Shopping From Your Pantry First: Save Money, Eat Fresher

I’ve recently been looking at my cupboards lately with some concern. I have rows of dried goods stacked neatly in mason jars. Bottles of tea, 18 of them, lined up neatly next to one another, below the mason jars and next to the large collection of cooking oils I have. There are also the usual suspects, bags of sugar, pasta and sauces. And the pantry doesn’t look much better. There are stacks of partially used grains and beans, back ups of what’s stored in the rows of mason jars. It’s kind of a mess and a little disorganized.

And what’s more, some of those grains and oils have been taking up residency for years! Sure, all the beans, grains and teas look good displayed in the glass jars, but this is my cupboard, not a museum. I was thinking about what happened to get me to this place, and I vaguely remember shopping for groceries, picking up bags of beans, pasta, “staples” that I thought I would need to make meals. Only those meals never came, and I am left with a cupboard full of food that has gone neglected for nearly half a decade.

This is no bueno. I am treating my food stores like you would curate pieces for a museum. But this is no way to nourish yourself. Eating hoarded goods that are years old is unnecessary and more to the point, tells me something about the ways I’m relating to food. Why am I holding on to these items? Why am I massing these foods to begin with? The answers to these questions were directly related to the ways I was brought up, and how I learned to, or not to nourish myself and my body.

I was brought up in a house that was barren of a lot of things. Mostly love, but food was a close second. We always had enough to eat growing up, but there was no deviating from the plan my caregivers had mapped out. We had the same five or six meals, for years on repeat. There were always boxes of cereal and bottles of soda in the cupboards, and sometimes leftovers in the fridge.

I was often uncertain of what to eat, or what I could eat due to my caregiver often saying, “there’s a house full of food, I don’t know why you’re hungry”. Though was severely scolded when I attempted to defrost pork chops one day in an attempt to make a meal with the house full of food I was in. The messages were mixed and confusing.

And to add to the confusion, I was never taught the basics of how to take care of my nutritional needs. I was never shown how to budget for groceries, taught how to cook meals for myself or even that I should eat when I’m hungry! I skipped breakfast and lunch for decades because of these lessons, one of them being coffee as a meal substitute. I also didn’t start grocery shopping until I was in my late twenties, or really cook meals for myself to eat for the week until seven years ago! This seems crazy to me thinking about it now, but food, along with a myriad of other topics, just didn’t get discussed.

If you’ve read my post on rotating your food stores, I go over this in a bit more detail. The ways I was taught to neglect my nutritional needs. I also had some suggestions on how to change some of the old habits that I’ve cultivated from a life’s time worth of being a drift in a sea of food insecurity. But I’m back with a plan and want to share with you what I’m doing in my kitchen to help change my relationship with food and how I care for my nutritional needs. Let me show what I’ve come up with!

As the title of this post suggests, the beginning of this journey starts in the pantry. Among the bottles of carefully curated seeds, grains, beans and flours, this is where I had been amassing large quantities of food items with no intended purpose. I have close to thirty bottles of dried goods on my shelf! So the first step was to take stock of the ingredients I have on hand and do some research on what types of recipes would be able to utilize the ingredients I already have.

As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, Minimalist Baker is a great resource for using ingredients I have on hand because a good portion of her recipes use ten ingredients or fewer, and most of them are pantry staples like onions and garlic (she also has a great post on how to stock a pantry here). But you can use whichever site you enjoy the recipes from. Most sites will have a search bar where you can type in an ingredient and do a quick search for corresponding recipes. Minimalist Baker has a search by ingredient filter which is ideal for this situation.

So after I take stock of what I have in my pantry, I choose three to four ingredients to focus my meal prep around. Let’s say I’ve chosen the five pound bag of cranberries that have been collecting dust, the jar of kidney beans that are old enough to eat solid foods, the two bags of black beans that are surprisingly and relatively young considering their shelf mates, and a half of a jar of yellow lentils.

I take these four ingredients and do a quick search on my go to recipe website. I find that I can use the Kidney and black beans in a chili, with onion and sweet potatoes I already have. So I put the few items on the shopping list that are missing from the pantry, from the recipe, and move onto the next one I’ve chosen.

Overnight oats are already on the menu for the next few weeks, so adding the cranberries to the mix with the seed and nuts I pick up from the market was an easy match. And the ingredients for the curried, lemon lentils I planned for were already on hand. I put a few more ingredients on the list, some staples and for my self-care Sunday dinner, and my shopping list was complete. I only had about a dozen items on my list, and even shopping at Whole Foods, my grocery bill was still only 45$ for two weeks!

If you use the grocery store for supplemental supplies to your pantry, and you shop mostly whole foods, i.e. fresh produce and unprocessed meats, generic brands, bulk section items like grains and beans and staples like butter and milk, your grocery bill is surprisingly light. You also have the added benefit of eating a healthier diet full of fiber, vitamins and minerals. And the fresher the better. The longer food sits around unused, the less nutritional value it retains.

I’ve also come up with a way to organize my shopping list so I can easily scan my recipes and know which ingredients to purchase. First, I make a list of all the separate ingredients from all of my staple recipes. So I have two lists, one list of recipes, and the other a list of grocery items that are ingredients to the recipes on the first list.

Next, I assign a different symbol to each recipe. For example, if chili is on my staple recipe list, I give that recipe a symbol such as +. Then I go down the separate list of ingredients and put a + symbol next to any ingredients that are in the recipe with the corresponding symbol.

I repeat this process for each recipe in my staples list till all of my ingredients have a symbol next to them representing a staple recipe. This way when I choose the recipes I’m cooking for the next two to three weeks from my staple recipe list, I can quickly scan the ingredients list, using the recipe symbol to see what I need to stock up on.

This works particularly well with double batches of recipes or multiples. For example, say I’m making three recipes that all use garlic and one of the recipes I’m making is going to be a double batch. On the ingredients list, garlic may look like this, “@ # $ % + * Garlic”. The symbols all represent recipes, but the recipes I’m making for the following three weeks are, % + and a double batch of *. So when I add the symbols together, + % 2*, I know I have to have at least enough garlic for four recipes. So when I put garlic on the shopping list, I put it on as “garlic x 4”. This way I can purchase just what I need for the recipes I’m cooking without buying a lot of surplus. While also helping to keep my food stock fresher.

Speaking of fresh stock, if you have a green thumb, this is a perfect opportunity to shop super fresh, real local and on the cheap! I’m lucky enough to have a sizeable vegetable garden. Last year we didn’t need to buy garlic until about a few weeks ago and for the cost of a few packets of seed, your return on investment is ridiculously high. It does require planning and maintenance, and to plant vegetables that you will actually use in recipes.

Planning is important in that if you like cucumbers, but don’t know that they are prolific producers and you plant too many plants, you’re going to be swimming in brine from all the pickles you’ll be making. So when planning a garden, do the research and know what to plant, when to plant and how many to plant. And you don’t need a lot of space to grow your own. Container gardens are popular in cities where green space is scarce. Maybe start with growing a few of the herbs and spices you use most frequently to have a fresh selection on hand when it comes time to cook. And how do you know what to cook or grow?

