The Gallerist: A Board Game Review

**Editor’s note: As mentioned, this is the first guest post on Baby Brown Bear. The pictures may be mine, but the text is all Jason’s. All I’d like to add is that this beautiful and meaty strategy game has quickly become one of my favorites. If you’re seriously into board games and are willing to invest a little time to set it up and learn it, I almost guarantee you will not regret playing this game.**

gallerist

Clever tagline. [Source]

Board games nowadays come with any exciting theme you can think of. You can terraform a new planet, navigate your clan in an early-industrial dystopia, battle your viking enemies for favor of the gods, and trade exotic goods along the Silk Road. You can investigate mysteries in the Cthulu mythos, fly X-Wings of your own against the Empire, and prevent the spread of epidemics while desperately searching for cures.

You can also stitch together a quilt, cultivate a farm, run a 1950s-era soda shop, or, the topic of this post, operate an art gallery. All of these themes are in well-regarded games and illustrate that a theme doesn’t have to be flashy to be compelling. So set your viking war helmets aside and put on your turtle neck sweaters for this review of Vital Lacerda’s The Gallerist.

Background

Who made this game, anyway? First, a word on the designer. Residing in Portugal, Mr. Lacerda has made a name for himself in the last decade as a designer of complex games with hits like Vinhos, Kanban, and, most recently, Lisboa. Many gamers consider his designs to be must-buy upon release. Just like when you used to stand in a line around the block for N’SYNC’s latest CD, gamers around the world sign up for pre-orders as soon as they are announced for designers they follow. Though I suspect game designers get far fewer lady undergarments thrown at them.

Lacerda’s games are famous for having seemingly simple actions to choose from, but in reality each action ripples through the entire game space, affecting each player and each future decision. The Gallerist is no exception.

The Basics

In The Gallerist, each player assumes the role of a gallery operator, tasked with trading art, promoting artists, overseeing employees, and building an international reputation. Whoever accumulates the most money at the end of the game is the winner.

Time: 60-150 minutes
Players: 1-4
Ages: 13+
Designer: Vital Lacerda
Artist: Ian O’Toole
BGG Rating: 8.0*
Baby Brown Bear Status: Owned

*The top-ranked games have ratings of ~8.5/10.

Actions

I won’t bore you with a complete rules explanation, but I will briefly describe each action spot.

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Action spaces from top, going clockwise: sell art/take a contract (4), buy art/discover an artist (1),  promote artist/hire assistants (2), international auction/international reputation (3). As you can see here, the orange pawn has just moved to the sell art/take a contract spot and has consequently given the yellow pawn a “kicked-out” action. The two players have a smattering of visitors in their galleries but no one in their lobbies. There are a bunch of VIPs in the plaza. To the left of the board is the international auction area. To the right of the board is the artist area. On the bottom of the board is the reputation track.

1. Buy art / discover an artist

This spot allows you to either buy art from an established artist or commission a piece from an unknown artist. The price of the art is set by the fame level of the artist. However, if you commission a piece, the price of the piece is locked in at the lowest price, no matter how famous the artist is when you fulfill the commission and buy the piece (the benefit of discovering young talent).

2. Promote artist / hire assistants

Here is where you use your influence in the art world, and maybe cash in on a few favors, to promote an artist. This increases that artist’s fame and thus the value of their works. You can also hire assistants, who act as worker bees running errands and as representatives of your empire internationally.

3. International auction / international reputation

Remember those assistants from literally one sentence ago? Put them to work here. At the end of every game, there are artworks from foreign artists awarded to players. However, one player is guaranteed to miss out on a piece of art, so you better get your assistants to place bids in quickly and early! You also use your assistants to earn you reputation abroad, which yields some end-game bonuses for their hard work.

4. Sell art / take a contract

Pretty self-explanatory. Take this action if you wish to sell a piece of art. In order to sell that piece, of course, you first need a contract of that artwork type (there are four types).

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A close-up of the photographers and sculptors. Not shown are the painters or digital artists.

That’s not so bad!

Four action spots, each with two choices. Pretty simple right? In order to execute those actions, you use two main currencies in the game. The first is money and the second is influence. Some actions give you more money or influence, others cost money or influence. Even better, you can use influence as money if you’re a few bucks short for an artwork. See? Everything connects with everything else.

So how do you take these actions? This is, quite simply, a worker placement game. If you want that action, just place your pawn on the action spot and take it. The only restriction is you can’t choose the spot on which your pawn is currently standing. Finally, something straightforward!

The last major component in the game is managing your gallery visitors. These visitors come in three types: Collectors, VIPs, and Investors. These visitors give you bonuses in fame (Collectors; white meeples), influence (VIPs; pink meeples), and money (Investors; brown meeples), depending on how many of each type you have in your gallery. You can lure the visitors to your gallery by spending tickets (see pink tickets in the above picture).

Game end

The visitors and tickets are also the timing mechanism of the game. The game ends when two of these three events occur: when there are no more tickets, when all the visitors are on the board, and/or when two artists attain the highest fame possible to become celebrities.

Putting It All Together

Easy peasy, right?

There is a lot to manage in this game. Each action has several steps that may affect money, influence, tickets, assistants, reputation tiles, bonuses, fame, contracts, etc. Truly, everything is linked, and unless you are sharp, you risk wasting actions because you don’t have the right resources. You have to make sure you have enough assistants in order to maximize your international presence and get every extra bonus and action you can. You have to have the money to buy the artwork at just the right time. You need to make sure you have the right contract to sell your art. You have to have enough influence to promote your artists and take extra actions when available. And about those extra actions…

Wait, more rules?

Remember when I said that the worker placement aspect of this game was straightforward? Well, I lied. The twist here is that if you are standing on the buy art action spot, and I decide to go there, that means I’ve kicked you out, and you get to perform a “kicked-out” action. With this kicked-out action, you can spend tickets, move assistants on the board, or spend influence to perform the buy art action again, essentially giving you an extra turn. Manipulating your opponents to give you kicked-out actions–while limiting doing so yourself–is a key component to success in this game.

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Here you can see the cheat sheet and secret goal cards, plus the player mat with contracts, assistants, gallery art, commissions, and visitor tickets.

My Thoughts

So, what do I actually think of the game? Glad you asked!

After my first couple of plays of the game, I was hesitantly impressed. I could tell there was a good game here, but I didn’t fully grasp what I was doing. It almost felt like I was not only playing against my opponents, but also battling the game itself. With each subsequent play, the actions and their ripples became clearer, until my fourth or fifth game, when I finally felt like I was in control of both the game and my actions. Now I’m able to determine a strategy, implement the strategy, and adapt as needed. (Editor’s note: said strategy not guaranteed to win.)

