The Best Baby Gift Ever!

A few years ago as my best friend was opening her baby shower gifts — items everyone has seen a dozen times in the predictable pink, blue or yellow — she came to mine and suddenly the room was silent.  Her eyes filled with tears and everyone strained to see beyond the tissue paper.  For the remainder of the shower my gift was slowly passed around the room and I was repeatedly approached with all kinds of questions.  I realized it was the best gift I had ever given and it didn’t come from the registry.

BIt all started from a conversation several months into her pregnancy.  She was in her mid-thirties and this was her first child.  Her only regret in waiting to start a family was that her grandparents were not going to be around much longer and her child would never know them.  This made her incredibly sad, but it gave me an idea.

The next day I got in touch with everyone in her and her husband’s family and extended family.  I asked them to think of something they’d like to tell her baby: advice, wisdom, humor, a famous quote, anything, and email me the responses along with a photo that captured who they are.  A month later I had dozens of notes and photos.  I uploaded them onto the website Shutterfly and started creating a book.

Each page had a photo and entry addressed to her baby.  I asked my friend and her husband to do this as well (but I didn’t tell them what it was for).  She wrote a beautiful letter, which I put on the first page of the book, along with a picture of her ultrasound.  I dug up some childhood artwork of hers, scanned it, and made that the cover art.

Shutterfly gives you a lot of layout and theme options.  I had her parents send me baby photos of her.  They even found some black and whites of her grandparents as children.  I put these in the back of the book along with famous quotes about family and love that I pulled from the internet.  The book became a modern-day version of a family tree, a way her child could learn about his/her family and put faces with names.  In the end the total cost of producing the book was $75, but since her grandparents passed away a year after her child was born, it became priceless.

Nerdy Pampering

Yes, Halloween is a week away. No, that’s not my mask. Well, it is, but not for trick or treating… just for treating, me!

MaskNER:D Skincare is a DIY spa. I love massages and facials, but my wallet doesn’t, so finding this product was wonderful. I tried the Super Hydrating Mask, $20, which is great during the change of seasons. It felt like the fountain of youth on my face.

It was also real easy to use. After removing the mask from the packaging, peel away the supportive films and place on your face. Set a timer for 30 minutes, grab a book, sit back and relax.  Or call a friend — just warn them if you’re using FaceTime!  “Is that you, Ali, or Lord Voldemort?”

Once you’re done discard the mask and rub the remaining product into your skin on your face and neck, avoiding the eyes.  Don’t rinse it off like you do with other masks.  Just let the goodness seep in and do it’s thing.  And exactly what is that?

The folks at NER:D are science geeks and grow something called “Biocellulose,” which is the magic ingredient in their masks. As they explain it: “This layer of polsaccharides (sugars!) develops using acetic acid bacteria (AABs) – the same method used for centuries in food and in modern medical treatments.”

Translation? 

“Deep-down Biocellulose Nanostructure.”

Nano-what?

“We bred our strain of AAB to build the smoothest, most even pattern of microfibrils possible, because that’s what works best on human skin.”nerd

Basically, they have a philosophy:  “We weren’t born out of an MBA class or a board room. We were born out of a science lab. Are we nerds? Yes, we are. But that’s what makes us unique.” 

It’s also what makes them skincare geniuses!  After completing my mask a friend came over and asked if I’d just worked out because I looked so rejuvenated.  It really is a great product for anyone wanting a stay-at-home spa.  Revenge of the Nerds just took on a whole new meaning. 

Drought and the Dry Shampoo

The California drought is making military showers a must. But shampooing and conditioning isn’t always a speedy task, especially if you have long thick hair.

I first heard about dry shampoos a few years ago. I couldn’t wrap my head around the concept, no pun intended, and didn’t understand how they worked.  “You mean I don’t have to get my hair wet, as in, at all?”  House cats would love this!

So I tried one out, and then another, and even though I experienced first hand how they worked — and they did work — they left my hair feeling the opposite of oily, but almost too much so. Thirsty dry.  I also didn’t like the idea of spraying stuff into my hair. That’s so 80’s and environmentally unfriendly.

hairI felt like Goldilocks trying to find the right porridge. Then I discovered One Love Organics.  The brand’s creator, Suzanne LeRoux, studied aromatherapy, integrative herbology, holistic nutrition and cosmetic chemistry.  All the eco-ingredients to make a great product line.

The first thing I noticed about One Love Organics dry shampoo was the scent. The fragrance comes from plants, not chemicals.

