Go Green Challenge: Don’t Leave Your Health to Luck


photo by Takashi .M

Kent and I interrupt our ‘move across the country’ blogging break to wish everyone a very Happy Saint Patrick’s Day and present you with a go-green challenge.  As you put on your favorite green clothes and trinkets, make this an opportunity to grow more environmentally green as well.  We are going to take a moment to discuss a matter near and dear to our hearts because the luck of the Irish isn’t the only observance in town, 16 – 22 March is National Poison Prevention Week.

Did you know the average American uses about 25 gallons of toxic chemicals per year in their homes?  I didn’t until I read Prosperity Without Pollution, by Joel S. Hirschorn and Kirsten V. Oldenburg.  Most are cleaning products, but there are other harmful substances lurking deeper and often unnoticed in our homes, workplaces, and schools; One of these invisible substances is asbestos.  Most of us are familiar with the fact that asbestos is not a material we want to be around.  Exposure is so high risk that mesothelioma is often referred to as “asbestos cancer”.  Despite this, roughly 30 million pounds of asbestos are still used each year in the United States according to the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance.

Asbestos Quick Facts

provided by the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance

  • The number one cause of occupational cancer in the United States is asbestos, even more than 30 years after its use was essentially halted.  View a list of at risk occupations (even hairdressers are on the list).
  • Since asbestos guidelines were issued in 1979, approximately 45,000 Americans have died of asbestos-related diseases, including asbestosis and mesothelioma.
  • 10,000 Americans will die this year of asbestos-related diseases (including lung cancer and mesothelioma cancer) and 200,000 are currently living with asbestosis.
  • Asbestos is still mined in several countries throughout the world, including Canada, and is exported to many industrialized and developing countries.
  • No amount of asbestos exposure is safe; however, the longer and more intense the exposure, the more likely an individual is to develop mesothelioma cancer or another asbestos disease.
  • Exposure to asbestos can also increase the likelihood of other types of lung cancer. Smoking also exacerbates asbestos-related diseases.
  • Asbestos can still be found in myriad homes, schools, and commercial or industrial buildings.
  • Asbestos was once used in more than 3,000 consumer products, including common household items such as toasters and hair dryers, some of which may still be in use.

So, now that you are armed with the facts, here is the go-green challenge.  This week, take the time to educate yourself about asbestos and eliminate your risk of exposure.  As regular Do-It-Yourself project undertakers, Kent and I are making it a priority to learn about the risks of our exposure during these adventures.  We think the first step is to figure out where asbestos is commonly found.

Places Asbestos is Found

courtesy of the Environmental Protection Agency

  • Attic and wall insulation produced containing vermiculite
  • Vinyl floor tiles and the backing on vinyl sheet flooring and adhesives
  • Roofing and siding shingles
  • Textured paint and patching compounds used on wall and ceilings
  • Walls and floors around wood-burning stoves protected with asbestos paper, millboard, or cement sheets
  • Hot water and steam pipes coated with asbestos material or covered with an asbestos blanket or tape
  • Oil and coal furnaces and door gaskets with asbestos insulation
  • Heat-resistant fabrics
  • Automobile clutches and brakes

Yikes, we just finished a few major drywall patching projects…I hope there wasn’t asbestos in our compound!  While the United States Environmental Protection Agency regulates asbestos use in products like these, no amount of exposure is safe.  Before you tackle any projects where you might encounter these materials (especially in older homes), be sure to have your home inspected by an asbestos professional.  If there is asbestos present, have an asbestos trained professional handle remodels near the material/removal.  If your inspection is asbestos free, consider keeping it that way.  With many safe asbestos alternative products on the market, there may be little to no reason to accept even a minimal exposure risk.  Consider using one of these green alternatives instead.

Green/Asbestos-Free Alternatives

provided by the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance

  • Non-PBDE (Polybrominated Dephenyl Ethers) Polyurethane Foams – insulation
  • Flour Fillers – crack and crevice fillers
  • Cellulose Fiber – insulation from finely shredded and treated newsprint
  • Thermoset Plastic Flour – insulation
  • Amorphous Silica Fabrics – insulation and protection

So this Saint Patrick’s Day, don’t leave your health to chance!  Remember to go green, use green building materials, and call a professional to help you with any asbestos issues.

