This blog chronicles my life as I try to balance healthy lifestyle habits with my husband's penchant for pizza rolls and my daughter's desire to watch iCarly 8 hours a day. It contains a mostly humorous, kind, and somewhat spiritual look at everyday life and the people who live it.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Progress, not perfection: the TMPP continues...

The Monster Paint Project (TMPP) has a reached a phase where some progress can be noted.  Just a reminder, this is what the original paint job looked like:

I love the old house colors, but they match our neighbors' and the paint is peeling

And so we began the mammoth task of sanding the whole house...

Steve looks a little delirious from inhaling sawdust

And yes, there have been a few mishaps along the way...

From the upper left to the middle right of this picture is the river of spilled primer

I guess the primer is supposed to go ON the garage, not below it...

You can see where we tested the shade of green on the side of the garage

There is a lot of sawdust on the driveway, but look how black it used to look (sigh).  But finally, some progress to report:

No shutters up yet, but at least the first floor is finally painted!

I am happy to report that there haven't been any further "ladder incidents" (of course the fact that I didn't need a ladder on the first floor may have contributed to that small success).  I can't wait to paint out the porch now because the darker house color makes the oddly mismatched spindles look even worse.  There'll be plenty of time for that later though because this week I'll be tackling the 2nd floor while Steve is at work.  I like to do the most dangerous parts when I'm alone, that way I don't have anyone jabbering about safety to distract me.

We haven't selected a color for our shutters yet.  Originally I was thinking about a dark reddish-brown shade while Steve was in favor of navy blue.  We've both decided we can compromise on either a dark espresso brown or perhaps even black.  Any thoughts about that?  Too dark?  Too predictable?  Just right?  I'm really interested in your opinions so don't hold back!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Beth + Tall Ladder + Balancing paint can = A lot of paint on the driveway

Oh yea, it's time for another Beth and The Giant Ladder story.  This time the ladder is one of those extension ladders that has the rope to move it up and down and is therefore about 10 times heavier than I am actually able to lift and is 10 feet tall when not extended so is completely ungainly. 

Perhaps I should set the scene a little bit: Steve took off work on Thursday and Friday to help me with The Monster Paint Project (TMPP).  When I say "help" what I really mean is "tell me what to do in vague terms and with an irritated voice and then be angry when I fail to follow directions."  Just so we're clear.  Steve is the boss at work and he kind of forgets that I'm not an employee and that following his directions is a concept with which I'm not terribly familiar.  I also need to mention that Steve has a bizarre and slightly unnatural love for our driveway which he had re-sealed last fall and apparently the blackness of it brings him joy.  Or at least it used to.

Anyway, it is my job to take the scraper and scrape off any loose paint.  Then Steve goes by with the belt sander and pretty much removes the paint down to the bare wood.  Then I take the leaf blower and power off all the sawdust, cobwebs, and small insects that seem to be very attracted to this whole process.  Finally we are ready to apply primer.  We are using an oil based primer and before you can finish gasping about how awful it is that I am using such a toxic product I will say that I am using this product under duress and wouldn't have touched it with a 10 foot pole had 2 different paint store guys not sworn that a latex primer is not an option with our particular house circumstances and we'd end up re-painting every 2 years or so (which is what the previous owner did) because the paint would fail.  I can't see how using toxic oil once every 7-10 years is any worse than using slightly less toxic latex every 2 years. Back to the story: since Steve doesn't like heights it is my job to do the high parts.  I have no fear of heights, though clearly I should, so I scamper up the ladder like a little monkey, but unlike a monkey, I am wearing my apron with the big center pocket because that is how I am holding my paint brush, sanding block, scraper, and cell phone.  One hand holds onto the ladder, the other hand holds the can of primer.  Now you may recall that I mentioned how heavy and unweildy this ladder is so I don't like to move it very often.  Instead I like to reach as far as I possibly can to the left and right thus completely throwing off my center of balance.  My apron with the big center pocket tends to sway to whichever side I'm leaning, thus throwing me even more off balance.  Steve did inform me that most ladder accidents occur from exactly this behavior. 

