Category Archives: More-than-human lifestyle

Weeds need love too.

"That's just wild mustard." But its so pretty!

“That’s just wild mustard.” But its so pretty!

I turned in my last paper of the semester yesterday and the Virginia Master Naturalist Course I’ve been taking is nearing its end. Although, I look forward to actually having some leisure time for a few months, the end of both of these things is bittersweet. Like last semester, the three courses I’ve just finished toward my master’s degree in Anthrozoology from Canisius College have been more than enlightening. Almost every week I was thinking deeper and looking at human-non-human animal relationships from a different angle.


But the topic of today stems from the Virginia Master Naturalist class– which has made me see Virginia in a new light…actually its just made me SEE Virginia, period. I grew up here in the Shenandoah Valley and never really saw what was right under my nose. Now that I’ve actually taken the time to look, I’ve realized that I am truly fortunate to live in one of the most stunning places in the world.


One of the subjects I’ve taken a particular interest in is botany. As the botany lecture began, I thought, “This is too much, this is so not for me!”, but then we started doing some actual plant ID. And it clicked! Its like solving a mystery- once you know what clues to look for, you can follow them right to the answer! Yes, I am now an official WILDFLOWER NERD.


Bird's eye speedwell. If you blink, you'll miss it.

Bird’s eye speedwell. If you blink, you’ll miss it.

With the help of my handy-dandy Newcomb’s Guide and the endless wealth of knowledge and images that is the Internet, I’ve been on a mission to ID every wildflower I’ve come across. And in doing so, I’ve gotten to know some gorgeous little things that I’ve just been stomping all over my whole life!


Gill-over-the-ground. Who wouldn't want these cuties in their yard?

Gill-over-the-ground. Who wouldn’t want these cuties in their yard?

The pictures are taken with my new iPhone (oooh, ahhh! NOT.), which I hastily ordered after I soaked my old one in green tea, assuming it had just days to live. The thing is still alive and well and I feel a little ashamed that my consumerist brain couldn’t bear the thought of spending a few days without a phone and ordered a brand-spanking new iPhone 6 in a panic. I’m not majorly impressed as it seems pretty much exactly the same except that it doesn’t fit nicely into the back pocket of my jeans anymore. To make up for buying the stupid thing, I must use it as a force for good! So I’ve been documenting all my wildflowers on the iNaturalist app, a citizen science project that gathers everyone’s data.


Dame's Rocket. They smell nice.

Dame’s Rocket. They smell nice.

So my newfound fascination with these backyard beauties has gotten me thinking about how we (humans) categorize and rank EVERYTHING. Do you remember being a kid and picking dandelions before someone told you they were “just weeds’? Before you were indoctrinated with the merits of green lawns, when dandelions and buttercups were flowers just like roses and pansies and all flowers were beautiful? I’m learning to think like that again and it feels so good.


Oh my goodness. Thyme-leaved speedwell. Its just too cute.

Oh my goodness. Thyme-leaved speedwell. Its just too cute.

Science has realized that our obsession with green lawns, with the fertilizers and pesticides and merciless destruction of “weeds”, is a really bad thing. All the butterflies and bugs and pollinators need the wildflowers and the rest of the ecosystem needs the butterflies and bugs and pollinators!


Common blue violet. How many did you mow over this week?

Common blue violet. How many did you mow over this week?

More than anything, this world needs diversity. All of the kinds of plant life matter, all of the animals in an ecosystem have a part to play, and we need all sorts of humans to make LIFE work…and to make life have worth.


So let go of your green lawn this year, even just a little. Leave a place for the wildflowers and the bees and the toads. Forget what you learned about weeds and see the magnificence in every flower.

My favorite, Star of Bethlehem.

My favorite, Star of Bethlehem.

Project: Creating a container garden haven for local bees



The row of daffodils along the fence line has burst into bloom and the spirit of spring is singing everywhere. Even on a cloudy, moist day like Thursday, I could smell the newness all around. It was a perfect day to start my bee-friendly container garden and bring my patio to life. As a renter, I can’t do much planting in the ground but you can plant almost anything in a pot!
Beautiful Day



I started with some research. I found that Xerces and the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation had great lists of local, bee-friendly plants. I circled what I thought I wanted and headed a couple miles down Rt. 11 to Toms Brook.




When I arrived at Natural Art Garden Center, a lot of my planning went out the window. I was overwhelmed by all the choices. With the help of one of the shop assistants, I loaded up on herbs, pansies, two hawthorns and some organic potting soil. Right as I was about to leave, I was introduced to the manager, Lynn, who was full of information about bees. She has hives herself and knows firsthand what the bees like. After speaking with her, I added a foxglove and a catmint.



I headed home and happily got dirty potting everything.

GetStarted getstarted2

Finding myself short on soil, I drove less than a block from my house to Pot Town Organics. Not only did they get me set up with more soil, a trowel, a dozen cage-free local eggs, and some home-made soap, Ron and Linda sent me up to their nursery (which is closed on Thursdays) to scrounge through their discarded pots, since I found myself short. Gabalot Gardens, which is even closer to home than Natural Art, will be my go-to when its time to get some tomatoes started.

