Sunday, March 30, 2008

start off your week with yoga!

I'm teaching a Taoist Yoga class on Sundays at 5 pm, at the studio Gratitude in Motion.

While I enjoy different styles of yoga, I love Taoist yoga.... it combines yang movements, which refer to the active, warming, dynamic sequences, and yin stretches, which refer to the passive, cooling, and restorative poses. I think what I love about my Taoist yoga practice is the way I experience the movements and the flow of energy -- since the movements are more fluid (poses are not held for a long time), the focus is not just on the end pose but on the transitions in and out of the poses. In my opinion, it's not as "goal oriented" as the other styles of yoga sometimes tend to be... which is a refreshing departure from my goal-orientedness in other parts of my life. It reminds me to move with intention, move with joy, and to enjoy the journey and not just the destination.

Hopefully this was enough to heighten your curiosity about Taoist yoga.... and I hope to practice yoga with you on Sunday afternoons!

photo taken in New Hampshire, summer 2006... entitled "go with the flow"

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

welcoming spring

March 20th (or 19th or 21st in other years) marks the vernal equinox, or the first day of spring. The vernal equinox is when day and night are equally 12 hours. Easter always falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. The Persians also celebrate Noruz on this day, which marks their new year. Pretty cool, huh?

I LOVE spring. It's a time for new beginnings... when days get longer, and baby leaves start shooting from the once-bare branches. I love baby leaves. The green of baby leaves is just indescribable. Day by day, the earth becomes more and more colorful, until finally you see tulips and daffodils blooming. Can't wait!

How do you plan to enjoy spring?

I started my initial to-do list:

- celebrate and reflect on Easter
- visit the Cincinnati parks and the arboretum at Spring Grove with my camera
- see the Spring Flower Show at the Krohn Conservatory (with my camera)
- join the "Eating Locally" field trip, which includes visits to Findlay Market, Grailville, and Turner Farm -- the foodie's ideal day for fresh produce and local harvest... and yes, you guessed it, with my camera
- enjoy the longer days on my balcony
- join another art/photography show (in May, as school schedule permits)
- take more walks, do more cartwheels, and practice more yoga outside
- breathe in the fresh, spring air. Aaaaaahhh.....

"Receive each breath with reverence and use it to serve others." - Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

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spring cleaning, continued

After sorting through piles of stuff, what's next? Major cleaning!
(Hopefully you brought all your toxic and chemical-laden cleaning supplies to the hazardous waste collection though... )

Ok, so I sound like I've hopped on the green/eco-living bandwagon. But if you consider the alternative, the trend towards everything green and eco is actually one of the better trends.

I remember my first eco-awakening... it was in my freshman year of high school, in our earth science class, with a teacher who gave us flow chart after flow chart of how greenhouse gases lead to global warming and other environmental issues. I remember tearing out those "You Can Save the World" ads from our TIME and Newsweek magazines at home, and pasting those on the front cover of my school notebooks. I think my classmates got a bit curious about those ads. I became a stickler for using the reverse side of printing paper. I remember that my friend and I even used those clean B-sides of paper for taking notes -- we 3-hole punched them and put them in binders.

I've heard a lot of people say that green living, along with organic food choices, is for the rich and elite. And I think that's because of the commercialism and consumerism that goes along with it. It's partly true that manufacturers are taking advantage of public demand due to the mainstreaming of eco-consciousness. I've seen ads in magazines for jeans made out of recycled denim costing an arm and a leg. It's true that many non-toxic, biodegradable cleaning products out on the market cost 2-3 times as much as the mainstream counterparts. Although they may be well-meaning, it's not realistic for the average person.

There are several exceptions, however. I've found that salt, vinegar, and baking soda are inexpensive, non-toxic, and effective cleaning supplies. I mix vinegar and baking soda (make it a science experiment too with your school-age child, and watch the bubbles as you mix the two items) and use that to clean my tub -- it's non-abrasive, but does the job.

I also like Biokleen. For under $6, you can buy a 32-ounce bottle of concentrated cleaning solution. Just mix an ounce or so of the cleaner in a spray bottle of water, and you've got a gentle but effective all-purpose cleaner. The best part is it doesn't have a smell that can make your eyes water. I bought a big bottle of Biokleen in 2005, and it's lasting me to this day.

Since it's also time to start putting chunky sweaters and other winter clothes away, we'll be doing a lot of laundry. I have to say that I love baking soda... you can use it as a fabric softener! Just put some in your rinse cycle.

