Ways to Celebrate Valentine’s Day

Before we get the nay-sayers out there screaming that this is a fake holiday, let me just say that yes, maybe it is.  It doesn’t mean I like celebrating it any less, all the same. Despite the commercialization of this (and every other) holiday, I believe there are ways for us to celebrate, mindfully. And while this may seem like my excuse to be a romantic, if only for a day, I’d like to plead my case and convince you otherwise, that this is in the interest of getting away from the commercialization and coming a step closer to the actual deal, which is to celebrate love. In other words, hopeless romantic on the loose.

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While the advertising companies are spending billions of dollars trying to convince the world of the different ways one needs to show love, I’m over here singing a song of a different tune. I view Valentine’s Day as another opportunity to celebrate without getting carried away with the spending and the accumulating. And while some may bitterly feel a bit left out this holiday, why don’t we just gravitate a little further away from the traditional Couple’s-Only Club, since we’re already uprooting conventional observances of Cupid’s holiday anyway? Here are my ways to spend Valentine’s Day, frugally, and with less waste.

Frugally  – To Do List for the 5 Love Languages

Quality Time – Avoid the crowds and stay in. We all know the cliche of spending “quality time” with your loved ones by going out for a lovely candlelit dinner at a fancy restaurant, or getting some concert tickets to your favorite band, or watching a movie at the theatres, thanks to movies toting these very things. But might I say that all of these require spending? It may be the inner introvert in me, finding every excuse to avoid large congregations of people, but it’s also the super frugal Fran inside of me, dreading dropping hard-earned pay for something so trivial. So instead of dashing out the front door to spending time driving and waiting in long lines, why not just spend real quality time with each other, by substituting with a home-made dinner for two (left-overs abound!), the playing of your favorite records, or Netflix and chill. Likewise, if you must go out, get outdoors and play.

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Acts of Service – Skip the buying of gifts, substitute acts of service. So I know this isn’t for everyone. There are five love languages, gifting being one of them. Some people just really appreciate gifts. This one just happens to be easy for Mike and I, because we both fall under acts of service. Because of that, we have an easier time letting go of the gifts. Last Christmas, in an effort to disconnect from gifting and everything it brings, I substituted some the present of actions rather than things. I went to the local library and borrowed books on coffee so we may learn about it together. I YouTubed a way to pickle red onions, Mike’s favorite condiment for tacos. I stitched new Velcro onto Mike’s 3 years old motorcycle gloves, so that the latches stick again. A $5 cost instead of a $200 cost. My hands were sore from sewing through stiff leather with an easily bendable needle, but he was pretty stoked. For this Valentine’s Day, I asked for a particular gift from Mike. That is, to remove the rust from the bottom of our cast iron pans, simply because I’ve been too lazy to do it myself. If this style of loving just isn’t for you, then read on ahead for the gift list, below.

Words of Affirmation – Memorize a poem, nix the card. I like words, there’s no doubt about that. My clinical notes in the office are jokingly referred to as essays, and birthday cards just never have enough space. But I have a confliction with buying cards in general. It is undoubtedly much more aesthetic to add a store-bought card to any occasion, and I do have an achilles heel for all things presentable. However, the cost of the fancier stuff run north of $5, sometimes even going so far as to cost more than $10! Additionally, layers of paper that pop up from these gorgeous cards are drool-worthy, but also a bit gut wrenching. Drama aside, I’ve tried to avoid buying cards lately, and have substituted either a small handwritten note, or just a verbal  expression of emotions. For the Whitmans out there, why not memorize a poem? For those who just can’t do without a card, try the card alternative below.

Physical touch – Let your imagination run wild. Not much needs to be said with this one. Probably the most frugal of the five, good old fashioned loving is all it takes. Skip the expensive spa dates and learn massage techniques together. Find ways to get in touch throughout the day, by phone, via text, in a game of tag. Its quite obvious which love language I speak the least. Ending all awkwardness here and now. You just be creative.

Receiving Gifts – Welp! This one can’t be helped. If acts of service did not make the cut, then may I suggest a few thoughtful gift ideas, that won’t break the proverbial piggy bank, and would be loving to the planet at the same time?

Less Waste – The Gift List

This is what my Valentine’s Day wishlist would look like if ever I had one. Unfortunately, I used my wish on the de-rusting of an aforementioned Lodge pan. That was enough for me, but if you are in need of other gift ideas, have at it.

A haircut. I actually asked for this for Christmas last year. I hardly get haircuts. As in, once every 2 years, or once every year and a half. I would love to get them more frequently, but honestly, it gets to be too much for me. Hair is one of those things I used to obsess about as a tween, but it’s all been-there, done-that. I chop it off shoulder length, then just let it grow to the small of my back. On repeat, since college. I also attend one of those generic Fantastic Sam’s places where I pay $20 to chop off most of my hair. Although I did find a location in San Diego once that had happy hour, where the haircut only cost $8 between 5 and 6pm. Score!

A tree instead of flowers. In the U.S.A., about $2 billion worth of cut flowers are bought each Valentine’s Day. While flowers are a compostable gift, and not entirely bad for the environment, what if we try gifting plants itself. A plant can stay alive for a really long time, care-taker depending. These can range drastically, from a $5 succulent from Home Depot, to a $200 tree. Pick what works for your price range. For me, I’ve got my beautiful fiddle leaf, pretty as can be.

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A plantable cardSooooo, after my long spiel about my issue with cards, I did come across these plantable versions. You read right. These cards are made from seed paper, which is 100% compostable. Alternatively, when planted in the ground, these cards claim to grow wildflowers (!!). Which conveniently goes in line with my thinking above.

