In the past month or so, I’m convinced I generated more waste – both landfill and recyclable – than in the eight months prior. Here’s why I’m thrilled with this realization.
How did I get here? What happened between Plastic Free July and now? Well, I was preparing for and surviving hosting the FEI World Equestrian Games™ Tryon 2018 (WEG), one of the most difficult and rewarding experiences of my life*. Planning for WEG and working to make it happen has been the overarching theme of the past eighteen months, but the weeks leading up to and throughout the two-week, international world-championship equestrian competition were… ridiculous.
I dealt with anxiety, sleep deprivation, some of the most “you can’t make this up” problems I think I’ll ever encounter, and worked across many, many departments outside the marketing sphere. I lugged concrete weights and sandbags in addition to thousands of boxes of magazines, installed signage, scanned tickets, ran the carousel, dabbled in housekeeping, dog-catching and construction, and a few other roles I can’t even remember… in addition to my “real job.”
I did this, of course, with a great team who were working just if hard, if not harder, and kept me laughing at the hilarity of it all. Behind the behind-the-scenes, was my mom, keeping my fridge stocked and my dog fed and walked. I could not have survived WEG without her!
My impact: Coffee lines were long, whether for the free coffee dispenser in the media center (single-use packets, like a Keurig, that only dispensed into designated styrofoam cups of a certain size) or for the kind I had to pay for. Quite honestly, I was so running on fumes that I couldn’t remember to keep my beloved tumbler clean, much less remember to bring it with me each day. I chose to use single-use coffee cups.
I purchased orange juice after powerade after orange juice after powerade throughout the two weeks in order to keep me going – each in a plastic bottle, but necessary. I also ended up using way more water bottles than I’d like to admit, but staying hydrated was incredibly important, and it wasn’t always worth carrying my reusable bottle. There was a giant water refill station onsite that saved countless plastic water bottles (and money!) for spectators, and as a non-spectator there were plenty of additional places for me to get a refill, but having a container on-hand was difficult. I recycled as much as I could, but literally didn’t have time to stress over it. I chose to use single-use plastic.
Frozen and microwaveable meals kept me afloat. I needed lots of calories to get me through WEG, and I didn’t have time to make them. My angel of a mother made sure I had energy drinks, fruit of all kinds, greek yogurt, chocolate milk, and snacks to get me through each day, in addition to hearty meals when I did make it home. I wasn’t always sure there would be enough nut-free food available to me, so pre-packaged snacks were a must – I didn’t have time to wait in line for food I knew was safe. Most of the items that ended up in my fridge are not items I would have purchased on a normal day, but I requested them, and was so thankful to have them.
A few of my biggest supporters – from near and far!
When I ate free food onsite, the only utensils and plates available to me were plastic. This is totally status quo in the events and sports world, especially for an event of this size and caliber that was so miraculously thrown together in such a short time. Had we a full four years to plan as is normally customary at WEG, instead of 18 months, I personally would have pushed for much more reusables, more visible recycling than was already in place, and I would have planned my personal food consumption much more carefully. The circumstances could have been better, no doubt, but I’m not that bothered by it.
But why so optimistic? The past month reinforced to me that as an individual, my choices *absolutely* make a difference, especially over time. I’ve been conscious of my consumption of single-use plastics and other containers for so long, that I hadn’t counted the true volume of waste I was avoiding.
In my neighborhood, trash is collected weekly, but I only take my can to the curb every few weeks, and usually it’s only got one or two half-filled bags in it. I’d leave it longer, but I worry about attracting animals. Had I a compost pile, I’d almost never take out the trash. I shop carefully to reduce packaging where I can, and I usually eat pretty simply without sacrificing my favorites. This week, when I took out the trash, my several bags were full.
Recycling is collected every other week, and this week is the first time that I’m actually waiting on Wednesday to roll around. My recycle bin has never been this full. And that makes me proud, because even though I recycle everything I can’t reuse, I know it likely won’t be this full ever again.
Little steps make a huge difference! Just bringing reusable bags to the grocery store – and any other store, which is where I most often forget – can prevent thousands of single-use plastics from going to waste. Refusing to buy coffee in single-use containers makes a giant difference for coffee addicts like myself. Being thoughtful about what I eat and how I purchase it is something I really appreciate, since survival has been my motto for the past month or more.
An individual’s example is powerful. The few times I did have my tumbler on-hand during WEG, I got a few strange looks from the other customers in line, but not from the baristas who know me so well, now. At Starbucks the other day, espresso drinks were two for one, and when I refused a second latte since I only had one tumbler, both the employees and customers in line with me were a little taken aback.
Months ago, when I was grocery shopping after a long day and felt a little embarrassed by my slightly slower checkout due to the bags I’d brought with me, the cashier told me she loved my mesh produce bags and asked me where to get them. An elderly woman then stopped me and said that she was proud of me for making a difference, since “not enough people thought about the environment.”
