Friday, November 30, 2012

Farewell fall

*sparklingly (http://sparklingly.blogspot.com)
{ Nolita, NYC }

Even though fall is basically beyond its last leafy leg and already on its freezing feet, I had to share this glorious photo I took last week along with this most appropriate quote from The Great Gatsby, that you already know I agree with 100%:

“What’ll we do with ourselves this afternoon?” cried Daisy, “and the day after that, and the next thirty years?”

“Don’t be morbid,” Jordan said. “Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall."

Hope you all had good post-holiday-weekend week!

Next up: a cozy, candlelit December (I hope!).

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Talisman treasures

Look at this beauteousness!

I'm usually more a fan of straight-up metal + jewels, but something about these 24k-plated pendants hanging on silk cords makes me happy.  I'm not even generally a fan of personal/spiritual symbols and amulets for myself, but there's just something about these pieces from Tara Wolf in Australia.

  { via }
 
If I had to pick, I'd go with the:

+ Heart / "Anahata" chakra in green: Means "unstruck"/"unbeaten".
   Balancer of all opposites, the energy center for love and affection.

+ Root / "Muladhara" chakra in red: Means "root of support".
   Governs vigor, passion, money, job and home.
   Helps you be in the moment and be patient (*ahem).
   Contributes to zest for life and being grounded.

+ Solar Plexus / "Manipura" chakra in yellow: Means "city of jewels".
   Center of dynamism, energy, willpower and accomplishments.
   Associated with the sense of sight and action of movement.


+ And of course my own Virgo medallion.
   (it even comes on a lavender cord—must be a sign, no?)
{ Virgo Zodiac bracelet by Tara Wolf }

This description of Virgos is pretty spot on for me:
"Virgos have an eye for detail, are excellent teammates, although they freely express their opinions.
Lack spontaneity and more concerned with outcome than process. Devoted to their families, they aren't daydreamers nor do they wish on stars - they live in the “real world”.

Virgos are most critical of themselves and very punctual—they don't take lateness lightly. Time is of extreme importance. Virgos like honesty, savings, caution and vigilance."
Although, I take offense with the lack of spontaneity, since I found these by spontaneously clicking on a pretty picture I saw on Instagram.

See more of Tara Wolf's Chakra/Zodiac designs and her full portfolio or by following her on Instagram @tarawolfjewellery.

Which would you pick?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Trekking in tights

*sparklingly (http://sparklingly.blogspot.com)
{ This photo taken 6 seconds before I snagged myself on my desk drawer. }

Yesterday was one of those days.

Let me rephrase that: yesterday morning was one of those mornings.

Didn't sleep well at all. Rolled my eyes when the alarm went off and reset it for an hour and a half later. Checked the weather when I finally got out of bed and saw "wintry mix". Perfect, I thought, this means I have to pack a second pair of shoes to wear at work, since I learned last time around that shuffling around in clunky bad-weather-boots all day is a surefire way to be pissy thanks to a lethal combination of not feeling cute + feeling decidedly "steamy" in my shoes. I figured I could at least try out my new tights and heels (which I hadn't worn because I've been walking to work), so I packed those for the office.

I left the house with my new winter cream tights pulled on, snow parka buckled up, wool hat tugged low over my forehead, fur hood pulled close on top of my hat, my work bag (filled with more than usual, of course) heaved over my shoulder and gloves jammed onto my hands. Made it to the elevator only to realize my fool wallet was still sitting on the dresser—I had forgotten it there when I changed bags that morning.

Back to the house, cursing as I debated whether or not to remove my high, lace-up boots before hotfooting back across the apartment for my wallet (will let you decide what I ended up doing), back out the door, realizing one glove fell out of my hand when I took them off to open the door, so back INTO the apartment to retrieve escapee glove and back out yet again (letting the door slam behind me this time).

Then: the most swealtery, drippy-haired walk (no: TREK) to work ensued (those newscasters forgot to mention wintry mix + STIFLING HUMIDITY). As a bonus for Chinatown's viewing pleasure: my shoelaces came untied and I had to unbecomingly-bend-over to retie them and in the process my hulk-of-a-bag slipped off my shoulder and slammed me in the face. Lovely.

A most obnoxious start to an 8.5-hour stint in the office.

Also, I think I hate both these tights and these shoes. Ugh.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Winter oil concoction

*sparklingly (http://sparklingly.blogspot.com)
{ A tie and pocket square duo I knit for R, posing here with
an orange and sprig-o-pine — I'm artsy like that }

Here it is, my ultimate facial/body oil concoction for a gentler winter:

+   1 cup of coconut oil (or other carrier oil—almond would be divine, too. Mix in some cacao butter as well for a ridiculously aromatic jolt of chocolatey, fresh-baked bread doughy delight! )
+   8 drops of cinnamon bark oil for warmth and spice (be careful, people)
+ 10 drops of rosewood oil for a more delicate spicy woodsiness
+ 20 drops of orange oil for freshness and energy

I like to anoint myself with this goodness and pretend I'm Cleopatra (apparently this is something I actively do now).

On the practical, non-imaginary front: I use an empty L'Occitane glass jar (this one) because it's an adorable shape and I can heat it up to melt the oils together without worrying about nasty plastic chemicals seeping in.

I mostly added the essential oils for their sensory pleasure and an added cleansing, deodorizing, toning boost, but apparently there are other aromatherapy benefits, if you're into that:
cinnamon bark = "Also known as Ceylon cinnamon; gives a warm, floral-enhancing effect. It is a skin irritant and should be handled with care (learned this the hard way). Aromatherapy benefits: comforting, warming."

rosewood = "Rosewood is a tropical tree growing wild in the Amazon basin. Has a sweet-woody, floral-nutmeg aroma. Aromatherapy benefits: gently strengthening, calming"  

sweet orange = "Has a lively, fruity, sweet aroma. Aromatherapy benefits: cheering, refreshing, uplifting."

P.S. In case you missed it: why I use coconut oil and how I use it.

P.P.S. If you want to try your own concoction, I'm pretty happy with my Nutiva coconut oil and the essential oils I found from Plant Therapy.

