The Credit Card Points “Game” for the rest of Us

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When Mr. Los Angeles told me he wanted to start getting into the credit card points “game,” I was a little annoyed. It sounded like a lot of work trying to figure out which card to use when and for which purchases. At the time, I had my one solitary Visa that I used for everything. The fact that it had a points program (and and not a very good one, as it turns out) meant nothing to me. And then to redeem those points seemed even more daunting. Honestly, I don’t have the patience for that kind of minutia.

Honestly, when you look at how my time is spent, there’s not a ton of time left over to become a credit card Points Pirate:

30% working in an office
30% beauty sleep
20% being awesome (blogging is included in this category)
10% figuring out what I want on my breakfast burrito
5% laundry
5% FREE TIME.

There are plenty of people who have made credit cards points a hobby, even going so far as to bend or violate the rules of the credit card terms, usually at their own peril. Sometimes they’ll sign up for the hefty point bonus and then get rid of the card, known as “card churning.” This might work a few times but banks are hip to this scheme and are cracking down. Everyone wants something for nothing, I suppose, and initially that seemed like what I’d be getting into.

 

But then Mr. Los Angeles framed it to me like this: we could get first class tickets, hotels and travel basically for free.DING DING DING sign me up because I am on BOARD.

We went through all the different options and settled on the Chase Ultimate Rewards program. There are several choices within their program but we selected the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the Chase Freedom card. It’s fairly simple to use and there are plenty of opportunities to ear points besides your day-to-day, 1 point to 1 dollar purchases.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred offers the following:
  • 40,000 point signing bonus
  • an addional 5,000 points when you add the first authorized user (I think they’re trying to cut down on spouses signing up for two cards as opposed to one joint account)
  • Double points on restaurants and travel
  • 1:1 point transfers on travel partners. That list currently includes British Airways Executive Club, Korean Air SKYPASS, Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards, United MileagePlus, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, Amtrak Guest Rewards, Hyatt Gold Passport, Marriott Rewards, IHG Rewards Club and The Ritz-Carlton Rewards. The list becomes broader when you factor in that many of the frequent flyer programs will transfer (example: Korean Air SKYPASS points will transfer to Delta, BA Executive Club can transfer to United, etc). It’s a complicated redemption but more on that later…
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • Chip and Signature enabled (which is still not the Chip and Pin we’re looking for when we travel. Try using a chip and signature card at a gas or train station in Europe. Good luck!)
  • $95 per year
The Chase Freedom offers the following:
  • Note: I’m going to be speaking about this card in terms of points, although the default reward is cash back. By redeeming your rewards through UR, you are then able to combine your points on both cards
  • $100 signing bonus
  • 5x points on rotating spending categories
  • 1 point per dollar on all transactions
  • When combined with your Chase Sapphire Preferred, you are able to redeem your points on all the aforementioned travel partners
  • No annual fee

So I use the Chase Sapphire Preferred on almost everything, and the Chase Freedom when there’s a spending category that’s relevant to me.Simply earning a point per dollar and calling it a day is the easiest way to go. But I wanted my Paris tickets and I didn’t want to wait years to earn enough points.

But I am not willing to cut into my breakfast burrito time in order to play this game. Below are the easiest ways to earn points that don’t sacrifice time spent discussing the virtues of Tapatio*:

  • Took advantage of signing bonuses: back in the day, they were offering as much as 50,000 if you signed up. Those can fluctuate greatly. Take note of the terms of the signing bonus, which usually means you have to spend a certain amount of money in a certain amount of time. For my husband and I, that wasn’t difficult as we had committed to putting as many transactions as possible on our cards. It’s become such a regular thing that I hesitate when entering my PIN number because I use it so infrequently.
  • Use the Ultimate Rewards Mall: Think of the UR Mall every time you shop. I buy a ton of stuff within the Gap family (Banana Republic, Gap, Old Navy and Athleta). While you usually earn 1 point per 1 dollar on purchases, the UR Mall contains links to your favorite online retailers where you can get anywhere from 1-50 additional points per dollar. That means when Banana Republic is having a sale, my $100 purchase will earn me 300 UR points as opposed to 100 (that means I get the normal 1-1 points plus the 2 additional points per dollar as described in the UR mall). Even at Apple.com you can earn one additional point per dollar, which means my laptop purchase racked up over 6000 points. Of course, not every major online retailer is in the UR mall but there are enough to make a difference and earn you some serious points.
  • Take advantage of the Chase Freedom categories: each calendar year, the Chase Freedom card offers five extra points per dollar on specific categories and/or specific retailers. At this moment, they’re offering this bonus on gas stations and Kohl’s (yawn, especially since I have a Prius) but starting in September they’ll have Amazon! Your bonus points max out at $1500 per category and there are some options for both the lazy and the ambitious:
    • Lazy Mode: Take a look at the spending categories. Mark your calendar to remind yourself to use your Freedom card. Do you have an extra 10 minutes? Do you see a retailer or category that you frequent? Set a reminder to buy some gift cards in that category** (maximum of $1500) so you can earn the 5x bonus and use them later. Call it a day.
    • Ambitious Mode: Do the Lazy stuff, then take a look at the spending categories for the year. Figure out which retailers sell gift cards besides their own. For instance, I saw gift cards for grocery stores at gas stations. I definitely won’t max out the gas category in the time allotted, but I can get some gift cards at a gas station and take advantage of the 5x bonus.
Does this seem like too much work? Maxing out a category means an extra 7000 points.

