Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Runner's Stretches



I’ve been learning so much in my running journey over the last three-months. Did you know that if you stretch your range of motion in your hip joint you can actually become a better runner? If your hips are too tight your leg won’t extend behind your body very far before swinging forward, which reduces the propulsion your body has the potential to exhibit. These stretches are meant to open your hip joint in order to improve your running.

The Happy Runner [dot] blogspot [dot] com

Kneeling Hip-Flexor Stretch
Step into a lunge position, and lower you back knee to the ground. Keep your upper body straight while you tilt your pelvis forward. Hold for one minute, release, and repeat twice more. Then switch to the other leg.

Knee-to-Chest Bridge
Pull in your right knee, holding it against your chest. Keeping your head and shoulder blades on the floor, push up with your left leg into a bridge position while keeping your right leg against you. Push up, keeping the pelvis level, then lower yourself down. Do 12 to 15, then switch legs. Do three sets on each side.

I Heart Inspiration [dot] com

Marching Bridge
With your head, shoulders, and both feet on the floor, push up into a bridge position. While up, begin "marching"—alternate lifting each foot about an inch off the ground, while keeping your pelvis steady and facing straight up. Do three sets of 20 marches (10 on each leg), with a short break between each set.

Swing Drill
Bend and lift your left leg in front of you, then swing it back behind you as far as it will reach without moving your pelvis or lower back. This is the running motion you want to have—hip extending back, pelvis and lower back neutral (not arched). Do two sets of 20 swings with each leg, alternating legs with each set.

Community [dot] Saucony [dot] com

Half-pidgeon
Starting in a v-shape position with hands and feet flat against the floor, pull your right leg through, placing your right foot next to your left hand and your right knee next to your right hand. Bring your butt as close to the floor as you can as you place the top of your left foot on the ground with your leg stretching behind you. Sit up tall and then bending forward at the waist, touch your forehead to the floor. Hold, release and repeat on the left side.

Runner's Lunge
Get into a lunge position with the right knee at a 90-degree angle, knee not passing the toes, and the left leg straight.  Put your hands flat to the floor on either side of your right foot. Then move your right foot to the outside of your right hand, toes at a 45 degree angle. Move around in this stretch, roll to the outside edge of your right foot opening your right knee to the floor, or lower your left knee to the floor. When you feel adequately stretched, switch legs.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

15 Minute Fat Burning Circuit

Does everybody know what time is it (and it's not Tool Time)? That's right it's time for another free printable workout on Workout Wednesday. Are you ready feel the burn?


This workout can be done everyday if you dare to try. Do each move for the duration of a minute. Do them quickly, maximizing the number of actions you can fit in each minute. Try to minimize the number of breaks you take between moves but be sure to take them when you need them. And as always drink water!
Download this free printable workout.

Check out my glossary of these workout terms and many more. The following list is those found just in this workout:


Burpees
Begin in a standing position. Drop into a squat position with your hand on the ground. Extend your feet back in one quick motion to assume the plank position. Return to the squat position in one quick motion. Jump straight into the air as high as possible. That’s one rep.

Butt Kickers
Start in a standing position. Start jogging in place kicking your foot as close to your butt as you can with each step.

Front Kicks
Start in a standing position. Lift your right leg straight out in front of your body until it is as close to parallel with the ground as you can lift it. Alternate legs.


High Knees
Start standing and begin jogging in place lifting your knees as high as possible.


Jog-in-place
Pretty self explanatory, jog… but do it in place.


Jumping Jacks
Starting standing with feet together and arms straight by your sides. Jump up and spread your arms and legs wide as you land. Jump up again to return to center.

Mountain Climbers
Begin in a pushup position on the hands and toes. Bring the right knee in towards the chest, resting the foot on the floor. Jump up and switch feet in the air, bringing the left foot in and the right foot back. Switch back, that’s one rep.

Plank
Set-up the top of a push-up position with your hands directly below your shoulder. A variation of this is to rest on your forearms with elbows directly beneath shoulders. Hold your body completely straight by engaging your abs. If you can’t hold the plank for the full duration, work up to it. Form is more important the length of time: don’t drop your hips or raise your butt.