And sure, when you think about how many plastic bags are carried out of my local Walmart each day, my seven mesh and cloth bags don’t seem that important. A few more recyclables don’t seem like much. But my full trash can and recycling bin from the past month would beg to differ – and I’m really excited to keep my contributions going now that I’m getting back into a normal routine.
The lesson learned: our choices as individuals have a huge impact! Choose wisely, friends, and celebrate your progress over perfection, always.
~ Welcome to Plastic “Free” October! ~
PS: On a more somber note, my experience with choices made while “surviving” says a lot about larger systems of poverty and how without systemic changes, many cannot afford to make the choices I usually enjoy. Perpetuated consumerism of single-use plastic and other items, packaging waste and poor nutrition all go hand in hand – and it haunts food insecure communities as well. I didn’t eat poorly throughout WEG, but I had lots of good options available to me. Had my fridge not been so well-stocked, things might have been different. To the same point, even in my “survival mode,” I could have made tiny changes with significant impact over two weeks, and every bit adds up.
No matter who we are, the more we choose to reduce waste, the more quickly larger systems will follow suit, and it’s only up from there.
*Don’t worry, WEG will get its own post soon – I’m still wrapping my head around it!
I was an environmental studies major in college, but I found that living in line with what I was studying was difficult to do while actually in college. It mostly came down to priorities (I juggled a lot) and time (not much of that). For instance, I wasn’t great about remembering to bring a reusable mug when I got coffee – and boy, did I drink some coffee.
When I grocery shopped, I paid no attention to packaging and made little effort to bring my own bags. Otherwise, I ate what was free – and that included lots of meat. Convenience and cost were at the forefront of my choices.
And then I ended up on my own.
No more free toilet paper, wifi, multiple free meals a day, or included utilities.
I got to see, truly, how much waste I as a single human being created. I couldn’t hide from it.
I tried going plastic free for all of July 2017 and could not believe how difficult it was to find food packaged without plastic – or unpackaged food at all.
I noticed the difference in my waste production when I ate out and brought back leftovers, grabbed a snack, meal or coffee in a drive-thru and when I didn’t. So did my budget.
In light of these observations, I did a lot of research on what I could do as a young, single, pet-owning human with a cashflow problem and a desire to live more sustainably.
What I found is that other people care about living sustainably, too, and that adopting these habits is a process. Changing lifestyle habits is actually more likely to stick if done slowly rather than suddenly, and I take comfort in that!
Small Changes First: A Few Examples
A) I stopped letting myself buy coffee in a single-use container. I bring my own, or better yet, I make my own at home! I’ve got a french press and it’s a great way to make coffee in a way that reduces waste, but it takes a little more time and effort than I’ve got sometimes. There is grace for days that I *must* have a latte.
B) I started refusing to grocery shop unprepared. Cloth bags live permanently in my car so I never forget them. I go for minimally-packaged food or at worst, reusable/recyclable containers. I don’t buy meat, usually – I eat out about once a week and usually enjoy a dish with meat then.
Shopping in bulk is almost impossible for me (allergies, rural shopping options) but here are my favorite ways to get groceries with less plastic:
Walmart – yeah, not what I expected to be first on this list, either. But their produce section has a lot more loose produce and fruits than most grocery stores, so it’s easy to bring your own container (BYOC). Except for leafy greens and carrots… ugh.
Aldi – BYOBags is required here, so I love the premise, but that doesn’t mean they have lots of unpackaged offerings. Fruits and veggies are almost always wrapped in plastic. Still good for jarred/canned/dry items.
Farmer’s Markets – there are several in my area, depending on how far I’m willing to drive, and most will gladly accommodate BYOC customers – sometimes more readily than accepting payments via card or check! Great for veggies, local honey in jars, fruits, etc.
Roadsides – they’re everywhere in Western NC, with fresh fruits and veggies galore! For me, the tricky part is to catch them open while I’m headed home, and not on my way out for a three-hour excursion. That and having cash on-hand.
C) Generally, I became more critical about my purchases. Clothing: thrifted when possible, and bought from sustainable, ethical brands otherwise. (Pro tip: ThredUp combines thrifting AND online shopping – win-win!) Cleaning products: old t-shirts-turned wash rags work better than and last longer than paper towels, anyway. There’s always a “zero waste” alternative.
Larger Changes Later
Start composting all my food scraps and using it to grow my own veggies? It’s on the list – for a day that’s not today, and that’s okay. There are plenty of items I could add to this list, many of which start with “make your own ____,” and ain’t nobody got the time for that right now.
Embracing small changes first means giving myself GRACE for the hiccups along the way… like moving, or schedules that change at the last minute, etc.
