Vegan Living 101: Building Your Kitchen

Lately, I’ve been considering what a vegan pantry should look like. There are things I have kept in stock at all times, even before I fully claimed veg*n status. All kitchens should share the same basic skeleton, vegan or not.

Being a student, working retail only part time, I don’t get to splurge on fancy meals every day. Creativity is essential, and dry goods are my friend.

Every vegan kitchen should have a well stocked pantry. The most important things are salt, pepper, olive and/or coconut oil, and a variety of herbs & spices. In my opinion, these are non-negotiable.

What spices & herbs (aside from salt & pepper) do I always have on hand?

  1. Sage
  2. Oregano
  3. Thyme
  4. Curry Powder
  5. Rosemary
  6. Cinnamon
  7. Cayenne
  8. Marjoram
  9. Bay Leaves
  10. Chili Powder
  11. Onion Powder
  12. Diced Dehydrated Garlic (or Shallots, or both!)
  13. Cumin
  14. Turmeric
  15. Red Pepper Flakes
  16. Chervil
  17. Vanilla, Almond, and Peppermint extracts
  18. Cacao Nibs or Powder

It’s nice to have this selection, especially when it comes time to making soup or cooking up a big batch of lentils or beans. The bay leaves help if someone is transitioning into a lentil/legume rich diet, as they apparently help break down the starch that causes stomach distress/gas. Plus, bay just makes any soup, stew, or pasta dish taste great! Just remember that bay leaves are designed to enhance flavor and to never be eaten.

Other essentials are dried beans & lentils. Beans & lentils are often considered the backbone of veg*n protein. A 1-lb bag of beans or lentils usually costs $1 or $2. A pound of legumes can feed a person for at least a week, if not longer. I say a week, because I love legumes.

Sure, they are carbohydrate rich, so one shouldn’t eat a huge mound of them. The carbohydrates in beans & lentils are comprised mainly of fibre, and let’s be real here, fibre is very essential to one’s overall health. I feel that fibre is just as important as protein & fat.

I consistently have a airtight container full of lentils. I love how versatile lentils are. You can make soup, stews, burgers, “meat”balls, chili, “meat” sauce for pasta, taco/burrito/fajita filling, or loafs out of them. In fact, sometime soon, I am going to actually try making burgers out of lentils.

If soaking & cooking beans isn’t your thing, I totally understand. You certainly can opt for the canned variety. However, canned beans always have a higher sodium content, even the low/reduced sodium kinds. Also, canned beans end up always being more expensive than the dried variety. I will always soak a large batch of beans the night before I have a day off, then cook them in the morning. Or, I’ll let them soak while I’m at work or school and cook them when I get home.

In my pantry, I also keep a variety of grains. Oatmeal is always there. I love oatmeal for breakfast. It also can be used for other dishes as a binder, and, of course, cookies. Quinoa is a grain that is great for veg*ns, as it has a decent amount of protein in it. And, apart from potatoes, I was raised with barley as a cheap, nutritious, and filling starch. I love barley. Sometimes, I’ll have a barley & oatmeal mixture for breakfast. And, I find myself wanting barely more than I want rice. Rice is a great staple to have, but I always opt for brown or wild rice. However, I find myself eating barley & quinoa more often.

I’m also a fan of nuts and nut butters. I know that some people are allergic to one or all nuts, so if this is you, ignore this little section. My favorites are almonds and cashews. There is always a bag of either or both hanging out. I also consistently have almond butter on the ready. I’ve found that a handful almonds is the closest thing veg*ns have to an egg… With the added benefit of fibre. Sure, there might be less iron, but that’s what spinach & kale are for.

When people ask me for advice on transitioning into a veg*n diet, the main question is “what do I do about protein?” Well, beans, lentils, nuts, and dense vegetables have sufficient protein for the average human being. But, if you are of the mindset that protein is king, I always suggest investing in a well-balanced vegan protein powder. I’m a huge fan of Vega powder and PlantFusion powder. PlantFusion is wonderful, because the have a variety of flavors, as well as unflavored. Many vegan athletes will often use the unflavored version to enhance mashed potatoes, oatmeal, or other savory dishes. I like the unflavored in a strawberry & almond-coconut milk smoothie. On a daily basis, I use PlantFusion chocolate powder, because I’m a chocoholic. I mix it with Almond Dream Unsweetened Chocolate (almond, duh) milk. So, the protein factor is easy for us veg*ns to deal with.

Last, a veg*n truly invested in their health should, of course, have a fridge constantly stocked with vegetables. But, remember, never buy more than you know you’ll eat. No one should be wasting any food!!

My dream fridge would be full of almond & coconut milk, colourful vegetables, and enough lentils/legumes to last the week. My dream freezer would be full of vegan sorbet & SoDelicious Simply Strawberry Coconut Milk ice cream. (No, SoDelicious is not sponsoring this post. I just love that specific ice cream so much.)

These are my staples, and I fell that every new & seasoned veg*n should invest in the same. Buying in bulk & having airtight containers are very helpful. Remember, our health is a constant journey. We need to treat ourselves & our planet well. And, we all choose our diets for different reasons. I have chosen this for myself, because it feels right to me. If you don’t agree with the veg*n lifestyle/diet, that is absolutely fine & [most of us] veg*ns respect that.

