Monday, February 28, 2011

Insipration From the Ranch

I just finished another great book called Ranch of Dreams, the true story of Black Beauty Ranch - an animal sanctuary nearly 1,200 acres large - in Texas. In addition to making me want to book a flight to see this incredible operation in person ASAP, the book had me dreaming of ranch-inspired style... western wear, dusty desert scenes, utilitarian forms, you name it. Here are a few of my Ranch of Dreams themed picks.

That's one nice place to relax after a long day.

When I think ranch fare, I think chili, and where there's chili there should be cornbread!

I love the idea of desert labyrinth. Perfect for a dry space.

Detailed view of a beautiful print available on Etsy.

A handmade Giddy Up Cowboy print skirt, also from Etsy!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Relaxing Yoga Pose: Supported Bridge (part 3)

As we've seen in Parts 1 and 2 of the relaxing yoga pose series, yoga doesn't have to be complicated or make you look like a pretzel in order to be effective and provide restorative and relaxing benefits. In fact, one of the most relaxing yoga poses I know is Supported Bridge with a block. I like this pose so much that whenever I make it to yoga a bit early I grab a block and assume the position - it is the perfect way to achieve a gentle stretch yet totally let go. It's easy to get into - just lay on your back, bend your knees, and place your feet firmly on the ground hip-width apart. Use the strength of your thighs and glutes to lift your hips into air, and slide a yoga block on it's second tallest height under your sacrum (just above your tail bone) before slowly lowering your weight onto the block. Allow your arms to rest alongside you body, close your eyes, and take some deep breaths - you're whole chest can really begin to open here.

Not familiar with yoga blocks? These foam, cork, or wooden blocks are handy tools often used to modify more challenging yoga poses. A foam or cork block works especially well for supported bridge pose as they're a bit softer on the sacrum. I just invested in a couple foam blocks to complement my practice at home, and found some good quality, inexpensive options on Amazon. I recommend going for blocks that are 4" x 6" x 9" - the 3" blocks tend to be too narrow for my liking. Of course, if you don't have a yoga block and want to try out supported bridge, a strategically placed chapter book or two can give you the same idea.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Lazy Sunday: Philosophizing

Lazy Sunday: Philosophizing

I just finished a great book called Socrates Cafe by Christopher Phillips and it's had me feeling especially philosophical all weekend. The book recreates dialogues from Socratic inquiry discussions Phillips has facilitated in cafes, assisted living homes, elementary schools, and prisons around the country, along with his own reflections and fitting bios and anecdotes of philosophers past and present. Anyone ready to bring a deeper level of inquiry and curiosity into their own life can channel their inner Socrates by asking questions, and more questions, and still more questions... For example, in one senior center a participant asked the question, what is home? The questioning went from there - When is one most at home? Is home a physical location only? Can a person have more than one home? Can you return home? Can one be without a home?

Phillips wraps up the book by quoting from Socrates's Apology - an excerpt I think fits quite well given the current state of US affairs: "As long as I breathe and have the strength to go on, I won't quit philosophizing... Esteemed friend, citizen of Athens, the greatest city in the world, so outstanding in both intelligence and power, aren't you ashamed to care so much to make all the money you can, and to advance your reputation and prestige - while for truth and wisdom and the improvement of your soul you have no care or worry?"

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Street Sailor

It is incredibly windy in Boston today, but the wind brings with it one of my favorite characters of the city - the street sailor. Perhaps one of the things I love most about living in the same place for a while is that you get familiar with the cast of "strangers" you see on a regular basis - the guy with the paw-print tattoos I always seem to spot on the T, the woman with silver hair who faithfully walks her tiny white dog on Newbury Street every Saturday, the young woman eternally studying at the library as I browse the latest nonfiction arrivals.

The street sailor is no exception. Flying across Copley Square on his homemade, wind-powered scooter, it's impossible to not brighten up at the sight of him. I have no idea what his name is, what his occupation might be, or even how many years he has under his belt (he moves too quickly to tell), but I am always heartened to see him, skillfully gliding his Razor through the crowds of people milling about. He's out in rare form today - I caught him balancing his entire contraption on his chin for the benefit of a few young boys who looked on in awe.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Relaxing Yoga Poses: Legs Up The Wall (part 2)

I mentioned in my first post about relaxing yoga poses that there are many time-tested positions that calm both the body and mind. Legs Up The Wall is another relaxing pose that offers a gentle stretch, reduces stress, and re-ups your energy. The pose itself is as self-explanitory as it sounds - start by sitting on the floor directly next to a wall and swing your legs up so that they rest - slightly bent - against the wall as you lower your torso onto the floor. You will end up lying perpendicular to the wall as the photos show. You can place a pillow under your back or hips to make the pose more comfortable, and might experiment with moving your hips closer to the wall or further away depending on the flexibility of your legs. You might let your arms rest out to the side, palms open to the sky, or bring your arms up over your head to gain a side-body stretch.

