This journey began with a bear..

A Pooh Bear, to be specific.

My first introduction to the hills and dales and woods of England had to be Winnie the Pooh and his gang of friends. I read books, listened to records, watched the show, as they cavorted around the 100 Acre Woods, getting into scrapes, helping each other out, teaching me about friendship. I soaked it up, every bit, like Pooh and his precious honey.

Later, my mom gave me a set of James Herriot books one Christmas. This was probably the time I fell in love with the natural world of England. I read this series cover to cover, and although I did not always understand everything that was happening as I was kind of young still, I knew that there was something special happening. My suburban eyes were opened to another time, another world. a completely different way of life, that of a large animal country vet. I always loved animals, and these books made me laugh, but they also made me cry. Herriot’s love for his Yorkshire Dales made me love them too. These became books that I reread still to this day. Incidentally, my grandfather was born almost exactly to the day, one year before James Herriot, in the very same town of Sunderland, England. I like to think about them possibly being strolled about on the same sidewalks and into the same shops.

Later, I found Watership Down, not quite a book about the English countryside or woods, but nevertheless, these rabbits braved their way across many a hill and forest until they reached Watership Down. And is still my very favorite book today.

Somewhere in all this, I gave my heart to British nature writing – something I didn’t even realize I was completely avid about until a year or so ago, when I stumbled upon Meadowland by John Lewis-Stempel. His poetic observations captured my imaginings, and my love of nature. Like Herriot, his love of his homeland and surroundings is quite evident in his descriptions, the beautiful imagery and words. Stempel describes himself in The Wood as a country writer, writing what he says he knows best. In Meadowland, the Private Life of an English Field, Stempel shares his field study in diary form of the life and death happenings that occur there, the flora, the fauna- the wildflowers, the foxes who seem to recognize him from his rambles, the hedgehogs and birds, to the smallest little insects.

Since then I have read The Glorious Life of the Oak, which is about exactly what you would think, the Oak, its significance to England’s history, folklore and poetry. I learned more than I thought I could ever learn about the Oak tree, which is quite alright, as our family holds acorns and oaks symbolically, as symbols of hope and strength. This Christmas, my husband gifted me The Wood: The Life and Times of Cockshutt Wood, and I have been savoring it, reading it slowly, but still I am almost done with this foray into an English wood.

As a nature lover, I was stunned to learn that the new edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary decided to drop about forty words, all pertaining to nature. They deemed these words not essential, not used enough by children to warrant their place in the dictionary, and were replaced by tech words like blog, cut and paste, voicemail. The list of lost words included so many of my favorites things! Dandelion, acorn, bluebell, fern, magpie, otter, willow- all gone from the dictionary, but hopefully not from the minds of the people who use it. Author Robert MacFarlane and illustrator Jackie Morris have created their own book, a place for these words to live on, called The Lost Words. This book is amazingly beautiful, with gorgeous full page artwork illustrations, and poems designed to capture the readers mind and imagination, to keep the words and what they represent alive. It is one of my favorite books, and I love getting it out and looking through it with my son.

I imagine I will keep this up, reading more of Lewis-Stempel and MacFarlane and whoever else I run into on the way. They are amazing tributes to our natural world and inspirational, encouraging me in their way to get outside sometimes and enjoy the wonders of nature, away from my phone and my computer and television. To look and listen and watch and be a part of that world too. And maybe one day I’ll even get to England!

In Pursuit of the Perfect Shampoo Bar

Last summer, our family made the decision to reduce our plastic use. It has been a slow transition, but one we work at and think about every time we make a purchase. The one change that has been the hardest for me is finding that perfect shampoo bar! I made the switch to bar soap for the rest of me fairly easily – I have found a few companies that I really like. But the shampoo bar is elusive. There are some I have liked, but none have been quite perfect.

I have thick, wavy hair, that has a tendency to frizz big time in humidity (yay for Michigan summers!) I am looking for something that will not leave my hair feeling like I haven’t rinsed it well enough, and that helps control my hair’s tendency to become a giant poufball. I am also pretty much a wash and go woman – I don’t spend a lot of time styling my hair (I’m not very good at it), and I don’t wear makeup unless it’s a special occasion. So, the shampoo I use has to do a good job because I really rely on it to help control my mane. So, hence my search.

The first one I tried was Terra Mia Organics Raw Goat Milk Lime and Coconut bar. One thing I really love about shampoo bars is their longevity! This bar lasted me three months, two of them summer months. We also went on vacation after I started using shampoo bars, and it was so much easier to pack my toiletries! This particular shampoo bar was pretty good – it smelled nice, controlled my frizz nicely during summer, but it never felt like I rinsed it out well enough to me. It always felt like there was a bit of a film left even after I rinsed my hair thoroughly. My husband thought this one was ok – he missed the thick lather you get from regular shampoo. I learned recently though that the lather is from sulfates, which are actually not good for you, as they disrupt your personal biome. (This switch has been a whole new journey for me, learning all new things!)