I've walked into laundry rooms and ended up sneezing constantly, thanks to those pesky, non-biodegradable dryer sheets. I haven't used them in years. Really, a little static cling doesn't make it the end of the world. But I've also been using these nifty dryer balls. Just put a pair of these in your dryer, and they get tossed around with your clothes to lift and separate the fabric, decreasing drying time (and saving energy!) and reducing static cling. I've read other reviews that say these dryer balls are PVC-laden anyway, and also do not decompose... but then again, you can keep them for a LONG time. AND use them as a foot massager to reward yourself after several loads of laundry. If you're really avoiding PVC, then don't use them at all... if the static cling of clothes from the dryer bothers you, then just put rub some lotion on your hands before you take them out. Your hands will thank you for it too.

There are also biodegradable dryer sheets in the market, but unfortunately they are quite expensive. But, dryer sheets are among those things I can live without. And if you're not in a hurry to wear that favorite tee, line-drying or air-drying is an energy-free alternative. Target stores carry this retractable clothesline in their Michael Graves line of products. Just screw it onto your bathroom wall. Bed Bath & Beyond (and other similar stores) also sells a folding wooden drying rack that you can store under your bed or in a closet when you're done.

The smell of fresh laundry is a great thing to look forward to when you settle into your just-washed sheets, but I can't remember the last time that motivated me to do laundry... ever since I switched to fragrance-free laundry detergent (check the website for discount coupons!). To reward myself with a nice, relaxing scent, I mix just a few drops of lavender essential oil with water in a little spray bottle, and spray it into the air before going to bed. Sure beats the sneezes from highly scented laundry detergent, and I can now relax after a day of spring cleaning.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

more on spring cleaning

Just because we are spring cleaning our living space does not mean we have to dump our trash elsewhere... so going beyond those green bins for paper, glass, plastic, and aluminum, here is a list of places that will accept specific kinds of waste and recyclables, to lighten our environmental footprint.

Crayons to Computers is a free store for teachers of needy students in the Cincinnati area. They accept gently used children's books and office supplies. A great place to drop off used but usable computer hardware. Call (513) 482-3290.

According to a story on NPR, in 2005 the United States produced 2.2 MILLION TONS of electronic waste.... sounds unbelievable, but think about the fast turnover of technology and how cell phones are now a disposable commodity. And along with that, toxins such as mercury and lead seeping into the soil and water.

The Cincinnati Computer Cooperative is a great place to drop off used but usable computer hardware.Call (513) 771-3262.

Hamilton County Environmental Services offers a free computer recycling drop-off. Acceptable materials include monitors, CPUs, hard drives, mice, keyboards, laptops, docking stations, back-up batteries, power cords, speakers, modems, external hard drives, memory chips, storage chips, cell phones, printers, scanners, and desktop fax machines. Hard drives are swiped with Department of Defense approved software. They can also disassemble and recycle computers, or rebuild them and donate them to non-profit organizations and/or schools. Call (513) 946-7766.

Hamilton County also offers a free household hazardous waste collection program from March through November. This is a great time to dispose of paint, chemicals, household and auto batteries, and more. Even prescription drugs are considered hazardous waste. CNN came out with a news story about traces of prescription drugs in water. Scary stuff. Don't flush those meds down the toilet! Call (513) 946-7700.

Please note that many of these centers have specific drop-off times during the week, so call or visit the websites for more information.

Let's face it, many times we are driven by rewards. Aside from the usual Goodwill and Freestore for other items, here are a few places that can accept gently used clothing, accessories, and even furniture for consignment. The reward: you get 50% of the profit for your items that get sold!

Snooty Fox has locations in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. For a minimal fee, you can open an account so that they can start selling your items. You get 50% of the profit. You can also find great bargains for gently used clothing -- another great way to lighten our footprint on the earth. I've found good jeans and tops here for less than $10! Some Snooty Fox locations accept furniture.

The Mustard Seed on Ludlow Avenue in Clifton (close to IGA) is another resale and consignment shop for clothes and accessories. There is no cost to open an account, and you also get 50% of the profit for your items that get sold. This store also sells handmade jewelry and original notecards by local artists. Call (513) 221-4022.

