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.

Friday, April 30, 2010

What do The Children's Place, Office Max, and Pier 1 Imports all have in common?

Their return policies are ridiculous, restrictive, and misleading.  That's right, I'm naming names.  In the past month I have had 4 really bad customer service experiences.  Now 4 bad experiences is a bit much in any economy, but aren't we supposed to be in a recession?  Aren't companies supposed to be desperate to receive my spending dollar?  Well, that's just the problem, once they have received your dollar they will do anything, including misleading the customer, to keep it.  I'll break this down by company and you'll see what I mean.

First the Children's Place.  Ahhhh  The Children's Place.  I went round and round with them and still came out the loser.  It all started back in December when my dad sent my daughter some beautiful Christmas gifts purchased from the Children's Place.  At 11 my daughter can be a nightmare to fit: very tall, very slender, but with a hint of puberty...basically she can no longer buy clothes at The Children's Place which is a store geared to, well, children, not teens.  My dad graciously sent me the original cash register receipt since he hadn't included a gift receipt.  The Children's Place refused to let me return the clothes.  Oh they were more than willing to let me have an in-store credit, but they wouldn't give me money back they would only credit my dad's credit card.  OOOkay...Fast forward to my daughter's birthday.  My dad, not realizing that my daughter will never again fit into The Children's Place clothing once again outfits her beautifully and includes a gift receipt.  Once again the company refuses to take back the clothes.  This is a size limited store.  This isn't Macy's where one could reasonably argue that we could find something in the store that would fit.  This is a store that carries pants that are too short for my daughter.  What am I supposed to do with an in-store credit?  I only have one child!  It wasn't my father's intention for my daughter to provide birthday gifts for her cousins, it was his intention to patron what he thought was a reputable store that would easily return for cash any items he purchased because he included a receipt.  Nope, they would not give back one cent.  The receipt you get from Children's Place does state that they will basically never ever give you money if the item is a gift so please read it carefully and my suggestion?  Never ever buy a gift at Children's Place.  Not only will the recipient never be able to return it, but if the recipient lives far away (my dad lives in Florida and Ohio) they couldn't possibly return the merchandise to you in a timely enough manner foryou to get your money back either.

Now for you Office Max: what is with your policy of not taking back software?  How could one possibly know for sure that software is going to work on your computer without loading it on the computer first?  Sure the box said it was compatible with Windows 7, but apparently the box lied.  Now you won't take it back?  It's a Read-Only CD!  I can't possibly have altered the disk!  We both know that you, as a company, can write off that software, return it to the manufacturer, or re-sell it as "opened."  Office Max won't take a financial hit, but they sure don't mind passing one on to their customers.

And finally, Pier 1 Imports, I am maddest at you!  I have been such a long, faithful customer!  I was there when the first Pier 1 opened in my little town in Ohio.  My first apartment was a veritable feast of papasan chairs, director's chairs, and colorful "ethnic" linens.  So when I wanted to freshen up my bedroom a bit with new throw pillows, to whom did I look first?  That's right, Pier 1.  First I bought some neutral camel colored pillows.  They just looked too boring so I went back the next day and picked out some gorgeous sage green pillows.  This is where the problem began: when I went to return the camel pillows the clerk asked if I would be doing anymore shopping that day at Pier 1.  I said yes.  She then said she'd hold my return until I was ready to checkout and then do everything at once.  Great!  Off I go to find more colorful pillows.  I get the sage pillows.  The clerk does whatever it is that she does and tells me I owe a few dollars, I pay, I go home.  I'm still happy.  I put the sage pillows on my bed - they look gorgeous with my bedding.  Unfortunately they look awful with my bedroom walls which are sage too, but a different sage.  Oh well, I guess I'll put the throw pillows on hold until I decide if I want to paint my walls.  Back I go to Pier 1 to return the pillows.  "I'm sorry," says the clerk, "but I can only give you in-store credit for these pillows."  "Why?" I ask, "I have the receipt right here.  I just bought them yesterday!  I am the original purchaser!"  Do you know what she says???  "Well, you obviously returned some other merchandise and the clerk did an exchange so you only have an exchange receipt and we can only give you in-store credit on an exchange receipt."  Are you kidding me???  You mean to tell me that because the clerk made a decision to do an exchange (I never said I wanted to exchange anything) that now I am screwed out of $35???  What if I had done this with a dining set?  What if hundreds to thousands of dollars were at stake?  So you know what Pier 1?  I found exactly the throw pillows I wanted at Bed, Bath, and Beyond.  I don't care if take that in-store credit to my grave, I'm not shopping at your store because I can't be sure that I'll ever get my money back.  I feel sad too, because I loved Pier 1.  But that was just sneaky.

Now for a special mention.  Remember I said that I'd had 4 bad experiences so one store will be getting special mention because even though things turned out okay for me, they only turned out that way because I learned my lesson from the Pier 1 experience and knew what to say: I bought Steve a Nook from Barnes & Noble for our anniversary.  The Nook didn't work properly, it wouldn't hold a charge.  I went to return said Nook and buy a new one.  I made it clear to the clerk that I wanted to return the Nook and then buy a new one, not do an exchange.  She said she couldn't do that, she had to do an exchange.  I asked for the manager.  The manager wanted to know why I was adamant that they not do an exchange so I asked her "if I do an exchange and this Nook doesn't work then I am stuck with $300 of in-store credit, right?  You won't credit my credit card, you'll give me in-store credit, right?"  The manager agreed that is what would happen.  "Fine," I said, "then just return this Nook and I don't want to buy a new one unless you will not do an exchange."  Finally the manager agreed, the new Nook was fine, Steve loves it, and all is well.  But had I not learned from the Pier 1 fiasco about the sneaky exchange policy, I would never have been able to return that Nook and get my money back if the second one didn't work.

