Six months of blogging and adjusting expectations

I started this site convinced that I had something to share. And none of the fashion-minimalist-sustainability blogs I was reading ticked all my boxes. Hence I set to write the blog I wanted to read!

This is the eight blog-like thing I’ve set up. Yeah, I came of age with the internet, so I started early. The first one was in 2004, and the only ones that survive are I ♥ Being a Girl, a collective effort with my YSAFE people between 2010 and 2015, my tumblr, and iza.feels.it, my visual diary since 2008. Each of them was an effort at “me-me-me, look at me, I have things to say!” and none of them really went viral.

Yet, I found functional explanations for each of them. iza.feels.it is nice to browse through after a while, it provides time stamps for certain events better than all my photography folders, and for a while my mom knew if I was OK by the frequency of posting there. I ♥ Being a Girl was my own little feminist boot camp. Nothing builds consciousness and discursive repertoires as having to explain stuff to others. The tumblr serves as an alternative to Pinterest because my aesthetic pleasures go beyond the puritan user norms of that place. With this blog my key consolation is that one above: this is the blog I wanted to read.

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However, the numbers worry me. A lot. Every time I visit the WordPress stats site is either a confirmation of “yay, this is working!” if somebody has wondered by or a soul-crushing “this is useless” because nobody has visited the blog today. It is ridiculous, I know… but that’s the truth.

The number are not even that bad. I’ve been harassing my friends intensely enough (most of my traffic comes from Facebook) and some interested strangers appear time by time; in last month there have been four days with no clicks. I am not expecting comments, as those come in after a much higher critical mass of views. That July peak is me asking my Facebook friends to share the blog with their friends as a gift to me. Worked very well! I know what I’ll be asking for my birthday – more clicks.

To keep this labor of love pure and true, I want to spell out the demons surrounding it. I want to leave the doubts here and carry on, so here we go:

  • I fret about the stats constantly. Not healthy! I have my self-worth attached to clicks, even if somebody ends up here by mistake and do not linger. I like my content, but I also like external validation. A lot.
  • I am anxious about constantly spamming my friends with my little outfit photos. We can’t all be Brain Pickings going viral with a little curated newsletter of “look what I’ve read recently”… I am sure that there are quite few people who have unfollowed me on Facebook or who roll their eyes deep into their heads with each of my updates.
  • Wasn’t I supposed to be a serious scholar? How come my Facebook is full of me striking poses in hand-me-downs from my mom? Where is the serious high-brow critique of late capitalism? (Ha, I’m doing an embodied critique!)
  • Am I running out of content? Am I over the whole substract-spark joy-capsule thing? Have I reached a new equilibrium where I know what I’m doing? We all know that the most attractive content is that of redemption, the prodigal son, the recovering shopping addict… My “story” is not even slightly dramatic, I don’t have scary enough “before” pictures. I’m just another obsessive-compulsive disclosing my love for spreadsheets and believing that my strategies *should* work for other people. Well, guess what? Other people are other people. With different characters, needs, and strategies in life. You need a lot of messianic belief in your “method” to tell people that there is one definite way to fold the underwear.
  • What sense does it make to keep updating random passersby about the number of knickers in my drawers? All there really is fits on a napkin – THIS! – the rest is pure entertainment, recycling of the same information and making posts out of thin air.
  • I hate Instagram. It’s bullshit and social only in the worse possible way (conspicious self-projection, anyone? #ad, anyone?). I don’t want to have a social media strategy. I have this clearly idiotic idea that creating (imho) good content is enough. Oh, the naïveté! I wish I had the guts to eliminate it… I have the same “hate-but-it-might-be-useful-someday-somehow” relationship with both Instagram and Twitter. The desire to purge is cyclical.

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How do you feel about the behind-the-scenes of your internet presence? Are you able to separate # of likes and your self-worth?

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P.S. – This is my only social media “triumph” (ha!) so far:

É mesmo este fim de semana que começa o outono? @unarmarioverde #birkenstock #birkenstocklove

A post shared by Birkenstock (@birkenstockportugal) on

How to survive summer heat in Barcelona

Me re-learning to use a swimming cap after 20 years of not having worn one.

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I present you with the typical Barcelona summer week. Hot. And humid. Despite having lived in Spain for years, my first socialization has left lasting notions of appropriate summer weather. Which is not this one… I present to you exhibit 1 – “Latvian summer”:

You see the difference, right?

