A blessing and a curse

Keep feeling fascination … and you end up with a blog.

What Goes on Between the Sheets July 31, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — tiffanyfox @ 6:01 am
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We like to do it at night, behind closed doors, with the lights out. But when it comes down to it, anywhere will do — on the train, at school, the movie theater. It’s something we don’t discuss unless we’re not getting enough, and then it’s all we can think about. Some consider it sinful, but I say it’s a biological need, and when there’s no one around to do it with, I do it all alone.

I’m talking about sleep, and in our house it’s become an extremely popular (if increasingly uncommon) activity. There’s the small matter of the newborn baby who has taken up residence in our bedroom — a sweet, precious newborn baby who typically sleeps like an angel,  but has a sixth sense about the nights when we really need eight hours, those nights before a big project or an early morning meeting or a long drive across a barren desert while being forced to listen to  recorded lectures about Keynesian economics. On those nights it’s Bam! wakey wakey, wet diaper, need a bottle, need a cuddle, need to whimper, need to babble, need to assert my supremacy as Omnipotent Ruler of  Everything You Once Held to Be Sacred.

And then there’s the matter of my husband, who has no trouble sleeping. No trouble at all, not even when he happens to be precariously gripping a glass of red wine over a plush white carpet, or when he’s, say, driving 80 mph on an unfamiliar freeway. You see, my husband’s narcoleptic — no, not River-Phoenix-in-My-Own-Private-Idaho-narcoleptic where he collapses to the ground in a snoring heap with absolutely no warning. More like, “Wow, I’m really sleepy all of a sudden, now what is it you were say-zzzzzzzzzzzz.” In other words, he feels it coming on, I see it coming on, he rubs his eyes, and I either take the wine glass away or tell him to pull off the next freeway exit (situations which, I assure you, are mutually exclusive).

And finally, there’s me. Aside from being occasionally jolted awake by a tiny creature clamoring to suckle at my breast, and aside from the fact that I do more than my fair share of late-night drives home from wherever it is my husband has spilled wine on the carpet, I try to get a decent amount of sleep. Usually 7-8 hours, give or take a midnight bottle-feeding or two. And that’s because if I do not get 7-8 hours of sleep, I am rendered incapable of properly dressing myself, doing even basic mathematical calculations or speaking the English language in a way that is understandable to others. Plus, I’m not very nice. I’m just one of those people who needs to sleep like other people need to horde cats. I can’t help myself.

There are, of course, those nights when sleep is not mine to be had. There are the aforementioned raging parties the baby decides to throw at 3 a.m., or the times when I get stuck in what my friend Chad calls “the loop” — where I think about thinking about thinking all night long until I swear the sun won’t come up at all, that the End Times have finally come and wouldn’t you know that I didn’t even get a good night’s sleep on the last day of my existence. It’s those nights when I think sleep is overrated, when I wish I could multi-task while my brain clears its cache or whatever it is that happens while I’m unconscious and drooling.  Think about how much I could get done with another eight hours! There are plenty of other things I can do while laying prone with my eyes closed! Entire civilizations have been built that way!

OK, maybe not entire civilizations (unless you count the M.C. Escher-like cliffside village that I am forced to wander in my recurring dream about the aliens who invade Cinque Terre and hijack my undersea research vessel). But I’d be happy getting by on six hours. That’s two more hours I’d have for, well, writing this blog. And, well … my other biological needs.


How self-tanner made me a better person June 25, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — tiffanyfox @ 1:09 am
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I always knew that becoming a mother would create a sea change in my life, but until I actually took the plunge, I tended to think of it in rather grandiose terms. “Having a child will make me more aware, more compassionate, a better person.” And right about then my eyes would get misty and I would start having hallucinations about cherubim and golden light.

Of course, the ‘how?’ behind it all always seemed vague and abstract. How could a toothless, incontinent being that cannot speak or even gesture meaningfully make me a ‘better person?’ How will changing diapers and making bottles make me more aware and compassionate?

Slowly, ever so slowly, I’ve come to understand how it all works. It is precisely the practicalities of raising a child — all the daily decisions we make in keeping the little beastie happy and healthy — that begin to change us over time, and hopefully, for the better.

