One Thing at a Time

A few weeks ago, I was chatting with a coworker at a party. About work, because I dunno, that’s the kind of small talk coworkers engage in. As it was the start of the New Year, we talked about goals, resolutions. He asked if I had any. I said,

“I really want to try and focus on one thing at a time. Just one — not switching back and forth between tasks.”

And saying it out loud, I knew it was true — this was an important thing to keep myself from feeling depleted by the end of each work day. So I made the resolution to focus on only one thing at a time — to finish one task before moving on to the next. Which sounds simple, but in the modern-day work environment, when your whole job revolves around a computer, and that computer is assaulting you with ten things at once — just finishing one task can suddenly require the most Herculean effort you’ve ever put forth.

And then, as fate or luck or whatever would have it, I was went this article:

Although we think we’re doing several things at once, multitasking, this is a powerful and diabolical illusion …. we’re not actually keeping a lot of balls in the air like an expert juggler; we’re more like a bad amateur plate spinner, frantically switching from one task to another, ignoring the one that is not right in front of us but worried it will come crashing down any minute. — “Why the Modern World is Bad for Your Brain

And this:

Asking the brain to shift attention from one activity to another causes the prefrontal cortex and striatum to burn up oxygenated glucose, the same fuel they need to stay on task. And the kind of rapid, continual shifting we do with multitasking causes the brain to burn through fuel so quickly that we feel exhausted and disoriented after even a short time. We’ve literally depleted the nutrients in our brain. — “Why the Modern World is Bad for Your Brain

If you have five minutes, go read the article. It highlights so many issues — but sadly, not many solutions. And after reading it, I WANTED solutions. I am so very aware that I engage in most of these behaviors — keeping Communicator open so people can reach me, reading emails the second they arrive in my inbox, propping my phone up on my desk so I can respond to a text the second it appears — and I can feel the toll it takes on my brain. I feel the mounting anxiety at not being able to get any actual work done. I feel the exhaustion that comes at the end of the day. I feel the hamster in my brain spinning and spinning but not actual going anywhere.

So I’m doing what I can. I’ve turned off the notifications on email. I’m predetermining a set amount of time to focus on certain tasks. I’m setting my Communicator status to “Do Not Disturb”. I am purposely reducing the distractions that come flying at my brain.

I’m trying to do the same at home, too. Set aside 30 minutes — 30 specific minutes — for writing. Read that book instead of fart around on the internet. Purposely decide that I’m going to watch TV for 60 minutes. (Because sometimes that’s what your brain needs after a long day.) Oh, and I’m trying to leave my cell phone in the living room when I go to bed. Checking Facebook right before sleep can NOT be good for cognitive function.

One thing at a time. How did such a simple idea become so complex?

Intentions

I’ve been thinking a lot about resolutions and intentions. I feel like I let myself down in 2014. I wanted to run 300 miles – I didn’t make half that. I wanted to finish my revisions – yeah, we know how that went. Most of all, I let myself get derailed by day-to-day life. The blinders of the everyday shuffle never came off. I lost sight of my goals.

I want to get back to myself. I want to reconnect with my body and my goals. But importantly – I don’t want to be too hard on myself. I want to push myself, yes. I want to set goals and achieve them. But I want to listen and do what feels right. Give myself permission to forget all the rest.

I’ve been writing again. I’ve been sinking into books. I’ve started running in the mornings, adding in some yoga videos. I’m working on finding balance.

I haven’t figured it out yet. But I will figure it out.

 

Favorites: 2014 Edition

In less than 48 hours, 2014 will be over, and I just can’t wrap my head around that fact. I know people say it every year — I know say it every year — but this year flew by. So much happened in 2014, but it feels like not much happened at all. It was a year of hunkering down, of pushing through. But things DID happen — big things. In January, I traveled to Sweden. I got two promotions at work, one of which took me for a ride. I attended my first literary conference. We adventured in Oregon and California.

What I EXPECTED to happen? Well, I said I’d get the second draft of my book done by July 1. I feel a bit bummed about it, but mostly I just feel… resigned. This year, it just did not turn out as expected. I had to focus my time and energy on other things.

