Saturday, December 31, 2016

As the Year Ends

Wow.  The end of 2016 is upon us.  Sometimes I look back on this year and am just shocked by all that's happened.  There was definitely a lot of tragedy and sadness, even just in these past few days (Princess Leia, you'll always be one of my heroes!!).  And there was also a lot of divisiveness and cause for worry.  I'm just praying things end up working out in the end.  I look at the environmental news every day and wonder if we'll be able to save our planet before it's too late. Hopefully.  I'm at a place in my life where I'm making a lot of "big decisions" about "important things" (applications, graduation, etc.), and as I do so, I hope that I will get to play a role in helping others when. I "grow up."  That would be nice :). It's reassuring to think that we're all capable of making some sort of difference, no matter how small, for the better.

It will be okay.

Anyway, despite the sadnesses of 2016, some good things did happen.  Like the possible Ebola vaccine, for instance, or the movement of the Giant Panda from "endangered" to "vulnerable" (not that vulnerable is great, but it's a step in the right direction). So as 2016 comes to an end, hope for a happier future and focus on making more good news. Love and light and hugs to everyone!

<3 Frances

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

O Tannenbaum

German and British troops celebrating Christmas to

It's almost Christmas . . . how is that even possible?  I'll miss Christmastime when it's over.  But what's really sad is that there are a lot of awful things going on in the world right now even though the holidays are supposed to be a time of love and peace.  I always think of the "O Tannenbaum" story when times are hard like this.  It was 1914, and World War I had been a horrible reality for several long and bloody months, but Christmastime somehow brought with it a feeling of beneficence between soldiers on both sides of the trenches.  Their shared appreciation for the beauty and sentiment of the holiday season is equal parts touching and heartbreaking because, while it did bring a sort of peace to the battlefront, the peace was only temporary, and men who had once shared in carols and football games were soon forced to return to killing each other.  In the words of Pvt. Albert Moren:
“First the Germans would sing one of their carols and then we would sing one of ours, until when we started up ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful’ the Germans immediately joined in singing the same hymn to the Latin words Adeste Fideles. And I thought, well, this is really a most extraordinary thing ­– two nations both singing the same carol in the middle of a war.” (from TIME)
I can only hope that maybe we'll be able to find peace this year for people all over the world and that the peace will last.  Every time I see footage from Aleppo or think of what just happened at one of Berlin's beautiful Christmas markets, I'm overcome with sadness and pain and an overwhelming longing for peace. Shouldn't we be able to learn from the past and see that love is the most important thing? 
<3 Frances  

Friday, December 16, 2016

Conscientious Holiday Hair and Skin Solutions

Midterms are over!  OVER.  Now comes the anxiety of anticipating grades.  At least the winter holidays are finally here, though.. There will be ample time to procrastinate and work on various long-term projects from home while listening to the same Christmas mixed tape over and over again.
But homework and writing endeavors aside, I'm excited to have some more beauty loves to share.  As I work on a major research project about animal exploitation and animal cruelty in industry, I'm increasingly devastated by the reality of animal testing in cosmetics.  I really do enjoy skincare and makeup because they're fun and make my skin happy, but I don't think that any of the products we use should require animals to suffer.  The idea of little bunnies and mice having chemicals squirted into their eyes is nightmarish and makes me cry, and one of the most upsetting things about it is that it's not necessary.  There are so many household and cosmetic products that don't have any of their ingredients tested on animals,.  They have safe, natural ingredients that are better for bunnies, the planet, and for us.  I think that companies that haven't transitioned to being cruelty-free can learn a lot from their bunny-friendly peers, and by supporting companies that support animals, we can help show the world that we really do care about where products come from and about how they're made. We have the power to make beauty that hurts bunnies "uncool" and make cruelty-free the norm.
With that in mind, here are some fun, effective, cruelty-free beauty ideas for holiday gifts this year:

Anything by SheaMoisture
SheaMoisture is organic, cruelty-free, and promotes fair trade efforts that benefit and empower women in Africa, and the story behind the brand is very moving and powerful.  One of the great things about SheaMoisture's shampoos and conditioners is that a little goes a long way, so you don't have to continuously restock ,but you can feel good when you purchase from them because you know you're supporting a company that's environmentally- and socially-conscientious. (What's funny is that I don't have curly hair, but I love their Coconut & Hibiscus Curl & Shine Shampoo. I think it might actually make my hair bouncier, like it's trying to become curly even though it's really very straight.)

Zum Bar Soap
I have a thing for fancy soap bars.  I think it's because they look almost like yummy raw food bars or something. Anyway, Zum Bar Soap is soap made of goat's milk, and it comes in a range of very yummy natural scents.   And every bar is a unique piece of art that feels and smells amazing.  At $6.25 per bar, they're a little bit expensive, but for holiday gifts, the splurge could be worth it.  I mean, there's a Grapefruit Zum Bar, a Dragon's Blood Zum Bar, a Peppermint-Almond Zum Bar, and even a Charcoal Zum Bar.  The one thing would be to check the ingredients. Some of them have yummy ingredients like almond and citrus, and if anyone on your holiday list has allergies, it'd be best to avoid getting anything allergenic.

SO MUCH SOAP. I had no idea you could buy this in bulk. 

Happy Holidays!
<3 Frances

Friday, November 25, 2016

In the Beauty Cabinet

Happy post-Thanksgiving Friday, dears!  I hope everyone had/is having a sweet holiday <3.  With it being wintry outside again, my skin has decided to do its annual get-dry-and-cracked routine.  I'm also still dealing with my acne and acne scars, and I'm trying to find skincare and makeup products that are moisturizing, brightening, healing, and cruelty-free.  The no-animal-testing part is really important to me. I know that there are a lot of other people out there who care about animals and who are also struggling with skin-related issues, so hopefully some of the beauty cabinet favorites I'm sharing today may be of use to you :). Financially, it can be very difficult to afford a lot of skincare and makeup products, and I can't always have these products on hand because it just gets too expensive, but given how awful acne scars and dry, peeling skin can be, it's sometimes worth it to invest in long-term solutions.  Hopefully some of them will be able to help you, too!

