Monday, October 29, 2012


While spending last weekend in Door County, the beau and I decided to leave the laptops behind, to silence our phones, and to keep the television off. It was only for a weekend, but I found that it made a world of difference for my soul.

I sit at a computer all day for work. When I'm not at my desk for my full-time job, I'm at my home office plunking away on my laptop for my freelance work. I watch an episode of TV on Netflix or Hulu while I eat lunch (I know, I know). I watch TV with the beau to unwind; we are both fans of "Chopped" and the NFL. My workouts usually involve a screen of some sort, either by watching a DVD for my exercise routine or by jumping along to my dance-related video games. I rely heavily on technology for my work and productivity, but it is sometimes more productive to step away from it for a while.

It had been some time since I'd let my soul breathe without screens in proximity.  Granted, I didn't need to go on a mini-vacation in order to unplug... but it sure was nice to look out at Little Sturgeon Bay in the morning, to cozy up to the fireplace in the evening, to read a book or play board games during downtime. It was both relaxing and invigorating to wander various shops in the little towns along the peninsula, to sample wine and apple brandy and fudge and cheese and creamy artichoke dip. It was reassuring to ignore what friends were posting on social network feeds and what I call "useless" news that just exists to fill airtime... ultimately realizing that the world didn't end just because I wasn't hyper-informed.

One of the items on my 30 Before 30 list is to unplug from technology like this for one whole week. An addendum also suggests avoid television for an entire month (and I'd have to count Netflix as television since I predominantly watch that). I'd do this without going on vacation, though I would take the week off from work. Can you imagine how productive I could be if I did that? I could:
  • sort through every box in my basement and post everything expendable on Craigslist or eBay
  • paint my front door and my backyard winterized
  • read a novel or two
  • bake up a storm!
  • paint the canvas that is gathering cobwebs on my easel.
  • make personal stationery out of the scores of scrapbook supplies I have but never used
  • visit parks and attractions in my own city that I haven't had a chance to visit
  • have lunch dates with friends
  • squeeze in some extra workouts
  • set up my tiki bar (yes, I have the elements to make a tiki bar)
  • drop off my clothing and kitchenware donations to Goodwill
  • visit my sister and nephew, or see my grandmother
  • wash all my windows before sealing up the house for winter
  • give myself an at-home spa day with masks, a mani-pedi, and a bubble bath
  • have friends or neighbors over for dinner
Shouldn't I value these things more than watching episodes of a sitcom anyway? It's best if how i use my time accurately reflects what I value. A week of unplugging might help me reset myself to do just that. In fact, as motivation to use my time more wisely, I have temporarily deactivated my Facebook account. We'll see how long I last without it. Who knows... I may never go back!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Redefining Success

Here are two inspiring videos that address the topic of what it means to be successful in life (hint: it's not about making money): 

Alan Watts - What would you do if money was no object?

Alain de Botton - A kinder, gentler philosophy of success

Thursday, October 18, 2012

30 Before 30

Last week I celebrated my 28th birthday.

I love birthdays! I also love goals and lists and trying new things. And I have decided to combine them all into one gigantic deliciously epic proverbial ball of awesomeness:

Here is a meticulously-compiled list of things  in no specific order that I strive to accomplish before I turn thirty years old (henceforth known as the "30 Before 30" List).

  1. Make a short film and submit it to the Milwaukee Film Festival (and other festivals)
  2. Visit a country in Europe (at this point, I'm so anxious to go, I'm not picky!)
  3. Ride in a hot air balloon
  4. Do one pull-up with good form
  5. Take a burlesque class
  6. Go tornado chasing
  7. Eat at Alinea in Chicago
  8. See every film on the AFI Top 100 Movies List (now 123 films with the anniversary edition)
  9. Open a Roth IRA
  10. Drink yak butter tea
  11. Read the entire Harry Potter series and then see all of the films
  12. Help build a house with Habitat for Humanity
  13. Learn the "Thriller" Dance
  14. Learn to drive stick shift
  15. Make cheese
  16. Reach my weight goal of wearing my lucky number as a clothing size (size 6)
  17. Visit an observatory and look at the night sky through a telescope
  18. Take a road trip along Route 66 
  19. Make a website for my film and video works
  20. Finish reading the entire Bible
  21. Unplug completely for one week: no television/phone/internet (also, try no TV for one month)
  22. Master a specific cocktail (maybe one that starts on fire!)
  23. Completely give up using paper towels
  24. Start my own business
  25. Learn to play "No One Knows" by Queens of the Stone Age on my guitar
  26. Do the splits
  27. Receive a handwritten love letter
  28. Buy a Holga camera
  29. Get a henna tattoo
  30. Learn to sew

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Presence of Petroleum

As I've become increasingly conscious of the ingredients in my food, it occurred to me I should also pay attention to ingredients in other products I use. If I care about what I put in to my body, shouldn't I also be concerned about what I put on to my body? This thought progression seemed simple enough, but I can honestly say I didn't give it much thought until this past spring, when I was unable to purchase my usual make-up.

