Sunday, December 11, 2016

Holidays: The Hurriest Time of the Year?

Who doesn't love cheesy Christmas carols and cheesy holiday dishes and cheesy office parties that no one can remember? Who doesn't love racing from store to store or staring endlessly at your computer, flooded with millions of gift options. Buying your least favorite teacher an obligatory -- or appeasing -- glass apple or nondescript box of candy used to be simple. Now? I can easily spend 2 hours just scrolling through options, only to decide on nothing and wish that January would hurry up and get here. 

Maybe that's the problem. Hurry. Now that Black Friday seems to have forgotten its namesake and prefers to stretch from the Wednesday before Thanksgiving to the Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday after Thanksgiving. So it's not Black Friday, just "rush to get that early bird sale before time runs out" week. Ads this year, at least on my accounts, take the position that I merely overlooked my excellent savings options and need a friendly, persistent push to go shopping. To save money. Because how can I save money if I'm not shopping?

"Ok, dear customer, we value you so much that we're going to give you one more chance. 12% off today! For the next 12 minutes!"

No takers.

"Don't worry, dear customer, we've got you covered. We've saved you some last-minute deals: $10 OFF when you buy $200 worth of merchandise! How cool are we? I mean, how cool are you???"

From the time we decide where the family is going to have Thanksgiving dinner, I can almost hear the anxiety and anticipation of making lists, checking them twice, then three times, then always. Perfect gifts, trees, decorations, food!

In their article "Money can’t buy love: Asymmetric beliefs about the link between gift price and feelings of appreciation," Francis J. Flynn and Gabrielle S. Adams report that:

"Across three studies, we identify an asymmetry between gift-givers’ and gift-recipients’ beliefs about the link between gift price and feelings of appreciation. Gift-givers expected a positive correlation between how much they spent on a gift and the extent to which gift-recipients would appreciate the gift because gift-givers assume that more expensive gifts convey a higher level of thoughtfulness. Gift-recipients, in contrast, reported no such association between gift price and their actual feelings of appreciation. This effect occurred regardless of whether the individual’s role and the magnitude of the gift were manipulated or measured in the field. Taken together, these findings cast doubt on whether gift-givers can draw on their personal experience as gift-recipients in order to identify meaningful gifts for others."

As Flynn and Adams found, there is not a positive correlation between the amount of money spent on a gift and the amount of pleasure the recipient gets from the receiving it. So even if I think I'm awesome for spending $100 on a necklace for my lady, if she's more into video games or outdoors adventures and doesn't wear jewelry much, the effect is lost. 

Another helpful reminder is the scene in the movie The Perks of Being a Wallflower where Charlie, a socially awkward high school freshman who happily finds himself being inducted into an outsider group of seniors, carefully chooses personalized gifts for each of his friends. With a budget of maybe $50, he touches his 5 friends' hearts, right down to the stoner named Bob who delights in the bottle of kids' bubbles and says, "He knows me...he really knows me." 

This holiday season, what do you want to give to the people you see? A reason to remember you, a reason to feel obligated to you, a reason to smile, a reason to cry, a reason to remember the reason you all stressed over the gifts, decorations, and food in the first place? 

Some suggestions and strategies for slowing down and enjoying the "most wonderful time of the year":

  • Turn off the phones, TVs, computers, and iPads regularly
  • Journal, jog, meditate, or walk in the mornings to start your day on a level note
  • Drop the need to be right or to get your own way (not saying be a doormat or codependent)
  • Listen and look at someone when s/he is talking to you
  • Silence the phone and put it away if you are meeting someone for lunch, etc.
  • Brainstorm what meaningful gifting looks like for each person you are planning presents for
  • Re-evalute what you are spending, and on what -- will he really like that tie? will she really like those slippers?
  • Ask the Universe or a Higher Power to inspire insight and help you find great gifts for people
  • Bust out your dusty hobby, whether it is painting, beading, cleaning, writing, hiking
  • Turn off the phones, iPads, computers, TV's...did I already mention that?
Maybe our best bet for this stressful time of year is to say adios to the hurry. Let it go on its way. Say goodbye to strange expectations of "perfection". This is not a stage production. Whether you recognize the historical backdrop to Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Ramadan, Diwali, Kwanzaa, Chinese New Year, or others, why are we even bothering with all the bother, if not to build relationships and connect with people we care about? 

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Why I Broke Up with Burt's Bees

Burt's Bees is a company with an inspiring start-up story behind it, and I was one of the people who splurged on the $3-4 lip balms and savored the sensation. Then, of course, I was introduced to even simpler, cleaner formulas being mixed and poured in my own kitchen and work room. There was a lurking sense of guilt, too, whenever I stood in line at Sprouts and surveyed (or didn't make eye contact with) all of Burt's cool stuff.

One day, I did happen to pick up another tube to look at the ingredients. I was thinking that, because the label looks so innocent and cute, there would only be 4-5 ingredients, and they could all be found in a field or forest. I was mostly right, up until the lanolin, canola, and soybean oils.

Nothing terribly wrong there, but after an ingredient list of:

* Beeswax
* Shea or cocoa butter
* Essential oils
* Sweet almond oil's just not the same...

Friday, December 2, 2016

Natural Deodorant versus Dove and Secret: What's the big deal?

If you are like me (and possibly millions of consumers) and are secretly terrified of social rejection based on body odor, you may have used Dove or Secret deodorants and anti-perspirants. For the last several years, I have enjoyed forgetting that my armpits even sweat or smell.

