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People Featured Lifestyle Mind & Body

Fresh Faced

Radiant Life: How did Niki Newd come to fruition?

Kirsi Kaukonen: The kernel of inspiration for Niki Newd was planted over 16 years ago, when I taught my friend a facial masque recipe that has been passed down from mother to daughter in my family for at least 200 years.

The masque recipe is freshly blended just before use. When I was young, my mother mixed it for herself and me and my brothers just before we went to the sauna. We let it work on the skin in the sauna for a while. How wise our mothers have been! Now science can explain to us why the masque is so effective and why this recipe has been our “secret weapon” for at least 200 years. After the masque, we developed our oatmeal soap, which has become a very iconic product. It is a gentle product for cleansing the skin of makeup without drying. Dry skin was our problem before we developed our oatmeal soap, but not anymore. After the soap, we wanted to have our own cream, of course, and Skin Butter, one of our most popular products, was born.

Those 16 years have only strengthened my inspiration, and I feel that now the time seems to be mature enough for our product philosophy. Think of oat milk, which was consider odd a few years ago. But is it anymore? Over many years, Oatly pioneered its vegetable-based “dairy product” until it became part of our food culture. We are doing it now in skin care, little by little, by bringing out the idea that skin care products should be fresh, too, like the food we want.

The Niki Newd product line was launched five years ago. During the 10 years before the launch, we first developed skin care products for our own needs and for our friends. After that, we built our brand carefully and patiently. We test all products on our own skins, and we have a circle of friends who are always ready to test our products. After our long testing period, the product goes through an official external product safety assessment. After that, we launch the product.

After deciding to build this company pioneering fresh skin care, we haven’t had a single regret.  This is one of the things that make me smile every day.

Niki Newd Gourmet Collection. (Courtesy of Niki Newd)

Radiant Life: What exactly do you mean by “fresh skin care”?

Kirsi Kaukonen: Fresh skin care is freshly blended of 100% traceable, 100% natural ingredients without any additives, preservatives, or alcohol. And on top of that, we also focus on using food-grade ingredients instead of cosmetic-grade ones. These four principles are met in fresh cosmetics, unlike in “natural” cosmetics, where, at least for the time being, not all these criteria are met. In this way, we have taken natural skin care to a whole new level.

We believe that the principles applied to healthy food and nutrition should also be applied to skin care. So, when thinking of preparing a wholesome gourmet dinner, what kind of ingredients would you choose? The best ones, of course. And so would we!

Therefore, all our ingredients are of the highest quality: natural, fresh, and pure. In comparison, cosmetic-grade ingredients are no longer suitable for human nutrition. When designing new products, we start from the thought of how to complement the nutritional ensemble of our skin—just like healthy food. Also, in addition to favoring food-grade options, we always choose ingredients with scientific proof of supporting healthy skin.

Radiant Life: Let’s go over these principles one by one. What kind of a difference does it make?

Kirsi Kaukonen: Think of a glass of freshly pressed orange juice: delicious and high in nutrients—that is our goal. All our products are freshly blended using gentle, artisanal methods to protect the natural effectiveness and potency of the nutrients. We produce at least 12 batches of our products annually, and ship orders to our customers right after manufacturing. We produce our products in our own laboratory in Finland and ship globally to our customers within one or one and a half weeks from ordering. This is also a way how we want to respect and cherish valuable resources by producing our products according to demand; we minimize any leftover products and also avoid long periods of warehousing.

We choose food-grade ingredients, and you need to really deep-dive into the ingredients to find the best and unique ones to harness their characteristics for skin care products. And honestly, I think we have done it very well.

Freshness and food-grade was not enough for us. We wanted to really know what we put on our skin. Just like a top chef can describe the origin of the ingredients used in a gourmet dish, all our ingredients are 100% traceable.

We look for nutrient-rich ingredients from the best suppliers and manufacturers. We have carefully hand-picked the best ethical producers and small organic farms around the world. Over 50% of the ingredients come from Nordic countries, including Finland, which is famous for its pristine nature. We are not satisfied with mediocrity, and always seek the best.

And if you already use the best ingredients in the world, why add anything extra? We want to cherish the natural microbiome of our skin by saying “no” to additives, alcohol, synthetics, and preservatives.

All our products are made here in Finland, in Espoo, in our own laboratory. We do not use third parties and have not outsourced any of our products. This gives us flexibility and the quality we want to offer to our customers.

Radiant Life: Tell us about some of the specific ingredients you use. Where do they come from and how did you pick them?

Kirsi Kaukonen: The sea buckthorn oil we use comes from a family farm in northern Finland. The rugged natural conditions of the North and the “nightless nights” give the berries an exceptional amount of antioxidants and other nutrients. That’s what we want for our skin. Our sea buckthorn oil is cold-pressed from fresh whole berries and naturally provides abundant amounts of beta-carotene—a vitamin A precursor—E vitamins, omegas 7, 3, 9, and other nutrients. The color in the oil speaks of nutrients. The color of our oil is deep orange, and its taste is intensely berryish and rich in texture.

Italy has always been one of our family’s favorite destinations and it was natural that this is where our olive oil comes from. The olive grove where one of our olive oils comes from is near Naples. Our producer produces exquisite olive oil, pressed from a single variety of green olives, with the highest antioxidant content and the lowest acidity that comes from pressing within 24 hours of harvesting. Our olive oil, just like our sea buckthorn oil, is bursting with nutrients, promoting the well-being of our skin and slowing down premature aging. Naturally, using the best ingredients brings a very different cost structure to our products, instead of using cosmetic qualities that are much cheaper. It is like with fine dining: We pay more for the ingredients used in a gourmet dish than in a chain restaurant.

(Courtesy of Niki Newd)
Niki Newd facial cucumber. (Courtesy of Niki Newd)

Radiant Life: How long can fresh skin care last? Will this change skin care routines and habits?

Kirsi Kaukonen: We recommend using our creams, balm, and oil serum within 6 months. They could last longer, but they are at their best when used as recommended. Would you find an artisan baker who would say that the bread is still at its best after a few days? No, they want you to enjoy the texture, aroma, and taste of fresh bread.

The Skin Cream and Skin Mist we recommend being used in two months, to be able to enjoy the ultimate freshness of vitamin C and other antioxidants. Most of our products are stored at room temperature. Only two products, Skin Cream and Skin Mist, are stored in the fridge, like fresh food. The fridge is an excellent place to store these two products and keep their exceptional freshness and nutrients.

Radiant Life: Tell us a bit about your own skin care rituals.

Kirsi Kaukonen: My skin care ritual is very simple. I rinse my skin with cool water in the morning and usually apply a cream cocktail to my face. Usually, I want to boost vitamin C to my skin, so the morning cocktail of creams consists of our Skin Cream to which I add one or two other products to make a perfect mixture. My skin tells me which products it wants. If I work at home without makeup, I might add some balm to my cheeks and lips during the day. In the evenings, I always wash my face with our oatmeal soap and apply a cream cocktail. Mostly during the weekends, I regularly make a masque a few times a month. Basically, my skin care routine is very straightforward, as I can put the same products around the eyes, the décolleté area, and the rest of my face. My skin tells me which product to use when and where.

Radiant Life: What other healthy lifestyle rituals do you incorporate into your life?

Kirsi Kaukonen: I try to eat as healthy and simple as possible during the week, and during the weekends, I give myself freedom. I follow a gluten-free and dairy-free diet because I feel much better then. Sports have been a big part of my life. I competed in cross-country skiing until I was 16, and ever since, I have enjoyed sports. At this moment, I do reformer Pilates, take long walks, and swim. When my body is stressed or tired for some reason, I also do breathing exercises that help me focus and find a calm relaxed feeling.

Radiant Life: What other values or philosophy did your mother and grandmother pass on to you?

Kirsi Kaukonen: My mother and grandmother were very different in nature, but their values were very similar. I am sure that the experience of war and how to cope in wartime influenced their values and philosophy of life. I have been encouraged since childhood to try my best and believe that “I can,” and, in bad times, to be resilient and have trust that all things will work out. And perhaps the most important values that I am very grateful of are that both my mother and grandmother always emphasized the importance of taking other people into account, showing love and warmth, and the idea that we are all cared for.

Radiant Life: Please tell us more about yourself. What is your background? Where do you get your inspiration?

Kirsi Kaukonen: I hold a MSc in civil engineering and am a former photography model. I funded my studies with modeling, and I really enjoyed my profession because it allowed me to see unique places and meet a lot of interesting people. After graduating, when my daughters were young, I worked as a project director in the IT field, and during that time, Niki Newd was created little by little.