For Dry Hands
As soon as it gets cold outside, BAM, my hands turn into a palette of dryness, redness, and peeling. They also burn and hurt a lot, and my mum has been really on my case about taking care of them.  She has work-worn hands from long days and a demanding job, so she's particularly wary of hand-care, but I tend to forget to put moisturizer on, and the soap at school has been eating away at my skin. Deep Steep's Peppermint Vanilla Argan Oil Hand Cream has been a life-changer! It smells like peppermint candies (which I haven't been able to have in a long time due to food sensitivities), and it's so much fun for the holiday season! It's not tested on animals at all, it's affordable, and it's full of natural goodness like shea butter and aloe vera.

For Coverage and Sun Protection

I've been trying to use products without dimeticone lately, but it's very difficult to find foundations and BB creams that don't include it.  REN's Satin Perfection BB Cream has made a major difference in my skin coverage. It has no silicone ad adjusts to your skin tone, and it protects from UV rays and oxidizing agents while providing you with a soft, smooth glow. I use a very small amount every day because it is expensive, but it is so soft and light that I get excited to put it on in the morning.

For Foundation
Zuzu Luxe Oil Free Liquid Foundation is silky, soft, cruelty- and gluten-free, and a little goes a long way (which is good because I really can't afford it, lol).  "Zuzu Luxe" is a really fun name to say, too, so that's an added bonus.  The coverage provided by the foundation is very thorough, and it does an amazing job making my acne scars less obvious--a true miracle!  It also gives a natural glow that isn't oily, thick, or shiny.  Yay!

<3 Frances

Monday, November 21, 2016

Monday Playlist

I feel like it's been a while since I've gotten to put a playlist together.  But music has been the only thing that's made any sort of stand against my latest case of writer's block, so I'm taking a study break (yes, it's midterm season!) to share some recent favorites. Can you believe that it's already almost Thanksgiving?  Fall 2016 is going by so much more quickly than I'd anticipated. And I'm very cold today  . . . multiple sweaters and my brother's jacket and jeans cold.  You might notice that as a theme in some of these song selections.

Kaleo: "I Can't Go On Without You"

Ben Cocks: "So Cold"

Damien Rice: "9 Crimes"

Greg Laswell: "This Woman's Work" (Cover of Kate Bush)

<3 Frances

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Bronte Sisters' Mum

I am completely and entirely obsessed with pretty much anything that has to do with the Bronte Sisters.  Their short lives were full of heartbreak and poetic tragedy, much like the stories that they wrote, and the love they felt for one another is so sweet it could make me cry.  Imagine my excitement, then, when I found some of their mum's writing published online. (I'd like to picture myself discovering it in some dusty English library somewhere, perhaps with tea and my glasses and lots of old books, but for now the only resource I really have at my disposal is Google, LOL.)

Maria Branwell Bronte
Anyway, if you aren't yet familiar with Mrs. Bronte, let me give you a little bit of a crash course.  Born Maria Branwell in April 1783, she grew up in Cornwall in a respected Methodist family. Like her daughters, her youth was marked by death, too.  Of her siblings, only five survived past childhood, and her parents were both dead by the time she was 19.  The light at the end of the tunnel, however, seemed to come when Maria met Patrick Bronte through her extended family.  The two connected immediately.  Unfortunately, their relationship wasn't entirely approved of because Patrick wasn't as well-off as the Branwells had been, but Maria didn't care.  She thought humble livelihoods and poorness were positives in the eyes of God, and she genuinely loved Patrick:

Surely after this you can have no doubt
 that you posess all my heart.
Two month ago
 I could not possibly have believed
that you would ever engross so much
of my thoughts and effections
and far less could I have thought
that I should be so forward
as to tell you so
I feel that my hearth
is more ready to attach itself
to earth than heaven.
(The above is from a letter to Patrick that I found on the "The Bronte Sisters" blog, which is amazing and can be accessed here.)  Patrick and Maria married and had six children: Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte, Emily, Branwell, and Anne. But after Anne's birth, the now-Mrs. Bronte fell very ill.  She spent months in agony before dying of ovarian cancer in 1821. Her last words? "Oh, God, my poor children!"  Her story is heartbreaking, just like the tuberculosis-ridden lives of her children.  Only such poignant tragedy could've led to the production of works like Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre
<3 Frances

Monday, November 14, 2016

Meet Cholita

A few weeks ago, I posted about bears and the abuse so many of them endure in the wildlife trade, in entertainment, and in the bear bile industry.  Well, today I want to introduce you to Cholita.  Cholita is an Andean bear (like Paddington!) who spent much of her youth in a circus where she underwent such severe trauma that all her fur fell out. Her teeth were broken claws and fingers were removed, too, and by the time Peruvian authorities took her from the circus to place her in a zoo, she was so scarred and hurt that finding a safe forever home for her was impossible for ten years.  Animal Defenders International rescued her early last year and, after several months of rehab, she journeyed to Taricaya Ecological Reserve.  Lush and full of wildlife, Taricaya is worlds apart from the five-foot-by-five-foot cage in which Cholita used to live.

