Category Archives: Culture

Low-Carb Dieting

For the second time now, I have entered the blackhole that is the ketogenic diet. I don’t think that I have a gluten allergy necessarily, but I can’t deny the fact that every single time a refined carb enters my body the results are less than desirable. Like clockwork, my blood sugar immediately crashes, my stomach hurts, my arms and legs tingle and I can no longer see my feet, thanks to my suddenly bloated belly, while being simultaneously met with an insurmountable fatigue and brain fog that makes work difficult the rest of the day.

These also happen to be some of the most common symptoms of gluten intolerance1, granted they could also be signs of countless other medical conditions. The point is, many of us experience symptoms like this throughout our lives and come to see it as normal.

It’s no secret though, that the ingredients which makeup refined carbohydrates – flour and sugar – are extremely unhealthy, especially at the rate the average American consumes them. That is one reason why I’m back on the ketogenic diet.

Another catalyst for my diet change stems from the life-long pleas of physicians, psychiatrists and family members to undergo testing for thyroid problems, anemia, mental illness and various autoimmune diseases.

As a chronically sick kid, I was tested extensively for autoimmune diseases. As an energy-devoid adult with mild depression and anxiety, I drug myself to the doctor’s office to have my blood drawn and tested for hypo and hyperthyroidism. The results are always the same – inconclusive. If I had a nickel for every time a doctor told me to take more vitamin D and B12…well, let’s just say I wouldn’t be living paycheck to paycheck like I am now.

The truth is, no matter how many vitamins I shove down my throat, my symptoms persist. It wasn’t until I reached an unbearable point of exhaustion, depression and anxiety that I started logging my symptoms, eventually linking them to my diet. It was so obvious, and yet, I’d never really given my food a second thought when looking for the culprit.

Once I saw the link though, I couldn’t help but notice the wave of garbage feelings – physical, mental and emotional – that washed over me and clung the rest of the day like Saran Wrap.

By that point, I’d already been a pescatarian (from 14-19 years old), a twice-failed vegan and a brief raw enthusiast who shaved her own cucumber and zucchini noodles with a mandolin slicer every night. I’d been experimenting with fad diets most of my life, but carb elimination terrified me. Partially because a carb-less existence seemed pretty meaningless.

I think the main thing that freaked me out about low-carb dieting though, is that it goes against everything I’ve been taught on healthy dieting: “Meat is bad/causes cancer. Dairy is bad. Fat is bad.” My father was even put on the cholesterol medication, Lipitor, in his mid thirties after a huge weight loss on the Adkins diet.

The popularity of the paleo diet is what changed my mind in the end. It’s hard to argue with the back to basics logic inspired by our ancestors, to whom today’s obesity epidemic would be nothing short of a Black Mirror episode – but I digress. It just makes sense to me. I figured I should at least try a low-carb diet before writing it off.

The first few weeks of keto were rough the first time around. I felt hungry all of the time no matter what I ate. My body, deprived of carbs for the first time, was in shock. All I wanted was some comfort food like mac and cheese, avocado toast, pizza or at least a decent side-dish.

But after I got over that part of the diet, I was almost never hungry. I ate once or twice and felt satisfied the rest of the day. My food cravings completely evaporated. The biggest benefit though was that my blood sugar stabilized, and while I wasn’t exactly the Energizer bunny, I had more energy throughout the day, felt less moody and my concentration improved significantly. I wasn’t the only one who noticed the improvement either.

I did that for a three or four months before I fell off the wagon. I don’t remember why, but I think part of it related to my lifestyle. I still wanted to go out drinking with my friends. The problem with drinking on a low-carb diet, aside from the fact that you’re not supposed to drink at all, is that you can’t soak up the alcohol at the end of the night with delicous carbs. Every time I drank on the keto diet, I regretted it…a lot. That led to cheating which led to quitting altogether.

Although I’ve seen quite a few people manage to do it, this diet isn’t always sustainable. I’m not even sure if it’s the best possible fit for me or as healthy as it claims to be either, but it definitely makes me feel great. I’m not going to lie though…It’s only been three days, I already miss pizza, pasta, chips, mashed potatoes, fries and pretty much every kind of bread.

Truthfully, I think it would be irresponsible of me to fully endorse a low-carb diet since I’m not a registered dietitian, doctor or nutritionist. I also don’t believe there is any universal diet that works for everyone. You have to do what feels right for you, and you should definitely consult a medical professional before significantly changing your diet.

I will say that there are different levels to food allergies and intolerance. Gluten alleriges, for example, are mostly determined through elimination diets despite available blood tests and biopsies. Beyondceliac.org’s article Blood Tests to Diagnose Celiac Disease Under Scrutiny, says, “The fact that celiac disease has been given a comprehensive evidence review indicates an acknowledgement by Health and Human Services that there is a need for increased celiac disease diagnosis.”