P.P.P.S My Lullaby oil concoction!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Fondue femmes

*sparklingly (http://sparklingly.blogspot.com)
{ New batch of Fall'ish flowers at home }
Good: Forcing myself to break from my usual homebody / loner tendencies and accept an invitation to a "school-night" fondue party with girls I hadn't met before. Ended up having such a good time chatting with a bunch of other similarly mixed-background-mixed-couple-chickadees that I didn't walk in my door until after midnight (this from the girl who's sleeping by 10PM).

Topics of note included:
+ Volunteering in Hurricane Sandy-stricken areas

+ Judaism: how did it come to be a religion and an ethnicity?

+ Middle Eastern cultures and languages: Arab vs. Indo-European

+ Features of babies from mixed parents: do they really change drastically
   after the first few years?

+ Excess body hair: the plight of the non-white woman

+ Do gay men tend to make out with straight women?

+ Would inviting a notoriously shy guy into a hot tub full of women break
    him of his shyness or scar him for life? (A few girls headed out on a ski trip
    were strategizing.)

(You see that we started off high-brow and slowly veered into the ridiculousness...I'm not saying it was the wine, but...it was the wine).

Not so good: Being too keyed up from all the fun to actually go to sleep, despite the behind-the-eye-burning sensation, so I futzed around online for a good while and finally turned the light off a few hours before my alarm would buzz. Major fuzziness and lethargy ensue today...in addition to the already insistent post-vacation blah-ness.

Better: Receiving Facebook requests from new friends (I'm still really the awkward, "do-they-like-me?" 14-year-old at heart).

Facial (t)oils

*sparklingly (http://sparklingly.blogspot.com)
{ The euphoria that comes over me when I smell roasting chestnuts is the same effect I
was going for with my initially-failed facial oil experiment}

Good: You know I'm big on the goodness of coconut oil, but I didn't tell you all the ways I use it as a beauty product. Not only is it the most silky, lush, and hydrating "lotion" I've ever tried, it also works as a:

  + moisturizer/night cream (which I use when I'm washing my face, but don't feel like padding to the kitchen for the vial of rosehip oil that I keep in the fridge)

  + face wash/eye make-up remover

  + sun screen (it naturally blocks the sun's harming rays)

  + and, believe it or not, thanks to its anti-fungal/microbial/bacterial properties, as a deodorant.

You know I'm a little...anxious when it comes to sweat, so the fact that I use something as simple as coconut oil should be proof it works. I found lots of recipes for homemade deodorant online, but they all seemed too fussy and I wasn't ready to make that big of a commitment when I first started paring down, but luckily I found out that coconut oil on its own works just fine.

See? I wasn't kidding when I said it's basically the duct tape of your medicine cabinet/makeup bag.

Not so good: Despite my love affair with coconut oil as an all-purpose beauty product, I started to crave a little change on the scent front and began looking into essential oils to layer in for a little seasonal oomph (see: chestnuts ready for roasting above). I found high quality, not-too-expensive, pure oils on Amazon.com and snapped up cinnamon bark oil, neroli oil, and rosewood oil.

The cinnamon bark arrived first and I was so excited that I scooped up a lump of solid coconut oil into my palm, tippled out 4 (F-O-U-R) drops of the oil on top, rubbed my hands together and smeared it directly onto my face.

Cue the screaming.

As usual, my impatience and excitement got the best of me and it slipped my mind that cinnamon bark is extremely potent (more so than other essential oils) and needs to be majorly diluted (and 4 drops to 1 dollop doesn't count).

Be ye not so silly.

Better: About 10 minutes of alternating with splashing my face with water and patting the oils away on the rapidly-dwindling, non-tainted bits of my towel eventually made the pain go away and luckily, I didn't burn my skin. In other good news, I found that four drops of cinnamon bark essential oil to about 7 ounces of carrier oil (in this case coconut) is a perfectly safe ratio. You're welcome.

PS. I'm currently buying Nutiva's cold-pressed, organic, extra-virgin coconut oil and Aura Cacia's organic rosehip oil. Will let you know about the new essential oils once I've used them for a few days.

A bit more on AIRE

*sparklingly (http://sparklingly.blogspot.com)
{ Pre-baths check-in — teak wood, silver teapots, amphorae and flickering candles everywhere? Yes, please. | AIRE Ancient Baths in NYC}

From water we came and to water we return.

(I'm not sure if this is actually a saying, or if I just said it for the first time, but anyway, the phrase popped into my head while I floated around the baths and an initial Google search didn't turn up anything so I'm going to go ahead and copyright that).

So.

I am still completely infatuated with AIRE Ancient Baths. So much so that we managed to sneak in a return trip booking jussst before the promotion expired last night. Not only was our trip there yesterday ridiculously relaxing, but it felt like a complete and utter escape from New York (and you know how when you get out of your daily grind you feel a little more wild? Well, mix that with a candlelit, steamy, completely sensual underground grotto and it's like, oh, hello husband, you come here to me).

Ahem, anyway. Back to the actual experience. You walk into a huge lofted lobby (which is what I took a picture of above) and drink some tea while filling out a form. Then through the changing room to leave everything but your bathing suit, the locker sensor that fits around your wrist, a robe and these soft slippers with rubber grippies on the bottom that you have to wear because it's so slippery.

Then (here comes the good part) you descend down an open staircase with lit votives into this otherworldly space filled with 6 pools (three are heated to 97ºF: one is a jacuzzi, one is saltwater, and one is sans bubbles; one is heated to 102ºF; and then there are the two cold hip baths—one a freezing, you've-got-to-be-kidding-me 50ºF while the other is a slightly toastier 57ºF).

All the pools are arranged around a glass-walled steam sauna with a marble slab in the center—upon which I reclined and channeled my inner-Cleopatra while my handmaiden (okay, R) gave me a pre-massage massage. Pure bliss.

On one side of the steam room is a sitting area with teak tables and shiny teapots and carafes of water. On the other side are a few massage rooms—also glass-walled enclosures, this time with gauzy curtains hung inside. Everywhere there are wrought-iron, punch-cut lanterns filled with pillar candles that give off hundreds of dots of bouncing light that reflect across the pools.

