Friday, April 29, 2016

Breaking My Whole Foods Market "Addiction"

I stomped my foot down on the twenty just as another wind gust bit at it. The woman who it belonged to rushed over and smiled as I handed it to her. The wind and the sun had created the foundation for a pleasant exchange at my local farmers market today. I felt like I was part of the community’s weekly gathering. Proprietors enthusiastically engaged in conversations at their booths about growing history and family history. I walked away with a bag full of crispy fresh veggies, a nice piece of fish, and an introduction to the community.

Ever watched the 1950 movie Cheaper by the Dozen? Clifton Webb plays an efficiency expert. Orderliness, organization, making things flow more smoothly—these things appeal to me. Normally I shop at Whole Foods Market with a computer-generated list, organized by aisle, so all I have to do is click the checkboxes for stuff I need then quickly go through the store. I want my mundane tasks to consume as little of my time and effort as possible.

Shopping at Whole Foods Market had become a habit of mine, ingrained over decades, starting in 1993 when they scooped up all of the Mrs. Gooch’s Natural Foods Markets in Los Angeles. Mrs. Gooch’s in Sherman Oaks was my favorite because the store had the familiar “health food store” feel, was organized and tidy, and carried loads of fresh veggies. I didn’t have to worry about harmful chemicals, preservatives, or artificial colors in their packaged goods. The employees were engaged and informative; I felt part of a growing culture while choosing my weekly groceries.

As Whole Foods grew into a massive retail chain their positioning has changed. They now function less as a beacon for the health conscious shopper but instead are synonymous with an expensive, indulgent gourmet identity. My quest for routine lulled me into going with the flow over the years as Whole Foods changed. You are not the market I thought you were. It’s time for a change.

They’ve gradually refocused existing customers while gathering new ones, all becoming status shoppers who buy higher priced products under their roof when neighboring stores and online prices are often lower. I find myself questioning products and ingredients at Whole Foods now. What exactly am I buying? The quality of natural/organic labeling, in general, has blurred over the years, and I don’t have a blanket confidence in these stores any longer.

Whole Foods stores are predictable and do have their place in the shopping world. Their aim is to please. For me, though, it’s time for me to take my blinders off and look around. Maybe Whole Foods fits into my life better as a supplement to farmers markets where I can reconnect with the “health food culture” I used to value so much. If I’m looking for efficiency, then online stores can provide lower prices and home delivery. I don’t need a custom-designed list for digital aisles. And I can slow down and chat at the farmers markets or other local health food stores.

It’s time to break my Whole Foods Market “addiction.” My identity is more Mrs. Gooch’s than Whole Foods. Maybe it’s time for an Airbnb-style shake-up with my grocery routine. Prioritizing local over chains to feel at home with my preferred food culture.

I’ve decided that Whole Foods Market, for me, is okay in moderation but it won’t be my default routine anymore. Blinders off!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Wellness Ingredient: Broth or Stock?

Spring brings thoughts of reorganizing from the ground up. Gut health is the body's foundation. Years ago I was being treated by a naturopath. She recommended homemade bone broth from grass-fed beef to improve my gut lining and general health. The amino acids it provided would help reduce inflammation. Canned soups weren't an acceptable short cut. Browned bones simmered for hours create and preserve these health benefits. The source was relevant because I needed to avoid grain-fed issues, antibiotics, hormones, pesticides, etc. which can be part of the commercial beef and poultry industry.
"Real cows eat grass—not grains."—Dr. Mercola offers a quick overview.
Recipes vary like the people who make them. Stock or broth has always been a way to prevent waste and use everything. My take: Stock uses bones and supplies healthful gelatin, and is considered an ingredient in other things. But if you add a bit of salt, now stock crosses into the broth label because it becomes something enjoyable on its own. Sip a cup of broth instead of tea for an afternoon beverage. Broth is generally made from meat scraps, vegetables, and seasonings. My broth is a combo from roasted marrow and knuckle bones, short ribs, meat, and water with some sea salt.

