Monthly Archives: January 2013

Day 12 – non-dairy yogurt review and (another) trip to Jasper!

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Caribou death stare.. I think she’s annoyed we’re interrupting her lounging..

We just got back from another trip to Jasper this weekend. Although the 4 hour drive is a little daunting it’s always so nice to get away to the mountains, breathe the fresh air and just take in all the beauty. This trip was even more exceptional since we tried out snowboarding on Marmot Basin for the first time and got to go dogsledding! That’s right, we led a team of dogs through snowy trails in the mountains. Can’t get much more Canadian than that! Unless we stopped to collect maple syrup on the way, which I would not object to, ever. Honestly dogsledding was unreal. I was a little nervous and let my boyfriend do the driving at first while I got warm and cozy in the sled but after a while I decided I had to try it too. First thing they told us when we got there is that they do not use the command “mush” as normally depicted in movies, also you don’t lean with the sled to steer, it just goes wherever the dogs go. Unless you’re a pro dogsled racer that is. The actual commands were “hike” to go and “woah” to stop. They also told us that the brake is the most important part. The dogs will want to go as fast as possible, all the time, and you don’t want to be running over the team in front of you. On downhill slopes the sled will pick up more speed than the dogs and you could run into them, so the brake is very important. It was funny, every time we were heavy on the brake or had to make the dogs stop at least one of them would turn around and give you a look reminiscent of “Hey Buddy, what gives, we’re running here!” Then they all would start barking and jumping and trying to make the sled move even with the brake fully engaged. It was such a cool feeling to wait amid all the barking and commotion then to finally let off the brake, yell “hike”, and let them fly. They take off so fast, and as soon as they do it’s completely silent again. The only sound is the sled sliding through the snow and the wind against your hood. We felt like adventurers exploring the vast arctic landscape, our trusty dog companions leading the way. I hope I get do to this again some time.

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Our team!

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The team in action.

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Showing the pups some love.

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One of the beautiful dogs, super shy though.

Other than that our trip consisted of lots of eating out, I think we’ve been to almost every restaurant in Jasper now, and then a day on the mountain snowboarding. Marmot Basin was pretty good, it had some good runs and no flat parts! Yay for not pushing! The only bad part was that there was no fresh snow, also the one bad thing about preplanned ski days. So after a while my knees and butt had taken a beating and I was ready to call it a day and headed to the chalet lounge book in hand. We stayed in these really cute cabin/apartments on Pyramid Lake, about 5 kms from Jasper. I would definitely recommend them, so cozy, had a beautiful view of the lake and mountains and not too expensive.

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View from our balcony.

For meals this weekend I kind of cheated.. And by kind of I mean I REALLY cheated. I started out good, I had a veggie burger at the hill, which was dairy free but then I had a mocha.. Which obviously has some kind of dairy in it. Then for supper we went to a fancy place called Olive Bistro and Lounge. It’s the type of place where meals start at $17 and don’t really include sides and meat is another $5 add on (which I’m fine with). After being torn up about the lack of vegan options I decided on gourmet mac and cheese. The most non-vegan vegetarian item on the menu.. I’m sure I could have gotten a salad and asked for no cheese, and vinaigrette dressing but who wants to pay $17 for a salad when you’re not even eating the most expensive part, the fancy cheese. Not to mention I’m a sucker for gourmet mac and cheese.. We had Tim Hortons for breakfast the next day, and for lunch I had a burrito cooked on a campfire in the middle of the forest. I had asked for the vegetarian option for lunch but hadn’t even thought of the fact that it would probably contain cheese. I figured it would be a veggie dog or something. I also may have forgotten to ask for no cheese on my Bagel BELT (no bacon obviously) that morning, so I’m pretty sure I’m past strike 3 for dairy free meals already. Feeling a little bad I opted for another veggie burger for supper that night while my boyfriend got veggie pizza. Finally the cheat of all cheats that weekend for breakfast I had Eggs Benedict with smoked salmon.. I even broke my vegetarian rules for that one, and I’m not sure it was worth it. Yeah it was good, but nothing life changing. Oh and while I’m confessing my sins I also had a tiny bite of my boyfriend’s Smoked Canadian Bison Burger, which was to die for. I was pretty jealous, but at least I had my mac and cheese to console me.