I started developing skin care products with my friend, who has a Ph.D. in microbiology. Making masques and creams during weekends with her was our own quality time and a way to relax. That prepared us for Niki Newd, and most importantly, the philosophy of fresh skin care was born during that time. When I was working in the IT sector, I never felt like it was my true passion, but now I am so grateful that Niki Newd is part of my life. I am feeling that I do what I have always wanted to do with all my heart and for the rest of my life.

I am very visual, and I like to create images and ideas. In addition, I am very curious, and follow a wide range of different events, and I exercise a lot in nature and outdoors. It’s wonderful and inspiring to create a unique concept, but I need to keep in mind to take breaks, take long weekends for recovery. It’s a way to keep your life in balance and the creativity and inspiration flowing.

Radiant Life: There has been a broader trend toward natural skin care. What are your concerns about the general skin care market when it comes to ingredients and quality, and most importantly, how they impact people’s skin?

Kirsi Kaukonen: I would love to answer this question by asking further questions. What would happen if all manufacturers of skin care products listed the ingredients of their products in the native language instead of Latin, and openly stated the percentages of water, preservatives, fillers, fragrances, and additives in their products? If we go beyond this line of thought, how many manufacturers could tell us about the traceability of their raw materials? And last but not least, how many manufacturers would be willing to state how fresh their products are? I am particularly proud and glad that we do not have to hide behind anything at Niki Newd. Instead, we can really answer every question mentioned above.

In conclusion, what worries me most is that most consumers are influenced by the mass market and mass-market players. It remains to be seen how we small players will make our voices heard and increase consumer awareness. It would probably require at least one big player to set an example for others.

Radiant Life: Your products can now also be found in some establishments here in Finland. Could you tell us more?

Kirsi Kaukonen: We have launched, for the spa and beauty sector, a “Nordic tasting menu for the skin” spa concept, which offers the customer a unique, holistic skin care experience. In the main roles are fresh skin care products, the special expertise of a beautician, and a relaxing treatment environment.

All products are made to order for the spas and for their needs. Treatments are customized to meet their and their customers’ desires. There is clearly a rising trend where users of select skin care products wish to switch to more natural alternatives for products and treatments without the need to sacrifice effectiveness. We meet this demand perfectly.

I hope users find products that feel wonderful, genuine, and caring on their skin, and that they also feel that they get a natural glow to their skin. And, of course, I hope to hear feedback that their skin has never looked so good.

Categories
People Lifestyle Uncategorized

The Pioneer of Picture-Perfect Bedding

Mary Ella Gabler moved from small-town Pennsylvania to the Big Apple in the 1960s. Her plan to work as a flight attendant in New York fell through, but she didn’t run back home. With hard work and perseverance, she became one of the first two women licensed on the NY Stock Exchange.

When she later moved with her husband to Dallas for his work, Gabler began making patchwork pillows from home, and it wasn’t long before she turned that cottage industry into a burgeoning enterprise. Her first big break came through a friend working at Neiman Marcus who thought her pillows would be perfect for the store’s Fête des Fleurs (Festival of Flowers) theme. Now, her brand of luxury linens, Peacock Alley, is sold in major department stores and other outlets globally, and the brand is credited with changing the way Americans dress their beds.

“Relationships are such an important part of business success,” Gabler says. It’s a point she also emphasized in her autobiography, “Uncommon Thread,” writing, “Throughout my life, one thing has been paramount—relationships.”

“Whether it’s your relationship with people you work around every day, or the people that you sell your products to, or the people who help supply what you’re producing, I think nurturing those relationships is so important,” she says. “You really do help each other in good times and in bad times.”

It wasn’t until the 1990s that Gabler discovered another key to boosting her success, and she wishes she had found it sooner. “Get better financial advice,” she says she would tell her younger self. “Build more of a financial cushion. If I had had better financial advice on an ongoing basis, I would have been more consistently profitable over the years. We tended to have highs and lows seasonally.”

One of her toughest times was in the 1990s during the national savings and loan crisis, when her loan was up for review as institutions were looking to close less profitable accounts. Peacock Alley was still growing and only marginally profitable at the time, and Gabler recalls sitting at a big conference table in a banker’s office, feeling like she could lose it all.

But she had an appointment with her financial advisor—and bringing him in was one of the best decisions she ever made. He told the banker, “‘We owe you this much. You can either shut us down now and you’ll never get any money really, or you can give us a year to pay it off. We have a plan here that we can do this,’” she says.

“I remember working so hard every month to exceed the amount that I had to pay the bank back,” Gabler says. “It helped the bank. It helped us internally. I think it helped everyone I was working with to have more of a positive attitude about what we did. I think it helped the relationships with the people we owed money to because I made sure that everyone got paid back the money that we owed them, and a little more. Those are the kinds of relationships and trust that are important to build over the years.”

Although it took a lot of hard work to pull through, she had help and motivation from her employees. “I always felt this responsibility that these people I work with and had a relationship with for so long—there are a few that are still with me for 50 years—and you think about them and their families and how responsible you are for supporting them. I think that was also a driving force.”

Early Lessons

Gabler learned as a child the importance of treating people well and nurturing relationships in business. Her father and his brothers ran a furniture business together, and “they treated each other with such respect,” she says. “I don’t ever remember a time where there was a harsh word between the brothers.”

She recalled another lesson she learned from watching them. They had sent one of her cousins off to college, paying his way, with the idea that he would return and apply what he learned to the business. When he graduated and returned home, “He went into the store all excited about working there,” Gabler says. “My father handed him a broom.

“My cousin said, ‘Well, you didn’t send me to college to go and sweep the floor, did you?’ My father said, ‘This is your first lesson: You do whatever needs to be done, and the floor needs to be swept for the customers.’” Gabler gets right in there with the seamstresses and doesn’t just make executive decisions from afar, she says.

Her family wasn’t interested in bringing her into the business because they saw it as the men’s responsibility. She studied physical education in college, and especially loved tennis. “It’s such an individual sport. It depends on how hard you try and how much effort you want to put into it. I think maybe from that I learned that I’m the one ultimately responsible for what I do.”

Gabler says that after college, her father “thought I would probably come home and get married. That’s not what I was interested in.” Instead, she sought adventure in the big city. “It was exciting. I wanted to get out of the small town where I’d grown up,” she says. “That’s an excitement I still feel today when I go to New York. There’s an energy about it.”

Lessons in the Big Apple

(Courtesy of Peacock Alley)

Gabler’s first job was as a switchboard operator for an all-women public relations firm. “I graduated to serving tea to these women in the afternoon. It was so interesting to watch their business grow.”

Then, she had an opportunity to work as a receptionist for a firm on Wall Street. “They were very dynamic men in that business,” she says. “The more I worked with them, they could see an ability in me to try harder, work harder, so they offered to send me to this school to learn what I needed to become registered [on Wall Street]. It was a little bit scary, because it was a whole world I didn’t know much about. But, then again, I found the excitement of it.” That chapter in her life taught her how to weigh business decisions, which later helped her linen business evaluate the risks and benefits of opening accounts with customers.

Eventually, Gabler was able to identify a hole in the linen market, and fill it.

Building an Industry

(Courtesy of Peacock Alley)

Working with Neiman Marcus, Gabler started to change America’s approach to the bedroom. Bedding was rather plain and utilitarian at the time, she says. But with Neiman Marcus, she was having “conversations about how to add fashion to sheets and bedding. What can we do to the rest of the bed to make it prettier?”

Bed skirts weren’t being made at the time; she made them. Pillow shams and blanket covers made it easier to dress up the bed. Today, these ideas are much more widespread. Peacock Alley (named for a restaurant at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City—a tribute to the city’s influence on Gabler) prides itself on quality.

The company’s linens are finished by hand in Dallas. Imported materials are carefully inspected. Each product takes about a year and a half to develop, Gabler says. Her style is based on the “little black dress” concept: “You start with the best basics that you can and build from there, like you do with your wardrobe.” She adds different seasonal colors and designs onto the strong base she has established.

Her two sons now run the business, though Gabler remains involved, especially in product development. It was hard raising her boys and growing her business at the same time, and Gabler counts it as one of her successes that her sons decided to join her.

Regarding balancing business and family, she says, “There really is no balance. Just put one foot in front of the other and do what you can fit in. When you’re raising your children and you can’t make them lunch or go to a basketball game or whatever, you deal with the guilt for that or wonder how that’s going to affect them.” Having talked to her sons about it as adults, “They don’t see that as a negative, so I’m glad to hear that,” she says.

