Monday, November 20, 2017

It's the Most Wonderful (Shopping) Time of the Year

2017 Holiday Gift Guide

Low Star Studio
It's that time of year for, you know, eating and shopping and family and shopping and decorating and, hey, more shopping! In my house, I'm CEO of all things gift related for everyone, which means I've got a lot of experience figuring out what to get all kinds of people with all kinds of various present preferences. Here are some of my favorites in hopes of helping you with your holiday shopping list

For the Organic Product Person

Know someone who's all about great body products? I'm talking shampoo, lotion, oils, etc? Here's a site you need to check out: Maple Holistics. My recommendation is the tea tree shampoo and conditioner. As an essential oil, tea tree is know for it's cleansing and soothing-to-the-scalp properties. Add that in with the other oils found in this product and you have yourself a masterpiece of hair art.

Maple Holistics
You know how you always hear about product build up in your hair? This will solve that problem. After each use, my hair was literally squeaky clean- I kid you not. I'd run my hands through my hair and a squeak would emit. One thing I will note is that if you have finer, longer hair like me, you're going to want to double up on the conditioner for the ends. It can get a little tangly, but with the right amount of conditioner following the shampoo, you're good to go. Also, the shine, you guys. The shine! I noticed a serious amount of gloss and gleam after using this product.

They have subscription boxes (which are all the rage, as I'm sure you know- see below), beard oil, cosmetics- you name it, they've got it. The nice folks at Maple Holistics are giving away free samples, so make sure you grab that up as well!

For the Foodie Who Loves An Adventure

Look no further, friends. Try the World is an all in one food/traveling adventure in a box. It's a super fun, super cute, and super affordable gift for anyone in your clan who loves experiencing the world through new and amazing foods. My sister-in-law gifted me with this last year and I loved it! My box was all about India: food, tea, even henna art. It's a gift that shows you get who this person is and what they're interested in.
Try The World

For the Person Who Has Everything / Is Super Hard to Shop For

Uncommon Goods
Two words: Uncommon Goods. This has long been a favorite of mine for it's vast and ever changing collection of super unusual gifts. I'm not even sure where to start, gang. There are just so many options!

This pistachio pedestal; I've gifted it three times, it's that cool. Or these ocean reel salt and pepper mills. Or this beer cap map for the beer enthusiast in your group.

Oh man, you guys. I just found 10 more things I want to buy...for myself.

For the Person Who Can Take a Joke (Also great as a While Elephant gift)

These candles are, hands down, one of my most favorite things in the world. Need something for your bother from another mother? Your sarcastic office BFF? Your second cousins first wives neighbors brother who just won't take a hint? I give you: Flick Candles aka Classy Candles for the Classless.

Scents include: Fantasy Football Failure, The Friend Zone, and Love Me Tinder, to name a few.
Flick Candles

For the Book Loving, Quiet Seeking, Introvert Friend

Tea is a vital part of my life, and is hugely popular in my house. I could spend hours talking to you about all the goodness that is tea, but since it's the holiday season and no one has time for that, let's get down to business.

Between Harney and Sons and Kusmi, you have endless tea options- all of which are amazing. I swear by both companies and have been a long time customer of both. If I had to narrow it down to my go-to "everyone loves these" flavors, I'd say:

Harney and Sons: Hot Cinnamon Spice. There is something so warming, so cozy, so life giving in this tea that when you sit down to a cup of it, it really does make everything in that moment peaceful and calm and good. There are a lot of teas that try to live up to this same flavor combination but this one, this tea, is THE TEA.

Kusmi: Strawberry Green Tea. Thinking about this tea makes my mouth water, and not just because it's excellent. It will literally make your senses jump to life when you open the container thanks to the sweet smell of strawberries. Plus, the tin it comes in is super cute. I repurpose them as vases and mini-gardens. Win-win!

Note: The Kusmi site was under construction when I posted this, but if you Google "Kusmi Strawberry Green Tea" you'll find it!

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Reflection of Shadows: Through Fire and Ice

The Reflection of Shadows
A collection of moments
Through Fire and Ice

I'll get the matches and you get the guns,
We'll both fight our way through the land that we love.

We'll stand for the young and we'll stand for the old,
We'll stand for the people who are freezing in the cold.