I don’t know what it was about this weekend that made me rebel against everything.. I’m usually super good about sticking to vegetarian meals even when eating out. I normally prefer the vegetarian food now and don’t feel like I’m missing anything. I think this dairy-free challenge might have tipped me over the edge and had me feeling like I wasn’t allowed anything I liked therefore I wanted to have those things even more. I don’t mind the dairy free at home where I have lots of options for milk and cheese alternatives but paying for meals that are going to be blah or asking for many omissions yet still paying the same price is not appealing to me at all.

Speaking of dairy free alternatives I wanted to do a review on a couple dairy-free yogurts I tried. First off I ended up buying So Delicious Coconut Milk Blueberry “yogurt”. I knew it contained carrageenan but I was desperate for a yogurt for my granola. It turned out to be terrible. For starters it just looks unappealing. Kind of like a cross between chunky custard and jello and it was bright blue, way too blue to be natural. I knew I had to give it a chance but after a couple wary spoonfuls I decided it could not be done. It just tasted so artificial, that same empty, too sweet taste you get with any artificially sweetened or low fat products. I even tried to give it a second chance a few days later but I can’t get over that taste enough to actually enjoy it.

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Blueberry So Delicious Coconut Milk Yogurt

After the coconut milk yogurt disaster I went looking for another alternative. I found Nancy’s Cultured Soy Yogurt. It’s all organic and no crazy chemical ingredients so I was very excited to try it out. I got the plain since I usually like plain yogurt but I think that may have been a mistake. When I opened the container it was kind of beige/light brown colour and had a weird (bad) smell. Nonetheless I grabbed a spoon and dug in.. It tastes very… yogurt-y? Almost an overwhelming bacterial taste or a funky soy flavor with no creaminess to fill it out like normal yogurt. I was going to attempt it on my granola but last minute, after another taste test, I decided I didn’t want to ruin a good bowl of granola and end up not eating it. I guess I’ll have to do some vegan baking to use up all these “yogurts”. A fellow blogger suggested I try almond milk based yogurt, specifically Amande, and since I’m loving my almond milk in my coffee and cereal I’m hoping the yogurt will be just as good!

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Nancy’s Soy Yogurt

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Amande Almond Yogurt

Even though I had a bad weekend for dairy, now that I’m back home I’m ready to finish my month strong. I’m looking forward to trying out some more vegan recipes and incorporating them into my repertoire of go to meals in the future.

Day 6 Dairy Free and the environmental challenges of a vegan/vegetarian diet.

I just wanted to do a quick update tonight. I’ve been super busy this week between working, editing the Newsletter for the Alberta Organic Producers Association and trying to stay on top of making healthy meals. So far dairy free has still not been a huge challenge for me. I finally tried my rice milk this morning and it was delicious, I’ll be back to the store ASAP to stock up. My meals have been a little boring, more due to lack of time and not having a solid repertoire of go to dairy free meals than the dietary restrictions. Mostly I’ve been eating veggies with the occasional side of scrambled eggs. Tonight I had a slight craving for mac and cheese so I just cooked up some pasta and added my vegan cheese, I didn’t mind the difference at all. I went out for lunch for the first time since starting dairy free and it was a little unsatisfying.. We went to a coffee shop and the only thing on the menu I could have was a vegetarian pita with no cheese. Being forced into this one meal and not having options was disappointing, especially since I wasn’t really in the mood for a veggie pita. Also this coffee shop did not have any milk alternatives so I didn’t get a coffee either. That was good for my wallet at least.

