Sunday, October 27, 2013

Praise Products That Are Built with Science (or in the Kitchen)

“How was it?”
“Ehhh” (the universal noise someone makes when they are stalling’s for a polite answer that doesn't give away too much disappointment).
“Well… it was only as good as water.” My husband was talking about the homemade ‘shave butter’ I crafted with honey and coconut oil once we ran out of the good stuff*.

There are few particular instances when I get crafty with natural products:  the downtime between purchases (a quick replacement until I can get to the store), the result of research, and when the spirit moves me into creating something that doesn't yet exist in real stores. The point is that some things in the better than science natural category truly work, and some are just crap. This article is about the crappy ones so that you, dear reader, do not succumb to wasting time or precious ingredients on these things.

Body Lotion. Body lotion is tricky. I am allergic to a lot of ingredients, and have tried Crisco, coconut oil, cocoa butter, Shea butter, Vaseline, and a combination of these things together. If you’re not picky, then any of these will keep your skin hydrated after a shower, however, sheets and clothes will absorb the oil smell from whatever you choose and you also get the benefit of being a delicious snack-lick for pets.
Toothpaste. I made toothpaste from castile soap, coconut oil, and some eucalyptus essential oil (since I didn't have any mint). I’m saving this recipe for when I go “off the grid” and can no longer go into supermarkets. Seriously, if you’re in a pinch, the high school sleepover trick of using floss and mouthwash is a much better option if you’re going to be in the company of other human beings.
Foot Powder. Baking soda for foot powder. I was borrowing the idea of baking soda making your fridge smell better here, but my shoes became personal foot slip n’ slides for at least two weeks after attempting this.
Steak or BBQ sauce. Over the past five years I’ve made probably 3 or 4 gallons of this stuff and none of it was that good, usually because I was lacking some ingredients (orange zest) or the recipe was overly ambitious (no sugar BBQ sauce that also tasted great).
Hair dye. There are blogs that claim one can change their hair color with lemon, cinnamon, tea or honey. After spending several hours under the cap, I can assure you the difference in the before/after is underwhelming. There’s probably a hair type where each of these solutions works, but since my hair is porous and curly, I might as well go with the dye that’s been formulated to be ‘gentle.’
Conditioner. While we’re on the topic of hair products, I’ll admit that once (or five times) I've used mayonnaise as a deep conditioner. You know what? All this does is make your head smell like egg salad. The number of shampoos required to remove the smell negated any conditioning benefits of the oil.
Lastly, shaving butter. Coconut oil and honey are delicious, but don’t have the physical properties to make for a proper shave.

Those are the major busts. Here is a list of natural items that have worked, with recipes:

Bronzer: 2 TBSP unsweetened cocoa powder + 1 – 3 TBSP starch (corn, tapioca, etc.) You will also smell amazingly delicious to yourself circa six or seven hours into wearing it. This recipe also works as a dry shampoo for dark hair.
Copper pot bottom cleaner: 1 TBSP ketchup + 1 TSP salt. This isn’t as good as Barkeeper’s Friend, but it will make do.
Silver jewelry cleaner: Non-gel toothpaste: I hate tarnish, and I hate getting out the silver cleaner and a rag just for my Claire’s earrings. Nothing beats minty fresh ears!
Sauerkraut: If you can handle the smell, 1 head of shredded green cabbage + 3 TBSP salt + time. I've made some of the best tasting sauerkraut with doubling up gallon Ziploc baggies. Most people make theirs with stone pots or jars. The important thing here is to use good cabbage; red and savoy cabbage make subpar kraut because it’s so dry compared to green cabbage.
Fat free, creamy salad dressing: 1 TBSP fat free Greek yogurt + 1 TSP spicy mustard + 1 TSP honey + enough white vinegar to thin out the mixture enough for your tastes. I make this every couple of days to put on my salads at work. It’s not ranch, but it’s not the ole’ oil and vinegar standby either.
Conditioner: Use enough molasses to cover your head. I’m not sure why this is so great, but my dark curls look phenomenal (even better than a coconut oil soak) after leaving this on for 30 minutes and washing it out. I hear honey works as an equivalent for light hair, but I can't personally verify this.

