Saturday, April 30, 2011

I'm Officially on a Cooking Strike!

I love food but I really, really, really, really hate to cook. So much so, that Saturdays are usually reserved for figuring out all our meals for the week and cooking everything so I don't have to do it again for the rest of the week. I decided a little while ago that I was not going to pull out my cookbooks or browse allrecipes.com to figure out what we're going to be eating this week. I.just.don't.want.to.cook.ever.again. That's a fantasy that won't be realized so I'll settle for taking the week off. I checked the fridge and cabinets. We've got bread, peanut butter, jelly, eggs, cold cuts, lettuce, tomato, cheese, crackers, tuna, cereal, and canned soup. I'm just going to ignore that head of broccoli that's been in the fridge for over two weeks and probably should be steamed and eaten before it goes bad. We'll be just fine without a homecooked meal for a week.

Zits: Natural Ingredients That Fight Acne

I've been making natural skin and body care products since 1996. I started off just making cold-process soap but along the way my interests expanded into herbs, essential oils, and natural skin care. From my many experiments, here's what I learned are some of the most effective ingredients that help fight and control acne.

Natural soap- Everything you read warns against using soap to cleanse your face because it can clog pores and dry out the skin. This is simply not true for most people. It's important to understand that most of this advice does not make a distinction between true soap and the synthetic cleansers that we now consider soap. At least 99.9 percent of the cleansers available in retail stores today are not true soaps. They're synthetic surfactants masquerading as soap. Cleansing with a true natural soap is one of the best ways to keep your skin clear because it doesn't contain the synthetic ingredients that are often the culprit of clogged pores and overly dry skin. To get as close to natural as possible, it's best to stick to cold-process bar soap. Natural liquid soaps are also available but harder to find. I currently use Savon de Marseille liquid soap to cleanse my skin but Vermontsoap.com and Dr. Bronner's liquid soaps are also great options.

Essential oils- Aromatherapy is what most people think of when they hear this term but essential oils contain powerful antibacterial and anti-fungal properties that help fight problem skin conditions like acne. Some of the most effective essential oils for acne are tea tree, lavender, and rosemary.

Witch Hazel- This is the best toner for people with acne prone skin. There are many witch hazel toners available today but most are mixed with alcohol. Alcohol should be avoided in skin care products because it dries out the skin. The best way to avoid alcohol in your toner is to use witch hazel hydrosol which can usually only be found online at specialty stores. In retail stores, look for witch hazel toners that list witch hazel as the first ingredient on the label and are not heavily diluted with water or excess alcohol.

Aloe vera gel-The flesh of the aloe plant is one of the most soothing things you can put on your skin. Unfortunately, this is another ingredient that is often combined with ingredients like thickeners, colors, and synthetic fragrances, that are not good for acne-prone skin. Now Foods, Lily of the Desert, and Aubrey Organics all offer a 100% pure aloe vera gel. To make an effective, light moisturizer, add a teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil, 3 drops of lavender essential oil and 1 drop of rosemary essential oil to 1/2 cup of pure aloe vera gel.

Keeping your regimen simple is the best thing you can do for your acne-prone skin. Cleansing with a natural soap, toning with pure witch hazel, and using a light moisturizer like aloe vera gel will help improve your skin significantly.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Yoga Basics

Yoga is a lifestyle and philosophy that combines body, mind, and spiritual elements. It often involves a physical practice and meditation. Proper breathing and maintaining the correct posture are two of the basic elements of yoga. It’s important to be aware of your breath and your posture because something as simple as sitting straight in our chairs can help us be more alert and productive.

In yoga terminology, the word vinyasa means movement that is coordinated by the breath. The practice of controlled breathing, called pranayama, is believed to increase oxygen flow to the body and improve one’s overall sense of well-being. Making the connection between breath and movement is key to creating the consciousness through meditation that many yoga devotees aspire to. Although meditation can be challenging and requires a level of concentration that many of us have difficulty mastering, diligent practice will make it easier to master over time.

Yoga also offers many physical benefits. When practiced consistently, yoga helps your body grow stronger and more flexible. While yoga likely won’t build big muscles, it will help build overall muscle tone and improve posture. If you don’t already practice yoga, start your practice by attending a live yoga class or using an exercise DVD so that someone with more experience can guide you through the poses initially. Size and fitness level typically don’t matter because there are modifications for every yoga pose. Also, don’t be confused by the many styles of yoga that you may read or hear about. All forms of yoga are based on one basic type of yoga despite the many names you will encounter.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Versatilty of an Xertube

Xertube is a fancy brand name for resistance bands. They resemble jump ropes but some have handles on each end that allow you to grip the band while using it. Some have no handles on the end so you have to loop them around your hand to keep them in place. The bands are made of a strong elastic and provides resistance as you perform certain exercises. Resistance levels vary from light to heavy and can be adjusted by looping each end of the band around each hand. Xertubes are a great way to work out for people new to exercise. They're also portable so you can exercise just about anywhere.

All resistance bands are not created equal however. You have to buy a quality band or you risk the band snapping and causing possible injury. Thanks to the web, there's never a shortage of band workouts to try. So, grab your band and get started!

Ultimate Resistance Band Workout

Resistance Band Workouts

20 Minute Resistance Band Workout

Resistance Band Exercise DVDs

Weight Management

As some of us age, it becomes harder to keep the weight off. I've had this personal struggle since around 2000. After losing 40 pounds in 2002, I've slowly been putting it back on. The only reason that I haven't gained back every pound and then some is because I started exercising and I'm fairly active throughout the day. Exercise is clearly not my problem so my weight management issues can be traced back to my diet.

