Came Through Drippin' (and Squirting?)

 Ecstasy Flowers via  Ouvra

Ecstasy Flowers via Ouvra

Curious about squirting? Same. Maybe you do it, saw it in porn, or have just heard about it and want to know more. Squirting is one of the biggest urban legends of sex. It's like, the Loch Ness Monster of sex. You hear stories, rumors, etc. and it gets built up to this mythical phenomena of select females. So, let's talk about it. 

Okay, first of all, let's get our facts straight. 

A recent study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine studied seven self-identified squirters. (Obviously, a larger sample size would be ideal, but it’s probably not easy to find females who squirt and who agree to do it for the sake of science.) The findings came back to conclude that this fluid is basically diluted urine. Essentially, squirting = peeing.

"Ew, oh my god, pee!" We all pee. Literally all of us. Let's not make it a thing, okay? It is not shameful. And no, not exactly glamorous but neither is semen or any other bodily function, am I right? (I am.) This is still hotly debated, some sources say it is not urine. The scope of the study and the evidence say otherwise but if it makes you feel more comfortable then tell yourself it's fucking liquid magic, you know?

The squirting you see in porn is not real life (shocking). Those women put water into their vaginas and then push it out when the director gives his cue. Which you could totally try at home if you are into it. Why not, right? 

What's the difference?

Squirting, orgasm, female ejaculation...aren't they the same thing? Nope. While squirting is the bigger gush of liquid that shoots out from the urethra, female ejaculation is a much smaller concentration of liquid that occurs in the vagina. Female ejaculate is  stringier than urine — almost the consistency of saliva. These two things CAN occur at the same time, but typically when we think of "squirting" we are not thinking of female ejaculation. 

Word on the street (aka the internet) is that you can learn to squirt. Hitting the G-Spot is mission critical if you want to squirt. It can start with massaging but it needs to be pretty vigorous motion to trigger the squirting. It will feel like you have to pee, that same sense of urgency. DO NOT STOP FUCKING TO GO PEE. You probably don't have to actually pee, you are just confusing the fuck out of your body by distracting from the fact that you were about to orgasm. Just let go, bb.

On that same note, lemme talk for just a second about letting go. Find a partner that makes you feel safe, supported and loved. You can let go of that control. You can lean into pleasure. You fucking deserve to feel amazing. Okay? Believe it, because it's true.

Don't be embarrassed

Whether you can or you can't, it's nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed of! If it hasn't or isn't happening for you, it is not your fault. It might be that physiologically not ALL women have the potential for squirting. So if this is something you wish you could do, but just can't, don't be hard on yourself. Our basic anatomies are all pretty similar but when it comes to stuff like this, different strokes for different folks. And if it does happen for you, hell yea! 

Let's Get Naked - End Censorship of the Female Body

 The larger scope of the issue stems with the long held taboos of women’s bodies and biological capabilities   Photography by Megan Leigh

The larger scope of the issue stems with the long held taboos of women’s bodies and biological capabilities Photography by Megan Leigh

I posted the artwork in the image below on my Instagram page, and I got such a great response both in the comments and via direct message. I wanted to expand on this topic and shed more light and education onto female censorship, the importance of having a relationship with your natural form and how this can facilitate love for yourself in ways you might not have considered previously. 

I will start with my own epiphany about nudity and how our society and culture shapes the ways we think about the naked human form. 

While in Iceland, I visited an established natural hot spring where you are required to get naked in the communal showers before entering the water. I was gripped with such a deep panic, what I really about to strip naked in front of strangers? I noticed another woman strip down with ease and without worry, like it was the most natural thing in the world. It was in that exact moment that the breath was metaphorically knocked out of me. . . I realized that it was the most natural thing in the world. You can read the full story here

 Artwork by Melodie Perrault

Artwork by Melodie Perrault

As women, were we born knowing that we would merely be seen as an object? An accessory? Something to collect? In our culture, the over-sexualization and censorship of the female body is incredibly dangerous. Based on a 2010 report by the American Psychological Association (APA) on the sexualization of girls in the media, exposure to media among youth creates the potential for massive exposure to portrayals that sexualize women and girls and teach girls that women are objects. In a study conducted in 2008, researchers at Wesleyan University found that on average, across 58 different magazines, 51.8 percent of advertisements that featured women portrayed them as sex objects.  When women appeared in advertisements in men’s magazines, they were objectified 76 percent of the time.

Censorship of the Female Body

When you hide something, you build up a natural curiosity, right? It is why we surprise our loved ones with gifts, it is why we feel anxiety on the day we know we are getting our test scores back. In this same way, the very act of concealing something from public view makes it seem like it’s wrong. You build up curiosity; you are effectively creating hype and hysteria even if what you are hiding doesn’t warrant it. Such is the case when it comes to censoring women’s body parts, menstrual cycles and biological capabilities.

The issue lies within the fact that social media platforms are censoring based on gender, and therefore reinforcing dangerous cultural narratives. Social media's response is a reflection of the way society as a whole views these issues. When a photo is removed for a woman breastfeeding, it is being reinforced that this is something to hide, that it is unnatural. When a photo is removed of a topless woman, it is being communicated that female breasts are meant to be viewed for pleasure and entertainment only. When photos of pubic hair sticking out of bikini bottoms are taken down, we are being told that body hair is shameful and dirty. They are advocating that as women we are meant to be shaven, covered and hidden. 

"I'm so fuckin' sick and tired of the Photoshop" - Kendrick Lamar, and me

I know that media perpetuates the image that we are to be polished, perfect, ageless, hairless, shiny, fit, beautiful objects. You are allowed to be saggy, hairy, menstruating, squishy, unwashed and naked and none of that makes you less beautiful. None of that makes you less feminine. None of that makes you less human. None of that makes you less than whole. 

 Poem by Rupi Kaur

Poem by Rupi Kaur

I do agree that modesty empowers some. It empowers me in certain situations, like when I wear a business suit or even a maxi dress. I am not here to tell you that one or the other should make you feel a certain way. We are all at different points in very different journeys. I honor and respect your journey. Consider this, though, our minds are programmed to assume that when I say nudity or modesty that I mean something sexual. Sometimes that is true, and I will get to that. But mostly, I just want you to feel empowered and comfortable in your most natural state of being, naked, vulnerable, open, perfect. Ask yourself how you feel about nudity and modesty and then dive deeper: why do you feel that way, is that how you really feel or what someone told you? There is no right or wrong, just leaning in, listening, learning. 

My body is my home

Nudity is our most natural state. A body is just skin, just a body. I see my body as my home, my protector. What happened to me in that Icelandic locker room can happen for you, too. We can decide to shed the layers of our clothing but what you might find is that this enables you to shed metaphorical layers as well. What has it done to us, mentally, growing up being told that our bodies are merely for viewing, for pleasure - pornographic? We need to take back our right to love our bodies for exactly what they are - a body.

 “To know someone deeply  is to know a universe  contained in skin.”  ―  Victoria Erickson

“To know someone deeply
is to know a universe
contained in skin.” 
― Victoria Erickson

Nudity Can Be Sexy

Sometimes, though, nudity is about feeling sexy and bringing back your power in that way. If you want to sexualize your body then that is YOUR choice, not one that should be made for you. In fact, I would encourage spending more time naked. I explain this in my eBook in greater detail but essentially I found that the more time I spent at home naked and sleeping naked, the greater my connection to my sexuality became. I just genuinely felt sexier spending more time being naked. You just can't expect to accept the gaze or the touch of someone else on your body, if you aren't comfortable with it yourself. 

I want to challenge you! Choose something that is a part of your typical routine, and then do it naked. This can be a yoga practice, stretching, cooking a meal, brushing your teeth, sleeping - whatever you would not typically do naked, choose that and try it out for a week. See how you feel, check in with yourself emotionally, write about it. You might just find that you have been able to connect with yourself (and with a partner) on a deeper and more meaningful level. 

Sunday Sex Playlist

 Megan Leigh Photography

Megan Leigh Photography

If there was ever a day for vegan donuts and morning sex, it's Sunday. In my opinion, amazing sex can always feel even more amazing when you're met with a dope playlist to fuck to. Starting slow and staying in bed all day having sex? Chill but sexy, those kinda vibes coming through for this playlist. I put this together for my own pleasure, so it has a lot of my own tastes in music, and some were added thanks to your recommendations via Instagram

Enjoy!


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5 simple and easy vegan breakfast recipes, 10 tips and tools to empower you to feel like your sexiest self & a few surprises. . .

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Stop Faking It: Gender Orgasm Inequity

 Photo by  Most Exalted

Photo by Most Exalted

This is a post inspired by my years of "faking it" in the hopes that women everywhere will start asking for what they want, feel confident in communicating their needs and know that they are innately deserving of pleasure, in and out of the bedroom. 

I can't even tell you how many years it was after becoming sexually active that I had my first orgasm. Honestly? I thought I wasn't capable. I thought there was something broken in my body that just meant I would never have a real orgasm. I remember hearing multiple times that "it was just harder for girls". I was so accustomed to faking it and I felt guilty if I didn't at least pretend. Since I was an adolescent I have spent a great deal of time researching and educating myself on greater cultural implications of what this means as well as female anatomy and what feels good for me. In this post, I will be unpacking what "orgasm guilt" is, the gender orgasm disparity that still exists today.

THE STATS

In 2009, the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior (NSSHB) asked 1,931 U.S. adults ages 18 to 59 about their most recent sexual experience. The findings show that men are more likely to orgasm than women — 91 percent of men said they climaxed during their last sexual encounter, compared with 64 percent of women. Interestingly, women report a much higher rate of climax when masturbating alone. 

Eighty-five percent of men said their partners in that recent sexual encounter had reached climax, far higher than the percentage of women who said they orgasmed. The statistics vary between heterosexual and homosexual couples as a 2014 study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine reported that lesbians had around a 75% orgasm rate. That means, for us hetero ladies, that we are FAKING IT. If we cannot be honest with our partner, then we probably should not be opening ourselves up to that person. If we want to have amazing, fulfilling, mind-blowing sex then we have to be better communicators; more on that topic later. 

HOW DID WE GET HERE?

As a teenager, my secret guilty pleasure was buying copies of Cosmopolitan magazine and reading them at the pool or in my room at night. Page after page after page filled with tips, tricks and article based around pleasing your man. Overwhelmingly, there was never a discussion around self-pleasure or tips on how to be a better communicator in bed. 

I hate to continuously blame the media for the taboos and disparity surrounding sex, but, here are again. The media has always portrayed male pleasure as the definitive point for having sex. Society has given males an entitlement to orgasm. Heterosexual intercourse has been explained and displayed to us as done, finished, over, when the male reaches climax. If the female has an orgasm? Just a cool bonus. Society keeps instilling in us that it is only males that want sex, therefore, because they "care about it more" it means that somehow their pleasure means more than ours. Without proper access to sex and pleasure education, many women accept this narrative as told by the media and society. 

HOW DO WE FIX THE GENDER ORGASM GAP?

I can't speak from experience when it comes to sexual education in schools. I attended a private Christian school for both primary and secondary schooling. Do you know what our sexual education consisted of? It didn't. We were told that it was sinful to have sex before marriage, so we just better not do it. The end. ARE YOU KIDDING ME!? I digress. We still need better and more well-informed knowledge for our public school sex-ed programs. Young women need to be taught that their pleasure is just as important as their partner. Young women need to be taught about the clitoris and how men and women do not both have equal anatomical access to orgasm via penetrative sex. Young women need to know that self-pleasure is important, necessary and a safe way for her to explore her body. 

We have to start teaching and holding clitoral stimulation and penetration as equal. Sex does not have to end after your partner has climaxed. Maybe you don’t consider achieving an orgasm an important part of sex, and I would like for you to look inward and ask yourself why. Why do you not consider your pleasure equal to that of your partner? Could it be that you feel unworthy of unadulterated pleasure? Sit with the feelings and thoughts that arise. Secondly, I ask you to place the same value on your comfort and pleasure as you do your partner’s even if you deem that orgasm is not an important part of sex for you. 

Communication is most likely the highest contributing factor in the orgasm gap. Even in the 21st century, the female orgasm is treated with indifference and viewed as taboo. Read this post for 6 tips on how to be a well-fucked woman, including how to become a better communicator in, and out of, the bedroom. 

blog photo 3.jpeg

Obviously, the deeper cultural implications of the orgasm gap are vastly complex. This is not something that we can heal overnight. The messages that you have been fed around your sexuality, anatomy and access to pleasure is toxic and untrue. That is not on you, that is not on your body. You deserve equal access to all of the greatest things in life, orgasms not excluded. 

