The Ultimate Yoga Playlist

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I’ve been practicing yoga for about four years now. My practice has evolved drastically during that time. Sometimes I feel like I’m progressing in what my body is able to do, and sometimes I feel like I take about five steps back. The one thing that has remained consistent is the incorporation of some of my favorite music into each practice. Here is my go-to playlist these days. It is about an hour of play, making it the perfect length for a practice.

  1. Beginnings – Houses (3:53)

  2. The Light – Album Leaf (4:30)

  3. Wait – M83 (5:40)

  4. Feather – X Ambassadors (3:28)

  5. Woodwork – Sleeping at Last (3:53)

  6. Here With Me – Susie Suh (3:58)

  7. The Hop – Radio Citizen (3:34)

  8. 29 #Strafford APTS – Bon Iver (4:05)

  9. 1901 – Birdy (4:15)

  10. The Night We Met – Lord Huron (3:28)

  11. Slow Burning in a Dancing Room – John Mayer (4:02)

  12. 8 (circle) – Bon Iver (5:09)

  13. Nantes – Beirut (3:50)

  14. Intro – The xx (2:08)

  15. Take Care – Beach House (5:48)

Caring For Wooden Spoons

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When I moved out on my own for the first time, my mom and both of my grandmothers gave me things from their kitchens. Cast Iron skillets, a rolling pin, and wooden spoons were among them. These are the heirlooms of Southern cooks. I treasured them all from day one, already certain I would pass them down when the time came. But I quickly realized that in order to be able to do that, all of these items needed specific care to maintain them and protect them from every day wear and tear. Today I am going to talk about what I’ve learned about caring for wooden spoons.

There are some common sense things when it comes to your spoons. Avoid putting them in the dishwasher at all costs. To anything made out of wood, the dishwasher is like a watery pit of death.

To take that a step further, you always want to dry your spoons immediately after washing them. Allowing them to air dry would expose them to the water for too long, drying out the wood and causing them to splinter or crack over time.

The thing that I didn’t know about was the need to season your wooden spoons periodically. It’s a really simple process that you only need to do when you notice your spoons starting to look a little dull. For me, when I have been cooking a lot, that’s usually every couple of weeks.

To season your spoons you will need a large ziplock bag, your spoons, and an oil of your choice. Butcher block, coconut oil, and olive oil will all work. Coconut oil will set up of the room temperature is too cool, so keep that in mind. My oil of choice is olive oil for its robust aroma and flavor.

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Start by making sure that there are no rough spots on the edges of your spoon. If there are, you’ll want to lightly sand the patches until spoon. Next, place your spoons into your bag and drizzle them with oil. Close the bag and rub the oil into the spoons, making sure there is some excess for the spoons to soak in.

You’ll want to leave your spoons for at least a couple of hours, but overnight is best. I typically put them in a bag before bed and take them out around lunch the next day. Be sure to place the bag on a plate to avoid oil leaking all over your countertops.

Once you’re ready to remove them from the bag, you’ll just need a couple of paper towels to wipe off the excess oil. Voila! Your spoons are perfectly seasoned and protected.

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DIY Lavender Oil Moisturizer

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If you haven’t figured it out yet, I love all things DIY beauty and coconut oil. That love started with one very simple moisturizer that I now swear by. I’ve given it as gifts, had people ask me to make it for them, and I refuse to go to bed at night without applying some to my face. The beauty of this product is how nourishing the three simple ingredients are for the health of your skin. Since I started using it about 5 years ago, I have noticed a dramatic improvement in my acne scars, a decrease in my breakouts, and an overall more even and healthy skin tone.

Lavender oil is great for treating many skin conditions and can also help reduce the appearance of scars. It is antibacterial, antimicrobial, and antiseptic. It also promotes rapid healing.

Coconut oil is antibacterial and anti fungal. The fatty acids in the oil penetrate the skin to moisturize and prevent moisture loss.

Vitamin E oil aids in keeping the skin looking youthful and luminous by blocking free radicals that cause aging.

Here’s what you need to know to make your own:

  1. Pour 1/2 a cup of melted organic coconut oil into a small, sealable container. Glass is preferable.
  2. Add about 45 drops of organic lavender oil to the coconut oil
  3. Mix in 4-6 capsules of vitamin E oil. Stir thoroughly.
  4. Cover and allow to cool until it hardens. This can be sped up by placing the container in the refrigerator

To use the oil, scoop out a dime sized amount, melt it by rubbing your hands together, and apply to a clean face.