I recently attended a wellness seminar sponsored by my employer. Most of what the speaker said, I already knew. But, he did mention five things that I know would help me if I could just stick to them.

1. Consume no more than 25 grams of sugar per day --including fruit. I've always had a sweeth tooth. I gave  up sugar completely when I lost the first 40 pounds. The only way I survived was eating lots and lots of fruit. I would eat whole pineapples for dinner because I wanted sweets so much.  There are 20 grams of sugar in one cup of grapes, 23 grams  each in an orange and an apple. Fruit is my favorite snack.  This is not something I could sustain long term. I don't think I would last a day.

2. Don't eat after 9 pm. I'm a snacker and I tend to snack at night. Stopping would be hard but I think I can stick to this one with a little practice.

3.  Drink a glass of water first thing in the morning and right before bed. I'm really bad about drinking water but this seems like a good way to at least establish a good habit.

4. Eat at least 25 grams of fiber per day. The theory is that a high fiber diet keeps you satisfied so you don't eat as much. I guess that would be true if hunger were the only reason I eat. It's not. Boredom and anxiety are the biggest reasons I eat, not hunger.

5. Get 8 hours of sleep per night and sleep in complete quiet and darkness. He mentioned that a big reason why some people struggle with their weight is because they're not getting enough sleep.  I am usually in bed by 11 pm and the alarm goes off at 5 am. That's about 6 hours of sleep per night. I would love to get more sleep but with everything we have going on, it's the best I can do right now. I'm also guilty of sleeping with the TV on. One of us will wake up and turn it off eventually. But, apparently falling asleep with noise and light interferes with natural sleep patterns and prevents you from getting restorative sleep.

I believe we all know how to live a healthier lifestyle. But, most of us don't want to make the sacrifices that lifestyle requires. Weight management is mostly mental and the right attitude makes all the difference. I'm really hoping that this is the year I get in the right frame of mind so I can get back to my goal weight and get off this diet roller coaster.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

St. Thomas United States Virgin Islands

Since I’m running behind again and since so many other blog posts are reminding me of home, I’m going to catch up with a post about where I grew up. It conveniently includes all the letters I’m behind on –T, U, and V.

Picture source: Freebase
 St. Thomas is the second largest and most populated of the four islands that make up the US Virgin Islands. Although I was not born there, my family moved there when I was seven so I consider it home. I was actually born on another Caribbean island, Antigua. Since most were formed from volcanic eruptions, the Caribbean islands typically have hilly topography and St. Thomas is no exception. Lush green mountains and the crystal clear blue waters of the Caribbean Sea can be seen from every direction. St. Thomas and other Caribbean islands were originally inhabited by three native Indian tribes, the Ciboneys, Arawaks, and Caribs.

Columbus and his crew descended on the Caribbean island chains in 1493. The islands are now known by the English version of the Spanish names he gave them –San Tomas, Santa Cruz, and San Juan. Other European expeditions eventually descended on the island chains as well. This resulted in most of the Indian population being enslaved, exposed to deadly foreign diseases, and eventually killed. Thus, it’s not surprising that most of the islands' current inhabitants are not direct descendants of these original Indian tribes but are instead, descendants of African slaves.

After the Danish gained control of the island in 1666, they established major industries around distilling rum and growing sugar cane. Africans were captured and taken to the islands to support the bustling economy. The Caribbean slave trade eventually became the largest in the world. Several slave uprisings soon brought an end to slavery in the Caribbean. In 1917, the Danish reluctantly sold St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John to the United States for $25 million in gold.

The islands are now considered an unincorporated territory of the United States. Although the residents of the US Virgin Islands are US citizens, they do not have the right to vote in US elections. They vote for candidates for the US presidency in primaries through a certain number of delegate votes. The islands do have representation in Congress but they are called “delegates to Congress” and are not full voting members of US government.

Interesting US Virgin Islands Trivia 
  • Drivers still drive on the left side of the road.
  • The official flower is the yellow trumpetbush.
  • With the exception of a few private schools, all school age children are required to wear uniforms to school.
  • Although English is the official languages, natives typically speak in an English Creole dialect. It may sound weird but if you listen closely, it's essentially a form of broken English. 
  • The Virgin Islands has the world’s highest marriage rate. (This surprised even me!)

Friday, April 22, 2011

Scheduling Time for What's Important

As much as I hate the thought of it, life has gotten to a point where it seems that everything must be scheduled. My days go much more smoothly when I have a general plan already mapped out at the start of the day. I also have to schedule time for the things that are most important to me and the things that will throw my day off if they're not done. It's hard to do this when everything you do seems important to you. I've read articles that tell you to free up more time by removing nonessential tasks, activities, and even people. The fact that people would even be included in that advice always makes me sad but I won't go into the reasons why here.

My important things...

Goals
Scheduling times to work on  my goals is something that I am pretty anal about. Things don't happen by sitting around thinking about it. You've got to make them happen through focused actions. I resent it sometimes because it can take so much time away from other things. But, I do it because I know it's really the only way to get my life the way I want it.

Exercise
I've been a regular exerciser since 2004. While exercise is not my favorite activity, it's on my priority list because it's become a habit. I've found a way to work out that I can stick with and that's convenient. I have no excuse since all I have to do is pop a workout in the DVD player. Working out at 5:30 in the morning doesn't help me stay motivated but I push through it -- most days.