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Self-Care Products. As I grow older, I embrace this concept of self-care a lot more. There are plenty of self-care products out there that are paving the way by being environmentally friendly, cruelty free, and all natural. Ranging from luscious bars of soap, to shampoo, to beard balm, you name it. These are products that we would use on the daily anyway, so why not gift them something they need?

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A collection of Recipes. Better yet, your recipe collection, attached to a tin can of home-made cookies (or bread, what have you).

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Valentine Celebrations with Everyone

Galentines Day –  popularized by single ladies all over the world, this is now being celebrated by besties everywhere, regardless of the relationship status. Ways to celebrate? Do activities together, such as a yoga class in someone’s living room, or a cooking session in one’s kitchen. Just make sure not to fight over who gets clean up duties.

Dudes’ Hangout – pretty standard kick back, commonplace among Mike and his friends. Pizza and video games? Or have everyone bring a six pack of different brews, and do a beer tasting at home. Coffee cupping sesh also an alternative.

Hosting for Friends and Family – I love to host. Gathering twelve people around our table just makes my heart sing. Why not invite the entire family or crew over and use this holiday as an excuse to eat, drink. and be merry? Cheers!

A Little Bit of Self Love

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  • Early morning meditation.
  • A cup of coffee, made the slow way.
  • Find the time to relax in the middle of the work day.
  • Skip work all together, and spend time at home with family.
  • A decluttering session, mid-February.
  • A candle lit bubble bath for one, music optional.
  • Cuddling up with a book and a blanket.
  • Go to bed at an early hour.

Honestly, the self-love category is my favorite list.

Happy heart week!

 

Minimalism: In the shower

Before you even begin to think that this post is going to be a bit too TMI for your taste, it’s not, I promise. Just hear me out.

I had a house guest once who stayed a few days at our place, and obviously, at some point, she did have to shower. I walked her upstairs to our bathroom and gave her a tour, to show her where everything is. The first thing she said was, “You have absolutely nothing here!” She was literally quite astounded. At first, I did not understand. I had everything anyone would ever need in a shower. Confused, I asked her what she meant. She said that in her own shower, and in other people’s showers where she’s visited, there would be a whole collection of products strewn across the sills and the floor. In my head, I thought to myself, what products? I guess there is more to showering than just soap, shampoo, and conditioner. When I asked her how many, she said ten to twenty! And here I was thinking I was going overboard by having conditioner around. No joke, I thought about nixing it. So the next time I went to my parent’s house, I looked in their shower, and sure enough, there were about ten items there. A bar of soap, but also, a bottle of Bath and Body Works Body wash. There was a second bottle of body wash for men, likely my dad’s effort to not smell like Cinnamon Apples. A plastic loofah. There were separate shampoo and conditioner bottles, one of each specifically catering to men and to women. There was a facial scrub, as well as an exfoliating scrub, which I’m assuming is for the rest of the limbs. Thus, my count added up to a total of ten products, just as she said! So I guess her shock was accounted for.

I wonder what happens if she ever stays over again, for our bathroom has gotten a tiny bit sparser than before. She may be even more baffled that all three of our products (soap, shampoo, and conditioner) now come in bar form at our house, and stay in one tidy little corner of the bathing area, tucked neatly away in a row. This is a pretty recent development in the household, but one that I won’t turn away from any time soon. In an effort to seriously reduce my plastic waste moving forward, I reconsidered many household items that came in plastic but had alternatives, shampoo and conditioner being two of those. Mike and I were already using soap bars, and have been for years, but bars for the hair was a revelation to us. There are people who say they can never get used to the feeling of using a bar for their hair. Fair enough. For me, it reminds me of younger years in the Philippines where we would just use the same bar for our bodies and for our hair. It wasn’t a big deal then, so to me, it’s not a big deal now. The shampoo bars create really great suds actually, and my hair feels much cleaner, and less oily, than when I use the liquid alternatives. Then again, a different (likely drier) hair type may consider it too dry. To each their own. Lucky for me, these work.

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To further reduce plastic waste, our bars are purchased without packaging. Now, these bars could get a bit pricey, I must admit. We have found some go-to brands at places like Whole Foods, Mother’s Market, as well as other local stores for around $2/bar. It’s still more than your Dove bars of soap (unfortunately packaged in either a box, or a set of boxes, wrapped in plastic), but the extra cost is worth it to me. The shampoo bars can be even pricier, with Lush Cosmetics selling them at about $12/bar. However, they do last 80 washes, which is about a month and a half for us two. And the conditioner bars at Lush are equally as expensive, but since I consider hair conditioner as a luxury, I don’t use it on the daily, and if we run out, I just go without for a while.

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So frugal me, how do I cope? We make do by asking for them as Christmas and birthday presents. We specifically ask for no plastic packaging of any kind. Most give us our gifts without packaging at all, which is perfect! Sometimes, soaps wrapped in paper get thrown in, but we recycle that right away, so I can still sleep soundly at night. It’s a consumable gift that brings me a lot of joy (knowing that it came package free) and that brings me a very pleasant experience (if you’ve ever used a Lush shampoo bar, you would understand). This past Christmas, we asked for bars of soap, shampoo and conditioner from a lot of our loved ones, and I think we received enough to get us through March or April. Which is convenient because our birthdays come around in June and July. So we can replenish our stocks once again, in due time.

