Category: Life (Page 1 of 4)

Un-plastic-ing My Life: Part 3

My efforts to remove plastic from every part of my routine continue with the third item in my daily repertoire, shampoo.

The photo above reflects how I want my hair to appear on any given day—shiny, with lots of volume and body. After developing a habit of getting blow-outs for various events in Los Angeles at the Dry Bar on Sunset, I became quite fond of the scent of their Liquid Glass shampoo. It reminded me of fun times, my “happy place” and the person I became the instant I landed in California.

I liked it so much, I began buying it in Seattle and using it at home, making it a regular rotation in my hair products … until I ran it through my Yuka app and discovered it was made with high levels of BHTs (compounds which potentially disrupt our thyroid functions). Plus, it was only sold in plastic bottles, so I had to find an alternative.

Enter JVN “Undamaged” — a sulfate-free shampoo, which smells amazing, leaves my hair soft and light and has a 72/100 Yuka rating with no harmful ingredients AND it is packaged in (recyclable) aluminum, so there are no plastics seeping into the bottles as they are stored on the shelves.

Win-win!

Bonus: If you’re shopping LGBTQ shops for pride month, JVN was created by Queer Eye’s Jonathan van Ness. 🌈

Un-plastic-ing My Life: Part 2

My efforts to remove plastic from every part of my routine continue with the second item, also related to teeth: Dental Floss.

Until I saw an Instagram reel flash by that was talking about a class action lawsuit, it never occurred to me that dental floss could be harmful in any way. But when I saw my usual brand as the company being targeted in the lawsuit, I decided to investigate.

The suit alleged that there were dangerous PFAS, more commonly known as “forever chemicals,” in the floss, meaning each time you used it you were potentially jamming harmful substances up into your gums. Substances that often come from the production of … plastic! This, coupled with the news that poor oral health can increase your chances of getting dementia, gave me pause.

Spoiler alert: The big corporation won the lawsuit. Not because their product was proven to be entirely safe, but because the studies weren’t extensive enough. Not satisfied, I kept digging and found the evidence I was hoping for, then began trying various non-chemical brands.

So … after years of satin gliding, I’m now a happy customer of Cocofloss, which has a fantastic reputation and also offers unconventional flavors so you don’t have to settle for boring mint (unless you want to) every time. Plus, all of their packaging is cardboard or recycled plastic, so no new plastic is generated in their production.

Stay tuned for my next swap (I promise the third installment won’t have anything to do with teeth)!

Un-plastic-ing My Life: Part 1

Leading a charity that promotes sustainability and care for our planet, I’m in a constant state of learning about the harm that everyday products can cause. Armed with this knowledge, it would be hypocritical of me not to heed the warnings of scientists and medical professionals, so I have begun the process of removing perhaps the most harmful substance of all from every part of my life: plastic.

It’s everywhere and it’s dangerous. In its intended form, whether it be a cup or a synthetic fabric, it can take anywhere from 20 – 500 years to break down, and when it does, it will release toxins into the atmosphere. So I’ve started a process of doing a complete overhaul of my lifestyle, one item at a time, to find safer alternatives that accomplish the same thing.

The first: Toothpaste.

It’s something everyone needs and consumes every day, and something that comes in a container that will need to be disposed of when empty. For years, because I love the taste of cinnamon, I’ve been a loyal user of Close-up toothpaste. Many of the leading brands were found to have microplastics in the toothpaste, which is not only harmful to those who consume it, once the user spits it back into the water supply, the plastics travel to pollute other areas. Furthermore, the tubes they are packaged in are plastic.

I began researching to find both a toothpaste that didn’t contain plastic and a container that wasn’t plastic, even if the product was clean. I started testing out different brands for flavor and texture and arrived at my favorite: Bite. Though it’s a bit more expensive than a tube of mainstream paste, it arrives in a reusable glass bottle (these are especially great for travel) and has a variety of flavors including Mint, Berry and Cinnamon (though that one can be harder to find). Furthermore, they’re tablets, so there’s no spilling or wasting any toothpaste because it’s already measured out for each use. It’s been a smooth transition.