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So I’ve had to develop strategies for survival. And the good news are that the locals have been doing the same thing for millennia. You may frown about lunches consisting of gazpacho and melon, sleeping siestas but then filling terraces until late in the night, and mothers warning their children to stay in shade, but it all makes sense. Here comes my list of survival strategies for heat. I do my best balancing certain levels of comfort with sustainability, but in extreme situations survival wins.

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“Vete por la sombra, hijo”: Fear the sun and stay in the shade.

What stupidity looks like.

Sunburns is how you tell tourists apart from locals (well, that and ugly sandals). People in North are raised to adore sun instead of fearing it. It takes years to change it, but try to take Southern sun threats seriously. Sun burns and heat strokes are awful, and you have nobody else to blame for it.  This is the real reason for siesta: it’s dangerous out there in the middle of the day. Stay in! If you have to go out, do it in short bursts or during mornings or evening.

In urban context protecting yourself means staying in the shade and a good pair of sunglasses, especially if you are participating in traffic. I got my first pair of real deal optical sunglasses in 2015 when starting to take commute-by-bicycle seriously, and wish I had done so many years ago. Forget the 5€ fast fashion stuff and invest in your eyes!
And I still wonder why modern Spaniards don’t use parasols… That would be so weather-appropriate and ladylike, despite tiring one’s arms.

If leaving the city or planning for a daytime picnic in a park, a heavy duty sunscreen, light clothing that covers body and beach umbrella are the way to go.

If you have managed to get burnt, aloe vera, sour milk products, or heavy neutral creams + wet towels can help while bras and other tight fitting garments + errands to run will make your life miserable. In case of a heat stroke, first step is to identify it (headache, dizzyness, nauseas) and get a buddy to help you to bed and wet towels. These strategies apply for mild cases only! There are cases of both sun malaises when only professional help will be of use. Try not to get to that point.

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Move differently!

Moving the body is very important but climate puts restrictions on it and it would be very foolish to ignore them. If you are moving outdoors, please, do yourself a favor and try to underestimate your capabilities. My little thing this season is the elevator. I work on the 6th floor and never take the elevator between October and May. But now there are days when – after gym and bicycle commute down to the campus – I do get into it. The same goes for popping in home, dropping things and going on errands. That’s the winter modus operandi. Now I know very well that I need a shower and 15 minutes of rest before taking up the next task. Little acts of kindness to the body go a long way!

Formal exercise is even more dangerous. I have no idea how people manage to go for a run during the summer here, bet clearly nobody does it between 12 and 17pm. Inside activities depend on AC. Some yoga places become hot yoga places (which is good for stretching!) and others turn into freezers (which is good for pneumonias!), but all gyms advertise their swimming pools. I’ve succumbed to it, hence the swimming cap!

For years I’ve been toying with the idea how water activities might be the best ones for me. I sweat a lot and water prevents the discomfort of that, I always loved playing wit water and mud as a child, I had tried some low-key water aerobics and loved it… but I never learned how to swim properly and the Mediterranean is way too salty for me. So I’ve finally obtained some unsustainable gear – I already had a Speedo swimsuit (made in China), a 2015 “promise” purchase of double polyester that needs amortization, and now also a pair Birkenstock flip flops (EVA, made in Germany) and a silicone swimming cap (Decathlon-Nabaiji, made in China) – and got into the chlorinated water. And I love it, despite the overall tackiness and the smell, oh, the smell! So far it has been water aerobics with people at least twice my age, but one day I will swim properly. Pinky promise!

Birknestocks have provided so much toe happiness and the biggest feet blisters, as they are clearly not a walking shoe. At least not for 5+ km of brisk walks in 28C heat.

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Adjust the temperature

Getting into a swimming pool is only one way of adjust the temperatures in your favor. Depending on your circumstances, you might have several other at your disposal (in order of eco-friendliness):

Right clothing: Fashion-wise summer in Barcelona is paradoxical. I wake up and even the thought of putting anything on seems awful (a bra?! no…) but, if I manage to overcome that repulsion (with the Lush dusting powder if we are in a heat wave) and leave home, everybody else is in the same situation. So we suffer together and the standards of respectability get low-low-low. Not everywhere, of course, but among junior researchers here pants that I would swear off as pajamas, both long and short with pom pom hems, are definitely a thing. Combined with a tank top and maybe a bra. My approach is loose dresses of natural or regenerated materials, but I do have a pair of those pajama pants (since 2010).

Draft: Depending on your living spaces, a permanent draft could be an option. Just make sure that your windows/doors are fixed to avoid slamming and possible damage.

Wet towels: Grandma (and science!) trick that works! Wet your towel in water and put it on skin, works like a charm. I cover myself with a wet towel in very hot nights. Cools off very quickly! Also wets the bed but nobody cares at these temperatures.