Cons

  • Complexity (the bad one). Clearly, this game isn’t for the faint of heart. I’m not saying it takes four plays for everyone to fully grasp the game, but your first play, at least, will probably be rough. It’s a common critique among a select few that too many strategy games these days have way too many rules and are too complex for their own good. Though there is a barrier to entry for this game, the investment is well worth it. Yes, there are a lot of different icons, and the some of the actions have seven steps to complete them, but the game provides each player a small rules card that explains many of the icons and summarizes the actions.
  • Amount of components. Although the components are nice, there are a lot of them. Be prepared to set aside time for game setup and teardown.
  • Two-player artist shortcoming. One of the key parts of the game is increasing the fame level of the artists, thereby increasing the value of their art. In a two-player game, this mechanism falls a little flat. After all, if both of you own one piece from the same artist, why bother increasing that artist’s fame? Any benefit you would get, the other player gets as well, except you spent an action and resources to do it. With more players, this becomes less of an issue because there are only so many artists to choose from, and with a maximum of two pieces available from each artist at a given time, not everyone would get the benefit.
  • Two-player auction shortcoming. As mentioned, at the end of the game the international artwork is distributed. The value of these pieces is determined by going rate of the most famous artist of that art type, so they can be quite lucrative. This also means they can greatly swing the outcome of the game, especially with two players. Veterans of The Gallerist will tell you that putting bids on the international auction is an important action throughout the game and that you shouldn’t ignore it. Yes, that’s true, but in a two-player game, it may not be worth the investment for the trailing player. I might but in a bid to combat my opponent, then my opponent puts in a bid, then I do, etc. In the end, I’ve just spent a lot of resources and actions for virtually no gain, other than wasting the resources and actions of my opponent. But my opponent gets the international work, and I get nothing.

Pros

  • Complexity (the good one). I love the puzzle aspect of this game, I love how interconnected all the actions and resources are. I know I want to do X, and in order to do that, I need to accomplish A-D first, but I need to do it better than my opponents. It’s such an enjoyable strain to map it all out in my head, and during plan execution I’m bound to get distracted by other opportunities and deterred by my opponents. Do I stay the course, or go the alternate route? And for as puzzly as this game is, I appreciate that it only has four action spots.
  • Investment. I like investing in an artist by buying their piece and watching that valuation go up, up, up! There are a few ways to get money in this game, but buying low and selling high is the most fun way to do it.
  • Quality. The components are top notch. Normally game components don’t move my needle unless they’re so bad they affect the gameplay. But in The Gallerist, the board is very nice. The cardboard components are thick. The artwork has, like, actual art on them from actual artists. It’s simply a pleasure to handle the components and view the board with everything laid out.
  • Unique theme. I appreciate that Vital took an uncommon theme and ran with it. Would he have gotten more buyers from a fantasy theme or steampunk setting? It’s possible, but he had a vision and ran with it, and the result is certainly a gem of a game.

In Short

The Gallerist is a well-produced game of high strategy with a unique theme. Your brain works on overdrive throughout the game to fit all the pieces of your strategy together. If this kind of game appeals to you, go try it out! As for me, it’s one of the highlights of our collection. It looks great, it plays great, and I can’t wait to explore it more.

Even Shorter

That’s still too many words!

Okay! I give it an 8 of 10, with the potential to rise further. Top 20 game.

About the Reviewer

I started out on “designer” games about 10 years ago, but have only been all-in on the hobby for the last three years. I like all sorts of games, not just long complex ones, so please ask if you’d like a recommendation. We have 60 or so games in our collection, but aren’t looking to grow that number until we have more time for games and more space to put them. Well, maybe there’s room for a few more…plus the kids need some games…and I’ve been waiting on a reprint for that one…

Editor’s note.

 

 

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Introducing Papa “Board Game” Bear

We play board games regularly, and yet my last board game post was an embarrassing year and a half ago. Since there are just so many games I would like to share with you, I’ve enlisted my husband to help me get back on track.

He’s what you might call a “board game enthusiast,” to say the least. “Board game obsessed” may still be an understatement, because Papa Bear lives and breathes board games. As a regular visitor on BoardGameGeek (BGG), he’s a wealth of board game knowledge. He’s plugged in to the global board game community, too, and is the reason we were invited to play games at a stranger’s house in the Netherlands earlier this year. He’s the best. (More on the Netherlands eventually, I promise.)

Needless to say, he was agog at the idea of doing a guest post when I asked him to review The Gallerist, one of our favorite games. Well, “agog” is a stretch seeing as how his outwardly emotional range is that of your stereotypical engineer, but if nothing else, his eyes shone with some semblance of excitement. His gleeful, one-day turnaround was indication enough that I needed his help. Before I publish said post, however, I want to take a minute to properly introduce him in all his board game glory.

Papa Bear: The Board Game Extraordinaire

Jason, because continuing to refer to him as “Papa Bear” feels borderline inappropriate, is worth blogging about for many reasons. After all, he’s an incredibly devoted father, husband, and friend. But his real passion–I say this mostly jokingly–is board gaming. I mentioned a long time ago that our journey into the strategy, or “designer,” board game world began around the time of our wedding more than seven years ago. The obsession grew slowly in those first years, until Jason discovered Power Grid in 2014. Seeking a rule clarification online, he stumbled upon BGG and has never looked back. Now, four years later, he’s an avid user and contributor on the site.

So much so that one the most highly esteemed board game designers quoted him about his own game.

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I kid you not, this is probably one of Jason’s proudest moments.

The board game poet

Board games also make Jason’s creativity flourish (as do family bracket challenges, but that’s a story for another time). A year or so ago, he sent me an email with the following board game limericks. Limericks! Just because!

Hanabi

In Hanabi, you can’t see your hand
Others can, and insinuate commands.
They point to a card with glee,
Say, “You have a three!”
Then you play it, there’s no mental demand.

Five Tribes

It’s got yellow meeples, green, red, and blue,
And white, and soon purple, too.
Some applaud the game’s makers;
They added the fakirs.
Gee, who would’ve thought slaves are taboo?

Power Grid

Supplying the most power’s the goal;
Pure strategy, no luck of the roll.
When a good plant is auctioned,
Best proceed with caution,
Lest you run out of money for coal.

Power Grid*

So many expansion maps to be used,
This game never fails to amuse.
But my group still can’t learn,
Is it phase, step, or turn?
Wait, what round are we on? I’m confused.

If you haven’t played the aforementioned games and don’t understand why these are so clever, just take my word for it. If you have, then you can look forward to more of this wit in future post(s). If I’m lucky, he’ll write posts about these games as well. (Hint hint, J.)

*He just really loves this game.

Our Game-Playing Dynamic in GIFs

By now, I’m sure Jason has unknowingly won you over and you’re just itching to read his Gallerist review. Before I let him loose, and because no post as of late would be complete without them, I must first share this series of GIFs to shed some light on what it’s like when we play games together. I promise it’ll make you like him even more, if me a little less.

See, my husband is generally happy to play any game at any time with anyone. He doesn’t want to do poorly and likes to see improvement in his strategy, of course, but he genuinely doesn’t seem to care whether he wins or loses. While I also feel this way when I play in a larger group of people, I’m sadly not always the best loser when it’s just the two of us. Miraculously, he continues to play with–and love–me despite this unfounded and one-sided competitive streak.

It’s kind of like this. Maybe you can relate?

Playing with our friends

When I win

I mean, who doesn’t like to win? [Source]

When I lose

Pretty much the same except with snack sweats and not professional basketball sweats: “Good game, good game. Pass the chips, please.” [Source]

Playing with each other

When I win

When I keep my winning streak going. (Sadly, there aren’t many games like this.) [Source]

When it’s a close call and I pretend I’m not surprised I came out ahead. [Source]

When we total the score and I can’t believe my eyes. [Source]

When I have a snowball’s chance of winning and end up pulling ahead by the skin of my teeth. [Source]

When I finally beat him at a game he always wins. (Even the hair looks the same.) [Source]

When I lose

When he wins a game for the millionth time and I’m not even that surprised. [Source]

When I lose that close game by a couple of victory points, especially if he scored a bunch of those points right at the end. [Source]

When he wins after he totally screws my strategy.[Source]

When I finally am slated to win but then he gets some obscure bonus at the end. [Source]

Obviously, I experience a whole range of emotions when we play games. None of this should surprise you at this point.