[This is just a little preemptive disclaimer: I am not a licensed doctor or nutritionist. Please just take what is written here at face value. This is what works for me and has worked for me for almost two decades. And, through discussions, this is what works for many veg*ns. If you are deciding to transition into a veg*n diet, please do further research, including talking to a licensed nutritionist and your primary care physician.]

Vegan Living 101: Personal Transformation

After deciding to do pieces on vegan living, my mother and I embarked on a weight loss journey. It is The Fast Metabolism Diet by Haylie Pomory. So far, it has proved to be quite reasonable. I’m on day eight (of 28), and have lost about two or three pounds. Where I see it the most is around my chin and midsection. The most important factor is that I’m not required to forgo my quest for personal veganism. This diet is suitable for most people searching for optimal health. It’s broken into three phases per week and done for a total of four weeks. We are to eat five times a day: 3 meals & 2 snacks.

On Phase 1, we are supposed to load up on healthy, wholesome carbohydrates, such as oatmeal, barley, quinoa, brown rice and sprouted grains. Included in that is a lot of fruit. And, throughout the entire process, there is a focus on unlimited vegetables. Protein is included in two of the meals, and as a veg*n, I have to rely on lentils & legumes. These are the easiest two days for me, as I love me some grains and lentils.

Phase 2 is somewhat difficult for me, as it is protein heavy. The author (who has a BA in Animal Science & is a trained nutritionist) wants people to avoid soy for 28 days. She makes an exception for vegans on these two days, because she knows that a lot of natural vegan protein is somewhat fibre/carbohydrate dense. We are allowed edamame, tempeh, and tofu. I hate tofu, so that’s a no go. Frankly, tempeh isn’t my favorite. And edamame? That gets boring very quick. I have a couple vegan protein powders that are similar to the ones the author sells on her website. The ones I’ve found are half the price, so that helps. These two consecutive days are difficult because eating vegetables all day long can get a bit tedious. Also, drinking a protein shake that’s made with water instead of the unsweetened almond milk I usually use is not as delightful.

Phase 3 has a focus on healthy fats, such as olive & coconut oils, raw nuts & seeds, and nut butters. Again, this isn’t difficult for me. I love cashews, almonds, sunflower seeds, coconut milk, hummus… The list is endless. There is less of a focus on protein & carbohydrates, however, we start the day with a grain, have a couple pieces of fruit throughout the day, and can have an optional grain in the evening. But, frankly, I am usually pretty satisfied by the end of the day. I’d happily have a huge salad with some lentils or kidney beans topped with olive oil & lemon juice.

But, I have three more weeks, and I am doing this for the good of my body. I hope that this can train me to eat in a much more mindful and wholesome way. The logic makes sense, and a lot of what I am reading is stuff I have heard before from nutritionists and fitness buffs. It’s the practice that is the hardest. And, our bodies usually need at least four weeks to truly start to adjust to changes we make.

I do hope that in 20 days, I’ll be able to have half a cup of the So Delicious Simply Strawberry Coconut Milk ice cream waiting patiently for me in the freezer & be happy with that half cup. I hope that my body adjusts to this change and I don’t have to be so regimented, while not worrying if I’ll put on all the weight I’ve dropped.

After I complete the 28 days, I might do one more. After that, I plan on eating mindfully for 4-6 weeks, then doing a week of this, just to keep my body in check. She likens this process to cross training. This allows us to get our bodies out of a rut and get our organs working a bit better than they were. [Just a side note, I feel that this diet really should be called an internal reset, or spring cleaning for one’s health.]

Ms. Pomeroy does suggest we continue with the diet until we reach our goal weight (clothing shift, for me). After we attain our goal(s), we then maintain our metabolism & results be treating every day as it is Phase 3, but passing all allowed foods in each meal and snack. So, I could easily start the day with oatmeal & cinnamon, then have an apple & a protein shake made with almond milk as a snack. For lunch, I could have a salad filled with all the veggies & legumes I love, and for another snack I could have cucumber & cashews or some fruit. I could end my day with a wholesome meal, and feel full & happy. On days that I exercise, I’ll allow myself a tasty treat, such as my favorite ice cream. And, if I go out to eat with friends, I’ll do a Phase 2 day the next day. No one is perfect and maintaining health takes work.

I have been a fairly poor eater the last few years, not eating regularly and consistently skipping breakfast. And, I had a major relationship with Coke Zero. I still get cravings for it, but I’m happy without it. My main thing is running. I hate running with food in my stomach. This might force me to run early in the day. I’ll have an apple & almond butter half an hour before I run, then eat some oatmeal after I’m finished. This is definitely something that I feel will get my metabolism on the right track.

Anyway, I do hope I find success. I am just glad that this has pushed me head on into changing my lifestyle to be vegan. My diet has been completely vegan for 8 days. I love the way I feel, and after I get through the next three weeks, I will start putting more focus on lifestyle changes.