Take the issue of my baby’s eczema. Before he was born, I didn’t spend a hot minute thinking about the cosmetics I used, what they contained or how they might affect my body or all my little feathered and froggy friends living downstream. All I cared about was finding a lip gloss that didn’t melt off my face, finding a perfume that lingered longer than five seconds, and finding a self-tanner that wouldn’t make me look like a poltergeist with a bad case of jaundice.

Parabens? Never heard of ’em. Phthalates? Gesundheit. SLS? WTF? I might have had a low-level awareness of the fact that slathering something I couldn’t pronounce all over my body might not be such a great idea, but I wanted a tan, and I wanted it NOW.

And then came baby and baby’s sensitive skin. At about 3 months of age, H. broke out with an itchy rash that made him miserable and drove me batty. Diagnosing it as eczema was easy enough (thanks to my degree from the University of Google) but pinpointing exactly what was causing it was like trying to pick up a stuffed animal with a toy crane. Just when I thought I had it (formula! cat fur! peanuts in my breastmilk!) the latest theory would slip from my grasp and my spirits would sink. Since the eczema came on intermittently it probably wasn’t caused by H.’s daily allotment of formula, and my pediatrician told me that infants don’t develop allergies to cats until later in life (and infants with cats in the household are actually less likely to develop allergies). A food diary helped rule out peanuts in my breastmilk. There was only one culprit left: Skincare products. A little research convinced me that all those sulfates and phthalates and whatnot couldn’t be good for a developing immune system. Was my sweet babyface rebelling against those cute pink bottles of Johnsons & Johnsons?

I don’t have the scientific background or lab space to carry out true research and rule out correlation or causation, but I will tell you that when I switched to allergen-free California Baby products (which are so pure, say the product labels, that you need not worry if your baby literally eats them), H.’s skin went from looking less like the rear end of a baboon to more like the rear end of, well, a baby. This development created a firestorm of cupboard-opening and cosmetic-tossing chez moi. Anything with ingredients I couldn’t pronounce was gone. Anything with artificial fragrance or preservatives was gone. Parabens, phthalates, SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate)? Gone, gone, gone.

And because baby often has skin-to-skin contact with mama, that includes my own cosmetics, even my beloved self-tanner. I won’t say I’ve managed  a complete purge yet — I can’t bear to part with my Ellnett hairspray, for example (so sue me! It’s comb-through!) — but every purchase I now make is preceded by a visit to the Skin Deep Web site to find out what nastiness it might contain.

And that means Yes to Tomatoes and Boots products for my facial skin care and make-up, Alba for my haircare and a local, San Diego-based all-natural skincare boutique for my scented fragrance (which, on these summer days, is green tea and lemongrass). I even managed to find an all-natural self-tanner that gives me a golden glow, doesn’t streak and smells like oranges and oatmeal cookies. I’m considering making the baking soda switch for my toothpaste and deodorant, but I’m not sure I’m ready to go that hard-core hippie yet. We’ll see.

One thing is clear, though: I’m more aware. And more compassionate. And does that make me a better person? Well, I smell like lemongrass, oranges, green tea and oatmeal cookies now, so you tell me.

  • Ooo, and in my downtime I can smell like papaya, yogurt and honey (which are the only three ingredients you need to make this face mask).
  • Watch out Ellnet … you might have competition. The secret ingredient? Vodka. Yes. Vodka hairspray.
  • Read about Not Martha’s extensive adventures in lip balm — and then make your own.
  • Pioneerthinking has TONS of great recipes and ideas for natural cosmetics, none of which require you to skin a moose or wear a petticoat, I promise.
  • You know you want to make your own scented grapeseed body oil. Heck, I even love saying “scented grapeseed body oil.”

And for more tried-and-true wholesome goodness:

Oatmeal Lavender Face Scrub

1 cup ground oatmeal
1/2 cup dry lavender flowers, stripped of stalks
1/2 cup powdered milk (either whole or nonfat)
2 tsp. cornmeal

Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl, massage into damp skin, and rinse with warm water. (Scrub will keep for six months.)

Pineapple Face Scrub

2/3 cup fresh pineapple chunks (room temperature)
1/4 cup cold-pressed olive oil
1/4 cup parsley, chopped

Pulse pineapple in a blender, then add oil until almost smooth. Add parsley, and blend carefully so mask doesn’t liquefy. Apply to skin and leave on for 15 minutes.