I am so happy with my new green space! I can’t wait for a sunnier day to sit out and enjoy it. The only thing missing is a birdbath and a shallower watering hole for the bees.


Herbs done2



I found that when you find the right local people to help, building a haven for local bees is easy. I’m lucky to live in a town with so many knowledgeable gardeners who are willing to share their expertise. I don’t think I would have gotten the same experience at Lowe’s or Home Depot. Gardening, at least starting from scratch, is not a cheap hobby…I spent about $200 today on plants and soil alone. To me, it was well worth it.


This is our foster dog Callie. She helped me with my project today. If you or someone you know might be able to give Callie a great forever home, contact me!

This is our foster dog Callie. She helped me with my project today. If you or someone you know might be able to give Callie a great forever home, contact me!


10 tried-and-true Vegan Pinterest Recipes

Veganism has actually spurred in me a “like” of cooking…I can’t quite say “love” but I do enjoy it now when I’m in the mood. Pinterest is a source of endless inspiration, but how do you pick out the recipes worth trying? I’ve taken the guesswork out of some of them for you and the following is a list of meals that have become staples at my house.

Lentil Soup

 The absolute only thing I will miss about winter is this soup created by Corey at Family Fresh Meals. No really, I’m serious. This is easy and delicious crock-pot magic at its best. I switch out the beef broth for vegetable broth (as she suggests for her vegetarian readers) and I like to throw in a can of corn and a can of peas near the end to add extra color and flavor.





Vegan mac and cheese- with a kick!

Joseph and I like all things spicy…so a comfort food that is vegan and spicy? Heck yeah! I always keep raw cashews around for this favorite. And this isn’t the only great recipe the duo at Minimalist Baker has to offer. Take some time to try some of their other recipes too- you won’t be disappointed.

Mushroom Quinoa

Yum. What is better than mushrooms? Add in a power food like quinoa and we’re really talking. Thank Bailey Rae at The Local Vegan for this one. When I’m feeling lazy I just use garlic powder instead of fresh garlic. Another great discovery, my trusty rice cooker makes perfect quinoa too, using the white rice setting.





General Tso’s Tofu

This one might just be my favorite of favorites. There are no good Chinese restaurants in my town but who cares when I can throw together this bad boy all on my own? First time making tofu? Allyson at Domestic Superhero has got you covered with this recipe.


BBQ Tempeh

I really like the texture and taste of tempeh. Unfortunately for him, my S.O. doesn’t. So when I want something easy and tasty to whip up and choose this, he’s on his own for the evening. The creator of this recipe, Diana at Chic Life, says this is an easy recipe. And she’s telling the truth. The only suggestion I have is to boil the tempeh for 5 minutes first. It removes some of the bitterness.


Cauliflower and Potato Curry

Bite the bullet and buy some curry powder and turmeric for this recipe by Kelly at The Pretty Bee. If you like curry, you WILL make this recipe more than once. Plus, potatoes! Dress that beautiful starch up in Indian goodness and give your mouth a treat!

cauli and potato curry

Chickpea Curry

Since we’re on the subject of curry, here’s another easy and delicious one, this time from Julia’s Album blogger, you guessed it, Julia. Find the red curry paste in the international aisle- the 4 oz. jar by Thai Kitchen will make this recipe twice and then serve as a good specimen holder on your next naturalist hike.

chickpea curry




Vegan Pot Pies

As I mentioned before, John and Dana at Minimalist Baker know what they are doing. As promised, it only takes an hour to make this goodie. If you are making it in a casserole dish, I suggest doubling the recipe. My one criticism: the biscuits work great for the pot pie but aren’t much to write home about on their own.


Banana Oatmeal Cookies

No recipe list is complete without a few sweet treats. Easy is an understatement on these little bite-sized pieces of happiness. They are literally banana and oatmeal cookies…those are seriously the only two ingredients. Throw in some raisins, walnuts, or vegan chocolate chips as you see fit, throw them in the oven for 15 minutes and WAH-LAH: cookies. Thank you Josiah and Lauren of the Burlap Bag, for making the world a better place.





The best chocolate chip cookies ever

I’m not exaggerating. This really is THE BEST chocolate chip cookie recipe. It isn’t vegan, but that’s an easy fix. Throw in a nice ripe banana in place of the eggs, use Earth Balance vegan butter and vegan chocolate chips. Wash it down with almond milk. Don’t thank me, thank Host the Toast blogger Morgan.

CC cookies





Acknowledgements: All the images belong to the amazing bloggers who created the recipes. I think they taste as good when I make them, but they aren’t quite as pretty!

The Best Vegan Dairy and Meat Food Substitutes

Being a vegan today is really pretty easy. Even in an area with no Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, I can find vegan versions of the things I need. Food Lion seems to be way behind in the trends (although I hope veganism is on a permanent upswing), but Martin’s usually keeps me stocked. Here are my favorite substitutes!