Julie's Inspiration is a consignment store located in the charming Mainstrasse, Covington, Northern Kentucky. This store accepts clothing, accessories, jewelry, art, and other collectibles. The bonus? It's a few doors down from interesting art galleries and coffee shops with a neighborhood feel. Next time you decide to do the Mainstrasse Final Friday Gallery Hop, stop in at Julie's! Call (513) 291-8200.

Remember that many of these places accept clothes seasonally; if I am not mistaken, they accept spring and summer items beginning in February, and fall and winter items beginning in August.

Are your running shoes no longer giving you any support? The Running Spot accepts used athletic shoes. Honestly, I'm not exactly sure what they do with them. Store locations are O'Bryonville and Glendale. Call (513) 321-3006.

Got way too much grocery store plastic bags? Take them to Bigg's supermarkets. There's a bin for plastic bags right as you walk through the door.

Hope this list gets you in the mood for a greener spring cleaning!

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Monday, March 17, 2008

the "spring cleaning" cliche

It's that time of the year... when we evaluate what we currently own, what kind of living space we are living in, and how we can de-clutter our homes (and our minds). Being the sometimes-indecisive Gemini that I am (another cliche), there are days when I feel like attacking the task head-on and other days when I want to take it in baby steps, tackling one thing at a time (i.e., today I'll go through my magazine collection and donate them to our local/neighborhood coffee shop).

But more than just re-evaluating our physical space, the idea of spring cleaning started to bring to mind something deeper. As I was driving today, I stopped at a traffic light behind a car with a bumper sticker that read, "Live simply so that others can simply live."

Wow. That statement really started to call into question my reasons for buying this and that and the other. Hey, I love to shop. I love bargains. Not that I spend left and right without thinking of prices... there are certainly things that I won't spend for (case in point - my old-style antenna on my fairly new, but second hand TV, is a big joke among my siblings... been here for 5 years and I still don't subscribe to cable service). I do things that some people may find odd, like washing and re-using zip-lock bags. I can be pretty obsessive about sorting my recyclables. I'm the resident pack rat at work, overusing the excuse "I'm an early childhood teacher... my kids love usable junk."

I guess you can say that I'm going through this austere yogi/shopaholic struggle. Sometimes I find myself looking at clothing tags and reading the "Made In ___" label, and I think, oh no, I bet this was made in a sweatshop by a little 10-year-old who should be in school or playing outside." Talk about consumer's remorse -- another version of buyer's remorse. And then you see these other clothes being advertised as handmade by artisans who are paid a fair wage, with the feel-good extra of "proceeds of your purchase go to (some charitable institution)". Then you look at the price tag and go into sticker shock. There's no way I can afford it. Don't get me wrong; I wish I could donate to charity all the time. But realistically, I have bills to pay too... don't we all?

But the real question is not what to buy, or should I buy or not buy. It's looking at what I already have, whether materially or otherwise, and coming to the realization that I am already living in abundance. I have my wonderful family and friends, a decent-sized, comfortable living space, good food to eat, clothes to wear, and miscellaneous extras like furniture, art, books, music, kitchen stuff, and my camera.

Still, there are days when I find myself at a store facing a pair of vampy, strappy, high-heeled red sandals that are calling my name (all for $14.99, at my fave store -- how can you go wrong?). The "question consumption" motto goes out the window. The "shoes can make or break the outfit" motto overpowers. I'll be completely honest and say that at this particular moment, a great bargain on a pair of vampy, strappy, high-heeled red shoes (that I'll only wear on some weekends during only two seasons out of the year, to add to the impractical but oh-so-cute shoes that I already have but only wear during two seasons out of the year) IS a feel-good extra. The fair trade concept did not enter my mind for a second. OK, that was full disclosure. Whew.

As you can tell, that was an unplanned purchase, despite my attempts at self-talk.

This can really be a struggle. I admit, all this thinking can sometimes immobilize me and lead me to a position where I feel I can't really make much of a difference anyway. And that's the hard part -- feeling immobilized. I read a good tip from one of my favorite magazines. The author wrote that s/he does not buy anything new without first giving away something to someone who may need it. And that may be to the Freestore, Goodwill, Freecycle, etc. The in-and-out, "revolving door" approach. Not that everything is disposable. But it's looking at what I currently have, and thinking of who can benefit from something if I haven't used it in a year anyway.

And really, it's the baby steps that count... sure, leaving your stable, health-benefits-paying job to travel to a developing country with UNICEF all sounds great. But not everyone has the means to do that. I know I don't, not in my current situation. But a group of gals and I get together for potluck dinners and do clothing swaps. That's a pretty fun, feel-good baby step... which can sometimes involve impractical but oh-so-cute clothes, and no consumer's remorse.