Vegan Living 101: Beginning

For a good portion of my life, I’ve been a quasi- to full-blown vegetarian. Seafood was the first thing to go, and I can’t even remember the last time I ate anything from the sea. Chicken was the last to go. For 11 years, chicken was the only meat I consumed, and, while I only ate it once or twice a year, I felt guilty doing so. For the last seven years, I haven’t touched any kind of animal flesh. However, I do occasionally have a splash of milk in my coffee if I’m at brunch and don’t want to make a fuss. I’ll also have the occasional bit of cheese and I’m trying my hardest to breakup with milk chocolate.

Soon, I’ll be living by myself, like I did just over a decade ago. This will be perfect for me to fine tune my vegan cooking skills. The only person I’ll have to feed every day is myself, so I can have complete control over the food that is kept and the food that I eat.

For those of you who don’t understand what veganism is all about, the simplest way to describe it is: a choice to abstain from any animal product or byproduct in everyday life, including nutrition, clothes, household items, cosmetics, and personal hygiene products. (The link provided is the Vegan wikipedia entry, and I feel like it does a good job explaining concepts.)

This means that the diet a vegan eats is completely void of anything that falls under the animal classification, including their excretions. One thing that drives us crazy is when a veg*n (an umbrella term that is inclusive of all vegetarians & vegans) gets asked “but you still eat fish, right?” This is a question that we get asked constantly and often results in some fierce eye rolling or a gobsmacked laugh. Sometimes, we’ll be blunt and ask “were you asleep when your fifth grade teacher taught you about animal classification?” Other times, we’ll be kind and say, “thanks for asking, however fish are technically animals, so we abstain from eating fish,” while screaming on the inside.

Here is a list of things vegans get asked if they eat, but don’t:
1. Fish/Shellfish/etc.
2. Honey
3. Poultry (this one really baffles me)
4. Milk/Cheese/Eggs
5. Anything with gelatin in it (i.e. most gummy candy, anything that is a mass produced gel)

I live in a part of the States that considers itself progressive and liberal. It was a hotbed of counter-culture activity in the 60s & 70s. Even with the runoff from that, I find that people are really confused by the concept of veganism. When having a discussion about it, I have found it turns out that people are confused by even the concept of vegetarianism.

So, a series of blog posts is born! I’m going to share a few posts that cover a variety of topics regarding veganism. These posts will include (and aren’t limited to) pantry & fridge staples, vegan candy, vegan cookbooks, vegan cosmetics & beauty products, vegan fashion, misconceptions, personal meal plans for 1, 3, and 7 days, and my favorite recipes.

Please contact me with any questions or possible topics you would like me to cover. Also, please know that I am not a nutritionist, chef, or MD. The information I am giving is purely from my own research, discussion with other people who live a vegan lifestyle, conversations with nutritionists & doctors, and my opinion. I’ll will be citing the information that I give you & will clarify if something is an opinion. If you don’t like or agree with my opinion, I do ask that you remain respectful in your approach. Part of veganism is respect for fellow beings, human and non-human.

Happy trails!!

Current Faves

Nubian Heritage: Soaps & Deodorant
Maybe a year or two ago, I saw a newish brand of body care at the “holistic” pharmacy in town. I was looking for something to help exfoliate my feet. It was summer time and I’m wearing flip-flops. Nubian Heritage’s African Black Soap seemed as though it was the best choice. And, boy, was it ever!? Lately, I’ve gotten back into using bar soaps instead of shower gels. I’m about to break open the Coconut & Papaya bar (a golden standard in my life). Earlier this year, I noticed that the brand came out with deodorant. As I love the smell of their Coconut & Papaya products, I got a C&P stick. I absolutely love it! Sure, it is just a deodorant, so my underarms still get moist. But, I smell good throughout the day, and the smell isn’t overwhelming. The other day, I bought a fresh stick, but in their African Black Soap variety. I’m going to test it out this week and see how the smell works.

Rocksbox
After browsing Beauty By Britanie, I noticed a little ad banner on her page. I’ve been trying to spruce up my jewelry game (hence the chloe+isabel gig). I was tempted to click on the ad, because who doesn’t want to try out new jewelry for a month? How Rocksbox works is that you sign up, take a style quiz, and, if you have time, browse some jewelry & add pieces to a wishlist. The quiz & wishlist both help their stylists choose what to send in each box. Once you get a box, you can keep the jewelry as long or as little as you want, send them all back or keep them all (you’ll have to pay for them if you want to keep them). If you purchase all the pieces, Rocksbox will just send you a new box of jewelry to try. I’ll be honest, this might be a dangerous new fave. I signed up on Wednesday (June 17th), received my first box on Saturday (June 19th), fell in love with the earrings that came in the box, purchased them for $17 instead of $35, and sent back the other two pieces. I’m hoping that by next Saturday, I’ll be getting my second box. YIKES! If you want to try it out for a month (for free) use the link!

