Zero Waste Home, interview with Béa Johnson

June 9, 2014  |  featured, people  |  No Comments

Zero Waste Home US ORIGINALZero Waste Home US ORIGINALVera Hamady: Béa Johnson, you are the author of the book Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life by Reducing Your Waste. What inspired you to write this book?

Bea Johnson: In 2006 we were living in a large home in the suburbs and wanted to move to a downtown to be closer to amenities. We moved into an apartment for a year with only the necessities and learned that living with less allowed us to live more. We all of a sudden had more time to do the things we enjoy. When we found our ideal home (half the size of the previous one), we let go of 80% of our belongings, including those that we had stored. Then our voluntary simplicity opened time to educate ourselves on environmental issues. That’s when we decided to change our way of living for the sake of our kids’ future. We adopted green alternatives and learned how to reduce our waste to a quart size jar’s worth per year.

We found that Zero Waste is nothing that we would have expected it to be. It’s not just good for the environment. Overall it has also made us healthier, and it saves us an incredible amount of time and money! I wish more people realized the great potential of this lifestyle and embraced it. Since there was no book about waste-free living, we had to figure it out for ourselves. I felt that it was important to share my knowledge with others. I wrote the book to share all I know about the lifestyle.

VH: What does it take to adopt the Zero Waste Lifestyle?

2013 trash tallyBJ: What we do to generate only a one liter jar full of trash per year is no secret. We found that following a set of 5R’s IN ORDER was the key to eliminating waste. So, we:

1. Refuse what we do not need (for ex. single use plastics, junkmail and freebies)

2. Reduce what we do need (furnishings, clothes)

3. Reuse by buying secondhand and swapping disposables for reusables (that includes shopping with reusables such as cloth bags, jars and bottles)

4. Recycle what we cannot refuse, reduce or reuse

5. Rot (compost) the rest (fruit peels, lint, hair, floor sweepings etc).

2013 trash tallyVH: I would like to imagine a planet where we all become environmentally conscious. How can we speed up our own transformation?

BJ: The most important thing one can do to stop waste and clutter from entering one’s home is to simply say ‘no!’ Think before accepting something that is handed out to you. Turn down flyers, freebies, party favors, business cards, single use plastics (such as plastic bags), and fight junk mail. Accepting these things not only creates a demand to make more, they are a waste of resources, and once they are brought into your home, they add to the clutter and require effort to dispose of them later. Refusing is the first rule to living a Zero Waste, simple lifestyle. Give it a try — you’ll be amazed how much stuff you’ll be able to stop from coming in.

VH: How do you intend to continue inspiring people to live responsibly?

Picking up litterBJ: My work is to shatter misconceptions associated with the Zero Waste lifestyle. So I will continue blogging (and social media), giving tours of my home to organizations and schools, speaking at waste conferences (I will be speaking in France this month) and universities, etc. But the bulk of my work is to address the interest of national and international media (TV, print, radio and blogs). For example, I filmed with a Swiss crew last week, and will shoot with CNN and a French crew the next. Writing my book, Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life by Reducing Your Waste allowed me to nationally and internationally share everything I know about this lifestyle, but I would like to see it translated into a TV show (the visuals of Zero Waste are so attractive and convincing). I am currently pitching the idea to French and American production companies. I am also developing a crowd funding plan to raise money for my Bulk app, which needs updating to keep up with ever changing technology. I also started making art again and showing my work (I used to be an artist before putting all my creativity into finding Zero Waste alternatives for my household!), and I am collaborating with my town to offer a tool library and develop EV charging stations.

VH: Tell us how the simple life beautified your life?

BJ:  The Zero Waste lifestyle does not deprive, as one would think but improves one’s quality of life. Life becomes less focused on having and rather on being. What I love most about the lifestyle is the simple life and how closer it has made my family. Voluntary simplicity has changed our daily routine in these ways:  It has greatly simplified our cleaning (picking up the house only takes a few minutes each day). It makes our housework and professional work much more efficient. It has allowed us to play more (simple living focuses on experiences versus stuff) and spend more time together (we always eat dinner together). It has even allowed us to travel more by being able to easily rent our house when we’re gone (our minimalist wardrobes fit in carry-ons), which then funds vacation and family getaways! Zero Waste has also brought beauty into our life — glass jars are so much prettier than disposable packaging in my pantry, for example.

