful (ex: crafts or sprouting seeds) and relatively easy to re-purpose (i.e., I generally don’t find it difficult to give them away – all I need is to find a parent/teacher).

Peaches

I have an abundance of re-usable produce and bulk food bags. I could easily sew my own, but I really like mesh bags and mesh is a pain to sew. The one I used for the peaches was purchased as a bundle of three years ago, but I often see them in places like Planet Organic (usually near the produce or bulk items). The mesh is quite fine, so they work for both produce and many bulk items (beans, nuts, pasta, etc.). I also own some Credo bags, which are great for produce.

Blueberries

I ran out of containers and couldn’t resist this giant box of blueberries (just $10!). I’ll find out if the vendor will take it back next week, and if they don’t, it’s compostable or I can see if I can find another use for it.

This was a “whim” purchase. If the berries had been in plastic, I wouldn’t have purchased them. But, I was close enough to home to feel confident carrying them in this open box and blueberries are awesome.

Spinach

This is one of my allowable exceptions. Finding plastic free greens is difficult for me. In grocery stores, my options are typically low-waste (a twist tie or elastic) greens, bagged greens, or greens in plastic boxes. Most of them are from California or further. In the grand scheme of things, I think that buying some spinach in a plastic bag that I can reuse (or, return, as Stonepost Farms will take them back) from a local farm is better than buying food that had to be transported from another country (remember, I’m in Canada, several hundred kilometers from the border). I spoke a bit about it that at the bottom of my post about what plastics I’m trying to avoid for July. Buying local is something that I consider to be very important. It supports local businesses/vendors and food security, and it’s often a more environmentally friendly option.

I’ve already found a use for the last bag (protecting some packages of butter that I’m storing in the freezer) and I have no doubt that I can find a use for this bag, without it going into the garbage.

This is how raspberries usually come, but with plastic bags to protect them. This photo is from 2015, before I had a large collection of re-usable produce bags and while I was still getting used to using the few I had, so I bought the peas in a plastic bag (the other items were already in plastic).

So, yes, I have and use plastic, but I’m also reducing a lot of waste: the raspberries would have come in boxes with plastic bags to protect them; the cookies would have come is special branded bags that are a weird size/shape, so hard to re-use; the peaches and beans would have come in plastic bags, and I predominantly choose plastic free options, even though there were plenty of foods I would have loved to buy if they weren’t in plastic (I really miss cucumber!).

This is real life and not perfect. This is the best that I can manage at this time and provides options that are sustainable for me (i.e., that I can sustain and that won’t make me want to quit and go back to buying things in plastic).

As I mentioned in my post about Plastic Free July, this isn’t about being perfect – it’s about making the best choices possible and trying to reduce single-use plastics over time (give up straws tomorrow, produce bags in in a couple weeks, etc. – do what you can, when you can).

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Book review – Reasons to stay alive by Matt Haig

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Everyone should consider reading Reasons to Be Alive, whether you have depression, know someone who has depression, are curious about depression or might, at some point in your life, encounter depression in yourself, in a loved one, in a stranger, etc.

While not a definitive book about what depression is or how to deal with it, Haig is able to clearly express the bleakness of his depression and anxiety, and the effort he needed to work through the worst period of his life, little by little. I don’t think that I’ll ever

forget he’s anecdote about going to the store down the road and how something as seemingly harmless as a little corner store could cause so much anxiety. Those few paragraphs put a lot into perspective for me.

Despite the focus on depression and anxiety and telling the reader about his darkest days, Haig never sounds sorry for himself and never implies that we should pity him. He’s very matter of fact about his experience. As he says in the book, this isn’t about suffering with depression, it’s about learning how to live with it.

“If you have ever believed a depressive wants to be happy, you are wrong. They could not care less about the luxury of happiness. They just want to feel an absence of pain. To escape a mind on fire, where thoughts blaze and smoke like old possessions lost to arson. To be normal.”

I think that one of the most important aspects of the book for me was how he was careful to explain (and show) that mental illness isn’t a weakness or a gateway to artistic genius. It’s just a thing that some people have – a part of themselves that can affect their life both negatively and positively.

