Going Zero Waste, Part 2: Hygiene

Welcome to part 2 of my three-part series on my attempt to do a month of zero/low waste! Part 2 is about hygiene, so WARNING: If you are uncomfortable with even thinking about bodily fluids, including blood, please don’t read this post. I don’t go into extremely graphic detail, but I’m not going to mince my words either.

I’ve organized the contents of this post under four different headings—(1) snot (and a brief discussion of fingernails and hair), (2) menstruation, (3) toilets, and (4) toiletries—so if there is one hygiene item that you are particularly interested in, or one that you cannot stand, feel free to skip around the four sections!

1. Snot (and a brief discussion of fingernails and hair)

When M. and I began our month of zero/low waste (see my introduction post about that here), we already owned a stack of reusable “paper” towels (similar items include this and this), so we figured we could also use the reusable towels as handkerchiefs. After all, it was the beginning of autumn, and sniffles were definitely on their way. As long as we did our laundry within a reasonable amount of time, we’d be okay, right? However, as the month went on, I realized that I have a huge reluctance to use reusable towels/handkerchiefs for nose blowing. I have some germophobic tendencies, and the idea of putting a mucus-covered piece of fabric in with the rest of my laundry completely grossed me out. Instead, I found myself reaching for toilet paper whenever I needed to clear my airways.

I realized that what I was doing wasn’t environmentally sound and that my feeling of disgust was not entirely rational, but I couldn’t bring myself to go all-in with the reusables. And because of my germophobic tendencies, I ended up throwing my used tissues into our landfill trash can, because it felt “wrong” to put my snot into the compost. After a couple of weeks of chucking tissues into the landfill, I decided that something needed to change. And the more I thought about, the stranger I felt about being so reluctant to put my used tissues into the compost. The compost contains rotting fruit and vegetables, for crying out loud! And I wasn’t not suffering from any deadly illnesses, so my used tissues probably wouldn’t pose any more of a biohazard than a pile of decomposing fruit. If I was going to use toilet paper to blow my nose, at the very least I could compost the used paper, and that’s what I started doing. I felt a little better about that decision, but not that much better. Even now, I still haven’t been able to bring myself to use reusable handkerchiefs, but I am holding that in my mind as my goal. (M. is a lot less germophobic than I am, for better or worse, so he is succeeding in this arena much more than I am.)

I did/do feel okay sticking my fingernail clippings into the compost though. I rarely, if ever, use nail polish, so I figure my nail trimmings are organic enough to be composted. I also don’t dye my hair, so whenever I clean my hairbrush out I place the hair in the compost bin too. According to the internet, hair contains a good amount of nitrogen, so it’s great for soil!

2. Menstruation

I am a person who menstruates. Since M. and I decided to go for a full month of zero/low-waste living, I knew I was going to menstruate at least once during that period (hehe, punny). But could I menstruate and be zero waste?

See, I use pads. I have never liked tampons. I tried them once and did not particularly enjoy the sensation. I also tend to worry a lot, and when I was using the tampon I couldn’t stop worrying about toxic shock syndrome. Now, let me be clear: I am not judging anyone negatively for using or liking tampons. Tampons are just not for me. I love my pads. Unfortunately, the kind of pad that I grew up using is definitely single-use and chock-full of plastic, and that’s not doing the environment any favors.

I had first started hearing about menstrual cups a few years back, first from the internet and second from some friends who had tried them. While I really liked the sustainability of menstrual cups, they didn’t seem to be right for me, for the same reason why tampons aren’t right for me. So when I started thinking about the zero-waste month, menstrual cups didn’t even register in my mind.

Earlier that year though, I had gone with J., a good friend, to a feminist bookstore in the Lower East Side of Manhattan (go support Bluestockings bookstore if you can, they’re amazing!). We were browsing the knickknacks section, because knickknacks, and I noticed some cloth pads for sale. Reusable. Cloth. Menstrual. Pads! I was very, very excited, and I added a pad to my purchase. By September, I still had not tried the pad out yet, but now I didn’t have any excuses. If my month of zero waste wasn’t the perfect time to try this out, then when was?

Unfortunately, I only had one pad, which meant I couldn’t be zero waste for a full week of menstruation unless I really wanted to test the limits of my personal hygiene. So my goal became to replace at least one disposable pad during that week with my reusable one, and I succeeded! During my second day of menstruation in September, I used the pad for several hours with very minimal leakage (and the leakage that did happen was partially a result of my improper placement of the pad).

Then came time to clean the pad. That was. . . interesting. I am not squeamish about blood if it is my own (and fortunately I haven’t had to see much of anyone else’s), so cleaning the pad wasn’t necessarily “gross.” But it was a little messy. The sink immediately filled with red when I started rinsing the pad, and it took several minutes for the water to start running clear. And I think many menstruating people know about the “chunkiness.” So that was, ahem, fun.

But actually though. Actually it was kind of fun. Some part of me enjoyed being so literally in touch with my menstrual cycle. And I really, really liked knowing that I had avoided tossing one more disposable pad into the landfill.

After rinsing out the pad, I soaked it overnight in some water (in a closed, lidded jar), which took care of most of the staining (although some staining seemed inevitable). Shortly thereafter, I started actively hunting for more reusable menstrual pads. I bought some online, and then I found a supply at the Dill Pickle Co-op. I’ve been slowly incorporating more reusable pads into my menstruation routine. Last month I almost went for an entire cycle without disposables! It is harder to use reusable pads when I’m in my office, because there aren’t any private sinks in my workplace’s bathroom, so I can’t really rinse anything out when I want to switch to a fresh pad without creating a very awkward situation. But I’m hoping I can figure out a solution, because my ultimate goal is to go a full menstrual cycle without any disposables! (Stay tuned for a separate blog post where I’ll review all of the different reusable pads I’ve been using!)

3. Toilets

When M. and I started planning our zero waste month, I very briefly considered trying a bidet. Very briefly. I’m not a stranger to bidets nor am I opposed to them, but during my exploration of this idea I quickly realized that installing a bidet would be an investment. Tushy has a fairly affordable option (less than $100), but M. and I don’t own our apartment. While I don’t think we’ll be switching residences anytime soon, I don’t want to sink money into a piece of equipment that might be difficult (and possibly icky) to uninstall and reinstall multiple times in case we ever did move. I think a bidet will be in my future if I ever end up owning property, but it’s not suitable for me at the moment.

TL;DR: we didn’t extend our zero-waste practices to our toilet-sitting time. 😀

4. Toiletries

There wasn’t much we could change toiletries-wise during our official month of low/zero waste because we still had full tubes of toothpaste and containers of floss to use up, and prematurely disposing of those would have been very, well, wasteful. M. also didn’t want to give up his brand of very mainstream toothpaste because he feared that the more natural toothpastes would not be as effective. Personally, I don’t think M.’s concern is warranted, but I didn’t want to push the issue.

Now that, in February of 2018, I am nearing the end of my toothpaste tube, I do want to switch to something more sustainable, but for me the issue is slightly more complicated as I am currently using Sensodyne under my dentist’s recommendation. Admittedly, I haven’t done any research into whether there is a more sustainable toothpaste that would provide the same benefits as Sensodyne. (If you know of any, please comment below!) I’m also not ready to go the route of making my own, so in this arena we’re definitely not zero waste.

I did do a little research into some sustainable flosses and toothbrushes. Package Free introduced me to a brand of silk flosses that are stored in beautiful and recyclable glass containers. And Package Free has bamboo toothbrushes too—the handles are compostable, and the bristles are plant-based (but unfortunately not compostable). I haven’t tried the toothbrushes myself yet, but I did gift one to M. and so far he hasn’t complained! It’s also much more aesthetically pleasing than the bright neon plastic toothbrushes that we are used to. I’m hoping to switch to bamboo toothbrushes myself soon, but every time I am back home in Brooklyn I forget to pack my toothbrush and so I end up grabbing a new plastic one and then now I have double the plastic toothbrushes. Major zero waste fail.