I sprinkled some of the powder onto my hands, rubbed them together, and then ran my fingers through my hair at the roots.  I can safely say that this dry shampoo isn’t too dry or too oily. It’s juuuuust right.

Why I Love Bikram Yoga

In the beginning the hardest part is getting there.  Then after awhile the hardest part is not getting there.

yoga3The first month you will feel sore, weak, uncomfortable and miserably hot. This is all part of the practice — to test yourself, to push beyond what you think you can do and surrender to the elements (105 degree room). It’s hard and most people quit within the first week, if not sooner. Some even run out during their first class.

My advice:  Stay. Stay at all costs.  An instructor once said: “It’s normal to feel crazy and crazy to feel normal.”  This isn’t supposed to be easy.  But you can and will surprise yourself if you don’t give up.

Bikram isn’t to be confused with other yoga practices and their flowery music, chants and incense. This is intense, but the payoff is too. I started with something called “The 30 Day Challenge,” which is yoga every day for 30 days. If you miss a day, you’re out.  Think of it as yoga boot camp.  Not easy, but I have to admit if it wasn’t for the challenge aspect I may not have made it. I was determined to complete it.

But then something magical happened. After the challenge ended I realized I didn’t want to stop. I kept going every day. My body went from aching all the time to feeling stronger. My posture changed and when faced with stressful situations (crowded subway, work conflict, whatever) I was able to channel the energy in a different way.  Calmer, more clear, centered.

yoga2This is not to say there are moments, many, that I don’t want to go. It’s a huge time commitment, 90 minutes. But that feeling always changes after I’m done. The post-practice euphoria is wonderful. I sleep better as a result.

After going consistently for five months I altered my practice from seven days a week to five, and when I’m on vacation or away I don’t worry about missing it. You can’t be too rigid, but you do need to remember it’s a discipline and it’s up to you to decide how much or little you are going to devote.  It gives back what you give it, and the rewards of a regular practice are endless.  It’s also for you.  So the more you go, the better you’re being to yourself.

Bikram is pretty global so you can find studios all over the world. I found two while vacationing in Prague and it was fun practicing in a different language. This is not a cult, not a religion, just a way of life.  My body changed, my temperament changed, and now when I enter the studio instead of recoiling at the heat, I allow it to envelope me like a big hug.

yogaI used to be a runner, but the wear and tear on my knees forced me to cut back.  I still run occasionally, and bike, but this has helped heal past injuries and improve my overall core strength.  I’m not flexible and even after a year I can’t do many of the poses.  That’s okay though.  The beauty of the practice is you do what you can and still receive the benefits regardless.  Over time your flexibility will change, even if only a fraction of an inch, and you will find yourself doing stretches in your daily life.  I sit in front of a computer all day and it has helped my lower back considerably.  The older I get the more I appreciate (and am humbled by) the Bikram practice.

I would encourage anyone to try it, no matter how young or old, fat or thin, heat adverse or even having never exercised at all.  Fear of the unknown keeps many of us from trying new things, seemingly scary things, because everyone is afraid to fail or look silly.  Whatever initial reservations you may have about Bikram, just know that you are not alone. Everyone has them.  But believe me when I say this is a deeply personal practice that is entirely for and about you.  For everything you give to others in life, to your job, to your relationships, family, you name it, this is for you, and you deserve it.

Clean Your Nails!

I saw a story in the New York Times that caught my attention: Perfect Nails, Poisoned Workers. The subtitle: “Some ingredients used in nail products have been tied to cancer, miscarriages, lung diseases and other ailments.”

I shouldn’t have been surprised. Every time I enter a nail salon the smell of chemicals permeates the air as powerful as a fish market. I guess I just always assumed that if we’re using these products they have to be safe, for the most part.  Right?

The article opened my eyes and gave me pause.  I started looking for brands that don’t use the toxic chemicals mentioned in the Time’s article.  There are actually quite a few, among them: Jin SoonLVX, and Priti NYC.

Each of these brands are 5-Free, which means their products don’t contain the harsh and potentially dangerous ingredients, names I can’t even pronounce like dibutyl phthalate, camphor and toluene.

I was encouraged to know these polish lines were out there, but how good were they? Would my nails chip or peel after day one? Could these so-called natural lines stand up to their less conscientious competition?  I was skeptical. Mainly because I felt the words “green” and “organic” had jumped the shark and I wasn’t sure I was buying better, but perhaps just being bought by clever marketing.

nails2So I decided to try it out myself.  I hit the local salon with four bottles of LVX. A 3-in-1 treatment coat, Haze for the hands and Graphite for the feet. Lastly, a top coat gel and I was good to go.

