Saturday, August 29, 2015

Rubbing Alcohol All Over

Yesterday morning, as I sat tensed, getting a wax, I commented to the esthetician that the liquid she put on following the removal of said wax reminded me of my former pediatrician's office. Indeed, the smell of rubbing alcohol seems to be a relic of my youth, a time when I went to the doctor's and suffered from scrapped knees more regularly (see photo below). And until recently, the substance had all but fallen out of my purview. But as I delve deeper into the realm of (natural) beauty, I've seen rubbing alcohol emerge as a key product on the shelves of many a sophisticated socialite. Below, a few findings on unique ways the product can be used.

Adulthood goals, via Reddit.

As a "Deodorant": While deodorants often lend a pleasant scent to an otherwise unpleasant-smelling area, it seems to mask instead of eliminate bodily odors. And while antiperspirants block sweat from emerging (often through the use of harsh chemicals) it is the bacteria which love the warm underarms that actually cause the area to smell. Enter, rubbing alcohol. While it won't stop you from sweating or lend a pleasant scent (unless clinical sterility is your go-to fragrance) it can kill the bacteria which make the underarms a destination for deodorizing. While I don't rely on rubbing alcohol alone during the week (see Antiperspirants, Alternatives), I often spare myself exposure to chemicals on the weekend by reapplying the substance to certain areas as needed.

As a Nail Polish Remover: I was debating between touting rubbing alcohol as a effective cleanser or nail polish remover, however, I read on the Huffington Post that the "Queen of Clean", Ms. Linda Cobb claims rubbing alcohol can dry the skin. Ergo, it's better used as a nail polish remover.

In the Bath: Through Into the Gloss, I learned that adding about a cup of cider vinegar to the bath can help one "sweat-out" any toxins in the body. Through the same site, I learned adding rubbing alcohol can do essentially the same thing. According to, "[r]ubbing alcohol and epsom salts have been used as cleansers for eternity so [they] won't hurt you but you will start sweating... it also helps clear up acne on the body by expelling toxins from you pores." In addition to mixing epsom salts and rubbing alcohol to form a detoxifying solution (one bag and one bottle, according to actress Liv Tyler) I've also seen it used to help people cut weight (particularly in the world of athletes) by drawing water out of the body and into the salty bath. While I wouldn't recommend this "weight cutting" method in general, it's nice to know there's always an option if you need to squeeze into an LBD.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

High and Dried

Within the curious world of the beauty industry, "dry" can be a bad thing. Some skin is naturally dry and some becomes dry with age. Ergo, the beauty industry offers a myriad of products which can keep this issue at bay. Hundreds of moisturizers line the shelves ranging in price from $8.99 for Neutrogena's Oil-Free Moisturizer Pink Grapefruit to over $1,000 for 111Skin's Celestial Black Diamond Night Cream (admit it, we all want bling in our moisturizer). But, as I've found through my short bit of research, what we put in our bodies seems to gave a greater effect than what we put on our bodies. Not that I'm a fan of chemically laden beauty products. Typically, I try to use the most natural products possible (read: baking soda, olive oil, honey- I should expect to find a cake in my bathtub soon). But when I need to use an antiperspirant (see Antiperspirants, Alternatives) or the Pantene shampoo in my yoga studio, I know I'm not doing myself too much harm. But what we put in our bodies seems to have a significant effect on our health. In this regard, water can be one of the best things we consume. It hydrates us, helps to regulate our appetites and energize our muscles, according to WebMD. And in the realm of water-based drinks (read: teas, coffees and tisanes- the snob's version of herbal tea) the process of drying summer's bounty to preserve it for the cold winter months can be a good thing.

Precious rose petals.

Recently, Into the Gloss featured an article entitled, "ITG's Best Water Tips". One tidbit of advice came from singer Domino Kirke who stated that, "I have chronic dry skin. I went to a dermatologist and found out it was more about hydration, like drinking water. I was putting on the most expensive, thick, goopy stuff but it just wasn't sticking. I feel best when my skin is soft." While somewhat intuitive, the beauty industry can bamboozle us into thinking we need four-figure night creams when water may do the trick. Again, what we put in our bodies can be more effective than what we put on our bodies. So following this axiom, I try to drink a lot of water or (because I'm often a little attention-deficit when it comes to flavors) I drink a lot of tea. Adding flavor to water (in the form of tea and tisanes) can also boost its health quotient. A little dried cinnamon bark can add healing effects to muscle spasms, vomiting or even the loss of appetite. A few dried juniper berries can help to ease an upset stomach or even urinary tract infections. And adding a few dried, green tea leaves to water can lower cholesterol, stabilize blood sugar and raise your IQ (just kidding, but it is good for blood flow and, by proxy, your brain). And while adding "flavor" to your water can be good for your health, adding ingredients that are flavorful and homegrown can be good for your wallet. Thus, a few key ingredients I am currently harvesting and drying with the intention of adding them to my hot, winter teas.

