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!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Homemade Healthy Chocolate Bars

One of my vices when it comes to eating a healthy diet, and I'm sure I'm not alone on this, is having lots and lots of chocolate. The good news is that the cocoa bean chocolate is made from is extremely healthy for you! The bad news is that the dairy and loads of sugar used to make the cocoa taste good usually trumps the benefits the cocoa has. Plus, high quality dark chocolate can be really expensive, especially in the quantities I like to eat it. Here's a quick, simple recipe to making gourmet-tasting chocolate at home without the fillers.

Homemade Chocolate Bars
Rubber spatula
Baking sheet lined with parchment paper
Muffin tin lined with cupcake liners
Silicone ice cube tray or chocolate mold (if you want to get fancy)

1/8 cup Coconut oil
1/8 cup Cocoa Butter (optional - use same amount of coconut oil if you opt out)
1/2 tsp Vanilla
1 to 2 packets powdered Stevia
1 to 3 tsp Xylitol to taste (optional)
scant 1/2 cup Cocoa powder
pinch of salt
pinch of instant coffee or ground espresso (optional)

1/2 tsp Mint extract
Cacao Nibs
Dried fruit
Peanut butter
Crushed sugar-free hard candy

In a microwave-safe bowl, heat your coconut oil and cocoa butter 1 to 2 minutes or until thoroughly melted. Cocoa butter takes a while to melt, so if after 2 minutes you still have lumps, just whisk the oil with a fork until the lumps disappear. Add in vanilla, salt, coffee, extract (if using) and sweeteners and whisk thoroughly with a fork. Add in cocoa powder and mix with rubber spatula until smooth, making sure you scrape down the sides of the bowl. If your add ins are hard (like almonds) place them evenly in your mold or baking sheet and pour the chocolate over them. Put it in the fridge to solidify, about 1 hour. Break off a piece and enjoy!

For Peanut Butter Cups:
Use the muffin tin and cupcake liners. Pour a small amount of chocolate into the bottom of each cup and pop in the freezer for 5 minutes. Heat about a 1/4 cup of peanut butter in the microwave for 20 seconds to soften. Place a dollop of softened peanut butter in each muffin cup and pour remaining chocolate over the top. Refrigerate for an hour, then enjoy!

For dipped fruit:
Dip fresh fruit in your chocolate before placing on parchment paper, then refrigerate for one hour before eating. You may need to dip your fruit 2 to 3 times depending on how chocolatey you want it to be. Best to enjoy the fruit within 1 to 2 days of dipping. Bonus: Sprinkle nuts on the outside of your fruit after 10 minutes of refrigeration and press into the chocolate for an extra treat.

The xylitol, cocoa butter and espresso all make for a richer and sweeter chocolate experience, but if you're short on ingredients or just prefer to keep it simple you can leave them out. Store your finished chocolate in the fridge to prevent melting, especially if you're skipping the cocoa butter. Enjoy indulging your sweet tooth, and until next time, keep it clean!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Give Your Room a Weekend Makeover

Whatever room in the house you're looking to give a lift, nothing makes a bigger statement than color. It's also the cheapest and easiest way to make everything look new, different and fresh. Depending on the paint, size of the room and what you'd like to paint, you can expect to budget anywhere from $75 to $200.

Choose Your Palette
Art and Furniture
This could arguably be the most difficult part of the process. A great place to start with most people is with what you already have. Check out your existing furniture. Is your furniture more traditional or modern? Do you have art hanging on the walls? What colors are in the art? What color are your floors? Is the room you want to update well-lit and open, or dark and small? If your furniture is more traditional, look at a traditional painting with colors you like for ideas, like a John Singer Sargent or Da Vinci. For bright and modern, check out more contemporary art like Kandinsky or even pop art like Warhol.

Just Color
Conversely, you could just think about color alone. Do you gravitate towards earthy, neutral colors or do you like bright and bold? Remember that certain colors can change the feel of a room. If you want a room to feel smaller and more cozy, you may want to choose a dark but soothing color like a warm brown. If you want a bold pop of color but don't want to feel overwhelmed, try painting a single accent wall, or a small room like a bathroom or pantry. Bold colors also work great as accents in rooms where there isn't a lot of wall space to paint, like kitchens.

