Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Our First Eco Village Experience

In September we had our first visit to an Eco Village and it was an amazing experience! I had my doubts and was anxious prior to our trip, but by the time we were saying goodbye and giving hugs two weeks later, we didn't want to leave.

Where did all of this happen? At Dancing Rabbit, an intentional village in rural Missouri!

In the spring of 2013, we applied for work exchange positions, however the visitor program was more suited for us since we're a family of three, so we applied for that too! After a few weeks of correspondence we were accepted into the program for September. We made the necessary arrangements and when it came time, we took off for two weeks into the unknown! What an adventure!

The purpose of the two weeks is to paint an accurate picture of village life and to introduce people to all of the customs, as there are so many things there that stray from the norms most of us are accustomed to. We certainly learned a great deal while there. We saw all kinds of new things and were involved in new experiences.

The houses there vary in style, some look like a a regular home, others look like they were made of mud and are artistic and unique. While each structure may differ in appearance, they all have one thing in common - they are built sustainably.

We got to help out with two of the homes being built. One was straw bale and we stomped cob for the inner walls of it. It was a novel experience to feel the cob squish between our toes and then journey to the lake to clean off afterwards when we were caked in it.

I learned to be more comfortable with composting toilets and with having to go to the bathroom without as much privacy as I prefer. Josh learned about alternative energy. Kai learned how to play with a little girl there who was 6 months older than him. It was a process of constant learning and every day there was a wealth of knowledge just waiting to be tapped into.

We rode bikes, ate lots of vegan community meals, took many dips in the swimming pond, cooled down in the Inn with beer or with Virgil's soda, and laughed and enjoyed time with our companions. We had a daily agenda that was structured so that we spent time with different members learning and doing different things. There was also evening community activities. Free time was also accounted for.

It was an epic time. Truly, we met many wonderful individuals there.

We can definitely envision ourselves living there, but we haven't decided if it is what we want to do. In the meantime, we'll probably visit again and I can't wait!!

If you want to check it out:

Or if you're interested in intentionally communities closer to you:

Just remember, you can't simply show up! You have to prearrange your visit so that it is convenient for both you and the members living there!

Friday, December 27, 2013


We're sitting here all sick with the flu. It wasn't a very fun Christmas, let me tell you. It gives me some time to post though, so here I am!

I mentioned in an earlier post that sweepstakes and contests can be a good way to score extra goods for the holidays. On Facebook alone, many of my favorite companies had giveaways. There were gift cards, books, tinctures, and vegan sweets - awesome prizes in my opinion, and usually all I had to do was comment on a post.

Branching out from Facebook, there are sweepstakes all over the Internet. Over the past month, it's become a sort of hobby of mine and I devote about 30 minutes a day to filling out forms for fantasy prizes.

It's tricky because it can quickly become an addiction, so moderation is key. I try to do my entries at night before I go to sleep, after I get my son to bed - that way, I'm not cutting into any time that I share with him.

Another thing to keep in mind is that prizes are only things, things that we can be happy without. I do not live the stereotypical consumer lifestyle. I do not buy things all the time and when I do acquire "new" possessions, I often try to get it second hand. Thrift stores and freecycle.com are awesome ways to procure items. I say all of this because I feel that it's important to realize that these contests are about fun chance, the thrill of winning, and less about the objects we don't need, though prizes certainly have perks. I like thinking about winning trips I would never indulge myself with and fancy gadgets I would never buy. It would be cool, but I'm okay without those things. My advice: don't get too invested in it; it should be fun!

Now that I got all that out of the way, I'll tell you how I go about it..

I follow a few different websites, these are my two biggest:


From those websites, I pick out my favorite contests and I enter. If the contest happens to be one that can be entered daily, I bookmark it into a folder that I use just for giveaways. Inside that folder I have two more folders, 1 and 2, and I prioritize my sweepstakes and put ones that are cooler or instant wins in the first and less cool ones in the second. Then when I have spare time, I go to Folder 1 and click through each bookmark until I work my way through them all. Since the contests in Folder 2 aren't as neat, I only do those if I have extra time.

I enter all of these on my phone and I switched my settings so that safari will autofill my information from my contact information. I usually have to input and fix information that the autofill botches, but it's a relatively quick process.

I use the same email address for each contest and all contest related emails go into a special folder on my inbox, so that I can easily go back through it if I need to.

