7/6/17

Recipe: Super Pumpkin Muffins - Gluten Free, Vegan



It might be July but today I had a craving for pumpkin. I wanted something savory and comforting, but also something not too sugary or heavy. Lately I've been feeling like a lot of different foods don't want to agree with me, so I was looking for something fairly simple. These pumpkin muffins are super dense and filled with plenty of good-for-you ingredients. There's no gluten, no refined sugar and they're dairy free - making them also vegan.

To whip these up all you need is one bowl and a spoon, so clean up is also fairly easy. They'd make a great breakfast muffin, but they're totally perfect for an afternoon snack or dessert as well.



Super Pumpkin Muffins 

Makes 6 hearty muffins 


Ingredients: 

1 cup pure organic pumpkin
1/2 cup unsweetened apple sauce
3 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
1/4 cup plain, unsweetened almond milk
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup agave
1 scant tablespoon vanilla extract
2 1/5 cup Bob's Red Mill gluten free oats
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 tsp chia seed
1 tsp flax seeds
1/2 cup Enjoy Life mini chocolate chips

Directions: 

- Preheat oven to 350, and grease a muffin pan (I use coconut cooking spray).
- Combine all wet ingredient together in a large bowl.
-Add in oats and other dry ingredients.
-Spoon into muffin pan and bake for 30-35 minutes (more or less, depending on your oven!)
-Enjoy!

These muffins came out super moist thanks to the pumpkin/apple sauce duo so if you like them dryer, you can lessen these amounts, or add a bit more oat. These are highly versatile muffins! They might seem like a fall dessert but I think pumpkin should be embraced year round! :)

6/30/17

Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson (REVIEW)

 

As I make my way through my goal of reading more diverse books, I've come across and read many that have to do with race relations in the United States. Piecing Me Together is no exception, and is perhaps (so far) one of the best that I've read which deals with this issue. Renée Watson delivers the subject with such honesty and youthful emotion that made this book impossible to put down. I read half of it in one sitting, and half in another. 

Piecing Me Together focuses on a young girl living in the Pacific Northwest named Jade. A black girl living with her single mother, and uncle in a low-income, fairly homogeneous neighborhood, she straddles different worlds between her home life and that at her private school in another area of town. Jade attends the school on scholarship because of her hard work and talent, but she struggles between resenting the assistance and trying to appreciate it. She doesn't want to be someones project. When she is offered an opportunity through a program at school that will provide her with a college scholarship, its both not what she wanted, and everything she needs at the same time (whether she knows this or not). 

In some ways Piecing Me Together reads like your average YA novel. In so many, many ways though, it is not. What I love about this book is how it not only tackles the issue of race on both micro and macro levels, but it also address other issues like poverty, body image, relationships and more. It is a book of layers and so many of the layers stood out to me. I found myself smiling and/or nodding my head as I read page after page of moments that resonated with me. The character of Jade is so profound even in her youthfulness. Piecing Me Together challenges the stereotype that with youth comes ignorance as Jade is wise beyond her years. 

This book should be a must read for adolescents, and really - for anyone. As an adult in my early thirties, I enjoyed the book very much. Piecing Me Together tackles the raw subject of race - one which pulses so intensely in our society right now, while also addressing issues that might seem far less consequential like body issues, misogyny, and even simply advocating for yourself and having self-confidence. Often these are identified as issues of adolescence but they are very much issues that linger with us throughout our lives, for some more than others, making this book a very valuable read. 

If you're looking for a book to fly through over your fourth of July vacation or on your next holiday getaway, give this one a try. Trust me - its worth it!

6/28/17

Budget Travels: St. Catharines & Welland Canal, Ontario Canada



Living in Western New York, sometimes I feel like there aren't many places to explore within a short distance. It's a wildly incorrect assumption and this summer, I've decided to try and explore the region in which I live a bit more. So naturally I started by going to visit my neighbors in the north, and took a trip to St. Catharines, Ontario Canada. ;)

Considering where I live, and the special relationship that exists and has existed for years between Canada and Western New York, it seems justifiable to include Ontario province in my adventure radius. I have always had wanderlust, but I often have my sights set on places far away. However, my bank account and my desires don't always align, so I decided that this summer would be the summer of budget friendly adventures! I thought it would be nice to try and document these excursions here on the blog, as I'm sure I'm not the only one who wants to travel without breaking the bank or really, let's be honest, being able to do so. I'm also excited to really explore places within my own neck of the woods (more or less) as I'm embarrassed to admit just how little I have experienced in my own region. So here's to a summer filled with adventures seeking to change that!

Anyway, back to my trip to St. Catharines... it's a city I've heard the name of over the years but my knowledge really ended there. I still feel like I haven't really been there if I'm honest, because the place we really went to check out was the Welland Canal and Lock 3 which is located in St. Catharines. I can't even explain where it started but a few weeks ago, I was reading about the history of the Welland Canal and it really is a fascinating story. Start with wikipedia (just remember, it's wikipedia!!) and check out some youtube videos too if you fancy. The history of the canal really is interesting. For those that don't know, the Welland canal was built to allow large ships (like huge ocean cargo ships) to navigate through the Great Lakes, from Lake Ontario to Lake Erie and onward. It is part of a larger pathway that allows these massive ships to come from the ocean all the way to the Great Lakes. To get these ships from Lake Ontario to Lake Erie isn't as simple as navigating a smaller seaway - it involves going from a lower lake to a higher lake. To achieve this, ships need to go through a series of locks which raise and lower the ships to allow them to navigate from one lake to another.





After reading all about the canal, I decided I wanted to go check it out for myself. There are locks in the WNY region, but I've never seen them in action, so my curiosity, coupled with the fact that I could pick up more of my favorite Canadian treats made the trip a must. St. Catharines is a perfect spot to experience the canal since there is also a museum - The St. Catharine's Museum, and they have a really great observation deck to watch the whole process of ships coming in and out (or up and down as they say).