As we began to research the ingredients that top brands use, however, we were shocked to learn of potential risks to using these products. For example, common chemicals or substances used in Dove, Old Spice, and Secret products include:

* Aluminum
* Parabens
* Triclosan

The list of ingredients and side effects goes on, but these components are directly or indirectly linked to cancer, whether they themselves are carcinogens or alter your body's hormone production.

Fortunately, there are many alternatives to toxic products. Many bloggers have chronicled their experiences with terrible natural products that do not prevent noticeable body odor issues (and thus increase likelihood of rejection from human society, which the human brain registers as a threat comparable to death), so we were unsure of how this experiment would proceed.

For the last year, we have formulated, tested, and adjusted our recipes.


* Coconut oil
* Cocoa butter
* Shea butter
* Arrow root powder
* Corn starch
* Pinch of baking soda (only in the regular formulas, not the sensitive skin recipe)
* Essential Oils
* Beeswax

Don't just take our word on it, though. Look at the reviews on our Etsy shop. The benefits beeswax brings to skin are manifold, and several customers have reported increased softness of underarms after consistent deodorant application.

One issue that does come up is that these natural products are not designed as anti-perspirants. Biologically, underarm hair is supposed to wick bacteria out of your body as you sweat.

Researchers have presented somewhat conflicting conclusions as to the risk of cancer connected with underarm shaving and the resultant absorption of toxic ingredients in products, where the body cannot slough the toxins because the sweat glands are artificially plugged and there is no hair to drain sweat and bacteria.

Of course, your body's functions are unique based on gender, age, diet, location, heredity, and ethnicity. Shop around and see what works for you. It helps to expect your experience with natural products to be different, but there is also a beauty in letting your body be itself. We are human and we make a mess wherever we go, but some like to think it's a beautiful mess.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Someone who has lived with chronic pain for years can tell you what it is like to always think of your limitations first when presented with an opportunity; to make sure you have enough pain medication to last through the weekend or holiday; to get caught up in something you love, only to realize that the pain has worsened and you have to stop. It is like living in an ever-shrinking box.

The frustrating fact is that ongoing pain is not always caused by physical problems in the present moment, but rather by the neuronal memory stored by your nerves through your body and in brain pathways. 

To picture this better, imagine that you live in the center of a vast grassland. In every direction, you are surrounded by grass and bushes as high as your waist, and to get to anything else, you have to go through the unmarked fields. At first you may not know where to start or what direction to take because you have never ventured out, but once you get your bearings and find out that Trader Joe’s is to the South, Walmart is to the Northwest, and McDonald’s is to the East, among many other attractions, you will soon find that you choose favorites. These are the paths, then, that get larger and well worn. If you are a Trader Joe’s hippie and hate all things Walmart, your Walmart pathway will disappear as the grass grows back over it and the Trader Joe’s path will become smoother, broader, and more comfortable for travel. In fact, when you have some friends over and they need an outing, you are more likely to take them on the path you know the best. 

In relation to the brain, once you have sustained an injury that caused significant pain and whose healing took time, your nerves become accustomed to sending those pain signals from the original site of injury along the neuronal pathways, through your dorsal horn in your spinal column, and up into your brain. 

Meanwhile, the pleasure pathways have been crowded out by weeds because the pain of that ruptured ligament or smashed cartilage overpowered everything pleasant until all you could feel was pain. This often means that, by the time your body is fully functional again, your nerves have dug such deep pain signals that they almost default to that setting as a general, unprovoked response. 

The added problem is that chronic pain has a spiraling effect. Since the experience of pain produces the stress hormone cortisol, which also allows us to feel the pain more acutely, the two build on each other, breaking down your immune system in the process and making you vulnerable to other problems. 

The problems with NSAIDS and opiates and narcotics are numerous. Anti-inflammatory drugs like Ibuprofen can damage your liver and eat through your stomach lining if you take them without food or take them too often, in general. Opiates and narcotics, of course, are many addicts’ drug of choice. They are all designed for damage control, not healing. In the long run, our bodies build up a tolerance to man-made drugs, which means that gradually you need to take more and more to get the same level of relief. 

Herbs, on the other hand, do not come with the usual host of tolerance and toxicity. As someone who was raised in Western culture, I believed that herbal remedies were a soft option that acted more as a placebo. I’ll make my conversion story short: I am now a believer. 

No matter what kind of pain you are in, there is an herb that is designed to help. Designed by the inventor of symbiotic ecosystems and the planets, I might add. 

The “pain relief” heading neglects the subtlety of the herbalist’s understanding. Arnica, comfrey, and Devil’s Claw are all meant to treat pain, but while Arnica is great for bruises, swelling, recovery from childbirth, sprains, dislocations, and general trauma injuries, Devil’s Claw is better suited to back pain, arthritis, tendonitis, and joint pain. Devil’s Claw, as a side note, is also a mainstay herb for people trying to lessen their dependence on pain medications.

In treating my chronic pain, I needed something I could safely use everyday that would not harm me in the long term. The key to coping with chronic pain is to keep it at a low level consistently. If you keep your pain steady at a 3 instead of letting it spike to an 8 and then trying anything you can swallow to numb out, you have more options. You are not held hostage by your condition. Consistency in pain management also means you are giving your neuronal pathways a chance to experience something other than pain — the chance to re-learn and feel pleasure again.