Red Clover: Red Clovers are somewhat ubiquitous throughout Connecticut. Indeed, they grow in Hardiness Zones 4 or warmer (which is essentially most of the country). Upon my herbal education at Flower Power this summer, I learned clovers possess proteins and can even reduce pre-menstrual symptoms in women, perhaps prompting Joan Jett's classic combination: Crimson and Clover. To dry, simply cut several clovers cleanly with a sharp blade leaving about three to four inches of stem intact (in terms of cutting, just like humans prefer to have a Band-Aid ripped off instead of slowly removed, it's generally better to cut plants quickly and neatly). Once you've cut the number of clovers you wish to dry, gather the stems and tie together with gardener's twine. Place clovers in indirect sunlight for about six hours when the dog days of summer heat hit around 85-95 degrees. To use, simply place dried ingredients in a tea ball and let steep for 3-5 minutes. Clovers can also add complexity to your favorite white wine.

 Crimson... clovers.

Rose Petals: I bought a rose bush this summer which promptly died... and then spawned several roses. These roses, in my mind, are a super-breed of flora which "rose" like a phoenix from the ashes to spread its powerful DNA. But even if you don't indulge in such personal delusions like myself, rose petals are actually good for you. High in antioxidants, rose petals can also boost the amount of vitamin C in a dish or lend usage as a remedy for digestive disorders, according to Like red clovers, the petals can also be used to treat menstrual cramps and, like clovers, you can dry them in much the same way. Simply pluck each petal from its corresponding stem and place in a bowl to dry (cover your bowl with Saran Wrap if you want extra protection from having your petals blow away in the wind). Leave petals in direct or indirect sunlight for several hours until they've reduced in size and will crumble between your fingers. To use, place petals in a tea diffuser and let steep in hot water.

Dry my pretties. 

Basil: While I may not add a lot of basil to my teas, I have a lot in my garden and love to add it to my dressings. In addition to lending a kick of spice to foods, basil also carries, "antioxidant and antibacterial qualities," according to WebMD. And while fresh basil can be used to make basil oil in the summer, preserved, dried basil can be used in dressings throughout the winter or added to boost the flavor of soups. To dry, simply cut the leaves of basil so that a small amount of the stem remains. Wash, dry and tie together basil leaves in a bunch (using a rubber band may be more helpful than gardener's twine in this situation). Unlike red clovers and rose petals, basil can be dried within the confines of your home, out of direct sunlight. Simply hang basil leaves so that air is able to circulate around it. Within two weeks, your basil should be dried and ready to store.

Basil galore... to be dried and stored.

So there you have it. A series of plants which can be preserved and added to hot water in the cold winter months. Not only will they add flavor, they will impart health benefits to an already positive habit of drinking (water). And, if you need ideas as to where to store your newly dried goodies, of course I'm going to suggest glass bottles. Enjoy!

Dried rose petals and clovers in glass.

Friday, August 21, 2015


In the summer, I live in a town slightly north of New Haven. To get to yoga, however, (located in New Haven) I go north, then get on a highway to go south. While it takes me a little out of the way, I find the straight, unrestricted flow of highway driving quicker than the start/stop traffic of small, city roads. In yoga, we practice this general concept within the studio, in part, aligning our bodies to make use of the various systems within it. Doing this, however, starts with good posture.

Good posture leads to good talents.

When I was little, I took a ballet class in town with a woman named Ms. Kelly. Ms. Kelly was very nice. So nice, in fact, that she had me believe I was actually good at ballet. When I was in college, I came back to ballet as a form of exercise thinking that maybe my "talents" would reemerge. Of course, my body had not been trained as a ballerina or was simply not shaped like one but I got some use out of the New York City Ballet: Complete Workout. In it, the ballet's master-in-chief, Peter Martins, informed viewers to "stand tall" as if their heads were being pulled up by a string. Indeed, this is how I'd always heard posture "taught": standing with the chest forward, shoulders down, chin up and "head suspended by a string". So I was surprised to hear a yoga instructor inform us to "pull up through the crotch" to better our posture. Always had good posture been linked to an element outside the body (an invisible sting, a wall against the back) and here, good posture seemed to be entirely within ourselves. Curious, I asked her after class why posture started with the bottom rather than the top of our bodies (body here excludes any limbs). Here, I was told that posture could go either way but starting at the bottom was a good way to align the chakras or energy centers of the body (more on that later).

Posture is not just a relic of charm school. It helps us avoid pain and constricted blood vessels and helps with the efficient use of muscles (according to In fact, I once read that my hair loss (not so much an issue as much as an annoyance) could be tied to to poor posture, restricting the flow of oxygen from the lungs upwards. On a more medical note, my chiropractor once told me that I was overcompensating for my poor posture, using muscles I didn't need to make up for a spine-turned-misaligned from years of slouching. So good posture is something I try. Since my experience in yoga a few weeks ago, I've been trying to "pull-up" from my sacrum to my head, which tends to work, but a few other keys for posture can be found below. Enjoy!