All of these companies should feel ashamed of themselves.  The basic transaction between customer and store is one of risk.  I buy from you.  I may find it cheaper somewhere else in a few months.  I may decide I don't like it well after the return time has expired.  It may break in a few months.  Risk.  You sell it to me, I may change my mind, not like it, it doesn't work, it doesn't fit, whatever, then it is your responsibility to take it back and give me back my money as long as I have the receipt, I'm within 30 days,  and the merchandise is in the same condition as when it left the store.  Training your employees to quietly exchange things so people can never get their money back is dirty business.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

What's behind Curtain #1?

In the women's locker room at my gym there is a special "curtained off area" with a sign that reads NO ONE UNDER THE AGE OF 18 BEYOND THIS CURTAIN.  I have always wondered what is going on beyond the curtain but 1)  I don't really want to take the time to go exploring when I should be working out and 2) having seen a constant stream of elderly ladies going behind the curtain I am a little too scared to see what might be back there.

Yesterday the curtain was open.

The locker room was packed: sweaty spandex and breasts and feet as far as the eye could see.  I had no choice, I had to go back into the (open) curtained area because there was simply no room in the outer locker room.  At first glance all appears normal: lockers, benches, you know, the usual locker room stuff.  I relax a little as I sit down on the bench to change from street shoes to gym shoes.  It's when I lean down to lace up that I see it.  About the size of a saucer.  Almost perfectly round.  Still (gulp!) fresh.  A puddle of pee.

Now look people, I myself have blogged about the power of exercise to inspire our waste removal systems, but I have never peed on the floor of the locker room.  I know, I know, urine is sterile, blah blah blah, many women suffer from bladder control problems, yada yada yada, pee happens.

Still, nearly dragging my laces through it was a bit shocking (not to mention gross).  I think I'll put a suggestion in the Suggestion Box that encourages the gym to put non-slip vinyl flooring in the locker rooms.  And mops.  And maybe they should change that curtain to a waterproof shower curtain, just in case someone gets a little wild.

If this is what is going on in the changing area, can you see why I don't want to set foot in the showers???

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Green Tip Tuesday: The Yard Sale

(I apologize that Green Tip Tuesday is being held on Wednesday...that's how life is going right now!)

In New England they say Yard Sale.  In the Midwest it's a Garage Sale.  In a church it's a Rummage Sale.  To a techie it's eBay.  Yuppies go Antique-ing.  Whatever you call it it's recycling.

On any given weekend a sign like the one on the left can be found somewhere in my neighborhood.  Anything and everything is for sale and usually at rock bottom prices as long as you have cash and can take it with you. It's one of the greenest traditions we have.

Buying things new-to-you sometimes takes a bit of a mental shift.  For years I couldn't quite get past the idea of wearing, sleeping in or on, or cooking with something that has been used by somebody else.  What if they were gross?  I'll never get all the dead skin cells out of that sweater!  I don't want to wear somebody else's dead skin cells!  That purse is gorgeous but it probably has someone else's purse crumbs in the bottom.  Or old gum wrappers.  Surely I can't be expected to use a previously-gum-wrappered-purse?  What a little snob I was.  The truth is that I'm more likely to spend time swimming around in other people's dead skin cells in a movie theater seat than I am in clothing/bedding I can wash.  And gum wrappers?  How about throwing them out, putting in a little baking soda, letting it sit for a few hours and then vacuuming out the purse to reveal a fresh interior and a beautiful new bag?

I have a deviled egg platter that I bought years ago.  The price tag is still on the box: $18.95.  I use that egg platter once every..oh..say 3 years.  I don't think I've ever gone to a yard sale where I failed to see an egg platter, usually around $1.00.  I spent $17.95 (plus tax!!)  I didn't need to spend.  Dishes, cookware, gadgets, tchotchkes, the minutiae of life that costs so much to buy new, both in dollars and environmental impact, can all be found at the yard sale.

About that environmental impact...according to the box my egg platter was made in (wait for it...) China.  Big surprise, right?  That platter had to be manufactured, boxed, and shipped all the way from China to where I purchased it in Ohio.  It probably went by boat rom China to a port in the United States where it was then trucked to a distribution center where it was then scanned, inventoried, stored, then ultimately trucked again to the store where it was once again scanned, inventoried, shelved, then finally sold to me who drove it home and stored it for 18 years.  Every time it's on a boat or truck it is using oil and every time it is being scanned and stored it's using electricity.  That's a pretty big carbon footprint for something I have used 6 times in the  years I've owned it.  And with the advent of eBay, forgeddaboutit!  There's no excuse for not being able to find absolutely anything you need no matter how obscure, probably from several different sellers!

I've really gotten off easy since my daughter was born because my in-laws are avid garage-salers and pretty much kept her outfitted in her baby years with their finds.  Toys, clothes, books, they found everything for me so I didn't have to look myself.  Now that we live so far apart it's up to me to become more recycle savvy and seek out used options first.  It's virgin territory for me and I'll let you know how I do with it.  My first order of business will be picture frames.  I am embarrassed to admit how much I have spent on picture frames at Target.  And napkin rings.  And throw pillows.  All things that I could have easily found used.

Also I'd like to acknowledge the people who take the time to have a yard sale as opposed to simply throwing away what they are no longer using.  I'm more of a leave-it-on-the-front-porch-for-the-charity-truck-in-the-neighborhood-to-pick-up kind of girl but perhaps one day I too will find myself with a  few tables set up on my driveway and my no-longer-needed household contents artfully arrayed.

Hey!  I bet I could even wear my apron with the big center pocket!

Monday, April 26, 2010

And the Winner is....Ellen DeGeneres! (Sorry Dr. Oz and Oprah)

Congratulations Ellen!  By unanimous vote Ellen has won her place on our family's TiVo as a Season's Pass program.  This is quite an honor as Ellen had to beat Dr. Oz and Oprah to get the TiVo space.  Even my husband, who doesn't like anyone, can't help but laugh at Ellen's antics (though in his heart of hearts I know he really wanted Jerry Springer).