I tried them all (except for the psychotically cold 50ºF one because that is just nuts), but spent the most time in the steam room, saltwater pool, and 102ºF pool...with a few very quick dips in the manageable-y cold pool. The saltwater and steam made my skin glow and I still feel woozy from it, but in a good way.

But what tied the entire experience together, and made it a hundred times better, was the sensual, Spanish flamenco-type music that reverberated throughout (which sounds like it would be the exact opposite type of music you'd want in a spa), but it was light and aery and completely mesmerizing. (I found this group station on Pandora that sounds kiiiinda like the music at AIRE, but not exactly. AIRE was a bit more spiritual/ethereal, and less plucky on the harmony front).

+ + +

We opted to take a 45-minute walk there instead of a 15-minute subway ride, and on the walk, R asked me where I would want to give birth if the day ever comes. My immediate response was: Sweden (with the US as a second choice and Italy a distant third).

I think I'd have better luck having the kind of birth I'd want to have (less medication—if any at all, more opportunity to push versus pressured to have a C-section, better opportunity to give birth in water, not shoved out of the hospital the next day—or worse yet, feeling I have to go because it's costing too much) in Sweden than the US and definitely better luck than in Italy.

We were on the topic because R's cousin just had his second child yesterday and I was asking who was in the room, how did she deliver, etc., but it's funny that I shared with him (or, reiterated, because we'd talked about it before) that I'd like to give birth in water just as we were going to immerse ourselves in restorative waters.

After yesterday's experience, I'm even more convinced that not only do I need to do this (way) more often—those Latinos weren't kidding when they said "salus per aquam" (s.p.a), or, "health by water"—but if and when the time comes, I will do whatever it takes to try and have a water birth.

Can't imagine a more lovelier way to bring someone into the world—especially if I can snag some of those giant amphora-turned-candle-holders and whatever CD they play at AIRE.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Tension with the Times

*sparklingly (http://sparklingly.blogspot.com)
{ The Sunday NYT + a pot-o-tea }
I think it's important you know that I tend to impart unnecessary levels of stress on myself—especially for things that aren't really stress-worthy. Like the Sunday New York Times. I thought paying $5 a week for the paper delivered right to our apartment door would not only be a nice way to start weekend mornings, but also right in line with my pursuit for all things nostalgic and of yore.

When I open the door and see the paper all nicely laid out on our doormat I feel lots and lots of happiness. And then I bring it in and realize I have to read the whole damn thing, and that's where the stress starts. In NYC, the Sunday Times comes in two parts, so we get half on Saturday and the other half on Sunday—which should make reading of said paper easier, but some weeks I don't finish and then it piles up. And up and up.

So, we had THREE weeks of papers stacked up on our little newspaper-holding-footstool (we've been backed up since Sandy), and I forced myself to sit down and go through the whole shebang today because I couldn't handle the papers looking mournfully at me anymore.

I feel so much better now.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Thanksgiving Weekend 2012


{ Our Thanksgiving table | November 2012 }

Growing up, my parents worked six days a week and every holiday of the year, apart from Christmas Day, New Year's Day, July 4th and Thanksgiving—and yet, they managed to make every single special occasion festive, celebratory (always, always with gold-rimmed china, gold chargers and sparkly crystal) and full of good food. Like any family we had tense moments so the conversation wasn't always flowing, but our eyes and bellies were always satisfied, even if our hearts weren't. Sometimes I thought they were crazy to go through all the effort and wear themselves down, and sometimes I still think they did too much, but then other times I'm so very thankful they did everything they could to give us those bright moments during my childhood, even if it cost them their own sanity.

Which is why this year we thought we'd take it easy (especially after hosting a mini feast last year—I'm still tired thinking about it), but Wednesday night rolled around and I was really, really sad about nothing Thanksgiving-y planned for Thursday, especially when I saw everyone else's preparations going on in full force. I conferred with (whined to) R and decided to try and squeeze in a grocery order for some harvest-y type dishes. We had already planned to have another heritage chicken, but I decided there was no way I could get through the day without at least a hint of pumpkin and spice.

In the end we had a lazy morning with coffee and the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, a walk around the waterfront and to check in on and pine for the pooches at the dog run, a minimalist (but still tasty) dinner, followed by (gluten-free, mostly vegan) pumpkin pie at home before engaging for the first time ever in a true American Thanksgiving tradition: we headed out to see Skyfall. If there was ever a movie that sat squarely in my preferred genre (much like "The Fallen Angel", the book I'm reading now) it's a James Bond movie—international city jumping, sexy characters (and cars!) and dry wit. Loved it.

We worked Friday (me from home, so I was able to sneak in an afternoon nap on the couch in a patch of sunlight—so decadent!) and rewarded ourselves for managing that with a session at Aire Ancient Baths today. People: if you are in New York, please go. We had been trying to find a reason to treat ourselves ever since this underground, thermal spa that started in Spain finally arrived in Tribeca earlier this year, but could never justify the price. I was even thisclose to pulling the trigger on Wednesday (when I was in my pre-Thanksgiving doldrums), but stopped myself. Then Thursday evening those sweet sybaritic Spaniards put up a huge promotion on Facebook and I had us booked exactly two minutes after seeing it. We both did the 90-minute bath, but I tacked on a massage (when in an ancient spa...).

Spas and saunas have so many therapeutic benefits (in addition to the pampering bliss, of course), but the places that are affordable in NYC are just too dank and unappealing for me to even bother and those that are elegant and luxurious are too pricey, but after experiencing the amazingness that is Aire, I think I might find a way to justify the full price next time (maybe).

If you need convincing, I'll just leave you with these:

{ via Robb Report }
{ via Design You Trust }

Hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving and are enjoying your weekends!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving traditions

*sparklingly (http://sparklingly.blogspot.com)
{ Our wee apartment decked for the holidays last year | November 2011 }

Last year we were local for the entire holiday season (which doesn't happen often for us), so we decided to go all out with every single tradition we hold sacred. First up? Procuring a tree, since I grew up decorating our tree with the Macy's Day Thanksgiving Parade on in the den and Thanksgiving dinner preparations going on in the kitchen. Last year was my first time ever having a Christmas tree in my own apartment. And, like all good New Yorkers, we found a deal at a Lowe's in Brooklyn and trekked across the river to procure our little (well, actually not so little as he was 6-feet tall) guy.