Well everything was going along swimmingly: there I was scraping the gutters.  Sanding the gutters.  Priming the gutters.  I really really really needed to climb down the ladder and move it again, but I was tired, the ladder is heavy, and everytime I moved it a new scrape mark was created on my freshly primered gutter so I had a better idea: what if I rested my paint can on the roof, leaned back slightly, and kind of jumped the ladder a little to the right?   Well apparently this wasn't a good idea at all!  The ladder didn't really jump as much as sway a bit and with only a freshly primed gutter to grab on to (which I certainly wasn't about to mess up my fresh primer) I really didn't have much choice but to pinwheel my arms around wildly trying to regain my balance whilst I threw my weight forward to try to stabilize the ladder.  In all the pinwheeling and throwing my weight around somehow the paint can must have gotten knocked off the roof.

For the record: when a nearly full quart of primer falls from a great height it hits the ground and explodes paint everywhere.

Did I mention this is oil based primer?  You can't just hose it off the driveway.  Just ask BP how hard it is to clean up an oil spill.  So Steve is screaming "What the hell?" and I am scrambling down the ladder as fast as I can to try to hide the accident meanwhile white primer is flowing all over Steve's nice black driveway in a river while droplets of exploded primer and paint can are still raining down all over the garage, the grass, me, and yes, the driveway.  I had the great idea to quickly pour sand all over the primer hoping the sand would absorb much of the liquid and make clean up easier.  The idea wasn't bad, but it didn't work out quite like I'd hoped...

We now have sand and primer stuck to our driveway.  Steve is resigned.  And I learned nothing because as soon as I finished spreading sand all over the driveway I climbed right back up that ladder and thought "I wonder if I could rock the ladder from side to side to move it?"  I thought it.  I didn't do it...yet...

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

How men and women see color (hint: very differently!)

Ahhh, another home improvement project with Steve and Beth.  How our marriage has ever survived these projects I don't know because there could not be two people with more different views on how to plan, organize, and execute a project.  Add to our usual differences the fact that we see and interpret color very differently and you can imagine how challenging painting the exterior of our house has become.

I like to call this: project negotiations...

Steve: I see our house with a really dark green body, off-white trim, and navy blue shutters.
Beth: I see our house with a light olive green body, bright white trim, and dark red shutters.

The fact is that men and women may really see color differently.  About 50% of women are tetrachromatic which means they have four types of cone receptors instead of three.  Cone receptors are cells located in the retina that are responsible for our both our vision of color and the detail in which we see it.  Just having more or less cone receptors isn't the whole story.  It turns out that even with people with the same number of cone receptors the interpretation of color can vary greatly.  Human beings have a color experience which means that we relate to color as it relates to experiences in the world because our brain does an automatic color correction so things appear "right" to us despite wearing sunglasses, colored lenses, or colored lighting.   So my brain interprets color differently from Steve's brain.  (Clearly my brain's interpretation is the correct interpretation therefore my color choices are superior, right?)

It's more than just a physical difference.  Men and women perceive colors different as part of our different gender experiences.   If we go back to our original hunter/gatherer roots women evolved to prefer colors on the red spectrum as berries, fruits, flowering plants, and other necessary foods come in that color.  Also, as the primary caretaker of children since time began, women had to perceive variations of red as an indication of fever or rash in our children.  Being attune to the red spectrum may have been necessary to save a child's life.  Men evolved to look for colors on the blue spectrum: blue sky indicating good weather necessary for hunting, blue water indicating good watering hole where animals may be found.  Purple clouds indicating a storm coming.  Movement in the shadows indicating attack by an enemy or animal.  Seeing variation in the blue spectrum may have meant life or death to the man his tribe. 

Well, Steve and I are already ahead of our biology: we both want a green house, it's the depth of color that has us at odds.  I always prefer light colors and Steve always prefers darker colors.   This doesn't appear to be biological as much as personality preference. 

There is one big factor that must be considered that is probably more important than biology, personality, evolution, or societal influence:   I am the one who is actually doing the painting!

