Five Things Friday: Waste-Free Soap Bar,Vegan Butter Recipe, Stationery Biking, Soap Nuts, Podcasts

Welcome to my third instalment of Five Things Friday! You can read the previous two here and here. In this weekly post, I try to talk about cool stuff that’s on my radar that would be of interest to my audience.

I have to be honest that I haven’t gotten up to much other than work and (attempted) essay writing this week, but there are still definitely five things that I want to bring to your attention! Let’s get started.

Waste-Free Soap Bar: // Yesterday, I wrote a full blog post sharing my thoughts on the Soap Works shampoo bar. My verdict? It’s not bad; I’m actually pretty happy with it. I will probably continue to try different soap bars, but I plan to finish this one, and I don’t dread washing my hair with it, the way that I did with the LUSH shampoo bars (I tried two of those—hated both because they were wayyy too drying for my hair). Read all about it here. And guess what? It costs about $2–3 and it lasts a really long time (I have long, thick hair and after four or five washes, the bar still looks almost completely unused). You can buy it here.

Vegan Butter Recipe: // I’ve been resisting vegan butter for the longest time, using coconut oil or vegetable shortening instead (I can buy them in bulk so it’s “waste free”) and not getting the same results you would with butter. Then I decided to look up vegan butter recipes, and this one looks promising. I’m thinking, weekend project. I will let you know how it turns out. Seems simple enough, and I already have most of the ingredients, such as olive oil, apple cider vinegar, turmeric, and a few others.

Soap Nuts: // It turns out you can do your laundry with a completely plant-based detergent alternative that is also unprocessed. Soap nuts look like nuts (thanks, whoever named them), and they’re a berry shell that naturally contains soap! I can buy them in bulk at Bulk Barn, and so far I am experimenting with them. You are supposed to be able  to reuse them in several loads of laundry, but my experience hasn’t been that! I will write a whole post when I figure out exactly what does and doesn’t work with regards to soap nuts.

Stationery Biking: // Change of plans! My seldom used stationery bike is now near my workspace, so I hop on to pedal a little every so often throughout the day. It’s great! One of the biggest “pros” of working from home is being able to actually move and exercise during breaks, even if they’re only five minutes long. This isn’t the biggest calorie-burning hack, though I do rack up 100–200 extra by the end of the day, but it’s just been good for the way I feel. I would really recommend it; there’s so much more to exercise than the calories we burn doing it.

Podcasts: // I am a bit of a podcast fiend, and I love listening to new podcasts, even if ultimately I’m pretty picky about which I “keep” on my regular podcast rotation. I’ve been listening to and liking a podcast called Elise Gets Crafty lately. If you’re hoping to make a living from a creative pursuit without actually losing the creativity side of things, I recommend exploring this one. It’s a bit eclectic in that there isn’t one specific theme or motif that carries from episode to episode (other than creativity—duh!). It’s a weekly show, and I love the interviews that Elise does with people who’ve managed to turn their creativity into something financially sustaining and value-giving. Check out her podcast here.

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Waste-Free, Vegan Soap Works Shampoo & Conditioner Bar

I have tried a few different waste-free shampoos, from baking soda and apple cider vinegar to the LUSH shampoo bars and now the Soap Works shampoo bar. So far, my favourite has been the Soap Works shampoo bar.

I have lots of long, thick, curly hair that is prone to dryness and sadly a little damaged from colouring (highlights), sun exposure, and heat styling. For these reasons, I try to stick to hydrating shampoos, and my favourite “container” shampoos are from the Andalou Naturals line, which you can find at Whole Foods. Aside from the plastic waste, those are really great—cruelty-free, non-GMO verified, and many of their products are vegan, as well. I find the Andalou Naturals  shampoos are extremely hydrating.

But I have been interested in cutting out plastic waste where I can, so when I saw the $2.50 Soap Works shampoo and conditioner bar at Bulk Barn, I knew I had to try it. At first, I thought it was a regular bar of soap because it is the same shape and size; it looks like just a regular bar of white soap.

After four washes, I feel like it works like a very basic shampoo. It’s not ultra hydrating, and my hair definitely feels as though it still  needs conditioner—which so far I haven’t figured out how to make or where to buy in waste-free form. When I use a packaged conditioner, my hair feels great, just as it would if I had shampooed with a much more expensive, packaged shampoo.

From some online reviews, it seems that this shampoo bar works best for fine, healthy or slightly oilier hair. I am personally pretty impressed, and I am going to keep using it. I know that the reason I am not getting perfect results has more to do with my hair than with the shampoo bar, but even so my hair feels much less dry than it did with the LUSH shampoo bar or the ACV/baking soda combination.