This was something I struggled with for a while until I read a post on how to set up a pantry. Dana suggested to pick ten or so recipes that you cook often and buy your pantry staples from that list. It made so much sense to me that I immediately got to selecting the recipes I used most frequently, and put them in a bookmark folder labeled as such.

The only problem with this method is, there is a lack of variety. And I’m not cooking the same meals in the summer as I am in the winter. So I decided to create four folders, with ten recipes each corresponding to each season with those ingredients that are available during the time of year. This way I’ll have three months to use up whatever food I have from the list of staples I use, and I always have something new to choose from. Paired with my self-care Sunday dinners where I chose a new recipe to try each week, I won’t be short on new recipes to try.

I also batch cook my meals for the weeks ahead. This way I know I’ll have what I need to make my meals well in advance, because I’ve already got my recipes picked out. This way my shopping list only a matter of quickly scanning my pantry to see what I’m missing.

This may seem overwhelming at first glance. And it can be a bit much to take on. What I find that works best to help ease some of the tension of preparing meals is giving yourself plenty of time. I usually sit down at some point during the week and plan out what the next three weeks are going to look like. Here is where I plan for the day to day stuff, exercize, appointments and general domestics like when I’m cooking and when I’m going shopping for my cooking day.

This takes the stress out of not knowing when I’ll have the time to fit it into my schedule while also giving me plenty of time to plan for my upcoming shopping trip and cooking day. I’ll start by picking a day to shop and cook, and the night before I’ll check the three or four recipes I have for ingredients. I’ll shop from my pantry first, then check the recipe and find the items I’m missing. These get added to the list, along with what I’m getting low on and I’m ready to shop the following day.

On shopping day, I take my list and usually shop after work. When I get home, I set the tone for the night by getting my area ready with my recipes, light a candle and play some soft music. I turn off the harsh over head lights and then start the cooking process making sure to go as slow as I need to so I don’t feel rushed. Meal prep has become an integral part of my self-care routine and something I find great joy in.

With all the ingredients prepped before I jump into the cooking process, the recipe comes together in no time and the stress is nearly non-existent. I also keep my meals for the next few weeks in glass jars in the fridge, so seeing them lined up on the counter to cool, before they go into the fridge with the relaxing setting carries with it a sense of accomplishment.

And this brings us back to the starting new, healthier habits surrounding our food choices. Now that we’ve cleaned out the old items, and made room and space for new and fresher ingredients to be rotated in and out of use, the new question is, how much food do we really need to keep on hand?

This answer will be different for every person. I know that my food needs are different from a family of five. But where do we draw the line on what is enough? For me, maybe a goal of having enough staple ingredients for a month’s worth of staple recipes is optimal. This way my food stores stay fresh and I can incorporate new recipes into my meal plan as I see fit. Also I’m not holding onto items I don’t need because I’m afraid that if I don’t have them, something terrible will happen.

And that is the main goal. To take the fear and anxiety of preparing meals out of our food and the ways we nourish ourselves. It’s a little different if you’ve had negative experiences with and around food, but eating is so closely linked to our safety and well being that it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed if you don’t know what you’re doing. If you were left in the dark as I was, fumbling around trying to understand how to care for yourself without guidance, it can feel scary to go it alone.

I hope this has been helpful to you in some way. If you have any comments or methods you use that you’ve found help you in the kitchen, I’d love to hear about them in the comments section below. And as always, peace, and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Spice Management” by Sharon Drummond is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Expiration Dates: Rotating your food stores to eat as fresh as possible

We all have that can of tomatoes that has been in the back of the cupboard for way too long. The one that has seen one too many a day in the back of the cabinet while a few other staples get rotated in and out of use. This has been the case with my cabinets for quite some time. If you’ve read my post on “Building Shelves, Building Community“, you’ll know that when I was cleaning through my parents food pantry, I was throwing away food items that were over half a decade old! Some of it was an issue with ease of access for sure, but there was more to it than not being able to see behind a can of peas or a bag of pasta.

For us, it is food insecurity on some level. We need to feel as though we have enough food to last us a few months in order to feel safe enough. But safe enough for what? For me, it was from roaming around my childhood home, looking for something to eat that was quick easy and loaded with sugar. Not because I was lazy, though I played my fair share of video games. But mostly because I just didn’t have the life skills to be able to provide for myself in ways related to my nutritional needs.

In later years, my cabinets would be filled with foods I could make meals with. Ingredients to have on hand to make something to eat whenever I needed to. I almost never ate vegetables and most of what I did eat was either meat, or some form of starch and fat mixed with a sugary sauce. I was unhealthy, overweight and pretty unhappy overall. Food in general was a mystery to me and something I wasn’t given any direction on how to approach or prepare for myself.

And this was how I ate for years. Save for my later teen years and early twenties where I soley ate takeout in some form or another. My habits were unhealthy, and I had no idea how to take care of my nutritional needs. And that wasn’t including the large amounts of beer I was consuming on a nightly basis. And it’s ironic because I had worked in the food industry for most of my life. This was, I think, a way to feel as though I was always covered when it came to food and feeding myself. I needed the security of being constantly surrounded by it in order to feel as though my needs would be taken care of. But that was the key, I felt as though I needed to be taken care of.

Instead of caring for myself and my nutritional needs, I passed that job onto whomever I was living with at the time. As far as I was concerned, that was someone else’s job. I’ve since come to realize that I was just reliving the patterns of my past by looking for someone else to do the job that I was never taught how to do. And it wasn’t until I went vegan (vegetarian now and am thinking about pescitarian) about five years ago that I really started to learn what it means to take care of myself in regards to nutrition and food. But it all stemmed from a major food insecurity.

And this is an insecurity that still persists even though I’ve wholly changed almost every aspect of my diet. Some of the reason for me changing was due to being called a “human garbage disposal” by my caregivers for the better part of my childhood. But I also did it for the health benefits. I read that if you eat a vegan diet you maintain a certain body fat percentage. And sense I was likened to a garbage disposal for the better part of my youth, I thought this was a perfect solution and path to finally feeling accepted for my physical appearance.

But I was still collecting foods, dried beans, grains and other items such as flours, oils and teas, that were taking up a large amount of space in my cabinets. And they held residency for long stretches of time as well. Without a plan for their ever being used, they sat there to collect dust. It felt like I was holding onto food for the sake of holding onto it. I had no plan or purpose for it other than to look at it every time I opened the cabinets and to feel like my shelves were full of food. I was safe.

It was a strange feeling when I realized what I had been doing. The lack of knowledge of what to do with what I did have, due to the neglect in my early domestic education. There were no family recipes handed down, no helping to cook family meals or the basic understanding of how to grocery shop for myself. No following a list, made from recipes that I was going to cook and only shopping from that list of planned menu items. I was left in a lonely place, without any direction on how to move myself forward.