Showers: If in winter I may take 2 showers per week, summer means several short showers every day. On the worst days my shower schedule might look like this: woke up sweaty and sticky – shower 1, came home sweaty and sticky – shower 2, too hot to sleep (i.e. sweaty and sticky) – shower 3. Water is the best cooler and stickiness remover. Just keep them short and no-soap (if applicable), and let yourself air-dry if possible.

Air conditioning: Many places are AC-ed, some of them too much so (I’m looking at you Barcelona metro and light railway, and supermarkets, and so many other places…). I indulge AC at work, as it gets stuffy because of the coworkers, computers, and the permanent draft trick does not work well here. At home we have been resisting the urge so far this year, bedroom AC being our last resource if it gets really really hot and impossible to sleep.

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Water and fruit are your friends

As in most places that have seasons, Spanish winter and summer menus are two very different things. A hot meal is the last thing you want, but gazpachos, salads and watermelon straight out of the fridge is the real thing. Most fruit and veggies are in season and many of them don’t have to be cooked.

The vegan trick to cover at least the legumes (because dark leafy greens are not really happening that much), is adding chickpeas or tofu cubes to those salads. And hummus, a lot of hummus.

While most summer fruit and vegetables are full of water (that’s what I think about when carrying watermelons home, it’s basically just a fancy container for water), you still need to drink plenty of it. Water, lemon water, kombucha, room temperature herbal teas (natural rooibos is very nice for this!), and an occasional IPA are the drinks of my choice. Not the crappy sugar waters, I have watermelons for that!

I have a few tricks that make me drink more water. For example, when I fetch my first kettle at work, I also fill my glass with cold water. I have only 1 glass at work, so then I have to finish that cold water before the tea water boils (and I can start brewing my herbals).
And I always leave a big glass of water on the table when going to bed. I normally wake up several times per night, and that water both hydrates and refreshes my morning breath.

Ginger and lemon second fermentation kombucha. Foamy, sparkly, and not made by Coca Cola, Ltd.

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Chub rub and what to do about it?

I sweat a lot, my thighs touch, and I like to walk long distances. In warm weather this combination often ends in chaffing and pain. I tried the “use deodorant on you thighs” strategy and I’m not impressed. Talc-based baby powders (stay away from it and google why!) and this Lush product also have their cons: bathroom full of white powder and rather limited staying power. But it helps to get dressed in those mornings when putting anything on seems impossible. I cover myself with the powder, get my dress on (while trying to avoid stains) and get out of the door. Then there is no way back! As all Lush products, this one is extremely fragrant. To make sure I don’t smell like a Lush shop and to make it last longer, I mixed the original powder with the same amount of cornstarch. It’s already cornstarch based, so it mixes seamlessly, smells a little less intensely and lasts twice as much. With the next one I might shift the proportions to 2:1 in favor of cornstarch.

I haven’t tried or read the ingredients on this product, but sounds promising if you like to have the big pharma on your side (and between your thighs).

An alternative to creams, powders and potions is not sweating that way. It took me a stupidly long time to realize that an additional benefit to bicycle commute is the absence of chaffing, unless I do many kilometers in heat. I’ll take backpack-sweat over chub rub any day, thank you very much!

Another option is looking into shorts as an underwear alternative. Preferably ones you already have.

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What are your tips for heat survival? Have you had to fight the Northern obsession with sun while you should’ve known better? What’s your favorite summer recipe?

Journey on Hobbit feet

Comfort is key. Comfort is key. Clothing is here to make our lives easier. Have I told you that comfort is key? Sometimes I think that the feminist interpetation of (most) female footwear as conscious attempt of the patriarchy to keep us down is not just a hyperbole. If you need a visual argument for this, google “high heels x ray”. It shall do the trick.

The Tolkien reference in the title stems from the fact that my adult footwear choices have been restricted by my feet. They are wide, robust and keep me grounded. Also, their length by width do not fit most commercial footwear brands: the sizes that fit the width leave room for at least a finger or two at length.

This has served as more of an excuse than reason for suffering so far. I never really learned to walk on heels, so I gravitate towards more reasonable footwear anyways. Yet there have been some mistakes throughout the years. Espically painful was admitting to myself that Melissa stuff just is not made for my feet (plastic does not stretch, d-oh!) and lifestyle (their flats are not made for walking; believe me, I’ve tried). Here, have a laugh at my younger self and my poor tortured feet:

Sneakers have been a mainstay on my footwear shelf. Chuck Taylors All Star – real and fake – obsession was followed by lots of fast fashion ballerinas that wore out in few months. Summer 2014 was the lowest point of shoe desperation of wishing for better but being out of ideas. So my mom took me (a 26-year old) to Crocs shop in Riga and bought me 3 pairs. Only one of them turned out to be a real winner, but at least the existential dread of having only shoes that hurt in one way or another was eliminated.