Gabler promotes self-care in her company culture, and describes the legacy she hopes she has established: “I hope we can be known for our integrity and quality. I think trust and transparency is so important with whomever you’re dealing.”

Gabler’s Tips for Sheet and Towel Care

(Courtesy of Peacock Alley)

Iron your sheets. Even if you only have time for doing the pillowcases or the top sheet, you’ll experience your sheets the way they are meant to be. Ironing helps the fibers lay as they were intended and makes the fabric more soft and supple. If you really want to treat your guests, bring your sheets to a laundry for pressing.

Wash new towels with vinegar. Towels are shipped in potato starch. To remove the starch and make the towels more absorbent, add 1 cup of vinegar along with your detergent when you first wash them. Vinegar, as a natural disinfectant, can also revive old or musty-smelling towels.

 

Categories
Featured Lifestyle

The Polo Life

Nic Roldan, raised in the town of Wellington, Fla., is America’s leading polo player. With an 8-goal handicap, Roldan has won some of the world’s most prestigious polo tournaments, including England’s 2018 Cartier Queen’s Cup, Argentina’s Copa Camara de Diputados in 2006, and the 2005 Australian Open, to name a few.

(Courtesy of Michele Cardamone)

Roldan, 39, plays professionally for the Ganzi family. Marc and Melissa Ganzi, who also compete in polo tournaments around the world, are the founders of the World Polo League, the Grand Champions Polo Club, in Wellington, and the Aspen Valley Polo Club, in Colorado. Roldan promotes several charities, including the Kids Cancer Foundation, the Buddy Program, and the Neil S. Hirsch Boys and Girls Clubs of Palm Beach County.

Nic Roldan at the 1st East Coast Open Game – Audi vs Airstream 2016 (Courtesy of Chichi Ubina)

During his childhood, Roldan showed an early talent for the game, often called the “sport of kings.” He played junior tournaments until he turned 15 in 1998, when he achieved the significant accomplishment of becoming the youngest polo player ever to win a prestigious U.S. Open Polo Championship title—a record that still stands. But Roldan’s love for the game doesn’t just stop in the fields, and he works to inspire young players with polo lessons while dedicating himself to philanthropy.

“I feel like there is more to do besides bringing awareness about polo—the sport that I am most passionate about,” he says. “I believe this new stage in my life is to take care of others, to guide people that have been less privileged than me.

(Courtesy of Nick Mele)

Horses are a big part of Roldan’s life. “When you live in Wellington, we treat horses with the utmost care,” he says. “Here, horses are so important, and we treat them with so much dignity. When I realized that in other countries, that is not the case, it shocked me,” says Roldan, who was born in Argentina.

Roldan’s father is Raul Roldan, an Argentine polo player who was on the Sultan of Brunei’s polo team; he met Nic’s mother, Dee, of German descent, when she came for a visit to Wellington. Nic’s grandfather, Audilio Bonadeo Ayrolo, won the Argentine Open in 1931 and 1938 and was also a champion around the world.

(Courtesy of Barbara Livingston)

These men greatly influenced Roldan’s ability to compete on the field. While his father was based in Brunei, Roldan competed in the junior tournaments in Wellington. He quickly outshone other kids competing in polo, and at 15, winning the U.S. Open earned him a 3-goal handicap.

Early Drive

Roldan greets the staff as he walks around the Santa Rita Polo Farm in Wellington, which has some of the most beautiful stables in the area. His low-key demeanor and elegance translate admirably to the sport of polo.

(Courtesy of Nick Mele)

“I started riding when I was 2 years old,” he says. “Surrounded by horses, it was natural that I would live this life. What people do not realize about this sport is that besides the luxury and glamorous feel it has, it can be very dangerous and demands so much training as well as being in top athletic shape.” Roldan trains several times a week. “You have to wake up early in the morning and be ready to train for several hours to get ready for competition. It’s an old and glamorous sport with so much risk, sometimes it is unimaginable,” he explains.

Roldan has won several major tournaments, and at various times he has also been a 9-goal-handicap polo player. “It’s really hard to achieve that jump from 8 to 9,” he says. “I went back and forth—really difficult and challenging to get to that 9, but I’m so passionate about it. Polo is a big priority in my life.”

(Courtesy of Nick Mele)

Roldan is a spokesperson for several brands including St. Regis Hotels & Resorts and Provident Jewelry, and he has his own High Goal Gin label. “It’s been a lot of fun. The gin comes from South Carolina, and it has started to expand to other areas of the country,” he says. Roldan is also in high demand for fashion features and has made many appearances on television, and in 2010, he taught Khloe and Kourtney Kardashian how to play polo. He has recently made forays into real estate, and just launched his lifestyle brand, Roldan Lifestyle.

His skill, good looks, and charisma have established him as a household name of several brands, including Italian fitness company Techno Gym. “It’s very upscale, sophisticated equipment that enables you to stay fit—a priority in my lifestyle,” he says. “You don’t have to overwork yourself; you just have to do it right. I exercise three times a week only. I also rest.”

Inspiring Youth

“In selfish times, we have to be selfless,” Roldan says.

Although Roldan is no stranger to the limelight, he is a down-to-earth person who simply loves playing polo and helping others. His philanthropy work often sees him play in front of crowds of young kids at the polo fields in Wellington, and he’s helped charities raise hundreds of thousands of dollars. The Carbondale and Aspen, Colo.-based Buddy Program that he supports empowers youth through mentoring experiences that help them achieve their full potential. Since 1973, this nonprofit has helped thousands of little buddies, and Roldan has been very influential within this community.

(Courtesy of Nick Mele)

“I travel the world, I live in the most beautiful polo settings, and I meet amazing people, but there is no bigger reward than the smiles of underprivileged children when they get to meet you, or to watch the horses we try to aid after toiling in tough terrain and hard weather,” comments Roldan, who was named one of the country’s most eligible bachelors by Town & Country magazine.

This year, Roldan plans to travel to St. Moritz, Switzerland to play snow polo, and he will play during the World Polo League season in Wellington as part of the Grand Champions Polo Club team.

Categories
Travel

The Solo Traveler; How to Survive

Life, as I see it, should be filled with as many different and exciting experiences as possible. Not all are entirely fun or without their problems, they can even be a little scary, but they are experiences all the same and add to the rich tapestry of our lives. They fill our memories with a variety of cultures, languages, values and perspectives. Travel allows us to build bridges, provides us an opportunity to hold out our hands to strangers and offers us the chance to forge beautiful friendships. Traveling alone is truly unique, and with the right attitude, it can be one of the best experiences life has to offer.

So far, I have had the good fortune to have lived in six countries and visited over forty. I usually feel like I have stepped into another skin when I travel; as if I am a different person. Generally, I feel more upbeat, more excited about life and keen to try everything. The sights and sounds are so different from my ‘usual’: the wildlife, the scenery, the language and the food. Oh, the food! I try and eat in what would be deemed ‘local’ eateries (often the cheapest too) and attempt to communicate with people in their own language, even if I am sometimes left feeling foolish. After all, who doesn’t feel good when someone tries to compliment their cuisine and culture?

There have been times when I was afraid to travel, thinking of what might happen in a worst-case scenario. But, as the saying goes, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Go ahead, you may be rewarded with one of the best experiences of your life!
One of my first forays into solo travel was a trip to New York, initially planned with a friend who dropped out at the last minute. Although mildly terrified at the prospect of going alone, I decided to do it anyway. Who in their right mind would pass up a trip to the Big Apple?

A good way to see the sights is to take part in walking tours led by local guides. Many places also run bicycle tours which allow you to cover a lot of ground and get more ‘bang for your buck’ so to speak. These tours are often punctuated by a stop for refreshments at a local bar or café and give you the opportunity to chat with other travelers. Several tours I have been on have been led by volunteers or students, any donations given for their time and knowledge being greatly appreciated.

Another bonus to being with other people is safety. Let’s face it, women in particular have to be careful, especially as ‘amiable’ to one culture may seem ‘overtly friendly’ to another and messages can be mixed! On encountering uncomfortable situations or locations, my rule has always been to walk at a normal pace, with confidence and to stay alert. Even if I wanted to run, I did not. If you felt threatened by someone, turning around and questioning the person can sometimes embarrass them into leaving you alone. They may think you are a tough cookie (even if you are only acting brave) and give up their pursuit. Of course, caution must be exercised as each situation is very different. Going with your gut feeling is a powerful test of the situation. Several friends walk with a whistle or alarm close by. I too, have a whistle on my bag strap but to date, have never had to blow it. I have had to use my ‘teacher voice’ however, to reprimand a man for making an improper proposal to me on the street!

