The “no poo” movement

I stopped using soap a few months ago and never plan to go back. My skin is smooth and I can go for days before needing a shower.

Unless you’re coated in dirt, soap is just removing the skin’s oils, which makes it secrete more oils to make up for those that were lost. This is a kind of cycle that will end up costing you a lot of time and water.

When I showered with soap I had to shower everyday to keep from stinking and feeling dirty. Sometimes I would skip a day because I was so busy but I always felt disgusting afterward.

When I learned about the benefits of just washing with a washcloth I was really excited. After a couple weeks of adjustment, I was able to easily go three days without a shower, and I have even gone for a whole week just to say I did it!

…But I definitely don’t recommend skipping showers for a week…

I also overheard some girls I was hanging out with talking about how “no poo” is the best thing you can do for your hair.

For a while I was doing okay without shampoo, but my hair went from too oily to too dry. Neither was very appealing, and I never did make it through this so-called “adjustment period.”

As a sort of compromise, I have started washing my hair about twice a week with baking soda and conditioning with apple cider vinegar.

This is a great combination because these two products have so many other uses as well, and they’re really cheap. I use a combination of soda and vinegar for deodorant, and vinegar can also be taken with water if you’re feeling sick.

Traveling is a little easier now too, since all I need to pack in the way of soaps is soda and vinegar (or nothing, since these are common household items). And in a pinch you could use plain baking soda for toothpaste too!

Some people think it’s gross to forego soap, but all I can do is shrug my shoulders and let them think what they will.

I can finally take ten minute showers, and I only have to take them a couple times a week. If I’m traveling or too busy, then hey– I’ll just wait a few more days!

 

 

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The evils of store bought milk

Milk is one of my favorite drinks. Of course I have to have it with any kind of dessert, and it goes great with many meals too.

Unfortunately, Indiana, along with many other states, makes it difficult to obtain fresh milk because of the “public health risk” that it poses.

Many state governments claim that raw milk poses a risk because it is not pasteurized, and this makes it possible for harmful bacteria to find its way into the milk. What they don’t acknowledge is that nowadays our improved cleanliness, refrigeration, and testing practices make it very unlikely that the milk will be tainted.

I would much rather take the small risk that my milk will be tainted than consume the white fluid stores call milk. In fact, the main group of people who the government is “protecting” from raw milk, are the people that know the risks (or should I say, the benefits) and will find a way to get it legally anyway!

There are three main problems with store bought milk. First, most large dairies do not treat their animals very well. They are often genetically modified, sometimes treated with antibiotics and growth hormones, often grain-fed,  and often housed in horrible conditions.

Around 75% of dairy cows are held inside year-round, and even the lucky ones that get some time outside are often living in overcrowded pastures with no grass.

Next, pasteurization kills any beneficial bacteria, and many of the naturally occurring vitamins. (That’s why they add back in synthetic vitamin D to most milks).

Most store bought milk is also homogenized nowadays. Culturing the milk you buy can add back some of the bacteria and probiotics that were destroyed, but it does nothing to fix homogenization.

Homogenization is a process that breaks the fat globules into small particles that will then be distributed throughout the milk, rather than floating to the top like normal.

Unfortunately it’s not just milk that’s homogenized, but also most store bought fat products.

I’m not going to sit here and explain the many views on why homogenization may or may not be harmful because there’s not much solid evidence on either side. Instead, I would just like to pose the question: why do they feel the need to homogenize milk when it might cause harm? Is shaking milk before pouring it really so hard?

When I research food, the one common thread I see that is almost always healthiest is eating foods the way God made them– without chemicals or excessive processing.

I just wish I could find some affordable milk that fit this bill!

Living on an Amish farm

I spent a little over a week on an excommunicated Amish family’s farm. It seems to me they have the best of both worlds: they use tractors, cars, and electricity, but they don’t use chemicals, refined flour, or much sugar. They grow most of their own food, and they live a simple life without all the distractions that modern society has.