Housekeeping
I've already written about my intense dislike for housework but it's still something I schedule. I blame this completely on my mom but I just can't function if I think my house is out of order. Keeping a clean and comfortable home is important to me. I'm not nearly as diligent about decluttering (I tend to be a bit of a book, magazine, and paper hoarder), dusting, and vacuuming but the overall cleanliness of our home is important enough to me that I dedicate at least an hour to it every day. It's a major time zapper but I can see no other way around it.

Family
I love my family and I want to preserve it. My little one always takes priority. Unfortunately, sometimes my husband doesn't fare so well. Scheduling time with him often doesn't happen. Hmmm. So, does that mean he's not as important? It feels awkward saying that but maybe it's true. My husband may just be on the back burner while I prioritize other things. That's definitely something I should fix. Since we're two hours away, we do try to schedule time with his extended family and see them about twice a month. My family lives in Alaska so time with them is not as easy to schedule. I plan to visit every year but it actually happens every few years. As crazy as they make me when I get there, that's not nearly often enough.

Friends
I've done a really poor job of maintaining contact with my friends, especially the ones I had in high school. It's like I graduated and they didn't exist after that. I didn't attend my 10 or 15 year reunion and am still debating whether I should attend the 20 year reunion next year. I did have a few good friends so the fact that I didn't at least keep in touch with them bothers me. I think the reason I'm avoiding my reunions is because it will feel like walking into a room full of strangers.

I also made some wonderful friends in the military but lost touch with them and haven't seen or spoken to them in ages. I've done a much better job with former coworkers. I say former because it seems that I don't realize how much I liked them until after I leave the job. Although, I've lost touch with some of them, there are still a few that I talk to regularly and some I reach out to now and again. I'm off today and would love to enjoy my day just hanging out around the house with my little one and getting some writing done during nap time. But, a few of my former coworkers and I have been trying to schedule some time for lunch for months now. Since our schedules never seem to have a free moment. I'm driving to Atlanta to meet them at their workplace so we can have lunch. Even with the price of gas, it's a worthwhile sacrifice, I think.

I guess my job should be on my important list but it's simply not. It's a means to an end and it's a shame I spend 8 hours there and another two hours (including getting me and the baby dressed, packing lunch, etc...)solely dedicated to getting to and from it. I love my employer and the people I work with, but this is pretty good sign that I should find more meaningful work.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

What's on Your Reading List?

How many of you have a stack of books waiting to be read but you have no time to read them? Here's a list of the stack of books sitting on my nightstand.

All is Forgiven, Move On - Janice Taylor
The Millionaire in the Mirror - Gene Bedell
The Truth About You - Marcus Buckingham
Making it Up - Penelope Lively
Rachel's Holiday - Marian Keyes
Under the Duvet - Marian Keyes
Cracks in My Foundation - Marian Keyes
Something to Write Home About - Rachel Ingalls
The Girl Who Played With Fire - Steig Larsson
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest - Steig Larson
The Automatic Millionaire Workbook - David Bach
The Energy of Money - Maria Nemeth ( I am ashamed to say I've had this book since 2006 and STILL haven't finished it)

Of course, there's also the books that I insist on checking out from the library which take priority since I have to return them. I have three library books that are overdue now because I ran out of renewals and I still haven't finished reading them. Most of the books on this list can be blamed on perusing the bargain book section at Barnes & Noble. I think I have an addiction to books because I keep buying more. I've got two in my Amazon shopping cart right now. I'll never get through them at this rate.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Query Letters...Where to Start?

So, I've decided to start trying to pitch articles to print publications. From what I've been reading, it's virtually impossible for an unpublished author to get work with national publications. So, I'm going to start writing query letters to local newspapers and regional magazines. As I see it, the biggest challenge I have is keeping up with the magazine's relevancy schedule. The thought of submitting a holiday article three to six months in advance is a bit daunting. I'm going to have to be super organized. Staying one step ahead is not the way I usually operate. I'm usually just catching on to trends when everyone else has already moved on to something else. I also need to develop a thicker skin because I know there will be many rejections at first.

I checked out a copy of Writer's Market from the library and unfortunately, it does not contain a category for regional magazines. I'm sure I could find a few if I waded through every category but there's got to be a more efficient way. The Writer magazine often has articles about freelancing but most are written for people who are already freelancing. I've had the subscription since last fall and, although it contains so much valuable information, I have yet to read an article that explains how to successfully break into freelancing. So, to all the freelance writers out there, how did you get started?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Summer Porch Pots and Peonies

Since I'm so far behind, I thought I'd make this a picture blog.

Here's a picture of my freshly planted porch pots. I hope they make it through the summer. It gets so hot here in the summertime that even when I water the pots every day, it's not enough to keep them alive. I think I'll try watering twice a day when it gets really hot outside to see if that helps.




And a shot of my fledgling peonies. I separated a larger peony plant about two years ago and these are its transplants. They finally bloomed but the blooms aren't full like they should be. Hopefully this will change as they grow. I haven't had much luck with peonies in the past so I am thrilled that they're progressing, albeit slowly.

What is Operations Analysis?

For the past ten years, I have spent my days working as an operations analyst. When I was in college studying operations management, I had a clear idea of what the field was about. I enjoyed my core curriculum classes and looked forward to a career practicing what I'd learned. Operations management is about helping businesses operate more efficiently using concepts like total quality management, continuous improvement, and supply chain and logistics management. Unfortunately, I have yet to apply most of what I've learned to either of the jobs I've held since I've been out of college.