Have questions about my thoughts and opinions on a topic brought up here? Comment on this post, email or find me on Instagram 

Let's Smash the Period Sex Stigma

 Photography by the talented  Most Exalted

Photography by the talented Most Exalted

I'm going to let you in on a little secret. Sex is one of the greatest pleasures life has to offer. Second only to pizza. And guess what? Period sex is like pizza: If you want it, you deserve it. I'm real tired of old and outdated taboos lingering around, dictating what we should or should not be doing, so let's smash the period taboo once and for all, shall we? 

In an average woman's lifetime, she will menstruate approximately 450 times, for a total of 2,280 days. Contrary to the taboo that has remained in place for centuries, that's 6 years of great sex you could be enjoying. Let's keep normalizing natural female processes, but maybe we can take it a step further and even celebrate them.

Before I dive in: you obviously need to feel comfortable with your partner about opening up the conversation and possibility of trying period sex. The same rules apply to period sex as they do for any sex. Not into it? Don't do it. Don't pressure your partner and don't feel pressured by your partner. Okay? Okay.

FACTS 

  • You can still get pregnant when you’re on your period. What a bummer, I know. Having sex toward the beginning of your period gives you a much lesser chance of getting pregnant, though. If you have a partner you feel comfortable having unprotected sex with, the beginning of your period is a nice time to have sex sans condoms. But be aware, sperm can live in the uterus for up to 5 days, and if you have sex near the end of your cycle, it's possible that the sperm will be present when you ovulate and pregnancy can occur.
  • If you are imagining a bloody disaster post period sex, stop. You will probably be happy to realize it doesn't look like a murder scene when it's over. If you have sex during the end of your period, you might even find that there's no mess at all. And, really, isn't all sex a little messy and gross? 
  • If you aren't using birth control, in order to prevent pregnancy, you should use condom.
  • You can still contract STIs when having period sex, so be sure use whatever protection works for you.
  • There are a lot of religious, cultural and spiritual practices that discourage sex during menstruation. These practices are rooted in spiritual beliefs but not biological. There is nothing physically preventing or hindering you from having great sex on your period.
 Art by Lyla Freechild

Art by Lyla Freechild

ALL THE REASONS YOU SHOULD BE HAVING PERIOD SEX

  • Menstrual blood = your body's natural lube. Lube makes sex better. No contest. And this particular lube happens to be free and all-natural. 
  • Orgasms cure cramps (and headaches). I personally don't want to have sex when I am experiences a lot of cramping pain during my period. With light cramps, though, I find that they tend to be alleviated by orgasm. This also works for headaches. Try it.
  • Shorter period. Can it be true? You might find that your flow increases after having sex. However, this also means that your period won't last as long. The same amount of blood will be present, but instead of taking longer to make its way down, the sex actually stretches the muscles and allows it to happen more quickly than it would have otherwise.
  • More Pleasure. Not only does allowing yourself to have sex during a week that you would have otherwise avoided it facilitate more pleasure, you may also find that your orgasms are stronger. This has to do with the natural lube we talked about, and also that you may be more sensitive to touch and to feeling during your period.

BEST POSITIONS FOR PERIOD SEX

  • Shower sex. I personally feel like I am always disappointed in shower sex. It is great for period sex especially, any and all mess is cleaned up right away. This is great if your partner is a clean freak but also still wants to get freaky. 
  • Laying on your side/Spooning. I find this to be great if I am having a self-conscious day about my period bloat or am feeling especially lazy but also am horny.
  • Missionary. Ole faithful, if you will. This position is great if you are worried about a mess, having your hips tilted upwards definitely helps, and don't forget that towel if you are especially worried.
  • Solo dolo. If you don't have a partner that you feel comfortable enough with to share period sex, or maybe your partner just isn't into it, self-pleasure is always a great option. You don't even have to remove your menstrual cup (or tampon) to experience clit stimulation and orgasm. Woo!
  • Anal. Oh boy, right? We can talk more in-depth about anal sex in an upcoming post...but for now, know that it is the perfect option if you aren't into period sex but still want to be having sex during your period. Bodies are cool.
 I use the  Lunette Cup

I use the Lunette Cup

Just a note while we are talking about periods. If you haven't tried a menstrual cup yet, I would highly suggest it. The longer I continue to use mine, the more I love it. There is a learning curve, but once you get the hang of it, it totally changes the game. Not only is it safer for your body (i.e. no chemicals, toxins etc.) but it is also better for the environment and your wallet! Check out my favorite cup, and my blog on FAQs about menstrual cups.

Really though, the key to having great sex while on your period is to feel comfortable. Remember there's nothing to be embarrassed about! The Divine Feminine is in you. You are magic. Sex and menstruation are two totally normal and healthy things — so why not combine the two?

My Journey To Sobriety & How I Abused Alcohol As A Path To Intimacy

 Swapping Kombucha and vulnerability for beer and shallow living. . .

Swapping Kombucha and vulnerability for beer and shallow living. . .

One mixed drink turned into five and one shot became six. One beer progressed to four more and some liquor, too because why not. . . One glass of wine turned into an empty bottle.

Before I get into it, I want to point out this post covers my personal experience with alcohol. I am not a medical professional. If you or someone you know is struggling with alcoholism or drugs, professional help matters. The Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Association has a 24/7 hotline to speak with a medical professional at any time of day, free of charge. Go to https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline. Don't wait until it's too late.

How I Confused Alcohol for Intimacy

There's nothing inherently wrong with partying or enjoying oneself. But when you struggle with addiction and are trying to fill an emotional void with it, partying can turn from a fun social outlet to a downward spiral, and this is my story.

partying in college

I couldn’t find the control to stop. I couldn’t find the ability to enjoy in moderation.

I started using alcohol at 15 years of age. At 17, I had my heart broken and quickly looked to alcohol to fill the void in my chest. I used alcohol to numb the pain of unworthiness. I abused alcohol to have fun, to feel free, to feel less of every bad thing. There was something super addicting about going out to me. I would often black out.  Sometimes, though, it was just pure fun. Dancing in a nightclub with all my friends was an excellent use of my time. And we did have fun and SO many laughs. In hindsight, I realize that this behavior was just a continued numbing mechanism. The sad and uncomfortable feelings inside me were feelings I was just not ready nor willing to face. Going out was much more fun than facing them. I loved the feeling of buying a new outfit, getting ready with some music, pre-gaming with friends and then showing up at a bar or club and dancing until dawn. It went on this way for years. Avoiding. Drinking. Being the party girl. Hooking up with strangers. Blacking out. Acting out in violence against people that loved me.

Relapse is a part of recovery

As I got older, I stopped going out as much. I ended friendships with people that only wanted to party. I entered long term relationships. More than a few times, though, I relapsed. I started to binge drink, blacking out and using alcohol as emotional lubricant. I would tell myself I would only have a few drinks, only to wake up the next morning wondering what happened. 

I know now that excess is who I am. I want more magic. I want more pleasure. I want more connection. I want more love. I want more intimacy. I want more sunsets. And more sunrises. I want more moments that take my breath away. I have come to love this part of myself, I find it to be a part of my magic.

That also means, though, that I don’t always have the ability to make myself stop. This became a very real issue when it came to alcohol. Not only did I find myself looking face to face with a binge-drinking problem, I also began to realize that I was using alcohol as a direct pathway to physical and emotional intimacy. As an excuse. As a way to be more, better, as a way to BE. I quickly realized that almost all of my relationships were shallow and surface level. I realized that I trusted no one to love the real me. The sober me.

It was a requirement that I drink during dates, that I drink before, after and sometimes during casual hook ups. It was necessary for me to drink away the guilt of lying and cheating on men that I was in a committed relationship with. I needed the alcohol so I would forget that I didn’t really want to be sleeping with nameless men that weren’t giving me any pleasure. It was vital that I drink to have deeply vulnerable conversations with both the people that loved me and those that did not.

I used alcohol as a way to feel confident in who I was. To feel confident not only about my body, but in my abilities and capabilities. I used alcohol to seem fun, wild, free. I used alcohol to be funnier and happier and a good time. It took my years to realize I was selling myself short. YEARS of believing that I needed the alcohol to be someone.

All along, I was fiercely witty, loving, fun, wild and free. All along, I was beautiful, desirable, enticing. All along, my purpose was to make people feel less broken. All along, I was capable of deeply meaningful connection. I am wired for vulnerability. Bravery. Empathy. Compassion. Grace. Love.

 SOBER and loving life at a music festival

SOBER and loving life at a music festival

So what does sobriety look like for me?

My journey to a more sober life has been a unique one. I still don’t consider myself an “alcoholic” but as someone with a “problem with binge-drinking”. For a while, I was limiting my alcohol consumption to 3 drinks per week. Then I lowered that to 2. I went about 2 months with no alcohol at all. I just find myself having less and less of a desire to drink. I used the Dry January app to track the number of days that I had gone without. I don’t use it anymore, because it seems to be a habit that I am sticking with. It was a great visual tool, though, when I was forming this new habit.

Kombucha has definitely helped me so much. When I want to have something in my hand besides a water, kombucha has been the perfect alternative. A lot of restaurants and bars actually have started to provide a kombucha option on tap, and that growth and trend has been amazing.

Going Vegan

There might come a day when I stop drinking alcohol forever. But I don’t like to put those kinds of restrictions on myself any more. When I became vegan, I started going on a “inner-journey” and it was honestly sub-conscious for a long time. I was much more aware when I was abusing alcohol to feel good, instead I was feeling good just by being! This gave me the confidence to really show myself and know that I didn't need a drink in me to approach someone or feel relaxed. I just gradually became more and more health conscious. It’s no surprise that booze is a toxin. Alcohol severely dehydrates your body. It can cause inflammation and over stress your liver. It can affect blood sugar levels by effecting the functioning of your pancreas. It also effects your central nervous system, immune system, digestive system and your mood.

I will still drink, but it has been pretty rare. I am incredibly mindful of environment and company. If I am in a “party” atmosphere, I know that I cannot even have one drink, because one will become many. If I am surrounded by a group of people in a party mindset, I know that I cannot drink. I do still enjoy a glass of wine or a fun cocktail, I enjoy trying sips of Danny’s beer or ordering one of my own.

I have a lot more grace with myself through this journey than I ever did before. I am getting better at saying "no" when offered a drink. Each time I say no, I feel more connected to who I really am. Each time I have a deeply vulnerable conversation when I am completely sober, I feel more empowered. Each morning that I wake up clear headed, I feel alive.

Always learning. Always growing.

Do you drink? Have you been able to break the cycle from booze and partying to a healthier lifestyle? I'd love to hear from you in the comments section.

Boob Insecurities, Breast Exams, and My Thoughts on Bras

  So, what happens if you don't wear a bra? Keep reading to find out.   Photography by Most Exalted

So, what happens if you don't wear a bra? Keep reading to find out. Photography by Most Exalted

Despite what the media tells us, boobs come in a variety of shapes, sizes, textures and colors. This shit has made us so insecure about our naked bodies; our boobs are no exception. I have written this post to clear up a lot of misconceptions about boobs in the hopes of helping you heal and overcome your own insecurities and questions surrounding breasts.

 Artwork by Tina Maria Elena

Artwork by Tina Maria Elena

The power of marketing truly blows my mind. I remember looking through magazines, movies and TV and seeing these beautiful models and actresses. They seemed to have perfect, perky breasts. It really wasn’t a thought in my mind to be embarrassed about my boobs until I was through puberty and considering the idea of allowing other people to actually see my boobs. I thought my areolae were too big. My nipples too flat. I thought I was a freak because I had hair around my nipples, and would spend time every day making sure I plucked all the hair out. There was no open dialogue about the normality of vast differences in breasts. If you find yourself feeling a little embarrassed about your boobs, I just want you to know that you don’t have to be. And whatever it is, it is SO normal. Boobs are super cool and also super weird. They can be 2 different shapes, you can have hairy nipples, 3 nipples, you can have super sensitive nipples. Speaking of nipple sensitivity, I have like...none. It kind of sucks, maybe? But I don’t know any other way. It doesn’t feel good (or bad) when my nipples are played with, because honestly I can’t really feel it.

All boobs are great boobs.