When he wins

When he’s happy with himself, but only allows a brief smirk so as not to flaunt his victory to his fragile wife. [Source]

When he loses

When he loses, is happy to have played the game, and congratulates me on my victory. (Side note: this is also how my husband looks in a tux. Me-ow.) [Source]

Really, if this doesn’t convince you how much of a stand-up guy he truly is, then I’m not sure anything will.

Without Further Ado

My next post will be Jason’s review of The Gallerist. I know you’re biting your nails with excitement, so stay tuned! My hope is that you like it–and Jason–as much as I do.

 

 

[Featured image source]

 

New Year, Same Me: Resolutions & Other Nonsensical Goals

Cheers and welcome to 2018!

Not that long ago, we expected that by 2018, we’d have flying cars, highly integrated AI robots, and intergalactic travel. While we’re not all the way there (a shame, because flying cars would be the bomb and soon enough we’ll really need a new home planet), we do live in a time with toilet stoolssmart speakers, and too many memes to know where to begin. Lucky us?

I am grateful for GIF technology. [Source]

Strangely enough, we also live in a time where teenagers challenge each other to eat laundry detergent, millions of people receive a “my bad” text after practically crapping their pants, and our megalomaniac president’s diplomatic skills apparently start and end with the term “shithole/shithouse countries.” At least women are finally paid the same as men, right? Damnit.

All that said, there is a lot of good in the world, too. For example, it brings me great joy that we are increasingly confronting the uncomfortable truths about our society, like our collective tolerance for sexual harassment, assault, and inequality. (The Women’s March is this weekend, folks!)

Lest I get too carried away, I’d like to quickly shift gears to the main, and completely inconsequential, point of today’s post: new year’s resolutions.

According to John, resolutions are “the exact middle ground between lying to yourself and lying to other people.” Sounds about right. [Source]

We are officially 16 days into the new year, which means 99% of people have already ditched their half-hearted resolution efforts. Here’s a little-known fact: you can’t fail your resolutions by mid-January if you don’t even set them until mid-January. All your other favorite bloggers (she says humbly) may have long since shared their objectives for 2018, but here at Baby Brown Bear, I’m just getting started.

My Goals for the Year

Let me preface this by saying that I don’t normally do new year’s resolutions. In fact, I’ve been known to roll my eyes at the idea of a “new year, new me.” Why wait until January to make changes when you can start working towards self-improvement any day of the year? Truthfully, I think waiting until January often adds unnecessary pressure and ends up heightening the bar for disappointment if those goals aren’t met. No one needs that.

Me listening to other people talk about their resolutions. [Source]

Only once in my 30 years have I actually set a new year’s resolution. A few years ago, a friend and I decided we would run at least one race every month. Surprisingly, we did it. Had we not joked about and done it together, there’s no way I would have even considered creating such a challenge. I guess accountability matters.

This year, however, I’m getting behind the idea, partially because I’m in a new decade and partially because I already had goals I wanted to achieve and figured I might as well start now in the blank slate of January. It’s for the sake of accountability that I’m drawing a line in the sand and sharing these goals with you.

1. I will learn how to solve a Rubik’s Cube

There’s really no rhyme or reason for this one other than that I think it would be a fun challenge. As far as I know, there’s a simple algorithm to solving the puzzle. Perhaps I’m being extremely naive and will end up throwing it across the room in tears. Only time will tell.

Status: Still need to purchase a Rubik’s Cube. I’ve gotten far with this one.

More likely what my patience will allow. [Source]

2. I will finally see a movie by myself

There are two important things to know about me that until this year have been mutually exclusive: 1. I am an extremely social person whose existence requires human interaction to survive; and 2. I love going to the movies. It is because of the former that I have not done the latter alone. That will change this year! It only took 25 years for me to go to a restaurant alone, so it seems almost fitting that five years later is when I’ll finally check off this bucket list item. (Side note: my bucket list is actually more exciting than this would suggest.)

Status: Just need to find a babysitter. Oscar noms, I’m coming for ya.

That popcorn will never have tasted so good. (I love future perfect tense.) [Source]

3. I will connect my phone to the Bluetooth in my car

I’m not technologically illiterate, but I am an all-star procrastinator. That’s why I’ve had my car for five months and have yet to connect my phone to its Bluetooth speaker.

Me with Bluetooth technology. [Source]

Instead of shouting into the phone on my lap, I’ll finally sound like a real, responsible adult who knows how to read a car manual. Woohoo!

Status: Next time I’m in my car, I swear.

At least my current setup is better than this. [Source]

4. I will commit to writing at least two blog posts a month

At one point, I was averaging a post a week. While that requires more time than I’m willing to spend right now, I do think it’s realistic to publish at least two a month. To help accomplish this, I recently acquired a 2018 planner I’ll use to sketch out a rough content calendar. If there’s anything in particular you want to hear from me, go ahead and let me know. Otherwise, I’m excited to finally have a place to organize my thoughts and plan ahead.

Status: Already started (because, yes, this totally counts).

Get enough coffee in me and this could be a reality! [Source]

5. I will start writing a book

This is, as you can tell, a much loftier goal, but it’s here nonetheless. I’ve wanted to start writing more seriously for a long time. The problem is my inspiration; I have several ideas swirling around in my head, but none that have seriously compelled me to put pen to paper. Even though this hasn’t necessarily changed, I decided that I just need to start somewhere. No, I may not end up writing the next great American novel (there’s that humility again), and whatever I do write might amount to nothing, but I’m excited and scared and nervous to try, and that seems to be what resolutions are all about.

StatusNew scratch notebooks and pens purchased. Will need a babysitter to go anywhere with this one, too.

Note: I am neither a hipster nor Tom Hanks, and will therefore not be using a typewriter. Cute GIF though, right? [Source]

Let’s Do This

I figured a healthy mix of achievable and intimidating is a good place to start for my first real list of new year’s resolutions. At least now, I intend to check in on these goals throughout the year. I may even periodically post about my journey (fully recognizing that you don’t care about the Bluetooth thing).

Readers, please join me on this path to self-discovery and, well, basic adulthood. While we’re at it, what are your 2018 goals?

Titus may not be the best role model, but he is role model. [Source]

 

 

 

 

[Featured image source]

 

On Turning 30

It’s my birthday tomorrow!

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Oscar is my spirit animal. [Source]

My thirtieth birthday.

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Hah hah heh hoo h-what?? [Source]

I’ll freely admit that I’ve always been the type to enjoy my birthdays. As my parents were quick to remind me recently, I used to celebrate the entire week, sometimes the entire month. Therefore it has come as quite a surprise that under the expected level of excitement (which, I will also admit, has waned with each passing year), there’s a creeping sense of dread this time around. Okay, “dread” may be a bit hyperbolic, but it’s apprehension at the very least. I don’t feel anywhere near 30; it completely snuck up on me.

As these feelings have deepened over the last few months, I’ve been extraordinarily contemplative. At first, the idea of this “birthday anxiety,” for lack of a better term, seemed absurd enough that I dismissed it outright. But here I am, hours away from the big day and the trepidation has only increased.

