I love winter, but I started longing for spring when we got a surprise snowstorm on Monday and the temperature dropped to single digits. My neighborhood’s old piles of snow are now buried under new piles of snow, but I can still see subtle shifts happening outdoors. The sun feels stronger and warmer. A few brave birds have started to sing again. And daylight lingers more in the evening than it did a month ago. As one cold day follows another, it’s been helpful to compile my good list: a thing, habit, work of art, and idea that are making life just a bit better these days.

1. Shampoo Bars

I’m currently writing a children’s book about environmental stewardship and it’s forced me to take a critical look at my own life. A few months ago, I knew I needed to make changes to my routines and habits but I wasn’t sure where to start. Every possible step seemed so small and insignificant. An ordinary trip to the shampoo aisle spurred me to action.

I had been researching the terrible environmental impact of single-use plastics. (Unlike other materials, plastic can only be recycled a limited number of times. That is, if it gets recycled at all. Of the 6.3 billion metric tons of plastic waste that’s been generated globally within the past century, only 9% has been recycled.)

As I shopped for shampoo last December, I stared at the shelves of plastic bottles and couldn’t help but think: “What a lack of imagination!” We have computers we can carry in our pockets. We can put a rover on the surface of Mars. And yet we still package shampoo using materials and methods developed in my grandparents’ day? I left without buying anything, hoping to find shampoo that didn’t come in a plastic bottle.

I think an important part of environmental stewardship (and addressing climate change issues) is developing new solutions to old problems. I want to have clean hair. But my shampoo doesn’t need to be packaged in a plastic bottle. I started shopping for other options. First, I found Cleancult, a company that packages its shampoos and soaps in cardboard cartons. Then I found shampoo bars. (I had already traded my plastic bottle of body wash for bar soap.) They were difficult to find at first. The only store in my city that stocked them was Whole Foods. (And even then, it was one brand and tricky to locate in the store.)

Since then, shampoo bars have started showing up on the shelves at my local Target. Plus, you can buy them online. I recommend trying Love Beauty and Planet’s 2 in 1 Shampoo + Conditioner Bar or their Murumuru Butter & Rose Shampoo Bar. Some other brands that make shampoo bars include: JR Liggett’s, Spring & Vine, and Ethique. I’ve still got a lot of changes to make in my life, but we all have to start somewhere.

2. Creating a Family Cookbook

Both my grandmothers had recipe boxes and my parents had a well-used recipe binder. As an adult, I’ve discovered why. Meal planning and grocery shopping are so much easier when you have familiar recipes on hand. I enjoy cooking, but I don’t like the meal-planning and list-making that goes along with it. In our home, my husband does the weekly grocery shopping and I make the list. The problem is that when I sit down to write the list, I suddenly forget every good meal we’ve ever had except DiGiorno’s rising crust pizza.

I have Pinterest boards full of recipes, but they’re so disorganized (full of hits, misses, and never trieds) that scrolling through them is like rummaging through a junk drawer. Just like my grandmothers and parents before me, I’ve finally started a recipe binder. When we make a meal that my husband and I both like, I put the recipe in the binder. As the weeks go by, I’m slowly building up a collection of dependable recipes and essentially, creating a family cookbook. Now when I make the grocery list, I turn to the recipe binder rather than falling down the internet rabbit hole.

3. A Book That Takes Its Time

I love Flow magazine and everything else their editorial team creates. Their words and art always remind me to slow down, pay attention, and see the beauty in everyday life. Last year I bought their beautiful book A Book That Takes Its Time: An Unhurried Adventure in Creative Mindfulness. Even though I’ve read through it once, I return to it constantly. It’s the type of book I like to savor a few pages at a time. If you’re familiar with Flow magazine, the content of this beautifully illustrated book is very similar with thoughtful articles and creative activities.

4. Thinking Like An Apprentice

Since quitting my long-time editor job last year, I spent most of 2019 trying to figure out the role that writing should play in my life and work. I’ve written a couple (yet-to-be-published) books, tested out new genres, and tried to find my voice after having to tailor it to particular brands and publications for years. One of the hardest parts of this process has been feeling like a rookie despite having had a career in publishing. Lately I’ve been reading Love and Ruin—a novel about Martha Gellhorn, Ernest Hemingway’s third wife—and it’s reminded me of one of my favorite Hemingway quotes about writing:

“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”—Ernest Hemingway

At first glance, it’s a depressing thought, right? But seen another way, I also think this idea can be freeing. As I blunder my way through my next manuscript or blog post, I’m allowed to make mistakes and learn from them. I can experiment and practice. I can give up writing for a while. And I can come back. I’m not going to be a master anyway. But I can always be a learner—and I’m in good company. (On a lighter note: If I ever traveled back in time and met Hemingway, it would probably go something like this.)