Our culture has instilled in us that boobs are objects. They are often seen as toys rather than body parts. YES, it is okay (and normal!) if your boobs are saggy, sensitive, insensitive, uneven, scarred, large, small, hairy or anything in between. 

 Your body is your home.

Your body is your home.

Nipple Hair, Though?

It is estimated that around 30% of the female population has nipple hair growth. The real stats are probably higher because if anyone was in the throes of their boob shame, they aren't going to admit to having nipple hair to anyone. It is totally normal, and rarely indicates that there is some abnormality. Nipple hair growth is one symptom of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) but you would have other symptoms, not just this one. 

Thinking about getting rid of it? For years I plucked out every damn wiry strand. Now? I rarely fuss with it because it doesn't bother me. If it affects your confidence, though, removal is an option. Whatever you do, DO NOT use products like Nair or other chemical hair removers. These are super sensitive nipples we are talking about here! Plucking was my go to, and it always led to gnarly ingrown hairs. You could just snip them to keep them trim, or you could shave them. Some salons even offer a waxing options, but definitely do not try this at home with your regular wax. 

Do I Really Need To Do A Self Breast Exam?

Yes and no. In recent years, medical professionals have shifted away from the idea that self breast exams are necessary. This is because women are not taught properly how to do it but also because studies have indicated that a woman who does the breast exam is no less likely to die from breast cancer than the woman that does not do the exam. It is increasingly being encouraged that you become intimately familiar with your unique breast shape and type, the feeling of your breast tissue and all of the regular bumps and lumps that are uniquely yours. Your breasts go through cycles, similarly to all of your other bodily functions, and you need to have an awareness of your own natural rhythm and cycle. If you haven't become comfortable in your awareness of your boobs and what they feel like yet, it definitely is not too late. Feel and touch on them regularly; if you have a partner, encourage them to be your second opinion. Having two people with a general familiarity of what is "normal" for you will be more beneficial if you ever feel like you come across an irregularity down the road. If you notice a change, especially one that is painful or involves swelling, discharge or itchiness, seek a medical professional. Do not just assume it will go away by ignoring the problem. I know this is a scary subject, but it doesn't have to be with a little education and a lot of self-awareness. 

 I love a bralette. Comfy with just enough support and coverage. Photo by  Andrea Miner

I love a bralette. Comfy with just enough support and coverage. Photo by Andrea Miner

Did You Burn All Your Bras?

I didn't, actually. Sometimes I wear a bra, and sometimes I don't. I view bras now as another fashion accessory and not something that is unquestionably necessary. Wearing a bra is a choice, just as wearing makeup or shaving is a choice.

It's really uncomfortable for me to workout without a sports bra, so I don't. Most of my sports bras now come via my Ellie Activewear subscription box. I have never been let down. Some of them are for light impact like yoga or weight lifting, others for higher impact like jumping and running. 

As I stated in my story of my younger self, I used to opt only for underwire bras with a lot of padding. Now, though, I definitely prefer little to no padding. I typically prefer comfort to aesthetics. Fortunately, I recently found True & Co. whose bras are both comfortable and cute. Some tops that I wear are very shear, so I often wear the X bra to wear underneath those tops for work. The fit is great, and they even have a little quiz to determine which bras are the best for your boob shape and size.

So, what happens if you don't wear a bra?

  • You will feel like a free bird. You will probably decide you much rather prefer the freeing feeling of going braless. You know that feeling at the end of the day when you take your bra off? Yea, you can basically feel like that all day, every day.
  • Your tops will fit differently. This can be positive or negative, depending on your mindset and the top. Some tops I prefer to wear a bralette with because it looks better and makes me feel more confident. Other tops just look better without a bra.
  • Your back might start to hurt. The support that a bra offers is especially important for women with larger boobs. Without that support that your back is used to, there may be discomfort or pain. Don't just ignore that and push through it or there could be some real damage. Maybe trying a different style of bra that isn't as constricting or without wire could give you a more comfortable feeling while still offering some support. 
  • You will get some stares. You might not, but you probably will. I am always really amazed at the number of stares that I get directed toward my chest when I don't have a bra on. It's kind of annoying but I just tell myself it is out of curiosity and not coming from a harmful place. I am hopeful that it will become more and more normative and therefore will elicit less and less stares. 

I hope this post helped you in some way. Maybe it strengthened your resolve in what you already knew. Maybe it made you feel not so alone in your insecurity around your breasts. Maybe you learned something new. You are beautiful. Your body is exquisite. You are the Universe. 

How to Have Better Sex: 6 Tips From Well-Fucked Women

 "If you don't feel like you can take something special from that person, don't let them take something from you."  Jules Casto

"If you don't feel like you can take something special from that person, don't let them take something from you." Jules Casto

The following tips include some of my own experiences and opinions on how to be more open and accepting of pleasure. They also include tips from other women that reached out to me via Instagram. The answers I received were all very similar, which strengthened my own convictions about the following tips.

I define a "well-fucked woman" as a sexually empowered and pleased woman who is comfortable coming into their own power, in and out of the bedroom. 

  1. Self Pleasure. I know ya'll are probably sick to death of me talking about masturbation but it is the linchpin to your sexual pleasure. You can't expect anyone to know what feels good for you if YOU don't know. Masturbation is a safe way to explore your body and your pleasure centers. Educate yourself, friends. I talk more about this on my sexual health post, read it here
  2. Own Your Vulnerability. You can have just okay (sometimes even good) sex by remaining shielded. For truly amazing sex, though, you have got to stay open to surrendering. You have to find space to be able to truly receive. This means that you are comfortable with showing up in, and sharing, your vulnerability with your partner(s). This is why choosing the correct sexual partner(s) is important, not everyone is going to be able to hold space for your vulnerability and be open to giving and receiving back to you. When you have sex with someone, energy is transferred. If you don't feel like this person has energy that you want to consume into your body and consciousness, do not choose them as a partner. 
  3. Express What You Need. Be a better communicator with your partner. Express what you need not only to feel pleasure but also to feel safe. Being a better communicator comes from knowing your innate worth and value and getting clear on what you truly value and want. This requires a lot of inside work and self-growth. For me, I had to start accepting the fact that I deserved to feel good, I deserved equal access to pleasure. This also means for me, that I have to be better at setting and enforcing boundaries. An example of a necessary boundary for me in the bedroom is that I need my partner to stay with me after we have finished. If they just hurry and leave, I am left with feelings of being abandoned. This stems from my childhood trauma with abandonment, and I have been able to recognize that, work through it and set boundaries to avoid unnecessary pain. 
  4. Enjoy Sex. Well-fucked women genuinely enjoy sex. They own their sexuality. They have worked through any and all shame demons and have done work to lay them to rest. Sometimes, we come from a background where sex was encompassed in a world of shame, pain or secrecy. I myself attended a conservative, private, Christian-based primary and secondary school so I received zero sexual education in a formal setting. I had to really do some intense inside work to get clear on my own beliefs about sexuality, not those that were dictated to me by others. 
  5. Positive Affirmations. Give yourself permission to have amazing, mind-blowing sex. Give yourself permission to feel sexy, desired and loved. Positive affirmations are just positive sentences that you repeat to yourself because you want to bring something specific into existence. The theory is based in the Law of Attraction and manifestation. Our thoughts and words have energy. I am encouraging you to start applying the practice of positive affirmations to your sexuality. You can find specific examples of these and learn more in my ebook, coming in July. (I will update this post when it is live with a link for purchase!)
  6. Don't Compare. Yes, this is another one you hear me tout regularly, and yes, this even applies to your sexuality. You cannot compare your experiences or desires to those around you. When speaking with Jules about her own experiences, she reminded me of the shame that I used to feel about my sexuality because I was continually surrounded by women with different experiences than me. Whether they intended to shame me or not, they did, but I also allowed them to. It is okay to have friends with different opinions, moral grounding and upbringing than you. What is not okay is if they make you feel bad or different, or if you make them feel bad or different, about sexual choices and partners. Your wants and needs are uniquely yours. Own it, honey! 

None of this is "true". These tips are founded on my own experiences, opinion and my own personal truth. I reached out to other empowered women to get their truths as well. Know that what is true for me or for someone else might not be true for you. That's more than okay, too. Find your truth. Find your freedom. Find your pleasure. 

Morning Sex Playlist

 Artwork by Tina Marie Elena

Artwork by Tina Marie Elena

The right soundtrack has the power to elevate your mood and to elevate sex from good to great. Music adds another layer of stimulation and allows another one of your senses to be involved in the experience.

I decided to start curating some sexy and fun playlists for you. I hope you enjoy this first one, perfect for those slow and sexy mornings. 

 

Books That Changed My Life

 Below you will find a list of some of my favorite books of all time. . .Consider this your summer reading list of 2018

Below you will find a list of some of my favorite books of all time. . .Consider this your summer reading list of 2018

I love to read. I always have. Many of you may even know me because of a digital book club I began many moons ago. I have read a great deal of literature, but I wanted to share with you some that have impacted me the most. These include all genres, so take what you enjoy, take what you need.

  • The Power of Now – Eckhart Tolle
  • Harry Potter - JK Rowling
  • How Not To Die - Dr. Michael Gregor
  • The Five Love Languages - Gary Chapman
  • The Art of Communication – Thicht Naht Hanh
  • The China Study - T. Collin Campbell
  • Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking – Susan Cain
  • Braving the Wilderness - Brene Brown
  • I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t) – Brene Brown
  • Taking the Leap – Pema Chodron
  • Age of Anger - Pankaj Mishra
  • Milk and Honey – Rupi Kaur
  • The Untethered Soul - Michael A. Singer
  • You Are A Badass - Jen Sincero
  • Scar Tissue - Anthony Keidis 

I am deeply committed to my growth. It's all an inside job. I encourage you to invest in your growth, in your expansion. Invest in you.

Always learning, always growing. Always reading. 

Please share with me, here in the comments or via Instagram, the books that have been the most influential in your life. 

Grocery Shopping with K8canrelate

”Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.”
— Hippocrates

I have been meal planning and prepping consistently for a few years now. I thought it was time to share my tips, routine and typical grocery list with you! Keep reading for more. . .

ROUTINE

My typical meal planning routine is to decide on a meal or two that I want for the upcoming week and Google a recipe. I will look through a few, decide on a couple and then write out a list of ingredients that I will need to get. I email the recipes to myself so I don't lose them in the meantime, because I cannot tell you how many times I find a recipe once and then lose it into the ether.

An average week for me is usually overnight oats for breakfast, some kind of grain + veggie bowl for lunch and a hearty salad for dinner. Lately, I have been doing berries for dessert but sometimes I make protein mug cake. I have all of my grocery needs in my Notepad on my iPhone, and erase the items as I place them in my buggy. (Fun cultural fact: a buggy is what West Virginians call a shopping cart)

I diversify my shopping options. I don't buy everything all at once, necessarily. And I don't do all my shopping at one store. Convenient? No. Cost effective? Yes. Aldi doesn't carry the specialty or bulk items that I need, but Kroger and Whole Foods do. 

TIPS

  • Biggest number one tip is to visit the grocery store on Sunday morning if it fits your schedule. There is nothing I detest more than trying to get my shopping done in a sea of humans. Sunday mornings are peaceful and typically very well-stocked.
  • BYOB, baby! Obviously, I recommend bringing your own bags and opting out of plastic. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, it takes 500 (or more) years for a plastic bag to degrade in a landfill because the bags don't break down completely.
  • Shop at Aldi and/or your local farmers market. Aldi is my bank account life saver and the farmers market often has cheap, organic and in-season items. The farmers market produce might not be "certified" organic, but it oftentimes is organic. Just ask, they will know! 
  • Try to shop for produce that is currently in season. This will keep the cost lower! I don't always follow this rule because sometimes ya girl just wants some fresh berries in the dead of winter. But most frozen fruit is a great alternate when you just don't want to pay for out-of-season prices. 
  • Buy in bulk when you can! This is one of my favorite ways to save money when it comes to grocery items. 
  • Get familiar with your shopping options. Make it a point to visit your local grocers and some that maybe aren't so local if you think they have better specials or items that are cheaper. For example, there is not a Whole Foods or Trader Joe's in all of West Virginia (I know, girl, I know) so when I travel out of state, I make sure to bring empty bags and a cooler so I can shop before returning home. 
 Feel free to save or print this grocery list for your own use!

Feel free to save or print this grocery list for your own use!

