Friday, December 27, 2013

What would humans eat in a zoo?

Photo Credit: Humphrey King via Compfight cc

There’s been a lot of debate recently—well, in the past 50 years—about what human beings should and should not be eating. As a recent article by Dr. David Katz points out, we know what to feed animals in zoos. Why do we have such a difficult time feeding ourselves? Most advice rests on continuing to eat the food groups available to us, but just in moderation. That clearly isn’t working for a lot of us. So what’s missing?

The newest in a long line of diet guidelines is the Paleo Diet, which asks us to imagine ourselves as cavemen and eat only what a caveman would have been able to find. As far as guidelines go, that’s pretty good. It’s not far off from “If your great-grandma wouldn’t recognize it, don’t eat it.” At its most basic, it’s eating what you can find naturally. That’s pretty broad, and can be interpreted a lot of ways. And in some ways, that’s great-- it can be applied to many different ethics, cultures and value sets fairly easily. In practice, it’s usually not hard to answer whether we would have been able to eat it. Doritos? Not natural. Eggs and spinach? Easily foraged, that’s a go. Whole wheat bread? We would have had to invent agriculture for that, so also a no.

There are some inherent problems with this way of thinking. It’s broadness can lead to some huge swings in interpretation. If you want to take it beyond just a guideline, and make it something to seriously live by, i.e. an actual set of rules, it’s helpful to know what we actually would have eaten as cavemen. Anthropologically speaking, not just in the land of imagination.

Let’s start by looking at our closest living ancestors, the bonobos. They’re a ground-dwelling primate similar to chimps, but their social structures operate more like ours. They’re omnivorous, mostly eating fruit they can pick off trees and bushes, but also forage and eat leaves, and sometimes smaller animals like squirrels, rodents and bugs. What about chimpanzees? They’re a bit more aggressive as a species and have been known to hunt, so they have a more evenly omnivorous diet than bonobos, but eat roughly the same things.

Applying this behavior to humans, one can infer that the human diet would consist of foraged foods, small animals and insects. We probably ate more fruits in the summer, fattening ourselves up, and then ate calorically and nutritionally dense animals in the winter. Though it’s probably safe to say that the difference between summer and winter wasn’t jungle hot versus ice age wooly mammoth cold, so don’t go crazy. 
Depending on the region of the world your ancestors lived in, the proportions of the diet probably varied a lot. If you’re looking at a more nomadic “caveman”, it was probably a lot more meat from following the herd. If you’re looking at humans that lived in coastal or tropical areas, it was probably a lot of fish, shellfish and sweet fruits.

They probably ate slower, too. Try sitting down with a bowl of shelled walnuts and eating a handful versus cracking them open and eating them one by one. You get full after about 5 when you’re shelling them, but with them already shelled it’s easy to stick a couple handfuls in your face. Imagine finding your berries and picking them off the bush one at a time.

Seems easy enough. But there’s another logistical issue with this diet: Since the advent of agriculture, we’ve bred and chosen the fruits and vegetables we like to eat to make them the biggest and tastiest. I’m not even just referring to GMOs and factory farming. The modern yellow banana with its super sweet soft flesh is nigh unrecognizable when compared with its starchy ancestor. Even tomatoes, formerly small, lumpy, purplish bulbs, look alien versus their rotund, spherical and perfectly red modern counterparts. The guideline of “if your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize it, don’t eat it” probably wouldn’t realistically apply to nearly any of our produce available today. Comparing ancient bananas to current bananas is more like comparing an arctic wolf to a chihuahua. If we want to eat like cavemen did, the supermarket selection is already completely beyond the pale. So rather than just eat any fruit or vegetable we can find today, we’ll have to be more selective to balance out nutrition for breeding.

And then, of course, there’s exercise. The good news is that primates enjoy a lot of meandering with short bursts of strenuous activity, and lots of naps. So the good news is, running 3 hours a day probably isn’t ideal to mimicking how our ancestors moved. And getting tired in the afternoon? Totally normal. The problem is, even that amount of activity is more than what most people do, and lucky is the person who has the luxury of afternoon naps.

So how do we realistically apply these points to the lives we’ve manufactured for ourselves?

For starters, we need to eat a lot more plants. Unfortunately, we’ve bred most of our fruit to basically be candy, so a lot of that is out. Citrus fruits and berries are still pretty close to what they originally were, so they’re good. Super sweet fruits like bananas, mangoes, grapes…. Not so much. Still better for you than cake, but they’ll probably make you put on a bit of weight. That leaves vegetables. White potatoes are also overbred, so pick the ones that are more nutritious, like white sweet potatoes and yams. Dark green leaves are fantastic, as are squashes and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and Brussels sprouts. If you have the luxury of growing or foraging organic nettles and dandelion greens, more power to you. Radishes, celery, carrots, mushrooms, bok choy…. There’s really quite a selection to choose from. The agricultural phenomena we’ve created would, however, be out: soy, corn, grain, potatoes.

What about protein? My guess is that most of you aren’t on board with eating bugs, though I would highly recommend them. Most wild animals are pretty lean meat, with less than 10% body fat. Lean cuts of any meat will probably count, but grass fed is best as that’s the herd animal’s natural diet. The nutrition the animal eats is the nutrition you eat in turn. Fish is also a good source, as are eggs from free range chickens that are allowed to peck and forage. There’s evidence that cavemen got a lot of nutrition from organ meat, such as stomach, liver and brain. I’m going to venture that’s out of the picture for a lot of you too, but again, very nutritious if you’re a meat eater. Interestingly, as the contents of the stomachs of animals would sometimes carry fermented dairy (calves) or fermented fruit (small monkeys and rodents), yogurt, soft cheese and wine could occasionally be on the list. If you’re getting technical, of course.

Cooking? Eating raw, steaming and roasting with limited oil are ideal. Remember we didn’t have oil until the advent of agriculture, and animals were pretty lean in the body fat arena. If you need to use oil, use the ones that can withstand the heat and didn’t have to go through a lot of processing to be created. Coconut oil, butter and animal fat. Olive oil and avocado for cold dressings.

There are trimmings to the tree that we could add that are still super nutritious, and some that are superfluous but make life that much more interesting. Cocoa, coffee, spices, herbal teas, flax oil and flax seeds, powdered spirulina and wheatgrass, gelatin, are all full of antioxidants and a great way to boost the nutritional value of your food. Nutrition, unfortunately, is also lost with modern agriculture. Supplementing with some whole foods additives like those listed is sometimes necessary, but also enjoyable.
And what about sweets? We may have had occasional access to honey. Wine is not entirely unimaginable. But these are more occasional treats than regulars. For sweeteners, it’s probably best to stick to eating straight fruit, stevia or sugar alcohols that won’t spike your insulin.

And of course, exercise. You can’t really leave your desk to roll in the grass, but there are things you can do to counter sitting all day. If you have a job that requires movement and manual labor, you’re already ahead of the game. You could maybe do yoga or 20 to 30 minutes of strength training 3 to 5 times a week to feel at your best. For those of us tethered to a computer, or sitting on our couch at length at the end of the day, start incorporating long walks into your daily activity. Play outside with your kids. Go for short high-speed runs (HIIT and interval training are great primers for this). Walk or bike to work. Convert your desk to a standing desk. Go for walking meetings. Move around the office to chat with your coworkers instead of sending an email, stand to make phone calls. Just move around more in general. And the naps? If you have the luxury, take a 15 minute nap on your lunch break or in the afternoon instead of that third cup of coffee.