Macrobiotic cooking classes taught me about having a calm heart when preparing food and since I'm right handed, to stir counterclockwise. Our energy goes into the food. If upset or stressed, it was suggested to take a short walk before cooking. Attitude and stress levels can have a negative effect on gut performance.
Broth, "It'll heal what ails you"--the souplady of Drake's Valley, CA
The souplady in my novel, Eleven Sundays, serves a restorative brew to those who need it. She starts with the same basic ingredients available to anyone, but adds attentive skimming never allowing the foamy scum to loiter at the surface of the broth. Richness of taste develops by removing this tainting layer. She adds shelled pea pods right at the end of the simmering time. She wouldn't waste anything, so in they go. Healing properties have been attributed to this magical pot of brew. 

I come from a long line of soup makers. Growing up my mom made the best pot of soup! She cooked up a bone-with-cabbage-carrot-onion broth for the base, then added veggies, barley, salt, and pepper. When I think of soup, this is the soup that warms me.

Broth is a handy base to store in the freezer. Homemade soup can be quickly prepared by chopping up some veggies, toss into thawed broth, and cook til tender. Add bits of leftover rotisserie chicken.

Tip: An organic rotisserie chicken can supply a variety of meals.
I remove the skin, save most of the meat for meals (with mashed potatoes, or in sandwiches, tacos, pasta, chopped salad, etc.), and put the bones in a pot for broth. I don't add anything but filtered water and a little sea salt. This way I have a plain base without garlic, onions, or any other strong flavor. I'm allergic to garlic, but there's a benefit to a simple base--it will work with more recipes. Ever notice how almost everything has garlic in it? You'd be surprised where you'll find garlic--it's sneaky and can be listed as spices.

Cool before transferring to single-serve, freezer-safe containers. If it jiggles when cold that's a good indicator of gelatin success.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Winter Road Tripping -- Photos on the Go!

We had just passed the Interstate 55 exit and were headed west on I-80. My throat felt odd like I was in rush hour traffic, but we were west of Chicago, and traffic was light. A thick wedge of smoke spiraled into the overcast sky in the distance. My first thought was fire, but no, it was some kind of energy plant spewing toxins into the air. The Minooka Combined Cycle Power Plant uses natural gas. Well, we do need energy. I clicked off some blurry shots. At the time, I didn't think this precedent would influence most of my photographic choices during the cross-country drive, but it did. We traveled across what seemed like empty land populated with lonely shipping centers and twisted metal giants in charge of manufacturing or refining something. (That's from an interstate highway perspective. Off the interstate, the Midwest is known for hospitality and home-style cooking.)

This unexpected dash of pollution caused me to wonder…what does it take to be us? What is the cost of our modern life to air, land, water, as well as human and animal welfare? We all need a way to contribute—to make a living—and in general, we the masses benefit from those products developed or shipped from these “barren” stretches. Kind of how you'd imagine a mining operation on the Moon most of us don't ponder manufacturing locations.

My trip expectations were of long stretches of picturesque countryside devoid of human constructions creating mental space for reflection. We encountered that too, but this post will only cover the metal giants rising out of the ground, and not all were what they seemed.

Winter road tripping can chill the toes even with the heater on full blast. Yes, many times during the drive we commented on how appreciative we were to live in the twenty-first century and have a well-maintained vehicle to ride in on the journey. For some reason, I compare trips to the Donner Party's covered wagons going from Springfield, Illinois to Sutter's Fort, California in1846-47. For us going across the country only took three days, two nights, with no detours or cannibalism.

Patriot Renewable Fuels ethanol plant in Annawan, IL

HollyFrontier's Cheyenne Refinery in Wyoming for crude oil

Foote Creek I Wind Project west of Arlington, Wyoming

"Turbines can generate power at wind speeds of 8 to 65 mph."--EWEB
Wyoming's winds can rip across the Foote Creek Rim at up to 125 mph gusts. These three-finned giants are equipped with an automatic shutdown feature.

Sunlight sets aglow Sinclair Oil Refinery, Sinclair, Wyoming
Late afternoon sunlight sets the metal aglow. The Sinclair refinery shimmered like a mirage but became a shining beacon. For a moment, I expected the great and powerful Oz to reside within this steampunk destination.