It's easy to get burnt out from entering every day and not winning or even waiting to find out if you've won. When that happens, take a break from it or do less a day. Don't necessarily give up altogether though (unless you find you're wasting too much time doing it.) One person said that it can take months before winning anything. I try to be patient and to remember that it's all in good fun. I've managed to win three contests since November, just little things, but it was neat. I like free stuff!! ^.^

Have you ever won anything cool? Tell me about your experience!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Homemade Holiday

The holidays can be an overwhelming time of the year, especially for those of us struggling to make ends meet. It doesn't have to expensive though! It's not hard to make the best of it and to have a good holiday, even if it's a frugal one.

The important element is to stay calm and to have fun - don't sweat the small stuff. No matter what your religious beliefs are, the holidays are not all about presents and THINGS. It's more important to keep to the heart and to share what you have, whether that be time, a helping hand, cookies, a donation, or crafts.

Here are some tips to having a stress-free holiday on the cheap:

1. Explain to friends and whoever you usually exchange gifts with that you would prefer to not do it this year. Gift giving has become a social norm, one that compels people to spend money they don't have due to the pressure of following this "tradition". Instead of giving gifts, share cookies or a bottle of wine or homemade ornaments.

Presents are not symbolic of the value of a relationship. I repeat, presents do not in any way represent the worth of a relationship and anyone who believes that they do, that gift giving is crucial to friendship, is wrong. Real friendship is not a game of power or exchanging obligations and spending money. True kinship is feeling joy for those you love and expressing that joy. Sit down with your friends or family and have a potluck, play games, and sing songs. I'm not saying gift giving is wrong, it's not wrong by any stretch, but when money is scarce sometimes it's better to skip the gifts and to celebrate kinship with those you love.

2. If you have a child or someone you want to buy presents for, it might be wise to express that you don't want anything for yourself, and solely want to focus on this other person. Josh and I decided that we aren't buying each other anything and that any gifts for each other have to be homemade. We want Kai to have a fun holiday and so he's our focus.

3. Don't be afraid to have a homemade theme! Homemade gifts can be REALLY awesome and often times are more cherished because of this. ^.^ There are tons of DIY resources on Pinterest and on other blogs. For this Christmas Kai is getting a sock monkey I sewed him, a felt (no wool!) art kit for storing coloring papers and pencils, empty spice containers turned into creature maracas, and a magnetic chalkboard we made using a sheet of metal and chalkboard contact paper we already had (all we had to do was purchase chalk and magnets and mount the board with mirror holders.) We did buy him a few things, but let me get into that in a moment. I had a lot of ideas for Kai. I'll have to post them in the future, maybe it will inspire someone else for their toddler. Here's a few DIY gift ideas for grown ups: handmade ornaments, homemade lotion bars, sugar body scrubs, CD "mix tapes", jewelry, jewelry holder, infused oil, scented body wash with your own combination of essential oils, painted rocks glued to magnets for a unique magnet set, crocheted hats and scarves, hand stitched wallets, and rarely can you go wrong with cookies.

4. If you want to do something in addition to homemade gifts, there is no shame in buying second hand at a resale shop. Sometimes around the holidays, these shops run sweet deals too! I got Kai 4 sweaters, 1 hoodie, 4 sleepers, and 3 pairs of pants for under $30 because they were on sale and most were half off the ticket price. I love my local store, it's a children themed resale shop. (I've been trying to think of how to phrase that for minutes. If I say it's a children resale shop, it sounds super sketchy like it's part of a trafficking ring. Yikes, not quite the same thing.) I also found Kai a few board books and a puzzle. We get most of Kai's books used (or we check out books from the library, also good!) I feel like books are something he's going to wear out anyway, so why bother getting them new? He loves playing with his books and he surely doesn't mind if they are a little pre-loved.

5. Sweepstakes. You think I'm joking? I'm not! Around the holidays, many companies start offering giveaways and contests. I'll elaborate further on this in another post. For now, I highly recommend following a few of your favorite brands or stores on Facebook. I put a lot of effort into a giveaway last month and won myself a Tofurky feast and if we had a local Whole Foods, that would have served as the core of our meal. Since we can't afford a trip to Whole Foods just yet, we're going to make our own Christmas feast and maybe we'll have our free one over Easter.

6. Don't go crazy with fancy wrapping paper. Use newspaper, brown bags, or brown shipping paper. If you don't want to admit that you're skipping the expensive stuff because it's well, expensive, just tell people you're recycling for the environment. We had a hodgepodge of wrappings this year, most gifts were in newspapers that our friend was about to throw out, some in leftover scraps from last year, and a few were in brown packing paper from amazon orders. I reuse bows every year and save all the cute bags we get presents in and reuse them, so that saves money too!

