Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The Sweet Smell of...

Image result for perfumeMy sister is one of those people who always smells good. When she stays with me, her fragrance lingers in the guest room after she's gone. She loves perfume and knows about top notes and middle notes and all the other stuff that makes it sound like she should be talking about music. (She's also pretty fluent in French, so maybe to her it's parfum.)
Me, not so much. My French is remedial, and my knowledge of perfume is worse. I'll occasionally give myself a spritz of the one fragrance I have in my closet, but only when I'm feeling fancy. As I found out this week, though, perfume is a really interesting and complicated subject.

The first known perfumes date back to ancient times. A 3,000-year-old cuneiform tablet identifies a woman named Tapputi as the first recorded perfume maker. Perfumes never really fell out of favor in the the Arab world, but in Europe, the Dark Ages were dark times for perfume. Credit the French for getting the ball rolling again during the time of Louis XV. Perfume apparently came in handy for masking body odors, but putting it in wine, as the French did, was perhaps a step too far.

Every perfume is comprised of one of more of the eight basic categories: oriental, spicy, woody, floral, aquatic, green, fruity, and citrus. The bright top notes of a scent evaporate after a few minutes. The middle or heart notes last from four to six hours. The base notes emerge an hour or so after application and tend to evaporate more slowly.

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Let me guess...citrus?
I decided that a week of perfume might be a nice upgrade for me, so I ordered a set of tester-sized designer scents I knew nothing about. Every morning, I tried a new one from the likes of Donna Karan, Michael Kors, and Cartier. Being a generally not-fancy person, I was surprised at how fun my perfume week was. A little spray in the morning gave my mood a boost on the way out the door--although I can't tell you whether any of the scents were woody or aquatic, just whether they smelled Good or Not Good. I tried to remember to sniff my wrists occasionally during the day to keep track of the developing heart notes, but usually I forgot. 

After seven days, I don't think I'm on my way to developing a perfume obsession on par with my sister's, but I'm not at all opposed to calling this one a Take It.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

V is for Vegan

Image result for vegetables in the shape of a vPlant-based diets are having a moment, as the expression goes. Even Burger King, purveyor of cheap meat for decades, has hopped on board with the Impossible Whopper. Plant-based proponents cite the health, environmental, and moral benefits of eating less meat, and some of those arguments are pretty convincing.

I am a life-long carnivore who ate at Burger King plenty when I was growing up. These days, I try to make so-called sustainable meat choices when I can. Over the past year or so, I've been eating less in the way of animal products in general. But I've never gone vegan. Until last week.

Full disclosure: I did not adopt a strict vegan lifestyle. I still wore leather shoes and might have ingested honey at some point. But I did make a very conscious effort to remove animal products from my diet. I've been dairy-free for a while now, because I feel better without it, so I didn't have that cheese monkey on my back. (Mmmm, cheese monkey.) Eggs and meats of all kinds, from fish to steak, however, were scratched from the menu.

Here, in convenient bulleted-list format, are my top takeways from Vegan Week:
  • It wasn't as difficult as I thought it might be. Breakfast was usually fruit, nuts, and plant-based yogurt. I had salads and beans as my go-to lunches. The dinners were more challenging, but I love roasted veggies and cauliflower in any form, which helped. And pasta made from lentils, that's a thing.
  • It was easy to overdo the carbs. I don't keep track of macros, but I'm sure the quinoa, the hummus and cracker snacks, and my old foe potato chips skewed my totals too far in the direction of The Land of Delicious Starches.
  • I didn't feel more hungry than usual. Sleep and exercise were unchanged, and I felt pretty good getting up in the mornings.
  • Some vegan foods, especially substitutes for meat and cheese, are highly processed and contain a ton of ingredients. Compare a beef burger (Ingredient: beef) with a Beyond Burger [Ingredients: Water, Pea Protein Isolate, Expeller-Pressed Canola Oil, Refined Coconut Oil, Contains 2% or less of the following: Cellulose from Bamboo, Methylcellulose, Potato Starch, Natural Flavor, Maltodextrin, Yeast Extract, Salt, Sunflower Oil, Vegetable Glycerin, Dried Yeast, Gum Arabic, Citrus Extract (to protect quality), Ascorbic Acid (to maintain color), Beet Juice Extract (for color), Acetic Acid, Succinic Acid, Modified Food Starch, Annatto (for color)] Reading labels can be important.
  • Mushrooms are a vegan's best friend. I'm kind of lukewarm when it comes to mushrooms, and I think I ate more of them last week than I have in the last two years. This included portobellos in my veggie fajitas and surprisingly bacon-y tasting "bacon" that son #1 and I made from shiitakes. (Here's the recipe from Detoxinista if you're curious.) And after a week, surprise! I'm still lukewarm when it comes to mushrooms.
  • Salad with mushroom "bacon"
  •  I not ashamed to admit that I did miss meat. I wanted to share in the chicken wings at a local brewpub. I wanted my husband to prepare something delicious in the smoker. I wanted a non-impossible burger and fries. 
Now, for the moment of truth: I'm not ready to commit to a 100% vegan meal plan, so this week is technically a Leave It. But I am going to try follow the advice of food guru Michael Pollan: 

Image result for michael pollan eat food mostly plants

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Kurzgesagt. Gesundheit!