 

Comfort Food is Goulash

I woke up today to rainy skies and a coolness in the air. I was born and raised in the South and love all things comfort food, so this kind of weather called for something hearty and warm. My family has the best recipe for Goulash. I can remember sitting in my grandmother’s kitchen when I was growing up, sipping sweet tea and waiting anxiously for her to finish cooking. Goulash was my favorite, and definitely still is. The simplicity of the ingredients and how easy it is to make means that this recipe is one of my go-to’s when I’m in a pinch. I wish you could’ve smelled how incredible and warm my kitchen was this afternoon.

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Ingredients

  • Two 15 oz cans of diced tomatoes (you can also substitute fresh tomatoes)
  • Two 15 oz cans of tomato sauce
  • One 15 oz can of kidney beans
  • 15 oz large macaroni noodles
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 1/2 lbs hamburger meat
  • 3 tbs Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 cloves minced garlic
  • 2 teaspoons seasoned salt
  • 2 tbs Italian seasoning
  • 3 cups water

Instructions

  1. In a large soup pot, cook hamburger meat on medium/high until no longer pink.
  2. Dice onion and mince garlic, add to pot and cook for 3-4 minutes, or until fragrant and soft.
  3. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, kidney beans, Worcestershire sauce, seasoned salt, Italian seasoning, water, and macaroni noodles. Bring to boil.
  4. Reduce heat to medium/low. Cover your pot and allow to simmer for about 20 minutes, or until noodles are cooked through.

 

If you’re looking for something a little lighter and healthier, you can easily substitute the hamburger for turkey and the noodles for a whole wheat or quinoa macaroni. It may take a little longer for the pasta to cook through, and you may want to add 2-3 beef bouillon cubes to give the flavor a little boost.

How to Reduce Your Stress

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The secret to living a life with less stress is in simplicity. There will inevitably be some stress in life. To try and control everything in an attempt to reduce stress will only complicate the issue, causing more stress. However, we can take a few small steps to bring simplicity to our lives, reducing stress in a healthy and effective way.

Minimize the Number of Decisions You Make Daily

Whether you claim to be indecisive or simply don’t have a strong opinion either way, decision making has a way of bringing unnecessary stress to our daily life. Some things require our undivided attention in order to make the right call. But simple decisions can be eliminated pretty easily. For example: if you are easily overwhelmed by the variety of drink choices at your favorite lunch spot, decide on one thing that you will always order. Next time you go, you won’t have to stress over the simple decision of what to drink with your lunch.

Stop Procrastinating

Procrastination is engrained in our very nature. From a young age we start putting off doing the things that we would rather not do. As we get older, this causes more and more unnecessary stress. When you have a new project that needs your attention or a few emails that need to be sent, sit down and work on them right away. Even if it takes a few days of work here and there, you’ll find yourself feeling much lighter when the due date arrives and you aren’t scrambling to finish all of your work by the deadline.

Tidy Up

If you find yourself with five or ten minutes of dead time, look around and tidy up the five things closest to you that are out of place. If you make a habit of this, you will find that your surroundings tend to stay much neater and your stress levels much lower. A happy, neat, balanced environment promotes lower levels of stress and you’ll feel more accomplished for using your dead time productively.

5 Tips to Feel More Awake in the Morning

2d7e81b385708767f9e3aec824253461I am not a morning person. At least not when I have places to be and things to do. If I had it my way, I would wake up slowly every day and spend the morning however I pleased. Unfortunately, that is not the way the world works. Here are a few of my favorite ways to start the morning well and feel awake and alert.

  1. Drink a glass of cool water first thing when you wake up, before you eat any breakfast. Not only does this help your digestive system prepare for food for the day, it has been shown to help you feel as awake as a cup of coffee.
  2. Practice deep breathing as you start your day. Flooding your body with oxygen and grounding yourself mentally with deep breathing will help you to feel alert and ready for the day.
  3. Use cool water for the last few minutes of your morning shower. If you tend to shower at night, wash your face in the morning with cool water. As much as we all enjoy a warm shower when we first wake up, you’ll be pleasantly surprised how just a minute or two of cool water will make you feel rejuvenated and awake.
  4. Spend 10-15 minutes stimulating your mind with a puzzle, game, or your favorite book.
  5. Eat a well-rounded breakfast to give your body the fuel it needs to stay awake and alert. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to prepare a huge breakfast. My go-to for mornings when I am in a rush is plain greek yogurt with honey and my favorite fruits.