Light olive green, welcome to the neighborhood!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Green Tip Tuesday: Sometimes it's Greener not to Go Green

I do love watching decorating shows and now the buzz phrase on many shows is to "Go Green" when doing a remodel.  Well it all sounds good but I have been a little confused by the execution.  For example on a recent Dear Genevieve the homeowners needed a kitchen remodel and they wanted to use the "greenest products" available/affordable.  Very noble concept indeed.  That's why I was so confused when I saw the homeowners and crew energetically taking sledge hammers to the old cabinets and countertops.  Perhaps I am the exception, but I have never had a garage or laundry room that I felt had enough cabinets.  Is there a reason that those kitchen cabinets couldn't have been recycled as garage or laundry room storage?  The homeowner thought they were too dark and some of them had doors that wouldn't close but does that mean the whole group had to be smashed to smithereens?  What about painting them a lighter color?  Adding magnets to the doors that won't close?  I think the reason for the dramatic cabinet and countertop smash up is that it makes good TV.  But don't be fooled: creating waste like that is not green, no matter how green the replacement products may be.

Unfortunately a typical scene from many decorating shows

Lots of decorating shows feature the designer enthusiastically ripping up carpet, discarding furniture into giant dumpsters, laying down new flooring, and building new pieces often using medium density fiberboard (MDF).  I hope the homeowners like caring for plants because it's going to take a lot of spider plants to neutralize the toxins being emitted by new carpeting, glued or veneered hardwood floors, and MDF furniture.  And then they throw in a reclaimed wood mantel and call the makeover "green"?  Really?  And how about the bathroom makeovers?  Since when is hammering to death a "dated" looking vanity and sink a green way to go?  Has no one ever heard of tub resurfacing on these shows?  How is it that the designers are always extolling the virtues of the re-sale shop for finding one of a kind vintage pieces yet they don't appear to be contributing to re-sale shops, only landfills?

To their credit, many shows, especially the ones geared toward quickly selling your home, do show designers painting or re-working existing pieces.  I'd like to see more shows featuring designers re-purposing items that are no longer being used in the room receiving the makeover.  Wouldn't you be interested to see how the kitchen cabinets were hung in the garage and part of the countertop reused to form a garage workspace?  I know I'd love to see creative ways to put some storage in my teeny-tiny laundry closet (can't be called a room because it's not) by using pieces cast off from other parts of the house.  I know those talented TLC and HGTV designers could do it.

I don't have a lot of "green" elements to my home.  I have hardwood floors throughout the home but they are not made of renewable cork or bamboo.  I am certainly not going to rip up these floors and replace them with renewable wood because that would be creating waste and still using new resources.  The foremost idea of being "green" is to lessen the amount of waste generated.  The appliances that we had to replace because they were broken were replaced with Energy Star appliances but I am not about to replace my perfectly good stove just to get one with an Energy Star rating.  That would be wasteful.  Before I discovered more natural cleaning products I had a closet full of Lysol, Scrubbing Bubbles, Comet scouring powder, and Soft Scrub.  My laundry room held Tide, Shout, and Downy, and I always dusted with Pledge.  I am all for reducing toxins in the home but to throw out all those cleaning products would be wasteful both financially and environmentally.  Instead I slowly replaced each product with its "greener" option once the product was empty.  Some products, like the Lysol, I still keep around for emergencies like a child with the stomach flu at 4 a.m. when you and I both know there's no way I'll be hauling out my steam cleaner to sanitize the bathroom floor naturally. 

Once a product has been made the resource has been used.  Whether that resource is renewable or not it doesn't make a lot of sense to throw that product into a landfill so it can be replaced with a "greener" version unless the product has truly lost its usefulness.

I love decorating shows.  I especially love "green" episodes of decorating shows.  But being green is a verb, not a soundbite.

Monday, May 24, 2010

My house smells like fresh spring air...and last night's dinner...and the litter box...

...and the undone laundry...and my daughter's softball get the picture.  Spring has definitely come to my little town in Massachusetts and it's beautiful here.  The air is fragrant with the scent of the lilac bushes growing wildly in my neighbor's yard.  The trees have all blossomed.  My lavender bushes are gorgeous.  And my windows are wide open to air out the smells of, well, of life I suppose.  Cooking, people, pets, laundry, and fresh paint (of course) have all combined to create the special potpourri that is our home's unique smell.   All of these thoughts about fresh air got me to thinking about my home's indoor air quality.  After all we burned wood fires in the fireplace all winter, I never use the vent when boiling water for pasta, I do have a cat, and for 6 long months the windows weren't open very often.  Perhaps most importantly I have a lot of furniture with stain, paint, veneers, particle board, stain protection, and glue.  All of those things are the real culprits of indoor air pollution.