For months now, Son #2 has been telling me interesting things he's learned by watching Kurzgesagt videos on YouTube. He loves science and general knowledge about the intricacies of the world, so I trust his recommendations. (Probably not all of them, but the ones he deems okay for his mom.)

Kurzgesagt, which loosely translated means "in a nutshell" is a German animation studio that produces "minimalist animated educational content discussing scientific, technological, political, philosophical, and psychological subjects." Whew. That's a mouthful, and so is the name.

The funny thing is, I didn't read that description beforehand, and I had no idea the videos were animated. When I found the YouTube channel, which has 9.1 million subscribers, I wondered if I might be in the wrong place. Like maybe Kurzgesagt for Kids or something. But no, that's the way they're done.

Off the bat, I disagreed with the description of the animation as minimalist. Here is my idea of minimalist:

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And here is Kurzgesagt's minimalist:

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There's kind of a lot going on there, right? Add in motion, and a British narrator who sounds a bit like John Oliver explaining black hole science at a rapid pace, and my brain melted a little that first time. I didn't give up--I had six more days to go, after all--and it got better. My brain didn't feel quite as melty, but I really had to make sure to concentrate on what was being said so I didn't get distracted by the visual input.

As far as Take It or Leave It...I'm not exactly sure yet. I think I'll give Kurzgesagt a continued trial, but I suspect I'll be better off with TED Talks in the long run.

No-Buy July update:
Today is the last day of July! And I did really well this month cutting down on my unnecessary purchases. I'm not sure how much time and money I saved, but I think it was significant on both counts. I'm glad I made a conscious effort, and I don't plan on going nuts come August. But we'll see :-)

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

As Easy as Riding a Bike

When I was young, I rode my bike everywhere. That was back in the day before cell phones, when packs of kids roamed the neighborhoods on wheels, not returning home until it was too dark to see. When my boys were young, I rode with them--to school, to parks, to the pool, to Dairy Queen. Some of my favorite memories are of watching them lock up their little bikes at the elementary school bike racks before heading into class.

See the source imageAs they grew older and more independent, they rode off with their friends, and then drove off with their friends. Time passed, and I recently realized how seldom I get on my bike anymore. So the challenge this past week was to fit a daily ride into my schedule.

First of all, I didn't forget how, so maybe that old axiom is true, after all. And even though it was a hot week with some wild weather thrown in, which didn't make for ideal conditions, I was able to at least cruise around the neighborhood like an aimless teenager. I had hoped to make time for a longer ride, but circumstances conspired against me. I was, however, able to participate in a work ride to our local botanical garden, which was fun and different.

I really enjoyed my time on the bike this week. Being generally realistic, I know that I will never be one of those people who bikes everywhere--to work, to the market, to the movies. But that's okay. I live in a very bike-friendly community, and there are plenty of others around to pick up my slack. I'm also a fair-weather rider. If I think I might get struck by lightning, pelted by hailstones, slip on ice, or have to make headway straight into gale-force winds, no thanks. Nor will I ever be one of those bikers in stretchy shorts, because, well, a lot of reasons. But now I am newly inspired to head out on some of the 30+ miles of local trails more often.

This week is at least a more frequent Take It.

No-Buy July update:

I really had the urge to buy a bonsai tree from a van at a gas station, because how random is that? It seemed really funny to be able to say, "check out this bonsai I bought from a van at a gas station." But I didn't need a gas-station bonsai, and--surprise, surprise--it wasn't on my list. So I didn't buy it.

Have a good week!

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The Brush-Off

Despite the occasional winters when we measure snowfall in feet instead of inches, Colorado's climate is classified as semi-arid. On the Front Range where I live, we typically enjoy lots of sunshine, relatively low humidity, and more wind than we want--all of which conspire to dry out our skin. It's easy to identify visitors, for they are constantly using lip balm and hand lotion, and blinking rapidly as their tears evaporate at the speed of light.

I'm no stranger to dry skin and have tried many lotions and potions to cure it. Exfoliation helps a lot, and we're very familiar with shower poufs in these parts. But I had never tried the technique known as dry brushing.

Dry brushing can be traced back to the ancient healing system of Ayurveda (ditto oil pulling). It is credited with all kinds of benefits, including smoother skin, reduced stress and chronic pain, lymph detoxification, better sleep and digestion, increased circulation, and Hulk-like strength. (Wait, that last one is caused by gamma radiation).