You can buy the Soap Works shampoo & conditioner bar at Bulk Barn or at Well.ca (where you can also read 73 reviews on it!).

Grateful for the Little Moments

The last couple days brought a health scare for our family dog. He is a beautiful little (or not so little) Maltese poodle mix. He is twelve years old, and he joined the family just a few weeks after he was born.

C. is the first dog that anyone in the family has had as a pet companion. And getting him was only half-planned, though I’ve been grateful for my parents’ inexperience and sensitivity more than once since. They had planned to visit a breeder to see some puppies just to learn more about the process of buying a dog. It turned out that C. was the last puppy left from his litter, and they fell in love instantly!

C., relaxing, taken a few weeks ago (2018)

His health scare started with a cough during the day, and when he visited the vet, he was given antibiotics for a bacterial infection. He stayed up nearly all of that night coughing, and he continued to have sporadic fits of coughing yesterday, too. (So far, he seems all better today!)

This is the first time he has been sick, and while his age might not be the main factor (I mean, we’ve all had throat infections, right?) I can’t help but feel he has slowed down. And that’s been a reminder for me to enjoy every single moment I have with him, because I don’t know how many more I’ll get.

We have all been spoiled by his always energetic personality and this infection along with some behavioural changes in the last few months have been a total surprise. I can’t tell you how much I regret all the times I put off taking him to the dog park! I didn’t appreciate just how lucky I was to have a dog on my hands that wanted to go. One of his behaviour changes is that he is not as enthusiastic about his walks–he goes twice a day. Whereas in the past, any mention of the word “walk” would have him wagging his tail and waiting by the front door, there are now days when even a treat won’t do the trick to make him want to go.

Observing these changes in C. has been so humbling and such a great, difficult–and slightly painful–reminder that as wonderful and beautiful as life is, it is also ever-changing. We are all only here temporarily, and even who and what we are changes.

C., winter 2018

I remember hearing a cheesy quote about chasing your dreams because tomorrow you might be here but your dreams might not be, and it rings true. We should chase the dreams in our hearts as they call us.

As for C., I feel beyond blessed and lucky to have him in my life even with his changing moods and aches and pains. We’re off for a walk now.

Four Things I Wish I Had Known Before Thrift Shopping

I love going to Banana Republic or Aritzia or J. Crew as much as any other girl. I love finding that perfect shirt or dress, and buying something brand new; there’s just something about the shopping experience I love. But with the awareness of the impact of fast fashion on the environment and the people it affects along the supply chain, it’s become clear that I need to make better decisions.

Consider that an article from the Ellen McArthur Foundation, an organization dedicated to studying how we can create a sustainable circular economy, estimates that the garment industry produces the equivalent of more CO2 than the emissions from international flights and maritime shipping. But while the awareness of pollution from air transport has become so accepted that some airlines, such as British Airways, allow fliers to contribute to a carbon fund by buying offset credits when they purchase tickets, most fast-fashion giants are doing little and sharing even less with the consumer.

Two of the main environmental problems with most conventional (price-focused) fast fashion garments are that their production consumes an excessive amount of natural resources (namely, water) and it releases toxic chemicals into the environment at many stages of production, putting people and entire ecosystems at risk.

One way to mitigate these and other problems in the short term is to buy thrifted items. At this time, more environmentally made garments tend to be significantly more expensive than their conventionally made equivalents. So to stretch your budget, and make responsible decisions when you buy new, it’s a good idea to buy used clothes whenever you can. Here are some things I wish I’d known before starting to thrift.

[Consider watching the documentary The True Cost to learn more of the detailsof the environmental and human impact of the fast fashion garment industry. Rent it on Youtube or find on Netflix]

KNOW what you like: // This is my most important tip. When you enter a Club Monaco or the Gap or any other store, you’re presented with items that fit into a semi-coherent style. The company carefully curates their seasonal offerings and their garments wouldn’t look out of place side-by-side in your closet. But thrifting doesn’t offer that luxury! When you’re thrifting, you’re exposed to all sorts of styles; so it’s really important to know—before going to the shop—what you will be looking for.

Thrifting shouldn’t be about sacrificing your personal style; it just requires a little more effort. So, know your colours, which cuts suit you best, whether you prefer skirts or dresses, and be completely at peace with not finding anything sometimes—because that will happen!

If you have trouble envisioning what style might suit you, consider finding a fashion blogger that inspires you or look at the cut and colours of the garments at your favourite shops. I recently wrote a blog post about Carly, a style blogger I like.