"If we can find ways to love life and be joyful without being wasteful or destructive -- that's what's important." -- Natalie Portman

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Sunday, March 16, 2008

induldge in self-care

On March 10th, my grandmother joined her Creator. My father said it was a beautiful death... she was at home, surrounded by family. Needless to say, it was still difficult for the loved ones she left behind, even though we know that she is now at peace and no longer suffering in a physical body that was failing.

I took two days off work, to give myself time to just sit, meditate, cry, or do nothing. Typically the "doing nothing" part is hard for me to do. Not surprisingly I also got into stress-cooking mode, which fed my soul (and my friends and coworkers).

One of the best pieces of advice I heard during this time was from a dear friend of mine who said, "Just stay home and hug yourself."

It's amazing how something that sounds fairly simple can just be exactly what you need. It wasn't rocket science, but it made perfect sense.

Everyday we are bound by commitments... to family, work, school, friends. Not that this is a bad thing. But some days we just really need to indulge in "me-time"... without feeling guilty. Sometimes this modern work ethic gets in the way, and "me-time" sounds a little selfish... but then I thought, if doing self-care can make me a better person, then why not?

I actually took the "hug yourself" advice a bit further and got an hour-long massage (Thanks Elizabeth!). What a great way to spend a Friday evening and end the work-week. For the first time all week, I slept like a baby.

I started to make a mental list of "me-time" and/or equivalents of "hugging myself"... and for once I tried not to list things that involve any chocolate.

- sit in silence and practice pranayama (breathing exercises) or meditation, even for at least 10 minutes
- practice some yin yoga
- bring back my tea ritual (using a teapot, little Asian teacups, and loose tea leaves from this place ... the works) and do nothing else for at least 5 minutes while enjoying my tea
- soak in the bath with my detoxifying bath salts and calming lavender essential oil
- maybe, just maybe, get another massage (I fear that this will be quite addicting... and a pretty pricey addiction to support)

I hear my tea kettle whistling.... water's ready!

photo by Camille, 2006

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Saturday, March 15, 2008

spiced up chocolate

I love, love, LOVE chocolate. I personally think it's a basic food group in itself. Lately, I've also been on a spice kick. It must be this cold, long winter. This recipe for a vegan chocolate cake, spiced with cayenne and cinnamon, hits the spot!

Mexican Chocolate Cake

1 1/2 cups flour*, sifted
1 cup sugar (I like turbinado sugar or Florida Crystals evaporated cane juice)
4 Tbsp. cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2-3/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. distilled white vinegar
5 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 cup cold water
Confectioners’ sugar for garnish

• Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9-inch cake pan. I also line the bottom of the pan with unbleached parchment paper.
• In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, and baking soda. Stir in the cinnamon, cayenne, vanilla, vinegar, oil, and water. Mix until just combined.
• Pour into the prepared cake pan and cook for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool.
• Dust with the confectioners’ sugar before serving.

* note on flour: the original recipe called for unbleached flour, but I like using whole wheat pastry flour for most of my baked goods, for extra fiber. Make sure you don't use whole wheat bread flour, which will give the cake a heavy consistency.

Spicy Dark Chocolate Sauce:
Melt 2 squares of vegan dark chocolate (check ingredient list to make sure there is no milk) with 1/4 cup water or soy milk. Stir constantly over low heat until the chocolate is melted. I like using a heatproof silicone spatula to make sure I scrape the bottom and sides of my saucepan so that the chocolate doesn't scorch. (You don't want any of that wonderful chocolate to go to waste, do you?) Stir in 1/4 cup sugar and cook, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in 3 Tbsp. vegan margarine (I use Earth Balance), 1/2 tsp. vanilla, and cayenne pepper, to taste. Check for sweetness -- the original recipe called for 1/2 cup sugar, but I like to start with less since I like my chocolate bittersweet.

This cake is amazing! When you take your first bite, it's the chocolate you focus on. After you swallow, the heat of the cayenne lingers, and that's when you feel the kick!

Recipe adapted from VegCooking.

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Saturday, March 1, 2008


"Hope at the end of the day connects us all, no matter how different we are." -- Marketa Irglova, Oscar award-winning musician, singer, & songwriter

photo by Anna - Yoga Teacher Training, Cincinnati, OH

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