Low-carb diets, like the ketogenic and paleo diet, are essentially elimination diets. I certainly didn’t think carbs could effect so many parts of my life until I stopped eating them. Even when I gave up on the diet the first time, I still made better choices afterward because I knew how much better my day would be on a low-carb breakfast.

Now wish me luck resisting the carb sirens on Day 4, please. I desperately need it.


1. [Disclaimer: I don’t think everyone has celiac or the gluten intolerance level of one. If you’ve ever witnessed someone with celiac post-gluten consumption, you won’t need much convincing of this.]

Advertisements

Movie Review: It (2017)

I’ve always been a massive horror geek. Naturally, I saw the IT remake last Saturday. Technically, it’s not a remake since the original IT (1990) is a miniseries, but we all know that this is the 2017 retelling of that miniseries/novel.

Ninety percent of the time remakes are a huge let down compared to the original, but that was not the case with the 2017 IT film. Can I tell you that I have not screamed that many times during a movie since the ripe age of 13? And I loved every second of it. My god, Pennywise will haunt my dreams for years to come and breed a whole new generation of coulrophobiacs. And I am here for it.

IT makes heavy use of the bus technique. If you’re not familiar with the “bus technique” made popular by the movie Cat People (1942), it’s essentially a false scare and usually occurs when a character feels like someone is about to get them, and right when this seems certain, something completely innocuous jars the character (and the audience). IT is full of “busses,” and every single one made me scream across the theater like a little girl (sorry, fellow movie goers).

Something else I really enjoyed about this film is the way “fear” changes for each child. In the original miniseries, It remains in clown form throughout the movie; the monster is universal. So if you’re not that scared of clowns, big whoop. In this 2017 version, It morphs into each child’s darkest fear – exactly like a boggart – switching from clown to leper to creepy-Picasso-painting woman to another character’s father.

I sort of have a unspoken rule when it comes to horror films that I think most people agree with: Don’t. Show. The. Monster. Cheap CGI and special effects are the fastest way to lose your audience and emasculate your monster. But that was not the case in this film. IT did not skimp on the animation budget, not one little bit.

I’m not going to spoil the movie plot anymore than I have, but I will say that this film is worth its salt.

Although the IT miniseries debuted in 1990, the book was released in 1986. The 2017 film is set in 1980s like the novel, which seems to fall in line with new wave 80s horror. It Follows (2015) is perhaps my favorite example of this genre; although, the director claims the film is anachronistic and inspired by one of his recurring nightmares.  While Stranger Things (2016) isn’t technically horror, or a movie for that matter, it certainly says something for the popularity of the 80s resurgence in film. And I can’t wait to see what follows.

Why I’m Over Dystopian YA Novels

I’ve been reading dystopian YA for as long as I can remember…well, 2008. I used to find such pleasure in these types of books, but lately, I can barely make it through the first few chapters. The Hunger Games, of course, holds a special place in my heart, but I can’t shake the feeling that this niche has run its course.

A few weeks ago, I started The Selection by Kiera Cass. After all of the hype and best-of lists, I could barely contain my excitement when I opened to the first page…and then I began reading. It felt familiar. Too familiar. The book starts with an impoverished, female protagonist explaining the caste system in her world mid-manual labor. Her mother relies way too much on her, and a handsome, hardworking, family-oriented guy is in the picture. It’s at this point in the book that I decide to stop reading.

The next book I picked up is almost identical. Red Queen begins with a young, female protagonist pickpocketing for survival. Hot-guy-friend tension right out of the gate. World-building exposition.

While The Selection‘s cast system is defined by numbers (District 12 anyone?) and Red Queen by colors, it’s impossible to ignore the similarities. To be fair, I haven’t given either of these books a fair chance or read enough of either to know exactly how different they are – but I don’t really care.

The disappointing thing about this genre is how overtly formulaic it is now. In a sea of Twilight (2005), The Hunger Games‘ (2008) felt like a breath of fresh air. I remember thinking, “The writing isn’t all that great, but damn, I haven’t read anything like this before.” Yes, you can draw comparisons to Lord of the Flies, Battle Royal, and so on, but Suzanne Collins took the Twilight love triangle and smashed it to pieces.

Twilight was a particularly disturbing YA phase. While it isn’t a dystopian novel, it is a bleak look at the future of relationships. The female protagonist, Bella, is helpless, in an arguably-abusive relationship, and her biggest life decision is choosing between two guys.

Katniss, on the other hand, is completely self-sufficient, strategic, selfless, brave, and she doesn’t have the luxury of getting lost in her love triangle.

Pretty kick-ass protagonist, right? Not in 2017. Everything I once loved about The Hunger Games is what I now hate about the genre. There are a million Katniss Everdeens in unfair class systems with two hot guys, a crappy mom, and some kind of competition/game/selection to win.

All of this is a far cry from where dystopia started, which begs the question: at what point are these books making real, thoughtful commentary on society? Or are they merely capitalizing on the genre’s popularity and rendering dystopia meaningless?