Great Brands Help: A Few Favorites
In navigating the challenge of shopping sustainably a rural area, I’ve found a few great brands that filled some particular needs of mine, and all are sustainable and ethical. Because I’m investing in quality products that will last, I’m saving money, too. Here are a few recent favorites – no ads or collaborations here, just fangirling:
Package Free:so many ways to ditch plastic, AND so many ideas to replicate without buying online! The first Package Free items I tried: A shampoo bar, face soap bar, and the safety razor – no more plastic in my shower! I can’t believe how many sub-par plastic razors the safety razor replaces – saving me money and the planet! Same thing with my bamboo straws – I can avoid so many plastic straws while keeping myself hydrated plastic-free!
The “Trash is for Tossers” blog is awesome and full of ideas – and P.F. products range from cleaning to kitchen supplies and everywhere in between! All shipping is even 100% plastic free. Seriously, go explore their site for the inspiration alone.
Street & Saddle: Handmade ethically by an entrepreneur and designernamed Katelyn in Vancouver, I love the art that is this collection of clothing! While not every item on their site is my style, their bamboo/rayon shirts are incredibly comfortable, sustainable, professional enough to wear to work, and functional enough for me to wear to the barn.
They’re gorgeous to boot! Some of these prices would have freaked me out a year ago, but I’m saving so much money through thrift shopping and in other areas of my budget that I’m learning to enjoy the occasional investment. Plus, sales are still a great thing. And I’ve got a long wish list…
Summersalt:Swimwear is one of those things I don’t feel like buying secondhand – crazy, I know! – and I did a lot of searching for sustainable brands. Most current eco swimwear brands are super pricy and/or shipped all the way from Australia (AUS and NZ are absolutely crushing the sustainable swimwear industry, FYI) but I eventually found Summersalt. All suits are under $95, are incredibly durable and sustainably made, and pieces mix and match well. This was a difficult item on my list to fill, and I like the way it turned out. I’ll be back for more!
Rareform: I needed a new backpack to take to work that was large enough to fit my computer, lunch, etc., but that was high-quality and didn’t cost half my paycheck. Most packs I found were leather… not quite what I was going for on either price or sustainability fronts.
Rareform recycles old billboard art to create unique backpacks, totes, duffle bags, computer sleeves, wallets – it’s genius and I ended up with a spacious, waterproof backpack that I’m proud to carry. Better yet, I only spent $68! I was able to score a black one that I know I’ll always want to take everywhere, but there are colors and styles galore to suit any personality! Definitely check them out.
Using Everything to End of Life
Once I found some awesome alternatives to objects I used already that were way more sustainable, I panicked a little at how much it would cost to replace all my earthly possessions. But here’s the thing: I shouldn’t replace everything I own right now! Doing so would create unnecessary waste and cost more money – totally missing the point.
There are some aspects of my life that I’m not sure will ever be waste-free… My nut allergy makes buying in unpackaged bulk dangerous, and my bread will likely always have to come in plastic bags until I decide to love baking bread for myself (I don’t). Many designated nut-free food items come packaged to prevent contamination, and I’m not shy about putting my safety first. But otherwise, I’m thrilled to be making a noticeable change, however slowly.
*Especially* in Plastic Free July, the internet is full of “Fifty Ways to Go Zero Waste” lists and ideas – and that’s a good thing. I remind myself often, though, that I do not have to start juggling all fifty of those zero waste habits at once – I can’t! One or two at a time is just fine, even if it takes months for me to take another step forward. One less piece of waste is still important, and personally, I’ve found so much joy in wading into the waters I’ve admired from afar for so long.
A new, modern generation of “waste not, want not” is coming, and I’m all in for it. How have you made zero waste doable for your situation? Please let me know in the comments!
Plastic Free July: Join me on Instagram!
I’m documenting my [honest, not always successful] attempts at plastic-free living this month on my Instagram story; join me @sarahcmadden if you’d like! Sneak peeks below:
Well, at least not for a virtual run for the roses… Here’s how a 5’8″ trail rider and a fellow “twenty-something” Thoroughbred/Arabian cross are combining forces to make a big impression for a big cause.
It’s official: I’m a jockey now. Except, just for a week… and it’s a race against my fellow jockeys who are also racing towards the virtual finish line – through fundraising! Everything is tax-deductible and your gift, no matter the size, will have an incredible impact! Here’s everything you need to know about HALTER’S “Fun for the Roses” Derby Week.
HALTER: Healing and Learning Through Equine Relationships
HALTER is an incredible therapeutic riding center in Spartanburg, South Carolina, where I was fortunate enough to volunteer, intern and teach while in college. It’s a special place and they serve more than 125 children weekly with their even more special herd of horses. They serve local school programs, including the South Carolina School for the Deaf and Blind just next door, and are home to occupational, speech, and physical therapy programs in collaboration with the Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System. HALTER horses have also been used for unmounted counseling sessions and learning experiences – their impact is incredible!
Here’s a glimpse of the incredible horses, riders and volunteers I’ve known through HALTER, and why this work is so important:
“Fun for the Roses” Derby Week:
It’s a horse race! Seven pairs of “jockeys” and their HALTER horse teammates are “racing” to the finish line in hopes of raising the most amount of money possible between April 30th and May 5. The best part? the JM Smith Foundation is matching donations, so your gift is doubled! Plus, you can help me earn bonus bucks for HALTER just by having a long last name, or donating closest to the start, so stay tuned for new challenges each day! While I’d love to take home the roses at the end of the week, the overall goal is for the contest to raise *at least* $24,000 for HALTER! Let’s do it!