Zero Waste Home’s website







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Bobo Noir, Film

Bobo Noir, Film

February 25, 2014  |  featured, people  |  No Comments

Jeff Norman contacted me and said, “You will love Bobo Noir.” Well, I loved Bobo Noir, which is why I’m touting the horn of this short indie movie. It’s fresh, funny, amusing, and original at the same time.

You can watch it here:

Bobo is the name of a French pastry arts dropout who is banished from his family olive fortune and decides to try his chances at Hollywood. His favorite comedian is John Belushi and he dreams of soaring like him. In Hollywood, everybody stars in his own dream, even a real French Bobo, although it happens that he is black (Pourquoi pas). Bobo Noir est un film de rêves.

Jeff Norman had the idea of the movie when he visited France in 2011 and had some interesting encounters with les bobos. (A bobo is a spoiled Parisian brat/a hipster.) He directed the movie and plays Bobo. He said that Bobo Noir is “not a comedy per se, but rather a character study with a comedic heartbeat.”

Bobo is an original, but he doesn’t know it. He has left France behind but, sadly, not his parents – he has inner dialogues with them throughout the movie. His naiveté and innocence are rare gems in Hollywood, and they turn out be his greatest assets. As like attracts like, he finds some goofy Southern California characters who help him get closer to his dream — the homeless man who knows where the hottest comedy club in town is, the spiritual master turned comedy teacher, the vintage store girl, who spots the “fresh off the boat character” and gives him some good advice and addresses.

If you watch the movie, you’ll know what the difference between a Californian and a Parisian is and what the color of a green card is—probably one of the funniest moments of the movie. Jeff Norman mimics an artful French accent, which adds to the cultural twist of the movie and makes for some great laughable moments. The movie is in English and French with subtitles. And what about La Fin? Can a Bobo succeed in Hollywood? You have to watch the movie to see what happens.

In the meantime, I’ll tell you who Jeff Norman is. According to his own description, he is the “definitive Francophile who lives and breathes French culture, taking influence from such sources as Truffaut and Godard and La Nouvelle Vague to “la tecktonik” dance craze and popular webseries like Norman Fait Des Vidéos.” And I would add that he is one talented Bobo Noir.

For more information about La Famille Bobo Noir visit the following links:



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Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

January 27, 2013  |  featured, people  |  2 Comments

Interview with Joanna Biggar, author of That Paris Year

Vera Hamady: You were in Paris in September and you sent me this beautiful card where you wrote “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” (more things change, more they stay the same). Can you expand?

Joanna Biggar: You can take that to mean many things: Paris, but also the picture of the flappers in the twenties in a café. It is just such a wonderful women’s picture. I said in my novel that Paris is a woman and I do think that there is a strong woman’s essence to it, as opposed to London, which I find a really masculine city.

VH: Did you find the women as beautiful as in the post-card?

JB: Oh, yes, beautiful, stylish with a strong sense of themselves. I think I like that. There is a confidence, like they know who they are. The sense of beauty is so pervasive and when you look at women in your own age group or older women, they are still beautiful. They have a sense of confidence and style by accepting who they are, but not necessarily trying to be younger or coquettish. Many years ago when I was in the south of France I wrote a piece about this because I was so interested in the fact that women who were my age, not like the women in Paris of course where they are still stylish, but the older women, dressed in these floral dresses and old ladies shoes and pushed their shopping carts. It was as if at one point, they accept that they are an old lady, and take that role on. But it is quite different in Paris where there  is a still dignity, style and a sense of knowing who you are. It’s the opposite of the Hollywood idea of everybody getting a facelift and trying to look 25 although they are 50. This is accepting that there is a beauty and a dignity to age. I like that and I find it pervasive in Paris.

