shower thoughts

As someone interested in bathing culture, I often find myself pondering specific acts and accessories associated with cleansing. Years ago, after a heavy phase of reading up on Japanese bathing culture I wanted to try and incorporate some of this beauty and pleasure into my own crusty, rental apartment bathroom ritual. Since I didn’t have stacks of cash to sink into bespoke hinoki bathing quarters I purchased one of the few things in my price range: a plastic bucket. In Japan these would traditionally be made from a specific type of cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa) known for its lemony scent, strength and anti-bacterial properties. I believe my fossil fuel version was from Daiso and to date now I own two. In biosphere-guilt retrospect I probably should have just bought a nicer wood one, but these are handy and I hope to use them into oblivion now that I have them.

hinoki

Prior to bucket purchase I had never truly meditated on how it feels to pour water over ones head from a bucket vs. a shower head. Surely this was some childhood indulgence I had long forgotten. It REALLY DOES FEEL AMAZING and different! Trust me, try it. The bucket can be anything really: a reused large yogurt container, medium sized bowl or pitcher…essentially a durable vessel you can get wet. I like something with a handle. I find that my bucket also is very handy for cleaning the tub/shower and storing stuff. I like to imagine myself flip flopping down to the sento with my personal scrubby cloth and soap tucked into my bucket.

Another Japanese dollar store purchase has also found its way into my shower: the sand timer. This one I also got at Daiso and since it is made out of lucite I just leave it in the shower so I can keep an eye on how long I have been in there. Mine runs for 3 minutes, so if I’m being “good” I give it two flips and do a 6 minute shower. This is good for those of us living in drought country who want to be more conscious of water use (which really should include all of us resource hogging Americans). As an alternative I’m sure you could also use a digital timer stuck somewhere it won’t get totally soaked. I do like the elegance of the lucite sand timer, though.

Now on to the topic of scrubbing. I recently retired a nasty nail brush made of plastic and decided I would prefer to replace it with something made of natural materials. I ended up going with a wooden brush with tampico fiber bristles. This version is biodegradable, yay! This is the brush from Wild Minimalist I went with:

Wood_Nail_Brush_1_1024x

I have also discovered the joys of showering with only natural light or dimmed light. My shower is plagued by permanent mildew stains all along most of the caulking thanks to a rushed/crappy job at behest of the landlord. To minimize the impact of this blight, I now only shower with the hall light on or with whatever natural light comes through the frosted window. Viola! Stains and crust become less visible in the dim. I’ve also used candles and a modified camping light to attempt a soothing “mood light” for shower time.

If you are interested in learning more about bathing culture I recommend these books:

Japan, A View From the Bath by Scott Clark

Pleasures of the Japanese Bath by Peter Grilli and Dana Levy

Cathedrals of the Flesh by Alexia Brue

The Japanese Bath by Bruce Smith

How To Take a Japanese Bath by Leonard Koren

Advertisements

dishwashing

Recently I watched this YouTube video of Lloyd Kahn of Shelter Publications about how he does his dishes and can’t explain why but this kinda thing captivates me. It’s sort of soothing to see someone walk you through how they do their dishes in their adorable hand-build home. Enjoy.

lloyd kahn dishwashing

mustard greens – fermented and pickled

IMG_8848

I have been enamored of the Northern Thai dish Khao Soi Gai for some time now and thanks to this recipe have discovered that with a little work, it’s not too difficult to make your own version of this rich, coconutty, impeccably spiced noodle dish at home.

It starts with a curry paste from scratch. This takes a little effort, but is made 10 times easier if you cheat and use a food processor (not a mortar and pestle). I wholeheartedly recommend making at least a double or triple batch and freezing. This stuff is delicious and versatile and since it’s a tad time consuming up front, you’ll be so thankful you made extra. From there, really it’s just a matter of cooking up the paste with coconut milk, some liquid and a few other key ingredients. Where do the mustard greens come in you ask? Well as you see from the recipe, these are a topping (along with sliced shallots and crispy fried noodles) and give the rich broth a nice sour balance. In short, this all comes together to create a decidedly “dank” mix of flavors.