The one thing that has continued to amaze me over the years is the kindness of strangers. Following a short conversation with an old lady on a train to Kobe, Japan, she insisted on walking me to my hostel, helping to settle me into my room and then inviting me out for Chinese food in the city. In Nagasaki, another old lady ‘adopted’ me on the street, taught me about the history of her town and bought me cakes. In both Finland and Georgia, I was escorted safely to the door of my hostel by middle-aged gentlemen I chatted to on the plane, and in Nepal, a group of motorcyclists held a party in my honor because I rode the same model of motorbike as them! Similarly, in India, I was invited to join a motorcycle group for a long weekend, was renamed the ‘Bullet Rani’ and treated like a celebrity! I hold those friendships dear to this day.

Travel is a gift. Never give it up. Many people can only dream of visiting other countries. The next time you travel, whether it be in your own country or another, take a moment to stand still and absorb it all. Breathe in the air and feel what it is like to really be there in that moment, with that scenery, those sounds, those smells. Remember; you may never go back there again and by really focusing in that moment, it may help fix that memory in your mind for decades to come.

Categories
Gardening Nature Uncategorized

Letting Nature Do Its Thing; Balancing the Birds and Bugs in Our Gardens

Something is happening in our gardens. Little by little, a very unsettling silence is falling upon them. During my childhood, our garden was a blur of color as a multitude of brightly patterned insects busied themselves amongst the flowers. The number of bee species on the lavender bushes was a sight to behold and butterflies were aplenty. Iridescent ground beetles could be found in abundance, scurrying along the ground. Birds bobbed and weaved from tree, to bush, to lawn and back again, catching what they could to feed their waiting chicks.

All the vegetables we grew in the garden had bugs of one sort or another on them. Cauliflower had to be soaked in salt water to rid them of aphids, soft fruits freed of slugs and apples checked for codling moth larvae. Many a dinner time was punctuated with shrieks of disgust at the discovery of an errant caterpillar hiding in the folds of a lettuce leaf!

The number of (once common) insects has now reduced to a deeply worrying level. Over the past 25 years, global insect biomass has reduced by over 75%. Yay! I hear some people cry. However, the harsh reality of this situation is very different.

Consider the facts. Insects have been around for approximately 400 million years. They co-evolved with plants, pollinating their flowers and adapting some highly specialized characteristics in the process. To this day, insects provide pollination services for wild flowers, our gardens, and agriculture. It is estimated that 80% of wild plants need insects for pollination. Insects play a huge role in the functioning of ecosystems. They help to feed us and are the tiny engines that keep the world as we know it turning. We all enjoy a juicy tomato, don’t we? Bumblebees with their ‘buzz pollination’ are responsible for them. How about the deliciously heady fragrance of honeysuckle in the evening? Thank the moths for pollinating those flowers!

Not only are insects vital for our lives, and the lives of the plants that depend on them, they are also vital to countless other species. They provide food for approximately 60% of bird species as well as mammals, amphibians and reptiles. Remember that unsettling silence that is falling upon us? Songbirds are becoming a rarity.
Last spring was a particularly challenging one in the UK, with temperatures being the lowest on record for 60 years. April had the lowest average minimum temperature since 1922. Following this period, the emergence of moths was delayed by over a month resulting in a mismatch between wild bird chicks hatching and their food source being available. During this time, a friend of mine in Wales was monitoring a nesting box of Great tits. Six little eggs were laid, six little chicks hatched, but despite the efforts of their parents, one by one they succumbed to starvation. This is happening all over the UK, and indeed, much further afield. Many bird species in the UK are in steep decline, 29% being on the ‘Red list’ of conservation concern. The cuckoo, whose call was once synonymous with the start of summer, is once such bird. A bird I haven’t heard since I was a child.

What can we do to address this problem? One option is to allow our gardens to find a natural balance. Allow plants to be attacked by caterpillars and the birds and their young will feast upon these caterpillars. Allow snails and slugs to munch their way through some of our soft fruit and vegetables; birds, amphibians and mammals will chow down on them. Nature will find a way if we allow it to. ‘Sacrifice’ plants can be grown; a parsnip left to go to seed, a cabbage left un-netted, a patch of nettles or some weeds left to go wild. All can support insect and bird life.

To further help our feathered friends, their food intake can be supplemented with wild bird food and fresh water and fat balls in the winter. All vessels should be kept clean and changed regularly to avoid the spreading of diseases such as Avian flu. Put up nesting boxes around your garden, varying the size and shape of the entrance holes to attract different species; believe me, the sight of a tiny face poking out of a nesting box hole is worth the effort. Remember that an ‘untidy’ garden is a good thing too. Not only does it offer food and shelter, but also nesting material. I once witnessed an audacious blackbird plucking fur from our rabbit’s bottom; he remaining oblivious to his provision of the softest of nest liners.

Let our gardens be unkempt. Let the bugs thrive. If we don’t help them all now, not only may we go hungry, but the generations to come will never know the joy of bird song or the rainbow of colorful insects that we have had the privilege of knowing in our childhoods.

 

Hallmann. C, Sorg. M, Jongejans. E, Siepel. H, Hofland. N, Schwan. H, Stenmans. W, Müller. A, Sumser. H, Hörren, Goulson. T and de Kroon. H (2017) More than 75 percent decline over 27 years in total flying insect biomass in protected areas. PLOS ONE. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0185809
https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/advice/how-you-can-help-birds/
https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/new-uk-red-list-for-birds/
https://www.countryfile.com/wildlife/birds/britains-best-songbirds-how-to-identify-each-species/
Wagner.D, Grames. E, Forister. M, Berenbaum. R and Stopak. D (2021) Insect decline in the Anthropocene: Death by a thousand cuts. PNAS. 118 (2) https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2023989118

 

Categories
Relationships Gardening

The Acts of Giving and Receiving; Volunteering in Your Community

Have you ever had that warm fuzzy feeling when you help an elderly person carry their shopping, or return a wallet dropped by a parent struggling to cope with screaming children? Similarly, a simple smile from a stranger when your eyes meet whilst walking down the street can leave both parties with a spring in their step. These moments in time can boost your mood for the rest of the day.

Simple acts of kindness make us feel positive. We feel good, and those that receive the acts of kindness do too. Trials have shown that the majority of people who receive ‘pay it forward’ acts of kindness are likely to pass on acts of kindness to others. Spread the love, I say! I recall a day, cycling in torrential rain shortly after moving to Japan. A white van suddenly pulled over and an old man thrust an umbrella out of his passenger window at me before driving off. After the initial confusion/alarm, I realized he was donating his umbrella to protect me from the rain. The memory of this selfless gesture has stayed with me to this day.

To pass on some of that love, I later volunteered in the same town giving classes in British cuisine. I must admit, I loved feeling like Mary Berry (our version of Julia Childs) on a cookery show, but the looks on the ladies’ faces and the cries of “Oishii!” (delicious) on tasting their homemade British dishes was the most heart-warming part of it all. I am doubtless there are several families in central Japan that now make Scottish shortbread and fruit scones for school fêtes and festivals! It was a great way to be able to give to the local community and feel like part of it in return.

Studies demonstrate that showing care and compassion for others can reduce depression and build a kinder and more humane society in general. Modern culture may encourage us to look after ‘number one’, however, evidence suggests that prosocial behavior (doing acts of kindness for others) results in greater positive psychological benefits than caring solely for oneself; positive emotions are boosted and negative emotions reduced. This behavior was evident in my village during the pandemic; neighbors would call across the road to each other to see if families were well or if any shopping needed to be done. Although as a society we all suffered, each person tried to help and offer support where they could. People were showing care. The elderly were protected, and the more mobile neighbors volunteered their time and effort to see to it.

Studies performed on the relationships between kindness and happiness, and gratitude and happiness, have also shown that if people feel happy, they are more likely to recognize those traits in others and more likely to demonstrate acts of kindness. Happiness and gratefulness are also increased by counting one’s own acts of kindness. Remember that fuzzy feeling when you helped the elderly person up the stairs with their groceries?

As the majority of people are aware, life can be extremely difficult at times; for the past two years it has been unbearable for many. Since the lockdown, rules have thankfully allowed for more social interaction and the chance to get outside. As there are so many positive benefits to interacting with the natural world, I decided to give back to nature in my village and get some of those positive feelings in return. We have an area of land owned by the Parish Council which is being converted into a public space full of trees; a place to exercise, to see wild flora and fauna, to walk the dog and just breathe. It has been a lifesaver for many during these hard times. For those living alone, walking in this area was the only chance they had of seeing another human being, one lady said it literally saved her life as she was close to taking her own. My first day of volunteering there gave me a real buzz. Run by a group of retired people (I reduced the average age by quite a few years when I joined the group!), tree-planting, pruning and path maintenance were organized with military precision. Now a regular volunteer, I am proud to say I have planted dozens of trees which, with a bit of luck, will be there long after I am gone. I also greatly value the friendships I have forged in my local community with people I would not have otherwise met.