Redemption:

Navigating the redemption process was giving me a headache. For instance, if I wanted to redeem for a flight on Delta, I’d have to book it through Korean Air. As an airline, they’re antiquated at best and interacting with them was difficult at best.

 

If you have time on your hands, it can be an interesting experience to learn how to navigate the confusion process of redeeming your points to get you where you want to go using the handful of airline transfer partners that UR offers. Personally, my time is becoming more and more precious (see graph above) so I enlisted the services of AwardPlanners.com. They specialize in booking business and first class tickets using award points which is exactly what I was looking for. I worked with Dennis and he was very patient and although we had an email chain about a mile long, Dennis got me tickets to Paris on business/first (the domestic flights were in First, the transatlantic flights were in Business) for about 200,000 points plus about $300 in taxes. The fee for this service was about $250.
That means, for about $550 and 200,000 UR points, we got two business/first flights from Los Angeles to Paris.

 

Finally, we get to the part about value. If you’re starting your foray into the points game, you’ll see people talking about their increased value in points, saying they received 7 cents per point or more (as opposed to the standard a penny a point). You might see someone sneer at a cash redemption vs a travel redemption simply because your money-to-point ratio is better. My Paris redemption was incredible, but not everyone would see travel as worthwhile (sigh).

 

I think people confuse monetary value with overall value. Had I redeemed my points for cash, I’d receive roughly $2000. Instead, I redeemed for over $10,000 worth of business/first air travel. Therefore, I quadrupled the value of UR points. However, if I had a financial crisis and needed to pay my bills, redeeming for cash seems like a great idea.

 

For us, our whole credit card point endeavor was meant to get points to redeem for travel. Not everyone values first class air travel, but it makes our vacation much more enjoyable when our 6-foot+ bodies can sleep comfortably on a 12-hour flight. The point is: value is relative. Choose what you want. Get a little something for nothing.

 

If you think you’re ready to get into this game, there are a few blogs out there: The Points Guy and Million Mile Secrets are both great. FlyerTalk is a great forum but it is incredibly vast and the commenters can be hostile on a good day and militant towards the newbies. No thanks.

 

 

 

 

*Hot Sauce + Los Angeles = Everything. When you go to a restaurant, there’s hot sauce on the table next to the ketchup and salt shakers. Before I met mi marid,o I couldn’t handle anything above mild salsa. Now I’m rocking spicy curries and hot sauce, including Tapatio (Tabasco tastes like boiled cats in coffee—no thanks). My awesome coworker put Taptatio in a bag of nacho cheese doritos and shook them up. Heaven. I saw Doritos started making Tapatio Dorritos. Don’t get them. They’re bullshit.
**Please double and triple check the gift card option. It seems like it’s working for the Chase Freedom categories, but it doesn’t work on Chase’s Ink card. There’s a huge bonus for purchases at Office Supply stores and people were abusing this option like crazy, so Chase closed that loop pronto.

 

 

 

 

 

Traveling with the LA Lady: Beauty & Makeup

Birchbox on flickr: https://flic.kr/p/ceB3Lm

Traveling puts you outside of your normal routine, which for me has meant struggling with breakouts and stressed skin on the road. My instinct is to bring my entire medicine cabinet with me “just in case” and at times I’ve needed it.

Instead of spending a fortune on new skincare and makeup products, I’ve simplified my routine and made it travel-friendly as a bonus. I’ve put together a list of what’s in my cosmetic bag, as well as a list of some of my favorites that are staying home…

Continue reading →

Traveling with the LA Lady: basic travel essentials

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So this year is going be big big BIG.

I will be traveling to Peru to hike up to Machu Picchu.

I will be traveling to Paris for two weeks just for funsies.

I may or may not be doing another trip to Europe… we’ll see…

But I’ve obviously been doing a ton of research (as I’m so apt to do) on my destinations, especially for my Peru trip. I want to be as prepared as possible since it will be a strenuous hike and well outside the norm. It’ll also be the first trip I’ve been on that requires a trip to the doctor for some vaccines and boosters… yeesh.