Plie Jump
Starting from a wide stance turn your toes to face out. Bend your knees then pressing up from your toes jump straight up. As you land bend your knees again.

Pushup
Lay on your belly with hand flat on the floor on either side, forearms perpendicular to the floor. Stiffen body and literally push yourself away from the ground, hinging at the toes. When arms are straight hold and with control release your body, hover above the ground and repeat.

Ski Jumps
Starting in a standing position with knees slightly bent and chest forward, quickly jump from side to side over an imaginary line. Land each time with feet hip-width distance apart. When you land where you began (2 jumps) that’s one rep.

Squat Jumps
Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, arms by sides, Squat slowly until both knees are bent 90 degrees and raise arms straight to shoulder level in front of you. Jump straight up as high as you can landing back in a squat.

Star Jumps
Stand with feet hip-width apart. Squat down and jump up as high as you can. In midair spread your arms and legs wide. As you land in the starting position bend your knees.

Static Lunge
Begin with right leg one large step in front of the left leg. Lower your body until both knees from a 90-degree angle. Don’t touch your back knee to the ground. Lift yourself out of the lunge. Do reps then switch to left leg.


Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

I decided to read this book for a few reasons:
  1. Many people recommended it to me,
  2. I think the title is intriguing, and
  3. I have a rule about not seeing movies before reading the book, but I wanted to see the movie since Emma Watson is in it. :)
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky is a marvelous coming of age story. The main character, Charlie, writes letters to an anonymous stranger throughout his first year of high school. He is generally misunderstood, his peers regard him as a freak, and his only friend dies before the school year starts through an act of suicide. When two half-sibling seniors, Sam and Patrick, take him under their wing his world begins to change.


The book is a quick and easy read but don't let the simplicity fool you. The story has a depth. The reader learns that Charlie was molested by a family member, causing him to become a passive person, who allows others to do what they want with him. He witnesses a rape, he accepts drugs and alcohol, he has a girlfriend he doesn't really like and he even allows his gay friend Patrick to kiss him during his post-breakup grieving period. Charlie doesn't recognize that these things upset him because he sees they help others and he internalizes his own thoughts and feelings. Sam, encourages Charlie to express himself and show passion for his own desires.

Charlie learns about being a friend, sex and intimacy (though he himself does not have sex), drugs such as LSD, marijuana, and alcohol, homosexuality, homophobia (a scene where a father beats his gay son), Rocky Horror Picture Show, abortion (his sister), suicide, rape and molestation. He earns straight A's in school and displays heartwarming relationships with his family (mom, dad, older sister, and older brother). Charlie also has a tender relationship with his English teacher who assigns him extra reading and work because he recognizes how special and intelligent Charlie is.

It's hard to determine the way this book made me feel. I believe the writing was excellent and here's why. I felt uncomfortable reading something so private (from a fictional character, yes! How can this be done?) Needless to say, it's not a feel-good story but rather a question-humanity-and-your-very-existence kind of book.

My Favorite Quotes:

  • "We are infinite"
  • "We accept the love we think we deserve."
  • "Zen is a day like this when you are part of the air and remember things."
  • "I really think that everyone should have watercolors, magnetic poetry and a harmonica."
  • "I don't think we should base so much on weight, muscles, and a good hair day, but when it happens, it's nice. It really is."
  • "So this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I'm still trying to figure out how that could be." 

What did you think?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Living Room Tabata Workout


Guess what... it's Workout Wednesday again and with it comes a printable Tabata workout that you can do in the comfort of your own living room. A little background in Tabata training: Tabata was founded in Japan by Izumi Tabata. In two groups of athletes, he compared moderate intensity training with high intensity interval training. 

He found that the athletes training in high intensity interval training improved their aerobic systems as well as their anaerobic system. The athletes who did the moderate intensity training only improved their aerobic system, with little or no change to their anaerobic system.