IMG_4686So when I recently wanted to make this for friends I thought I would try making my own pickled mustard greens instead of using store-bought. After some searching I realized I had a couple of options: one that would give me results within a day and one that would take a few days of pre-planning. I tried both and here’s what I found.

The first recipe I tried was this one from Ted Allen. Essentially you are making a pickling brine and pouring the hot brine over the greens to sit for a while and voila, you have your pickled greens. I substituted one Serrano pepper instead of the Thai bird chilies and that gave a perfect subtle touch of spice. These were ready to go in a couple of hours once they had cooled.

The second recipe I tried was this one for fermented mustard greens. Key difference here is that these get their tang not from vinegar but through fermentation. I would say it took a good 3 days at room temp for me to get the greens to the level I wanted them. After that, they went into the fridge. The flavor here is a little different – you get that tangy, slightly effervescent effect from the fermentation (not to mention the beneficial bacteria!).

There you have it, pickled mustard greens two ways! Ready and able to top a steamy bowl of Khao Soi Gai, or any other dish that needs a sour, salty note.

 

 

bring back the hanky

IMG_8202

The only person I have ever seen consistently use a hanky is my dad. When I was kid I distinctly remember his stained, unadorned white hanky which he kept tucked in his back pocket. It was gross but practical and seemed to me a cool accessory at the time.

As an adult I have been drawn to the more ornate “lady” hankies to be found in thrifts and vintage stores. I would usually buy them for some decorative, non-nose related purpose and then lose them somehow. So recently I have decided to bring back the hanky as a practical, eco-friendly way to keep my boogers in check.

Above are some of my late grandma Betty’s ornate hankies. I recently snagged one, washed it, and have been using it ever since. Cloth has the benefit of being reusable and gentle on the nose. It also looks classy! One other bonus, if you’re desperate for a napkin and your hanky isn’t too disgusting, it will double as one in a pinch.

IMG_8849PS hanky pro tip: look for very lightweight, thin and soft fabrics. You don’t want to try any complex maneuvers up there with something too thick. Also, thinner fabrics dry WAY faster and you want that in a hanky.

For some hanky history check out these links:

http://handkerchiefheroes.com/home/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Handkerchief

i love JONS

IMG_8124

Live in Los Angeles? Want to have pushy elderly people invade your personal space? Hear one of your favorite En Vogue songs as you peruse the produce? Stock up on delicious Armenian goodies? Then look no further…

For a couple years I lived down the street from the Hobart/Santa Monica Blvd location of the Southern California grocery store chain, Jons. In my opinion this is by far the best Jons location and will be the focus of this post. But if we’re getting technical I’d say the Glenoaks Blvd location in Glendale is my second favorite.

The fact that this was my neighborhood go-to market was both a blessing and a curse. I could literally traipse down and in a few minutes have affordable groceries, including lots of tasty deli, produce and imported items at my fingertips. I was so close, my phone would often default “geo-locate” my photos at Jons. Ah the good old days…

fullsizerender-4.jpg

Here are handful of Jons pros and cons:

PROS

  • A substantial selection of produce, including some hard to find items (fresh endive anyone?)
  • Best music I’ve ever heard in a grocery store
  • Affordable!
  • No shortage of Persian cucumbers
  • Lots of labneh to choose from
  • Hibiscus flowers in bulk
  • Cheap booze and interesting Eastern European beers
  • Almond Roca at the checkout
  • Amazing check-out staff
  • Next door to Paro’s Chicken
  • Ample parking
  • Fresh Armenian flatbreads
  • Once I saw a man pushing a full-sized cart up to checkout with literally one item in it: a tall can of Budweiser

CONS

  • Extreme paucity of hand-held baskets
  • Long lines at peak hours (like, really long)
  • Lack of respect for personal space at the checkout
  • Unabashed line cutters

I’ve been back a few times recently and was definitely reminded of the cons, but nonetheless they had all the random items I was looking for: Matzos, tomatillos, tahini, labneh, pasilla peppers. I was also delighted to find that they started carrying more organic produce and had installed those thunderstorm sound effects that go off when the produce gets a misting. I love sound effects in the grocery store! And of course, I heard one of my favorite Earth Wind and Fire songs on the PA. Can’t complain there.