Alright, so that’s my summary of the attempts I made at zero-waste hygiene during the month of September 2017. Part 3, about zero-waste packaging, sustainable transit, and my final thoughts, will hopefully come to this blog in the next week or two! Stay tuned!

❤ AMisplacedPen (a.k.a. S.)

P.S. I’m thinking of revamping this website a little bit and archiving some of my oldest blog posts. If things start to look different around here, that is why! Once my changes are more concrete, I’ll write an update post on what’s different.

Disclaimer: I was not compensated in any way to write about any organizations or businesses that I have mentioned. This post expresses my honest opinions.

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Going Zero Waste, Part 1: Groceries and Cooking

Back in September 2017, M. and I made a commitment to live a low-waste / zero-waste lifestyle for a whole month. Finishing the month was relatively simple, but I’ve had a difficult time gathering my many thoughts on the matter into a coherent blog post. Four (!) months later, I’ve finally settled on a method for conveying my experience. I’ll be posting about my zero/low-waste month in three parts. Part 1 will discuss grocery shopping and cooking, part 2 will discuss hygiene, and part 3 will discuss packaging and transit and convey my final thoughts. So, welcome to part 1!

When we made our zero/low-waste commitment, M. and I realized that one of the easiest ways to go zero waste is to cook all of our meals ourselves. After all, whenever we get takeout we run the risk of receiving the food in a non-recyclable or non-compostable container, and whenever we eat in a restaurant we run the risk of receiving a plastic straw or being unsure whether the restaurant composts its food waste. In other words, we’d have a lot more oversight when cooking for ourselves. This meant, however, we’d need to figure out how to grocery shop in a zero-waste manner. So we assessed our stock of reusable containers. Between us, we already had about five reusable produce bags, either from personal purchases or received as gifts. So we were mostly set for produce. For storing dry goods, we had several mason jars left over from various other projects: M. bought his about a year ago, when he first became interested in zero-waste living. I also bought mine about a year ago, to store some brandied cherries I made for Halloween of 2016 (following this recipe). And we had some glass bowls with silicone lids that we were already using to store leftovers. I also had an assortment of reusable straws and drinking containers, bought during a brief period of my life when I was obsessed with making breakfast smoothies. Ultimately, we didn’t need to invest in much more equipment in preparation for zero-waste living.

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Some of our zero waste equipment: stainless steel straws, a mason jar, a reusable stainless steel water bottle, an organic cotton produce bag.

After taking stock, we rounded up all of our various reusable grocery/shopping bags and made sure they were placed in a visible and easily accessible area of our apartment. We each made ourselves a little “reusables” kit—which included a reusable food container, a reusable hot beverage container, a reusable straw, and a reusable napkin—and stuck the kits into our respective work bags. After that, we were ready.

Week 1 of the zero/low-waste month went very well. That first Sunday, we packed up our produce bags and grocery bags and jogged to the farmer’s market. We were able to buy all of our produce for the week without taking any plastic bags or boxes from the vendors.

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Our first zero waste grocery haul! Clockwise, from top left corner: cremini mushrooms in a compostable and recyclable paper bag, organic eggs in a recyclable paper container, an eggplant, organic broccoli, a roma tomato, a green bell pepper, string beans, a chili pepper, shallots, and an iced tea (that I got “to go” in my reusable bottle!).

I did buy a juice from one vendor because we were thirsty after our jog (that day, it was probably 70 or 80 degree weather), but fortunately the juice came in a mason jar that we have been reusing ever since. Our only oversight of that outing was lunch: we bought tacos from one vendor under the impression that the plates they were using were entirely paper, but upon receipt I realized the plates might be plastic coated. So we ended up placing those plates into the landfill instead of the compost under fear of contaminating the latter. 😦

During week 1, we used up most of our groceries making homemade, vegetarian meals. I had a (plastic) bag of rice in the pantry, purchased before we started our month of low/zero waste, so we cooked the rice for our carbohydrate needs. I tried to prepare lunches for myself every day as well, but there were days when I would be too exhausted to. Fortunately, my workplace cafeteria uses compostable or recyclable packaging for their packaged meals, so I was still able to avoid throwing anything into the landfill whenever I would purchase lunch there. I started keeping a glass jar (with an airtight lid) in my office cubicle for the purpose of holding any compostable trash accumulated over the course of a workday. So, if my lunch packaging was compostable, I’d simply stick the packaging into my compost jar when I was done eating, then bring the jar home and empty it into our compost bin. (M. and I started paying for a composting service in the summer of 2017, as the city of Chicago does not provide composting as a utility. We use WasteNot, and I think they’re amazing!)

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My cubicle compost jar!

The Saturday of week 1, we did go to a restaurant for dinner. We typically like to go out on weekends, and we had agreed that it would be unrealistic to try to stay in every Saturday night of our low/zero-waste month. But we dined at a vegan restaurant that didn’t use single-use or disposable plastic serving ware, and when I ordered a milkshake I remembered to ask for no straw! Our server looked a little confused but accommodated me easily. I had actually brought along my own straw and used that instead. 🙂

Week 2 was less impressive. On Sunday of week 2, we woke up too late to make it to the farmer’s market before closing time and ended up buying produce at the Dill Pickle, a co-op grocery store. While the Dill Pickle is an excellent place to shop (they have so many bulk options and they’re community owned!), they use non-compostable stickers to mark the PLU codes on their produce, and a lot of their lettuce and other leafy greens are tied into bundles using rubber bands that are not easily reusable or compostable. So even though we brought our own produce bags, we ended up having some additional trash thanks to these produce “accessories,” which aren’t so much of an issue when buying directly from farmers at the market. Because we were at the Dill Pickle though, I was able to buy some lentils in bulk (using our mason jars as containers), as I was getting a little tired of relying solely on eggs for our vegetarian protein needs. (I am lactose intolerant, so using cheese as a protein source was not really an option, and so far I haven’t been able to find tofu that is package free or comes in a compostable container.)

We also chose to get brunch on that Sunday, but this time I forgot about refusing the straw. Frankly, I usually don’t ever want a straw, so I don’t expect my drinks to come with them. I ordered a homemade lemonade at our brunch place, not even thinking that it would arrive with a straw, but it did. Zero waste fail. 😦

For the bulk of week 2, we still stuck with our vegetarian home cooking, but occasionally we’d be too tired to cook in the evening (especially me, as I had a freelance project to work on in addition to working my full-time job). Whenever I was too exhausted, I would get takeout from places that have compostable packaging. The two places I came to rely on the most were Sweetgreen and Dos Toros (which also have vegan and vegetarian options). Admittedly, I did feel a little uncomfortable getting takeout from chain establishments, however earth-friendly those establishments might be, as I would like to support my local businesses more.

During week 2, I also made the unskilled decision of attending an office event and forgetting my reusables! There was breakfast food (eggs, hash, etc.) being served at the work event, and the only available plates and utensils were made of non-recyclable plastic. Admittedly, I could have refused to eat anything there, but the promise of free food overrode my aversion to using plastic disposables (I do work for a nonprofit, so free anything is very, very hard to resist). Another zero waste fail!

Most of week 3 was spent in Denver and Boulder; see my posts (part 1 and part 2) about our time there for more information on how we attempted to continue our low-waste habit while traveling. A quick summary: We did better in Denver than I had expected, but we still generated much more plastic waste than if we had been at home. And after we returned to Chicago, we were too exhausted to make a trip for groceries, so we ended up getting takeout for the rest of week 3.