Posture: better for any photo than the skinny arm.

Keep your ears aligned with your shoulders: While I feel that zipping up through the sacrum aligns my spine up through the shoulders, aligning my ears with my shoulders seems to account for any misalignment at the neck. Indeed, we spend a lot of time with our necks crouched down: looking at our phones, at our desks or at the many things below our vision line which, when you think about it, are most things in our lives. Taking some time to align our ears with our shoulders aligns the spine and seems to keep the oxygen flowing through the intersection of lungs and mouth.

Dangly earrings can be the canary in the coal mine when your ears and shoulders are misaligned.

Sit with both feet on the floor: While it my conjure images of a brown-noser sitting quietly at a desk with both feet on the floor and hands properly folded sitting with both feet on the floor does actually help your spine's alignment. During the day, it's easy to fidget, lest our limbs go "dead" from sitting. But crossing your legs or putting more weight on one side of the body it does not "align the spine" which can cause spinal curvature and or nerve constriction. In general, I find that keeping both feet on the ground keeps the base of the spine and, by proxy, much of the lower spine aligned which can lead to less problems down the road.

Stretch!: Stretching can be very good for your posture which I can attest to as a participant of yoga. While I wasn't such a fan of the Bikram method at first (it's a particularly intense form of yoga) I now appreciate the way it realigns my spine each time I go and works out any knots in the body. Indeed, as I find my spine aligns more, I find I'm able to go deeper into each posture. But one does not need the Bikram method in order to stretch their way to good posture. Just a few simple moves each day can help.

"Planking": Most of us can remember planking from the Internet craze several years ago. Aside from creating interesting pictures, however, holding the plank pose can strengthen the "core" or abdominal muscles connected to the spine. Since these muscles can play roles in, "[stabilizing] the pelvis and spine," according to WebMD, they often lead to better posture. To engage in the plank pose, simply place your forearms and feet on the ground with the rest of your body in the air. Hold the pose for 30 seconds and repeat for a total of three sets.

Child's Pose: I love child's pose. It is a point in yoga where there is a break in strenuous poses and one can relax into a form that feels great before moving back into 360° back-bends. To preform child's pose, start by sitting "Japanese style" (pictured below). Place your hands above your head and, keeping your arms straight, bring them down until they reach the floor, bringing the rest of your body with you. Continue to stretch your arms out for about thirty seconds. According to the founder of Bikram Yoga, this pose can also make up for a lack of sleep.

Sitting in the Japanese style can help one's posture while staring into the mirror can make one look creepy.

And as referenced above, the Ayurvedic tradition notes that not only is good posture helpful to one's physical body but to the spiritual self as well. Just as I find it easier to travel on a straight highway compared to narrow, city roads, it is said our energy has the same freedom when are chakras along the spine are aligned. Within the following weeks, I plan to write about each of the seven individual chakras or energy centers of the body which seem to have relative parallels in the Western world. For now, you can probably figure out which aspect of ourselves each chakra deals with based on its location in the body. Each chakra is color coded due to the fact that each one is associated with a color corresponding to the color spectrum.

Muladhara: Located at the sacrum or "root" of the body (deals with our basic needs)

Svadhisthana: Located near the public bone (chakra of creativity/reproduction/"creation")

Manipura: Located near the stomach or solar plexus (chakra of personal power)

Anahata: Located near the heart (compassion)

Vishuddah: Located near the throat (communication)

Ajna: Located between the eyebrows (chakra of intuition)

Sahaswara: Located at the crown of the head. (source of enlightenment) 

Another hint is that not only does each chakra correspond to the pattern of the color spectrum, it also seems to carry some parallels to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs (referenced in Product Placement). No matter where humans are, we seem to have similar needs and can be helped by similar actions. As it said in the poster ubiquitous throughout grade school, "we all smile in the same language".

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

State Fair Time

To a large extent, my interaction with the culinary world has been helped along by my good friend, Kathryn Kincaid. When I first met her, she was outside our apartment building, smoking a cigarette and talking about the french onion soup she was going to make for dinner. In the years that followed, she wrote a blog, went to culinary school, got married and (unfortunately for me) moved back to Indiana. I know I owe a debt to her for introducing me to a myriad of home-cooking ideas, websites and approaches to food but, for now, perhaps the guest edit of a blog will do. Therefore, without further ado, I'll turn this post over to my good friend, Kathryn.

Late summer in the Midwest means a few things: heat, humidity, corn pollen-induced hallucinations and most importantly, the State Fair.  It's the most amazing three weeks on my Hoosier calendar.  I don't think that state fairs are as much of a thing on the East Coast, at least my husband, the Arlington Virginia transplant that he is, has never been to a fair.

He was in for a treat. He got to see the FFA (Future Farmers of America) putt putt course as well as the 4-H Hall, which has woodwork, artwork, science projects, and textiles. We went through the animal barns. I petted the calves! All in all it was a great day.  This post is more of a photo set than anything profound as Elissa usually does so it gives you a break from her monotonous blabber... Enjoy!