Vegetables and leaves, citrus fruits and berries, a few nuts and seeds, limited oil, lean meats, eggs and fish. Bugs and organs if you’re game. Possibly yogurt, cheese and wine on occasion. That’s what we’d eat in a zoo. Abundant, yet at the same time austere. No worries about calorie counting or logging long runs. All in all, as a diet it’s pretty forgiving. The amounts of protein and vegetables are probably a bit variable, but I would err on the side of far more veggies than protein. Eat slowly and mindfully. Move around more. Allow time for short siestas. And above all, keep it clean. :)

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Getting Rid of Fleas Naturally

We all love our furry friends here at Azuma. Part of having a pet is basic pet care, and sometimes that includes dealing with pests like fleas. Fortunately there's a way to rid your home of pests, with your vacuum and your washer and dryer as the key weapons in your arsenal! Here's how to do it.

Clean Your Pet
At the first sight of fleas on your pet, give him a good bath. You don't necessarily have to use a flea shampoo, and for cats you definitely shouldn't use pesticides. Normal dish soap is enough to kill the fleas. Peppermint or citrus scented soaps are especially irritating to bugs if you choose to use them. Start by wetting the neck down and your pet's backside. These are the first places fleas move to when they sense water. Massage in the soap deeply in these areas before lathering up the rest of your pet. Use your fingers or a flea comb to make sure the water penetrates all the way to the skin. Fleas cling to the skin and not to the hair, and can survive in air pockets in your pet's fur. Soap up the rest of your pet and let sit for 2 to 5 minutes. Rinse thoroughly and towel dry.

Wash All Fabric
Especially blankets, pillows or beds your pet lays in. Wash on the highest heat setting you can and dry on the highest heat that's safe for the fabric. If it's a pillow or bed that can't be thrown in the wash, put it in the dryer for at least 30 minutes to kill any eggs or fleas. You can also put some peppermint oil on an old sock or handkerchief and throw it in the dryer. The oil will evaporate and irritate any adult bugs.

Vacuuming is your greatest weapon next to washing! Vacuum all upholstery and floors, taking care to get in corners and dark places. Flea eggs are about the size of a grain of sand and difficult to notice unless on a dark surface. Once eggs hatch, larva emerge, feed on any dead skin or flea poop on the ground and then spin a cocoon before becoming an adult. Usually only 10% of your flea population will be on your pet. The rest are laying in wait in your couches and carpet. So vacuum thoroughly and vacuum often. This will get 95% of the fleas on the ground. Throw away the contents of the vacuum and take the garbage bag outside after vacuuming.

Diatomaceous Earth (DE)
DE is finely ground silicates found naturally in the earth. Farmers add it to rice and other grain to keep it dry and fresh and keep bugs out. You can use it to keep the bugs out of your home, too! DE is too finely ground for it to be harmful to us, but for a bug it scratches up their shell and dries them out until they die. Use a bulb duster or just sprinkle it around your home by hand. You can put it in your carpets, but it's best used in those hard to reach places like underneath couch cushions, in cracks and along baseboards where bugs like to hide. You can even rub it into your pet's fur to kill off any bugs that are  still on him. DE is totally safe and even edible. Just be sure to wash it off your pet after no more than 8 to 12 hours (it dries out your skin!) and purchase ONLY the food grade kind of DE. If you plan on leaving it in cracks and carpets, it's best to allow 24 to 48 hours for it to kill off the bugs.

The most important step: you must do all these things listed and do them often! The flea life cycle spans about 10 to 18 days. So once you find fleas in your home, you must be diligent about cleanliness for at least two weeks. Vacuum daily or every other day, wash bedding 3 to 5 times per week and regularly clean your pet, ideally picking fleas off with a flea comb every day. Remain patient and diligent and eventually all the fleas will be gone.

Until next time, keep it clean!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Post-Labor Day Lifehacking

So you just went on a 3-day bender, whether that means entertaining relatives and friends non-stop, or if you just cracked open a beer on Friday night and planted yourself in one spot until Tuesday morning started peeking through the clouds. Either way, it's tough coming back to work and keeping it all together after a long weekend. Here are a few quick ways to tackle the week and look great doing it.


Breakfast for the Week
Use the last $2 you found in the couch to buy a dozen eggs. Put them all in a pot, cover with water, and set on the stove to boil. Once the water boils turn off the pot and let the water cool while you ponder your life choices. Put the eggs in a bowl and stick it in the fridge for easy access. Voila!
BONUS: Tap the top and bottom of the egg on a table and pick off a small section of shell. Seal your mouth around one end and blow as hard as you can. The shell will pop right off, no peeling necessary.

Keep your hair looking great
Slept too late to shower? The hair closest to your face is what gets the greasiest. While you're washing your face, wash your bangs or just the section of your hair immediately surrounding your face with the same soap and water. Comb out and blow dry for a 5-minute fix.
BONUS: Lucky enough to have long hair? Grab the unused chopsticks from your chinese takeout to make an updo. Pull your hair into a ponytail, and hold the stick on either side of the tail, pointy ends sticking up. Wrap the ponytail around the sticks until it's like a bun. Then flip the sticks over and press the pointy ends down through the middle of your ponytail to hold in place.

Stay alert
Having trouble staying awake? Now is a great time to try out a standing desk. There are lots of quick fixes to change the height of your desk. Put your computer on a bookshelf, put an end table on top of your regular desk or raise the height of your computer with the old stack of Windows for Dummies manuals gathering dust in the corner. Constantly moving and shifting your weight while you stand will keep you alert.
BONUS: Walk over to your coworker's desk instead of sending an email when you have a question. If you have a meeting, propose a walking meeting where you walk outside or even down the hall while you discuss the topic of the day.

Hopefully all these tips will keep you on your A-Game while you power through the rest of the week. Until next time, keep it clean!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Reconnecting to the Present Moment

I wasn't really on board with Smartphones when they first came out several years ago. It seemed like way more computing power than I would ever need, some kind of gimmick to get me to spend more money on devices and data plans. When I received an iPhone as a Christmas gift, I reluctantly accepted and began switching over. Crumpled lists, pens, cameras, notebooks, receipts and folders slowly disappeared from my life. Everything was perfectly organized, categorized and saved to databases. I hacked my phone and adjusted apps and coding to be able to use a more affordable plan on a different network. I fiddled with the satellite tracking system to find friends, places to go and let people know where I was. I keep my grocery list, my daily reminders, and my workout plans in one place. I get news alerts when important world events are happening. I play Sudoku when I'm waiting in line or for a friend. It checks me in at the airport and gets me to a place I recognize when I'm lost.

Last night, I made the unfortunate mistake of submerging my phone in water. It slid right out of my pocket and plunked straight into the toilet. When I saw huge bubbles of air releasing from it as it filled with water, I knew it was doomed.

Weirdly enough, I don't talk on the phone much. I'm not even much for texting. But my phone is my staple. More of a staple than my wallet or keys. I feel naked without it in my pocket. It's my alarm that wakes me in the morning and my news source as I wind down to go to bed at night. It hasn't even been 24 hours and I keep finding myself reaching for it.

It's socially acceptable now, and even a social necessity to have a smartphone and be connected to it at all times. In any given public place, you'll see at least half of the people playing with their phones. But noticing how panicked I feel without it, how disconnected, how disorganized, just in the span of a few hours, I realize that my reliance on it is bordering on ludicrous. There was a time in my life when I owned an alarm clock, sat quietly and people-watched when waiting, where I ate my food instead of taking pictures of it. Some data is obviously very useful. I would be reading a newspaper, have a calculator on my desk and a notebook to write down to-do lists. It's nice to have all of the basic stuff in one place.

What's most eye-opening, though, is realizing how much time I spend thinking about other things. And even with the smartphone, I don't think I'm necessarily getting more done. Most of the data I had can be recovered. It's on a database or backed up on my computer. But my list of bands to check out is numbering several hundred long. As many hours as I spent reading the news, an equal amount of time was wasted looking at funny pictures of cats. And I'm certainly guilty of using my phone to escape awkward conversations or chase some piece of information down the rabbit hole of the internet, like "What was the name of that one actor in that one movie I sort of liked 2 years ago?", as though it's of dire importance.