I remember when I first understood that taking care of my nutritional needs is something that is an important aspect of life. I was living with a woman who I was deeply smitten with, though she was in the same emotional place that I was. We both had no understanding of how to take care of our personal and physical needs. However, I was left a legacy of being shown how to take care of others at the expense of my own needs. So it was only natural that I take care of her as though she were my charge. As unhealthy as it was for me at the time, this was the catalyst for me to learn how to care of my own needs, while caretaking for another.

I drove her and her family to doctors appointments. Ran errands for her, all kinds. Cleaned our apartment weekly which was quite the feat, living with three other people, two cats and a dog. But it was when I was grocery shopping and cooking all our meals for us that I really began to understand what it means to take responsibility for our nutritional needs.

I would buy and roast whole chickens, to eat the night of and also for future meals. I went to the grocery store with a plan and a list and came in under or at budget. I had even thought about opening a brewpub with her, and had gone as far as to start planning what would be on the menu. It was an exciting time, full of possibility for our future. Unfortunately I was mostly focused on how to take care of someone else, not myself. But it was also this time that I spent taking care of another that later gave me the confidence to finally take my own needs into account.

After the woman I was taking care of had left me, I was left alone. This was when I turned my focus inwards on how to care for myself. Unfortunately, this was something I had no experience doing. As I mentioned above, these were not tools and resources that were modeled for me in my youth. But I managed. When it came to my nutritional needs, I looked for and researched recipes to build a small clutch of foods and meals I knew that I liked. And finding out what I liked was definitely a big step toward learning how to take care of myself.

Knowing that I’d enjoy the food I was cooking for myself made meal prep something to look forward to. And the more I cooked these staple recipes, the better I became at it. This had the added benefit of building my confidence in being able to have a sense of mastery over the ways I was taking care of myself.

Also, my self-care sunday meals became a resource for me as well. This was a time where I would select a new recipe, something that looked interesting and branch out a little from my usual go tos. Trying new foods and recipes, being creative in the kitchen and liking what I was making. And later adding these recipes to my meal rotation helped to keep some variety in my diet and meals.

I was also using fresh vegetables from my garden as well. This brought a feeling of each meal being special. Eating the freshest possible produce while cooking meals that I curated specifically for my taste was something that gave me a sense of really being able to take control of my ability to take care of myself and my needs.

While I was learning my new skills in self-care, I was also friends with another woman who had given me a book called, “The China Study”. The premise of the book was that most cancers are linked in some way to the consumption of animal protein and the lack of plant based foods in our modern diets. After I read the book, and after I went to the Boston Vegetarian Food Festival and read that a vegan diet would help to maintain a healthy percentage of body fat to muscle, I went full vegan.

I didn’t try to take meat out of my diet a little at a time and replace it with plant based options. I jumped in with both feet. Looking back now, this wasn’t the best decision. After going full vegan, I was still feeding myself the same ways I was when I was eating meat and many more calories, without replacing them elsewhere in my diet.

I would often skip breakfast and lunch, having only small pieces of whatever was leftover or extra pastries at work that weren’t vegan. I was mainly restricting what I was eating because I was trying to stay true to the vegan ethos, but this was not a sustainable way to live. I still hadn’t gotten to the place where I was cooking and bringing my own breakfasts and lunches with me to work. That is when I was eating some foods that were vegetarian instead of full vegan and not much food at all.

I knew something was wrong with how I was feeding myself when; one day I had woken at 5am for work, worked a full shift in front of an oven, came home and immediately ran three miles all on only a few cups of green tea. When I got out of the shower at 4pm, and stood up after drying my feet, I passed out on the bathroom floor. Luckily I wasn’t hurt too badly, but I realized then that something needed to change.

This was the time that I decided that I needed to really focus on getting not only healthy foods into my body, but that I also needed to get them into my body as a priority! This is what was so dangerous about the legacy of neglect that was handed down to me. Mostly because I didn’t come to this conclusion, that I needed to eat three and not one meal a day, on my own. Those closest to me had to tell me that they were concerned with the ways that I wasn’t taking care of myself and my nutritional needs. It was only then that I realized that, yes, skipping two meals is unhealthy and that I also needed to make and bring my meals with me to work, otherwise I would end up skipping lunch and breakfast.

So this has been my journey thus far in concerns to taking care of my nutritional needs. It’s been a bumpy road and the journey isn’t over yet. I’ve begun making both breakfast and lunch as part of my meal prep routine. I usually make a large batch of dry oats with nuts, seeds and dried fruits and berries to make overnight oats with the nights before I work. And I’ll usually make a large batch of something like chickpea “tuna” salad for quick lunches throughout the week.

But when I was going to the grocery store, and then my pantry, I was realizing that I was buying food I already had. For example, I would buy dried chickpeas to make chickpea “tuna” salad, but would already have a quart container of dried chickpeas sitting on my shelf in my pantry. So as I was buying new ingredients, the food I already had was just sitting on the shelf, waiting for it’s turn to be used, but never came.

About two years ago I started storing my dried goods in quart sized Ball Jars. The idea was to use what was on the shelf in the jars first, then refill with what I had left in storage. Only I was buying more ingredients that I seldom if ever use. And they were taking up storage space on the shelves instead of being put into rotation to be cooked in recipes for the week. So instead of having a jar that was constantly being filled with AP flour, I had two or three jars half filled with flours I never use, like quinoa or chickpea, but got for a recipe I made once.

Looking at the shelf with a fresh pair of eyes, I could see the items I purchased for specific meals and never used again. The jar full of shredded dulse seaweed I used to top a buddha bowl I made, then completely forgot that I had it. Or the cous cous I never got around to making.

Now that I’ve identified the issue, I’m working to resolve it. This is an old bit of wisdom that I’m not sure where I’ve heard, but now when I put a meal plan together for the week, I shop from my pantry first. I go into my stores and see what I have or have had for too long and research recipes around those ingredients. I then build my shopping list from there.

For instance, I had half a jar of dried lima beans that I’m not sure how long I’ve had them in my pantry. So I looked up recipes that use limas, which in this case happened to be succotash. Then I added the ingredients I didn’t have to the shopping list. I did the same for a jar full of great northern white beans and used up a quart of breadcrumbs that have been cooped up for a bit too long.

My new goal is to have a steady rotation of fresh ingredients that I use frequently, so I always have a fresh store of whatever I need to replace what I use. To eat as fresh as possible. This way, I’m more aware of the ingredients I’m using and I have very little waste when it comes to left over items. And it feels good knowing that I’ve used up items that were otherwise sitting around without any intention of being used.

It’s also worth mentioning that this is not an easy task either. It takes a lot of research, planning, budgeting and cooking knowledge to make this come together in a way that’s manageable and effective. So if you run into roadblocks on your path, don’t be discouraged! Or maybe you know someone who takes care of these responsibilities in your life. Ask them if they need a hand. Because they are most likely juggling a lot of responsibilities, trying to get dinner on the table!