Of course we didn't take into account the rain or distance between said Lowe's and the nearest subway stop, but I saw it as an adventure! R didn't see it as such (at least not at first), since he was the one hefting our balsam fir along, while I was responsible for carting home our 20-ft. garland on my shoulders. But let me tell you, people are exceedingly kind and gracious when they see you propping up a Christmas Tree in a subway car.

By Wednesday night we had the tree up (albeit precariously, since our newly-purchased stand broke and we had to improvise with our biggest kitchen pot instead), our Swedish star in the window, red table runners out and a box of handmade ornaments from Virginia (plus a few NYC store-bought ones to round out the collection) waiting on the table for us to use the next day. Then we began cooking. And cooked and cooked and cooked until I collapsed in exhaustion on the couch at 11PM and posted this to Facebook:
"I am p.o.o.p.e.d. I have no idea how my parents did this for all those years (while having a more demanding job and a much bigger house than me). But, R and I managed to get the apartment decorated and 95% of Thanksgiving dinner prepped and ready to go today. Thank goodness the only thing left to do tomorrow is a pop a few things in the oven, decorate the tree (which has to be done while watching the parade, of course), and perhaps pour ourselves a glass of wine."
Thanksgiving day was lovely, with guests arriving in the afternoon, the decorating of the tree, a lovely spread (without turkey, since we aren't fans, but I held firm to the need for the entreè to at least be a fowl of some sort, so had two tasty heritage chickens instead).

*sparklingly (http://sparklingly.blogspot.com)
{ Our Thanksgiving feast last year | 2011}
We're having a non-traditional Thanksgiving at home this year—which makes me all the more thankful for last year's festivities. Even more so because we won't have a tree this year, either (the only white thing about our Christmas will be the sand). So from my non-turkied, non-squashy table to your hopefully-bedecked one, Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Equal play

*sparklingly (http://sparklingly.blogspot.com)
{ Helin & Voltaire, one of my favorite places in Stockholm | December 2010 }
To me, this really is the epitome of cozy urban living (can't you see why I want to live in Stockholm?). Every time we're back in the city for the holidays, we always make a point to take a walk across the snow-covered meadow in front of the turreted Helin & Voltaire cafè in Djurgården and indulge in some ridiculously delicious, cinnamony, cardamomy goodness.

If the optimal mix of city and country wasn't enough for me to love about Sweden (plus the whole passion towards an open society, sustainability, minimalist beauty, etc.), there's also their take on women, which can be summed up in a word: amazing.

Actually, it's not even that Sweden is so pro-women, they just seem to be extremely fair and balanced and to have an understanding of what's important (like, family and healthcare and equal parental leave for both the mama and the papa).

When thinking about Sweden vs. Italy for our family, Sweden is the obvious choice, given where we are in our life right now...and especially since as I get older I seem to be becoming more and more "feminist"—meaning that I get particularly fired up if I hear of any hint from anybody that a woman can't do as well or be as smart or as valuable to society and her family as a man.

{ The ridiculously cheery interior of Helin & Voltaire | December 2008 }
Which is why I happily passed around "Swedish School's Big Lesson With Dropping Personal Pronouns", an article that was published in The New York Times last week. The gist of it is: it's better to de-emphasize gender stereotypes (e.g., only boys play with blocks and only girls play with dolls; if a boy falls tell him to "man up", if a girl falls, cuddle with and soothe her for an extended period of time).

It all started because of a Swedish law that calls for schools to assure equal opportunities for boys and girls, which prompted the teachers to look at their own behaviors to see if they treated the children differently. They found, among other things, that they talked more with girls (which may explain why girls have better language skills) and accepted more rowdy behavior from boys (which may teach boys that volume = power).

That's why the teachers instituted new guidelines to try and help "cement opportunities for both women and men", like referring to all the children by their names or "friends" instead of saying "boys" and "girls" and by letting the kids see it was acceptable for every child to play with any toy or do any type of activity.

I don't believe it should be taken to the extreme and girls yelled at or made to think that playing with dolls isn't okay and they have to climb a tree or for boys to be taught that they can't play with blocks and they have to play house. But, the idea of making all forms of play acceptable for everyone to help children treat each other better now and especially as they become adults? That I like.

I think this really only exists because besides having a gender-equality mindset, Sweden has a sexual-equality mindset, too, so the idea of a boy playing with dolls might not immediately conjure up the word "gay", nor would a girl driving a toy truck around the playground.

All this is to say that I really like cozy cafès.

And I also really like when women and men are treated fairly.

A good thing

*sparklingly (http://sparklingly.blogspot.com)
{ View over Sicily—otherwise known as birthplace of my R | September 2011 }
 ...is being able to (crankily) call R when I'm leaving work because I'm faint with hunger and have no idea what I feel like eating only to have him say he's already in the kitchen making risotto with cremini mushrooms and fluffy ricotta (the kind you drag straight from the container to your lips, stopping only for a quick grind of black pepper on the way)...which it turns out, is exactly what I wanted.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Gentle living

*sparklingly (http://sparklingly.blogspot.com)
{ I think the kids these days would call this a "selfie"  |  La Colombe Soho }
Here's a semi-covertly-snapped pic of me at my local coffee shop. I figure this kind of post deserves a personal picture because I'm about to get real (and hopefully not preachy) with y'all and share my attempt to be more gentle and good to myself with a couple of changes I've made in the last 18 months or so. These didn't produce the magic fix that I was naively hoping for, but I do think that my life has gotten better.

This is just how I try to live, what's working for me and what I believe in...not at all meant to be a list of "you should be doing this, too!".