Bonus Bucks: Your gift of any amount can count for even more!
The jockey to get a donation closest to the start of the race, 12:00am midnight EST Monday, April 30, will get a $50 bonus.
The first jockey to raise $1,000 in two or more donations gets a $100 bonus
The jockey to raise the most money between 5pm and midnight on Monday gets a $100 bonus
Monday: Each jockey who has a donor on Monday whose last name starts with D gets a $25 bonus
Tuesday: Each jockey who has a donor on Tuesday whose last name starts with E gets a $25 bonus
Wednesday: Each jockey who has a donor on Wednesday whose last name starts with R gets a $25 bonus
Thursday: Each jockey who has a donor on Thursday whose last name starts with B gets a $25 bonus
Friday: Each jockey who has a donor on Friday whose last name starts with Y gets a $50 bonus
Each jockey who gets all DERBY names gets a $100 bonus
Head to head challenge: on THURSDAY it’s businesswomen’s challenge! Winner gets $100 bonus. Sarah vs. Tracie vs. Susan
The jockey who gets a donor with the longest last name will get a $10 bonus for every latter of the name. If there’s a tie, the name that begins with the letter closest to Z wins.
Drummer is at least 24, but he’s one of my favorite horses I’ve used in therapeutic riding lessons because he is incredibly perceptive and quiet, and can be used for anything from independent walk-trot lessons to lead-line lessons with the smallest riders. His height makes him ideal for older riders (and taller volunteers!) who are focusing on communication and riding skills more than balance and motor skills, but I adore his ability to make any rider feel safe and successful.
Riding Drummer gives students confidence, because his height can often be intimidating at first, but he is literally a gentle giant and always tries his best for each rider. He prefers quiet energy and a slow pace, and I’ve been able to use this to teach students about their own energy, behavior, and learning styles. He’s taught students how to overcome fear, how to slow themselves down, how to ride independently, and how to self-regulate their emotions. I love him to death and am so thrilled to be paired with him in this challenge!
Some personal Drummer stories:
One of my former students dealt with fear and timidity when transitioning to riding independently and her vision impairment heightened her uncertainty. “L” and Drummer were a perfect pair – his natural tendencies made him gentle enough to allow her to explore independence without feeling out of control, but his size and stride made her feel like she was really accomplishing something amazing – she was.
Later, when navigating walk-trot transitions and dealing with fear, Drummer taught her to relax and what tense energy is – sweet Drummer and brave L cantered several times unintentionally, and once she realized she could handle the extra speed, she eventually became a class leader at the walk and trot. By the time she graduated from HALTER I received a video of her trotting independently around the arena more confidently than ever.
Drummer would prefer to avoid any kind of pressure at all times, thank you very much – he gets along well with quiet souls and with subtle, slow cues. So what happens when your rider can’t use their legs to cue? It’s no problem for Drummer! I once watched a young student use tiny, almost imperceptible taps with his hand on Drummer’s shoulder to cue him to walk on – without any assistance at all from volunteers – and my jaw dropped while the student beamed as he struck up a careful, snappy walk. This was before I knew Drummer well – before I rode him and used him in classes – and I didn’t have to know him long before I absolutely loved him.
Here’s to my favorite big guy and a successful race next week – let’s race, and let’s raise as much as we can for a cause that will always and forever have my heart, whether I’m teaching or not.
Thank you so much for helping us raise $33,105 for HALTER! Team Twenty-somethings accounted for $1066 and the jockeys collectively raised $15,255 – this amount was DOUBLED by the JM Smith Foundation and an additional $2,500 were added in Bonus Bucks from Southeastern Paper Group. Thank you so much for donating – your gift will travel farther than we can explain in words!
Of course, you can always donate to HALTER, either by donating funds, equipment, or even by shopping with Amazon Smile! Their donate button is always open at their website, as well as their wishlist and information about how you can get involved. Check it out here!
This post is really about publicly keeping myself accountable for my goals – which are not resolutions, but instead patterns I’m ever seeking to adopt.
There are many, but here are a few:
I want 2018 to be “mostly” vegetarian and less wastefully caffeinated, since we all know that I will never be less caffeinated. Especially not with less than 250 days to WEG.
By less wastefully, I mean that I want to avoid drinking coffee in a manner that creates waste. Brewing my own coffee in a french press is way better (and cheaper) than paying for my java in a paper or plastic cup.
I will pack myself a lunch more often! Working at a resort makes for some great food, but my wallet doesn’t enjoy it so much, and I end up eating meat more often. I’m always trying to avoid using plastic products, so this is a triple win.