Protein muffins:
·         1 cup of whey protein
·         1 cup of flour (I use whole wheat pastry or barley but regular is fine)
·         2 TSP baking powder (I use Haines Featherweight no sodium)
·         3 sweetener packets (I use Stevia)
·         ½ TSP cinnamon
·         ½ TSP allspice
·         2 large eggs
·         1 TSP vanilla
·         1 TBSP canola oil
·         ½ C applesauce (no sugar added)
·         ½ C fat free Greek yogurt

Mix all dry ingredients together in one bowl. Mix all wet ingredients together in another bowl. Pour wet ingredients into dry and mix. Pour into ten muffin cups and bake at 350 for 25 minutes.
Depending on the brand of whey used, each muffin contains around 100 calories, 10 grams of protein, less than 3 grams of total fat, and 10-12 grams of carbohydrates.

Some lessons learned about these muffins:
·         If you put more than the described amount of flour or protein in these, they will come out roughly the consistency of rocks.
·         If you use chocolate flavored protein, replace the spices with 1 TSP of unsweetened cocoa powder.
·         Pureed pumpkin can be substituted for applesauce, but the muffins will come out less sweet (they aren't very sweet in the first place).

*Two orders of Shave Butter have been paid for and are shipping directly to our house post haste.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Best Kinds of Sales

“DIVORCE SALE,” was written in big, rushed letters on the sign.

“Honey, do you think we should turn around?” I’m not usually pulled in by sales on the side of the road, especially highways, and especially from people holding signs.

“I think if we’re going to turn around, we should do it right now.”
“No. Because you know what will happen. We’ll buy something very nice for very cheap and get a visit from a very angry person in a week or two.”

“We got all that other nice furniture from a divorce. Just sayin’”
“I know. But it wasn’t purchased from a sad person holding a sign on the highway…”
“She could throw it in the bushes just in case he shows up.”

Ah yes, divorce sales… which are arguably even better than the combined total of estate, yard, and bake sales because there’s an element of one person trying to screw other another (or letting go of “baggage”) in a divorce sale. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Ayn and Nora: Perspective is at the Root of All Decisions

On a sick day, I usually turn to reruns of The Price is Right but this time I settled for a documentary of Ayn Rand (The Sense of Life, 1998). About this time last year, I read Atlas Shrugged, and it stuck with me because the philosophies on servitude and oppression of talent felt evident in my ill-fitting job at the time. I only got through the first hour of the documentary, realizing that the internet might have more engaging (or at least the possibility of unbiased) content of this interesting lady.

I was not disappointed.

After sifting through scores of articles on how she might have had a psychological or mental disorder, I found the story of reuniting with her youngest sister, Nora, to be the most intriguing. After 35 years of no communication, Nora came to visit Ayn in Manhattan. She didn't like America because of the overabundance of choice (known today as decision fatigue), the conveniences of our technology, and a much more tacit issue of having one’s dreams (i.e. freedom) at arm’s length versus in one’s head, where it can remain glamorized and untouched by the burdens of reality.  

This might take a few minutes...
Before reading this article, I wasn't sure why anyone would not like it here. When I was in college, I met a couple of Russian girls my age that definitely preferred to live in their old home versus Maryland. They couldn't quite articulate the issue, and I dismissed it as an offhand comment.* However, the insight of the sisters’ reunion made the stark difference of how we value human relationships and time spent on any given activity. Not that all relationships in America are shallow, but with the heavy emphasis on networking, Facebook friend numbers and general screen time, we spend surprisingly little face time with our friends and family. American culture, with its conveniences and technology, is set up to enable workaholism, consumerism, and indulgence of all waking hours into anything we like. It’s wonderful, but not for everyone.

"To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering." 
- Friedrich Nietzsche

As for achieving one’s dreams or adhering to an archetypal purpose, I’m conflicted because there are a lot of individuals who are satisfied with their current lives and don’t require freedom to fulfill their self-actualization. 
Livin' the dream.
The flavor of American Dream that entails of leading a fuller, richer life may not appeal to such people. There will also be those who are driven, who will do the work and find the place they need to be. For those in between – who are not satisfied with their current position and don’t have the drive for doing something about it – this is a case of clashing or unknown values, which requires some psychological or spiritual digging and a different perspective for resolution.

*The majority of folks who've come here from another country are overwhelmingly positive about being here. Some quotes:
"You know, the best part about being in America is ordering food through the window of your car and being able to eat it inside the car!" 
"I've waited 25 years in order to ride a big roller coaster like this. We don't have them at home."
"You can work hard and move up. Or be lazy and not make money." 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Two Brush Surprise

I have two toothbrushes - one for my teeth, and one for cleaning jewelry and other things that require small bristles (hair clippers, fingernails, etc.). Of course since they are the exact same model, there's a chance for mix up, which happened yesterday. 

