Drink Up: Daily Tonics and Teas for Good Health

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Two recent conversations inspired this post: hearing about a family member who suffered from dehydration after a long day in the sun without adequate fluids, and a friend who has been bothered by a recurring cold since she started working in a new office. To both I say, “Drink up!” In addition to eating clean, staying hydrated is essential in the maintenance of good health. Below are a few good-for-you drinks I consume daily.

Hot Water with Lemon Juice
I love starting my day with this lemon juice tonic. Squeeze the juice of half a lemon into a glass or mug and fill with just-boiled, filtered water that has cooled for a few minutes. I remember my grandmother drinking hot lemon water (she would also squeeze a lemon slice right into her mouth without making a face!). It naturally provides a fresh-from-the-fruit dose of vitamin C and is said to kick-start the system, detoxify, and provide balance.

Apple Cider Vinegar Tonic
Stir one to two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar into a glass of water—cold or warm—for a boost of detoxifying vitamins, enzymes, and minerals. Be sure that the apple cider vinegar is organic and unrefined (I like Bragg’s) and shake the bottle before use. Optional: stir in honey and sprinkle in some cinnamon (the cinnamon never fully dissolves but adds some flavor and provides another antioxidant boost). I like to have this tonic mid-afternoon, right around the time my energy starts to wane. Instead of reaching for something sugary, I’ll drink this to feel revived.

Flavored Water
Sometimes I add cut fruit (fresh or frozen), sometimes cucumber slices, sometimes fresh mint or lemon verbena. It’s so easy and good—just drop into a pitcher or container of water and refrigerate. Also consider adding something to your reusable water bottle when you’re on-the-go and add frozen fruit to your water bottle instead of ice cubes on hot days. I also like adding a splash of chilled hibiscus or chamomile tea (see below).

Hibiscus Tea
Hibiscus tea is an infusion easily made with dried hibiscus petals and hot water. I love the tart flavor and drink it straight-up, combined with green tea, or chilled and sweetened (agua de fresca). It contains vitamin C and minerals and studies suggest it could help lower blood pressure and ease digestive woes. To easily enjoy it all week long, I make a batch and keep it chilled in the refrigerator. It’s also good for topping off a hot cup of tea or adding a boost of flavor to water or regular iced tea.

Green Tea
Green tea, long known to be an antioxidant, is my go-to for an afternoon cup of tea. When it’s cool out or I’m working in an air-conditioned office, I reuse the tea bag and refill my mug with hot water all afternoon—this keeps me warm and limits my caffeine intake. Extra boosts to add: hibiscus tea or a few dried hibiscus petals; lemon juice or a lemon slice; grated ginger. Or, stir with a cinnamon stick.

Chamomile Tea with Apple Cider Vinegar
Here’s my bedtime drink: half a cup of chilled camomile tea with a splash of apple cider vinegar. Chamomile is known for its calming effect and I heard that consuming apple cider vinegar helps ensure restful sleep, so I’ve combined them. I make several cups of chamomile tea in advance and keep it chilled in the refrigerator.

Buried in the Sand: Beach Glass and Clams

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It doesn’t feel like summer unless I have the chance to stroll along the shore in search of beach glass. Where I grew up on Long Island, it’s easily found and I have been a collector of sea glass for as long as I can remember. I think of it as treasure-hunting and usually stop only when my eyes tire and my back begins to ache from bending—or if the sun is beating down and I feel compelled to jump right into the ocean. In another life, I might have been a gold-digger. During a recent family visit, I picked up 20 pieces on a beach walk with my parents.

Another fond childhood memory I have of searching along the shore is for clams. Our parents would send us — me, my brother and cousins — to go clamming in the sand and we would fill our buckets with them, then take them home to be served. I remember steamed clams and pasta with clam sauce, but my favorite was baked clams. The bread crumb mixture was similar to the one we used for stuffed artichokes — with olive oil, garlic, fresh parsley, and parmesan cheese — but we added oregano and lemon to the mix for baked calms. For the kids who weren’t fond of the slimy clams, Uncle Mike would chop them into small pieces to blend with the bread crumbs before baking. After a long day at the beach that made me feel nostalgic for childhood beach days, we picked up clams and I prepared them for dinner. Just as good as I remember.