Many people complain of phones preventing people from connecting face to face. I am actually in the camp that believes it helps people connect more and in new creative ways. The problem I find myself facing is never being alone with myself. That type of cerebral silence is difficult to train yourself into. With constant instant gratification, I can't help but wonder what skills my brain has gone soft in because the task was usurped by my phone. I have a feeling that being rushed and stressed is something I've constructed for myself with technology instead of something I actually have to abide by.

So today, I present a challenge. Resist the urge to use your phone. Instead of playing a game, talk to someone or play tic tac toe on a napkin with a friend. Instead of looking up what's-his-name, test your memory. Instead of tracking yourself on GPS, try to memorize the streets in your neighborhood and find your way. If you eat lunch by yourself, bring an actual novel to read or sit quietly with your thoughts. Instead of sending an email, get up and walk over to your coworker's desk to ask a question.

Enjoy some time with yourself, you may teach yourself something. And until next time, keep it clean!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Incredible Healing Power of the Mushroom

You may already know that mushrooms come in all sorts of edible shapes and flavors. But did you know that they're an incredibly powerful weapon in nature's arsenal to heal you and itself? Here are a few amazing things that mushrooms can do.

Cancer Prevention
A recent study has shown that as little as one mushroom per day can cut the chances of getting breast cancer by two-thirds. When combined with regular consumption of green tea, it cuts your chances by 90%! Those are unbelievably high numbers.

Creating livable, farmable land
Polluted and irradiated soil would be considered unusable until the radiation and pollution dissipate enough to make it usable again. This can take decades, and even then, once farmed again the pollution can rise up and contaminate your crops later, as evidenced by our recent problem with arsenic-contaminated rice. Mushrooms can remove pollutants and radiation in a surprisingly short period of time. In eight weeks, this mycologist turned a pile of land saturated with oil and diesel into an oasis teeming with life, all by just leaving mushrooms to do their business!

Recovery after radiation exposure
Mushrooms are regularly recommended as holistic medicine in assisting treatment for radiation exposure and cancer treatment. Mushrooms contain enzymes that break down chemicals that would otherwise be harmful to the body, helping to slow down and even arrest tumor growth.

Not used to adding mushrooms to your diet? You can slice them up raw over a salad, saute with vegetables or even eat them as your main course. Here's a quick and easy recipe to try. These are great served as a meal over noodles, over brussels sprouts or even as a dressing for a heartier veggie burger.

Glazed Mushrooms
2 portabella mushrooms
1 cup shiitake mushrooms
1/2 large sweet onion
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
coconut oil
1/4 cup vegetarian "beef" broth

Heat the oil in a cast iron skillet. Slice the onion into thin half-rings so they're long strands. Toss in the onions and coat with the melted oil, then allow them to sit for 5 minutes to caramelize. Stir them around and let sit for another 2-3 minutes. Cut the mushrooms into thin slices and throw them in the pan with the onions. Add balsamic vinegar and broth. Loosely cover the pan for 5 more minutes to allow mushrooms to get soft and most of the liquid to evaporate. Mushrooms should have a nice thick, dark, salty-sweet glaze.

Until next time, keep it clean!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Brighter Whites and Colors

Over time, everyone's laundry gets a bit dingy. Colors fade or run together, whites start to yellow, darks turn grey. Here are a few great tips on getting your laundry back to peak performance!

Make your whites whiter
You don't have to use bleach to get your whites bright again. In fact, for some stains, like sweat and yellowing on white sheets, bleach will make it worse!

  • Soak a load with a hot water and a cup of baking soda, either for a few hours or overnight, before washing as usual.
  • Vinegar is amazing for removing colors that have run together, removing extra detergent from your clothing and restoring fabric softness to new. Add a cup to the rinse cycle.
  • Hydrogen peroxide can be found in liquid (first aid aisle) or in a powder (OxyClean). Add a 1/2 cup of liquid or follow directions for powdered and soak overnight before washing like normal.
  • Bluing agent is a non-toxic alternative to bleach. It's an old trick but a good one. Adding a small amount of blue to your wash makes yellowed colors appear white again.
  • Run an extra rinse cycle to make sure any dirty wash water is completely rinsed out. You don't need to do this every time, but once in a while it helps to keep your whites looking extra clean.
Preserve your colors
  • Add 2 cups of coffee or strong tea to the rinse cycle for dark laundry. This will help restore the rich color back to black.
  • Soak new clothes in salt water or vinegar when you first get them to lock in the dye. Vinegar during the wash cycle can also keep colors from running, just add to the wash cycle.
  • Wash in cold water. Heat damages dye, and your clothes will get just as clean in cold water.
  • Line dry your clothes. Again, heat damages dye! If you can line dry or lay your clothes flat to dry, you can avoid your clothes wearing out too quickly.
  • Turn your clothes inside-out. Dye on the inside will stay more intact than the side exposed directly to the wash. This is especially helpful for jeans.
Until next time, keep it clean!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Is TV Holding Your Children Back?

The way we consume media is way different now than it was even just 10 years ago. We communicate constantly through phones, text, social networks, chat, tablets, apps, and gaming consoles. It's essential to use computers at work and school, and we use them to decompress on our down time. We watch more TV and movies than ever. Spending a huge chunk of time with a screen in front of you has become a way of life. If you choose not to participate, you risk not connecting as much with friends and family and missing out on topics and discussions that are relevant today. Kids are curious and smart, and pick up on using these new technologies quickly, which puts them in the precarious position of being caught up in a cacophony of media and advertisements. But how do you avoid letting them get consumed by what they're consuming? Below, we've offered up some ideas on putting things back into perspective.

The Impact on Self-Esteem
Unless you're a white boy, if you watch a lot of television as a child, chances are you're not going to come out thinking too highly of yourself. Girls and African-Americans come away from TV viewing feeling like they're lacking the position, skills and worth required to obtain the success that white males seem to hold with ease. More than 90% of protagonists in TV and movies are white men, and minorities and women are usually relegated to the background, practically used as props. This can make your children feel that their inherent value is based on what other people think of them or how they look.

Even if your child is "fortunate" enough to be white and male, consider this: if other children are struggling with their place of importance, what does that say about the child that's always put at center stage? Your child may discover "privileges" he feels he's entitled to. He may view other people less as human beings with drive, flaws, talents and dimension, and think more about how they make him look and feel great. He may miss out on rich, strong relationships because he doesn't know how to recognize all of the great things everyone has to offer.

Put things in perspective.
Talking to your children is the most powerful counterpoint to messages in media you can provide. Rather than banning media from your children altogether, watch TV with your children, and ask them lots of questions. Ask them how they feel about the different scenarios they're watching, ask who they would want to be friends with on the show and why. Ask them if they were in charge of the situation, what would they do? Talk to them about how in stories, things are exaggerated and simplified to make things easy to understand and entertaining, and how in real life things take time to happen and develop. Ask them how they want to be treated, and how they would earn the respect of their friends in healthy ways.

Cultivate and encourage other hobbies.
Children are going to be interested in tons of different things throughout their childhood and young adulthood, because everything is a new discovery. It's okay to try a bunch of different things, but encourage and steer your child to find something they love and stick with it. Discuss with her how when you love something, it's not always easy and fun. Sometimes she will struggle with getting better at what she wants to do, and it will probably take a very long time. But if she's consistent and works on it regularly, she will feel like she accomplished something great. She will have something cool about herself she can share to impress her friends, sure. But more rewarding is knowing that she has strength in herself to do great things. She won't need other people to validate her strength because she already knows it for herself!