Dystopia sort of makes sense for young adults. When you’re young, everything feels like the end of the world.

You may have noticed that in every YA novel the parents are either dead, abusive, absent, or flawed to the point that the protagonist must become self-sufficient, which is meant to reflect children’s disillusionment with their parents and the desire to grow up. And while the use of class as a conduit for teen angst is highly questionable, I can understand why teens connect so deeply with dystopia.

But can we please do something different?

Watching Hurricane Harvey from New Orleans

For the first time in twelve years, I didn’t wake up thinking about Hurricane Katrina on the anniversary.  Not the day of, not the week before, and not for the entire month of August.

Instead, I woke up thinking about my stranded parents in Houston. This is where they settled twelve years ago after we lost everything. Surely this can’t happen here, too? Surely they are more equipped to deal with this level of devastation than New Orleans was in 2005?

The truth is that we cannot outrun disaster. I know this first hand. In my first 3 months of grad school a hundred year flood hit the area, and it was impossible to escape the memories of Hurricane Katrina. If there’s a natural disaster, you can bet that I will be there for some inexplicable reason. I guess it was lucky that I’d planned on driving to Houston the weekend after the storm to watch the LSU game with my dad. My weather misfortune is a long running joke among friends and family.

Still, it’s hard to look at the photos of Houston without remembering the hell of Katrina. And the irony of Hurricane Harvey falling on the anniversary of Katrina isn’t lost on me. Houston took us in, all of us. Plenty of people saw it as a sanctuary and settled there permanently. And as it sits engulfed in water, I can only think about the fact that there is nowhere left to run.

I have lived all over this country only to experience this kind of devastation over and over again. Wherever you are, we are all in this together. However, I do not wish to spin the resilience myth that comes with surviving a hurricane (or flood, tornado, tsunami, earthquake, landslide, or wildfire). That is an individual experience.

As I’ve gotten older and survived more and more once-in-a-lifetime weather events, they’ve become easier to deal with. A few weeks ago, I was stranded in my car during a flash flood with a flat tire when the water suddenly rose without warning.

It is so easy to relapse into trauma or to let my PTSD resurface in these moments. Or that used to be the case anyway. But for the first time, I found myself laughing in the face of danger. Making humorous videos to share with friends and family as the world around me spun out of control like it had so many times before.

I have found a certain kind of peace in accepting what I cannot control.

Earlier today I called my mother to see if she could get out of her neighborhood, which she now can. “I feel bad for cooking and drinking like nothing’s wrong,” she said. My mother, who has worked at Home Depot for 30 years, is weatherproof. She is ready to step up and sheetrock people’s homes, and I love her for that.  If anyone understands what Harvey flood victims are going through right now, it is my selfless, half-Cajun mother.

My father was evacuated from his home today and took the only road out of the city all the way to Austin. On the way out, he shared a photo of the Brazos River, which looks muddy and pregnant, ready to burst at any moment.

The battle is not over. The river will crest, and when it does, more devastation will arrive. Even though I should be nestled in a cocoon fashioned from my own anxiety right now, my heart is full witnessing the Cajun navy (rescue volunteers from Louisiana) arrive in Houston with boats – lots of boats – to brave the elements and lend a helping hand.

It is strange to see Houston in a vulnerable position when they’ve always been our refuge. But I guess this is how relationships work. We New Orleanians see ourselves in Houston. We know what lies ahead for them. While we won’t forget Katrina, Harvey’s widespread destruction has it’s own place in history now. And we are ready to help.

5 Ways to Break Your Anxiety/Depression Cycle

Getting stuck in a cycle of anxiety/depression is the absolute worst. Food, socializing and everything that normally gives you pleasure, suddenly feels like a chore. But there are a few ways you can break the cycle and start enjoying life again.

 

1. Stop thinking about yourself.

Some people think of others so often that they neglect themselves, and some people have the opposite problem. Once you’re there, it feels nearly impossible to break out of this introspective, anxiety-fueled cycle (see that one time you smoked too much pot in college). Taking small steps to put that thought power toward someone or something else can help you break free from overanalyzing and the negative self-talk.

2. Quit boredom.

As children we’ve had all sorts of fantasies about the future. But did you ever imagine that one day we’d all be walking around with little hand-held devices? Devices with the ability to communicate instantaneously, with internet access, or devices that allow us to play games anywhere at anytime?

There’s really no excuse to be bored, ever. But if you find yourself feeling listless, try to find out why in this world of endless capabilities you can’t find a single thing to occupy your time. Start reading, blogging, running, cooking, or [insert passionate hobby] again. Try something new or learn an unfamiliar skill. You will discover things about yourself you wish you’d known years ago.