But hey, even though 2014 was an odd duck — it still happened. It’s almost over. And I shall continue the tradition of picking the highlights of the past year.

Favorite Movies

What does it say that the only movie I can actually remember seeing this year is Guardians of the Galaxy? Am I losing my mind? Is that why this year went by so quickly? Is everything just getting washed over and turned into a hazy blur?

Well, at any rate… I guess I’ll say Guardians of the Galaxy. Because I literally can’t think of anything else. Oy vey.

Favorite Books

Ok, this one’s easier! I KNOW THE ANSWER! We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves tops the list. I loved it so much that it’s affected my shopping habits. (And I’ve been recommending it to everyone I know — hey, have YOU read it yet??

I read Writing Down the Bones at the beginning of 2014, and it’s still a highlight. This is the Story of a Happy Marriage was also an absolute treat to read.

And, weirdly… I have to add The Windup Girl to this list. Even though I wasn’t crazy about it at the time — even though I only rated it 3 stars on Goodreads — it’s a book that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about ever since I read it back in June. It’ll randomly pop into my head, and I ponder the plot, the characters, the narrative structure… it stands out amongst other 2014 reads.

Favorite Music

I listened to a lot of Fleetwood Mac this year. I enjoyed some of the new alt-J. And every time this song came on the radio, I cranked it up:

But if I had to pick one theme song for 2014?

Any time I needed a pick-me-up — any time I felt like I needed my own personal cheerleader — I plugged in and pulled up this song. Thanks, Bey.

Favorite Moments

Eating crayfish in Stockholm. Completing my first 8km race. Discovering the magic of Big Sur. Coming across a crazy bird-pocalypse in Moonstone Beach, California.

Moonstone Beach

Quiet walks at our local parks. And, as cliche as it may sound, meandering down the Manzanita beach at sunset, watching the waves change from orange to pink before finally going dark.

Sunset at Manzanita Beach. Photo by Laura Dedon Oxford.

Favorite Food

Lobster tacos at Santa Barbara Shellfish Company.

… Yeah, no, that’s pretty much the list. LOBSTER. TACOS.

Just like in 2013, I’ve ended on tacos.

How was your 2014? Any standout favorites?

Christmas Tradition

It amazed me the day I learned that people open Christmas presents at different times. Growing up, I thought everyone opened them on Christmas morning, like us. We couldn’t open any gifts prior to Christmas morning, without exception (which led to some very early wakeup times for my poor parents). You had to wait for Santa, after all.

Well, there was one exception.

On Christmas Eve, my sister and I were allowed to open one present each. Just one, that was it. And we couldn’t pick out the present — Mom picked them out, and she always knew exactly which ones to go for, placed strategically under the tree. She’d go and get them and deliver them to our waiting laps.

They were always books.

Now, I know for some children this would be a major disappointment — but not us. We knew those gifts were going to be books, and we were always excited about it. I can’t remember many specific books we received — I think there were several years of the Redwall series, probably some Calvin and Hobbes, Stephen King in later years — but I DO remember the end result: curling up with a brand-new book on Christmas Day, wrapping-paper carnage strewn about the floor.

As an adult, I’ve continued the tradition in my own way; all the kids in our life get books for Christmas. This year, two received The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs (one of my favorites as a kid). The little boy who recently moved to the big city gets Snowy Day (recommended by this great picture book blog). The almost-a-teenager gets Snow White and Rose Red, a book I absolutely loved at her age. The 3-year-old who believes in the “fairy tree” in her grandparents’ backyard gets Flower Fairies of the Garden.

I’m not always big on the holidays, and I often feel down about the consumerism of the season — but books? That’s one Christmas tradition I can 100% get behind.

My Paraben-Free, Mostly Natural, Somewhat Cruelty-Free Beauty Regime

I’ve been thinking about writing this blog post for a long time but hesitated because… well, it’s not the thing I typically talk about here. But after reading We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, the topic’s been on my mind more and more — and I finally thought, “Hey, it’s MY BLOG. I can write about whatever I want to write about!”