Watching Cholita, my heart breaks because it's clear that, even though she's in such a sweet home now, it's clear that she's still in a lot of pain just because of the scars of her past.  She still doesn't have the toes of her front paws, and she'll never be able to reclaim the years of her childhood that were stolen from her.  I imagine her as a baby being taken from her mum and from her natural habitat, and it's almost too horrible to think about. There are animals just like Cholita all over the world--animals who could've grown up with families and rain and sunshine and trees but who instead end up confined to metal bars and cold, hard floors.  But the good thing is that it doesn't have to be this way for them!  Cholita was rescued.  All it takes to save the animals like her is action by people who really truly care.

<3 Frances

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Oh, My Goodness, Planet Earth is Back!

It's been ten years, but BBC's Planet Earth nature series is finally back!  YES!  This is so exciting! Planet Earth II is premiering on BBC now, and the video footage from it is beyond incredible.  It's a really nice break from everything that is usually on television, and its episodes transport viewers to some of the world's most fascinating island, jungle, mountain, grassland, desert, and city (yes, city!) habitats.  (And there's apparently even footage of a swimming sloth.)
If you're just as enthusiastic about this news as I am, then please please please take a mental health break to watch BBC's official extended trailer.   Looking at cute animals increases productivity, and we could all use a little more nature in our lives, right?
Happy Planet Earth-ing!

<3 Frances

Monday, October 31, 2016

Happy Halloween!

Oh, my goodness, it's finally here!  And it won't be here again until next year, so embrace the pumpkin spirit while you can :).  Tomorrow is my birthday, and Halloween has always had a special place in my heart, so even though it's Monday and I need to study for some big tests, I'm still very excited just to be thinking about ghosts, spooky movies, and bats.  And Allhallowtide and Dia de los muertos celebrations begin today, too.  I love the idea of candles, marigolds, and offerings in honor the dearly departed.  Do any of you have observe Allhallowtide or Dia de los muertos?

Corpse Bride, one of my favorite Halloween movies EVER.

Halloween is, of course, also a really fun time for costumes even if the fact that today's a Monday renders trick-or-treating a little less appealing.  Is anyone dressing up today?  Right now I look like the mouse from If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. Denim shortalls + t-shirt + mouse ears = my costume.
It's a bit odd considering the fact that I can't drink milk and can't eat many kinds of cookies (not to mention that I find the mouse in If You Give a Mouse a Cookie to be a little bit demanding, lol), but being different from who you are is one of the best parts of dressing up for Halloween.

This is who I am today, except with no cookie and no demands for milk.

 I hope everyone has a lovely (and slightly spooky) day today and a safe night!

<3 Frances (AKA Cookie Mouse)

Friday, October 28, 2016

Goddesses, Sloths, and Identity

Happy last Friday of October, dears!  It's Scorpio season, and everywhere there seems to be talk of ghosts, spirits, and magic.  I know not everyone believes in all that, but personally I've always felt very drawn to it. Maybe it's because I was born around this time of year that the idea of "magic" is so familiar and comforting to me. 
Quan Yin, one of my hero goddesses
Spirituality can be very powerful when sought out for positive reasons, and having a sort of spirituality can help us to make meaning of things that are challenging and painful.  Everyone's approach to how they process the world is different, but for me, thinking about goddesses and spirits (and even prayers) has been very uplifting and consoling because it gives life a significance beyond just the physical things.  It's scary sometimes to realize how fleeting the physical world can be.  Even those parts of life we find most inherent--like our "identities," for instance--aren't guaranteed to last forever. The other night while studying, I listened to one of Maddy Moon's podcasts that was a recording of her interview on Simple Roots Radio, and she talked about the huge role her spirituality played in helping her overcome her eating disorder. After several years of abusing her body and mind, she reached a breaking point and decided to heal herself, but to do so she had to "give up" her "identity" as a fitness model.  We use the term "identity crisis" a lot in casual conversation, but it's actually a really scary phenomenon because in our society there's so much emphasis on the labels that we associate ourselves with that when we lose them we feel lost and purposeless.  But spirituality--regardless of the form it takes--can help ground us if we understand that the only meaning we really need in life is "love."
Okay, with that said, here's a video of baby sloths.  Because what says love like a baby sloth?

<3 Frances
<3 Frances

Monday, October 24, 2016

Halloween is Almost Here

Today is sort of special, I suppose, in terms of upcoming holidays.  I mean, only October 24th is exactly one week from Halloween, one month from Thanksgiving, and two months from Christmas Eve, and I can't believe that the year is approaching its end so quickly.  Not that a weekend of writing college essays makes time fly by any means, of course . . . .
Homework aside, though, the fact that Halloween is almost here is a reason to be excited :).  There are so many sad things going on in the world right now, and it's really important to be aware of all them, but sometimes it's also important to think about positives. It's difficult to help others when you feel lost and upset yourself, so take a minute to relax, take a deep breath, and think of something that makes you happy.  Carving pumpkins, roasting pumpkin seeds, decorating your doorway, and picking a costume to wear around your apartment all weekend are some seasonal suggestions, but feel free to add more. 
For me, Halloween this year will be spent the way it usually is: at home with my mum, brother, the Great Pumpkin, and, of course, Corpse Bride. And given that I have a major test on Tuesday, I'll probably celebrate Halloween on Saturday so Monday can be a studying night. If you're looking to have a low-key Halloween, too, here are some fun ideas:

  • Get your scary story on!  Edgar Allan Poe and Halloween go together like black-and-white stripes and knee highs.  Other great Halloween authors include Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley.
  • Watch a movie (or lots of movies).  It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown! always makes me feel so happy inside because it reminds me of being a little kid, but so do Corpse Bride and The Nightmare Before ChristmasEdward Scissorhands is another fun Tim Burton pick.  If you're looking to actually get scared, though, try The Ring, The Woman in Black, Blair Witch Project, or 28 Days Later.  Warning: these films actually are really quite terrifying.
  • Dress up!  Even if you're not Trick-or-Treating, throwing a costume (however makeshift it is) together is always recommended :).  