There are many organizations out there, urban and rural. A few minutes of online research can reward you with years of community work and potential friendships. Volunteering has also been associated with increased physical activity, better health and a reduction in the symptoms of depression. It gives you a new purpose in life. It helps you to develop relationships.

Although we may be tempted to opt for ‘retail therapy’, or going for a nice meal to make ourselves feel good; spending time on others, contributing to community activities and helping to make a difference may be the answer we are all looking for.

 

Anderson, N. D., Damianakis, T., Kröger, E., Wagner, L. M., Dawson, D. R., Binns, M. A., Bernstein, S., Caspi, E., Cook, S. L., & The BRAVO Team. (2014). The benefits associated with volunteering among seniors: A critical review and recommendations for future research. Psychological Bulletin, 140(6), pp:1505–1533. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0037610
Joonmo Son. J and Wilson, J (2012) Volunteer Work and Hedonic, Eudemonic, and Social Well-Being. Sociological Forum 27 (3) pp:658-681 https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1573-7861.2012.01340.x
Nelson, S. K., Layous, K., Cole, S. W., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2016). Do unto others or treat yourself? The effects of prosocial and self-focused behavior on psychological flourishing. Emotion, 16(6), pp:850–861 https://doi.org/10.1037/emo0000178
Otake. K, Shimai.S, Tanaka-Matsumi. J, Otsui. K and Fredrickson. B (2006) Happy People Become Happier Through Kindness: A Counting Kindnesses Intervention. Journal of Happiness Studies 7 pp:361–375. DOI 10.1007/s10902-005-3650-z
Pressman. S, Kraft. T and Cross. M (2015) It’s good to do good and receive good: The impact of a ‘pay it forward’ style kindness intervention on giver and receiver well-being. The Journal of Positive Psychology. 10(4), pp:293-302 https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2014.965269

Categories
Featured Lifestyle People

Sheetal Sheth Says Honesty Helps Kids Through Hard Times

Actress and children’s author, Sheetal Sheth, writes about “real things in a real way.”  She says that she doesn’t do abstract stories about “unicorns and dragons.” The “real things” in her children’s books include illness, death, racial differences, and conflicts between the sexes. Her characters—including an Indian American girl in Sheth’s popular Anjali series—deal with these real-life situations.

Sheth herself has had her own poignant experiences with these topics. Growing up in small-town America as a first-generation Indian immigrant, she felt uncomfortably different. She understands how important it is for children, including her own, to see book characters who are similar to themselves. “I make a point to curate books and the things that [my kids] watch so that they do see themselves. We’re watching stories of people who are us, and not us, because we want to … create empathetic kids,” she said.

As a woman in Hollywood, she has faced #MeToo situations, and therefore, understands how important it is to teach children respect between the sexes. She is also a cancer survivor. Her children were 2 and 4 when she was diagnosed, and she understands how important it is to help children cope with serious illness.

(Lux Aeterna Photography for Radiant Life)

On Illness

“I looked for [children’s] books about illness and death, and I couldn’t find anything that wasn’t abstract,” Sheth said. Her newest book, “Making Happy” (set to publish in the fall of 2022), is about a girl named Leila whose mother is battling illness. Leila’s family gets through these hard times by finding joy and laughter together. Sheth’s advice to anyone helping children cope with illness is: “Tell them as much as you think they can handle. I’m all for being honest, but also in an appropriate way. Tell them that you’re feeling all the same things they are, that you’re scared too, and that you’re going to go through it together.”

As a young mother coping with cancer, Sheth had her unique challenges. One was the recovery from her double mastectomy. “The hardest part was that I couldn’t hug my kids for a long period of time,” Sheth lamented. “It’s really, really difficult not to hug your children.”

She received her diagnosis in 2018, on Christmas Eve. “I was with family, and so I wasn’t really ready to talk about it—but I was in it, so I kind of had to,” she said. During the holidays, things were closed, and medical staff were out of the office, so it was hard to get answers at a time when she had so many questions. That struggle is in her past, yet always present. “I don’t think you ever really overcome cancer,” Sheth explained. “I think you live with it. Once you have cancer, it’s part of your life.”

On Racial Differences

Earlier that same year, Sheth had published her first children’s book, “Always Anjali.” Anjali struggles with how different her name is. It’s not on any of those novelty items you see in gift shops with names printed on them: like Jennifer or Joanne or Sarah. Nobody knows how to spell Anjali, and one boy makes fun of her, calling her “peanut butter ‘and jelly.'”

Anjali wants to change her name to Angie, but her parents teach her about her name’s beautiful Sanskrit origin. It means “a gift, the most precious kind, just like you,” her mother tells her—and Anjali learns to wear her name proudly. People in showbiz have also asked Sheth to change her name to something more “American,” and she has always refused.

(Lux Aeterna Photography for Radiant Life)

The issue of changing names is something many children go through across the board, Sheth said. She has volunteered at children’s organizations and, she says, “I worked with kids on a regular basis who told me they didn’t fit in, or they had to change something about themselves to fit in, and that narrative is something I heard over and over and over again. And I thought, ‘Is there a way to put this into a book?'”

Anjali’s experience has resonated widely. “Always Anjali” won the 2019 Purple Dragonfly Storybook Grand Prize, voted on by teachers and librarians.

Growing up Indian American, Sheth said that she felt “a push and pull. Are you Indian enough? Are you American enough? Who are you?” Her parents wanted to protect her from being too “Western.” But that was impossible, growing up in the West. Also, she felt they had a romanticized vision of how India was when they left. It had changed since the 1960s. Her parents raised her with a strong sense of community, which led her to a service-oriented life, always working with nonprofits.

She learned the magic of Indian culture, as Anjali does in her book, but she also appreciated being American. When Sheth’s first child was born, she started looking for books that featured children of various ethnic backgrounds. But the books she found were “inaccurate, insensitive, or just plain wrong,” she said. That’s what motivated her to create Anjali.

(Lux Aeterna Photography for Radiant Life)
(Lux Aeterna Photography for Radiant Life)

On Boys, Girls, and Big Feelings

Sheth’s second book, “Bravo Anjali” (published in September 2021), has Anjali learning to play the tabla, a traditional Indian drum. It’s usually played by males, and the boys in her class are jealous of her talent. She tries to hide her talent to avoid jealousy, but she also becomes angry and hurt. Anjali and the boy who was most jealous and mean, talk to each other and resolve their conflict, healing their friendship.

Sheth says “Bravo Anjali,” is “really about teaching our kids, boys and girls, how to talk to each other when they’re having big feelings.” Many children feel like crying and bursting out with anger, though we often tell them to calm down, she noted. Sheth tries instead to recognize those feelings and help children work through them. “Having big feelings is a good thing,” she said.

(Lux Aeterna Photography for Radiant Life)
Categories
People Lifestyle

With Joy and Consideration

Radiant Life: In the past several years, your philosophy of tidying has really captured attention and has been adopted by people all around the world. What do you think really resonates with people about this philosophy?

Marie Kondo: The KonMari Method™ is more than just organizing; it starts with physical objects, which are often just symbols of the larger self-reflection we need. Evaluating the things that spark joy in our lives to help us achieve the vision we have for the lives we want to live is a part of the KonMari Method™ that I feel people really appreciate and resonate with the most.

Radiant Life: What are some of the early influences that attracted you to tidying and organizing?

Marie Kondo: Tidying is something that I learned from my grandmother at a very early age, and she was always such a big inspiration to me. She was so careful and considerate of the things she owned, and that level of intent and care is now deeply rooted in the KonMari Method™️. If I can personally help people tidy and see positive changes in other areas of their lives, then I feel like I have done what is needed, while also honoring my grandmother’s memory.

(Courtesy of Marie Kondo)

Radiant Life: When people go through the process/apply the KonMari method, they seem to have a lot of epiphanies. Many people start to realize that it’s not just about things; it’s about living and lifestyle. Was this always the starting point for you? How do you encourage people to think about lifestyle?