It can seem overwhelming at first, but you don’t need to change everything all at once. Start slow. Say you have seven or eight boxes of pasta collecting in a corner of your cabinet. Start here. Find out what you have, and research recipes utilizing these ingredients. If you have lasagna noodles, this is a no-brainer. Look up recipes for lasagna. Once you find one that looks good, check for other ingredients in the recipe, first in your pantry and fridge, then put what you need on your shopping list.

Pick two or three ingredients a week from your pantry. This way you can utilize your old ingredients slowly, while also deciding if it’s an ingredient you want to keep on hand in your pantry, depending on how you feel about what you make. And it’s easy to add new ingredients as you go. Just pick a new recipe and whatever the new addition to your pantry. Just make sure you have a plan for it in future meals.

I hope this has been helpful in some way. I find that the more I take an active role in rotating and using the foods that I already have, the more comfort I feel from knowing that I’m eating as fresh as I’m able using the ingredients consistently while also caring for a part of myself that has been neglected for way too long. And life’s too short to not feel good about what you eat. We literally eat everyday, multiple times a day! If you’re looking for some new recipes to try out, I’m a huge fan of Minimalist Baker. This Rawsome Vegan Life has some good recipes too. Thanks for reading, bon appetit and peace : )

Image Credits: “What hides in my cupboard” by WordRidden is licensed under CC BY 2.0

10 Air Purifying Plants to Help You Keep a Greener Home

A few years ago I was investigating the best ways of purifying the air in my house using natural methods. I’m increasingly worried about the levels of toxins in the air we breathe and wanted to see if there was anything I could do to off set them in my home, even if only in a small way. Living just outside of a major city, I want to actively do something to help combat the effects of the ever present pollution in the air I breathe. I’m sure I’m not alone, especially with the mounting environmental concerns that are only getting worse the more we discover the effects we are having with the methods we’ve been using. From producing electricity using unsustainable methods to overloading our sewage systems and what we’re putting in the products we’re using on our bodies, it’s hard not to feel like a passenger on a sinking ship.

I did some research on the subject and the advice that kept coming up was to plant more trees. As I’ve said above, I live on the outskirts of a large city. So planting more trees just isn’t practical advise. I use Ecosia, which is a search engine that plants a tree for every query I make, but that doesn’t make me feel like I’m having an impact on my immediate environment. It’s nice to know that there are people planting trees in far away places, but I want to make a difference in my immediate surrounds.

And I refused to believe that the only way to create a higher quality of air in my house is by planting more trees. Not that I’m against the idea but there are so many other species of plants on earth. Surely some of them must be able to do even a tenth of the job that a typical tree does during the course of a day.

So I did some more research and what I found was that NASA is already on it. In the 70’s, NASA found that some employees were complaining of allergy symptoms while working in newly constructed buildings. When they looked into the matter further, they discovered that the new construction, along with the furnishings and machines that were cohabitating spaces with the workers, were off-gassing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are dangerous to human health.

VOCs are still an issue in general. I’m not entirely sure how long homes off-gas VOCs for, but some of the compounds they emit include benzene (plastics, gasoline, think anything made from petroleum), formaldehyde (used in building materials and household cleaners and beauty products), carbon monoxide (off gassed by gas ranges or boilers, anything using gas, coal or wood in the home as well as car exhaust), xylene (a solvent used in the leather, rubber, paper and automotive industries), trichloroethylene (a chemical found in stain and paint removers), ammonia (found in window cleaners but also used in agriculture as a fertilizer, another reason to buy organic) and toluene (adhesives and paint thinners). This is not an exhaustive list, and all VOCs are toxic to humans. Definitely not something I want floating around my house if I can help it.

Luckily for us, some common house plants take in these toxic gasses, along with the microorganisms in the soil as well as their roots. From what I understood of the study, plants filter these VOCs by taking them in through the soil and roots or directly into the leaves, and then they are passed to the plant where they become part of the plant. The plant sequesters the VOCs and holds them, rendering them harmless to humans.

It only makes sense that nature has a solution, but it’s still satisfying to think about how it solves this particular problem. And all the while creating fresh oxygen for us to breath. “So what are these plants”, you may be wondering. For the rest of this post, I’ll go over the plants I have and am looking for, why I chose them and what their benefits are. Also a little bit on how to care for them too. Because there’s no point in picking up a new plant to help keep you healthy if you don’t know how to keep it alive!

I believe one of the first plants I got to help purify the air in my house was a peace lily. The peace lily is adept at breaking down compounds such as, benzene, formaldehyde and carbon monoxide. The reason this plant is so appealing to me is that, if you like me, live in a city with lots of traffic, the ability to break down carbon monoxide and benzene are two compounds I want to focus on. Seeing how these particular VOCs are so prolific around traffic congested areas like cities, this is something the peace lily will handle.

They like moderate or medium light, which means partially shaded with not much direct sunlight. They take fertilizer in the summer months, about every six weeks according to The Farmers Almanac. And it’s easy to tell when it’s time to water you peace lily because the leaves will become limp and droop. I water mine about every two to three weeks.

The next plant on my list is the snake plant. This plant is stellar at removing formaldehyde from the air. This is a good thing considering formaldehyde is in an awful lot of our personal hygiene products. And according to RollingNature.com, where most plants will release carbon dioxide at night, the snake plant, or Sansevieria will produce oxygen. Paired with the peace lily, not only will you be reduce the carbon monoxide in your home, you will be replacing it with fresh oxygen. Win win.

This plant is a succulent, which means it’s pretty hearty. That said, as with all succulents, if you over water them they will develop root rot. You should wait until the soil dries out completely before watering. And when in doubt, wait a little. These guys are drought resistant so err on the side of under watering. They will tolerate many different light settings but prefer bright, indirect light.

Next up is the dracaena plant. This guy is known for removing formaldehyde, benzene and trichloroethylene from the local environment. They’re especially good at removing formaldehyde, so a good location for this plant may be in the bathroom or near your vanity. Wherever you use most of your soaps, beauty and hygiene products.

Luckily, most of the plants on this list are pretty hearty and the dracaena is no exception. They don’t require a lot of water. Keeping the soil slightly damp should be enough to take care of its watering needs. I water mine about once every two weeks. They’re also sensitive to fluoride and watering with filtered water will help to keep this plant at its healthiest. The fluoride in our drinking water imparts brown crispy spots on their leaves. Filtered sun is best and never place these guys in direct sunlight. Direct rays can scorch the leaves of this guy leaving it looking a little crispy.

Another succulent on my list, the next plant is the aloe vera. This plant is kind of amazing. It’s good at removing benzene and formaldehyde, but it’s ability to reduce carbon dioxide and produce oxygen is nine to one when compared with other plants! It takes carbon dioxide in during the night, and when exposed to sunlight it releases the oxygen back into the air. And it’s sometimes referred to as an oxygen bomb! That’s pretty badass for a plant if you ask me 🙂 The insides of the aloe are also used to soothe minor burns and scratches.