I’m not saying every one needs to switch to bar form, right this moment. I’m just saying, if our house guest was correct in saying that everyone does have ten to twenty products in the shower, then as long as every household cuts that number in half, what a difference that would make in plastic waste! You don’t even have to get rid of the bottles if you really don’t want to. If men and women could share the same product and not buy into the advertising, then they can purchase in bulk, larger bottles, and produce less waste overall. Perhaps Mike is lucky in the sense that I have absolutely no interest in smelling like a walking flower. Good scents to me include cotton, charcoal, sage, and lemon verbena. Maybe I’m the lucky one, since Mike actually likes scents of Lavender and Vanilla, too. Whatever the case may be, there must be a mutual ground somewhere. Why not choose a scent or product that can work for both? Or why not just forget all the hype about scents and go with a good ole bar of non-smelling soap. Gasp!

Either way, I am pretty happy about my minimalist shower. I don’t even consider it minimalist at all, really. Sure, I may get push back after posting this post. Maybe some people will tell me I just don’t understand their skin type or their hair type. How they have needs to prevent flaky skin or flat hair. How they easily get split ends, or oily foreheads. I almost didn’t want to post this after writing it. But then I think back to when I used to join kids and shower in the middle of the street when it rained. Where a bath meant taking a bucket from a pot of hot water and carefully making sure to rinse as much of myself off as I could, so as not to waste it. I think of families who don’t even have a means to heat up their water, of kids who have to walk to a river. I think of people swimming in plastic waste in small islands such as the Philippines and Tuvalu, because of the prevalence of single use containers. How This Documentary Shows Us What Our Plastic Trash is Doing to Animals and the Environment

And I thought to myself, yeah, I’ll post it. These bars of soap are indulgences. They don’t come cheaply, and their value (and ethics) is worth way more to me than choosing a brand name, or smelling a particular way. All I ask is for you to consider it. Please.

Other things I consider when purchasing GOOD soap: 

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Palm oil free: I first learned about palm oil when we went to New Zealand, last year. We were at the zoo, listening to the talk about orangutans when the topic came up. At the time, both New Zealand and Australia’s governments were trying to pass a law requiring the labeling of all products with palm oil, so that Kiwis could decide which products not to buy. A country very invested in issues surrounding sustainability and conservation of species and habitat, they were very aware of the illegal deforestation resulting from the growth of palm oil for product use. The deforestation is affecting many species, orangutans included, by depleting them of their habitats. I try to look for soaps that are palm oil free, but unfortunately, most aren’t labeled appropriately, so you just never know. I am particularly fond of GOOD soap, which can be found at Whole Foods, and which uses only Certified Sustainable Palm Oil.

Ethically made and sustainability: A majority of the soaps I purchase advocate Fair Trade principles in order to get the ingredients for the soap. Additionally, I tend to prefer brands with sustainability in mind. All of this takes extra work and care to produce. This is part of the reason why the prices of these products are higher. Since we always revert back to buying GOOD soap when we run out of holiday gifted soaps, here is a list of ingredients used to make their soap.

Primary, Active Ingredients:
Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter (Certified Fair Trade)
Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil (Certified Fair Trade)
Sodium Palmate (Certified Sustainable Palm Oil)
Sodium Palm Kernelate (Certified Sustainable Palm
Kernel Oil)
Water (Aqua)
Glycerin (Vegetable Source)
Goat Milk Powder
Minor Ingredients (less than 0.5% by weight)
Lavandula Hybrida Grosso (Lavender) Oil (Lavender Only)
Sodium Citrate (helps with lather in hard water)
Titanium Dioxide (natural color)
Chlorophyllin-Copper Complex (Fresh Mint only, natural color)
Iron Oxides (natural color)
Natural Fragrance (non-synthetic scent from plant oils and extracts, added in Sunshine, Prairie
Rose, Fresh Mint and Coconut bars)

– Societal Impact: There are an increasing number of products being released that have efforts to give back to less privileged communities. Good Soap sales fund Alaffia community empowerment projects in West Africa. Alaffia aims to empower individuals and their communities through long-term, effective projects with the end goal of
poverty alleviation, gender equality and human rights for all. Alaffia’s community projects include:

  • Alaffia Bicycles for Education: Since 2006, Alaffia has distributed over 6,300 bicycles to rural, poor students in Togo. With emphasis on girls, the goal is to reduce the high dropout rate (91%) by providing a means of transportation to and from school.
  • Alaffia Maternal Health: In sub-Saharan Africa, 400 women die each day due to pregnancy or childbirth related causes. Alaffia provides pre-natal and delivery care to 1,000 disadvantaged women each year in rural Togo, saving mothers and babies for strong families and sustainable futures for our communities.
  • Alaffia Reforestation: Alaffia has planted over 42,600 trees in an effort to help our Togolese communities better withstand effects of climate change, to slow  desertification and to increase food security for families.

 

 

Bogobrush: Raising social and environmental awareness, one toothbrush at a time.

This post is sponsored by Bogobrush, a source for ethically made, sustainable toothbrushes, with a one-for-one give-back program towards low-income communities, wherein a toothbrush is considered a commodity for the privileged.

In case I can convince you of the importance of choosing the right toothbrush for you and your loved ones, Bogobrush is offering The Debtist readers a special offer (full details below).