Create a Sense of Community
Surround yourself with people who will support how you want to raise your children, and give them role models. If your daughter is learning electric guitar, find a great female guitarist to teach her, and introduce her to bands with female leads and strong female members. Make sure your family understands the kind of positive language and goals you want to encourage in your kids. Connect with other parents who want to raise their children the same way, and attend church functions with a congregation that fosters positive parenting. The more people that your child can connect with in the real world who represent who they want to become, the more they'll know they can aspire to and meet those goals. If they feel like they are people of value and know what it looks like when others love and respect them, they won't seek validation from people in unhealthy ways.

Choose your media wisely.
Rather than just finding something G rated and plopping your kid in front of it, seek out and consume those shows that have strong role models that match what your child is aspiring to. Shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Adventure Time have lots of strong female characters. Avatar the Last Airbender features lots leading characters of different races and strong female characters. TV shows like Community for young adults feature men and women of different races and age groups interacting as friends rather than getting caught up in romantic entanglements. There are more options out there that feature life more realistically than ever before.

The bottom line is, the more involved you are with shaping your children's experience and expectations, the less likely they are to give in to believing stereotypes and diminishing their self-worth. Get interested in what your children are interested in, and you'll discover amazing realms of potential within them. Until next time, keep it clean!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Easy! Make Your Own Salad Dressing

Summer is the perfect time for cool, crisp salad. As convenient as bottled dressing is, why waste those lovely greens on plain old ranch? All you need is a blender and a few ingredients to bypass the bottled for chef-approved, easy dressings.

Spicy Tomato Salsa
3 roma tomatoes
2 tomatillos
1/4 white or yellow onion
2 jalapenos
1/2 habanero
juice from 1/2 a lime
handful cilantro

Wash and roughly chop all ingredients, put in a blender and pulse for 20 seconds, less if you want it a bit more chunky.

Savory Tahini Dressing
1/4 cup tahini
1 tablespoon lemon juice or apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
1 clove garlic
water to thin it out, if desired

Put all ingredients in a blender and mix, or whisk with a fork until combined. Tahini is sesame seed butter, found in the international aisle or peanut butter aisle at the grocer. It's used mainly in middle eastern food like hummus, or to top falafel. It has a light and earthy flavor. This dressing is super rich and almost cheesy, and works great on heavier greens like kale and collards.

Raspberry Dressing
1 cup fresh or frozen berries
1 packet stevia
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
juice from 1/2 an orange or one clementine

Put all ingredients into a blender and mix until smooth. This sweet and tart dressing is great with spinach, red onions and blue cheese.

Basic ingredients can combine in hundreds of ways to make new enjoyable dressings. Mix and match a fruit or vegetable with fat (oil, nut butter, avocado) and an acid (vinegar, lemon or lime juice) and blend. Salad dressing is really that simple. See what you come up with, you may surprise yourself with a new favorite! Enjoy your summer lunches, and until next time, keep it clean!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Homemade Hair Conditioner

Making your own spa-quality treatments at home is easy and surprisingly cheap once you know which ingredients matter the most. Because of my thick, curly and long hair, conditioner had long been something I allowed myself to splurge on to keep my hair healthy. Most conditioner recipes are one-time treatments or masks. Here's a quick and easy recipe you can use daily to save your scalp from chemicals and save your wallet some dinero.

Homemade Hair Conditioner
Old shampoo bottle
2 cups warm filtered water
4 tsp olive, avocado or coconut oil
2 tsp jojoba, grapeseed or sweet almond oil
5 drops essential oil of your choice

Combine all ingredients of choice and pour into the old shampoo bottle using a funnel or a measuring cup with a spout. 
TO USE: Wet your hair with warm water in the shower. Shake up your bottle of conditioner to mix and apply liberally to scalp, massaging it in. Flip your hair over and apply from the base of the scalp upwards. Finally, apply directly to the ends of your hair. Let sit for 1-2 minutes then wash out with moisturizing shampoo or baking soda rinse.

The coconut and/or olive oil are the real moisturizers in this recipe. Coconut, avocado and olive oil all have the same amino acid chains that the human body naturally creates to moisturize your skin, so they are exactly right to penetrate your hair. The more moisture in your hair, the less brittle it is and the more elasticity it gains.

The jojoba, grapeseed and sweet almond oil are lighter oils, known as carrier oils. These keep the heavier oils from sitting limply on your hair.

The essential oils are good for scent or for medicinal properties. If you have a sensitive or itchy scalp, add tea tree, peppermint or neem essential oils. If you're just looking to smell good, you might want to check out lavender, orange oil or patchouli. Cherry, vanilla and almond extracts also smell wonderful.

Enjoy your naturally luscious hair! And until next time, keep it clean!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Growing an Avocado Tree at Home

A great way to save money and brighten up your home is sprout your own plants. One of the easiest things you can do is use the seeds and pits you would normally toss out. Avocados make beautiful indoor plants, and if you live in a warm climate, in a few years you can plant it outside to grow a tree! Fruit bearing-trees take many years before they start to give fruit, but are still lovely and rewarding to grow at home. Below are instructions on sprouting an avocado.

1) Cut open a fresh, ripe avocado length-wise and scoop out the pit. Eat the fruit! Yum yum yum.

2) Wash off the pit, removing any traces of fruit.

3) Press 4 toothpicks into the pit, half-way up and around the middle. Use them to balance the pit in a glass of water. The pointy side should be up, and the bottom quarter of the pit should sit in the water.

4) Let the pit rest in the water, keeping it at room temperature or warmer, for a few weeks. If you live in a colder climate or are doing this in the winter, you might want to use a heating pad or a grow lamp.

5) Refill the water as needed to keep the pit moist.

The pit will sprout roots, and eventually will crack in half with a sprout coming out at the top. This will probably take a few months. Once it sprouts, you can transplant it to a pot, gently covering the roots with soil and putting it in a place with plenty of sun.

Sprouting is the hard part, so once you have the sprout you can sit back and enjoy! Until next time, keep it clean!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Independence Day!

The Fourth of July is coming up quickly! Independence Day, more commonly known as The Fourth of July, is the celebration of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. The Declaration (you guessed it!) declared our independence from Great Britain as a free and sovereign nation. 

Fun Facts: 
  • Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both died on the same day, which happened to be the 4th of July.
  • James Monroe also died on a later 4th of July, making the 3rd President in a row to die on the 4th.
  • Calvin Coolidge is our only President to have been born on the 4th of July.
  • Congress actually approved the resolution for independence on July 2nd
  • Though the Declaration of Independence is dated July 4th, it's thought by historians that many of the signatures weren't added until August

Here's a fun traditional alternative to regular barbecue sauce for your picnics on Thursday:

Southern Mustard Barbecue Sauce
  • 3/4 cup yellow mustard
  • 3/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons fresh ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons hot sauce (to taste)
Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and whisk. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 to 30 minutes. Let cool and store in the fridge.

And because it's inevitable:

How to Remove Barbecue Sauce Stains
  • Apply detergent to the affected area and soak in warm water for 15 minutes
  • Rinse out the detergent and scrub the area with white vinegar
  • Run through the wash like normal
And until next time, keep it clean!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Preventing Sunburn Inside and Out

We all enjoy a good picnic in the park or day lazing on the beach in the summertime. A little bit of sun is good for us, and even recommended. It may not make you impervious from harm or give you the power of flight, but sunlight is still super for increasing your levels of contentment and boosting the much-needed Vitamin D most of us lack. But what do you do when you want to spend more than 30 minutes in the great outdoors? Here are a few things you can do to protect yourself.

Antioxidant-Rich Diet
Too much sunlight on your skin breaks down your skin cells. You can slow down that breakdown with a diet packed full of nutrition. The nutrients and antioxidants in food will mop up any cell damage and stimulate your cells to produce new healthy cells to replace the damaged ones. The most nutrient dense foods you can eat are dark leafy greens, non-starchy vegetables, berries and citrus fruits, nuts, cocoa, avocados, coffee, tea, olive oil and coconut oil. A healthy diet won't completely protect you from the sun, but it will reduce the damage considerably and help you heal much faster.