Jons has also introduced me to new foods – for example, this delicious Armenian eggplant “caviar.” Spread some of this on fluffy flatbread from the deli and rejoice!

IMG_8121

Some other random thoughts: I love that they always have super glue at the checkout, booze is cheap, and there is a coinstar. Also worth noting – the restaurant next door, Paro’s Chicken, is dang good. I love the “ootee” sandwich: grilled chicken, basil, feta, grilled onions and peppers(?) and delicious pickled veges on the side. Treat yourself to one after having stood in line for a half hour and your frustrations will melt away.

Oh and there is a scene in Jons from the 1993 erotic-thriller Dream Lover, starring Madchen Amick and James Spader!

Bon appetit!

 

 

a tale of two kitties

 

 

Earlier this year I went through the challenging process of trying to adopt a second cat and having it not work out. It was not a shock that they couldn’t cohabitate, but I was surprised by how emotional and stressful this experience was. Now that some time has passed, I thought I would share a bit about it in the hopes it might help those considering adding another furry friend to their household.

To preface I will state the obvious. Every cat is different and every situation is different. Some cats are clearly more open to other kitties and some really are best off being the only feline in the house. Then there are also those who learn to tolerate each other with or without occasional flare ups. You really have to decide for yourself what you are comfortable with. Would you go to great lengths to keep the peace even if it required lots of time, effort and possibly money? Do you have the space and time to make sure that each kitty has a rich environment, enough territory and attention? Can you handle the stress of them not getting along including not only aggression towards each other but stress related behavior like peeing outside the litter box? SO many questions. I would highly recommend doing your research and learning about some of the issues that can come up in a multi-cat household. This way you can be informed when you start to ask yourself these all-important questions. I’ve listed some links below to resources that I found helpful. There’s a lot out there and some of it can be a little contradictory, so I tried to include resources that I found the most reliable. Most importantly, be patient with the kitties and yourself. What works for some people might not work for you and that’s okay.

Alright, onto the kitties! Above on the left is the beautiful loving teenage boy cat we called Francis, a.k.a. the newcomer. The fluffy kitty on the right, Willy, is our resident cat. She is almost 6 years old, a “dilute” tortie, and moderately sassy. Let’s say she has mellowed with age. As a younger cat she displayed a lot of territorial and aggressive behaviors and still does but not to the extremes she did in the past. Essentially I was well aware that it would be challenging and perhaps impossible for her to warm up to another cat in her house. I’d done my research and it seemed like the only way to really find out if this could work was to give it a shot.

We decided to visit the local rescue Sante d’Or on a busy Saturday to “just see some kitties and ask questions.” I figured they could help with advice on what type of kitty would be a good potential match for Willy. After hanging out for a while and meeting lots of kitties we were told that there was a super sweet boy cat, age 7 months, who was at an adoption fair but would be back later that afternoon. We waited a couple hours and went back to meet “Declan.” He was beautiful. He was snuggly. I was in love. After meeting with their awesome executive director Christy and doing a home inspection we were given the green light to bring him home. Sante d’Or let us know that we could take as much time as we needed to decide whether Francis was a good fit and that any vet visits prior to our officially adopting him were covered. I would strongly urge anyone to make sure that wherever they adopt from is equally as patient. Sometimes you really need a good amount of time to decide, and as we’ll see with Francis, there can be health complications that come into play.

IMG_7743Ah little Francis. One of the first things we noticed about him was that he was so “un-kitten like,” so chill, so sweet, so mellow. I’d read articles that suggested a boy cat would be a good match for our female and that it was easier for an older cat to adjust to a younger one. In theory I thought she would let him know she was boss and being the sweet passive guy he was, he would back down. We made our preparations for a slow introduction by establishing our bedroom/closet as “his” space (with his own litter box – important!), leaving the rest of the house to Willy. I had read all about scent swapping and using food as a way to bring them in closer contact gradually. I had the Feliway plug-ins going. I was ready! We got him set up in his room and he seemed pretty comfortable and curious. We fawned over him and let him feel out his new space. He slept a lot and best of all gave us little kisses at night. Sigh. But all was not well inside the poor guy. By day two he started coughing at night – like really loud deep coughing that woke us up. I took him to the vet right away and learned that he had a pretty bad case of pneumonia. He was put on antibiotics and brought back home. Respiratory infections are not uncommon in rescue cats, so I learned, and in hindsight I am so glad we took him in right away. First lesson learned: if something seems off, take them to the vet. You can never be too careful!