3. On that note, just put the phone down altogether.

Anxiety and depression without an outlet is exactly what leads to boredom. And what do we do when we’re bored? Spend hours online looking at other people’s lives. You see some of your friends hanging out without you, and now you feel slighted and sad. You see that random girl from high school just got engaged, and she looks so damn happy. Next, you open your sad Tinder app, stare at the list of underwhelming strangers, and begin typing.

Try texting that group of “traitorous” friends instead. Or catch up with your parents, skype a friend in another city, plan a much-needed vacation or day trip you can look forward to. Find ways to redirect your energy towards something that will reap real rewards.

4. Exercise (I’m sorry!).

Personally, this is my least favorite way to break the cycle, but it is also the most effective. The reason I dislike this one, or at least in the beginning, is because I immediately feel how long I’ve neglected my body.

Me running all of a sudden:  Oh wow, yeah, I can barely run a mile without stopping or having an asthma attack in the middle of the street.

Me 2 hours later:  Oh wow, I feel great. I am an actual goddess. Watch me conquer the world. Endorphhhhhhins.

It hurts at first, which is why you should set realistic, achievable goals. You don’t need to come out of the gate with a 5k. Just take it one day at a time and keep building on the foundation you create. The only one putting pressure on you, isyou.

Eventually, you’ll find your anxiety and depression taking a back seat to the work you put in.  The important thing here is to create a routine and regimen you can stick with. If you have athletic friends, step outside of your comfort zone and ask to work out with them. More than likely they will be excited to see you making positive changes and offer guidance. Plus, the accountabil-a-buddy system goes a long way.

5. Get some sleep.

Sleep deprivation is the number one contributor to my shitty moods, that and a lack of routine. Without stability, your sleep schedule fluctuates along with your mood, which feels like playing the emotional lottery. Some days you wake up feeling great, others, you wish you could crawl under the desk with a human-proof shield. If you’re particularly prone to mood swings, depression and/or anxiety, it is crucial to get this part of your life under control. There are plenty of studies showcasing the effects of sleep deprivation on the mind and body over time, and it’s not pretty.

Exercise acts as a natural sleep aid. Turn off your devices, throw on the white noise or a meditation track, turn the air down, read for a while, and wait to climb in the sack when you really feel like you’re about to fall asleep. Once you fix your sleep cycle, your mood should improve significantly.

Self-Acceptance vs. Happiness

So many of us put pressure on ourselves to be perfect when perfection is something we can never achieve.  If I just do blank, I can love myself. If I lose weight. If I get that promotion. If. If. If.

There is a belief in Taoism that the only way we can find inner peace is by accepting ourselves the way that we are now. And that prospect feels impossible to many of us.

After hitting a rough patch a few years ago, I started going to Temple once a week. Counter to The Secret’s law-of-attraction concept popularized in self-help lit, here, I was taught to accept my thoughts – and therefore, myself – for the very first time, rather than trying to manipulate every feeling into something positive. The results were astounding.

After a few meditation sessions/sermons, I realized that every time I manipulated my thoughts, and inevitably failed, I felt worse for the failure, creating an endless cycle of negativity. I do believe that the ability to convert negative thoughts into optimism is useful to a point. But when you do not accept a situation or your feelings, you are merely patching a dam with a bandaid.

What I’m trying to say is that if you find it difficult to steer your thoughts into the light – it’s okay. No one is perfect, and the sooner you realize you are good the way that you are, the sooner you will find inner peace.

When you accept and view your thoughts, rather than push them away, you begin to realize you have set conditions for self-love and self-acceptance, which is futile because everyone and everything are in a continuous state of fluctuation. In a literal sense, each decade or so, every cell in your body is replaced with a new one. You will never be the same person you were yesterday or the day before that and so on.

Not to be confused with happiness, inner peace is a constant state of self-acceptance that equips you to handle most unforeseeable situations. Inner peace is not dependent on circumstance, while happiness is a fleeting moment of joy that is impossible to maintain. Through the foundation of inner peace, happiness is easier to experience and maintain but never sustainable. After all, how can we experience joy unless we also experience sadness, anger or misfortune?

Don’t beat yourself up over negative thoughts. Accept them and take your power back one day at a time.

Going Blonde

So I recently took it upon myself to go blonde without the help of a professional.

 
Reasons why I did this at home:

1. Salon’s are expensive.

Depending on where you live and the salon itself, you’re looking at $150-300 right off the bat. Aveda, for instance, charges $200+ for color and full highlights. Unfortunately, I just can’t afford to blow hundreds on my hair.

2. I’ve been dying my own hair for the past 12 years.

I followed in my mother’s footsteps and began dying my hair at home when I was still in high school. After you buy the essential tools – gloves, giant bottle of developer, mixing bowl, brush, etc. – you only have to purchase the dye itself, which is $4-6 a box. It’s also insanely easy to dye your hair at home.

3. Youtube made it seem easy.

During my research phase, I watched beauty vlogger after beauty vlogger make the transition without a hitch. Seemed simple enough.