Essential Oils
There are a lot of plant oils that naturally prevent sunscreen. Coconut oil is a good start, but add 5 to 10 drops of other oils to boost protection. Myrrh, lavender, helichrysum and red raspberry seed oil all block out a significant percentage of harmful radiation when applied to the skin. Mix essential oil with some coconut oil in a jar and apply every hour or two throughout your time outside.

Cover Up
Anyone who's ever experienced Farmer's Tan or a Phantom Watch knows that clothing will block out sun exposure. bring a swimsuit cover-up like a long-sleeved linen shirt, a hat or a long cotton dress to wear after a swim.

Have a Friend Watch Your Back
Many times you'll be burned way before you even feel it. Hang out with friends, and especially if you burn easy, let them know they can feel free to point it out when you're starting to look red so you can stop it in its tracks before it gets worse.

Soothe the Burn
As careful as you are, it's probably going to happen eventually. Cut a leaf of aloe or mash up a cucumber to cool raw skin, or cut a raw potato and apply directly where it hurts. Bonus points: put the potato in the fridge first. The starch will help soothe your skin. Oatmeal can be used similarly by applying to the skin or soaking in a bath of it. White vinegar will kill the pain too. Apply every 20 minutes to where it hurts the most.

Enjoy your summer fun, and until next time, keep it clean!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Natural Skin Care

It's no secret here at Azuma that we dig the natural lifestyle. One of the things that I'm most proud of are all the compliments on my glowing skin. The great thing is, there's really no magic or expensive secret to keeping it clean, gorgeous and healthy. Here's my regimen for looking fresh.

Baking Soda
The easiest and cheapest trick in the book. Forget expensive exfoliating gels and creams. Baking soda is proven to do it all. Removes dead skin cells, whitens and brightens uneven color and dark splotches, removes blackheads, and alkalizes the skin surface to prevent zits from getting out of control. Just put about a teaspoon in your hand, add a little water, and scrub in the morning and before bed.

Witch Hazel
It's not magic, just a wonderful plant with great astringent qualities. You can get witch hazel extract for cheap in the first aid aisle of most grocers, but fancier scented varieties such as Thayer's are also out there. The antioxidants fight acne, relieve eczema and psoriasis, and soothes swelling and cracked, dry skin. I like to wipe down my face with it after removing make-up or scrubbing with baking soda. It also works great as an aftershave! No more razor bumps.

Aloe is also a wonderful skin soother and mild moisturizer. Keep some in the fridge for days when you're a bit puffy and smooth it on your face. I also mix aloe as a carrier for other oils as a daily moisturizer.

Sweet Almond Oil
There are a few different oils to choose from for moisturizer. Some prefer castor oil, some like coconut or avocado, but I've found the one that least irritates my face and delivers the right amount of moisture without clogging my pores is Sweet Almond. All of these natural oils have amino acid chains similar to the oils your skin naturally produces. That means that it soaks in and penetrates rather than just sitting on the top and sealing in what oil you have. I put half and half almond oil and aloe into a travel bottle, shake it up and squeeze out a dime sized amount when I need lotion for my face.

Eat Right
I know, I know. We've heard it a million times. But it is SO important to eat your cruciferous veggies and greens. The nutritional powerhouses are packed with antioxidants that clean your body inside and out and leave you with a healthy beautiful glow. I firmly believe my plant-strong diet is the biggest reason why my skin stays healthy and young. Kale, arugula, broccoli, collards, romaine, chard, cauliflower, mustard greens galore!

Some type of movement every day keeps your blood moving, delivering important nutrients and oxygenating your cells, triggering the hormonal responses necessary to make new cells and revitalize your skin. Running, walking, yoga, playing with your children, swimming, biking. Science has proven time and again that those of us who stay young mentally and physically exercise regularly. Whatever it is you do, keep active.

Until next time, keep it clean!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

How to Keep Your Cat from Waking You Up

Most cat owners have experienced their cat pouncing on their face at 5AM. It's an irritating experience, especially on a Sunday morning! Contrary to popular belief, cats can be trained. Here are a few tips for how to get your cat on your sleep schedule.

Listen to Your Cat
When a cat is "misbehaving", it's usually for a reason. This includes pouncing on your face in the morning. If your cat is exhibiting unusual behavior, it may mean that something in his environment has been interrupted (like a new cat in the neighborhood) or that he may be sick. Training a cat or any pet means teaching it to live alongside you within your rules, but within reason. Remember that animals, much like small children, can't communicate to us except with noises and gestures. Just like with a child, check to see that their basic needs are met first and then try and figure out if something is wrong beyond that.

Fulfill the Basics
Most cats are very territorial and like to feel that their territory stays a particular way. If you feed your cat and clean its box sporadically, this can make it feel insecure, resulting in weird behaviors to get your attention. Clean the box at LEAST once a week on the same day, completely change the litter once a month, and have specified times that you feed your cat, always giving fresh water. The easiest schedule is once before you go to work and once before you go to bed. If they feel their needs are not being met, most cats will do whatever it takes to get your attention, even if it's negative-- like scratching the furniture or knocking things off the shelf.

Keep Your Cat Entertained
Cats are nocturnal and naturally like to explore at night. But if they get their "hunting" out during the day, they're less likely to need to do it while you're snoozing. If you're away most of the day, leave them puzzles, balls and toys to play with. Cats get bored just like people, so try and keep most of their toys hidden away and then give them one or two in the morning. An old toy will feel new and exciting again if they haven't seen it in a while. Be sure to interact with your cat, too. Playing with a fishing toy or a piece of yarn, or even playing fetch are all great games that will help you bond with your cat and wear him out, too.

Make a Bedtime Routine Your Cat Understands
To help your cat wind down and be ready to sleep when you are, before you go to bed remember to Play, Feed and Groom. If your cat goes outside, let him roam his territory for a couple hours and call him in at the same time each night. (If you consistently give your cat treats for responding, just like a dog he will come when you call.) If your cat is an indoor cat, play with him to wear him out. Feed your cat after playing. Once he's done, brush him to finish calming him down. These are all natural things cats do before sleeping: hunt, eat, clean themselves up and nap.

Avoid the Signals
Cats are keen to notice sights and sounds that signify morning. Keep the shades closed so the sun doesn't pour in, use a fan or a white noise machine at night to drown out the sounds outside. The more consistent you can keep your sleeping area, the better.

Resist Fighting Back
If your cat is annoying you, it's hard to fight the urge to think they're just doing it to torture or spite you. Reacting in any way is giving your cat attention and going to reinforce bad habits. It may take several days for your cat to learn to sleep at night. Be strong! Try not to acknowledge your cat when he wakes you up in the morning, not even locking him out of the room or pushing him off the bed. Eventually he'll understand that you will get up and feed him and play with him if he waits.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Creating Fresh Air Inside Your Home

Did you know that the inside of your house can be more polluted than the outside? With modern innovations and people spending more and more time indoors, it's important to reassess how you keep your home clean to be sure you and your family are as healthy as you can be. There are a few easy and eco-friendly ways to do this. Here's how.

Chemical Cleansers
Cleansers you use on yourself, your countertops and floors can leave traces of harmful inhalants behind, and can even release chemicals into the air when you're not using them. Eliminate the chemicals you use on yourself and in your home. Most cleaning jobs can be completed as well as or better than standard cleaners with castille soap, vinegar and baking soda. If you like nice fresh scents, you can add a few drops of essential oils like eucalyptus, peppermint or lemon balm to the mix. Check out our previous posts on homemade cleansers and recipes for simple cleansers here, here, and here.