With this in mind, this workout is meant to push you. You should try to keep your heart rate up for each set and for the strength bursts you should give it your all (especially with the gorging holiday tomorrow). Good luck!

Download this free printable workout.

The following are terms used for this workout. For a full list check out my workout terms glossary

Burpees
Begin in a standing position. Drop into a squat position with your hand on the ground. Extend your feet back in one quick motion to assume the plank position. Return to the squat position in one quick motion. Jump straight into the air as high as possible. That’s one rep.

Dead Lift Toe Touches
Stand with feet a bit closer together than shoulder-width. Bend forward at the waist with a straight back, arms hanging straight down from the shoulder. Bend through your knees, then lift your chest by pulling your shoulders back and down, head in line with the rest of your body. Then straighten your legs and lift up on your tippy-toes.

Mountain Climbers
Begin in a pushup position on the hands and toes. Bring the right knee in towards the chest, resting the foot on the floor. Jump up and switch feet in the air, bringing the left foot in and the right foot back. Switch back, that’s one rep.

Pushup
Lay on your belly with hand flat on the floor on either side, forearms perpendicular to the floor. Stiffen body and literally push yourself away from the ground, hinging at the toes. When arms are straight hold and with control release your body, hover above the ground and repeat.

Rear Lunge
Take a big step backward with your left foot, bend your knees and lower your body until both legs form 90-degree angles. Push off with your left foot and stand back up. Do reps, and then repeat on other leg.

Sit-ups
Start by lying on your back on the floor, cross your arms over your chest or place hands behind head or neck. With feet flat against the floor and knees bent, lift upper and lower vertebrae from the floor. Lower back to the floor with control. That’s one rep.

Ski Moguls
Starting in a standing position with knees slightly bent and chest forward, quickly jump from side to side over an imaginary line. Land each time with feet hip-width distance apart. When you land where you began (2 jumps) that’s one rep.

Squat Jumps
Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, arms by sides, Squat slowly until both knees are bent 90 degrees and raise arms straight to shoulder level in front of you. Jump straight up as high as you can landing back in a squat.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

The Green Belt [dot] blogspot [dot] com

 What are you thankful for this year?


Monday, November 19, 2012

Greening Your Home Part 2: Decorating

Part two in a series about how to green your home (part one can be viewed here) is all about decorating and the little details. Home should be three things: an oasis, which makes you feel safe and healthy, a reflection of your personal style and it should smell wonderful.


The most important thing to remember when redecorating (or decorating for the first time) is that your style is more sustainable than whatever the current trend is. Focus on what you like and dislike and find furniture (see part one), textiles and decorative objects to fit your niche. Think about your style, do you prefer mid-century modern, girly antique, breezy beach cottage, or something else?

De-clutter Your Life

Alright, in my experience the best decorating strategy is to start by cutting out all the clutter in your life. This extremely freeing (when I get on a roll sorting into the trash, recyclable, give-away and sell piles I just feel like the queen of the world), but what's more is accumulating a bunch of junk you don't need is an unsustainable habit.

I know it's time to clean out when magazines are piling up on the floor, mail on the table, laundry goes undone, clean clothes remain on the floor... I think I'll stop listing things now since I am beginning to sound like a major slob.

MAGAZINES
Only keep subscriptions to those publications, which you read regularly and would miss if they did not arrive each month. Not only do they take up space but if you aren't reading the magazine it's a waste of paper. 

BILLS
Opt for e-bills to pay online. Saves paper and cuts the clutter.

JUNK MAIL
A year's worth of junk mail slays over one million trees, wastes 28 billion gallons of water and uses as much CO2 as 2.8 million cars. 41 Pounds is a service, which removes you from junk mailing lists for five years.

Things to keep around

STORAGE
Now that you've removed the clutter you need a place to store the stuff you DO want to keep. I made a couple of storage containers out of old shoe boxes. I don't know why but I can't stand to get rid of shoe boxes, they are so sturdy it just seems a waste. I was using them to store things hidden in my closet (because they aren't very attractive) but I found a pin on pinterest, which showed me the light. Here are my results:

I can post a tutorial on how to make these boxes (no sewing). Check out my poor sickly plant: that was a just because gift from boyfriend (aww). I just replanted it from the plastic container it came in into a big boy pot. It's not adjusting well.