Caring for this succulent is easy since they don’t require much attention. When watering, do not water often, but water deeply. I think I let mine go at least three to four weeks between waterings. They are a succulent, so again, too much water will cause root rot. Let the soil become pretty dry before watering your aloe again. They enjoy bright indirect light. I place mine just on the outskirts of my eastern facing window, away from the morning sunlight. This allows them to gain the benefit of the bright morning sun without being directly in the sun’s rays.

The spider plant is another air purifying plant that made NASA’s list. Also known as an airplane plant, spider plants are stellar at the ability to remove formaldehyde, carbon monoxide and xylene from the environment they inhabit.

As far as watering and sunlight needs, this plant is easy to care for. While they are small and just becoming established, you’ll want to water them once a week. After the first year, you can reduce their water schedule to once every two weeks. These plants will also produce shoots with what look like baby spider plants. And if you plant these little guys in soil and keep them well watered and attached to the mother plant, that’s exactly what they’ll become! They also prefer bright, indirect sunlight. So near a sunny window, without being directly in the sun’s rays.

English Ivy is another plant that made the list. English ivy is known for its ability to clean formaldehyde, benzene and xylene, as well as reducing molds and fecal matter from the air. It’s resilient and easy to grow as well. These aggressive plants are found growing mostly in Europe and North America, and take well to containers for in the home as well as for landscaping outside on a larger scale.

They are resilient plants, and prefer bright, direct sunlight. Their watering needs aren’t complex either. They like to be a bit on the drier side, so water once the top inch of the soil dries out. This ivy also needs to be fed on a fairly regular basis. Once a month during the growing season. From spring to fall, while suspending the feedings during the winter months. English ivy also benefits from having the dust removed from its leaves once and a while. Gardening Know How suggests to give your ivy a quick shower to remove any dust and pests that have found their way onto your ivy. Plus, you have a new shower buddy! Jk, don’t use soap on this plant, or any plants. It may not kill them, but it isn’t a guarente : )

Next up is the Rhapis excelsa, aka the lady palm. This palm is able to scrub formaldehyde and xylene from the air, but is best known for its ability to filter ammonia from the atmosphere. They also help to keep their environment higher in humidity. Something beneficial to not only its human cohabitants, but also their fellow plant friends as well. Ferns in particular thrive in humid environments. So the ability to regulate the moisture in the growing space is important.

Lighting requirements for the lady palm are bright, indirect light. The same strategy I use for the aloe vera plant should work for the lady palm as well. Near an eastern facing window, just out of the morning sun’s rays. Let the top inch of soil dry out before waterings and let the soil dry more so during the winter months. And fertilize only in the summer months with fertilizer diluted to half strength.

Weeping fig, or the ficus tree is another plant adept at filtering formaldehyde and xylene from its environment. This plant is considerably sensitive to its environment and, if moved may drop leaves as it adapts to its new location. This is another plant that prefers to be in a humid atmosphere. Like its fern friends, it would benefit from being in a room with a humidifier or the bathroom.

The weeping fig likes to have moist soil through the growing season, which is from spring to fall. And requiring fewer waterings during the winter months. During these months, let the soil dry out up to two inches before watering your weeping fig again. As for lighting needs, this plant loves indirect, bright sunlight. Keeping them just outside of the sun’s direct rays will be their ideal location. Fertilize your weeping fig during the spring and summer months using an all purpose houseplant fertilizer diluted to half strength.

The Boston fern is another plant on the list that is exceptional at removing formaldehyde from the air. But benzene and xylene are also among its impressive cleansing abilities. This is another plant that would benefit from being in a humid environment. Either in the bathroom (if it doesn’t already look like a jungle in there by now), or with a humidifier.

The soil of the Boston fern likes to be kept moist. Check your plant often to make sure that the soil is moist enough and don’t go too long between waterings. You also only need to fertilize this plant a few times a year. Maybe once a season during its growing season, spring to fall. And these plants do well in low to indirect sunlight. Nothing to close to an eastern or southern facing window.

The bamboo palm is next up and last on this list of air purifying plants. The bamboo palm is not to be confused with lucky bamboo, which is actually a relative of another plant on this list, the dracaenia plant, or dragon tree. It is best at scrubbing formaldehyde, trichloroethylene and benzene from the environment.

For its watering needs, this plant likes to have moist soil. When watering wait for the top layer of soil to dry out before rewatering and don’t let your plant sit in standing water. This palm does well in low light settings but will grow faster in brighter light. Keep out of direct sunlight. You can use time release fertilizer during the growing season which is spring to fall.

I’m currently looking for a list of beauty and cleaning products that contain formaldehyde, and when I do find one, I’ll be posting it on the community page. For those of you who are as concerned as I am about the contents of the products we use. If you’re ready to make the jump to something more natural, Mrs. Meyers has a ingredient index list that should help guide you in some of your household cleaning and beauty purchases.

As for tools that may come in handy for caring for your new plant friends, it may be beneficial to purchase a small humidifier to help keep your environment just right for some of your moisture loving plants like ferns or weeping fig. It’s also helpful for us humans as well 🙂

Also, a lot of the care information I received was adapted from Gardening Know How as well as The Farmers Almanac. These two sites have loads of helpful advice on how to care for and maintain your plant friends. I also use an app on my phone to remind me when it’s time to water and feed my plants. Vera, from Bloomscape is free and has been indispensable for me to remember when to water and fertilize, as well as other tasks you may need to remember for general plant care. There have been many a plant that have met their end while in my care before I had some assistance, I’m not too proud to say. If you’re like me and need a little help in the remembering department, this app may be worth looking into.

That wraps up my round up (no round-up was used by me during the writing of this post) of air purifying plants. It feels good knowing we can make a difference, however small, by tending to and caring for some green space in our homes. Until next time, be well, happy gardening 🙂 and peace.

Here are some links to some resources on what VOCs are and where they are found. The DOH in New York released this PDF on VOCs and some products they are found in. This post from One Green Planet lists common household items that contain VOCs. And this article from Science News for Students has a rudimentary list of consumer products containing VOCs. I haven’t found specific brands that contain certain VOCs, but when I do I’ll post it on my community page. If you find anything please feel free to share below in the comments section.

Image Credits: “🌿🌱🌿🌱🌿 #tokyo #japan #house #plants #street” by DocChewbacca is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Building Shelves, Building Community: Opening the Doors to Closer Bonds

A few months ago I was standing in my kitchen while preparing for my weekly meal prep. I went into the back pantry where we store food items and was frustrated with how disorganized it all was. There were multiples of the same item scattered around the shelves that probably sat there for months, if not years just taking up room. We were running out of space in the cabinet where we kept most of our dry goods and the area we had in the pantry was poorly organized and overflowing with food items. Most of them not likely to be used for years. It was overwhelming and frustrating to say the least.

