Wellness Wednesday: Meditation and Headspace

Happy Wellness Wednesday, my friends! If you recall, my theme for 2015 is Wellness, and I’m really excited to check in each week with a new Wellness-related topic. This week I’d like to share with you an app that I’ve been using that has had such an impact on me- Headspace. Headspace is a meditation app; that is, it offers a series of brief guided meditation experiences with the intention of increasing mindfulness and promoting individual wellbeing. Don’t be skeptical- there’s no chanting ‘om’, there’s no real spiritual component…it’s more of a mind workout, and the results are awesome!

So, I am a person who suffers a bit from anxiety- this is not uncommon, and the amount that I suffer is generally very manageable. Sometimes, though, life happens in excess and if I don’t make a conscious effort to take care of myself, the anxiety manifests itself in undesirable ways- fatigue and insomnia are common and, in extreme cases, I get the most crippling panic attacks. I haven’t had a panic attack in a long time (which is awesome!!) but last year I started to have the weirdest dream- I dreamt that I was manically filing, and each file folder had one topic that was really top of mind for me (imagine folders for each work project, each class I was taking, student loans, making sure Howie got his heartworm medication, etc). It wasn’t hard to figure out that my brain was over whelmed, but I had no idea how to turn this dream off- I would have it several times each night, and each time I would wake up with my mind racing, already well into work mode. I wasn’t getting any rest, and I my to-do list was just a constant ticker-tape in my subconscious.

Headspace

Enter: Headspace. When I started reading about meditation I was so skeptical- a, it sounded very mystical; b, it sounded like a time commitment that I couldn’t make; and c, I was so overwhelmed with thoughts that clearing my mind was an entirely laughable concept. Then I found the Headspace app, and started reading through their FAQs. The way it works is this: you sign up, and there are ten free, ten minute sessions. You work through those at your own pace, and then decide if you’d like to continue. If so, you pay a monthly rate for the subscription and have access to much more content.

With the first ten sessions free, and only a ten minute per day commitment, I was more than willing to give it a try. And, guys- this has definitely, one hundred percent, been so beneficial to my mental health. The concept of meditation was explained and illustrated in the first few sessions, and really gave me some helpful tools for clearing my mind and actually relaxing. For me, this has resulted in restfulness and the ability to stay very calm. I feel like I get a full night’s sleep now, and I’m focusing better at work and in class. And, when the day is over, I can actually turn that mental switch so I’m not thinking about either of those things, even in the back of my mind. It is…amazing.

So, pretty much, that’s my pitch. Headspace doesn’t know anything about me, so I’m not gaining anything in that front. It’s just that my experience with meditation and, particularly, this app, has been so positive, it seemed like the perfect thing to share on this dreary Wellness Wednesday 🙂 Tell me- what are you doing for your mental health these days? Or, alternately, what apps have you found that have been life changing?

Review: PopSugar Must Have, January 15

Popsugar January 2015b

PopSugar Must Have

Monthly delivery for $39.95/month

Includes “must have” items across all catagories, targeted for women, chosen by PopSugar editors.

To be very clear, I likely would not have gotten this box if I hadn’t used a 50% code. As it happens, though, I found the code and loved the spoilers, so I ordered and was not disappointed!

Popsugar January 2015

This month’s box included Jack + Lucy Pom Pom Hat, KeepCup Brew 12-Ounce Reusable Coffee Cup, ToGoSpa Eyes, Manduka eQua Hand Towel, First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream, Skin Jewel Tattoos and General Mills Nature Valley Protein Granola. Most items in this box are awesome and everything will be used! The hat is pretty trendy, slouchy with a faux fur pom, and very season appropriate- so much so that it was already in my gloves/hat bin when I took these photos! The cup is double walled perfection- a little small for me as a travel mug, but perfect as an office coffee cup (I can carry it all around the building without sloshing everywhere). Although I probably wouldn’t have purchased the eye masks, they seem like a great treat for a future morning after a long night. Similarly, a yoga towel wasn’t a high priority for me but is a perfect addition to my gym bag. I actually ADORE the First Aid cream- it’s perfect for my elbows and heels, moisturizing without being greasy and thick and heavily scented- and it already has a spot on my regular beauty routine. The tattoos and granola aren’t really high value for me, but are welcome additions to a well curated box (I’m already thinking about what girls night out will be appropriate for metallic tattoos). Overall, this box was such a winner for me and an especially great value at about $20. I planned to cancel after January, but didn’t get around to it, so I’m looking forward sharing my February box!