+ + +

I think a lot about what it means to be healthy. Growing up in the US we're given a lot of things to do and not to do and oddly enough, the more the USDA, FDA, APHA, etc. inundate us with new rules, the less healthy we become as a nation. And, more often than not, the advice we're given is heavily paid for by industry organizations that want to pad their wallets (what does it mean that the daily nutrition guide is backed by the USDA?). Then there are all the side diets and exercise plans that are heaped on top of the government recommendations and no wonder we're all wandering around, lugging our guts and high blood pressure with us.*

Now, I don't have any significant health problems (not even insignificant ones, really, which I know is already a blessing in itself), but there is some history of cancer and heart disease in our family and that coupled with a pervasive lack of energy/obnoxious yawning all day and a persistent stomach ache got me thinking about what the heck I'm putting into my body and what I'm putting it through.

+ + +

The first thing that had to go was the nasty tummy aches that I used to get practically every week. I had no idea what caused it so about a year and a half ago I started taking things out of my diet for 10 days or so to see what changed. Luckily removing dairy had no effects whatsoever but removing flour? Oooo boy, it was like I was given a new stomach (and all the other things connected to it). When I do something, I go all in, so I cut out all gluten. My timing was perfect (ahem), since my little experiment was just before a month of international travel (a trip to India for work and then to Sicily to play). Going gluten-free in India wasn't actually that hard, but in Sicily? Not as easy.

But, as the weeks passed, it became a non-issue for me. So I decided to see what other things I could change, not just on my plate, but in my life in general to hopefully continue to improve or prevent the other things that annoyed me (lack of energy) or worried me (wanting to have as much vitality and longevity as possible despite genes that may or may not work against me and getting rid of all tummy problems). I also added another goal to the list: living as cleanly as possible.

+ + +

*sparklingly (http://sparklingly.blogspot.com)
{ What breakfast looks like these days }
As I began to read more from great sources, like Sarah Wilson/I Quit Sugar, Dan Buettner/Blue Zones, Mark Sisson/The Daily Apple, and re-teach myself the basics (without relying on government "recommendations" based on outdated research) I started realizing how obscenely toxic my environment was and how much better my life could (potentially) be. That's when I began working these ideals into my routine. Not all at once, and not aggressively, but a little tweak here and small adjustment there, all in the hope of feeling happier, healthier, more at home in my own body and mind and (dare I say?) sparklier.

So, here's my little list of things I do to be more gentle with myself:

+ Any cleaning product used in my house or beauty product put on my body has to be edible: This has been a very gradual shift because I can't stand waste and don't want to just throw out the products that I have, but as I use things up, I'm starting to buy or make products that I wouldn't be afraid to eat. For me it became absurdly simple: why would I ever put anything in my house or on my body that's so poisonous I'd have to call the Center for Disease Control if I ingested it? I'm farther along on the beauty product front and have two words for you: coconut oil. It's like the duct tape of beauty. So many uses (more on this later).

+ Winding down electronic devices (way) before winding down for bed: Apparently the lighting on our devices screws with our systems and prolongs the "system shut down" receptors that help us fall asleep. I installed f.lux on my laptop so that the light becomes warmer as the sun goes down, but since I haven't found a similar app for my phone or tablet, I count on physical books (and willpower to not check my phone) to lull me to sleep...which is hopefully deeper than it would have been had I sat staring at my phone until the second I shut my eyes at bedtime.

+ Walking everywhere: Living in NYC, I'm pretty reliant on my feet to get me around and up and down the subway stairs, but now I build in extra time into my day and just walk everywhere that I can (granted this is much easier in cooler weather than muggy, but I'm going to do this for as long as I can stand it!). Walking the 1.6 miles to and from my office not only saves me $4.25 a day (yes!), but I get some much needed daylight during the winter months and some extra movement every day to counteract the 8 hours I sit on my tush all day while I clackety clack away at work.

+ Changing how I work out—less cardio, more weights: My workout regimen for years has been a weekly mix of yoga, running 3 miles, biking and using the elliptical/stairstepper for 45 minutes, and lifting weights for 15 minutes. The only thing that has stayed the same is the yoga. For the rest, I now do a regular mix of very short bouts of low level aerobic exercise, longer strength-training/full body weight sessions, and intense sprinting. Not only is it much more interesting, but I've gotten better results than I ever did running three miles a day, 5 days a week.

+ Avoiding gluten/sugar as much as possible: The gluten thing was already a piece of cake (ha) to me by the time I began thinking about other positive changes to make, but the sugar thing was a newbie. I had switched to raw cane sugar and honey as my sweetener of choice in college (after a very short stint with the nasties like Splenda made me nauseous and upset my stomach for days!), but I began learning that even unprocessed sugar is still sugar and from what I understand (and choose to believe), it's not something our bodies are made to ingest, so, out they go! I no longer add sugar to coffee/tea and try very very hard to minimize sugar elsewhere. A big help in this was...

+ Making the switch to full-fat dairy: Turns out, fat isn't bad for you. And, adding full-fat, non homogenized, organic milk to your drinks and food not only tastes amazing (cannot believe I drank that bluish skim milk for so many years!), but makes you feel good on the outside and the inside. Especially when you buy local and follow your supplier on Facebook to see weekly pics of tow-headed children playing with the cows your goodies come from.

+ Buying good meat and animal products: This means paying quite a bit more, but I try to do this as much as I can—especially after watching Food, Inc. I make a huge effort to only buy meat and milk from animals that are humanely raised, grass-fed and from small farms and only eggs from pastured, non-corn/wheat-fed chickadees. It's definitely not easy or fun to pay the difference, but knowing that I'm putting the best stuff that I can in my belly and supporting local farms that are committed to gentle raising and butchering makes up for it.

+ Eating a ridiculous amount of vegetables: I never thought my life would include sauteed spinach or kale as the main portion of my breakfast plate everyday, but it does now and I love it.

+ Being mindful: This is probably the hardest for me because I have a tough time turning my mind off, but I'm making a conscious effort to incorporate more time for peaceful thinking/spirituality/what-have-you in the hopes that I'll become a better, kinder, more patient, less stressed and anxious person.

+ + +

After about six months full on with all of changes I gradually added in, I can say: I do feel better, but not as good as I thought I would. I haven't gotten the huge boost in energy that I was hoping for, nor the perpetually clear skin, but that's not to say that I don't think these ideas will work (eventually). My less-than-desired results are just a part of being human and slipping up sometimes or being confronted with situations beyond my capability to sanely handle. I honestly think my biggest problem is stress (much of it that I probably bring on myself).