Toss the things you don't need, hide the things you don't want to see, and as for the rest? Continue reading; there's no need to keep every surface in your home totally barren.

PLANTS
Plants are my favorite things in the world; I prefer to live in a jungle home with every surface (including the floor) supporting a pot with a plant of some kind. I think they are so pretty AND they can eliminate toxins from the air. Here is a list of beautiful plants and the toxins which they remove.

http://www.houseofplants.co.uk/Collections_freshair.htm

  • Gerbera daisies (reduce formaldehyde levels)
  • Chrysanthemums (reduce benzene and trichloroethylene levels)
  • Orchids (reduce xylene and toluene levels)
  • English ivy (reduces benzene levels)
  • Bamboo (reduces formaldehyde levels)
  • Butterfly palm (replaces your humidifier)
  • Rubber plant (reduces formaldehyde levels, can be toxic to pets)
  • Peace lily
  • Heartleaf or elephant ear philodendron

Just a little plant pun for you: I would have given you flowers, but I never botany. *groan*

CANDLES
I love candles. They smell lovely and create ambient light. As long as you use candles made from soy or beeswax they are also eco-friendly.  Make sure to keep these around.

http://www.organic-fair-trade.com/Beehive-Glass-Beeswax-Candle.html

Soy wax burns cleaner, lasts longer, holds more fragrance, contain no toxic chemicals or carcinogens, and are all-natural (when no non-natural fragrance or color is added). Beeswax candles are naturally scented with honey and smell sensational. Look for sustainable brands because the bees need the wax to lay eggs in and store honey so we don't want to exploit their homes.

REFURBISH
Look at objects in a different light. For example, while shopping at ReSource Yard, a building materials re-purposing company here in Fort Collins, I found an old brick in a pile of other old bricks. Because this particular brick was the only one like it, it was practically useless on its own but check out how I decided to use it.


My wine selection is lacking, but before I had a place to store wine I couldn't buy as much. I've been looking for a unique wine storage unit for a while now. You never know what you'll find, if you look with a creative mind. (Haha rhyming, I give you permission to use that as your personal motto).

WHAT'S IMPORTANT
Say you have a collection of pig figurines. Find a way to display your collection where it's viewable, not in the corner gathering dust. Pig figurines may not be trending in the interior design world but if it's important to you it will make you feel that much more comfortable in your home. Your home should reflect your personal style.
http://www.kaboodle.com/reviews/vintage-pig-figurines-huge-lot-of-collectible-pig-figures

PICTURES and PAINTINGS
I love having pictures of my family and friends all over the house. I also have framed artwork from poster stores, Dustin Hawks (my brother-in-law), magazines (Yoga journal always includes a full page image of some scene in nature. I change these out every month), and even a few flea market purchases.
  • Support a local artist to find new art and help your community.
  • Look for art at flea markets, garage sales, antique stores and thrift stores.
  • Recycle pages from books, magazines, newspapers and turn them into art.
  • Frame photographs and hang them artistically, below is a beautifully designed gallery wall:
http://www.homelife.com.au/homes/galleries/decorating+with+craft+,17075?pos=4

FABRICS and TEXTILES
Unless they're organic, the cotton sheets on your bed were probably sprayed with 1.25 pounds of pesticides. Conventionally grown cotton uses 25% of the world's insecticides and 10% of all pesticides. These carcinogens seep into groundwater and contaminate the habitat for fish and other wildlife. Regular cotton sheets are also treated with formaldehyde and some of the colored dyes may contain heavy metals. Now you know why your mom told you to wash your sheets before sleeping in them.