Be mindful of how much food your household needs. This may mean you will experience a learning curve where you buy too much or too little food. You definitely don't want food to go to waste, so I always prefer needing to make a small run before the weekend if we need a couple of items to last us until our regular trip on Sunday mornings. If you do find that you have too much food, I would suggest getting creative and throwing it into the Crockpot for a "cleaning out the fridge" meal. Honestly, these are sometimes the best tasting and most fun to make! 

Does your grocery list usually look similar to mine? What are some of your favorite tips to save money? 

Let's Talk About Sex(ual Health)

 Starting the dialogue about sexual health and wellness. . . Read more

Starting the dialogue about sexual health and wellness. . . Read more

I don’t see enough of a conversation on sexual health. So many health, wellness and fitness bloggers and rarely, if ever, do I see a post or a nod to sex and/or sexual health. It is a sensitive and a private topic, and I understand that not everyone is comfortable or willing to start the dialogue. Historically, women were not permitted to have good sex, and we certainly were not supposed to talk about it. I used to feel a lot of shame about my sexual activity, and while I may find myself blushing or wondering if i am oversharing, I know this is one of the most important things we could ever talk about.

LET'S TALK ABOUT SEX

Do I have it?

I do. Sometimes I wonder if I'm not having enough sex, or if I'm having too much. I recall all of those magazines that I used to read and how they spelled out how to "keep your man happy" through various means of pleasure. UGH. Remember, there is a very broad range of "normal", so explore what your natural preferences are and find your own "normal". 

HORMONES

Hormones dictate a lot about us. They especially dictate your menstrual cycle, your libido and how they both function. If you think you might have hormonal imbalances, or if you are living with poly-cystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), I have heard good things about Womancode, a book by Alisa Vitti. I have been considering reading this book because I am increasingly interested in healing my body through nutrition, and I do wonder if I suffer from a hormone imbalance. 

 All about those menstrual cups. It took me a while to try it, but I am SO GLAD I did. Featuring the Lunette Cup. 

All about those menstrual cups. It took me a while to try it, but I am SO GLAD I did. Featuring the Lunette Cup. 

SPEAKING OF MENSTRUAL CYCLES

I really love the free “P Tracker Life” app – this lets me keep track of when my period started and stops as well as allowing me to see a guesstimate of when I am fertile, and to place a marker on days that I am intimate. This feature is typically most useful for women that are trying to get pregnant, which I am not, but I still like to be able to look and see what the patterns are. I really encourage you to get familiar with your body as much as possible. Which means ditching pads and tampons and trying out a menstrual cup. More on my experience and thoughts about cups here

 Via  Milk and Honey

Via Milk and Honey

A quick word on infections:

I struggled with recurring UTI's and yeast infections, to the point where I would rather opt out of sex in order to avoid them. I got to a point where I knew antibiotics were not the answer, and I was tired of doctors offering that as the only fix. Thankfully, I read about D-Mannose. D-Mannose is actually a type of sugar derived naturally from plants. You can find supplements to take orally. These have been an actual life-saver for me. I am very happy to report that I have not had a single UTI since incorporating D-Mannose, and I do not even have to take it every day. In fact, I don't even bother at all when I am on my period. Find what works for you, but if you struggle with UTI's - I recommend this natural supplement over antibiotics, any day. 

WHAT ABOUT BIRTH CONTROL? 

I will be the first person to tell you to avoid synthetic birth control. I encourage you to do the research on your own, as there are multitudes of websites/doctors/medical sources that will say opposing things. I am not a medical professional. You must make this decision for yourself. You and only you should decide what you put into your body. Only you should decide if you wish to supplement with synthetic hormones and pills. I personally choose to take no contraceptive pills or to use synthetic hormone therapy of any kind. I did, however. From age 16-23, I was on the pill and dealt with a plethora of health/emotional uproars because of it. My doctor made it seem like it was the only choice. It was what everyone else seemed to do, so I did the same. My body is still stabilizing after the years of ups and downs that I put it through from birth control. I highly suggest you reconsider your birth control options. There is nothing more rewarding than identifying with a greater self awareness of your body! It makes me feel powerful and beautiful and strong. 

SO WHAT DO I USE FOR BIRTH CONTROL?

I currently use the copper IUD, also known as Paragard. It is a non-hormonal IUD which will remain effective for 10-12 years. I actually blogged about my experience, and you can read more on that here. My period is as regular as a period could ever be, and I am so grateful. However, I did stop having a period for almost a full year after taking the hormonal pill coupled with poor nutrition and over-exercising. 

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON HAIR DOWN THERE?

REMOVING ALL THE HAIR
OFF YOUR BODY IS OKAY
IF THATS WHAT YOU WANT TO DO
JUST AS MUCH AS KEEPING ALL OF THE HAIR
ON YOUR BODY IS OKAY
IF THATS WHAT YOU WANT TO DO.
- YOU BELONG TO YOURSELF. 
— Rupi Kaur

THOUGHTS ABOUT MASTURBATION?

Again, you belong to yourself. Do what you want. Everyone's sexuality develops in different ways and each of us has our own preferences. Some of us are very sexually active and others do not feel the need to have sex. Some of us don't feel sexual at all, and prefer to have non-sexual relationships. If you feel like pleasuring yourself, my vote is always "yas!". If you want to purchase one (or more) vibrators or dildos, do it! If you want specific recommendations from me in this department, please feel free to message me on Instagram

LEARNING WHAT TURNS YOU ON

Part of familiarizing yourself with your natural preferences is understanding and exploring your sexuality. We can do this in many ways. A wonderful tool that I came across recently was the Erotic Blueprint quiz. You can take the quiz here. Essentially, there are five blueprints: energetic, sensual, sexual, kinky, and shapeshifter. I scored nearly the same for both shapeshifter (turned on by and can play in all of the blueprints) and kinky (people who are turned on by taboo, this includes anything that feels taboo to the specific person). This quiz was helpful to me because although I somewhat knew that about myself, I wouldn't have understood it on the level that the quiz results spell out. Perhaps you feel conflicted that you are sexually aroused by being dominated in bed, and wonder what that means for you in the age of #MeToo. This piece in The New York Times addresses that in detail.

I really hope this helps someone. I have been interested in sex and sexual health since I used to stay up past by bedtime and watch Talk Sex with Sue Johanson late at night. I would love to keep this conversation going, please comment below to let me know that you read this! And as always, feel free to reach out via Instagram or email. 

CBD: What Is It and Does It Really Work?

 Pin this photo to read the post later! 

Pin this photo to read the post later! 

Suddenly, cannabidiol (CBD) oil seems to be everywhere. People are dropping it into their morning coffee, swallowing capsules, and loading it into their vape pens. There are claims that it relieves anxiety and depression and masks chronic pain. Many of you know that I have been obsessed with testing out various CBD products over the last few months!

So, what is it and does it really work? Over the past few months I have experimented with various forms of CBD oil to monitor how and if they helped alleviate the symptoms of my anxiety. 

Disclaimers: (1) I am not a medical professional, nor a CBD expert. The goal of this post is to share information about CBD and my personal experience with it. I did my best research and fact-checking for accuracy.  (2) I was not monetarily compensated for these brands nor do I receive affiliate dollars if you buy them. They are honest opinions and reviews.

INTRO TO CBD

What is CBD? CBD is one of many compounds, known as cannabinoids, that are found in the cannabis plant. 

So, is CBD marijuana? Until recently, the most well-known compound in cannabis was THC. This is the most active ingredient in marijuana (and the one that alters the mind and makes you high). Marijuana contains both THC and CBD, but the compounds have different effects on the body. Unlike THC, CBD is not psychoactive. This means that you will not be getting stoned (sorry).

Is it legal? That depends. The legality of CBD depends on which state (or country) you reside in. There are 2 kinds of CBD. Hemp CBD products are available widely online (and what is legal here in West Virginia) whereas cannabis derived CBD products are only available in some states at medical dispensaries. I have only tried hemp derived CBD. 

Does it create a dependency? Research shows that CBD does not cause dependence. It can be a great alternative for those trying to stay away from opioids or pharmaceuticals in general. 

What dosage is right for me? Start by taking small doses and observe what happens. Listen to your body. Make small adjustments. 

THE BENEFITS

Why are people using it? 

  • CBD has been proven to have natural pain relief and anti-inflammatory properties. This is great for those suffering from chronic pain from diseases like fibromyalgia or even pain associated with cancer. 
  • CBD has been proven to have anti-seizure properties. 
  • It can also be used to topically treat skin conditions. More and more CBD is being recommended for those with acne or eczema! It can be worked into your regular skincare routine, regardless. 
  • Struggling with nausea or vomiting? CBD can be used to treat it. 
  • And the big one: anxiety. The whole reason I sought out CBD products was to help treat my anxiety symptoms. CBD has been shown to reduce levels of stress and anxiety even in individuals that suffer from PTSD or OCD. 

HOW TO USE IT?

CBD comes in a variety of forms; the selection of products can be overwhelming! Some more expensive than others. There is everything from oil, tincture, sublingual spray, topical creams, infused with essential oils and even edibles. You will want to determine what symptoms you are hoping to alleviate to determine which method of consumption is best for you. 

If you are wanting to use CBD oil for its anti-inflammatory properties on your muscles or joints, a gel or cream would probably be best. Similarly, if you want to use it to treat or prevent acne, a topical treatment would be ideal. For very low doses, some companies sell CBD infused with essential oils in a roller form. 

For all other symptom treatment, you will want to choose something that has the dosage you are looking for that is easy for you to consume. You can place drops of oil under your tongue (and let it soak in), you can add it to foods or drinks that you consume like coffee or tea. CBD capsules are also an option, these are typically a higher dosage, but not always. You can also purchase a spray that you can aim at the back of your mouth. 

 Blue Ridge Hemp CBD gel - great for muscles and joints!

Blue Ridge Hemp CBD gel - great for muscles and joints!

MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE  

I tried many variants of CBD products. I tried products from Plus CBD, Blue Ridge Hemp and Appalachian Cannabis Company. In fact, I tried most of the product types that I listed above. I wanted to use CBD to see if helped alleviate some of the symptoms of my anxiety. That being said, I do find that taking CBD orally does help. However, it does not erase my anxiety. Unfortunately, anxiety doesn't 'go away' but taking CBD regularly alleviates the tight feelings in my chest, as well as making me feel an overall more calm feeling. 

As for my preference in which product to use, I honestly preferred the softgel capsules. It was easy, tasteless and provided the right dosage for me. I did not take one of these daily, only about every 2 to 3 days. I also enjoyed this tincture of peppermint CBD added into my morning coffee. This has been a great alternative to sweeteners or creamer, so if you drink something that you would like adding peppermint to, try a tincture. 

I also saw a benefit from CBD in my sore muscles. I used this ointment after lifting heavy at the gym, and noticed that my muscles were not as sore the next day than on days where I did not use the ointment. If you have joint or muscle pain, I would highly recommend adding in a topical CBD product to your routine. 

I have yet to try CBD bath salts or sunscreen, but I am very interested in these two products and will update this post as I try more things! Some still see CBD as controversial, and that is okay. I encourage you to open your mind and try it out, especially if you suffer from an ailment that it has been proven to help with. 

Plants>pharmaceuticals

A Sustainable Style Staple - the JORD watch

 Is it possible to be both sustainable and stylish? Find out 

Is it possible to be both sustainable and stylish? Find out 

Have you been trying to make changes to a more sustainable lifestyle? Would you consider yourself trendy and enjoy keeping up with fashion and style guides? I always find myself stuck in this in-between of wanting what is best for the environment but wanting to dress on trend and in ways that make me feel cute (and, sometimes, secondhand wear just doesn't cut it). Enter the watch. 

I have been planning to get Danny (my fiance, for those of you that don't know us yet!) a watch as a gift for the morning of our wedding but when I was approached by Jord Watches, I couldn't say no. Their beautiful minimalist style of wooden watches matches our aesthetic perfectly. They even offer engraving services which made obviously makes gifts like these personal and perfect. 

HOW IS THIS SUSTAINABLE?

The reason that a watch can be seen as a sustainable style staple is because when you purchase quality pieces like a Jord Watch, you typically are set for life. You may have to replace the battery at some point, but usually well-made watches like this are a one-time investment. 