Versatile Blogger Award

Kent here with my first written blog post on Under Open Skies.  I would like to thank Donna from Donna George Blogs for liking our blog and nominating us for this award.  We are truly humbled!  Blogs are nominated for the Versatile Blogger Award based on the following:

“the quality of the writing, the uniqueness of the subjects covered, the level of love displayed in the words on the virtual page. Or, of course, the quality of the photographs and the level of love displayed in the taking of them.” – Versatile Blogger Award


The Rules

  • Thank the person who nominated you
  • Share 7 facts about yourself
  • Nominate 15 blogs
  • Link your nominees’ blogs, and let them know

7 Facts

  1. I am a Minnesotan where there is lots of fresh water!
  2. I like cheese because it tastes GOOD especially when it is freshly shredded/oxidized.  Cheddar is better.
  3. I enjoy eating good wholesome foods but I will occasionally eat McDonald’s.
  4. Two of my favorite activities are hiking and camping.
  5. I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany…just kidding, but we do have a lot of books.
  6. Our current task is to rid the house of nasty toxic chemicals found in today’s highly advertised cleaning products
  7. I admire Tony Robbins.  I just finished his book, Money, and thought is was excellent.


  1. Jess and Tim’s Tiny House
  2. Legally Ginger
  3. Travel with the Slowskys
  4. Backpacker Lee
  5. Bethany Hughes
  6. Nomad Nurpu
  7. Second Ascent Blog
  8. Taking Our Time
  9. Cheery Hill
  10. Minnesota Prairie Roots
  11. The Thirsty Kitten
  12. Craft Beer Geek
  13. Consider the Peel
  14. Love Joy
  15. The Ginger Root KC

I have enjoyed reading thorough all of your blogs and hope you will accept my nomination!

Food in the City: Growing More Self-Reliant

We just released the second video in our vlog series and we are super excited to share it with you!  We learned a lot from our first video which allowed us to dramatically improve the end product of our second video (below).  We would love to hear your thoughts and feedback–watch as we grow our video production skills!

Ways to be More Self-Reliant in the City

These are some of the methods we discuss in our video

  1. Grow Your Own Food – container gardening, hydroponics, aquaponics, vertical gardening
  2. Grow as a Community – community gardens, herd shares, hive shares
  3. Go to Your Local Farmer – farmer’s markets, community supported agriculture (CSAs), farm stores/stands
  4. Conscious Capitalism – research your grocer and chose to shop at places that provide local organics

Stay tuned as we go more in depth on these topics in future posts!

Spicy Margarita Pizza Recipe

Spicy Margarita Pizza

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • Fresh Mozzarella
  • Tomato
  • Habanero
  • Basil
  • Honey Dough – I add a bit more honey!


**Bake at 425 degree until the cheese melts and crust turns a golden brown (approximately 10-15).  Check out our video for further instructions.

 What to Learn More?

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The Blogging Sisterhood

fullsizerender7Two award nominations in one week, we are truly humbled-how lucky we have been to receive so much love!  I’d like to thank Her American Wild for the Sisterhood of the World Bloggers Award nomination.

Now what does this award mean?  The Sisterhood of the World Bloggers Award is another blogger to blogger award that recognizes the unique voices of women bloggers around the world.  Being a proud feminist, I love this award for it’s effort to unite female bloggers in a supportive community.

How To Accept this Award

  • Thank the blogger who nominated you, linking back to her site
  • Put the Award Logo on your blog
  • Answer the ten questions they sent you
  • Make up your own 10 questions and nominate up to 7 more recipients.

My Nominees

Ilex of Midwestern Plants and Sally of Hats and Horses.  These two ladies were among the first in the blogging community to reach out and interact with me here on Under Open Skies.  I absolutely adore their blogs and am grateful to be part of the blogging community with them both.  Thank you ladies and if you haven’t yet, I’d like to welcome you into the Sisterhood of the World Bloggers through this award nomination.  Feel free to answer to same questions I have below.