Whatever variation of Legs Up The Wall you choose, you'll gain the benefits of this leisurely inversion, such as stretching the backs of the legs, relieving swollen or tired legs, ankles, and feet, and flooding the body with energy. For maximum impact, enjoy the posture for about 5 to 10 minutes. Close your eyes, keeping the back of your neck flat on the floor, and breathe down deeply into your belly as you feel the tension melt out your body.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Sewing Projects

As you may recall from a previous post, I'm an advocate of adult education courses. My most recent conquest, "Sewing for Beginners", was a total blast - and my efforts yielded some fabulous creations too. Our class of 10 learned all about threading, backstitching, interfacing and more. Fueled by clementines, peanut butter sandwiches, and Arcade Fire, we spent two Saturdays crafting ruffled aprons and pleated shoulder bags and laughing about the rookie mistakes we endured along the way. I'm already excited about what I'll stitch up next...

A shot of my ruffled apron - the pattern we used was definitely intended for a shorter person, but it's definitely the kind of apron you put on for serving food... not so much cooking it.

The inside of the pleated shoulder bag - I couldn't resist the green polkadot fabric (purchased at Grey's Fabric and Notions, you must check this place out if you're near Boston).

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Lazy Sunday: Winter Walkabout

Winter Walkabout
It's cold, it's grey, and spring is no where in sight - but fighting cabin fever is not optional, it's a must. Download a few interesting podcasts or some new tunes and pop on some headphones, wrap up in a warm colorful coat (everyone could use a cheery sight), strap on some weather-impervious boots capable of slip-free ice trekking, cover your mitts with fingerless gloves (no need to take them off should you stop for a warming beverage along the way), and top it all off with a knitted cupcake hat (I actually have this one thanks to my fantastic boyfriend)! You my friend are ready to beat cabin fever in style. Once you're thoroughly exhausted from walking about in the brisk air, enjoy some hot chocolate and relish in your conquer of the winter chill.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Relaxing Yoga Poses: Child's Pose (Part 1)

I love yoga - the ancient practice that combines measured breath with rhythmic movement, mind blowing stretches, and heart-opening vibrations. Like many yogis I know, I practice regularly to challenge myself on the mat and test my limits - but the stress relieving benefits of a regular practice are not to be ignored. Yoga has a way of calming the mind and helping us to find a greater sense of peace and balance, and there are many yoga poses designed to facilitate deep relaxation and foster recovery.

While some people push through class eager for savasana - also called corpse pose, the final pose in many yoga practices where you lay flat on your back and drift into a quiet, reflective state - there are several poses I find more relaxing and refreshing, and I wanted to share some of them with you. Even if you are not into yoga, you can enjoy making these poses a part of your life for the comfortable and easy stretches that they bring, or retreat to them when you need to rest and recharge during a particularly grueling day.

Let's kick it off with child's pose, a sort of fetal position taken with your shins on the ground. To get into child's pose, start by kneeling with both knees on the ground, sit back on your heels (you want your feet to be pointed so the tops of your feet are completely touching the ground), and drape your torso over you thighs, resting your forehead on the ground. Voila! Commence deep relaxation.

There are various ways you can enjoy this pose depending on what feels best for your body. You may opt to keep your knees touching one another, so your whole chest is resting on your thighs, or you may draw your knees wide and allow your chest to lower down to the ground between your knees. You may opt to stretch your arms above your head (pictured below) to gain a stretch along the sides of your body, or you might let your hand rest along your thighs or grasp them behind your feet (see above). You can rest the middle of your forehead on the ground, or you might rotate your head from side to side, resting one cheek on the ground for several breaths and then the other.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Artist Spotlight: Galen Rowell

Prior to his death in 2002, photographer Galen Rowell spent his life exploring nature and attempting to capture the beauty of some of earth's most unforgiving peaks. I first learned about Rowell reading Three Cups of Tea - the true story of a mountain climber who builds a school in a small, impoverished village in Pakistan (I highly recommend the book) - and his photos of the famed K2 helped bring the story to life for me. I quickly discovered that his photography of national parks here in the US is also incredibly stunning and have me ready to plan a wilderness escape myself (well... as soon as things warm up anyways).