VH: How did you feel being in Paris and writing a travel essay for a forthcoming anthology to be published by Left Coast Writers?

JB: It is interesting that you should mention that because I just finished writing it. What I reflected on a lot is, ok, now I’ve been going to Paris for fifty years. It has been a love affair for me and I admit that. I was in Paris the entire month of September and the first time I arrived when I was young, I arrived in September. So, the sensations of that season and the beauty were very imprinted in me. And what I tried to write about this time was the sensation that when I step back in there, it is like opening a door and I am in that place again and I connect to that spirit. It is not like looking back on some other younger self. When people do that, there is a lot of nostalgia about it or maybe regret or something bittersweet. It is not that, it is that I am that person. When I open the doors, I am still that person. It is not all wonderful and beautiful, but simply reaching the person that you are at the core, not somebody you were just in the past and have closed the door on. I found a quote by Madeleine L’Engle that I like a lot. She said that the wonderful thing about aging is that you never have to stop all the other ages that you were. You carry that with you, then you add another and you expand.

VH: Is the travel essay about you?

JB: Yes, it is about me. It is going to be published in the new travel essays on Paris in the summer by Left Coast Writers. Travel essays are what we call personal essays, it is a special kind of genre. You try to capture something about the place that is personal, your resonance with that place. The book is part of a series called Wandering. We are wandering in Paris.

VH: Your novel That Paris Year came out two years ago. What did you learn since the publication of the book?

JB: I felt very good to finally do it after having worked on the book for so long, and left it alone for so long. It was this ongoing project that was never finished. There was a lot of satisfaction in it. I credit my publishers with this, but I am very happy with it. It is physically a very beautiful book—the print, the layout, and the quality of the paper. Certainly, the whole process of having a book out and doing readings is an interesting learning curve in itself. You learn a lot from the kinds of questions people bring to it. One of the things that I find surprising about it is that it involves these women characters, and it is very much a woman’s experience. I thought that it is very easy to pigeonhole it as a women’s book, which it is. But interestingly, I found that a lot of men have read it and seem to like it for various reasons. One of them being that secrets of young women are somehow revealed.




VH: If you had to summerize the book what would you say it is about?

JB: I can answer this in two ways. There is a kind of plot. So, it is about these 5 young women who come from Southern California as strangers into Paris at a particular time. They encounter in its splendor and in its misery, this other incredibly powerful and seductive culture and place. They cope with that in various ways. They have each distinct personalities, so they have different kinds of encounters there. Their experiences are varied but somewhat based on where they are in their lives and where they come from. In the larger sense, the underlying things are those of self-discovery and how a lot about this process in your youth comes about when you are in a foreign place. You are forced to confront who you are, where you came from in the face of a different culture. And I was very interested in the concept of how women, young women in this formative period, when they are very close shift their identities with each other. They kind of inter-merge their identities a lot. Another underlying thing is their relationship with their mothers, which don’t come out very well at this age. All of them are fairly contentious. I was speaking to college students last year about that point—this idea that when you are young you are not going to turn into your mother at all cost. But over time, it works itself out, and you reconcile with your mother—even become her. Also, of course their relationship to love/romance and how it plays out is tremendously important for their formation.

VH: Is romance the theme of the sequence of That Paris Year?

JB: No, I think that I am going to return to this maybe in a third volume, when they are middle-aged. Interestingly, in the second book, they are grown up. But in that volume, none of them has a family. It is unusual, some of them have been married and divorced, and some of them have relationships. But they are not in that particular space. It is about twelve years later.

VH: What do you like about the creative process?

JB: That is a great question. I wish I had some profound answers that I could just snap out but… I suppose that the creative process is the counterweight to all that is quotidian and mundane and dispiriting about life as it just rolls out if you don’t have creativity. Imagine life without the arts, or life without any spirit. To enter that is to enter into kind of a magical space. It is transformative. Not everybody has that impulse I guess, but for me I can’t imagine life without it.