I plan on making a series out of my swaps so stay tuned if you want to follow along for tips to un-plastic your own environment!

How to Explore More This Summer

Whistler BC
Photo by Coby Degroot/Pixabay

The world is coming back to life just in time to make the most of what summer has to offer. One of my favorite pastimes is adding to my ever-evolving “bucket list” of places to explore. My criteria for the list includes the following:

  • The destination has to be somewhere I’ve never visited previously.
  • There has to be something in nature to do at said destination (even if that’s not the main purpose for visiting).
  • The destination must include the availability of an activity that I’ve never done before (i.e., when I went to Fairbanks, Alaska, I went dog mushing).
  • There must be at least one type of cuisine at the destination that I have never sampled before.

Neighbors to the North

Living so near to Canada, pre-pandemic I visited the country every few months to see art exhibits at Vancouver galleries, stock up on my favorite tea (only sold there) and explore new places around British Columbia. 

One area that’s quite popular with my friends who love to ski, is Whistler. Seeing their Instagram photos of beautiful snowy vistas has always made me want to go, but the more I research it, the more I think I’d actually like to experience it first in the summertime. 

So, does it qualify as a Bucket List destination?

It is somewhere I’ve never visited previously, so that’s one requirement met. But what about the other variables?

Recreational Opportunities in Nature

Of course, as I mentioned above, skiing is the no. 1 activity in the region, but as I did my homework, I realized there are several things I would enjoy in the great outdoors there:

I hike regularly at home, so a great trek in the Canadian countryside sounds ideal. I’d especially like this jaunt.

I was delighted to see that like Seattle, they have their own Green Lake.

If I really want to be part of the snow, I could also take a glacier tour.

A Unique Adventure

An activity that I’ve never done, but would love to do is zip lining and that appears to be an option readily available in Whistler:

I love the eco vibe of this group.

Admittedly, this also looks exhilarating.

A Taste of Whistler

Something I’ve heard a lot about are Whistler Jeggs—a savory pancake that I think I would definitely enjoy, if they’re all presented as extravagantly as this.

So yeah … every Bucket List requirement is met. But what about the vibe?

Real Estate Reality

A great way to tell if an area is thriving is by browsing homes and values in nearby areas. Looking at the beautiful properties here, it appears Whistler is going strong. Check out the real estate for sale in Whistler.

When the border is open—hopefully next month or the month after—I may have to make Whistler, BC, one of my first excursions

Renting vs. Buying … The Inequality Real Estate Issues Sparked by Covid

As I continue to research whether it makes more sense to rent or buy in the current landscape, I find more and more evidence that the pandemic adversely affected rent prices for those not in affluent areas and also possibly drove up housing prices in the process. As if it isn’t already hard enough to catch a break in this economic climate …

For example, in King County where I live in the Seattle area, the median income is approximately $103k — and rents actually decreased (though I can sadly say, mine personally did not). Compare that to Pierce County, which is further south, where the median income is around $79k. They saw a 21% average rent increase, which leads me to believe something is clearly wrong with our system. The more rural and suburban areas seem to be getting punished for their hardships.

Historically the fluctuation in rents has not been directly correlated to the geographies aligned with specific income levels. More often it appears the trends follow the economy of the area (i.e. when Amazon thrived in Seattle and several wealthy tech professionals moved in, everything skyrocketed).

Now, seeing headlines about the local housing market being “on steroids,” I can’t help but think this is an awful time for a first-time buyer who doesn’t have $800k readily available to consider even looking for a property. There is also an urgency to lock in the rates us renters currently have, if possible, because increases are on the horizon for just about everyone despite trending down in my county during the outbreak of the virus.

In a bigger picture sense, I think the markets are upside down in many locations because the coronavirus changed the way so many people work. Some who had never telecommuted before became masters of their home offices and realized how productive they were when not confronted with constant interruptions or on-site office distractions. Now, they don’t want to go back. Alternatively, companies realized how much money they could save from office space and commuter reimbursements and how much less damage they could do to the environment for allowing their teams to go remote. If anything positive came out of the disaster of a year that 2020 was, it was these revelations.