Spider plants significantly reduce formaldehyde in the air

Luckily all we need to reduce/remove toxins from the air inside our homes is a few common household plants.  Formaldehyde is a toxin commonly found in homes because it is released by wood veneers, plywood, foam insulation, natural gas, wood, and gasoline.  Oh and it's also present in grocery bags, waxed paper, and most fabric protectors.  It's kind of hard to not have a formaldehyde problem if you have any furniture, carpet, or fabrics in your home.  In a study conducted by NASA it was discovered that placing a spider plant in an area likely to be high in formaldeyhde is an excellent way to clean the air and it has the added bonus of sucking up carbon monoxide as well.

These daisies look beautiful while they scrub the air of benzene

Benzene is a solvent used in plastics, paints, inks, and rubber that is an irritant to our mucous membranes when inhaled.  The NASA study also found that benzene can be easily mitigated by having a few chrysanthemums or gerbera daisies around the house.

Now I have what you may call a black thumb.  Keeping my kid alive just about taps me out, so keeping plants alive has never worked out that well.  I over-water, under-water, let them get root bound or shock them with too large of a pot.  I never seem to have the "right spot" for the sunlight required so I either burn them or let them wither in darkness.  If you have this problem as well then I am here to tell you that there is hope: it turns out that having a variety of flowering and/or evergreen plants outside of your home is helpful too because everytime you open a door or window you get the benefit of the clean air flowing in which is why regularly "airing" out the house is so important.

I think I can manage to occasionally buy a gerbera daisy or two.  I wouldn't mind having a few chysanthemums in a vase.  But I can defnitely get into having lavender bushes, pear trees, flowering dogwood trees, azaleas, hostas, and all other kinds of plants outside my home.  Beautiful curb appeal and cleaner air, what a deal!

Oh and scooping the litter box daily will help both me and the cat.  Another win win.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

It's a job, not a career

This past week I have been super busy doing seasonal work for a nearby college bookstore.  I absolutely love the job and hope they can use me again in the fall when they are flooded with new students buying their books.  The time flies by, my co-workers (all students) are interesting, witty, and hard working.  But best of all?  It's a job, not a career.  When I walk out of that bookstore each day to pick my daughter up from school my workday is instantly put behind me.  No lingering work worries.  No projects undone.  No nervousness about what tomorrow will bring.  It is, for where I am in my life right now, the pefect job.

Have you ever had a perfect job?  My first job was babysitting when I was 11. I made 50 cents an hour and was grateful for it.  I then moved on to fast food, retail, an office environment, and finally a classroom.  I remember in college when I worked for Gingiss Formalwear thinking that it was the perfect job.  Every day was different, each customer usually excited because of a wedding, prom, or interesting formal function.  The bookstore job is a lot like that: the college kids are either buying their caps and gowns, selling off their old textbooks, or picking up the new books for summer classes.  I love hearing what they are planning on doing with the money they earn from selling back their textbooks: there has been a lot of discussion about buying lunch, buying gas, getting a coffee at Starbucks instead of Dunkin' Donuts, and of course, beer.  There is always lots of discussion about beer.  I remind them to drink responsibly, hand them their cash, and wish them well.  I'm not there to judge, just to buy their old books.

I really hope I get picked up again in the fall when the freshmen pour in for their first college textbook buying experience.  Sure, there will be a lot of sticker shock (the book prices are unbelievable) but overall the atmosphere will be one of hope, adventure, excitement, and new beginnings.  I get energized just thinking about it.

Right now the laundry is a little piled up.  Things are getting a little dusty.  My feet are a little sore.  But I get to spend each day while my daughter is in school in the company of college kids who are all looking forward: looking forward to summer vacation, looking forward to summer classes, looking forward to graduation, looking forward to new friendships, new romances, new adventures, and new opportunities.  As for me?  I feel like the luckiest temp in the world.