Rationally, I know it’s just another year. Despite the seemingly advancing pace of my life, I also know that each year feels faster because its relative length is shorter as I add more years to my life. (This article sheds more light on the psychology of time.) Surely part of my melancholy can be attributed to how damn fast everything is going by these days. As a human being, especially in the age of constant activity, it’s hard to remember to stop and enjoy every moment. Life does pass quickly. And though I don’t think of it this way often, its rapid pace can serve as a reminder that each year brings you closer to the grave. Part of me wonders if my discomfort with this milestone is because of this, but if I’m being honest with myself, I know there’s more to it.

Unlike the past few birthdays, 30 feels different. Thirty is fully within adulthood. I feel comfortable calling myself a woman now instead of a kid or a girl. In fact, I hate when I’m referred to in those ways. I’m not a spring chicken anymore, able to excuse reckless behavior, mistakes, or just plain idiocy on being young, naive, and carefree. The truth is that I’m no longer any of those things.

I often still feel 22, but, let me tell you, paying a recent visit to my college campus with the two kids in tow was the quickest way I could have imagined to confirm that I do not, in fact, have much in common with 22-year-olds. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t grieve my college years. I genuinely miss that freedom, lack of real-life responsibility, to-die-for metabolism, and youthful appearance. I look back very fondly at that time, which, as a friend recently told me, must mean that I did it right. Part of my birthday reflection has made me realize that, especially in a society that unabashedly–and foolishly–values youth as much as it does, it’s hard not to feel, at least a little bit, like you’re growing more irrelevant and less attractive just by doing what nature intends you to do.

Then that college nostalgia subsides and I look in the mirror to see the creases forming around my eyes, mouth, and forehead that betray my extra years. The extra years of living a full life. I am more experienced now, in ways that I couldn’t have anticipated just eight years ago.

At 30, my modicum of hard-earned wisdom is starting to earn respect from society, albeit a fickle one that has, ironically, simultaneously started to devalue my appearance. No longer am I treated like a clueless child. If I am, I no longer tolerate it. Each year brings a new level of confidence in myself, in my voice, and in my ability to speak my mind. Run-of-the-mill highs and lows aside, I feel confident, proud, and accepting of who I am. Happily, this includes a newfound respect for my brain, my heart, and my body (human bodies are amazing things and I’m determined to be more reverent of mine). I may not be perfect, but I love who I am. And, at 30, I’m finally ready to move on from people who don’t, without looking back. My energy is for positive influences only, please and thank you.

On the flip side, I recognize that I’m not old yet either. Thirty is a nice little sweet spot of vivaciousness where I have the energy and wherewithal to live life fully but not stupidly. It’s sweet, that is, until I’m around a teenager who looks at me like I’m the Cryptkeeper.

cyrpt

Incidentally, this is also how I felt as I walked around campus. When did college kids start looking like middle schoolers? [Source]

As refreshing as it is to finally feel so comfortable in my own skin, turning 30 has made me realize there’s a strange dichotomy to growing older. On the one hand, you know yourself on a deeper level. On the other, you realize you don’t know a single damn thing about anything.

Like most kids, I guess I expected I’d have a lot more figured out by 30. While I take comfort in the fact that I don’t think anyone ever has anything all figured out (if nothing else, my 29 years have taught me this much), I think it’s natural to feel a little uneasy when you realize life doesn’t exactly come with a road map.

The trajectory of my life is something I wouldn’t change for the entire world. Here I am, about to turn 30, with my health, two incredible kids, a phenomenally supportive husband, an adorable–if occasionally irritating–dog, two sets of devoted parents, two loving grandparents, and a whole host of family and friends who would drop everything for me. I’ve had great work experience, even if I’m temporarily pausing from it, I’ve traveled across the world, I’ve gone on crazy adventures, and I’ve generally lived with no regrets. Needless to say, I recognize that I’m fortunate, privileged, and I have a whole hell of a lot for which to be grateful.

I’m lucky, that is for sure.

In the last few months, though, I’ve been thinking hard about the expectations I had for my life when I was still a fresh-faced adult. I never would have thought I’d marry young or have two kids by 30. Yet here I am, married for seven years with a baby on my hip and a toddler scream-singing “Let It Go” in the next room. And I’m loving it. I’m not even sure what exactly I thought life would be, but I look back at that kid and just think of how endless my opportunities were. I could have studied and become anything I wanted. I could have lived anywhere, done anything, been whomever I wanted. My future was largely a blank slate. There’s something to be said for being 18 with the world at your fingertips. You may be a bit wet behind the ears, but you still have so much ahead of you.

It was while reflecting on this limitless potential that I finally figured out that part of my uneasiness with turning 30 was realizing that I’m now officially old enough that some doors are just plain closed. To a certain extent, the course of my life has now been solidly established. It’s a strange thing to explore, because I love the way life has turned out so far. But there’s still a small part of me that wonders, “What if?” What if I hadn’t met my husband in college? What if I had lived abroad post-graduation? What if I had chosen a different career? What if I were still working?

I’m inspired by people who make huge life changes later in life (like, later in life; I know 30 is not that), because I still wonder what I want to be when I grow up. Add to that uncertainty the whole back and forth between expectation and reality, what I thought I’d have accomplished by now versus what I actually have, and it’s no wonder that I think often about my life’s purpose and future legacy.

In having this constant inner dialogue in the back of my mind, I’ve come to realize that some of this dilemma is simply related to being in the trenches of early parenthood. When you’re taking care of another person’s every need, it’s easy to feel like you are a little lost. Even more complicated is mixing in the realization that, though you devote your entire life to your children, they are young enough that they wouldn’t even remember you if you were to die. It’s morbid, but it’s true. These thoughts are so heavy, it’s easy to sometimes feel like I’m drowning in an existential crisis, trying to complete a puzzle that is inherently incompletable and ever-changing.

The more I think about it, however, the more I realize that I’d probably be asking myself the same questions regardless of my life path. I’d still be wondering what would have been, it’s just that the content would be different. Talking to friends who are experiencing these same feelings, despite living completely different lives, has validated to me that this is normal. I guess by 30, you’re smart enough to perform some regular self-evaluation and introspection. You’re also smart enough to release a sigh of relief with the decisions you’ve made.

While I’m not sure what the future holds, one thing is for sure. It’s pretty awesome to be satisfied with the person you’ve become and the life you’ve built so far. If I had to choose to do it all over again, I probably wouldn’t change a thing (well, maybe fewer tequila shots and cookie binges). I may not be curing cancer or winning the Pulitzer (yet!), but I am proud of my sphere of influence as it stands. I like to think I make a small difference in the lives of those around me, and if that ultimately becomes my legacy, then I’ll be proud of it.

Unless I somehow get to travel across the multi-verse, I’ll never find out where life could have taken me. But I’m realizing now that turning 30 is not only about trusting your body, your heart, and your mind, but learning to trust that you are where you are meant to be as well.

2 Years & 20 Days: Welcome to the Circus

Earlier this week, I walked into my apartment and thought I had been robbed. The furniture was askew, the chairs were flipped over, shredded garbage peppered the floor, and I couldn’t help but notice a particularly ripe smell. I quickly threw the (sleepy, cranky) toddler into the crib and set the car seat-bound baby on the floor before rushing to investigate further. “Jesus, someone broke into our apartment and stole our dog,” I thought to myself. I couldn’t find him anywhere–and in a small apartment, he’s not exactly a needle in a haystack. My heartbeat pulsed rapidly as I searched. Finally, I heard a muted, high-pitched whine. I opened the bathroom door and whoosh went the dog, running frantically with newfound freedom. His head was completely encased in an empty oats container, partially gnawed through so he could breathe. The container took away his peripheral vision, meaning he clumsily ran around our apartment while I continued to take in my doomsday-like surroundings. The best surprise of all was the smattering of dog poop scattered around the (small, totally easy-to-avoid) rug. What a delightful surprise.