I’ll be detailing these trips, especially the gear and various preparations for Machu Picchu in subsequent posts but I’ve been browsing the internet looking for travel-friendly clothing and gear. Most of the time, anything “travel-friendly” falls under what has been (incorrectly) described as normcore. At some point it passes the point of simply being versatile and becomes boring. I swear… if I never saw a pair of wrinkle-free cargo pants again…

My point is that the term “travel-friendly” is mostly marketing. I started to look at things I already owned and love and the common theme is versatility. Almost all of my favorite bags, shoes and clothing to travel with can do double-duty. Here are some of the all-stars:

 

White Dress Shirt

I’m usually limited to synthetic knits when it comes to wrinkle-free clothing, but this shirt has the advantage of being tailored to my liking (some of the catalog brands out there also have plenty of wrinkle-free clothing, but they tend to be too boxy/blousey for my taste. I won’t go into the versatility of a white button down shirt since it’s been discussed at length. It also comes in this sateen cotton version and is available in a tall size!

Pants

While jeans would seem like a go-to, denim isn’t right for every occasion. A pair of dark pants, skinny or with a wide enough leg to fit a family of four (as is the new trend, sadly*) will get you more places than denim. A French woman once told me it’s easy to spot Americans shopping along the Champs because they’re wearing jeans. I think she was exaggerating but we Americans love our jeans for sure.

I’ve mentioned these pants before but I can’t say enough about them. These pants have a good amount of stretch so they’re great for the plane, too.

Shoes

 

Footwear is very specific to the destination but a pair of flats will at least take care of your feet while walking around (and if you’re not walking around, maybe think about exploring a little!). Most of the “comfortable” shoes out there also look casual, but Cole Haan has successfully paired style and performance thanks to the Nike heritage. If you are tired of ballet flats, there are plenty of sandals, wedges, loafers and boots available that still offer some comfort. Take a peek here.

Bag

Shoulder strap can be used as a cross-body

Cross-body strap can be shortened to a shoulder strap.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is there a bag that can do it all? Nope! Not by a long shot. But keeping with the form+functional trend, behold this laptop bag by Knomo Bags. Yes, it’s a laptop bag but it meets my personal criteria for a travel bag/purse:

  • a cross-body option for a little bit more security
  • large enough to carry an extra layer or two, a swimsuit, or whatever I want to tote around with me
  • doesn’t look like I swiped it from a bike messenger
  • has the option for carrying a laptop or iPad safely, should I need to haul those around

This might look gigantic but I’d much rather have a larger bag so that I don’t have to go back to my hotel every time I buy a souvenir.

Outerwear

If your travels are taking you to a warm, tropical place, a jacket might seem useless but having a little outwear for the plane or unexpected weather can’t hurt. NAU makes a lot of travel-friendly pieces and while some of them look pretty utilitarian, they are easy to dress up. This jacket will protect you from unexpected precipitation but is cute enough to pass off as a blazer. My husband has the men’s version and there are a lot of pockets and the details certainly justify the price.

Styled as outerwear. Cute, no?

Styled as outerwear. Cute, no?

So there are a ton of additional options like sweaters, tops, swimsuits (lucky you), dresses and accessories that you can tailor to your trip, but simplicity and packing lightly will make your trip so much more enjoyable without the chaos of overstuffed luggage. I don’t think there’s a trip I’ve ever taken where I haven’t returned home and looked at all the things I didn’t need. More often than not, they were boots or extra tops that just didn’t get worn.

Finally, I know it’s been a while since I posted and I thank all of you who stick with it. For new readers who’ve wandered here: Welcome! There will be more posts about beauty, fashion and fitness, all with a travel angle, coming up over the next few months. 

 

 

*also, have you ever tried to tuck in a wide leg pair of pants into boots? I think not! Maybe if I was petite I’d dig wide leg pants more… they’re just not for me.

Why I’m done with Lululemon (and overpriced athletic clothing): a tall women’s perspective

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So we’ll ignore the fact that I haven’t posted in a while. I’ll be catching you up on what’s been going down since then. But as I’m spending my weekend looking for workout clothing, I realized I had something to talk about.

If I haven’t mentioned it before, I’m 5’11” and any pants that are considered “regular” length simply look like capris. It might sound selfish to complain about being tall but the fact is I’ve spent a good chunk of time looking for longer lengths in pants and tops alike. Slowly, retailers like Gap have rolled out “tall” sizes and it has been my saving grace, especially for basics. Workout, athletic and “technical” clothing is still a little far behind the times but slowly they’re updating as well. Lululemon was one of the first I experienced that had dedicated tall-sized pants and their jackets and tops ran a little long as well.

In case you’re wondering, I do have a little bit of street cred when it comes to workout apparel. I’ve spent well over a decade stuffed inside leotards and have learned what makes them great, what makes them terrible and how to care for them to get the most amount of wear possible . Somewhere in there I started buying yoga apparel and that goes for Lululemon as well. At first, it was like someone answered my prayers! I justified the high price tags by reminding myself how difficult it was to find long inseams and lengths.

