3.27.2013

yarn along - the world according to garp

I'm regressing.

It's almost spring. Bulbs are budding. It's going to hit 50 this week. Easter is around the corner.

And I am making Christmas decorations.

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The problem is, I'm down to leftovers in my yarn basket, and I hate leaving them to sit there, not knowing when, if ever, they'll move over for newer, prettier varieties. There are a zillion new projects I want to start, but I'm reluctant to buy all that lovely new yarn with my basket full of scraps.

So I'm making Christmas decorations. With leftover green, white, and red, I'm crocheting up these quick and easy stars, with the hope of stringing them all together and then promptly putting them away until next year.

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And at the same time, I'm devouring The World According to Garp. I don't remember what inspired me to pick up a few of John Irving's novels (A Prayer for Owen Meany is sitting on my dresser too), but there is something really, really compelling about this book. It doesn't keep me on the edge of my seat, or up reading until 2 a.m. It's got a different appeal. It's just...like nothing else I've ever read before, I guess.

Really wonderful, so far.

And P.S. I finished The Book Thief and can only recommend it.

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Linking up with Ginny. Happy Wednesday, friends.

3.25.2013

top 5 celebrity girl crushes

girl crush \gurl kruhsh\ n. an overwhelming sense of awe, admiration, and respect felt by one female for another, without romantic intentions; the attraction includes the desire for friendship, but also the desire to be like the crush
_._._


1. Fran Drescher

Besides being insanely gorgeous, insanely funny, and insanely unique, Fran Drescher has an incredible personal life as well. She and her husband divorced after he came out as gay, and she has remained friends with him and worked to support LGBTQ equality. She has bravely talked about her trauma of being raped in her own home after a break-in. And on top of that, she survived a battle with uterine cancer and went on to found Cancer Schmancer, a non-profit with the goal of getting all women with cancer diagnosed in Stage I.



2. J.K. Rowling

Besides being the author of my favorite series of books ever, J.K. Rowling is also a living testament to doing what you love. She has also always stunned me whenever I see her speak. She is kind and wise and does a lot of philanthropic work with her wealth. Rowling also dutifully pays higher tax rates by keeping her money in Britain (rather than out-of-country), because she is so grateful to the system that supported her while she was writing and living in poverty.



3. Ellen Degeneres

Because who doesn't have a girl crush on her?

Something about Ellen is just so captivating and charismatic and comfortable. Of course she has done an enormous amount to further LGBTQ equality and help change the way people think about those issues. But she and Portia de Rossi are also vegans, and it's so inspiring to hear them talk about their motivation and recipes!



4. Julie Andrews

There are (close to) a zillion older actresses that I love and admire so much, but Julie Andrews always just seems the sweetest and warmest and most authentic. Known for her playfulness on set, she is a lady I would just love to chat with. She also wrote the book Mandy, a favorite of mine since childhood.



5. Tina Fey

I recently read that Tina Fey is such an important woman in the male-dominated world of comedy, not just because she is a woman and she is funny, but because she has created her own unique brand of humor. People watch 30 Rock and know that the genius behind it is 100% Tina Fey. She is a powerful woman who still remains so accessible to women everywhere, and encourages everyone to see their own quirks as sources of humor, happiness, and beauty.
_._._

Who would make your top 5 list?

3.21.2013

intelligent nutrients - review and giveaway

Update: This giveaway is now closed. Congratulations to winner, Cherie!

giveaway

So literally a few days before I posted my recommendations for switching to natural hair care, I received an email from the people at Intelligent Nutrients asking if I'd like to try their Harmonic shampoo and conditioner. Um...YES?! Perfect timing.

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Intelligent Nutrients offers organic beauty products that haven't been tested on animals, and they are green certified. Their philosophy is that what goes on your body should be able to go in your mouth (not that it should taste good...just that it's safe).

Their old formula for their Harmonic shampoo and conditioner are in the EWG database with a rating of 2 (which is excellent). But the worst ingredient listed there doesn't appear on the bottles I have, so I'd be willing to bet that the new formulations are even less toxic.

And what's it like, you ask?? Awesome. The scent right out of the bottle smells a bit like the mint fluoride at the dentist's office, but as soon as you lather it up, it's just really fresh and invigorating. And the very best part is, it makes your scalp feel all cool and tingly. It also feels really gentle. I can run my fingers through my hair with the shampoo in, and that's always a test for me.

The bottles also say they are great as face/body cleaners and shaving creams, but I only did that once, because it somehow feels like a waste! The mintiness of it really leaves your skin feeling fresh though.

Would I spend my money on it?