 Happy Monday!
<3 Frances

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Plaid Skirts

I keep meaning to write things, but then I remember something like an essay or a calculus test and totally forget.  But there are officially less than two weeks until Halloween now, and I think that's cause for celebration.  Unfortunately,  Halloween falls on a Monday this year, but the weekend is still a fun time to dress up and watch The Great Pumpkin and Corpse Bride--even if you happen to be doing homework while they play in the background.  Pumpkins! Pumpkin seeds!  Leaves!  Oh, October!

And speaking of October, plaid skirts are having a bit of a "moment" right now apparently.  But when are plaid skirts ever not perfect for autumn?  They're comfy and can be short or long or pleated or pleat-less, and you can style them in any way. Bohemian, punk, alternative, girly, preppy....the list is endless. Better yet, though, they're soft and make you feel like you're at Hogwarts regardless of where you actually are.  I never got my letter when I turned 12, but I had a plaid skirt and a fake wand, and that was all I really needed.

<3 Frances


Monday, October 10, 2016

For the Love of Bears

It's Monday again, and I'm breaking away from homework (and the morning rush to work) to share about something that not a lot of people know about: Europe's "saddest bears."  I didn't learn about them till just last week, but since learning about them, I've felt devastated.  In Albania, there are 50 bears living in small cages (like in the photo by Hazir Reka shown above) by entertainment sites--restaurant, fairs, etc.--and they're shackled and exploited.  These bears are deprived of nature and friendship and any opportunities for happiness, and they make up part of the global population of bears that are horribly mistreated. My brother is reading Search for the Golden Moon Bear by Sy Montgomery right now, and what he's learned about the "bear bile industry" is frightening.  Bears in Vietnam are kept on farms where their bile is extracted so it can be sold, and many of them have even had their paws cut off.  It's difficult to go into more detail without breaking down and crying.

A former bile bear. Photo by Bogdan Baraghin. 

If you're moved by the bears, too, please sign this petition from the Four Paws animal protection organization. It urges the Albanian government to enforce protections on wildlife and put more restrictions on bear captivity. Albania recently announced it will begin building a bear sanctuary next year, and this petition aims to convince the Albanian government to do even more for bears. 

<3 Frances

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Poetry Break: "Her Kind" by Anne Sexton

Image result for anne sexton
Anne Sexton
Remember that scene in the cartoon adaptation of Alice in Wonderland when Alice gets swept away through the keyhole? That's sort of how I'm feeling right now, so any non-academic writing time has sort of disappeared for the time being. But my mum shared this poem with me and its lines are just so powerful . . . I mean, the combination of "suppers for the worms and the elves" and "rearranging the disaligned" is poignant and perfect, and Anne Sexton's story is a tragic one.

Speaking of tragic--has anyone been following the news about Hurricane Matthew?  It breaks my heart when I see the weather tracker images of it over the Caribbean, and I wish there were more I could do for the people there :(. 
I have gone out, a possessed witch,
haunting the black air, braver at night;
dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
over the plain houses, light by light:
lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.
A woman like that is not a woman, quite.
I have been her kind. I have found the warm caves in the woods,
filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves,
closets, silks, innumerable goods;
fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves:
whining, rearranging the disaligned.
A woman like that is misunderstood.
I have been her kind. I have ridden in your cart, driver,
waved my nude arms at villages going by,
learning the last bright routes, survivor
where your flames still bite my thigh
and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.
A woman like that is not ashamed to die.
I have been her kind.

<3 Frances

Monday, September 26, 2016

Work Day Playlist

I keep meaning to write something, but then as soon as the computer loads up I remember all the other things I'm supposed to be doing and vanish into the world of homework.  But since that realm is where I'll be spending most of today, I thought maybe some music would be a nice cheer-up, especially since it's so cold and rainy all of a sudden.  Not that cold or rainy is a problem, of course ... fall weather is always welcome.

Norman Greenbaum: "Spirit in the Sky"

Lorde: "Royals"

Shearwater: "Natural One"

The Smashing Pumpkins: "Tonight, Tonight"
I'm sending happy thoughts for everyone's Monday.  There's been a lot of sad news recently, and I hope all are well <3.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Fall Reading Challenge

Hi, dears!  It may still be incredibly hot and humid here, but there is only just over a week left of summer, so pumpkins are starting to show up everywhere.  Most of them are small and hiding between squashes, waiting for their takeover at the beginning of October. Seeing them stirs up memories of grey skies and red and orange trees, which is exciting even if I'm a bit allergic to the mold from decaying leaves.

Changes in weather aside, we learned in psychology class the other day that reading is one of the absolute best things you can do for your mind.  It's like a workout for your brain.  But when we were asked which ones of us read for pleasure, only a very small group of us responded positively. I was so sad because I love reading so much it's painful sometimes, and I know that in other parts of the world (and even in my own community) lots of people don't have access to books, which is tragic.  I'm working on a little project about global literacy right now, but learning about reading in my psych class got me thinking about how now would be a perfect time for everyone get into reading.  So I've put together a bit of a reading challenge for the fall.  I know we have homework and work, so no pressure if you don't get to all/any of the books on your list, but it'd be fun to try, right?  I guarantee you that if you open yourself up to it, you, too, could develop a very serious relationship with books (even if it's long-distance, like mine sometimes is, LOL). Anyway, the reading challenge has several categories, and the basic idea is that you pick a book for each category and try to read it. It'll get you exposed to new styles of writing, and maybe you'll even discover a book you never would've found before.  It could be true love! There are so many books to geek out about that I'm smiling a bit too much thinking about them.