Kennecott Utah Copper's Garfield Smelter Stack
Kennecott Utah Copper has virtual tours on their website. The stack is 1,215 feet high. That's 120 stories! Also, it's the tallest structure in Utah. For more fun facts check their fact sheet.

Bulldozer in salt.
Morton Salt Plant, Grantsville, Utah
Notice the bulldozer in the left of the photo. The familiar Morton's logo of a girl holding an umbrella decorates the side of the building. The white mountains are made of salt, not snow.

North Valmy (Coal) Generation Station in Nevada
"...that's water vapor you see at North Valmy not smoke. From Interstate 80 on a brisk winter day some mistake it for smoke. The stacks on the other hand run clear."
Which of course makes me wonder what "run clear" means. Stack scrubbers filter unhealthy emissions.

Coal Canyon exit 112
EP Minerals in Lovelock, Nevada.
Fernley Plant in NV
EP Minerals mines Diatomaceous Earth (DE) and Perlite in Lovelock, Nevada. The many EP Minerals locations gives a tangible quality to that bag of white DE powder I buy for insect management. The Fernley location mines DE and has a rotary kiln for granular DE products.

Geothermal plant near Bradys Hot Springs, highway exit at Fallon, NV.
At first I thought all of these pipes were for fossil fuels, but to my surprise it's a geothermal plant! Wells tap into underground heat.

Nevada Cement Co., Fernley, NV
"Many people confuse the terms cement and concrete. Cement is a fine gray powder that's used to make concrete."--Nevada Cement Co.

Duraflex International, Sparks, NV
I was not expecting this to be a maker of diving boards!

Mars Petcare US Inc., Waltham Way, McCarran, NV
Kal Kan, a brand of dog and cat food, is manufactured at this location. 

Granite Construction Co, Lockwood Facility, quarry, Sparks, NV

Animal, grain, fossil fuel, or mineral. These plants make something into something else fueling our needs for modern conveniences. All of these photos were taken while in the car without stopping. The smoke and vapor haunt me. Maybe another post will require me to get out of the car and see these places up close. A change of perspective can widen one's foundation while the new information helps us better understand the world.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

#TBT My Makeup Go Bag Unzipped, Part Two

My makeup Go Bag has evolved since my 2013 post. During my road tripping in 2015. I got the hang of wearing a minimal application of color again. These products are all fragrance-free and don't make your skin feel like you're wearing a mask.

This post is Throwback Thursday fun with pics from the late 80s. (Let's be clear, I am no longer in my twenties!) If we're lucky life rolls onward.

Cover shoot Miami '88
Peach eye shadow
and pink lips
 for a summer glow.

I used to take for granted my past youthful routine of putting on a face and fixing my hair, daily. Also, the regimen of facials and haircuts which kept my skin and hair in top shape were time consuming and expensive. The shift of focus years ago from painting my face to painting canvases, then pages with words contributes to why I lack the interest and discipline of applying makeup.

Since leaving city life, a freshly washed face is the extent of my daily routine. Glamming it up feels forced, to put on makeup only to run around mountain trails or to sit at my computer doesn't make much sense.

2016 Makeup Go Bag includes:
Koh Gen Do Moisture Fit Concealer
Koh Gen Do Maifanshi Foundation
Senna Powder in Banana (discontinued)
Bobbi Brown Eye Shadows in:
(Khaki, Wheat, Bone)
KGD Maifanshi Natural Lighting Powder
Clinique Slate Quickliner for Eyes
Prescriptives Dusty Rose Lip Pencil
Koh Gen Do Moisture Concealer (compact)
Bobbi Brown Black Everything Mascara
Koh Gen Do Maifanshi Lip Gloss PK303
Shiseido Rouge Parfait Lipstick
Bobbi Brown Nectar Blush
Blue Q Pencil Case

The flip side of not wanting to take the time and trouble of applying makeup is that once it’s on I do feel a different side of myself I thought I had left behind. When I was a model part of my girl-next-door appeal for advertising and editorial clients was that makeup could dramatically change my appearance into whatever they needed.