On the Sunday of week 4, the last week of our official low/zero-waste month, we actually woke up early enough to jog to the farmer’s market and get produce there again! But I had a miscommunication with one vendor, who handed me fruit in a plastic bag even though I was trying to ask for no bag. My introversion and anxiety got the best of me, and I took the bag without saying anything. If I had refused that one bag, then our shopping trip would have been a complete success!

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Yellow zucchini, from the farmer’s market. I had never seen yellow zucchini before!

We also chose to get brunch again on that Sunday, and once again, I forgot about refusing the straw and didn’t realize our drinks came with straws until it was too late. 😦

Throughout week 4, we maintained our goal of cooking vegetarian meals for ourselves, but we didn’t use up all of our groceries because, once again, I had chosen to skip a couple of nights of cooking as I was overwhelmed by my freelance project. On those nights, we got takeout from restaurants that use compostable packaging, so we still generated much less waste for the landfill. But the best course of action would have been to actually use up everything we had bought.

At the end of the month, it was wonderful to realize how much emptier our trash bins were. Thanks to our new grocery shopping habits, most of our household waste was either compostable or recyclable, so we barely had any trash to take out. I loved the experience of going to the farmer’s market and seeing the variety of produce there. And using our own reusable produce bags was very easy, plus the reusable bags are more aesthetically pleasing to see in the fridge than the disposable plastic ones. I also really enjoyed having a compost jar at my cubicle, as most of my day is spent at work anyway, and before we began our low/zero-waste commitment I was generating lots of compostable trash at work that was ending up in the landfill. In addition, the both of us felt a lot healthier eating more homemade meals and more vegetarian meals. Our new habits were also very comforting for me: I think my conscience felt a lot of relief because my actions were finally matching my morals.

But, during these four weeks, we did have two areas where we failed majorly: (1) straws, and (2) snacking. In terms of straws, as I noted above, I don’t normally want a straw, and so I rarely think that my drinks will come with one. Every time we dined in a restaurant or went out with friends and ordered cocktails, I would forget that the restaurant serves its beverages with a straw until it was too late. So I want to be better at anticipating the straw and refusing it.

As for snacking, during our official zero/low-waste month M. continued to purchase chips packaged in plastic, although he did lessen the frequency of said chip buying. (Admittedly, he had warned me that he wouldn’t give chips up as he does really like them.) As for myself, I had a hard time resisting the call of the office vending machine. At work, I rely heavily on snacking to help me get through the day. I had a couple of plastic-packaged snacks leftover from before we made our zero-waste commitment, and after I finished eating those, the packaging regretfully ended up in the trash. And at least five or six times throughout our low/zero-waste month, I ended up purchasing snacks packaged in single-use plastic. During the second week of the month, I realized that giving snacks up completely wouldn’t work; I’d just keep heading to the vending machine if I didn’t have something to munch on already at my desk. So I made a trip to the Dill Pickle Coop to get some bulk nuts and trail mix to keep in my cubicle, which helped greatly. Even then, I continued to have some difficulty refusing plastic-packaged snacks.

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Some bulk trail mix that I bought at Dill Pickle Coop.

Overall, I think that zero/low-waste grocery shopping and cooking can actually be fairly easy, with the right preparation. M. and I were fortunate enough to already have reusable produce bags and mason jars on hand, so all we needed to do was stick to a schedule and remember to bring our reusables. I think that we failed so much in the snacking and straw arenas because we weren’t sufficiently prepared on those ends: I hadn’t realized how much I love snacking until I was forced to think about how often I hit up the office vending machines, and I hadn’t given very much thought to how many restaurants serve their beverages with straws until I was forced to confront the fact that my lack of anticipation would mean more plastic trash in landfills and oceans.

After our official month of zero/low waste ended, M. and I have still continued making trips to the farmer’s market or co-op grocery store with reusable produce bags and mason jars on hand. We still try to cook at home as much as possible, and we have still stuck to a mostly vegetarian home diet. So I’m very happy to say that after a month of forcing ourselves to develop better grocery shopping and eating habits, these habits have stuck! 🙂 I’m still struggling with the snacking and straw issues, but because my awareness around those topics has greatly increased, I’m doing a lot better than I was before that month.

Now, stay tuned for part 2, where I discuss how I tried to manage hygiene during our month of zero/low waste!

❤ AMisplacedPen (a.k.a. S.)

Disclaimer: I was not compensated in any way to write about any organizations or businesses that I have mentioned. This post expresses my honest opinions.

Sustainable Tourism, Part 2: Traveling through Denver and Boulder

If you missed part 1 of my discussion of sustainable tourism, check it out here. In it I detail my considerations regarding choice of accommodation in Denver. Now, on to the long-awaited (yes, it’s been a month since part 1, 😢) part 2, where I show you some of the sights of M. and I encountered while traveling through Denver and Boulder and discuss how we went about being sustainable tourists! (Psst, if you don’t want to read several paragraphs about how beautiful and fun my trip was, skip down to the bottom of this post to see my list of six tips for sustainable tourism.)

On our first day in Denver, we couldn’t check-in to our bed and breakfast until 3 pm, but our flight landed at 10 am. What to do in those many hours before we could unload our bags? Well, the Church of Cannabis happened to be open to the public from 1 to 3 pm the day that we landed. Hey, when you’re in the area, you might as well sample the local culture. 😉 So we decided that would be our target destination for the afternoon, and we started figuring out how to get there from Denver International Airport.

M. was advocating taking a rideshare car from the airport, but after we looked at a map, we realized that the Denver rail system has a train that goes directly from the airport to Union Station in downtown Denver (near where we wanted to be). Taking the rail would be cheaper and a whole lot more sustainable, so on the rail we went. The train cars were very clean and comfortable, and I enjoyed just staring out the large windows and noticing how different the views are compared to Chicago and New York.

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We got off of the train at the last stop, Union Station, and grabbed lunch at a Mediterranean restaurant nearby. M. chose something vegetarian. I was a bit less sustainability minded (oops) and got something with shrimp.

After lunch, we started feeling sleepy. We had been awake since 5 a.m. or so, and needed to pep ourselves up. So, next stop: caffeine. We grabbed a bus from Union Station to head to our destination, Bardo Cafe, which is within walking distance of the Church of Cannabis. M. got his coffee in his reusable coffee mug, while I opted for my chai latte in a to-stay mug. That’s two fewer single-use cups in the landfill.

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As you can see, I also carried a little reusable stainless-steel water bottle around with me so we didn’t have to buy a new plastic bottle whenever we got thirsty. 🙂

After our caffeine fix, we walked over to the Church of Cannabis. If you’re not a member of the church, you can’t smoke there, but the building itself was still worth a visit. The worship room hosts a beautiful mural that I could have stared at for hours.

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After exploring the church, we headed to the bed and breakfast, where we discovered that they offer coffee and tea 24/7 (in reusable pitchers). So, for every morning of the rest of our stay, we refilled our mugs and water bottle from the B&B kitchen.