Ditch last minute shopping: // If you know you’re going to be invited for a baby shower in two months, or you have to go to a friend’s birthday next month, start planning for an outfit now. It’s a good idea to have seasonal, occasion-appropriate outfits at the ready, but if your wardrobe is incomplete, act on it as soon as possible. Thrift shopping takes a lot more time and effort than conventional mall shopping. You might need to visit more shops and flip through more hangers than you’d like to. That’s why you need to give yourself time.

But if you do find yourself in a pinch, why not consider a rental service like Rent Frock Repeat? They are a Canadian designer dress rental service. You will pay a fraction of the cost of the dress, and you will look absolutely fabulous, without having to make an often unnecessary addition to your closet. This service is great for weddings and other big occasions.

Find a seamstress: // This tip can take you a really long way. Sometimes you’ll find a dress or skirt, or shirt, that is almost perfect, but not quite. Maybe it’s a little loose in the chest area, or maybe the shoulders sit a little funny. Ask the thrift store about their return policy, and take the garment to a seamster/tress you trust. See if they can fix it!

If you can find a place that offers well-priced alterations, then you will still save money on your shopping while ending up with an outfit that is tailored to your body, something no ready-to-wear item offers.

Follow the care instructions: // Yes, you may have only paid $8 for your newest thrifted item, and it may make little sense to now dish $10 to dry clean it. But if the wash instructions ask you to only wash cold with light items or dry clean, then you need to do that. My personal experience has been that thrifted items are much more prone to disintegrating than new buys. Treat them as well as you possibly can, and part of that will include following the care instructions to a T.

I Love This Style Blogger; You Might, Too!

I love having a roster of bloggers to inspire me, and weekends are just the best time to catch up on them—preferably with a hot drink. For me, the two minutes I spend connecting with a favourite blogger elevate the rest of my day, so they are totally worth it. If you’re reading the right lifestyle blogs, reading a post should honestly net you more than a cup of coffee in motivation and inspiration.

In fact, I would never bother with blogs if they didn’t give me something more than style inspiration or decoration ideas, or whatever the blog is about on a surface level. That’s because on a deeper level, the blogger-reader relationship is about a personal connection, in every case—for me—with someone I admire and want to emulate in some way. After an interaction, I walk away with a fuller inspiration tank, feeling humbler, wanting to try harder, work better, pay more attention to detail… Just be a better me. And today I wanna bring you a little bit about one of my favourite blogs, in case you haven’t heard about it.

It’s called Carly the Prepster (links at the bottom of this post). It’s a style and lifestyle blog written and curated by Carly Heitlinger (you wouldn’t know her from anywhere else, but that’s her name). She used to blog under the monicker The College Prepster, and I have been hooked on her blog for a couple years now. She is a mid-twenties girl living in New Jersey, and she blogs about lifestyle and style on a daily basis. Her blog posts are always complemented by beautifully shot photos and her writing voice is conversational. As a reader, I always feel like I’m reading a personal email from a longtime friend.

I have not only gained so much style inspiration from her (something my wardrobe actually needs), but just life inspiration in general. I find she makes an effort to truly live as and portray the best version of herself. Her attention to detail, discipline and perseverance inspire me so much, as well. Can I describe her better than to just say that she is one of those slightly (but still super high functioning) OCD, hyper-organized people you wish you could be? Not everyone would consider that a compliment, but I promise that it comes from the bottom of my heart as exactly that.

I don’t want to exaggerate, but it really is hard to overstate that there’s something special about her blog and, I hate this word,  but also about her brand. She’s not just another style blogger… You could recognize a Carly outfit from two miles out—her style is that coherent—and to me it never gets boring.

I find that Carly has found a way to strike the perfect balance between aspirational and practical content. You’ll definitely leave her blog or Instagram page aspiring to bake a gingham cake, build a gallery wall, and make a dent in your wallet at the nearest J. Crew, but if you follow her on Instagram, for example, you will also see post notifications about amazing sales for specific items she’s worn in posts—which are almost always to die for. I find those super helpful.

Her style is fun and feminine but still classy, and I would feel comfortable wearing many of the outfits she styles in everyday situations, which adds such an important layer of depth to my interactions with her posts. I walk away able to apply what I’ve learned from her to my life, and this is true for her dating advice, her office tours, and her easy recipes, not just fashion. It all just transfers. Many other bloggers by comparison present their content in a way that looks phenomenal for them and on them, but that would not be applicable to my life or the dress requirements for social situations that I would find myself in on the daily.

I know that lots of you might not know about her yet, which is why I wrote this blog post. So hop on over to her site and social media and see what you think.