I brought the make-up to the counter but was told by the cashier who scanned it that "the item cannot be sold." There was no explanation why, and there was no way to override the statement. Even though it was right there, on the shelf, I wasn't able to purchase it. Another store associate informed me that sometimes that happens when a product is recalled. Months later, the product was still not available and is now no longer on shelves, and despite my attempts I couldn't find anything online about a recall or any other reason for its disappearance. Of course, my next thought was, what the hell have I been putting on my face?!

That's when I started looking harder at ingredients on my cosmetics. I frequently spotted petroleum on the list... yes, the same petroleum used in oil and gasoline for cars. The same petroleum used in factories to produce plastics. The same petroleum we get from other nations and drill from the soils and oceans. The same petroleum whose fluctuating price is often a topic of complaint on the news and around the proverbial water cooler..

It was in my foundation, my powder, my mascara, my chapstick, my lipstick, my nail polish, my deodorant, my toothpaste, my body lotion, my shaving cream, my antibiotic ointment, my soaps... it was everywhere. Sometimes it was listed as a paraben or a toluene, but each of these products indeed had ingredients that were derived from petrochemicals. I also learned that 95% of all artificial fragrances are derived from petroleum, and that the FDA does not legally require companies to list the ingredients within those artificial fragrances. In fact, the US continues to include several products in their cosmetics that have been banned in Europe, because there is no law here prohibiting it. That means petroleum was also in my laundry detergent, my fabric softener, my air freshener, my candles, my perfume, and almost everything that had an added scent. (Click here to see a list of petrochemicals and their derivatives.)

No wonder our nation is so dependent on foreign oil... it's in so many products we use each day, and many people may not even realize it!

(See this full report for more information: Neurotoxins: At Home and the Workplace, Report by the Committee on Science and Technology, U.S. House of Representatives, Sept. 16, 1986, Report 99-827).

Appalled, I emptied my bathroom cabinets and threw out almost everything. I couldn't fathom continuing to use it, and I couldn't justify giving it to someone else. I decided to cut my losses and start over. The good news is that there are petroleum-free products out there, many of them organic. I have compiled some of my findings into a list below, for those who may want to transition into using less petroleum in their lives. (Also, none of these companies test their products on animals... yay!)

A Starter List of Petroleum-Free Beauty Products and Toiletries:

Alima Pure - This make-up company came highly recommended by some friends. Alima uses simple and pure minerals in their products. I now get my powder, bronzer, blush, and eyeshadow from here.

Aveda - Aveda products are in eco-friendly packaging and created using renewable energy. Their products from from natural, petroleum-free ingredients. Aveda offers everything from skin care and hair care products to naturally-derived aromatics like candles and perfumes. Right now, I use their shampoos and conditioners, and would like to try their mascara because it's made from pure plant extracts.

Burt's Bees - These products contain natural ingredients using renewable sources that are sensitive to the environment. I've been using these products for years, ranging from lip balms to moisturizers to cleaners to make-up remover. Their cleansing cloths have saved my face too many times to count.

Dr. Bronners - USDA Organic fair trade soaps and self-cleaning products. I love their lip balms and bar soaps! I get them at my local co-op or at Trader Joe's.

EOS (Evolution of Smooth) - Their products are 100% natural, and most of them are over 90% organic. Their lip balms, lotions, and shave creams are available in many stores, which makes them extra accessible. I keep the Summer Fruit Lip Balm Sphere on my desk at work.

Juice Beauty - I have yet to purchase any products from Juice Beauty, but I am eager to try their make-up products, moisturizers, and serums. Their products are 98% organic. This is the line endorsed by Alicia Silverstone.

Kiss My Face -  Natural sunscreen, deodorant, and toothpaste are just a few of the offerings at Kiss My Face. You can also find a vast array of moisturizers, lip products, and soaps. I'm looking forward to trying these options!

Mario Badescu - This is a predominantly skin care product line, though they also provide hair products. I have been using Mario Badescu for years and can attest to its claims for shampoos, conditioners, face cleaners, exfoliants, masks, toners, make-up remover, moisturizers, and more. The prices are affordable, the products are effective (many celebrities use MB, and their livelihood depends on looking good), and you get several samples with every order! I swear by the silver powder, kiwi face scrub, and the overly gratuitous but luxuriously amazing rosewater aloe facial spray.

Zoya - Also recommended by a friend, this will now be my one and only stop for nail polish!  They offer every color you can imagine, and will send you a color spoon so you can hold it up to your own hand before committing. Then, they credit the money spent on your color spoons to you actual order (I ordered 28 spoons initially at 50 cents apiece, and then saw that $14 credit applied to my order when I made my decision... so easy!). These polishes are free of toluene and other harsh ingredients like formaldehyde. Zoya also sells base and top coats, as well as a gentle and natural nail polish remover.

In addition to updating my cosmetics and toiletries, I recently made my own laundry detergent from scratch using borax, washing soda, and plain soap. I have been pleased with the results... not to mention it costs less than 20 cents per gallon to make! Here is a list of ten different natural and environmentally-friendly laundry detergent recipes.

I understand this is a lot of information to process. If you want to make a change like I did, don't feel overwhelmed; the important thing is to start somewhere.