They were excommunicated because they follow the Bible rather than the manmade laws that most Amish live by. They don’t see themselves as Amish at all (even though to most of us, they would look about the same).

It was a great experience, and I think I would really enjoy their life. I would just trade a little bit of their high standard of living for some extra time to relax.

I arrived on a Sunday so that I could just wake up and start work the next day rather than driving there in the early morning. Their church service was held in someone’s house each week, and about 30-60 people attended.

After the service, the hosting family served a simple meal of chili with some bread, lettuce, and snap peas.

They spent the rest of the day relaxing and chatting.

After everyone had left, I was very surprised to sit down to a supper of popcorn. They served popcorn as the main dish! The seasoning was very tasty though.

Anyway, I slept that night on a couch in the shed with the boys, since it was much cooler than the house (they don’t have air conditioning).

We woke up the next day at 4:45 a.m. and I struggled out of bed and into the house where we had some free time, that I always used for having devotions.

After maybe 20 minutes we would go out to milk the cows. The first few days it was pretty cold outside so I enjoyed milking a lot. In the hot evenings, and eventually the warm mornings though, the flies would come in droves and annoy us all to pieces.

My cow kicked my milk bucket over twice before I started holding it a better way. Next time I was really careful, but she was standing in a pile of manure, so when she kicked, she lifted a clod of fresh manure into the bucket.

I lost the milk three milkings in a row! (Thankfully after that it went well for the rest of the week. The cow I was given from then on only had one working teat, so I could just hold the bucket with my free hand).

Anyway that first day was 13 hours of work! Not including breakfast, lunch, or dinner!

I was exhausted and worried what in the world I had gotten myself into. How could they do 13 hours of work in one day?!

Thankfully, that was the worst it got. Most days we only worked an average of 10 hours, with a much needed break after lunchtime. Most of the work was centered around garden chores, like mulching, harvesting, planting, watering, or sorting produce for the co-op they run. It wasn’t hard, but it was constant.

By the end of my time there, I was mostly used to the schedule, and I felt like a part of the family.

One of my funniest memories was when I asked how the oats they were growing would form the shape of rolled oats for oatmeal… and Joshua, who is my age, said he never even realized that oatmeal was made from oats!

I also learned that his name was changed from Jacob to Joshua… just last year! (They learned that the name Jacob means “deceiver,” so they changed it).

Anyway, I learned a lot about farming– which is good since that was the goal. I had no clue I would learn so much spiritually though! They had a fresh perspective on the Bible, and their deep study and constant faith was a great example for me. The Bible has really come alive since studying it with them.

Things I liked

  • Singing hymns every morning after breakfast
  • The solid routine
  • The deep church services
  • The great tasting, homemade, healthy food
  • Their kindness and acceptance
  • The beautiful scenery
  • Being far from society

 

Things I didn’t like

  • Being far from society
  • So much work
  • Bathing in a pond

 

 

 

Back to the future: flip-phones

I think it’s ridiculous to spend $45 per month on a cellphone, but since my dad was still paying for it I figured I might as well have it.

A couple months ago I tripped on a completely flat surface and shattered my phone. And I cut my hand on it.

But my stupidity is beside the point. This was the wake up call that forced me to reevaluate my cell phone service. Ha. See what I did there?

I decided that now (well, then) was the perfect time to switch to a flip phone so that I would be used to it when I have to start paying my own bills.

The best deal I could find was a prepaid plan through Page Plus Cellular. It costs four cents per minute and five cents per text. They have horrible customer service and it was extremely difficult to set the plan up, but now I have a phone for under seven dollars per month. And it’s on Verizon’s network!

Luckily for me I have wifi access almost everywhere I go, so I rarely even need to use the flip phone. Instead, I use Google Hangouts on my stepmom’s old phone.

In addition to being so much cheaper, this phone is great because it makes me live in the moment. Now instead of having internet access everywhere, I’m forced to talk to people or sit in awkward silence. I talk to people.

Would you be willing to give up a regular phone for $400 extra per year? My uncle doesn’t even have a phone. At all.

So you should try it. (I don’t want to be the only one with a flip phone).