Polaroids, test shots, and outtakes. Welcome to the late 80s.
Photos on the left have natural makeup, right are glam.

Left image by photographer Eddie Wolf/LA.
Right image for Star World Colour Estee Lauder, Japan '86.
The natural look on the left required about the same amount of makeup as the more dramatic Estee Lauder editorial harkening to a Scarlet O'Hara look. The difference is muted vs. dramatic color selection.

Serene rose lipstick shines while the dynamic red provides a matte stain. Natural lids enhanced with a bronze shade contrast "Scarlet's" frosted lavender eye shadow with smokey-colored corners.
Left image by photographer Eddie Wolf/LA; right, Polaroid from Sebastian Int. live event.
Playing dress up! Such fun to wear wigs and feel like someone else. These brunette looks show makeup adjusted for hair color. Sebastian Int. created a theatrical look for a "Carmen-inspired" stage event circa '85.
Photographers: left, unknown/LA; right, Bill Schild/Miami.
The light makeup application in the left photo uses sun-kissed contouring and pale lips instead of deeply saturated dramatic color. Barely-there liner and mascara support this more androgynous look. The Evita-inspired face has fully lined top lids
with lash extensions.

"The best makeup foundation is a smile generated from a happy heart, worn with a pair of simple earrings."
Gallery event, Australia '87.
The 10-minute face.
Lightweight foundation with quick sweeps of pinch-your-cheeks color
over cheeks, eyes, and lips; plus taupe eyeliner and brown/black mascara.
An 80s post requires a comment about hair.
"Blow it dry while scrunching the ends with hair spray."
Well, at least I didn't tease it into the big-hair look!

More on my blog:
Building My Go Bag of Fragrance-Free Makeup, Part One
Fragrance-free posts

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Wellness 2016 #Kindness, Body, and Engagement

The new year inspires thoughts of reorganizing from the ground up.

My Wellness recipe: 
Kindness--do unto others as you’d have them do unto you 
Body--take better care of self, so I’m well enough to engage with others 
Engagement--this is about intent, not just shaking hands

Kindness. This past year I’ve been on a quest and stumbled across a wealth of kindness examples. I used to practice kindness; growing up my mom's example wove it into my skin and heart. Life's speed bumps wore away my compassion leaving me a damaged shell. Thanks to meeting people while road tripping I’ve been patching those holes. People are the mirrors we need to reboot our spirit.

Body. No pill will fix a weak health foundation, only movement and informed food decisions; medical wellness is the supplement, not the primary action. I’m back in the gym, taking it slowly, and loving it. I can’t live up to my old self who spent two hours a day, six days a week in the gym. But I can look forward to my simplified routine four days a week. In and out in under forty-five minutes. Upper body one visit, then lower body the next. Rest day in between. The structure of individual weight machines keeps me on track. I'm set up for success by looking forward to favorite machines mid-workout.

Engagement. There are many ways to engage, but it’s critical to take the key to my heart and unlock it before starting out. This risky action means I have something to lose like foot-in-mouth moments. I’ve done this around kind people, admitted my cringe moment, and was rewarded with their generous perspective.

"Kind people can support a person to see personal truths. We reveal ourselves through fear, anger, and humor."

I am an explorer on a spiritual quest not for “God or the meaning of life,” but for kind engagement. Those small moments in life reveal the bigger meaning because those moments are our lives. 

Monday, November 30, 2015

Shockwaves of Learning: Online Classes Via Penn's ModPo and Iowa's How Writers Write Fiction.

I've been on a relentless ten-week shockwave of learning in two online courses called MOOCs. My brain, heart, and life are now "new and improved!" Interacting with people from global communities in two classes doesn't sound that time consuming, but when the subject matter, students, teaching assistants, and instructors are passionate with heap-fulls of kindness--a joyful obsession is born.

A MOOC is a massive open online course, usually free (with an optional certificate for a small fee). The goal in these classes is not college credit. Instead, they allow a person to sear the words "never stop learning" into their brains.