Air Purifiers
This is probably the most straightforward way to clean up the air quality in your home. Make sure you use a high quality air filter on your air vents inside your home and change the filter once every 3 months. Air purifiers filter out mold, microbes, dust, dust mites, smoke, pollen and chemicals from the air. Even if you're not using your air conditioner or heater, having the fan on to keep air moving through your house can prevent stale air and moisture buildup which can lead to mold in your home. If you don't have central air in your home, consider getting a tower fan that holds an air filter.

Paints and Plastics
Paints and plastic products like electronics, office supplies, toys, shower curtains and water bottles can release compounds into the air and into your body that are harmful for your health. Try to use natural materials, like plant-based fabrics, wood, ceramic and glass as much as possible. Low-toxicity and low-VOC paints are available at most craft and home improvement stores. Look into BPA's (Bisphenol-A) and VOC's (Volatile Organic Compounds) to learn more.

Moisture Buildup
Whether you cook a lot or just love hot showers, regular condensation in your house can be a real concern for air quality. Germs and insects love damp places, so to prevent too much moisture in at-risk areas of your house like the kitchen or bathroom, be sure to use proper ventilation. Open a window or use your oven hood's fan while cooking and turn on the ventilation fan in the bathroom when you shower. Be sure to check regularly for signs of moisture buildup. If you see discolored spots on your ceiling or walls or sagging plaster, you may want to get your walls checked out by a professional for mold.

NASA recently released a popular study on houseplants and their effect on indoor air quality. Houseplants are a great way to reduce carbon dioxide, increase oxygen and filter out toxins from your house. Some plants can even absorb and negate the chemicals released from plastics and paints in your home! Check out the list and add a plant to each of your rooms.

Follow these tips and you're on your way to a healthier, allergen-free home! Until next time, keep it clean!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Smart Budgeting

While we're beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel, many of us have taken a beating financially from the recent economic crisis. Job losses, underemployment, student debt and credit card debt undertaken from investing in what would hopefully eventually be beneficial are crushing millions of us. But there's plenty we can do to make the day-to-day easier. We're all already familiar with cutting back. Here are a few tips on using your budget to get the most from your paycheck for your future.

Keep Investing
Paying off debt or keeping afloat may be your highest priority. However, if you can afford it, keep putting aside a percentage of your paycheck towards investments and retirement, especially if your employer offers a matching investments. Spending one year not putting aside money can result in spending hundreds more a month later down the road to make up for it.

Pay More than the Minimum
Paying the minimum balance on credit cards and loans is a good way to barely keep your head above water. There are plenty of online calculators to determine how much your monthly payment needs to be to pay off your cards completely in your chosen number of years. Try to aim for paying off your debts in 5 years or less. Balance your payments by how large the debt is. Let's say you have $200 a month you can put towards credit cards, and you have one card with a balance of $1000 and another with a balance of $3000. 25% of your debt is on the lower card. So pay $50 (25% of your monthly payment budget) to the lower card and $150 to the higher card. It will get paid down a lot faster and you can avoid hefty interest fees by paying more. Of course, the higher the interest, the faster you want to try to pay down that card.

Make Smart Purchases
This may seem obvious, but be discerning when allocating your money to extra expenditures. You may be able to live with a beat up old couch. But a leaky drain can turn into a flooded house, and a toothache can turn into a root canal. If you must spend extra money, be sure you're investing in something you really need. And especially spend on things that can turn into a problem later. It's better to nip it in the bud.

Buy Secondhand and Fix What You Have
You can get tons of good quality items if you give yourself a little extra time and keep a discerning eye out. We didn't have anywhere to sit in our living room and were in the market for a couch. We had the option of buying a new discount couch for $800 at a wholesale warehouse, but didn't really have the budget for it. We found a nice worn-in leather couch at a second-hand store for $300 and spent $100 and a few hours of elbow grease to restore the leather. That's half the price for a nicer couch! Same principle applies to clothes. Nice quality slacks and jeans that may just need to be dry-cleaned, dyed, patched or hemmed get dropped off at Goodwill because the last person didn't want to bother with it. Look for consignment shops in nicer neighborhoods for the best quality deals. Keep an open mind and see what you can find. If something you already have is wearing out and you don't know how to fix it, take it to a tailor or a dry cleaner to get it like new again for just a few bucks.

Keep an Eye on Your Credit Score
Make sure you always pay your bills on time, and if you can't, call and see what kind of deals you can make. Many loans and credit cards offer deferred payment programs, especially if you're unemployed. Try to avoid opening any new accounts and if you must have a card, keep the one you've had the longest for the most positive effect on your credit. If you can, pay your full debt instead of negotiating down. A chargeoff can really hurt your credit and be much worse for you in the future than just being in debt.

It's OK to Rent!
A lot of people think that purchasing is the soundest decision you can make, but purchasing an item new can devalue it instantly, just like driving a new car off the lot. That's a big dent in your investment. An even bigger dent comes from maintenance. Avoid the headaches of repairs by letting someone else do the work for you. Azuma covers all maintenance and installation at no charge for refrigerator and washer and dryer rentals, giving you one less thing to worry about.

Don't Get Caught Up in the Little Things
Oftentimes financial advisers will tell you to cut back on little stuff, like the fancy coffees or basic cable. It's true that these things add up, however sometimes that cup of coffee is the only thing keeping you sane through your workday. You know what you spend the most money on. Eating at home, using a prepaid phone instead of a smartphone and re-watching a DVD instead of going out to the theater are all things we already know save money. You still have to live your life, so don't tear your hair out over the small stuff. Sometimes having that small reward that you earned at the end of the week, like a cup of coffee, is what reminds you that you're working towards long term goals and are still doing okay.

Hopefully these tips will help you all continue to be wise with your money. Until next time, keep it clean!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Quick One-Pot Ratatouille

This recipe is an old stand-by for me. Though it's entirely fruit and veggie, it's incredibly filling and satisfying. I use it on nights that I'm not really in the mood for cooking but we all need a really good meal. This can either be made on the stovetop or baked in the oven if you're not partial to watching the pot.

Quick Ratatouille
1 eggplant
1 large onion
2 red peppers
1 yellow squash
1 zucchini
1 large can of diced tomatoes
1 to 2 cups vegetable broth
1/4 cup red wine (optional)
1 cup cheese for baking (optional)
2 tablespoons spicy pasta seasoning
(I use a mix of red pepper, oregano, bay leaves, basil and garlic)
Dash salt
Coconut oil for sauteeing

If baking as a casserole, preheat oven to 400 degrees F. In a large stock pot, heat about a tablespoon of coconut oil on medium-high. Throw in roughly-chopped onion and salt and give it a quick stir. Let the oil and onion sit in the pot for 3-5 minutes to caramelize. While onions are caramelizing, cut the eggplant, peppers,
zucchini and yellow squash into cubes. Throw veggies into the pot with the can of diced tomatoes and stir to mix. Add spices and mix again. At this point, you can either transfer the mixture to a large casserole dish or leave in the pot. Once the mixture is in your preferred container, add wine and just enough vegetable broth to cover. If baking, sprinkle cheese on top if preferred and pop in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes or until the top is bubbly and browned. If leaving in the stock pot, cover and lower heat to a simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes.

This recipe freezes great too if you're into making meals in advance. It pairs great with a big caesar salad and a glass of red wine! Until next time, keep it clean!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

What Makes Something "Natural"?

The cost of healthcare, the realization that doctors have limitations and the skepticism of modern processed
foods and their effects on the body have all influenced a growing number of people to turn to natural, holistic and homeopathic health practices and remedies. But a lot of what goes around can be confusing, contradictory and downright ridiculous. 
There are many reasons to go natural. Less chemicals on your body and washed down your drain means keeping nature healthier and in tact. That's also less non-renewable resources, like petroleum, being used for cosmetics and cleaning. It also means less likelihood of absorbing harmful chemicals that can be stored in your body and disrupt your hormonal balance and regular bodily functions. Hormonal imbalance can be linked to a variety of issues, from acne to excess fat and even to cancer. Here are a few tips to staying natural while keeping a level head (and probably saving a buck or two!)