On the happy side: my body composition has changed in a very good way (which seriously shocked me) and I do feel more at ease about the huge reduction in chemicals in my home.

As for the rest? I'll just keep doing what feels good as long as it feels good and see what else happens.

+ + +

I'm not sure if there's a label for my "lifestyle", although I think paleo/primal might come close, but labels give me the hives. And, I don't really talk about these things in real life anyway, so I've never really had a need for a label, but thinking about it all here, the best and truest I could come up with is "clean living" or ideally, "gentle living", because my whole goal, really, is to simplify my life as much as possible in as gentle a way as possible. To me, simplifying means just cutting out the bad so I actually have to room to focus on the good.

This is how I live—at least 90% of the time, 100% of anything is really just too much, not counting things like puppy snuggles and love and whatnot.


* I know I sound super anti-government here, but I promise I'm not (at least beyond this topic, anyway)!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Milkman nostalgia

*sparklingly (http://sparklingly.blogspot.com)
{ Creamy milk from Ronnybrook Farm & Dairy —in a bottle! Mind = blown! }
After all the tumult recently (I'm looking at you, Sandy), it was such a treat to have a low-key weekend at home. R and I agreed we'd spend a good chunk of it together, with the rest of it spent making a trek to Brooklyn to visit a favorite pastry shop (him), working on a consulting project on the side (me) and evening outings for drinks/dinner with friends and family (us).

We rolled out of bed around 9AM on Saturday, and since our groceries weren't arriving until the afternoon, R, dear husband that he is, ran out to get the milk and eggs we needed to have a proper breakfast. Me being the list-maker that I am, handed him a slip of paper with two notes on it (and yes, he may have slightly rolled his eyes at me):

+ "Non-homogenized, organic, local whole milk"
+ "Pastured eggs (at least cage free if you can't find pastured)"

In the time it took me to do a whirlwind cleaning of the apartment, he came back proudly bearing a Ronnybrook Creamline bottle of milk. A bottle! I was on a high all morning just because it was so adorable and old-timey.

Once breakfast was ready (a smorgasbord of kale, sausage and poached eggs) with a hefty mug of coffee (+ milk for me!), we sat down to a candle-lit table and put on a new documentary from Netflix about Alexandria, a topic I'm obsessed with (more on that another day).

Afterwards, a little knitting to finish a baby gift and lots of lazing about before doing a few hours of work and meeting friends in the East Village for a drink and dessert.

*sparklingly (http://sparklingly.blogspot.com)
{Still not sure who this is for, but at least it's done! | 17 November 2012}

Sunday began much the same way as Saturday, with candles lit, cinnamon and vanilla oil burning and fresh-ground espresso with a generous splash of Creamline milk. Except we traded in Netflix documentaries for the Sunday New York Times, and an outing to the Lower East Side for dinner at Gentleman Farmer, a teensy, intimate, brick-walled restaurant that emphasizes exotic meats (like pheasant, ox, ostrich, etc.).

I could seriously do with a few more weekends like this one.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Happy makers

*sparklingly (http://sparklingly.blogspot.com)
{ Dresser | Post Sandy flowers }

In what is sure to be a continuing list, these things give me undeniable glee:

+ Changing out the sullied dishtowels for fresh ones

+ Buying a random assortment of flowers from my flower lady and then making lots of different bouquets for the house (by which I mean, super small NYC apartment, but "house" sounds nicer)

+ Candles—preferably fat ol' tapers, in the usual varying shades of cream (although I allow for red during the holidays)

+ Foreign memoirs and spy novels: for the former, am especially enthralled by ones set in the Mediterranean region, the Middle East or Ancient Egypt/India with lots of bits about food, art and culture. For the latter, there must be lots of country hopping, art/religion intrigue and historical coverups.

+ Cleopatra

+ Super smooth-writing black pens (especially Pilot G2s)

+ Getting a salon blow out—which only happens twice a year, because that's how often I cut my ridiculously long hair

+ The way that Netflix automatically goes to the next episode in the series, which makes my lolling about on the couch in a Desperate Housewives/Grey's Anatomy/Private Practice/White Collar weekend afternoon stupor significantly easier

+ When my phone is silent. I loathe talking on the phone.

+ Nicely polished nails...even though have been too skeeved about by my newfound awareness of nail polish chemicals to get my own done. They are looking...less than nice at the moment.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Good things right now

Soho  | Good things right now on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com
{ A little dash of Frenchiness in Noho }

As a balm to my trio post (that sandwiches a not-so-cute thing between two very cute things), I'm thinking it might not be a bad idea to keep track of things that I'm grateful for. I'm prone to snarky negativity and I think there might be some weight behind things like Gratitude Journals and whatnot, so perhaps taking a few minutes to jot down a few happy-making things might (potentially significantly) make me a better, nicer person.

So...here we go, I'm currently thankful for being able to:

+ Notice the small pieces of my everyday, thanks to my infatuation with Instagram.

+ Wear a new robe, after two years of looking. It fits the majority of my requirements (soft, cuddly, pockets, short but not too short). The only thing it doesn't fit is my color requirement. I wanted a creamy color, although the lavendary grey I found isn't too bad.

+ Listen to Friends clips on my walks to and from work for a little morning/evening laugh.

+ Add another layer to our winter bedding (bringing the count to 4: a soft plum sheet, warm cream fleece, off-white coverlet, and snow-white comforter. Yes, I like varying shades of whitish/camel-y colors) for super cozy sleeps.

+ Enjoy a new-to-us, super deep and intense 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon from Wellington Vineyards in Sonoma at dinner last night.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Today's trio

Good: When the weather finally cooled off a few weeks ago, I started to walk the just-over-a-mile-and-a-half route to the office before or after work (sometimes both). Which was nice, because sitting at a desk all day long is tiring and an extra hour'ish or so of time outside is good for lots of reasons ("fresh" air! light! movement! chance to decompress before going home!), but it cut into my reading time.