Which brings me to my next bar – the Lush Copperhead shampoo bar. I slipped this bar from the brown, recyclable packaging, and was overcome by the smell of marijuana, weirdly. It wasn’t of course, but yeah, it was weird smell at first. It had a weird smell on arrival, but it soon dissipated and smelled wonderful. For a while, I thought this was my clear winner. Thick lather, rinsed easily, left my hair soft, controlled the frizz, and smelled divine. But then to my sadness, I learned that the lather we loved was from the sulfates. And I figured I am all in now, might as well be all natural too, right? So I moved on – although I am reserving the right to go back to this bar if I can’t find another that works as well.

Yesterday I just received my third attempt. It is the Starry Night bar from Skipping Stones, and so far, I am in love. It is absolutely beautiful, smells amazing, and came in all recyclable packaging. However, I haven’t used it yet. I don’t wash my hair everyday, but tonight is the night. I will update here once I have used it. I have high hopes though, from the reviews! UPDATE: I used this and while the lather is pretty minimal as I expected, my hair feels soft and dried really nicely, with no filmy feeling on it. My husband actually commented on how nice my hair looked!

To recap:

Terra Mia – Smelled great, controlled the frizz, but didn’t leave my hair feeling like it was totally rinsed out, was sulfate free though however

Lush Copperhead – Smelled great, left my hair soft, controlled the frizz – but had sulfates.

Starry Night – Smells great, no sulfates, not a ton of lather, but did leave my hair soft and wavy. A definite keeper!

If you are considering the switch, I say go for it! Keep those plastic bottles out of our landfills and oceans! You also end up saving money, as these bars last a long time if you treat them right, by storing them on a soap dish that allows for drainage, or out of the spray of water. I made the switch and have been happy despite my search for “the one”.

Trying to be environmental

So I’m sure you’ve seen the images of seas and beaches filled with plastic, and read about the animals literally suffocating from it, or starving because they ate it, or the countless ways it is harming our world. The idea of floating islands of plastic and garbage appalls and sickens me. What are we doing to our planet and these animals we share it with? And I love sea turtles and birds and whales, all these animals suffering.

ORR_Plastic_In_the_Ocean_Infographic_FINAL

I try hard to be conscious of the environment, but to be honest, I get lazy. And that makes me sad. I was a kid raised on the whole Give a Hoot, Don’t Pollute campaign, and I believe it. But with plastic free July, I really made a promise to myself to make some serious changes, slowly and hopefully really changing our lifestyle and consumption. And as a parent of a child with a disability, I completely understand where these parents are coming from with the straws. I feel like at that point, it is not just a straw but medical equipment, honestly. Personally, our family does not need them, so we are getting ready to use paper biodegradeable straws. I have been looking for them locally so that I am not ordering them from somewhere far off and adding to our carbon footprint and then generating more garbage in packaging, but I have not been successful yet. But it is in the works!

One thing I have done that was pretty simple is switch from our regular bath products of shower gel, shampoo, and conditioner in their plastic bottles to regular old soap bars and radically in my opinion, a shampoo bar.

I have super sensitive skin. I have to use gentle stuff on myself or it’s bad news. So I was a little nervous to switch. But then I realized, by buying something that is organic and natural, I would probably be better off anyway. So I purchased Horse O’Peace Oatmeal Honey goat milk soap and crossed my fingers it would all be ok.

oatmeal honey

I absolutely love this soap! It doesn’t have a scent, since I started with something that I thought would be ok with my sensitive skin, but my skin feels so clean, soft, smooth, and just looks brighter! I am in love with this brand. I think that next time I will get one that is scented, since there is not any chemicals in this 100% natural soap. I am a convert!! I will say that the first time I used it, my skin was tight and squidgy feeling in the shower, and I was like oh no – this is awful! But after I dried off all was well – soft and smooth and clean.

Now the shampoo bar, it is a different story! It definitely takes some adjusting. I have crazy hair. Thick, wavy, hard to tame. In the summer humidity it takes off, leaving me with a giant frizz ball. So I was particularly nervous to try this. It says right on the packaging to not apply directly to your hair, but to lather your hands and run it through that way. Of course, I paid this no heed and put it in my hair anyway. And my hair was super gross. It left a gross soapy film and my hair felt so dirty and icky. I learned my lesson though, and I am also learning how to use this product! I really want it to work out, since annually 552 shampoo bottles are tossed out a year!! That is crazy. I think that the shampoo bar is a work in progress, and requires some patience and trial and error. I’m not going to give up though! The bar I have is this one, Lime in Coconut by Terra Mia Organics. I bought it for that cute goat illustration, plus, you know..the song. Lol.

Lime-in-Coconut-Bar_grande

I think it will work out ok, once I learn how to use it right. 🙂

Besides the bars, I am being more mindful in taking my own bags to the store to shop. I didn’t make any huge changes, but for us, change is slow. I think slow is better than not at all though! I feel every little bit helps. 🙂

How about you guys? Anyone else making some changes? Or having any hints/tips/suggestions? I am open to them all!