Dancer and I are aiming for more arena time so we can ride more consistently and make real progress. We’ve been at quite the plateau and I’ve gotten out of riding shape as I’ve put more focus into adjusting to post-grad life.
I’m working on planning some van-in lessons so that Dancer can improve her trailering skills AND we can get some professional help. Win-win.
To help me get back in the saddle, I’ll also be devoting more time to the three “ladybugs” in my front yard – one of which is very rideable and could use a ten-minute walkabout every couple days just as much as I could. A little bareback never hurt nobody.
The long and short of it is that my goal is to ride as much as possible, because riding is always good, and by thinking strategically, I can actually afford to progress.
I want to create quality, commendable work. And also survive 2018. So most of my work-related goals have nothing to do with work. This category should be called NOT-WORK.
Sleep is a great, great, thing.
Piper and I want to explore more often, and I especially want to hike and camp. At the very least, I’m aiming to get the two of us outside and off property at least once a week. Even if that’s just running to the bank and stopping by Starbucks for a treat. At best, I want to explore each of my local state and national parks.
I’ll be investing in a dog trainer to help Piper learn how to relax around other dogs, horses, and new people. So our exploring can be even better.
When I’m not writing press releases or social media content or emails, I want to still feel like writing creatively, and I want to make space for myself to do that.
So far in 2018: I’ve written about 2.5 pages of new material for the second half of my novel – which puts me on track for about 45 new pages this year. Honestly, I’ll take it. 2019 will be much different; for now, I just have to maintain.
Actual work goal: don’t panic. Enjoy the ride.
So, now it’s about you, followers:
Do you have any similar goals for 2018? Are you awesome at anything on this list and willing to share your expertise? Comment below if we can cheer each other on!
A few weeks ago, on a busy weekend during which Piper and I spent more time at work than anywhere else, something beautiful happened. It snowed.
Though I was stressed about work, feeling the pressure of managing an event last-minute and scrambling to patch problems while almost all of my coworkers (and superiors!) were out of town, Piper was thrilled to be there. There were so many nice people to meet, so many things to sniff, and it was snowing, too!
She forced me to take breaks from work and go for walks. She made it impossible for me to ignore the best part about the snow. I couldn’t complain about the cold when she was leaping and snapping at flakes or skipping around me. Though the weather only made my life more complicated, it made Piper’s more exciting.
Our snowy weekend reminded me why I wanted to adopt a dog in the first place: I needed a friend to walk with me through the dark and cold, so that I wasn’t so alone.
I shouldn’t have ended up with Piper. I found her by “accident” – if you want to call it that – and several other open doors closed before I returned to the dog with three legs and first contacted her foster mom. I had doubts, but everything fell into place anyway.
Piper survived a traumatic injury at a young age, and recovered with the help of a devoted volunteer who fostered her off and on and did her best to get her out of a shelter environment. During that time, Piper became to her foster mom what she is to me now: a blessing in a lonely period of life.
I found out after my first visit with Piper that her foster mom would soon be moving, too far away to remain caring for her. She was worried about Piper’s future and was praying for the right adopter to come along.
I had been discouraged by the process of finding an adult dog who would adapt to my chaotic life, my weird schedule, my living situation and my career. I’d been searching local shelters for months, and each dog that seemed right initially was ultimately not a good fit. I sent an email asking about Piper anyway, and laid out all the details of my life that might have been red flags… Details, that in emails past, had prevented me from adopting other dogs.
“I think you might be a match for her,” she wrote back.
Even after my first meeting with Piper, I was skeptical that we’d work together. But none of my concerns meant anything to Piper or her guardians. Honestly, it wasn’t until after she came to live with me that I understood what I had to offer Piper was exactly what she needed: a dog-free, cat-free household; a backyard perfect for lounging and nature watching; a cozy couch to snuggle on; brief walks; a dog-friendly job and a small army of friends willing to help out when needed.
I smile every morning when she looks at me out of the corner of her eye and wags her tail furiously, waiting for me to say “breakfast.” She makes me laugh, think creatively, and go outside more often. She keeps me from getting ANY work done when she’s snuggling with (and on!) me, but when I am ready to go out, she’s ready to come with me. She doesn’t hold back; she makes her opinions known and loves with her whole heart, instantly. She makes me feel safe – she is a ferocious guardian against every twig that falls on the roof or gust of wind that sounds like a footstep on the porch. I say it often: I can’t believe I ever lived by myself.
Piper is a beautiful reminder of grace, resiliency, and love. For me, she is a promise kept, and further proof that God will always provide exactly what we need.
I went looking for a four-legged friend and didn’t quite find one. Instead, my three-legged angel found me, and I’m so thankful for how merry and bright this season of my life has become because of her.
While I’ve got family within drivable distance, Piper has made my house a home, and she’s definitely family. She’s learning never going to get along with her equine sister, as well as the three “Ladybugs” in our front pasture, but we’ll keep trying. Maybe one day we’ll behave well enough to get a real family photo.
For now, we’ll be on the couch if you need us.