Ellen makes me laugh and laughter is good for the mind, body, and soul.  I usually fast forward through the crowd cheering (because they do tend to go on a bit long) and start right at her stand-up bit.  Ellen doing stand-up comedy is perhaps my favorite part of the show.  I then fast forward through her dancing (I would watch if Ellen was really going to get down but she is limited by the stairs so all her dances kind of look the same) and start up again as soon as she plays her first game or has her first guest.  Ellen keeps her show moving: guests, games, silliness, more guests, more silliness, then maybe a musical act (I admit, I fast forward through them too) and bam, done for the day.

This format is how she won the TiVo Wars. (Dramatic? Yes.)  Oprah doesn't have any silliness. Oh sure, there will be an occasional bit of tomfoolery (yes, I used that word), but it's the exception, not the rule.  Don't get me wrong, Oprah will always have a special place in my heart because I was in high school when she first came on the air so I kind of grew up with Oprah but I just don't see her ever having a youtube video of a girl high on painkillers from getting her wisdom teeth removed featured on her show and thinking it's the funniest thing in the world!

  Dr. Oz has many good nuggets of information but I had to mine through too much rock to get to his gold.  And I just couldn't quite get past him constantly touching all his guests.  And making them wear lab coats.  And his distracting-more-than-they're-helpful computer graphics.  Plus I couldn't really fast forward through Dr. Oz because I never knew when he was going to say something truly meaningful and clearly I am a woman who likes that fast forward button.

I'm going to adopt a few of Ellen's tactics for my social life.  Ellen sometimes looks a little uncomfortable with her guests.  That's how I feel too when I have someone new sitting on my couch - sometimes we hit it off - other times I am working really hard but they just aren't biting.  I've never actually tried doing a little stand-up act before I invite the guest to sit down but I'm definitely going to try that.  I think the music helps too.  I have stairs right off my main living area so I could easily dance up them as my guests wait backstage on the front porch to come in.  I bet my daughter would even DJ for me if I gave her enough freedom to choose from her iPod playlist.  And if I have something interesting to show my guests I am absolutely going to cover it with a cloth and put it on the sofa table behind me.  This type of reveal not only heightens the excitement but shows that I was prepped for this social engagement.  Attention to detail folks, always have attention to detail.

So good job Ellen!  Even though I emailed your show and complained when you let Brooke Shields promote the Pepsi Refresh campaign...and yes I'll admit that it's me who has been sending you Cover Girl's safety ratings on their cosmetic lines...and okay, in the interest of full disclosure I was irritated that you let Brooke Shields come on again...BUT just so you don't think I'm high maintenance or anything: I love your show.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Apparently my Pink Ribbon Rants are not working....

If KFC can do it, why not a cigarette company?

Back in October of 2008 I posted my first Pink Ribbon Rant.  I was so upset that in July 2009 I posted another one.  Then when Pepsi came out with its 'Refresh' campaign and my beloved Ellen DeGeneres let Brooke Shields come on and promote it, I had to post again.

Apparently the marketing folks at KFC were not listening.

I see all the controversy (not to mention money...) being raised by KFC's Bucket for the Cure campaign and wonder: is it because people are getting fed up with inappropriate products bearing the pink ribbon or did KFC just go a little too far?  Either way I should be stunned that someone, anyone, thought this would be a good idea.  But I'm not surprised at all.  I guess KFC figures that if products that contain parabens which doctors know for sure show up in breast cancer tumors can bear a pink ribbon then why shouldn't a product that contains only saturated fats, MSG, astronomical levels of sodium, and preservatives?  I think that the American public (and by public I really mean WOMAN) has proven that she'll support just about any product in pink.  I mean after all the money goes to research for the cure, right?  And it's way more important that we find a cure than actually prevent the disease in the first place, right?  Right????

I said it 2 years ago and I'm saying it now: the Pink Ribbon campaign is the biggest fraud perpetrated upon women since those Virginia Slims cigarette ads that featured women, each more gorgeous and glamorous than the last, telling us "You've come a long way, baby!" 

The ad is in pink...why is that?

So I ask this: why not Virginia Slims with a pink ribbon?  I mean smoking may increase your risk of breast cancer but for the most part it is associated with lung cancer, not breast cancer, so why not?  I mean they are already dressing the model and printing the ad in pink and if you think that's a coincidence, think again my friends, think again.  I think it's because many women will not really look for the Pink Ribbon, they'll simply buy the product because it looks like it might have a pink ribbon.  And if that isn't effective sheep herding marketing, then I don't know what is.

Take a long look at the image below.  Sure, it's a joke...but then isn't what KFC is doing a joke too?
Smoking isn't worse for you than KFC, just quicker

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

More Lemon-y Goodness

Yesterday I posted all about the utility of lemons.  I made mention of their beauty and tastiness but my blog friend Karen has done it so beautifully in this post that I just had to reference her.  Thank you Karen for this link!  Check out her photos and prose, you won't be disappointed!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Green Tip Tuesday: The Mighty Lemon

Take advantage of the most acidic ingredient in your kitchen.

My cutting board smells like garlic, my laundry could use a good bleaching, my refrigerator has a weird smell, and my microwave has a greasy residue leftover from cooking bacon.  Good thing I have lemons!  The simple lemon will take care of all of those problems, leave a fresh smell, and if I don't use the whole thing I can cook with the leftovers - how often can you say that about your cleaning products?

I love lemons.  I love the way they look, the way they smell, the way they clean, and I've never met a lemon square I didn't like.  Or lemon poppyseed muffin.  Or lemonade.  But more than just being great for cooking, lemons are a super cheap, super effective way to get things clean.  Lemons are an acid and that acid kills bacteria which is what causes bad smells.  That means that lemon juice will also work quite effectively on a cut (squeeze it fresh and then take a deep breath because you're gonna feel it!), and it will sanitize any surface.  Usually I am waxing poetic about the virtues of vinegar for these same types of things and I still do love me my vinegar but let's face it, lemon juice smells better and sometimes it's nice to mix things up a bit.  To clean anything simply cut the lemon in half and rub the cut end directly on...whatever: the cutting board, the counter top, the pan, etc.  Rinse well to avoid a sticky residue.  To clean a microwave add 3 TBSP lemon juice to 1/2 c. water and microwave on high for 30 seconds.  Wipe out your now sanitized and fresh smelling microwave.  To use in a refrigerator in addition to, or in place of baking soda, saturate a cotton ball with lemon juice and leave in the refrigerator for a few hours.  Or just cut a lemon and leave the slices in the refrigerator.  Or near the litter box.  Or in the bathroom (Warning: your family may wonder at your sanity with this last one.  My family is used to weird stuff like this but you may need to warn yours..).

