As published on https://liberateandlather.com/blog/39512/interview-with-rebecca-wenrich-wheeler February 8, 2023 for the WOW! Women on Writing blog tour.
Becoming an eco-friendly household can be overwhelming when considering the magnitude of the climate crisis. Instead of thinking about every possible lifestyle change, start small, and choose one or two tasks and build from there. Yes, my family is now one with a composter, pollinator gardens, and solar panels, but it’s not something we didn’t all at once. Whether your family is just beginning on this journey or has incorporated some eco-friendly practices, reducing single-use plastic usage and composting are inexpensive places to start.
Reducing single-use plastic
According to plasticocean.org 50% of all plastic produced is for single use. Individual families can make a difference! First start by surveying your plastic usage and determine what can be cut. Start with one item. For instance, you might ban plastic sandwich bags from lunchboxes and change to reusable containers, ditch the plastic straws, or use refillable water bottles and coffee cups. You might also commit to using reusable shopping bags, and if you do end up with plastic shopping bags, pledge to re-use them.
To go a step further, you might try refillable soaps and cleaners in glass or aluminum containers. There are many more options in the refillable soap market than just a few years ago. My personal favorite is Blueland for hand soaps, laundry booster, and toilet cleaner. And the best part is over time you do save money, because you are only buying the refill tablets and not paying for yet another disposable container. I also use Grove Collaborative for dish detergent and laundry sheets, and I went back to old-school powder dishwasher detergent in a cardboard box.
For those who love clothes, research clothing companies that use recycled plastics in their fabrics or even shop consignment. Every little bit helps. Start small; ditch one plastic item, and then see how far you go! Visit earthday.org for more tips on ending plastic pollution and even calculate your plastic footprint to help you determine where to cut.
Let’s talk about home composting. So why compost in the first place? According to the USDA, food waste is estimated at 30-40% of the food supply. And most of that waste goes into landfills. Every 100 pounds of food waste sends 8.3 pounds of methane into the atmosphere. Yes, composting does create methane, but at much lower levels. Landfill emissions are about ½ methane and ½ CO2, and compost gas emissions are mainly CO2.
About 50% of what goes into landfills can be composted, and that’s where families come in. We’ve been home composting for almost five years. We purchased a 37-gallon tumbling composter from Target for about $90. We keep a small stainless steel compost bin on our counter, and when it’s full, we transfer to the large composter.
The first step is to cut down on food waste and leave as little as possible uneaten. But if you do have waste, most of it can transfer to home composting: coffee grounds, egg shells, bread scraps, fruit and vegetable scraps, tea bags, nut shells (make sure to crush for quicker decomposition), paper, cardboard tubes, cardboard take-out containers. Even some yard waste like grass clippings, crushed leaves and sawdust can be composted. You do want a balance of greens and browns in your bin. Check out the EPA website for more home composting tips: https://www.epa.gov/recycle/composting-home
Animal fats and proteins should not go into home compost, as it takes a lot more heat than a home composter can provide to break it down. You’ll get rot before compost, plus animal products attract pests. If you have access to a commercial compost service, like Compost Now, they can take animal byproducts as well as the cups, utensils, and bags marked for commercial compost. Also never put pet waste or unused medicine in compost. Check with your local health department for proper disposal of medicine.
I grew up on a peninsula, and water was a part of our town’s survival. Not only was it a source of beauty and recreation it was also our livelihood. I remember being taught about pollution in elementary school in the 1980s, and those lessons stuck with me. The natural world is infused in all my writing, and sometimes not even intentionally! My pictures books: When Daddy Shows Me the Sky (released November 2021) and When Mama Grows with Me (to be released Fall 2023), are about yoga and astronomy and yoga and gardening, respectfully. My novel YA Whispering Through Water is set in a coastal Virginia town, and the book is filled with water and bird imagery. Whispering Through Water was released January 4, 2023, and can be purchased wherever books are sold.
Spring is around the corner! If you are interested in watching the evolution of my pollinator gardens, follow me on Instagram. Blooming will happen soon!
Keep looking up.
As published on https://suebe.wordpress.com/2023/02/06/writers-and-therapists-a-guest-post-from-rebecca-wenrich-wheeler/ February 8, 2023 for the WOW! Women on Writing blog tour.
In graduate school, my Group Counseling professor said so many gems that I still remember 14 years later. Two in particular: “The only experience you can speak to with authority is your own.” and “Counseling is one profession where age is always on your side.” Over time, I’ve found these two statements not only apply to the counseling profession but also to my writing life.
I have wanted to be a writer since elementary school. My second grade teacher, Mrs. Hodge, encouraged us to write our own stories. She entered my story, The Funny Cat, into the Young Author’s contest. I won first place, and my dream was born. In the eighth grade, we were asked to write our life plan, and I wrote that I would earn a master’s degree and write a book before I was 30 (only one of those things happened “on schedule”). I earned a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English, and later another one in Professional Counseling, but it wouldn't be until many years later that I would publish my first book.