Marie Kondo: As a young girl, I was truly captivated by the craft of organization after reading “The Art of Discarding,” a bestselling book in Japan at the time. Being inspired from this book, I really started to explore tidying more seriously, and at that point in my life, I thought that tidying was mainly about discarding. I remember once during a difficult tidying session, my body became heavy, and I ended up passing out on the floor. After several hours, I thought I heard a voice telling me to “look at the items carefully and closely,” and in this exact moment, I realized I had an epiphany. Instead of looking for reasons to discard an item, I should be looking for reasons to keep them. Right then, I knew that tidying was so much more than just cleaning and discarding items. It transformed into focusing on the things and moments in life that spark joy.

When applying the KonMari Method™️, it’s important to remember that you are not choosing what to discard, but rather, choosing items to keep items that speak to your heart. Through tidying, people can reset their lives and make sure they’re spending the rest of their lives surrounded by the people and things that they love and cherish the most.

Radiant Life: In your method, you mention some procedures and rituals. Tell us about the importance of rituals and how they can change the way we look at things?

Marie Kondo: Before you can truly care for another person, space, or object, you have to know how to take care of yourself, which is where the importance of rituals come into play. I prioritize daily rituals that enable me to honor my whole self, because when the body, mind and spirit are in alignment, I can easily sense what sparks joy in my life each and every day. I have many different rituals that I perform throughout the day to help me maintain a rhythm, and I always encourage others to do the same. My morning ritual is one of my most important routines as it sets the tempo for the day ahead. I often begin by opening a window to let in the fresh air and then lighting incense. My favorite incense scent is yuzu because the smell of citrus brings energy and ease, which always helps me meet the day joyfully.

Radiant Life: How does tidying and organizing affect one’s mental state and life, and why?

Marie Kondo: The KonMari Method™ helps explore the depth of personal matters and emotions through tidying. Tidying is as much about evaluating the things that bring you joy as it is about the past that you are ready to let go—it’s about making room for the future you envision for yourself. Through the tidying process, you confront yourself and determine what is most important to you, all on your own. It’s important to be open-minded when tidying. Think about what the KonMari Method™️ can bring to not only your physical space, but your life as a whole.

Radiant Life: What is something you do every day that sparks joy?

Marie Kondo: Every morning, I start my day by opening up windows to let some fresh air in and also burn incense to purify the space. It signifies the start of the day, and this is a ritual that I have been doing for years. I also love taking a walk around my house every day with my kids and enjoy nature.

Radiant Life: In 2015, you were named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people. Decluttering was having a moment! What sort of cultural shift were you seeing from your perspective?

Marie Kondo: What a great honor this was! Since that time people have become more easily accessible through the digital lives we lead. We are also more influenced by things that may bring joy, including other things that do not; it can sometimes be overwhelming. I think the KonMari Method™️ still applies to people today. The Method allows people to revisit the things that truly bring them joy and discard the things that no longer serve the life they envision, which is as important today as it was back then.

(Courtesy of Marie Kondo)

Radiant Life: You also have some beautifully curated and designed product collaborations. How has your career in tidying helped you think about design and designing these items used in everyday life?

Marie Kondo: Even things that may seem purely necessary for function can be beautiful. When working on product collaborations or selecting items to be featured on my website, KonMari.com, I always make sure the items chosen are based on both form and function. The items curated are always aesthetically pleasing and also functional for the best chance at sparking joy for people. One of my favorite collaborations with the Container Store that represents this best is our Shoji Collection. These bamboo organizers are functional, sustainable, and elegant, and are inspired by the lattice work in traditional Japanese room dividers, known as “shoji”. They are perfect for storing, sorting or displaying in various spaces throughout the home.

Radiant Life: You’ve also written a children’s book – what are some memories from your childhood that have influenced memories you’ve tried to create for your own children?

Marie Kondo: When I was little, I imagined being a good mother to my children one day, just as my own mother was to me. I also had a very strong bond with my paternal grandmother, Oba-chan (grandma in Japanese), and feel lucky to have had so many good role models throughout my life to demonstrate to me how to best take care of children. One of my nightly rituals with my kids has always been to read books together, and believe it or not, their favorite book to read is the children’s book I wrote, “Kiki & Jax.” I wrote this book with my children in mind, so it brings me much joy when they ask repeatedly to read it with them before bedtime.

(Courtesy of Marie Kondo)

Radiant Life: How can people learn more about your method?

Marie Kondo: If you are tidying for the first time, I’d encourage people to read my first book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, or watch the digital tidying course KonMari Method™: Fundamentals of Tidying. In the book and in the course, I break it down into simple steps so you focus on the fact that the outcome of tidying isn’t simply a tidier space; tidying can change your life.

Many people may not realize but we also offer a KonMari Consultant Program. I’m extremely proud of the Consultant Certification Courses we developed to teach people how to become professional tidying experts. We have over 700 certified KonMari Consultants in over 54 countries. I love that I can share my expertise with the world to help bring joy into more peoples’ homes through the KonMari Method™! This is also a great option for people who might be looking for a secondary career that brings joy to others.

Categories
Lifestyle Travel

Gearing Up for Ski and Snowboard Season

Gliding down a fluffy white slope through an enchanted winter forest is an endorphin-inducing respite from the daily routine. Organizing the necessary gear to unlock that blissful moment can be daunting and expensive. Here’s a practical guide to getting started.

For Beginners:

Rent your skis/snowboard and boots: When you’re first learning and gaining confidence, you’re better off renting gear, which keeps the upfront costs down.

If you plan to ski three days or less, daily rentals from the resort are practical. Allow extra time as it can take 30 minutes to an hour to get your boots, skis, poles, and bindings all fitted and adjusted. Arrive early to eliminate unnecessary stress, or see if you can get fitted the night before.

If you plan to ski more than three times this season, you’ll save time and money by getting seasonal rentals from a reputable shop. They’ll give a proper fitting and allow you to swap out gear mid-season if needed.

Clothes: Considering that you’re playing on frozen, crystalized water, staying dry and warm is the key to being comfortable in the great outdoors. Therefore, avoid cotton, from head to toe. It retains moisture from sweat and snow, which will chill your body.

I recommend a three-layer system:

  • Base Layer: Thermal underwear wicks perspiration away from the body, keeping you dry and thus warm. A pair of synthetics will do just fine. If you want to splurge, Merino wool is oh-so-nice and makes a great gift of coziness for a loved one.
Women’s Comet Tunnel Hoody. (www.duckworthco.com)
(www.duckworthco.com)
  • Mid Layer: On colder days, you’re going to want a mid-layer on your torso for warmth. Pick something with less bulk and more breathability to keep from overheating and restricting your range of motion. Fleece and soft shells are the common choices. However, wool sweaters with reindeers and non-cotton flannels will give you more style points in the lodge and après at the bar. As the weather warms up, luau shirts are a festive look and are totally appropriate with the mountain crowd.
  • Outer Layer: I prefer my warmth to come from the middle layer, so that my outer layer (or shell) can be used for both winter and spring. Whether you choose a light or heavily insulated jacket, the objective is protection from wind and water while breathing well to prevent overheating. Some nice features you may appreciate include a hood that can fit over your helmet, nifty pockets, and climate-control venting zippers. When choosing pants, I prefer bibs to prevent snow from going up the back when wiping out, keeping my layers from untucking, and full-leg side zippers for venting and easy access to make boot adjustments. Finally, while black and gray may be good color schemes for urban wear, vibrant colors make it easier for your friends and family to spot you on the slopes and in the crowded lodge. The brighter the better—I’m talking orange, yellow, light blue, and green.

Gloves/Mittens: Get a pair you love. They can certainly be expensive and fancy, although they don’t need to be. Dry hands and warm fingertips can make or break your day!

Socks: Here’s a point of failure easily overlooked. Your feet are what connect you to the skis. Make sure you pull those socks up nice and tight over the calf so there are no creases, and be sure there’s no cotton in that blend. While snowboard boots are more forgiving and softer, ski boots are rigid and meant to fit very snug, so a bulky sock just won’t do. It’s somewhat counterintuitive, but a thin silky sock can keep your feet warmer than a thick cushiony sock, because when you tighten those boots, it’s easy to inadvertently disrupt your blood circulation. That leads to numb feet, and now you’re not having much fun!

Ski and snowboard boots are naturally quite warm, and unless it’s in the single-digit temperatures, you don’t need the thicker socks. If it’s in the budget, as with the thermal underwear, a nice pair of 100% Merino wools will keep you quite happy, though a synthetic, non-cotton blend will do the job fine. If you happen to suffer from extra-cold feet (like my wife), solutions such as heated socks and boots are incredibly effective.

While you’re at it, trim up those toenails. You want to make sure that when you flex forward in the boot, your big toenail isn’t making contact; that can end poorly. To play it safe, throw a nail clipper in your bag, and do a quick inspection before you boot up.