Francis took his meds like a champ (pill pockets are your friend) but after about 10 days he was still coughing. His follow-up x-rays showed that his lungs were not totally healed and we started him on another stronger antibiotic. He gradually seemed to be getting better and after another set of x-rays 2 weeks later he was given a clean bill of health. Yay!! However, something was changing. Francis was no longer the excessively sleepy little guy he had been at the outset. Now that he was no longer sick he had gradually become a different cat. He was still a sweetheart/snuggler but now he had energy, was curious and most importantly was up in Willy’s space. This is where things started to get complicated.

IMG_7808

I will try to describe this next phase in broad strokes. It was not pretty and it was heart wrenching. We would have good moments, especially at feeding time, at first on either side of the door and eventually together in the kitchen. There were times when Francis was still recovering that they were in the living room together and both sleeping. That was good! But when Francis was active and wanted desperately out of the bedroom it was hard to keep the peace. Hissing from Willy was common. Her having strange freak-outs where she would hiss and growl and spin in circles started happening. Francis wouldn’t even be in the room when this happened, so I wonder if it was stress related or her trying to seem intimidating. I tried to play with him as much as I could to keep him stimulated. We tried to use treats for positive reinforcement. I was furiously reading more and more. I bought a second kitty tower so they wouldn’t fight over Willy’s, but of course it was hers he wanted to be in and she was not having it. We employed a complicated system of baby gates to separate the rooms so he had more space. He learned to scale the baby gates and fights ensued. So then came a second and third baby gate draped in blankets so they couldn’t see each other. This failed too. The fights got worse and I was going insane. I started to wonder if we might have to medicate them to get a fresh footing to work from without fights. Was I really comfortable with that, though? The more time passed, the more I began to wonder if this was just too much for us to handle. Over 2 months I had fallen in love with little Francis. I felt like a failure. I wanted it to work so badly, but couldn’t decide if it were best to give up or give it more time. Throughout this period, Sante d’Or was very understanding. I kept them updated and kept a “kitty diary” to keep track of the experience. I listened to podcasts, read books and tried to stick with it. But in the end, it was not working. I was surprised by how intensely emotional it was, especially when I was in limbo trying to decide what to do. There were a lot of tears, but after much struggling it seemed like this was just not meant to be. We let Sante d’Or know that it wasn’t going to work and he went back to the shelter. We were told that even though it didn’t work with Willy, that we played an important role in getting him healthy. I comforted myself in knowing that now I had lots of detailed information about his personality to share with Sante d’Or and anyone considering adopting him. It was pretty clear he was such a little charmer that he’d have no problem getting adopted. And indeed, he found a new home very quickly. And also important, Willy was very happy going back to being the only cat in the house. It took a little time for her to settle down, but once she did I was sure we made the right decision.

I am intensely envious of those people out there who have been able to seamlessly introduce two (or more) cats to each other. I also have a lot of respect for those who push through and give kitties who may get off to a rough start lots of time to adjust. I realize that perhaps if I’d given it more time, maybe, maybe, they might have “tolerated” each other. But during this process I realized that I just didn’t have the patience or emotional fortitude to persevere through the madness. It does seem to make a difference whether or not you can keep your own personal stress and emotional involvement in check when things between the kitties are challenging. I learned that I was not cut out for this! And it is very okay if you realize you aren’t either. Perhaps if we had more space this would have been less challenging. I also feel that Francis’ age was another factor. He was a teenager for Christ’s sake! Of course he wanted to party! And of course Willy being the grouchy old lady she is, couldn’t take it. When I let my vet know it didn’t work out she said, “I could have told you a teenage cat wouldn’t have worked out well! You should have talked to me about it first.” Oooops. Well, another lesson learned.