  1. What are your favorite subjects to blog about?  Travel, Sustainable Living, Art, and Animals
  2. Why did you begin to blog?  I sprung from my day job in 2014 to pursue a career as an artist.  I now operate two successful business, Under Open Skies (Art by Medium/Self Reliance) and Playfully Refined (Pet Portraits).  The blogs I manage with these businesses offer me an opportunity to share and connect with a community of amazing individuals.  
  3. What are the lyrics to your life?  Ooo, this is a difficult one because it changes as my life evolves.  Sitting on the Dock of the Bay by Otis Redding has been a constant favorite, but right now it is Heroes (Vocal Mix) by Cazzette. 
  4. If you had a super power, what would it be?  Telekinesis (the ability to move objects with my mind) like a Jedi.  I’ve given this a lot of thought over the course of my life. 
  5. Where is the one place you’d like to visit the most and why?  Australia, I have been obsessed with the idea of traveling there ever since I watched The Silver Stallion: King of the Wild Brumbies as a child.   
  6. What’s your favorite pair of shoes in your closet?  My riding boots, lol, I even wrote a blog post about them!
  7. What is your favorite drink?  Hot tea with honey
  8. Describe your idea of a perfect day.  Waking up at sunrise to do yoga in my garden, drinking a cup of tea and then taking the dogs for a walk.  Enjoying the blue skies while out riding my horse, then returning home to do some artwork and blogging.  Finally wrapping up the evening with a tasty adult beverage around the fire pit with great friends watching the sunset and stars appear.
  9. Who makes you smile?  Anyone I meet with a warm open heart and animals–I am normally running around with a big smile on my face!
  10. What blogger inspires you most?  This is a difficult one too.  I am inspired by every blogger I follow, but right now Gone with the Wynns has been a major inspiration.  They are a husband and wife team traveling the world via RV.

What LIES Beneath Your Makeup


I just threw out hundreds of dollars worth of makeup…

Why?  Because I am makeup hating feminist who has liberated herself from the archaic and non-achievable beauty standards of society and the profit hungry cosmetic industry (girl power).  JUST KIDDING (at least about the makeup hating part)–I am a mascara and lip gloss wearing feminist who just discovered that after you carefully finish applying your favorite shade of lipstick and glance up into the mirror, your makeup could be hiding more than a few blemishes.  It is unbelievable how many carcinogens and other insane unnatural ingredients lurk inside those pretty little compact cases.  I challenge you the next time you pull out your beauty kit to take a look at the ingredients list–I found cancer, cancer, and more cancer.  One major theme Kent and I have learned along our self-reliance journey is that you cannot blindly trust the government or industry to ensure your safety. While there are great companies out there and government regulation may try to protect us, it is ultimately up to the consumer to learn what is in the products we use and protect ourselves from things that are potentially harmful.  Just because a product is on the market, doesn’t mean it is safe.

But what about the FDA?  Don’t they ensure that everything on the market is safe?  Well, sort of…

FDA does not pre-approve cosmetic products or ingredients, with the important exception of color additives. However, cosmetic firms are responsible for marketing safe, properly labeled products; using no prohibited ingredients; and adhering to limits on restricted ingredients. It is also considered good practice to follow industry safety guidelines and recommendations. – FDA on Cosmetics and U.S. Law

Okay, so the FDA doesn’t mind what is in your makeup unless it is a color additive.  They must test and approve the product before I use it, right? Umm, I don’t think so…

Although U.S. regulations do not specify any particular testing regimens for cosmetic products or ingredients, it is the cosmetic company’s responsibility to substantiate product and ingredient safety prior to marketing. – FDA on Cosmetics and U.S. Law

Safety testing and approval seem to be entirely up to the company that will be profiting from these products.  Yikes, talk about a fox in the hen house!  So major cosmetic companies build an empire tricking women into feeling inadequate so we buy their products and now we’re supposed to trust them to be honest with us about the safety of these products (there goes my feminist streak again–not all cosmetic companies are like this–some are pretty awesome).  Yea, I don’t so–not this self-reliant lady.  If you want to learn a bit more about this, below is a great video from youtuber storyofstuffproject concerning cosmetics and the broken chemical merry-go-round we are all riding.