4. No one would touch my hair. 

Okay, that’s not 100% true, but nearly every colorist I spoke with had reservations to the point where I finally just gave up. I’m not going to beg a stylist to do something they’re against because I understand that their branding is their livelihood, I know that they’re trying to protect my hair, and, frankly, I appreciate their honesty. So I was on my own.

5. Curiosity and a strong lack of patience. 

Impatient doesn’t quite describe me. Impulsive, perhaps? I mean I did wait about a month and half after the idea popped into my head so there’s that.

For the most part though, I’ve been consistently dying my hair dark red for the last several years. Before that I got highlights every couple of months. And before that, dark red for years. I’d been blonde for a time in college as well (also pink, teal, and purple), but it didn’t feel like the same level of risk back then when I had a pixie cut.

Still, I wanted it really really bad and nobody was going to stop me! (Noble last words.)

 

 

The Process: Color Stripping, 2 Rounds of Bleach, and Toning

All of these factors gave me the confidence to move forward (kind of), but with extreme caution.

I don’t know if you remember the earlier part of this post where I said I’d been dying my hair dark red for years? Yeah. That little detail became the bane of my existence throughout most of this process.

Having gone through so many different colors before, I already knew that red was the most difficult color to get rid of, let alone go blonde from. But what really freaked me out about the idea of bleaching was the process itself. Bleaching is completely different from regular dying, and it comes with a long list of possible adverse reactions I didn’t begin to know how to fix should something go wrong, which it did.

Mostly though, I was afraid of frying my precious locks off. With my traditional red dye, I could leave it on past the recommended time with zero consequences. Bleach was a new beast.

After watching about 12 tutorials on how to go from red to platinum, I decided to strip my hair first. Yes, I know this is bad. But, that’s exactly what my colorist did when I went blonde in undergrad. Frankly, I don’t know how anything would have changed without it though. Years of red dye, y’all.

After that, it was slightly orange, and not the cool pastel-unicorn-mermaid-cerberus-madeup-creature kind or orange. That was when I knew there was no turning back. Nightmares of my brassy undergrad hair, back before I knew what toner was, immediately surfaced. Blonde, I thought. You are going to be fucking blonde.

I was not blonde.

Knowing how harsh color strippers are, I did it once more and left it alone for a few days. I wanted to wait longer, but I still had to face myself in the mirror every morning, and go to work, and see my friends, and live life – as a carrot.

Thoughts at this point:

Bleaching your hair at home is like trying to eat cereal with a fork. You can do it, but you look really fucking stupid.

One benefit though is that you can do it at your own pace. When you go to the salon most of this is done in one go. I spread that process out over the course of a month and probably kept a good amount of my hair in tact because of this. Then again, salons have specialized products for this sort of thing so…who knows?

In any case, I chugged a beer and began mixing the chemicals together using L’oreal Quick Blue Extra Strength Powder Bleach and Salon Care 20 Volume Creme Developer. After another beer, I felt brave enough to start putting it on my head.

Even though I knew that you’re supposed to start from the bottom and save your roots for last, I had a hard time breaking the years of opposite application technique. I also had some thick-haired difficulties.

My hair was slathered in coconut oil from the night before to protect it during this process. Unfortunately, it caused my hair to become chunky. Every time I thought a tiny lock was slathered, I separated it again and again only to reveal more untouched hair – like babushka dolls but with fugly-colored follicles.

Due to the thickness of my hair, it took forever to go through all of it. I also had to stop and mix more bleach, not once, not twice, but three freaking times.

I realized during this ordeal that it would have been a two man job at the salon. I’m the kind of person they charge extra because it takes double the amount of product, time, and man power. And timing is everything with bleach.

Finally, I got through it and covered my roots. Not even 10 minutes later I noticed my hair was much lighter…maybe too light, and my roots? So much lighter than the rest of my hair. Unsure of what the hell was going on up top, I scrambled into the shower and washed it out.

When I emerged to look in the mirror, I couldn’t tell much besides the fact that my hair was wet and the roots were blonde. At least some part of me is blonde, I thought. Cut to dry(ish) hair an hour later: Still orange. OMG WHYYYYY.

Okay, it was less orange though, so I was making some progress. I was pleased to see that my hair wasn’t damaged either. A few days later I threw on some Wella Color Charm Permanent Liquid Hair Toner in T-18, which further counteracted the brassiness.

This is the part where I tell you that doing research for a month isn’t the same as being a licensed cosmetologist. Those motherfuckers are chemists. This. Is. Science. And I suck at science.

It was a week and half before the image of my own creamsicle hair disturbed me enough to bleach it again. I felt braver this time so I left it on slightly past the recommended time. As expected, it was less orange. But when I toned it a few days later, I finally looked like a blonde. Whoa.

 

What Happened Next:

1. Damage. 

After the second bleaching and toning, my hair was noticeably different in terms of texture, moisture, durability, elasticity, and overall health. Lesson: better to under-bleach than over-bleach.

