Sunday, January 31, 2016

Beer trips: Good for what ails you

Sometimes it's good to just get away. For us, that usually involves breweries of some kind. Every few months we traverse up to Wisconsin for the elusive New Glarus beers, and locally, we get a growler every now and then from Great River Brewery in Davenport, Bent River in Moline or most recently, Green Tree Brewery in LeClaire, Iowa. This weekend we opted for Great River's Dirty Blonde and Milk Stout, two of our favorites.

Last weekend, we went a bit further afield to Geneseo, to try Lionstone Brewing and Geneseo Brewing Co.

Geneseo Brewing Co. originally got started in 1814, and then got going again in 2014. In addition to a great bar atmosphere, they had good sandwiches and a long chalkboard list of beers to try. Fun fact - they will also sell you a half growler.

Beers we tried at Geneseo Brewing Co. included: To the Moon, Alice; Oatmeal Stout; Ich Bin Ein Berliner Weisse; Uncle Herbs Dunkel and Son of A Peach, which turned out to be our favorite. We even took home a growler of it, and a half growler of the To the Moon.

(The Naked Dove growler was a gift - we have yet to go there, but I love the logo!)

Lionstone Brewing opened last year and has a more extensive menu. We had meatballs in a homemade sauce served in a tiny cast-iron skillet for an appetizer, and there was plenty more to pick from.

At Lionstone, we tried: Iron Harvest Saison; the Hefeweizen; Ginger Snap and the Porter, all served in mini-tulip glasses. We opted for a growler of the Hefeweizen to take home. The Ginger Snap was good, but too high octane even for me!

We have been to breweries all over the U.S., and still have a special place in our heart for Saugatuck Brewing in Michigan. (The sheer amount of beers on nitro is amazing, particularly the Neapolitan Milk Stout. Maggie's Irish Ale on nitro - I have dreams about it.) It's amazing the growth of good local beers, though, and we'll be back to Geneseo with growlers to fill soon!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

January books

On the eve of our holiday book club dinner, I offer the Books I Read This Month. For me, reading is like taking a vacation on your couch. I can't go to sleep without reading first, and rather than turn on the TV, I'll pick up a book first. I do have a Kindle, but recently, I've been going to the library quite often. There's something about a real book in your hands that the electronic readers can't evoke.

So, here are a few of the books I read in January, and a few thoughts on each:

Casual Vacancy, by J.K. Rowling: This has been on my list for ages. I feel like when it came out there was kind of a backlash against her for writing an adult novel? Perhaps I'm imagining this? In any case, it's extremely well done. Rowling took what is essentially a boring topic - municipal change in government - and made it super interesting. All the character description that you loved in the Harry Potter books is there, in addition to the more mature details, and the character development is detailed, but not overly so.

Brooklyn, by Colm Toibin: Can't remember why I picked it up, but essentially it is about the Irish and the opportunities that attracted many to the U.S. after the war. You spend much of the book wondering what the main character, Eilis, is going to do with the various situations presented to her, and it's not always predictable. The depth of emotion of Eilis is not vast, but I think that is sometimes typical in descriptions of post-war characters - as if they didn't feel with the emotion we display today, which can hardly be the truth. Display, perhaps no, but feel, yes. Also an interesting commentary on the opportunities afforded to women at the time, which were both groundbreaking then, and yet, stifling. Bonus: I hear this is being made/has been made into a movie - must see!

Witches of America by Alex Mar: Of all the books I picked up, this was probably the most intense book. The author takes the reader on a tour of various magical religions and goes in deep to discover her own proclivities to each. Not for the faint of heart, this explores the people behind the beliefs as well as the elements of ritual and history behind each. Definitely not the usual Salem trials deal, for sure!

Her Fearful Symmetry, by Audrey Niffeneger: I really loved The Time Traveler's Wife, so I decided to read this one by Niffeneger as well. This book touches on a lot of themes, and one thing I was glad of, is that I didn't have to turn back and remember what the heck happened, which was a major deal in Time Traveler's Wife. This book tends to flow better, and the characters are both interesting, complex and inappropriate, which offers more thought-provoking conversations. I will say, I both saw and did not see the end coming.

Oracle, by Darla Antoine: I know I mentioned this in my first blog post of the year, but reading is far different than editing. Have been taking copious notes since I began reading it, and will probably continue to do so. Certainly, this is both a reference guide and narrative, depending on the section, but the information is extensive and just fun to contemplate and use. Really enjoyable read!