An authentic relief came with my first pair of Veja, and I’ve been riding into the sunset ever since. But here are some past favorites:

Currently I’m the most happy with my footwear options I’ve been in a long time. I have eight pairs of outdoor shoes – five in Barcelona and three in Riga – and using ninth, the white Crocs pumps, as slippers at home. The great majority of them fit very well, except for those Crocs (that’s why they have been retired from taking long walks) and my first Arcopedico pair (next one I’ll get will be a 38 instead of 39 because, contrary to what the salesperson claimed, they do stretch). That’s the advantage of finding few brands that work for you: you resonate with the aesthetics, research the supply chain and production conditions, trust the quality, and know your size. That’s a quadruple win, especially for someone with non-standard feet.

Now the only thing I need for a dream-come-true shoe capsule is a pair of vegan footbed sandals, something like this but preferably with a toe post and attached to the ankle.

My minimalist well-being routine

Sometimes it seems easier to list all the things I’ve stopped using (make up, nail polish, hair conditioner, coffee, black tea, thongs, heels, milk chocolate), so this is an alternative exercise of counting all that remains.

Keep in mind that this is just about me and my advice for this type of subtraction is to be inspired konmari style and ask if a routine/product brings joy. If it does, keep it! If it doesn’t, replace it with something that sparks joy.

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Basics

Food: I eat vegan (leaning towards whole foods plant based) at home, with lots of fiber and very little processed sugars. Ovo-lacto things happen at social situations. I drink little alcohol, consume no tobacco and no caffeine (only a very occasional green tea if I’m feeling adventurous). Herbal teas is my jam.

Sleep: Sleeping is one of my all time favourite activities. My current feel-good requirement is 9h of zzz. Yes, nine hours of sleep every night. I know it’s a luxury and I treat it as such. I’ve read somewhere that Einstein needed 10h. That’s highly reassuring.

Movement: My current routine is cycling to work and back (~7km a day, half of that uphill), yoga at home with doyogawithme.com videos, taking all the possible stairs (I work on the 6th floor) and walking, walking, walking… In my movement wish list for future are more ping pong (there are public tables in Barcelona and I have a ping pong set, so convincing my potential ping pong partners is the only initiative needed) and some water activity, either finally learning to  swim properly or water aerobics if I can tolerate all the chlorine.

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Potions, tools, products and services.

Face: Coconut oil. A mix of shea butter and coconut oil for winter.

A great success of 2017 so far is weening myself off the chapstick addiction. However, if you are looking for one, Epically Epic is the way to go. Her stuff is breathtakingly good!

The same goes for facial creams. I’m not using any (coconut oil ftw!), but the only one I’d go back to is Lavera Basis Sensitiv. It has the perfect texture and smells the way I imagine the magical cream of Azazello smelled in Master and Margarita.

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Body: B12 supplement (If you are vegan, start taking this! Seriously). Multivitamin supplement.

Shampoo (no b*shit, purchased in bulk here), deodorant (vegan, no aluminum), coconut oil, sunscreen, tea tree oil for mosquito bites and zits, lavender oil mixed with water for refreshing and calming effect,  geranium oil because they don’t carry rose oil at Safareig, tweezers, bamboo q-tips. And I get all the unwanted hair removed with hot wax every 6 weeks.

Hair: Shampoo (serves as body wash too), henna dye, Kent (very non vegan) hair brush, wooden comb, assorted bobby pins and pony tail holders, mostly found on the street. For last few years, I’ve been getting a haircut once a year. There has been talk of Liisa trimming the ends for Julie and me, though, so this might change.

Nails: Nail clippers, nail file. My liberation from nail polish and long nails came really early. I removed the polish and cut my nails short when going for a long school trip in spring 2004. Never looked back to the aspiration of *perfect manicure*.

Oops. Found a proof in the archives that an occasional nail polish was going on still in early 2006

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Sexual and repoductive wellbeing: pill, fleurcup, vaginal probiotics (as my gynecologist says “Give your vagina a treat once in a while!”), lube + breathable and comfy underwear from Luva Huva and SiiL! And a visit to a gynecologist once a year.