 

DIY Natural Teeth Whitening

In one of my recent posts I talked about my new-found love of activated charcoal. I’ve used it for multiple purposes but was shy to venture into its rumored teeth-whitening abilities until pretty recently. I was excited to find that this recipe uses the exact same ingredients as the charcoal face mask I already covered. I was even more excited when I realized that it actually works. Here’s what you need to know:

You’ll Need:

  • Activated charcoal capsules
  • Baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons organic  coconut oil
  • Peppermint essential oil (optional)

Step 1. Soften your coconut oil in the microwave, just until it is easy to mix
Step 2. Mix in 6 capsules of activated charcoal, 1 tablespoon of baking soda, and 4-5 drops     of peppermint essential oil
Step 3. Using about 1/2 a teaspoon, brush onto teeth for 3-5 minutes before rinsing and brushing with water. Follow with your normal toothpaste.

Here are my results after one use:

You can continue to use this daily until you reach your desired level of whiteness, then decrease to every two or three days for maintenance. Keep in mind that the baking soda does give this paste a salty taste, but the peppermint oil does an good job of masking that.

The coconut oil is an excellent medium to tone down the abrasiveness of baking soda. However, if you have sensitive gums, you may want to decrease the baking soda content by half, or remove it altogether.

5 Ways to Make Home Feel Like Home

I have lived in eight different homes in my 22 years of life. The longest I have ever stayed in one place is just under seven years. The excitement of moving has become something that I now enjoy, but I have had to learn a few ways over the years to make each new place feel like home. Here are a few of my favorites:

Make Your Bedroom Your Sanctuary

In my current home, my bedroom just so happens to be in the finished basement. It’s wonderful to have so much space to work with, but the lack of light had me stumped for a few days before I decided on a solution. I went to work by hanging lights, distributing lamps, and placing my favorite items through the room. Before I knew it, candles, my own artwork, and eclectic textures and colors made the room feel like my own personal meditation room. When it comes to making your bedroom your sanctuary, its all about taking control of the space and turning it into whatever makes you feel balanced and at rest. Use your favorite items, colors, and themes throughout the space.

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There is a reason that they say your sense of smell is one of your most powerful senses when it comes to emotion and memories. One of my first go-to ways to transform the feeling of a space is through smell. Personally, I love the way that earthy, evergreen scents make me feel grounded and at rest. My home is filled with balsam candles and essential oils all year. No matter where I move, I take the comfort of those scents with me, instantly making a new place feel like home. An easy and inexpensive way to make your space more homey is to find your favorite scent and use it regularly in your home.

Decorate Your Walls

Whether with photographs, decorative items, or plants, decorating your walls has an incredible ability to add some life to a blank canvas. I tend to use a mixture of all of these things, focusing especially on photographs that hold sentimental value and artwork that I, or loved ones, have created through the years.

Living in a rental property can make this seem a little more daunting, but fret not! You can find rental-friendly wall hardware at your local hardware store.

Invest in Pillows and Blankets

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Alright, fellas, I know this one seems a little too feminine. But hear me out; who doesn’t want to curl up at the end of a long day with comfortable pillows and a soft blanket to binge on some Netflix? Find a few quality textiles that suit your style preference and put them on your couch, in your reading nooks, and on your bed. When you come home feeling like the world couldn’t suck out another ounce of your energy, you’ll be excited to relax in luxurious comfort.

Establish a Routine

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Now, I’m not saying that you should live by a rigid daily routine and take out any spontaneity in your life. But having a flexible routine to your day is an excellent way to feel at rest in your environment and establish some familiarity to your daily life.

My favorite parts of my daily routine are taking the time to eat a nutritious, satisfying breakfast and winding down in the evening with my favorite music, candles, and whatever book I am currently reading.

Find a few simple things that you enjoy doing and incorporate them into your day-to-day activities.

Low Maintenance Indoor Plants

For the longest time, I envied my friends who had beautiful plants in their home. I tried growing a few things here and there, always starting out hopeful, only to find them beyond resurrection a few weeks later. Not only was my thumb not green, it was black. I was sure that I was destined to live my life dusting off plastic plants rather than enjoying fresh greenery.

All of this changed when I started doing a little bit of reading on how to keep plants happy, and which are the easiest to keep happy. While there have been a few bumps along the way, I eventually learned that it isn’t always about whether or not you have a green thumb; plants, like anything else, like to live within certain conditions. When I learned what those were, I was much more successful in keeping greenery alive. Now, I am the proud parents of little green plant babies all over my home. All happy and healthy.