A few things happened that made me quit Lululemon for good. First, tall sizes became more common. When I’m hunting for workout wear these days, I have my choice between Old Navy and Athleta for tall tops and jackets. For bottoms, the list is much longer: Nike, Under Armour, 2XU, Asics, Champion (even their Target Brand, C9), Columbia Sportswear, Eddie Bauer, Land’s End, prAna, Saucony, Lucy, Skins and the list goes on (and if it’s not listed here, please let me know–I’m always on the hunt). Not all of those are cheaper than Lululemon but they have tall sizes and at least provide an alternative.

Second, the price. I picked up a pair of Old Navy compression leggings for $19. They’re long enough for me and would probably be long enough for someone a little taller than me. I also got a tall-sized zip up jacket for $24. With those prices, Lululemon looks gratuitous. Both garments were made out of polyester. That means plastic. Of course polyester can vary in quality. Even if Old Navy’s material was truly insufficient, I could get FIVE pairs of pants for the price of one Lululemon pair, the latter of which has a nasty habit of snagging and pilling. The result is a pair of pants that collects every particle floating through the air so you’re like a walking lint roller. So much for Luon.

Third, Lululemon has taken a strong stance on sizing and I simply can’t contribute to that kind of thinking. Although I fit into either a 10 or a 12 in their sizing, it sickens me that someone curvier than myself would be left out. I’m also convinced that they stock fewer items in the larger sizes. It’s either that or they are a bad judge of what sizes will sell. However, they’re too smart to make that mistake. For all the good they do in the community and the fact that they support fair labor practices (or maybe not*) and are a green company (depending on your perspective), focusing on only skinny betches is uncool.

Finally, I’m quite turned off by the fandom surrounding Lululemon. It’s become so awful that their newest merchandise will be bought out and will appear on eBay a week later for twice the price. And people are willing to buy it! I sold the remainder of my used Lululemon apparel for about 20% less than what I purchased it for. You read that right: someone bought my old, sweaty, pill-ridden athletic clothes for only 20% off retail. Hope they liked it.

So that’s it for Lululemon.

I’ve also mentioned before how I’m pretty specific about my laundry care. If you have workout gear, no matter how expensive or cheap, it needs to be washed properly. Moisture-wicking fabrics require some TLC so here are some tips:

  • wash in cold water
  • be careful of zippers and other buttons that might snag on your more delicate pieces. Zip them up or turn them inside out.
  • do not use fabric softener. Most fabric softeners contain surfactants which are designed to get into your clothes and stay there, hence the “fresh for days” claims. Eventually, fabric softener use will destroy the garments ability to wick moisture by clogging up the fibers with fabric softener. When that happens, the fabric is no longer “breathable.” If you don’t care about losing this function, go for the fabric softener, but most people purchase moisture-wicking fabrics for that very purpose.
  • Use conventional laundry detergent at your own risk. Keep in mind the “detergent” part. Many detergents contain surfactants so the detergent can better remove stains. Great for cottons, bad for synthetics. Your athletic clothing will last longer using a laundry “soap.” I’ve heard of people using Castille soap and there are a few workout-specific laundry soaps out there but I just use my regular Bi-O-Kleen.
  • Skip the dryer. When you remove moisture-wicking garments from your washing machine they often feel half-dry already. That’s because they’re good at their job! If you absolutely have to put them in the dryer, put them on the “air only” setting. Hanging them to dry will extend the life of any garment, especially workout clothing. Another reason to skip the dryer is heat: sometimes the moisture-wicking property is done by applying a coating to the fabric. Heat will usually burn the coating away after a few cycles in the dryer.
  • Lots of sweat? Wash sooner rather than later. Synthetic material tend to stain easier and retain odors more than natural fibers like wool and cotton. I don’t wash my workout clothes immediately, but if it’s something like a leotard that’s been plastered to my body for a couple of hours and is drenched, I wash it as soon as possible. If you can’t wash it right away, hang it on the back of a chair or a clothes dryer so it will air out. If you find your clothes are becoming perpetually stinky, use my baking soda and vinegar method and see if that helps. Both of those substances are good at killing bacteria and odors.

I do all of the above to extend the longevity of my workout clothes, especially leotards and base layers. With that in mind, I have leotards that are several years old and are still looking (and smelling) great and I really think it’s due to proper care.

Happy Sweating!

*A quick Google search will reveal evidence that Nike and Lululemon share the same manufacturing facilities. Nike doesn’t exactly have a gold star for labor practices. If you’re purchasing your Lululemon products based on the idea that they use fair labor, I’d do a little research to make sure that’s still the case.