It's simple to do: using long, not-too-firm strokes, brush the skin from the extremities toward the heart. Easy-peasey. In fact, the most difficult part about it was choosing the brush. Most of them are made from animal hair (usually boar) or some kind of plant fiber. I've been known to have skin reactions to both those things, so after much searching, I settled on a brush with silicone bristles.

For seven days, I brushed once in the morning and once at night. And, boy, does my lymph feel detoxed! Just kidding, I have no idea if that part works. But my skin is noticeably softer. The silicone bristles worked better than I thought they might, although the brush does have a bit of a weird plastic smell.

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All in all, dry brushing was a pleasant surprise, and I will keep at it. Especially during the winter, when the furnace tries to turn me into a potato chip.

This week is a Take It.

No Buy July update:

I resisted Amazon Prime day, Google Express shopping day, and Target Deal Days with no problem. I did give in, however, and buy the swim gear I want for Florida because I knew if I waited until August, it would be sold out. It feels like a necessary purchase, however, because my only previous trip to Florida resulted in a lobster-like sunburn. So, bring on the dorky long-sleeved swim shirt!

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

No-Buy July

Welcome! First of all, this is a big post for me, because as of last week, I'm halfway through the year's Take It or Leave It challenge! (If you're new here or need a refresher, I'm adding something new to my life or taking something away each week and then deciding if it is worth a longer-term commitment.) The Take Its are leading the Leave Its 16-10, which means my days are filling up with all kinds of random activities that would make my husband raise an eyebrow if he didn't know me so well.

As for this week...

Image result for sale tagI don't identify as much of a shopper. I detest malls and don't think I've ever uttered the words "Let's go shopping!" I am, however, an impulse spender. When I'm already on an errand--usually Target or the grocery store--I often come home with things that weren't on my list. Not huge things--no "look, honey, I bought a new sofa/espresso-maker/Rottweiler" moments. Just little things that add up.

Since July tends to be pretty mellow for me, with a lack of spendy holidays, family birthdays, and anniversaries, I thought I'd try going the entire month without buying anything that's not a necessity. Piece of cake, right? I mean, in the heat of summer, I can hardly even muster up the enthusiasm to go to the grocery store. Which is why my family will probably be eating mayonnaise on saltine crackers for dinner tonight. (Ugh. No they won't. That sounds disgusting.)

So confident was I that seven days didn't sound like nearly enough of a challenge. Bring on the entire month. I got this.

What I didn't realize is that apparently everything is discounted during July. And I really, really love a bargain. Clothing, shoes, bedding plants, kitchen gadgets, decor for outside and in...somehow all of these things have already tempted me despite my barely leaving the house other than for work. And don't even get me started on those sidewalk sales.

As I try and resist this temptation, I can feel the wheels of justification whirring in my head. But I need  clothes for my vacation to Florida later this summer. 50% off annuals is a great deal, and I have some more pots that need planting. Why not just cruise the clearance aisle and see if there's anything interesting?

Long story short, July is going to be more of a challenge than I thought. Just today, I received a 30% off coupon from Kohl's. (Damn you, Kohl's. *shakes fist at sky*) I am going to try stick to my guns in the face of temptation and make this week a Take It. But no promises after August 1st.

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Only the necessities, right?

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Good Morning, Sunshine

Image result for colorado sunriseAfter last week's trial of sleep semi-deprivation, I thought it might be nice to do something to help me get back in my normal routine, a.k.a The Routine of the Failed Night Owl. I read somewhere that regular exposure to morning sunlight plays an important part in establishing a good circadian rhythm, which seemed like a good place to start. Plus, it sounded like a lovely way to begin the day.
Two of the most important byproducts of sunlight exposure are melatonin and Vitamin D, which support and regulate all kinds of physiological functions, but apparently our bodies also release some bonus endorphins. Yeah, sign me up for that good stuff first thing in the morning. 

Although some recommendations call for 30-45 minutes of morning sunlight, a general suggestion for a pale person such is myself is fifteen minutes of exposure between the hours of eight and ten. Unfortunately, I, like many people, am at work then, so my sun time during the week was 7:15-7:30.

The first morning, I was pretty excited to bask for a while before starting my day. But the sun didn't cooperate. (Actually the sun rose as it normally did; it was the cloud cover that messed things up.) Ditto the second day. The third was a little bit better, but honestly, I'd never noticed how many clouds hang around in the morning. So inconvenient.

In fact, of the seven mornings in the week, I only had solid sun exposure on three of them, which overall was a disappointment. It was nice to eat breakfast outside, though. (So nice that I almost made myself late a few times.) I didn't notice a difference in how alert I felt in the morning or how tired I felt at night, and I assume it's because I didn't get enough regular sun to have an effect.

As much as I wanted this morning sun exposure to be a Take It, it didn't work out as well as I hoped. And as the days get shorter, it will be nearly impossible. So this one is a regretful Leave It.

I hope the sun brightens your day today, whatever time you're out. See you next week!

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