I now know that most businesses see operations analysts as generalists. People who can do just about anything the organization needs whether it coincides with the job description or not. I guess the same thing can be said for all jobs. I've also observed that corporations tend to use the word "analyst" in job titles even when the job requires little to no actual analysis. Although I can be bitter about it at times, I know my mistake was not choosing my jobs more carefully. It appears that the operations analysts who actually "analyze" the majority of the time are ones with specific titles like "IT Operations Analyst" or "Operations Research Analyst". I did not take ownership of my career and ended up working for good companies and with good people but doing work that I mostly hate and do not find challenging.

I have been busily trying to figure out how to correct this  and unfortunately, it looks like it involves going back to school and/or earning an expensive certification. A certification and another degree that have little to do with what I do currently. So, essentially, it would mean starting over. The thought of that does not excite me. I've invested ten years into this muddled career path. There's got to be a clearing. Or am I not seeing the forest for the trees?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Natural Sunscreens

I'm cheating a little here and posting a condensed version of info I posted on my other blog.

There are two types of sunscreens, chemical and physical. Chemical sunscreens are synthetic and provide protection from the sun by being absorbed into the skin. Chemical sunscreens feel lighter on the skin and generally have a higher SPF level than physical sunscreens. However, chemical sunscreens are more likely to irritate sensitive skin. Apply chemical sunscreens at least 20 minutes before heading outside since they need time to absorb into the skin.

Physical sunscreens are the natural sunscreens that provide protection from the sun by sitting on top of the skin. They reflect or scatter ultraviolet light as it hits the skin forming a barrier between your skin and the sun. They start to work almost immediately after applying. The most common natural sunscreens are the natural minerals zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These mineral compounds work by reflecting UVA rays and have long-standing safety records.

Antioxidants are often combined with titanium dioxide to slow down the oxidation of oils. Some popular natural antioxidants are vitamins E and C, rice bran oil (SPF 4), sesame seed oil (SPF 4), natural shea butter (SPF 6), and green tea (increases the sun protection activity of ingredients).

Recent research also shows that antioxidant supplementation may protect our skin. A paper published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that supplementation with carotenoids (25 mg/day) and vitamin E (500 IU/day) "may be useful for diminishing sensitivity to ultraviolet light."

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Millionaire Manual

The Millionaire Manual is a book that teaches you how to build wealth step-by-step. I decided to purchase it last year because I'd grown tired of reading books about building wealth that were mostly pep talks. At only 147 pages, it's a very short book. The book outlines 106 steps that one should take to start accumulating wealth. At first, this seemed a little daunting but upon closer inspection, I realized that some of the ideas were quick and simple to execute and others were simply substeps. So, completing the substeps is inevitable as I work through the main step. Since the author does not go into much detail, the book would work well as a companion to a more comphresensive financial guide. There were a few sections where I felt that he should have expounded more. He writes a lot about investments, but each investment topic is about a page. Half of the page is dedicated to questions for the reader to answer. Of course, if you don't know enough about the topic you can't answer the questions. That's really my only complaint with the book. Otherwise, I think it's a very comprehensive guide and I was relieved to see that a some of the steps are things that we're already doing.

Step 1: Assess your financial condition to determine your assets and liabilities. We did this with the help of this spreadsheet. Unfortunately, our two mortgages, with one house that is underwater, made our net worth lower than we'd like. The good thing is that we have room to grow our net worth in other areas like our savings and investments.

Step 2: Familiarize yourself with the tax code. I do our taxes every year so I'm pretty familiar with the rules and deductions that apply to us. With the help of this book, I've realized that we need to focus more on decreasing our adjusted gross income since we don't qualify for most of the tax credits.

Step 63 and 64. Enroll in and contribute to a 401K and IRA. We've been doing this for several years now. We plan to start contributing to our Roth IRA more.

Step 72. Use financial planning software to help you manage your money and investments. Unfortunately, he doesn't recommend any in the book but we've been using one for a couple years. I've researched this thoroughly and unfortunately there is not one program that offers a complete solution. We just picked the one that came closest to meeting our needs.

Step 74. Keep track of your financial investments using free online resources. My personal favorite is MSN Moneycentral. I also like to use my.msn.com because I can view our investments along with news, weather, and other topics that interest me on one page.

Step 76. Pay bills by the due date. This is a no-brainer. Some people's situations may prevent this but the penalties that come with paying late only put you further in the hole.

Step 78. Review your credit report each year. I am fortunate to live in a state where credit bureaus are required to offer one free credit report per year. Even if you have to pay to get a fee to get a copy of your credit report each year, it's important to know what's on there.

Step 79. You only need two or three credit cards. We only have two and neither of them are store credit cards that charge such ridiculous interest rates.

Step 87. Donate to charity. We don't do it enough but we do make a few donations every year. This is another area where we can step it up a little.

Step 92. Know your FICO score. This is one step that I disagree with. Although we do know what our score is, we know it because our mortgage broker told us. I don't think this is something anyone should pay for. If you're tracking your credit history, you should have a good idea of what your FICO score is. If you apply for credit on a car or mortgage, just ask what your score is. We've found that they're happy to tell us.