“People often use the word ‘despite’ in the context of mental illness. So-and-so did such-and-such despite having depression/anxiety/OCD/agoraphobia/whatever. But sometimes that ‘despite’ should be ‘because’.  For instance, I write because of depression.”

I read this book based on Cait Flanders recommendation last month after a couple of celebrities committed suicide. She spoke highly of it and I’m very glad that I picked it up despite thinking that it wouldn’t be for me simply because I’ve never been suicidal. It was for me because it helped me to understand depression and anxiety a little better.

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Reading update – June 2018

I hardly read at all this month because I’ve been keeping busy with a watercolour challenge and other things. Also, it’s summer. I get tired of noise when my windows are open 24/7, so I stop listening to as many audiobooks as usual.

For once, only 2 of the books I read were from the library. But, 2 were new purchases, so I didn’t remove that many from my unread shelf.

I currently have 40 unread books (less than half the number I had when I started this challenge at the end of December, woohoo!):

  • 19 unread paper books (removed 2, added 2)
  • 9 unread ebooks, 1 of which is in progress (removed 1)
  • 12 unread audiobooks, 1 of which is in progress (added 2, listened to 1, 4 unused credits)

I donated 2 books and bought 4 (2 audio and 2 paper).

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Books that I read:

1. All Our Wrong Todays – This was such a great book. I’d heard of it and even borrowed it from the library way last year, but it wasn’t until I saw Kathy’s rave review of it that I finally listened to it. It was interesting, thought provoking, full of adventure and regret, and really well performed by the author. If you like John Scalzi books, I think that you’d enjoy this.

2. Direct Watercolor – Marc Taro Holmes is a Canadian watercolour artist. His work isn’t my favourite style, but it’s gorgeous nonetheless. This book highlights some of his work (with full page, full colour images) and provides a lot of context to the paintings, as well as some helpful tips. Based on the content, I’m not sure it was worth the $30 (it’s very short), but I suspect most of that cost is associated with the really good quality printing (great colour, no pixilation in the images, etc.).

3. This Wild Road – This is a small art book by Marisa Pahl about her This Wild Road project. She talks about the concept and includes many (all?) of the paintings she did for the project. I bought it because I purchased a couple of the paintings and their accompanying abstracts, and I thought this would be a good addition as it provides context to those paintings.

4. Year-round Indoor Salad Gardening – Technically, I read this 2 or 3 years ago, but I hadn’t actually read it all the way through, so I’ve kept it on my unread shelf this whole time. It’s a good and useful book, but I’m not sure it was worth owning, so maybe look for it at your library first. It’s full of good information and tips. But, it’s pretty long winded and repetitive. Also, for most of the book I was very annoyed because he kept saying “it’s easy” and “anyone can do it” but wrote from the perspective of someone with a lot of outdoor space, a compost, the means to buy new soil regularly, etc. Thankfully, he does eventually discuss options for people who have limited resources or no easy space to dispose of and recycle used soil.

5. Reasons to Stay Alive – This is beautiful and thought provoking look at the author’s struggle with depression and anxiety. As someone who’s never experienced anything as intense as his depression and anxiety, it was also incredibly informative (he’s very clear that all people experience mental illness differently, so I know this is just his experience, but it was still informative). I highly recommend this book for anyone who has or is dealing with depression or anyone who knows someone who has or is dealing with depression.

6. The Marrow Thieves – This was such a great story and it was performed really well. It’s a dystopian novel set in Canada. Non-indigenous people stop being able to dream. So, this story focuses on Francis, a young indigenous man who’s on the run. It’s got adventure, sorrow, friendship, love (all sorts), and it’s really thought provoking. Would we murder indigenous people to save ourselves? I think a lot of people would accept it “for the greater good”, as if we (white folk) are more valuable than indigenous people. And, that’s pretty awful.

I mentioned last month that June was National Indigenous History Month. I planned to read The Marrow Thieves and 21 Things You May Not Have Known About The Indian Act. Holy smokes, 21 Things is hard to read. It’s really well written, it’s very interesting, it’s very informative, but it also makes me very angry. I know that indigenous Canadians are subject to racism, including systematic and institutionalized racism, but it’s hard reading about how awful we (settlers) were and how awful things continue to be. I have every intention of finishing this book, but it’s been a slow read.