 The Jord Conway

The Jord Conway

THE WATCH 

After browsing through the women's styles, I chose instead to pick one out for Danny. I have a thing for large face watches anyway, so men's styles are always more appealing to me. Don't let an arbitrary style categorization like "men's" or "women's" stop you from ordering what appeals to you! I ended up choosing the Conway style. The walnut with the black is very classic yet rustic looking but they have funkier options as well. The watch can easily be dressed up or down, easily giving off an outdoorsy vibe. (Can a watch give a vibe?) Because it is wood, its warmer on the skin and also more forgiving to movement. These watches would be a good option for someone that travels often or hikes a lot! We both agree that the detail work of the wood face and band are exquisite. (Not that we are watch connoisseurs anything) Danny also needed to remove one link which he was able to easily do himself by watching a video. 

ENTER TO WIN

As you know, I never agree to collaborate with a brand if it doesn't also involve something for my readers. Jord has agreed to open a giveaway for a $100 gift card. This will be open until my birthday (April 29). You can enter here! And I will keep a link to the giveaway in my Instagram bio as well. 

 Even the packaging is the perfect minimalist chic aesthetic that I love!

Even the packaging is the perfect minimalist chic aesthetic that I love!

Honestly with small changes like deciding against cheap accessories and clothing items and opting for well-made and long-lasting pieces, we can cut down on material waste significantly. Sometimes, the effects of consumer culture and climate change can seem overwhelming but together, we can make a difference

 

My Favorite Vegan Food Swaps

 Here you will find all my favorite vegan food swaps!

Here you will find all my favorite vegan food swaps!

Who this is good for: the veggie-curious, the newly vegan, the vegan vegans. Basically, this is a great post for all.

Below I share with you some of my favorite vegan food swaps! These are not all “plant-based” but they are all vegan. There are still some that are processed and therefore not the healthiest option available but are definitely a delicious treat (or staple). Honestly, there is a swap for everything these days, so try the cruelty free option and see what you think. You may be very pleasantly surprised!

 Fish tacos, Korean noodle salad and loaded tater tots from Curia Off the Drag in Gainesville, Florida. Look for all-vegan restaurants in your area for the best vegan food swaps!

Fish tacos, Korean noodle salad and loaded tater tots from Curia Off the Drag in Gainesville, Florida. Look for all-vegan restaurants in your area for the best vegan food swaps!

D A I R Y 

Vegan Milk Brands:

I really am not picky about the brand. Typically, I just go for whatever is on sale that week. I always get unsweetened vanilla almond or cashew milk unless I will need it for baking and then I just get unsweetened original.

Vegan Cheese Brands :

Sliced cheese - My favorite sliced cheese in Follow Your Heart but the Chao Slices are really good, too! Violife competes for my favorite, but those are more difficult to find. 

Shredded cheese - Daiya is the more widely available cheese to get on your pizzas at places like Mellow Mushroom but is not my favorite. If I can, I prefer Trader Joe's brand or So Delicious. 

Cream cheese - Kite Hill is my favorite but I usually opt for Tofutti because its easier for me to get locally. 

OTHER DAIRY

Ice cream - Okay, ice cream is my favorite. When I first went vegan, the only real options were So Delicious. They have an amazing cashew icecream line that is personally my favorite. The coconut based icecreams are good, too but in my opinion, the cashew ones are richer and creamier. However, now that Halo Top has a dairy free line, that is my daily go to. 

Butter - Earth Balance is the way to go when it comes to margarine. Whether you want it for toast or for baking, this comes through. I opt for the soy free version. 

Yogurt - I have not been able to find a good substitute for Greek yogurt. I used to eat Skyr every single day and it was one of my favorite foods. I didn't think I could live without it, but here I am thriving. There are vegan yogurt options with both coconut milk and soy milk. There are also a lot of yogurt options that are not available in my area, so I haven't tried all the options. There is quite the following and fanfare behind Coconut Cult and I am dying to try it!

 Some of my favorite Follow Your Heart products!

Some of my favorite Follow Your Heart products!

M E A T

VEGAN MEAT BRANDS:

Burgers - Hands down the most "burger-like" veggie burger is the Beyond Burger. It is now available at Target, Whole Foods, specialty stores and even in restaurants like TGI Fridays. 

Sandwich meat - This is a toss up. Try all of the options. If you love a good sandwich, check out this YouTube channel, Chris makes some awesome sandwiches. 

Chicken - Beyond Meat does it again. Their chicken strips are my favorite to put in salad and wraps. Seitan is another chickeny option that, in my opinion, is best in stir fries or soups. 

 Vegan bacon, egg and cheese with avocado on sourdough!

Vegan bacon, egg and cheese with avocado on sourdough!

E G G S

Eggs – Follow Your Heart eggs changed my vegan way of life. Really, really similar when it comes to scrambled or omelet style of eggs. However, they are not going to work for things like hard boiled or over easy. Chickpea flour is another eggy substitute that you can use. I have only ever made egg cups with this, but they were spot on, albeit a little dry (I recommend pairing with salsa, hot sauce or ketchup!) I also use flax meal if I am in need of an egg replacement for baking. 1 tablespoon of flax meal and 3 tablespoons of water equals one flax egg!

O T H E R

VEGAN CHOCOLATE BRANDS:

Basically, if you want something that is an animal product, there is now a vegan swap for it. There is no longer the excuse that you would have to go without some type of food that you love. Maybe you aren't ready to go fully vegan, that's okay. Have fun trying some new vegan restaurants, recipes and food items. If you are curious enough and want more information, I have a blog post about my vegan journey and resources that I recommend. 

Compassion starts on our plates. Sustainability can start on our plates. Let's change the world! 

Self-Love Lessons from the Women's Locker Room

 Secret Lagoon hot pot in Iceland

Secret Lagoon hot pot in Iceland

How a hot pot locker room in Iceland reminded me that body image is cultural and that self-love is a continual practice.

When was the last time you got naked in front of strangers? I practice getting metaphorically naked in front of strangers all the time on the internet in the form of baring my feelings, vulnerabilities and thoughts to the internet. However, on this last trip to Iceland, I learned that there are many ways to practice self-love and that just because we think we are comfortable in our bodies, there will always be lessons to learn. 

It was a cold late-January afternoon and we had decided to spend time at Gamla Laugin (or Secret Lagoon) which is a natural hot spring in the Golden Circle area of Iceland. After paying for my ticket, the worker reminded me that they do ask that we shower without a swimsuit on prior to entering the hot pot. (Many of Iceland’s pools have minimal or no chlorine in them, so for everyone’s peace of mind, all who get into the water have to make sure their body isn’t polluting it with germs.) I nodded, and headed towards the women's locker room.

I entered the fairly empty locker room with my friend that I was traveling with. We both chose a locker and began to strip off our many layers of winter clothing. I wasn't sure where the showers were located, so I wandered around getting oriented with the locker room. There was a concrete divider to separate the main part of the locker room with the line of shower heads. There were no curtain to divide them, no privacy. There were posters highlighting all the regions you must lather attentively: head, armpits, undercarriage, feet.

I meandered back to my locker with my mind racing. "I know they said to shower naked but I am sure it will be fine if I just keep my swimsuit on!", "Okay, my mind is made up, I will just wear my swimsuit into the shower, take it off momentarily and then pull it back on." I looked to my friend and voiced my concern. In America, we just aren't raised to see other women (or people) naked like in Europe or other cultures. In locker rooms, we have totally separate showers or, at the very least, they are separated by a curtain. 

Then, while still deciding what I was going to do, I noticed an older woman entering the shower area completely naked, like it was the most natural thing in the world. And that is when I realized it IS the most natural thing in the world. I felt a bit of jealousy for the women of Iceland, not just because they have the privilege of calling this beautiful country home but because they get to grow up feeling comfortable with the female form. They grow up feeling comfortable with their own body but also the bodies of real women. Real women with saggy breasts, pregnant bellies, stretch marks, cellulite, tall and thin, tall and squishy. There is no Photoshop in the locker rooms.

These few moments in the women's locker room were turning out to be quite introspective. What was I apprehensive about? What was I afraid of? What was making me uncomfortable? It was that woman that gave me courage. I pulled off my clothes and headed into the shower (which no one else was in, by the way). I felt proud of myself for not allowing whatever body-image demons that were lingering in my mind to win that day. I also felt this sense of freedom. I pulled on my swimsuit and opened the door to an arctic blast of wind. I hurried into the hot spring, and felt instant relief from the biting cold.

“I think the swimming pools are what make it possible to live here,” the young artist Ragnheidur Harpa Leifsdottir said. “You have storms, you have darkness, but the swimming pool is a place for you to find yourself again.”

When it was time to exit the hot spring and head back into the locker room, I had no apprehension. I peeled off my wet swimsuit and headed into the shower. I did take notice that there was a woman showering with her bikini on. I wondered if she was having an introspective moment of her own. I hoped that my courage would rub off on her. I hoped that she had a self-love practice. 

I wanted to tell you this story because it felt trans-formative for me. I wanted to remind you that self-love is a continual and daily practice. Shame demons come from nowhere sometimes, and that is okay. I encourage you to find your own "Icelandic hot pot locker room" moment. Practice standing in front of a mirror, naked, and speaking all the things that you love about your body.  Surround yourself with real women, real bodies. Stop punishing yourself trying to look like someone that you aren't or an image that was curated. 

Secret Lagoon

On another note, if you do find yourself in Iceland in search of the nearest hot pot, I highly recommend this website

My Experience with Menstrual Cups and FAQ

 My experience with menstrual cups as well as a Q&A - Pin to read later!

My experience with menstrual cups as well as a Q&A - Pin to read later!

Have you seen or heard about menstrual cups? Maybe you already use one and love yours, this post isn’t really for you. But if you have seen them and are curious to know more, read on!

I have been hearing more and more about menstrual cups over the past year. One menstrual cup, if properly cared for, can last up to ten years! Think of all the waste you are eliminating by switching to a cup! AND all the money you will be saving. AND all of the time you will be saving by avoiding a bathroom break every other hour. You will no longer have to worry about things like toxic shock or unwanted chemicals sitting inside your body.

 I was always skeptical to try menstrual cups and never looked into it any more than a passing conversation. I read a couple of blog posts about them that piqued my interest. As I become more and more of an environmentalist, I realized I couldn’t ignore the issue any longer as I emptied trash can after trash can during my monthly periods. I was skeptical about making the switch mostly because I have an IUD and had read somewhere that you shouldn’t use a menstrual cup if you have an IUD because it could dislodge it. After doing more research and talking to real women that have IUDs and use menstrual cups, I placed my order.

My Personal Experience

I read many articles about different brands and decided that I would order the MeLuna. They didn’t send me a cup for free or anything like that, I paid for it with my own money. I know that my cervix sits up high, so I went with a larger cup. (*edit* I wanted to clarify that the only reason that I know that my cervix sits high is because my OBGYN told me) I also decided to get the Classic in purple and with the stem handle. The stem is about an inch long but because my cervix sits so far up, I am really glad I opted for this. You can cut it, if its bothersome for you or choose another of their handle options. I love how you can easily customize the MeLuna. I am really pleased with my purchase! I may end up getting the more athletic (firmer) material in the future because I did notice that when I worked out vigorously, I had some leaking. But, it wasn’t enough to bother me so much that I am going to order another any time soon.

I boiled the cup before I used it for the first time and that’s all the cleaning that I did. I also read in this same blog post that you should pee on your hands as a method of cleaning. It makes sense, because that is the same advice we get about having sex. Go pee when you are done! That is definitely a tip I would suggest to you. Sure, you are literally peeing on your fingers. But I would rather pee on my hand and wash it than have to deal with an infection. As far as placement goes, there was definitely a learning curve. I had to play around with how to fold it. I read that you should do Kegel exercises to get it in place, and that is a tip I would definitely recommend. I also do some squats once I get it placed just so it gets shimmied around properly. This might sound excessive but it isn’t that bad. I did have a minor freak out one morning when I couldn’t get it out, but I learned that I just needed to be a little more aggressive and less dainty with my removal. I would advise gripping it from the base of the cup rather than the stem. It’s easier to control that way. I didn’t really clean it beyond rinsing it off with hot water. I’m not really what you would call an overly hygienic person but for what it’s worth, I’m also never sick. Do with that what you will. . .

 Store your cup in a bag like this, not something airtight!

Store your cup in a bag like this, not something airtight!


Q&A

I asked you guys on Instagram if you had any questions and got lots of feedback! Below I will list some questions that I had as well as some questions that you all asked of me.

Is it messy?