  • A biography or an autobiography (I know some people like biographical pieces more than others do, but I'm reading Beatrix Potter by Linda Lear right now and really loving all I've learned.  You can pick pretty much any person and get to know them really well.)
  • A historical fiction piece (Travel to any time period you want to. It's amazing!)
  • A poem/book of poems (Emily Dickinson, T.S. Eliot, Maya Angelou....there are so many.)
  • A classic (I'm really glad I've started Les Mis, and other meaningful choices include the works of Jane Austen, the Bronte Sisters, and Charles Dickens.)
  • A scary story (Okay, this is more in the spirit of Halloween, but it can be a short story if you're not feeling like a horror or anything like that.  I'd love to read Frankenstein or Dracula, though.)
  • A story that's a movie (There are lots of these, but it can be fun to watch the movie and have read the story, and the variety means you could choose anything from The Fault in Our Stars to Fight Club.)
  • A book with beautiful illustrations (These are just good for your soul.)
 Obviously, those are just a few categories of the many, many categories of books that exist, so please add/change categories as you see fit!  And remember, I'm swamped with homework, too, so don't feel any pressure to finish all categories you set out to because I doubt any of us will before the fall season ends.  It's just fun to have a reading plan because then you'll be more motivated to read, and, like I mentioned earlier, reading is so good for you!  It can relax your mind and exercise it at the same time, and the relationships you develop with characters can be incredibly powerful.

<3 Frances

Monday, September 5, 2016

The Clothing Crisis: Fast Fashion and Earth

Happy Labor Day!  I'm sort of feeling very work-logged today (tests, studying, cleaning, working, etc. etc. etc.), but it's nice to be doing all my work at home (aka in pajamas) as opposed to somewhere else.  And we're getting a bit of a fall weather preview this weekend.  It's so beautiful!  I wish the heat wave weren't coming back tomorrow.  I have to keep reminding myself that it's still summertime, though.  Fall doesn't officially get here until September 22nd.  The good thing is that the next few weeks give us time to prepare for fall and get into the spirit of Halloween and pumpkins and crisp leaves and squirrels.  And plaid, of course.   Even for girls like us at Moth Bird who won't have any time or money to spend on closet updates, it's fun to think about fall trends.  (Escapism, anyone?)
But speaking of fashion, there's a more pressing clothing matter at hand that I wanted to share: the fast fashion crisis.
Copyright Tim Mitchell
I just read a Newsweek article about "fast fashion" and its effects on the environment, and I was horrified to learn about how our clothing habits are hurting the planet.  Having fun with fashion is awesome, but loving our Earth is also awesome, and this article is a real wake-up call when it comes to making sustainable choices.
"When natural fibers, like cotton, linen and silk, or semi-synthetic fibers created from plant-based cellulose, like rayon, Tencel and modal, are buried in a landfill, in one sense they act like food waste, producing the potent greenhouse gas methane as they degrade. But unlike banana peels, you can’t compost old clothes, even if they're made of natural materials."
What's particularly disturbing is that 84% of "unwanted clothes" in the U.S. ended up going to landfills and incinerators in 2012, and Americans throw out about 14 million tons of clothing every year. That's crazy!  Another unfortunate reality is that a lot of clothing that gets donated may end up getting thrown out due to being very poor quality. It's an environmental and fashion crisis, and though we can all do our part to help make it better (buying secondhand, buying well-made clothing, sewing your own clothes, donating as opposed to tossing, etc.), we need a long-term solution.  One possibility is a closed-loop clothing industry, sort of mimicking how closed-loop systems work in nature.  (Remember all those thermodynamics laws?  Matter is neither created nor destroyed?  Energy of a system remains constant?)
Marie-Claire Daveu of Vogue: "The holy grail for sustainability in fashion is closed-loop sourcing.”
According to the article, closed-loop tech in the fashion industry would mean no clothes in landfills because old clothes would "be endlessly looped through textile factories, garment factories, stores, your closet, secondhand retailers, textile recyclers and back to textile factories again." Sadly, this sort of system is a while in the future, but it's a light of hope in an otherwise pretty glum situation.
 <3 Frances

Friday, September 2, 2016

That Friday Feeling & Movie Recommendations

It's easy to take things for granted.  School, the mountains, Friday night movies . . . we can get so swept up in the anxiety of anticipated moments that we forget to be present and appreciate the here and now.  But that's sad because the here and now are only around for a moment, and if we miss them, they're gone forever.
We've been very busy this week with back to school, work (I've got a new internship...), trying not to get sick (elderberries are so wonderful for that), and helping my grandfather transition home from rehab after breaking his hip.  Today is Friday, though, and it's got that "Friday feeling" because it means that the alarm can be set for 7:30 AM tomorrow instead of 5:15 AM.  That means a full 135 extra minutes of sleep!  Ever since I was little and my mum worked 13-hour days with at-risk students (and then came home to do more work at night), my family has had this little tradition of Friday night movie nights. We've gone through a Miyazaki period and then a Star Wars period and even watched all the Before Sunset movies (my brother wasn't as excited about those, lol), and seeing movies together has always been a comfort.  With that in mind, if you get the chance tonight, try to watch a movie with a loved one.  That can be anyone from a sibling to a parent to a friend to a cat to a stuffed animal to a plant :).  And if you're looking for movie recommendations . . . .