Okay, ready to learn about these chemicals so we can become educated, health and environmentally conscious consumers?  Where do I start?  Well, I did some internet digging and came across a Chemicals in Cosmetics article produced by the the Breast Cancer Fund.  Then I wandered over to Treehugger.com (love them) and found a list of 20 toxic ingredients to avoid when buying body care products and cosmetics.  Then I found the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and learned even more about the problem.  This was great, but it seemed the more I dug, the deeper I found myself.  This is a lot of work for a safe tube of lipstick!  Why do I wear this stuff again?

Skin DeepRather than try to memorize the ever growing list of toxins and bad companies, I discovered an online database called Skin Deep that is maintained by the Environmental Working Group (love them too).  The best part is that they have a free app (apple/android) that allows you to easily search their database and access health scores for over 70,000 products.  As if that doesn’t make navigating this makeup maze easy enough, it even has a bar code scan!  So I downloaded the app and grabbed my makeup kit (most of which is now in the garbage), and went through each product.  Seems I now have an excellent excuse to play with some all natural DIY recipes or make a trip to Sephora with my ‘handy’ app in hand.

So the big takeaway, next time you swipe those luscious lips with the perfect shade of pink, make sure you check the ingredients.

Growing Wild: The Creative Mind, Body, and Soul


Chalk Face, The Artsy Selfie


I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way – things I had no words for – Georgia O’Keeffe

Something wonderful happens when an artist creates; the mind quiets and opens, the body moves effortlessly with grace, and the soul unleashes a torrent of creative energy. The walls isolating us as individuals crumble beneath the river of energy and we become one with the world. There is no needy and insecure “I” to satisfy, there is no past, and there is no future, all have merged with the present moment and that is all that exists.

Creating is as close to Eden as I have come.  This experience of unleashing creativity is the way we were meant to live every moment of our lives. We were meant to be free; children of the wild like we once were before we put up walls and let an illusion of who we think we should be drive our lives.  When I sit down to work on a piece, all of my obstacles melt away.  I transition from thinking and doing to feeling and being.  Time does not exist, problems do not exist; nothing exists outside this moment and the energy that has consumed me.  My hands work…strokes of paint on the canvas, shaping clay, pieces coming together, and I watch it unfold.  Unsure of whether I am experiencing or creating; I am one with the piece, pouring all of my being into it.  This melding of art and artist is what draws us in; it explains why we create and why we love to bring the works of others into our homes.

IMG_8194When you view or bring home a piece from an artist, you become part of that experience.  Your unique energy, interpretation, and meaning are brought to the story.  Have you ever viewed something that captivates you?  Your walls melt away, you become joined with the world around you, and you shift into feeling and being.  It is as though the energy of the piece connected to your very being.  You can feel the warmth and vibrancy carrying you away to a moment when time stands still and all that exists is you experiencing this work of art.  This sharing of creativity is why I love what I do.  I love being able to bring life, love, hope, adventure, intrigue, joy, and comfort to others.

We all have this energy coursing within us.  Let the term “create” become abstract in your mind and you will realize that we are all creators of the moments in our lives.  From drawing out solutions to sculpting your body, you can experience creative living anytime by harnessing it and staying in touch with your true self.   This true self is what remains when you let go of the past that defines you.  It is left when you no longer worry about societal pressures and norms.  It is felt when you stop struggling with yourself and just be yourself.  Be the light you find in your heart, welcome the light of others into your life, and become the joy you were meant to bring to the world.

Two people who have inspired me this week with their gifts…
1. Charcoal Drawings by Heather Hansen
2. Violin Music by Lindsey Stirling

I challenge you to share, what inspires you?  Express yourself in the comments below.


This post is inspired by the theme express yourself from the Weekly Photo Challenge.  If you enjoyed this, please check out other fun interpretations of this theme!

Time to Share the Liebe


We have been nominated for the Liebster Award!  What is this award you might ask?  The Liebster is given to new bloggers by their fellow bloggers as recognition for a job well done and a welcome to the blogosphere.  In short, another blogger stopped by Under Open Skies and wanted to show us some love, or liebe, for my fellow German speakers.  Our nomination comes from writer Barbara Gabriel of Steal Just One Day (many thanks!).