Yes and no. If I didn't already have a shampoo/conditioner line that I'm committed to, it would be a definite yes. My regular line is a little cheaper, and just feels a little gentler, so I can't promise that I'll be making an official transition to IN.

But, IN also makes a ton of natural hair styling products that look amazing and have super low toxicity ratings. Since I have a hard time finding styling products that I like, I will most definitely be using theirs the next time I need some. (You can order online or find a retailer.)

~~~

IN offered to send one of my readers exactly what they sent me: one 15 oz. bottle of their Harmonic shampoo, and one 15 oz. bottle of their Harmonic conditioner (a $46 value). This is a really great opportunity for anyone who hasn't quite made the leap to natural hair care yet and wants to give it a try!

There are three ways to enter. Leave a separate comment for each one, and make sure I
have an email address for you somehow.

1. Leave a comment telling me about your experience with natural hair care. Have you
tried it yet? Looking for a new hair care line?

2. Share this giveaway on twitter or facebook. (Please leave the link in your comment!)

3. Follow IN on twitter or facebook.

Giveaway will close on 3/28. Good luck!

3.19.2013

5 things

I always think I don't do these things, but then I always do them. It helps when someone really sweet (pun intended) tags you. Here's five things about me that I'm pretty sure you don't already know.

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1. J and I both have a little fantasy, wherein we learn Dutch and move to the Netherlands to grow tulips (okay, that part is mine) and ride bicycles everywhere. In my fantasy, there is also a greyhound, a Siamese cat, and two babies. And Maus will be there too, because she is going to live forever. Oh, and also we'll win the lottery and move our families there. Noyoudon'thaveachoice.

2. Everything is my favorite something. I am an effusive, enthusiastic person. Clementines? Favorite fruit. Oh wait...watermelon? Favorite fruit. Oh you said peaches? Favorite fruit. J catches me doing this all the time...movies, food, books, flowers, restaurants...even people. Everything is my favorite something.

3. My best friend from college is named Kelly, and I call her Kellybean. My best friend here in Boston is named Jill, and I call her Jillybean. They both call me Clairbear.

4. I recently discovered that one of my reactions to stress is chronic hyperventilation syndrome. When life gets busy in general, and it's hard for me to pinpoint exactly what's stressing me out, it manifests as an overfocus on my breathing. This makes me take in too much oxygen, which lowers my CO2 levels, which (strangely) makes me feel breathless. So I keep chugging in air and yawning because I feel like I can't get a full breath, further contributing to my lack of CO2. Apparently, this is pretty common. It's not the kind of hyperventilation that leads to a panic attack and breathing in a paper bag. It's just pretty uncomfortable. But consciously limiting your breathing can help resolve the issue. (Also, RELAXING.)

5. I love teenagers. People usually give me really sympathetic looks when they find out I taught ninth graders, but it's not needed! I'm still not sure what I'll be doing when I finish my grad program, but I know I want to be working directly with teenagers again. Preferably, that work will keep me in the sunshine, talking and doing creative things with the young people I love.

~~~

And because it feels like most of my blog friends have already done this, I'm going to share the love family-style and tag my sister and my mom.

3.15.2013

carrot cake

Boston is seriously one of the best places to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. I can't even say we really go out and take in the "Irishness" of the city that much. (Though we did spend most of the day in the vaguely Irish bars of Gov't Center last weekend.) But you can sort of feel it in the air, can't you? This year we'll be enjoying brunch on a friend's balcony, watching the parade go by.

And I know we'll be seeing a fair share of green recipes this weekend (this girl's not complaining), so I thought I'd share a little something celebrating that other color of Ireland: orange.

Carrot Cake

I made this carrot cake a while ago after we went on yet another vegetable soup kick and had a bag of leftover carrots in the crisper. It's been awhile since I had carrot cake, and this one hit the spot. Perfectly moist and sweet. It's a great, wholesome Easter treat.

Carrot Cake

Carrot Cake

Whole Wheat Carrot Cake


Ingredients:

2 cups white whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
4 eggs, at room temperature
1 cup sugar or 1-to-1 sugar substitute*
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted and cooled
1 tbsp orange zest, packed
2 tbsp orange juice
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups grated carrots, packed

*I used 1/2 cup of palm sugar, and 1/2 cup of stevia baking blend.

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease the tops and sides of a bunting pan.
2. In a bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. Stir to mix. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs. Add the sugar, applesauce, oil, orange zest, orange juice, and vanilla extract, and whisk until well mixed and without any lumps of sugar or zest.
3. Add the dry mixture to the wet mixture one third at a time, stirring until just mixed. The batter will be thick. Fold in the carrots until evenly mixed.
4. Transfer the batter to the pan and smooth the top. Bake until an inserted toothpick comes out clean, about 45-50 minutes.
5. When the cake is cool, transfer to a serving dish. Top with a sprinkle of powdered sugar, or your choice of traditional or vegan cream cheese frosting.