I made the switch to telecommuting in a hybrid way back in 2016, then took on a new role at a startup to work exclusively from home the following year. Every job I’ve had since, including the one I have (and love) now has been 100% remote with only occasional travel (which I also love) required. The beauty of it is that if I want to pick up and go to another city, or even another country, I truly could. I already juggle multiple time zones, so really life wouldn’t change much.

Those with families are finding they may prefer their children and pets having a yard to play in vs. a busy city street, or are simply tired of the fast pace of life near where they work. They’ve discovered that they now have the freedom to choose where to live without risking job loss—and so they’re selling (at a great price) and perhaps even upsizing (at an even better price) in a less populated city or state.

I’ll be curious to see in five years what the trends look like once everyone is settled. Hopefully our collective mental health will improve, the environment will get cleaner, the system will right its wrongs with regard to inequality … and the housing prices will come back down for those of us who hope to someday own vs. rent.

To Buy or Not to Buy: Is Now the Right Time?

Since I arrived in Seattle in the summer of 1999, I’ve contemplated whether or not to continue life as a renter or take a big leap in life to purchase property. When my career was just getting off the ground, there was no way I could afford anything in the neighborhood I was renting in at the time (a suburb just north of the city), but as my salary grew, I began to consider home ownership more seriously. In the summer of 2019, I thought I may be in a financially stable enough place to begin looking … and then we all know what happened: The pandemic arrived. Now, I just have to research, calculate and breathe to make a determination either way.

Pros and Cons

Every time I prepare for a big life decision, I make a list of the pros and cons of whatever outcome I expect from said decision. Considering a home purchase, my list looks something like this:

Pros

  • It’s a potential wealth-builder.
  • Paying a mortgage on time regularly could boost my credit score.
  • I could paint the walls whatever color I want (this is something I’ve desired since I moved out of my parents’ house at age 17).
  • It would feel good to put down some permanent roots.
  • I wouldn’t need to ask someone’s permission to install a satellite dish or knock out a wall to increase the size of a room.
  • I would feel like an adult (finally, in my 40s).

Cons

  • The upfront cost is significant.
  • If something breaks or needs replacing, that’s on me.
  • Property taxes are high in my area.
  • If I marry or remote work is no longer an option in my career, I can’t just “pick up and move.”
  • Covid-19 has increased the prices of homes.

My Financial Reality

Though I survived a spell of unemployment and ultimately re-shaped my career for the better during the pandemic, like many Americans, I’m still nervous about what the future may hold. If 2020 taught us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected and learn to adapt to whatever the world may throw our way. Though there are places like Freddie Mac that have increased the flexibility for buying during these trying times, I still have to consider the impacts to my life if I begin taking on a big mortgage payment and also prepare for unknown costs like repairs if they should arise.

Solving the Equation

As someone who excels in language, I’m unfortunately not great at math of any sort. Thankfully, there’s a helpful website that specializes in mortgage calculators that doesn’t require any number gymnastics to get the answers I need about buying a home for the first time. 

I used the Mortgage Qualification Calculator to help determine what salary I need to make to realistically afford the type of home that I’d want to buy and preserve the quality of life that I have as a renter. There I can take an amount from one of the listings I’m interested in and plug it in along with my current debts and budget details to have an accurate scope of what I’m truly capable of owning.

The Outlook

So what have I decided to do? Unfortunately there are still too many unknowns for me to make a final decision. Like one of those classic Magic 8-balls, my reply will be to “Ask Again Later …”

Return to Reality

I wasn’t allowed to do much as a teenager. I couldn’t date boys or go on overnight trips in groups where boys would be present—I wasn’t even allowed to cut my own hair (which made me all-the-more alluring to said forbidden boys).

I grew up in an ultra-strict household, ruled by my abusive, alcoholic Greek immigrant father who had irrational views on child-rearing in 1990s America. Never mind that my mother (the sweetest, kindest woman you could ever know) was American and had been raised in a household with few rules, yet turned out as prim and proper as one could hope. Never mind that I was an honors’ student who had skipped a grade, never got into trouble and possessed an IQ that qualified me for Mensa membership. Never mind all of that. I was pretty, so therefore would certainly ‘sin’ if given the chance.