As for cotton-polyester blend sheets, they don't tend to last as long (meaning you have to buy more often... so not green) and are derived from petroleum. So when you're looking for a new set of sheets, be sure to look for the following:
  • Organic cotton (or linen, or pesticide-free bamboo)
  • Free of harsh chemical dyes
  • Not chlorine bleached

A few brands to check out:
  • Anna Sova ($130 for a complete set)
  • Coyuchi ($50 - flat and fitted sheets sold separately)
  • Loop ($200 for a complete set)
and for those not rolling in dough, Target has a line of organic cotton sheets starting at $25 for a set.

http://www.target.com/p/target-home-325-thread-count-organic-cotton-collection/-/A-12173470

All the statistics above apply to curtains, towels and blankets. Look for organic cotton or wool blankets to snuggle up with this winter so you don't have to turn up the heat (double green win!)

Did I miss something? Leave your sustainable decorating tips below in the comments, and come back soon to learn about Earth-friendly cleaning in Part 3 of Greening Your Home.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Spiced Couscous and Turkey

It's Foodie Friday Maggie's Mind Mumblesians, and I have a recipe that would be a great to use for leftover turkey after Thanksgiving. If you don't celebrate Thanksgiving you can go the deli at your local grocery store and ask for one slice of turkey cut 1/2 inch thick (chicken works well too). For me it cost about $7.00.


Maggie's Mind Mumbles//: Spiced Couscous and Turkey

Start by breaking up the turkey with a knife into bite-sized pieces, and collecting the other ingredients...


Maggie's Mind Mumbles//: Spiced Couscous and Turkey

Slice the 4 medium carrots and 4 spring onions. chop up 1/2 cup cilantro. Boil 2 1/4 cups of water, add 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 teaspoon ground ginger, 1 teaspoon  salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Add the carrots and cook about 3-4 minutes until tender but still crisp. Drain the carrots reserving the liquid (scroll down for a hot and steamy picture).


Maggie's Mind Mumbles//: Spiced Couscous and Turkey

Measure 1 cup couscous into a heat-proof bowl, then add the turkey to the bowl and pour in 1 cup of the cook liquid. Stir until mixed and cover tightly. Let sit for 5 minutes then fluff with a fork.


Maggie's Mind Mumbles//: Spiced Couscous and Turkey

Meanwhile, melt 3 tablespoons butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1/2 cup sliced almonds and 1/4 cup golden raisins, the spring onions and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon. Cook, stirring constantly about 2-3 minutes until nuts are toasted. Stir in the cilantro. You can practically smell this picture!


Maggie's Mind Mumbles//: Spiced Couscous and Turkey

Divide the couscous and turkey among bowls (serves 4), top with carrot and some of the cooking liquid. Sprinkle with almond mixture and more cilantro (we all know how much I love cilantro). Top with plain Greek yogurt and/or harissa or other hot sauce.


Maggie's Mind Mumbles//: Spiced Couscous and Turkey



Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Challenging Yoga Pose Helper

Yoga is full of challenges and difficulties to overcome, which is why I consider it a journey. Through gradual changes I have seen my body evolve from being tense and tight to being capable of awesome poses. The best thing is that these changes are noticeable: every practice I experience a deeper stretch and can push myself just a little bit further. This post includes some challenging poses and methods to achieve them from Women's Health Magazine.


The Pose: King Dancer (Natarajasana) 

At any stage of practicing this move you feel a stretch in your shoulders, quads, and hip flexors and you will see improvement in balance. To stay steady, focus on a spot on the ground in front of you (Drishti).

The Buildup
http://www.womenshealthmag.com/fitness/the-pose-king-dancer-natarajasana?workout=27589

Stage 1
Loop a strap around the top of your left foot and holding the strap in left hand, lift left elbow toward the ceiling. Hold, then release and switch legs.

Stage 2
Start in stage 1, then grab the strap with your right hand as well. Push your left foot into the strap, without leaning forward too much. Hold, then release and switch legs.

Stage 3
From phase 2, move your hands down the strap closer to your foot. Elevate the thigh by pressing into your shin. Keep your chest lifted. Hold, then release and repeat with the other leg.