Lemon juice is also fantastic in the laundry as a natural bleach.  Squeeze a cup of lemon juice and pour it right in with your regular water and detergent.  It whitens clothes but won't harm them.  The bleaching action also works on hair, nails, and skin but because of the acidic nature of the lemon limit any time on your skin to no more than 15 minutes.  Your hair can handle a longer time but it's a good idea to dilute the lemon juice - about half and half - with water and use it as a rinse.  

I am all about using fresh lemons because the acid is nice and strong, the scent is fantastic, and the peel can be put right down your disposal to clean your drains.  Or thrown into your yard to feed the wildlife yet discourage ants from coming near your home.  Or used as a natural pumice on your heels.  And of course using a fresh lemon means not buying lemon juice in a plastic bottle and not buying plastic reduces your dependance on petroleum products!  (Oh yes, I'm still on that kick!) 

Having all those fresh lemons around inspires my cooking too.  I never would have made a lemon cake with lemon glaze had I not had a few extra lemons hanging around.  I know for a fact I wouldn't have attempted to learn how to make real lemonade, lemon sherbet, or lemon-mint water had I not been inspired by Martha Stewart and the sight of those gorgeous lemons.   There's just something about spring/summer and lemons that seem to go together.  Fall/winter feel like cinnamon to me (a future post?  You bet!), spring and summer belong to lemons.

Want to go green? Think yellow.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The power of a good shower

 When I workout I workout hard.  No ladylike glistening for me, I am covered in sweat.  Sometimes the only light at the end of the sweaty spandex is the thought of a relaxing shower.   I just have a regular ordinary old shower/tub combo (but at least it's mine, and not at the gym!).  No fancy jets, whirlpool tub, or even elaborate tilework for me - just a plain fiberglass tub surround.  Someday perhaps I will have a whirlpool bathtub with a huge picture window and the ability to soak my troubles away, but for right now I have what I have and so I make the best of it by having the right shower head, the best smelling shampoo, and the most decadent soap.

First the shower head.  Second only to good lighting in its importance in the bathroom, a great shower head can make up for whatever else the bathroom lacks.  Steve found one at Lowe's that has a sleek nickel finish, is low flow but still puts out a lot of pressure, and has this fantastic setting with a massaging blast in the middle surrounded by the regular rain shower.  Pure bliss I tell you.  Ours is made by Delta and cost about $55.

Next the shampoo.  Y'all know how much I love healthy-for-my-hair-healthy-for-my-body shampoo and my favorite is still the Nature's Gate Organics line.  It lathers without sulfates, isn't tested on animals, and contains no parabens.  Organic shampoo can cause sticker shock but I save money on the conditioner.  Conditioners frequently don't have sulfates because they don't lather anyway so I just find one that smells good and doesn't contain parabens (I like the J/A/S/O/N products).

Finally the soap.   I love soaps that have oatmeal, almond oil, or tea tree oil in them because I love the smells and textures.  We have a Lush store near us and the mixture of scents and textures can be quite heady and addictive.  Steve is an Irish Spring kind of guy and absolutely nothing will change his mind.  My daughter likes the Pink Grapefruit soap from The Body Shop.  Most soaps are made from palm oil which is creating some problems in the South American rainforests and many contain parabens but when it comes down to it, finding the right soap is more trial and error and personal preference.

When my daughter was a baby and I had to learn the art of Speed Bathing I kind of forgot how nice it can be to pamper myself.  I've been trying to allow myself a little more showering time each day so I don't have to rush so much or cut myself so often with the razor.  I don't think I truly feel awake and ready to face the world until after I've showered.

Whether it be first thing in the morning, after a workout, or the last thing you do each day, there isn't much that a little warm water can't cure (or at least make clean!).

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Happy Tax Day! You pay income tax but are you taxing your immune system too?

Today is the perfect day to talk about what "taxes" our immune systems.  I have been talking all week long about using natural products for beauty care because I am really committed to reducing my exposure to toxins.  I am so passionate about this subject because I learned several years ago that a little bit can really add up to big problems.  Here are the personal care products I use or am exposed to every single day : toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, soap, face wash,  detergent, fabric softener, hair spray, gel, foundation, mascara, eye liner, eye shadow, lipstick, deodorant, nail polish, dishwashing liquid, and lotion.

If all of those products contain just one ingredient that is a known skin irritant, say a sulfate, then I would have 18 irritants being applied to my skin every single day.  Every time our skin, which is our largest organ of elimination and protection, is irritated it prompts an immune system response where antibodies are produced to capture and remove the antigen (irritant).  Sometimes we can see our immune system responding because we have a rash, an itching, or a burning sensation on our skin.  Unfortunately a lot of times we don't see that the immune system is being called into action so we assume we are not "sensitive" to the product.  What we don't see can be inflammation, an exhausted white blood cell count, and an overactive immune system which can lead to chronic diseases.  Arthritis, dermatitis, rhinitis, sinusitis, and asthma are all diseases of chronic inflammation: in other words those diseases exist because of the body's response to some chronic irritant.

What are the symptoms that your immune system is being "taxed" too much?  If you feel fatigued, if you seem to catch every virus that goes around, if you constantly suffer from hay-fever-like symptoms, or if you have cancer.  Of course there are many things that could be contributing to a weakened immune system and we cannot control them all, but that is why I reduce my exposure to the things I can control.  It's easy for me to use a natural mascara instead of one full of toxins.  I don't even notice that I use a soap free from parabens and sulfates.  It's just as easy to rub a drop of almond oil on my skin after a shower as it is to rub on a dollop of petroleum-based lotion.