Best Four H cake. A 17 year old made this: 

I have a love of local Indiana honey.  I also acquired a lot of literature on beekeeping, which is something I'm very interested in once we get a house with a yard. 

Food!!!  We ate pork, beef and lamb while we were at the fair.  Surprisingly, we didn't get much in the way of deep fried red velvet Oreos, deep fried Snickers, or elephant ears.  We did get like 4 lemon shake ups. 

And just to show off, my Mom's quilt got a honorable mention!!! If you enter something (animal or otherwise) you get free tickets to the fair. 

Lastly, I got some goodies!!  This was from the little store of local Indiana products.  I got some Indiana honey, Sunflower oil, lavender soap, a new wooden spatula, and a super comfy shirt. 

The Tenderloin:  Indiana born and breaded

So, if I can offer any last or semi-wise advice, go and look for local events.  Find a fair, find a festival, find anything that you can go to connect and learn about your community.

So there you have it. As someone who has recently experimented with the Locavore Movement, I've found that learning about and relying on foods from your community (and general surroundings) can foster one's knowledge of food (for example, when life doesn't give you lemons: find a substitute) as well as one's appreciation of regional, culinary traditions. Aaaaannnnnddd...

If you live in the DMV several fairs and/or events that exist include:

Hanover Tomato Festival: Held in Mechanicsville, Virginia (near Richmond) the Hanover Tomato Festival is an annual event held at the cusp of tomato season featuring, "rides, games, a petting zoo [and] delicious tomato dishes," according to it's website. Family friendly, it also features the crowing of Little Miss and Tiny Miss Tomato.

The Virginia Wine and Garlic Festival: Held for a quarter of a century in Amherst, Virginia, the Virginia Wine and Garlic Festival is the state's largest agricultural festival. Like many festivals, the above fete features local wines, artisans and entertainment... as well as garlic! I'm a huge fan of garlic, not only does it add flavor to your dish, according to WebMD, can also be used as a preventative for cancers and/or coronary heart disease. With its garlic-themed cuisine, the festival is certainly on my Virginia calendar. 

Alexandria's Food and Wine Festival: Heralding great success in the 2014 season, Alexandria's Food and Wine Festival returned in the summer of 2015 and, I assume, will be held in the coming year. Featuring local chefs and artisans, attendants are able to sample the diverse array of tastes offered in the festival's eponymous city. While new restaurants pop up in Alexandria, old favorites such as Union Street Public House have shown their face at past events as well as local wineries such as Rebec Vineyards and The Williamsburg Winery. Offering entertainment and the "Children's Corner", the festival is also a good choice for the entire family.

Taste of Arlington: Bring flannel... and boat shoes.

Friday, August 14, 2015

A Balanced Buddy

Each morning during the school year, I slip out of bed at 6:40, put my hair up, change into whatever I'm wearing that day (inevitably something cotton), grab my water bottle and head out the door. If my morning's particularly busy, it means I stopped at Starbucks. While I've often showered and taken care of anything aesthetically related the night before (playing the game before the game as my fiance and I like to say) I take pride in my ten minute regimen, even though my day inevitably becomes less efficient. And while I feel I've mastered a morning routine for myself (although, at the age of 32, I'm not sure if this classifies as an accomplishment) I recognize there is an entire group of women who not only do this for themselves but streamline routines for little ones. Barbarellas: Queens of the Galaxy, Amazonians, mothers: whatever you want to call them, they never fail to impress me.

Balance, always key

One such woman is my sister-in-law, Elisabeth Kraemer. Mother of three, teacher and friend, I am consistently impressed by her ability to maintain a balance between family, work and social life... all while making it look fun! And just as quick morning routines are sometimes the result of previous work and planning, I've learned from her that maintaining a balanced home and family life often results from the same procedures, albeit with the resourcefulness of the original Amazonian, Wonder Woman. For Liz, this balance is helped, in part, by a device of her own creation: My Balance Buddy. While maintaining balance often begins with a balanced diet, giving one the energy he or she needs to get through an oft hectic day, My Balance Buddy helps both parents and children track their daily, dietary needs through an easy to use chart, allowing for the organization of what I've learned can be the most stressful point in a parent's day: meal time. As I've always joked I need something of a Balance Buddy in my life, I got the chance to ask Liz about its creation and application. Enjoy!

1. How did you first conceive of the idea for My Balance Buddy?

 When my oldest son was 3 years old, I noticed that rewards charts really gave him great incentive to help around the house (for example, if you put your clothes in the hamper, you get a star).  He was such a picky eater, that I thought this type of incentive chart for balanced eating could help encourage him to eat healthier.  I searched Amazon (where I buy everything) for a product like this, and I was surprised to learn it didn't exist.  The teacher in me decided to make my own chart.  Grant (my oldest) loved my hand-made version, and it was working (he started eating veggies with dinner)! I then started thinking about my 3rd graders.  During Science, we would learn about healthy eating.  I thought instead of just reading about it, I could have my students try out balanced eating using their own charts.  That's when I got a professional graphic designer involved and a company that would actually make the product.  I am using grant money this year from Action for Healthy Kids to give every 3rd grader at my school My Balance Buddy to use during our healthy eating unit.