I also wanted to talk about an issue that is constantly nagging at the back of my mind. I read an article today which pretty much outlines the negative effects of a vegetarian/vegan diet. You can read it here. “Can Vegans stomach the unpalatable truth about quinoa” is the title and to be honest it really made me think about my protein rich food of choice. It’s hard not to feel disheartened when you discover something bad about what you thought to be a good choice. I like to think the choices I make serve to decrease my impact on the environment but I guess there is always room for improvement. The article outlines how increasing demand for quinoa in North America has caused the once staple to become unaffordable in the countries that produce it. This is due to it’s being marketed as a health superfood, a complete protein for vegans, and full of beneficial vitamins and nutrients. Farmers in these countries have switched from growing a variety of diverse crops to planting strictly quinoa due to overseas pressure and demand. The article brings up the irony of the fact that most people purchasing this grain do so with well intentions,  to avoid animal protein, yet may be driving poverty in South American countries. Another problematic protein, soy, is also discussed in the article. Soya crops are now the second leading cause of deforestation in South America (next to the cattle industry) to meet increasing consumer demand for soy products. On top of that these protein alternatives need to be shipped overseas, processed, and then sent out to the consumer logging a lot of miles along the way.. Therefore not really an environmentally friendly option.

Which leads me to an impasse. Do I choose the lesser of two evils, quinoa and soy based proteins over animal proteins or do I try to find yet another alternative. How will I know that this new alternative will not end up being just as bad. It seems like in our society there are negative effects for every choice you make. Which is discouraging. Why bother trying to make all these changes when in the end the changes you make might not even be making a difference. I guess the only true environmentally friendly food source is local, either grown at home or at a nearby farm. Which means no imported grains, fruits or vegetables.. Am I ready to give up my oranges, bananas, and quinoa on top of meat? Why do I need to make all these sacrifices when these thoughts don’t even occur to the average person, they don’t even consider the impact of their daily choices. Anyways, I could continue this discussion all night. There are just to many angles to be analyzed but I must sleep. It’s been late nights all week and I hate not getting my 8 hours!

Please feel free to add any comments/suggestions. I’d love to hear your views on this topic!

Vegan Berry Banana Oatmeal and Quinoa Squares

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As promised here is the recipe for the Vegan Berry Banana Oatmeal and Quinoa squares. Since they have no refined sugar or oil they’re great for breakfast or a quick snack but still sweet enough for dessert too. Or so I told myself after a day of berry squares for breakfast, mid-day snack and late night snack.. They were just too irresistible! I substituted chia seeds for the cornstarch in the original recipe since I was feeling adventurous and they turned out great! The chia seeds made it seem like there were raspberries hiding somewhere in the recipe while acting as a great natural thickening agent. I’ll definitely be making these again since they were a big hit with the boyfriend as well. Who says vegan food can’t be delicious as well as healthy!

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Vegan Berry Banana Oatmeal and Quinoa Squares

 Recipe adapted from fatfreevegan.

Ingredients

Filling:

  • 1 cup frozen blueberries
  • 1 cup frozen strawberries
  • 1 banana chopped
  • 1/4 cup real maple syrup
  • 1 1/2 Tbs brown rice syrup
  • 2-3 Tbs chia seeds
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla

Base and topping:

  • 3 cups oatmeal, whole oats
  • 1/2 cup quinoa flakes
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  1. Preheat oven to 375F. Line 8×8-inch baking dish with parchment paper.
  2. In a small saucepan, combine the strawberries, blueberries, banana, maple syrup, and rice syrup. Bring to a boil over med heat. Add chia seeds and cook for 10-15 mins or until mixture becomes the consistency of jam or close to. It will thicken a little as it cools so it’s okay if it’s a little runny. Remove from heat and let cool.
  3. Put 1 1/2 cups of the oatmeal into a blender (or magic bullet in my case) and grind it to a fine powder. In a medium-sized mixing bowl and add the remaining oatmeal, oatmeal powder, quinoa flakes, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt. Mix well. Stir in the applesauce, maple syrup, water, and vanilla, and mix well. If mixture is a little too sticky add a little more quinoa flakes until you get a good spreadable consistency.
  4. Spread 2/3 of the oat mixture into the prepared pan and cover with an even layer of the berry filling. Crumble the remaining oat mixture on top and pop in the oven for about 30 mins or until the top begins to brown. Allow to cool completely before cutting into squares. I put mine in the freezer in order to eat them sooner!