Eeeny meeny...

After I re-brushed my teeth with the correct toothbrush (I was afraid I made my teeth dirtier using the 'designated cleaning brush,' ironically), I laughed at myself.

It triggered an old memory where my sis and I incessantly giggled while my grandma brushed her hair at our dresser. 
She finally asked, "What is it?"
"That's the brush we use on the cat HAHAHAHA!!" 
Of course the brush was an old hairbrush we used on ourselves at some point, but was innocuously laying out next to the mirror among jewelry and socks.

This indicates either that history is doomed to repeat, or that I should store 'tools' in a way that makes them obvious they aren't to be used for hygiene. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

Putting Your Work in the River of the Universe

This time last year, I changed jobs in my field. I was excited to have new work and a new crowd, but a few months in the initial energy dissipated and I decided my dream was to leave the organization completely to pursue a creative field. I also decided to give myself five years to pull together a strategy and implement it.
The biggest (or most pressing issue) was that I couldn't find any good resources on how to make this transition. At the time, I was signed up for an online entrepreneurial organization that provided interviews of people who ‘made it’ as specialists in their field, and who made enough money to support themselves. Others in the group were somewhere on the path, figuring out how to act normally in a crowd or how to get feedback on their business ideas. I was somewhere in the middle of that spectrum, and honestly looking for a way to replace my income stream with something else.

I set out multiple fishnets to figure out a path. I informally interviewed five well respected engineers at work on how they managed their careers. Consistently, their response was that they just said yes to whatever came along, which sometimes took them out of their ‘comfort zone.’ They iterated that this was the key to their success. I was happy to find consistency, but I had no idea what the heck they meant without some specifics or context. People tend to learn a lot when they are out of their comfort zone, but that doesn't mean that they become excellent at anything. When I was a technical trainer, which had nothing to do with my engineering degree, I was probably a “B-rated” trainer, as I had no formal grooming, nor did I really care about getting more polished as a speaker, or spent my free time learning how to use the software better.

I also asked people in the entrepreneur forums how they transitioned careers. I got one lonely half-response from a woman who served as a diplomat and is now selling Chinese tea. I asked her all sorts of questions about how she was able to find the opportunities for tea, and how she managed her money situation. She was obviously happy about her business, but I wanted to know how she discovered her calling, and what triggered the switch. As it turns out, people don’t necessarily want to get into these types of details about their lives. Besides the tea seller, I exhausted several other outlets, including a lot of internet research.  I wasn't looking to copy a specific road map, but I couldn't see my own path based on information that only scratched the surface. I wanted to understand everything about the emotional roller coaster of “making it”, as well as any monetary changes. I didn't want to go back to a chaotic financial place.

But at the core of this research, from all of these attempts, I was looking for permission to let my creative work into the world. I wanted my paintings and writing to be “good enough” to exist beyond the safe walls of our home. It’s an incredibly scary world out there, especially after watching the constant tearing down of celebrities and artists on the internet or in the news.  I haven’t put in the 10,000 hours into any one thing (maybe sleeping), and so I don’t necessarily consider myself qualified enough to join the race of fantastic painters and story tellers.

However, the vision and the drive are still there. I have always been able to see a distant light on the horizon of doing something great, of contributing something great in the world.

This past week, I submitted a painting* I’d been working on in my oils class to the media contest at work. It took all the guts I had, because I've committed over a decade of time to studying and applying engineering, efficiency, and data management. I finally let my work “into the river.” I have no idea what will happen, but after submission, I experienced an incredible peace. How funny that I need to prove something like this to myself – even when there’s nothing at stake.

In fact, I’m inspired to do another portrait, maybe this time using an original photo versus copyrighted material.

One day at a time…

*I wouldn't feel right posting a picture of the painting here, as it would invoke copyright infringement. The original picture is Sakuran II by Zemotion, found here.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Synergy of Lifestuffs

Every so often, I troll through my old journals. The journey usually ends up with a self awareness that is either: hilarious, impressive, or circular. Today I found a particular entry from this day in 2005 which hit at least two of the three marks:

Sweet Frog: Perfection in a cup
Most Perfect

The most perfect dinner is family and friends, salad, soup, three different breads, five different spreads, sweet tea, flavorful meat (maybe gravy), two vegetables (one of them green beans), wine, water with bubbles in ice, and dark chocolate with strawberries and whip cream. 