As I stood there looking at the mess that we called the back pantry, I wondered how and why it came to be this disorganized. From what I could gather, as I said in my post on how we treat our pantries, one of the ways we got here was by treating (our) pantry like a museum. Curating different staples. Things (we) should have to have food. One thing was clear. Something needed to change.

Still standing there and looking at our collected mess, I racked my brain for ways to improve our storage situation. To give you an idea of what the pantry looks like, it is a small space, maybe 20-25 square feet. There is a closet on the left that is void of shelving. Only the casing of an old broom closet that house items that aren’t of much use or never get used. A spatula hangs on the inside of one of the walls that has never been used for a grill that had been thrown out years ago. Two non-slip plastic mats hang in the middle of the closet casing and have been for years. An ironing board that hasn’t been touched except to be moved from one spot to another. And a dust pan, two brooms and a Butler that rarely get use.

On top of the underutilized cabinet/closet space is where a good portion of the food we store lives. It’s above eye level and difficult to access without a stepladder. All sorts of cans and bottles of things waiting to be used in no particular order. Scattered about and stacked on top of one another like a jigsaw puzzle.

On the other side of the pantry is a metro rack. If you don’t know what a metro rack is it’s something that is used in the food service industry to store food. Dry goods or dishes are usually kept on these shelves and it’s about 5 1/2 feet tall with 2 1/2 foot deep shelving. And the entire unit is made from a thick gauge chrome wire. Ours is packed with dry goods and appliances that hadn’t even been thought of for a long time.

Next to the metro, on the floor to the left are stacked cases of bottled water and more appliances and dishes that are also collecting dust. If you were alive in the 80’s, it looks like a scene from a Mad Max movie. Items that sometimes got used mixed in with pieces of garbage where someone could hold up and survive some cataclysmic event.

There and then I decided to do something about it. I felt as though living this way was an admission of giving up. Like we had thrown our hands up in frustration and gave in to the chaos. Though I was frustrated, I was unwilling to accept defeat.

I went to architecture school for a semester. At some point in my educational career I thought I would be an architect. On a whim really. It was a very costly impulse decision. But I had little guidance at the time and it seemed like the best option available. There were some useful skills I learned from my stint there. One of the professors said that students often ask him what they’ll be able to do after their first semester or year there. He told us that we’d be able to draw up a blueprint, floor plans for a project. So I got my sketch pad and starting fleshing out ideas for the pantry space.

I came up with a few iterations that I felt would best utilize the space. First, everything needed to be off the ground and preferably at eye level. Next I measured the square footage of useable shelf space we had and compared it to the space we’d be building to make sure we had enough room.

After I had the plans laid out, I showed them to the people I live with. They looked them over, gave me some feedback, things they’d like changed for ease of use. And I created another plan from the newly discussed ideas of how the shelves could be arranged.

It felt as though we were collaborating on a shared sense of space and love of food. We were growing closer by coming together to make our house feel more like a home. There’s also a feeling of ownership that comes with molding the space around you that you use every day.

All of our personalities were cohabitating in the design of the pantry. One person’s practicality in switching the most used shelves closer to the doorway. Another’s love of natural wood shades in the material for the shelves. And me wanting to create the feel of an orchard rack, to store and display fresh veggies from the garden. All of our ideas, tastes and preferences coming together in a place that we use daily. Reminding us of our shared connection.

After we hammered out the plans, I mentioned I was going to be building shelves to a friend of mine and he told me he’s been looking up woodworking videos on Youtube. He recently helped his mother replace some of her shelves. So I asked if he wanted to help and he was pumped about the idea.

We got together to take a look at the space and bounced a few ideas off of each other. He had an idea of how the shelves should be supported and I laid out the spacing and square footage. We went to a local hardware store to price out the materials we needed and later that night I put a budget together for the project.

It took some coordinating to get our schedules to line up but we got there. We chose a day and my friend began the process of gathering the tools we needed for the job. I met my friend in a nearby town, we took a trip to buy the lumber and got started building the shelves.

When we arrived at the house, we made plans on how we were going to prepare and cut the wood to size for the shelving. It was early and we had all day to put the project together so we weren’t rushed. We could take our time. We set up on the front walkway, just outside the front door and got to work on measuring and cutting the pieces.

The project went smoothly from that point on. We put the supports in for the shelving first. Then we cut the boards that were meant to be the shelves down to size and any additional cut outs to fit in the space. We dry fit the shelves and added an extra length of 1×3 to the ends of the shelves to make sure food items didn’t slide off the ends. And it only took one afternoon as opposed to the two days we thought it would take.

There were a few surprises along the way, a few extra measurements we needed to make to allow for some extra bracing we hadn’t planned on. And we had to hand screw some screws from where the closet was too narrow for the drill. But all in all the project was a success.

As we finished up, one of the people who I live with was coming home. So after we cleaned up the tools and scraps, we showed them the new shelves and they were excited. After my friend left, we stood around and talked about the new renovations. We talked about getting my friend a gift card to a local grocery store as a way of saying thank you and to show our gratitude.

We also saved a bunch of money by building the shelves ourselves. They may not be professionally done, but they look good. And we also made plans to scrape, plaster and paint the entire pantry. Something that was started 17 years prior but was left unfinish.

As we were wrapping up our conversation about the shelves someone said that if I ever wanted to invite my friend and his wife over, maybe for dinner or something, that they thought they would enjoy that. This was a shock to hear.

The people I live with have always been a very private bunch. They are not extroverted by any means and the thought of inviting others into our home seemed a foreign idea to me. So hearing them say something to the tune of opening themself to the possibility of a new friendship was a pleasant surprise.

Since building the shelves, I suggested to one of the people I live with that we could sand and paint the entire pantry. Making the space feel brand new. They’ve been in the pantry every day since, sanding and scraping the walls and ceiling getting ready for the day we’ll paint. And they are also picking out the paint colors for the pantry as well.

None of this would be possible if I didn’t take the first step towards making our house feel more like a home. By taking care of the neglected areas of our house, the poorly designed, mess of a pantry and turning it into functional, usable space. Not only functional, but a space where we want to spend time and care for. And that we’ll always remember the time and effort we took to come together to create the sense of feeling at home in our pantry. This is what I mean when I say making a house feel like a home.

There are other projects that need doing as well. In our journey, unfortunately there have been a lot of neglected corners that now need the loving attention turned towards them. There is a long way to go, but it feels a little lighter knowing that there are more people willing to lend a hand. To support each other along the way.

And the shelf project almost didn’t happen at all. As I said above, it took some time to come together. Most of this was due to a communication error between me and the people I live with. We’ve always erred on the side of being polite. We don’t make a lot of waves and we’re quiet and keep to ourselves. So while I was drawing up the plans that I showed to the people I live with, they never gave me a definitive answer on when I’d be able to start the project.

I had already asked my friend for help and was only waiting on the go-ahead. One day I came downstairs into the kitchen while they had been cleaning out some area of the house and I noticed that they had put a bookshelf in the pantry closet. When I asked why it was there, they said they were looking for something to fit in the closet for shelves!