There are many folks out there who believe that a dentist’s main purpose is to sell treatment. Numerous patients have voiced to me some past experience or other with dentists who tried to sell them whiter teeth and nicer smiles for the sake of esthetics. So while this may be true for some, it isn’t how I operate or how I practice my work. I would say I fall heavily towards the more conservative side of practicing dentistry. A majority of my time is spent trying to teach patients how to prevent the need for dental treatment, via proper oral hygiene techniques at home and frequent follow ups and dental visits. I like seeing my patients twice a year, if not only to hear how their children are doing at school or how their holidays went. I prefer to think that they enjoy doing the same with me. In general, I am pretty hesitant on agreeing to cosmetic treatment, especially so with treatments such as veneers. When patient’s come to me wanting such treatment, I kindly voice the truth, which is the fact that nothing will ever be as strong (or beautiful) as your natural dentition. Removing tooth structure will always weaken the tooth. Enamel is the hardest part of your body, stronger even than bone. A veneer will possibly pop-off, since it is only bonded to your tooth on the facial aspect, and preparing the teeth for a veneer could cause sensitivity. If the patient is young, in their twenties or thirties, they must consider the likelihood that they will have to replace these veneers 3-4 times throughout the rest of their life. Quite a costly price for a cosmetic fix. Off course, if the patient insists, then autonomy prevails, and I will succumb to what will make them happy, but only after failing to convince them otherwise. To each their own. Some would consider my method a bad business move (because it is), but I didn’t enter the profession for money, so I don’t really have a motive to promote such options.

A majority of my time is spent trying to achieve a patient’s goal via the most conservative path possible. My favorite word during diagnosis is to “observe”. More often than not, the patient will be happiest to. My focus at work revolves around prevention. I would rather teach prevention of caries and other dental problems so that my patients return every six months needing nothing but a cleaning. Easier for me, easier for them. It saves them money, and saves me time, which could be used teaching even more patients the power of prevention. And so the cycle continues.

When I first entered dentistry, I knew that my model would revolve around teaching. I tutored for ten years prior to dental school, and it has undoubtedly shaped my world view about learning. I paid a lot of money going to dental school to learn about dental health care, so that others wouldn’t have to pay a lot of money to care for their teeth. As I volunteered in multiple third world countries, and farming communities within our own state, I learned that empowering is more important than giving. That equipping with knowledge is more important than aiding. It is the idea that it is better to teach a child at an early age how to brush their teeth properly thus empowering them with a life-long skill to improve their health, rather than aid an adult in extracting all their decayed teeth and replacing them with a denture. This is what it means to have TRUE impact that will change communities, even after you are gone and no longer around. I refuse to be a part of cycle that creates further dependency, but rather, prefer to create groups of people who are self-sufficient and independent.

With all of this in mind, there is one thing I sell on the daily. Toothbrushes. And with this came multiple considerations that I felt did not align with my truest of values. Specifically, toothbrushes are created from plastic (most times), which are carelessly disposed of without a thought in the world.

Did you know that 450 million toothbrushes end up in US landfills every year?

Additionally, toothbrushes are usually packaged in clear plastic, but don’t ask me why. And then there is the issue of having multiple toothbrush companies, claiming that they can outdo all other toothbrushes. There are toothbrushes with hard bristles, medium bristles, soft bristles, even extra-soft bristles. There are toothbrushes with different handles, with grips claiming to improve ergonomics, with handles that are bent, handles that are straight. There are electric toothbrushes that move in circular motions, toothbrushes that vibrate left and right, toothbrushes that light up when you’ve brushed for the appropriate amount of time. Worse, there are advertisements, companies, and, let’s face it, some dentists, who sell these different types. I am here to say that while these toothbrushes could aid some groups of people, particularly those with arthritis, or Parkinson’s disease, or anyone else who has difficulty with holding and maneuvering a regular toothbrush, the efficiency of brushing teeth lies mostly in your technique, rather than the toothbrush itself. Sure, a change in toothbrush can get you closer towards increased plaque removal, but so could improving your brushing habits and methods. What if one increases plaque removal by practicing the proper technique? Then we could focus on buying a toothbrush based on other characteristics. Such as sustainability. Such as responsible and local manufacturing. Such as toothbrushes that give back to low-income communities.

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Enter Bogobrush! A toothbrush that is in harmony with many of my values, and one I would be happy to sell. Bogobrush was created with two things in mind: a product that was good for the planet, and for the people who live on it. The masterminds behind bogobrush are a brother sister duo from a small town in North Dakota, whose father was a dentist. The name BOGObrush comes from the idea of Buy One, Give One, a pillar of what Bogobrush is about. With each toothbrush you buy, another is given to someone in need through their partners. Created was a simple way to protect the planet, buy ethically-made, and give back.

Sustainable:

There are two toothbrush options:

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Recycled Plastic: A toothbrush that can be recycled repeatedly, forever. We are taking plastics destined for the landfill and giving them a second chance at life. The toothbrushes are made from recycled plastic number 5, and can be placed in your recycle bin. To facilitate the process, please remove the non-recyclable bristles with small pliers.

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Biodegradable: A composite material made from biodegradable plants, which can be composted at the end of its life. The current design is made from flax, but a new design is in the works for a plant-based material made from hemp! Recycling options include curbside or backyard. If you have a curbside compost bin, simply discard there. If not, you can toss the handle into your backyard compost pile. As organic matter, it will degrade into carbon monoxide, water, and humus (a soil nutrient). As with anything, it may take a few months or a few years to decompose, since the time of degradation depends on the health of the compost pile and is affected by factors such as humidity, temperature, and biodiversity. The bristles are not compostable so please pull them out using small pliers. However, if bristles do end up in the compost stream, they will break down into little pieces with time. Not the best solution, but a step towards the right direction.

