Skip to content

The Man in the Tree Just Watches, Like Me

January 8, 2019

There is something to be said for doing nothing because out of nothingness usually comes something-ness. If we are willing to wait and be the observer of the moment, interesting things can take shape.

One soggy summer Sunday, I was enjoying just that: a whole lot of nothingness. It was drizzling and so a good day for staring out the window.

From my living room couch, I have a relatively pleasant view out my patio doors of the balcony. Beyond the balcony there are several very tall shady ash trees, home to crows, hummingbirds, cardinals, robins, squirrels, nuthatches, cicadas, and other assorted winged creatures. There is always something going on and worth watching in those trees.

On this day, lying on my couch, I stared out the patio doors to allow daydreams to percolate in my mind. Or, more realistically, I lay there and thought about things I should be doing instead of lying on my couch.

I shifted my gaze to focus on the beautiful trees swaying in the breeze. Gradually, I zeroed in on one area of the ash directly in front of the balcony—and saw something intriguing. Someone was staring back at me. Camouflaged among the fluttering leaves in shades of dark and light green, a solemn face emerged from the branches.

It was . . . a man . . .  a green leafy man.

I looked twice, then squinted once more at the tree. I opened the screen and peered at the tree more closely. The face peered back at me as if to say, “What do you see, in this green tree?”

A tingling sensation ran up my spine, and after several minutes of watching the green face, I grabbed my phone. I needed a witness, because I thought he would be gone once the winds picked up. I returned to snap a photo and he was still there, patiently watching from his hiding place, minding his own business. My jaw dropped, yet he maintained his composure.

After a half-hour or so, I became accustomed to him. Like the natural creatures that we both are, we went back to waiting and watching, doing little else that afternoon but listening to the rain drip from the leaves of the ash trees.

This winter, the city tree trimmers came up the street and pruned all of the trees. What used to be green leafy branches are now just stubs. The good news is spring will bring forth new leaves; however, it remains to be seen if the green leafy man will be among them.

Trees are good with change, aren’t they? Every season, they evolve by letting go; for them, it’s as natural as breathing . I, on the other hand, am still learning this lesson. It’s not necessarily fun to let go of attachments, I’ve discovered, but as time goes by I begin to see the value in it. If the trees do it, than so must I.

Heidi L. Friedrichs is a Milwaukee-based author. 


Repurposed Wrapping

December 20, 2018

Over Christmas gatherings, some of the elders in my family caught some playful jabs for oh-so-carefully opening their presents to preserve the beautiful wrapping paper. While others intensely ripped at their presents, discarding the paper and ribbons, folks like my great-Aunt Stella carefully slit the tape and folded the paper, saving every sheet large or small for future use. Relatives reminded her that she could afford to buy new wrapping paper next December, but for our Great Depression-era relatives, it wasn’t always about the comfort of having disposable income in their later years. They grew up in a time when reuse and recycle was regular habit, and I always try to incorporate their beliefs to create a less-wasteful holiday.

I also occasionally save paper from gifts and definitely repurpose any ribbons or bows that had not been torn or crushed. Other Earth-friendly options can I have fun with are old maps, the Sunday funnies, and scarves and scrap fabric to wrap gifts. Local thrift shops usually have good selections of used children’s books, and when I find one with colorful illustrations, I tear those pages out to wrap gifts for kids. I also collect spools and remnants of fabric craft ribbon to pretty up the packages, instead of using store-bought bows. Colorful bakers twine can add a fun twist to a gift, and the string can be repurposed for kitchen use.

Sheet music makes fun wrap for gifts for the musician or music lover in the family. I’ve also torn maps out of atlases found at resale shops to wrap gifts for the explorer or someone who has a trip planned for the coming year. Holiday touches can be added with sprigs of artificial holly, a poinsettia flower, or repurposed flat ornaments like snowflakes. I’ve also found unique rolls of vintage holiday wrap at rummage sales and antique shops. I just trimmed off any yellowed edges, and the paper was still perfectly good.