The most perfect boyfriend is one who considers you, the future, how he presents himself, and his family. He balances work and play, and shares all of his interests and friends with you. He likes animals, and makes you laugh. Every once in a while, he'll make you his favorite omelette recipe and help you move apartments.

The most perfect game allows you to be active - a test of skill, strength, and agility. It is one where players wholeheartedly put their energies into, and it's not so much about the winning so much as having the guts to be the winner.

The most perfect sleep is one waking up refreshed. Going to sleep is as easy as smiling at a happy thought, and dreams are saturated with color and funny memories. Waking up is a quiet experience, and the refreshed feeling stays with you all day.

These things are still perfect against the vista of time, even the part about green beans.

Monday, August 26, 2013

How Long Will It Be When We Solve All of Life's Little Mysteries?

Ok, probably never. 

Gah! What IS this flag about??

But in August 2013, we are one step closer to enlightenment. Last month, I noticed a flag on our commute. It was a run-of-the-mill variety flag, proudly stuck at the end of a mailbox. What I noticed though, was that for a week or two, I couldn't discern what was on the flag. My picture taking skills are mediocre at best, mostly because I'm too impatient for the "right moment." Feeling a bit Nancy Drew, I had the dazzling idea of taking a picture of it every day until I could piece together the shape (my husband in the driver's seat course).

Day 1: I forget to take the picture. Doh!
Day 2: The wind assaulted the flag just at the moment I felt could only be the 'right' moment for the day. Shucks. 
Days 3-12: The flag was folded up on itself because the Forecast hovered somewhere between 'rainforest' and 'freak storm.' While technically on a pole, the flag looked like a sad pile of red laundry floating the usual 4 feet off the ground.
Day 13: Maybe it was the practice of taking a picture at 60 mph, but I managed to collect a really decent picture of the flag. The problem was that it was still too far away, and given that we're not in the magical future where one could blow up a myopic pixel to the screen of an iPad (with enhanced resolution), I could only guess at what this object on the flag was.  My guess was it was either a loaf of bread wearing a chef hat or a calculator with a steam cloud coming out of it. In an unofficial Facebook poll, I received a wild variety of answers, the most viable being an adding machine (which was verified by stopping his car and inspecting it one sunny afternoon).

I wasn't satisfied.

Day 14: I discovered the SnappyCam app via Lifehacker, which takes 20 pictures a second from your iPhone. This sounded like a game changer as far as my private investigation was going.

Day 15: The app was downloaded and loading. The slight whine to the start up alerted my husband that I was getting serious. What I didn't know (because I hate reading useful material after 6 pm), was that you didn't have to push the button 20 times per second to get the mindblowing experience that is SnappyCam. Without a fresh cup of coffee, I managed four pictures (much more than my usual one), and a few pictures of my knee. Like all good scientists, I was elated to have made progress. 

Later that evening, I was clued in that if you held down the button continuously, then the camera would take a stream of pictures at 20 per second. So close.

Day 16: I think I took 40 pictures pictures of that flag. But my husband decided to play a trick on me and turned on the windshield wipers at the "right" moment. Gah! I shot him a filthy as he wickedly laughed the whole way home (although I was laughing at how ridiculous this all was).

At this point, I was probably up to 50-60 shots of this flag on my phone. Deleting the 'bad ones' was getting to be a tad stressful, as they all looked like they could give me a smidge of info. 

"It's an adding machine," my husband said.
"How do you know?" I asked.
"I can see it when we pass by," was his response.

Given I was happy as a clam in my denial-fest, I wasn't about to solve this delicious mystery. My sense of wonder about the world and the je ne sais quoi of life stems from the very fact that I don't know stuff, (and my commute was on the cusp of less purposeful if I didn't take these pictures every day).

Day 17: I'm in the driver's seat and my husband promises to take a picture of the flag with my phone. "Weep!" was the familiar start up sound, followed by clicking that rivaled the sounds of a Geiger counter on radioactive spew.
"Let me see," I said. The moment of truth was about to be revealed...

He took a great picture of a flag with an adding machine on it. It is plainly attached to the mailbox with a sign touting in Sans Serif: Shaffer's Accounting. Time for a Scooby Snack.

Whaddya reckon? Would this make you stop to get your taxes done? Would you be relieved to pick out this driveway from the wasteland of other places to stop on the highway?