Anyone have an interesting or fun job experience you'd like to share?  I love hearing your comments!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Beth + Pier 1 Imports = Happy Together Again

As a result of one my customer service rants a customer service representative from Pier 1 Imports left this comment on my blog: Beth- We'd really like an opportunity to speak with you personally about your concern. Please call us at 1-800-245-4595, prompt 5 and ask for our Customer Relations Team Lead, Cindy. We would be more than happy to help!

So I called.  I asked for Cindy and told her she had commented on my blog.  Cindy apologized for my experience and told me that the sales associate made an error: it is Pier 1 Import's policy to accept an exchange receipt as an original-for-cash-back receipt.  The only receipt that is an exception is a gift receipt.  She offered to credit my credit card for the amount (I declined the offer, my daughter had already asked for the in-store credit and I had given it to her) and assured me she would call the store to ensure that all sales associates are being properly trained.

I considered this excellent customer service for three reasons:
1.  Pier 1 gave me a number and a name to contact, as opposed to generically suggesting I contact their customer service should I have a future issue.
2.  Having the name of a representative ensured that I didn't have to reiterate the whole story - she was already familiar with my complaint and was willing to work to resolve it even though she probably wasn't looking forward to my call as I'm sure she thought I would be "disgruntled"...
3.  Pier 1 offered to refund my money, they didn't just empathize, they told me a mistake had been made, offered to correct it, and assured me they would correct the training practices at the store level.

From the comments I received on that post I am not the only one who has had some bad customer service experiences.  Sometimes, in the cases of Arbella Insurance and Pier 1 they are resolved favorably, but in the posts I did about Realtors, Bob's Furniture, Children's Place, and Office Max I didn't receive any reply so I have to assume that they are okay with their poor customer service.

If you left a comment on my latest customer service rant I urge you to contact  Pier 1 and let them try to resolve your complaint.  I (obviously) have no problem naming names when companies do a bad job and it is important to me to present a balanced blog that can be trusted to be accurate, fair, and honest.  If your complaint is ignored or not resolved feel free to comment again and I'll post your comments as another customer service rant.

I will shop with confidence again at Pier 1.  I don't hold human error against a store as long as the store is willing to accept responsibility and make things right. 

How do you feel?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Project Runway: Our new house color

Spring isn't just for interior painting in our house, oh no, this year we are going to paint the exterior as well.  We are going to paint 3 sides of it, at least, a professional will paint the back of the house because we don't have the equipment.

But what color should the house be?

This is how the house looks now

Steve doesn't like the current house colors.  He feels that the body of the house is too light and the shutter color is dated.  I agree, especially since the house across the street has the exact same color scheme as ours.  The problem is that my favorite color scheme is currently being worn by the house next-door to us and I don't think they'd appreciate us painting the same colors on our house - especially since theirs is vinyl sided so they won't be changing palettes anytime soon.  More than anything else though, we have to paint because wind, rain, snow, and freezing temperatures have left their mark on the house and we don't want to have water problems with exposed wood.

The east side of the house is the worst

My second favorite color scheme is being sported by the house on the other side of us.  They also have siding so once again, I'm thwarted.  What to do?  What to do?

I visited California Paints and Benjamin Moore and tried  different colors on my house and I have some inspiration to go with an olive green (similar to next-door but not exact) with white trim and a reddish-brown shutter color.   I like the idea of white trim because then I can do a white front porch.  Our front porch now is painted dark brown with cream trim that matches the body of the house.

Can't you just see a gorgeous white porch here?

If the porch goes white should we paint the deck white too?  Right now it is brown, a different brown from the porch, it is painted to match our fence.  So if the deck goes white does the fence have to go white too?  Oh dear, this may never end!

See why we're not attempting to paint the back ourselves...

Any opinions you'd like to express are welcome.  All I know for sure is...this is going to be a lot of work!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Green Tip Tuesday: Melamine is not just in your dishes

Beautiful to look at, but use with caution

Aren't those plates just gorgeous?  And how about these from
So pretty, so inexpensive, so potentially dangerous...

Melamine comes in such a variety of colors, patterns, shapes, and styles and is so inexpensive and break-proof that it has been heralded as the go-to-for-summer-cookouts-and-backyard-party-dishware. Oh, and it is used almost exclusively for baby dishes.