In my mind I now envision an “American Graffiti” style epilogue where we get updates on where everyone in our story is at. “Francis is now living the high life in a palatial Los Feliz home and has a new name.” “Willy has contentedly resumed her position as queen bee and has found a new level of inner peace since the exit of ‘the invader.'” You get my drift. Devoid of the pleasures of a multi-cat household, I have started volunteering at Sante d’Or to get my fuzzy fix. I enjoy being in the presence of so many adorable kitties and loving volunteers.

So to wrap up, here are some of the lessons I learned and resources I consulted:

  • Always be aware of potential health issues. If something seems off, have it checked out asap!
  • Talk to your vet. Get their advice on how to choose another cat or cats. They likely have some good info for you on what to consider.
  • Be patient. Sometimes it takes quite a while (like even a year!!) for two cats to adjust.
  • Trust your gut. If it doesn’t feel right for you, don’t force it. Only you know what you can really handle.
  • Be prepared. Do your research and have a plan for a slow introduction. If you are lucky it will go well, but be prepared to have it not go easily and have your best foot forward. This means appropriate amounts of resources, setting up space to respect each kitty’s need for territory, environmental enrichment, playtime, vertical space, you name it!
  • Understand cat behavior and development. Know about the different stages of development cats go through so you know what to expect. Know how to read your cat’s behavior so you can respond appropriately.
  • Stay calm. This one is hard when you are emotionally invested, but try to think about the kitties’ needs first. The more calmly you can react to situations of stress, the better off they are.
  • Know how to properly handle aggressive situations. This can help keep fights from getting worse and keep them from hurting each other or you.

 

Books

Cat Vs. Cat, by Pam Johnson-Bennett: http://www.catbehaviorassociates.com/cat-vs-cat/

Cat Sense, by John Bradshaw: http://catsensebook.com/

Articles

http://nypost.com/2015/09/06/5-questions-to-ask-before-adopting-a-second-cat/

http://www.askthecatdoctor.com/fighting-cats.html

http://catsinternational.org/social-aggression-between-cats-sharing-a-house-2/

https://www.thespruce.com/introducing-older-cats-554060

http://bestfriends.org/resources/introducing-new-cat

https://www.petfinder.com/cats/bringing-a-cat-home/cat-to-cat-introductions/

https://www.petfinder.com/cats/bringing-a-cat-home/introducing-cats-to-new-cat/

http://www.catbehaviorassociates.com/how-to-introduce-a-second-cat/

http://blog.spiritessences.com/mojos-mailbag/2015/7/14/cat-to-cat-introductions

http://www.meowfoundation.com/resources/new-cat/#cat-and-cats

http://jacksongalaxy.com/blog/2014/07/08/cat-mojo-how-to-introduce-two-cats

https://www.petfinder.com/cats/bringing-a-cat-home/tips-for-first-30-days-cat/

Podcasts

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/ask-the-cat-doctor-talk-radio/id609037202?mt=2

 

 

diy flannel cotton pads

IMG_8221

This is a little project I did about a month ago that was well worth the time. I saw this post on the Chicago based site Litterless. For years I had been buying disposable cotton pads for eye makeup removal, never thinking how easy it would be to swap them out for a reusable version. Always happy to eliminate stuff that requires a trip to the store and laying down cash!

With my reusable ones I now no longer have to run to the store to buy them when I run out. They are easy to clean – I just wash them by hand with a little soap – and they dry quickly. I used a glass to trace my circles onto cotton flannel I bought as remnants. Then I used my sewing machine to sew a narrow zigzag stitch around the perimeter of two circles placed on top of eachother. I did the zigzag stitch twice to help prevent fraying. This worked really well.

The only issue I’ve had is the cotton flannel does lose its original fuzzy softness pretty quickly once you start washing them. I think next time I make them, I’ll likely try a fabric that will remain softer after washes. But regardless, these work great and are gentle enough for removing eye makeup. And of course reusable means less waste!