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Me, coming home today.

[Source]

Based on the evidence, I suspect the dog rifled through the recycling, stuck his head way too far down the oatmeal tube, and got stuck. Then he proceeded to freak the F out, running around the apartment, anxiously pooping on the carpet, fleeing to the bathroom, and accidentally closing the door on himself.

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Because pic or it didn’t happen.

This story is relevant because it’s pretty reflective of the overall chaos that is now my life. Many people have asked what it’s like to transition to two kids (who are two years and 20 days apart), so let me lay it out.

Welcome to the Circus…

…where bodily fluids know no bounds

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If this were me, the whole shirt would be soaked. [Source]

In the last eight hours alone, I’ve been on the receiving end of a trifecta of bodily fluids, none of which were mine. (The unexpected bonus of being peed, pooped, and thrown up on is that you can feel very justified in leaving the dishes for your husband to wash.)

This damp menagerie, combined with the copious amounts of sweat I shed due to postpartum hormones and a practically built-on human furnace, means this mom is now often mistaken for a swamp monster.

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What a typical Millennial to include a selfie. [Source]

…where “germy” has taken on a whole new meaning

On a related, but worth-mentioning-on-its-own, note is the amount of germs that have taken this household hostage (despite constant efforts to sanitize). In case you’ve never been around a two-year-old, I’m going to let you in on a little secret: kids are gross.

Life to a toddler is a germy treasure hunt. The most-touched button in a museum exhibit? Leave it to a toddler to decide that’s the perfect time to suck his fingers. Find a cigarette butt on the ground? Better not turn around or it’s going in the kid’s mouth. Walked through urine puddles in the subway on the way home? Perfect time to treat the bottom of his shoe like an ice cream cone! To a toddler, learning he can use his diaper’s contents like finger paint is like winning the lottery. (Luckily, this last one has yet to happen to us. Sorry, Julie.)

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“If it exists, I licks.” [Source]

Toddlers have ownership rights to this sweet spot of revulsion where the disgusting things they think to put in their mouths are almost on pace with the disgusting things they expel. Snot is such an everyday sight anymore, I don’t even notice it. In a toddler’s mind, leaving any of the body’s many orifices unexplored is a missed opportunity. To their credit, their two-year-old fingers are the perfect size for their nostrils.

The new Baby Bear had a cold when she was just two weeks old thanks to her big brother deciding to use her hand as a tissue. (The next day, he sneezed into my mouth. My MOUTH.) Sure it sucked to have a congested newborn, but I figured at this rate, she’ll be a beast by the time she goes to kindergarten.

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A mother can only hope her child will be this kick-ass. [Source]

Being a mom to a toddler is like exposure therapy for germaphobes. You can use all the vinegar water and soap you want to try to keep things clean, but you can’t avoid a toddler’s grubby hands forever. I try to take comfort in the germs; with each cold comes a more formidable immune system for the entire family.

…where I learn as I go

I like to think of myself as a fairly laid-back person, at least as evidenced by my laissez-faire approach to germs. If there’s anything I’ve learned so far, it’s that kids are constantly changing and that parents adapt quickly as a result. No one knows what they’re doing, not really. Therefore there’s no sense in worrying too much about every little thing; it’s much less stressful to just figure it out as you go.

This second time around is no different. Yes, certain things were harder at first, like simultaneously carrying a sleeping toddler and a car seat up the stairs to the apartment. But with each passing day, my confidence grows. That, or I fail, have no choice but to laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation, and learn for the next time.

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“How are you going to do [insert activity here] with a newborn and a toddler?” [Source]

…where my days are measured by coffee, wine, and diapers

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Honestly one of my favorite things about going to bed at night is knowing coffee awaits me in the morning.

As much as I like to think I’m still “cool,” having two kids has finally forced to acknowledge that my version of “cool” has drastically changed over the last few years. Gone are the days where I’d be able to attend a play’s opening night at the drop of a hat or direct friends to the best bachelorette hot spot. I’m aware that clubs still exist, but I’d be hard pressed to tell you the last time I entered one. That said, knowing the most entertaining playgrounds or the best kid-friendly breweries is valuable, too, and in those terms, I’ve got you covered. (Did I mention how stereotypically important booze is to me as a mom of young kids?)

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Me, talking to early 20-somethings. [Source]

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m extremely grateful for the ways staying at home has changed my priorities and given me more room to live now that I’m not tied to a desk. (But I’ll be the first to admit there are many days where a desk, some deadlines, and, hell, even meetings sound more appealing than having a toddler weasel his way into my personal space all day.)

However, while I’ve been a mom for two years now, I’m still occasionally hit with the peculiar realization that my daily life is now marked by the number of times I’ve changed a diaper, my ability to find that one car my two-year-old suddenly cannot live without, or the constant question of how many cups of coffee a day are still within reason. When asked what’s new in my life, I immediately, without thought, respond with what’s new with my family. My sense of self is harder to pin down now that my entire life is devoted to being responsible for two other, mostly helpless, lives. Self-care and alone time are still very important to me, and I have a lot of support to allow for them, but my self feels less pronounced right now. Grappling with who I am and the uncertainty of who I will be when the kids are grown is difficult.

As uncomfortable as it is to sit with that uncertainty, I am slowly learning to embrace it. If the blurry pace of the last two years is any indication, it’ll all be over before I know it and I’ll look back longingly on these harried days. My accomplishments may be of the playdate-related variety right now, but, dammit, they’re still mine.

…where my brain has turned to mush

Another reason my sense of self has faded is simply because I regularly feel like I’m losing my mind. It may not seem hard, but staying at home with a toddler is extremely mentally, physically, and emotionally taxing (hence the aforementioned wine and coffee). Chasing after a human being who repeatedly ignores me, throws himself down on questionable surfaces (read: parking lots, sidewalks, mud), and thinks it’s perfectly acceptable to sit in his own excrement is nothing short of exhausting. That’s not even taking into account the newborn who literally feeds off me for hours on end. Plus, kids are inadvertently skilled at the fine art of gaslighting.

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Me, after being forced to listen to “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” for 62 minutes straight. (This is not an exaggeration.) [Source]

I like to think it’s the lack of sleep and influx of hormones, but nowadays I’m lucky if I can properly string together enough words to form a decent sentence. In the grocery store yesterday, I found myself garbling verb conjugations to the point where I sounded more like English was my fourth language than my first. I used to fancy myself a valuable trivia partner, but lately I have a hard enough time remembering simple, everyday nouns, like “goggles,” much less when they were first used in the Olympics (answer: 1976). Try as I may to keep up with current events, pop culture, and literature, you’re not going to get much out of me lately unless you’re asking about the verses of “Wheels on the Bus.”

To make matters worse, I’ve taken these diminished language and general knowledge skills to the streets and have become accustomed to narrating my thoughts and actions throughout the day. This is perfectly benign when my toddler is in tow, but it becomes markedly more disturbing when I’m alone and using a sing-song voice to tell no one in particular that I have to go to the bathroom.