I saw online that one family wraps theirs in fabrics! Voila, reusable wrapping paper. Maybe next year we'll try that.

I leave this post with these simple six tips for now; I'll update in the future when I remember anything I missed.

Happy Holidays, all! Remember to be joyous and to be thankful. :-)

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Acts of Kindness

Intentional Acts of Kindness

When I first came across this idea a year ago, it inspired me, but I didn't follow it through. These acts are often called pay it forward or random act of kindness. I want to make it less of a random act and more of an intentional one, as I try to practice mindful living, the art of living intentionally.

My thought is to do an act of selfless kindness on holidays to celebrate the day, to place emphasis on the joy of giving rather than receiving. I can think of no better way to share ones beautiful spirit. Truly, it's a profound lesson that reaches far and cultivates empathy in a world where empathy is often forgotten. Our society has become obsessed with objects and buying - less interested in the root of sharing and giving, so this helps to rekindle that sentiment of finding pleasure in thinking of others, instead of the self.

My second thought is that this kind of intentional living is something that can be done all year and not just on holidays. Maybe during the holidays, it can be a more emphasized theme, but it could definitely be beneficial to do all year round.

And so, I propose a challenge: once the new year begins, try to be a more selfless person. Go out of your way for others, even if you don't feel they "deserve" it. Find empathy and compassion for everyone you meet.

Try this to help you get started. Each week follow a theme and use that theme to inspire yourself to do as many acts of kindness as you can. These acts of kindness can be as simple as saying hello to a neighbor you've never talked to or as involved as organizing a neighborhood project like a food drive.

To keep myself on this challenge, I'm going to post weekly focus themes and then post on what my family does to represent that theme.

I would love for others to join in and to tell me what joy they are creating in the world too, so that it might help inspire others.

-Week One-
Focus on the environment!
-Take part in Meatless Monday. If you can, go meat-free for a whole week!
-Buy or make Reusable Shopping Bags and have the cashier give them to the next twenty customers or stand outside to give them to shoppers entering the store.
-Plant a tree in honor of someone you love.
-Plan for a spring garden.
-Ride a bike, take the bus, or offer to carpool with coworkers for a week.
-Upcycle to create a unique gift for someone. (A soda bottle shrinky dink, a pallet shelf, a t-shirt stuffed animal. There are tons of resources online!)
-Join the freecycle community, so that you can find a home for your possessions that you don't need anymore. It's better than just throwing it away! With freecycle, people post what they need or what they have to offer. You never know what you might find or who you might help out!
-Join a recycling program.

What ideas do you have?

-Week Two-
Focus on giving back to (or appreciating) those who serve you.
-Leave an unexpected large tip to your waitstaff, even if they seemed frazzled or forgetful. Empathy is crucial. We never know if someone is having a hard day or if they are a new employee.
-Bake cookies and take to your local fire station to say thank you for their dedication or write a letter expressing your gratitude.
-Thank your mail carrier! If you can afford to, give them a little gift to let them know you appreciate the job they do.
-Give public workers in the cold hot beverages or doughnuts or muffins, or, if it's a warm day you could give them cold bottled water.

There are many people who work to help make life more convenient and these people are often overlooked and under appreciated for their hard work. What ideas do you have to show appreciation?

-Week Three-
Focus on bringing joy to the community.
-Stop by the nursing home and spend some time with the seniors there who might not have many visitors.
-Join a community program, maybe you could be a Big Brother or Sister. Maybe you could volunteer at an animal shelter or contribute to Habitat for Humanity.
-Hide notes of encouragement or inspiration in library books. In children's books you could hide stickers or dollar bills.
-Leave Easter eggs of random goodies in the park for kids to find. Hide them so that they will be found over time. You could leave stickers, dollar bills, bouncy balls, or other cheap toys.
-Volunteer to read to children at the library.
-Pay for the next person's coffee when you order yours.

-Week Four-
Focus on empathy and compassion and give to those less fortunate.
-Look for opportunities to help others, for example, stop to help someone who drops their papers, help a mother carry her groceries, or help scrape ice off someone's car.
-Try to be more conscious and considerate of the people around you. If someone is having a bad day, offer encouragement. Take the time to listen, try to be a good listener.
-Create a new mom package and take it to the hospital for them to give to a new mother who has no support there.
-Volunteer at or donate to a woman's shelter.

What are your thoughts?