We'll part down the middle; going left, going right-
They won't see us coming through the fire and ice.

I'll warn the children to stay safe, to go home.
You get the men who've been worked to the bone.

I'll fight for vengeance, you fight for love.
We'll meet in the middle with an understood trust.

We'll rest in the morning, take watch through the night-
They won't see us coming through the fire and ice.

You keep your wits about you, I'll keep my might.
You risk you safety and I'll risk my life.

We'll stand with the fallen; we'll do what should be done.
We'll burn and we'll melt, then we'll vanish in the sun.

And when the smoke is clearing in the dawning of the light,
They won't have seen us coming through the fire and ice.

Monday, November 13, 2017

In The World of Wellness: The Demonization of Gluten (Podcast)

In the World of Wellness: Interesting...
(Unknown original source of this cartoon)
If you're a longtime reader of mine, you know gluten is my arch nemesis in life. While I do not have celiac disease, I do have a fairly significant intolerance to gluten. When I eat it, alarms go off in my body. My hands almost immediately ache, as if I have severe arthritis. My stomach churns, and what feels like tiny little bombs explode in my belly. My hair falls out, too.

It sucks.

The Demonization of Gluten by the folks at Freakonomics is interesting. While it offers some very insightful historical data on the background of gluten and celiac research, it also talks about the cons of people going on gluten free diets when they shouldn't, as well as how people can be misdiagnosed.

I won't ruin it for you, but it's worth a listen.

Take care, friends.

Friday, November 10, 2017

The Reflection of Shadows: When You Search For Me

The Reflection of Shadows
A collection of moments

When You Search For Me
(written to a tune)

I love the way you smile, even when you're scared,
I love your heartache because you care,
I hate the moments you crumble and break,
But your love and compassion can't be taken away.

I made you perfect all the way through,
I made you special; there's no one like you.
I gave you life and I gave you choice,
And sometimes disaster helps you find your voice.

When you search for me,
When you look to me,
Some answers you seek
Aren't the answers you need.
Your strength is determined,
You'll find your way through,
When you search for me
I will find you.

I love the way you think life is too hard,
And I love the way you need to take charge,
I love your passion, your desire, and drive
Because you know the value of love in this life.

When you search for me,
When you search for me,
Close your eyes,
I am here,
I am what you need.
When you search for me,
When you look to me,
Those are the moments I know you believe.

I love the way you never give up,
When push comes to shove you give all that you've got.
I love your secrets, your wishes, and dreams
And the way that you search for the meaning of things.

When you're feeling weak,
When you search for me,
When your questions need answers
That won't let you sleep,
When there's more to the task
Than what's given at hand,
You believe in me
And I'll show you the plan.

When you search for me,
When you search for me,
In your moments of frailty,
I see you believe.
When you search for me,
When you look to me,
Close your eyes,
I am here,
I am what you need.

I am here by your side
And you'll find your way through,
When you search for me
I will find you.

Monday, November 6, 2017

All Around the World: The PNW

"To live is the rarest thing in the world.
Most people exist, that is all."
 - Oscar Wilde
Portland, OR

I've been hearing about the Pacific North West (or the PNW if you're in the know, you know) for years, but I hadn't ventured into Oregon or Washington at all. Needless to say, I was excited for this trip, y'all. Excited.

Gluten Free Dining in Portland

Brunch Box 
 - This place has my new favorite breakfast sandwich. It was so good, I considered eating it for dinner the next day...and breakfast the day after that. (I didn't, but I thought about it long and hard.)

Salt and Straw
 - Yes, it's popular and yes, it's good, but to be honest, I wasn't as blown away by it as I was expecting to be. Maybe it had just been built up way too much, I don't know. The line was incredibly long, but it moved fast, and the service was great. It still didn't see like the most amazing ice cream ever, which I did end up discovering later on during this trip, as you'll see below. That being said, very close by is Tea Chai Te. They have an excellent and huge selection of teas, plus a cozy little place to hang out and relax for a bit. Definitely worth a visit, tea friends of mine.

The Hazel Room
 - You must go here. I had one of the very best breakfasts ever, as did my non-gluten free husband. Plus, in the same building you'll find Altar, a super chic little store with clothes, lotions, jewelry, and crystals galore.