When it comes to beauty products, I’m a total hippy. It started several years ago (maybe a decade ago) when I decided I wanted to go paraben free. I wanted products that I felt ok putting on my body — but I also wanted them to work. And let me tell you, that can be surprisingly difficult to find.

So what do I look for in a beauty product?

  • Paraben free. This was my first step towards hippy-dom. Parabens are “estrogen mimickers,” and some studies link them to increased risk of cancer. (Nothing conclusive, I should note.)
  • All natural, as much as possible. I’m not going to make my own mascara, but I like ingredients that I can understand, and in general feel that the less ingredients, the better.
  • Cruelty free. I decided to add this criteria after reading We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves — so no, not all of the products I use are currently cruelty free. “Natural” and “cruelty free” often have overlap, but not always. I’m not going to throw out everything I have, but as I buy new products, I’m going to be looking for this.
  • Price conscious. I used to buy really expensive skincare products until I realized that, for the most part, the drugstore ones did the same thing. Now I try to buy the cheaper product, when that’s an option. Note that this doesn’t necessarily mean THE most inexpensive item on the market — it means that I look at the price, how long the item will last me, and make a decision based on that.

And look — I’m not super strict about this. I try to do the best I can, because at the end of the day, that’s all you can do. I also don’t really care if YOU buy all these crazy hippy products or not — you do you. That’s a personal decision. But, as someone who’s had a hard time hunting some of these down, I’m eager to share what I’ve learned and found along the way.

So, without further ado… here are the hygiene, skincare and beauty products that (for the most part) fit my hippy criteria.

Hygiene Products

hygiene

1. Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap. Let’s start with the hippy-est of them all, shall we? Seriously, half the reason to buy anything from Dr. Bronner’s is to read the insane ramblings on the packaging. But in spite of the company’s “might be crazy” founder, these products are awesome. Natural, effective, smell great, and yes, the company is cruelty-free.

2. Surface Trinity Strenghtening Shampoo. One of the benefits of having a mother-in-law who is a hair dresser is that she’ll randomly recommend new products she’s found. This shampoo was one of those — she recommends it to a TON of people, not just the nature-lovin’ folks — and it’s pretty great. It’s paraben free, sulfate free, vegan, gluten free (for folks who are SUPER sensitive to gluten). It is, unfortunately, not cheap (another perk of having a mother-in-law who’s a hair dresser), but if you want to splurge, I do recommend.

3. Tom’s of Maine Toothpaste. Is there even another natural toothpaste on the market? If there is, I haven’t found it. But why would I — Tom’s is great. Plus, they have a sensitive version for my lil’ sensitive toothies.

4. LAVANILA ‘The Healthy Ddeodorant. Most people are SUPER hesitant to try natural deodorant. Not all are created equal. The hunt for the perfect natural deodorant is my great white whale. Crystal is effective, but after repeated usage, makes my armpits itch. Primal Pit, despite its horrible name and bizarre ingredient list, was SUPER effective (like, the best I’ve ever tried)… until I developed a painful rash from the baking soda. These days I use LAVANILA — smells nice, keeps me odor-free, and doesn’t bother my apparently super-sensitive armpits — but I’m almost always on the hunt for a better brand. In fact, I just bought some Lavilin to test.

Skincare Products

skincare

1. Alaffia Everyday Coconut Face Wash. One of my biggest criteria for face wash is that it actually wash things off. This seems weirdly rare. But Everyday Coconut takes off even my most stubborn makeup, doesn’t dry my already dry skin, and is pretty damn cheap ($8.99 for a big ol’ bottle). Plus, the company does approximately one zillion good things, and happens to be local for me.

2. DeVita Solar Protective Moisturizer SPF 30+. This is a product I’m SUPER picky about — it has to sink in quickly and not feel greasy, it has to be moisturizing, it can’t make me break out, and it has to have SPF (for the cancers, but also because WRINKLES). I often experiment, but always end up coming back to this guy. DeVita goes on a little white at first (that’s the natural sunblock), but then it disappears and gets the job done. I’ve worn this in Hawaii and not gotten burnt. Plus, it’s routinely rated top-in-class by the Environmental Working Group. It’s not SUPER cheap (about $25 a pop), but it’s not the most expensive moisturizer on the market either.