I may not notice the difference, but you can be sure that my immune system does and why pay any more taxes than you have to?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Reader request: Finding a Natural Mascara

For years I wouldn't even consider leaving the house without mascara.  I love how open and bright my eyes look and because my lashes are very light, I love how dark and full they look with a nice thick coat of mascara.  Unfortunately mascara can be one of the most toxic cosmetics because it contains all of the bad guys: parabens, petroleum, dyes, and aluminum.  That's a lot of toxins to dump directly into my bloodstream every single day.

I want my mascara to both color my lashes and add fullness so I use Aveda Mosscara (so named because it is plant based).  It works, it's natural, it's fairly cheap, and it's readily available at for $16.  It doesn't contain allergens, carcinogens, or parabens and is completely petroleum free.

I tried just using castor oil on my lashes.  I washed my mascara brush and dipped it right into the castor oil that I had poured out into a small cup.  It darkens the lashes and adds a lot of shine, but there really isn't any added fullness.  I have also tried aloe vera gel (pure, cold pressed only, and be sure to blot off the excess with a tissue) which again adds some separation and shine but absolutely no darkness or thickening.

When I was researching this subject I found a recipe that uses black oxide mineral powder combined with aloe vera to get the darkness.  I haven't ever tried this so I can't comment on how well it works.

I haven't actually tried to make my own using beeswax or caranuba wax.  The process is daunting because you have to melt the wax but you can't put hot wax on your lashes of course, so you have to thin it with water or castor oil and then add some darkening agent and you have to either preserve it or make it fresh every morning and I just don't see myself whipping up a batch of mascara each morning without 1. burning my eyes with hot wax because I couldn't wait for it to cool, or 2. deciding that it isn't worth it and digging some toxic Maybelline crap out of the trash in desperation.

In other words, get the Aveda and call it a day.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Green Tip Tuesday: Getting the Petroleum out of your beauty products

I do love to rant about reducing my dependence upon petroleum products, don't I?  I have good reason though, petroleum, which contains petrolatum, was never intended to be used on the human body and it certainly wasn't supposed to be eaten (lip balms, food dyes) or rubbed onto our feet and hands (ever used Vaseline to cure your really dry skin?  I used to rub it on my feet and then put on socks.)! 

Pure petroleum jelly is pure petrolatum, a known carcinogen

And just like those dangerous parabens, it's chemical markers are showing up in breast cancer tumors.  (As a side note I once saw an excerpt from the Tyra Banks show where she extolled the virtues of Vaseline to keep her breasts firm, she rubbed a known carcinogen right into the lymph nodes in her breasts!)

Chapstick not only contains petrolatum but a healthy dose of saccharin as well.

Luckily there is a safe, readily available alternative: beeswax.  Beeswax which is a natural product of, well, bees, isn't a by-product of crude oil manufacturing.  It doesn't need to be heavily processed to be used, it contains only natural ingredients and there isn't any harm to the bees to harvest the wax so long as the products come from a competent beekeeper like the Burt's Bees company.
Burt's Bees lip balms contain only beeswax and natural oils

I really like the Burt's Bees products and though they are not the only all natural beeswax products available, they are probably the most readily available and cost efficient.  Want to go even more natural?  Rub a drop or two of almond oil directly onto your lips or dry skin.  The naturally occurring vitamin E will heal the skin while the oil protects against drying.  You can even make your own lip balms or lotions by buying beeswax pellets (available at most craft stores, like Michaels) and melting 2tsp. beeswax in a double broiler with 7tsp.  oil like almond oil, safflower oil, or castor oil.  When the mixture is combined remove it from the heat and add 1 tsp. honey and 4-5 drops of peppermint oil for scent and flavoring.  The mixture will begin to harden quickly so put it into a small glass jar, one made for spices would be perfect, and use at your leisure. 

Soft skin, reduced dependence upon petroleum, and not a single carcinogen to be found.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Does makeup expire?

A few minutes spent at a natural foods store cosmetic counter and I'm like a kid in a candy store.  I want one of  everything, please.  I love to buy new cosmetics.  I like to have several lipsticks to choose from, depending upon my mood, outfit, and tan-ness (is that a word?)  Once I find a product that works I like to stick with it.  I can guarantee that I will be that old woman with the lipstick bleeding into her mouth wrinkles - the very dated hot pink lipstick that clashes with skin tone, outfit, and age by a few decades.  I just hope that though my look may be past its prime my make up isn't.

All cosmetics have expiration dates.

Sadly, not all cosmetics print their expiration dates on the packaging because they aren't required by law to do so.  Ironically it may be even more important to check your makeup for signs of deteriorating because anything you rub on your skin bypasses the liver and goes right into the ol' bloodstream without benefit of a filter.  Any bacteria, fungus, or viruses growing in your make up get rubbed right into your skin.  Here are a few commonly used items and when they should get replaced:

I love lipstick, and I do mean LOVE lipstick.  It hurts my heart to have to throw out a good lipstick, especially if I can't find the color again or if the new batch of color just somehow doesn't look as good as the old. I still haven't quite recovered from Burt's Bees changing their line of lip shimmers and not carrying my favorite shades.   Lipstick begins to chemically break down within 1-2 years.  I have usually lost my lipstick before this 2 year date approached, but you may be more organized than me, especially if you have a few colors that tend to stay in the drawer.  If you've had 'em longer than 2 years, toss them.

Now for mascara - poor mascara.  With a shelf life of only about 4 months before it has received so much air exposure that it is drying out/clumping/growing all sorts of bacteria/flaking off your lashes it is definitely the purchase we should make most often.  Until I learned about cosmetics expiring I could not have told you the last time I bought a new mascara.  Now that I know I try to remember to buy mascara more often but the one I'm using right now?  I couldn't tell you how old it other words I should replace it.