Everyone might not have the time or want to use Aunt Stella’s technique of saving wrapping paper, but remember that most wrapping paper is recyclable, except for foil wrap. But ribbons and bows generally are not recyclable, and stringy objects like ribbon can get caught in machinery at materials recovery facilities. Check with your local municipality for more specific guidelines about recycling holiday wrappings.

Cheers to a joyful, safe, and eco-friendly holiday!

Sheila Julson is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Natural Awakenings magazine.




Shop Local This Holiday Season

November 24, 2018

With Black Friday sales dominating television news footage and internet ads, it’s easy to get drawn in by that deal on a new smart TV, or housewares at 50 percent off. Big-box and national chain retailers can offer smokin’ deals, but the best value for our communities comes through spending you money at locally owned shops. Milwaukee is lucky to have a wealth of small, locally owned businesses throughout the city that can hook you up with unique clothing, household goods, music, bicycles, food, cards, holiday décor and more, each offering one-of-a-kind gifts often not mass-produced or shipped halfway around the globe, thus lessening our carbon footprints.

By patronizing locally owned businesses whenever possible, whether it be restaurants or retail, you’re sustaining your local economy. For every $100 you spend at locally owned businesses, $68 stays in the community. According to Local First Milwaukee, an alliance of independently owned businesses and nonprofits, “money spent with a local business generates 75 percent more state and local tax revenues and is far more likely to be re-spent locally.”

Local businesses, owned by neighborhood entrepreneurs, create vibrant communities by occupying storefronts and hosting events. Because small business entrepreneurs often specialize in specific goods or services, they are very knowledgeable about what they sell and take the time to assist customers. Small business entrepreneurs have no shareholders to answer to, so customers, as well as their employees, are truly valued. Shopping locally also boots environmental sustainability, since many small businesses are right in neighborhoods, often within walking distance or a short drive. So bundle up, take a walk and explore the fine small businesses through Small Business Saturday:

For shops participating in Small Business Saturday by neighborhood, Milwaukee Magazine has published a convenient guide:

Also, check out Nest Holiday Pop-up Shop from Marquette University students at 157 S. 1st St., from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Milwaukee Makers Market at Discovery World from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

If you happen to miss Small Business Saturday, don’t fret—you can shop locally any time during the holiday season—and throughout the year.

Sheila Julson is a regular contributor to Natural Awakenings magazine.

Healthy Thanksgiving Side Dishes

November 15, 2018

With a growing awareness of food allergies and dietary preferences, more people are seeking out modern twists on classic Thanksgiving favorites to accommodate those who are vegetarian or vegan, on dairy or gluten-free diets, or who need to watch their sodium intake. The good news is that in today’s foodie-centric world, choices abound and myriad blogs and magazines explore creative dishes for all dietary restrictions.

Below are two of my favorite dishes that are vegan and gluten-free (according to the Gluten Free Society, quinoa is defined as gluten-free based on the definition of gluten for those with celiac disease, but it has “gluten like storage proteins that can mimic proteins found in wheat, barley, and rye.” See additional notes for substitutions.

Leek and Sage Quinoa Stuffing

(Adapted from Kevin Lee Jacobs’ A Garden for the House)

Who says a stuffing needs bread? The leeks give this quinoa stuffing (technically, it’s a dressing, since it’s not stuffed into the turkey or main dish) an oniony bite, and the tart sun-dried tomatoes complement the dish. It also calls for a generous addition of sage, a staple of fall entrees. Sage is also known to boost the immune system and aid digestion.

2 cups quinoa

4 cups unsalted vegetable broth

2 t. kosher salt, divided (or salt substitute like Mrs. Dash Original Blend*)

Freshly ground black pepper

2 T olive oil

2 T Earth Balance vegan butter (or substitute 2 additional tablespoons olive oil)

2 large leeks, white and green ends diced

10 fresh sage leaves

2 t. fresh chopped thyme

1 t. fresh chopped parsley, plus additional for garnish

1 t. fresh rosemary leaves, minced

4 ounces sun-dried tomatoes

5 garlic cloves, minced

Put quinoa, vegetable broth and 1 t. kosher salt into a pot. Bring to boil over high heat. Turn down heat to low, cover pot and let simmer until all the vegetable stock is absorbed. Fluff the grains with a fork and set aside.