 

Obsession: Ankle-zip pants

When skinny jeans debuted I wasn’t thrilled. Having thighs akin to Beyonce’s meant skinny jeans weren’t necessarily a good look for me. Every once in a while I’ll see a skinny pant/jean with zippers located at the ankle. More often than not, they appear on the outseam of the pant and not the inseam and I think more designers should consider the inseam. It’s a cleaner look from the outside and still gives you that fitted-with-a-slight-flare for those of us who don’t want to go Full Skinny. It’s easier to find an ankle-zip pant than it is to find pants or jeans with a demi-bootcut that’s fitted all the way to the lower calf and then a slight flare at the ankle (but if you are looking for that, American Eagle’s Skinny Kick jean is just that: almost completely skinny but with a slight flare just at the ankle). This way, your leg opening is customizable!

Anyway, now that the motorcycle-look is reappearing, there are more pants and jeans with random zippers popping up and so I’ve rounded up a few ranging in price. Click the photos for links on where to buy.*

 

Old Navy “The Rockstar Zip Pocket Pant” should really call out the zippers at the ankles and not the pocket. They come in four colors including this awesome red one. About $35. Bonus: TALL SIZES.

Wyatt Black Ponte and Leather Ankle Zip Stretch Pant

Wyatt Black Ponte and Leather Ankle Zip Stretch Pant. About $70. They sort of look like something you’d wear to spin class but I like the futuristic look.

Vince Ankle Zip Skinny Stretch Jeans

Vince Ankle Zip Skinny Stretch Jeans. About $245. These run longer than most skinny jeans so I’m 99% sure they’d work for the tall girls without looking ridiculous. Note the zipper is on the inseam which gives it a cleaner look from the outside. They also come in a gray color…

Vince Ankle Zip Skinny Stretch Jeans

which is right here! The knee detail is definitely moto and I’m all about gray denim.

3.1 Phillip Lim Cargo Trouser

3.1 Phillip Lim Cargo Trouser. About $375. It says they’re black but they definitely look like a warm black. This is about as chic as you can get with a cargo-esque style pant.

*Not affiliated with any of these designers or retailers, and I’m not responsible if you buy these and don’t like them. But if you do, let me know what you think in the comments

New York Fashion Week Backlash: a sign of a larger problem for the fashion

I don’t fancy myself a fashion blogger. I’ve never attended fashion week and the craziest I get with fashion is a great trunk show or flipping through a magazine. Recently, the subject of New York Fashion Week came up after Oscar de la Renta (one of my favorite designers of all time–so I know enough to know what I like) commented that Fashion Week now overcrowded with poseurs and celebrities and the people who “need” to see the clothes are getting elbowed out by photographers and the chaos of the show. While he has a point, he’s opened up a discussion about who belongs in the fashion need-to-know circle (editors, buyers, etc) and who doesn’t. The latter seems to be focused on bloggers, along with celebrities. To me, all of this sounds familiar.*

This is a slippery slope for the fashion industry. NYFW used to be a much smaller event that was truly for buyers and magazine editors who needed to see the collections so they could publish content within a relevant amount of time. Maybe it was after Mercedes Benz started sponsoring the event, or maybe it was when Tavi Gevinson got an invite to fashion week, but slowly it stopped being a private showing and started being a yearly convention. The advent of fashion bloggers definitely contributed to the growth of this show and then you had fashion bloggers/fans infiltrating the shows**.

The reason I’m bringing it up is that I’ve seen it before. As I teeter on the edge between Generation Y and The Millenials, I have witnessed firsthand what happens to industries that don’t evolve to accommodate the changes in culture and technology. Within the first 30 seconds of downloading my first song on Napster, I realized everything was going to change. The music industry built themselves up as the ultimate gatekeepers to music, only allowing a handful of what they deemed to be talented musicians to pass through their gates and on to multi-million dollar success. If you were a talented singer-songwriter in the middle of nowhere shopping around your demo tape, you had a .0001% chance of getting picked up by a record label. Now that we can download single songs, have sites like SoundCloud and social networking, everyone can be heard. It was about choice and price and the record labels didn’t understand that until it was too late.

And now we’re seeing the cable industry caving to the demands of culture, albeit slowly. Customers are tired of paying astronomical fees to watch only a handful of channels, and a la carte television viewing is on the rise. Unlike the music industry, you have to contend with both the cable companies and the networks, but to the consumer they’re part of the same entity. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how much you hate your cable provider) customers are ditching their cable package in favor of streamed content. This is a sign that they’re already too late to evolve.

The fashion industry has created a theater of elitism that has been successful in turning customers into rabid fans. Eventually, this elitist tactic will be their downfall if they don’t embrace change. Bloggers are the result of billions spent on advertising campaigns trying to lure customers into not just clothes but lifestyles. By eye-rolling at bloggers, the fashion industry is saying, “thanks for spending thousands of dollars on our clothes, writing about our clothes and ultimately creating free advertising for our brands. But you can’t come to the party.” Talk about biting the hand that feeds you. If fashion week is overflowing then they need to accommodate the growth instead of limiting it.