It’s hard to feel like you can add much value to a conversation when you’re constantly preoccupied with someone else’s well-being. Luckily I still do a few things that help keep me sharp, like reading and playing board games. Can I tell you about the author’s use of symbolism or the best strategies to win? No, but ask me to tell you the color of the book’s cover or if the board game box had letters on it? Now, that I know.

…where sleep is the world’s most precious commodity

You think you’ll never forget how sleep-deprived you were when your first child was born. Much like the intensity of childbirth, you can hazily recall that it was hard to get through, but you really don’t remember the details. It must be the body’s way of helping us decide to continue populating the earth. Then your second comes and pushes that sleep deprivation right back down your throat. Except this time, you’ll wonder why the hell you ever thought your newborn was hard.

Yeah, newborns wake up at night, but you know the hard part about two? You don’t get to “sleep when the baby is sleeping.” Instead, you are forced to get your weary ass out of bed at the crack of dawn (otherwise known as a toddler’s favorite time to warm up his vocal chords with a most spirited rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”).

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“Is he…is he SINGING at 6:00 A.M.?!?!” [Source]

Then you must entertain said toddler as they Tasmanian Devil their way through the day.

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Oh look, someone took a video of my toddler in the park! [Source]

I recently Googled “sleep deprivation Geneva Convention” to confirm that it is indeed recognized by the UN as a form of torture. It is often said that children are little sociopaths, and now I have proof.

My response when people ask how I look “refreshed”?

…where nap time is not to be taken for granted

I never realized how vital to my very existence nap time had become until it slowly started to fade away. My toddler has gone about 50% of the last three weeks without a nap at all. Before that, he reliably slept for three hours each day. (Yes, I was spoiled.) Now, every day is a crap-shoot as to whether or not he’ll go down easily, have a theatrical conversation with himself, scream at the top of his lungs, cry his eyes out, or some strange combination of the bunch. No matter how hard I try to follow our same old routine, this enigmatic dance often results in me quite literally ripping out my hair (figuratively were it not for my trichotillomania, but that’s for another day).

To give you a clue how it normally goes down, here’s footage of our typical nap time conversation.

Me:

My toddler:

Me:

Sometimes, if I’m very, very lucky, I can channel my inner wizard to get both kids to nap at the same time. Those moments?

…where I find my zen by whatever means necessary

Other times, the magical nap moments don’t happen and I’m left with the ongoing urge to scream and/or cry.

As is quickly becoming the theme of the post, toddlers are hard. They know how to push your buttons; it’s what they do. As such, it’s only natural that you occasionally feel rage. Sometimes it results in yelling. Other times, it results in the desire to shake them so they just. stop. whining. (It’s not talked about much, but everyone I know how has experienced this feeling before. It is normal and doesn’t make you a bad mom so long as you don’t act on it.)

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“STOP THROWING YOUR FOOD ON THE FLOOR!!” [Source]

Any time I feel this ragey Mom Hulk come out, I immediately feel a guilty pit form in my stomach. Over time, I’ve learned the best thing to do when I feel it coming on is to make sure everyone’s safe before walking away for a minute. Honestly, we both benefit from the space.

Though I’m not really one for meditation, becoming a mother of two has greatly increased my appreciation for silence. You know you’re in a silence deficit when you drive by a cemetery and think, “Wow, I bet it’d be so peaceful to sit in there by myself.” Lately, the most alone time I get is in the bathroom. I have therefore started to sneak away when Papa Bear gets home just to go sit on the toilet by myself with no one touching or talking to me. Soon maybe I’ll figure out how to bring in a cocktail without raising suspicion.

Until recently, I never thought a bathroom could feel like this:

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*Cheerfully* “All by myseelf…” [Source]

…where TV is the greatest invention known to mankind

I’m the first to admit that we probably watch an unhealthy amount of TV in our house. Before kids, I thought we’d be the type of parents to limit TV to only a few 30-minute shows a week, if at all. Now, I’m pleased if we only watch a few 30-minute shows a day. If you stay home and still don’t watch any TV, then major props to you. I’m not sure how you do it.

At least for me, with a newborn who wakes up all night and a toddler who starts each day at 6:30, I’m just doing what I have to do to survive. Sometimes I muster the energy to read, play with toys, or get a jump-start on breakfast. Other times I turn on the boob tube, sit on the couch, and let my coffee do its magic.

I only casually watch the shows I play for him (typically in desperation to see how much time is left), but I’ve seen enough to become highly critical of some of today’s children’s programming. For instance, why does Daniel Tiger’s mom wear pants when Daniel and his dad don’t? Does Mickey’s Toodles have all that random crap because he’s a closet hoarder? And don’t even get me started on what an asshole Thomas’s friend James is. Luckily for me, my toddler’s attention span is finally long enough to sit and watch an entire feature-length film. Unluckily for me, he wants to watch the same ones repeatedly.

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If I have to watch Cars 2 one more time, I’m gonna be ka-chout of my mind. [Source]

…where the car can become a torture chamber

It’s hard to explain, but if you’re a mom you’ll know what I mean when I say a kid’s cries go straight to his mom’s heart. Kids’ screams send some kind of biological signal that makes a mom’s stress level rise and stomach turn. It’s hard enough with one, but now that I have two children who occasionally sync their wails while I’m driving? Well, let’s just say this is me when we finally get to where we’re going.

…where small accomplishments count

Take a shower? Wash a dish? Work out? Keep your kids alive all day? Get out of the house? Or, *gasp* put on real pants?  I’m not gonna lie; if I do any of these on a given day, I try to allow myself to feel like the badass I am.

…where I sometimes just have to accept pandemonium

Patting myself on the back for the little successes is helpful to some degree, but sometimes there’s just so much chaos that there’s no choice but to give in to it. I often think, “This is my life now.” So my toddler watched five hours of TV and ate ketchup and cantaloupe for lunch. So I’m covered in vomit and my kid is drinking water out of the dog bowl. Who cares? It’s times like these where I try to acknowledge that I’m doing the best I can, that we usually have better days, and that there’s nothing more to do than laugh at the outrageousness of the moment. Honestly, these times usually make for the best stories anyway (see oatmeal story above).

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“Do I care if that gets marked on with pen?” is a question I ask myself more than I’d like to admit. The answer has increasingly been “no.” [Source]

…where my family and friends mean the world to me

I would be an absolute basket case, or arguably more of one than I am now, were it not for my friends and family. We’ve had such an outpouring of support in these last few months and I couldn’t be more grateful. To everyone who has reached out, helped us, or shown us love, thank you.

…where the sweet moments make it all worthwhile

The literal blood, sweat, and tears are hard. The increased mom guilt is harder. The sleepless nights, aches and pains, roaring hormonal shifts, occasional questioning of my sanity–all of it is nothing compared to those moments that make my heart melt. There is nothing quite like seeing Big Brother Bear cuddle up next to his baby sister, turn to me, and say, “Mommy, Baby Sister is so cute!” Better still is hearing, “I love you, Mommy.” It’s moments like these that erase all of the crazy ones.

My toddler may be a little nutcase at times, but he is genuinely invested in his sister’s well-being; he loves to rock her, give her kisses, hold her, and tell me when she’s crying. Lately, he’s big on giving everyone hugs and kisses. He is generally laid-back and listens well relative to many toddlers. He’s such a sweet, empathetic, adventurous, carefree, and funny kid, and I feel humbled to know that I’ve at least partly helped shape who he is. Sure, my patience may be tested on a regular basis, but knowing that it’s to help him learn and grow and blossom is more rewarding than anything I’ve ever experienced before. If I can replicate this to even a small degree with my daughter, I will have hit the jackpot.