The museum is free, and the parking is also free. It's a gorgeous spot and when we went to check it out, it was certainly an international hub. People come from all over the world to experience the canal! As someone with a degree in sociology, I felt my ethnographic research skills coming back as I took in all the different exchanges occurring around me from people who had traveled far and wide to visit this one particular place. I could have easily sat and people watched for awhile.






Watching the ships is a fascinating experience and honestly, in some ways I find it hard to describe. I still don't fully understand how exactly it all works!! I was so mystified by the process that at times I just had to appreciate the ingenuity of it all. We got to watch a ship going down through the canal, and up. I could see spending even more time traveling along the canal to see ships pass through other locks as well.

A great part of the museum is that they post what ships are coming through and at what times, so it helps to plan your trip in order to catch them as they go through Lock 3. You can also call for the information - the number is on their site.

If you do go to Lock 3 in St. Catharines, do also take a walk around inside the museum. They have interesting historical artifacts from the history of St. Catharines and the region as a whole - including from the Underground Railroad, WWI, and WW2. 

If you live in the WNY region, and have not experienced the canal or see the big ocean liners coming through the locks, I encourage you to take the short trip north to experience it. It's free, you can pick up some Cadbury, grab some poutine and enjoy a *real* authentic Timmy's. What have you got to lose, eh?

6/23/17

Here Comes the Sun: Five Sunscreens Put To The Test

I will admit that I haven't always been that great about making sure to apply sunscreen. I used to go to the beach and crave a tan - something my Italian/German skin seemed conflicted about. I have sensitive skin though and any little thing can cause me a world of discomfort. Too much wind, too much cold, too much sun, abrasive products, complex chemicals, the wrong foods...I've learned over the years that my skin is cranky and while I still don't have a perfect system down, I have adopted the routine of putting on sunscreen, *nearly* every single day.

I started really giving my skincare routine and habits an overhaul a few months ago and when I started, I picked up a few new sunscreen products to use. Then, if I'm honest, I cleaned out my health & beauty hoard and found two that I already had. Oops... >_< So, since then, I have been putting them all to the test. Four different sunscreens over the course of a few months. I thought it might be helpful for others if I gave them all some scrutiny here on the blog. If I can encourage anyone else to start using sunscreen on a daily basis that would be wonderful!

 

I'll start off with the ones I picked up most recently, the first of which is the La Roche Posay Anthelios 50 Mineral Ultra Light Sunscreen Fluid. Oy. Long name!What I like about this is that it's super lightweight and has a nice high SPF. It's also good for sensitive skin. It didn't piss off my skin in any significant ways, but I will say that I found it to be a bit drying. It's also the most expensive of the products I have been testing. I would perhaps overlook the price, if it weren't for the fact that I later learned La Roche Posay is *not* a cruelty free brand. So once this product is gone, I won't be repurchasing. For this reason alone, I cannot recommend this product.

 

Next up is the Jason Sun Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30 Broad Spectrum. I like that this brand is cruelty-free and the size of the bottle makes it quite an affordable product. However, it is thicker than hell and I found that it did not work into my skin as easily as other products I've been trying. Due to the consistency, this is another that I would not re-purchase.

 

Now on to the two I already had. The first of which is the Kiss My Face Face & Neck Face Factor 30. This is in many ways, your standard sunscreen. It smells like sunscreen - but I don't think its too strong and I don't really mind the smell of sunscreen anyways. I think since it makes me think of summer, I kind of enjoy it actually. It's decently priced and cruelty free. I found it to feel fairly lightweight on my skin, but it took a minute or so to really sink in. I would repurchase this one, but I'm unsure as to whether I really find it necessary to have a separate body / face sunscreen. I also wish the SPF was higher.

 

Last up is the Alba Botanica Very Emollient Sunblock Natural Protection with Organic Lavender. This one is also cruelty free, so it passes the test there. It also has a higher SPF - the second highest of the bunch at 45. I found that it goes on nice and smooth, and that it absorbs well, although when I ran from my car into a store the other day in the rain, I had little white spots on my arm afterward. No big though, I just rubbed it back in. I'm just glad I noticed and didn't look too crazy! My favorite feature of this product though, is the smell. The lavender is AMAZING. It's just the right kind of lavender. To me, not all lavender smells the same and there are some NASTY ones out there, but this one smells soooo good. Out of the four sunscreens I tried, this one is definitely the WINNER! It's affordable, with a high SPF and it works great. Plus, it smells amazing!!

I truly hope that this post inspires you all to grab some sunscreen and add it to your daily routine if it isn't already. :)


6/19/17

When Dimple Met Rishi By Sandhya Menon (REVIEW)

 

I can enjoy a young adult novel anytime, but there's something about a YA novel as a summer read that just feels right. They're often lighter reads (at least compared to the political books I frequently pick up), and they're a nice break from the heavier books and text book readings that often fill my time. When Dimple Met Rishi caught my eye because it was not just a YA novel, but it also fit into my desire to read more diverse books. It follows a girl named Dimple, and a boy named Rishi, both children of traditional Indian families living in America. Their parents want their children to be thinking about marriage, despite only being 18. While Rishi wants to satisfy the traditions his family finds so important, Dimple seeks out a life lived on her own terms. She has dreams of making a name for herself as a woman in technology. Dimple does not have dreams that involve domesticity or "finding the Ideal Indian Husband, like her mother seems to see as the most important goal.

When Dimple enrolls at a coding/technology summer camp on a local college campus, what she doesn't know is that she is to meet Rishi, who has been sent to camp with another mission in mind: marrying Dimple. Rishi doesn't seem to mind the idea of the arranged marriage their parents are hoping will happen, but upon meeting Dimple, he is in for a rude awakening.