Nah I’m joking I couldn’t care less. 😛

 

Choosing healthy bread

After I gave up sugar, bread was the next food that I realized I needed to work on changing. Refined white bread was making me feel sick and have acne just like sugar. As I read about it I realized that refined bread is digested much too quickly, and because of this it gives the same type of “sugar high” as plain sugar.

White bread is made by stripping all the nutrients and bran from the wheat grain, which leaves a very light flour that is a source of empty calories. Sometimes it’s even bleached in order to make it whiter.

Most of the time, synthetic vitamins and minerals are then added back into the flour. This is called enrichment. In my opinion, these manmade chemicals are not sufficient replacements for the natural vitamins and minerals that we need.

Unfortunately, even wheat breads are often enriched, and they sometimes even have white flour as one of the ingredients.

When I shop for bread at the Walmarts near my house, I have never once found a bread that I would consider healthy enough to eat. (Although Walmarts in other states sometimes carry healthy bread).

Because of this, I often have to buy bread at expensive healthfood stores or Kroger, but I’m constantly checking the bread at every store I visit.

When I shop for bread there are three main elements that I check. First, the automatic failure is any bread with added vitamins and minerals, or any ingredient labeled as “enriched.” This is a dead giveaway that the company doesn’t really care about providing a quality product, and if they are including enriched flour they’re probably also including sugar and other junk.

Next, I check the type of sweetener used in the bread, and how much there is. Most breads have a little sugar in them, and I will try to avoid it if I can, but if there’s just a tiny amount I sometimes have to settle for the best I can find.

Finally, I try to get sprouted bread whenever possible. Sprouting the grains before making bread makes it easier for your body to digest it and absorb all the available nutrients. It can be very difficult to find affordable sprouted bread though, so sometimes I have to settle for plain whole wheat bread.

Unfortunately, the only reasonably-priced sprouted bread I have found is at Trader Joe’s for $2.99 per load. Since I live about an hour from Trader Joe’s I usually wait for Kroger’s Ezekiel bread to go on sale and buy it for $4.99 (originally $5.99!).

You may wonder why I don’t make my own bread.

I have before, but then I did the math and realized that homemade sprouted bread would cost about five or six dollars per loaf (I forget exactly how much, but it wouldn’t save any time or money).

Most of the time my parents are able to stop by Trader Joe’s when they’re in the area, and they buy about seven loaves at a time for us to freeze.

Whatever works, right? Good luck on your bread-buying endeavors.

 

The worst hobby

Even though I grew up without a television at my mom’s house, I started watching TV with my dad at an early age.

I’ll cut to the chase: TV is one of the worst things to waste money on, yet almost everyone has one.

First, you have to buy a huge flatscreen TV worth anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Next, you will probably subscribe to a cable service for another couple hundred dollars per year.

Apart from the monetary expense, then you have to consider that the average American spends 1,825 hours per year watching TV– that’s 76 full days!

And what do you gain from watching TV? Basically nothing.

Unfortunately I’m right there with you though. This summer I’ve been so disappointed in myself for watching an average of 3 hours of TV each day (not to mention the occasional YouTube binge).

When I watch TV, I am sometimes procrastinating working outside in my garden, doing Spanish homework, or practicing guitar.

Almost anything would be a better use of time than watching TV. Even staring off into space is better because this glorious free-time passes slower without stimulation from the TV.

I was doing great for the last month of college. It took a lot of discipline, but I was able to avoid TV every day of the week (but I still watched a little on the weekends). Unfortunately, just as I expected, it has not been so easy to avoid TV here at home.

I have definitely been keeping busy still, but I just can’t shake the desire to watch TV, and I am a big pushover when I know my dad is sitting downstairs watching a movie without me. We almost always watch a movie during dinner.

Even though it’s hard during the summer, I think I will be fine with limiting TV to the weekends when I get back to college.

Just like giving up sugar, I got to the point where I realized that I could never watch all the shows that I wanted to watch, and there wasn’t even a point to watching them anyway.