VooDoo Donuts
 - While they (still) don't offer GF donuts, it is a must for anyone you might be traveling with that doesn't have a gluten intolerance. Let's be real- our friends and family always have to plan their meals around our allergies, so we owe it to them to let them have their own delicious experiences, even if we don't benefit. Very often my hubby and I check out my GF spots and his non-GF spots, so everyone gets a little something-something.

Portland's food carts or pods (as they're called)
 - There is a rather large selection of GF options at various pods throughout the city, so just do some research before hand so you know which ones to look for and where exactly to go. I tried the Grilled Cheese Grill and, unfortunately, felt a little ill afterward. Be careful when you're out there and lookout for cross contamination.

Le Pigeon
 - An incredibly cute, cozy, and elegant establishment with a rather large selection of items. The duck salad is absolutely worth ordering. I would've ordered three of those and just called it a day if I'd know it was going to be that good.

Petunia's Pies and Pastries 
 - Holy taste buds! This is a must...for dinner. The name doesn't explain it, but they offer breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It is all vegetarian, so heads up for my meat loving friends, but my veggie pot pie was unfathomably delicious. I would pay a lot money to have that baby shipped to my house. Yes, yes I would.

Things To Do In and Around Portland

 Powell's Books, y'all.
 - GO HERE. If you enjoy reading, if you enjoy browsing, if you just want to see a ginormous book store, go here. I'm still floating on cloud nine after visiting this place. There are different levels, which are separated by different themes, there's food and shopping, and oh so many books. It was love at first sight.

 The Meadow is definitely worth a visit.
  - This little store offers big things in the ways of salt and chocolate, plus some. I've never seen so many chocolate bars in one place, or so many kinds.

Street Art Discoveries
 - Portland has a lot of street graffiti (aka awesome murals) all over the city, so be sure to check them out. You'll almost always stumble upon one without even trying. The giant lovely lady you see to your left will be vanishing soon. Apparently, something is going to be built that will block most or all of her, so go check her out while you can.

 - We spent a lot of time in the downtown area, but we also purposely rented a car to get out into nature. It turned out to be a massive fail, but at least I can warn you.

Our plan was to visit Multnomah Falls and then hike through Oneonta Gorge. Such a bad idea, you guys. First of all, it was crowded. Disneyland crowded. There was no parking and we got stuck in a ridiculous line of cars for a solid hour. What I thought (based on what I'd read) would've been a nice, easy visit took hours. HOURS. And honestly, it didn't feel worth it after everything was said and done. If you've seen one waterfall, you've seen them all.

The gorge was the one item I'd really been waiting for. If you google pictures of it, you'll see what I mean. It's a photographers dream. But here's the harsh reality that I was completely unaware of until we got there: It's not meant to be hiked. At least, not a certain part of it (right off the main road) according to the park rangers and the folks in charge of the area.

When you arrive, you literally walk into what appears to be Mother Nature's attempt at blocking you off from entering. You are greeted with the remains of a rock/log slide. Giant boulders and huge chunks of trees block off the entrance to the gorge. And they're not stable, gang! No, no. They wobble when you're on them, they get super slippery and wet from the kazillions of people trying to cross, and it's just down right unpleasant.

Honestly, it felt like Mother Nature was saying "Listen, mother effers, you are not welcome here." The hubs and I got halfway through and decided this was all wrong, so wrong, so, so wrong, so we got the heck out of there. Apparently (and not at all surprisingly, based on what I saw) people have broken body parts trying to get to the gorge through this path. Oh, and someone died. So yeah, not exactly what I had in mind. I think there's another entrance somewhere, but I'm not a navigation/hiking/wilderness expert. You'd think if you saw hundreds of people gathered around a certain area that would mean this is the entrance, no? No. Whatever the case may be, it's not safe and you should know that in advance.

Cathedral Park and St. Johns Bridge
 - Basically as cool and beautiful as every picture on Pinterest leads you to believe. Forest Park is also right across the way and far more worth your time (if you ask me) as far as a hiking place to check out. It's just more convenient and you still get some serious views with amazing greenness all around you.
The Meadow
The waterfall that took forever to get to.
The gorge. See what I mean? 
(Sorry it's blurry. My life was flashing before my eyes.)
St. John's Bridge
Forest Park
On our way to Seattle, we stopped in the little bitty town of Vernonia, OR for one reason and one reason only: this fuel bunker.