Spicy Sugar Body Scrub

3/4 cup sugar
2 tsp. ground cloves
1 Tbsp. dried rose petals
2 tsp. grated orange zest
1 1/2 cups sesame oil

Combine ingredients in a large bowl, making sure that everything is well mixed. Use on damp skin twice a week, scrubbing with your hands or a washcloth in small, circular motions. The mix will last up to six months when stored in a cool, dark cupboard.

Coffee Body Scrub

1/2 cup used coffee grounds
1/2 cup honey
1 Tbsp. fresh orange zest

Mix ingredients together in a container and rub mixture into skin with your hands or a washcloth, using upward strokes, for one to three minutes. Apply up to three times a week.


All yoga, all the time June 20, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — tiffanyfox @ 4:39 am
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I like to think of the “om” symbol as the tattoo that got away. I’m inkless and don’t mind being so (giving birth was enough pain for me, thank you very much), but if I were to get a tattoo it would be the mighty aum — that illustrious symbol of  the one pursuit I keep coming back to, that steadfast friend that welcomes me to the mat when I am ready and able,  or waits with a patient heart while I flail around in confusion, gather my wits about me, and return anew.

There aren’t many other things in my life that can lay the same claim. Sure, I’ve loved french fries since the moment I first laid eyes on one, but I’m not about to get a tattoo of a crinkle-cut Ore Ida. And now even the aum tattoo has become a little too trendy and ubiquitous for my taste (but then again, when you think about it, that’s pretty much the point of a symbol that represents the entire universe).

I started practicing yoga in 1995 at the ripe old age of 19 when my hippie university dance teacher taught the class a vinyasa sequence as part of our daily warm up. I didn’t even know I was doing yoga at the time, but I still remember the unique series of postures, which started with vrksasana (tree) and moved in a graceful symphony through Virabhadrasana (Warrior)  I, II and III. I used to practice the same sequence in the blistering heat of my sandy compound in Cameroon while a Peace Corps volunteer, and to this day I believe it single-handedly kept me fit, thin and sane (even if the local villagers took me for a complete lunatic).

My practice gained intensity when I joined the Yoga Teacher Training Program at UC San Diego, which led to a few gigs substituting for teachers in my hometown of Encinitas, Calif. — a world mecca for yoga practice with a studio on just about every block. One particularly memorable class I taught took place during high tide at Swami’s beach (at the base of Yogananda’s Self-Realization Fellowship) and ended with the entire class backed up against the cliff during savasana, the sand flies messing with our meditation and the waves threatening to overtake us all.

My practice lurched off its tracks in dramatic fashion when I experienced three miscarriages in the span of one year. I had been taking rigorous ashtanga-based classes up to four times a week, and even though I knew it was completely irrational and contrary to all scientific evidence, I became convinced that yoga had killed my babies. So I stopped. And then I got pregnant again. And in my second trimester, after I had seen the baby’s heart miraculously beating and his lungs miraculously inflating on an ultrasound, I took my own heart and lungs back to the mat and once again, stayed fit, (relatively) thin and sane throughout my full-term pregnancy. Savasana became far less relaxing with a human being kicking at me from inside the womb, but it was during those nine months that I finally began to understand love, and God, and the true meaning of aum.

Now, four months after the birth of my baby, I can only manage to practice in fits and starts (take your pick of about a dozen different excuses — I’ve got them all covered). My yoga of late has primarily been the practice of focusing my attention on my child, experiencing the present moment in the splash of bath water, an unexpected giggle, the sigh of my sleeping babe. But  I will begin a twice weekly class again at the end of June, and  I plan to finish the last requirements for my teaching certificate next spring. I’m not sure if teaching is truly my passion, but I like to finish what I start, even if I stop once, twice, three times over. As long as my feet make their way back to tadasana at some point, as long as my hands come together in anjali mudra … well,  the stuff in between is yoga, too.