I also wanted to include the recipe for roasted garlic hummus I made last week too. It can be can found here. I added some sauteed red peppers and cayenne pepper for a spicy/crunchy kick. To be completely honest it was not as good as the store bought hummus I usually eat BUT that is my own fault as I only had 4 cloves of garlic instead of the whole bulb so it was a little lacking in garlic flavor. Other than that it tasted very fresh and creamy I want to try this recipe again and this time actually follow it. Not to mention it was much cheaper than store bought! I’d like to try using dried chickpeas instead of canned next time, which would mean pennies for a batch of hummus!

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Enjoy!

Adventures in soap making!

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I have to admit, I’m not really one for following instructions.. or using exact measurements.. I like to do things my own way, and make things up as I go. So when I first got the idea to make my own soap from scratch and started reading about how tricky soap making can be, how important it is to weigh out all the ingredients and to follow instructions exactly or you’ll end up with a disaster, I, of course, brushed it all off. It can’t be that hard.. And I’m sure I can sub a little this for a little that. I mean I do it with cooking and baking allll the time and it turns out fine. Well most of the time it turns out fine.. I pretty much took this approach the entire soap making process and you know what? It turned out great! So much for finally learning my lesson, if anything soap making has strengthened my belief in winging it. That being said one thing I do take seriously is safety precautions. Especially when working with highly caustic materials (lye) or oils/fats at high temperatures. I made sure to wear long sleeves, thick rubber gloves, and safety glasses.

I learned that homemade soap is pretty much just two ingredients fat and lye. Everything else is just additives for scent, texture, or sensation. I finally tracked down some lye at the home hardware in the small town I live outside of. I had went into the city at first and tried home depot, RONA, shoppers drug mart and grocery stores. I couldn’t find that stuff anywhere! Apparently it can be used to make methamphetamine so stores have stopped selling it in small quantities, if they carry it at all, which means I ended up with a 3 Kg jug of the stuff.. I’ll have to make a lot of soap offset the cost of all that lye.. Next I needed fat, I looked up a bunch of different recipes online, jotted down a few common oils/fats and headed to the store. Of course since I didn’t actually write down a specific recipe I came home with grape seed oil, olive oil and vegetable shortening. Three ingredients which I could not find combined in any recipes online.. No problem, I’ll make my own recipe! (See above, I’m a substitution addict) I found a soap calculator online that allows you to add in the percent of fats you want and tells you the weights you’ll need and also the amount of lye. Pretty cool! I made a 10/45/45 mix of grape seed oil, vegetable shortening, and olive oil respectively. Lastly I needed some additives I picked up some essential oils and nettles extract from the health food store to add to my soap. So I’m finally ready to make my soap, I’ve got all my ingredients, all my tools a pot, thermometer, glass bowls, measuring cups and no scale.. Damn. I wasn’t about to let the little problem of not being able to weigh my ingredients deter me so I looked up the weights of 1 cup of each oil/fat I had, did some calculations and somehow ended up with measurements that made sense in my head. I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best! I used the cold process when making my soap, instructions and a great tutorial can be found here.

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I also added some food colouring to my soap once it reached trace. I picked orange oil, bergamot and a touch of lemongrass for my scents for an uplifting, cleansing mix and it smelled very nice! I also added stinging nettles. The nettles extract is a great astringent and can create a nice tingly feeling on the skin. Now to wait.. you have to wait at least 3 weeks before you can try out your soap. I forgot to cut mine into bars after 24 hours but I kinda like the jagged pieces the way they turned out. Looks more like soap from lush then homemade bars.

2013-01-05 12.35.36So flash forward about a month and I finally got to test it out! It turned out great! It felt silkier and smoother than any other bar soap I’ve ever used and didn’t dry out my skin at all. Unfortunately as the soap dried over the past couple weeks it lost a lot of its smell and now only has a faint hint of orangey bergamot. Not nearly as fragrant as I’d like. I’ll have to remember to add extra essential oils to the next batch.