Warm the Earth Balance and olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add leeks, herbs, remaining salt and black pepper. Sautee until the leeks soften and turn slightly brown. Stir in tomatoes and garlic and cook for another minute.

Put quinoa in a large bowl and add the contents of the skillet. Stir to combine and transfer mixture into a baking dish and garnish with parsley and fresh ground pepper, if desired.

*Choose salt substitutes carefully; some have additives such as monosodium glutamate (MSG) or potassium chloride, which can taste bitter and cause an upset stomach.

Herb Roasted Vegetables

(Adapted from Colorado Collage cookbook, c. 1995)

This is a colorful, eye-appealing dish that looks great on the table, and you can use any root vegetables of your choice (I’ve made variations of this dish with added radishes and heirloom carrots).

1 butternut squash, peeled and cut into 2-inch cubes*

1 pound fresh green beans, trimmed and halved

1 pound of fresh mushrooms, quartered (button or cremini work well)

2 medium leeks, white and light green ends cut into 2-inch pieces

1 medium red or green bell pepper, cored, seeded and cut into eights

1 large white onion, peeled and coarsely chopped (you can also use red onion)

1 pound new potatoes, quartered with skins on*

1/3 c. non-GMO/organic canola oil

¼ c. chopped fresh rosemary

¼ c. chopped fresh sage

¼ c. chopped fresh parsley

salt and pepper to taste


Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a large, heavy roasting pan combine all vegetables. In a separate bowl, combine canola oil, herbs and desired amount of salt and pepper. Drizzle over vegetables and toss to coat. Roast 1 to 1½ hours, stirring every 20 minutes.

*For tips on how to easily peel raw butternut squash, visit

You can also buy squash already peeled and cut; however, that generates plastic waste from packaging. You’ll also pay more for the convenience.

*For color and variety, use a mix of red and purple potatoes, or 2 pounds of fingerling potatoes, halved

Wishing everyone peace and love this Thanksgiving holiday!

Sheila Julson is a regular contributor to Natural Awakenings magazine.

Go Green This Halloween

October 22, 2018

Orange and black are the traditional Halloween colors, but try greening up your Halloween by making some simple eco-friendly substitutions:

For decorations:

  1. When purchasing new decorations, try to choose items that are solid and can be reused every year, versus cheaper items that will quickly break, tear, pop or fade. Start with classic Halloween symbols like spiders, ghosts or witches so you can build themes off of those for variation; for example, simple skeleton figures can be altered the following year with distressed cast-off clothing to resemble ghost pirates.
  2. Resale shops and thrift stores often hold treasure troves of Halloween decorations. Be sure to also donate your used decorations and costumes.
  3. Swap or share holiday decorations with friends and relatives.
  4. Cut stylishly spooky Halloween window silhouettes from basic black construction paper. Websites such as DIY Network provide templates and step-by-step instructions (com/how-to/make-and-decorate/crafts/how-to-make-halloween-window-silhouettes). After Halloween, store the silhouettes flat in a large mailing envelope to reuse next year. If you accidentally tear a silhouette, most types of paper, including construction paper, is recyclable.
  5. Don’t toss the jack-o’-lanterns into the garbage after Halloween! Pumpkins provide dense nourishment for soil, so compost them by breaking them apart and placing in a compost bin, or just set them in the garden directly on the ground. The pumpkins will decompose over winter and whatever is left can be worked into the garden soil for the spring planting season. (Be sure to remove any candles or wax from the pumpkin.)

For Trick-or-Treat:

  1. Minimize wrappings by baking your own cookies, cupcakes or other treats for school parties or church and community events. Not a cook or a baker? Many local bakeries have beautifully decorated cookies and other treats packed in to-go recyclable or compostable boxes or bags.
  2. When selecting fun-size candy to hand out to Trick-or-Treaters, avoid plastic wrappers and opt for treats packaged in boxes.
  3. Opt for ethically sourced palm oil (a common ingredient in commercial candy bars), chocolate and fair trade or union-made candy.
  4. Natural grocery stores carry some brands of Earth-friendly individual treats like Endangered Species Bug Bites or Yummy Earth Lollipops. (Although these options cost a little more than commercially produced candy.)
  5. Items like temporary tattoos or art supplies such as non-toxic crayons are good alternatives to candy.
  6. Use cloth bags or used pillowcases for Trick-or-Treat bags.

