life

#ConsciousLiving: Snapshots and Thoughts from our Kentucky-Ohio Roadtrip

Clifton Gorge in Ohio

Last week, Daniel and I drove 7 hours to Nazareth, Kentucky to attend the annual Kentucky Council of Churches conference at the Sisters of Charity Convent and Retreat Center. You may be thinking: "Why would two Virginians go to a conference tailored to Kentuckians?" Well, I've sort of been keeping a secret for the last year.

I was asked to give back-to-back workshops on Conscious Consumerism! This year's theme was Justice and, while most of the sessions were, quite appropriately, on racial justice and reconciliation, they wanted to include a section on "lifestyle justice," as well. I tailored my talk around a uniquely Christian perspective on what it means to consume ethically, making sure to prioritize empathy, prayer, and meditation. While it matters what we consume, it also matters why we're consuming, and how that dependency on consumption affects us emotionally and spiritually. Right action is good, but it's better if it stems from a change of heart. I used this quote by Doug Frank (read the whole interview - it's great) in the presentation to drive home that point:
If you’ve got a rage for the good, as I did, then shifting your focus from personal morality to social morality doesn’t make you any less of a narrow-minded legalist. Instead of trying to be good enough by not dancing, drinking, lying, or cheating, you’re trying to be good enough according to the standards of social progressivism. It’s still a very tiring treadmill.
Clifton Gorge in Ohio
Daniel and my parents hiking at Clifton Gorge
Speaker on Ethical Consumerism and Fair Trade, Leah Wise
Looking totes profesh at the conference

I identify very strongly with the tiring treadmill of trying to be enough. It's become a huge goal of mine to do the right things out of a deeper calling than just "How do I make people think I'm good? How do I convince myself I'm good?" I believe that, for those raised with a Christian world view in particular, it's vital that we confront that insecurity before we can really make healthy choices. So, while the talk included particular definitions, models, and ethical companies, it was really about taking a hard inward look and growing from there. If anyone wants a copy of the slideshow, I can send it over. Just email me or leave your email in the comments. I don't think the whole thing was recorded, so you'll miss all my antics. Sorry about that. 

wildflowers, Clifton Gorge in Ohio
Wildflowers at Clifton Gorge
Stillhouse at Heaven Hill
The Stillhouse at Heaven Hill
Bubbling Bourbon, Maker's Mark
Yeasty pre-bourbon
 
We realized a few days before our trip that were would be right in the middle of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, so we spent a day and a half after the conference ended touring distilleries. I'm not a huge fan of bourbon - though I certainly like it more after several tastings - but I LOVE learning. Bourbon is a truly American product with a long, humorous, sometimes harrowing history, and our tour guides at Heaven Hill, Maker's Mark, and Bulleit were extremely knowledgeable. I liked the dark, quiet, spookiness of the stillhouses, too. If you ever want to know about the history of bourbon, I am happy to talk your ear off, but I'll leave you with just one fun fact for now:

For bourbon to be classified as bourbon by the US government, it must be aged in a new, charred oak barrel. While this might seem wasteful at first, the barrel actually gets to take a lively journey around the world, adding warmth and spice to several other aged liquors. After 6-20 years of aging bourbon, barrels are sent to Scotland and used for scotch. Once the aging process is complete there, they're sent to Mexico to age tequila. And finally, nearly 80 years later (if all goes as planned), they'll be sent to the Tropics to age rum. What a life!

Mums
Mums
the tree with the lights in it, louisville, kentucky
"The Tree with the Lights in it" in Louisville, KY
An explanation of the above caption and my final scattered thought for this post, a quote from Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek:
It was for this tree I searched through the peach orchards of summer, in the forests of fall and down winter and spring for years. Then one day I was walking along Tinker creek and thinking of nothing at all and I saw the tree with the lights in it. I saw the backyard cedar where the mourning doves roost charged and transfigured, each cell buzzing with flame. I stood on the grass with the lights in it, grass that was wholly fire, utterly focused and utterly dreamed. It was less like seeing than like being for the first time seen, knocked breathless by a powerful glance. The flood of fire abated, but I’m still spending the power. Gradually the lights went out in the cedar, the colors died, the cells un-flamed and disappeared. I was still ringing. I had been my whole life a bell and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck. I have since only very rarely seen the tree with the lights in it. The vision comes and goes, mostly goes, but I live for it, for the moment the mountains open and a new light roars in spate through the crack, and the mountains slam.

hey!

spring flowers

Hello and Happy Easter!

Life has been incredibly busy due to a combination of saying yes to too many things and being in my church choir in the midst of Easter service preparations. But services are over now and my schedule is (hopefully) clearing up a bit in the coming weeks. I'm doing some research on China's manufacturing industry for a post, organizing another giveaway, and attempting to write a homily for this Wednesday's Evening Prayer service at church.