Ethically Made:

Despite the higher cost of producing in the United States, these brushes are manufactured here, a sacrifice worth making. It allows for easier communication with the developers, facilitates site visits, and creates more personal relationships with those who source Bogobrush materials. The focus is to have transparency regarding the supply chain, with the knowledge of the who, what, where, and when of each part of the product, down to the bristles!

Giving back:

More than 80 million Americans lack access to adequate oral care.

This statistic can affect aspects in daily living that we take for granted, including education, work, and overall health. Imagine how much less access there is, to something as simple as a toothbrush, throughout the rest of the world. A toothbrush is a privilege, something I’ve learned throughout my journey volunteering in under-privileged communities. This is something we can change. The hope of creating a more balanced world was so important, that the name itself comes from the idea of buy one, give one.

Currently supporting:

  • Covenant Community Care: Detroit, MI. Serving the people of Metro Detroit through six health clinics across the city. They provide medical, dental, and behavioral health care to everyone regardless of their ability to pay.
  • Apple Tree Dental: Twin Cities, MN. Dedicated to providing complete dental care to people throughout Minnesota through its clinics and innovative mobile dental unites. They give away 20,000 toothbrushes annually.
  • Family Healthcare: Fargo, ND. Providing personal, high quality medical and dental care to anyone in the Fargo region, regardless of ability to pay. They also offer significant tools to aide healthful lifestyles.

Minimalist Design:

Admittedly, part of what initially grabbed my attention was the minimalist design. Here they are selling a toothbrush without the frills. Without the batteries, without the lights. A simple design that can be just as effective is always appreciated, in my book.

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Option to purchase a stand, also in a minimalist form.

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Subscription:

Most of my patients are surprised when I tell them that, ideally, we want the toothbrush to be replaced every 3-4 months. A frayed toothbrush has decreased efficiency with plaque removal, and depending on the method of use, a toothbrush can easily fray within a few months. Some tell me that they’ve had their toothbrush for over a year! With Bogobrush, you could subscribe so that a toothbrush is delivered to you every 2, 3, or 4 months. So you’ll never forget. You can also mediate how many shipments you receive. As incentive, the price of each toothbrush decreases with a subscription, in case all the other incentives above were not enough.

As even further incentive, Bogobrush is offering The Debtist readers their first subscription for free. Cancellation is allowed at any time, if you are not satisfied with the product. A link is placed on the sidebar, in case you are interested in making a change. You must subscribe via my personal link below or in the sidebar in order to receive the promotion. I hope you join me in the movement. If I am to support a product, I want it to be a product that will bring both social and environmental awareness into people’s everyday lives. A toothbrush is a product many of us use every day. And we have a choice.

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Thank you for supporting the brands that harmonize with The Debtist’s internal values and external intentions. And thanks to Bogobrush for inspiring me to be a better dentist and a better teacher. Starting today, there will be a series on my blog regarding all things dental, to promote dental education, without the student loans.

 

 

 

 

Zero Waste: Consumable Christmas Gifts

Nothing makes me more happy than receiving a thoughtful gift that procured zero waste in the process of its making and of its giving. Recently, I have preferred consumable gifts over material gifts. This could be something as literal as food or drink, and as metaphoric as a e-book or experience. The idea is that the gift can be enjoyed by the receiver, but does not linger after the enjoyment has concluded. It doesn’t require additional storage, and does not call for de-cluttering at the end of the experience.

If you are interested in such a gift idea, may I recommend homemade Christmas treats? My best friend from high school and her family make homemade treats every year, namely chocolate covered toffee, peanut brittle, and candied almonds. When I asked her what started this tradition, she says that every year, her family makes peanut brittle to ship to her grandpa in Pennsylvania. She just started to make more treats in additionto ship to their friends and family as a Christmas present. The positive outcomes are two-fold. First, it requires a bit of spending time together (gasp!) and gathering as a family to create something for other people. In the spirit of giving, it gives the gift of time, hard work, and personal touch. Second, it creates what I would consider a zero waste present, that is enjoyed and then, well, digested. It may be argued that she does use a shipping box and paper to package the thing and ship to the home, an easily skipped process if one would like to deliver in person. But personally, I love opening my mail box and finding the surprise every year. If you can stomach the small price to pay in order to surprise someone, then wonderful! If not, wrap furoshiki style and deliver at the next gathering, which I hope are many during this time of year. In either case, here’s a little how-to, for some last-minute gift wrangling, minus the excessive spending.

Candied Almonds

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Ingredients:

  • 12cup water
  • 12cups sugar
  • 1teaspoon cinnamon (or more to taste)
  • 1lb almonds, with skins

Directions:

  1. Bring water, sugar and cinnamon to a boil;stirring constantly.
  2. Add almonds and toss to coat.
  3. Remove almonds with slotted spoon.
  4. Arrange on greased baking pan.
  5. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes, basting twice with reserved syrup.
  6. Cool.
  7. Store airtight.

Peanut Brittle

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Ingredients:

Directions:

  1. Grease a large cookie sheet. Set aside.
  2. In a heavy 2 quart saucepan, over medium heat, bring to a boil sugar, corn syrup, salt, and water. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Stir in peanuts. Set candy thermometer in place, and continue cooking. Stir frequently until temperature reaches 300 degrees F (150 degrees C), or until a small amount of mixture dropped into very cold water separates into hard and brittle threads.
  3. Remove from heat; immediately stir in butter and baking soda; pour at once onto cookie sheet. With 2 forks, lift and pull peanut mixture into rectangle about 14×12 inches; cool. Snap candy into pieces.