Not-So-Fast Fashion: My Three Shopping Rules

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I like thinking of a closet like a wine cellar: you carefully choose everything to suit your taste, you think of your selections as investments, you educate yourself on the makers, and you expect what you have to last a very long time.

When I cleaned and reorganized my closet recently, I surveyed the items and found most of my collection is made up of vintage (either discovered from vintage or thrift shops or purchased new 20 or more years ago) or second-hand items (found at thrift stores, yard sales, or on Etsy and eBay). Up-to-the-minute fashions? Not really. I have plenty of timeless styles and some on-trend pieces, but very little of it is brand-new—and that’s how I want it. A few years ago, I made a commitment to buy second-hand whenever possible, as part of an effort to make more environmentally friendly lifestyle choices. Since then, I have become even more discerning about what I buy. Sure, liking it and fitting into it are big factors. It used to be enough to feel good in it—now I want to feel good about it too. That’s why I follow these three personal rules for shopping:

Consider the source.
Reject fast fashion brands and support companies with ethical and sustainable business practices. Who makes the clothing? How? Where? (If that shirt is only $3, you have to know the workers who made it weren’t paid fair wages.) Look at labels and look into company practices. Find out about how your favorite brands operate and choose to support those companies that care about people and the planet, with production standards that are fair trade, sweatshop-free, and environmentally friendly.

Start with seconds.
When you buy second-hand items already in circulation — from vintage shops, thrift shops, consignment shops, yard sales, or sites like eBay and Etsy — you’re saving clothes from crowded landfills and also doing your part to minimize demand for production of newer items. Even better: Many worthy nonprofits are supported by thrift store sales. (Some of my favorites: Housing Works, Council Thrift Shops.)

Stay close to home.
When you shop locally, you support your local economy. Cutting down on travel and shipping means you’re also reducing your carbon footprint. Then there’s the feel-good factor: Buying from local shops and designers helps your neighbors and makes you feel like part of the community.

13 Tips for Staying Healthy at the Office—Physically and Mentally

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When a friend recently changed careers and started working in an office for the first time, she asked me if I had any tips on staying healthy at work. For most of my adult life, I’ve worked at a desk in an office and the experiences have taught me a lot, including ways to stay healthy—and sane. Here are several habits I’ve developed to help maintain my health in the workplace.

Get up and move.
If you’re working in an office, you’re probably planted on your butt for most of the day. Studies point to the health hazards of sitting for long periods, so it’s up to us to get up and move more.

Start with simple from-here-to-there stretches. Every time you get up to use the restroom or cross the office to attend a meeting, take the opportunity to stretch. Reach up, reach out, reach back, reach down for your toes. If you spend a lot of time typing, you will also benefit from stretches designed to help prevent carpal tunnel syndrome.

To cut down on your sitting time, consider getting a standing desk, or creating your own by elevating a laptop on a pile of books. I like to alternate between standing and sitting on a yoga ball instead of a chair—it keeps me from slouching and also feels good to bounce a little while working.

Finally, rally your coworkers into scheduling time for daily movement. At a few different offices, I’ve led or participated in five-minute movement breaks with other coworkers. We’ve done everything from standing yoga poses to basic calisthenics. Also fun, if your office isn’t too conservative: occasional dance breaks.

Look around.
Staring at your computer all day can cause eye strain. Years ago, an eye doctor advised me to get up and walk to a window every hour, to look out into the distance and give my eyes a break from staring so closely at a computer screen. When you’re not able to get up, you can still take eye breaks by looking around and adjusting your focus.

