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.


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.

Designing, Predicting, Collecting, Creating March 6, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — tiffanyfox @ 1:49 am
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Here’s what’s been capturing my attention lately:

  • I am a bit obsessed with meal planning and making grocery lists. These Food Mood Menus from GOOD make me wish I had better Photoshop/graphic design skills. I love the idea of pulling this out of a kitchen drawer and making a domestic chore into inspired work.
  • I bet Clifford Stoll is a little embarrassed about this Newsweek article he wrote back in 1995, disparaging the Internet as a passing fad. “The truth is,” he writes, “no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher and no computer network will change the way government works.” And to that I say: Christian Science Monitor, online learning, and Barack Obama, baby.
  • My man and I try to make it to the San Diego County Fair once every couple of years to get our fill of all things corny, tacky and deep-fried. BY FAR my favorite part of the fair is the ‘collections’ exhibit, which is tucked away in a dusty corner of the Fairgrounds. Talk about getting your strange on (I think my favorite collection of all time was last year’s assemblage of dog hair, although “Items Found at Bus Stops” was intriguing, as well). Happily, I’ve discovered I can get my collection fix any day of the year over at A Collection A Day.  (I had to wonder, though — what does this girl’s house look like with all that flotsam and jetsam hanging around? AMAZING, it turns out (proof that collections can be displayed tastefully … and need not land you on an episode of “Hoarders”).
  • Oh, how I love this necklace (pictured) from Ruche. My great-grandmothers did tatting and crocheted lace doilies, and I bet I could fashion something similar from their cast-offs, along with a little help from Denise Bonaimo’s Frankenstein Jewelry Lab. If you live in the San Diego area, check out her studio at the Spanish Village in Balboa Park. I fell in love the second I walked in.
  • Designer friends, surfer friends, architect friends, eco-minded friends, friends with just plain good ideas: 20 bucks and a little creativity could make you a hero in Southern California. Trestles needs you!