Dimple wants no part of such archaic traditions and at first loathes Rishi - a stranger who is thrust into her life. Although, as the book progresses, we watch as hate and annoyance, evolves and blossoms into a true, and unexpected romance. Following Dimple and Rishi's journey pulls the reader in deeply as the frustration, love and fascination seem to seep from the pages. We watch as the characters challenge each other to see beyond their assumptions and own personal beliefs, and to really understand the differences between us, and the choices we make, in a way that turns them into better people. Both Dimple and Rishi encourage each other to be better versions of themselves through their love for each other.

There were parts of their story which I found to be predictable - in a way, it follows a romantic formula of sorts - intertwining love and conflict together.  But I wouldn't classify that necessarily as a negative, it's just merely a fact. I think a level of predictability is inevitable if you spend a lot of time in the same genre, just like how I can often guess the suspects on an episode of SVU or NCIS after watching for so many years. ;)

It caught me by surprise in other ways though... like how much the story grabbed me. I will admit that I teared up a few times while reading. Maybe it was my hormones. or maybe it was simply the story - but either way it got me emotional.

Being a diverse book, with diverse characters, there were some times in which I felt a bit confused. Such as when the author wrote in different languages without translation. I suppose in a way, the point of a diverse book is to expose you to different people and cultures, but I feel like some parts of the book were unfortunately lost for me because I did not understand them. It wasn't enough to ruin the story though - but for me, it did cause some snags.

My only other complaint for When Dimple Met Rishi, is that there isn't a sequel. I want to know what happens next in the lives of Dimple and Rishi - whom are left at the end of the book about to start their freshman year in college. The characters pulled me in and I would definitely follow them further. I think that Sandhya Menon did an excellent job at creating a world that envelopes the reader - pulling them into the story entirely. I feel like I am now invested deeply in the success of these characters and would welcome a continuation of the story any time!

I'd love to know your thoughts on When Dimple Met Rishi if you read it - feel free to share them in the comments!


6/16/17

American Street - Ibi Zoboi (REVIEW)

 

Some books seem to take us on intense and emotional roller coaster rides with the stories they tell.  Ibi Zoboi does this with American Street, which tells the story of a young Haitian immigrant navigating her way through dealing with a family that is as foreign to her as the city in which she ends up: Detroit. She does this alone as her mother is detained by ICE.

This is a book that I had wanted to read as I have been seeking out stories that were more diverse, and being a YA novel also drew me in. I think people often overlook YA as being only for a certain age, but they often offer stories that are intense, complicated and far more dynamic than many might guess or expect. American Street is a perfect example of this. Zoboi does a beautiful job of weaving together these complex characters and the memories and experiences that exist among them. While there is pain - physical, emotional, mental... there is also family and support, romance and laughter. As we follow Fabiola, we learn more about her past, and that of her aunt and cousins in Detroit. We follow these characters on a ride that brings with it hope and hurt in a way that keeps the reader intensely engaged.

It was difficult to put down this book. It reads easily from beginning to end and I would be lying if I said it didn't make me tear up on multiple occasions. The heartbreak that just seems to leak off the page from Fabiola being separated from her mother is strong. The book also tackles a variety of issues that would be impossible to not engage readers - the violence of our inner cities, drugs, gun violence and domestic violence for example. This book addresses topics that continue to be hot topics within our society.

American Street might be labeled as a Young Adult novel, but it truly is for everyone. I definitely look forward to whatever else Zoboi might have in store for us and I will certainly keep her on my radar. It is not the sappy, teenage angst, romance novel that many might think of when they head "YA", but is instead a deep and thought provoking book that will pull on your heart strings whether you like it or not. It does so in a good way though. Trust me.

6/8/17

Al Franken: Giant of the Senate (REVIEW)


I'm a sucker for a good memoir, and I'm also interested in politics (albeit its a subject matter that often fills me with rage, but nonetheless...), so generally speaking, I enjoy a good political memoir style book because it blends both together. I haven't read any of Al Franken's previous books, but having paid attention to him over the years through his work in the Senate, and knowing of his SNL history, when I heard about his newest book Giant of the Senate, I figured it was a good place to start.

Giant of the Senate blends together stories from Franken's life, with his views on politics, namely our current state of affairs. He recounts his experiences from childhood and through his SNL days, as well as his radio work with Air America, and his first steps into the political activism pool. He shares the journey that he embarked on with his first political campaign, and the experiences that have resulted from becoming a US senator in 2009.

I appreciated reading Franken's perspective on different issues and found that in many ways we were on the same page. I especially enjoyed how he discussed the issue of delivery reform in regard to healthcare and honestly, found it refreshing to hear someone actually address these types of issues within health care not only has problems, but really as merely existing. Personally, I feel like many view health care without considering the many ways in which the costs are inflated and manipulated and there are a million lobbyists and you know, things like Big Pharma that don't want us to dive too deeply into the matter. It was nice to hear someone touch on the issue, no matter how briefly.

I also liked the way that Franken suggested that trump had violated so many norms within our society. I find this to be both a frustrating, and yet fascinating topic. I find it interesting to examine the norms within society (ours or others), and how they shift and evolve over time. trump however, basically said to hell with it, and disregarded them in a way that makes me wonder if he was/is even aware of what the norms within our society might include.

Giant of the Senate was a nice blend of political reality and personal experience in my opinion and I truly enjoyed reading it. There might have been some points that lagged a bit for me, but in all honestly, I find that often happens with political books. Sometimes my brain simply feels overloaded. In general though, the book flew by. Franken's sarcastic humor certainly helped it along. I certainly enjoyed his picking on Ted Cruz, Rush Limbaugh and the rest of the idiot brigade. ;) His humor made for a refreshing read from the political genre. Especially considering that we live in a world where laughter has become quite the high priced commodity.

6/6/17

Golden Memoirs: Reading the Books of The Golden Girls




I'm a huge fan of The Golden Girls. I watch it nearly every single night. I find the show to be wildly relevant even 24 years after it last aired. I wrote about the show during my undergrad because I found it to be such a wonderful example of a variety of different social issues. I also appreciate how it represents a less than traditional household composition. The show makes me laugh even if its an episode I've seen twenty times before, but I can also pick it apart and nerd out on it. There's just so much to analyze!