July 1st was Canada Day, so I decided to participate in the Read-EH-Thon, which I found out about through Kathy. The readathon takes place July 1st to 8th, but I can’t finish one book in a week, much less several, so I’ll just plug away at my books until I’m done. I’m using 21 Things even though I already started the book last month, and I also picked An Unexpected Break in the Weather and Murder, eh? (one of the prompts is a book with “eh” in the title).

Happy reading.

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Plastic Free July – what I’m giving up

Plastic Free July - Choose to Refuse 300ppiI’m giving up garbage bags this month, and that’s actually freaking me out a little bit

I’m participating in Plastic Free July. I wrote a bit about it and zero waste in my last post, but as a quick summary, it’s an event originating out of Australia used to encourage people to rethink their plastic use, especially with regards to single use plastics. I’ve already eliminated a lot of plastics out of my life, but I know I can make some improvements with regards to garbage bags and food packaging.

Garbage bags

I currently use compostable bags for my garbage, but I had to go find them and do a bit of research to confirm that they were actually compostable and not just biodegradable. There’s a big difference – biodegradable plastics may look like they go away, but they may just break down into smaller and smaller pieces of plastics (the microplastics that scientists are finding in the ocean and even in bottled water). My compostable bags are safe to put in the compost, so they probably aren’t doing that much harm (save for the resources needed to make them).

I use bags partly to avoid a gross garbage bin and partly because I typically only take trash out when I’m already heading out the door. That requires a bag or container of some sort that doesn’t need to be returned to the apartment. So, basically, I guess I’m lazy and grossed out by icky garbage.

I currently have 3 places where waste is collected: a plastic bin in my bathroom, a stainless steel bin in my kitchen, and a random (whatever I have available) bag to collect my plastic waste (I started tracking my plastic waste several weeks ago, so I’ve been separating it from everything else). I also have a large re-usable bag for recycling, but I don’t line it with a bag, so it’s irrelevant to this challenge (side note: did you know that blue bags aren’t recyclable? I learned that a year or two ago and immediately stopped using them for my recyclables).

The stainless steel bin in the kitchen can be easily washed and won’t absorb odors. It also has a handy lid with an odor neutralizing carbon filter. The plastic bin in the bathroom is the only thing I’ve ever found that fits in the narrow space, which is the only reason I put up with it being cheap plastic. I rarely put icky things in it as I only empty it as needed. In both cases, I can easily live without a garbage bag if I’m willing to wash them out as needed. And, I have some old yogurt containers that I can use to store things in the freezer temporarily (ex: organics that are wet or prone to rot/mold). I should note that I don’t eat meat, but if I did, I would try to find a re-usable container or re-usable plastic bag to store meat packing in the freezer until I was ready to take it out.

My plan for July is to not use any garbage bags at all. The cans will be emptied when convenient or as needed, and cleaned regularly to avoid bad odors or built up ickiness. And, I have an extra can that I can use for my plastic waste, so that I can avoid wasting a garbage bag to collect plastic waste.

It sounds so simple and easy now that I’ve written it down, but this is something I’ve considered and been really resistant to for a very long time. Rotting food grosses me out (just thinking about it is making me a bit queasy), so I’m not looking forward to cleaning out the bins. But, also, for some stupid reason, going down and up 6 flights in an elevator just to take the garbage out seems like a big deal in my head. But, it’s not and that’s no excuse to avoid this challenge.

Plastic wrapped foods

I’m embarrassed to admit that 5 years ago I called myself an environmentalist, but still bought tonnes of food wrapped in plastic: frozen entrees, prepacked fruit and veggies, boxed or bagged rice and pasta, packaged greens, etc. And, while I rarely ate in restaurants, I was always guaranteed to take part of the meal home in those little Styrofoam containers they provide, because I always forgot an extra container.