Having the two of them has taught me that I’m happy to be a means to an end if it means the end is as wonderful as it’s been along the way.

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Me, when I realize I must not be doing so poorly (and I’ve had coffee). [Source]

It might be Crazy Town, but at least I’m the mayor.

In many ways, I still feel like I’m 20 years old. Therefore the realization that I am two months shy of 30 with two children often hits me like a ton of bricks. Then I take a look around at our beautifully chaotic existence and realize it’s just the beginning of the rest of our lives. And so far it’s shaping up to be amazing.

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We’re doing it! [Source]

[Featured image source]

Pardon the Interruption

Why hello there! This will be a very short post, but in an effort to dust off the ol’ keyboard after months of silence, I wanted to announce my return to blogging.

A lot has been happening in the Bear/Wear household. We went on a trip to the Netherlands (blog forthcoming, I hope), traveled around the States a bit, celebrated Baby Bear’s second birthday (I can’t believe it either), and have generally been busier than ever. Oh, and the other small update I’d be remiss to forget: Baby Bear got a big promotion.

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There’s a new Bear in town.

That’s right, Baby Bear’s official new title is Big Brother Bear. We welcomed our darling daughter in late July, and are finally settling in to our new “normal.”

Ideas for the blog have been swirling around my head for months, but until now I seriously lacked the energy to do anything about it. God willing, I hope to get back into the swing of things with several new posts in the coming weeks.

Some things you have to look forward to? Why you should visit the Netherlands during tulip season, what it’s like to be pregnant with a toddler, book recommendations from Big Brother Bear and me, an honest look at the transition to two, a whole bunch of board games for you to try, my birth stories, TV you should be watching, some new Chicago highlights, and much more.

In the meantime, I’m looking for ideas on how to shorten Big Brother Bear. BB Bear? No, too similar to Baby Bear. Bro Bear? Nah, sounds like a fratty deodorant. Biggy Bear? It kind of reminds me of a D-list rapper, but I’m totally down with this one. I welcome your suggestions, too.

I’m back at it, y’all, and I couldn’t be happier. I’ve missed you!

Until soon,

Mama Bear 2.0

 

 

 

[Featured image source]

7 Easy Ways to Help Save Our Planet

Happy Earth Week!* Let’s all take a second to reflect on and give thanks to this wondrous planet we call home.

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This picture was taken along the Village Walking Trail at Kapalua on Maui in November 2016. The trail you see here was the cart path along the old Village Golf Course, closed in 2007. When they built the new course, they decided to let nature reclaim this one, meaning that the vegetation you see here, already so full, lush, and overall jungly, was actually a fairway not that long ago. If you have the chance, I’d highly recommend stopping by; there are many different levels of difficulty available. The one we did was equally hilly and rewarding. Side note: read The World Without Us.

 

As I age and continue to read the horrifying stats about the shape of the planet, I find myself becoming increasingly concerned with my personal carbon footprint. Consequently, I’ve taken great strides to become a more conscious citizen of Earth in the last few years. I have also come to feel strongly that this needs to be a regular topic of conversation between friends and neighbors; sharing, educating, and spreading knowledge of how we can better care for our planet is the only way we will continue to make permanent positive changes.

Now, I recognize that this level of focus on the Earth’s health and well-being comes with a certain level of privilege. When you’re worried about meeting basic human needs, stopping to read a recycling label is certainly not going to be a priority. But for many of us, immediate personal convenience often trumps potential long-term ecological impact. Helping to save the Earth doesn’t necessarily mean you have to plant trees or contact your local legislator (although those things are important too!). Sometimes it’s rather simple. I’d encourage you to think really hard about the little things you do every day that may have bigger implications than you realize.

Don’t be like Titus.

[Source]

While I’m no behavior change psychologist, I’ve personally been most successful in making permanent changes when I start small. My goal in sharing the below list is that you may find something new to incorporate into your routine. Remember, every baby step you take is still a step forward.

*This isn’t really a thing, but since I dropped the ball by not getting this out on Sunday, I hereby proclaim the week following Earth Day to be Earth Week! Even better, let’s just go ahead and treat every week like Earth Week.

7 Simple, Eco-Friendly House Rules

1. Get yourself a reusable water bottle.

For real, this is 2017. There is no reason why you should still be using plastic water bottles. For one, they are expensive. Happily, in many cases, reducing your carbon footprint also means reducing your cash outflow. Secondly, multiple studies have proven that there is no real difference in quality between tap water and bottled water (most Americans have access to clean drinking water). In many cases, bottled water is actually just purified tap water. If you’re afraid to use the tap, just get a water filter for your fridge. Lastly, and very importantly, bottled water bottles produce a helluva lot of waste. According to Ban the Bottle, Americans recycle only 23% of plastic water bottles used, meaning 38.5 billion bottles flood our dumps each year.

kleen kanteen

I really like my Klean Kanteen because it’s a good product and because of the company’s mission to help people kick single-use habits.

2. Turn off your lights when they’re not in use.

This isn’t just a cool little Mormon trick!

[Source]

Just like the tip above, this one is not only good for the environment, but it saves money, too. My grandfather used to admonish me when I’d leave a trail of lights behind me, “Are you the one paying the electricity bill?” Now that I am, it sure feels good to keep the bill as low as possible. Especially since doing so means I’m helping to reduce wasted energy as well. While the amount of energy saved really depends on the type of bulb in question, suffice it to say it’s best practice to turn off any light that’s not needed.

That said, consider getting rid of your incandescent bulbs altogether. Of the energy they use, 90% is given off as heat and only 10% produces light. That is pretty horrible in terms of energy waste and it can also result in potential fire hazards, especially if the lights are left on for prolonged periods. You’re better off with compact fluorescent bulbs which, while more expensive upfront, will last longer, more efficiently consume energy, and save you more money in the long run. Learn more here or here.

3. Similarly, turn off and unplug appliances and electronics.

Simply put, if you’re not actively using an appliance, you don’t need to have it turned on (obviously the refrigerator and freezer are different). Mom, Dad, this is when I tell you again that Nestle does not need to watch TV while you’re gone. She just doesn’t.

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[Source]

Also important to note, however, is that many appliances consume energy even when they are not turned on. While this “standby power” is sometimes helpful because it allows certain appliances to show a clock display, use a timer, etc., in many cases it’s wasted energy, consumed for no other reason than because that appliance is plugged in. According to the Three Actions Project and Energy Star, “the average household spends $100 per year to power devices while they are off (or in standby mode). On a national basis, standby power accounts for […] more than $10 billion in annual energy costs.”

There are a couple of easy ways to improve this. One, try to only plug in certain, more single-use items when you actually use them, like your toaster, coffee maker, phone or toothbrush charger. Two, group some appliances together with a power strip so they can all be unplugged at once, like your TV, cable box, and game console. Realistically you don’t need these things plugged in for more than a few hours at a time, and that way you don’t have to go through the hassle of re-plugging them individually.