I wanted to further my knowledge of the cast members I have grown so accustomed to seeing on a nightly basis, so I decided to check out some of the books they have published. I ended up reading Estelle Getty's book, Rue McClanahan's and one of Betty Whites. Unfortunately Bea Arthur never wrote a book and there aren't any unofficial biographies to be had (that I know of, anyway!). I've learned over the years that I quite enjoy reading biographies/memoirs so it was fitting to read theirs.

The first one I read was Estelle Getty's If I Knew Then What I Know Now...So What? All three books are dated of course, and were written during/following the success of The Golden Girls, so it's important to keep that in mind and it actually makes for an interesting read in my opinion. It's sort of like traveling back in time, or opening a time capsule and I found it enjoyable to step back into the past. Estelle plays perhaps the most popular and well known character on the show: Sophia Petrillo. While much of the zingers written on the show come from the writers, that same humor is evident in Estelle herself. Reading her book was a quick and enjoyable read and I would certainly give it a thumbs up. It's difficult to read the book and not think of Sophia, but regardless, the book is full of laughs. I also learned quite a bit about Estelle Getty and she truly led a fascinating and action filled life.

The next book I tackled was Rue McClanahan's My First Five Husbands and the Ones That Got Away. I honestly found this book to drag quite a bit in the beginning, but once I got into it, things got a bit better. It's not that it was a boring book to read - having an interest in the actors kept me engaged enough, but it was just so action packed with names, dates and places and sometimes I felt that McClanahan drifted from one person or topic to another. After giving it some time, things started to go more smoothly and I enjoyed learning more about the woman I personally only knew as Blanche. There is always so much more to an actor than just one of their characters and Rue had really been everywhere, and seen it all. It was fascinating to enter into her world for a bit.

Lastly, I read a book by Betty White. Betty has quite a few books under her belt and I really felt overwhelmed trying to choose just one to start from. I ended up going for Here We Go Again, which chronicles her personal life and her career in television stretching a bit past The Golden Girls. All of the women involved with the show led such interesting lives both personally, and in show business, it is amazing to read their stories. Betty's love for animals (and Rue's for that matter) hits a soft spot with me as a fellow Animal lover and I loved all the photos Betty included in her book - I think more photos would have actually been nice in the other two books. Betty White is the lone surviving Golden Girl and I found myself often wondering what her life is like now and what stories she would tell if she were to write another book.

I enjoyed reading all three memoirs and I would definitely pick up another of Betty White's books...I'm just not sure which to pick up next! If you're a Golden Girls fan, then I encourage you to get to know the actors who took on these unforgettable roles! They're all worthwhile reads and I can't pick a favorite!


5/22/17

The Hate U Give - Angie Thomas - REVIEW




Whenever I write a book review for a book that I enjoyed reading, I often say that it's a book I feel others need to read. Whether if it's because they might learn something, or because the story is told so well - I find I'm often writing something urging others to read a particular book. It might seem redundant, but I assure you, it's always genuine. I love reading, and the books I review on here, are often the ones that I feel a stronger need to share with others. It's harder to write a review for a book I maybe didn't like as much. I don't want to offend! So while I might come off as a broken record, I assure you - it's authentic.

With that being said, everyone needs to stop what they're doing, and order this book. Better yet, go to your closest book store (I hope that there is one), and buy it. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas is astounding. I knew early on that it was going to be the kind of book I would want to review - and shout about from the rooftops.

The Hate U Give shares the story of a girl named Starr who grows up in a black urban neighborhood rife with poverty and violence. She attends a fancy private school in another area of town, which contrasts with her life in Garden Heights sharply, leaving her feeling strained by the mores of these different worlds. When she is the witness of her friend being murdered in Garden Heights, all things change. The story chronicles what comes after this both for Starr, as well as for her family, friends and neighbors.

Angie Thomas wrote a novel that needs to be read. It offers up diverse characters, which are so sorely needed in YA novels - and in general. It discusses issues of racism and prejudice and the police brutality and criminal justice issues that are inherently intertwined with these issues. Thomas tackles these current events in a way that made it nearly impossible for me to put down. While the book is fiction, it reads like it isn't. Perhaps that is because the story it presents could easily have happened yesterday - or it could happen tomorrow. It addresses subjects that are relevant because they are current conflicts within our society, and it presents this topic to a younger audience - giving them a story that goes beyond adolescent romance and cohort drama (not that there isn't a place for this either sometimes).

It doesn't matter your age - The Hate U Give is one of those books that everyone really should read. It gives the reader a lot to think about and does so in a way that draws you in - to the setting and the characters. I found that it moves quickly as you read and despite being quite lengthy, it doesn't take long to finish.

No matter your preferred genres, this is certainly a book I encourage you to read. I found myself reading slower in the beginning of the book, but I often do that as I get used to the characters and the story being presented. It was well worth the lag time though. I gave The Hate U Give a full five stars on Goodreads - where you can follow along with all my reading as I don't always write full reviews here.

I'm also always looking for more diverse books to read, so if you have any suggestions, send them my way!

5/21/17

Six Eco-Friendly Things To Do In Your Garden This Year



Living in Upstate New York, summertime is something to be savored. It doesn't last quite as long as I always want it to, and as someone who loves being outside relaxing or gardening, I don't know if I'd want it to end. Honestly, if I could have a really long summer and fall, and a shorter spring and winter,  I'd be totally down for that!

Our gardens, both veggie and flower are ever-evolving. Every year I make changes, adding plants and (sadly) sometimes eliminating them. Decor comes and goes, and I *try* to learn from my mistakes from previous seasons. Through it all, there are certain rules I go by: with my veggie garden I go for non-GMO always, and organic whenever possible and I don't use pesticides or any sort of weed killers in any of my gardens (veggie or flower). We try to conserve water, and plant things that make different animals happy so the gardens aren't solely for our own benefit.