On day 2, we decide to take a day trip to Boulder. I’ve never done any extensive hiking (I am thoroughly city-raised. . .), and I was very excited to experience the Rocky Mountains. Initially M. and I had considered taking a rideshare to Boulder, but in Union Station we saw an advertisement for the Flatiron Flyer, a Denver bus route going directly from the station to downtown Boulder every fifteen minutes. How wonderful! A well-run and convenient public transit system does loads to help residents lead sustainable lives! So we opted to take the bus. It was a very pleasant and quick ride. And a lot more economical than a rideshare. 🙂

Once we arrived in Boulder, we had brunch at Lucile’s, a Creole restaurant located in an adorable Victorian era building. The restaurant used cloth napkins that seemed to be made from fabric scraps: sustainable and adorable, hurray! And this time I did order a vegetarian dish. 🙂

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After brunch, we were energized and ready to hike. We decided to head for the Mount Sanitas trail, since it was the easiest to get to from Lucile’s (about a 30 minute walk). During our walk, it started drizzling, and I got concerned that we’d be caught on the mountain without any protection from the elements. (We hadn’t brought umbrellas because I had lost my old one, and the new, biodegradable umbrella that I had ordered was delayed in shipping. More on that in a future post. 🙂 ) So we went to three or four different stores, hunting for umbrellas, with no luck. At some point we decided to give up and keep trekking on.

Fortunately the drizzling stopped and the rest of our walk was without event. I ended up being happy we hadn’t found an umbrella to purchase, because conventional umbrellas aren’t very sustainable anyway.

As we got closer to the beginning of the trail, the sidewalks became more narrow and unpaved, but the once we reached the beginning of the trail itself the path was very walkable. After about ten minutes of walking, we came upon a fork in the trail. We decided to attempt the steeper and more difficult path. Despite my nervousness about possibly falling off the mountain (my goodness those paths are steep and gravelly), the hike paid off. The views were amazing.

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Once we got back down from the mountain, we felt like we had a good excuse to treat ourselves to some local beers. 😀 Unfortunately, the place that we chose ended up being a tad mediocre. Perhaps we have been spoiled by the Chicago craft beer scene. But it was still nice to sit down and nurse our sore legs. Then we hopped back on the Flatiron Flyer to return to our Denver B&B for a good soak in their hot tub.

Day 3 was spent exploring the areas closest to our bed and breakfast. The B&B’s owner turned out to an expert in both local sights and vinyl, so we had decided to check out his recommendations. First off was Wax Trax, a twenty or so minute walk away. While M. searched through the many racks of used and new vinyl, I browsed the web and sipped tea at Hudson Hill, a cute little cafe/bar across the street. I made sure to ask for a mug for my tea!

When M. was done looking through vinyl and I was done sipping, we headed to the Denver Botanic Gardens. Once again, we opted to walk there. The walk between Wax Trax and the gardens was also about twenty minutes. I enjoyed trekking through the surrounding neighborhoods on foot and gawking at people’s houses. The closer you get to the gardens, the larger the houses get! And oh boy, there are some mansions.

The entrance to the gardens was a little difficult to find, but once we found it, we were taken aback by the size and beauty of the place.

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I think we spent at least two hours walking around its entirety. There was even a bonsai section! All in all, I’d highly recommend checking out the Denver Botanic Gardens for yourself. And a giant gold star to the gardens for including composting bins next to the recycling bins! 😀

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For dinner on day 3, we decided to splurge and go to a trendy restaurant. This is where our sustainability efforts went downhill a bit. We knew we would eat meat at our dinner, because that is part of the splurge, but we hadn’t checked the portion sizes beforehand and ended up over-ordering. Neither one of us had brought a reusable container with us, so we had to accept the takeout boxes from this restaurant. And the boxes were definitely not recyclable or compostable. We also had drinks later that night, but we forgot to ask for “no straw, please,” and so, in our lack of foresight, we were saddled with single-use plastics. Sigh.

On our fourth and final day in Denver, we paid the Denver Art Museum a visit. Once again, because of the central location of our B&B, we were able to walk to the museum fairly easily (about a fifteen minute walk). The B&B was also kind enough to hold onto our luggage even though we had already checked out, so we didn’t need to worry about lugging heavy bags around.

The museum has two buildings, so we tried to split our time evenly between them. We only had about three hours total to devote to the exhibits before we needed to leave, so we didn’t get to see every floor, but it was still an enriching experience. And the museum itself is beautifully designed. One of my favorite exhibitions was Mi Tierra: Contemporary Artists Explore Place, a series of site-specific installations by Latinx artists that very much spoke to the current political climate in our country. Below is a photo of part of Plexus no. 36, by Gabriel Dawe.

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Sadly, our museum day also ended up being one of our least sustainable. Both of us forgot to bring our reusable travel mugs, so when we got thirsty we ended up buying drinks that came in plastic cups. Fortunately the cups were recyclable, but M.’s drink came with a straw (I remembered to refuse mine 😇), which is definitely not recyclable. After we were done with the museum, we also ended up taking a rideshare to the airport instead of using public transit, since we had cut our plans too close to our departure time, so our carbon footprint was a bit higher than I wanted it to be (and that’s not even considering the carbon footprint of flying. . .).

Well, now that we are back in Chicago and I have had time to mull over our trip, here is what I learned about traveling sustainably:

Six tips for being a sustainability-minded tourist:

1) Always carry a reusable water bottle and a reusable mug.

Ideally, pack some container that can double as both. Carry a reusable napkin as well.

2) Always say “No straw, please.”

Refusing straws was one of the hardest parts, simply because we forgot that straws exist until they were already in our drinks. Bring a reusable straw with you if you prefer to drink with one than without. This is one of the areas where we failed miserably. 😦

3) If possible, stay somewhere close to the center of things.

Our B&B was within walking distance of the Denver Art Museum, the Denver Botanic Gardens, and a lot of good restaurants and bars. So we walked almost everywhere! And because we walked so much, we got a much more personal view of the city than we would have if we had taken rideshares or taxis.

4) Use the local transit system!

Ride-sharing and taxis should be a last resort. The only times we used rideshares were when we were late to our drinks plan (this only happened once) and when we were several neighborhoods away from our B&B and it was too late at night to feel safe walking back.

5) Don’t over-order when eating out.

Because our room didn’t have a microwave, we didn’t think we’d end up reheating and consuming any of leftovers, so we tried not to have any. If you want or expect leftovers, remember to always carry a reusable container, like a small steel bowl with an air-tight lid, so that you aren’t caught unawares like we were. You could also leave the leftovers to the restaurant to dispose of, but this is not necessarily sustainable if the restaurant does not compost.

6) Support the local businesses. Avoid going to large chains for your caffeine/breakfast/snack fixes.

This may be a strange one to put in a list of sustainability tips, but I think it deserves consideration. The heads of large corporations that have lots of outposts are usually disconnected from the areas where their outposts are located. That disconnect means that they are less likely to care about their environmental impact on their outpost’s surrounding community, they are less likely to care about the employees who come from that community, and they are likely using the cheapest ingredients possibly, which usually means they haven’t considered whether those ingredients were sustainably or ethically produced.

These chains almost never have sustainable options for dining in or drinking in. If you get a meal at a certain fast food restaurant with a red and yellow logo and you opt to dine in, you still get your food in the same single-use containers that you would have gotten if you had opted for take out. But if you had decided to get your meal or snack at a local cafe, you could have asked the food to be served on a reusable plate.

And, a bonus tip: if you’re planning to fly or travel in a way that will create a large carbon footprint because you have no other reasonable options, consider buying a carbon offset from an organization like Terrapass. Their website seems easy to use, and the carbon offsets are not as expensive as I would have expected. I haven’t bought one yet to offset my Denver trip, but it is on my to-do list.

If you are planning to travel soon, I hope these tips help you!

❤ S. (a.k.a. AMisplacedPen)

A quick acknowledgment: These tips hinge on a certain level of mobility and financial stability that M. and I are certainly fortunate to have, and I do not intend to shame anyone who cannot follow these suggestions or doesn’t travel at all because these options are not financially or physically viable.

Disclaimer: I was not compensated in any way to write about any organizations or businesses that I have mentioned. This post expresses my honest opinions.