Which brings me back to my Group Counseling professor. I’ve learned that age is also on the writer’s side. The more life experience I accumulate the more layered my work becomes. Characters, like people, can surprise you; their motivations don’t play out in a neat line. Motivations may be influenced by environment, personal history, desires, and social norms. Motivational interviewing is a counseling method of asking questions to help a client uncover their own motivations and reasons for change. A writer might consider asking questions of their characters to help create dynamic personalities. For instance, a writer might ask “What does happiness mean to you?” Or my favorite question, aptly named the miracle question, “If overnight a miracle happened and one thing changed that improved your life, what would that thing be?” Answering these questions for my characters helps guide me to how they respond to conflict and change.
Over the years I have often repeated the sentence: “The only experience you can speak to with authority is your own”. Not only is this statement appropriate for when I teach professional development, but it’s also true for writing. I’m a believer in the adage write what you know. I tend to set my writing in environments that I’m familiar with, which allows for more nuanced setting descriptions. I do incorporate characters with different life experiences than my own, and I must be cautious not to infuse my own assumptions onto the character to avoid falling into stereotype traps. Researching and choosing beta readers with diverse backgrounds helps to improve authenticity and provide a well-rounded viewpoint. I think of my characters as real people, like at any moment, I could meet them in the real world. A reader may see themselves in a character, and they deserve an authentic experience.
Coming-of-age is my favorite YA genre to write. Recently, I found myself pondering why so many adults love to read YA, and then it dawned on me. We spend our entire lives processing what happened to us in childhood and adolescence. As we mature, we understand more how the events of our youth affects us as adults, so when an adult reads YA, the reader gains more insight into their own experience. A truth that will keep therapists and writers employed for life.
Keep looking up.
As published on https://beverleyabaird.wordpress.com/2023/02/08/wow-blog-tour-for-whispering-through-water-by-rebecca-wenrich-wheeler-guest-post/ February 8, 2023 for the WOW! Women on Writing blog tour.
I grew up in a small town in the Tidewater region of Virginia, about 45 minutes due east of Richmond. My hometown is a peninsula, with a population of approximately 3200 people living in 6.6 square miles. Surrounded by water on three sides, our town boasted two bridge exits and one land exit, and two stop lights. Despite being small, we were fortunate to live in a community that was invested in education and supported the well-being of our small public school (so small that my graduating class was 37 people strong!) I spent many hours at our local library, and I can stilI picture exactly where the Nancy Drew books were located on the shelves.
I didn’t fully comprehend the modest size of my hometown until I attended college in North Carolina, which although was considered a small university, still had a larger population than my town. My first year teaching high school, I’ll never forget the shock on students’ faces, when I told my Creative Writing class that if four more students were added to this room, you would have my entire graduating class.
Additionally, it wasn’t until I moved to Raleigh, NC did I encounter a large division of wealth. The majority of my hometown’s residents worked for the paper mill. As kids, what we considered a “mansion” would be an average-sized home in comparison to the wealthy suburbs around Raleigh. Growing up, I don’t remember being concerned about having the latest brand-names or gadgets, those things were luxuries beyond most families’ budgets, besides the fact shopping malls were 45 minutes away.
Although, growing up in a small town doesn’t reflect the idyllic portrait of a Hallmark movie, especially for an awkward teen like me. As a young child, I loved being able to ride my bike everywhere knowing I was safe and all of my classmates feeling like best friends. As I moved into adolescence, however, finding my place proved more difficult. In a small high school there are only two groups, the popular crowd and the rest of us. I was the latter. Although I will say the rest of us have grown up to be fascinating adults, a group of artists, academics, therapists and educators. I am grateful to have not been among the popular crowd as it allowed me to define my own margins (at least I can say that now as an adult looking back!).
When the idea hit me for a coming-of-age novel, Whispering Through Water, my small town upbringing provided an excellent backdrop. Adding the water imagery to the novel came naturally, not only for aesthetics, but also as both a symbol of freedom and a barrier. My students who were raised in the city were able to visualize opportunities I never knew existed until I got to college. (Now, I’m a mental health clinician, and I never knew what psychology was until I took an introductory psychology class as a college sophomore!) For a young protagonist taking a leap faith, the jump seems much larger when the launching pad is a small town. My novel ends before we know if the protagonist’s dreams of the big city and her future match her expectations. Although, I like to think she is realistically optimistic like me, taking every opportunity we can to learn, even if that means failing, because that’s the only thing moving us forward.
Whispering Through Water was released January 4, 2023 and can be purchased wherever books are sold.
Keep looking up.