Personally, I find gardening to be not only a rewarding experience, but also a therapeutic one. I feel like I have an overactive brain sometimes and when I'm working outside it seems to quiet the noise inside my head - at least somewhat. It's also a good form of exercise (trust me - lugging soil and mulch wears on you!) - and it gets you out into the fresh air!!  It's also nice to just sit and enjoy your work from time to time. :)

While the act of gardening might seem like an Eco-friendly activity on its face, there are ways in which our actions can actually be more detrimental - like using harmful pesticides and chemicals to rid our yards of weeds and bugs, or watering your grass (seriously - grass is overrated - plant a garden!). The list below is meant to help you find ways to make your yard work for both you and mother nature!

  • Plant herbs for warding off mosquitoes - mosquitoes are annoying - and scary to be honest. You can try to deter them naturally by planting herbs like lavender, rosemary, and peppermint. All of these are perennial too so you can enjoy them year after year! You can also plant citronella to ward of mosquitoes! 
  • Set up a rain barrel - allowing rain water to collect in a rain barrel is a great way of conserving your water usage. You can easily make one yourself, or buy one. Check your local municipalities - they might even sell them. If you live in Erie County, NY - there is currently a sale on for rain barrels and compost bins - hurry though, orders need to be placed by May 31st!
  • Watch what you plant! I love checking out different nurseries throughout the season, and I can easily buy plants anywhere, but you really need to watch where you're buying them from. This past weekend I went to Lowes and had amassed a cart full of plants I wanted to add to my garden. But then, when I was looking at a shrub, I saw an odd disclaimer that stated that the plant may, or may not have been treated with pesticides that might be harmful to the bee population. Say what??? I knew that Lowes and Home Depot had both come under fire for their use of pesticides that were found to be killing bees, but last I had heard, they had decided to stop using them. However, what I didn't know, was that while they do plan to stop using these harmful products, they are phasing them out over a period of years. Needless to say, I left my cart full of plants and went elsewhere. We need bees. Our plants - need bees. Why would I want to plant flowers that could possibly kill the partner-in-crime that they need??!?!
  • Compost - if you have the space to start a compost pile or bin, do it! If you live in an area where you can contribute to a town/city wide compost - do it! There are plenty of ways to compost, and doing so is a great way of reducing waste and also making your own soil amendment. 
  • Plant milkweed! The Monarch butterflies and milkweed are best friends. The Monarch butterflies are endangered so planting milkweed gives them one more chance to thrive. It's a perennial plant so it should come back for years to come! 
  • Perennial food - This one depends on what zone you live in, but if you live in an area with four seasons, you might think that there aren't many foods that you can grow which come back year after year. Not true!! There are plenty! Many herbs - like parsley, oregano, chives, mints, thyme, and rosemary are perennial. Fruits like blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, and grapes can be planted one year and enjoyed for many years after. If you've got the space for trees, you can grow apples, peaches, and pears. Asparagus is a perennial food as well! Planting perennial foods one year can give you a harvest for many seasons after! 
I'm definitely no expert when it comes to gardening - I love to experiment and learn from experience. I don't always follow all the ~gardening rules~ and I enjoy seeing what I can do differently. I do try to make sure that what I'm doing outside isn't having any sort of detrimental impact on environment though so I hope that this list helps or inspires you. If you have any other recommendations, please share them in the comments! Happy gardening!

5/9/17

Elizabeth Warren: This Fight Is Our Fight (REVIEW)

 

When I heard Elizabeth Warren had a new book coming out, I pre-ordered it right away. When it arrived, I rushed through the book I had been reading so I could get to it quicker and it definitely did not disappoint. I've been a fan of Senator Warren for many years now. I think she is genuine, wildly intelligent, compassionate, and without waver in her dedication to fighting for those who's voice is rarely, if ever, heard. I find her intensity and passion to be refreshing in the world of politics as a whole. I think there are many politicians out there who have grown cozy in their bubbles and who do not truly care for their constituents back home or the average American *cough cough* I'm looking at you, Chris Collins! *cough cough* This Fight is Our Fight blends together Warren's scholarly style with her humanistic compassion and understanding of what it looks like to be an average American in our society. The book provides statistical insight, with the real-life challenges of many Americans through anecdotal evidence.

This Fight is Our Fight takes the reader on a journey - chronicling much of our history since the Great Depression, and what it took to help build a strong middle class. It also explores the ways in which that strong middle class has been challenged, and effectively destroyed. Warren looks at how we built up our middle class and the efforts we made to ensure that all citizens had a fighting chance at the American Dream, some stability, and opportunity. She also details the many ways in which these supports have been weakened, or in some cases, eradicated entirely, in order to serve the richest Americans, large corporations and industry. Warren argues that these actions - primarily at the hands of republicans, have allowed for our middle class to weaken, and that now with trump as president, our middle class is threatened with extinction.

I think that Warren does an excellent job of highlighting the many ways in which corporations, the mega-rich, and industries as a whole have manipulated the government over the years in order to make it work for them, and not the average American. While much of the book was not surprising, and I was aware of bits already, it was still enraging. Her breakdown of how big business has been screwing workers over the years drives me mad. It certainly makes me rethink the types of business which I will patronize... which I think is exactly the type of reaction that readers should have. This book should make you think twice...even thrice.

In This Fight is Our Fight, Elizabeth Warren not only looks at the past, but also at the future. The book is a rally call - it is meant to energize and wake up those who care about the future of this country. It is required reading for anyone who wants to see America thrive. The book is truly an excellent read which balances facts with slices of humor, and glimpses into real American life. The only thing that I would have done differently, is that I would have included more anecdotes. I think that in order to truly understand the plight of the average citizen, we need to hear their stories. Warren does this, just not to the level that I would have really appreciated. It doesn't make the book any less important though!

Honestly, if you care about the future of this country, you need to read this book!