Edit: we tried family photos anyway. Neither of my children behaved, and both attacked the other. Such is my life. Enjoy.
Fun fact: If there were a third picture to this sequence, it would show all three of us standing on two legs.
Yes, 2018 will involve a dog trainer. But it will also involve so many adventures, and I’m thrilled to see where we end up!
I’m more than two months in to my new position at Tryon Resort, serving as PR & Marketing Coordinator at Tryon International Equestrian Center. Livin’ the dream and still pinching myself that I get to grow horse sport and work with the people I work with.
In the winter, however, most of my coworkers are based in Florida, so things are starting to get quiet* in the office… really quiet when Michelle is out of office and I’m the only one there! And then I go home to an empty house. Sure, there are three horses down the driveway, but they’re no good at indoor snuggling. But you know who is?
World, meet Piper, my new snuggle buddy and 3.14-legged roommate!
She’s a four year-old Staffordshire Bull Terrier and Boxer mix who has spent most of her life in foster care or at a shelter. She was struck by a car at a young age and broke two of her legs, eventually losing one because she went so long without treatment.
She doesn’t seem to mind.
Piper loves car rides, short jogs, lounging on the pool chairs and surveying the farm. Her favorite thing in the world is meeting new people and greeting them with a kiss. Her cuddles are the best.
She has no IDEA what horses are or that she should be very, very afraid of them, but we’re working on that. For now, she loves to supervise them from afar.
Our bucket list includes various camping and hiking destinations, visits to family and friends, and definitely checking out all the outdoor dining we can find (she found new fans at The Crepe Factory most recently). I can’t wait to adventure with her!
On a very real note, I’ve found that despite the chaos of transitioning her into my life, as well as her recent virus that required two vet visits and WAY too much cleaning of my house, Piper has drastically improved my quality of life. I can’t believe I lived without her before!
If you live or work alone, you should definitely have a friend – dog or otherwise. Trust me, it doesn’t even need to have four legs!! 10/10 would recommend.
I’m so thankful to have a new member of the family… and I apologize (a little) for all the photos still to come.
If you actually want to see more of Piper, follow me on Instagram for regular snuggle snaps. We’ll see you there!
Et al: There are now less than 300 days til the World Equestrian Games (find us @tryon2018 on the social medias), and it’s highly probable that I’ll be working almost all of them. You’ll probably catch me there more than here.
October 2018 is going to be soooOo sweet. I’ll sleep for most of it.
*Team: if you’re reading this, I miss you! See ya soon.
I had a cute postgrad blog post planned, but today I have something more important–and something more urgent–to say instead. This post is inspired by a Facebook post I saw from multiple people in the past week, three-hour drives to and from Winston Salem, and lots of coffee.
“Great Barrier Reef dead at 25 Million” reads a New York Post headline from Oct. 2016.
Snopes says it’s not true… yet. That doesn’t mean that the world’s largest coral reef system isn’t about to flatline in the next few years, especially since 2016 was an especially devastating year for the GBR:
A survey of the extent and severity of coral bleaching between March and June 2016 conducted by the Australian Government’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and released on 13 October 2016 found that:
22 percent of coral on the Reef died due to the worst mass bleaching event on record. Eighty-five percent of this mortality occurred in the 600 kilometer stretch between the tip of Cape York and just north of Lizard Island (Snopes).
Also according to Snopes: “The latest surveys indicate that 93% of the individual reefs in the GBR have suffered some degree of bleaching, with reefs in the north the most severely affected. Australia’s marine biodiversity, and the jobs and economic prosperity that the reef supports, is under grave threat.”
I have three things to say about this situation and one multi-faceted response:
Firstly, prematurely declaring the GBR dead could impact efforts to save it… doomsday thinking is usually more harmful than helpful to environmentalists, as much as we love to talk about thresholds from which we cannot return. I’m reminded of Christian rhetoric in particular that calls us to “fill the earth and subdue it,” a phrase which holds a very different connotation than stewardship, and implies very little respect for the earth. This is specially true when combined with end-times doctrine that perpetuates greedy usage of what’s here now instead of preserving for the future. Understanding the dire nature of a problem is important. But we cannot declare something impossible to save if there’s something left to try (Like, I don’t know…. supporting the Paris Agreement, or recognizing that CO2 is definitely a huge contributor to climate change, or allowing scientists to study climate without censoring them or cutting their programs entirely. Just a few ideas.)
Secondly, the visibility of this issue matters… and it should move people to action. I grew up learning about the Great Barrier Reef in school, hearing that coral bleaching was becoming a problem and that an increase in global temperatures was changing the acidity of ocean waters and creating a nearly irreversible trend in bleaching. But many people don’t know about coral reef bleaching at all, much less that the Great Barrier Reef is in danger of succumbing to it. On the one hand, it’s a great thing that so many people are now concerned about the GBR, whether or not they’ve been there. I’m hopeful that the attention it’s getting moves people to make a change, now that they’ve seen what we’re in danger of losing. This is a serious, visible result of climate change… maybe some people will finally be convinced that human actions do have consequences, and that climate change is something to pay attention to instead of ignoring it.