VH: You have many loves—France, Africa…

JB: Yes, I do. But Africa is unlike France where I have been going for 50 years now as often as I can. I often think back about my first arrival and I wrote it in that little essay too that I did about Paris. I’d been hitchhiking so I arrived with a truck driver I picked up in Belgium. And he was smoking Gauloises, which I quickly picked up too. He dumped me off on a street corner in Paris. It is always amusing to think back at this arrival. Paris kind of entered my bloodstream– or France, I love other parts of France too. I have to go back and feed that as often as possible.

For Africa I was there only once but for an intense four years and I have not returned. I would like to now. I have been interested for a long time in going to Namibia and I would like to go to South Africa where I didn’t want to go back then, but now it is a different world. I did this trip with two other women, my heroic trip starting in Mali for 2,000 miles down the Niger River. It all started from a book, of course, it’s where all things start for me. And it was a book by someone who was then a Frenchman and a fantastic writer. His name was back then Sanche de Gramont. He was quite a wonderful writer and an adventurer. He has written a book about taking this journey down the Niger River, which was called in the native languages the Strong Brown God. That was the name of his book. He documented this incredible trip he took, so I read that book and I said to myself, I am doing this. At that time, my sister-in-law was a curator at the Field Museum in Chicago and an English friend of mine who lived in Ghana wanted to go, so the three of us met in Bamako and we started our journey, partly on bush taxi, partly we walked . We ended up on that river boat, exactly the same one as Sanche de Gramont had been on, an old rust bucket. We took canoes, we took whatever. We started in Bamako and we followed the river, 2,000 miles into Niger. We had incredible adventures, even having to go through the desert as part of contraband in the back of trucks. Sanche de Gramont, by the way, made a very interesting conversion. He left France behind, became a Californian and changed his name to Ted Morgan. He wrote things from here with his new American name. We always thought that we would return and cross again. We would like to cross the river the other way. We followed the river west to east. But we want to cross from say Timbuktu across into North Africa—an impossible journey now because of war.

VH: How did writing change you?

JB: From the time I can remember when I was a child, I knew that I wanted to write. I started doing it extremely young and always loved it. I loved it in school when I had to make things up and I was imaginative. I think that it just has always been a part of who I am. I feel that something is lacking if I go too long without doing it, I get too busy, or I have not kept up with it in some ways. But the thing that has changed over time has been what I have written. My early writings were very academic. I had the sense that I wanted to write novels, or do something more creative, that I might have the skills to do it, but I thought that I didn’t have much to say. Later on I became a journalist, that was my job and it took up my life in a way. I didn’t have much psychic space to do more creative work, but that balance is always a struggle. I think that every artist has it. You have your day job, you have to support yourself. How do you carve out that space?

VH: What advice would you give to writers?

JB: If you are serious about doing it, you need to keep at it, keep writing frequently even if it is a little bit every day. If you get too far away from it, it is always harder to restart. You don’t need to have an agenda. Oftentimes I think that when you come to a roadblock about something you are writing, fair enough, put it aside, but let it be in your subconscious, let it percolate, move on, do something different, and then come back to it. See if by coming back to it, you have some new insight, some fresh start or maybe you decide that you would not like to do this, but if you can’t go in one direction, go into another. There is one statement by Picasso that I always really liked: “If you can’t use red, use blue.” If you can’t go into this direction, go into that one, and see where it takes you.

VH: Do you have a wish for 2013?

JB: To finish my second book. After all the travelling I have done, I am happy to come back to that writing space again and write in a less distracted way. I am really loving that.

Joanna Biggar is a writer, journalist, and teacher who has published fiction, poetry, books, personal and travel essays and feature articles in hundreds of newspapers and magazines. She turned twenty in Paris, where she was a student at the Sorbonne, and went on to earn degrees in Chinese language and French literature. Since then she has chaired a school board in Ghana, traveled solo to remote regions of China, worked as a journalist in Washington, D.C., and taught inner-city school students in Oakland, California, where she lives. She is married, has five adult children and seven grandchildren, who love books. A member of the Society of Woman Geographers, her special places of the heart remain France and the California coast.  

Featured image: Maurice Branger / Femmes à une terrasse de café                  









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