And now, in honor of my renewed vows, a little renewed focus and study:

  • New to meditation? Need a refresher? Try a short guided meditation from Mohonk Mountain House and then check out some more substantial tips from Deepak Chopra. For even more in-depth study, visit How to Meditate.
  • Once you’ve achieved stillness, bring some movement into your meditation. A Slow Hands practice is a great way to tune into prana, and a walking meditation can sync the breath with each step, making your next walk to the bus stop a transcendent experience.
  • Most yoga classes touch on meditation and pranayama (breath work) at least briefly, usually in the form of savasana. But pratyahara, or sense withdrawal — the fifth limb of Patanjali’s eightfold path —  is a less common though equally important element of the complete yoga practice, especially in these over-caffeinated times. Yoga Journal has a good introduction to the practice of pratyhara, with an exercise to get you started.
  • What’s the opposite of pratyahara? A little quality time with Call of the Valley and this yantra spike mat.
  • For some more iPod inspiration, download this fascinatng NPR story about Pierre Bernard, “the Omnipotent Oom, Loving Guru of the Tantriks,” who helped introduce yoga to America.
  • This frame-worthy yoga poster (pictured at right) is yours for the taking, provided you have enlargement capabilities and the appropriate printer. And who knows … it might even make for a very lovely tattoo.

If I could eat the Internet May 27, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — tiffanyfox @ 5:40 am
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There will be no hum-drum barbecue on the beach for us this Memorial Day, no way, no how. It’s a long weekend in Puerto Rico, Israel and China for this family — or at least some noshing at their wee little outposts in San Diego’s Balboa Park. The House of Pacific Relations International Cottages’ Ethnic Food Fair takes place Sunday, and I’ll be first in line for the plaintains, potato pancakes and pu-pu platter. OK, more like lo mein noodles in a cardboard cup, but still … it sure beats paying top dollar for the last half-melted popsicle from the ice cream truck.

What’s that?  You would like several more links pertaining to food-related topics? Well, it just so happens that I’m a giver:

  • India has its own take on the ethnic food fair, only its version takes place in Delhi every single day … and, well, the whole ‘international’ aspect is sort of lost on them. But I, for one, wholeheartedly support any offerings of exclusively Indian food, especially if it involves all the chapatti I can eat.
  • I would bathe in cilantro if I could, but to some people,  it quite literally tastes like soap. And for these people I am sorry. Truly, truly sorry. You have no idea what you’re missing. (Really? Salsa without cilantro?) But take heart: It’s not your fault.
  • I’m not sure I agree with the premise behind this article about how the Web is changing the way we eat. But I will admit that flaming a bad dining experience via Yelp takes some of the sting out of yeasty wine and the horror known as “avocado on pizza” (do you hear me, Borrelli’s?)
  • Bacon. Fruit. Cups. I don’t think there’s really anything else to say.
  • Would you ever eat six Krispy Kreme donuts in one sitting? Of course you wouldn’t. Then why are you drinking Rock Star energy drink?
  • Entirely unbeknownst to them, author Michael Pollan (“The Omnivore’s Dilemma”) and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain have been battling it out for pole position as my foodie boyfriend (Michael’s got the brains, and Anthony has this). Sorry Mike, but Tony just pulled ahead in the rankings after Salon.com revealed your somewhat chauvanistic views about women in the kitchen (or out of it, anyway), and how they’ve ruined everything. Stick to farm bills, Pollan. They’re far sexier.
  • Even it comes in a cute little eensy weensy bottle and fits perfectly in the seat pocket in front of you, it’s still booze, and it will still give you jet lag. Skip the stuff, eat low-cal meals the week prior to your flight and the only time difference you’ll be noticing is how long it takes for an Irish toilet to flush (really.. they take an inordinately long time. Like, eons. And yes, this is the sort of thing I notice while on vacation).
  • This is how recipes should look.
  • Millions of people around the world have no choice but to live on a dollar a day. One couple from Encinitas, Calif. (represent!) decided to do so of their own volition (and wrote a book about it). Find out what they ate, and how food costs are related to the zombie apocalypse.


Bunsen-burning love May 16, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — tiffanyfox @ 12:32 am
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I like to consider my marriage a scientific experiment, complete with an oft-revised hypothesis (“If we have more sex, he will do whatever I say”) and a complex set of variables that include, but are not limited to:  Money,  kids, household chores, the mysteriously rage-inducing question of married couple in a tiny carwho will decide what we’re having for dinner.