Around age 16, as a junior in high school, I began considering colleges for a future escape. Learning that I was investigating schools close to home in Oregon, my older sister gave me perhaps the best advice I’ve ever been given: “Go as far away to college as you possibly can—something not within driving distance. Get away from him.” And as the Universe so often does, once that seed was planted, it began conspiring to make it happen.

Soon I was writing for a regional student newspaper, working in the newsroom of the city’s daily paper, The Oregonian, and solidifying my plans to pursue a career in journalism. One of the “perks” of this new role was the opportunity to represent the West Coast at a journalism workshop that summer in Washington, DC, where I’d live in a dormitory at George Washington University with fellow teenage journalists from around the country and work on a national student newspaper.

In the months leading up to that trip, I took solace in one of the few things I had total freedom to do: Choose to watch whatever I wanted to on television.

I chose The Real World on MTV, which ran on an almost continuous loop from May to August that year. It was the perfect coming-of-age show for me, as I could identify in some way with each of the cast members, all of whom were just a few years older than me.

I was a dancer like Julie—captain of the dance team at school and enrolled in private lessons for my true love, ballet.

I was a writer like Kevin—captivated by poetry and journalism alike, he was discussing the things that mattered and doing so in an eloquent way that I aspired to emulate.

I was musical like Heather, Andre and Becky—blessed with perfect pitch and years of playing the flute, I was always singing or performing in some capacity or another.

I was a model like Eric—my first jobs were fashion shows for my local Nordstrom store, which evolved into additional work as I got older and more comfortable in my own skin.

I was an artist like Norman—though not professionally, I offered my best attempt at watercolors for anyone who would observe.

The original Real World was nothing like the trashy shows we associate with reality television today. It was an unvarnished look at seven young artists trying to make their way in New York City, living with a group of people completely different from them, yet also so alike in many ways. It was most profoundly a metaphor for life: We are all constantly navigating the world with people very different from us, but yet, whether we see it or not, people who are very much the same.

I wanted so badly to have an experience like theirs—and in a way, I did. The journalism workshop made me take my first solo flight (which began a compulsive travel habit that only paused for the pandemic) and delivered me to a group of soon-to-be close friends from the Midwest and East Coast who were of different faiths, ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds.

The workshop itself was life-changing—the first conversation about the still-recent Rodney King trial and resulting rebellion led to very uncomfortable (but necessary) conversations amongst the students; my time with a mentor from the Hearst Newspapers taught me interview skills I still use today. And it nudged me to take my sister’s advice, moving a year later to Columbia, Missouri to attend Mizzou for their award-winning journalism program.

But I could never shake the emotional attachment I had to the seven people I watched repeatedly in my youth, at a time when I needed them most, which is why when they returned this year for The Real World: Homecoming, I literally cried. I’d thought about them all over the years, catching various reunions they filmed and Googling them every-so-often to see where there lives landed, but this was different. They were moving back in, to the same loft in New York City, with the same people.

I had apprehension, as I didn’t want the sanctity of the original to be compromised, but thankfully, that wasn’t the case at all. This new production captured all of the magic of the original by showing us how the individuals had evolved (or in one case, regressed) and most importantly vibrated with the love they all still feel for one another and their shared experience.

After a year of almost complete solitude (my only visitor being my 80-year-old mother), curling up to watch these six sacred episodes felt like more than a guilty pleasure binge. It felt like a reminder to reflect on how far I’ve come from that damaged, naive young girl from the rough side of Portland and give thanks for the continued learnings about race, spirituality and love that our present world brings.

Georgia, It’s a Matter of Life and Earth

Though there are several vital policies dividing voters in the Georgia senate race, the one that reaches far beyond the residents of that state is the fight against climate change.

As someone who votes clear across the country, I beg those eligible to vote in Georgia to please consider our natural world when you complete your ballot.