Drink up.
There are numerous benefits of staying hydrated, from keeping your mind clear to maintaining gut health. Throughout the day, drink water and other good-for-you beverages such as herbal teas. In offices that are too cool from the air conditioner, I will make a cup of green tea and continually refill it with hot water to stay warm and also hydrated. Drinking a lot also necessitates trips to the bathroom, so you’ll get up and move more.

Keep your hands clean.
I accepted looking like a crazy germaphobe at work after witnessing too many people leave the bathroom without washing their hands. Nasty, I know. And then there are the ones who wipe their runny noses with their hands when they’re sick. So go ahead, use a paper towel to open the bathroom door on the way out. If your office has a hand dryer instead of paper towels, use a square of toilet paper. Also, if you’re going to use a hand sanitizer at work, choose non-toxic ones made with essential oils. I like EO and Clean Well products.

Keep your workspace and possessions clean.
Do you bring your smartphone with you to meetings or—gasp!—the bathroom? Do you throw your bag down on the floor? Don’t. Find room on your desk or a file cabinet for your bag. If you need the phone with you for meetings, be sure to clean its surface often.

You should also make an effort to keep your desk clean of dust and germs. Instead of chemical-laden cleaning products, fill a spray bottle with equal parts distilled water and vinegar (optional: add drops of lavender or tea tree oil) to maintain clean surfaces.

Take a proper lunch break.
Don’t think lunch, think lunch break. That means eating while you’re seated at your desk doesn’t count. Step away from the desk—and no one one will get hurt. (You know the emails will be there when you get back.) Getting away from your desk for a midday break can be energizing and replenishing, which is good for you and can also benefit your work. If you’re not able to take a full hour, at least make sure you eat away from your computer.

Think twice about using the fridge.
I have yet to encounter an office refrigerator that didn’t have at least one moldy container lurking in the back. I’ll bet that lunch you packed from home can safely remain bagged and unrefrigerated for the two or three hours until lunchtime. If you choose to use the fridge, be sure to wash your hands before and after you eat. (And don’t be the one who leaves that container in the back to get moldy.)

Snack wisely.
Eat a sugary snack and you’ll inevitably face the dreaded sugar crash. Keep fresh fruit and raw nuts at your desk and you’ll keep up your energy between meals. I also like to keep a stash of dark chocolate bars on hand for an afternoon treat—and to share with grateful coworkers. (Note: while healthy snacks are best for every day, going back for a second cupcake at a birthday party isn’t going to kill you…)

Get outside the office.
If you don’t go outside for lunch, plan for a short afternoon outing. Right at that point during the afternoon when you feel your energy dip and check the time to see there are two or three more hours until you get to go home—that’s the perfect time to get up and get out. Walk around the block, look up at the sky, breathe the open air.

Breathe through the stress.
The meeting that won’t end. The co-worker complaining about how the barista messed up her latte order. The manager who asks you at 5:30 p.m. to deliver a spreadsheet before the next day’s 9 a.m. team meeting. Arrggh! When you feel yourself getting frustrated, angry, or annoyed, pull back and breathe. Easier said than done? Not when you’re calculated about it—by actually counting. When stressed, you can calm yourself by inhaling slowly to the count of ten, then exhaling at the same slow pace. Repeat as needed. Is there a quiet office or conference room you can use for five minutes? Consider taking a meditation break. (You don’t have to wait for stress to get to you, either. If you find yourself with downtime, give yourself the gift of breathing time.)

Tune it out.
Are coworkers having a lively discussion about a reality show at the cubicle to your right while a conference call is on speaker phone at the cubicle to your left? There are frequent distractions and disruptions in any office and you might find yourself unable to focus. Google “online sound machine” and you’ll find sites that offer white noise options for you to plug in your earphones and tune it out. Sounds of the ocean usually works for me.