With our current administration denouncing the Paris Agreement (despite more than 343 cities, more than 900 businesses and almost 200 colleges and universities and three states pledging to uphold it anyway), the GBR is seriously threatened. And climate change will have much more direct impacts on our lives than anything that happens to the GBR: coastal cities around the world are more likely to be submerged under rising sea levels… directly impacting more than 40% of the world’s population (40% of the world’s population lives within 100km of the coast as of 2010, and that number has only increased).
Thirdly, we have got to stop believing that actions do not have consequences. I don’t understand how the same people who:
appreciate mankind’s ability to level mountains and blast through them,
clear entire landscapes for development,
know what an oil rig looks like and/or enjoy the use of electricity,
marvel at engineering achievements such as dams and bridges and highways and industrial agriculture, as well as countless other examples of anthropogenic forces on our globe,
fly in airplanes and look down on enormous cities–especially at night–and see how significant they are on the landscape,
or understand how rapidly our country has been developed compared to others, and how significantly different our lives have become in the digital age
are the same people who deny that all these actions could possibly have negative impacts somewhere outside the financial statement. Climate change might not have the same, immediate effect on an individual as touching a hot stove, but its larger systemic symptoms are overwhelmingly supported by scientists, and our impact on the globe is worth considering simply due to its rapid (and rapid increase in) pace in the last few centuries alone. We are transforming our planet, and we at once seem to believe that our impact is possible and also not provable. I’m baffled.
How will I respond? On one level, by redefining what Christians call “filling and subduing the earth,” and on another level, by “keeping” the Paris Agreement in my own ways. Here are some springboards for action from various aspects of life:
Plastic Free July: In case you missed it, plastic is incredibly hazardous to aquatic ecosystems and there’s actually a trash gyre the size of Texas floating in the Pacific as we speak. Plastic bioaccumulates up the food chain, causing carcasses to be found with stomachs clogged with trash. Plastic Free July is an initiative started in Western Australia, and its goal is to highlight just how much single-use plastic we consume and see how much we can reduce it. The objective? Don’t use any single-use plastic for all of July (or forever, if you get attached to saving the planet). Cut out plastic straws, utensils and flatware, plastic water bottles, shopping bags and cling wrap, and you’ll find that you use a lot more plastic than you thought you did. It’s difficult sometimes, and I’m not great at it, but I’m enjoying the learning experience.
Packaging can throw some kinks in plastic-free shopping for groceries or household products, but the benefit of initiatives like these is they expose how prevalent plastic is in our lives, and the more mindfully we consume, the better. Plus, there’s always recycling. Plastic Free July–and all environmentalism, for that matter–is about participating as able. There’s a really cool list of ways to live plastic free, which you can find here.
One of the cool ways I’m ditching plastic wrap and plastic bags is by using Bee’s Wrap, a plastic free way to package bread, veggies, snacks and food products for storage or transport. I just purchased some and I love it already! I’m also participating in Plastic Free July by bringing cloth bags to the grocery store (especially when buying veggies!) and carrying a reusable water bottle with me instead of purchasing bottled water or sodas in plastic containers. This goes for coffee, too–I can bring my own thermos, or I can do without. Regardless, I can do without plastic straws! I carry my own, reusable utensils around, too–something I started doing during my senior year of college. It feels good to imagine how many times I’ve been able to opt out of plastic since I started!
Meat… Less: I love meat, but I don’t eat it every day, and I much prefer to know exactly where it came from. Industrial agriculture has developed a system that relies heavily on corn-fed cattle pumped with antibiotics–an unnatural and water-intensive, highly polluting process that also emit about two billion metric tons of CO2-equivalents per year–more than the entire transportation sector. The less meat we eat, the better off the environment… If you don’t believe me, this list from The Natural Resources Defense Council of the most environmentally destructive foods starts and ends with meat-based products, and to the credit of my vegan friends, contains only one non-animal product. While my personal life choices might not offset the entire American culture of meat at every meal, cultural shifts happen in increments, and I’ll be one of them.
Check out this startling infographic below from CulinarySchools.org, then keep scrolling for more ways I’m combatting climate change in my everyday life.
Boxed wine: I can hear some of my friends groaning across the internet, but as a person who loves to drink a glass of wine at dinner when I get home from work, it is much more environmentally friendly and economically feasible to drink boxed wine… and I think it’s great. Unfortunately, the wine does live in a plastic bag, but cardboard and plastic are way easier to recycle than glass around here, so I’d say it’s a step in the right direction. And with some boxed wines, there is no bag–it’s like buying a carton of milk, or a juice box… An adult juice box. I’ll drink to that.