I’m sure Monsieur de la Renta was referring to how NYFW has gone from chaotic to ridiculous and he certainly has a point. Even he has a quite famous Social PR wrangler and understands the way we now learn about fashion, but there are still plenty from the Old Guard who love that they’ve gained admittance into the inner circle and don’t want that circle to become any larger. Writers like Suzy Menkes dislike the pacing but will ride out the storm in the hope that the frenzy will die down. I don’t think that will happen, but I do think we will become more adept at sifting out the white noise in favor of the brightest and the best.

So instead of trying to pare down NYFW, get some more chairs and get comfy: it’s going to be a long ride.

*I was definitely going to say, “all of this has happened before. All this will happen again,” but I thought a BSG reference would be odd in this post.
**BLOGGERS ARE WRITERS. The only difference is you read it in pixels and not paper.

The Definitive Natural/Organic Deodorant List, with a DIY option

Yea, you read that right: DIY deodorant. Come along with me on this journey, folks. I dare you.

What got me on the natural deodorant path was actually my laundry. I was tired of trying to purge my tops and shirts of my industrial-strength deodorant. If you’re curious, I was using a combination of baking soda and white vinegar, forming a paste and then using a toothbrush to rub the mixture into the antiperspirant stain. It’s obviously a pain in the ass and even more so during the summer.

Previously, I had tried a couple of natural deodorants and they didn’t work, even in the slightest. I realize now that I had to go through a sort of antiperspirant detox. It took about a week but the results are:

  • better underarm skin. Not that this was a priority but it was a nice surprise.
  • less sweating. Maybe my armpit skin was choking on the aluminum compounds in my antiperspirant… who knows.
  • no more stains on my clothes!

So the DIY option was just for fun since I had all the ingredients and it seemed like an interesting experiment. Chances are you have the ingredients in your house already, but if not they’re pretty cheap. The recipe was derived from this one but I cut it in half so I can try different scents and play with the ingredients until I get the consistency I like

DIY Deodorant:

  • 2 TBSP coconut oil: I purchased mine at Trader Joes. It’s great for dry skin and I also oil my baking dishes with it. So even if this experiment doesn’t work out for you, you can use your coconut oil for other stuff. Plus it smells awesome. You can probably use other oils but I like that this one dries as a solid. To make this mix better, heat up the coconut oil in the microwave for a few seconds at a time until it’s a liquid.
  • 1 TBSP baking soda: I might use a little less than this if you’re prone to sensitive skin since baking soda can irritate skin, but I didn’t have a problem unless I applied too much. This ingredient is important for both it’s odor-blocking and antibacterial properties.
  • 3 TBSP arrowroot powder. When you’re browsing your local grocery store and gasp at how much this stuff can cost, keep in mind you can get it at most bulk food stores and other online retailers. I’ve seen other recipes that use corn starch but I haven’t tried it in this recipe. It’s often a main ingredient in dry shampoo so I suppose it’s relatively safe, but I’m not totally sure if it’d be good for deodorant.
  • 5-10 drops essential oil. This can be almost anything: lavender, citrus, vanilla… I used jasmine-infused oil and it smells amazing. Whatever you put in there, it won’t compete with the coconut scent. I’d stay away from tea tree oil: that stuff is STRONG and can be used in household cleaners, although people swear by it for skin problems. You could even put a few sprays of your favorite perfume. If you’d like, divide up your deodorant mixture into a couple of small dishes, add the oil and experiment to find your favorite scent.

Depending on the temperature, your mixture can range from chalky/pasty to runny like conditioner. Coconut oil is solid at room temperature but right now in Los Angeles it’s as runny as olive oil. The arrowroot powder acts as a thickening agent much like corn starch so you’re not dealing with a runny mess. I found a little plastic travel container and put my mixture in there.

DIY deodorant

I keep it in an airtight container but many of your old skincare jars would work.

One of my main questions I had before trying this was oil stains on my clothing. I haven’t experienced this problem at all. I think the coconut oil really absorbs into your skin and takes the essential oils with it, so you’re good to go. For me, I only use a pea-sized amount under each arm, maybe less. That’s it. If I use too much, it will start to ball up. If that happens, I just brush it away. Before a workout, I’ll apply a little more and I’m good to go. I just hope no one has noticed me covertly sniffing my armpits while I’m stretching.

Overall rating: 9 (out of 10). Even if you have to buy all of the ingredients, each “batch” costs about the same as a regular stick of deodorant, and a cheap one at that. I think my per-batch cost is about $2.50. And it lasts a very long time. Being able to customize the scent is a benefit I didn’t think of originally but now I think it’s great that I don’t have to smell like a typical deodorant. And if I get bored, all I need is a new essential oil or perfume.