Sustainable Tourism, Part 1: My Stay at the Queen Anne in Denver

About a month ago, M. and I took a little vacation to Denver. We had been desperately in need of a non-family-centric trip, and neither of us had ever been to Colorado before. So we booked our plane tickets and then started searching for accommodations.

I was determined not to use AirBnB for our trip. We’ve used AirBnB before, with little to no issues, but there have been a lot of accusations of racism surrounding the platform itself. There’s also the possibility that AirBnB is jacking up the cost of housing in cities that are already impossible for lower-income residents to survive in.

Unfortunately, hotels, another alternative, are not the most environmentally friendly. Hotel rooms are (typically) stocked with little plastic bottles of toiletries that are changed out with each new guest, increasing the unsustainable consumption of plastic. The bottles may not be recyclable, and even if they are, who knows if the hotel actually follows through on recycling? Breakfast is usually served with single-use, nonrecyclable, noncompostable items too, like plastic coffee stirrers, plastic-coated tea bags, and packets of creamer. And I doubt the major hotel chains follow ecofriendly, low-waste practices when it comes to cleaning and laundering.

So cue the bed and breakfast (henceforth referred to as the B&B). To be honest, I’d never considered the B&B to be an attractive accommodation. I had this image of B&Bs as old-fashioned and stuffy, thanks to a whole lot of television shows and movies that seemed eager to feed me this stereotype. But when I started exploring our accommodation options, I kept seeing the name “Queen Anne Bed and Breakfast” in my search results. The Queen Anne was in our desired neighborhood, close to a lot of attractions, and in our price range. And, it billed itself as an ecofriendly business, one that uses low-waste practices, organic bedding, and organic toiletries. I was intrigued, to say the least. We took a look at their website and realized that a room with a hot tub in the Queen Anne B&B was the same price as a regular hotel room in the same area! We were sold.

It was easy to find the Queen Anne once we landed in Denver. The B&B is located in a quaint up-and-coming neighborhood an easy bus ride away from Union Station. The Queen Anne actually comprises two buildings, one of which hosts the dining nook and common area. As we walked up to the door of the main building, we marveled at the beautiful flowers lining the pathway. I had never seen so many butterflies in one place in my life, which (to me) was a good sign of a healthy ecosystem. (M. later informed me that the ridiculous number of butterflies was due to migration patterns. Still awesome.)

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The entrance to the Queen Anne. To the right of the door you can see a sign proclaiming the building’s historic nature!

Once we had our fill gawking at the flowers, we rang the doorbell and the innkeeper came out to greet us. She was extremely friendly, and gave us a little tour of the common areas. There was even a beautiful backyard for relaxing in. She pointed out the herbs, peppers, and leafy greens that were growing around the house/B&B, and mentioned that the B&B kitchen often harvests from the garden for their daily breakfast preparations. My green, food-loving heart soared upon hearing this.

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Some of the herbs growing in their garden.

After the tour, we set out to explore our room: Gallery Suite #2. It’s called the gallery suite because the walls are decorated with pieces from local artists. Gallery Suite #2 is one of the most expensive rooms in the Queen Anne, but we wanted to treat ourselves (although it’s still affordable compared to some hotels out there).

The bedroom area had an exposed brick wall with an inset stained-glass window, a vanity area (with desk, lamp, and mirror), a record player, an armchair, and a bench by the window. The bed was plush and cozy, and according to the Queen Anne’s website all of their mattresses are made with recycled metal coils and sustainable green tea insulation foam. Their bedding is supposed to be 100% organic cotton, “undyed and unbleached.” However, the pillowcases and the duvet cover are certainly not undyed (they are gray, as you’ll notice from the photo), so I’m assuming that by “bedding,” the Queen Anne’s website is referring to the actual sheets (which looked undyed to me). When I took a closer look at the gray pillows, I did notice one of the tags stated that the material was polyester. Unfortunately, I forgot to investigate the fabric tag on the sheets themselves.

The bathroom was outfitted with a cast-iron tub and the usual toiletries (all from companies that tout themselves as sustainable). The shower gel, conditioner, and shampoo were all located in a large refillable dispenser, which is meant to reduce waste by allowing the B&B to continue refilling the dispenser from bulk containers rather than buying and replacing smaller bottles. (If you look closely at the photo below, you can see the dispenser reflected in the mirror.) There was also a sign on the bathroom wall detailing the B&B’s ecofriendly policy of changing linens “between guests or on request only (towels on floor or in tub).” I really like this policy because it reduces excessive laundering (and therefore reduces excessive water consumption). If you’re staying at the B&B for more than one night, you really don’t need to have a new batch of freshly laundered towels brought to you every day.

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Now, to the hot tub area. The hot tub was located at the end of a small hallway. There was a door separating the bedroom from the hot tub room, and the hot tub room also had a door leading out to the B&B’s backyard, in case we wanted to have some fresh air wafting in while we were “tubbing.” We felt quite spoiled. It even had multi-colored lights!

Once we were done tubbing, we decided to check out the Queen Anne’s “happy hour.” The happy hour is a little meet and greet that is hosted in the B&B’s common area every day from 5:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Local wines and local cheeses are served, and the guests can mingle as they choose. M. and I were happy to sample the wine, which was delicious, and we took a few too many servings of cheese and crackers. . . .We didn’t mingle much, because we are a bit introverted, but the other guests were friendly and seemed to be enjoying their stays as well.

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After a good night’s sleep, M. and I woke up early the next day because we were curious what the B&B’s homemade breakfast would be like. We were not disappointed. On the menu that day were homemade waffles with blueberry compote. Oh, it was so delicious.

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Homemade waffles!!!

The breakfast was served on ceramic plates (reusable!), and we were each provided with a ceramic mug for coffee or tea and a glass for water or orange juice. The coffee was from Novo, a local supplier. There was also tea (my caffeine fix of choice). The tea was supplied by Mighty Leaf, and according to the label on the box the sachets are compostable, but unfortunately each sachet was wrapped in what appeared to be a plastic bag. 😦 Every other bit of the breakfast was wonderful though, and M. and I made a pact with each other to continue waking up early each day of our stay, since we didn’t want to miss the other breakfasts!

On the second day, we had the great fortune of having breakfast cooked for us by the owner himself! He made us a mushroom and spinach omelette with cherry tomatoes and guacamole, garnished with chives from the B&B’s garden. Again, so good!

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The omelette, prepared by the owner himself!

We also had the opportunity to chat with the owner for a little bit once he was done in the kitchen. We learned that he has owned the Queen Anne for about eight years now, and that he used to be a professional chef (no wonder the breakfasts are so good)! We also met his parents, who happened to be visiting him and were helping him out. It was great to see behind the scenes and get glimpses of the owner and his family; I got the sense that the owner truly cares about his guests. Not only was he cooking for everyone, he was happy to take the time to give M. and me a long list of recommendations for where to go in Denver after we expressed that we weren’t sure what to do that day.

On our third and last day, the Queen Anne kitchen continued to delight. The featured breakfast that day was scrambled eggs with chives from the garden and paneer cheese, a fresh-fruit cup (served in a ceramic ramekin), a green chutney, and Indian flatbread (possibly chapati). I was pained knowing that that we would be leaving that night. Oh, how I miss those breakfasts now.

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Overall, we had a wonderful time at the Queen Anne, and I can’t wait to go back. In terms of our stay and enjoyment, I would give the Queen Anne Bed & Breakfast 5 out of 5 gold stars. Our room was cozy and comfortable, the hot tub was a delight, and the innkeepers and the owner were all extremely friendly and accommodating. Not to mention, the food was excellent!