The Liebster Award Rules

  • Acknowledge and link back to the person who nominated you
  • Answer the 11 questions asked by the person who nominated you
  • Share 11 random facts about yourself
  • Nominate 11 bloggers with less than 200 followers.
  • Give your nominees 11 questions to answer on their blog when they post about the Liebster Award.

 Barbara’s 11 Question

  1. If you could play hooky for a day, what would you do?  The beauty of doing what I love for a living is that everyday is a “hooky” day.  I write, paint, carve wood, weld metal sculptures, and dream up ambitious projects–whatever my little heart fancies!  Most mornings start with a cup of tea, yoga, and playing with my animals.  I make time to travel and explore since I can take my job with me wherever I go!  I didn’t always have it this good, but now that I do, I won’t be going back to living the old way.
  2. “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” or “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants”? I haven’t seen or read either.
  3. Do you prefer international travel or to explore closer to home? Why? I love travel of all kinds, but particularly international travel.  I have near lived anywhere longer than three years, so exploring closer to home is always a given!
  4. What’s your go-to comfort food?  Kraft Mac N Cheese–the good kind, with the powdered cheese.  Although I haven’t had this in a while since I’ve been on a quest to eat more natural, organic foods.
  5. Dinner companion: Abraham Lincoln or Betty White?  Betty White because she is hilarious and I love a good laugh around the dinner table.
  6. If you left home for a year or more, what would be in your suitcase?  I am a very light traveler, but I would need to have my camera gear, a sketch pad, and a good book.
  7. Give us a link to the best or the favorite of your own posts. What made you write that one? I don’t have a favorite post, but I was really excited to write Mapping out a New Direction.  I had just made the decision to refocus Under Open Skies around our homesteading adventures and had started my second blog, Playfully Refined for canine and equine posts.
  8. How do describe yourself? Use just three words.  Free-Spirited, Loving, and Adventurous
  9. How do others see you? Three words.  Conferred with a friend for this one, he gave me “Courageous, Fun, and Bright”–I’ll take them!
  10. What word do you dislike? Hmm, I love my words and tend to think even the negative ones only have the power you give them.  However, I suppose I do dislike any word that my phone’s auto correct gives me the run around on when texting.
  11. What interesting thing will you choose to do this week? This week is all about finishing a wood carving art piece called The Flower of Life, and getting our house ready to list for rent.

11 Random Facts

  1. My birthday is on Valentine’s Day so I celebrate “Birthday Week”.  It is seven days of utterly insane fun!
  2. My favorite books are the Harry Potter series–I have been sorted into the Griffindor house.
  3. I have never lived anywhere longer than three years–my “homes” span three different countries.
  4. I love a warm cup of tea and a good book.
  5. I had dreadlocks, but cut them off and now I rock a pixie cut.  Love it!
  6. We have two massive dogs, Fox (Long Haired German Shepherd) and Denali (Siberian Husky)
  7. We rescued a little black kitten from outside and named her Onyx.
  8. We have one horse, Mahailia, and we be getting her a buddy soon.
  9. We are looking forward to our move to New Mexico this year from Washington D.C.
  10. I love yoga, namaste.
  11. My favorite thing I learned how to do last year was welding steel.

11 Questions for My Nominees

  1. What is the biggest personal change you have ever made?
  2. Grab the book nearest to you, turn to page 29, and find line 4. What is the book and does it say?
  3. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you live?
  4. If you could change one thing about the world, what would you do?
  5. Is the glass half empty or half full?
  6. When is the last time you ate a homegrown tomato?
  7. What did you want to be when you grew up?
  8. What is your favorite time of the day?
  9. What inspires you?
  10. What is your favorite childhood memory?
  11. What three things in nature do you find most beautiful?

My Nominees

  1. The Chelsea Project
  2. FFFrail
  3. Kristel’s Food Finds
  4. The Healthy Secret Identity 
  5. My Lost Lexicon
  6. It’s a Wanderlust Life 
  7. Year of Awesome You
  8. Spanish Moss Series
  9. Confessions of a Food Tourist
  10. Life and Beans
  11. Uncomfortably Optimistic

Your Liebster worthy blogs are looking lovely!  I look forward to reading your answers to my crazy questions and to see your nominees!