January Subscription Box Review: Birchbox and Sample Society

First things first- I didn’t post December reviews, owing to the insane amount that was going on last month. You know 🙂 However, my ipsy box was really lackluster- for at least the fourth time in a row. So, I cancelled that subscription. Right now I’m getting Birchbox and Sample Society, and may be creeping into PopSugar and Darby Smart…keep your eyes peeled for those 🙂 So, with that disclaimer, here’s what we’re looking at for January beauty boxes:

Birchbox

 

Birchbox

Monthly delivery for $10/month

Includes 4-5 beauty and lifestyle samples

This month my box included Number 4 Non-Aerosol Hairspray, Essentiel Elements Wake Up Rosemary Body Lotion, Mirenesse Mattfinity Lip Rouge, Harvey Prince Sincerely,  and Manuka Bee Venom mask. You know, I loved the last two Birchboxes, but I’m a little ‘meh’ about this one. You know how I feel about perfume samples, especially Birchbox’s obsession with Harvey Prince- it feels like a wasted sample. The body lotion is fine- I like to rosemary scent, but kind of wish they would have given this sample at the same time as the body wash of the same scent. The hairspray is also kind of neutral for me- though since I rarely use it, it is actually pretty convenient to have a mini. The last two products are interesting- I’m very hot and cold about super bright lip color, but I really like this one! I think it has everything to do with the matte texture. And the mask…I’m a little apprehensive of the concept of venom in a mask, with my sensitive skin. Of course I’ll try it, but I’m keeping the Benedryl on standby. Overall, I don’t feel like I wasted money on this box, but it’s not really a standout for me.

Beauty Bar

Allure Sample Society

Monthly delivery for $15/month
Includes 4-5 full and deluxe sized beauty and makeup samples
This month I received the Philip B. Light Weight Deep Conditioner, Revlon PhotoReady Eye Art, Erno Laszlo Sea Mud Deep Cleansing Bar, Philosophy Renewed Hope in a Jar, StriVectin Intensive Illuminating Serum, and ZOYA Polish in Rayne. The samples are all a pretty decent size, and I love that they included six items. The Revlon sample kind of threw me for a loop, since this box doesn’t usually do drug store brands. On the other hand, it’s full sized product and the gold color is interesting, so I’ll definitely be trying it out- I really like that you can use the shimmer alone, or layer it with more glitter for an evening look. Beyond that, though, I’m pretty into everything else in this box! I don’t know much about Phillip B as a brand, but my hair loves a deep conditioner- especially in this winter.  I know that StriVectin is a great brand, and I’m glad to see this serum is in a pump package- even if I can’t seem to find any information on the product. Hope in a Jar is a cult classic, so I love the travel size, and this ZOYA polish is making me look forward to some imaginary spring break plans. The one product that I’m super excited about, though, is the the Sea Mud bar- people say its amazing for your complexion, and heaven knows I love anything that makes that promise 🙂 Overall, as usually, I’m pretty thrilled to try out some great new skincare and makeup products!
Anything that you guys got this month that you either loved or didn’t love?

Creamy Kale Soup

Happy Wellness Wednesday, my friends! I work in a place that is really into employee wellness, so for me, Wednesdays are a chance to wear yoga pants to work and make sure I get a 30 minute workout in- it’s pretty nice. Wellness Wednesdays also remind me to pay a little closer attention to what I’m eating, and make sure that I’m actually fueling my body by making intentional choices, which can sometimes be especially challenging at work.

My solution to healthy office eating recently has been soups- they’re usually pretty quick to make, are easy to load up with veggies, and I can make an entire batch on Sunday and have lunch all week. For me, that’s a pretty winning combination! Eschewing all modesty, my soup game has been pretty strong this winter, and today I’m excited to share my soup-er delicious Creamy Kale Soup (see what I did there??).

Kale Soup 4

I’m not usually a person for blended soups, nor a person that likes to eat things that look like baby food- let’s start with that disclaimer. This soup gets tons of texture and flavor from a few slices of bacon, though, and that really brings it into adult-food territory. Also, even though it’s a pretty creamy texture, there’s no milk or cream- softened potatoes are blended with chicken stock, which results in a really lovely, velvety consistency.

Kale Soup 3

This soup came together really easily, and is full of kale, which I love. Evan does not love kale, but he surprised me by agreeing that the soup is pretty delicious- though he suggests that the bacon, sautéed with onions and garlic are largely responsible for the flavor, with some credit going to a sprinkling of parmesan cheese J I say, give this soup a try- it’s moderately healthy, pretty warm and comforting, and great with a slice of avocado toast on a lazy weekend afternoon!