Natural and Organic Foods
I could list hundreds of things to look out for on labels, but really your best bet is to just not buy things that come in a packet or cardboard box to begin with. If you have one particular thing you just can't live without, like chips or pop-tarts, you may want to consider making this a once-in-a-while treat rather than a daily meal. When going to the grocery store, stay on the periphery of the store with the produce and protein, occasionally venturing to the middle to buy spices, nuts and seeds or frozen fruit and veggies. Labels that say natural or organic on them are not very well regulated, and therefore not really a good indicator of health. The same goes for how humanely the animals are treated. "Free range" and "cage free" egg farms, for example, are also not very heavily regulated and often practice the same techniques as regular egg farms, while getting away with charging you a couple bucks more per dozen.

Pesticides and GMOs
The Environmental Working Group is a great resource for which foods are heavily laden with pesticides or are genetically modified. Pesticides can bioaccumulate, meaning they can be stored in the body (usually in the liver or your fat) and cause problems like hormonal imbalance, weight gain, cancer and weakened immunity. Genetically Modified Foods (or GMO's) do pretty much the same thing, as the produce itself is often designed specifically to kill whatever bugs try to eat them. The Dirty Dozen list shows which produce has been tested to have the most pesticides. For these, either buy organic or peel the outside if possible to avoid the most pesticide exposure. Organic isn't necessary for all produce you buy, though. Just be sure to wash your fruits and veggies before you eat them and you should be fine. GMOs, however, should definitely be avoided at all costs. The biggest GMOs to avoid are corn, soy, wheat and potatoes. If you choose to eat these foods, buy organic or non-GMO. Corn, soy, wheat and potatoes often masquerade as different ingredients in packaged foods, listed as things like high fructose corn syrup, lecithin or starch. Again, it's better to just stay away from packaged foods altogether and cook at home.

This is one of those areas where looking at how your grandmother got by and picking up old ways of doing things really makes life easier and healthier. The EWG's Skin Deep Database is a great resource to look up what cosmetics you already have in your home and how toxic they are to your health, as well as providing a list of the healthiest cosmetics you can buy if you prefer to purchase them. But buying fancy organic products isn't necessary. You can use plain salt for deodorant and coconut oil for lotion, and many people have great results washing their hair with baking soda, and liquid castille soap like Dr. Bronner's works great as body wash. It's up to you how basic and cheap or fancy you want to get with your routine.

Common white vinegar and baking soda can clean almost anything, and when followed with hydrogen peroxide is more effective than bleach at killing germs. With everything else, castille soap and hot water will clean everything just as well as those expensive chemical cleansers at the store.

Herbs, Teas, Tonics and Superfoods
When perusing natural health products, it's easy to get caught up in claims and marketing. There are some alternative cures that are tried and true, like aloe for irritated skin and green tea for an afternoon pick-me-up without the jitters. But just like "natural" foods, labels can be deceiving. And just because they're herbs or teas doesn't mean they don't have side effects or do other positive things than what's listed on the package. Be sure to back up your natural cures with scientific research. The National Institutes of Health has a database of research and findings to help find the most effective cure for whatever ails you, from fatigue and migraines to eczema. And as for superfoods-- just don't. Eat nutritious fruits and vegetables and you'll be healthy, it's unnecessary to eat the latest rare nut from South America to have a well-rounded diet.

Use these tips to navigate being healthy practically and simply. And until next time, keep it clean!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Value of Keeping Health Simple

When navigating the health world, there are all sorts of suggestions, plans, programs and pitfalls. A simple journey to living a healthier lifestyle can become a mind-numbing mess of gadgets, apps, calorie counting, restrictions, 5AM trips to the gym and endless label-scrutinizing that would send any person back to bed to avoid all the work. It's no fun being healthy when you're constantly monitoring every thing you do! Here are a few absolutes that every expert can agree on to help you simplify things.

Enjoy life and the body you were given to live it in.
It's fine to set goals for yourself and have things to aspire to, but focusing too much on the end product will often result in endlessly beating yourself up if you don't get there and frustration. One Ayurvedic lesson is to treat your body like your friend. If your friend was sick or struggling, or if something was clearly wrong, you wouldn't belittle her or get angry at her for not being perfect. Listen to your body and identify what you struggle with and try to work with that. And celebrate and work on improving your inherent strengths.

There isn't one single life plan for everyone.
There are certainly things that will universally help your health and make you look better in the process, but remember too that each body is a unique biological organism. Real lasting change takes a lot of time. Depending on your habits, medical history, genetics and what you've been eating all your life, your metabolism could function completely differently from the next person. What works for one person may not necessarily work for you. What one person enjoys eating or doing may not be what makes you passionate about being healthy. You may look great at 140 pounds while someone else does better carrying 110. That is completely normal and okay.

Eat your vegetables.
Even if you eat vegetables at every meal, you could probably still eat more of them. Everyone agrees and the science overwhelmingly backs it: there is nothing more super and more nutritious for your health than veggies! Eating fruit or a multivitamin or a "superfood" is NOT a substitute! Avoid peas, corn and potatoes and go for nutritional powerhouses, especially leafy greens like spinach and collards, and cruciferous vegetables like kale, broccoli and cauliflower. Eat huge salads for lunch, wilt spinach in your breakfast scramble, throw a few handfuls of raw spinach into your smoothie. They will make you feel full, boost your energy and keep you young. No pill, powder or any amount of exercise can replace that.

Don't go crazy with supplements.
There isn't any herb or pill that you can take that will alter your health more than being active and eating well. Some things certainly help. If you're a vegetarian, it's probably a good idea to take a B-complex. To boost your metabolism, you may want to consider drinking more green and herbal teas. Coconut and flax oil is certainly good for you, but there's no reason to go out of your way to eat a tablespoon of it every day if you're already preparing your meals with it. Anything a superfood or supplement has can probably already be found in the foods you're eating daily. What you should do is probably what you already know: Avoid packaged and sugary foods and eat a natural diet of vegetables, lean protein, fruit, nuts and seeds to get your nutrition. Focus on the food and staying active and save your money for better things.

Strength is not complicated.
There's no such thing as "muscle confusion" or shrinking your muscle mass to look long and lean. Your muscle size is determined mostly by genetics and how much weight you lift. That's pretty much it. Doing 100 crunches a day or complex reverse interval training will not give you abs. Do exercises you like to stay active, like yoga, swimming, riding your bike, playing with your kids, taking walks with your significant other, or playing sports. Make sure you  move around regularly instead of sitting at your desk or on your couch all day. If you really want to build muscle, look into doing deep muscle training twice a week (slow, heavy reverse weight lifting until your body can't lift anymore). But beyond that, you don't have to do anything weird to stay fit. Your body doesn't know the difference, and your brain will appreciate the break.

Keeping things simple gives you more time to focus on what matters to you. Instead of making your health the center of your life when life is already short, use that time to enjoy who you are, build your relationships and your talents, and have fun! Until next time, keep it clean!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Keeping Your Clothes Like New

It's always a little bittersweet to finally part with a piece of clothing, whether it's stained, colorless, the fabric has lost its luster or it's gained a few holes along the way. Sometimes you're ready for it to go, but sometimes  there are pieces you have to repeatedly replace like socks and underwear or that favorite rock concert t-shirt that you just can't seem to let go of. You don't need fancy detergents or dry-cleaning to keep your clothes perfect. Here are a few tips to extending the life of the clothes you have, and saving a few bucks while you do it!