Much of Rowell's work embodies a sense of transcendence - there's something quite ethereal about it - which he addressed when he said, "If we limit our vision to the real world, we will forever be fighting on the minus side of things, working only to make our photographs equal to what we see out there, but no better". What a beautiful thought and one that speaks volumes outside of photography too.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Tea Treasures

Never one for coffee, tea is my steamy beverage of choice. My love for the stuff is no secret, and while I tend to down my daily cup (or two, or three) of the herbal variety while at work, nothing beats a leisurely cup of tea enjoyed on a slow-paced weekend morning or afternoon. Here are a few tea treasures for fellow enthusiasts.

This Tea-Boy Penguin Tea Timer is so cute, and would be the perfect gadget to keep at work or to gift an easily side-tracked tea lover with. You set the timer to indicate how long your tea needs to steep for, and the penguin's bill cleverly picks up your tea bag when your tea is ready. It even rings when the tea is ready so you don't forget about your cup before it gets too cold! The perfect solution for those of us who accidentally oversteep.

I recently discovered the yummy flavor and cost-saving benefits of loose leaf tea. For the uninitiated, loose leaf tea doesn't come in pre-measured bags but rather in one big package of full size tea leaves or herbal components (think large pieces of dried peppermint leaves and whole dried chamomile). This fine mesh tea steeping basket fits nicely in any standard size mug to make a single cup of loose leaf tea. Just scoop in a teaspoonful of loose leaf tea, pour in your hot water, remove the basket when you're done steeping, and enjoy.

Two Leaves and a Bud makes a delicious, smooth, and delicately floral jasmine petal green tea -and the loose leaf variety is the perfect way to fill your new tea basket. This green tea is steamed, rather than roasted, which yields its signature taste. The company is fair trade certified and offers an extensive line of organic products too!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Dealing with Uncertainty

This evening I spoke with someone who is in the midst of making some big life decisions. They may be relocating, they may be making a big career change, their financial situation is likely to change dramatically, they have plenty of people depending on them, and all in all, they're facing a great deal of uncertainty. As someone who doesn't always handle uncertainty with a great deal of grace herself, the thought of being put in such a position is enough to make me clam up, shut down, crawl into bed and wish to never emerge. But there is one trick I recently picked up that really helps when you are facing an ambiguous future; spend some time focusing on the things that ARE certain.

For someone who breaks a sweat at even life's most mundane of decision points (7th Generation paper towels or 365 house brand?) it's easy to spiral into a repetitive, unproductive loop of "what ifs" when it comes time to make choices that really matter. Before you know it, your envisioning hundreds of alternate future selves. You can't begin to make a decision with so many unknowns. You begin to focus all of your energy on the factors you are unsure of - I don't know where I'll live, I don't know what the people will be like, I don't know how long I'll be happy with my decision... You may even point your laser of uncertainty on the past - questioning choices that have long been put to rest, doubting the moves you've made, blaming yourself for not handling situations the way you would in retrospect...

Stop. Focus on what you are sure of. Do you have a degree in molecular biology? That's fantastic! No one can ever take that away from you. Does your love of the opera give you reason to go on living? How lucky you are to have found such a longstanding passion! Do you have a family you would give anything to stay close to? 5 years of professional experience? A closet full of clothes that fit? A voracious appetite for reading with more than 600 titles under your belt? A devoted lover? Are you fluent in French or conversational in Cantonese?

It doesn't matter what it is you are sure of so much as that you are willing and able to recognize those constants. When you give yourself permission to take stock of the things that are certain, you'll find a much more stable base from which you can face the exciting future ahead. When you make this paradigm shift, you may find a sense of renewed confidence, discover an important decision making factor you previously discounted, or maybe just find enough of a break from the internal dialogue of anarchy that you finally catch your breath. In any case, you will be much better suited to make a rational decision - and remain sane - when you take the time to consider the steadfast certainties in your life in addition to the thrilling uncertainties to come.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Sewing Room Inspiration

This past weekend I was in North Carolina for my sister-in-law's baby shower. The party - held at her parent's house - was wonderful, and we even had the chance to visit her mother's "secret room".

Intrigued? We were too. What is the secret room? No, she's not planning for the apocalypse (although it wouldn't be a bad place to get stuck!). The secret room is a crafters dream. It's the spacious, heated second floor to their garage filled with fabric, sewing machines, an enormous quilting machine, partly constructed projects, and spools of thread galore. It even has a fridge, microwave, trundle bed, and bathroom complete with a shower! You'd literally never have to leave!

Since I'm learning to sew myself, I've been dreaming up my perfect secret room... with the help of a little google image searching.