2. How does My Balance Buddy work?

My Balance Buddy helps people keep track of nutritional needs by using a visual magnetic puzzle.  Basically, the five essential food groups (grains, dairy, protein, veggies and fruit) are separated, color coded and divided into smaller portions which ultimately add up to their respective daily values. Any time a kid eats from one of the food groups, he/she places a magnet in that food category.  There is a handy food group table included with the magnetic chart that gives examples of foods equal to one magnet (for example, the table shows that one banana would earn a child one addition to the fruit group). I researched food amounts for each food group on for both boys and girls ages 3-10 years, but adults have even used it as a loose guide on what to eat.

3. Where can one find My Balance Buddy for purchase?

My Balance Buddy is available on Amazon for $14.99 and can be accessed here. I also have a Balance Buddy website (featured above and here).

So there you have it. A device to add balance to any of our lives. Recently, I noticed that as my diet wanders into new food groups, the more I actually think about and naturally eat a balanced diet on the daily rather than eat sugar one day and veggies the next. Sometimes it just takes getting back to basics (and a buddy) to put you back on track!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Days between days

I usually post on Tuesdays and Fridays but a video by John Oliver came across my gaze last night and I found it important to share. Last Spring, I read a book entitled The Meat Racket by journalist Christopher Leonard. In it, Leonard details the slanted nature of the poultry industry in which four large companies "hog" much of the profits for their own coffers and away from independent farmers which actually raise the lion's share of their chickens (sorry, I tried to work in as many animal puns as possible). The book has some interesting insights into the mechanisms present in the poultry industry but John Oliver seems to wrap it up in a perfect... eggshell. Enjoy! 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Product Placement

As a teacher, it seems some lessons will be straightforward. You think that, to teach Maslow's hierarchy of needs, you should ask students to rank their needs from least to most important or a lesson on Shakespeare might lend itself to an in-class performance. However, I've found in the past that, sometimes, our first reaction as to how we might teach a lesson gets thoroughly amended once other factors come into play. Depending on the age, some students might need to learn what a need is or sometimes, a teacher might find it favorable to teach the meaning behind Shakespeare's plays, rather than have students memorize its lines. The same kind of logic applies to my beauty products which, while albeit in a different stratosphere of my life, sometimes takes some alternate thinking when it comes to "product placement".

Alice's teacup for the twenty-first century.

While most of my beauty products are natural (and cheap) a lot of them can be found in my kitchen. The baking soda I use as an exfoliant, the honey I sometimes use as a cleanser and the olive oil I sometimes use as a mask for my hair all can be found in cabinets either below or above the stove. This grows into an inconvenience once I'm in the shower and realize I've left a certain ingredient downstairs. While I don't really want to keep a box of baking soda in the bathroom (I'm afraid it will absorb a lot of the moisture before it even reaches my skin) and I prefer glass bottles which can break in the shower (see Oil My Goodness) I find that strategically placing these objects around my house is a helpful way of putting them to use.

So great is my love for glass bottles and so great is my need for fiscal conservatism (in my own life, at least) that I have a collection of pre-used glass jars that would make even the strongest penny-pincher blush. There are glasses that once held fennel seeds, glasses that once held green olives and Mason jars galore that may have once housed a gift... all thoroughly put through a heavy rinse cycle in the dishwasher. These bottles help to house teas, infused oils and most importantly (maybe) beauty products. Indeed, reused bottles don't only help the environment and allow for more key placement of items around the household, they can also save some coin. As a Best Beauty Tip on Into the Gloss states, "I decant a lot of my beauty products into Muji containers. I like the clean look, and it also allows me to buy things in bulk, which saves money."

My favorite bottles are the ones which once housed dried herbs and spices. They're the right size, making them easy to handle and inconspicuous on a dresser or vanity and often come with a cap that allows for a slower release of its contents. But while these bottles are great for baking soda and/or cornflower (good for patting on tired eyes) they aren't ideal for others. Herein, therefore, lies a few tricks for the placement and storage of natural (beauty) ingredients around the household.