Another tip is to bring pack your ski socks in your boot bag, and then change into them just before you put on your boots. Feet sweat considerably, and starting your session with a clean, dry pair of socks will maximize comfort.

Lessons: Coaching is the quickest way to get you comfortable with stopping, speed control, and maneuverability. Lots of resorts will bundle lessons with lift tickets. If you live within driving distance of a local “learning” hill, splurge for five consecutive Saturdays. You’ll establish muscle memory and confidence, and be ready to cross into the intermediate and expert realms—and plan a trip to a bigger resort.

Intermediate/Expert

As your speed and precision increase and you develop your style, you’ll want to put your money into the gear best suited to pursue your favorite terrain.

Boots: Whether you’re skiing or riding, boots are the most important piece of gear, even more than the board(s) themselves. If your boots are too big, your foot will bang around the inside as you start to ski faster. Too small, and your feet will feel numb.

Boots and socks at the Smuggler’s Notch Resort. (Pat Kelley)

Don’t skimp here with your time or money. Make an appointment with the best boot fitter you have access to. Seek out an expert preferably with at least a decade “on the bench” (kind of like a judge), or an apprentice with direct access to the “master.”

You’re going to spend a few hundred dollars, so get your money’s worth. Plan for one to two hours for a proper fit, which could include setting a custom foot bed or boot liner. Try to go mid-week, or early morning if you go on the weekend. While occupationally patient, boot fitters tend to deal with a huge crowd the weekend before a holiday, and it’s basically chaos. Try to avoid that scene, but if it’s unavoidable, bring a book and headphones, and be patient. (And it may not hurt to ask how your boot fitter likes their latte and show up with a little care package!)

Boot fitting is the essential part to gearing up for the sport, so get it right. After a few days of skiing, it’s normal to do a follow-up visit after your boots “pack out,” as great boot fitters are able to make minor tweaks that can lead to more comfort, confidence, and enjoyment.

Helmet: If you’re committed to spending ample time on the hill, then go get yourself a helmet. They keep you warm, keep your goggles in place even on wipeouts, and will give you the confidence to push a bit past your comfort zone.

Goggles: As your speeds increase, you need goggles to protect your eyes and keep your face warm. There is a huge spectrum of price points and varieties. First and foremost, find a shape that works well with your face and your helmet, and covers your glasses if needed. Decent goggles will be double-lensed and enable airflow to prevent fogging; however, the degree to which they accomplish this can be the difference between a $30 and $300 pair.

You’ll pay substantially more for spherical lenses over standard flat lenses; they look great and are better at venting. Your budget will determine if this is where you want to splurge. Another option worth considering is interchangeable lenses or multiple goggles if you ski in a variety of light conditions, from night skiing to full sunshine. Alternatively, you can certainly use your sunglasses on bright, warm days and use a versatile tint, like amber, if you can only manage one pair.

Water Bottle: With all the fun you’re having, it’s easy to forget that you’re exercising out there and sweating a bunch. Couple that with high altitudes, and you need to remain hydrated. Go with a small water bladder or mini flask that you can keep in your chest pocket. Fill up in the lodge, and take swigs on the chair between runs.

Ski Pass: If you can get enough days at a single resort or with a multi-resort pass to make it cheaper than a la carte, splurge for unlimited skiing. The more time you spend on the slopes, the better you’ll get and the more you’ll enjoy it.

Skis/Board: It may seem counterintuitive to advise against buying skis, but you don’t actually need to own your own. If you’re flying to fun destinations, baggage costs for skis could exceed the renting costs of high-performance skis, and renting will also save you the trouble of lugging them to and fro. You’ll also want different planks for different conditions. If you do choose to commit to a pair (or multiple pairs), make sure you love them, and buy them for the conditions you’ll mostly be skiing in. While deep-powder gear may be aspirational, it may not be too practical if you’re mostly skiing on man-made packed powder. When in doubt, choose an “all-mountain” pair. Also, try before you buy and get them from a knowledgeable shop, as you’ll want them to adjust the bindings to your boots with the confidence that it will be done properly.

 

 

Categories
Lifestyle

Designing a Meditative Space

Meditative spaces have long been designed for cultures all over the world. Many people view the spaces as religious sites, while others appreciate them simply as places for contemplation and reflection. The main objective for those seeking peace is to relax and find a location that provides a sense of calm. The person working in an office all day might need the openness of a park. A farmer might be more relaxed under the breezy shade of a tree.

The search for calm can be expressed in various ways, ranging from architectural styles to family and cultural traditions. The goal is to find a space where you are less distracted and less likely to be disturbed. Look for an environment that fits your personality and needs. Think of it as a peaceful place where you can avoid the temptations that distract you during the day.

As you look for a contemplative space or if you plan to design your own, there are some basic principles to potentially adopt. The principles are not religious in nature, but feel free to add artifacts if they are part of your spiritual practice. Also, note that not all the principles need to be applied to your design. For example, one principle alone may provide the environment necessary for you. It is your journey, so design the space to fit your needs.

Search for clean lines, greenery and soft lighting in an interior space that fits your personality. (Ralph Kayden/Unsplash)

Design Tips

Pathway: The pathway on the way to your meditative space can be physical or simply a mental preparation. The objective is to transition your mind away from the distractions of the day as you approach the meditative space. With our world being immersed in technology, making a pathway could simply be shutting out all the devices surrounding you. If you are creating a physical path outdoors, look for ways to integrate nature in the process. It could be a series of stepping stones leading to a bench or a yoga mat. As you step on each stone, you can mentally prepare yourself for relaxation. If it is an indoor space, consider adding a frosted glass door to transmit visually softer illumination to the area.

Clean Lines: Simplicity provides less visual movement in an area. Most spaces designed for meditation and contemplation are clean and elegant, with architectural features as decorative elements. Look for simple, nondescript trim for baseboards, windows, and doors, with neutral or soft colors. Think in terms of clean lines with elegant simplicity.

Soft Lighting: Direct sunlight stimulates the mind, reducing the potential for concentration. Direct lighting should be softened by filtering it to provide a glowing atmosphere. The use of blinds or sheer drapery and diffusing the light will lessen the intensity in the space. Choose a time of day when the sun is direct. Reflected lighting can be redirected, providing the ambience needed to make a room relaxing.

Nature: The use of natural elements such as plants provides a contrast to linear construction materials inside a room. Simple lines with muted colors sometimes benefit from the addition of greenery. Avoid florals inside spaces for relaxation and contemplation because natural scents can be distracting and often overwhelming; if floral elements are used outdoors, be sure there is adequate air circulation to diminish the scents. If you are in a garden space, such as a park, find solace in an area with natural elements and minimal olfactory distractions.

Water: Pools or soft, rolling water features provide a natural cleansing sensation. This can be achieved with just a bowl of water or a more complex water feature in a garden space. Water should provide a gentle sound or a sense of stillness. Many traditional English or Japanese gardens include fountains, ponds, or rolling brooks for ambience. Traditional gardens are designed for the purpose of contemplation amid beautiful landscapes adorned with pathways, plantings, and water features.

Privacy: Separation from distraction will depend on the individual. Some people need physical barriers, while others can use implied lines. An implied line can be the edge of a porch, the shadow of a tree, or a cased opening in a room. Fulfilling your needs will depend on the complexity of the environment, noise, and light. For example, a person in a major metropolitan area might need to block various sounds by using glass, curtains, or sound machines. Someone in a rural environment might find that the edge of a deck or a space between two trees gives a good sense of enclosure. Many garden spaces use gazebos, pergolas, or trellises to create separation while allowing the sounds of nature and breezes to infuse the space.

(Rob Wicks/Unsplash)

Appeal to the Senses

Once you have the physical space organized to fit your needs, engage the senses to add to your experience.

Smell: Look for calming scents to foster relaxation. For example, common essential oils used for aromatherapy diffusers include lavender, eucalyptus, tea tree, and chamomile.

Touch: What objects will you be touching, sitting, and laying on? Find fabrics, seating, or rugs that provide comfort, which will help relax your mind. If you meditate on your knees, provide yourself with a cushion that fits your style.

Sound: A central question is, do you require silence, or do you prefer the sound of gently flowing water, or soft music? Personal preference will dictate if sounds are needed.

Temperature: Of course, the setting and regional climatic conditions influence temperature. It is best to avoid extremes that interfere with your ability to focus. A space that is too cold or too hot can diminish the quality of the experience. Be prepared with some type of shawl or blanket for cooler settings, or wear light layers for warmer settings.

Symbology: If your meditation revolves around spiritual practices, be sure to include comforting objects.