If you can convince whoever you live with to give up TV with you, you’ll find it much, much easier.

And if you live alone, why not just stop paying the cable bill and give your TV away? You’ll be happier for it in the long run.

One luxury I still buy, but probably shouldn’t

I probably come across as a tightwad sometimes. Just, well, occasionally…

Since I only eat healthy food, I sometimes go out to eat with friends and just sit and watch them eat. It used to be pretty awkward but I’m getting used to it.

Another benefit of not eating out as much, even if I’m at a restaurant, is that I’m able to save a lot of money.

I’ve also stopped buying a lot of snack foods, clothes, video games, apps, music, and even school supplies. I have a few notebooks that have three classes worth of notes in them, and still plenty more space! And now that I’ve found binders that are actually durable, I haven’t gotten new ones since high school.

Of course I am prepared for my clothes to wear out– then I’ll start shopping at Good Will.

And yes, I still always have generic brand peanuts and usually some tortilla chips in stock for snacking. Just the bare necessities!

The one thing I still buy all the time though, is books.

I guess of all things to buy, this is a reasonable purchase, but I always feel guilty because I could just find most of the books I buy as a pdf online.

Or if I’m looking up information on a topic, I could do my own research rather than reading a book on someone else’s.

There are a few reasons that I still buy real paper books though. First of course, it’s kind of like stealing to just read the pdf online. Second, and obviously more importantly ;), I don’t like reading books on a computer because it can be bad for the eyes, and there’s no good way to store it– especially when living without wifi and maybe electricity after college.

The sad part is that I don’t even finish all of the books I buy, but I do hope to some day!

I must take after my stepmom. We have a full two walls of books that she collected, plus more in the basement.

I think if I live such a simple life that I am only growing my own food and maintaining some minimalist structures, I will need a hobby though, so that’s why I’ve still been buying and saving books. That’s also why I bought a guitar. And why I hike.

What would you do for fun if you had the extra time? Something that doesn’t require electricity…

Kefir: surely you’ve heard of it by now

These days I see articles about kefir all the time. Whether you’re talking about water kefir or milk kefir, I am definitely a fan.

I started drinking milk kefir against my will (thanks, mom) around age 15. Until recently I didn’t realize the benefits of it.

You should first know that milk kefir is made by fermenting milk with a symbiotic bacteria/yeast grain. The fermented milk will be preserved and seems to last indefinitely without refrigeration. I have drunk milk kefir that was stored for a year in the fridge, and recently drank some that had been at room temperature for a month or so.

I really like the taste of kefir, and it is even more refreshing cold. Sometimes it can have a fizzy bite and a yeasty flavor. Other times, it tastes a bit sour and not as pleasant (but still fine to drink). Finally, there are weird occasions when I get a batch that tastes surprisingly similar to fruit.

Water kefir tastes like water, if it were fermented into a wine.

As for the health benefits, kefir is full of B-vitamins and probiotics, and I think I’ve read that milk kefir is a complete protein.

I have found that kefir is great for a workout drink. I seem to feel more energetic if I drink it before going to the gym (but that is probably just in my head).

I also think kefir is a great winter drink, to help keep your body strong and ready to fight off colds. Building up a strong colony of beneficial gut bacteria makes it easier for your digestive system to destroy germs more quickly, and hopefully help you keep from getting sick.

I often got three or so bad colds each year, and now it seems like kefir has been playing a role in keeping me healthier– but of course there are too many variables to know for sure.

I have also heard people swear by kefir to help them avoid traveling illnesses. I plan to take some grains when I study abroad next month in the Dominican Republic.

Finally, homemade milk kefir is a step above store-bought milk since it adds bacteria back into the dead, white fluid that stores call milk.

Actually, I was eating full meals of kefir alone. I think it’s a great meal substitute if made with raw milk.

Unfortunately though, I realized that the kefir I make is still not great since most store-bought milk is still homogenized. I was drinking about two gallons of kefir per week before I realized that so much homogenized fat is best avoided… but that’s a post for another day.