Creamy Kale Soup

3 slices bacon (for a veggie option, just use 1 ½ tbsp. olive oil
1 sweet onion
3 cloves garlic
Salt
Red pepper flakes
2 baking potatoes (probably about a pound, total- I used two healthy sized Idaho/russet potatoes)
1 bunch kale (about 4-5 cups when chopped)
4 cups chicken or veggie stock or broth

Prep your ingredients: Dice the onion, and peel and roughly chop the garlic (remember, everything will be blended so garlic can be a bit larger than usual). Peel and rinse the potatoes, and dice into about 1 centimeter cubes. Chop the kale, then rinse thoroughly and drain excess water. Lastly, slice bacon into relatively thin slivers.

Assemble the soup: Add bacon to a soup pan or wide sauce pan, and cook over medium low for about five to eight minutes. Low heat is best for this step, since it will slowly render the fat…and bacon fat is what will give us that smoky flavor. Once the bacon pieces are crispy, carefully remove those from the pan and set aside, leaving all of the fat. Add the onions and garlic and increase the heat to about medium; salt liberally and cook for another five to eight minutes, until the onions are translucent and just begin to take on some color. Add the potatoes and season will red pepper flakes to your preference- I added about ½ tsp for heat without making my eyes water. Stir the mixture to thoroughly coat the potatoes, then let sit for four or five minutes so they have a chance to cook on one side. Stir again, and let cook for another four or five minutes. Add the kale to the pan and stir to encourage wilting. After three or four minutes, when most of the kale has lost its rigidity, transfer the entire mixture to the blender.

Blend the soup: This can go a few ways. I use a Ninja, which is pretty beg. As a result, I am able to fit all of the ingredients along with all four cups of broth. Then I press blend and let it go for about 90 seconds, and everything gets nice and smooth. (If you have a smaller blender you could either work in two batches, adding half of the kale/potatoes and half of the broth, or you could blend the soup mixture with only as much broth as you have room for, and then transfer it back to the pan to stir in the rest of the broth.) Either way, make sure that you leave the lid to your blender slightly ajar, to allow room for the heat to escape- very important! Once blended, transfer to bowls, top with the reserved bacon, and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Delicious!

Buckeyes/Rice Krispy Peanut Butter Balls

Friends, I’m sure you’re aware- tonight is the College Football National Championship game. Living in Columbus, I am more than aware, and the anticipation has been palpable all day, if not all week!! I’m not a born and bred OSU fan, but I’ve lived in Columbus for about five years and I’ve certainly gotten into the spirit of things. Today I’m bringing that Buckeye Spirit to the blog, with my take on Buckeyes.

Buckeyes-Peanut Butter Krispy Balls3

First, a gratuitous photo of Howie getting his OSU fanatic on:

OSU Howie

Also, if the Howie pic didn’t get you into the spirit of things, how about a game-day trailer?

Ok, so Buckeyes. Buckeyes are a nut, yes, and also a candy that consists of a peanut butter center coated with chocolate. I actually don’t really care for traditional homemade buckeye candy…the peanut butter and powdered sugar filling is pretty sweet and not particularly appealing to me. Instead, I like to make peanut butter rice krispies, shaped into balls and coated with chocolate- they have tons of texture and a slightly salty component.

Buckeyes-Peanut Butter Krispy Balls2

These are a little tricky- first, you want to kind of smush everything together to crush the rice. This is best accomplished when the mixture cools for a few minutes. You also need to keep your hands as non-sticky as possibly- I sometimes use Pam, but I’ve also had luck with sporadically dipping my hands in cool water. Either way you do it, the mixture stays pliable for a while, so you form the balls, chill in the freezer, then roll in chocolate. It’s a bit of work, but the results are super delicious…and perfect for game day!