Fading Away
Nothing makes a piece of clothing look old like faded color. To prevent fading, wash colors on cold, avoid hanging colored pieces in the sun to dry, turn pieces inside-out during washing (especially jeans) and consider adding 1/2 a cup to 1 cup of white vinegar to your wash cycle to preserve the color. If the color has already faded, you can add new life to your clothes by dyeing similar colors. Black clothing is great place to start. You can find affordable fabric dye online or in most grocery stores in the laundry aisle.

Hard Fabric
Everyone knows the unpleasant feeling of a scratchy towel or crusty socks. For thicker fabrics, be especially sure that you're not overloading your washer with too much detergent. You can run the washer on a rinse cycle with towels, socks or sweaters and if it looks sudsy, you're using too much. Another good prevention technique is to avoid overloading the washer to begin with. Keep lighter weight clothing and heavier fabrics in separate loads, and don't put more than 5 pairs of jeans or towels in one load. Only loading the washer 3/4 full and not packing in or pushing down the clothes are good rules to remember. Make sure socks are completely unrolled when you throw them in the wash. To soften your clothes, add a big scoop of baking soda to the wash water. Using hot water for sweaty clothes like socks and workout gear and purchasing natural fabrics like cotton, bamboo or hemp help keep things softer too.

Threadbare or Stretched Out Fabric
Hot air is great for fluffing up towels and sweaters and making your clothing feel soft, but most clothing can take a beating if they're heated for too long. Try to line-dry or lay flat your more delicate clothing, anything with elastic or spandex blends and thinner fabrics like shirts. Elastic does not mesh well with heat, so be especially careful with socks, sportswear and underwear. Check the dryer periodically when drying and take out the clothes immediately when they no longer feel damp. Smaller loads, line drying before using the dryer for fluffing or splitting up large loads into smaller ones all insure less exposure to heat and a longer life for fabric and color.

Dingy Colors
In time, lighter and brighter colored clothing can get dingy, grayish or pinkish. For whites, soak in hydrogen peroxide or an oxygenated detergent overnight. Many colored fabrics can also withstand oxygenated detergent, however be sure to test an inconspicuous spot first or use an oxygenated detergent formulated for colors. Always separate your colors into like colors when washing. It can be a pain, but it's worth it.  Wash new clothing items the first few times separately or by hand to avoid the new dye mixing with your older clothes. Did a red shirt sneak in to your load of whites? The minute you notice your clothes have encountered color bleed, take out the offending odd-colored piece of clothing and re-wash the load with oxygenated detergent or bleach. If you let the clothes dry first, chances are the color will set and there's no turning back.

Follow these tips and your clothes will stay with you for years to come! Until next time, keep it clean!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Basic Maintenance for Your Washer and Dryer

The great thing about having your own washer and dryer is that it does most of the work for you so you can have time to do other things. But even washers and dryers need a little TLC! Whether you've been doing laundry for years or this is your first time out on your own with your washer/dryer set, here are a few tips and tricks to keep your equipment performing at top notch.

Proper Use
The vast majority of issues that come up with washers and dryers are due to improper use of the equipment. The instructions are basic, but following them incorrectly on a consistent basis can cause damage over time to your machines. If you're ever in doubt about how to use and care for your specific machine, instructions are almost always printed on the inside of the lid or the door. If you can't find the instructions, look up the model number (also on the inside of the door) on the manufacturer's website. Most major manufacturers include a downloadable PDF online of the manual that originally shipped with the machine.

Avoid Soap Scum
You'd think that if you're constantly putting soap and water in something it would always be clean, right? Well, just like your shower, soap and water isn't the only thing going in and out of your washer. Sweat, dirt, lint, and anything else your clothes pick up go into your washer too. First, make sure you check the instructions on your machine and on the type of laundry detergent you like to use to make sure you're not using too much. A little goes a long way! Towels are a great indicator of too much soap. If your towels feel waxy or if you scrub them in a little water and you see suds, you need to dial it back. Always pour in your soap BEFORE you load in your clothes so that your detergent is evenly distributed during wash cycles. And lastly, if the soap scum is already there, spray some vinegar on the scum and let it sit for 30 minutes before running a hot rinse cycle to remove it.

Clean the Lint Out
Every time you change loads in the dryer, be sure to clean out the lint trap. Even if it doesn't seem like much, the more lint that sits in the trap over several cycles, the more lint is getting stuck in the machine where you may not be able to reach it. For when the lint gets into hard to reach places, you can use a pipe cleaner or an inexpensive dryer brush to nab the extra bits. This is also handy for cleaning out lint and dust from under the dryer and under your refrigerator. Most importantly, clean your wall vent every six months. This is the vent that runs from the back of the dryer to the outside of your home. Lint, dust and dirt get trapped and build up in the exhaust over time, causing your machine to run less efficiently. More importantly, not cleaning the vent can become a fire hazard if the heat from the dryer ignites the lint and dust. If you live in an apartment, your maintenance man will have the tools to do this for you. Be safe and clean it out!

Do Routine Maintenance
If your washer and dryer are ever taking too long to do something, are shaking or making funny noises, don't wait until it gets worse. Call your manufacturer (or your friendly customer service team at Azuma!) for further assistance. Even if it turns out to be nothing, it's better to fix the problem than risk damage to your equipment or to your clothes. If you're having problems, service appointments, troubleshooting and machine replacements are always free when you rent with Azuma.

We hope these tips and tricks help you enjoy your machines to the fullest for a long, long time! Until next time, keep it clean!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Removing Pit Stains

There are few things quite as embarrassing and clothing-ruining as pit stains. If you like wearing fresh white shirts or wear a lot of undershirts to work daily, the dinginess of a pit stain is pretty pervasive. Often enough, failure to remove these hard-to-clean stains will result in the premature purchase of new shirts when the shirt could have still been in its prime. Fear not! They can be removed!
Stain Prevention
A lot of people assume that the protein, salt and bacteria in your sweat building up on the shirt over time cause these stains. The stains look pretty gross so we assume it's a natural occurrence. Actually, it's a chemical reaction between your sweat and your deodorant. If you use any basic store-bought deodorant, chances are it contains aluminum, the real culprit of the weird color. (You guys who use body spray may have noticed that your pit stains extend to your chest and neck area, right?) The best way to avoid the stains is to switch to a natural deodorant. Spreading on coconut oil and/or rubbing a salt stick where you sweat the most work amazingly well at getting rid of odor-causing bacteria. If you sweat a lot, you might want to consider trimming back your chest or armpit hair a little so it doesn't hold so much water against your shirt. You'll still smell lovely, I promise.

Don't Bleach the Stain
This would seem like the most obvious thing to do, but the chemicals in bleach will react with the stain and make it worse. There are easier and more natural alternatives. If you bleach some of your whites, like towels, do a separate load without bleach for stained shirts.

Lemon Juice
Have you ever put lemon juice on your hair before going to the beach to lighten your locks? Same principle here. Squeeze a little fresh lemon juice on the effected area and hang to dry in the sun for a day. Voila!

Hydrogen Peroxide
That same stuff that's great for disinfecting cuts is also wonderful for pit stains, and is often safe on dyed fabrics too (be sure to test a hidden spot on your colored shirt first). Spray on the area and let it sit for 15 minutes or even respray and let sit over several hours for more pernicious stains. Throw in the wash and it will come out stain-free.

Oxygenating Detergent
Some powdered detergents like OxyClean create hydrogen peroxide when combined with water, which helps to lift stains. You can also pre-soak clothing in the detergent for really tough stains. Detergent is usually more formulated for colorfastness than straight hydrogen peroxide, so if you have blue or patterned dress shirts this may be your best bet.

Use these tips to extend the life of all your clothes and keep looking so fresh and so clean! Until next time!