Whisk(e)y Distilled, by Heather Greene: It's not often I pick up a reference book, but I'm a whiskey fan, so I thought I'd give it a go. The recommendation from Anthony Bourdain may or may not have been a factor. This is an excellent primer - easy to read, interesting facts, and a great tone to the whole thing, as if Greene is sitting at the bar with you having a conversation, rather than proffering massive notes on the history of distillation. Included are thoughts from distillers around the globe, which give some insight to the amount of research Greene did. Insets with notes offer additional detail, and there is even a recommended tasting list. Winner, winner.

Happy reading! :)

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Winter balm

Now that winter has finally arrived, after months of what was apparently April, it is taking its toll. It was 5 degrees the other day, with a high of 7. (!) One year it got down to -26. I'm not sure how Minnesotans do it. Kudos, folks.

Anyway, skin takes a beating during winter, and an uncomfortable person makes for a less focused person (read: a cranky person!). Dry skin is no joke, and good products are essential to getting through the cold weather, in my opinion. I have some favorites that I've collected, although I'm always on the lookout for the Best Lip Balm In The World. I have contenders, but you be the judge....

Clockwise from the top:
Aveeno Eczema Therapy, Living Proof Leave-in conditioner,
Fresh Sugar lip treatment, E.L.F. matte lip color, NARS Velvet Matte lip pencil,
Rosebud Salve in the tube, Rosebud Salve in the tin, Ultra Repair Cream,
Love and Toast hand creme, Ultra Repair Balm,
Rosebud Salve in Mandarin tin, Spectrum Coconut oil.

So, here we go:

Smith's Rosebud Salve lip balm: No matter what I try, and I'm a bit of a lip stuff junkie, I always come back to this. This comes in a strawberry, mint, orange versions as well, but I usually end up with the rose original. Use it on your dry winter hands and cuticles also! It comes in a tin that can be a pain to open, and a tube that's way easier.

For moisturizing lipstick, honestly, I think the best is still Fresh Sugar Lip Treatment - they combine the color with a hydrating balm, making it closer to a gloss sheen. I prefer the color Petal, but they have more than 15 colors of this in various iterations. However, if blowing your wallet on a lipstick is not your jam, I don't think you can go wrong with the Revlon Color Burst lip butters - I like the colors Fig and Pink Truffle, and have gone through a couple of each.

Matte lipsticks are the thing this year, and I have to admit, I haven't tried many, as they seem extremely drying. However, I did pick up the e.l.f. Cosmetics matte lip color in Tea Rose and Praline at Target, and I was very impressed! These are about $3, and are a great dupe for the NARS Velvet Matte lip pencil, also a more moisturizing matte lip product. The Tarte LipSurgence™Matte Lip Tint is another great option because it has Vitamin E and coconut oil - this is on my list to pick up next!

Ultra Repair Cream by First Aid Beauty: When the weather turns back to its usual cold self, this will be the cure. You can use it for face or body, and it's good for sensitive skin. It comes in a 6-oz. jar for $30, which sounds like a lot. However, consider that most face lotions come in 1.5- to 1.7-oz. tubes for $14 or more, whereas this comes to $5 per ounce. Not bad! First Aid Beauty also has a skin balm, called Ultra Repair Concentrate, that will solve even the worst of the wind burns.

Another lotion I've grown to like is the Shea Moisture Argan Oil & Raw Shea body lotion. Bought it on a whim at Ulta one time, but one of the first ingredients is shea butter and it seems to do the trick. I also like to use coconut oil instead of body lotion. If using solid coconut oil with all natural grit - that melts in your hands at 76 degrees - doesn't sound like fun, you can always scrape the whole jar into a mixer, blend it up with about 20-30 drops essential oil, then pack it back into the jar. Instant, easier-to-use lotion! You can also use almond oil, another great moisturizing oil that requires no mixing or blending.

For hand cream, I've fallen for the Love & Toast Hand Creme in Sugar Grapefruit. For the price, the tube is not huge, but it works very well, and the scent is amazing. In the office, I use the scent-free Aveeno Eczema Therapy Cream. Seems like overkill, but when you're tapping the sanitizer every hour, it's a good one to have on hand. (ha!)

My hair tends to get kind of static-y and dry this time of year. I have been using the Living Proof No-Frizz Leave-in Conditioner instead of regular conditioner, and that seems to help quite a bit. However I also don't wash my hair every day to preserve natural oils. Another product they make that may well be a bit of a miracle for hair is the No-Frizz Perfect Hair Day™5-in-1 Styling Treatment. This does have alcohol in it, but it also has oils which seem to balance it out. In any case, it kills the frizz and also helps with static. When I'm going budget, I go to Pantene's Pro-V color shampoo and conditioner. Never disappoints!