One week later I was amazed that my nails were still intact. Impressive.

Needless to say I came home and emptied my shoe box of old polishes into the trash and will be replacing them with non-toxic lines. Not just for myself, but for all the people who work in salons and are subjected to these toxins day in and out. Our choices matter and with companies now offering cleaner, safer alternatives, why not make a change to a join a larger change?

Beauty Secrets

For as long as I remember I always heard that bar soap is bad for your skin.  It’s drying, so go for the liquid.  And I did.  For years.

Then one night I met a lovely woman with the most beautiful skin named Mariko, who dispelled that myth.  Well, it’s not really a myth, since most bar soaps are indeed drying with their harsh detergents made from artificial ingredients.

Mariko introduced me to Chidoriya, an organic skincare line based on traditional Japanese beauty secrets.  Ooooh, I love secrets!

Azuki & Brown Sugar Soap

It was delight at first sight when I saw the Azuki and Brown Sugar Soap because of the packaging, which reminded me of a fortune cookie.  It even took me awhile to open it because I liked how it looked sitting on the shelf.

Mariko explained there is an art to using the soap, which you can watch in this video. Basically very little goes a long way, and the soap lasts nearly twice as long as other kinds.

It is mixed and aged in a special curing room for nearly a month, a process that removes excess alkali, which is a major irritant to sensitive skin.  Azuki (red bean) contains saponins, which are found in various plant species and high in B vitamins, and the brown sugar is rich in nutrients. A healthy diet for your face!

When I eventually took it out of it’s packaging and tried it for myself, I was struck by the lather.  It was deliciously creamy and felt so good on my skin. After washing my face and neck I used the Peach Moon Herbal Face Water as a toner, followed by the Secret de Maiko Face Cream, another product in which very little goes a long way, and the Rose Hip Eye Serum.  I never used anything other than creams on my eye area before, so this was a welcome change because it felt much more delicate.

My face washed and moisturized, teeth brushed and flossed, I ended my nightly cleansing ritual with a dab of the Yuzu Oil Lip Balm, which has a fresh citrus aroma and made me very kissable, I might add. Hubba Hubba.

Good night!

Clean Beauty is Skin Deep

Something to think about the next time you reach for your face cream: what you put on your skin goes into your skin.  Do you really want polyethylene glycol seeping into your pores?  Do you even know what that is?

The Indie Beauty Expo (IBE) was created to give organically-minded entrepreneurs a platform to showcase products that cater to what we call “clean beauty.”  No harsh chemicals, dyes or formulas.  No animal testing or wasteful packaging.  These innovative brands are changing the way we pamper and pretty ourselves, with mindfulness.

IBE2The idea was inspired by small business owner, Jillian Wright, after she tried to improve her own eco-friendly skincare line’s visibility by exhibiting at trade shows. Surrounded by mega brands backed by large companies, she always felt like the odd girl out. The big guns commanded center stage and she was overshadowed. Looking around the massive expo center she thought, “There have to be others like me, a little guy with a great idea that belongs somewhere else.”

But there was nowhere else.

So Jillian took a chance.  “If I build it, they will come… I hope.”

She shared her vision with others in the industry and felt confident that the moment had arrived to give these niche brands an expo of their own.  The all-things-indie and American-made trend was already underway in music, fashion and popular culture, and Jillian thought, “Why not give beauty brands their indie moment too?”

She teamed up with other small business owners and created the Indie Beauty Expo.  “The entrepreneurs behind these brands are pioneering ‘green beauty’ that is good for the environment, ‘clean beauty’ that is free of chemicals, ‘niche beauty’ that caters to highly specific skincare needs, and ‘design beauty’ that presents products in such breathtaking packaging that it looks like art,” says Jillian.

As an attendee of the expo, you’ll be exposed to dozens of these brands and have the opportunity to sample products, talk with brand owners, and receive significant discounts.  Guest speakers will be on hand throughout the day and night covering topics ranging from skin care issues to exciting new trends in the indie beauty industry.

IBE is also proud to support 5 Gyres, an organization that is working to pursue policies that will reduce plastic pollution in our oceans.  As the beauty industry embraces environmentally sustainable practices — with indies leading the way — the expo is a huge advocate of the 5 Gyres mission.

So, if you’re a consumer interested in changing the face of your beauty products to reflect a cleaner you, come check it out.  It’s fun, informative and inspiring.

For more information and to purchase advance tickets, visit the website: Indie Beauty Expo

#weareindiebeauty