Melamine is a nearly-indestructible plastic that is chemically part cyanide compound, part formaldehyde, and parts carbon, nitrogen, and hydrogen to form a super-hard resin.  All of that sounds horrible and dangerous but it mostly isn't...unless you heat it, that is. 
Ah, heat!  Heat is the nemesis of any coating, resin, or compound that has toxins to release, and melamine is no exception.  Melamine dishes cannot be microwaved, safely put in the dishwasher on the 'heated dry' cycle, and cannot be used for acidic foods such as tomatoes, tomato sauces, lemons, or vinegar based salad dressings.  I don't know about you, but tomatoes, lemons, and vinegar-based dressings pretty much makes up my list of ingredients for any salad I will make this summer.  And that's the problem.

Did you know that melamine dishes weren't at all microwave safe and not completely dishwasher safe?  I didn't until a few years ago when I was washing my oh-so-cute-for-using-on-the-deck plates and noticed that the plate was stamped Dishwasher Safe (which isn't entirely true) but not microwave safe.  I googled 'melamine' just out of curiosity and am now sharing what I found out.  It certainly doesn't advertise that fact on the packaging.  What happens when melamine is heated is the resin begins to microscopically break down.  Gases are released and these gases contain formaldehyde which is a poison, a known poison that causes cancer with long-term exposure and skin irritation and inflammation of the mucous membranes with short term exposure.  I have warned against formaldehyde exposure before because it is in most paints, resins, glues, film, and is found in abundance in our polluted air.  It is imperative that we limit our exposure to formaldehyde whenever we can.  I prefer not to be embalmed before I am dead.

The safe way to use melamine dishware is to only put non-acidic foods on it and hand wash it in warm, not hot, water.  If you're putting it in the dishwasher make sure the 'heated dry' cycle is not on and do be aware that using the dishwasher is shortening the safe lifespan of the dishes.  Once you can see small lines running through the dishes the resin has been compromised and that dish is now leaking formaldehyde.

Luckily we can avoid melamine exposure completely by simply not using the dishes, right?  Hmm, if only that were true.  Melamine in its powder form is sometimes added to food to increase its protein.  When I say food, I specifically mean baby formula!  I found this on Scientific American's website:

The FDA found tiny amounts of melamine in Mead Johnson's Infant Formula Powder, Enfamil LIPIL with Iron, according to the news service. FDA tests also turned up melamine in two nutritional supplements for kids, Nestle's Peptamen Junior and Nutren Junior-Fiber. Cyanuric acid, a byproduct of melamine, was found in another Nestle product, Good Start Supreme Infant Formula with Iron, the AP says. The FDA says that the toxicity of cyanuric acid is being studied, but it's thought to be as powerful as melamine, according to the news wire.

Oh, and it's an ingredient in the soy-based feed we import from China that is fed to chickens.  And cows.  And dogs.  And cats.  And goats and farm-raised-fish and farm-raised-shrimp too.

This is the problem.  Poisons are so pervasive in our diet that when we can identify a source it is really crucial to limit exposure.  Poisons are being deliberately fed to our children.  So please, when you pull out those melamine dishes, check them for scratches, pitch them if they're compromised, don't cut on them, don't serve acidic foods on them, and hand wash them. 

Or maybe just use glass?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Can reading make you healthier?

Read to improve your health

Have I mentioned recently how much I love books?  I love bookstores, libraries, and the book table at the warehouse club.  So I started wondering: is there any correlation between loving books and health?  I researched online and found that YES, loving to read can make you healthier.

It all stems from the balance of those stress hormones I talked about in my last post.  People who love to read can reduce their stress at will simply by choosing their reading material wisely.  Unlike people who unwind by watching TV where you are bombarded with images, advertising, and carefully targeted social messages, people who read for pleasure have more control over the amount of stimulus they are receiving because they are better able to control their involvement in the story.  It doesn't appear to matter what you are reading either.  Fiction, fine literature, non-fiction, scientific journals, smut novels, whatever you like as long as you enjoy it.

A picture is worth a thousand words, right?   Images, once seen, can be very powerful and produce an instant and lasting stress response in the body: increased heart rate, increased adrenaline, and increased cortisol.  However images, once imagined, can be controlled, edited, and don't ellicit the same stress response in the body.  It's less stressful to read something scary than to see something scary.