Here are her best links:

Her website: Carly the Prepster

Her Youtube channel (she has over 130 videos!): Carly the Prepster

Her Instagram: @Carly

My only warning or bit of skepticism about Carly’s blog is that it implicitly promotes and inspires consumerism. She does address this in some of her posts, which is really unlike most style bloggers, and I really do feel her intentions are pure. I would love to one day find a blogger with Carly’s enthusiasm and personality whose fashion has a mind for minimalism (or at least less consumption) and kindness (no leather!). I haven’t found those two things in combination yet.

If you’re also aspiring to be a lifestyle influencer like Carly, read some of the thoughts I shared about the book Influencer: Building Your Personal Brand in the Age of Social Media by Brittany Hennessy, director of influencer strategy at Hearst, a large American media company. What’s great about Brittany is that she’s sat on both sides of the proverbial table; while she manages influencers today, she was an influencer herself, working with large brands, just a few years ago through her own blog.

Staying True to Myself

It’s beyond confusing and difficult to turn down opportunity in a time of hardship. I have been somewhere I never expected for over a year now: I have been underemployed despite having good work experience and specific skills.

I thank God for my circumstances often (I should every day) when I remember that while I don’t have my dream job, while I feel the desire to contribute a lot more (doing the same things but more of them!)–and earn more money–I at least get to do something I’m good at some of the time.

Today, I received an interview request for a job that at first had seemed desirable. It was with a vegan company, and while I am not vegan (and don’t want to be!) I do have a lot in common with them in terms of food and product/lifestyle choices, so I applied.

After a short email screening, I was given a call and during this call I was criticised in passing for refusing to identify as an ethical vegan. I didn’t know how to handle this and offered that many would consider me a vegan and that I was open to learning more about the vegan lifestyle.

But that’s not my truth… And it’s only after I’d agreed to an interview time for tomorrow that I realized the anxiety dredging up inside of me wouldn’t just go away. I’d lied about something that is important to me.

So what is my truth? I’ll sum it up this way: I think all people are equal, regardless of what they eat. I think animal exploitation is bad (you don’t have to meet too many animals to see their lives matter…). And with all that, I think it’s better for 70% of people to eat meat 50% of the time than for 5% of who never eat it (or use animal products in other ways…) to stand in a corner screaming at the other 95%.

I believe there will be a day to fight the abolitionist battle and that that day is not today. Today I think we can promote alternatives and a decrease in exploitative consumption. This is a message that I believe many, many more people are willing to hear and integrate into their life than that of abolitionism–something that I’ve tried to inform myself about by becoming familiar with Gary Francione’s work but that I just can’t get behind for the masses today.

So I did something really hard, a choice that makes me feel like I’ve doomed myself to stand outside in cold freezing rain without a jacket or umbrella for a while longer. I cancelled the interview.

I apologized and explained I wouldn’t be able to contribute to the role in the necessary manner.

This experience, along with the rest of the hollowness and some of the arbitrary aspects of the job hunting process, has really tested my faith but also strengthened it in some ways because I feel it’s one of the most valuable things I possess at the moment. It’s what gets me up in the morning and keeps me trying when the numbers don’t add up.

Five Things Friday: If You’re an Aspiring Influencer, You NEED This Book

Hey, guys! Welcome back to my blog. I really wasn’t sure how to format today’s post, but thanks to a book (one of the items in my five things) I’m learning that maybe it’s okay to experiment a little and see what works well for me. So today’s post is a bit of a hodgepodge of five things that I want to mention here.

1. The BBC and the Pulitzer Center have published an amazing report (for what it sheds light on) about accusations of witchcraft against children, which are resulting in the abuse, estrangement, and deaths of thousands of children (as young as 3) in Nigeria. This is horrific and a new trend, but the positive side of this (if it can be called that) is that of the shining light of journalism. Nigeria needs to do better, and this report will surely increase international pressure on them to do so. Please read it here.

2. At the end of May, I signed up for a new domain and hosting through GoDaddy. The truth is, as much as I love WordPress.com and blogging here (on Sweet Bliss), there are a few issues that a GoDaddy hosted site solves. The first is that the WordPress.org version of WordPress allows me to control the back end of things, to have more say over how my website looks, but also eventually on what type of content I publish and (if any) what sorts of ads will appear. While WordPress Premiums has been kind to me in that sense as well, I don’t find there are nearly as many free themes here, and there are also no widgets unless you upgrade to a business account—something you automatically have access to with WordPress.org. And metrics can be a great indicator of how well you are actually engaging with your audience, whether you are successfully building a community, and where people are finding you in order to fine-tune your strategy.The name of my new blog will be different, but I am still figuring out the nitty-gritty, and while I re-find my voice here on WordPress, Sweet Bliss is treating me well.