All in all a very successful soap making endeavor! It’s such a satisfying feeling to make something from scratch, to know exactly what’s in it and be saving money in the long run. I also can’t wait to give some away to my family and friends. I’m already thinking up new fun ingredients for the next batch. I’m between a calming lavender/chamomile with lavender flowers or a super wake me up coffee grind infused soap or maybe both!

Have you tried soap making? Have you been successful and if so what are some of your favorite ingredients?

10 Tips for going green in the New Year!

Here’s my 10 tips for going green in the New Year! We started out slow, making changes as we could. In the end it’s all about doing things that you’re comfortable with and that you’ll actually commit to doing long term!

1) Don’t use disposable items! This one is huge, and can make a big difference. This one also covers a lot of bases. By disposable items I mean plastic grocery bags, paper/Styrofoam coffee cups (both from shops and at work), bottled water, coffee filters, feminine products, etc. Instead invest in some quality reusable items, maybe a couple of each if you think you won’t remember to bring them with you. One for at work or stashed in your car and one at home!  After a while it becomes second nature to always have these things on you.  Some reusable items I like to use: A good metal water canteen, canvas grocery bags (there are some really cute ones on Etsy and I also have compact bag I keep in my purse at all times for general shopping), a travel mug / thermos, for feminine products check out the Diva cup and cloth liners.

2) Buy local, organic, non processed food! Sign up for a food delivery service if available. Buying local not only helps the economy it’s also great for the environment seeing how your food isn’t being shipped around the world. Buying organic food is important for reducing not only the toxins in your body but also reduces the amount of pesticides, herbicides, and synthetic fertilizers being used. If you can’t afford to buy all organic produce print out a wallet sized copy of “the dirty dozen”, a list of the foods with the highest and lowest concentrations of pesticide.  Buying non-processed foods with minimal ingredients is also important not only for your health but also the environment. The plants producing these foods use up a lot of resources, energy and normally use GMO corn and soy, which has had few, if any independent food safety studies.

3) EAT LESS MEAT! This is seriously so important. On so many levels.. The environmental impact of the meat industry is insane, (click here to read an article in scientific american). Not to mention most of the meat on the market is produced inhumanely, full of hormones and antibiotics. Reducing your meat consumption is probably the number one way to make an impact on the environment and it’s healthier for you! I’ll be posting lots of yummy vegetarian recipes throughout the year so hopefully you and your family can commit to at the very least Meatless Mondays!

4) Stop buying everything brand new. This one is also great for your wallet! Check kijiji, craigslist, freecycle, or any other local website that allows users to sell, swap, or give away items! I also like to frequent local thrift stores whenever there is something I need. If I can find it at the thrift store I usually save at least half the cost.

5) Obviously follow reduce, reuse, recycle! I try to reduce waste by buying products with minimal packaging and I don’t use those plastic produce bags for my produce (I never really understood them anyways). I also try to buy products in glass containers over plastic ones so I’ll be able to reuse them in my pantry. I also wash any yogurt or other plastic containers and keep them for storing stuff later. Finally Recycle. Set up bags for recyclables, compost, and bottles to be returned for cash. It’s really not that much extra work once you get in the habit and as a bonus you won’t need to change your garbage as frequently.

6) Stop throwing away all your old items. Someone else may have a use for that old toaster, or your unwanted clothes. Instead donate them to a local secondhand store, as long as it’s in decent condition they’ll be happy to take it off your hands and it saves these items from the landfill.

7) Invest in quality items. When you’re purchasing things for your home, or clothes, shoes etc make sure you’re buying good quality products. They last longer, can be repaired instead of thrown away, and in the long run replacing cheap items will actually cost you more than investing in more expensive ones. Also, if possible try to shop more locally, at little shops in your town rather than big chains. Or look on Etsy! You can find some great homemade products there!

Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps! They also make all kinds of other great bath products.