Farm Sanctuary
This will be a forever favorite. If you don’t know about Gene Baur & Farm Sanctuary, you should. Even if you are an omnivore, Farm Sanctuary is a great organization for anyone with a shred of compassion and concern for the planet. With three locations (two in California, one in New York), Farm Sanctuary takes in injured, stranded, sick, and/or abused animals (primarily for the “farm” variety). At each sanctuary, these animals are given the chance to heal and live a happy, full life. As a vegetarian with a soft spot for farm animals, I fell in love with the organization a few years ago. I got the chance to meet Gene Baur, the founder of the organization. His humbleness and kind spirit, and the fact he has personally responded to emails I have sent him, made me even more of a fan. It helps when founders/CEOs are down to earth and live the essence and core of their organizations. If you get a chance, please read Gene’s books (Farm Sanctuary and Living the Farm Sanctuary Life). And, if you ever find yourself in Orland (CA), Los Angeles (CA), or Watkins Glen (NY), I highly suggest you take a tour of one of the Sanctuaries.

Product Love: Body Care

To be honest, I don’t spend too much time or effort on body care products. I always love clean hands and hand wash seems to be the one body care product I’m always overly replenishing. Lotions and creams, well, I have quite a few because I love both the smell & the feel. Do they get used, though? Not really. I only ever have the patience to moisturize my hands, arms, and chest. I rarely find myself splurging on ‘luxury’ body care for that reason. I’ve noticed that almost all of my favorite body care products can be found at Whole Foods, Pharmaca, or any other ‘holistic’ pharmacy, supermarket, etc.

Warning: you might see a theme with many of the products that I love! (I’m a sucker for any thing citrus.)

My favorite hand wash is the Avalon Organics Lemon Hand Wash. The company states that the hand wash contains 70% organic ingredients. Sure, that is by US standards, but it is still better than nothing, right? The first ingredient is Aloe Leaf Juice, which we all know is hydrating and healing. There are no harsh surfactants and no other nasty ingredients. Using just a small amount, the wash leaves my hands clean and smelling fresh. The scent isn’t overwhelming and it is a scent that is generally not offensive to most. And, I always appreciate the $7.99 price tag. I especially love when Whole Foods or Pharmaca has a sale on the brand. Every once in awhile, both stores will sell the brand at 20% off.

Copyright Avalon Organics

To make life easy, my current favorite hand & body lotion is the counterpart to the hand wash: Avalon Organics Lemon Hand & Body Lotion. Again with the non-offensive scent, this is a winner in my life and is the lotion I keep out for visitors to use. At $12 a bottle, I really don’t mind sharing. The company has the same 70% organic ingredients claim on the bottle. The consistency of the lotion is wonderful: never too heavy, yet very nourishing. This lotion is usually in the bathroom to ensure that I’ll get some hydration on my body after I shower or bathe.

Copyright Avalon Organics

On my desk in my bedroom, I keep Aveda’s Hand Relief Moisturizing Creme ($24). I never splurge on hand creme. This was an add on gift my mother gave me for my birthday. This creme I use only once or twice a day, as it is definitely more luxurious than my $8 Avalon Organics lotion. I love that this creme hydrates deeply without leaving a greasy film. There is a very delicate citrus scent (again, with the citrus). This creme is especially useful during the winter when my body seems to dry up more than usual.

Copyright Aveda

When it comes to body wash, I am not the most picky person. As long as it doesn’t have a bunch of unnecessary crap in it and it smells good, I’m happy. Lately, I have been using Andalou Naturals for body wash. It is a (somewhat) local line for me, with their headquarters and distribution center no more than 60 & 80 miles away from home. As far as the scents go, I’m fond of Mandarin Vanilla and Citrus Verbena. Andalou has been revamped a little and have added a few scents. I can’t wait to try them!

Copyright Andalou Naturals

I’ve recently fallen in love with a product a few vloggers have been talking about (Fleur de Force, in particular). For a year or so now, I’ve been meaning to try Lush’s Ro’s Argan Body Conditioner. I put it off because it’s not cheap. At $33, I hesitated every time I considered buying it. But I am so glad I did!! I’m horrible at hydrating my body. It’s rare for me to put lotion or cream on regularly. This is essentially a lotion you put on in the shower and rinse off. The thought of doing that completely baffled me at first. It seemed completely illogical. After reading the ingredients, it started to make sense. As it is full of wonderful oils, it ends up creating this hydrating barrier on your body. This is the last product I use, right after putting conditioner in my hair. Don’t worry, I’m good about turning off the water while I let both do good work. After a couple minutes, I turn the water back on and rinse off from head to toe. And, this smells divine. It has a light rose scent mixed with something sweet, almost gourmand. Technically it is supposed to be a “rose jam” scent. This has helped my skin immensely; it is smoother and less irritable.

Copyright Lush Cosmetics

These are just a few of my current favorites. They are definite guilt free products as they are from environmentally conscious brands and the majority of the ingredients are naturally derived. Most of them are wallet friendly, and the expensive ones will be reserved for special treats.

What are your favorite body care items? Please share!

Sweatin’ My Way To Happiness

I’ve mentioned it before and I’ll keep mentioning it: I ran my first half marathon 13 months ago. This past year has been somewhat overwhelming and I’m sad that I didn’t participate in another run. The plan was to do the same one again. Due to school, the loss of my beloved Pushkin, and that wave of depression that took over for a few months, I put aside my overall health.