4. Remember to stash your reusable shopping bags everywhere.

Even though I do reuse the ones I have as garbage bags for my bathrooms, plastic bags make me so anxious. They’re terrible for the environment, take thousands of years to break down, and are difficult and costly to recycle. (I like this list of reasons why they should be banned.) Thankfully, many cities are wising up and straight-up banning these flimsy atrocities altogether.

Also thankfully, there is a very easy alternative to the plastic bag and that is the increasingly present reusable shopping bag. They can be found at almost any retailer nowadays, and some stores are actually sending you away with their own branded version in lieu of any other type of bag. It’s not hard to accumulate quite the stash (in fact, I recently had to unload a bunch for the sake of storage space). What’s more difficult is actually remembering to bring them with you when you go shopping, especially for those unavoidable impromptu stops.

To combat this problem, I like to keep a few in the car and at least one in the stroller (since we walk so many places). I recommend you do the same!

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I used to have this exact bag!

[Source]

5. Recycle, recycle, recycle (but do so responsibly).

First, become acquainted with what you can recycle, especially as it can vary by city (here’s Chicago’s guide or find your city’s here). Recycling can be surprisingly complicated, and unfortunately many of us (I’m definitely guilty of some of the no-nos) are aspirational yet misinformed recyclers, leading to increased contamination and, sadly, more trash. Some general tips?

  • Don’t bag your recycling. Doing so often results in the entire bin going to the landfill instead. This also includes leaving the recyclables in brown paper bags. Shake them out first, then throw the bag in.
  • Don’t recycle some of these common contamination culprits:
    • Styrofoam
    • Electronics
    • Coffee cups
    • Toys
    • Plastic bags (some grocery stores recycle them, but home recyclers do not)
    • Pizza boxes (unless you’ve removed the greasy parts)
    • Anything stringy (like hoses or lights)
  • Do rinse out your food containers before recycling. Again, anything greasy or filled with food could cause the whole bin to be thrown in the trash. Anytime you feel annoyed by the 30 seconds it will take to clean a container, think of how sad it would be to clog up the landfills instead. Yes, I even mean the damn peanut butter container. Think of the planet!

Well, maybe not that last one.

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6. If it’s yellow…

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This one is going to be more controversial, but I think that’s more because of baseless societal norms than logic itself. In fact, it’s a policy that can result in major water conservation.

According to Conserve H20, the average modern toilet uses 1.6 gallons of water per flush (older toilets can use up to four times more while high-efficiency toilets use 1.28 or less). Let’s say you have an up-to-par, modern toilet and pee at home six times a day (conservative by my standards). That means you’re flushing 9.6 gallons a day. If you only flush once every three pees, or twice in that same time period, that means you’re saving roughly 4.8 gallons a day, 33.6 gallons a week, 144 gallons a month, 1,752 gallons a year! Because there is “not an infinite supply of water,” it’s important to acknowledge what a huge impact we’d have on one of our most precious resources if more people started to save this much water each day with such a simple change.

And if you’re worried about cleanliness, don’t be. Assuming you have no sort of infection, are properly hydrated, and regularly clean your toilet, holding back on flushes for a couple of hours will have no impact on the cleanliness of your home. In fact, it might even increase it because the amount of toilet particles flying into the air upon flushing will be reduced. (Real talk. Can we make it a RULE that people have to close their toilet lids before flushing? If you think I’m gross for not flushing my pee each time, just know that I’m judging you for your poo splatter.)

7. Switch to all-natural cleaning supplies.

Despite what you think of me now after having read that above suggestion, I am a clean freak.

Please. Disorderly is different than dirty, okay?

 

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I love to clean. Strangely enough, cleaning bathrooms is one of my preferred chores. But since I’ve become more focused on greener living, I’ve had a hard time justifying the use of potentially dangerous chemicals to so. Instead, I’ve started to use one of the oldest tricks in the book: plain old water and vinegar. Now my go-to, all-purpose cleaner, I use it almost everywhere in our apartment (sigh, I still prefer Windex for glass). I use it on our floors (for the hardwood, I add a little olive oil), in our bathrooms, on our counters, on the door handles, to dust, even to help rinse off our fruits and veggies. Everywhere.

Aside from its ridiculously low cost (so incredibly cheap; out-of-the-ballpark cheaper than any solution found in stores), I rest much easier knowing that I’m not “cleaning” my apartment with chemicals that come with warning labels, or releasing said chemicals into our air or water supply. I’m not afraid my toddler, who has been known to lick random surfaces on occasion, is going to come across the bottle, and I’m not afraid to breathe the air when I clean. Win-win-win-win-win.

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Here’s my set-up. It’s about 1/3 white vinegar and 2/3 water with a few drops of lemon oil (or lemon juice if I have a fresh lemon). I bought the nozzle from a gardening spritz bottle at the dollar store and just screwed it straight onto the vinegar bottle. I keep another vinegar bottle for refills.

 

A Few Other Simple Tricks

These don’t need much explanation, but are always worth mentioning.

  • Turn off the water as you brush your teeth.
  • Take shorter showers.
  • Walk more and/or take public transportation if it’s available.
  • Buy locally sourced produce and meat. Better yet, try eating less meat overall.
  • Wash your clothes with cold water.
  • Pay your bills online and unsubscribe from paper notices.
  • Use your blinds accordingly to help regulate your home’s temperature (open during the winter and closed during the summer).
  • Buy second-hand toys or toys made from recycled plastic (I love Green Toys).

Educate Yourself

All of these tips help make a difference in terms of eco-friendliness, but overall I want to stress the importance of mindfulness as it relates to energy consumption (something I continue to work toward every day). In general, I think we do a poor job of thinking where energy comes from when we’re going about our daily lives. Yet much of what we do requires some level of power and has some level of impact on the Earth.

consumption-by-source-and-sector-2015

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Remember, right now, most of our energy comes from burning fossil fuels (petroleum, coal, gas). Fossil fuels are high in carbon, so burning them produces a lot of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that is a leading cause of global warming. Plus, while they are naturally formed, we consider them to be non-renewable resources because the process by which they are formed takes millions of years and, no surprise, we are going through them much faster than that.

The bad news is that we simply don’t have time to waste on the climate change denial crisis going on. But…

neil degrasse tyson

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The good news is that there is a concerted effort taking place by many of the world’s top scientists to increase the efficiency, cost effectiveness, and prevalence of renewable resources, and it led to record high wind and solar production in 2015.

Long story short, there are things we can all be doing better to help improve the quality of our planet. The only way it will get better is if we all start to think outside of ourselves a little more and do the best we can, now.

What’s Next?

First, I will take a deep breath. If I already felt a little panicky about the state of our environment, doing research for this article sure as hell did not help the matter.

Not me.

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Okay.

Now, I must remind myself that becoming greener is an ongoing process. Even the above tips, which I already practice regularly, can be improved and refined. For example, I’m terrible about unplugging my phone charger each time I’m done with it. I also just now learned some of the important rules of proper recycling.

There are also countless ways I can continue to build on and enhance my personal eco initiative. I shamefully admit my dependence on paper towels and napkins. In the coming months, I’d really like to work on this, especially because we already have some of these adorable “unpaper towels.”

For more ideas of how you can reduce your carbon footprint, check out some of these lists.

Do you feel jazzed about the environment now? Because I do! Let’s do this people!

Raymond Holt is hands down one of the best characters on television. If you don’t watch Brooklyn Nine-Nine, you aren’t doing it right. I also firmly believe he’d do everything in his power to reduce his carbon footprint.

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What are your favorite eco-friendly tips?