8) Use environmentally friendly products in your home! For cleaning supplies I started making my own using simple ingredients like vinegar, essential oils, borax and Dr. Bronner’s magic soaps.  I even made my own laundry and bath soap, so much cheaper! If you’re not into making your own soaps there are lots of other environmentally friendly options. Just check at your local “green” store. I also love Lush soaps but they’re pretty pricey!

9) Try to stop using energy draining appliances like dishwashers and dryers. I find dishwashers never really get dishes as clean as hand washing anyways. Instead just hand wash all your dishes and let them air dry. If there are lots of people in your family take turns or have one person wash and one dry after meals. Instead of drying your clothes set up a clothesline or dryer rack. Clothes smell amazing after being dried outside in the summer and for the winter months I set up a clothesline in my basement.

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The first seedling to appear in my garden last summer!

10) Start a garden! Planting a garden is so rewarding! Yeah it’s a lot of work, but when you get to eat free food that you produced it’s totally worth it! Plus now you have somewhere to use all your compost and you’re helping produce oxygen! Win win!

Hopefully these tips will help you start making little changes in your life in order to live more sustainably! Let me know what other tips/tricks you’ve picked up along the way =)

Reflecting on 2012 and the start of 2013.

Well a new year has officially begun. I can’t say it’s off to the best start.. I ended up drinking a little too much champagne last night and didn’t manage to get out of bed until close to noon. To combat this rough start I whipped up the meanest green monster smoothie I could think of, full of kale, spinach, celery, apple, strawberries, chia seeds, and some ground flax to top it off. I slowly drank my enormous smoothie while munching on leftover hummus and pita chips while deciding what to blog about and reading a book on dinosaurs (how to bring them back specifically).

I’m not one for making New Years Resolutions but I do like to have a mental list of things to improve or work on for the next year. I think that’s a better method for me, to resolve to start making little changes or begin the process of change instead of setting unrealistic goals and being disappointed with myself when I fail. For instance, last year I didn’t set any concrete goals but I knew I wanted to lead a more eco-friendly life and starting making as many little changes as possible. Looking back it’s weird to think how different my life was. Grocery shopping used to revolve around finding the cheapest possible food items, only buying whatever brand was the least expensive or on sale and not really thinking about too much else. I think that mindset comes from being brought up in a household where thriftiness and buying the cheapest items was a necessity. I do think being wise with money and thrifty is important but now I know that it is also important not to sacrifice quality for lower cost.

Whenever I was bored I’d go to the mall and go shopping, buying clothes, makeup and things I thought I needed, spending all my money on material things. That’s why starting the new year last year I was determined to stop this wasteful habit. I might have went a little overboard with my vow not to buy anything new.. which caused a lot of stress and ended up with me mending and re-mending holes in my jeans since I couldn’t find a pair I liked at a thrift store. Now, I’ve realized I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. It’s okay to buy new things as long as I really need them. And getting a brand new quality set of kitchen cookware is much better than picking up odds and ends at secondhand stores as long as we’re not spending above our means and we’re buying quality items that will last a long long time.

So for this year one thing I want to start changing is my diet, I’m happy to be vegetarian but I tend to replace meat with bread and cheese. I’d like to become a little more adventurous with my meals, cut out cheese as a staple, eat more legumes, beans, and start incorporating more healthy proteins. I’d also like to be more committed to daily yoga sessions. I go through phases of doing yoga every day, then not doing it for a month, even though I always feel so much better and relaxed after.

As for eco-friendly changes, I plan on starting a compost bin this spring and planting my garden again this year. Hopefully harvest time this year will be better as we finally got a deep freeze so I can store all my frozen veggies, sauces, lasagnas, etc. We love all our organic, non-processed, homemade food, so that won’t be changing. I’d like to start biking to work as soon as it’s warm enough (I finally work somewhere close enough to be able to). My mom is getting me a serger as a late christmas present so hopefully I’ll be able to start making more of my own clothes. I’m sure I’ll think of many more little things we can do or change throughout this year and I’m excited to be moving closer and closer to our dream of living a more sustainable lifestyle!