Kind of. I definitely would say it’s more messy than tampons. It’s about equally messy to a pad on your heaviest day. Women are often taught that their bodies are gross, especially during this time. Your period is one of the most natural things in the world. Yes, you will be getting up close and personal with your vagina. Yes, you will probably get some blood on your fingers. In my opinion, this is a wonderful exercise in self-love and acceptance.

Is it painful or uncomfortable?

It can be, if it isn’t the right cup for you. Or if it isn’t placed correctly. I had a couple of moments of uncomfortability but after taking it out and putting it back in, I realized it was just placed weird. The cup should not be painful for you, if it is, I would recommend getting a smaller cup. I have read that The Diva Cup is often not the right cup but the one women in the US most often purchase. They only come in one size, and for this reason, I recommend MeLuna or another company that has more options in sizing.

Can you wear it for a long time?

Totally! It depends on your flow but even on my heaviest days, I was only changing it twice! I wouldn’t recommend leaving it in for any longer than 10ish hours though. Check with your particular brand and see what they recommend.

Can I wear a menstrual cup and practice yoga?

Apparently, yes. I practiced 3 hours of yoga with mine in without any issues or leaking. The cup works by creating suction (kind of like when you were in elementary school and would put a cup over your mouth and chin and it would stick there for eternity) so you don’t need to worry about getting upside down and leaking everything as long as it was placed correctly to begin with.

What am I supposed to do when I am out in public?

Admittedly, I haven’t had this issue yet. Because I was only emptying it twice a day, this was easily avoidable. If you find that you will have to empty it in a public bathroom, I would recommend carrying a water bottle with you to rinse it off or just use the sink if you don’t care to.

Do I still need to wear period panties?

I would, at least for the first couple of months with the menstrual cup. Once I get into a tried and true rhythm, I may not ever have to own period panties again! But for now, I don’t want to accidentally ruin my good ones.

Is it worth the hassle?

In  my opinion, yes. And it isn’t really a hassle once you are used to it. I am lazy AF and the menstrual cup was made for lazy people. I spend so much less time thinking about my period because I can go so long in between having to empty the cup. I also feel like I have cut down SO significantly on the waste that I am putting out, that alone is worth it to me. I had a horrifying experience with a tampon once and thought I was going to die, so the fact that I no longer have to stress about the chemicals being leached into my body is amazing.

Lastly, I certainly recommend doing your research. Find what you think will work for you, give it at least 2 cycles to really get into a groove. If after that, it still isn't your jam, at least you can say that you tried. 

How to Keep My New Year’s Resolution

 Walking into the New Year like. . .

Walking into the New Year like. . .

Wondering how to keep your New Year's Resolutions?

Are you ready to start the New Year right? Are your resolutions ready? Do you have big plans for losing weight, sculpting the perfect body, traveling more, launching your blog, eating right and finding the love of your life?

Statistic Brain ran the numbers; only 8% of people achieve their New Year’s Resolutions. Why? Oftentimes, people make resolutions because they think they should, not because they really want to change in that way, at that time.

I will admit that this is a great time of the year to reflect on the past and make plans for the future. I find it to be a very introspective and healing time for myself. I also want you to know that ANY time is a good time to reflect and set intentions. You don’t have to wait until the end of the year or the beginning of another.

This is also the time when we need to be vigilant about media messages being directed at us. This is one of the prime seasons for diet culture. It is such an easy time for us to fall for marketing and media schemes to make us believe that we need to change. That we need be smaller, better, smarter. Be mindful that these messages are only trying to get you to feel bad about yourself so that you will spend your money. You do not need to be (skinny, in a relationship, curvy, wealthy, perfect, popular, insert adjective here) to be worthy of a beautiful year ahead. YOU get to decide the life you want to live. YOU get to make the changes that you think will bring you the most joy.

LET’S THROW OUT “RESOLUTIONS” AND LET’S SET OUR INTENTIONS AND GOALS FOR THE UPCOMING YEAR.

HERE ARE A FEW WAYS TO REACH YOUR GOALS (ANY TIME OF THE YEAR):

Keep it simple – By simple, I don’t mean easy. Keep your goal specific. I used to be really guilty of setting these lofty and broad goals. It makes the goal much more attainable if it is specific. Set many smaller goals that add up to your one big goal. Instead of, I want to be healthy in 2018 make it, I want to drink 3 gallons of water a day or I want to go to the gym 3 days per week. Reframe your goals with targeted and specific information and I promise that you will find it to be much more attainable.

Set intentions – There is power in intention. Sound too yogi-hippie-weirdo for you? Read more about the Law of Attraction! Having daily or weekly intentions is another important layer to meeting your goals. You can incorporate a meditation practice in your daily rituals or you can write out your intentions, repeat them while you are brushing your teeth . . . it doesn't need to be glamorous to be effective. One of the intentions that I want to manifest in the coming year is: I intend to respond first, then react. This intention will help me to achieve my larger goal of being a calm and kind partner. 

Write them down – Write down your goals on a paper, on a mobile note, on your calendar. I cannot stress the importance of writing out your goals enough. There is something magical that happens when you speak and write your goals. It just becomes more powerful when you can actually see it and it doesn’t just live in your head.

Let others know – Accountability is key. Sometimes, we don’t want to let our friends or family know that we are going after a goal for fear of failure. That’s ok. It doesn’t have to be them. Create an Instagram and find like-minded individuals pursuing similar goals, join a Facebook group or a community group. Goals become more long-term when we don’t go at them alone.

Change in the ways that are meaningful to you – Do not set a goal to change because someone else told you that you should. This is for you. This is about your happiness. Set goals that fuel your fire, not dull your sparkle.

Approach your goals with grace – You don’t have to be perfect. There will be a learning curve. It won’t be easy. You won’t be perfect at it. That’s ok. When we abandon the idea that we have to be perfect at something, we allow space for more long-term change.

Be patient with yourself - Speak to yourself from a place of love. It won’t happen overnight. Stop tearing yourself down when there are bumps in the road or minor detours in your journey. You got this.

Find me on Instagram and share your goals with me - let's help one another make our dreams come true. 

2017 Vegan-Friendly Christmas Gift Guide

“Help I’m a vegan and I don’t want to give non-vegan gifts!” Or maybe you just need some inspiration to finish up this year’s Christmas shopping. Or maybe you just want to treat yoself...Look no further. 

I have put together gift ideas for various people in your life. Most of these things are items that I have used or currently own, so you can take my word for it! 

 Foodie Christmas Gift Guide

Foodie Christmas Gift Guide

FOR THE FOODIE:

  • I have been eyeballing these sustainable utensils for daily lunches and also for travel. These could double for the traveler in your life as well!
  • I use a tofu press nearly every time I cook. Before I had one, I was using books and dish towels and it was just a mess. Do the veggie foodie in your life a favor and hook them up. 
  • If your foodie friend has a sweet tooth, I would definitely recommend placing an order with Hunnybon sweets - the caramels are to die for. 
  • Who doesn't love a subscription box? Get Raw box is my favorite foodie box and each box really does last a long time. These are also good for travelers or just friends and family that are looking for more natural brands and items to use around their home. 
  • I don't really think you can ever have enough grocery totes. I use them every week and I even take them with me on trips (because you just never know when you will need to do some shopping) 
 Fitness Enthusiast Christmas Gift Guide

Fitness Enthusiast Christmas Gift Guide

FOR THE FITNESS ENTHUSIAST:

  • If you haven't heard me talk about the Ellie box subscription then you probably don't follow me on Instagram (which you should). I would highly, highly recommend this box for any of the fitness enthusiasts in your life - yourself included. I can attest for the fact that we just work out harder when we feel cute. 
  • Like grocery totes, I don't think we can ever really have enough reusable water bottles. I actually tend to lose mine over time, so I'm glad I have extras. 
  • Protein bars are not cheap. This is why it makes a great gift! Treat them to some delicious protein bars or switch it up and be original by ordering them some of the protein popcorn (and feel free to use K8CANRELATE at checkout for 15% off, I get a small commission if you use it, so just don't if that's weird for you!) 
  • I don't use it as often as I should but I love my acupuncture massage mat. It's basically like a massage that you don't have to pay for every time you want one. I know I would be stoked to receive this as a gift, whether I was a fitness enthusiast or not. 
  • Resistance bands are a great additional to gym or at-home workouts. They are perfect for traveling because they are small and easy to pack. Basically, they are essential. I use them every single time I train legs. I ordered mine from Amazon and they work great. 
 Christmas Gift Guide For the Traveler

Christmas Gift Guide For the Traveler

FOR THE WANDERER: 

  • A friend introduced me to the Lush Sleepy lotion and my life has been forever changed. This would be a great gift for anyone but I am particularly suggesting it for the travelers in your life because I struggle to sleep in unfamiliar and new places. This lotion is a travel must! 
  • I know not everyone is as bookish as I am and I know that a lot of people carry e-readers now. I mean, it definitely is better for the environment etc. etc. but I just CANNOT fully give up my paper books. The smell, the feel of pages between my fingers. . it truly is a love affair. I digress. Buy your nerdy travel friend a book to read for their layover, flights, or just to relax with.  
  • Sunglasses are one of those things that are perfect year-round. There are expensive brands that are oh-so-trendy that I always think I want, until I remember that I am not rich nor can I keep the same pair for very long (forever losing or breaking them). I found this brand of affordable AND trendy sunglasses and am a big fan. They have lots of designs but these are especially great for the person in your life that has been bitten by the travel bug. 
  • I mean, who doesn't love a travel pillow
  • I mean... I guess they would have to love to travel AND like to drink for this gift to work. But, I mean, you can never have enough of these cool Carry on cocktail kits to pass around (or keep for yourself) 
  • I am trying to get better about bringing my reusable coffee cup with me everywhere. I really am trying to be mindful about the amount of waste I am contributing and an easy one to fix are coffee cups. There are lots out there, but I find this one to be my favorite and particularly reliable. 
  • If they love to travel, chances are they want to document those travels. If you want to buy them a camera, I'm sure they will love you forever. But, odds are, they already have a phone they use or a camera. A tripod is definitely on my list this year.   
 Beauty Babe Christmas Gift Guide

Beauty Babe Christmas Gift Guide

FOR THE BEAUTY BABE:

  • I absolutely love the mission behind this skincare brand. Frank & Whit have amazing skincare, I particularly am a fan of their facescrub but you really cannot go wrong with any choice you make. These are great gifts and perfect as stocking stuffers. 
  • I have been consistently using the Tula cleanser for over a year now. I was originally sent a sample for free but it hooked me and I have bought it numerous times since then. I don't have bad skin, per say, but I do get breakouts. This definitely helped clear up my skin. 
  • I have the Clarisonic Mia 2 that I bought for myself last year. I was hoping it was not just something that beauty vloggers raved about because they got paid to. Thankfully, it really works miracles on my skin. I cannot recommend it enough! I use the Radiance brush heads as they seem to work best for me. These are pricy but definitely an investment well worth the price tag. 
  • I read about this mask on Facebook or somewhere random and decided to try it out. It's like the number one selling item on Amazon or something crazy like that! I know the benefits of bentonite clay so I imagined that it had to be good. It's a dry powder that you mix with equal parts apple cider vinegar. This is so cheap and will last FOREVER so I would definitely recommend getting yourself one as well as one for the beauty babe in your life. 
  • I had eyelash extensions for a few months and LOVED them. My local salon in Charleston, West Virginia has the best eyelash artist who is always running promotions and specials. I had to let my extensions fall out just because it is a lot of upkeep but they are so wonderful for events or vacations! The lashes that Sara uses are cruelty-free as well. I am sure you could easily find a salon in your location that uses cruelty-free lashes, just make sure you do your research. Or, if you are in the Charleston area, get a gift card from Spa Bliss and be sure to ask for Sara! 
  • As you know, I am trying to incorporate more sustainable practices into my life. I never thought about how much waste toothbrushes amounts to but, it's a lot. Opt to give the beauty babe or the environmentally friend babe in your life one of these awesome Boie toothbrushes and help out the Earth while you are at it. 
 Christmas Gift Guide for Dogs

Christmas Gift Guide for Dogs

FOR THE FUR BABIES:

  • Of course I couldn't leave out the dogs in your life. If you haven't tried to make your own dog treats, you should! It's really simple (and they are actually very delicious human snacks as well) I have a recipe you here that you could use the mold to have snacks ready for the dogs on Christmas! 
  • I mean, if you don't match your kids on Christmas, what are you even doing? I don't know if my dogs feel embarrassment but I like to pretend they will inwardly groan as I strap on their Christmas jammies
  • Maybe you are vegan and want to get your friends' dogs started on vegan dog treats or maybe you want to stock up your own pup. I love this site for all of their vegan options but I especially love their starter kit as a Christmas gift!
  • Every dog needs a bed (preferably not yours). The same company that sells the vegan starter kits also sells these awesome eco-friendly dog beds that come in super fun colors. Let's be honest, the colors are more for us than for the dogs, but we can pretend. 