This season's a busy one for the ethical fashion community, as well. April 24th is Fashion Revolution Day and May 9th is World Fair Trade Day and everyone is scrambling to spread the word. I encourage you to check out the websites for each cause, start a conversation at work or with a friend, get involved in the Fair Fashion Challenge on instagram, and follow your favorite ethical retailers on social media, who will be offering giveaways and posting resources through the coming weeks. 

And if you're in the mood for some fun reading this afternoon, here are a few articles I've enjoyed recently:

Inside Gap's Plan to Get Back Into Your Drawers

"The brand enjoyed a 15-year reign over classically cool, affordable American style, but it has spent the past decade-plus struggling with an identity crisis while new retailers have colonized much of its domain."

 Why America’s obsession with STEM education is dangerous

"America will not dominate the 21st century by making cheaper computer chips but instead by constantly reimagining how computers and other new technologies interact with human beings."

How China Profits from Our Junk 

"In 2011 I visited a yard where men dismantled old aluminum deck chairs imported from somewhere warm and vacation-like. Over to one side was a pile of the blue and white nylon stripping that once hung between the metal frames (later to be sold to a plastics recycler), and a woman who spent the evening cutting it away from the chairs."

Dear American Apparel: Please #freethenipple (and pubes)

"You can argue that AA's original decision not to airbrush out, and many times, even flaunt those 'private parts' was nothing but a gimmick to court controversy-seeking press — and you may be right. But I can't think of a single other online brand that doesn't Photoshop them out."

And if you're interested in reading my Good Friday meditation, you can check it out here.

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I'm interested in knowing what you've been reading lately. Feel free to recommend some articles in the comments.

tallahassee dreamin'


Daniel and I spent last weekend in Tallahassee, FL, home of our alma mater, FSU. Daniel attended an academic conference while I basked in college nostalgia, eating at my favorite restaurants (Pitaria! Far East Cuisine! Jimmy John's!) and walking around Lake Ella with longtime friends. My sister and I also managed to endure Daniel's conference session (he was the best!).

We hadn't been back to Tallahassee since moving to Charlottesville the summer of 2012. I wasn't hit in the gut with memories the way I thought I would be - in fact, I somehow managed to erase my mental map of the town - but I still enjoyed the comfort of being surrounded by people who know me well. Spending a bit of time on Florida State's campus also made me realize that I'm at peace with my life right now. It took a long time to adjust to life after college, but I did it and I'm really happy in a way I couldn't have imagined in the months after I graduated.

I'm not very happy to be back in Charlottesville, surrounded by snow with more in the forecast.

Photos, from top to bottom: Eating at Lake Ella, Andrea, Mary swinging from a tree, a Muscovy duck getting a bit too close for comfort, my sister chilling on FSU's campus, Mary and I selfie-ing

easy recipe: balsamic potatoes with arugula

balsamic potatoes recipe with arugula, stylewiseguide.com

I didn't enjoy cooking until recently, so I still have the bad habit of not preparing something to eat until I'm ravenously hungry. I tend to fall back on black beans and rice and chickpeas with garlic and parsley, but sometimes I get tired of it and make potatoes instead.

My super easy recipe for balsamic potatoes uses the microwave, but I'm sure there are better ways to prepare this if you've got a little more time on your hands and don't mind cleaning up the stove top.

Ingredients:

  • Salt

  • Thyme (fresh or powdered)

  • Balsamic Vinegar

  • Olive Oil

  • Yellow Potatoes (I used five in varying sizes)

  • Garlic (fresh or jarred preferred)

Instructions:

Wash potatoes and cut into bite sized pieces (keep in mind that smaller pieces will cook through quicker). Place in microwave safe bowl and add salt, balsamic vinegar, thyme, olive oil, and garlic to taste. Use a large spoon to coat potatoes evenly.

Cover bowl completely with plastic wrap and microwave for 5-8 minutes at a time, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are cooked through. Garnish with arugula to taste (I added a lot and it was delicious).

birthday weekend

Things have been hectic recently and I'm looking forward to next weekend, when my schedule is clear and I can read and doze and play my banjo.

On Friday, a group of us headed out to Peter Chang's (not to be confused with PF Changs) for dinner, followed by cake and drinks at my place. Since it was my Golden Birthday, it had an understated gold theme and a couple friends gave me gold-adorned presents (but no real gold, unfortunately). Yesterday I went on our church's second annual hike in Shenandoah National Park. We had perfect weather and an enthusiastic group this year!

shenandoah national park mountain flowers, leah wise sunlit fall leaves, leah wisered leaves in the mountains, leah wise

For more photos from the hike, check out leahwise.com.

floydfest style revolution

This weekend, Daniel and I headed off to the boonies of Floyd, VA for FloydFest, a folk music festival in the mountains. I got free tickets in exchange for modeling in the first annual FloydFest Fashion Show. The festival prides itself on sustainability, so all garments featured in the show were handmade, fair trade, and organic. It was great to be able to touch and see items from the headlining brand, Synergy Organic Clothing. I wasn't sure how flattering their stretchy, organic knits would be, but it turns out they look good on everyone.