I'm commiting to tackle step 5- invest in yourself, step 6 and 93- complete a written and photgraphic asset inventory, and step 13- complete a wealth planning cycle, in the next 30 days.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

It Takes More Than Love

Today is my 16th wedding anniversary so I decided to write about what makes a successful marriage. My marriage is far from perfect so I am not an expert. But I’ve learned a few things over the years that may be helpful to someone else.
  1. Always be who you are. This is more applicable at the beginning of the relationship but it’s probably the most important thing I’ve learned. Too many people, especially women, pretend to be something they’re not because they think it will make the other person like them more. If you hate football, say so. If you don’t like to cook or clean, don’t let your partner think that you’re the next Martha Stewart. If you’re the jealous type, don’t pretend that your partner talking to someone else didn’t bother you. Eventually, the façade will come down and your true self always emerges. If a person can’t like you the way you are, move on.
  2. It is imperative that you and your partner’s family get along. I’ve heard the saying “you’re marrying the person, not his or her family”. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. The last thing you want to do is create discord and come between your partner and his or her family. This will breed resentment in your relationship. Meet the family, spend time with them, and decide whether you can get along with them for the rest of your life  
  3. Your partner should not be all things to you nor should you be all things to him or her. It’s important for a healthy marriage that each person maintains their own identity. You will be doing a great disservice to yourself if you center your life around your partner. Doing all the things they like to do while neglecting your own interests and neglecting your friends are signs that you are too wrapped up in your partner. In the same vein, a partner who resents you having your own interests and friends is a huge red flag. Successful relationships are built on finding a happy and harmonious medium where each person’s interests are respected and appreciated.  
  4. Don’t try to change your partner. This relates to lesson #1. If you observe qualities in your partner that you find annoying, they’re not going to magically disappear when you get married. And no amount of nagging or working on it is going to change the other person. When your partner does something annoying, ask yourself if you can put up with this for the rest of your life. If the answer is yes, accept it, let it go, and do not bring it up again. If the answer is no, it’s best to end the relationship.  
  5. Communicate openly and directly with your partner but do it respectfully. This is a big one for me because, like most couples, my husband and I have different communication styles. This presents a challenge in itself but yelling, using a demeaning tone, and name calling only make it worse. It’s important to learn your partner’s communication style so that you can communicate with them effectively.
  6. At the end of the day commitment is what keeps you together. The initial euphoria of relationships wears off within two years or so. That is when the real work begins. Thinking of marriage as a lifelong commitment will go a long way toward keeping you together. When the going gets tough, remind yourself that you committed to this person and put everything you have into making your marriage work.
Disclaimer: Ignore everything I posted if you are in an abusive (physical, verbal, emotional, sexual) relationship. If you are being abused, the best thing to do is leave.

    Wednesday, April 13, 2011

    Catching up- St. John's Wort & Kava Kava

    Yesterday, I struggled to come up with a "J" word. After two drafts and nothing that felt postworthy, I decided to go on with the rest of my day hoping that something would come to me. As you can probably tell, inspiration never struck. I am still thinking about RodneySouthern's post about anxiety disorders and I have decided that I need to do something to help relieve my comparatively mild, but still bothersome, symptoms and improve my overall mood.

    Natural health is something that I've dabbled in for over ten years.  Aromatherapy and herbs are the areas that I think are the most promising. Ironically, the two herbs that are reported to be the most useful for depression, stress, and anxiety fall neatly into the J & K category. Before I use any natural remedy, I read relevant scientific research to help me make the best choices. Here's a brief summary of what I found for these two possible natural treatments.
    
     St. John's Wort
    St. John's Wort is a fairly common garden plant. I have tried to grow it with some success. However, I've learned over the years that the herbs I grow should be used for cooking and making tea, not for attempting to cure a minor physical or emotional ailment. It's best to buy herbs in standardized forms so that the proper dosage is taken consistently. St. John's Wort has gotten mixed reviews from the medical community. Most of the studies conducted show that it's helpful for mild to moderate depression. The study you've probably heard the most about is the one that found it to be no more effective than a placebo. It's important to note that some prescription medications have also been found to not be effective at treating depression. The recommended dose for capsules is 300 mg three times daily. For extracts, 40 to 60 drops two times daily. St. John's Wort can also be consumed as a tea up to three times per day. The downside to taking St. John's Wort is that it is contraindicated for so many other medications. So, if you're on prescription medications, it's best to check with your doctor before using this herb.

    Kava Kava
    Kava Kava has a long history of use in the Pacific. It's often used as a ceremonial drink and consumed after grinding the root into a pulp and mixing it with water. Kava kava can help with relaxation and improving feelings of contentment, well-being, and elevating mood. Several clinical studies have shown that kava kava is significantly more effective at treating anxiety, mood disorders, and insomnia than a placebo. One study even demonstrated that kava kava has a similar effect on brain activity as valium. The German kava kava extract was used in most of the clinical trials. Although some study participants  noticed improvement in as little as one week, it can take up to four weeks to notice any changes. The standardized dose used on subjects were 150 to 300 mg of kava kava that contained 30 to 70 percent kavalactones 1 to 3 times per day. Subjects were also given two to four grams of the crushed root made into a decoction by boiling in water up to 3 times daily.

    There are concerns that taking kava kava could result in liver damage if taken improperly. This finding always leads me to wonder why this side effect has not been observed in the Pacific where kava kava is routinely taken. Kava kava should also not be taken by children or pregnant women. More information about kava kava can be found by clicking the subheading link to go to the University of Michigan Medical Center research page.

    Monday, April 11, 2011

    Who Inspires You?

    Until now, there was no one in my life that inspired me in a positive way. I am very self-directed and as a rule, I do not put people on pedestals because it's a long way down. They're human and fallible. They will disappoint you and sometimes, themselves. It's inevitable. Since I started on this introspective journey a few years ago, I have discovered several people that inspire me. I am careful not to idolize them or think that they're perfect. They're simply human beings who have accomplished remarkable things. These three people inspire me to have the courage to be who I am, focus on and develop my strengths, and work on my goals step-by-step. Who inspires you and why?