Chocolate Covered Chewy Caramel Candy

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Ingredients:

  • 1 pound milk chocolate
  • Your favorite chewy caramel candy

Directions:

  1. Melt milk chocolate in a saucepan
  2. Cover caramel candy and place on a baking tray lined with parchment paper.
  3. Place tray in the fridge to cool.

The Art of Furoshiki Gift Wrapping

Can any one else believe that Christmas is right around the corner, less than a week away? Despite all efforts to slow down this season,  it still finds a way to sneak past us and onto the New Year. This weekend, it came time to (finally) wrap presents. With past posts claiming that I will skip on buying gift wrap this year, I must admit that I have been unsuccessful in sustaining the eye sore that lay beneath my tree. Like a messy pile, left behind by a  non-existing toddler, the presents lay askew without any sort of presentability. Unfortunately, esthetics run pretty high on my list of pre-requisites for peaceful living. Spending the past few weeks fighting the growing urge to cover everything in paper for the sake of uniformity (and sanity), I finally found the solution to my dilemma, without buying wrapping paper, and amidst my favorite activity … de-cluttering!

While preparing for our soon-to-be roommate’s move-in day, I was cleaning out the kitchen cupboards and consolidating our items into designated spaces so that she may have cupboards for her own loved possessions. Underneath a stack of placemats, I found a length of fabric, which I had bought about a year ago with the intentions of sewing my own dinner napkins. With the advent of receiving a set of 12 dinner napkins as a wedding present, I had stashed the fabric and completely forgotten about it!

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My initial thought was to add it to my de-cluttering box. Then I thought about my Christmas presents, and I proceeded to do the only appropriate solution in my mind. FUROSHIKI!

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Furoshiki are a type of of traditional Japanese wrapping cloth used to transport clothes, gifts, and other goods. More sustainable than one-time-use wrapping paper, the pieces of cloth can be opened, then refolded and stored. The art doesn’t require tape, but rather, a simple folding tachnique ending with a bow on top. No additional ribbons or bows needed!

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The fabric is all used up now, no longer sitting useless in a cupboard, and the presents are wrapped and esthetic once again! Sanity restored.

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Sidenote: Unlike previous years when our stack of presents equaled the size of our tree, we were very selective about who we were gifting to this year,  as well as WHAT we were gifting. More focused on experiences rather than things, I can count the boxes under the tree with my fingers alone. A feat few people can claim!

 

For an overview of the art, start with this video. For Furoshiki and other non-disposable life hacks, try here.

The True Cost of Gas

Today was my day off and I woke up to a beautiful, sunny, blustery day. In a cheerier mood, I thought to myself, maybe I deserve spending $3 to buy myself a coffee today at a local coffee shop where I could work on my blog. Typically, I wouldn’t be so thrifty, but today is such a good day and we have been pretty good the last couple of weeks on our spending. I could also swing by the local public library and borrow as many books as I can find on coffee, to start my adventure on becoming a knowledgeable coffee connoisseur. But there was one thing that was nagging me, more so than the overpriced coffee that I was about to purchase. It was the thought of driving, albeit a few miles, to the downtown area to reach the coffee shop and library. Granted, there are 7 mph winds, so while the distance is very easily biked, I was being a wussy pants and was trying my best to avoid the biking. However, I’ve also been avoiding driving for unnecessary ventures the last couple of weeks. While no one is interested in my own personal report, I will anyways report that I have been really good about clumping all of my errands on the same drive in the same area. Aiming to decrease my carbon footprint in terms of miles driven, I asked for my dad’s 15 year old bike, whose front brake doesn’t even work, and who’s handlebar rubber handle is missing. It doesn’t shift gears well anymore, risking unhooking the chain every chance you take at getting to a different gear. But I’ve asked for it to avoid buying a brand new bike, and it has given me a lot of joy in the last few months. On top of using it for pure enjoyment, I’ve tried biking to work and to the local dry cleaners. But I am still a novice and a wussy pants when it comes to biking everywhere to decrease my car usage.

Enter Mister Money Mustache and his ever reliable extremism. If you’ve never read his blog, you definitely should, because a majority of time, it’s just the slap in the face that I need to build up my reserve to get things done, to save money, or to just be a decent human being. While trying to make my decision about what to do, I figured I’d read just one blog post from him, and lo and behold, the one that ended up being next on my list was called, “A life lesson on gasoline”. Life has a sense of humor that I will never get tired of.

I came upon a video on the price of gas, and while there may be inaccuracies in the numbers (who really knows), I think the take away message is well-known, but highly ignored.

The video mentions the price of gas in Germany, and I can confirm this as true (now that we’ve driven the Autobahn and had to fill up our own gas tanks in Germany). But honestly, you don’t have a lot of Germans complaining about the gas prices, because the majority of them bike everywhere. Visiting big cities such as Frankfurt and Munich, there were very few parking spaces, and a plethora of bicycles. People used their bikes to commute to school in Heidelberg, or commute to work in Munich, grabbing an early morning baked good at a bakery, and grabbing coffee at a local cafe. It was so prevalent that, while I did not go to Germany to photograph bicycles in particular, I noticed that they somehow found their way into my photos.

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Instead of pedestrian signs, you were more likely to see signs telling you when there’s a bike crossing, or where bikes were allowed and not allowed.