So, I decided to check out the whole podcast thing with the Stitchr app. I went a little highbrow, subscribing to The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Slate, etc., but that got old pretty fast. Too much canned laughter, ads, and awkward pauses (and, after the election, less interesting). It's okay though, because I've found a much better source of entertainment for the walk: YouTube'ing "best of" clip reels from my standby shows (Friends, The West Wing, Gilmore Girls, etc.). Totally improves any trace of a yucky mood and I highly recommend doing the same.

Not so good: Pairing brand new dark-rinse jeans with brand new camel suede shoes. Know why? Because that results in newly stained, formerly suede shoes.

*sparklingly (http://sparklingly.blogspot.com)
{ New shoes' first day out, pre-jean dye drip }
Better: Turns out that once again my pal Google has come to the rescue. Did you know that a normal pencil eraser will take out the dye stains from jeans on suede? Genius.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Cuspids

I think everyone has a few recurring nightmares. Mine for years and years and years has been the horror of losing a tooth in a violent way (not at all surprisingly, I think this first started during or right after my almost-three-year-bout with braces. Not just any braces, braces that involved a key hole in the roof of my mouth and a corresponding key that I had to turn every night. Shudder).

Three-thirty AM came around this morning and I snapped up in bed with the shakes. The dream (nightmare) that awoke me was that my right cuspid (yes, I just looked this up to be sure it was the right tooth because my dream was that vivid), just DISSOLVED and the outer shell hung there like a leaf blowing in the wind. Disgusting, right? At least this time I know why the nightmare resurfaced—I had a 7AM work call this morning that I had to lead. Stage fright = teeth falling out.

Lovely.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Not a first

I first learned about this whole "blog thing" in 2004. I was about to spend the summer in NYC for an internship and had been Googling phrases like "living in NYC" and "summer in NYC", etc., and came across this site that organized local blogs along the MTA subway path (which is pretty awesome). I began clicking through and reading about the lives of strangers and loving the secretive glimpse into their doings...except not secretive at all, since they put it out there (am very much into voyeurism, but the non-shady kind, which is why I love pictures/posts about things like "What's in my bag", or "My day: hour by hour"). I'm completely fascinated by how other people live, their random tidbits, odd habits, jealousy-inducing trinkets, and organizational strategies (I so do LOVE a post about organization!).

So, anyway, that's how I began bookmarking blog sites (this was before RSS feeds) and checking in to see what these people were up to. After I graduated from college (a year after that summer in NYC, and a few weeks before I went off to Italy for a month by myself—that same vacation where I met my now-husband, R), I decided to start up my own little blog called If I Only Had a Red Vespa—there were a few posts about closing the college chapter of my life, the romance that started in Italy, about why I wasn't happy in the DC area/with my job, the things I wanted for and from my life, but the whole thing was clouded over with this sense of unhappiness and unfulfillment. And even though I wrote it anonymously, with only three real-life friends knowing about it, I think it was sometimes stilted, and not really all "me" and I grew tired of it. In all it lasted about a year, but I did get to know a few great people through it, and still stay in touch with a few women via Facebook/Twitter/Instagram—and have even met up with two of them.

A few years passed, with me not writing anywhere but still reading blogs—some old, some new, and I decided to try it again. Only this time I decided to put a particular "spin" on it: writing about how we (R and I) infuse our American life with bits of our other cultures (Italian/Swedish). Only problem is that since I'm the American, I would have to rely really heavily on my husband for content (since my ethnic background isn't really that big a part of my culture), so Zagara di Sicilia quickly fizzled out and I deleted it without even saving it (as I did my first blog).

{ Found somewhere online years ago—my (dream) little red Vespa }

Which brings me to this one.

My first blog was a bit of past perfect because I sometimes felt myself writing trying too hard to make things perfect or despairing too much over why things weren't perfect, while the second was definitely future conditional because it was too focused on the cultures I was adopting and where we might eventually be, versus where I actually was in the moment.

I'm hoping third time's a charm and this little space will let me be me.

I want a place to capture the small moments that are happening as they happen, to have a record of changes that will be coming, and connect with (blog) friends in a more meaningful way. I've always felt a little shoddy about peeking into other worlds and never sharing any of my own. And there are so many things I want to explore or challenge myself to learn and I want this to be a place where I do a little of that. The one thing that's still the same, though, is I'm anonymous (at the moment).

So, here's to writing in the now, neither perfect nor progressive nor conditional, just present.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Foiled

My husband is away with his brother (who’s visiting the US from Sicily) for a few days, and with last night taken over by work and election stress (both taking place at a friend’s apartment), tonight was my only night to regress to my early twenties and completely revel in being alone.

The plan was to warm up some roast chicken, make some pumpkin soup (was so hungry by the time I came home I threw it together pretty quickly, so wasn’t exactly what I wanted), roast some cabbage with a spicy dressing, light some candles, and relax with knitting, tea, and Gilmore Girls. A version of the majority of that happened, but time and subway snow issues worked against me and by the time I was finally settled I had to start getting ready for bed.

*sparklingly (http://sparklingly.blogspot.com)


There’s only been a handful of times that my husband has been away (he doesn’t travel for work, so it’s really only if family comes to town and they go away on a side trip for a few days), so I was really looking forward to my one night of singledom (which for me does not mean going out with wanton abandon but snuggling up with TV shows that give R a headache) and have to say, was in a rather foul mood that it didn’t pan out as I wanted. After Hurricane Sandy and having guests for the better part of two months, I really wanted to loll about lazily and spoil myself silly.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Forward

Yesterday I wore the first pair of tights I’ve worn since elementary school. It was a cold, cold day, and the city was (and is) still recovering from Hurricane Sandy and preparing for a Nor’Easter.

My stomach was churning all day. From the moment I woke up, to walking to my polling place, to casting my vote, and then waiting through the work day until the votes would start to be tallied.

*sparklingly (http://sparklingly.blogspot.com)
{ Post voting }

I’m not especially informed on every single facet of American politics, but I do know that if and when I leave this country, I want to be proud of being an American abroad. I want people to know that I’m from a country that values the contributions and respects the rights of women, immigrants, children and gays and understands the effects of our existence on this planet.