I hope you enjoyed this year's vegan friendly Christmas guide! Let me know if you end up buying any of it (for yourself or for someone else). You can also share this post to your Pinterest to save for later! 

Climate Science Needs Anthropology

 1978 snowfall in Culloden, West Virginia (where I grew up)

1978 snowfall in Culloden, West Virginia (where I grew up)

Climate Science Needs Anthropology

Below is a paper that I wrote for one of my graduate courses at Marshall University Graduate College. I had the privilege of being invited to attend this seminar with Dr. Susan Crate who is a a Professor of Anthropology in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy at George Mason University. An environmental and cognitive anthropologist, she has worked with indigenous communities in Siberia since 1988. 

I did a poll on Instagram and it seemed that a great deal of people would enjoy reading the paper, so here you go, I hope you learn something and enjoy: 


Anthropology, the study of human beings through time, has the means to provide a varied, necessary, and perhaps vital understanding of climate dynamics at the local level. Humans, particularly indigenous humans, are drastically affected by the direct and indirect effects of climate change all over the world. We all share this Earth. All voices, including the politically powerless, need to be heard about climate change and how it is affecting them. Anthropologists have the tools necessary to bridge the gap between science and daily reality for these individuals and for all of us. Conversely, without an interdisciplinary approach, climate scientists, and the public, will not be able to see the larger picture of what is at stake.

Both editions of Susan Crate and Mark Nuttall’s Anthropology and Climate Change help me frame the discussion as to why anthropology is essential to a broader understanding of climate science. In addition by sharing my own climate story, I hope to exemplify how we can enact the tools of anthropology to advocate for our own people. We can only truly understand how our climate is changing when we stop to listen to those being affected firsthand.

Climate change deserves definition, as there are a number of misconceptions. We are all familiar with weather. Weather is what we see changing in the sky, which informs meteorologists as to predictions about what we can expect via our local news station. Weather can be fickle and change from moment to moment and day to day. Climate, however, is the statistical average of weather in an area over a long period of time. There can be the climate of West Virginia, the climate of Appalachia or the climate of the Earth itself. Crate and Nuttall offer this:

We can define climate change as a variation in climatic parameters attributed directly or indirectly to human activities, the growing use of technology, industrialization and the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, resource depletion, environmental degradation, and consumer lifestyles, all of which is entangled with natural variations in climate. (Crate et al, 16, 2nd ed.)

Anthropology is a fairly broad discipline which focuses on the study of people through time and space. “Anthropology solidly contributes to understanding past and present human adaptive strategies and the effects of climate change, how humans observe and perceive these changes, and how they think about and relate to the weather” (Crate et al, 16, 2nd ed.). Anthropologists consider different aspects to come to a full understanding of the human condition, both past and present. “Historically, anthropologists in the United States have been trained in one of four areas: sociocultural anthropology, biological/physical anthropology, archaeology, and linguistic anthropology” (American Anthropology Association).

Climate scientists have traditionally understood climate change as a nature problem. Anthropologists are unique because they see climate change as a human problem. “Anthropologists work on the human rights aspects of climate change; they assess and evaluate the vulnerability and resilience of communities” (Crate et al, 12, 2nd ed.). While both climate scientists and anthropologists conduct important research surrounding the issue of climate change, the two have not always been compatible. Many reasons inform us as to why anthropologists have struggled to be a part of the climate change dialogue. The necessary training and funding are often lacking that enables the two disciplines to work together on research projects. “Fundamentally, anthropologists are methodological individualists. We are not trained in collaborative research, and we are not socialized to work together; instead, we compete for publications, jobs and visibility” (Crate et al, 270, 1st ed.). Anthropologists have since realized, through expanding their awareness of how weather affects populations and culture, the importance of their work in the climate change dialogue. “Anthropologists are engaging research that has a concern with resilience, vulnerability, adaption, mitigations, and displacement. Anthropologists have developed significant work on the politics of climate change, inequality, health, carbon sequestration, and water and energy” (Crate et al, 11, 2nd ed.).

To further exacerbate the difficulties in cross discipline discussions, climate researchers, and natural scientists in general, tend to speak in technical terms. Climate change can be a very scary and overwhelming subject for someone to understand. Not everyone has the education or exposure to climate change information to understand what is happening around them in terms of weather or climate when it is filtered through the vocabulary and vernacular of climate scientists. Anthropology is in a unique position. Increasingly, climate change is being understood as a phenomenon with multiple causes and stressors. Because of this, anthropologists are being asked to collaborate with climate scientists on climate science research and projects to develop “more human-inclusive approaches to understanding change” (Crate et al, 152, 1st ed.).

Anthropology is science of the totality of humans and our existence. The discipline deals with the integration of different aspects of the humanities and human biology. Humans have long used the humanities to understand the world around them. “Contemplating a sculpture might make you think about how an artist's life affected her creative decisions. Reading a book from another region of the world might help you think about the meaning of democracy. Listening to a history course might help you better understand the past, while at the same time offer you a clearer picture of the future.” (Stanford University) Watching a documentary about a mother and daughter documenting how societies are being forced to change their ways of life because of their changing surroundings or a documentary about beautiful photography showcasing the changes in ice over time might help you better understand what climate change is and how it is affecting people around the world. Listening to stories being told from someone in your community about weather from their childhood might help you to make connections to the changes in weather patterns you have noticed in your own life.  

Anthropologists use methods and tools to figure out how local livelihood is affected by any number of factors (Crate et al, 155, 1st ed.). In considering local observations of weather and climate, they gain insight to incorporate into a larger conversation on climate change. If communities are going to truly understand climate change and what it means for them and their families, there has to be “locally relevant information” (Crate et al, 155, 1st ed.) available to them. “Climate change is not something that may happen in the near or far future but it is an immediate, lived reality” (Crate et al, 9, 1st ed.) for a vast number of people. For example, local communities, especially community elders, are able to tell stories of their own experiences with weather and climate. Anthropologists are in a unique position to be able to listen to the communities they work with and also to witness firsthand the changes affecting that group. Anthropologists can use the knowledge and insights they gain from the communities to advocate on their behalf. “Advocacy is key not only in our collaborative relationship with communities but also in representing their best interests in policy and other advocacy contexts” (Crate et al, 148, 1st ed,). Not only can anthropologists affect policy, they can also “link [their] research partners with other communities who have gone through similar experiences” (Crate et al, 148, 1st ed.). In this way, anthropologists are a crucial actor in the understanding of climate dynamics in our increasingly globalized world.

One example of how anthropologists have petitioned for the human rights issues affected by climate change is seen in the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC). The ICC was founded in 1977 in order to bring together and strengthen the voice of the Inuit people. The past chair of the Council spoke about climate change as a human rights issue (Crate et al, 15, 1st ed.). Prior to speaking out about how climate change is a human rights issue, the ICC used their meetings to talk mostly about science and policy. As we can see, anthropologists provide crucial information in absentia of voices who are not typically heard. This means they are in a unique position to bridge the gap between the general public and climate scientists.

What can anthropologists bring to the table that has not already been served? In an article “Storying Climate Change” Dr. Susie Crate discusses how local testimony can evoke our deep connection to our neighbor, more so than any amount of scientific fact. “People are more moved by stories about those who are directly affected.” Anthropology and ethnography allow us to use time tested tools to carve out the stories of those affected by climate change. “It turns out that no matter where people live, they are moved by stories that resonate with their sense of place and mode of being on the planet.” We can see this firsthand in the documentary “The Anthropologist” featuring Dr. Susie Crate and her daughter, Katie. As the story unfolds, it forces introspection as to how we are dealing with climate change in our own personal lives. There are many takeaways from the documentary: why climate science needs anthropology, the importance of participant observation in the areas that are being most affected by climate change, and an undercurrent that we should not and cannot force others to change; we can only change our own thoughts, habits and actions and hope that it inspires others to do the same.

 Jökulsárlón is a magnificent glacial lagoon in South-Iceland right by ring-road 1.

Jökulsárlón is a magnificent glacial lagoon in South-Iceland right by ring-road 1.

Serendipitously, I found myself traveling to Iceland for vacation in the midst of my climate science research. The scenic country of Iceland is known for its waterfalls, views of the Northern Lights and their black sand beaches. While in Iceland I visited Vatnajökull National Park which houses the largest and most voluminous glacier in the country. I was moved by the size and beauty of the glaciers. I was even more struck by the rapidity in which they seemed to be breaking off and floating into the lagoon. I recalled what I had been reading in Anthropology and Climate Change; many anthropologists are conducting fieldwork in areas that have glaciers and are working alongside glaciologists and climate scientists alike.

The range is extreme, depending on the initial size, location, and orientation of the glacier in question. What will happen if these glaciers disappear? In Leukerbad, local people have varying opinion, from ‘Nothing at all,’ to ‘We will have to leave the valley where our families settled over five hundred years ago.’ Within a couple of generations (by 2050), this community will have to make difficult decisions about water resource distribution and energy supplies that may have implications extending well beyond the reaches of their narrow valley. (Crate et al, 169, 1st ed.)

I wondered if this will be the same reality for Iceland and realized that it already is. The Earth is undergoing rapid changes and the best visual representation of that is in our ice. 

I recently watched a climate science documentary titled “Chasing Ice” (found on Netflix) which is following National Geographic photographer, James Balog, and his team as they photograph and document the changing in glaciers around the globe. “Powerful symbols of unspoiled, unconquered nature, glaciers attract tourists and mountaineers from different parts of the world. At the same time, they are emblematic of cultural identities.” (Crate et al, 92, 1st ed.) Iceland and many other countries as well, have a sense of fierce attachment to their mountains and glaciers. These images are displayed as symbols of their economy and of their culture. “Chasing Ice” opened my eyes further to the important role that the humanities can play in bringing awareness and understanding to climate change. James Balog’s photographs are beautiful and world-renowned. When you compare a photo of the glacier in 2005 with a photo in the exact same spot a few years later it is impossible not to notice the differences. James, like Dr. Crate, is not trying to force anyone to believe in climate change. James and Dr. Crate are presenting the realities and stories of human beings and how they are presently dealing with changes in their landscape.

Through this research I myself keep finding, time and again, that our sense of home and purpose are intrinsically bound together and woven throughout everything that we, as humans, do. When we hear a story about someone from “home” who has been adversely affected by climate change, we are much more likely to listen and to take action. In 2016, West Virginia experienced a catastrophic flooding event. The National Weather Service called in a ‘one in a thousand year event’. If you read the national news on the event, you will not find much in the way of local interviews and instead you will be reading bits from politicians, meteorologists or even climate scientists. Rarely, however, are you able to find the stories being told by elders and locals on just how rare this extreme rainfall and flooding was for southern West Virginia. Autumn Hopkins, an Elkins native, shares her story through the Huffington Post:

My name is Autumn Hopkins; many of you know me just as Aum.  My family and I are from Elkview, West Virginia, for many generations back. You may [have] never heard of Elkview until recently when you saw it on the news. I am the crazy . . . animal lady in Elkview, or people know me from yoga class, or Itty Bitty Kitty Committee, or roller derby, or church, or as Fred’s wife, or Sarah’s mom. I have many titles but now I have one I never wanted: homeless flood victim . . . I lay my head down at night in a bed that doesn’t belong to me, and when the panic attacks stop, I wake the next morning to find the nightmare is real and we start again.

With such stories of individuals affected by extreme weather events, an audience may react with empathy. Understanding another human’s plight in such cases, awareness is better raised about how weather is changing and not returning to more familiar expectations. By using anthropology as a platform to tell our stories, we find a sense of purpose and connection to one another and perhaps listeners can then be motivated to increase their awareness and education, which may lead to action.