Dry Brush: I'm relatively new to the dry brush game. I suppose it was a product I read about whose cost was much lower than its purported benefits. Simply moving a dry brush across one's skin in motions towards the heart is said to exfoliate, jog the lymphatic system and possibly release toxins from the body. While the jury's still somewhat out as to whether a dry brush can deliver all said effects, I do find it to be a good exfoliator. And this is good since I often find myself in a shower post-yoga without any good exfoliant (see Poppin' Bottles). When I first came up to Connecticut for the summer, I placed my brush squarely on a bureau outside the bathroom where I often found it after my shower and still damp and done with my beauty regimen, would sigh and say "maybe tomorrow." For some reason, the dry brush moved downstairs to the entryway where I come in and out of the house. I suppose one day, I remembered to use it and brought it downstairs in order fold it into the rest of my morning tasks such as boiling water, watering the plants, etc. As a result, I see my brush each morning before I run off to yoga and, remembering my regret each time I hit the showers, quickly run it across my skin to jump-start any blood flow before the day begins.

Oil Cleanse: An oil cleanse is something that further points to my frugality when it comes to the beauty arena (but, seriously, does anyone want to buy Lancome?). I've recently run out of moisturizer and, instead of navigating the seas of likely beneficial new products, I've decided to start doing an oil cleanse using the olive and castor oils I've had laying around for awhile. Basically, oil cleansing involves using oil in a bottle to dissolve the oil on your face ("like [apparently] dissolves like," according to Kathryn M. Wagner at Princeton via the Purdue website). It also means one might not have to moisturize their face as much since using oils on the skin also has a (likely) moisturizing effect. This is all well and good but the reason I have castor oil laying around in the first place is because I could never get my act together, mixing it with olive oil and bringing it upstairs in a covered, waterproof vessel pre-each-shower. Also, the method involves facecloths which I also couldn't get my act together to buy. Here, though, is where said multipurpose spice bottles come into play. Since my preferred mixture for an oil cleanse involves one part castor oil to two parts olive or hazelnut oil (the mixture generally suggested for oily skin), I simply mix them together in what once was a bottle for Yellow Mustard Seeds and keep it on my shower rack (a good investment if you're keeping glass anything in your shower). The size is small enough to fit comfortably amongst my anti-dandruff shampoos and body washes and large enough to last for about a month of oil cleanses. C'est parfait!

Yellow Mustard Seeds on yoga mat

Cider Vinegar: I used to use cider vinegar a lot in the shower before I started hitting the yoga studio close to four or five times a week. The irony is that, increasing my participation in yoga should have increased my use of vinegar for its anti-fungal properties which can rinse off anything that made it from (sweaty) yoga mat to body during a workout. However, its liquid property makes it an inconvenient item to perpetually keep in a workout bag. At home, however, an old soy sauce dispenser filled with cider vinegar is placed staunchly on my shower rack throughout the year. Even though it's generally suggested to dilute one tablespoon of vinegar in one cup of water to make it a rinse that won't overly irritate one's skin, I tend to use #nofilter when it comes to the substance. The soy sauce dispenser makes for an easy pour and, fun fact, Kenji Ekuan, the man who designed it also designed the bullet train. Also available in Hello Kitty model.

Thus, decanting and relocating your products to suit your beauty, locational or, if you're like me, obsessive needs can help to streamline your beauty routine and help make natural items like vinegar and baking soda more accessible around the house (I also use such products to clean my tub). And yet, not only are such actions good for the body (like milk, just kidding) reusing our "vessels" is good for the environment too. So, enjoy!

Friday, August 7, 2015


I grew up with a mother who was a lot of good things. She was a good person, good friend, good nurse and she was sometimes a good cook. This being said, I can't say I learned too much about cooking from her. Perhaps our lives never intersected at the point I needed to learn to cook or perhaps, through most of my teenage years, we often ate outside of the home after my father became a strict vegetarian. On some occasions, she would cook a meal for family friends and it would always taste good. But whether my mother averaged five or three nights a week of cooking, she seemed to stick to her traditional dishes: fish with green beans, taco's (always at my request) or chicken, sometimes pasta. While these dishes were always "homemade", they were often doctored with Campbell's Cream of whatever or French's Fried Onions, etc. As, I've gotten older, however, I've learned that doctoring food does not always come in the form of processed ingredients. Most often, it's the simplest, most natural "additives" that make a dish go from basic to brilliant.

When I was a kid, I really liked parsley as a garnish. I suppose I saw it at restaurants and thought it was fancy. I think my whole life, I wanted to "eat fancy" until I started cooking for myself and realized that a four-star meal took, like, four days to make. This does not mean, however, that dishes have to be less healthy. All across the internet from the Food Network to Martha Stewart's site, short cuts abound to make meal preparation easier and/or quicker. Granted, these tips can help if you're cooking between your 9-5 and putting kids to bed but the time they save seems to be inversely proportional to the health of the meal they produce. While pre-made ingredients can be a time saver, jarred tomato sauces are often high in sodium, pre-made breadcrumbs can contain high-fructose corn syrup and almond milk contains very little almonds (in most cases). Ergo, I listed a few items I perpetually keep on hand to make my dishes truly homemade (and healthy). Enjoy!

One good thing about being an adult: you can grow your own herbs and garnish away...

Note: While I often to buy food that is healthy and try to buy it on the cheap, a Vitamix blender is an expensive product that can change the way you eat. From helping to make homemade soups, sorbets and nut butters, it is a product that can truly bring "homemade" to the next level. 