Decorate your desk area.
It may sound insignificant, but surrounding yourself with photos, art, and amusing tchotchkes is good for your state of mind. You may be spending more waking hours in your office than in your home, so it’s in your best interest to make your workspace feel welcoming and it’s easy to do by surrounding yourself with images that give you a boost. (A photo of your last vacation will be the perfect visual for when you’re having a bad moment.) Is there a quote that moves you? Print it and tape it to your computer monitor or another place you can easily glance at for inspiration.

Give yourself a break.
We can all use time to pull back from work for a few minutes. When that time comes, visit your favorite escapist blog, check your social media accounts, read the long-form article that has nothing to do with work, watch the latest viral video, listen to music, call a friend, or play an online game. Remember: all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

A Holiday Gift Guide for Giving Better Stuff

I heard someone joke about going to the local thrift store the day after Christmas to donate the just-unwrapped and unwanted bounty of gifts. Yes, we definitely have a collective problem with too much stuff (and too much waste), which is why it’s great to give experience gifts or contributions to good causes in the recipient’s name. But sometimes the best gift really does come in a package you can hand to your loved one for opening. For gift-giving that’s more meaningful, ’tis the season to:

Give twice.

When you buy items from thrift stores or auction sites that benefit nonprofits, your dollars support their work. A few favorites even have online shops, including Housing Works. When you shop online while logged in to Amazon Smile, you can choose a nonprofit to receive a small portion of sales. Also, sites like Bidding for Good offer products and experiences that benefit a variety of organizations.  

Another way to give back is by buying from gift shops for museums and parks, in person or online. (A few favorite museum shops: MoMAThe Metropolitan Museum of ArtLACMAThe Getty.)

Stay local.

Support the independent businesses in your neighborhood by shopping local—especially at book stores and sources that sell the works of local artisans. Even better if you can shop on foot or bike, leaving the car behind.

Be a maker.

Homemade gifts, including food and personal care items, are twice as nice. Extra touches: attach a recipe for the recipient and consider a vintage glass jar, container, or tin that can be reused.

Celebrate good taste.

Put another way: give tasty edibles. Choose locally grown produce, sweet treats, and other items for out-of-the-ordinary dining experiences at home. First stop: food vendors at your local farmers’ market. A farmers’ market basket or bag with fresh and local produce and a cookbook is a perfect gift. My grandmother always said, “Food is love.”

Make it an experience gift.

Give movie, concert or theater tickets, restaurant gift certificates, or museum memberships and you’re giving the recipient an experience to enjoy. The same goes for magazine subscriptions, books, music CDs, and DVDs of movies or TV shows. Also consider giving games or a puzzle from a photo-printing service that allows you to create one with personal photos.

Go green.

One size fits all: House plants, herb gardens, and seeds or outdoor plants for loved ones with yards.

Buy better products.

It’s true about one person’s trash being another’s treasure—and when you buy from antique markets, consignment and thrift shops, eBay, Etsy, Craigslist, and other sources of second-hand items, you do your part to reduce waste to landfills. Think of it like the island of misfit toys from “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”—there are worthy, good-as-new items out there looking for a home.

Another factor to consider: the maker of the products. Give from companies with responsible business practices—organic, Fair Trade, sweatshop-free, environmentally-friendly, sustainable, etc. (Look up B Corps for more.)

2013 Green Beauty Picks

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I’ve loved makeup since my days of playing dress-up as a kid. The big difference now is that my grown-up choices are more responsible—less toxic, but just as fun. After two friends recently asked about items to buy that are better for you—green, eco, clean, less toxic—and another complimented me on my lip color, I put together some notes on my current favorites. It’s my “what’s in my makeup bag” edition for 2013—with selections by brands taking steps to make products that are safer and less damaging to you and the environment. (Find out more from the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database. Also check out The Green Beauty Team for more recommendations from colleagues.) 

FOR EVERYDAY:

RMS Beauty – Lip2Cheek

I wear Illusive on cheeks and also patted on lips. It’s a brownish pink with some plum to it that adds a hint of color when it’s dabbed on—with a bit more, you have a bold but neutral lip. 