I justified these bahaviours in a couple ways:

  1. Most of this packaging is recyclable, so it’s not that big of a deal.
  2. Other than this, I’m low impact because I use transit, etc., so I’m still more environmentally friendly than the average Canadian.
  3. I don’t enjoy cooking and I deserve to be able to escape a chore I dislike on occasion.

The truth is that I was just being lazy. I have no children, I’m not expected to take work home at the end of the day, I have very few external responsibilities, etc. I just wanted yummy food that didn’t require any time in the kitchen.

One day I quit frozen entrees cold turkey (with the exception of the occasional frozen pizza). I just decided to quit buying them. I wish I could say it was because I realized how much plastic I was purchasing, but I think it was mostly because of how expensive they can be (I’m a picky vegetarian, so I rarely found cheap entrees). But, I still bought a fair amount of things in bulk: bags of lentils, containers of greens, bundled onions wrapped in plastic mesh, etc.

Since then, I’ve made a lot of changes in what I buy and how I buy it. One of the very few exceptions has been greens (lettuce, sprouts, spinach, etc.), which I continued to buy in plastic containers or wrapped in plastic. Part of the problem is that I haven’t found many low or no plastic options. Kale, the occasional beat-up bundle of spinach and bok choy are the only consistently low-plastic greens I’ve been able to find, even at the market. In fact, kale with minimal packaging is abundant, but I hate kale (I’m sensitive to flavours, especially bitter flavours, so kale tastes bitter and horrible to me, no matter how it’s prepared).

Other exceptions have included: cheese, the occasional bit of yogurt, the occasion frozen pizza, various nuts or grains, etc. I’ve already switched to buying as much as I can in the bulk food sections and I’m trying very hard to resist cheese. I buy yogurt very rarely and always re-use those containers multiple times over, so I may allow it as an occasional treat, but not during July (except that I already have some yogurt that I bought in June).

The last exception has been local food from the market, which often comes in plastic. This one is a hard one for me because food in my city is predominantly shipped from other countries (not as much in the summer, but even then, a lot of things are shipped from other provinces). Is it better to buy something local that’s in plastic that I can reuse, or is it better to buy something plastic free that was shipped from California or Mexico? Honestly, I’d rather buy the local foods. Plastic free isn’t the only thing I advocate for (shop local, low impact living, etc.), so sometimes I have to pick the “best” option instead of the plastic free option. This will be the one and only exception I will consider making for July.

So, my plan for this part of the challenge is to avoid plastic (with the possible exception of local produce at the market, if I can’t find a plastic free alternative). Of course, I do have some plastics that I bought before the challenge: some yogurt, some greens, two chocolate bars, a couple books that were preordered and may come in packaging with plastic, etc. So, I don’t expect my garbage to be completely plastic free in July, but I do hope to have hardly any plastic garbage and I expect to be able to account for any plastic that I’m responsible for. More importantly, I hope to both find alternatives where needed and shift my habits.

So, those are my two Plastic Free July challenges – no garbage bags and low to no plastic packaged foods. I expect it to be challenging, but not impossible.

 

Are you considering reducing plastic use in your life?

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Plastic Free July challenge

Plastic Free July - Choose to Refuse 300ppiI’m participating in Plastic Free July, which is a challenge created to encourage people to reduce their use of plastics, especially single-use plastics.

I’m not plastic free or zero waste, but I would like to be, as much as possible. And, it’s something that I’ve been working towards, especially these past few months as it relates to my goal to be more eco-friendly, which is part of my slow year experiment.

What is zero waste? A lot of people assume that it means zero waste produced, which would be extremely difficult for most people, especially people who don’t have access to the types of resources needed to be zero waste (ex: a garden to grow your own food). Many also associate zero waste with tiny jars of garbage. Though it would be wonderful if we all strived to only accrue a jar of garbage each year, or even each month, this is also unrealistic for most people and it gives you a false sense of how much garbage is actually produced to support you and your lifestyle (ex: even bulk food is shipped to bulk stores in bags or boxes of some sort, so buying bulk in reusable bags or containers still creates garbage). And, then there are the zero waste lifestyle fanatics who, much like the minimalist lifestyle fanatics, portray zero waste as being a trend that requires bamboo straws and coconut shell bowls.