Foundation/pressed powders can be tricky.  I use mineral makeup as a combined foundation and powder.  I use it up about every 8-10 months so I haven't been too worried about it expiring, I get more concerned about the makeup brushes I use.  Brushes need to be washed every 2-3 months but if you use a makeup sponge it should be washed daily and thrown out after a week.  When I used cosmetic sponges and liquid foundation I used a new sponge every day because my skin has a tendency to break out and I didn't want any extra bacteria causing me problems.  I also threw out my foundation when it was time to change colors with the seasons because I like to be tan, despite all health warnings to the contrary.

The more natural the cosmetic (which probably means the more expensive the cosmetic) the more quickly it will expire because it won't have as many preservatives.  This week I'll be blogging about some natural recipes that can replace some beauty care products so that being natural doesn't get so expensive.  But for now go find that make up bag and if you still see your frosty blue eyeshadow in it -- toss it out.

Friday, April 9, 2010

What goes in must come out

Yep, this post really is about pooping.  Yesterday I was running on the treadmill.  It was my first day back to running after a 4 day break because I had injured my calf muscle.  I don't know how I could possibly have forgotten in only 4 days that running always makes me have to go to the bathroom.  Always.  But I did.  Luckily I was running on my home treadmill and not at the gym, otherwise that hunched-over-abdominal-clenching-crab-walk I had to do would have been really embarrassing.  The fact is that moving your body makes your body move: you heart rate increases, more blood is circulated, lymph fluid is circulated, peristalsis, catastalsis, and colon motility (intestinal contractions) increase, and metabolism is kicked into high gear.

It's the colon motility that got me.

As with any muscle we want to keep our intestinal muscles in excellent shape.  The contractions known as peristalsis and catastalsis are what make digestion and waste removal possible.  If these contractions become sluggish and irregular we've got partially digested food just sitting around rotting inside of us.  We can tone those muscles and ensure proper elimination of our waste in a number of ways:

1.  Drink plenty of water.  Each intestinal contraction is designed to use waves of mucus and fluid to push food particles along the 23 feet of intestinal tract.  Staying properly hydrated ensures that the mucus isn't too thick and thus peristalsis sluggish.  I heard a rule of 1 ounce of water for every 10 pounds you weigh.  That seems a little low to me but it's an excellent place to start.  I like to fill up 2 water bottles each day (stainless steel, of course!) and leave one in the refrigerator or on the counter at home and one in the car.  I remember to drink water a lot better if I have it already filled and ready to go.

2.  Eat plenty of fiber.  Fiber rich foods act as a binder, just like adding bread crumbs to your meatloaf.  Fiber binds all those food particles sloshing around your intestines together.  It's rough cellular texture gives a little intestinal scrub as it moves through ensuring that it gets all the particles along with the gooey stuff like cholesterol, excess mucus, and the slimy chemical residue left by many processed foods.  I like to add psyllium husk to my morning smoothies to ensure that I am getting enough fiber each day.  I can't taste it in the smoothie at all and it doesn't seem to affect the texture.

3.  Move your body. Walk.  Run.  Jump on a trampoline, kick a ball, dance, swim - it makes no difference what you do, just that you do something.  Just like lymph fluid which has no pump and depends upon our bodies movement to flow, exercise stimulates peristalsis and gets that which we no longer need moving out of our bodies.  Doing housework or walking to the printer is not enough movement unless you are doing laps to the printer and have a really big house...

4.  Laugh!  Laughter tones the abdominal muscles.  The whole reason I try to pepper this blog with nonsense posts about torturing my brothers in the car  or showering at the gym is to (hopefully) make you laugh, giving you an abdominal workout.  (Okay maybe abdominal workout is a stretch, but smiling is an excellent way to tone your facial muscles and reduce wrinkles and you at least smiled while reading showering at the gym, right?)

5.  Breathe.  Breathe slowly, deeply, and evenly.  Deliberately slow, deep breaths tone our diaphragm and abdomen.  Consciously pulling more oxygen into our bodies is an excellent way to reduce stress and tension, both of which can halt natural digestive function.  Take a deep breath in through your nose right now.  Hold for a moment.  Now slowly as you count to 5 release that breath.  Did your shoulders come down?  Did your eyes relax?

Now that wasn't so bad, talking about poop, was it?  Aren't you glad this post didn't have an accompanying picture...?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

We all had the same mom, but we're not related

Yesterday Steve and I were chatting with the server at a restaurant (Side note: I truly feel sorry for the servers in restaurants who get Steve and me for customers because we just looooove to chat so God help you if you have other tables to attend to 'cause we are about to monopolize your time!) and laughing about sports teams, childhood, marriage, you know the usual stuff you chat with your poor can't-I-just-take-your-order-and-move-on server about.

It struck me how common our human experience is: take sibling relationships, for example.  We had a big ol' brown station wagon with jump seats that popped up out of the floor of the back.  Seated 10, comfortably.  Our bench seats were made of vinyl so they had these stitching lines that ran vertically down the seat.  My 2 brothers and I sat in the back with my baby sister in the front (my how times have changed) so that meant that one person in the back didn't have a window seat.  That's a recipe for a knockdown, drag out fight if I ever heard one.  My mom had designated certain stitching lines as our 'boundary lines' and we weren't supposed to put our hands or legs or any other body part over onto anyone else's seat.  Because we were good little children with immaculate behavior and sweet dispositions we spent most of our time creeping our fingers, legs, elbows, basically any body part we could stretch, move, or pull, over those stitching lines just to annoy each other.  I would creep my pinkie finger over my older brother's stitching line, he would promptly take his fist and try to pile-drive that finger into the seat (which didn't really hurt because the seat would give a little and absorb some of the impact).  I would snatch my finger away.  Meanwhile my little brother was moving his leg over my stitching line so I had to pound my fist into his thigh (which did hurt a bit more) and then he would yelp and my mom would threaten and I would deny and my older brother would laugh so I would have to breathe really hard on him so he would yell "Mom!  Beth is breathing really hard on me" so my mom would start to lose her mind and the baby would start to cry so finally Mom would reach into the glove compartment, pull out the wooden ruler she kept there for just these sorts of occasions and she would take that ruler and begin to smack whatever she could reach.