3. Earth Science Apricot Night Cream. I bought this as a total fluke after TSA confiscated my night lotion (boooooo). I slapped it on before I went to bed, decided I didn’t particularly care for the texture or smell… and woke up the next morning and was AMAZED at how hydrated my skin looked. No dry patches on this face, baby! Bonus, turns out the company is cruelty-free. And you can find it at the drugstore. WOO HOO!

4. REN Micro Polish Cleanser. After my facialist recommended that I use a gentle exfoliator 2-3 times per week, I found this brand. REN used to have a jojoba-bead exfoliator that I LOVED… and then, because the world is cruel, they discontinued it. Their Micro Polish Cleanser is… ok. Honestly, I’ll probably look for another product after I’m done with this tube. But REN as a company is one I can get behind — good ingredients, cruelty free.

5. Thayers Rose Petal Witch Hazel. If I want a mid-afternoon refresher, or a boost of extra moisture before applying lotion, I grab a cotton ball and dab on some of this stuff. Simple ingredients, cheap, and it smells nice (or, as Byron would say, “Like a Grandma”).

Makeup Products

makeup

1. The Body Shop Makeup Brushes. Most of the brushes I use are from The Body Shop — they’re soft, last forever, and are made from synthetic bristles (rather than goat or pony hair, which makes my eyes swell up — wheeee!). There’s some disagreement over whether The Body Shop is cruelty free or not… but I guess as consumers, we gotta decide what’s “good enough.”

2. bareMinerals Original Foundation SPF 15. I’m always conflicted about bareMinerals. On the one hand, their products are decent, if not rave-worthy. On the other hand, while bareMinerals is cruelty-free, its parent company is not (a theme, it seems…). But that said — I’ve been using the Original Foundation for years. NOT as foundation, however — I user it as cover-up. Stick some on a brush, dab it on problem areas. Voila.

3. Tarte Amazonian Clay 12-Hour Full Coverage Foundation SPF 15. Oh Tarte. How I love thee. How sad I was to discover you were recently purchased by a parent company that is not cruelty-free. Soon, I’ll have to decide if I’ll continue using you… but in the meantime, yeah, I love these products. Despite the “full coverage” in the name, this foundation goes on light if you don’t apply a ton of it. A little definitely goes a long way — which means that one tube lasts FOREVER. (Which is good, because at $38, this stuff ain’t cheap.) The tube I’m currently using I bought in… wait for it… December 2013. Still goin’ strong.

4. Tarte Clean Slate 360 Creaseless 12-Hour Smoothing Eye Primer. I’m not as nuts about this product, but it gets the job done. It’s an eyeshadow primer, which means you put it on before your eyeshadow. Why bother? Because my eyeshadow lasts all day, doesn’t crease, blends better, and I end up using less of the product.

5. M.A.C. Eye Kohl in ‘Teddy’. How ecstatic was I to learn that this, the best eye liner in the entire world, was paraben-free! How devastated was I to learn that M.A.C. tests its product on animals. I don’t know what I’m going to do when I run out of this one. Probably cry. If anyone has recommendations for a replacement, I’m all ears.

6. Mirabella Magic Marker Eyeliner. I’ve never worn liquid eyeliner, because I find the application of it, um, error-prone. But this stuff is GREAT. It’s like a felt-tip marker — just draw it on, and get some va-va-voom cat eye’s. I don’t wear it often, but sometimes you want the extra drama. This product isn’t the most natural of the bunch, but it IS paraben-free and cruelty-free.

7. Zuzu Luxe Mascara in ‘Onyx’. I am, as it turns out, insanely picky about my mascara. I want it to be natural looking, but not too natural looking. I don’t want to be able to FEEL it on my eyelashes (a weird sensation). I want it to wash off with soap and not require makeup remover. I’ve tested a lot of brands — bareMinerals, Buxom, Tarte — and Zuzu is the one I’ve currently landed on. It’s… ok. I like the way it looks once it’s on, but applying it is kind of a bitch. It gets gunky, and you have to work slowly to make sure you don’t end up with clumps. So I’ll probably move on after this tube. I’ve heard Dr. Hauschka is amazing, but it’s too rich for my blood. I’m tempted to try e.l.f., which is $3 at the drugstore. Can’t beat that with a stick.