    Oprah Winfrey- Who doesn't admire Oprah, right? I haven't always admired her. There were a number of years where I felt that she seemed to lose her focus. Every other show was about celebrities, "The Secret", or Eckart Tolle. She was getting too preachy for my taste so I stopped watching her show. Over the past three years or so, she has redeemed herself in my eyes. I find her newfound honesty refreshing. It doesn't seem like she's chasing after what's new and hot but instead focusing on making a lasting difference in other people's lives. I watched her Master Class episodes and actually cried during Part I. Our childhood experiences are strikingly similar. She inspires me because she is unapologetic about who she is and what she believes. She owns everything she says and does. That takes courage.

    Marcus Buckingham- His is not a household name and ironically, I only know of him because of Oprah. Marcus inspires me because he is spreading a message that goes against everything we've always been taught. I read his book, "Now, Discover Your Strengths" and immediately dismissed the idea that all I need to do to be successful was focus on doing what I'm good at. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that he was right. His ideas aren't original but he spells them out in an easily understandable and relatable way. One thing he said that has stuck with me is that parents should nurture their children's strengths when they notice them. He used the example of attending a parent-teacher conference and his being so focused on how to help his son be better at art while almost completely ignoring how good his son is in math. Everyone has natural talents and we simply cannot excel at everything yet that is what we tend to teach our children. He's given me the courage to pursue my natural talents and help my son hone his.

    Richard Branson- I am not inspired by his daredevilish ways, brashness, or ego. Richard Branson serves as an example of what you can accomplish when you build something step by step, little by little. I am an all or nothing type of person. I am also very impatient and want things to happen now. For me, Richard serves as a constant reminder that accomplishing my goals will not happen overnight and I need to keep working at it despite obstacles and setbacks.

    Saturday, April 09, 2011

    Housecleaning Hang-ups

    It's a cloudy Saturday morning here and my mind is consumed with how to complete my scheduled household chores over the next two days. Housecleaning has never been my thing. I hate everything about it. Of course, my mother was fanatical about it. She expected the house to be cleaned every day. Who has those kinds of expectations with five kids? She also washed clothes in an old-fashioned metal washing tub and guess who had hand rinsing and hanging on the clothes line duty? Since we were the oldest, my sister and I were treated as my mother's second-in-command. Between the three of us, the house was mostly spotless and everyone had a constant supply of clean clothes and hot homemade meals.

    Fast forward to my household where most of the responsibility for keeping up the house falls on me. My husband tries but he's the kind of man that needs to be told what to do. He won't just put the dishes in the dishwasher because the sink is obviously full. He'll walk by the sink ten times and claim that he didn't notice the sink was full when I point it out. He'll go to the dryer and rather than take out the entire load, fold them and put them away, he'll just take out whatever he was looking for and leave everything else in the dryer. It's gotten to a point where it's just easier, faster, and less annoying to take care of the house myself. I suspect this was part of his plan all along.

    So that I am not completely overwhelmed with keeping the house clean, laundry, ironing, and cooking meals, I came up with a system of sorts to help me stay on top of things. Each weeknight I try to clean at least one room of the house. This is in addition to the kitchen which is tidied every night and bedroom which is tidied every morning. The bathroom is scheduled for Wednesday night and grocery shopping is scheduled for Tuesdays after work. I cook our meals for the week on Saturday and the laundry is done on Sunday. The living room and dining room are rarely used so I pick up toys every couple of days and dust and vaccuum when they look like they need it.

    Although this schedule keeps me from completely losing control of my home's cleanliness and from feeling like my whole weekend is dedicated to cleaning and cooking, it doesn't leave much time for anything else. There are still other errands that need to be run, committments that pop up, and taking care of my toddler. If I get an invitation to go somewhere after work or on the weekend, I immediately start thinking of how far this little outing will put me behind on everything else. I know everyone has busy lives these days but I'm beginning to think that this happy medium I keep hearing about doesn't really exist.

    Friday, April 08, 2011

    Guard as in Mouth Guard

    I started noticing my bite felt different a few months ago while I was eating. While chewing, my teeth on one side seemed to meet before the teeth on the other side. The teeth on the other side never really seemed to meet which made it difficult to chew properly. A routine visit to my dentist revealed that I had started grinding my teeth in my sleep. According to him, I've ground my teeth hard enough to chip one tooth and make another almost smooth. Hence, the bite issues when I eat. He said teeth grinding is known as bruxism and told me I would need to start wearing a mouth guard at night. I have yet to purchase one but know I need to since my gums now have a constant slight ache.

    Bruxism is commonly linked to missing or crooked teeth, suppressed anger, stress, and anxiety.  My overall bite hasn't really changed over the years despite having my wisdom teeth removed about 10 years ago. I'm fairly certain that mine is caused from suppressed anger, stress and anxiety. Other than wearing a mouth guard at night, I'm not quite sure how to address this. I tend to internalize my feelings and this is not something that can be solved overnight. After doing some research, it seems there is very little I can do to stop the teeth grinding quickly. Articles that address the emotional causes of bruxism are few and far between. An Australian site recommended regular exercise, cognitive behavioral therapy, stress management or relaxation therapy. I already exercise regularly so stress management seems to be the logical next step. Stress management is not something I practice regularly and I'm not particularly good at relaxing either. I would love to hear some ideas about how you manage stress.

    Thursday, April 07, 2011

    How to Focus My Writing?

    Since, I started trying to write more, I've realized that I need to focus my efforts. Identifying a niche or specialty is a logical place to start but that's been difficult for me because there is so much that interests me. If I were to narrow my interests down to things that I can write about fluidly, my list would include career planning for college students, home security, traveling on a budget, and residential property management. This morning I banged out an article explaining how recent college graduates can rewrite their resume so they stand out to potential employers. The idea, actually 5 ideas, came to me while sitting in a recruiting meeting yesterday. Over the past 5 years or so, I've compiled a long list of mistakes that I made when I first entered the corporate world so writing this article was virtually effortless.

