This year, I am committed to changing that.
As I envision and build my new home, I keep asking myself: "What would it take to feel like I've come home to myself? What are the moments when I feel most nourished and self-resourced?" When I slow down, pay attention and listen to the simple, quiet answers to those questions, I'm surprised. Small things are the most nourishing: making myself a cup of hot tea, watering my plants, laughing (sometimes seeking out Kathy Griffin and Chris Rock stand-up on YouTube to get me there), listening to my 8-month-old nephew babble on the phone, turning off the television and, dare I say, shoveling snow off my sidewalk.
Loving myself during challenging times is hard. Trying to care for myself when I really, really want someone else to care for me is painful. But, day by day, I am learning that all those clichés are true: It really does have to start with me.
So what would I do for a lover…that I am now doing for myself?
This is a tough one because I still associate cooking with meals for two (and by two I do not mean the mouse that lurked around my stove . I'm taking baby steps. I have been seeking out local cheese that I pair with an occasional glass of wine (or steaming mug of hot water with lemon). According to the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at the University of Iowa, the average food item on a North American plate travels more than 1,500 miles from the farm to our forks. These "food miles" increase in items with multiple ingredients. (The Leopold Center found an 8-ounce container of strawberry yogurt travels more than 2,200 miles before reaching the supermarket shelf.) No matter where you live, you can find something that was grown close to home. Making the decision to buy local food keeps money in our local economy and supports folks in our community.
I used to get a little lax on this one when I thought I was the only one seeing the dirt. My new house is transforming my perspective on keeping things neat and tidy. I now clean for me , and it feels good. I'm reading (who would have ever thought?!) The Joy of Green Cleaning by Leslie Reichert and contemplating making my own cleaning products. In the interim, I'm sticking with the products I know are good for my little house and me. That means seeking out cleaning agents—listed on cleaning labels as "surfactants"—that are plant-based and not laced with a bunch of chemicals that are known to harm human health. (Take a look at my Clean and Green post for details.)
Set the Mood
I light the candles and play the sweet music for myself. Most candles are made from paraffin wax, which is derived from crude oil (yet another sneaky way petroleum seeps into our lives) that results in the emission of carbon dioxide when burned. Look for candles made from soy or—my favorite—local beeswax and scented with essential oils. They'll still put soot into the air—anything that burns does—but will be much better for your lungs and indoor air quality. As for music, I heart Pandora Radio , a free online service that builds radio stations off the songs and artists I key in and introduces me to other artists with a similar sound.
Clothing is often described as our second skin, so I want everything that touches me to be soft and loving. I gravitate toward my most worn-out T-shirts, made silky from years of washing, and newer items that are organic. Twenty-five percent of all pesticides used are sprayed on cotton crops, so an average T-shirt contains about one-third of a pound of pesticides, and an average pair of jeans contains about two-thirds of a pound of the stuff. Pesticides are petroleum-based and seep from the crops on which they are sprayed into the soil and water. That residue also ends up on the farmers who work the land and lingers in our clothing.
You can find organic cotton clothing in big chain stores and small indie outlets. My favorites are sexy T-shirts from Edun , a company committed to not only using organic fibers but making sure the people who make the clothes are paid a living wage, and cheeky Eat Organic panties from BuenoStyle.
I end each day by anointing my hands and feet with luscious lotions. It's a tender little ritual that not only ensures my oft-washed hands do not look like scaly paws, but also helps work all the acupressure points that help me sleep. The skin is the largest organ of the body. Though we're often conscious of what we put in our mouths, we aren't necessarily thinking of what we rub between our toes. My favorite is Jurlique Rose Hand Cream made with safflower oil, sweet almond oil, glycerin and rose essential oil. Jurlique is an Australian company that has been trying to do right by people and the planet for over 25 years. Jurlique grows 35 of the primary plants and herbs used in their products on their own farm according to biodynamic farming principles that consider optimal ways to nurture the soil as part of raising sustainable crops. The Skin Deep cosmetics database from Environmental Working Group is a great place to determine the kind of impact your beauty products have.
Yes, I am an advocate of taking my self-love and my green awareness all the way down there . Sex toys and personal lubricants are often—you guessed it—petroleum-based. Plus, they're chockful of chemical plasticizers used to make toxic plastic (usually PVC) more supple…and even more dangerous. Honestly? I do not want that kind of stuff up against my jewels. If you feel the same way, take a look at my in-depth post on getting sweet and low—down here .
No matter who your Valentine is this year, please remember you have 365 days to be your own sweetheart. Care for yourself as you wish others to care for you. (Also feel free to show the love and follow me on Twitter @ simransethi .)
Simran Sethi is an award-winning journalist and associate professor at the University of Kansas School of Journalism and Mass Communications. For more information on Sethi, visit SimranSethi.com .