8. bareMinerals ‘READY 4.0’ Eyeshadow Palette in ‘The Truth’. Again with the bareMinerals. Sometimes the easy option just works. These colors have a tiny bit of shimmer, blend decently, and are perfect for everyday wear.

9. Tarte Amazonian Clay 12-Hour Blush in ‘Tipsy’. I don’t know what kind of witch magic is in this blush, but it really does last all day. The matte color looks scary-bright in the compact, but once you put it on, it gives a nice, natural-looking glow. And, like all Tarte products I’ve encountered, a little goes a loooong way.

10. MAKE UP FOR EVER Mat Bronze. Do you know how freakishly hard it is to find a matte bronzer? I’m not a unicorn, I don’t want my cheekbones to shimmer. Now try finding a matte bronzer without parabens — next to impossible! I was so happy when I found this one. Unfortunately, I just learned the company tests on animals. DAMMIT, MAKE UP FOREVER. THIS IS WHY WE CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS.

Ahem.

So there you have it — my paraben-free, mostly natural, somewhat cruelty-free beauty regime. Obviously, it’s still evolving. If you’re interested in seeing if a makeup company tests on animals, I’ve found the list on Paula’s Choice to be useful.

 

Small Acts

It’s been a shitty week.

Look, there’s no point in sugar-coating it. It’s true. This about sums it up:

Ferguson. Horrible floods in Morocco (where a friend currently is). The gaping maw that is Black Friday, opening wide to reveal the beating heart of a twisted societal merry-go-round.

My brain went to a dark, dark place this week. The one prevalent thought that kept popping up?

let's burn this mother down

Things are shitty. Let’s not gloss over that.

But I don’t like it when my brain goes to a dark place. I need something to latch on to — some glimmer of hope. We all do, I think.

So I thought ok — what’s going on right now that’s good? What do I have to be thankful for?

I am thankful that my ankle seems to be healing.

I am thankful that my friend in Morocco made it out of the flood zone.

I am thankful for a husband who is up for any adventure, big or small.

I am thankful for friendships that span 20+ years.

I am thankful for family living nearby.

I am thankful for this small idiot cat, who is sitting on the printer purring for no reason.

I am thankful that we live in a time and place where it’s easy to show support for others half a country or half a world away.

If you’re interested in doing something, anything to make the world seem just a little brighter right now — might I suggest a donation to the Ferguson library? They’ve stayed open during everything, providing a community gathering place and a space for kids to be safe. You can donate easily from their home page. It took me all of 30 seconds.

It’s easy to feel powerless after weeks like this, but even small acts matter.

Cold Snap

There are currently half a dozen blooms on the three rose bushes in our front yard. They’re not the full, sultry blooms of high summer, but they still unfurl defiantly against the grey November sky, shaking off raindrops as they stretch wide.

Sedona Rose in November

They’re in for a nasty surprise. We’ve been living a mild fall — 50’s, sunny, only the occasional rainstorm. But this week, the cold arrives. It’s supposed to drop below freezing tonight. So they say. So it feels.

In September I wrote that I was not ready for summer to end. And I wasn’t — I let it go begrudgingly, kicking and screaming the whole way. But the sunny fall eased me into the next season, soothed the transition.

This weekend — just in time, it seems — we got the house ready for winter. Mulched the flower beds, brought in the delicate potted plants, turned off the outdoor hoses so the pipes won’t freeze and burst. By Saturday evening, there was a damp bite to the air, the kind of chill unique to the Northwest. We went inside and pulled on sweaters and turned up the heat.

Maybe it was the act of physical preparation, but I feel ready. I feel ready for extra comforters, for nutmeg and allspice, for the windows to fog up from brewing soups. I’m ready for hibernation and creativity, snuggling up and letting the mind wander.

Cat snuggled under a blanket.
This one is clearly ready for hibernation.

The cliche about Russian novels being so long because of the long winters — there must be a truth to that. Dark nights inspire the imagination to run amuck.