The Finale
http://www.womenshealthmag.com/fitness/the-pose-king-dancer-natarajasana?workout=27589 

From phase 3, move your hands down the strap and grab your foot with both hands. Draw your knee toward the center of your body so it's in line with your butt. Press your foot into your hand until your thigh is parallel to the floor. Keep your chest up, hips square, and upper arms close to your ears. Hold, then release and switch sides.

The Pose: Handstand (Adho-Mukha Vrksasana)

This pose strengthens your shoulders, arms, core, and legs. As you work toward it, keep four things in mind: Move slowly and carefully, rotate your triceps toward your body, keep your neck relaxed, and gaze just slightly past your fingertips.

The Buildup


http://www.womenshealthmag.com/fitness/the-pose-handstand-adho-mukha-vrksasana?workout=27589


Stage 1
Start in downward-facing dog (an inverted V) with your heels against a wall. Place your right foot flat on the wall, then place your left foot next to your right. You should be in an upside-down L shape with your wrist directly below your shoulder, your back straight and perpendicular to the floor, and you legs straight and parallel to the floor. Hold, then bend your knees and lower one foot to the floor at a time.

Stage 2
Start in Stage 1, then lift your right leg off the wall, straight up toward the ceiling. Your left leg is still parallel to the floor, with your foot flat on the wall. Hold, keeping your core tight, arms straight, and neck relaxed, then bring your right foot back to the wall and switch legs. To release, bring both feet back to the wall, bend your knees, and lower one foot at a time.

Stage 3
Face the wall and place your hands shoulder-width apart on the floor about 10 inches away from it. Get into downward-facing dog, then walk your feet in a few inches, stacking your shoulders over your wrists. Brace your core and slowly raise your left heel toward the ceiling, leg straight. Keep your hips square, arms straight, and neck relaxed. Hold, gazing toward your fingertips, then lower your leg and switch sides.

The Finale

http://www.womenshealthmag.com/fitness/the-pose-handstand-adho-mukha-vrksasana?workout=27589

Start in downward-facing dog with your hands shoulder-width apart and legs straight. Walk your feet forward, shifting your weight onto your hands and stacking your shoulders over your wrists. With your arms straight and core tight, lift your right leg toward the ceiling, keeping your hips square. Bend your left knee and gently raise your left leg toward the ceiling, bringing your hips over your shoulders. Hold, then slowly come down one leg at a time.

To view Crow (Bakasana) and Side Plank B (Vashistasana B), and a more detailed description of King Dancer (Natarajasana) and Handstand (Adho Mukha Vrksasana), please visit the Women's Health Website. If you would like a printable pose guide, click here.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Sustainable Holidays

There's just one week until my Thanksgiving week long break and I can't tell you how relieved I am to realize it's just around the corner. In some ways this break is bittersweet because it is the last Thanksgiving I will see in my Undergraduate as this is my final semester at university (for now). On top of that Christmas and other winter holidays are waiting to burst forth with sparkling twinkle lights, soft frosted sugar cookies, striped peppermint canes, peace, love and good will toward man.


Wintertime brings forth thoughts of joy within my spirit, but with these holiday parties, gifts and excessive food we also see a lot of waste, which is not very Earth-friendly. I would never suggest that anyone should cut out the important traditions, or stop giving gifts or never throw a party. What is life, let alone Christmas without these things? However, winter sends our consumerism into overdrive and I am here to give some tips on how to reduce (not remove) some of these excessive purchases.

Invitations and Cards

Let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start. When we read we begin with ABC when we throw a party we begin with invitations. On this topic, I'm torn. It's always quite lovely to receive a beautiful invitation to a wedding, holiday party, or shower. On the other hand, the paper industry is the third largest producer of greenhouse gases in the U.S.

 http://sfgirlbybay.blogspot.com/2007_11_01_archive.html
  • Evites (like those from Punchbowl.com) are virtual invitations, which may provide the answer. 
  • Another idea is to use partly or 100% postconsumer recycled paper.
  • Non-wood pulp paper:
    • Cotton paper from Crane's, which uses leftover waste from the textile industry.
    • Botanical Paperworks is a company which uses biodegradable materials to make cards with seeds in them. You plant the card and can enjoy a garden of beautiful wildflowers next spring.
    • Kenaf and hemp papers are a good choice, because kenaf and hemp are sustainable and easy to grow without pesticides.
    • Resource for recycled tree-free paper: Vickerey.
  • Avoid cards which are embedded with metallic sparklies or are coated in plastic. They are tough, if not impossible to recycle.