Carrot Cake

3.13.2013

yarn along - the book thief

When every blog I read this week is gushing about all the signs of spring, I can feel pretty confident that it is at least almost here. And I am so, so, so excited.

Last spring I wrote a post on purple and yellow. I remember this particularly, because it felt like all of the spring flowers were blooming in those colors. And it looks like I've come full circle. As the bulbs are just beginning to push their little faces through the dirt and snow, I am again thinking in purple and yellow.

Yarn Along

And in fact, this color combination was always a favorite when I was little...anyone else?

I'm pretty happy with my new little case, and ecstatic to have finished a project with the tapestry technique.  I have a litany of critiques...the fit it very tight at the bottom, it's a little too crafty-looking, you can see the wrong colors poking through...blah, blah, blah...

I promised myself recently to focus more on the creative process in all my crafty and culinary undertakings, not so much the success of the product. After all, the process is the part where we're growing, and it is the growth that contributes to our happiness, not the thing itself.

Yarn Along

And peeking out from my new case is my latest read, The Book Thief. I had to get the e-book version from my library, and I am not a convert. I realize that an iPhone is not the ideal tool for reading, but I still miss my pages.

But it hasn't kept me from enjoying this amazing read. Narrated by Death, so far it has been a beautiful and poetic story of lives affected by the Holocaust. It is truly sad and sweet and linguistically enchanting. And remembering how many people were touched by the long fingers of tyranny and war reminds me to appreciate the sunshine and freedom I am blessed with.

Yarn Along

Linking up with Ginny. Happy Wednesday, friends.

3.11.2013

20 tips for the thrift shop

I recently discovered that thrift store shopping is now cool.

And that makes me very happy.

I've been consigning clothes since college, and have been a regular thrifter since I moved close enough to walk to one. There are two reasons why I am such a fan:

a. I am poor.
b. I like to vote with my dollar.

Living on a grad student's stipend, it's just not an option for me to go all BR and Bebe once a month to refresh my wardrobe. We humans adjust quickly to the pleasure of new things, so it's just not worth spending a ton of money on the stuff that won't seem as amazing a few months down the road. And I also believe we can send powerful messages about what we believe in by withholding our dollars. At the thrift store, I can get brand names without directly supporting unethical practices. Those companies have already been supported once; I avoid supporting them a second time. (And let's be real...Even if companies have generally good practices, they are still making a ton of money charging way more for clothes than what they are actually worth.)

thrifting

I'm also happy about the new popularity of thrifting for two reasons:

a. I hope others will vote with their dollars too.
b. I hope this means more awesome donations for me to buy.

thrifting

If you're ready to jump on the bandwagon, here is a looong list of my top tips for making the most of thrifting.

General Tactics

1. Go often. Turn over is high in thrift stores. Buy less per visit, but make more visits.
2. Go early and on weekdays. Saturday mornings are busy and full of children. To have the most pleasant experience and get the best stuff, go when it hasn't been rifled through yet and all is still quiet.
3. Go when stock is new. You can ask someone at your thrift store what days they put out new stuff, or if you go often enough, you'll just notice when the shelves are more full.
4. Bring cash. Many places don't take cards.
5. Go to multiple stores. Different stores can be better for different things. I go to one place primarily for clothes, and another place primarily for housewares. Check out the ones in your area.
6. It's not too good to be true. A lot of people donate a lot of awesome stuff for tons of reasons. If you find something amazing, trust your instinct and cash in. I once picked up a guitar for Rock Band that sells for almost $100 on amazon for $5!
7. But don't get it if it's not perfect. That said, a lot of things seem awesome at first, but have little flaws that will bother you later. There is plenty of stuff in the thrift store, and you'll find yourself filling up your home with junk if you're not prudent in your selection. You might not need that version of Trivial Pursuit from 1983 (true story).
8. Vintage does not necessarily = awesome. Case in point: I once bought an old sewing machine, could not find a manual online, and ended up returning it to the thrift store whence it came.
9. Check behind the counter. Sometimes the more high ticket items are kept behind the counter, or if you're looking for something in particular, the employees can let you know if they have it, and it's just not put out yet.
10. Purge your home. It's always a good idea to take a load of donations with you to the store. Not only does this keep your home from getting cluttered, but I also believe it contributes to positive thrift store karma...what you give, you shall receive.
11. Know what not to get. First, there are the obvious things...underwear, pillows, cosmetics. And then, certainly, you should avoid buying anything you don't really need or really love. Again, it will just lead to a junky home. And finally, there are certain items that will be a sticking point for you personally. It is really hard for me to find a good fitting pair of jeans or dress at the thrift store. So when I really need something like that, I usually just buy it new.