Milk: I greatly prefer almond milk to soymilk. It’s rich and creamy, and doesn’t have to be shaken 72 times because of weird particulate matter before pouring it over cereal. All almond milks are not alike though. Blue Diamond Almond Breeze is where it’s at! I stock up on Original Reduced Sugar but the Vanilla flavor is delicious for cereal and baking.

AB milk

Butter: Earth Balance makes the best vegan butter, hands down. I use both the tub butter and the sticks. I like the regular more than the whipped because oddly, it spreads better (Shouldn’t it be the other way around?)

EB spread

Mayonnaise: Earth Balance is also the best of the best for veganaise. If you like the flavor of mayo, which I do, you can literally eat this stuff by the spoonful. The other brands I’ve tried taste and smell a bit like cardboard, but still seem to do fine when used in potato salad and other recipes.

EB mayo

Cheese: None of us can deny that cheese makes everything taste better, so this is often the hardest thing for people to give up. But Daiya has you covered. You can have your grilled cheese and eat it to with their cheddar slices and your vegan tacos will feel complete with a healthy topping of their shredded cheese.

Daiya shreds

( BEWARE! There is an imposter out there. Go! Veggie cheese is NOT veggie. It is made of dairy products. Therefore, it is not a vegan cheese or a good non-vegan cheese so I have no idea why anyone would buy this…yes, I do…because of false advertising! Don’t make the mistake I did, people.)

Chocolate: I always keep a stash of Endangered Species chocolate in my house. They are NOT all vegan, so be sure to check the ingredients, but several flavors are. My favorite is sea salt and almonds. And I  just found out there is a new one: Dark chocolate with cinnamon, cayenne, and cherries- yes, please! With each bar you purchase, you are donating to, you guessed it, endangered species conservation.

ES Choc




Hot Dogs: That’s right, hot dogs. I like hot dogs more now than I ever did when I actually ate real hot dogs. I always bring some LightLife Smart Dogs with me to BBQs.

Lightlife dogs

Deli Meat: As someone who never liked turkey lunchmeat as a kid, I stick with the ham flavor of Lightlife Smart Deli and stay away from Tofurkey…because it actually does taste like turkey lunchmeat. So if you like turkey lunchmeat, eat that. If not, eat Smart Deli ham.


Burger: There’s a reason Boca burger is a household name. Don’t skimp…go for the Boca. I use the crumbles in tacos and chili.

boca crumbles


I have yet to find any acceptable-tasting sausage or bacon substitutes…but I really don’t care for sausage and bacon, so I’m not personally motivated to keep trying.

What meat or dairy substitute products have the rest of you found that you can’t live without?

Acknowledgements: All images are from the companies’ websites.

My Go-to Animal-Friendly Beauty Products

I made the decision to go animal-friendly with all of my household and beauty products about a year ago, which lead to an exciting flurry of discovering some great makeup and perfumes. More recently, in an effort to simplify my life, I switched off of birth control pills for the ease of an IUD, which lead to an unintended and unexpected effect: acne. I’ve never had an issue with this, and it has been distressing. The story, however, has a happy ending…because some natural, cruelty-free products came to the rescue! Here are my go-to brands and products!


The haven of cruelty-free scents! I’ve got a roll-on perfume in Tahitian Gardenia and am on my second bottle of the body wash in the same scent. I also have two of the lip tints which are good enough to eat (and being all natural, it would probably turn out OK if you did…but please don’t sue me if I’m wrong.)

TG Roll On-rs

Burt’s Bees

Some vegans may object to the use of bee-products but a.) it’s all Leaping Bunny certified and b.) anything that supports bees is a plus in my book! I’ve always got a trusty tube of Burt’s Bees chap stick in my pocket and have had great results with Gūd shampoo and conditioner.

Burt’s Bees also provided me with the facial cleanser I needed to get rid of the bumpy mess that my forehead had become: Peach and Willow Bark Deep Pore Scrub.




Back when I had a bit more money, I allowed myself to roam about in the premium section of makeup at Ulta and discovered Tarte. They’ve got a BB cream that actually matches my very pale Irish skin, the BEST mascara (its called Gifted), and Amazonian clay eyeliner-an essential for those who enjoy 1920s style smoky eyes.

Tarte Gifted Mascara


Here is my drugstore priced go-to when I have the urge to buy lipstick. SO MANY COLORS. I like the extra creamy lipsticks and the butter lipsticks. Good liquid eyeliners, and fun-colored mascaras as well.


Desert Essence

The acne spot treatment that saved my self-esteem. I love the smell of tea tree in the Blemish Touch Stick (which weirdly a lot of reviewers on Amazon complained about) and I also love that it works!

Desert Essence

Alba Botanica

Alba makes my everyday moisturizer: Smoothing Jasmine and Vitamin E. However, my experience with their sunblock was not good. I have NEVER had sunblock burn my eyes so badly for so long…I hope they work on this product.



Never fear though, because Aubrey has me covered as far as sunblock goes! It even has green tea antioxidants.


Acknowledgements: I discovered the Burt’s Bees face wash at Jersey Girl Talk  and learned about the Dessert Essence Blemish Touch stick from PETA.

All pictures are from the companies’ websites.