    I have spent most of my professional career writing business reports and proposals. The fact that I am mostly experienced in business writing also means that my writing style is more formal. Research is also one of my strengths. However, I've found that it hurts me when I'm trying to write on informal topics because my propensity to research every detail--and my propensity to use words like propensity--often makes my articles seem too technical which can make them difficult to read or boring to the reader. I joined Yahoo Associated Content in January as a way to force myself to write about different topics. It only took a few weeks of reviewing the assignment desk to realize that writing what Yahoo wants is not type of writing that I wanted to do.

    Shortly after submitting my third article, a personal finance beat appeared on my account page. I assumed it was because I signed up for AC after reading an article about saving money on cable. Can I write about personal finance? Yes. Maybe I'm interpreting the instructions too literally, but limiting me to only writing in the first person is the reason why that beat does not excite me. I have yet to write anything for the beat. I've created about three draft articles but am reluctant to submit them because personal finance is not my forte. Also, I just don't have enough finance related issues going on in my life to provide Yahoo with a steady supply of articles. I also know that I am a much better writer when I write to inform. As I'm writing this, it occurred to me that I may be able to fulfill Yahoo's requirements for the personal finance beat if I use my property management experience and target my articles to renters. Ha! Now THAT excites me!

    Wednesday, April 06, 2011

    Endeavor to Exercise More

    Sitting is not a great way to burn calories. Unfortunately, that's what people spend most of their time doing every day. Experts recommend that the average American should strive to take 10,000 steps per day. This is equivalent to walking slightly less than 5 miles and burning 500 calories per day. I started wearing a pedometer a few years ago and I was shocked to see that I barely made 2,000 steps each day with just my normal activity. After weeks of trying in vain to get to 10,000 steps, I actually walked the entire building at work hoping it would accelerate my progress. Unbelievably, that only resulted in another 2,000 steps.  This meant that I would need to make at least five trips around the building to get to the recommended daily step goal. Being absent from my desk for extended periods of time so many times per day would certainly raise questions. Luckily, I found several ways to stay active and get the recommended number of steps without making it an inconvenient chore.

    Scheduling physical activity is a good way to get at least 50 percent of your daily step count completed. I also find that when I set aside at least 30 minutes during lunch to walk outside, I am able to get even closer to 10,000 steps. If you spend most of your time at home or just don't want to walk or run outside, then a Leslie Sansone walking workout is perfect. All you have to do is pop the workout in your DVD player and exercise in the comfort of your home. Exercising at home is generally a great idea for anyone who is pressed for time because you can work out when it's convenient for you. Since I have a toddler, I wake up at 5:30 am so I can exercise without interruption.

    If you work in an office and spend most of the day sitting at a desk, you can squeeze in some extra steps by walking around the building during your morning and afternoon breaks. Take the scenic route to the bathroom, breakroom, and cafeteria. Walk to your coworker's desk instead of calling or emailing. Most importantly, always take the stairs. If you can manage, take two or three trips up and down the stairs while you're at it.    

    For most of us, our normal activity will not equal 10,000 steps per day. However, it's a lot easier to get those steps in when you concentrate on exercise for a certain amount of time every day and take advantage of opportunities to move more.

    Tuesday, April 05, 2011

    D is for Don't Know

    We're only four letters into the challenge and I don't know what to write about. I have been thinking about this topic since yesterday and nothing is coming to me. I can't possibly have writer's block already. This may explain why I have such a hard time keeping this blog updated. I'm constantly tugged in a hundred different directions so inspiration comes sporadically, if at all. Great writing ideas often pop into my head while I'm driving. This is annoying to say the least. By the time I get an opportunity to jot anything down, the idea is gone or doesn't sound half as good as it did when I first thought of it.

    I'm trying to recreate a writing exercise I learned in high school to see if a topic reveals itself. One of my English teachers told us that when you absolutely don't know what to write about, just start writing. Whatever pops into your head, write it down. Don't analyze it. Don't stop and proofread it. Just write as the words come to you. Sometimes this is effective and sometimes it's not. For me, it's most effective when I have a topic. Writing about the letter D is not nearly as interesting as writing about some other interesting word or phrase that begins with D. Maybe I can write about my first crush, Danley. Or my struggles with dysthymia. My cluttered desk. My report that's due. My disappointment that the cafeteria did not have any turkey burgers today. The destination for our next vacation. The significance of the date of my upcoming wedding anniversary. My delight at finally filing our taxes today. Every year, I say that I'll have them done by the end of February and it never happens. Preparing our tax return causes me a lot of stress and anxiety. I always end up doing a little and then coming back to it days or weeks later. We honestly need to just give everything to a CPA but I'm far too anal for that. If we were to ever get auditied...knocks wood...our butt would be on the line, not the CPA's. I never want to end up in the crosshairs of the IRS, especially for something someone else did. Maybe I can come up with some "D" words to describe the annual tax filing process.

    Dysfunctional
    Distressing
    Depressing

    Hmmmm. I guess that writing technique worked.

    Sunday, April 03, 2011

    Coupons = Cash

    Inspired by a thread on the Low Carb Friends forum, I started using coupons religiously in 2009. I've always been a deal chaser but was pretty casual about it before then. I used coupons here and there but routinely paid full price. Committing to using coupons has changed my perspective. Now, I don't dare shop without them and I never settle for full price.  Believe it or not, coupons and discounts are not hard to find. Companies throw money at consumers to entice us to buy their product or shop at their stores. Here are some of the best sources for coupons and discounts to help you rack up savings.