But, how does the Queen Anne’s sustainability stack up? I think it’s clear that the Queen Anne is doing its best to be sustainably and ethically run. By using bulk soap dispensers, the B&B avoids excessive plastic consumption. By laundering only on request/between guests, the B&B avoids excessive water consumption. (According to the B&B’s website, the shower heads are also low flow, which saves even more water.) By using local ingredients in their breakfasts and happy hours, including ingredients from their own gardens, the B&B lowers its greenhouse gas emissions since its suppliers don’t have to ship or transport items very far. (Keeping a garden also aids local fauna [like bees and butterflies].) And by using organic cotton sheets and sustainably made mattresses, the B&B both lowers its carbon footprint and supports sustainable manufacturing. Last, but not least, the buildings that make up the Queen Anne Bed and Breakfast are each over a century old; repurposing and preserving old buildings instead of tearing them down can be more sustainable because you avoid using up energy to tear the building down and you avoid releasing greenhouse gases in the production of new materials for raising a new structure.

However, there are a couple of areas where the Queen Anne could improve. The gray pillowcases and gray duvet cover seemed to be made of polyester, which is certainly not sustainable. At the very least, I would suggest switching to recycled polyester for those parts of the bedding. I would also suggest finding a different tea supplier, one that doesn’t keep its tea sachets in noncompostable plastic bags. And, last but not least, while M. and I thoroughly enjoyed the hot tub, hot tubs are not very ecofriendly. They typically use chlorine to clean the water, and they consume a lot of energy. Unfortunately, I can see why having a hot tub in the B&B would be lucrative (it certainly attracted M. and me to the venue), so my best suggestion would be to try to replace their current hot tub with a more energy-efficient one or to retrofit it to be more energy efficient. (To be completely honest, I’m not sure what model hot tub the Queen Anne currently uses, so perhaps it is already the most energy efficient that it can be).

Overall, the Queen Anne is still much more environmentally friendly than a traditional hotel establishment. The owner and innkeepers clearly have a mind for sustainability, and I would much rather support a small business where the owner has a closer and deeper connection with the clientele and has an honest consideration for the environment. Additionally, the owner is a person of color, and I believe it is very important to help lift up businesses owned by people of color because my country (the United States) clearly has a problem distributing power and wealth equally—if the government won’t fight for equality for “minority” groups, then it’s up to citizens and consumers to do so with their voices and their dollars.

So, here’s my final verdict: using the Green Stars Project‘s system, I’m going to give the Queen Anne 4.5 out of 5 green stars! The Queen Anne could improve a little bit in two or three small areas, but overall it is doing a great job with sustainability. The owner has his heart in the right place, and I’m sure he’ll keep making strides forward. Staying at the Queen Anne also helps avoid the ethical and sustainability pitfalls of traditional hotels and AirBnBs, and supporting a small, local business that supports other small, local businesses keeps money and power in the hands of people who actually want to change our world for the better.

If you’re ever in Denver and looking for a sustainably and ethically run place to stay, go to the Queen Anne Bed & Breakfast!

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❤ S. (a.k.a. AMisplacedPen)

A quick acknowledgment: This review does not consider pricing much at all, partially because that wasn’t the #1 most important factor for M. and I when we were selecting accommodations. M. and I are certainly fortunate to be able to be picky with our choice of venue, and I do not intend to shame anyone who uses AirBnB or hotels (or doesn’t travel at all) if those are your only financially viable options.

Disclaimer: I was not compensated in any way to write about any organizations or businesses that I have mentioned. This post expresses my honest opinions.

Time-Traveling

Hello, hello. Welcome to my denim uniform:

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I’m visiting from the seventies. I was all ready to go out for a night on the town when some force pulled me into this weird future. I met the 2017 version of myself, who told me that I’m not actually going to go out and have fun tonight because we have a gigantic freelance project to do. She was very mean and gave me a lecture about the importance of hard work. Then she shoved a giant stack of papers in my hands, said “good luck,” and ran out the door.

I’m glad I was wearing sunglasses, so I could maintain my cool-girl look while tears rolled down my cheeks at the thought of doing work on a Saturday night.

In all seriousness, I actually do have a lot of work to do. It’s all my fault, really. I wanted to have some extra pocket money (especially since I have a major and expensive dental procedure coming up) so I took on a gig editing a two-hundred-page manuscript. Of course, as soon as I started working on it, I realized how much I hate not having free time. Especially since I’m the type of person who overexhausts herself on everything. Walk up to me on any given day and ask me what I’ve been up to, and I’ll tell you how I’ve been working on five different personal projects in the past three hours. (This may sound like a “humble brag,” but I am actually telling you about a huge flaw of mine, because I never actually finish any of my personal projects on account of my having so many things in my queue.)

I decided I would go work in a coffee shop today, and to cheer myself up I put together a fun outfit. Lo and behold, working in a coffee shop by yourself can be frustrating, because every time you need to go pee you need to pack up and bring all of your stuff with you (I don’t want to risk losing my laptop…). So I decided to try working at home. Now I’m sitting in the kitchen distracting myself by writing a blog post. Sigh.

This is the brooch I wore on my denim jacket today:

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Right now I feel like that person hanging from the rope.

Psst, I got the brooch at a thrift store in Hyde Park. For $3. I love thrift stores. They’re a great place to source unique fashion, and you’re helping keep these items out of the landfill (although not all thrift stores are alike in terms of how they handle unwanted donations, so do your research!).

I actually stopped in a thrift store on my way from the coffee shop (yet another example of how I have procrastinated today) and managed to snap some grainy full-length photos of my outfit:

My usual photographer (M.) is out of town this weekend, hence all of the selfies.

Outfit details: Denim jacket (thrifted); maroon wrap top (US-made); black bralet; air balloon brooch (thrifted); fringe-hem jeans (DIY); western-style brown belt; coral-striped socks; bright red kitten heels (thrifted, possibly vintage, perhaps from the 80s?)

My favorite part of this outfit is my shoes and socks combo:

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Look at that wonderful Waldo witchiness. Plus that fringe!! (You might recognize that fringe from this post. 😀 )

All right, I think it’s time for me to go. I hope you all enjoy your Saturday nights! Wish me luck with mine. . .

❤ S. (a.k.a. aMisplacedPen)

Five Ways to Show Mother Earth Some Love

In recent years, our planet has received a whole lot of hate. Even with all of the scientific research that tells us we are in the middle of a climate crisis, giant corporations continue to drill for air-polluting fossil fuels, mills continue to dump toxic chemicals into sources of drinking water, and the meat industry continues to factory farm.

Well, Saturday is Earth Day, and I think we need to show this green planet some love. So this Earth Day, I’m going to:

1. Eat a vegetarian meal.

As I’ve mentioned before, research shows that reducing meat consumption can help lower greenhouse gas emissions. I’ve been sticking to my “part-time vegetarian” diet, and I’m not going to stop anytime soon!

2. Compost.

When organic materials (like garden trimmings and food waste) end up in landfills, they create loads of methane, which is a greenhouse gas that is often considered a bigger culprit than carbon dioxide when it comes to global warming. One way to keep organic matter out of landfills is to compost. Composting is a process that takes food waste and other organic material and converts it into a rich soil that can be literally given back to the Earth. A few weeks ago, I signed up for a zero emissions composting service in Chicago called WasteNot. They provide you with a (lidded) bucket for your organic materials. You fill up the bucket with food scraps, pieces of your greasy pizza box, etc., and it gets picked up every week or every other week (depending on which payment plan you opt for). Ever since I’ve had the bucket, I’ve really paid attention to how many organic materials I toss into the landfill, from the paper towels I use to clean a dirty table to the trimmings off of the bok choy I cooked for dinner. Thinking about how much organic material I’ve thrown away over the course of my life scares and shames me because I know how much all of that has contributed to the current state of our planet. I hope composting will be a free (or government-supported), nationwide service one day. For now, I’m happy to pay for the services myself and return some nutrients to the earth!