4/25/17

Chris Hayes: A Colony in a Nation {REVIEW}

 

I've been following Chis Hayes for many years now. I think the first place I saw him was as a guest on Rachel Maddow, and I liked him pretty much right away. I was a bit slow at picking up his first book, Twilight of the Elites, only reading it last year, but I'm glad that I did. It was an impressive book - with no shortage of factoids and little tidbits to make me nod, or shake my head in frustration and/or disbelief. His newest book, A Colony in a Nation continues to highlight Hayes as a highly intelligent writer with a knack for examining some aspect of our society with refreshing perspective and honesty.

In A Colony in a Nation, Hayes examines our nation's criminal justice system, with a specific look at how race comes into play within this system, and our society as a whole. He suggests that race and our criminal justice system divides our society into two parts: the nation, which is comprised of white citizens, and the colony - comprised of black citizens. Through statistical analysis, exploring the works of others and his own vast knowledge, he gives a brief history of how our criminal justice system has worked both for, and against our citizens. Hayes addresses the significant inequalities and conflict that have arisen within our society - stemming from the relationship between race and our criminal justice system, highlighting recent events which have brought this conflict to the forefront of many conversations, such as Ferguson and the 2014 death of Michael Brown.

Throughout the book Hayes ties the present to the past rather well and I can certainly say that I learned a lot about our past as a country that I'm sort of ashamed to admit I did not know (I will confess: I don't have as great a knowledge of history as I would like). As someone who majored in Sociology, I really enjoyed this book and the way it examined our criminal justice system, racism, and overall conflict within our society, but I think that this is a book anyone could enjoy - and which, everyone should read. I wouldn't describe it as a book which forces you to think in any particular way, but which provides you with facts and background and forces you simply, to think. It forces its readers to consider their own privilege and circumstances, and the environment in which they reside. I appreciate that it is not a book that comes off as overly biased in any one direction, but rather is a book that challenges the reader without berating them or trying to force them into any particular line of thinking. It certainly made me angry. It made me feel wildly frustrated (a feeling that I'm all to familiar with, which I think is hardwired into my personality). It made me think about a lot of things.

The book highlights what I would consider to be significant flaws in our criminal justice system, and left me wondering how, if ever, we are going to fix such a one-sided operation? The issues that exist within this system directly and significantly, impact how society as a whole works. Unfortunately, I would say that I don't believe we are poised to reform any of these issues currently, but I hope that in the future, we can begin to change the mechanisms that allow for the colony, and the nation to exist in such vastly different worlds.

A Colony in a Nation is a book I would urge all to read. It's a quick read and it left me feeling energized to learn more. In all honesty, I enjoyed it even more than Hayes' first book and it makes me excited to see what he comes out with next (no pressure or anything! ^_^)!

3/15/17

TV Style: Daphne Moon (Frasier)



I'm a weird one. I can admit that. I don't always fall for the current fashion trends, and I find myself drawn to older styles far more often than newer ones. I prefer simple over any ridiculous haute couture any day (although I will say that if anyone can rock a really out there style, it's Carrie Bradshaw). If there's one show that really nails it in terms of fashion (women's fashion anyway), for me it's Frasier. There's something about Daphne and Roz's style that just get it for me! It's absolutely 90's/early 2000s style without question, and I'm okay with that. It gives off comfy vibes which I am all about.

Like any style, what goes around comes back around (name that song...), and I've been seeing a lot of pieces lately that really give off that Daphne vibe in particular.


Old Navy seems to be really jumping on the floral bandwagon because they're offering dresses rather similar to this for Spring 17.


This jersey swing dress definitely gives off the Daphne vibes to me, and even though I'm not really a dress person, I'm interested in this one. 

There's also a few episodes where Daphne wears a cami dress over a white tshirt which sounds ridiculous perhaps, but appeals to me for some reason and is definitely coming back. I scoured the internet but damn if I could actually find an image of her wearing said outfit. If you find one, please share it in the comments! It's driving me crazy!! 


This dress nearly nails it - just layer over a white tshirt, add some black tights or leggings and maybe even ..... a scrunchi and BOOM, you're Daphne Moon! 

Perhaps its simply the nostalgia that appeals to me. Maybe I find comfort in these styles reemerging because they bring me back. Whatever it is, I'm down for it and I love that you can replicate these styles on a budget too - thanks to Old Navy. 


No, this post is not sponsored by Old Navy, if anything, it's sponsored by procrastination. ;)

2/27/17

Superior Donuts: REVIEW



On Monday's I watch Scorpion and Two Broke Girls. I usually end up turning on the TV early though and watching the line-up from 8pm - on. I'm always up from checking out a new sitcom, as the genre generally is my favorite, but if I'm honest, when I heard about Superior Donuts, I really wasn't sure what to think. Fast foward to now: I can safely say that the show is indeed worth watching.




The show doesn't always make me bust a gut, and at some points, it gets painfully cheesy.

However, it does something surprisingly well that I just simply didn't expect: it handles important, topical, socially-relevant issues within our society. On the outside, it appears to be a simple situational comedy, but underneath: it's teaching lessons and grappling with difficult subjects like racism, hate-crimes, violence, and gentrification.

Sometimes I think that sitcoms are an even better avenue for teaching lessons and handling difficult subject materials than dramas are. Sitcoms allow the heavier subjects to be layered with comedy - cheesy or otherwise. It allows us to examine an issue within society in a way that takes it just a little less seriously and sometimes that can make all the difference.

So - I commend you Superior Donuts! If you keep airing episodes like you have been, I think the show deserves recognition and success!

Superior Donuts airs Mondays at 9/8 central on CBS

2/20/17

My Current Vitamin Routine



Okay, so I've been really meaning to write this post for awhile, but for some reason or another, I seem to keep putting it off. I put it on my to-do list for this week (again), so I'm finally going to sit down and get it done. Today I'm sharing with you my current vitamin routine!