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You don’t see  bicycle parking lots in Los Angeles, a city where there are allegedly more cars than people. In the State of California, there are reported to be 775 vehicles per 1000 people, which is a ludicrous number to me, assuming children and teenagers do not need a car for themselves. So I guess we can all strive to make a change, especially after all the global warming that has been occurring. In order to implement that change, we need people to be less of a wuss, myself included. The only way to do that? Strengthen our belief in our ability to bike in gorgeous, freaking, California, by showing bicycle parking lots in the snow in Amsterdam. Or bicycle parking lots in Germany on a rainy day. Or by reading Mister Money Mustache early on a Wednesday morning.

Not wanting to steal any of his content, let me just refer you to the article, and other articles that can fire up your reserve.

A Life Lesson on Gasoline // The True Cost of Commuting // Get Rich with Bikes

So that was it. I question it no more, and bike I must. Might as well be outdoors, enjoying this blustery, sunny day and getting a workout while I’m at it. Plus I’ll save on gas, and downtown parking. Not sure if I’m willing to give up the coffee today though. You win some and you lose some.

A Simple Holiday Gift Guide – 10 gifts for the holiday season

Call yourself frugal, minimal, mindful, whatever it is, it doesn’t matter. There’s still the matter of gift giving for the holidays. Unless you’ve found a way to completely let go of gift giving without hurting or disappointing your closest loved ones, there’s the issue of buying more material goods that could do the planet more harm than good. Gift giving is a bit of a funny thing. You hand someone something to celebrate a birthday or holiday, as a way of saying, “Here’s a piece of the Earth I killed for you in your name.” Extreme much? Yeah, I am sometimes, but there’s a little bit of truth to that statement, don’t you think?

It’s taken a bit of time for me to find a balance in my gift giving strategy. There is the issue of giving someone something they actually want. If there’s a specific list or wish, I don’t stray much from that, only because the point of gifts should be making someone else, and not yourself, happy. But it doesn’t hurt to ask if you could do an alternative. And for those people that didn’t insist on a particular item, there are always these options. Here are my top ten gifts for the holiday season.

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+ Home baked cookies – wrapped in linen napkin or placed in a reusable container (also being gifted). If your group of friends or family is anything like ours, bring it to a party Pizookie style. We recently served a pizookie this way at our Friendsgiving dinner, and it was way more fun to grapple over each other, digging in with our own spoons, and frantically trying to eat more than your neighbor. It was an awesome way to end a group dinner, bringing us together to literally share our meal. Grossed out by the idea of sharing? Make traditional individual cookies, plate, and top with a heaping scoop of ice cream.

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+ Your best homemade sauce in a mason jar. This is great whether it’s pasta sauce, a secret dressing, or a favorite dip. It is a sure way to bring a little piece of your home into someone else’s. Mike and I share a love for Mexican food, and in the last year, we’ve found a Tomatillo Sauce recipe that tastes almost as good as our favorite sauce in Valle de Guadalupe. Made from scratch, we wanted to share this sauce with our friends and family. We gave away little jar samples as a gift for attending our Thanksgiving dinner. The “Thank You” email sent the next day included our three go-to ways to cook with this tomatillo sauce, from something as simple as chips and salsa, to chilaquiles and enchiladas, which added even more of a personal touch!

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+ A bouquet of everlasting flowers from a local flower shop. I am a huge fan of supporting local farmers, florists, and small shops. Stop by your local florist and ask for a bouquet of flowers that dry beautifully. These in particular are Everlasting bouquets from Petals and Pop, a local floral shop in Huntington Beach. These bundles will last through multiple seasons, and technically, could last forever if left alone. Place in a mason jar or a vase to your liking.

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+ A bar of soap, without the wrapping, tied with a reused bow. My favorite gift that Mike and I ever received during the days leading up to our wedding was a single bar of soap, unwrapped, from my friend Jo as a housewarming gift. On it was a handwritten note tied with a single bow that read, “In my culture, a bar of soap symbolizes prosperity.” The simplicity of the gift stunned me, but it’s something I never forgot. It was my favorite present because she gave us a gift that symbolized a wish.

+ A mini Christmas tree for holiday cheer. Having an early party this season? Bring in a mini Christmas tree, small enough to stand on a coffee table or on the floor. Nothing beats bringing some natural element or other into the home. Plus, the smell of pine is a winner.

+ A reusable shopping bag, with some produce bags and linen bread bags, or mason jars, collected over time. I love these items, and they are particularly useful and actually friendly to the environment. I have a couple of tiny produce bags for fruits and veggies, and a disarray of totebags. The point isn’t to match (although matching is a plus!) but to have a sense of sensibility and practicality when it comes to shopping for those holiday dinners your loved one is about to throw.

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+ Homemade candles, infused with your favorite scents. There is nothing I love more than lighting scented candles. These are easily homemade in a mason jar or a jar that once held a previous candle. It’s great for lighting dark afternoons, when the sun has just gone done but the sky isn’t dark enough to turn on the lights. I love working by candle light in the evenings. There’s something romantic and peaceful about that, and it reminds me of childhood days in the Philippines when the electricity would go out and we only had candles to get us through to the morning. Click here to learn how to make one of your own.

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+ A stack of your favorite books that you’ve read this past year, ready for de-cluttering. I had a goal of reading through the leftover unread books that I foolishly hoarded in my early twenties this past year. But the year flew by so fast, that it seems I only got through seventeen or so books. With my new ways, I no longer feel the emotional tie to books like I once did, and can’t wait to part with them once I have sucked all the knowledge out of their beautiful smelling, yellowing pages. But what to do with them has been a dilemma. I’ve donated a bunch to my sister’s charter school, which does not have a library and wherein she is trying to create a collection of books for her high school students to read. Some of my favorites, I’ve held on to and gifted to fellow bookworms for their birthdays. So why not do the same for the holidays? Choose some of your favorite reads, add a review or synopsis, and wrap them stacked and with a bow. Their book lives are not yet over.