Gift Wrap

Gift wrap is often not recyclable due to the large amount of ink used in printing, nor is gift wrap generally made from recycled materials. So considering the gift wrap is rarely appreciated before it is torn off the gift and wadded into a ball to be used later in gift wrap basketball (is that just my family?) it's a bad idea to use conventional wrapping paper. But good news everyone, there are alternatives:
  • You can find gift wrap and bags made from recycled paper and tree-free materials on Lucky Vitamin.
  • Wrap gifts unconventionally: Gifting your foodie friend kitchen utensils and a gift card to their favorite restaurant? wrap it in a pretty kitchen dish cloth. Wrap a gift inside a usable tote or purse; two gifts in one!
  • Make a cute origami gift box (see my tutorial here) or gift bag (see tutorial on How About Orange) from magazines or newspaper. Recycling is the best! Plus, magazines have beautiful glossy pages.
  • Save still pretty bows and ribbons from year to year (key words, still pretty; don't be saving ratty old bits of useless material.)
Origami gift box from magazine pages.

Gifts

When it comes to gifts, people generally default to things. Change your mindset. Unless you know exactly what someone wants or needs, a thing might not be the answer to your gift giving questions. What to give instead? Gift certificates are a great place to start, not generic, impersonal ones but ones that really show you know who they are and what they like. Have a friend who loves yoga? Get them a a punch pass to a local yoga studio. Remember that foodie friend I mentioned earlier? Restaurant gift card! More ideas:
  • A donation to a charity in their name.
  • Tickets to their favorite concert, sports team, the ballet, the opera, the movies... etc.
  • Gift card to a salon or spa.
  • Mom and dad would love a framed picture of you and your siblings.
  • For your gal pals, a night out and an overnight stay in a luxury hotel.
  • For a sporty friend, sessions with a personal trainer.
  • For that recently married couple, a bottle of the wine served at their wedding or honeymoon.
See it's not so hard. Homemade gifts are also very appreciated. They show you put time and energy into their gift. Here are a few links to homemade gifts (pinterest is the best pinterest)
That should keep you busy for a while.

http://www.realsimple.com/holidays-entertaining/gifts/wrapping/creative-gift-wrapping-ideas-00000000014208/page11.html

Refreshments

No one can deny that food and booze can make or break a party. Food and booze also tend to be served in excess at parties, with good reason. No host or hostess wants to be caught without food to serve the seven who RSVPed "no" but decided to come anyway or the plus one your nephew forgot to mention he was bringing (*hint hint* this is also a commentary on party etiquette).

Thanksgiving: the holiday we give thanks for what we have (to waste)  
http://people.desktopnexus.com/wallpaper/823264/

More than 25 percent of food produced for humans is thrown out (that comes out to about 50 million tons of food every year). This food ends up in landfills, which are major sources of human-produced methane, a greenhouse gas that is twenty-three times more prolific than CO2. The moral of the story is to:
  • only serve the amount of food you'll need,
  • store the leftovers for a meal tomorrow,
  • use local and organic ingredients,
  • recycle and compost waste, and
  • use cloth napkins and reusable dishes and utensils.
As for alcohol serve organic alcohol as often as possible. Why does it matter? Alcohol come from plants and it takes a lot of plants to make that much alcohol. This means a heck of a lot of pesticides; not good for you, or the planet. Organic alcohols:

Decorations

In my family decorating the house for Christmas is a Christmas tradition I love (in fact one year a cried... I don't actually remember why but it had something to do with Christmas decorating and not doing it as a family... or something). I love changing the decor in my apartment (especially the door wreath) seasonally, but Christmas is when I really go all out with the decorations (this is probably true for most people).