2. Uneven coloring.

Because of the aformentioned thickness debacle, one side is darker than the other.

3. I stopped believing Youtube. 

I don’t know if I ever actually believed any of those tutorials so much as I wanted them to be true. Something I noticed after all of this though, is that every single one of these successful vloggers has thin, fine hair.

4. Money. 

Even though I haven’t bleached it since, my hair didn’t recover the way I thought it would. I became concerned recently after losing way above average amounts of hair over the last two months.  Ended up spending around $80 on 3 products, but the difference is noticeable. My hair has stop shedding at an alarming rate. Luckily, I started out with about three people’s worth of hair.

 

Recommendations:

 

1. Be real about your capabilities.

Most people can easily achieve their desired look at home if they have some experience already and if they’re going from a natural hair color to blonde. Again, red is the most difficult color to get rid of so don’t be rash. Frying most of your hair off isn’t worth it. Go to a pro if have any doubts.

2. Pay more for products that work.

In the end, I had to buy expensive products to save my hair from all of that damage, but they work really well. I went to Ulta and picked up two giant bottles of Redkin’s All Soft Shampoo and Conditioner. I also bought It’s a Ten Miracle Leave-In with keratin. Being cheap and all, I nearly had a heart attack at the register when the leave-in conditioner came out to $40! But I was desperate. And holy crap this stuff WORKS! I’ve only used it once and my hair has stopped breaking off, and it feels super soft.

3. Live life as a carrot if you can stand it.

The transition color is awkward, but the more you spread out the bleaching, the less damage your hair will receive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8 Must-Stream Shows & Movies in July

If you’re like me, you end up surfing Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and HBO GO for hours, eventually wondering where that precious time went. There were at least 5 things you wanted to watch a week ago, but now you can’t seem think of a single one. Worse, it’s the beginning of the month, and now there are even more titles to choose from.

Luckily, I had a chance to comb through all four streaming services over the weekend to find the best available movies and shows (imo). Here’s a shortlist of late June/early July must-streams:

 

1. Okja (Netflix)

Netflix’s Okja will have you laughing, crying, and considering if you should really eat that slice of bacon in the morning. Meet Mija, a tomboy being raised by her grandfather on a remote farm in South Korea. Mija and her super-pig, Okja, are inseparable. Until a representative of the Miranda Corporation shows up to take Okja to America that is. Mija immediately sets out to rescue her friend before it’s too late. A blend of Korean and American film, this all-star cast delivers an epic performance that will stick with you for days.

2. Nerve (Hulu and Prime)

Vee (Emma Watson) is a meek high school senior living in the shadow of her best friend, Sydney.  After Sydney goes to far, publicly humiliating her in front of her crush, she decides to play the game everyone is talking about. Nerve gives participants a timed dare and a handsome reward. As Vee completes more dares, she breaks out of her wallflower persona, but the dares are also becoming more and more extreme.

3. The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)

Based on the 1985 book by Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale is a truly terrifying depiction of conservatism gone too far.

4. Loving (HBO)

This love story is based on the real lives of an interracial couple, Mildred and Richard Loving, who were arrested for violating the Racial Integrity Act after they married and lived together.

5. Glow (Netflix)

Wannabe-actress Ruth never seems to catch a break in this quirky, 80s-nostalgic show.

6. The Girl With All the Gifts (Netflix and Prime)

This is one of the best zombie movies I’ve seen in a long time. In a second generation of zombies (those that have eaten their way out of the womb), Melanie seems oddly human, and Ms. Justineau, her teacher on the military compound, is the only who believes in Melanie’s humanity. Incredibly suspenseful and thought provoking.

7. Love (Netflix)

Too real for those of us mid-to-late 20-somethings that are still single due to our own emotional chaos.  Yet, Love offers up hope that despite our complications, there might still be someone out there just for us.

8. Riverdale (Netflix)

If you need something to fill that Pretty Little Liars shaped hole, Riverdale is just the thing. When a missing teen’s body washes up on the lake shore, his accidental death is ruled a homicide after a bullet wound is discovered. But everyone in Riverdale has a secret, and the killer could be anyone.

 

I’m also looking forward to these forthcoming July titles:

  • Friends from College (Netflix July 14)
  • Game of Thrones (HBO July 16)
  • Tour de Pharmacy (Netflix and HBO July 8)

 


 

If you’ve come across any streaming gems of late, let me know by leaving a comment below!

– Liz

Is It Okay to Read Trash?

Most of us don’t start out reading Nietzsche, Kafka, or Joyce and with good reason—it isn’t fun! 

When I was in middle school, I was obsessed with trashy romance novels (also, Harry Potter). My trashy tastes have since moved on to paranormal teen romance, which is weird because I essentially went from being a historical-adult-romance-reading teen to a paranormal-teen-romance-reading adult (funny how that works sometimes).