And so I followed the news all day, waiting, worrying, wondering how soon we would know (turns out, not for a long time). As each subsequent time zone ticked past 8PM local time, I switched between tabs on my browser: NYT, Washington Post, Fox News, Politico, NPR. When Ohio was called for the President, I refused to cheer. Not until Romney conceded and Obama accepted victory did I go to sleep (and as someone who thinks 10PM is late, waiting up until 2:30AM shows just how nervous I was).

 Finally, finally, I heard the speech I was waiting for and yes, even cried at this part:
"I have always believed that hope is that stubborn thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us so long as we have the courage to keep reaching, to keep working, to keep fighting.

America, I believe we can build on the progress we've made and continue to fight for new jobs and new opportunity and new security for the middle class. I believe we can keep the promise of our founders, the idea that if you're willing to work hard, it doesn't matter who you are or where you come from or what you look like or where you love. 


It doesn't matter whether you're black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, able, disabled, gay or straight, you can make it here in America if you're willing to try. I believe we can seize this future together because we are not as divided as our politics suggests. We're not as cynical as the pundits believe. 


We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions, and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are and forever will be the United States of America." 

{ The New York Times, 7 November 2012 }

As the Catholic daughter of immigrants, and someone who believes that there cannot be a God that doesn’t support true love, no matter who it’s between, as someone that believes pro-life means more than just what happens between conception and birth, but that it’s a country’s obligation to make sure it supports the lives of its citizens through every phase of their time on earth, I went to bed proud, oh so proud, to be from a country that made a choice for hope, for continued change, and for progress.

+ + +

Did I mention those tights were blue? #Forward.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Hurricane Sandy

There’s something about things that are clean, smooth, unwrinkled and ready—ready for what I don’t know, but ready. Whenever I get up from our couch I plump the pillows. It’s automatic. Not something I consciously think about, but I can’t bare the thought of smushed-in cushions. Nor can I bear the thought of touching the subway poles (you can’t imagine how thrilled I am when the weather turns and I have to wear gloves. I love cool weather for a number of reasons, but the barrier between germs and me is definitely high on the list).

I think my preoccupation with things being clean might stem from the reality that I almost always feel hot. (Another reason I chose Stockholm over Sicily for daily life—100+F weather from June – October? That sounds like a nightmare to me!). And being the long-maned, thick-haired, dark-skinned half-Indian that I am, being hot means being perspir-y, and the ever-present, nagging suspicion that maybe my deodorant isn’t working as well as I would like it to. I hate germs and I’m always worried that I’m not as fresh as I’d like to be.

To combat a bit of that, I like to wash my hands. A lot. I like to take off my shoes when I come into my house because the tiniest smidgen of thought that whatever my shoes touched on New York City’s streets is now living and slithering over my floors, under my bed, below that tomato you just dropped and are now rinsing off and adding to the salad makes me feel that everything is lost.

So, perhaps you can imagine how well I’m holding up in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

+ + +

I wasn’t living in New York during 9/11 or the Blackout of 2003. But, I was here for the blip that was Hurricane Irene (a blip in the city at least—it wrecked havoc on counties north). And, I grew up in Virginia near the waterfront—where the masses of humid, southern air and crisp, crackling storm fronts produced gorgeous thunderstorms, but regular Hurricanes and Nor’easters. I’ve been without power for many a day, but put me in a high-rise building on Wall Street without water and things get rough.


When the power went out on Monday we didn’t just lose the ability to charge our phones and watch Netflix, we haven’t been able to wash our hands, wash our faces, brush our teeth, take a shower or…use our bathroom. Yes, we tried to fill our tub with water for manual flushing, only to realize just before the power went out that our stopper wasn’t working and our tub-that-we-thought-was-filled was actually empty. We do have gas to cook with and to heat up food, but with the contents of our fridge spoiling and our stockpile of cooked food sitting out for days, not to mention that we can’t wash anything that we use, I haven’t eaten anything from my kitchen in two days.

+ + +

Independently from each other, a group of friends in NYC, my immediate family in the States, and my family in Sicily all began calling me General J, The General and Il Generale at almost the same time two years ago. I can’t get enough of it. It’s so much more pleasant than previous nicknames (like 'Gilligan'—thank you, middle schoolers of Yorktown, VA!). And, since I’m strict, like things a certain way (my way), slightly regimented, driven, organized, a tad bossy, infatuated with schedules, calendars, budgets and timelines, and have little patience for (too much) raunchy, inappropriate, indelicate language, the name certainly fits. To be fair, that last bit, paired with my penchant for quiet evenings home reading and/or knitting with tea has also earned me the nickname Grandma/La Nonna from my brother and brother-in-law (oddly enough, also independently of each other). I suppose that means that these are spot on characterizations, and I don’t deny that they both fit me perfectly.

+ + +

When you stick General J in the middle of a disaster zone, you’d think she’d handle whatever went down well, no? I thought I would. But, I’ve been affected much more than I ever thought I would. I see myself as tough, feisty, hard as nails, but the pressure of keeping everything together and managing trying to work, finding cell signals, communicating with family here and abroad, staying hygienic, navigating 14 flights of stairs up and down multiple times a day with my father and my husband, all while I remain unwashed has really, really taken a toll on me. I feel like I’ve failed myself a little because I haven’t been as “general-y” as I thought I would be when something like this happens. I haven’t fallen apart, but I have complained a bit and been silent and stoic rather than pleasant and positive. Maybe I’m being too hard on myself.

+ + +

We’ve been told that power will be restored to Lower Manhattan by midnight tonight, 11PM tomorrow at the latest. My brother-in-law, whom I haven’t seen in more than a year, arrives from Sicily tomorrow at 9PM. For him, and for my own sanity, I truly hope that power will be on today. The thought of cleaning out my fridge both sickens me (the waste, the smells), but energizes me, too. I could make my home mine again! Cozy, fresh, vanilla-scented, warm, inviting. I’m dreaming of a thick steak, a dark smoky wine, an evening on the sofa with my husband and Netflix (and maybe a mini bout of knitting).

But most of all, I really just want to wash my hands.

*sparklingly (http://sparklingly.blogspot.com)
{ The Battery Park Underpass...flooded | 31 October 201