Happy Blogging,


Self Reliance in the City (Time to get Vlogging)

Under Open Skies has entered the world of vlogs!  Below is our first video featuring my husband, Kent (I stuck with filming and editing–he was much braver than I).  We would love to hear your thoughts or any self-reliance questions!  We both had a lot of fun making this video and can’t wait to produce more.

Open the Door to Self-Reliance


“Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.  Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self Reliance

Serenity is the peace of mind gained by living a life that is in line with your values.  For Kent and I, this meant living a more natural and self-reliant lifestyle, but we had one major hurdle to doing this–we live in the city!  Living in the city while trying to live life the way we imagined made us meticulous researchers and creative experimenters.  Bottom line, we discovered that you can choose to what extent you provide for yourself or depend on society no matter where you live.  Now we want to help you discover that–whether you find yourself in the city, suburbia, or the country–there are several actions (with tons of options) you can take to bring yourself closer to your ideal way of living.  Aren’t options a wonderful thing?

We plan to share what we learn with you, starting with our city adventures in the Northeastern United States, and are here to help answer any questions you have along your own journey.  We are all in this together!  Over the next several weeks, we will be sharing the details of our three years of city self-reliance (in varying degrees).  This includes composting, container gardening, rain water collection, and other city reliance adventures!  You won’t want to miss out, so be sure to subscribe to our blog for all the FREE tips!

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Come April 2014, we will be finishing our segment on city self reliance as we prepare for our big move out west to the desserts of New Mexico!   Once in New Mexico, you can learn with us as we share our journey for self reliance in a rural dessert climate.

And always remember…

“Its the not the Destination, It’s the journey.”Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance


This post is inspired by the theme serenity from the Weekly Photo Challenge.  If you enjoyed this, please check out other fun interpretations of this theme!

Dreaming Up an Off the Grid Paradise


In a busy world of social and industrial dependence, my husband and I have been longing to create our self reliance oasis. A home where we can break away from the norm and live more in tune with nature. We want to build a way of life that enables us to choose how we interact with society rather than being bound by our dependence on it. To us, this home embodies four areas…

Artistic and Eco-Friendly
Home is where the heart is with The Art House Project. Being an eclectic artist has it’s advantages, like turning our future home into one giant art project to promote eco-friendly living. I will be infusing our off the grid home with my original art pieces in a variety of mediums. From metal work to mosaics, I will also be striving to reuse, or up-cycle, as many “discarded” materials as possible in my pieces.

Life Cycle Management
The best way to know where your food comes from is to grow it yourself. We plan to produce a majority of our plant based food needs (including those for our animals) on site. The hope is to symbiotically grow gardens and raise animals together; joining animal, compost, and garden back into a natural cycle. This means gardens engineered specially for our chickens to roam, pastures planted with optimal nutrition for our horses, varietal orchards for our bees, and dog friendly edibles for the pups.

Natural Heating and Cooling
We plan to construct the home in a manner that takes advantage of the earth’s natural heating and cooling mechanisms. There are a few easy things we can do to accomplish this. First, we plan to construct our home with a southern facing exposure, allowing us to use the abundance of sun to heat it. We also plan to use earth berm walls for superior insulation from the cold in the winter and for cooling in the summer. Second, we will build with materials, like tiled floors and double paned windows, that enable heat or cooling when we want it without using a traditional furnace or air conditioner.

Generating Power with Clean Energy
We still desire to have some modern amenities so we want to have local electricity generation. The house is going to use as much free energy as the site allows. This may require a few different methods of production. Starting with solar, some photo voltaic cells are an easy kill for electricity generation. Depending on a wind survey, a wind turbine may also complement or completely meet our electricity demands. Finally, if there is a stream nearby with enough vertical drop we could install a water turbine. We believe that some combination will be prudent for our electricity demand. What we end up installing will be dependent on the property we can find and purchase. Our search will be with all of these methods in mind.

Interested in growing greener? Join us on our journey as we learn and explore how to make this dream a reality by following our blog, Under Open Skies. Each week we will be diving into something new and sharing what we learn with you.

This post was inspired by the prompt Oasis from The Daily Post.