The ruler smacking generally didn't work out too well for the person sitting in the middle because my mom's reach was limited and the window-seat folks could suck their bodies into the doors as much as possible but the poor middle seat person just had nowhere to go.

I'm willing to bet that most people reading this (who have siblings) can relate to some version of that story.  I don't care where you live, what God you worship, what your socio-economic status is or was: if you have a brother or sister at some point in your childhood you were willing to risk pain, retaliation, and a wooden ruler just to annoy that sibling.  And you'd do it all over again if given the chance, even knowing what you know now.

You may even have a slightly different but no less immature and annoying game you play with your spouse, I know I do.  I know it drives Steve crazy if I get the remote before he does.  I like to get the remote and then put it on my legs with my hand loosely on top of it.  Then I can be "too slow" to fast forward the TiVo, something which is guaranteed to make Steve lose his mind, but before he can grab the remote away I snatch it out of his reach and then speed up the fast forwarding.  Seeing poor Steve's hand twitching on his lap as he tries to control his urge to pile-drive me into the couch and take that remote is true entertainment my friends, it really is.

So 'fess up folks.  What did you do or are you currently doing to annoy your siblings or spouse?  Don't be shy, chances are that whatever you did/are doing we have all done or will use as something new to try!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Exercise your brain!

Your brain needs exercise to stay young and fit.

A few days ago at the gym I was getting ready to do a 60 minute intense boot camp class.  Two women were excitedly talking about a new book they had just read and they casually asked the instructor if she had read the book yet.  The instructor's reply was a condescending "I don't just sit around and read.  I like to keep myself  too physically active for that."  Stunned, one of the women began to backpedal and claim that she only read a few pages at a time while the other just looked embarrassed.  Since I can only think of witty responses 15 minutes after they are needed, I said nothing but thought to myself that it was a shame that the boot camp instructor doesn't keep her brain in the same good shape she's keeping her body.

Our brains need exercise.  Everytime we learn something new, read a book, try something different, solve a problem, memorize a list, or meditate we are exercising our brains.  New neural pathways are created, extra blood is circulated through our blood vessels yielding more oxygen for our brain cells.  Dead cells are swept away and room is made for even more learning. 

It is essential that we continually challenge ourselves and it can be as simple as the daily crossword puzzle in the newspaper, or as complex as microsurgery, our brains don't really care as long as they are constantly used.  People who are in the habit of thinking are faster at problem solving, have quicker reflexes, suffer less from depression, and have less likelihood of developing senility as they age.  Of course diet and exercise play a huge part in how healthy our brains are and how much blood and lymph can circulate, but denying our bodies the downtime they need so we can focus on exercising our brains is just as aging to our bodies as a sedentary lifestyle.  Watching TV, youtube, and movies sadly does not count as brain exercise, but surfing the web sure does.

I've always been a fan of the walking meditation but I also like to listen to podcasts and audio books as I walk.  I am exposed to so many new and different ideas that way and it helps to broaden my horizons a bit.  In the evenings I like to play a game of spider solitaire on the computer while I'm waiting for dinner to cook.  Sodoku, crossword puzzles, mah jong, and solitaire are all readily available free games that come with Microsoft Windows or are available on the web.

I'd like to think my brain is in excellent shape: lean, young, full of oxygen-rich blood just circulating around as my super-smart thoughts are being zapped from neuron to neuron.  Lacking that, I'd at least like to avoid becoming a stale old curmudgeon.

My boot camp instructor has amazing abs, but I bet her brain is flabby.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Green Tip Tuesday: Is your cookware adding toxins to your food?

The year was 1998.  Steve and I had just moved into our dream home.  A huge box is waiting on the kitchen island for me as I enter the  house for the first time as a homeowner.  Steve has given me a huge surprise: a gorgeous set of Teflon-coated Calphalon cookware.  I was in heaven.

Fast forward to 2006.  The pans are no longer gleaming a gorgeous black anymore.  Despite my vigilant use of plastic utensils on the pans scratches have appeared, some deeper than others.  Basically the pans look as though they have been used daily for 8 years - as they should.  Do you have any Teflon coated pans?  Teflon is a cook's dream in my opinion because food simply doesn't stick to it.  Teflon is also a huge health hazard because it breaks down from usage and heat - the 2 things to which any pot is guaranteed to be exposed.

I didn't know that I wasn't supposed to heat my coated pans above medium heat.  Perhaps there were instructions that came with the pans,but I didn't read them.  I only read the Care Instructions that were printed clearly on tags attached to each pan.  There certainly weren't any warnings attached to the pans.  I frequently turned the burner on high and boiled water in my pans or sauteed onions -- you know, I cooked with them.

The problem is this: once the Teflon coating has scratches on it breakdown occurs.  Every time the pan is used a compound called perflurooctanoic acid (PFOA) is released.  PFOA is toxic to human beings, cannot be metabolized by our bodies, and therefore becomes just another toxin we have stored in our fat that is a poison to us.  Now it's true that it takes very high temperatures for PFOA to be released in pans that are unscratched, but after the surface Teflon is compromised it doesn't take very much heat at all.

If PFOA were only present in coated pans then I suppose we could all safely argue that our exposure is minimal, quantifiable, and completely avoidable - unless of course you ever eat out at a restaurant in which case you never know what type pan in which your food is prepared, but PFOA is also present in ScotchGuard products, carpet, furniture, some paints, food wrap (!), some dry cleaning products, and the StainMaster line of carpet protectors.  In other words you may be exposed to PFOA in almost every surface of your home, not to mention direct ingestion from your cookware.  Not so quantifiable and avoidable anymore, is it?