Household
12. Check where dishes were made. There's a pretty good chance they were made in China, and checking that is a good way to screen for quality and potentially hazardous products. It's also an indicator of high quality goods. You never know when you'll stumble across some Royal Doulton.
13. Plug it in. My thrift store has outlets by its collection of appliances and lamps, so you can test them before you take them home.
14. Give them a good cleaning. No matter how clean an item may appear to be, it will always be coated in the grime from someone else's home. I hope this one goes without saying...

Clothes
15. Scan clothes. Sometimes, the clothing section can be huge. And since it's generally not organized by size, some scanning techniques can be really helpful. I often skim pants, skirts, and dresses for length. I need them to stand out as shorter than everything else on the rack. I also skim patterns. If it doesn't stand out to me as something I love, there's no point taking a closer look.
16. Check key areas for key defects. Key areas are the armpits, the groin, and edges. Key defects are tiny holes, stains, loose threads, and pills. Give it a good once-over too. Look closely. My store washes all clothes before putting them out, but it's good to give a gentle sniff too...hard-to-remove smells like cigarette smoke will linger. And don't get it if it's not perfect.
17. Be wary of staples and stickers. My thrift store staples the price onto clothes...generally onto the tag. Sometimes it's right through the fabric though, and it can be particularly difficult for certain fabrics to survive them (like silk and thin cottons). The picture below was a rookie mistake of mine. Luckily, I was able to remove them very carefully without causing any damage, but I haven't always been that lucky.

thrifting

18. Check labels for brand and care. I generally don't get anything that requires dry cleaning (except coats) or hand washing. And if I know the brand is not high quality when it's new, I usually won't buy it used.
19. Wear something light. My thrift store doesn't have dressing rooms, and even if it did, I wouldn't always want to try everything on bare skin. Wearing something light (like leggings and a long cami) allows you to try stuff on top. I can also get away with not trying everything on. It helps to know what size you are in common brands, and to know what cuts tend to fit you well.
20. Wash it asap. Again, if you couldn't figure this one out, thrift store shopping is probably not for you.

Any other tips from seasoned thrifters?

3.10.2013

20. enjoy a pastry

clear flour bakery

Remember last week, when I was all, "Isn't this weather oh so perfect for a day out and I'm going to do ALL THE THINGS during my spring break"? Then remember when it snowed instead and the wind blew so hard I couldn't even get my phone out to take instagram shots?

I do.

So I have to admit to you, my day of "museums, coffee, lunch dates..." turned into a trip to the grocery store and the bakery, followed by two girl movies on the couch, accompanied by vegan mac 'n' cheese, crocheting, and pastries.

As much as I love days out, I have to admit that I am just not one of those go-go-go people. Sometimes I am just happier at home. Sometimes I am just happier pretending to be a little old lady enjoying my cat and my food and my yarn. Sometimes, I remember that I really love going grocery shopping, and a trip to the store can actually be as fun as a museum.

And when a home-y day is accompanied by an orange brioche and a strawberry rhubarb tart, that day is even better...I promise.

3.06.2013

(up)dates

Life is good around here lately! It's spring break for me this week, and while I'll still be chug-chug-chugging away at work, I get a glorious pause from classes. And that means I'll probably just have to take a day for myself...a day that whispers, "Museums, coffee, lunch dates..." And the weather is oh so perfect for it, isn't it?

We were happy to have a Friday evening last weekend that wasn't frigid or snowy. You would have found us enjoying a Bob Sagat show in the theater district, followed by beer and singalongs at Jacob Wirth's. As a lover of German food, language, and culture, I'm a bit snobby about German restaurants. So while I wouldn't say it's just like stepping into a real Wirtshaus, it's still insanely fun.

With everyone singing and drinking under twinkly lights and bunting, I couldn't help but think it might be fun to have something similar for our wedding...more of a "fest" than a party. We'll be heading to New Jersey for Easter to visit our first few venues, and I have to admit, I'm kind of excited. I've never been bitten that hard by the wedding bug, but it is fun to think about gathering all the people most special to us for a celebration of our newest adventure.

And of course, we've been busy in the kitchen lately too...

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While I'm still very conscious about sugar consumption, my latest goal has been to shift toward natural sugars. And dates are the candy of the natural world.