Just as a final note, store-bought kefir is loaded with sugar and contains a fraction of the bacteria of homemade kefir. Don’t waste your money on that junk.

 

Earthworms writhing in agony

I went over to my granparents’ house last week to help them with some odd jobs.

My grandma wanted some help planting her garden, and I was excited to get some first-hand experience rather than blind guesses like I’d been making with my own garden.

She always tills her garden, usually multiple times per year. The ground was very soft and easy to plant, but I couldn’t help noticing that there were no bugs or earthworms to be seen.

Eventually we got over to the cucumbers and she brought a tiller out because the ground was too hard for her liking. I had no choice but to start ‘er up and run through the ground a couple times. I watched as the blades ripped earthworms to the surface and relentlessly broke down deeper and deeper.

Now I was never a big environmentalist, but this just hurt to watch.

I struggled to grasp why a person would use this disgusting machine in a garden that produces food, but I choked through the heavy stench of gas to finish up the job.

After I had finished, I explained to my grandma what I’ve been learning about how tilling damages the soil by disrupting its natural ecosystem and allowing the escape of beneficial gases from the ground. Additionally, it allows moisture to escape much more rapidly.

But hey, at least there are no weeds.

Later on in the day, after nearly cutting my finger off while replacing a sharpened mower blade, grandpa set me up with his sprayer to head out to the pasture.

I felt even worse about this job, but I still grabbed the dark brown herbicide and measured out five ounces.

I tried not to think about the bugs who would lose their homes or even die because of what I was doing. I hoped the wind wouldn’t blow this poison onto me. I made a mental note to never plant a garden here.

Anyway, I finished dumping this toxic chemical in only about an hour, while it would have taken my grandpa about three hours because he has a hard time walking and doesn’t like bouncing around at the higher speeds on the mower.

Even though these jobs go against everything I’ve been learning, I guess I’m glad to help my family with things that would be much harder without me.

I guess the point of this post would be to illustrate that even though I don’t support everything my family does, they’re important enough for me to compromise to help them out. After everything tangible and intangible they have done for me, the least I can do is spend a day violating my beliefs to accomplish something that’s important to them.

I’m still on the fence though– what would you do in a situation like this?

How I want to live

 

In my own life, I have made relaxation and rewarding work my priorities. Even though it’s a cliché, I think some of the most valuable advice you could follow is to do work you enjoy rather than work that is financially profitable.

I even know a few people who barely work at all, and live comfortably on $5,000 per year.

Along this same line, I really value not having a bunch of stress, like I would constantly face if I had continued down the path to med school.

I guess some people enjoy the stress and challenge, but I have a lot of friends who are just studying science for the money.

In order to support myself after college and start saving for retirement, I am thinking about raising enough food to start a CSA program, and maybe even doing something like Curtis Stone’s urban agriculture. He trades the produce he grows for the use of land, and he is able to make a good profit from very small plots.

After calculating the costs, I think I could live on around $10,000 per year, assuming that I’m able to grow and preserve most of my own food. I don’t plan to own my own land for a while because I feel comfortable just waiting to see what happens, and trading labor and produce to live very modestly on someone else’s property.

I had considered moving out to the wilderness after college (like Alaska or Maine), but I want to be close to family and friends, and I do still like having the convenience of society if I ever need it. Obviously right now I couldn’t live without it since I’m still working to learn primitive life skills.

I just talked to a friend over the weekend who has similar values but is pursuing a completely different life than me. He told me that after watching his brother struggle through the stress of premed courses and the MCAT, he is very happy with his choice to live an average, stress-free life.

I think he put my philosophy into words when he said that sure, he would enjoy having money, but sometimes money can just complicate life.

After working hard to learn stuff I wasn’t completely passionate about during high school, I am now excited to be making such major changes.

What are your plans? Are you saving up to live the dream later, or are you planning to live your dream now?

I expect about half the people who read this will think I’m crazy, and the other half might almost admire me for being so radical, but never consider this for their own life. But you should!

My goal through these posts is to share how to be happier with less.