Now I don’t mean to put classic writers like Joyce down; after all, he gave us this gem: “The sea, the snotgreen sea, the scrotumtightening sea” (Ulysses). And he was one of the biggest literary pioneers of the 20th century, along with fellow modernists Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, Kafka, and Lorca.

Yes, arduous reads are absolutely worth the effort. After all, these are the texts that transform you from ‘just proficient’ to master. These are the texts that make you reach and pull and grow intellectually. I don’t think anyone would bother to argue against their value. Yet, plenty of people like to police reading habits if they happen to include garbage books.

This is something I would never have admitted to my classmates in grad school, but I don’t think I would have ended up with an MFA had I not taken an interest in salacious lady-porn-trash in the 5th grade. That was the catalyst for my love affair with reading. Despite this knowledge, I found myself asking this question during and after grad school quite a bit:

Is it okay to read unchallenging, garbage simply for entertainment value?

Fuck yes it is, and here’s why:

1. Challenging reads never go away. 

Academic track or not, you will have to read taxing things you don’t care about for the rest of your life. It’s just a part of our existence, so you might as well enjoy what you read in your free time.

2. It will keep you inspired. 

All of us avid readers/writers got here somehow, right? Maybe it was trashy romance or some cheesy, predictable mystery series. Whatever it is, I believe deep-down that everyone loves to read, and I’ve found successful ways of getting adamant, self-proclaimed non-readers to love it. It’s just a matter of finding something you connect with. There’s a reason 46% of romance readers read 1 book per week compared to the 5 books a year the typical American reads.

3. You will discover what sells. 

I will never forget this life-changing advice a professor handed down in graduate school: Don’t be too high-brow to find out what sells. Part of his success as a famous novelist is attributed to reading best-sellers. As a writer, it will benefit you to have a grasp of what readers and publishers alike want. And if you happen to enjoy the “research,” so be it.

4. It provides you with sweet, sweet relief. 

There are tons of psychological benefits to reading what you like. Stress relief is at the top of the list. Other benefits include natural memory loss prevention, increased empathy, sleep aid, improved writing skill, plus it’s a cost-effective form of entertainment compared to movies and certain outdoor activities.

5. You learn from it. 

Even trash has an editor. If you want to ingrain grammar, spelling, and new vocabulary into your brain, keep reading that trash. You’ll also pick up naturally on the formula of the genre you like, which will make it easier for you to plan and write your novel.

6. It helps you escape reality.

“There is no frigate like a book.”—Emily Dickenson

Escaping reality might sound a lot like running away from your problems, but it’s the exact opposite. How many of us have turned to reading and writing after trauma? Your parents’ divorce, a family member’s death, surviving a natural disaster, undergoing physical or emotional abuse—even the necessary act of growing up is traumatic to some extent. Reading helps us look outside of ourselves and process these emotions and experiences. It lets us travel through space and time when we’re destitute. It keeps us from feeling alone, even if we are.

7. It empowers us. 

All sorts of sexist tropes exist in trashy romance novels, and yet tons of women feel empowered by them. In Anne Browning Walker’s contribution to the Huffington Post blog, Why Smart Women Read Romance Novels, she says:

“Our society feels threatened by women having sex. Romance novels present the opposite view. Authors use sex scenes to present a healthy activity shared by two consenting adults who (in the end, if not at the moment) fall in love with each other. Heroines are sexually satisfied during each encounter. There’s a safe space to explore your fantasies and figure out what turns you on. Nothing dumb about that.”

This also goes for sci-fi novels with people of color protagonists, YA novels starring gay teens, and books like Crazy Rich Asians—one of the few novels straying from tokenism and asian stereotypes with western success. It’s kind of like Gossip Girl, but these kids put Serrena Vanderwoodsen’s and Chuck Bass’ fortunes to shame. The cool thing though, is that the book allows a large cast of asian characters to be vapid, hot-mess pieces of shit, which is pretty absent from mainstream media in the US. It also begs the question: Why are these types of works really considered trash in the first place? 

8. “Good” is subjective. 

What qualifies a book as “good”—or “bad” for that matter? You can check out the Goodreads and Amazon reviews or hit up the NYT bestsellers list to see what a whole bunch of people you’ve never met think. Perhaps, you should go with the literary canon pounded into you most of your life by people who’ve also had the literary cannon pounded into them?

Few acknowlege the gaping issues in the literary canon as well as the Modernist Movement I discussed earlier, which excluded black writers of the New Negro Movement (Harlem Rennaissance) at the time and appropriated West African art without citation because white writers considered this art “primitive.” (Yet they thought it was good enough to steal, lmao.) Yikes.

The point though is that it lacks inclusivity. When you can’t relate to a book, or you know your particular demographic is subjugated or excluded entirely, it makes it that much harder to enjoy. Make things simple and think for yourself. Just because your professor thinks it’s “good,” doesn’t mean they’re looking at the big picture.