Dental care: tooth paste (vegan and with fluoride, brand depends), Humble Brush tooth brush (I prefer extremely soft brushes, so I use the children’s brush), floss, and night guard because I grind my teeth. I visit my dentist and dental hygienist twice a year.

Feet: Foot file, nail clippers, lavender oil mixed with water to refresh and calm  + very comfy shoes.

Hands: Hand soap, desinfectant gel for going out and travel.

Vision: glasses, sunglasses, mini screwdriver for the glasses.

+ a stash of pills, mostly pain killers and fever reducers, and band-aids.

Baby Steps: Detoxing A Wardrobe Takes Time

Downsizing a wardrobe has one negative social effect… negative for us, social animals that look for recognition and pats on the back from our inner circles. Your friends will notice something new and flashy while they won’t know that, starting from now, you will treat your wardrobe differently. Unless you post that in all your social media, of course.

I want to assure you that every little step you make is good. I want to confirm that your effort is real, even if it means resisting the fast fashion advertisments green washing your brain and telling that they have changed just this one time. I want you to know that habit formation takes time. I want to promise that – after the initial resistance and adjusting – there will be a day when fast fashion will stop being a viable option in your microcosm. And that moment takes you into a whole new world.

My strategy of wardrobe detox is three-fold, slow and invisible. That’s fine. Relax and do your thing. Actions matter more than appearances. You will know that you are evolving, and that’s enough.

1. Use up what you have! Despite the temptation to start anew, our wardrobes are already full. I prune and edit, but keep living with things I have had for a long time. I still have some stuff from when I went to fast fashion places to browse. This first rule of sustainability sometimes leads to paradoxical situations. I might be lecturing you against the evils of fast fashion dressed in items I bought first-hand from the very same brands I viscerally hate today… well, I bought that garment in 2012 and its life with me is not over yet. At the moment I have few such items left, but it has taken me 5 years of not buying anything from those people to get here.

Denim jacket from 2003, black blouse ~2006, paisley pants from 2010, romper from 2012.

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2. Replace with used whenever possible! Yes, there are vintage gems and sewn-by-familiar-hands items in the second-hand and hand-me-down circles, but they are a minority. Most of the stuff that is going around come from the same fast fashion brands. Reusing a fast fashion item is obviously much-much-much better than purchasing that stuff new, but the tag doesn’t lie. Those things were made in poor conditions and, unless you explain to everybody you meet that this fast fashion garment is reused, i.e. redeemed, it looks like you are wearing fast fashion. A lot of my wardrobe falls into this category, and I treat them like adopted shelter animals: the whole situation is not their fault and I’ll make sure I give them the best possible life (a lot of wear!) until the natural end of their lives.

And these are not even all of my adopted fast fashion wonders…

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3. Buy well made only when new is your only reasonable option. For me the buy-new categories are very clear. So far in 2016 and 2017 I’ve obtained brand new underwear, hoisery and shoes. Underwear and hoisery are categories that do not invite reusing, those are intimate garments that many of us wear to shreds. Also, these are the things that wore out sooner than the rest, gets the most washes, etc. New items have to come in and replace the worn-out ones, hence there isn’t that much second-hand market even if you’d want to!

My leggings are ZIB and Amoralle (Latvia FTW!), my stockings, tights and pinkie socks come from Calzedonia (carefully selecting made in Italy items), my knee-socks are Bonne Maison (made in Portugal). I’m not sure about the supply chains of any of them,  so these are mid-term solutions. Google on your own for better ones! GoodOnYou, although Australia-centered, is a good place to start.

My knickers are Luva Huva (UK) and SiiL (Barcelona), my bras are Lauma and Rosme (unclear supply chain but made in Latvia) + a Luva Huva bralette and a fast fashion sports bra (a 2015 slip-up that I’m owning up). I like to have moderate to high amount of support, so the flimsy bralettes that most ethical producers throw at me do not cut it. I’m still looking for a responsibly-made solid underwire bra. So far those seem to be as elusive as unicorns!

Footwear is another category (and whole another post) that in my case invite to buy new if I’ve found something that fits my needs. I have very wide feet and use them a lot (walking! cycling!), so my shoes have to be wide, comfy and securely attached to my feet. Adding another layer of requirements when it comes to responsibly sourced and ethically made (and vegan!) makes buying shoes an impressive challenge. The whole trope about women and shoe shopping is something I’ve never understood! So second-hands do not tend to be my option (there have been exceptions, though), but after years of footwear struggles I currently have a set of favourites: Veja sneakers (currently I’m impatiently waiting for my fourth pair in two years), Muroexe boots and Arcopedico pumps.