The idea of running an entire 13.1 miles (i.e.. only slowing down to drink some water, no walking whatsoever, etc.) has been lingering in the back of my mind. I’ve decided that because I love the idea of getting out of the Bay Area, I will use the Portland R&R half marathon on mid-May as an amazing excuse to get out of town. This trip will be a completely positive one.

I have six months to train for this half marathon. Six solid months of getting to the gym, hitting hiking trails, eating well, and taking honest care of my body. Setting this goal for myself is exactly what I need. There is no “I must drop 50lbs and/or four dress sizes,” just a simple goal of exercising, eating well, and being mentally prepared to run for 13.1 miles.

A week ago, I started back at my gym, spending at least 45 minutes on the treadmill. As I haven’t really run much this past year, I’m starting slow and easy, walking between 3.6-3.8 miles per hour and varying the incline. The regular cardio will help my muscles and heart ease into the action of running. I am also very mindful to do strength training as well. Having strong muscles, a strong heart, and strong lungs will make training a breeze.

My plan for the next one and a half/two months is to stick to 45-65 minutes on the treadmill, varying the speed and incline, easing the running into it. By January, I hope to do two or three consistent 2-5 mile runs per week. Also, by then, I hope to have a good strength training program down, doing it once or twice a week.

Nutrition is a huge deal. Much like exercise, what I eat will instantaneously determine how I feel, as well as determining how an entire day, week, or month will turn out. I am back to being more mindful what I am putting into my body. The way I see it, I should put into my body what I expect it to put out. The more colorful, tasty, enticing, enriching the food, the more stable energy I will have. My body will be able to rebuild itself more appropriately with the proper fuel. And, there is no point in hopping on a treadmill for two or three hours a week if I’m not going to eat the right food. I have to remind myself that the worse I eat, the longer I have to exercise. And that time spent chugging away at tedious exercise could be spent at a dance class or on a bike ride or outside hiking with friends.

Come May, I hope to be a positively different person. I am not going to put any pressure on myself to “succeed” at this half marathon. If I run the entire way, AMAZING! If I get to a point where I have to walk a mile, that’s still great. As long as I cross that finish line, I’m happy. It is the journey I am taking right now that is the most important. It is all about the happiness and positive shift I am creating within myself.

Dear readers, what are some healthy things you like? It could be a healthy dish, a form of exercise, an event you like to attend. Please share!

Skin Issues: Sensitivity & Dermatitis

Oh my gosh, it’s been too long! Many apologies!

This post is unfortunately inspired by my reactive skin. About a week ago, I noticed my skin started to feel more delicate than usual. I assumed it was just the weather, as we got a few days of rain after they usual dry winter air. Many people feel a change in their skin when that happens. What was just dry, uncomfortable, itchy skin from head to toe went to inflammed, lobster red, burning skin on my face, neck and chest. My main eczema-type spot on my left wrist even got irritated for the first time in over a year. It turns out, the excessive heat that kept getting blasted in my workplace aggravated it. Even after my requests to keep the store at an even 68-degrees, it ended up feeling like a hotbox to many. You can only imagine how uncomfortable I felt. Sweat, clothes made out of synthetic fabric, constant movement, and naturally warm human beings corralled in one decently sized room that is over heated is never an ideal location for someone with reactive skin. The general concensus is that I’ve got a case of dermatitis. I almost went to urgent care tonight, but want to give it one more day. Plus, I’ve got a bunch of school work that needs to get done.

Last Friday, I splurged and bought a Clarisonic Mia2. We sell them where I work & I was able to get one with a few extra free goodies in the box (including a small face wash I can’t use, but I’m sure a friend will). I spent $105 on a $225 value!! Honestly, I wouldn’t have bought it if that wasn’t such a great deal. Because my skin got worse over the weekend, on Sunday I bought a golden standard for sensitive skin: Ren’s HydraCalm Cleansing Milk, which now called Evercalm Gentle Cleansing Milk. (Of course, I had the means and had to buy a top seller: Ren’s Glycol Lactic Radiance Renewal Mask.)

So, let me share what I’ve been doing the last couple days to calm my skin down. In the evening, I’ll take a makeup wipe and take off any traces of stuff. Then, I wet down the Clarisonic brush head & add the cleansing milk just before splashing some water on my face. Then I’ll Clarisonic my face. After finishing that & drying off, I’ll spray my face with Caudalie’s Grape Water. Once that has been pat down & my skin is dry, I’ll moisturize with either plain organic coconut oil or Ren’s Frankincense Night Cream.

So far, my skin feels calmer. Today, the temperature at work was less hot and I wore a cotton shirt to allow my skin to breathe a bit. I’m still itchy & red, but I am less swollen and hot. Now, I have a mug of white tea and a large glass of water. I’m keeping hydrated internally to help. The plan is to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.

Does anyone else have any experience with dermatitis or any other skin irritations? I’d love to hear feedback.

TYT Again!!!

Happy Thursday everyone! You know what that means!? It’s another Treat Yourself Thursday post! w00t!!