A little background: I figure it might help to share with you a little background so you can understand why I take what I take. I've struggled with pretty much every type of headache you can imagine, plus migraines for years. As I've gotten older, they seem to have gotten worse. I also struggle with anxiety, joint pain, general fatigue, and a host of other issues (that's as far as I'm elaborating for today...I have some other post ideas on my never-ending to-do list that will explain even more). I've also struggled to find a doctor that will listen to me adequately, or treat the issues I struggle with. I have always preferred a more holistic approach anyways, but since doctors won't listen, I've done my best on my own (the perfect example being my headaches & migraines). Through some experimentation, I've come up with a vitamin/supplement routine that seems to work fairly well for me. I can definitely notice a difference when I take my vitamins consistently, versus when I don't!


Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, and you should always refer to a medical professional for any advice and/or guidance. I'm just sharing with you what works for me. It might work for you....it might not.


Vitamin C - I've always been a big fan of vitamin C, and even when I didn't follow much of a vitamin routine, I always tried to take some vitamin C. I used to take a gummy version, but the ones I loved were reformulated and now they're coated in sugar and horrible. I don't know how anyone can stand those kinds?? Right now I'm taking a 500mg version from Target. Works for me!

Vitamin D3 - Vitamin D has so many benefits, I think you'd be hard-pressed to not find some way it could benefit you. It's good for your bones, your eyes, lowering blood pressure, etc. And if you live in a colder climate that sees the sun sparingly, it's definitely worth taking. I take 2000iu currently.

A multivitamin - I take a gummy multivitamin because I'm five. Well really, I take one because that's where my whole vitamin routine began and it's simply become a habit. It also contains a little of everything so I don't have to take a million separate pills. I currently take the Vitafusion ones and as long as they don't coat them in sugar, I will continue to do so!

B Complex - I also take a gummy B complex. B is supposed to help with your energy levels, so I continue to take it for that reason primarily. Being someone who is chronically exhausted, I can't say that I've seen much of an improvement, but it's become a habit so for now, I'll stick with it.

Fish Oil - I take a fish oil supplement mainly for the heart benefits. It's hard to find one that is decent, that doesn't cost $$$, and I recently switched from one that was pretty up there in price to the Target store brand version. I haven't been taking it long enough though to recommend it!

CoQ10 - I take CoQ10 to help with headaches and migraines. I can honestly say that since I've been taking this consistently, I have seen a significant reduction in the frequency of my migraines and other headaches (I pretty much get them all). They haven't gone away completely, but at one point I felt like my head hurt every single day in some way or another, and that is no longer the case. CoQ10 can get pretty pricey, but in my opinion, it's definitely worth taking. I've found a fairly affordable option on Amazon which is what I currently take and I really love it!

A probiotic - I struggle with a lot of digestive issues. Let's just leave it at that for now, shall we? I've been bouncing between different probiotics, trying to find the perfect one for me (that also doesn't cost a million dollars), and right now, I'm taking Digestive Advantage. I've tried a few different probiotics and I can definitely say that I notice a difference between when I do, and do not take one! PS - there is currently a clippable coupon on Amazon for the one linked above. It's way cheaper than in store (at least where I live)!!

Magnesium - this is another one that I take to help ward off headaches/migraines. I also take it for joint pain/health. I definitely think it's helpful! I've switched to a Target version of this as well. Since I have a red card (dangerous and lovely at the same time...), I can get free shipping on all my vitamins, so between Amazon and Target, I've got everything covered fairly easily!

Zyrtec - I struggle with allergies, so Zyrtec is a must for me. However, I stopped taking the name brand ages ago because you can get a years supply of the generic for LESS THAN $20 on Amazon. Amazing!!

Chamomile - this is a supplement that I take as needed. I take it for my anxiety, and occasionally for digestive issues. I think that on most days, it really helps. It's fairly affordable too, which is definitely a bonus. I generally start with one capsule as needed, but sometimes I take two. If I feel that two doesn't help, that's usually when I bring out the passion flower (see below).

Passion Flower - like I said above. This is another one that I take for anxiety. I don't take it every single day - only as needed, but I think that it really helps when I do need it. This one is a bit more pricey, but since I don't take it every day, it's not really that bad. I can honestly say that taking these two supplements has really helped me manage my anxiety, and I love that I'm able to do so more holistically.

Okay so that's my vitamin routine - exciting, no? I figured that it might be interesting to some of you out there. I know that I found a lot of guidance online when I was trying to get into a better routine. Like I said above, this is simply what works for me, and I'm by no means an expert! I am however, a huge advocate of more holistic pathways whenever possible, and I welcome constructive conversation in the comments!

2/17/17

Your Nails But Better: Sally Hansen's Color Therapy



The other day I went to the drug store because I was on the hunt for something from Wet & Wild. I didn't find it, but while browsing the new stuff, I came across the new Sally Hansen Color Therapy line. I was immediately drawn to this gorgeous blue/green duo-chrome style color, but I was in the mood for something a little more neutral. There was a whole line of lighter shades on the display and after some hemming and hawing, I opted for the color Rosy Quartz.



I'm telling you - this color is the perfect "your nails but better" kind of shade. I love it!! It gives my nails just a touch of pink, while still staying rather sheer. It compliments my skin tone (at least now in the winter months!), really well and just gives my nails a clean look that I'm really loving right now. I often find myself drawn to darker colors, but there's something about this shift to a neutral tone that I'm all for. I've tried to find this kind of shade for years now and the colors I've tried are always off in some way - too dark - too orange - too brown - etc. This one nails it for me. (See what I did there??)




The color is part of Sally Hansen's new range - Color Therapy. The range claims to last up to ten days without chipping, while also improving your nails in the process. It's infused with Argan oil and I personally found that the smell was a little less harsh than other nail products I've used in the past. The range is pretty big - with 38 colors and fairly affordable depending on where you pick them up! I got mine at Rite Aid and it was $8.99 a bottle!! When writing this post, I saw that Walmart, Target, and Ulta had them for less, so shop around!