9. Haters gonna hate. 

fabio
You knew this was coming.

If you’re in graduate school or a literary community, those in your coterie will try to shame you for reading trash. The high-brow, art school mentality is an unwitting tool of colonialism that ultimately limits the hater. But I digress. Don’t let other people decide what you should like because it will make you fucking miserable.

Let’s be real for a second though. Carrying trash around is embarrassing in these spaces. Can you imagine walking into an MFA student lounge with Twilight or Fifty Shades of Grey in your hand? Or any space for that matter? Hell no! You might as well tape a “make fun of me” sign on your back.

Still, you like what you like so if you want to avoid embarrassment, do what I do—cover that shit up with a false book cover from a more revered title that no one will want to talk about. E-books are probably the safest option, but personally, I need to hold a book in my hands.

10. It’s fun!

There is no greater joy in life than reading a book you can’t put down. So engrossing you carry it with you around the house, the office, or wherever you go “just in case.” Or you dream about going home all day to be with it. So good you lock yourself in a closet with a flashlight so you can soak it all in without interruption. This kind of reading isn’t a fun acticity so much as an addiction—and it’s a high worth chasing to the very last drop.

 


hexhall

 

Q: What are you reading?

A: Currently, I’m on Book 2 of the Hex Hall series, which follows Sophie Mercer, a teen witch in her first year of boarding school. Only it’s not your average school.

Hecate Hall, or Hex Hall (as it’s been renamed by students), is full of magical beings. Sophie isn’t sure how she feels about sharing space with werewolves, fairies, shifters, and vampires—but she doesn’t have much of a choice.

Aside from being banished to Hex Hall for the rest of high school after accidently revealing herself to humans, Sophie’s situation becomes more unpromising when young witches begin turning up dead. And there are no leads as to who the killer might be.

What’s your favorite trash? Comment below to tell me what you’re reading! 

Become a Rockstar Volunteer

One way to inspire those around you is to become a rockstar volunteer in your community. It looks great on your resume, sure, but the spiritual benefits far outweigh everything else.

If you’ve ever been in a tough spot, you probably understand just how important a tiny gesture can be to someone else. I experienced this kind of volunteerism firsthand after Hurricane Katrina left me, my mother, and younger sister homeless. The outpouring of love and support by total strangers made a terrible situation much more bearable, and it restored my faith in the inherent goodness of humanity.

Later, I had the life changing experience of giving back to the Boulder flood victims in 2013 through donations and cleanup efforts. That was when I realized Life’s strange and unpredictable nature, as well as her surprising joys. There are zero negatives when it comes to volunteering, and there are plenty of reasons to get involved locally.

Not sure how? Here are a few ways to start:

1. See if your company offers volunteer opportunities. 

work

Build a positive reputation for you and your organization by banning together. Large corporations almost always have programs at local soup kitchens, 5k runs, and more. If not, this might be the perfect opportunity to lead the charge!

 

2. De-clutter. 

beans

How many cans and packages of food are sitting in your pantry right now? And how many of those do you actually intend to use before the expiration date? Same goes for the clothes you haven’t touched in years hanging in your closet right now. Books, furniture, tools, bedding, etc. Make room for the new while helping others – it’s a win-win!

 

3. Call your local animal shelter.

call

While animal rescues always need monetary/supply donations, they also need volunteers. Adoption events are great if you love interacting with animals, and you’ll get to witness the kindness of strangers. So what are you waiting for? Call your shelter and ask how you can help now.

 

4. Use your craftiness to help others.

knit

Do you know how to knit or crochet? Homeless shelters accept clothing donations like hats, socks, and whatever you can create. Consider knitting hats for chemo patients and donating to your local hospital as well.

 

5. Hit up Habitat for Humanity.

volunteers

Habitat for Humanity always has open projects. This an excellent change to meet new, like-minded people and learn a new skill.

 

6. Offer up your special skills. 

design.jpg

Are you a writer? Designer? Engineer? Nurse? Whatever you are, you can help by donating your time and special skills. You can even get a tax deduction for it. Just make sure you keep track of your hours.

 

7. Pay attention.

friends

There is always a way to help the people around you. Maybe you have a neighbor struggling to work to full time and afford childcare. Or maybe your local park is littered with trash. If someone seems troubled, ask them how you can help.

 

8. Small gestures.

talking

If you’re limited on time, there are small things you can do everyday to make a better world. Simply smiling at people on the street can be uplifting. Happiness is contagious after all. When you see someone struggling to carry something in or outside, open the door for them. Someone recently paid for my coffee in the drive thru, and I did the same for the person behind me. This small gesture changed my entire mood for the rest of the day.

 


 

While there are a number of volunteer matching websites, I recommend getting in touch with local charities and organizations to find out how you can help. Do what you can when you can – you never know what a small gesture might mean to someone else.