There is nothing I love more than abandoned things, except maybe abandoned things covered in graffiti. It's super easy to find, too. Just plug in Vernonia Lake, park in the parking lot at the entrance, and then walk 10 minutes around the path and you're there.

Cannon Beach

Our next stop was Cannon Beach, where we spent the afternoon. It was jam packed, but gorgeous nonetheless. The beach, the buildings, the shops- everything is beautiful at Cannon Beach.

Wayfarer is a great choice for food. I had an awesome salad and got some killer views of the beach, all in one. We also stopped and got some ridiculously good ice cream at Schwietert's. I'm talking some of the best ice cream of my life. Save the calories you would have used at Salt and Straw and go here instead.

The last piece of Oregon you'll experience is Astoria (you know it from Kindergarten Cop) and it's magnificent bridge. Gorgeous.

We kept the rental car to drive along HWY 101 to Seattle and, I have to say, this was one of my favorite things about our trip. The sunset + the forest + the water = picture mania.

(Warning: Prepare to be bombarded with photos of aforementioned beauty.)

Overall, we really enjoyed our time in Portland and all around Oregon. I would definitely go back again to find some new adventures in this gorgeous part of the country. And for the crazy good food.

Seattle, WA
If you're a fan of 10 Things I Hate About You, then you're probably my kind of person and we should be friends. That's beside my point, so let me re-focus. If you saw the movie (and fell in love with Heath Ledger like millions of other people did) then you also probably fell in love with Seattle, at least what you saw of it in the movie.

I've been waiting that long to come check it out, and it finally happened.
*throws fists in the air triumphantly*

Gluten Free Dining in Seattle 

Biscuit Bitch
 - GF biscuits and gravy? For reals?! Yes, guys. Yes. Biscuit Bitch is a must, but get there before they run out of GF biscuits and before the lines get crazy.

Shaker + Spear
 - An excellent choice for a night out on the town. I am a die hard seafood fan, so I was rather elated to see grilled octopus on the menu. My taste buds were also elated.

 - Located not too far away from the lovely Fremont Troll, this was a nice happenstance after a long day's adventure. They have one savory and one sweet GF option every day, so you'll have to do some advance research to see if the flavors they're offering are of interest to you.

Pike Place Chowder
 - They offer two GF options, but I wasn't a big fan of either. That being said, this is another one of those great places "normal" people should check out. My hubby thoroughly enjoyed his chowder and sandwich.

Macrina Bakery
 - They offer two to three delicious GF items. The fruit that's on/in them changes daily, but you'll always get roughly the same pastry options. I had the strawberry biscuit and my mouth is watering thinking about it now.

Elliot's Oyster House
 - This awesome restaurant is located right on the water in the very popular pier area. I had an excellent salmon dish with equally excellent fresh veggies.

 - Not only is the decor awesome, but my GF pizza was excellent. EXCELLENT. The customer service was also pretty doggone impressive.

 - Thirsty? Then hit up this refreshing tea store. The options are endless and the service is great.
Rocco's GF mushroom pizza

Things To Do In and Around Seattle

Pike Place Market, y'all.
I know, I know; it's the most obvious and touristy thing you can probably think of, but it is awesome. We went back several times, that's how much there is to see and do...and eat!
 - Tiny's Organic is my new favorite of all favorites. The apple cider is to die for. They have regular apple cider, blackberry apple cider, peach, pear, and - my favorite - cherry apple cider. I went to this place so many times I made friends with the guy running the stand. This seriously needs to be at the top of your list, gang. 
 - Chukar Cherries: Almost every single thing is GF and you can try almost every single thing. Delish cherry products, that is no doubt. Plus, the folks running the counter are hilarious and might even tell you a story while you're there.
 - Sunny Honey Company has the cutest and biggest selection of flavored honey sticks! I have a few honey lovers in my family, so these made perfect little surprise gifts. 
 - Moon Valley Organics has some seriously amazing lotions and potions. Plus, the owner is super sweet. Just meeting her and chatting with her was worth a visit.

 - Cinnamon Works is right across from Pike's Place and is a gem. There's an entire section of their display window dedicated to GF baked goods. Definitely check them out!
My new BFF with my favorite apple cider.
The Suzzallo Library
 - A sight to see if you're in the area and want a quick peak. If you're a Harry Potter fan, then you definitely want to check it out. Trust me.