2/13/17

Unconventional & Last Minute Valentines Day Gifts

There really is no shortage of options when it comes to Valentine's day gifts. When I went grocery shopping over the weekend, it was like pink had exploded all over the store - there were chocolates and stuffed animals everywhere, balloons, roses, orchids...a chocolate covered strawberry bar....it was everywhere! Now, it's not that there's anything wrong with going the traditional route, but honestly, there's also nothing all that creative about it either. That got me thinking, and I decided to put together a list of easy, perhaps a bit unconventional and most importantly, last-minute friendly Valentine's day gifts.

A subscription to The New Yorker 


 


You can support print media and provide your loved one with a gift that informs and entertains, and will last the whole year! Their covers & comics alone are worth the subscription and the writing is always fantastic. Plus, with a gift like this you're also supporting some of the hard working journalists in this crazy political climate!

On a bit of a budget? You can get a six week subscription (The New Yorker is a weekly publication) for only $5!!



A gift card for an independent book store 

Have a reader to buy for? How about a gift card for an independent book store? It's always a great idea to try and support the smaller bookstores - especially in the age of Amazon (I have no hate for Amazon - trust me!). You can often find things you wouldn't elsewhere, and the staff at the smaller stores frequently curate lists that can help you find something you didn't even know you were looking for. If you've got a local small bookstore, then hit them up. Otherwise, I'm a big fan of Strand which is based in New York and ships worldwide. :) (PS - their gift section is pretty awesome!!)



A donation in their name 

Pick a cause that matters to your loved one and donate! It's not an expected gift, but it might surprise them in a good way! The ACLU is always a good choice!! 



Art for their walls



How about some printable art work from Etsy? Just purchase, print out and pop in a frame and boom! You've got an instant and unique gift! This one is a bit out there for most, but as a big nerd and an even bigger  Golden Girls fan, I love it!!



The flower alternative 

 


Flowers are an easy go-to gift, and I can't deny that they're often lovely. However, they just don't last forever. This gift though, will! It's a planter set of redwood trees that you can start indoors, and later transfer outside. The trees will last far longer than flowers and it's definitely a different gift than you might expect! Plus, it's great for the environment! If you hurry, you can get this shipped just in time for Valentine's day!


When it comes down to it, it's always the thought that counts, but these gifts are a little off the beaten path and sure to win you some points! :)

2/10/17

Double Pizza Bagels - RECIPE



I love pizza. It doesn't always love me, but there are some foods that are worth pushing the limits over IMO, and pizza is definitely one of them - at least for me. When I heard that Thomas' Bagels had come out with limited edition pizza bagels, I may or may not have gone to four different stores in search of them. Not only did I know that I needed to try them, but I knew I had to make pizza bagels, on pizza bagels. I don't think that needs too much explanation.

Obviously, you can make pizza bagels, on any kind of bagel that you please. Plain bagels certainly will suffice. But I felt I needed to take on this mission of redundancy and make pizza, pizza bagels.




These are the perfect weekday dinner. They don't take a lot of ingredients...or prep....or brain power. Whether you've been deep in grad school reading all day, working in the office for hours on end, or corralling your offspring, sometimes a mindless meal is much welcomed. Or maybe you did absolutely nothing - that's okay too. When isn't a good time for pizza?










Double Pizza Bagels 
makes six bagel pizzas. 

You will need: 

-Grated Mozzarella cheese (about 2 cups - depending on how cheesy you make them).
-Marinara (I used Francesco Rinaldi - I love this brand!!), about 1.5 cups
-Thomas' Pizza Bagels 
-Pepperoni

To make: 

-Preheat oven to 375°
-Place 3 bagels on a cookie sheet, open face
-Cover each bagel with sauce
-Layer cheese and then pepperonis on top of your bagels
-Bake for 25 minutes at 375° (give or take depending on preference/oven).




These are super easy to make - and super customizable. Don't eat meat? Go veg! I can't honestly remember the last time I had a pizza bagel, so it was definitely a throwback meal for me. As for the pizza bagels themselves, they're pretty damn good! Worth the hunt!

PS - The Thomas' Pizza bagels are limited edition, so get them while you can!!

2/6/17

Immune Boosting Superfruit Smoothie




I consider myself to be a foodie. By that I mean that I love food - I like cooking and baking. I enjoy trying new foods, and I'm not afraid to dig into a good junk food session. I'll try almost anything once! With that being said, I also try to balance that out with healthier options. I gave up pop years ago, and I'm a big fan of vitamins and supplements. I like to go the more holistic way whenever possible, and likely drive my family crazy with my natural suggestions. ;)

I've had my nutri-bullet for a couple of years now, and while I don't use it on a daily basis, I've been trying to whip up smoothies as lunch more often. The smoothie I'm sharing today was sort of a happy accident. It came from one of my "I wonder if..." moments and I'm so glad that I gave it a go! This smoothie packs a mega punch because not only is it full of fruit, but it's also got the added benefit of Emergen-C! It's full of antioxidants and plenty of vitamin C. Plus, since it's a smoothie rather than a juice - you get all the fiber from the fruit!

I use the Super Fruit Pomegranate flavor from Target, which has 1000mg of vitamin C, plus zinc, vitamin B and more! I love the flavor of this one and frequently have it on its own, but added to a smoothie it adds an extra zing that I really like!

 To make:

Start with fresh banana



Then add frozen mixed fruit (I use a mix that has mango, pineapple, strawberry and peaches).



Add frozen blueberries.



Add one packet Emergen-C Super Fruit Pomegranate.



Fill half-way with water, and then blend.



Using frozen fruit makes the smoothie nice and cold, without having to add ice! This smoothie is a great meal replacement - trust me - it will fill you up!!


If you're feeling under the weather, or just feel like you need a little wake up call to your immune system, then you should give this smoothie a go! I'd love to know if you try this one - especially if you make any variations!!