Zero waste doesn’t have to be any of those things. The important thing is to make as many choices as you can to reduce or eliminate waste, which is simpler, more attainable, and more useful than trying an extreme or trendy lifestyle that you can’t sustain.

Plastic Free July isn’t about being zero waste, but reduced plastic and zero waste endeavours support each other and promote similar actions. And, zero waste focuses a lot on plastic use because a lot of the garbage households produce are plastic – plastic wrappers, plastic straws, plastic containers, etc.

People are finally starting to recognize that plastic is a problem and that plastics can last for generations (that straw you used this morning? it could still be here for centuries). Worse, despite what we all think, a lot of plastic isn’t recycled or recyclable (check with your local waste management to see what’s recyclable in your area). There are also a lot of plastic sources that people aren’t aware of, such as paper to-go cups. Disposable coffee cups are often lined with a thin layer of plastic, so they aren’t recyclable or compostable.

Think of every plastic item you touch in a typical day – how much of that is recyclable and how much of the recyclable plastic do you think will find its way into a recycling bin?

I’ve already eliminated a lot of plastics in my life, and I’ve continued to work on avoiding or minimizing plastics as much as possible, with the exception of plastic items that I already own (sometimes the best option is just to keep using that plastic container that you already have). But, after taking the Plastic Free July quiz and reviewing their action picker form, I realized that there were a few areas that could use improvement.

The action picker is a good tool to use to get started with the challenge. Each row includes what to avoid (ex: grocery bags), how to avoid it (ex: take a re-usable bag), and a graphical representation of how much of an impact that option makes, based on the positive impact for the ocean, landfills and global warming. Most of the actions are focused on ways to avoid plastics (food packaging, microbeads in cosmetics, plastic bottles, straws, garbage bags, litter, etc.), but they also include making sure that everything that can be recycled goes in the recycling, instead of the garbage.

I’ve decided to focus on garbage bags and food packaging, as most of the other items are irrelevant to me (my cosmetics and such are plastic free) or rare (I rarely eat out, so it’s rare that I would need to worry about plastic straws and such). I’ll talk about my plans in my next post. In the meantime, I encourage you to at least take the quiz and consider what single use plastics you might be able to reduce or eliminate, regardless of whether or not you participate in Plastic Free July.

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“Slow” mid-year update

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This is a purple aster, which is one of my favourite flowers. It’s not really related to this post, but it makes me happy because I love the picture and the very relaxing hike I did on the day I took the picture.

I’m doing an OK job of being slow and intentional in many areas of my life, but I’ve also completely dropped the ball in many other areas. Such is life, I guess. Work has been sporadically high stress for several months and the summer heat has been exhausting, so I’ve been picking and choosing the things I do to take care of myself.

Over the past few months, I stopped doing daily yoga, I stopped using my sort-of bullet journal, I did less art, I’ve struggled with getting enough sleep, I shopped online more, I browsed booktube and book blogs instead of reading books, I ate more junk, I stopped going to the farmer’s market, and I stopped walking to and from work.

Some of the good things have come back: a new Sunday market in my neighbourhood has made it easier to do weekly market trips; a watercolour challenge has meant that I’ve been doing art most days, sometimes for hours; and, a few really great or short books have helped me get back into reading (also, I’ve been focusing on just 1 or 2 books at a time, instead of my usual 4 or so).

Despite these few improvements, I have to admit that things have gone a bit south during the last couple of months. A few weeks ago, I would have told you that I felt that I was doing a really good job of my slow year experiment, but when I started reflecting on how the year’s been, I realized that I’ve been slipping backwards.

But, that’s OK. Sometimes we can’t control or avoid stressors in our life and I know that I always struggle more with dealing with stress in the summer (I don’t like the heat, I don’t have A/C, I get a lot of traffic noise because I have to leave my windows open, etc. – so, I’m grumpy and tired all the time).

After I realized how poorly things have been going, I was a bit tempted to just throw my hands up in despair. But, I promised myself that I’d take things slowly this year, so I took a more thoughtful approach and looked for things that I could control and things that could be adjusted to make life a bit easier. For example, I’ve made a mental list of chores that can be done with less care than usual. A great example of this is cleaning my floors – right now, I’m erring on the side of “good enough” instead of my usual habit of moving every piece of furniture and getting every corner.