Whether a natural location or a designed interior space, the objective is to relax and improve your well-being. Create an ambience that appeals to your style and traditions. Always approach the design of meditative spaces with guiding principles that will enhance your concentration and reduce stress to improve your health.

Travis Kelly Wilson is an interior design professor at Western Kentucky University. He is the author of a book series for young children, “The Aspiring Architect.” He and his wife reside in the beautiful town of Falls of Rough, Ky., and enjoy traveling the world exploring architecture.

 

Categories
Chefs Lifestyle

In and Out of Love With Food

Chef Michael Schulson—TV personality and head of a restaurant empire based in Philadelphia—started healing his damaged relationship with food during the pandemic.

And it helped him lose 35 pounds in less than three months.

It sounds delightful and delicious tasting food for high-end restaurants all day. But, Schulson said, “I don’t think I even like food anymore.”

“Yesterday, I think I tasted 12 to 13 dishes—and that’s before 3 p.m. That’s enough food for someone to eat for a day and a half.” He tried the same octopus dish three times to adjust the taste. “Who would want to eat an octopus dish three times in a row?”

“I love food, but the concept of how we have to eat on a day-to-day basis is the problem,” Schulson said. “I want to be able to choose what I eat.”

The pandemic was hard on the restaurant business, and Schulson did what he could to ease the impact on his employees. But the silver lining was a chance to clear his plate, literally and figuratively.

(Courtesy of Michael Schulson)

New Regimen

Schulson started fasting until 2 p.m. and after 8 p.m. each day. He finally got to choose what he was eating, and often enjoyed light meals of fish. He cut back on carbs, salt, and oil.

He started running everyday and exercising in his home gym, but he said “The exercise piece is kind of secondary. … It’s all about eating properly.”

His main advice to anyone looking to start a weight-loss journey is: “Cut back on portion size. First start with portion size. … You can assume if you’re in America, your portion sizes are slightly bigger than they should be.”

Yoga was also part of his new regimen. It got him to slow down and think about things.

He realized, “Anger and toxicity can only be included in your life if you choose it.” You can’t change the people who are toxic in your life, he said, so it’s best to distance yourself from them.

“When you realize where the main piece of anger or toxicity comes from, once that’s removed, the smallest piece of anger and toxicity really sticks out like a sore thumb,” he said.

“It’s almost like I found an emptiness within me. When you don’t have to deal with certain things anymore, you just have all this energy and time to deal with positivity. It feels like an emptiness, but it’s liberating.”

Schulson has reflected more upon what he enjoys and what’s important to him.

He seeks authenticity. When he’s sick of fancy food, he goes to “a dive,” he said. “Because it feels authentic and genuine and it’s not what I’m getting every single day.”

Though his relationship with food has been somewhat strained, he loves the design and operations side of the restaurant business—managing all the “widgets,” as he calls them (such as financing or the cost of goods).

Authentic Design

He studied architectural engineering in his youth, but dropped out because the classes were more about beam weights and building codes than design. He got a job at a pizza joint instead. That was almost 50 years ago and it took a lot of time and effort to work his way to the top.

Harp & Crown. (Courtesy of Michael Schulson)

Young hopefuls in the restaurant business seem to expect to open several restaurants at the beginning of their careers, he said. He pointed out that he spent a decade as a line cook, another decade as a sous chef, then started with a single restaurant.

Double Knot. (Courtesy of Michael Schulson)

He’s glad he got to come back to his interest in design. Authenticity is important to him in the design of his restaurants.

“I like to make people feel a transformative experience. Meaning, if they walk into a restaurant in New York, they feel like they could be in Japan or London or Italy,” Schulson said.

Alpen Rose. (Courtesy of Michael Schulson)

His attention to detail is great. He gave the example of a restaurant he’s working on right now, an Italian pizzeria called Prunella. Construction was almost finished when he walked in recently and spotted a column that didn’t look right. “It doesn’t make me feel spectacular,” he said, so he had it changed.

“I don’t want any one location or spot within the restaurant to feel like we missed it or we ran out of money.”

He’s careful to be true to the concept. If it’s a 1920s style, you won’t include a decor piece from the 1980s, he said. You might include a modernized version of something from the ‘20s, but you have to be well aware of your art history to achieve authenticity.

“Do what you love,” he said. He was only earning several dollars per hour right up into his 40s, but he stuck with his passion. His two sons, aged 11 and 14, are also interested in the business and the elder has spent much time with him learning the ropes.

Categories
Gardening Lifestyle

Composting for Beginners

In gardening, composting is important and beneficial to the plants and flowers you grow, to the environment, as you are reducing your waste footprint, and to society at large, as composting dates back at least 12,000 years. There are things you should compost and things you shouldn’t —and learning the difference is important.

The benefits of composting include reducing certain food wastes that would end up in landfills, fertilizing and improving your garden soil, growing healthier flowers and more nutritious foods, and potentially saving money in the process.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that “in 2018, 2.6 million tons of food (4.1 percent of wasted food) was composted.” The agency further states that in 2018, “Americans recovered over 69 million tons of MSW [municipal solid waste] through recycling, and almost 25 million tons through composting.”

Compost begins with not discarding your kitchen scraps. (Lenka Dzurendova/Unsplash)

What Is Composting, and Why Should You Do It?

Composting is simply taking fruit and vegetable kitchen scraps, and things like coffee grounds and tea leaves, and putting them in a pile in your yard, or in a composting barrel. You can add grass clippings and dead leaves, then let nature get to work breaking down the materials you’ve added to your compost pile.

As the scraps break down, compost becomes nutrient-rich, inviting insects, worms, and beneficial bacteria to live and grow, which further breaks down the materials and enriches your compost pile. In time, you’ll have a fertilizer-like product you can add to your vegetable and flower beds that will improve the soil, add nutrients to your foods, and keep your garden beds producing year after year.

However, compost is not fertilizer. The simplest way to distinguish between compost and fertilizer is to remember this: Compost feeds the soil and fertilizer feeds the plants.

Whatever you add to your compost pile will become the nutrients your garden will use to grow healthier foods. Instead of buying a bag of carrots or a few tomatoes—produce that might have been sprayed with pesticides, or sat on a truck for a week as it made its way to your store—now you can pick and prepare your food the same day. There is no loss of nutrition or taste, and you know what went into each vegetable (and more importantly, what did not go into it).

What Can Be Composted?

Now that we know what composting is and why it’s a good idea, let’s talk about what we should and shouldn’t include in our compost piles. Most of the fruit and vegetable scraps in your kitchen can be composted. Things that you shouldn’t add to your compost pile include meat (cooked or raw), dairy and cheese products, fat, grease, and oil of any kind, and cooked foods such as rice and bread.

Here is a small list of items that can be easily incorporated into your compost pile. All vegetable and fruit waste, even moldy pieces—cores, peels, pits, rinds, and skins—can be composted.

  • Coffee grounds and filters
  • Loose-leaf tea and tea bags
  • Corn husks
  • Eggshells that have been rinsed and crushed
  • Expired spices
  • Flowers from bouquets
  • Juicer pulp
  • Shredded, ink-free unbleached paper and cardboard
  • Healthy household plant clippings and leaves
Rinsed egg shells are among the things you can safely add to your compost pile. (Jonathan Kemper/Unsplash)

Starting a Compost Pile: Do’s and Don’ts

You only need a few tools to start your compost pile. If you want to increase your chances of having a successful pile, you can buy a few things that can help move it along.

For starters, buy a small container that you can keep in your kitchen to hold food scraps; this will encourage you to sort your compostable garbage and reduce the frequency of your compost pile visits. It can be any small container, but its size will partly determine how often you empty it out onto your pile. Many products offer various features, but you don’t need anything fancy to get started—just a container with a lid in which you can deposit your scraps until you move them outside.

If you want to have usable compost sooner, one option is to add a compost activator, which speeds up the decomposition process by adding nitrogen to your pile.

A successful compost pile is a careful balance of dry, brown items containing carbon, such as dead leaves, and wet, green matter containing nitrogen, such as food scraps. An equal one-to-one ratio of these materials works best. Make sure to regularly mix your compost pile, so that air can get in and help the decomposition process.

You can also break down your waste materials ahead of time to help things along, by blending your scraps or chopping them into smaller bits before adding them to your compost pile, as doing so will also speed the transformation from waste to compost.

A compost pile is a valuable resource for a beginning gardener. It takes a bit of time and the development of new habits, but the benefits are truly numerous. You can actively reduce the amount of waste going into landfills while recycling your own garbage in the best possible way—by composting it and putting it right back into your garden to nourish your flowers and veggies and grow healthy food for years to come.