As a matrimonial empiricist, I’m always eager to read any longitudinal study, personal essay or Jehovah’s Witness pamphlet that claims to offer the secret to a happy marriage, and lately there seem to be a lot of people writing on the subject. Of particular interest to my inner science geek was  Salon.com’s interview with NYT blogger Tara Parker-Pope, author of, “For Better: The Science of  a Good Marriage” (the title alone makes my heart go pitter patter).

Parker-Pope goes so far as to introduce actual mathematics into her equation for love, recommending that couples have at least five small positive interactions (smiling, touching, offering to don a HazMat suit to change baby’s diaper) for every negative one (and we all know what those are). Her admonition to be nice during fights might not be rocket science, but interestingly, she suggests that couples who must cope with snoring are more apt to divorce.

Also, I like her argument for why monogamy is not too much to ask of the human species:  “It’s true that monogamy and sexual fidelity are not common in nature, but it certainly does occur. There is no other area of human behavior in which we defer entirely to biology — if we did that, every woman would have 10 kids.”

As for my own marriage, I’ve kept a running list of experience-based outcomes, witticisms and advice that I hope to share with my children when their time comes to get hitched. But in the meantime, here’s a taste.  Lab coats on? Notebooks at the ready? Proceed:

  • “Always and never are two words you should always remember never to use.” — Wendell Johnson
  • Before saying anything to your spouse, ask yourself: Is this true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?
  • Don’t make assumptions … have the courage to ask questions instead.
  • For your wedding day (or for your anniversary), buy a new perfume or cologne that you adore. Post-nuptials, wear the same fragrance every once in a while to remind yourself of why you married the person you did.
  • Lead the least secretive life you can lead.
  • Never do anything that would embarrass you if anyone knew about it. Full stop.
  • When in doubt, take the high road.

Travel notes, straight from the armchair May 1, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — tiffanyfox @ 3:04 am
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With baby’s birthday falling the day before mine, I have grand visions of the two of us planning elaborate trips abroad to celebrate our special day.  A mid-January summer in Australia might be nice, or baby’s first snowfall in Eastern Europe.  Until then, it’s nothing but grand reveries for the two of us … and a few links to quench our wanderlust.

  • I am a stickler for packing light — a single carry-on and a messenger bag were all I brought on my honeymoon in Italy, and I assembled no fewer than 25 outfits from their contents. Yes, I’m awfully proud. These GoToobs from HumanGear are calling my name — the suction cup is brilliant, and they’re shaped for an easy fit in your TSA-approved ziploc bag. Plus, I like that they’re transparent and *also* available in a variety of colors for easy grab and go.
  • I might not be able to afford a stay in a posh New York hotel, but I can afford $39.99 for Taschen’s New York.
  • Feast on an authentic Italian meal in the home of an authentic Italian family? Yes, please.
  • National Geographic’s Intelligent Traveler blog has some consistently inspiring stuff about “the essence of place.”
  • Mighty Girl’s master packing list is very similar to my own … and I highly suggest saving one’s list as a document that can be updated and modified to reflect upcoming travels. Keep a copy in your suitcase to make it easy come check-out time … no more forgetting your eye mask in the nightstand drawer.
  • Steve McCurry, the man behind National Geographic’s most famous cover, has a blog with consistently beautiful travel photographs. I caught an exhibition of his at the San Diego Museum of Photographic Arts (where saw the photograph at right) and fell in love with his penchant for capturing color, emotion and story with the flick of  his index finger. It doesn’t hurt that I happen to agree with his empathetic worldview. There’s something to be said for getting out and interacting with the rest of the world — it changes a person the way nothing else can.

Tarjay, je t’aime March 7, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — tiffanyfox @ 4:00 am
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March is a big month at Target — Jean Paul Gautier’s collection debuts tomorrow (March 7) and Liberty of London debuts March 14. I’m most excited about Gaultier’s yellow halter dress, the striped bustier (is it seersucker?) and the canvas trench (I could do without the faux tattoo garments, that’s for sure). Here’s another look at the Gaultier designs.

As for Liberty of London, I’m not big on florals, but I am loving this print. Looks like the debut will include a pretty spring frock in that gorgeous peacock-inspired design.

Thank you, thank you Target — my broke ass would be naked if it wasn’t for you.