This was confusing as we had already discussed the plans for the shelves. On further inquiry, I found out that they weren’t sure I was still going to build the shelves. It had been a while since we spoke about them and they assumed I had forgotten about it. While in the meantime I was ready to go and only waiting for their okay. So it was a simple miscommunication. We were all a little too polite to ask one another if we were ready to take the next step, stalling the project for 5 months!

A small miscommunication and the shelves almost didn’t happen. This happens often with the people I live with and I’m sure we’re not alone in this. My experience with communicating needs is that I don’t want to be a burden on or feel as though I’m hassling someone by asking too many questions. There’s also a component of not feeling worth the time due to the neglect I’ve endured in the past. But this is also something we all share to some degree.

Maybe not feeling as confident in ourselves as we’d like to. Feeling that our best efforts are somehow not going to be enough. Or worse yet, we put our best efforts forward and somehow get rejected for them. Feeling as though we won’t add up no matter how hard we try. If you’re not used to putting the effort in, your mind will make up all sorts of reasons why you shouldn’t even bother.

So be the person who asks too many questions. When in doubt, ask! From my experience people are more than willing to field a few questions. And if it’s for everyone’s benefit why not ask. I’ve gotten in the habit of setting deadlines for when I talk to people. I don’t go too long before following up with someone I’m in the middle of discussing something with. I feel better knowing that there will be some closier on the projects or ideas I’m collaborating on with other.

Look around at the projects you have going on in your life. Are there areas where a friend or family member could step in and help? Are you planning a garden for the first time? Ask around and see if you have anyone in your circle who’s been at it for a while. I find that coming together for a project builds stronger bonds in a relationship. Not only that, but you’ll most likely learn something new while building a shared connection through experiences. So ask the friend for help, put yourself out there. People are generally pretty friendly once you open the door. Peace 🙂 and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Shelving” by Robbi Baba is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Quarantine and Neglect: How Isolating can Bring up Old Feelings of Neglect

I’m quarantining now and it’s been a week or so since I’ve started. It’s the first time I’ve had to since the pandemic began and it’s not easy or pleasant, that’s for sure. I’m catching up here on NLL a bit. Doing some research and looking into tutorials which is nice, productive. But there’s another aspect to quarantining that has me feeling a bit off. I wasn’t sure what it was at first. But the more I sat with the feelings the more they reminded me of growing up in my childhood home. What I was experiencing was the remanence of my feelings of neglect.

We already know some of the downsides to quarantining are being disconnected from family and friends. But I had no Idea what I was going to experience when I shut the door and the world out for seven days. The feelings first came on as a bit of boredom. I currently live with two others, so I only leave my room for a few things. But isolating in a twenty by twenty foot room with very little in the way of social interaction is trying on me emotionally.

At first I thought, “this isn’t so bad, people have it much worse than I do.” But the more I have time to think about my situation and feel my emotions, the clearer it feels. That I’m reliving the neglected parts of my past where I wouldn’t see my caregivers for what felt like days.

Just me sitting in front of the T.V. by myself, watching another episode of the Simpsons. Except when I would occasionally go into the kitchen to try to find something to eat that wasn’t soda or cerrial. The same friend of mine that coined the frase, “I’m here, I care”, also said that they were raised by the Simpsons. And with them being on for close to four hours a day, I definitely spent more of my time with that family than I did with my own.

I understand the sacrifices my caregivers had to make in order to provide for me. It wasn’t always easy for us when I was growing up. But I feel as though they could have struck a balance between working and spending time with the family. Subsequently there are few moments I can reflect on that feel like quality family time.

Instead it felt like I was walking around my house feeling like a ghost. Empty. Which brings me back to quarantining for the past week. There is that same ghost like quality to sitting in my room alone. Feeling the emptiness of years past weighing down on me. As I said above, it wasn’t easy. I didn’t have the same routines to fall back on. Usually I drink a few cups of herbal tea with honey before I go to bed. I also talk to the people I live with over dinner. Instead I eat my meals in my room in solitary with only water and a lemonade.

The dishes pile up on my shelf because I don’t want to make too many trips to shared common areas for fear of infecting someone if I have gotten the virus. It reminded me of the ways I used to live. Some of my apartments as I’ve mentioned before were manifestations of the ways I learned to neglect myself. So isolating for a few days is bringing those feelings of neglect right back, front and center.

Feeling and being alone, posible being sick and living in questionable surroundings is for all the reasons I’ve started above, like feeling and being neglected. Reliving some of these emotions is draining and I imagine I’m not alone in noticing this. With more and more people quarantining it would only make sense that this type of isolation would bring back some painful memories of past experiences.

We work so hard to create comfortable lives. Filled with people, activities and rituals that when we lose it all so swiftly, what we could be left with is old feelings of painful neglect. But it’s not as bleak as it seems.

There are definitely resources I’m able to draw on to help me through some of the more difficult times here while alone. And to remind myself that I’m in the here and now, not in the past anymore. Because it’s so easy to get swept up into reliving the past when old feelings come tumbling in. Remember that the lives we’re building aren’t gone. We just need to access them maybe in different ways.

Some of the ways I keep myself company are obvious ones. I reach out to friends via text or IM. Catching up with old friends and being support for them makes me feel more connected. Sharing thoughts and memories that keep me company during the times I feel most stressed and isolated is comforting.

Also making plans to go visit them when we’re able to travel again gives me something to look forward to. I haven’t seen these friends in a very long time so seeing how they’ve changed over the years while rehashing some old stories sounds like a great way to reconnect.

The friends I’m talking about live on the west coast. I’ve known them since I was in grade school and high school when we lived in the same city. I’ve also only recently reconnected with them finding I have more time on my hands and less to do thanks to Covid. I’m happy I did because like I’ve said above, they’ve become a source of emotional support. So if you’ve always wondered how an old friend of yours is doing, maybe you lost touch after high school when you both went your separate ways to different colleges. Don’t be held back from reaching out because you feel things are too different now. Send that text, message or email. You’ll probably be surprised with how welcoming they are. I know I was and I’m happier for it.

Another resource I’ve come to rediscover in a new way is doing yoga. I didn’t think I’d be able to keep up with my practice in the area I have. I usually exercise in a separate room where there’s plenty of space to flow through my vinyasas. But the useable space in my room is just enough to walk through to strategic places. I.e. the wardrobe, hampers and bedside.

They are already cramped quarters and I didn’t think I’d be able to fully extend into my warrior IIs. But after moving some stuff around I find that I have just enough room to do my practice in.

I also shifted the time I practice to early in the evening when the sun is going down. I light a few candles and find that my space is cosier than the room I usually work out in. It reminds me of one of the first studios I started my practice in. There isn’t as much room, but with the sun setting and the ambient lighting from the candles, and all the pieces in my room that come together to give shape to my personality, it feels as though I am in a more intimate version of the studio where I first learned to love yoga. It is more me in every way and definitely feel less isolated.