The online world offers a place for me to interact with people and not worry about my multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS) or allergies. I don't waste energy wondering if pet allergens coat their clothing and would set off asthma or awful rashes--no dark clouds of concern over laundry products or other fragrances that would trigger a toxin-sensitivity reaction. Those obstacles vanish so I can soak in the richness of human interaction. Forums provide me with wings to visit many places through classmates' shared snippets of life, aspirations, and creative thoughts.

Here was what happened. After a few years of life distractions, I wanted to shake up my creative spirit. This spring I took an online leap and enrolled in U of Iowa's poetry class. At first, I kind of made fun of myself (in my head), but soon found I loved corralling words into a poetical structure. Someone in that class mentioned ModPo.

In an early ModPo video, one of the teaching assistants expressed her "resistance" to a poem at first exposure. She impressed on me the appeal of allowing that internal opposition; then to move through it to appreciation.

Meaning: Each week I looked forward to not understanding or not "liking" a poem. I knew sharing it would help me to learn not only about the words of the poem, but more importantly I would uncover a new facet of myself.

A classmate offered advice to go easy on myself and if I didn't make it from resistance to appreciation (of some poems) in this info-laden class, not to worry. My go-getter dedication and determination got the better of me. My artist switch had been flipped on--full speed ahead! I even watched the class videos at double-speed to keep myself from veering off on creative tangents. More, more, more. 

Then, U of Iowa's fiction class began. The courses were perfect complements to one another from my point of view. Close reading poetry prevents a fiction writer--any human from any walk of life for that matter--from remaining on the surface! Such supportive, collaborative sharing of viewpoints had this introvert rambling away on the forums and at in-person meet-ups. I could permit myself to go ahead and enjoy words and abstractions. Depth of description and nuance joined hands. Abstractions and precise details together in layers. Poetry enriching fiction writing. Inspiration flooded my dry, cracked mind like a drought-parched farm soaked in a thunderstorm.

When I was a kid, riding my pony Taffy (bareback), we raced along within a herd, my knee pushed tight against another pony, and I fell off, caught under the forest of legs and hooves. Tumbling. These past few months felt like that because I didn't allow low-pressure goals within my days or weeks. I loved my interactions despite the frantic pace I placed on myself. That pace felt like tumbling among the ponies' legs, hooves and all. Crazy as it sounds, I felt electric, alive, more than I have in years.

I've been a closeted poetry writer all of my life. I must've learned about poetry as a grade schooler (the only explanation) since sculpting words always has been my go-to way of expressing myself. The other option was to hop on my pony and go exploring. I would discuss my thoughts with my pony until my feelings were sorted out. As an adult, creating poems kept me company while driving, at the gym, on planes, getting to auditions too early and watching fat raindrops hit my windshield.

From documentary "Mister Rogers & Me"

I'm a bit of a wreck after all of this interaction and learning. Being mostly alone within my home's walls contrasted my non-stop interaction online. All of this stimulation made "wow" a most-used word in both class forums.

Thank goodness during this whirlwind, She Writes gave me a reminder of my goals by featuring my blog post on low-pressure writing goals. (She Writes provides a supportive online writing environment for writers. Their timing was oddly perfect.) I realized that I can be wildly passionate about topics yet retain a low-pressure attitude for goals.

Slow and steady wins the race!

But, easy to forget when the artist switch is flipped on.

In our tech-laden world, we are so busy and layered with interactions that don't even register as commitments. We've set up our daily routines around when to "go online" and do this or that forgetting to value or pay attention during our off-line time. Everything seems a rush to connection via a device. Our online worlds offer cool tools: to connect with people around the world, expand our interests, learn new subjects, and redefine who we are. Think of every moment bent over our phones Tweeting, Facebooking, Instagramming, LinkedIn-ing, G+ing, etc. Yes, all of those are self-imposed commitments creating a hamster-wheel of interesting tangents. We become disconnected from who we are inside.

Gather the goodness from the worlds of real and online, then slow down to appreciate the connections. Low-pressure reflection.

ModPo encouraged local, in-person meet-ups. Our group was small but mighty in spirit and fun!

My ModPo classmates and I hold favorite "Card Catalogue" pieces by Erica Baum.
Never stop learning. How and why we do something defines who we are.