For those of you who are taking on this challenge, the DIY option is pretty good since you’re still using a “solid” and there’s some reassurance in using that over a spray or roll-on product. That being said, here’s the skinny on some of the top/popular natural deodorants.

Dr. Hauschka Deodorant: This is probably the most expensive natural deodorant out there. If I have to choose between a great brunch and deodorant, guess what I’m going to pick… I’m a skincare junkie so I had to try this one on principle. You have a choice between a floral scent and a “fresh” scent (kind of a sage/herbal scent) and they’re both pleasant but too weak for me. The scent didn’t last any longer than any of the other deodorants I’ve tried so the high price seems really unjustified. Overall: 5 out of 10.

Weleda Deodorant in Wildrose (also in sage and citrus): Here you also have a floral and a sage option, but you also have a citrus one. They’re cheaper than Dr. Hauscka but still seem steep in price. I’m not a fan of rose-scented skincare products, but the sage and the citrus were great. If I had to pick one, the sage probably worked with my body chemistry the best. I think it lasted a little longer than Dr. Hauschka as well. The downside is there’s tea tree oil in it: seriously folks, tea tree oil can take paint off a car. Luckily there’s not a ton of it in here and you can reapply as often as you like without it being irritating or smelling like a hippie commune, but it’s something to think about. Tea tree oil has antibacterial properties so I think that makes this one effective in that sense. Overall: 6.5 out of 10.

EO Organic Deodorant Spray in Lavender: If you want something really pure and adore the smell of lavender, this one is for you. The ingredients are pretty much alcohol (which is in all of the sprays), water and lavender oils. That’s it. It’s USDA certified organic, too. The only downside I can see is the lavender can be strong if you have a sensitive nose. Also, I did have to reapply in the summer heat. That being said, this costs a fraction of the price (about $6 or less) so if it’s a dud then you can use it as a bug repellant (many bugs don’t like the smell of lavender). Overall: 7-10.

Lavanila The Healthy Deodorant – Pure Vanilla (comes in a ton of vanilla-based scents): This one gets the award for Chicest Scent. Most natural deodorants come with natural scents which can smell a little earthy for my taste. If you want a deodorant that smells more like a perfume, this one is for you. Once again it’s expensive side but it… smells expensive? I don’t think it has any more staying power than the others but you truly are paying for the scent with this one. Overall: 6 out of 10.

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Crystal Stick. FAIL. What the hell is this stuff for? It’s like I’m immune to it completely. It’s the cheapest option on this list aside from the DIY option but it gets great reviews. What am I missing?  Overall: 1 out of 10

If you’d like to do your own research, I should mention that a lot of reviewers are used to conventional antiperspirants and are expecting miracles. From a performance standpoint, drugstore antiperspirants do a great job and keeping sweat to a minimum and/or covering it with a fragrance, but this whole endeavor was to get away from the strong chemicals that are in those products AND to save my clothes from destruction. There’s a good chance you’ll have to reapply any/all of these products. For me, the benefits of natural deodorant outweigh the convenience of antiperspirants.

 

 

The LA Lady’s State of the Union

So I started this blog in February-ish and so far it’s been fun. We made it through our kitchen renovation and it’s been satisfying to share the progress and all my house & home posts. I’m trying to keep the theme going on this blog so it doesn’t devolve into randomness. Because it could easily go that way. If anyone can unearth the review I did on my local post office, you can probably estimate my capabilities as a rant artist.

Somehow, I came across this article about “housewife blogs.” The author, who is apparently a distinguished writer, decided to take a cheap shot at the Mommy Blogger phenomenon*. She’s certainly not the first and will definitely not be the last to marginalize what is actually a huge segment of the population (and also very undervalued as a marketing segment. It’s improved but nowhere near what it should be). As I was reading her rather shallow summary, I started thinking, “crap… am I one of these women?” I’d like to think of this blog as something more than trivial how-to’s and write about a wider range of topics, but there’s always the chance of alienating my audience.

Most of my dear readers arrive here through Google searches and it seems like they’re finding what they’re looking for and coming back for more. So thanks for that! I’ve enjoyed the things I’ve wrote about and it was through reading similar blogs that I decided to start my own. But I’m definitely more than someone who remodels kitchens. I get pissed off about stuff I read in the news. I like steak and reruns of Star Trek TNG. I like being a woman.

Above all, I’ll keep it real. OK? OK!

 

 

*Although I’m not that surprised. She has a lot to say against the institution of marriage. I’m OK with that but that article I linked to was just sloppy generalizations.