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+ A bottle of wine, brought to a holiday dinner party. Since giving up alcohol, I have constantly been trying to pawn off bottles and bottles of wine at every dinner party we’ve hosted at our house, and then some. It’s a great, merry addition to a party, and a good gift for any host or hostess. Plus, you and the guests may get something out of it too!

+ Handmade cards, for future birthdays and other well wishes. I love giving cards with every gift, but I hate paying $5 for them. I have recently acquired a novice level skill of using a calligraphy pen and could use some practice. I figured, why not practice by making a set of handmade cards? I started to do just that, then grouped ten cards together to gift to someone else for the holidays. Practiced a new skill, and saved someone $50 worth cards for the following year. Win win.

** All gifts were given sans wrapping paper, and tied with a bow that has been re-used from previous gifts that I’ve received.

Greener Merrier Christmas

We could all use a little more green in our lives, and the holiday season is the perfect way to start, if you haven’t been practicing lately. We are taught to envision everything pretty about the holidays. Presents wrapped in gorgeous paper, outfitted with bows and string, completed with a holiday tag. Holiday cards mailed around the globe and tacked up on refrigerator doors. Trees and ornaments and light bulbs aglow. Decorations from door to door, mostly made up of plastic bits and baubles. Here are some alternative ways to holiday festivities, with just a little bit of mindfulness added in.

  • Design your own JOYEUX holiday e-card. While I love getting a tangible card in the mail, it is important to realize that mailing letters back and forth could be harmful to the environment.  I heard that more than a billion Christmas cards are sent in one holiday season, enough to wrap around the world five times. Maybe skip the paper cards and go with an electronic version this year. Everyone (or well, nearly everyone) now has access to some techy device or other. Why not e-mail or text a home-made holiday e-card? Make it a whole day thing, by doing a mini family photo shoot at home and then working together to create the perfect saying and look.
  • Shop responsibly. If you must buy someone a present this year for Christmas because that is what they wish for, do so responsibly. I carry around a number of reusable tote bags in my car at all times, so that when I go shopping, I never accept one-time use packaging for the stuff. Some stores insist on wrapping your recently purchased clothes in tissue paper. Kindly ask to skip. Also skip the free wrapping, after all, it’s not actually “free” because it does come with a cost to the environment. Instead, gently place your recent purchase in your re-usable bag and voila, off you go. Also, try to avoid multiple runs to different stores. If you could get all shopping that you need done in one go, that would really decrease the amount of driving around we do, which will then limit the amount of emissions released into the atmosphere. Some opt to shop online, which is great because it reduces the driving around, but only on your part. Remember that shipping products does cost gas and there are inefficiencies tied with clicking that free amazon prime two day shipping. Shop early and elect for regular five day shipping, which allows trucks to fill their load completely and make shipping more efficient. Otherwise, trucks would have to leave before they are able to fill their maximum capacity, just to get to your door on time, thereby increasing the number of trips and gas used to deliver packages. Also, opt out of gift wrapping, and if possible, choose products packaged in sustainable materials. Call in the companies and request no plastic. An even better solution? Opt for gifts from the heart rather than material gifts. Offer a service to a family member. Gift them tickets that support local events such as a play or a musical or games to their favorite sport team. Gift them items you already own but they could make more use out of or that they need more than you do. Donate under their name to charity. Skip the gift all together.
  • Recycled [wrapping] paper. I am all for recycled wrapping things. I was the weirdo at the get-togethers, collecting bows and string and nice wrapping paper and gift bags for re-use. I’ve successfully handed back a gift bag I received to the same person who gave it to me plenty a time. It adds a little laughter to the whole occasion. My favorite thing to do is to grab my box of bows and scrounge for the perfect one to match the current wrapping material that I have. Other alternatives to wrapping paper – newspapers, magazines, or kraft paper. Alternative to bows: jute. If you want to feel more festive, why not add an organic thing tied with a string [see: rosemary or thyme in your local produce aisle. Or perhaps a sprig of lavender]. Or do the better thing, and just skip wrapping paper all together!
  • Go bare, or barely. I love seeing beautiful Christmas trees in the parking lot or on the grocery store, before they’ve been decorated aplenty. Too much décor can be quite overwhelming and can take away some of the magic in my opinion. Try going bare this year, or barely decorated. Don’t get caught up with covering every part of the tree. Let it run naked and free. Likewise with the rest of the décor in your house. Try not to run your electricity bill up the wazoo by keeping your holiday lights on at all times. Avoid keeping up with the Joneses, it’s not worth it. Go out on a hike with friends and family and collect natural woodsy things, like berries and pinecones, to decorate house and tree with. Tie string to them and hang from the branches if you must. Or decorate your house with scents of sugar cookies and puzzle pieces on the floor, in progress of being completed with the complementary sounds of Christmas music.
  • Go with a real tree this year. Trees take seven to ten years to grow, can have a positive impact on the environment, and are bio-degradable compared to their plastic counterparts. However, they must be disposed of responsibly! If they are simply thrown away or allowed to rot, then they will have a negative impact on the environment, and that’s definitely something worth noting. Or like every other advice above, maybe go without? If you learned the saying, “it isn’t Christmas without a tree”, then you haven’t yet learned the true meaning of Christmas. Go out and find it!

Any other green ideas? I’d love to hear yours!