Here are three of my favorite starter plants that are low maintenance and pretty durable for plant parents who want to test the waters or who have been raising them for years.

 

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Sansevieria

More commonly known as the Snake Plant, this plant is incredibly forgiving of neglect or beginner’s mistakes. The Snake Plant thrives in a variety of light levels. Their leaves will become more vibrant in a bright filtered light, but they are also capable of living in low light conditions. Mine currently lives in a dark corning of my living room, and it has reached about three feet in height.

As for water, the Sansevieria holds quite a bit of water in their leaves and can be prone to root rot if overwatered or allowed to sit in damp soil for too long. For this reason, it’s better to er on the side of being a little too dry than too damp. The frequency you will need to water your Snake Plant changes with the season and your individual plant’s needs. I typically water mine whenever the first 2-3 inches of soil are dry to the touch.

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Chlorophytum Comosum

This plant goes by the nickname of Spider Plant. It can also live in a variety of light levels, but it will thrive in bright, indirect light. It’s important to be careful to avoid strong direct light, though, as this plant is prone to burning in harsh light.

It is pretty durable in different temperatures and prefers relatively infrequent waterings. A good rule of thumb is to allow your adult Spider Plant to dry completely between waterings. The plant will give you visual indications of what it needs. If it develops black tips or a yellow halo, it is being overwatered. If its leaves start to look droopy, it could use a drink. One thing to note is that the Spider Plant is known for being a bit sensitive to chemicals in water. If you notice the leaves starting to brown, you may need to start watering with distilled water.

 

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Epipremnum Aureum

Otherwise known as Pothos, this plant is considered one of the easiest to grow. If happy and healthy, it can brighten up any corner of your home with its beautiful foliage and long vines.

Pothos prefers bright, indirect light when indoors. Harsh direct light can damage the pathos, so it’s best to sit it just out of line of direct light or allow the light to be filtered through curtains.

The best way to tell when your Pathos needs to be watered is to watch its leaves. When they start to droop, it needs a good watering. It’s important to keep a close eye on this; if the leaves start to shrivel, you’ll likely loose a few. Rather than watering these plants thoroughly after it dries out, they tend to grow best when they have a splash of water when their leaves start to droop. Pothos are susceptible to root rot, so watering in small doses as needed is a good way to prevent this.

Blueberry Lemon Bread

It’s the middle of February and while it has been a particularly mild winter, the skies are still dreary and the trees are still all dead. I typically consider myself to be more of a Winter person, but this week I found myself craving warm weather and Summer flavors. I couldn’t change the temperatures so I made my way to the kitchen to make one of my favorite Summer treats; Blueberry Lemon bread.

This recipe is by far the best I have ever had. I took it to a photo exhibition that I was attending and it was a hit. I had to scramble just to get a piece of it for myself. The best part though is how easy it is and how many of the ingredients I already had in my pantry. Here’s the recipe:

Easy Blueberry Lemon Bread with Lemon Glaze

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serves : 11
prep time: 20 minutes
cook time: 60 minutes
total time: 1 hour 20 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 cups of all purpose flour + 1 tablespoon
  • 2 teaspoons of baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/2 cup of oil (coconut, vegetable, or canola work well)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup plain greek yogurt
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 cup blueberries plus garnish
  • 3/4 cup confectioners sugar
  • 1-2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • butter

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Coat a 9×5 loaf pan with butter and dust with flour and set aside.
  2. In a small bowl, toss the blueberries with 1 tablespoon of flour and set aside. This will keep the blueberries from sinking to the bottom of your bread, creating a more even distribution
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together 2 cups of flour, 2 teaspoons of baking powder and 1/2 a teaspoon of salt. Set aside.
  4. In another bowl, mix together oil, vanilla, eggs, sugar, greek yogurt, lemon zest and lemon juice.
  5. Combine your wet and dry ingredients, just until smooth, being careful not to over-mix. Over-mixing will cause your bread to become dense and tough.
  6. Lightly fold in blueberries.
  7. Pour your batter into your prepared baking pan. Bake for 50-60 minutes, just until a wooden toothpick comes out clean. You may need to cover lightly with aluminum foil for the last 10-15 minutes to prevent the top from becoming too brown.
  8. Allow your bread to cool for about 10 minutes in the loaf pan before transferring it to a cooling rack to cool completely.
  9. Once your bread is cool, whisk together your confectioners sugar and fresh lemon juice. I like to start with 1 tablespoon and add the second as I need it. Sometimes it may require up to 1 additional tablespoon of lemon juice. You want your glaze to be thin enough to drizzle of your bread while still being thick enough to set up as it dries.
  10. Drizzle with spoon over your bread and allow to harden for 15-20 minutes. Garnish with blueberries.