3. Bring my own takeout container.

Sometimes I just don’t want to cook. But takeout can get really wasteful. Not only are you given loads of plastic utensils, your food also comes in a plastic or cardboard container that often isn’t recyclable or compostable (many cardboard food containers aren’t compostable because they have a thin coating of plastic on the interior, and most recycling facilities don’t accept number 6 plastic, which is what styrofoam takeout containers are made of). So I’m trying to bring a small glass container with me whenever I go out to eat. If I have leftovers, I don’t need to ask for a takeout box. I can just pack it in my reusable container and feel good that I haven’t added more plastic to the landfills.

4. Participate in local efforts to clean up the environment.

On Saturday afternoon, I’ll be joining the Chicago chapter of the Sierra Club for one of their annual beach clean ups. I’m excited to help clear away debris from the shoreline, because the less manmade debris that lands in the ocean, the healthier the marine ecosystem will be.

5. Shop smarter.

Nowadays, manufacturing is concerned with quantity more than quality. The idea is that the cheaper an item is, the more people will buy it, and it doesn’t matter if that item falls apart and ends up in a landfill a few weeks later. This model is clearly not sustainable. One way to avoid contributing to this trend of quantity over quality is to buy less, and buy items that are built to last. Another way is to buy secondhand. Much of my furniture is vintage or secondhand. Much of my clothing is too. Buying secondhand saves items from entering the landfill, and, because the items being sold secondhand have clearly lasted long enough to be sold again, there is some assurance of quality over time.

(Pst, Buffalo Exchange, a consignment store that has chains all over the United States, is having a $1 sale on Earth Day! So head over to your local shop and buy some gently used, fashionable clothing. The proceeds will go to the Humane Society and you get to keep some pounds of clothing out of the trash.)

Your turn: let me know what you’re doing to show the Earth some love! 🙂 🌏

❤ S. (a.k.a. AMisplacedPen)

Disclaimer: I was not compensated in any way to write about any organizations or businesses that I have mentioned. This post expresses my honest opinions.

An Oasis

Recently, my younger brother and his girlfriend came to Chicago for a short trip. I was tasked with planning an entire day of sightseeing. I had a lot of thoughts about where we would dine and drink, but when it came to activities between said eating and drinking, I was stumped. Then I remembered the Garfield Park Conservatory. I had never been there, so this was a chance for myself to explore as well.

And what a wonderfully green place the conservatory is!

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Located in East Garfield Park, the conservatory is essentially a gigantic greenhouse. A gigantic greenhouse with impeccably landscaped rooms and so many different plants! Though it isn’t as large and grand as New York’s various botanical gardens, its price can’t be beat because a visit to the conservatory is free! My brother, his girlfriend, M., and I had fun exploring the various landscapes and marveling at the gigantic palm tree in the first room.

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A tip: Dress lightly, or wear layers that can be easily removed. Many of the rooms are temperature-controlled to keep the plants happy, and those temperatures tend toward the warmer end of the thermostat.

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For example, the cactus room was very, very dry and very hot.

I was baring a little midriff that day, a style choice that turned out to be surprisingly practical.

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Time to get serious. Plants are serious business.

While I was impressively sweaty by the end of our exploration through the maze of rooms, my abdomen had a little window for the breeze to sweep by and wick away some of my perspiration. 😉

The shirt I’m wearing is the result of a DIY project—I took an old black button-up that was both too long and too outdated looking (there was strange pleating and ruching going on), and chopped off the bottom half. I then bound the new hem with black bias tape to keep it from unraveling. Easy-peasy!

I also painted eyes on the tips of the shirt collar, using silver fabric paint. Because I like people to know I’m watching them. With my collar eyes.

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This is the best image I have of the collar eyes. (It was selfie time for M. and I, don’t judge. :P)

Outfit details: Gold vintage clip-on earrings, black cropped shirt (DIY), acid wash high-waisted shorts (made in the U.S.A.), gold leather satchel (thrifted from Beacon’s Closet), speckled knee-patch tights, knee-high black boots (gifted).

After dealing with the persistent stressors of my work life and of current events, I was glad to briefly escape to this beautiful attraction. Being surrounded by so much flora is extremely soothing, and reminds me that I need to do some more outdoor exploration!

❤ S. (a.k.a. AMisplacedPen)

Ethical Fashion Eye Candy

One of my favorite things to do is window shop, but if I do that in the well-known high street stores like H&M and Zara, I become tempted to start purchasing. And many of those high street stores do not adhere to my values of ethical manufacturing and environmentally-friendly materials and practices.

Unfortunately, if you’re not willing or able to spend a little extra time doing research, it might seem like all of the fair trade and eco-friendly clothing options out there involve lots of rope sandals and patchwork and rainbows. If you want those features in your wardrobe, that is wonderful. Love what you love! 🙂 But my own style aspirations skew in a different direction.

So, for those of you who are in my boat and would like to have some more contemporary and ethical styles to fawn over (and perhaps purchase), I’ve done some of the legwork for you and bookmarked a few conscientious companies that have a killer fashion sense. Now, when I feel the need to window shop, I’ll navigate to those websites instead. And if I decide I want to actually buy something, I don’t need to worry about my purchase having a huge negative impact on the environment or on another human being.

Below are some ethical and eco-friendly fashion companies that have quite the eye candy in their inventory:

Clothing, Accessories, Shoes:

  • Ethica. This online boutique gathers conscientious contemporary designers into one well-designed, easily navigable website. Each item listing has details on why the product is environmentally friendly or ethically produced. Most full-priced pieces run well over $200, so this is more of an aspirational website for me, but check out the sale section for some significant markdowns. Speaking of aspirational, I’m currently crushing on the AwaveAwake apron maxi dress; that beautiful pink-orange color is partially the result of mangoes! Mangoes! Delicious in more ways than one.
  • Reformation. So many of their clothes make me want to swoon, and everything is beautifully photographed and copywritten. I love how they are upfront about the amount of boob coverage (or lack thereof) given by each item. They are also very transparent about the resources each product uses up in its manufacturing. You can find pieces in the $100 or less range here, which is great for whenever browsing isn’t enough of a fashion fix.
  • Osborn Shoes. These shoes often feature recycled materials and are made by artisans in weaving cooperatives. Their website could be better designed (who am I to criticize though…), but the product is what matters. I love the almond toe and high vamp of Osborn’s style of flat.
  • Modavanti. A bit of a one-stop shop for all things conscientiously produced. The website aesthetic occasionally irks me here too (it looks just a tad too outdated, I can’t make sense of the typeface choices on the front page), but I’ve discovered enough interesting brands through here that I’ll keep returning. I’m really loving the upcycled jewelry by Soko right now. Modavanti is also one of the few websites I’ve found that carry stylish eco-friendly and ethical clothing geared towards men as well as women.
  • Proud Mary. The focus of this brand is beautifully woven fabrics, and beautiful they are. The store carries a variety of items, from pillows to shoes to bags, all made from the aforementioned textiles.
  • Only Hearts. Everything revolves around lingerie here. While I’m not usually a fan of lacey underthings (too high maintenance), I subscribe to the notion that underwear can also serve as outerwear; it’s all about the styling. 😉 Everything is made in New York City and they have an organic cotton collection.
  • Brother Vellies. These are beautifully made shoes for men, women, and children. Most of them are on the extremely pricey side (yet another site that I use only for aspirational browsing…), but they look made to last and use byproducts from government-mandated culling or from the food industry. While leather is certainly not the most environmentally-friendly product, I have not quite weaned myself off of it yet; and if I’m going to buy new leather, I might as well buy an investment piece that will give me many years of wear.
  • Groceries Apparel. This brand manufactures clothes with simple, stylish silhouettes using eco-friendly materials at a California factory. I really appreciate how they’ve installed pockets into their skirts and dresses (why don’t big name clothing manufacturers understand my need for pockets?!). Their site could be a bit more user-friendly though; the navigation doesn’t feel intuitive and the font is a bit too small. It feels like they dove into the deepest end of the “beautiful website” spectrum and sacrificed a lot of practicality. (Hmm, I guess I’ve become a web design critic now….) Hopefully they’ll do a little site renovation soon because I think Groceries’s designs are worth keeping track of.
  • ALAS. If you’re looking for pretty and adorable pajamas, or you like beautiful color combinations, or both, I think you’ll enjoy scrolling through Alas’s collection of organic cotton clothing. Almost all of the items are marketed as sleep or loungewear, but I think many of them could work as part of one’s daily wardrobe too (like the Mountain Stripe Raglan Tee). There’s a (small) men’s selection too! Unfortunately for me, this brand is based in Australia, and the prospect of heavy shipping fees is preventing me from clicking that checkout button.
  • Nudie Jeans. Organic and fair trade denim, yay! It looks like most, if not all, of the clothes currently produced by Nudie Jeans are tailored for the stereotypical male figure, so I guess I’ll have to do a little more hunting for ethical denim that can accommodate my hips. Doesn’t mean I can’t ogle the organic denim deliciousness though. And the Brandon Seaweed Shirt is quite beautiful; if it ever goes on sale, I might have to purchase it for myself. M. actually owns a pair of Nudie Jeans and he really likes them, plus they are very flattering to his lower half, so they’re doing great in my book!