 
3. This is the item I am most excited about and the book you need if you want to become an influencer. Granted, I am only 1/3 of the way through and a proper review is bound to follow, but Influencer by Brittany Hennessy 100% should be on your radar. I am reading an advance copy, but you can get yours on Amazon, here. This is a no-nonsense book from somebody whose voice counts: Brittany worked for Hearst (the huge media company) booking influencers for lifestyle brands. She knows who catches a brand’s eye, who has the ability to engage people, etc. etc.And in this book, she is telling us all that just as it is, and I love the way she has categorized different types of influencers and ways to increase your following, what to do and when, why and why not. It’s actually quite informative, and there are a few pieces of advice and frameworks that I really haven’t seen elsewhere. Beyond all of that, I do find that this book is motivating me to try harder! Sure, I don’t want to be a latte-sipping, perennially summer-dress wearing, beach-posing “influencer.” I never have wanted to be that. But I am learning that that is not the only definition, and that ultimately, we influence people by providing value.In Brittany’s words, the definition of an influencer is essentially that “when you talk, people listen.” Really, so far, I can’t recommend this book enough. Like I said, beyond the informative aspect, this book is actually inspiring and motivating. You know that sluggish time at 1200 followers when nothing you do seems to work (my problem, though not on this feed), well, this book will encourage you to reframe your perspective and realize the value of an engaged following. For $15, this book is a bargain, and I can’t wait to come back and tell you the exact same thing once I’m done reading. For now, read an excerpt from Amazon by clicking the link above (truly my favourite feature. Why commit to a read before trying it out?).Screen Shot 2018-07-20 at 9.51.31 AM

 

4. I have mentioned writing warm ups before, but that was a bit of a rant post about how few writers understand what personal essays should be about. Today, though, I am just here to encourage you to give the treasure trove that is writing prompts a good try. You literally need—almost—nothing to get started, except an email address from Google that lets you use Google Docs.I prefer to leave my writing warm ups and some other pieces of writing in my Google Drive, through Google Docs, in order to avoid cramping my laptop’s precious memory space.

The truth is that writing warm ups is not only a great way to practice writing and actually increase your skill level and ability by practicing crafting language in ways and about topics you otherwise wouldn’t broach, but it can take your ability to introspect and see your life to a whole new level!Yesterday’s warm up for me was simple. I followed a prompt that said “outside my window.” That’s it. There were really no requests; it was up to me to come up with something. So I looked outside my window and wrote. But it never ends there, does it?What I saw outside my window reminded me of old memories, things that happened nearly a decade ago, the changes that have taken place since then and how they have affected myself and my family. It was really beautiful to be able to express these things just by following a writing warm up. I felt a pleasant but unexpected release, and while not every day is going to be such a success, writing warm ups will never be a waste to me, because they encourage me to write better.

 

5. Before starting on this blog post, I was working on another blog post about the startup money that it takes to become an influencer. Almost a year ago, I started an Instagram microblog about plant-based food. But then I realized that I was listing a series of barriers that really weren’t stopping me, weren’t insurmountable, and that I was just making excuses. I love plant-based food, and most of my calories come from that. I believe that if we all ate more plants, the world could truly be a much better place; I believe in the ripple effects kindness to ourselves and to animals can have in this world. So even if  I could influence one single person to make a different choice for dinner one night, the effort would truly be worth it to me. After all, I also really enjoy the creative side of running a visual blog on Instagram. And it takes a lot of that to get the shots just right.But one problem is that it can also be very expensive to have a feed that is updated often enough. It’s not that I hadn’t tried before, but it can be exhausting. To get the right lights, for example, I used desk lamps with light bulbs that are far too high wattage and covering them with sheer fabric I found at a fabric store to create a makeshift photography light to save a few bucks. The thing is, yes, it is much easier to just spend money when you’re trying to become an influencer. It took a long time to do that, and it takes time to, for example, find tableware from a thrift store instead of waltzing into the nearest homewares department and buying whatever I want.After all, it takes money to stay on top of the trends in whatever area you’re trying to tackle, and if you’re not at the forefront, then why waste people’s time, right? I totally get that and agree with that.
But while I wrote, I also realized that there are also reasonable and doable ways of keeping consistent content without breaking the bank, and writing that post today made me realize that I was making a long list of invalid excuses. So, seriously, write it out!Who knows what type of blind spot you might have that you just haven’t taken a good look at. Don’t be afraid to write about subjects you’d rather avoid, things you’re ashamed of, or things you’re not quite sure you’ll have the answers for. Here’s the thing, you can rip out the page and delete the file if it’s so bad. But I promise you that it won’t be!