Unfortunately some of the decorations on the market are not very Earth-friendly, namely twinkle lights. A string of 300 hundred of these lights can use 30 kilowatt-hours of energy (emitting 45 pounds of CO2) over the holiday season. And with those big fat lights, your looking at 450 kilowatt-hours (700 pounds of CO2). The solution? LED lights! Not only do they only use 3 kilowatt-hours during the holiday season, they don't get hot so your fire risk goes WAY down.

Old town Fort Collins in winter. I wonder if they use LED lights...
http://www.city-data.com/picfilesv/picv8550.php

Use decorations you can reuse from year to year (i.e. a paper garland is a no-no, also not chic. That goes for confetti too, which is ridiculously hard if not impossible to clean up). Look for decorations at antique stores, thrift shops and garage sales instead of buying them new.

Other than that, the only thing I can suggest is forgetting the Christmas tree all together. But I would never suggest that because I LOVE Christmas trees. Seriously.

This room is unquestionably gorgeous!
http://freshome.com/2009/12/13/10-beautiful-christmas-tree-decorating-ideas/

However, consider an artificial Christmas tree. No luxurious spruce smell, but also no messy needles. Or if you could never go without a real Christmas tree, buy one with roots attached that you can replant when Christmas is over.

Clean-Up

Don't give up on being green just because you are over-whelmed with a mess after a party. Hopefully you've already reduced a lot (a major point of this post in case you missed that) and you are left with a relatively easy cleanup. Use green products like Seventh Generation and Simple Green (more on green cleaning products later). Replace your plastic trash bags with recycled trash bags or use biodegradable bags, such as BioBag. Avoid disposable dishes and utensils! Here's a few tips if you need more dishes to cover your guests:
  • Check out vintage shops for unique (and cheap) dishes that send you good vibes, man.
  • If you buy new, get organic or renewable fabrics, recycled glass, sustainable woods, and ceramics colored with nontoxic dyes.

The end... Good luck to you with your holiday season. Leave a comment to tell me how you plan to utilize these tips or share your own.

Friday, November 9, 2012

ACDC - Apple Cake Disastrous Conundrum

 
My grandmother's birthday was on October 17th. Before her birthday we were discussing what kind of cake she would like and I brought up the pumpkin shaped cake, which uses to bundt cakes. She loved this idea but requested that instead of pumpkin flavoring it be an apple cake with cream cheese icing. I said I'd make it, how hard could baking in a bundt cake be?

My inspiration: http://blog.homeseasons.com/2011/09/29/halloween-pumpkin-bundt-cake/

INGREDIENTS:
  • 2 eggs 
  • 2 cups sugar 
  • 1/2 cup applesauce 
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla 
  • 2 cups flour 
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt 
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda 
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon 
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg 
  • 4 cups diced peeled apples 

I made the applesauce first (a few days before). It's basically the same process as making Apple Butter only this time I didn't add spices because I wanted plain, sugar-free applesauce. I used lemon juice to keep the apple from getting too discolored and I didn't cook it as long as for the apple butter.


Beat eggs until light and fluffy.


Gradually add sugar,


applesauce,


and vanilla.


Into a separate bowl, stir together flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg.


Stir into first mixture.


Core, peel and chop apples before stirring them in.


Grease a 12" bundt cake pan. I mean seriously grease it, maybe use flour too... Then pour in batter to about 3/4 full.


Bake at 350° for 45 minutes. Let cake cool in pan on a rack for 10 to 15 minutes, then cry when it falls apart and you realize how badly you just failed.

Make batter again. This time pour into two 8" round pans. Bake at 350° for 45 minutes.


Let cake cool in pan on a rack for 10 to 15 minutes, then LEAP for JOY because it doesn't fall apart. Cool completely before spreading with cream cheese frosting.


CREAM CHEESE FROSTING
  • 1 pkg.(3 ounces) cream cheese, softened
  • 3 tablespoons butter, softened
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar

Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl; beat until smooth.

Sing Happy Birthday, blow out the candles and make a wish. Happy Birthday Grandma!

Now what am I going to do with the rest of these apples?