For parties:

  1. Choose reusable mix-and-match serving platters, plates, cups and cloth napkins (these items can also be found at resale shops) instead of paper plates and napkins. If you have to use disposable plates and cups, go with compostable or biodegradable tableware. (It’s tempting to go with fun Halloween themed paper plates and napkins, but those often contain artificial inks and dyes.)
  2. For children’s parties, have the kids create decorations from paper bags, non-toxic paints, leftover fabric scraps (cheesecloth makes amazing spider webs and ghost shrouds!) or buttons. Each child can take his or her decoration home after the party.
  3. Choose fabric tablecloths over paper or plastic ones.
  4. Make your own food and snacks for the party menu or have a potluck event instead of purchasing packaged snacks or carry-out/delivery foods.

With a little planning and creativity, Halloween doesn’t have to be wasteful or excessive. Happy Green Halloween!

Sheila Julson is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Natural Awakenings magazine. 

What is Network Marketing or Direct Selling?

August 21, 2018

Source: One of the most common at-home business opportunities is the direct sales network marketing of products offered by a parent organization. Direct sales or network marketing has received a bad rap in the past, where advocates and adversaries share their pros and cons about this business model. We take a look at what networking marketing and direct selling opportunities are.

Network marketing/direct selling companies offer their products and/or services by employing a business model that includes a number of independent representatives or marketers who promote the parent company and its product line. The first method in which network marketers earn an income is based on sales commissions for product sales of the affiliated parent company. This applies to both single-level and multi-level marketing business models. Network marketers can then earn additional income from building an “organization” or “downline,” which consists of a network of other individuals they recruit to also sell the parent company’s products, making this the “multi-level” business model.

Multi-level marketing organizations have been pitched under a number of monikers. Some of the most common other names for multi-level marketing are network marketing, direct selling, community marketing, referral marketing, pyramid selling, person-to-person marketing, and relationship marketing. Network marketing or direct selling have been the most common terms dubbed since multi-level marketing has been associated with negative perception of the industry as a whole.

Some of the most successful and longest standing direct selling businesses include Avon, Amway, Primerica, May Kay Cosmetics, Legal Shield, and Shaklee. Within the past 40 years, the number of network marketing companies that offer products and services have exploded to an all-time high. There are well over 50 companies today that dominate the multi-level marketing landscape, and there are no signs of the industry slowing down.

Billions of dollars in product and service sales have been made for these companies as a result of this business model. In 2015, the industry posted $183.7 billion dollars in sales worldwide. Collectively, these companies claim that over $73.4 billion dollars (roughly 40 percent) of gross revenue was paid directly to “distributors,” who are the network marketers themselves. The majority of the industry’s sales were collected in the United States, with 20 to 30 percent of all sales having taken place stateside. The industry also did well in China, which is the industry’s second largest market, followed by South Korea, Germany and Japan.

So what makes the industry so attractive? Career marketers will tout there are multiple benefits to becoming involved in network marketing organizations. Network marketers claim the main reason for their decision to join network marketing is because of its unique business model and the flexibility the industry offers.

Network marketers can earn unlimited commissions with most multi-level marketing companies, as well as paid performance bonuses when sales goals are met. They are also paid a percentage on sales from their downline. A common claim of advantage in network marketing is the sense of owning a business without the hassle of a brick and mortar location, so very little financial investment is required in comparison to the capital necessary to start-up a traditional retail or service oriented business. Network marketers have the flexibility to create their own schedule, and are not limited to any one geographic location.