I’ve also been reviewing my social media habits and follows, making big changes where I can. For example, I weeded Instagram and YouTube, cutting the number of channels/people I had been following by at least half. I usually do this sort of review every new year, but I guess I just needed to cut back some more this year.

Oddly, the one thing that I’ve been consistent about and that I’ve been making steady progress in is my goal to be more eco-friendly. I’ve made some big changes that have not only helped me to be more eco-friendly, but also made me pretty happy (my new all-purpose cleaning spray smells amazing because I make it myself and add whatever essential oils will make me happy – currently, it’s citrus). I’m also going to be participating in Plastic Free July and trying at least one big change for me that I’m not yet sure I’m OK with (more on that in July). That might add a bit of stress to July, but I’m excited that I’m willing to try (go me!).

Over the next couple of weeks, I hope to add more of my good habits back into my life, but mostly I’m going to be focusing on finding the balance I need right now and accepting that life sometimes gets in the way of our plans to “better” ourselves. Also, I’m going to do an apartment review, because I think that a “spring clean” would be a good idea (it’s something that I find relaxing, because I’m one of those odd people who loves a decent spring clean at all times of the year).

And, I think that it’s important to recognize and celebrate what is probably the biggest win of the year, so far – I may be struggling with my goals, but I’ve clearly been making some mental shifts because I stopped to reflect before giving up. Taking this more thoughtful approach is huge for me. If it’s the only gain for the year and the only consistent change from this year, I’ll consider this whole experiment a giant success.

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30×30 direct watercolour challenge – week three

I’ve been participating in Marc Taro Holmes’ 30×30 direct watercolour challenge. This a round-up of the paintings I did for days 8-14 (you can see 1-7 here and 8-14 here).

This week involved a lot of quick and simple paintings. You can see them and, where applicable, the reference photos on Instagram.

I should note that I have no training in watercolours. I’m using this challenge as a means of learning, practising, and playing with watercolours. And, I feel like I’m finally starting to get a bit more comfortable with the media and a bit better at understanding what went wrong, when mistakes happen.

1. Flowers

I wanted to do something quick, colourful and simple. Also, this is the mid-point and I was pretty impressed that I even made it half way.

2. Misty Mountain

This is based on a picture that Owen Perry shared on Instagram.  His photography is really gorgeous and this picture allowed for playing with monochromatic layers without having to think too hard.

3. Seagull on a roof

I picked this one because I thought it would be a good challenge. The bright sun on the right means that the side of the seagull’s body is bright white (no paint) and the rest of the body was tiny enough to need to practice good control. When I first posted it, I was disappointed in my shading, thinking that it made it hard to understand that the white was the bird’s sunlit body. But, in retrospect, I think a big part of the problem is that my sky is too pale.

4. Wheat and canola field

I mostly did this painting because I’m a bit obsessed with Wanderlust Watercolours’ lemon yellow and I’m always amused and in awe of the vibrant yellow of canola when in bloom. This might be one of my favourite paintings.

5. Anemone field

Oceana Canada is one of many organizations that I follow on Instagram. They’re an indie charity whose focus is restoring the health and abundance of our oceans. They also post lost of really great pictures of our beautiful oceans, including this one, which inspired the painting.

6. Not

Meh. I wasn’t in the mood to paint because of the heat and how tired I was (still am, as I type) of the heat. So, I was scrolling through my photos looking for something completely random, and this image I took with a microscope that attaches to my phone seemed like it could be interesting. Honestly, it’s not awful, but past me would never have shared it because it’s not great either. So, I guess, if nothing else, this challenge is helping me to post/share mediocre work, which is good for my perfectionist self.

7. Path

The first version of this was was awful. Just awful. But, I wanted to try it again, so I decided to throw myself outside of the box and do the green trees in this gorgeous, vibrant teal. I’m really pleased with the outcome!