Almonds: Almonds have gotten a bad rap as of late with publications like Mother Jones fervently telling its readers to stay off "the sauce" due to its heavy reliance on water as a crop (according to the above site, it takes approximately 1.1 gallons of water to grow a single almond). Indeed, water is in short supply in states like California and, indeed, California produces 80% of the world's almonds. But others in the food industry, like The New York Times writer Mark Bittman, state that almonds are not necessarily the issue as is our reliance on California to be a producer of most of our foods. In this sense, Bittman advocates we return back to a style of regional agriculture where many states take on the "burden" of adding to America's proverbial "bread basket" (read the op-ed. here). It's a hotly contested debate but at the end of the day, I treat myself. I don't eat a lot of meat which also takes a lot of water to produce since something has to keep the grains and grasses a-growin' to feed livestock. And as a sometimes-vegetarian, almonds have become a source of significant protein, calcium and even magnesium which I've hear can regulate cortisol (read: stress) levels. And as claims have been made which point to the lack of almonds and high use of additives in almond milk (the Mother Jones article is featured here) making my own almond milk seems like a nutritionally dense and cost-effective way of getting my daily vitamins. Just cover one cup of almonds in water and let sit overnight. In the morning blend both the almonds and water (maybe add some vanilla) and enjoy... for about a week.

Almonds, interpreted

Canned Tomatoes: For something with a short growing season, tomatoes are a relatively versatile ingredient. They can be found in salads and sauces and lately, I've been using them as the acidic component in marinades (locavore movement, baby). Growing up, we ate a fair amount of pasta... a dish my mother made which I couldn't wait to get my hands on. However, I was always a bit disappointed she used the Ragu pasta sauce instead of Prego (I suppose the later's commercials were a little better). As I got older, I felt my independence blossom as I put jars of Prego into my shopping cart and as I got even older, I stopped using jarred pasta sauce altogether: not just because I limited my intake of pasta but because both sauces tend to carry a lot of ingredients unneeded to make a delicious, homemade concoction. In roughly half a cup of Prego or Ragu, one can find 480 milligrams of sodium which approaches a quarter of the suggested daily value. Compare this with 180 milligrams found in a can of peeled tomatoes and it's clear to see that homemade tomato sauce can offer an easy and healthy alternative to its pre-made competitors. A few years ago, I came across Mario Batali's recipe for tomato sauce and have been making a variation of it ever since. Simply saute half a diced onion in oil and add crushed, canned tomatoes to the mixture. As it reduces over medium-high heat, you can boost its nutritional value with chilies, oregano or even mushrooms (Batali's recipe calls for thyme and basil which are also healthy). It's a great way to add health to a meal with little effort and if you're super enthusiastic about homemade goods, 'tis the season to buy fresh tomatoes and can them for the winter. 

Bread, crumbs: While bread, in and of itself, is not necessarily a "natural food" there is something "substantial" about it in the human mindset. We break bread to make peace with others and it can be found in virtually all cultures across the globe. When bread is done right, as it is in most (local) bakeries, it often contains simple ingredients and few additives. Pre-made breadcrumbs, however, are a different story. While some forms of Panko Breadcrumbs seem to contain relatively few ingredients, the fact they'd likely survive an apocalyptic event leaves me wondering what else is in there (the Huffington Post may actually have the answer). One look at regular, Progresso Bread Crumbs, on the other hand, and one can plainly see a list of over ten ingredients before one gets to those which comprise "less than 2%" of the mixture. To me, one of the nice things about bread is that its simple ingredients means it doesn't last long outside of the freezer, making it a perfect tool to use in an effort to fight unneeded preservatives in the diet. As bread begins to go stale, simply tear it into bite sized pieces and pulse them in a blender until the mixture attains a fine consistency. With the blender whirling, a window is provided for one to add flavorful and beneficial herbs such as dried parsley, rosemary, sage or even red pepper flakes (see link for chili peppers). To toast the breadcrumbs, simply toss in olive oil, and bake in a 350 degree oven until browned. Unlike, their Progresso counterparts, your homemade breadcrumbs might night last forever, but they'll last about a month and lend a crunchy and healthy component to any meal (you can find a more thorough recipe for bread crumbs here as well as one for croutons!)

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Antiperspirants, Alternatives

Suffice it to say, cancer is an issue near and dear to my heart. I don't go on walks to find a cure or necessarily raise money but I do find myself drawn to whisperings as to how it can be prevented or items which may play a role in causing it. Such information is not actively sought out but seems to stand out against the noise of other information. I don't think I'll ever stop pushing William Li's TED Talk on people or feel comfortable putting a cell phone to my ear for an extended amount of time but lately, it's been my use of antiperspirants which have come more into focus.