Olympic Sculpture Park
 - Nice sculptures and good for a nice walk, but not a must see if you only have so much time to spare. That being said, there is a really cute beach down below the park where seals sometimes hang out, which is adorable.

The Space Needle
 - No need to visit it directly, folks. There are views of the city everywhere you go because Seattle is hilly as hell. If you're dying to go up to the top of the needle, go for it, but it's not necessary in my opinion.

Chihuly Garden and Glass
 - The glass art work is absolutely stunning, but it does cost a pretty penny to get in and the place is a lot smaller than one would think. If you aren't a glass lover, then skip this and use your time elsewhere.

Downtown Seattle
The beach near Olympic Sculpture Park
The Pier
Now for your 10 Things I Hate About You adventuring pleasure:

 - Gasworks Park (where they filmed the paint balloon scene) it actually rather cool. I didn't think I'd dig it as much as I did, but once you're there, it kind of hits home how unusual and weirdly awesome the place is. Unfortunately, with all of our travels in and around the PNW this year, there was a boatload of smoke due to the terrible fires. I'm talking ash falling on us kind of smoke. I'm guessing Seattle (and Portland) are probably even more gorgeous with clear skies. I truly hope the fires are under control and everyone is safe and sound.

 - Fremont Troll is a must. It's a troll under a bridge. Need I say more? Plus, when you're out and about on this side of town there's some rather excellent stores to check out. Start with the troll and then keep on going.

 - Kerry Park: First of all, this is not a park. That is a bold faced lie. This is a strip of grass with a great view and a teeny tiny playground off to the side- but that's it. Honestly, the views aren't even that great if you ask me thanks to dozens of cranes all along the coast. There are a lot of good views of the city, so be open minded to other options.

Side Note: The amazing high school and the house from the film aren't actually in Seattle. For those babies, you'd have to venture over to Tacoma.

All in all, I would say our trip in the PNW was pretty amazing. You can never go wrong with great views and delicious food. I completely see the lure of these lovely places and why the PNW is a sought after destination.

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Reflection of Shadows: Gave You Away

The Reflection of Shadows
A collection of moments
Gave You Away

I gave you my heart, but you threw it away,
I gave you my words, but in silence you stay.
I gave you my promise, but you made it break,
I gave you my wisdom, but you broke in its weight.
I gave you my breath- you inhaled too deep,
I gave you my wants and you gave me your needs.

What I gave you, I gave you,
You cannot repay,

So I gave you, I gave you...

I gave you away.

Monday, October 30, 2017

In The World of Wellness: What's in Your Head?

In the World of Wellness: Get to know yourself a little better

My friend recently pointed me in the direction of 16Personalities, a free online personality test that blends science with psychology to help you better understand who you are. The test is easy, fast, and highly informative, with loads of details about why you think the way you do.

Turns out, I'm the weirdo everyone suspected: An INFJ. If you're a weirdo person like me, you make up less than 1% of the population. While this sounds all awesome and fascinating, the reason I point that out is because, thanks to this test, it helped me understand why I struggle with, well, other people sometimes. Which is to say, it can be challenging conveying ideas and feelings since there are so few folks who think the way I do.

Another fun thing the site does is tell you who has a personality trait like yours. For instance, since I fall into the category of "The Advocate" the site shows me other famous advocates. My personality likens to MLK, Nelson Mandela, and Goethe. But also (here's where the nerd in me gets really excited) Jon Snow and my favorite character in my favorite movies: *trumpets blare and angels sing* Aragorn.

Not only is it great for getting to know who you are as a person, it's a great way to better understand your partner, your friends, and family members.

For more info, read their Our Theory section and then get to it!

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Reflection of Shadows: Introversion

The Reflection of Shadows
A collection of moments

Every time you
Found me,
Found me,
Tried to guide me,
Left me drowning.
Don't you realize?
Don't you get it?
I'm not built with
That equipment.
I can't take the
Crowds of people,
Growing, growing.
I need silence.
I need space-
Where you find life,
I suffocate.
I don't like drama
Fraught with people
Faking, playing
Church and steeple,
Let me go
And leave me be-
An empty room
Will set me free.