Me & Earl & the Dying Girl (2015)
I saw this movie recently, and my mum, brother, and I loved it very much--even though it made us all cry.  It's truly an art piece.  There are so many little details--sketches hidden in wallpaper, wonderlands cut into the pages of books--that add a lot of depth to the film visually, but all the characters and scenes have a realistic quality to them that makes you feel like, yes, you could know them in the real world.  I don't want to give away too much of the plot, but the movie (which is based on a book that I now really want to read) is about Greg, a sometimes directionless high school senior, and his relationships with people like his foreign film-loving best friend ("coworker") Earl, his eccentric parents, and Rachel, the "dying girl."  I don't want to give away too much of the plot, but the movie is beautiful and heartfelt and tragic all at once.  It also has really good music.

Demolition (2015)
My brother has been listening to "Crazy On You" on repeat ever since we saw this movie.  Despite the title, it's not at all an action or fighting movie with good guys or bad guys (not that those aren't fun movies to watch).  Instead, it's about relationships and loss.  Davis has just lost his wife in a horrible car accident, and he's going through an identity crisis, questioning the meaning of the world and if he's even capable of love.  Things seem disheartening at times, but by the end of the movie, you'll feel better (and of course a bit melancholy).

Heart: "Crazy On You"

The Princess and the Warrior (2000) is an older movie, and it's in German, but if you're willing to deal with subtitles, you won't regret it.  Sissi, a nurse in a psychiatric hospital, is hit by a bus and rescued by Bodo, a troubled bank robber haunted by the loss of his wife.  Sissi sets out to find Bodo to thank him for saving her, and their relationship ends up helping them both overcome the nightmares of the past.  Like Demolition and Me & Earl & the Dying Girl, The Princess and the Warrior has a rawness to it that makes it seem very, very real.  It's not glossy or glamorous--it's life. And that, in its own way, is quite beautiful.

TGIF!  What are some movies you've seen recently (or not so recently) that gave you the "Friday feeling" we wait all week to get?

<3 Frances

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Quan Yin

At some point around 10:30 last night, I found myself reading aloud from a very old book of Chinese folk tales.  Random?  Yes. Worth it? Yes.  The smell of old books is, as anyone who's ever spent a million hours in a library or thrift store can tell you, pretty perfect, and so are Chinese paintings.  Looking at them is almost like meditating, and since I'm still not all that good at meditating, I'm using them as a sort of substitute for it. 

Anyway, one of the folk tales I found was about Quan Yin (or Guan Yin or Kwan Yin, depending on your spelling preference), the Chinese Goddess of Mercy.  She wanted to join a nunnery instead of marrying, so her emperor father tried to have her beheaded (!), but she was saved by a spirit in the form of a tiger sent by the Emperor of Heaven. Needless to say, she escaped decapitation and then "thought only good thoughts" until she became "perfect" and the embodiment of love and sweetness.  From then on, she used her goddess status to save and protect people and grant them mercy and kindness.  Long story short: she's a pretty awesome example of girl power inspiration.  I'm part Chinese (though I learned most of my Eastern religion stuff from my non-Chinese side of the family), and I've always loved Quan Yin.  I have a small wooden statue of her living with one of my hermit crabs.  Learning about her last night was major motivation to be a more consciously compassionate person. I have a lot of compassion and empathy for others that I always act on, but I'd like to be more compassionate with going with the flow of things.  We live in a world that's very GO GO GO, faster faster faster, do do do, and it's challenging to pull back and just let things BE. Let yourself BE.  Stop trying to change, and let go of control.  What you're desperate to control often ends up controlling you.
"Let the magic happen. It’s always there. Abundance and love are always there. Believe in the highest good. There is a higher essence to everything. The realm you’re in has a heaviness that mutes energy. You can penetrate through it, no matter how dark and heavy. Sometimes it has nothing to do with karma. Just don’t forget to keep it open. Don’t get too bogged down…Prosperity can happen at any time. I want to give you everything that you need.-Kuan Yin"
-Beneficial Law of Attraction: The Manifestation Teachings

 <3 Frances

Monday, August 29, 2016

Monday Mornings Are Back, So Let's Escape into Nature

It's official: Monday Mornings have returned.  Even while working over the summer, Mondays didn't quite have the same feeling they do during the actual academic year, which makes today my first real Monday in a while.  It takes some getting used to, but I've found the following to be helpful: dancing, blueberries, books, music, my mum, and pretty pictures.
Okay, about that last one: I'm not much of a travel type, but I love looking at photos of other places, and the recent centennial of the National Parks Foundation made it all the more fun.  One of the last things my grandmum saw before she passed on was the Grand Canyon, and I keep thinking about Grand Canyon sunsets and the incredible beauty of nature.  Without further adieu, then, here are some beautiful nature shots to get your mind in gear for Monday:

The Grand Canyon in Arizona. Photo by Anindya Chakraborty.
Khagan Valley in Pakistan
Photo Source :Crosieres Grandbleu
Scandola Nature Reserve in France.  Photo from Crosieres Grandbleu.
The Cliffs of Moher in Ireland.
The Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. Photo from Wikipedia.

<3 Frances

Monday, August 22, 2016

Talking About Elephants

In the midst of last week's craziness, I somehow missed the fact that August 12tth was World Elephant Day.  But elephants should be celebrated every day, right?  So let's make today World Elephant Day Part II, for those of us who couldn't make it to Part I.
When I was little, elephants were right up there with dinosaurs and Peter Pan as a favorite subject, and I still remember reading Lizzie the Elephant over and over again with my grandmother and lining up my plastic elephant figurines along the side of the bathtub.  Elephants represented all that I held most dear to me--love, family, empathy, sticking together--and the selfless, unwavering compassion and strength of female elephants reminded me of my mum and grandmother.  But I also knew that the elephant world was full of tragedy. I have fuzzy memories of a documentary movie, watched late one Friday night after my mum got home from another six-to-six shift, in which a baby elephant got separated from his mother and couldn't find her before the poachers got to her.  And then there was Dumbo, that tearjerker of a child's film that made me cry every time I watched it.