Rice Krispy Peanut Butter Balls

1 cup corn syrup
1 cup sugar
2 cups peanut butter
5 cups rice krispies
1 cup chocolate chips (dark chocolate, milk chocolate, mixture…the world is your oyster!)
¼ cup milk or cream, divided

Make the krispies: First, prepare a cookie sheet by laying down a sheet of parchment or wax paper; set aside. In a saucepot, mix the corn syrup, sugar and peanut butter and cook on medium low until melted and the sugar is no longer granular (about five minutes). Make sure that you stir pretty regularly during this time! Measure the crisp rice into a pretty large bowl, and pour the peanut butter mixture over that; stir with a wooden spoon until everything is well incorporated. Give this mixture a few minutes to cool, then use your hands to start forming into balls. TIP: I have the most luck when I squeeze a walnut sized ball pretty hard, transferring from hand to hand, and then gently forming into a ball- you really want to compact things. Once you’ve formed the entire mixture into balls, place the cookie sheet in the fridge or freezer to firm things up.

Make the chocolate coating: pour the cholate of your choice into a microwave safe bowl (tall and narrow is a better bet than short and wide, if you have the choice) and add half of the milk (2 tbsp). Microwave on 30 second increments, stirring in between, until the chocolate is completely melted. Stir really, really well- sometimes you think the chocolate isn’t going to smooth out, but it really will! At this point it’s a judgment call- the chocolate needs to be thin enough to coat the krispies, but not too thin. So, if you need to, add more milk (a tiny bit at a time) until the chocolate reaches the consistency that you’d like. Using a fork, or a toothpick, dip each rice krispy ball into the chocolate, leaving a dime-sized space at the top without chocolate. Refrigerate for a few hours to solidify the chocolate, then bring to room temperature before serving.

Pumpkin Chai Ice Cream

I know that it’s crazy cold out, and I know that it’s January and I’m supposed to be on a health kick. The thing is…I love ice cream. And I love making ice cream, and I love eating ice cream, and I’m a little lactose sensitive, and I have very little self control, and ice cream.

So that’s just about that.

Chai Ice Cream 3

I was thinking about how ice cream was going to come into play in the cooler months, and the obvious answer is by using comforting winter flavors. Today we are taking a look at Chai Ice Cream and, if you’re really feeling it, Pumpkin Chai Ice cream. My sister introduced me to the yummy flavor combo of Pumpkin Chai and now, much like ice cream, I can’t quit it. The pumpkin is absolutely optional, though, so leave it out if you’d like!

Chai Ice Cream

 

As always, this ice cream is super simple. The base takes about fifteen minutes to make, then I chill it in the fridge over night to cool (that’s also when I put my ice cream maker in the freezer, because I always forget). The next day the base goes in the ice cream maker for about then minutes. From there, I transfer to pint containers and freeze for a few hours, or just top it with some whipped cream and enjoy the immediate satisfaction of a milkshake. Either way, it’s a super delicious winter treat!

Pumpkin Chai Ice Cream

–          2 cups milk
–          4 tsp cornstarch
–          1 ¼ heavy cream
–          2/3 cup sugar and 2 tbsp sugar
–          2 tbsp corn syrup
–          ¼ tsp kosher salt
–          4 chai tea bags (I used Tazo brand)
–          1 ½ oz cream cheese
–          1/4 cup of pumpkin puree, completely optional

Make the base: In a small bowl, mix together the cornstarch and 2-3 tbsp of the milk, and set aside. In a saucepan, bring the rest of the milk, the cream, 2/3 cup sugar, syrup and the salt to a boil, and boil for 4 minutes exactly. Stir in the slurry, and boil for about a minute; add the tea bags and steep for 10 minutes. While that’s steeping, in a small bowl (I used the same one I had the starch mixture in) mix the cream cheese with about ½ cup of the milk mixture, until it’s completely lump free. Remove the tea bags from the milk, and mix the cheese and milk mixtures together; cool completely.

Note: some people use an ice bath to cool the base immediately, but I like to make the base the day before, and let it sit in the fridge. This is also helpful because it reminds me to put my ice cream maker into the freezer to sit overnight, as well.

Make the ice cream: assemble your ice cream maker. Pour the base into the freezer and freeze according to your manufacturer’s instructions. When there are about five minutes left, you can add the pumpkin mixture if you’re going that route. Once the mixture reaches a firm soft-serve stage, transfer the ice cream to freezer containers and freeze for at least two hours, to really firm up. Or, transfer it to a pint glass and top with whipped cream and enjoy as a milkshake- totally your call.

Simply Glorious.

Two years ago today, Evan D and I got really dressed up and went to a fancy church and made some significant promises, then fed people cake and gin and danced until we collapsed from exhaustion. And it was glorious, my friends. Simply glorious.

weddingOur brief marriage has been blessed with so much goodness and fortune- so much more than we could ever deserve. As we were planning our wedding, Evan and I were reminded regularly that we were working on a wedding, but we should really focus on building the foundation of our marriage…and build that foundation, we did.