Research is also showing that people who read for pleasure tend to read more in general: they read more food labels, they research questions online, they feel more comfortable questioning 'facts' and more confident in their ability to discern what is right for them as opposed to following a trend.

Lower blood pressure, higher IQ, better quality sleep, better concentration, more confidence, and better judgement.  All because I love to read!  If that isn't a healthy habit, I don't know what is.

Read any good books lately?  I love to hear what other people are reading.  I have just finished re-reading all of Jen Lancaster's autobiographies in anticipation of Pretty in Plaid coming out in paperback this week!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Stress is my choice, not my reality

I'm going to post this sign on my front door!

Right now my life feels chaotic: schedules are colliding, I'm out of laundry detergent with one load left to go, my daughter is home from school with a headache, tuition is due soon and I think I spent the money on 18 dinners out, 1 Nook, a Boston Duck Tour, 4 new pairs of workout pants, and a complete Aeropostale summer wardrobe for my daughter.  Oh, and new uniforms for the very school that now wants more money.  I've broken up with New Stylist Lisa because my haircut is awful and the color slightly orange.  I'm still recovering from a toe injury (I know, I can't believe I mentioned the toe again either), I haven't mailed any Mother's Day cards, and I picked a zit located right in the middle of my cheek so much that it has scarred.

Yoga would probably help if I wasn't too stressed out to do yoga, that is.

Sugar, oh that sweet miracle of distraction, would probably help too but since I don't eat sugar anymore...oh who am I kidding, I've downed so much sugar lately that a mosquito that bit me went into diabetic shock.

So I feel angry with myself because after 4 months of sugar free living (again) I fell off the wagon at a birthday party last Sunday when I told myself "oh, one little piece of cake isn't going to derail me."  Wrong! One little piece of cake, one sip of my daughter's rootbeer float, 4 Newman's Own fake Oreos, and one bowl of apple crisp (topped with a disgusting amount of Ready Whip) later (you may substitute the word HUGE into any of those descriptions for accuracy), I feel headache-y myself.  (Side note: if any other addicts are out there please chime in and let me know I'm not the only one who struggles with this!)

So back to simplicity I go.  Straighten the house.  Begin another new box for charitable donations as the last one was just picked up.  Go through the mound of papers on my desk, recycle or shred/recycle most of them.  File the others.  Take out the trash.  Put away the 8 pairs of shoes scattered around the kitchen, dining room, and hall.  Make the bed.  Open the windows.  Take a deep breath.  Drink a cup of green tea.  And start again.

I haven't eaten any sugar today and I've been up since 5:15a.m. so that's a good start.  I can manage our schedules, buy detergent tomorrow, pay monthly on the tuition, find a new stylist, heal my toe, e-card my mother and mother-in-law (I can always claim being green rather than being a procrastinator), and put concealer on my zit-scar.  That's the beauty of life: every moment that we are alive is a moment of choice.  I was choosing stress, thus releasing massive amounts of adrenaline into my system which will only serve to add lines to my now-scarred face.  Stress also pumps cortisol into our bodies which increases the craving for sugar and encourages our bodies to retain fat.  Now I'm choosing simple, peace-inducing, one-task-at-a-time thoughts which increase serotonin and oxytocin levels in my brain which helps my body sleep well at night, regulate my metabolism during the day, and quiets cravings.

What choice will you make?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Green Tip Tuesday: Cream of Tartar

Cook with it, clean with it, make it yourself in your vineyard...

On any given day do you have to clean a stubborn stain from your tub, discourage ants in your yard, and whip up a delicious meringue?  Yep, that's my life too.  Luckily I have cream of tartar in my spice cabinet because it can do all three.