So there you go - a few ideas to combat the cold. What products do you use to beat the winter weather? I'm always looking for new ideas! :)

FYI, no sponsored stuff here - these are just some of the many things I've tried and enjoyed!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

The gym and tiny meditations

A magical thing happened the last time I was at the gym. I zoned out while running, and sort of did a brain-purge of all the pesky thoughts in there. Rather than the usual battle to keep arms and legs going in a somewhat organized fashion, I just... ran. My mind chilled out on its mental highway, and I came out of it feeling decent, which is unusual at best.

Generally, I get on the treadmill, get going, struggle to stay with it and then get off, red-faced, wobbly and in a bit of pain. Each time I don't fall on the way down is pretty much a huge accomplishment. This was different.

I think - I'm pretty sure - I had what I'll call a tiny meditation.

Tiny meditation: Momentary pause of the brain cycle to allow for universal appreciation of life; Can last seconds up to even a minute; Generally unpredictable and fleeting. 

I hadn't really thought of the gym as a place for meditation before. All the signs point to "no": The mass of people, the pop music blaring over loudspeaker, the constant chatter. And yet, it's possible that I found my moment of zen in the midst of that chaos. Maybe the chaos is the white noise my brain is looking for. Maybe the mass of people signaled to my mental state that "no one will notice if you zone out just a bit, for a second here".

I get these from time to time, and it's usually at a point when I'd rather be somewhere else. I'm in line at the grocery store, or waiting for an oil change or waiting in the car at an endless red light. Sometimes I wonder if that's when these tend to show up most often, like being annoyed is some kind of signal to the Universe.

Anyway, it got me to thinking that, in a world where we sometimes think we don't have a second to relax, I think maybe we do. Those pauses are beating their wings at the edge of our consciousness, a tiny meditation waiting to land.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Happy magical 2016!

Well, it's a new year, and I told myself, "Self, you need to blog more. Let's try it." So here we are.

A good friend once wrote me a card that said, "may you always find the magic in every day," and that pretty much sums up the theme for this coming year. We can always find the magic in every day, because it's always there, somewhere. Kiddos see this all the time - adults have to remember how.

Perhaps it's tougher in a world filled with home repairs, bills and work to remind ourselves to look up from the grind, listen to our hearts and take time to observe what's around us. It doesn't seem as important to notice the sun on the snow-covered trees, the possible meaning in the song on the radio or someone holding the door for another, but it it is. These are the big small things that make up the magic of life.

Here's a couple things I use to remember...

DIVINA: A Journal for Magical Babes, Vol. 1, by Darla Antoine, is my new journal for the year. Full disclosure: I edited the companion book to this - ORACLE: Divination for Magical Babes - for the author and my friend, Darla, which was a fantastic experience and opportunity. The entire time I was editing, I was itching to reach for a pen and start the exercises in this book. She's redefining the idea of dreams and spiritual ideas, and you'll want to get in on discovering your dream magic ASAP.

ORACLE contains a plethora of info on divination, dreams, spiritual guides and rituals. DIVINA, Vol. 1, is the journal you'll use from January to June, to jot down your dreams from last night, plus your intentions, and the magic that happened that day. Plus, she has a ton of articles on her site. Pretty cool!

I discovered Erin Condren planners last year, and I love the message that they convey. I just got mine in the mail for this year. These planners have removable covers and day placeholders, and are just all about the positive - quotes like, "If I can dream it, I can become it" and "Say yes to new adventures!". There's room for the daily to-dos, but also for notes on each day and week. You can also personalize the covers with a quote or photo. They also - bonus - come in the prettiest boxes, wrapped in tissue. Love it.

Zenned Out jewelry: Bought some of the silver cuff bracelets this past year - they are solid, adjustable and hold up very well, even to puppy teeth. (Somebody was hungry.) They also have inspirational reminders on the inside like "Trust the Universe" and "Breathe".

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert: Wow. An honest look at the creative process - from inspiration and theories on how we get ideas - to implementation. Because sometimes you just need to get shit done and fear is a roadblock we don't need. This is a great message for the new year - got ideas? Get going!

Furiously Happy by The Bloggess, Jenny Lawson: A great reminder to find the humor in everyday life, even when the tunnel gets very, very dark. Hilarious, honest and includes taxidermy. What's not to like? is also home to the annual James Garfield holiday miracle. Awesome.

So there you go - some items for the magical tool box. :) More later!