Last week, I got y’all started with a playlist to take yourself on a walk with. I hope you were inspired to get out there and move. I know I was!

I work retail, so I interact with a slew of personalities. Most of them are amazing & positive, but like life, there are always a select group of “interesting” people. I’m sure you’ve all met these kinds of people. You know, the ones that leave you saying to yourself “shake it off…”

So this week, I’m going to share with you my way of relaxing and recharging after a long day on my feet.

I am a huge fan of aromatherapy. As humans, we are all wired to associate different smells with different emotions and reactions. My bathroom and bedroom are both always stocked with specific essential oils: Lemon, Orange, Peppermint, Rosemary, and Eucalyptus. For many people, the true scent citrus fruits are refreshing and uplifting. They help clarify the mind. Peppermint does the same, as well as offers a cooling sensation. For me, rosemary is grounding as well as clarifying. And, we all know how well eucalyptus works for our sinuses during colds. Like peppermint, it opens up nasal passages & cools any heat or discomfort we may feel.

These five essential oils aren’t very expensive, which is why I am happy to keep a constant supply of them. Depending on the brand and amount you are purchasing, they range anywhere from $3-$12 per vial. Not too bad, as you don’t need much of any of them during each use.

I use essential oils in many different things. But, I won’t overload you! Instead, I’ll share a couple different ways of using aromatherapy to help relax yourself.

[Lil’ legal disclaimer: I am not a licensed aromatherapist, naturopath, nurse, MD, et cetera. These are things that have worked for me safely and work for many people. However, I do suggest you please consult a licensed ND or MD if you have any major health concerns. Thank you!]

Refreshing & Calming Foot Soak:
Tub big enough to soak feet and ankles in (use bathtub if you must)
Warm water (I like fairly hot water myself)
10-15 drops Peppermint Oil
10-15 drops Eucalyptus Oil
10 drops Rosemary Oil (optional)
After you have filled your bucket/tub/bath with enough warm/hot water, add the essential oils. Please make sure the temperature is safe enough to submerge your feet and ankles in! Get settled in a comfy seating position & soak your feet. I like to soak my feet for 15-25 minutes, adding hot water a couple times. After soaking, dry off your feet and follow with any lotion you like. I usually use the Aveda foot lotion or argan oil with peppermint & rosemary essential oils. The heat, water, and essential oils will help with any pressure, swelling, and circulation issues standing for extended periods of time can cause. The weightlessness of the water takes pressure off joints & tendons, allowing blood to circulate better, which assists with any swelling. Peppermint, eucalyptus, and rosemary all assist with circulation, drainage, and detoxification. [Again, not a chemist, naturopath, ND, MD, nurse, or aromatherapist. Not everything works the same for everyone. Capisce?]

Uplifting Body Hydration & Stimulation:
Argan Oil, Coconut Oil, or Unscented Body Lotion
5-15 drops Lemon Essential Oil
5-15 drops Orange Essential Oil
5-15 drops Lime Essential Oil
5-10 drops Rosemary Essential Oil
5-10 drops Peppermint Essential Oil
This works best right after a shower. The reason why there is such a variance in the drop amount is because it depends on how much of your body you are going to massage. You’ll see the main focus is the citrus oils. They are naturally happiness inducing. For most people, we associate citrus smells with warmth, joy, happiness, and cleanliness. The citrus oils also help brighten the skin. And, the rosemary & peppermint essential oils are there to help with circulation, detoxification, and fluid drainage. What I find easiest to do is to work section by section. In your hands get just enough argan or coconut oil or body lotion, add a few drops of each essential oil, then work it into your skin. For my skin & body long circular motions seem to work the best. I’ll do one thigh, then the other, then each calf seperatly. Then I’ll do each arm seperately, then I’ll do my torso last. The two places I save for absolute last are the back of my neck and chest. These two places are where I seem to hold most of my tension. Also, it is nice to have the scent of the essential oils still fresh when I get into bed.

I do hope you enjoy these little things to pamper yourself with. If you don’t have the time or patience to do either of those, you can still do aromatherapy! One drop of an essential oil warmed up in the palms of your hands will still brighten your day! Find one you love, and a few times throughout the day place one drop in the palm of your hand, warm it up with both palms, then cup your hands around your mouth & nose and inhale/exhale slowly & deeply a few times. This is a great way to take a one minute break to reset your mind. You’re smelling something that has a positive effect on your brain, you are slowing down for a minute, and you are getting some good oxygen flow to your heart & brain.

Enjoy your Labor Day weekend, all you Americans reading this!!

Treat Yourself Thursday!

I’m not sure if anyone else does this, but I’m going to start! Every Thursday, I will offer something fun you can do for yourself to lift your mood & take care of your wellbeing (physical, emotional, spiritual, etc.). And, if you keep watch, something might just be in store for a lucky reader!