 

 

 

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Book review – Life Reimagined by Barbara Bradley Hagerty

25776251To be completely honest, when I first started listening to Life Reimagined, I was filled with dread and regret: I’m going to die alone, immobile and demented! It’s a hard book to read when you’re in the middle of questioning all your life decisions (what I thought was a mild “mid-life crisis”, but this book points out that mid-life crises don’t exist). This book doesn’t sugar coat the science, so it can be tough to read. But, it’s also incredibly interesting.

Hagerty lays out the truth of mid-life: we all think that this is when life takes a downward turn, and the choices we make now can certainly have major impacts on our health and well-being in the future, but mid-life is full of new possibilities and opportunities to explore new hobbies and new purposes. As the summary states, “It’s the time to renegotiate your purpose, refocus your relationships, and transform the way you think about the world and yourself.”

Hagerty looks at biology, genetics, sociology, neurology, psychology, and how they all link together, affecting our health and relationships. She ties these to our potential futures, lining our current choices with our future physical and mental health.

I was particularly interested (and worried) about the correlation between mental health (depression, dementia, etc.) and our social lives. Essentially, we all need to remember to stay connected with friends and family, even if we are introverts who’d rather stay at home with a good book. Thankfully, for those of us who still want to read more than we socialize, reading is good for our brains, too.

What I loved best about this book was that Hagerty was honest about the data, but she wasn’t doom and gloom – she focused on the good and showed how even little changes are correlated with good outcomes. Essentially, we all need to eat better, walk more, read on occasion, learn new things on occasion, and stay connected. This is not new information for most of us, but it was nice to see if outlined in the context of middle age.

I enjoyed reading this book, though, as mentioned at the start, it was a bit tough at times. It’s easy to feel we’re failing to lead the “perfect” life, but I kept reminding myself that if I could do just 75% of what Hagerty says I should be doing, then I’m doing better than before. And, I’m both improving my future and my current mental and physical health.

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30×30 direct watercolour challenge – week two

I’ve been participating in Marc Taro Holmes’ 30×30 direct watercolour challenge. This a round-up of the paintings I did for days 8-14 (you can see 1-7 here).

This week involved a lot of quick and simple paintings. You can see them and, where applicable, the reference photos on Instagram.

I should note that I have no training in watercolours. I’m using this challenge as a means of learning, practising, and playing with watercolours.

8. Feather

This painting ended up being a little overworked because I still wasn’t practiced with determining when the painting is the right level of wet/dry for what you need (I’m still not!). But, I had fun trying and the colour mixing was just about perfect, thanks to Payne’s Grey (a personal favourite).

9. Flowers

I just needed a day of playing with all the beautiful colours in my palette and doing something easy. Bonus gold dots!

10. Somewhat abstract sunsets, 2 versions

I wanted to play with colour fields again. I was also starting to think about ideas for an upcoming beginner rug hooking class with Fern School of Craft (I won’t be using these as they’re bigger and more complex than I wanted).

11. A continuation of the abstract sunsets, 3 versions

More playing with sunsets and colour. I think that this one would make a cool quilt.

12. Aster and forest litter (and close-ups)

I’m in love with the aster, not so much the forest litter painting. But, asters are one of my all time favourite flowers and I love the picture this one was based on.

13. Lemon plants

I started some lemon plants last year, and they’re still alive! On this day, I just felt like doing something simple and cheerful.

14. Rocky edge of Lake Louise, AB, 2 versions plus a practice page

Oh the irony. My practice piece is where I did my favourite rocks. I don’t dislike my final piece, but those rocks were tough. I’m still struggling with finding the perfect wet/dry points wen painting and I don’t know if that’s because I’m impatient/distracted or because it’s dry where I live or because this paper isn’t ideal. But, I still enjoyed the efforts and the turquoise water (Wanderlust Watercolour’s turquoise was perfect – no colour mixing required).

***

I was struggling for a few days, which is why I allowed myself to do some really basic, quick and messy abstract sunset pictures. I’m really bad about sticking to challenges and decided to doing something easy was better than quitting. And, I’m glad I gave myself this freedom because this marks the halfway point and I still have some great ideas and I still want to see this challenge through tot he end.

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