RMS Beauty – Lip Shine

Sublime is a bright bubble gum pink that provides a light pink pop when very gently patted on lips. (I blend it with Lip2Cheek in Illusive for a plummy pink.)

Yes to Carrots – Lip Color Balms

I like that it’s moisturizing and has barely-there color without any shimmer.

RMS Beauty – Living Luminzer

Magic in a jar. This is creamy and provides a glow that really does look like it’s coming from your skin. 

Jane Iredale – PurePressed Base Mineral Foundation

For full coverage on my face, I apply this just after moisturizing. Bonus: It’s SPF 20.

RMS Beauty – Un Cover-up

When I don’t wear makeup all over, this is great to pat on sunspots, any red areas, and around the nose.

Alima Pure – Bronzer

Just a brush on the cheekbones and down the nose and you get a faux sun-kissed look.

Vapour Beauty – Illusionist Concealer

Dab it on lightly and it does wonders to conceal dark under-eye circles.

Physician’s Formula Organic Wear – FakeOut Mascara

From the only brand I’ll buy in a drug store, this mascara adds serious length and thickness to lashes.

Vapour Beauty – Mesmerize Eyeliner

It’s easy to apply, has solid staying power, and wakes up my eyes with a clear line across lids or simply dotted on at the lash line.

FOR GOING OUT AND AND GETTING GLAM:

Vapour Beauty – Aura Multi-Use Blush

Spark gives my cheeks a great where-have-you-been? pink flush.

Alima Pure – Satin Matte Eyeliner

When going for drama, I use a wet brush to apply this power eyeliner.

Alima Pure – Luminous Shimmer Eye Shadow

 I like Meringue for a dreamy light eye or Smoke for a sultry look.

Jane Iredale – 24-Karat Gold Dust

This comes out for special occasions—brushed on cheekbones and neck/cheeks/shoulders.

Primitive Natural Makeup – Lip Gloss

Creamy and shiny—and not sticky. I wear Rio alone for a soft red or apply it over red lipstick.

Primitive Natural Makeup – Lipstick

My red of choice is Belize, which has  a touch of berry and feels bold but not severe.

Lessons From My Track Coach That Still Motivate Me Every Day

When I was entering high school, my parents told me they wanted me to join a team. My father was then a coach himself and knew the experience would be valuable. I ran on the cross country, winter track, and spring track teams. Frank LaBianca coached all three of these teams at my high school, for both boys and girls. He was one of my best teachers and I learned as much about life from running on tracks and fields as I did from sitting in classrooms.

Coach studied John Wooden and Vince Lombardi and we all heard their words and were taught their lessons before knowing their names. We heard their quotes, along with others that came from writers, philosophers, and world leaders. Coach was also the print shop teacher. This is important to this story, as he taught his students by giving them assignments to print words of wisdom that were then displayed on the wall in the room our team gathered in before and after practice every day. Some were also printed on business cards Coach kept in his pockets to hand out when we needed them most.

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So here’s the thing about words of wisdom: They can be words printed on a page or they can really mean something to you. When you hear phrases or expressions or even full speeches again and again, you will remember them. When those words are tied to emotions and experiences? Boom. That gives them weight and meaning. You hear a word or a phrase and it triggers something—and you can be lifted, encouraged, inspired, and driven to pick up speed and go, go, go.

In recent years, a group of teammates began to connect on Facebook. One teammate helped establish a scholarship at our high school in Coach’s name and reached out to us for support. Then someone suggested we get together to have a lunch to honor Coach—to thank him all these years later for what he did for us. Coach’s nickname was “Labo” and a teammate asked us all to share our favorite “Labo-isms” for the event—things we remember Coach saying to inspire us again and again. Here are my favorites.

“A team is only as good as its slowest runner.”