Today’s Treat will be a playlist to be played during a leisurely stroll. Walking, no matter the pace, is an amazing action pretty much anyone can do. Taking 20-30 minutes out of your day to go for an intentional walk is not only great exercise, but a way for you to process your emotions. If you’ve had a particularly stressful day, taking yourself on a walk by yourself allows you to take inventory of why you feel stressed & formulate a way of letting go. Also, exercise is a natural stress reliever in general. It regulates many hormones, including cortisol (stress hormone) and melatonin (hormone that helps dictate your own circadian rhythm & sleep). Walking outside in the sun for 20 minutes will also get you a good dose of natural vitamin D, an essential nutrient that allows your body to absorb other nutrients more effectively.

Treat Yourself Playlist:
Floetic – Floetry
She Gave Me Love – The Getaway People
Radio, Radio – Elvis Costello
Thing of Beauty – Hothouse Flowers
Trouble – Ray LaMontagne
Candles – Daughter
Dreaming – Loudon Wainwright III
Hold On – Alabama Shakes
Bad – Luka Bloom
What You Wish For – Guster
In The Twilight – Alexander
Revolution Song – Fefe Dobson
Motorcycle Emptiness – Manic Street Preachers
La ou je suis nee – Camille
Badass – Kacy Crowley
2000 Miles – The Pretenders

This playlist is just a start and enough to fill a decent walk. I like to mix up my playlists with some faster paced songs with some mellow songs, as variety is always a great motivator. If you do want to try out this playlist, please support the arts and use iTunes or Amazon or some other legal channel to access these songs. And, please check out any artists/bands I mentioned if you haven’t heard of them. I promise, you won’t be disappointed!

Happy Walking!

Summer 2013 Empties

We’re in the first weeks of August and, by my pagan Irish standards, that means summer is officially over & we are in the beginning of autumn. Please, do not make any comments on the “correct” seasons, as pagans and Celts and agriculture have been around a lot longer than the USA has been as an official country.

Currently, I’m not making videos, although I am well aware that an empties post generally does better on YouTube. However, I do want to cover some of my favorite products I’ve finally emptied! Some products were given to me to try, and those will be marked with an asterisk(*) and I am mentioning them because I actually use them, love them, and will repurchase them.

The first to empty is the Sephora Collection Supreme Cleansing Foam. This cleanser I use as primarily as a makeup remover after using a cleansing wipe or cleansing water. This, I feel, is able to get off anything residual on my face. Two pumps on dry skin, then rinsed off, my face is completely clean without feeling tight. It took me awhile to get through one $12 bottle. I don’t wear makeup everyday, and sometimes I am too lazy to follow my cleansing water/wipe with a second clean. Yes, such a terrible habit! Also, I sometimes use the Ren #1 Purity Cleansing Balm as my makeup remover instead of the wipe/water+foam routine.

Next is the Aveda Rosemary Mint Hand & Body Wash (8.5oz/250ml). What an amazing scent combination. For 15 years or so, I have been a fan of the Rosemary Mint collection from Aveda. In fact, I keep a mini bottle of the lotion (which I refill from a larger bottle) in whatever bag I’m carrying so I can keep the smell near me at all times. This hand & body wash is a permanent fixture at my bathroom sink. The scent is fresh, crisp, and clean, which means it’s a hit for both men & women, and is always a hit with guests who use my bathroom. I always buy a new bottle when there is approximately a third left in the “currently in use” bottle. One of these days, I am going to splurge on the litre size & just keep it in my cupboard under the sink to refill the smaller bottle. Or, I will just recycle the smaller bottle & people will have to deal with the huge bottle of hand wash at the sink.

Another product I finally finished is the Ren Resurfacing AHA concentrate*. The bottle that I managed to finish was given to me from the brand, as I had mentioned I wanted to try it. After a few uses, I fell in love with it, so I bought another bottle, so I’d be prepared for when I finished my first bottle. Let me give you a little insight about my skin. Many products with glycolic acid are too harsh for my skin. There are products out there that I am glad I sampled instead of purchased. Many glycolic products that claim to be safe for delicate skin do not work for my delicate skin, even when used more sparingly than directed. For many of these products, within about 12 hours of one use, my skin looked as though I got a professional, medical grade chemical peel, you know, the really intense kind you get done by a dermatologist. Imagine the Sex & The City episode in which Samantha Jones gets a peel done before Carrie’s book launch party & she scares the little girl on the street. My skin wasn’t too far off from what her’s looked like. That’s how delicate my skin is when it comes to glycolic acid. So, you can imagine my excitement when I find a glycolic product that doesn’t rip my skin to shreds. I use this concentrate 1-3 nights per week, depending on how dry I feel. I focus primarily on my nose and forehead. My nose, of course, is the most congested. My forehead has the deepest wrinkles. This concentrate smells amazing and absorbs really quickly into the skin. The morning after, my skin always feels comfortable and more hydrated.