If you’ve been thinking of starting a workout routine but can’t find the time, now maybe the best opportunity to get into a healthier habit. The reason I like yoga so much is because you don’t need a lot of equipment to get started. A mat, maybe some videos and time. Yoga with Adriene has a wide selection of different length videos to choose from. So if you only have the time or energy for twenty minutes of yoga, she’s got your back.

Another resource I’m able to cultivate is reading. I never used to read that much. I picked up reading as a hobie in my early twenties. Even then I wouldn’t call myself an avid reader. It felt as though it were taking up too much of my time. I’m not sure from what because I mostly played video games and consumed a lot of television.

When I did read I mostly read nonfiction. But reading only one subject matter for any length of time is a good way to burn yourself out. Lately I’m keeping a few different genres of books around for some variety. I have one science fiction, one on sustainable living and another I just put on hold at the library for houseplants that purify and cleanse the air in your home.

My old reading habits were one book at a time. And I had to finish that one before I started another regardless of whether or not I liked it. It felt more like work actually. But now I try to read twenty minutes before I go to bed. And if I don’t feel like reading the book I read last night, that’s okay. I just pick up another. Or if I don’t feel like reading, that’s fine too. But knowing I have that twenty minutes before bed set aside for that purpose makes me feel a little better about my reading habits. Like I’m cultivating something that will make me a little healthier. And it feels good.

Do you have a Goodreads account? If so, it may be fun to revisit some of the books you put on your shelf to look into for later. That’s where I found the book on houseplants I ordered from the library. And if you haven’t checked out your local library in a while, it may be worth the endeavour. There are loads of resources there and they are all free as long as you have a library card. They’ll even deliver materials from other libraries that are in your network. So if you can’t find what you’re looking for at your local library, chances are one in your network will have it.

NLL has been a huge resource for me as well. I’ve set a word limit and some R&D time and goals for the week or day. I don’t always meet them, but it’s good to connect with my creativity and explore some of my emotional spaces through writing. Also I keep a bullet journal as I’ve mentioned before on this blog.

Writing is a passion of mine. But if it wasn’t writing I’d be pursuing some other creative outlet. Cooking or maybe looking into brewing beer again comes to mind. Being alone is the perfect time to pick up a hobie that you may have started a few years ago. Or maybe there’s something that you’ve always wanted to start but can’t find the time.

A friend of mine is watch youtube videos on woodworking. The same friend who helped me build the shelves that I spoke about in my post on, building shelves building community. He’s finding people who are doing creative and interesting projects that are in line with his shared interests in woodworking. The Bourbon Moth is one of the finds he told me about. They’re a company that makes furniture using reclaimed pieces of wood. They also have loads of YouTube videos on diy woodworking projects.

If woodworking’s not your thing, maybe you’re into a sport or knitting. There are so many people out there sharing their passions on YouTube or by blogging and podcasting, that there is no shortage of ways to connect with others about what you’re into. All you need to do is get out there and look around a bit. Who knows what you’ll discover. And don’t forget to let those you care about know along the way. You may just learn something new about an old friend or family member.

Another way I’m taking care of myself is by attending to my need for some variety in my diet. Before I went into quarantine, I went to the grocery store to stock up on some supplies. Snack foods I could keep in my room that I knew would lift my spirits while I was pacing around the tiny square footage of my bedroom.

I knew I wasn’t going to be spending the time in my kitchen that I normally do, cooking meals for the week and going food shopping. So having a few healthy snacks that I could munch on during the day in between either leftovers from the fridge or takeout is something I look forward to. Knowing that I’m looking out for myself and taking care of those small needs is gratifying and comforting. It’s like knowing I’m here for myself when things get tough.

If you’ve read my post on sorting your music collection, you’ll know that I’m weeding out some of my music library as well. I’ve also started a new playlist of songs to look into, that I’ve heard while at work or out and around. I’ll play it on shuffle when I’m doing a task and if I hear a song I like, I listen to the album to see if it’s a keeper.

I noticed that I play the same few albums over and over again on repeat. And it’s not that I don’t like those songs, but after a while I need a little variety with what I’m listening to. Doing the same things, whatever they are, over and over again is mentally draining. This way I’m mixing things up in my daily routine musically and discovering new songs I like at the same time. I’m also thinking less about the past as well.

It’s strange how music has the ability to bring us back to times and places in our lives. I know for me I avoided a lot of the music I used to listen to. I’m not hitched to the old songs as I once was when they come up. I know that they’re there, but I don’t fear them popping up as much as I used to. Because I’m building a more positive connection with the tracks I’m listening to now. Associating them with a brighter outlook and a more positive times and places.

Another aspect of my life I’m tending to is taking care of my house plants. I have a moderate collection of plants I’ve collected over the years. I have them on a schedule for watering and feeding, but asides from the basics I haven’t put a lot of effort into their maintenance. Lately I’ve been doing some research on them. What their ideal environments are, what’s the difference between low light and medium light needs? Ways to get more moisture to plants that like high humidity.

I’m currently trying to bring a crispy wave birds nest fern back to life. It isn’t quite the right time of year for it’s growing season, but I’ve put a plan in place to bring it the love it needs when it wakes up. For example I was watering the center of the plant before, which is where the new frond growth happens. A little research said that this is a good way to stop new fronds from coming up. So I’ve started watering around the sides.

It’s a nice feeling attuning to my plants needs. Searching out new ways to care for them while adjusting my care routine to reflect these new habits I’m trying to develop. Because that’s what I’m also doing for myself really. I know I need food, but I don’t want just any food. I want something nutritious but also something I’ll enjoy. Same with music and reading. I enjoy these things and want to cultivate positive experiences around them while discovering new favorites. There’s so much out there to discover and experience, but we won’t find what we’re looking for if we’re focused on how alone we feel.

Those are the current ways I am attending to my needs while isolated in quarantine. The stress of isolation is still here, that doesn’t go away. But knowing that I’m connected to my larger support group, and caring for my own needs is a huge resource. The old feelings of neglect still pop up once and awhile, but they are surrounded by so much more support then they ever have been before that they aren’t as pressing or encompassing, intense as they once were.

The loneliness isn’t so lonely knowing I can reach out to people. The boredom isn’t so heavy knowing that I’m pursuing interests and hobbies. Life feels a little more full. Like I’m more me. As Tara Brach put it, “it’s survival of the nurtured, not the fittest.” And while I’m attending to my fitness levels, I’m thriving because I’m nurturing the parts of my life that used to lay neglected. First by others, then by myself.

It took a lot of work to get to the place where I can feel this nurtured. But it’s not impossible and it gets easier with help. It may seem bleak for the moment, but remember that this too shall pass. And a little bit of self nurturing can go a long way. So be kind to yourself. Pick up that hobie that you’ve always been interested in. Reach out to that friend you haven’t spoken to in years. Go through your libraries and rediscover some old favorites or find some new ones. Whatever it is, do it with kindness and you will be nurturing yourself. Until next time, peace and thanks for reading 🙂

Image Credits: “empty room” by tozzer577 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0