Kind of like the opening scene in Lord of the Rings, I feel information on antiperspirants has come into my ear through whispers when I least expect it. I've seen information. It's interesting. It's gone. I forget about it. I think the first ever I heard that antiperspirants could cause cancer was in high school. I remember thinking the information was surprising (seeing as there were bottles of antiperspirant staunchly placed on my parents' vanity through my childhood) but something struck a chord with me. Indeed, like in Vanilla Sky, a doctor might tell me that such information on antiperspirants resonated due to the "iconography of my youth". It's a stretch but I remember the ban antiperspirant logo being ubiquitous in the household from 1984 onward. It was the first "beauty product" my parents threw at me and told me to use (read: the first product that made me feel like an adult) and its simple, bold colors stood out to a kid interested in art. So, I suppose my brain has trouble computing a strong brand loyalty with potentially hazardous consequences. Ergo, I decided to do some investigating...

Color plays a large role in branding and you get a heavy dose of it in the deodorant ailse.

Looking at reputable sources like and WedMD it seems a study was done some time ago which theorized that aluminum-based compounds which block sweat glands (and therefore sweat) in one's underarm region, would would naturally be absorbed by the skin and lymphatic system since it couldn't be released through the glands through which it came. Once in the body, research suggested that these compounds could enter one's DNA and change breast cells in particular. Since breast cancer is typically formed in the upper quadrant of the breast, a location close to where one applies antiperspirant, it furthered the theory that there was a clear connection between the two "items" above.

However, after further research, scientists took issue with the way the above study was performed as well as the claims it made. First, the original study looked only at women with breast cancer, citing that, "women who were diagnosed with breast cancer at a younger age said they used antiperspirant and started shaving their underarms earlier and shaved more often than women who were diagnosed when they were older," ( While an interesting find, the study did not compare such women to a control group which did not have breast cancer. While I'm no scientist, I feel control groups are a key part of any experiment which are required for an 8th grade lab let alone professional research. Furthermore, scientists say that while some aluminum may be absorbed through the skin, the amount absorbed is too negligible to cause real changes in one's cells. The worst it might do is irritate your skin if the antiperspirant is applied to nicked, shaved skin.

So, while I feel safe using my ban on a daily basis, I have heard of some alternatives to antiperspirants which sound intriguing. I offer these not as an "in case" to guard against potential future findings on antiperspirants but more as information to arm consumers, in case Unilever ever gets too comfortable with its products... I mean, they've already created AXE bodyspray. Enjoy!

Water: I'm not sure how we ever arrived on the topic but in U.S. History class, our teacher once told us that instead of using deodorant, he drank water. While many students (including myself) seemed perplexed by this notion, he stated something to the effect that adult mammals (or was it animals?) don't need an antiperspirant if they drink enough water. What struck me as interesting was his emphasis on adult mammals instead of humans. It was the first time that I was exposed to the theory that, "yes, we're animals too" and function in much the same way. Indeed, all mammals are warm blooded and are able to, "regulate their own body temperature," (according to a quick Google search). Water, in fact, is a key tool in the regulation of our body temperatures as well as stress levels which can make our body perspire. While some sweat more and may need more water (or even additional antiperspirant) than others, drinking water provides such a myriad of benefits, it can't hurt as a sweat preventative. It can only help.

 Options, people!

Rubbing Alcohol: According to, most of our underarm sweat comes from our eccrine sweat glands. While the sweat from such glands is odorless, most people's underarms are chock-full of bacteria, which causes an odor when these two elements combine. Therefore, it's no surprise that rubbing alcohol can eliminate the smell (if not the sweat) from the situation above. I first came across the notion of using rubbing alcohol on Into the Gloss where and interviewee once claimed to apply it as an antiperspirant alternative. In this situation, Socrates' notion to "know thyself" comes into play. While I know I can't last an eight hour day without some form of antiperspirant (and maintain an amicable relationship with my co-workers), I try to use rubbing alcohol when I know I'll be putzing around the house for a few hours or even after I wake up if I've sweated the night before (dreams, people!).

Rose Deodorant by Dr. Hauschka: Much of my foray into the world of natural beauty has been helped along by the beauty website Into the Gloss. If a baking soda exfoliant is good enough for sophisticated Manhattanites, it's good enough for me. So it was here that I found my second alternative to antiperspirants in Dr. Hauschka's Rose Deodorant. While antiperspirants tend to block your sweat glands, inhibiting the excrement of toxins in the area, deodorants simply make you smell nice. Here, Dr. Hauschka's deodorant uses rose water to lend a sweet, natural fragrance while ingredients such as tapioca and lady's mantle keep sweat at a minimum. Indeed, in my research, I noticed that herbs, including sage and witch hazel could be used to stem sweat. Since sage is a natural astringent, "it has the ability to cause tissue contraction," (according to It is such tissue in the breast area which is often looked at in regards to cancer, so I can only imagine sage is an effective, natural alternative.

So there you have it: a few notes on antiperspirants and a few alternatives. Hope they help you make a decision that is right for you (and those around you).