Beauty:

  • Rituel de Fille. I don’t usually wear makeup, and when I do I only use lipstick and a smidge of eyeshadow. And this brand has beautiful colors of both, which are all 99% natural. I’m particularly pining after the Viscera eyeshadow, it’s so wonderfully dramatic. They also have a great brand cohesiveness: the names, the names! And their model photos are gorgeously shot.

Home:

  • Proud Mary. Pom pom pillows, yesss! (Also in the Clothing, Accessories, Shoes category).
  • Modavanti. Vases, candles, and other miscellany. (Also in the Clothing, Accessories, Shoes category).
  • Bambeco. If I ever manage to afford my own property and settle down somewhere, I’d want one of Bambeco’s canopy beds to grace my bedroom. Made from reclaimed wood here in the U.S.A., I can just picture it decked out in thrifted linens that flutter in a soft breeze. In the meantime I’ll settle with some of their kitchenware. M. gifted me their recycled stainless steel cocktail shaker at the end of last year and it’s a beautiful, sturdy piece. Which reminds me, I need to find more excuses to use it!

I’m going to set up a simpler version of this list as an easy to find link at the top of my homepage, which will be updated as I encounter more interesting brands or boutiques on the great wide web. If I order from any of these sites, I’ll also be sure to let you know how it goes. In the meantime, if you have experience with any of these companies or have your own list of favorite swoon-worthy conscientious brands, I’d love to read your comments below!

Love,
—S. (a.k.a. AMisplacedPen)

P.S: Some of the above websites were first mentioned in this post on ethical holiday shopping.

Disclaimer: I was not compensated in any way to write about the businesses I have mentioned. This post expresses my honest opinions.

An Escape to the Beach

Earlier this month I left the cold, rainy, and snowy weather of Chicago to join M. and his coworkers on a company trip to Puerto Morelos, Mexico. The head of M.’s company had generously paid for all of the employees to spend a few days at a resort, and I figured I would tag along because when else would I have an excuse to do this sort of thing for myself? Unfortunately, the trip wasn’t entirely free for me, but it was nicely subsidized. As someone who has worked for a nonprofit for the past four years, I was very happy to experience some private sector perks.

We spent most of the daylight hours by the beach, lounging oceanside and enjoying this wonderful view:

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The color is slightly enhanced (shh, don’t tell) because my camera was too blinded by the sun to bring out all of those vibrant blues.

The resort was Rainforest Alliance certified, which gave me even more incentive to ensure that my vacation outfits were as eco-friendly and ethically sourced as possible.

At the beach, I sported a pair of sunglasses I bought at Buffalo Exchange (a trendy clothing resale chain that I visit as often as Crossroads Trading) and a bright purple one-piece made from recycled nylon by a brand called Eco Swim by Aqua Green. I had discovered the latter during a desperate search for a replacement for my Speedo, which had served me well for many years but was not conscientiously sourced and is now awfully sun-faded. I kept typing “recycled” into the search bar of my go-to shopping websites to see if there were any stylish and environmentally-friendly options out there. I was hoping for something not too matronly that would keep everything in place while I swim. I got one acceptable search result on one outlet site, and the swimsuit has worked out well so far!

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My best selfie attempt.

For dinner, M. and I had to fancy it up a bit as we were sure the restaurants on the premises would not have appreciated us sitting down to eat in our bathing suits. A couple of weeks before the trip, I had realized that I didn’t have any formal outfits that fit well and have pockets (because women need pockets too). So I spent a couple of hours at Buffalo Exchange (I’m a slow shopper…), where I not only picked up the above sunglasses, but also scored a navy Diane von Furstenberg pencil skirt for $12 and a lace-trimmed yellow and black Sandro top for $15. That’s two clothing items given a new life, and I get to benefit from the high quality of the pieces (both of which would have retailed for well over $100 each) without paying exorbitant amounts. I was particularly drawn to the skirt because it has stretch, a two-way zipper, and large cargo-style pockets that are both practical and an intriguing design feature. As another bonus, the skirt was made here in the United States!

For our first night at the resort, I paired the DVF skirt and Sandro top with some geometric lace tights and a pair of Italian-made, studded leather loafers. I topped this ensemble off with a pair of sparkly earrings that I had “cobbled” together by attaching a couple of crystal-and-chain pendants to clip-on earring findings (taking about all of two minutes):

For our second night out, I wore the DVF skirt again, but this time I paired it with an old Motel Rocks mesh crop top (because the best way to minimize your environmental footprint is to use things you already own!), fishnets, those same blue loafers, and a pair of vintage crystal clip-on earrings from Vintage Underground (one of my favorite mom-and-pop stores in Chicago, first mentioned here):

I felt comfortable and stylish in both outfits, and I know I’ll continue to get plenty of use out of the two new-to-me items that I bought for this trip.

Overall, it was a pleasure for M. and I to spend time together without the stresses of work and social obligations in the background. Our stay was only four days (and most of the first and the last days were lost to traveling from or to the airport) so we decided not to venture out of the resort, but there was plenty to see on the premises too. Not only did we enjoy the beautiful environment and general friendliness of everyone around us, there was also plenty of entertaining wildlife crawling, flying, or swimming nearby. I spent half an hour standing in the pool of water by the gazebo staring at the little tropical fish that had gathered there to take in the shade.

To me, this was all a breathtaking reminder why I am striving to live in an environmentally friendly and ethically conscientious way. The beauty I witnessed during this vacation isn’t guaranteed. I want to ensure that many years down the line all of this vibrant flora and fauna will still be there to greet me. Puerto Morelos, I hope to see you and all your loveliness again soon!

Love,
— S. (a.k.a. AMisplacedPen)

Disclaimer: I was not compensated in any way to post about the businesses I have mentioned. This post expresses my honest opinions.