Coffee: This deserves its own category because I’m a writer and I can’t write without coffee–and whether I’m buying it in a plastic/paper cup at a shop or using a Keurig at home, I’m creating a lot of waste. So when I graduated college I transitioned to making coffee in a French press every morning, eliminating any paper or plastic waste, and using a thermos to keep my coffee hot all day, so I never need to buy an afternoon pick-me-up that comes in a plastic cup or bottle. If I do run out of coffee, I show up to the barista’s counter with my own container. Some places even offer a discount for bringing your own mug–the intern on an intern’s salary loves that!
Cosmetics and feminine products:Uh oh… she just went there. Yup, I did. But ladies, there’s a LOT of plastic floating around in our bathroom cabinets, and there are alternatives for everything we currently own, including makeup and cosmetics. Make sure your habits aren’t preventing you from exploring new options, like applicator-less tampons, period panties or diva cups. I’ve also learned to be aware that cosmetics, shampoos and exfoliating scrubs might contain microbeads: tiny pieces of plastic that accumulate in waterways and can bioaccumulate in the seafood we eat later (!!).
Microbeads are almost impossible to clean up, but many cosmetic companies use them in their products because they’re cheap. Skip the microbeads by checking labels for words like Polyethylene (PE), Polypropylene (PP), Polyethylene terephthalate (PET), Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) or Nylon… or by using the Beat the Microbead app to scan labels and know what you’re up against.
Clothing: Thrift shopping is one of the most environmentally friendly ways to buy clothes, as the clothing industry is notoriously heavy on both natural resource usage and worker exploitation (think sweatshops, which are still totally a thing). Turns out the majority of our clothes are created in developing countries and transported across the globe before reaching retailers–an environmentally negative system in and of itself–but the processes are also less regulated for environmental hazards or workforce welfare. Like most systems in an industrialized world, it’s a non-knowledge system that the consumer isn’t supposed to pay attention to. But buying or donating used clothing and extending its life by even a few months saves precious natural resources, among other environmental benefits. Check out five reasons to thrift shop more often here.
When I do buy clothes new, I try to know as much about the company as possible. Try looking at RankaBrand.org and see where your favorite clothing lines stand on sustainability, including climate change and carbon emissions, environmental policy, working conditions and fair trade. This website can be useful for almost any brand, from technology to food, but I find it particularly helpful when I’m shopping. If a brand isn’t on the site, you can suggest it, and you can “nudge” companies to better their scores with an easy-to-use pre-formatted email. Capitalism at its finest! 😉
Some companies are even learning how to recycle clothes, such as H&M’s clothing recycling program. If they bring in clothing to be recycled, customers can receive a discount on their purchase. Not only is this a good deal for a young person on a budget like me, but it could spread throughout the entire clothing industry over time, and that’s something I want to support. Any clothes that I don’t want at the end of each season and that wouldn’t sell at thrift shops, I’ll be bringing with me when I go shopping for more work attire. While H&M doesn’t have the best rating on RankaBrand, it’s definitely made improvements in recent years and it’s certainly important to me that these kinds of programs become the norm!
Travel: This one is tough for me. I live close to work and my horse, but living in a semi-rural area means there’s no public transportation system I can use, and I end up driving hours at a time when I deliver promotional materials for work. On the bright side, I still drive a minivan instead of a truck, so my MPG is pretty decent and I’m able to carpool with friends whenever possible–and usually I can fit everybody. But it’s something that I’m learning to be more conscious of as I settle into routines and explore my new home.
Equestrian activities and products: I did an entire capstone on environmental horsekeeping, and I still find it difficult to make a dent in my habits as a horsewoman. Almost every product I buy for my horse comes in a plastic bottle, box, or bag, and some are even dangerous to aquatic life. Recycling is key, but there are other things I can do, too: I can limit how much water I use by only hosing down my horse when necessary, or using a sponge and bucket instead of a hose; I can sell or donate used equipment instead of trashing them; I can “carpool” when trailering my horse or choose destinations nearby to limit vehicle emissions; I incorporate barn visits with other errands so that I limit my own traveling time; and I purchase environmentally conscious products whenever possible. Equine science is a little behind some other fields, and environmentally focused equine science is even farther behind, so I’m excited to see what products develop in the next few years. In the meantime, the practice of horsekeeping is mostly about mindfulness and intentionality with recycling.
Another challenge in the area of horsekeeping is the fact that I do not manage my own facility and have limited influence of larger-scale practices impacting the landscape, such as manure management, pasture rotation and pest management. In that way, I am somewhat limited. But again, it’s enough to do the best I can with what I’ve got.
Recreation: Supporting National Parks is a great way to promote environmentalism, and luckily I’m surrounded by state parks, national parks and outdoor attractions. Plus, hiking does great things for the mind. It’s not just about working out, fighting boredom, or getting a sweet pic for the Insta!
That’s all I’ve got in me for this season of my life… or at least until you all give me more ideas! Please please please leave thoughts below if I’ve missed anything you know about. Don’t worry, fam… I’ll post that cutesy, postgrad life blog post another day.