There are clear differences in the stances of each candidate. Here’s a snapshot in case the voter pamphlets aren’t thorough on the often-overlooked topic:

David Perdue has an abysmal voting record when it comes to the environment. One only has to look at his Conservation Scorecard to see where he stands on the climate crisis.

Jon Osoff, Perdue’s opponent, in contrast is fighting for an aggressive investment in clean energy.

In the other race …

Kelly Loeffler is one of the strongest supporters of President Trump’s anti-environmental policies, most likely because she personally profits from them.

Rev. Raphael Warnock, Loeffler’s opponent, has perhaps the best record of fighting for Mother Earth, from supporting efforts to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord to bringing leaders together to take action on the environment, the list is long.

Georgia voters, we need you now more than ever. Please cast your votes for Jon Osoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock. Our lives literally depend on it.

If you live outside of Georgia and would still like to help, make a donation here.

R.I.P. to My Favorite Tree

I moved to the Seattle area in the summer of 1999 for my first marketing job as a writer for Nordstrom. I knew no one in the city when I got here and like any new space, I enjoyed learning about my surroundings and discovering hidden treasures for the first few years after arrival.

In those early days I lived in a woodsy apartment complex in the Northern suburb of Shoreline. A nature trail literally ran through the property, and just down the street was a city park and recreation center where I took various dance and fitness classes. I walked to nearly everything I did: to the bus stop to go to work; to the movie theater that was nearby; to the grocery store that existed back then.

My dentist was only two blocks from my front door and I loved walking over to his office because each time I did, I passed my favorite tree. The first time I noticed it was in the fall, on a blustery, rainy day. It was a burst of red and yellow swaying in the mist as I hurried down the hill. On my way back, the rain had let up so I took a better look from across the street and marveled at how many hues it had, while the trees near it were one solid color (still green or completely red). I vowed to come back and snap a photo when the weather was better. And I did—every year thereafter.

I moved into a house away from this neighborhood just over a decade later, but made a ritual of returning annually, usually the week prior to Halloween, to capture this beautiful tree during its most gorgeous autumn peak.

It became a place of solace too. The photo above was taken in October of 2006, when I was still enduring the pain of the worst breakup I ever had. I remember walking up and down the hill, going across the street, taking as many shots as I could of this natural wonder so i could remain in the peace of its space. Just standing there so vibrant, it was a comfort.

In 2015, as seen here, I lingered because I was contemplating the upcoming holidays without my Dad (he passed earlier that year). I walked back and forth, thinking about the reliability of this tree to be here for me in ways even family couldn’t.

Last year, my stroll around the tree was a therapy session, as my position had been eliminated at work and I was promising myself I wouldn’t take another soul-sucking corporate job; I would find something with purpose if it killed me. As I scrambled to cram all of my medical appointments in before my health insurance expired at the end of the month, I also got a flu shot that day . But I wish I’d spent more time with “my” tree before I did.

Today I woke up in a bad way, only a few hours after laying down to pings on my phone. After two cups of coffee and completing the task that those pings were about, I decided to set out for some fresh air to shake off my bad vibe.

I went first to walk the (outdoor) Scarecrow Festival in Edmonds, which was a welcome sight, and then to pick up some groceries. Because it was so sunny outside, and I still wasn’t emotionally feeling 100%, I decided to detour to visit my favorite tree and snap the annual photo.

I nearly crashed my car.

I pulled over across the street, where I normally leave my vehicle each year, but when I got out, I had to look twice at what street I was on … because there was no tree!

I got a lump in my throat, my heart began pounding and tears welled up in my eyes.

It was gone. And there were new, different types of trees along the fence that weren’t there last year, but my tree—the tree that has been my constant comfort for over 20 years, heard my cries and prayers and joy—was no longer.

I walked back to my car in disbelief, audibly cursed the wrath of 2020 and burst into tears.

I hope it wasn’t sick. I hope it didn’t suffer. I hope whoever did this had a damned good reason for doing so.

I collected myself and took one last look at the hollow space before driving home, thinking to myself something I’ve honestly been thinking a while … “There’s nothing keeping me here anymore.”

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