The show's aesthetic was inspired by The Hunger Games, complete with fire pits at the end of the runway and epic opening music. Models were grouped as District or Capitol. Guess which one I represented:

mod1floydfest style revolution the hunger games

I really enjoyed wearing cool outfits and walking the runway (I got to wear a ball gown made of feathers, complete with feather gloves and a headdress!), but I don't think I'll go back next year. Big festivals in the middle of nowhere aren't my thing. It's a mixture of geographical isolation and social over-stimulation. I wouldn't say I'm agoraphobic exactly, but I'm definitely agorannoyed.

I'll post outfit shots if I can get my hands on them!

I'm just happy to have a long stretch of being at home after a month of endless traveling.

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life moves pretty fast

foggy cityscape charlotte, nc stylewiseguide.com

Two weeks ago, I was just shuffling along, driving my old car, working a regular shift at the coffee shop, and updating my blog according to schedule. But then my car broke down. Then I got an unexpected phone call offering me a job I applied for two years ago. Then I got on a plane and flew to south Florida. Then I took an impromptu road trip through the south (I love the south), hopping from town to town visiting family and old churches, staying on my sister's couch, eating soul food in South Carolina and takeout in Charlotte, North Carolina while watching a documentary about grocery stores.

chocolate pecan praline, st augustine stylewiseguide.com El Galeon St. Augustine, stylewiseguide.com

I don't know if it's unusual, but every time I spend a few days far removed from my daily life, I start to feel like a disembodied spirit, like everything's a dream. It's like I'm floating involuntarily from place to place. Rather than feeling grounded, I'm supremely confused. But eventually, after getting "home" (defining home gets more difficult as family and friends move away and apart), I start to ease back into things, albeit with a wider outlook and a better understanding of who I am without the imminent influence of a particular community's value system.

cat portrait stylewiseguide.com

My daily schedule is about to change (I accepted the job offer). My responsibilities will increase. But I hope that this new position will fill my need to take initiative and minister to my community. I'm glad that things happened by means of this winding path. I'm glad that I had a chance to remember who I am and remember how much I love my community before transitioning to new things.
Photos: fog over Charlotte, NC; Chocolate Pecan Praline in St. Augustine, FL; Boats and ships in St. Augustine, FL; my sister's cat, Wolfgang

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12 months, 12 goals: halfway there

1212goals

Hey guys, I'm doing it. I'm achieving my goals! I was so discouraged a couple months ago when I wasn't achieving my ethics-minded resolutions on my one month timelines. Turns out that I was taking steps to meet my goals the whole time.

Since January, I've purchased most of my clothes and accessories secondhand (thredup is awesome), handmade (Seamly.co), or fair trade (Mata Traders). I've also explored my local fair trade and consignment shops, started shopping at more mindful grocery stores, and written an article on the state of the garment industry. And just today, I spread the word about fair trade in my community as part of World Fair Trade Day. As I move into the summer months and have a bit more time on my hands, I plan to organize and purge the house of clutter, as well as paint the bookshelves in our library. It'll be a good time to think about ethical options for home goods.

I'm learning that keeping this list in my mind is helping to push me toward more sustainable habits even if they don't happen on the neat timeline I set for myself in January.

  1. Learn to sew.

  2. Shop local.

  3. Shop handmade.

  4. Donate to a microloan organization.

  5. Invest in a fair trade garment.

  6. Write an article on the state of the garment industry.

  7. Explore more fair trade food options.

  8. Start a petition that demands manufacturing transparency.

  9. Spread the word about fair trade in my community.

  10. Shop secondhand.

  11. Accumulate less.

  12. Seek out ethical home goods. 


*Items in bold are additions to my original list.

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sharing life

IMG_4121

Style Wise is an offshoot of my personal blog, Leah Wise: a journal. I wanted a place to develop a community of sustainability and ethics minded individuals working through our consumerism together. And, while I think it's worked to some extent, I got so caught up in keeping this space cohesive that it developed into something that's not quite intimate enough to generate lasting impressions.

My small business mentors told me in our last meeting that I am an important part of my brand and that I need to let people know not just where I stand but who I am. So I'm thinking about sharing more of my life here. You know, just day to day things, like what I do in my spare time, what events I attend, what's making me excited or melancholy or reflective. My desire to buy fair trade stems from a much larger story about how I see and interact with the world, so it makes sense let you in.

I'll start now. I spent a half hour walking around the neighborhood taking pictures of flowering trees this afternoon. At one house with a perfect front yard and low-hanging blooms, I spotted a bright blue jay at the feeder. I stood quietly and watched it for awhile until it flew away. I'm spending the rest of the day indoors with the door open doing inventory for Platinum & Rust (oh, joy) while Daniel sits at his chair and grades papers. It's shaping up to be a simple, happy day.

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