    Weekly newspapers- The Sunday paper tis the best source for manufacturer coupon inserts. I used to resist using manufacturer coupons because I convinced myself that they were mostly for products we don't use. Since I clip and send about 80 percent of these coupons to military bases overseas, this has proven to be mostly true. But, the savings we get from the coupons we do use more make it worthwhile.

    Online coupons- There are a number of sites that allow you to print coupons right from the web. Coupons.com, redplum.com, smartsource.com, and e-centives.com are some of the most popular coupon printing sites.   

    Company mailing lists- Bed Bath & Beyond is one of my favorite stores. Unfortunately, they don't distribute online coupons but they do mail 20 percent off or  $5 off $15 coupons fairly regularly. I find their prices a bit high but combining their coupons with an existing sale helps me save quite a bit when I shop there.

    Rebates- Rebates are another great way to save money and a natural extension of  coupons. I routinely search online for rebates for products that I'm thinking of buying because rebates can be combined with sales and coupons for even more savings. For instance, Libman is currently offering a $5 rebate on its Freedom mop. Riteaid recently had a 40% off sale on Libman mops. I also had a $2 off coupon. So, when all is said and done, I'll be paying a little over $6 for a mop that typically retails for $22.99.

    Online rebate sites- I always shop through online cash back sites like ebates.com. They keep a list of current discounts being offered by each company listed on their site. The extra cash back you get from shopping through sites like this is the icing on the cake.

    Loyalty rewards programs- If you have brands that you prefer to use exclusively, sign up for their loyalty programs. My two favorites are Huggies and Marriott. Entering the rewards code from each Huggies product I buy allows me to get free stuff after accumulating so many points. We stay at Marriott hotels exclusively when we travel so we earn free nights through their rewards programs.

    Saturday, April 02, 2011

    Stress Free Birthdays

    It's only two short months until my little one's second birthday. I'm trying not to repeat the mistakes I made last year while planning his party. I stressed way too much over throwing a great party and making his cake just perfect. Turns out he didn't even eat the cake. He cried when we sang Happy Birthday and blew the candle out and continued to cry until we laid him down for his nap. He was clearly overwhelmed by all the attention. This year, I'm seriously thinking of booking a nice relaxing family weekend at one of Georgia's state parks and inviting everyone to the cabin  for an hour or so for cake, presents, and a Happy Birthday song.  Knowing myself the way I do, I'll probably waffle about this decision for the next month or so. So, in anticipation of the lengthy period of indecision that is ahead of me, I've created this list of tips for planning a stress free kid's birthday party just in case I need to refer to them later.

    1. Start planning early. Preferably at least six weeks in advance. If your child's birthday is around a major holiday, you may need to start planning sooner.Choosing a theme for the party will also help you focus your planning more.

    2. If posssible, don't have the party at your home. That adds to the stress because not only do you have to prepare for the party, you now have to prepare your house too. If you do have it at your home, consider having it outside.

    3. Keep it in perspective. Yes, we all want to throw a great party for our children but at the end of the day, it does not have to be perfect. Kids are more concerned with having fun and rarely notice things that may not have turned out the way we wanted them to. They're more concerned with having fun and if they're really young, they won't even remember the party until you break out the pictures later on.

    4. Keep it simple. Remember kids typically don't expect a lot. Most of the time when we plan an elaborate party, we're doing it for the benefit of the adults that will be there. Remembering who the party is really for will help keep it simple.

    5.Stay away from marthastewart.com. If you're like me and can't just go there for inspiration. You must complete every project that looks good and fits with your theme, it's best not to visit the site at all. If you can use her ideas as a springboard for your own ideas and come up with projects that are within your own abilities, then the site is a wonderful resource.

    Friday, April 01, 2011

    Ambition: A Cautionary Tale

    Today is the first day of the A to Z Blogging Challenge. I took inspiration from the challenge creator's kick-off post and will write about ambition.

    Ambition can be described as drive, motivation, aspiration, or desire. I used to see myself as ambitious but I don't anymore. When I graduated high school, my ambition was to go to college to become a fashion designer and ultimately live a glamorous life in Paris. Instead, I ended up in Alaska for six months and joined the military in frustration after not finding the kind of work I desired. The military took me to Anniston Alabama, Seoul Korea, Clarksville Tennessee, and finally, Hinesville Georgia. By the time I got out of the military, I couldn't remember what my initial ambitions were and had somehow picked up a husband along the way. Marriage was not on my original list of aspirations either. After the military, I went to college and earned a degree in business administration knowing all the while that a business degree was not in my original plan. And so, as a result of not following my ambitions, I have lived the past ten years of my career spending eight hours a day with my butt planted in a chair, staring at a monitor, and typing on a keyboard. I am forced to participate in inane office conversations about the weather, weekend plans, or someone's new outfit or hairstyle all for the sake of maintaining workplace harmony. I am clearly not office worker material but somehow, here I sit. Every day. From 8:00 to 5:00.

    My ambition now is to get through the day without strangling one of my coworkers for starting yet another inane conversation or asking an unbelievably dumb question. I dream about getting home from work and just plopping on the couch with my two best friends, Ben & Jerry. That's pretty difficult to do with a toddler. I constantly hope that my husband will realize that the perfect gift for me is a maid. Although, I know I have so much to be thankful for in my life now, I still regret not going to California to become a fashion designer in 1992 and I still dream of Paris. This is a cautionary tale. Listen to your inner voice. Stay true to your ambitions and desires.