Sticking with the glycolic trend, another “empty” are the Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Daily Peel Pads* in original. Again, a product gifted to me. I absolutely adore these pads. This 2-step system is phenomenal. Designed with glycolic sensitive people in mind, these pads have fairly low amounts of five different acids in step 1: Glycolic, Salicylic (hey, “beauty gurus” – notice how there is no D in salicylic?), Citric, Latic, and Malic. There is also witch hazel, chamomile, Copper & Sodium PCA in step 1. The second step, the neutralizing step, helps prevent over exfoliation and acts as a hydration barrier. I have never had a problem with the glycolic in this system. I can even use it every day, although I don’t out of sheer laziness. I know I’ll have better results if I do use them every day. However, when used 3 times a week (even on nights I use the Ren AHA concentrate), I notice my skin feels & looks fresher, the pores on my nose aren’t as noticeable, and my moisture levels are in check. This system is a must have for anyone, especially those with glycolic sensitivity.

I’m so picky about my unruly, independent willed curly hair. It’s difficult to find products that actually work & continue to work over time. Two products I love and managed to go through quickly are Bumble & Bumble’s Tonic Lotion and Aveda’s Brilliant Damage Control spray. These two sprays have been permanent fixtures in my haircare routine this last year. The Bumble Tonic is a spray that has tea tree oil, peppermint, rosemary, and nettle extract in it to stimulate the scalp & keep it clean. I don’t use shampoo everyday, so I need something to keep my scalp on point. After the shower I squeeze excess moisture out of my hair, then spray some Bumble Tonic, focusing primarily on my scalp. After 20-30 sprays on my scalp & through my hair, I follow with Aveda’s Brilliant Damage Control. This gets sprayed primarily throughout the rest of my hair, as it it is designed to hydrate & protect the hair. Apparently, this is a great heat protectant, but I rarely use heat on my hair. 99% of the time, my hair gets air dried. It is also a UV protectant, which is great, as I am now coloring my hair more frequently. Both of these sprays can be used on hair wet or dry, which is a lifesaver. As I mentioned, I don’t shampoo my hair everyday. In fact, I don’t even (traditionally) wet my hair everyday. These two products work as curl re-stylers, allowing me to reset some wayward curls if I am on the go. I do use other products in my hair, but I switch between a couple different ones, so it takes awhile to get through them. I’ll talk about them in a later post, possibly one about my haircare routine(s).

And, of course I have to mention some non-beauty items that I hold near and dear to my heart. I’m a candle girl. Always have been. A die-hard hippie at heart, I’d rather light a dark room with the glow from candles than the forced, uncomfortable light of bulbs. I made my way through quite a few candles this summer. My favorites were (and still are) Pacifica votives, TruMelange travel tins, and (surprise hit) a Bath & Body Works 3-wick candle.

The Pacifica candles I used and loved were the Indian Coconut Nectar, Persian Rose, and Island Vanilla. When I burned the Rose with either the Coconut or Vanilla, the house smelled luxurious. I couldn’t afford a tropical vacation, so the combination of the rose+vanilla or rose+coconut allowed me to visualize myself on a remote white sand beach. Tru Melange has a couple scents I used this summer, as well as all year round. Harmony was my introduction to the company and I used the scent in the evenings and/or if I was taking a bath. Harmony is a blend of vanilla & peppermint. The warmth of the vanilla mixed with the crisp liveliness of the peppermint allow me to get focused and relaxed before turning in. The other scent I adore is Refresh. This candle blends bergamot & lime together. A classic combination I often associate with drinking tea, this candle always energizes me. On my days off, I’d light a Refresh votive soon after waking. While relaxing or doing simple household chores, I never felt dull, instead happy. Lastly, I discovered a candle at Bath & Body Works that I could actually stand. This summer, they came out with some candles that were supposed to represent different metropolitan areas (and one tropical setting, perhaps). I remember there being a Parisian one, a Greek one, a Tropical one, and a London one. I’m sure there were a couple more. The one I instantly gravitated to was the candle named “London Calling” as that just happens to be where I was born. (I am still a UK citizen, 31 years later, and have lived in the US for 23 years.) This candle claims it is a blend of tea & lemon. And, sure enough, it smells like freshly (but weakly) brewed iced black tea with the juice of a lemon or two. I noticed that I couldn’t burn it too long as the smell filled the house quickly. That goes for any Bath & Body Works candle, I’ve noticed. Because I love these candles, I stocked up on quite a few of them. Bath & Body Works were selling the destination inspired candles for $12, so I bought a couple. And, the local Pharmaca had a 20% off Tru Melange sale, so I bought their entire stock of the Harmony & Refresh travel tins. Seriously, I did. I bought four of each.

My last empty I want to talk about is Traditional Medicinals Linden Flower Tea. I have a hard time sleeping, and don’t want to rely on pharmaceuticals to aid me. I usually use a combination of GABA & Melatonin to help. Sometimes, it is too late to take melatonin, or I have an overly anxious day, so a couple mugs of this herbal tea allows me to fall asleep without any trouble. It is a blend of linden flower, hawthorn, and lemon balm. I didn’t think it would do much other than calm down blood pressure. I was happy to find that the first mug I ever drank of it managed to make me drowsy within 20 minutes of drinking it. That was without any melatonin! Since that first mug, I have been a fan. I’ve noticed I don’t take melatonin as often, which is great, especially as I have become more busy incorporating school with a full work schedule.

These are my current empties! At the end of August, I have a feeling I’ll have more empties and will update you on them. Enjoy!