From National Geographic's Michael Nichols: an elephant mother, her babies, and
the orphans she's caring for

Not my meme. Just my feelings.
Dumbo, of course, is an animated Disney film, but elephants in the real world are being abused in circuses, and in the wild, they're facing habitat destruction and hunting. (The whole ivory industry and everything it's willing to do for money is a this.)  I did a project this year on elephants as a species/threats to their survival/etc., and, even though I knew a lot of the stuff already just from the news and living with my former-environmental lawyer mum, it was still disturbing to see just how dire the situation is for so many elephants--especially because their situation closely reflects the situations of thousands of other animals (like rhinos...and pandas....and polar bears).  The truth is that, despite all our efforts to help them, animals are really struggling, and their lives won't get better unless we make major changes.  I know you've heard this before, but I can't help but to reiterate it because it is *so* important that things get better before it's too late.  Right now, the trend is for animals on the IUCN Red List to become increasingly endangered and then eventually extinct. Numerous species had this happen to them recently: the passenger pigeon, the Caribbean monk seal, the Pyrebean ibex . . . it's a list that's way too long.  But what if we could REVERSE the trend? What if, instead of animals becoming more endangered over time, they actually became less endangered?  Wouldn't that be AWESOME?  Easy answer: yes.  Yes, it would.  Habitat destruction, pollution, and overhunting are all major threats to Earth's little loved ones, but the human race, as it is unfortunately behind these threats, has the power to put an end to them and actually change the world for the better.  Our individual actions and voices may seem insignificant sometimes, but, when it comes to these sorts of issues, doing anything is better than doing nothing.  If we ignore what's going on, we're going to open our eyes one day and realize elephants (etc.) are gone and that it's too late to save them.  If we open our eyes TODAY, though, we can prevent that future from happening.

<3 Frances

Friday, August 19, 2016

Where Literature Meets Nature

With the heat wave that's going on right now, the approach of the new school year (aka next week), and hospitalized loved ones, these past few weeks have been c r a z y . But they're a good reminder of how important it is to appreciate little simple things for all they offer, and I'm going to go along with the random horoscope I read and say that the "power word" for the next few months is "change."  Embrace it, accept it, live with it.  It's challenging, but it can be meaningful. Change doesn't always mean bad...change can very often mean good. And it can encourage us to do things we otherwise might not being a literature/history person and deciding to also pursue environmental science despite the fact that I'm not at all a scientist.  I have found, though, that there are many places where literature and nature overlap. My brother, ever the nature-lover, is reading The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery--a writer the Boston Globe described as "[p]art Emily Dickinson, part Indiana Jones."  Is that not one of the best combinations ever?  I think my favorite part of it is that Emily Dickinson is included because she loved the environment so much. I have an anthology of her poems, and it's divided up into different categories, one of the most well-known being "Nature." She cared so deeply for the natural world...she even had her own herbarium!  Seeing it is on my imaginary and unrecorded bucket list ;).  Another author who loved the natural world was, of course, the one and only Beatrix Potter.  Her enchantment with Earth isn't all that surprising given the fact that her illustrations and writings were all about plants and animals.


Nature is what we see
by Emily Dickinson

“Nature” is what we see—
The Hill—the Afternoon—
Squirrel—Eclipse—the Bumble bee—
Nay—Nature is Heaven—
Nature is what we hear—
The Bobolink—the Sea—
Thunder—the Cricket—
Nay—Nature is Harmony—
Nature is what we know—
Yet have no art to say—
So impotent Our Wisdom is
To her Simplicity.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Last Weeks of Summer

Bookstores and I are a bit of a dangerous combination.  I could get so lost in the history section of Barnes & Noble, for instance, that it'd be months before I even realized that time was passing, and that nearly happened yesterday. I'm just grateful my brother or mum are usually there to pull me out of my history-induced daze (though my mum does often get sucked into it with me, LOL).

Some of the books responsible for distracting me indefinitely while I wish I had copies of them: 

Speaking of a daze, summer holiday (though we've spent most of it working) is almost over now.  It's already August, and, though I think it's good to welcome August lovingly and optimistically, I'm admittedly a bit scared by how quickly the summer's gone by and how short a time there is left before regular work obligations start popping up again and our lives are once again based around our academic calendar. I'm reading about what seasons mean now in How to Read Literature Like a Professor...summer is often connected to youth and freedom and sunshine, whereas winter is usually implicative of loneliness and coldness, and fall (which we're approaching) is sort of like a "bridge" connecting them.  That said, though, common literary conventions aren't necessarily true for real life.  (The fact that I'm wearing a blue blouse, for instance, isn't necessarily a reflection of my innermost character/true feelings but rather a reflection of what was in my closet this morning.) We've been having a bit of an oppressive heat wave, so I'm excited for cooler temperatures, and winter can be just as happy a time as summer as long as you're in a loving place.  So that's what I'm hoping for for everybody--that, no matter how difficult things seem, you have a loving place to go to, regardless of whether it's wintertime or summertime or holiday time or school time.