Autumn lives in West Virginia, as I do, and West Virginia is part of the larger region of Appalachia. This region is a case in point regarding populations deeply affected by climate change but has had little in the way of voice on the subject. As a youth in West Virginia, I always felt we were up against the rest of the world: I felt that we were looked down upon, made fun of and that we were taken advantage of. Appalachia has long been misrepresented by the media as a degenerate region and these media portrayals have inflamed negative stereotypes of West Virginians. Part of this is due to our terrain, which is mountainous, and lends itself to isolation in some aspects, and therefore, typically voices not heard. The dehumanizing rhetoric has, in part, allowed for the exploitation of our people and our vast natural resources. Take, for example, surface coal mining otherwise known as mountaintop removal. Mountaintop removal is the process of clearing, blasting and digging away the top of a mountain in order to excavate coal. “If coal mining continues at its current pace, the authors predict the next 12 to 20 years will see Southern Appalachian forests switch from a net carbon sink to a net carbon source — meaning the area will emit more carbon than it takes in” (Foley, Appalachian Voices)

As I read through Anthropology and Climate Change, it struck me how this same sense of feeling inferior can be intrinsically tied into the impacts I now feel on the weather and our climate here in Appalachia. “On a temporal scale, the effects of climate change are the indirect costs of imperialism and colonization . . . These are the same peoples whose territories have long been a dumping ground for uranium, industrial societies’ trash heaps, and transboundary pollutants. Climate change is environmental colonialism at its fullest development” (Crate et al, 11, 1st ed.). Constantly surrounded by chemical-drenched and polluted air, having little choice but to drink contaminated water as well as permanently altering the state of the land to extract natural resources, we have now truly begun to see how the actions of others have impacted our livelihoods and quality of life here in West Virginia. Our region’s cultural identity has been closely tied to the coal industry. This is a deeply personal example of why we, West Virginians, need anthropologists to help us understand climate science and advocate on our behalf.

Despite the obvious collaboration that should be forged between anthropologists and climate scientists, doubt remains. Some may be hesitant or wary about anthropologists and their role in climate science. My grandparents would have been leery because “real scientists” were the only ones that were trusted. However, I also know that they loved to tell stories and speak about their past. Thankfully, the tide is changing, literally and figuratively, and climate scientists seem to be encouraging more and more experts to the table. I imagine that both of my grandparents would have been more than happy to be a part of Participatory Action Research (PAR) in the area. PAR is a research approach that seeks to emphasize community participation and local knowledge and skills on a given topic. “The understanding that reality is socially-constructed and viewed in different ways by different actors in a system points to the need for external researchers to be engaged in processes of joint learning with those directly affected by climate change” (German et al, 10). In Anthropology and Climate Change Button and Peterson talk about the importance of community members coming together to tell their stories in order to create a “shared memory bank” (Crate et al, 33, 1st ed.). Members of the community could come together to tell their own oral histories and understandings of culture and climate.

I believe West Virginians are quite a resilient people, but could certainly benefit from a strengthening and preserving of cultural knowledge especially regarding extreme weather. I conducted a handful of interviews with lifelong West Virginian natives, careful not to use the term “climate change” and instead focused on changes in local weather patterns and local environment. “In general, when asked about ‘climate change’ or ‘global warming’, consultants gave summaries about what they had heard from a scientist . . . or media outlets” (Crate et al, 212, 1st ed.). I spoke with a Saint Albans, West Virginia native, Mindy Ilar, who elicited a powerful narrative about the importance of memory, local knowledge and the climate:

I remember playing in the snow when I was a kid. It felt like it was for like a month that we stayed home to play. There were six of us . . . siblings, I mean. It was fantastic, all that snow. We made igloos and tunnels and they stayed intact for days. I can remember having enough snow that we could go sledding up at an old school on the hill and there were lots of us kids that went to play. There was just always plenty of snow in the winter. In ‘85 or ‘86, we had a snow storm that generated enough [snow] that we were able to go sledding. We went at night and there was a group of us, the snow was wet and packed down so it made for great sledding.

Through this narrative we can see how a collaborative effort between anthropologists in the field and natural scientists is ideal. Anthropologists compile local stories and knowledge and look for patterns such as abundant snow in winters past and compare that with real time weather and climate data. Communities are then able to see these climate changes and how they can enact positive change in their own neighborhoods if they realize that conditions require action.

For 26 years, the West Virginia valleys have been my home. My parents cultivated a deep appreciation of the outdoors in me. Living in West Virginia, I think it’s easy to take the outdoors for granted because nature is so vast and so abundant where we live, but my parents made sure I knew how lucky I was to live in such a beautiful place. I spent countless hours in my grandparent’s garden growing up, plucking cherry tomatoes from the vine and blackberries from the bush and being scolded to stop eating them all. Summers were dedicated to family camping trips, hiking, and enjoying the outdoors. We experienced all four seasons in West Virginia so distinct that you didn’t even need a calendar to label the month. I was never a fan of winter, because I always preferred a hot summer day to a blistery, cold winter day. Yet, I remember playing in blizzards as a child and having white Christmases. As I have gotten older, I have noticed a distinct difference in our weather here in West Virginia. It gets warm enough in the spring to feel like a summer day, and additionally the summers have gotten warmer and warmer as the years pass by. And despite my dislike of winter, I found myself wondering how many more winters we would have snowfall at all.

An interesting juxtaposition is present in West Virginia. Residents always seemed to have a deep bond with the land. Lakes, rivers and streams are worshiped for teeming with life and the mountains stand as a symbol both politically and poetically. However, I remember the smell of dirty air with a faint but constant smell of some kind of chemical from a nearby plant and the way that the Kanawha River ran yellow and stained your light-colored clothes. I remember watching entire mountaintops being blown away and never replaced, wondering where the wildlife would have to run to. My grandmother was the more religious member of the family and I recall her understanding of "climate change" to be tied into religion. There was one specific interaction when I was a young girl, probably seven or eight years old, and we must have been talking about the weather. We were both in the kitchen, facing toward the window and my grandmother was telling me that it was getting harder and harder to distinguish between the seasons. She told me that in the book of Revelations it states that when the end is near you will no longer be able to tell one season from the next.

I grew up in an environmentally-conscious family, even if they wouldn’t label themselves as such. When I was little, my grandparents scolded me for leaving refrigerator doors open or leaving the water running or the lights remaining on. I guess you could say that many of our family traditions were built around sustainable practices. I helped my grandfather take the waste out to the compost to use in the garden. My grandparents always recycled and reused. My grandmother saved every paperclip and rubber band to use again in the future. My grandfather always asked for paper bags rather than plastic. I was too young to ask if it was directly because of their concern for the environment or if it was more because they lived through the Great Depression and knew that it was wasteful to throw things away. Regardless, they planted a deep appreciation in me for doing my part in reducing, reusing and recycling.

When my friends hear about climate change on television or read about it on Facebook, most of them know that climate change is happening and they don’t try to negate the fact of it.  Yet, I also think they feel unaffected in their personal lives. Maybe they are just nonplussed about the changes taking shape across our Earth. They roll their eyes in a playful manner and chuckle to themselves when I refuse a straw in a restaurant for my drink and instead opt for the reusable glass straw that I keep tucked away inside my bag. They brace themselves when I start explaining the effects of animal agriculture on the warming of the planet and the detriment the waste has on our ocean systems. They pretend to listen as I rattle on about glacier retreat in Iceland. My former work colleagues, however, feel that climate change is a political issue. It seems they are mostly blinded by the politics and refuse to unpack the science. They are hesitant to believe what they read because there are so many political opinions dressed as facts; it can be hard to wade through false and true information.

Friends, family and coworkers alike are also enmeshed in the coal culture that we were raised in here in West Virginia, and it can be hard to trust your own logic and knowledge to go against decades of tradition. It is touted that coal is the savior of West Virginia; the propaganda is far-reaching and dates back for years. We are not raised to understand sustainability today. If we are taught to understand sustainability, it is sparingly at best. You rarely hear stories here in West Virginia of the environmental or human impacts that coal power plants have and continue to have. This mindset can be a tough one to shake.

As time has gone on, however, it has become harder and harder to disregard the natural phenomena taking place right here in our own backyards. Winter snow has become elusive and white Christmases seem to be long gone. Uncharacteristic rainfall has led to unprecedented flooding that has devastated the lives and well-being of many West Virginians. Record temperatures are met and exceeded and cannot be ignored.  Most months would be difficult to label by the weather patterns alone, as the temperature and weather patterns are too unpredictable. The Earth’s average surface temperature has risen about 2 degrees Fahrenheit since the late 19th century but most of the warming has occurred in just the past 35 years. The warmest year on record is 2016; eight of the twelve months were the warmest on record for those respective months according to NASA. The well-being of one ecosystem is linked to the stability of dozens of others, making it an indicator of the chain reaction that can occur.

My experiences in nature as a youth pushed me to be more involved in its sustainability in my adult life; I have taken time to educate myself on the climate and various ways that I can make a change. Because of the deep appreciation for the environment that my family instilled in me, I carry my grandfather’s legacy by taking action.  I went vegan almost two years ago for the sake of animals, but I quickly learned how animal agriculture affects the planet.  I have decided to travel back to Iceland this winter to explore the glaciers firsthand. “While a great deal has been written on glacier retreat, very little empirical research has been conducted on human responses to its varied impacts.” (Crate et al, 92, 1st ed.). I hope to gain further insight from locals and guides that have witnessed firsthand the changes in their surroundings. This is how I make meaningful connections between my life and the changing climate around me. Using anthropological tools, we can encourage more individuals to speak up and tell their own stories. Anthropologists are trained to be able to notice patterns in these stories which, in turn, will add to the credibility of climate science.

There are obstacles to overcome, political and also cultural, but I have no doubt that through education and the continuing collaboration between climate change scientists and anthropologists/ethnologists we will be able to have a healthy planet for future generations. I know that my actions, along with the actions of others, can lead to a chain of smarter and more informed decision-making and innovation. Here in West Virginia and throughout Appalachia, storytelling and oral traditions are a cultural characteristic endemic to our culture. Story is a part of being human and has survived all technological advances. Whether orally or electronically, we should be encouraging storytelling about our weather and its changes to help citizens see in a non-threatening way how crucial understanding climate change and taking appropriate action can be.

All in all, climate science would be incomplete without anthropology. Anthropologists conduct in-depth and long term research and community engagement that are necessary to understanding local communities and their connection to the environment. Anthropology allows local observations and knowledge to be brought into the conversation on what is happening to the globe on a smaller scale. Without the connections being made between normal, everyday citizens of the world and the effects of climate change, no real progress will be made. The statistics are out there: the Earth is warming at an alarming rate, ice is melting, sea levels are rising and extreme weather events are becoming the norm. I am not arguing that these statistics pushed out by climate scientists are not vital and highly valuable but these statistics become useless unless citizens receiving the information place value on them. The consequences of leaving anthropologists and their work out of the climate conversation are lethal. Anthropologists are in a unique position to use the tools of their trade to advocate for indigenous people and the larger cultures at risk of climate effects, including story climate change on a local level, contribute to a broader global understanding of climate change and are able to see the human aspect of the climate problem.


 

Work Cited

American Anthropological Association. “What is Anthropology?” American Anthropological Association, www.americananthro.org/AdvanceYourCareer/Content.aspx?ItemNumber=2150&navItemNumber=740.

Beasley, Jerry. “Weather Patterns and Changes.” 10 Sept. 2017.

Crate, Susan Alexandra, and Mark Nuttall. Anthropology and climate change: from encounters to actions. Left Coast Press, 2009.

Crate, Susan Alexandra., and Mark Nuttall. Anthropology and climate change: from actions to transformations. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2016.

Foley, Melanie. “A Clearcut Connection Between Mountaintop Removal and Climate Change.” Appalachian Voices, 20 Feb. 2013, appvoices.org/2013/02/20/a-clear-connection-between-mountaintop-removal-and-climate-change/.

German, Laura. The Application of Participatory Action Research to Climate Change Adaptation in Africa. International Development Research Centre, 2012, erepository.uonbi.ac.ke/bitstream/handle/11295/40670/FULL%20TEXT.pdf?sequence=.

Hopkins, Autumn D. F. “The Flood.” The Huffington Post, The Huffington Post, 30 June 2016, www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/the-flood_us_57747346e4b0ee1c313daecc.

Ilar, Mindy. “Weather Patterns and Changes.” 12 Sept. 2017.

Vickers, Kim. “Weather Changes.” 11 Oct. 2017.

“What is climate change?” BBC News, BBC, 4 Oct. 2017, www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-24021772.