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If I plan to take my bread to an event or party, I like to slice it before I drizzle and garnish. I will also remove the two end pieces. It means I have two fewer servings, but it makes it a little prettier.

I hope you enjoy this treat as much as I do!

Essential Oil Soy Candles

If you’re like me, you can find a candle in about every corner and on every shelf in your house. But candles can be expensive and I tend to be picky about what chemicals and substances I burn into the air in my house. Not too long ago I decided to take on making my own candles using 100% natural fragrances. I was pleasantly surprised to find the process wasn’t all that difficult and the candles smell incredible. And I love knowing exactly what I’m breathing in.
I made two different scents this time around. For this process I used the following:
-Soy wax flakes (I used 1 pound and was able to make 2 decent sized candles)
-Wood wicks and holders
-Organic Lavender essential oil
-Organic Bergamot essential oil
-Dried Lavender flowers (optional)
-Glass mason jars
-Glue gun and sticks
-Any glass container will do, I just prefer the look of a mason jars.

  1. Measure two wood wicks to fit your container and trim. You want to leave about half an inch exposed above the wax. The first time I made these, I made the mistake of trying to trim after the candle set up. This would be possible with a cotton with, but not with a wood wick.
  2.  Insert wicks into their holder and glue to the bottom of the jar with the hot glue to keep in place.
  3. Fill the bottom of a saucepan with water and place a stainless steel bowl over the pan. Bring to a slow boil. You can use a double boiler for this process, but I was afraid the wax would ruin mine.
  4. Slowly melt the wax, stirring occasionally.
  5. Carefully pour wax into your containers and add your essential oils. I prefer a stronger smelling candle, so for a pint sized jar I used about 45 drops of oil.
  6. Set aside and allow to cool.

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I forgot to grab a picture after the wax set up, but it dried to a nice soft white color. The lavender candle has been a perfect way to wind down at the end of the day and the citrusy scent of the bergamot is perfect for the kitchen!

Notes:

  • If you want to add dried flowers, mix them in with the wax before you pour it into your container. They will mostly float to the top, but the candle will still burn well.
  • You can use a cotton wick in place of a wood wick. I just prefer the nice crackling and earthy smell of wood.
  • I use two wood wicks per candle. It seems to burn much smoother and hold a flame better this way.

Activated Charcoal Face Mask

The rise of charcoal as an everyday beauty product has caught my attention over the last few months due to its ability to bind to dirt and impurities in the skin, allowing them to be washed away. My days are long and my makeup has to do a lot of work, so by the time I wash my face before bed, my pores are begging to be cleansed and rejuvenated.  I’ve tried a few store-bought charcoal masks but found that most of them burned my eyes and dried out my skin. After some research, I realized that this was due more to the additional ingredients in the masks than the charcoal itself. So I decided to make my own.

This mask requires only three ingredients and all of them can be found at Walmart and most drug stores. Here’s what you’ll need:

  1. Activated charcoal capsules
  2. Baking soda
  3. Organic coconut oil

Walgreens had charcoal capsules for about $20 but I wanted to do better than that. I was able to find them at Walmart for just under $5, making this mask super affordable.

To Make

Soften 1/2 a cup of coconut oil in the microwave in a glass bowl. You don’t necessarily want it to melt, just to be soft enough to mix easily. Mine took only about 7 seconds.

Add 4 capsules of activated charcoal and 1 tablespoon of baking soda to the coconut oil and mix well. Put in airtight container for storage.

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To Use

Apply a thin layer to your clean face, avoiding eyes and mouth. I use a foundation brush to apply other masks and found it to work really well for this one as well. Coconut oil melts at a pretty low temperature so be sure not to apply the mask too thick; the last thing you want is coconut oil and charcoal dripping into your eyes or on your clothes!

Allow to sit for 10-15 minutes and then lightly rub into skin before washing off with warm water and a gentle facial cleanser.

What I love about this is how clean and moisturized my skin feels after I use it! The baking soda is the perfect addition to this mask for its gentle exfoliation and its ability to brighten skin and even out redness. I use this mask 1-2 times a week, or when I feel like my pores need an extra deep cleaning.