The answer: stainless steel cookware.  Not coated stainless steel, just plain old stainless steel.  Add a little olive oil to the pan so food won't stick.  Cook at lower temperatures, you'll destroy less enzymes and vitamins that way anyway, and treat yourself to some stainless steel cooking utensils, cookie sheets, and mixing bowls while you're at it.  Sound expensive?  It doesn't have to be because unlike Teflon coated cookware which breaks down uncoated stainless steel cookware can last for decades so you can buy it used, give it a wash, and off you go.  Found some great used stainless steel but it has stains?  (I know, it's supposed to be stainless!)  My old friend vinegar and a scratch-free scrubber should do the trick.

Now go cook up a safe and healthy meal!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Diary of a Sugar Free Life, Volume 2

Ahhh, the Easter hangover: too much sugar.  I didn't actually partake of anything from the bunny, nope, my sugar intake was far more insidious than that.  It all started with a breakfast that included cinnamon rolls, a lunch that included bundt cake, and a dinner that included rootbeer.

And I was doing so well.  Remember my resolve back in December?

The problem with sugar addiction is that it is so acceptable to be addicted to sugar.  You don't have to sneak a cinnamon roll, heck, have two!  So it's all up to the addict to police themselves and hold fast to their resolve. 

I did not hold fast to my resolve.

I have been working out so hard.  Religiously I have been building muscle, continuing aerobic activity, and gaining flexibility.  While I won't be so dramatic as to say that I've undone all my hard work, I certainly feel as though I've let myself down by allowing sugar to creep back into my diet.

The good news: I'm not eating sugar right now.  Tomorrow is another day.  Every minute, every hour, every day and week and month and year that I don't eat sugar is a major victory.  There are so many reasons not to eat sugar and really only one reason to eat it: it tastes good.  Taste is a cheap reason though, I mean I love the taste of avocado but I wouldn't say I'm an avocado addict.  It's the ability of sugar to alter the body's chemistry and become a regular craving that makes it so dangerous.  Eating avocado doesn't make me crave avocado, and I've never had a carrot hangover.

I read an interesting article that said if you start craving sugar try fruit, cinnamon, vanilla, or peppermint (even the smell of peppermint or vanilla may satisfy a sugar craving) instead of eating the sugar.  I can definitely attest to the fruit and the cinnamon but I've never tried the scent therapy.  The reality is that nothing is going to be the magic solution.  I didn't even realize I'd fallen off the wagon until I'd already chomped down a piece of bundt cake, my ability to compartmentalize and deny is so great, but I certainly noticed how headache-y and irritable I was all afternoon.  And how tired.  And how disappointed I felt with myself.  And rather than looking forward to my weight training class tomorrow morning, I find myself dreading it because I know I'll probably have a headache.  I'll feel lethargic.  I'll feel weak and out of shape. 

Could any cinnamon roll be worth all of that?  Nope.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Never underestimate the weight of water

Weighing yourself after workouts may give false numbers

Lately I've been noticing a woman at they gym running for the scale after workout class.  One day she triumphantly crowed "I lost 2 pounds since this morning!" as her friend high-fived her and they wandered off into the locker room still chattering about her victory.  I felt really bad for that woman knowing that when she got on the scale the next morning that 2 pounds may indeed be back.  It's pretty unlikely that she burned 2 pounds of fat during a single 50 minute aerobic class, but she easily lost that much in water.  It's how the Biggest Loser candidates "throw" a weigh-in, they load up on water right before they get weighed.

Water weight, or the body retaining water due to a medical condition, medications,  or diet, can really add pounds to the scale and a bloated or swollen appearance to the body.  Now you all know how pro-drinking-lots-of-water-every-day I am so the answer clearly is not to drink less water, but to look carefully at what foods may be causing water retention.

I had no idea that foods could cause water retention until a friend of mine mentioned several years ago that she couldn't fit her wedding rings on the day after eating pizza.  I had to know more about that but didn't want to question her (that much nosy-ness was too much, even for me) so I Googled 'foods that make you retain water' and was presented with list after list of foods that cause water retention all with one thing in common: sodium.

I have a tendency toward very low blood pressure so I wasn't paying very close attention to the sodium in my diet but when I started reading labels I was appalled!  All the "healthy" substitutes I was eating like veggie burgers, boca burgers, tofu this and dairy-free that were loaded with sodium to make them taste good.  In fact many things that say "low fat" "low sugar" or are canned and processed are going to be high in sodium.  All that salt was weighing me down and I didn't even know it.  I had to dump most of the convenience foods from my diet and really scan labels to find veggie burgers that weren't high in sodium.  I noticed that my never-have-actually-found-a-stomach-muscle abdomen looked flatter within just a few days.

My advice: let the water flow.  Drink it, but don't retain it.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Reader Request: What is a Carbon Footprint?

I received an excellent question recently from my friend Debbie, she wanted to know what is meant by a "carbon footprint."  Lately I see the term used in a lot of different ways, some more relevant than others, but what I mean when I say carbon footprint is the amount of energy you use existing on this planet.  Do you have a big footprint?  Do you consume a lot of packaged goods, using a new bag to bring them home every time?  Do you circle the parking lot for 10 minutes looking for a "good spot" rather than parking and walking a little farther?  Do you leave on lights, computers, TVs, radios, and stereos even when you're not in the room using them?  Do you have a bunch of chargers plugged into the wall that aren't charging anything?  Do you create a lot of waste by buying but not recycling packaged goods?  If you are nodding yes to all these things then the cost of keeping you on this planet is pretty high because tremendous amounts of energy must be used to support your lifestyle and most of the energy created in the U.S. has a lot of toxic byproducts.

On the other hand perhaps you have a small footprint.  Perhaps you are reducing, reusing, and recyling everything you can.  Perhaps you are walking more and driving less, when possible.  Even walking on a track or outside is preferable to using an electric treadmill.  Right now it is still cold and rainy where I live.  This morning I spent 37 minutes on an electric elliptical machine so I'm certainly not living off the grid.  I did, however, rescue 4 earthworms that would have been stranded on my driveway...

Unplug, turn off, reuse, recycle.  Any little change and every little change makes a difference.  I wear a size 8 shoe, but I try to have a tiny footprint.