Cream of tartar mixed with hydrogen peroxide to form a paste is an invaluable stain remover.  It can be used on tubs to get rid of hard water and soap scum.  I used to use the 'scrubbing bubbles' to combat our super-hard-water and my husband's affinity for Irish Spring.  The can looks cute, but the smell gave me a headache, the chemical cocktail makes me cringe, the packaging is not recyclable, and it was never really thick enough to stay where needed on the side of the tub.  Plus I always felt a little nervous bathing my daughter after using such a variety of toxic chemicals.  You won't have any of those problems with cream of tartar and hydrogen peroxide.  They're dirt cheap too.  They're also perfect for removing that brownish-tinge my sink gets after tapping off my excess mineral makeup day after day.  You can even use water mixed with cream of tartar to form a paste to remove a laundry stain.  It all comes down to chemistry: you need an acid (like cream of tartar, lemon juice, or vinegar) combined with a base (water, baking soda, hydrogen peroxide) to create a chemical reaction.  As the base molecules absorb the acid molecules they release a lot of hydrogen molecules.  It's this process that dissolves a stain.  Commercial cleaners aren't doing anything different to dissolve stains they are simply using more corrosive (harmful) acids, adding in a lot of unnecessary (and harmful) additives to preserve the mixture, add fragrance, make it foamy, and oh yeah, charging a lot more too.  If you mix up the chemical reaction in a fresh batch you'll actually get quicker results.  (And Mr. Ruehl my sophomore chemistry teacher, I really wish I'd paid more attention to you instead of mocking your goggles and playing with the Bunson burners).

Ants don't seem to like cream of tartar at all so if you get tired of picking your lemon peels up off the ground to prevent ants, try sprinkling cream of tartar around the outside of their ant hole.  (I can't seem to make that sentence not sound a little bit dirty...)

And how about that tasty lemon meringue pie?  Your poor meringue would never stand up without the stabilizing effects of cream of tartar!  It turns out that you can even make your own baking powder by mixing baking soda and cream of tartar together.

And where does this little miracle acid come from?  Well I'm glad you asked because it turns out that cream of tartar is a naturally occurring byproduct of fermenting grapes.  Scrape out the wine casks and you have cream of tartar.  Drop that little gem of trivia at your next wine-tasting party why don't you!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Flexibility is about more than touching your toes!

Being flexible is an important part of overall health

When I workout I like to just hit the gym, burn as many calories as possible, lift as much weight as possible to keep my metabolism revved, and get out.  The last thing on my mind is slowing down, stretching, doing some yoga postures, and gaining flexibility.  Is that how you feel too?  I used to do yoga all the time as my primary form of exercise but when I gained 20 pounds after moving to Massachusetts and spending 9 months sitting on the couch, I realized it was going to take a lot more than yoga to get my body back.  I turned to cardio and weight training because I could see results fast when sweat was dripping off my body.   Besides the yoga classes at my gym are held at inconvenient times and mostly frequented by the Silver Sneakers group (read: old people).  I kind of forgot about flexibility.

A recent muscle injury followed by a toe injury (really?  A toe injury??) forced me to look for alternative ways to workout.   First I turned to Pilates because after all Joseph Pilates promises that in 30 sessions you'll have a brand new body and who am I to argue with having a new body?  Then, just for something different, I put in a yoga DVD.  Wow have I lost flexibility! 

After doing yoga for a few days I remembered why I used to practice: it feels good to be flexible.  In fact there are so many reasons to gain flexibility that I can't believe I ever stopped working on it.   Increasing flexibility greatly decreases the risk of injury (perhaps the toe injury could have been avoided??).  Increasing flexibility increases blood flow to muscles and connective tissues.  It gives the appearance of a longer, leaner body.  Flexibility improves posture and reduces stress on joints.  People who are flexible heal from injuries more quickly, don't have as much muscle soreness after working out, and have more endurance during aerobic and strength training exercises.

Did I mention the appearance of a longer, leaner body?  If there were no other benefits this, for me, would be enough.  I am not tall and the tendency toward stocky-ness (okay, squat-ness) is built into my DNA.  With my natural hairy-ness if I had poor posture and didn't wax for a month I'd be a dead ringer for a chimpanzee  - but not if I practice flexibility training!
This is not the look I want for summer

So I'm back to incorporating yoga into my fitness training.  I don't really want to have to fit in one more thing.  I don't really want to have to add more time to working out.  I don't really want to do yoga while in sweaty spandex, nor do I want to have to change clothes between workouts. 

But I really don't want to look like a chimpanzee.  Even a hairless one.