Other terms coined for the sales force of independent sales people who make up a direct selling organization include: distributors, marketing consultants, promoters, representatives, independent business owners, independent contractors, marketing directors, and relationship coordinators. Some of these terms have been viewed by former network marketers as misleading, because the network marketer does not directly own part of the parent company; and many of the network marketers do not operate their venture in an official business structure (such as a corporation or limited liability company). Instead, network marketers are encouraged to register a business name and obtain a tax identification number, so the parent multi-level marketing company can pay a business entity versus paying an individual. This is where the phrase “getting into the business” was developed.

Traditionally, network marketers would introduce the parent company’s products and/or services to potential consumers directly by word of mouth advertising. Some of the most popular forms of this word of mouth advertising would come in the form of “home parties,” where the network marketer would set an appointment to host a home party (or have a family member, friend or acquaintance host the party for product discounts or gifts), and invite guests to attend the party. At the home party, family and friends would gather to share in refreshments and would view the presentation made by the network marketer, who would also showcase the parent company’s product lines and take orders from the invited guests that attended. Once the product orders were available, the network marketer would deliver the products to their customers.

With the coming of the information age, the digital age, and the age of mobile devices, network marketing has become far more complex, with a host of new direct marketing tools and techniques. Individuals can now sell products and recruit members for their downline from anywhere in the world that the parent company is set up to do business with. Social media have given rise to the growing number of network marketers, where one may expect to see the latest pitch in their news feed or receive a private message from someone who is trying to share the multi-level product line or opportunity that they have chosen to partner with.

Just as the methods in reaching potential customers and recruits have advanced, so have the systems used by both single-level and multi-level marketing business models. Most of these companies now offer direct ship programs for their products, so the network marketer no longer has to hand deliver personal orders to customers. Multi-level marketing companies have also integrated back offices, online dashboards and apps, allowing for the network marketer to go paperless while managing their organization or downline. They have also made many of their tools available online to their network marketers, eliminating the need to purchase clunky marketing kits for personal use. They have become more transparent in recent years, providing financial reports, sales commission reports, and earnings in real-time for network marketers to review.

Even with the advancements in technology, marketing tools, training, and the many success stories throughout the network marketing industry, the multi-level marketing industry and business model is still viewed negatively by many. Some claim that network marketing companies are nothing more than pyramid schemes that prey on people who are hopeful and looking for a remedy for their financial duress or other personal challenges. It is important to note, however, that some of the most successful multi-level marketing companies are also those that have come under the most criticism.

Samuel K. Burlum is an investigative reporter who authors articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. Burlum is also a career entrepreneur who currently lends his expertise as a consultant to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in several areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management, and systems integration.

As Seen on TV

August 7, 2018

Just when you thought the deal could not get any better, just wait, there’s more . . . call now and your order will be doubled . . .  In “As seen on TV,” we review some of the most successful infomercial campaigns and why they did so well.

We have all experienced at some point in our lives, while flipping through the television channels, that moment when we came across a presentation of the latest and greatest widget, gadget or contraption, with a deal we just could not pass up. From products like OxiClean and the George Forman Grill, to exercise equipment and other inventions that seemed like no one would ever buy, infomercials have catapulted sales and brand recognition for a number of inventors and marketers, resulting in millions of dollars in returns on their ideas and inventions.

Not all infomercials or products reach the success of the Thigh Master or the Snuggly, however each product that is pitched on television infomercials has a life cycle that assures the product continues to get exposure. As of recently, specialty retailer stores have sprung up to showcase product offerings once seen on television. Walmart and Target have even dedicated shelf space to offer products that were once pitched on infomercials, offering a second chance to connect with consumer audiences.

Some of the most successful infomercial products include the exercise device called the Thigh Master. The Thigh Master was a simple contraption made up of two metal loops joined by a spring mechanism in the middle that was designed to assist consumers in toning legs, hips, and their waists. The pitch was that a consumer could operate the Thigh Master while attending to other activities such as reading, watching television (other infomercials), or just about any other activity that did not require the use of one’s legs at the time of using the Thigh Master. Thigh Master achieved huge success in sales, grossing over $100 million. The Thigh Master incorporated the celebrity endorsement of television personality Suzanne Somers to help pitch the device to would-be consumers.