Compare, Complement and Contrast
It's very helpful to use a color wheel to decide what colors you're going to use. If you want to get really fancy, check out a book or search online for "color theory" for ideas. Try to look for the base color in any neutral color, and use the color wheel to see what complements it. If you are painting the walls grey, but it's a bluish gray, you may want to include colors that are also bluish in your furnishings, like painting a side table an interesting shade of blue, or having a mirrored surface on a table or lamp. You can also pick the color opposite your chosen color on the color wheel to make a visually interesting statement. The color opposite blue on the color wheel is orange, so maybe you could move some terra cotta pots into the room to bring in warmth.

Prepare to Paint
Check out the square footage of the room or piece of furniture to gauge how much paint you need. A single master bedroom will probably need 2 gallons of paint, where a small table probably will only need a quart. If you're staining furniture, remember that a little goes a long way. Ask a person working at the hardware store if you're in doubt. Remember you can always get more later if you need it.

You also need to think about the surface you're painting. In places with lots of moisture, like bathrooms and kitchens, you'll want a glossier surface that won't soak up the water. If the surface you're painting is already glossy or shiny, you'll need to sand the surface, use acetone or mineral spirits to remove the shine, or use a paint-on primer so the paint will have something to stick to. If there are holes or dents in the wall, this is a good time to spackle over them. Be sure to lay down fabric tarps or rags over anything you don't want paint on. Taping off areas you don't want paint is helpful, but you can't always rely on the tape to give you straight lines. Even if you choose to tape off a spot, be careful and use the tape only as a fail-safe against drips or smudges. Painting directly on the tape will often assure that you have blotches or runs on the edges.

Stand back and enjoy!
Allow a few hours for the paint to cure before removing tape and tarps, then clean up and enjoy your work! New paint can update a place, obliterate smudges and stains and make everything feel brand new.

Until next time, keep it clean!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Giving Yourself Over to Trust

As children we take trusting others for granted. We rely on our families to feed and protect us, religious leaders and teachers to educate and guide us, friends to comfort and accompany us. However, as we get older, we learn along the way that not everything we hear or are taught is completely true. It's one side to a vast world of stories, cultures, needs and beliefs. We learn that our families may not have known the best path to take in every situation, that what may have seemed like solid fact is more based in belief, that educators don't always know more than their students, that friends sometimes say one thing but end up doing another.

And as we get older still, rather than learning to resent that unreliability, we see in ourselves those same flaws. We realize being older does not always grant wisdom, that we're not always sure what the difference is between the right path and the easy path. And we see ourselves making the same mistakes that we previously could not understand in others. To avoid making mistakes, we retreat into what is safe, or even punish ourselves for past decisions.

To protect against this disillusionment, we each turn to different things. Maybe it's getting lost in a faith or a political belief, because knowing one thing has a clear right and wrong helps everything that doesn't make sense fall into place. Maybe we turn to physical comforts, like food, alcohol, or sitting in front of the TV for hours. Some may get lost in another person like children or a significant other to define their life. Some get lost in their work, so that they don't have to go home and think about their problems, or even think that being productive or successful will make everything else easier.

Whether a person has a strong religion, works hard or loves food, it isn't these habits themselves that define a person or that cause problems. It is whether we approach the things we do every day with fear or love. Fear can sometimes be healthy. It can protect us from dangerous situations, help us to plan ahead and drive us to make stronger choices for our future. But fear can also close us off, cause us to drop or miss connections and opportunities, cause us to hate without reason, prevent us from learning something new, and even prevent us from finding peace, gratitude and love in our lives.

Our intention, in everything we do, can completely change our lives. Try waking each morning and meditating on your intention to let go of your fear and open your heart to opportunity, possibility, and what other people can offer you. Instead of worrying about what may happen or thinking about the bad things that have happened in the past, live in the moment you are in. You may be surprised about the new people you meet, the adventures you find and the things you discover about yourself.

Until next time, keep it clean!