Today, though, I want to go back and talk about the wedding itself. It might be an odd analysis, but I truly believe that our wedding day led to a profound change in who I am as a person, who Evan and I are as a couple, and how we manage our relationships.

I am, historically, a very independent and self-sufficient person. I’ve encountered many people who are reluctant to make decisions or who seek much council before they commit to things, and I do not share that trait. Rather, I find that it’s usually much more efficient for me to weigh my options fully, then make a choice and enact a plan myself.

Planning the wedding, this was actually pretty helpful. I would research and lay out the options, Evan and I would discuss, and then we had a deadline for deciding things. This was actually a great time in our relationship, when Evan and I first started learning how to work together on significant projects. It was on our wedding day, though, and a few days leading up to the wedding that I realized that I needed to step off of the control bus and let other people climb aboard. Though I was insanely hesitant to let others carry out our wedding, this was actually the catalyst for significant change in my life.

wedding 2Guys, our friends and family absolutely overwhelmed Evan and I with love and support. We knew there were awesome people in our lives, truly. But for the weekend that encompassed our wedding, it was like we were surrounded by an entire community whose sole purpose was to fill our lives with joy. That sounds so hyperbolic, I know, but that’s exactly how it felt when we were at the altar, looking out at all of our loved ones. Their happiness and hopefulness and blessings radiated back at us, and it was simply magnificent.

486194_10100176551810770_1527903546_nWhen I say that that day changed our lives and our relationships, I truly mean it. I am, usually, a reserved person and Evan and I aren’t the most highly social couple. We’re not hermits or particularly antisocial, but we traditionally wouldn’t go noticeably out of our way to be social. But when, in his homily, our priest reminded everyone gathered that they were an important part of our marriage, it really resonated with us. Just as our family and friends are in our lives to provide comfort, encouragement, love and sustenance, so too are we required to feed our relationships.

And now, more than ever, we engage in our relationships as much as we are able. We drive a few hours most weekends to see friends or family. We write notes and send cards. We text and we skype and we facebook and take photos. We laugh and hug and snuggle and generally try to give back as much love as we are able. This focus has enriched our lives and resulted in so much contentedness and, as I suggested above, has profoundly changed our lives. So today we celebrate our marriage, certainly, but we also express so much gratitude to the community which sustains us.

2015: a year of wellness

2015 is starting off right, my friends! Evan and I are wrapping up an insanely fulfilling holiday season, I just celebrated my 28th birthday with some of my favorite people, and the Buckeyes pulled through with a Sugar Bowl win. On top of that, Evan and I will be celebrating our second wedding anniversary this weekend and, since it’s my year to plan, I know that we have some pretty awesome things coming over the next few days. Overall, this has been a pretty solid opening to what I hope will be a fabulous year!

Now, you all might remember that I’m a girl that loves planning and goal setting- I think the post-wedding posts on organization and financial planning highlighted that particular trait. It’s a little surprising, then, that I really don’t love making New Years resolutions. My theory is this: people make resolutions for really specific changes and embark on these changes on January 1. Things start to peter out and, after a few months, resolutions are abandoned to busy scheduled and more important matters. So, rather than resolutions, I like to set broad intentions, and prefer assign a word, or theme, to each year.

Past themes have included ‘Be Open’ (a plan for saying yes to everything, and being open to opportunity, change and growth), ‘Practice Generosity’ (though not necessarily monetary- more like generosity of time, patience, kindness, etc), and ‘Life is a Puzzle’ (related to curbing my tendency to over analyze and easing anxiety related to compulsive planning). This time around, I’ve decided that my theme for 2015 is ‘Wellness’.

Texture

Wellness is kind of a trendy catchphrase, and it can mean some many different things to different people and groups. Most of the literature suggests that there are eight components to wellness: social, physical, environmental, emotional/mental, intellectual, career/livelihood, spiritual, and financial.

So, what does wellness mean for me, and what will it mean for 2015? Well, it mostly means being intentional, and being aware of the decisions I’m making. Specifically, I plan to address organization (both time and physical organization), stress management, fitness, quality of sleep, nutrition and hydration. Pretty much, I’m looking at areas of my life that have room for improvement, and which I can control, and making changes for the better. It feels a little abstract at the front of this project, but I actually have a ton of apps, projects, processes and products to explore and to share- I’m really excited to think about the possibilities!
So tell me about your new year- what intentions are you setting?