Another well-known infomercial product that has transitioned to shelf space at your local retailer is OxiClean. OxiClean was pitched by Billy Mays, who would claim, “I’m not yelling, I’m projecting,” as he would hook viewers to stay tuned with the line, “but wait, there’s more.” Billy Mays’ unique, raspy voice and the multitude of scenarios presented on how OxiClean would solve every cleaning situation as the latest miracle for your household grabbed consumers to gross over $500 million dollars in sales to date. Part of the success of OxiClean is its transition from infomercial to its placement on shelves at selected retailers.

“Set it and forget it,” was the tag line for the device that would promise steamed vegetables piping hot; meats cooked to be tender and succulent. The Ronco Rotisserie Oven, also known as the Showtime Pro, steamrolled its way to the top by having the inventor and marketer Ron Popeil invite celebrity guests to accompany him in infomercial sessions. The Showtime Rotisserie raked in over $1.2 billion dollars for Popeil, putting Ronco at the top of infomercial success. The oven is still available today, and continues to be sold on television, Amazon, and in selected retailer outlets.

Richard Simmons not only had you Sweatin’ to the Oldies and managing your meals; he had consumers dole out over $200 million dollars for his fitness programs, making Simmons one of the wealthiest fitness gurus ever. Sweatin’ to the Oldies was a series of exercise regimens coupled with music to entice baby boomers to want to engage into a healthier life. Over 20 million of these programs were sold. Simmons targeted the “regular” person as part of his campaign, which attracted tens of millions of out-of-shape people who might have never taken the time out to visit a gym or hire a personal trainer. The business plan worked, branding Simmon’s as a fitness expert and television personality for life.

Then there was the blanket you could wear called the Snuggie. If you doubt anyone would spend their money on this product, you are highly mistaken. Tens of millions of Snuggies have been sold. In essence, this body-length blanket with sleeves was advertised that it could be worn by anyone, anywhere, anytime, and even boasted that it would bring people closer together if they all had a Snuggie. Sadly, it did the opposite, as the Snuggie was designed for a single person to use at a time. The Snuggie would rake in over $400 million dollars can still be found in selected retailers, on the internet, and on the infomercial, which still airs from time to time.

The infomercial product industry is a multi-billion dollar per year industry, and since its inception, the infomercial product world has grossed over $250 billion dollars in sales to date. With the widespread use of additional digital media, television is not the only medium used in pitching a message to would-be consumers. Digital social media platforms allow for a plethora of video content to be made readily available and stream to almost any mobile device, bypassing the conventional television set.

It is estimated there are over 500 products that have been initially developed and marketed specifically for infomercials. One of the largest companies in the infomercial product sector is Telebrands, located in Fairfield, New Jersey. Telebrands is responsible for launching over a hundred products alone, and has been doing so since 1983.

Based on these metrics, you wonder why more products don’t go down the infomercial path. Not every product is a good fit. The more technical the product, and the higher the investment a consumer must make, the less advantageous it becomes for the product to be featured on an infomercial. Typically, products marketed on infomercials are similar to the impulse buy at the register of a retailer; where consumers feel comfortable with the risk they are taking. Most infomercials offer a risk-free money back guarantee.

Infomercials have been rumored to get a bad rap. Complaints from consumers include inferior or poor quality in the manufacturing of the product itself, or products that claim they will last a lifetime, but don’t. Some products seem so far-fetched that some people don’t believe they can actually function as advertised. As a result, the Federal Trade Commission has taken aim at infomercial marketers, bringing an average of five cases to court each year.

Some infomercials can be outright comical, as they might pitch a product’s suggested use or durability in situations that a consumer might never intend to use the product. When was the last time you purchased Tupperware to have an elephant stand on it? The next time you mock an infomercial, just remember it’s the inventor and marketing company that is getting the last laugh.

Samuel K. Burlum is an investigative reporter who authors articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. Burlum is also a career entrepreneur who currently lends his expertise as a consultant to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in several areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management, and systems integration. He is the author of The Race to Protect Our Most Important Natural Resource-Water, and Main Street Survival Guide for Small Businesses.