I occasionally get really excited about trying some new ingredient and rush to buy it before I've developed any real plans. And so we've had a bottle each of rosewater and orange blossom water sitting in our fridge for months. I had no idea what to do with them. But they both pair beautifully with the pistachios in this recipe...these stuffed dates remind me a lot of the desserts you find in Indian cuisine.

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Aromatic Pistachio Stuffed Dates

Ingredients:
1/2 cup roasted pistachios
2 tbsp sesame tahini
1 tbsp coconut oil
2 tsp rosewater or orange blossom water
dash of salt (optional)*
16-24 pitted dates

*If your tahini and pistachios are both unsalted, a dash of salt is recommended. Otherwise, there's probably enough in your other ingredients.

1. Add the pistachios, tahini, coconut oil, rosewater, and salt (if using) to a food processor. Blend until the mixture holds together.
2. One at a time, slice the dates down one side and stuff with about a teaspoon of the filling. Continue until all the filling is used. Refrigerate and serve cold.

3.04.2013

february instagram challenge

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Well, I made it through the FMS February Photo a Day challenge!

It was well worth the effort. Having to find inspiration every day was a great creative challenge, and made me reflect more on how all the things around me speak to me. Instagram in general is good for that. It trains your eye to see beauty and capture the quieter moments that paint a bigger picture of your happiness.

Above are the five most popular photo-a-day shots from last month.

1. February 17: In your hand
2. February 25: On your bedside table
3. February 5: Something you smelled
4. February 14: Love is...
5. February 19: I am...

I think I'll take a break from the fun next month. Towards the end it got dangerously close to feeling like a chore, and you know I don't want to taint my love for instagram.

Thanks to those of you following along and leaving fun comments! To see my other shots, check out my instagram.

xoxo

3.01.2013

natural beauty - hair

This is definitely my favorite natural beauty area to talk about, because it seems like everyone wants to do it, everyone is a little intimidated, and everyone who tries it loves it! But it's worth remembering to clean up your face, body, and makeup routines too.

Besides health, what are other reasons to switch to natural hair care?
Toxic shampoos strip your hair of its oil, making it overcompensate and overproduce. You'll find that a natural, gentle routine will allow you to wash your hair less often. I probably wash 2-3 times a week, but I know people who've gotten it down to once!

What should I expect when switching to natural hair care?
There will likely be a period when your hair will be detoxing, and you'll have more oil than you're used to. While I've heard this can last up to a few months, everyone I know (myself included) hasn't suffered for more than a couple of weeks. If it's a problem, just grab yourself some dry shampoo for troubling days. And of course, you can always just wash as needed...if you keep up your daily washing for awhile, the transition period shouldn't be too tough.

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I actually found the transition to natural hair care pretty easy. I tried maybe one or two shampoos I didn't like, but can't even remember what they were. So instead of telling you what didn't work, I'll share three systems I really loved and why I transitioned from each.

The No Poo method requires that you wash your hair with baking soda diluted in water, and condition with apple cider vinegar diluted in water. I did this for about six months, and it was great for detoxification. I ultimately didn't stick with it because I missed the lather and the smell, and got sick of mixing it up myself.  Since I do still wash my hair pretty regularly (especially after the gym), I also found that this was a little too drying for my scalp.

The Morrocco Method website promises miracles for your hair. I didn't follow their whole system, so I couldn't tell you if it really delivers. I did use their shampoos for almost two years though. I didn't see any miraculous changes, but I can tell you that their products are so clean and non-toxic. The scents are earthy and herbal, but very pleasant.

These shampoos are clay-based, so they don't lather at all. I also found that I needed to use quite a bit and wash twice in order to really feel like my hair was clean. During the winter, Morrocco Method isn't moisturizing enough for my scalp either, and I still missed the lather...

I. love. this. stuff. The smell is great, the lather is perfect, and it leaves my hair super, super soft. You only need a little bit, and washing feels so gentle...I can run my fingers through my notoriously tangly hair while it's wet and full of shampoo. After rinsing, it doesn't get that squeaky clean feeling from the stripping done by toxic shampoos. I wasn't sure the perfect 5-star reviews on the website were real, but I'll be adding mine as well!

Plus, this company is run and owned by an adorable German couple. Extra points!

IMG_3293

Other Products I Like

I occasionally use Kiss My Face mousse and California Baby detangling spray. There are lots of non-toxic options for hair products, but I've found that I've gotten more in touch with my hair's natural behavior and don't use nearly as many products or heat style nearly as often.

~~~

Thanks for all your wonderful suggestions in past posts. Keep them coming!