My indoor garden for under $100 with IKEA stuff

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For those of us without garden space, having a functional growing space has no easy fix. Even a bright window cannot provide enough light for growing veggies and most plants. I’ve been looking at indoor growing solutions. Most of them are hydroponic/aeroponic and are prohibitively expensive. I didn’t want a crazy setup that took up an entire room, nor did I want to spend hundreds of dollars only to have to abandon the project for some reason. So here’s my kit:

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I’ve managed to put together something that’s at least somewhat attractive. Even though it’s not meant to be a decoration, I’m trying to give it a clean look since it’s in my office and I have to stare at it all day!

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IKEA Omar shelving unit: $29.99. This is a modular system and is easy to adjust (which you’ll have to do as your plants grow). It comes in a couple of different sizes but this one is about 3 feet long which will allow you to mount grow lights to it. You can stack two of these on top of each other for a more vertical solution.

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Fluorescent lighting: $29.00. Any type of light will work, but fluorescent is much cheaper than LED or some of the fancy grow lights that use a ton of electricity. You can use a twist tie or a strong rubber band to attach it beneath one of the upper shelves. Your plants need to be fairly close, but not touching, the lights so being able to adjust the height is a must. Inevitably, your plants will be different heights so an upside down bucket or some other container or box can level out the heights while they grow.

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Fluorescent bulbs: $9.99. The previous lighting fixture calls for two T8 bulbs. For vegetative growth, opt for something int eh 65000K range since that’s within the daylight spectrum. There is a ton of info out there about color temperature for indoor growing, but my plants seem to like these bulbs. I examined the “greenhouse and aquarium” bulbs at the hardware store and they appeared exactly the same as the daylight ones and were a fraction of the price.

Potting mix: about $6.00-$12.00 This is going to vary depending on the type of plants you have (as well as how many plants you have, the size of you plants, etc). There are a ton of options out there. Research the types of plants you have. For instance, thyme likes very well-drained loose soil, almost the consistency of gravel but mint and basil like something stronger and richer. Potting mix comes in a variety of sizes so you don’t have to get a giant bag meant for a huge outdoor garden. The only caveat is to be sure to get a mix that’s specific for containers since “garden soil” is usually meant to go in the ground. There are DIY mixes out there that gardeners swear by but that’s also a lot more work. We’re trying to keep this simple!

Containers: FREE! Your plants usually don’t care if they’re inside a fancy pot or a margarine container. As long as they have enough room and decent drainage, anything will work. Some plants like clay pots so the soil doesn’t stay moist, but most other plants will be great in a plastic container. For starting seeds, a yogurt cup or some of the smaller plastic containers you might find in your recycling bin will be enough to get the plants germinated and growing. Poke a few holes in the bottom for drainage and use a lid or tray underneath so you don’t make a mess.

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Optional: IKEA self-watering containers: $9.99-$19.99 I’ve researched some of the more popular container gardens (like Earthbox) and for me, these self-watering containers work very well with my plants. There are also DIY solutions but for the price, these containers save me the hassle of having to DIY and are very easy to assemble.

There are other odds and ends you might need but you can usually upcycle things around your home. Do you really need a watering can? Probably not, but it does make it easier. In the first photo, I used chopsticks and dental floss to keep my tomato seedling upright!

Kitchen coffee center: just put it in a drawer!

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One of the main goals for my new kitchen was to find a solution for my coffee stuff. In our previous space, it was sort of confined to a corner of the counter, but still took up counter space and still was an eyesore. Since I use a stove top coffee maker and/or a French press, I hand wash the parts and need a place to dry them. Again, that takes up counter space.

So what do we have in total? A coffee grinder, a hot water kettle, a couple of coffee pots that are used regularly, canisters of beans, a milk frother, coffee stirrers, sugar… these really add up!

The solution is using one of my drawers in our new IKEA kitchen as a hidden coffee station. It turns some of the IKEA parts that go with the Bygel rail system seem to fit nicely on the rails for the drawer. As you can see, I’ve got some of the smaller items in the Bygel cups and have used one of the baskets for drying my coffee pot. I’ve put an old cloth underneath so the drawer doesn’t get wet, and have also taken a small cloth bag and put some uncooked rice in it to absorb any leftover humidity (you can’t see it in the photo but it’s there. It’s about the size of a golf ball). So far, so good.

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I’ve been using Dunkin’ Donuts coffee for my cold brew since that method uses a ton of beans. I’m convinced cold brew can make any coffee bean/roast taste great.

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With the soft-close dampers, none of this stuff slides around. Definitely worth the $4.99 for that feature.

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The hanging containers really do hang and don’t touch the bottom of the drawer, which is nice, however the small rack holding the coffee pot does, hence the towel underneath.

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I also have my coffee scoop and a brush for cleaning the grinder in there. It’s amazing how much stuff goes into making a simple cup of coffee.

If I had a deeper drawer and some additional planning, I could probably fit the hot water kettle and the grinder in there and install some outlets behind the cabinets so they’d be in there full time, but my space is limited. Even so, it’s a huge improvement over what we had before.

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