<3 Frances

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Poetry Break

The innate powers of literature and poetry have been haunting me.  I blame it on my AP Literature homework and the book that I'm currently reading about literary analysis and interpretation. It's Thomas Foster's How to Read Literature Like a Professor, and I think I'm enjoying it far too much.  (I mean, intertextuality?  Yes, always and forever!)  When I was little, I used to dress up in blouses that were way too big for me to play either hospital or school (or occasionally "newspaper" and "store") with my brother and misfit dolls, and I'd always get very emotionally involved in whatever role I was playing, but, regardless of whether or not we were in outer space or in a 1820s schoolhouse, books and reading were always involved.  They've been constant friends, loved to the point of torn pages and stains and memorization.  What's unfortunate, though, is that, no matter how much I love stories and books, there are still so many people in the world who don't have them. I've mentioned this before, yes, but the whole back-to-school (almost) thing has been reminding me of it because, while we're all seeing our summers wind down and wishing they'd last longer, there are whole villages of people that are starving and will never get to go to a schoolhouse or learn to read.  It's a true tragedy.  I hope maybe one day I'll be able to do more than just write about it, but writing is a start.
<3 Frances

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Irena Sendler, the WWII Hero You May Not Have Heard About

As someone who had a very close friendship with their European History textbook, I have the tendency to get overly-enthusiastic when I find out "new" things about history.  When I'm at history museums, it's a bit dangerous because of how much time I spend wandering around obsessing over artifacts, and my mum and I have been known to go full fan-girl over little details we've learned about the past. Bram Stoker's wife was an ex-girlfriend of Oscar Wilde?  Branwell Bronte (the Bronte Sisters' brother) wanted to die standing up?  Oh, my, so interesting!
Anyway, World War II is one of the subjects closest to my heart, so I was really moved when I found out about Irena Sendler yesterday.  I knew I didn't know nearly all of the WWII heroes/stories yet, but I can't believe I hadn't heard of Irena until just recently.  She passed away in 2008 and was even nominated for the Nobel Prize a while back.  During the war, she was a Polish nurse, and she got a gig working on plumbing and sewage in the Warsaw ghetto--where she used her toolbox to secretly sneak infants and small children out to safety.  She then got them false identity documents, and after the war, she tried to help them reconnect with their families. Sadly, many of their parents had been killed.  Many of the children ended up being raised by foster families, and they owed their lives to Irena's willingness to risk her own.  #powergirl
To learn more about Irena, check out Life in Jar.

<3 Frances

Thursday, July 21, 2016

School in Wartime

"All children here witnessed war."  That's what Larissa Zhidkova, headmistress of School No. 12 (Slovyansk, Urkaine), said about her students in an article for UNICEF, and it's a line that I can't get out of my head.  Living where I do, war--though I've spent years reading, listening, and talking about it--is a faraway thing.  I have family members who have experienced war firsthand, but I myself never have, and I have the gift of getting to go to sleep in the same bed every night without worrying whether or not it will still be there when I wake up in the morning.  But there are so many other people out there who don't have that luxury.  The fires and shellings and shootings we see in images are the ones that they see around them, and death is so real to them that life has become an unreliable game of chance.
Photo from

Anyway, I suppose the reason that I'm writing about this is because I feel like we forget too often what's happening to people (and animals, too) and become too focused on things like politics and disagreements.  We also spend so much time talking about what's new that we push long-term issues into the backs of our minds.  I mean, the fighting in Ukraine seems rarely discussed nowadays because it's an older subject, but that doesn't mean its effects aren't still felt.  The children at School No. 12 in Slovyansk have still experienced loss and tragedy and trauma.  Even if it may have not happened "recently," it still happened, and they're still working through it.  Fortunately for these children, though, school has become a place of respite, and their teachers (notably one named Yvgeni) have been providing stress management classes to help them cope with the scars of war.  Reading about these sorts of programs makes me smile because it reminds me that there's hope for recovery for everyone.  I wish there were more funding for these programs.  I volunteer in schools a lot, and there's an awful lot of funding for research into best teaching methods, etc., but I think the emphasis should be taken off of acronyms and theories and put onto things like education in wartime and stress remediation (for teachers as well as for students).  Those are just some thoughts for today.

<3 Frances

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Planet Sleeps

When I was a baby, I fell asleep listening to the faraway soundtrack of The Planet Sleeps, an album of lullabies from all corners of the world.  It was the late 1990s, and the world was a far more complicated place than I could've ever imagined from the security of a wicker bassinet.  War, poverty, and pain scarred the planet, but the lullabies of The Planet Sleeps connected the world in peace and love and calm.  That CD somehow made everything feel blue and starry, even if it wasn't, and I can't help but to think that its songs could save the world.  How could horror continue in the face of something so beautiful?

The Planet Sleeps
The cover art of The Planet Sleeps is magical realism-meets-indie (thank you, 1990s alternative scene!), and the album itself is/was a fundraiser for UNICEF. Inside, though, is when things get exciting.  Tucked into the album cover is a little booklet of the songs, their translations, and anecdotes about their origins.  Each anecdote is as poetic and special as the song it accompanies.  I learned, for instance, that "Oj Talasi," a lullaby from Bosnia and Herzegovina, was performed by The Trebevic Choir during a tumultuous time of war and strife.  Choir members met with each other to perform the song during a difficult winter despite cultural boundaries and wartime bombardment, and many of them later disappeared.  It's heartbreaking, and "Oj Talasi" is a poignant reminder of the need for peace and love for and between everyone.  Some of my other favorites from The Planet Sleeps are "Fais Do Do, Colin Mon Petite Frere" (France), "Schlafe Mein Prinzchen, Schlaf Ein" (Germany), and "Phnom Penh Lullaby" (Cambodia). But there are also songs from places like North America, Ireland, and New Zealand.
"Oj Talasi"

"Fais Do Do, Colin Mon Petite Frer"

No one is too old for lullabies.  The Planet Sleeps (available at Amazon) is a compilation of some of the best, and it's particularly important now in this time of so much unrest.  The world needs to be reminded that it is whole. We need to remember that, no matter where we come from, we all sleep under the same stars, and we need love now more than ever. 
<3 Frances