You’ve heard “there’s no ‘I’ in team”—everyone has a part to play. In cross country, there are seven runners and only the first five score in a race; your individual point score is simply where you place in the race and the team with the lowest collective score wins. So what about the other two runners? Any one of the seven can finish in the top five. These last two runners can help keep pace and offer support to other teammates. and they can act as displacers by finishing ahead of another team’s top five runners (in a close race that comes down to a matter of points, finishing one second ahead of a runner from the other team could make all the difference). You don’t have to be the fastest—or the best—to make a difference, but you have to show up and run as hard and as fast as you can to be an integral part of the team.

“Be a champion in practice—that’s where champions are made.”

Also: “Champions are made, not born.” No doubt about it, physical ability makes a difference. But it’s not everything, and talent will only get you so far. I was never the fastest on my team and no one would have dared suggest I run the 100-meter dash. But a 5K cross country race requires more than just speed; you need endurance strength that comes from running every day, remaining committed to your training goals, and listening to your coach. It means running in the sand with your sneakers on and sprinting drills around the track, even when your muscles are burning, you feel like you can’t catch your breath, and it’s taking everything you have not to cry over that blister on the back of your heel. Those who work hard and are committed to their goals are the ones who succeed. Practice makes perfect? No, but it will make you strong.

“You don’t know how strong you really are.”

During cross country season, we used the same course as the boys’ team and they would be stationed throughout the course to cheer us on, along with Coach (yelling louder than anyone). I am certain I surged ahead at their encouragement—before our home course’s legendary “Cardiac Hill,” approaching the last long stretch before the finish line, or simply mid-way through the course when my legs were feeling heavy and I wanted the race to just be over already. But I was always surprised and amazed when I found the strength to pick up my pace or the energy to kick at the end. Endurance training gives you strength. (And encouragement from the sidelines helps you find it.)

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“To have a friend is to be a friend.”

Also: “Don’t kick a man when he’s down.” We all struggled at various times—in practices, in races, and in our lives. Coach insisted that we respect and support one another and we did. I loved being on those teams and it wasn’t because I loved running or competing (though I did). It was the experience. We were truly bonded: we practiced and competed together, cheered each other on, rode the bus together to and from meets, carb-ed up on bagels or pancakes before big races, crammed into crappy hotel rooms for overnight competitions, socialized on weekends, and went to running camp every August. Blisters, sweat, and tears? Check. We were a team. Some of us stayed in touch after high school, others drifted away, but we all still share the bond. And at the reunion lunch for Coach, we felt it.

“ ‘Tis better to have fought and lost than never to have fought at all.”

Also: “Never feel shame for trying and failing, for he who has never failed is he who has never tried.” You have to try. Really, that is all.

“What are you afraid of?”

Fear has no place on the field. “What are you afraid of?” I heard this one a lot. I believe Coach knew just when to ask me that—when my confidence was low, when I was tired, when I wondered if I might be better off spending my time doing something else. At the lunch, many of us took turns sharing stories about our experiences on the team and with Coach, and this was mine:

I remember being in the print shop, listening to Coach give me a pep talk about fear and taking chances. “What are you afraid of?” he asked. He likely repeated that question a second time, and probably tilted his head to the side and used his hand to punctuate each word like an orchestra conductor. Then I remember clearly that he pointed up to the wall, where he had posted dozens of inspirational quotes for us to read. On the far right-hand corner was a passage from Theodore Roosevelt and it was the longest of all the quotes.

“Far better is it….” he began. But then I interrupted him. I had heard this quote so many times and I jumped right in to finish it: “Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.” In that moment, I know I felt smart and a little sassy for standing up and reciting the quote word-for-word. I don’t think I realized then that he had already taught me to believe those words, which were certainly about a war or at least about life and death or something more dramatic than a track meet or a poor showing at practice. My teammates also remember that quote and I saw heads nodding when they heard me repeat it. I told Coach then that I still hear those words all these years later, how they’re often triggered when I am facing a challenge, or when I have lost focus or confidence or faith. Those words guide me.

Photo courtesy of Frank LaBianca.