What I’m Digging Right Now – July Favorites

The month of July took one look at our calendar, looked at us, and laughed. It mocked us. It studied everything we had planned, and then it said, Ha! Plans, schmanz… I got something else for ya!

In my case, the “something else” included a doozy of a summer cold. But I have no complaints. It was still a fun month. It’s just that very little happened according to plan, and, well, we all know how I feel about plans. I can be a little neurotic about sticking to them. Partnering up with Callaghan has been a healthy balm for that tendency… he’s my opposite in many ways, and there’s nothing like living with your opposite to get you out of your comfort zones!

We only caught two of the six live music performances we’d planned to attend, with one of those no-shows being due to my cold. Also because of the cold virus, I couldn’t really hang out with our friends who were here for a few days, visiting from France.

And finally, the entire month was consumed by our unexpected plunge into an overwhelming exciting adventure of the nail-biting variety, which I’ll likely talk about in a near-future blog post. “Near-future,” as in, when it’s reached its successful conclusion (fingers crossed)!

Meanwhile, here are some little things that captured my fancy in July and made the month especially, splendiferously wonderful:

 

1). Night-blooming cactus.

 

Absolutely captivating night-blooming cactus flower!

Absolutely captivating night-blooming cactus flower!

 

Virgil across the way cultivates what’s probably the most diverse cactus garden outside of the Desert Botanical Gardens. The day he told us about this particular night-blooming cactus in his collection, we schemed to capture her in action. We went out there at 5:00am the next morning, and again at 6:00am, and again at 7:00am, and we got to enjoy her splendor at each stage. I’ve always loved desert blooms, but this one flower stole the entire 20+-year show! It was especially fun to find an ecstatic bee rolling around in her depths, covered so thickly in pollen that it looked like he was wearing a bright yellow fuzzy coat.

 

2). Songzaa (App)

 

Songzaa - my current favorite app for finding new music.

Songzaa – my current favorite app for finding new music.

 

This free app magically cranks out playlists according to your mood or whim of the moment… you key something in, and it presents all the possibilities. Since I started listening to Songzaa’s playlists, I’ve discovered lots of new music, and that’s always a plus when you have no idea what’s out there and you don’t have time to investigate for yourself. You can find playlists by keying in your mood, a specific scenario (i.e. “cleaning the house” or “road trip”), or specific artists. However you search, it pulls up a list of artists followed by a selection of playlists. What’s not to love?

Let’s talk about food!

 

3). Trader Joe’s “just a handful” of raw almonds.

 

Big bag of smaller, individually-wrapped portions of raw almonds... measuring not required. =)

Big bag of smaller, individually-wrapped portions of raw almonds… measuring not required. =)

 

So healthy! So convenient! I throw one of these in my bag as I’m running out the door in the morning, and it saves me when my mid/late morning slump hits… we eat breakfast at 7:00am, so I’m hungry again by 10:30am. This pre-portioned bag of almonds gets me through with the protein and healthy fat it contains, and you’re never going to hear me complain about eating foods rich in Vitamin E, either (it’s so good for the skin)!

 

4). Van’s Natural Foods Chocolate Chip Chewy Baked Whole Grain Snack Bar.

 

My latest favorite energy bar.

My latest favorite energy bar.

 

There’s nothing unhealthy in these all-natural bars. They’re vegan (if that matters to you), gluten-free (if that matters to you), they’re free of GMOs and corn (if that matters to you), they’re kosher (if that matters to you), and they’re whole grain, fiber-rich and free of artificial colors and flavors… not to mention, they’re amazingly good! These bars are just tasty and satisfying to nosh when you need a little something to get you through that annoying, stomach-growling 4:00-5:00pm hour.

 

5). Apples with peanut butter.

 

I've been on a serious peanut butter and organic apple kick lately!

I’ve been on a serious peanut butter and organic apple kick lately!

 

I’ve always enjoyed this classic combination, but lately, I’ve been really craving it. I cut the apple into wedges and smear them with peanut butter, and the whole experience of eating them is so intensely satisfying, it’s borderline weird. But I’m going with it, because it’s a delicious and ridiculously healthy combination.

 

6). Anchorman 2 (film)

 

thatasianlookingchick.com-Anchorman2_Poster

 

We finally saw this movie, and it totally cracked us up! It was a riot, and we weren’t expecting to find it as funny as we did. We actually thought it was funnier than the first one, which doesn’t often happen with sequels.

Moving on to the beauty/skin-care products…

 

7). St. Ives Lotion Spray in Soothing Oatmeal & Shea Butter.

 

St. Ives made a spray-on lotion, and it's lovely.

St. Ives made a spray-on lotion, and it’s lovely.

 

St. Ives – I’ve always loved this brand. Now they’ve come out with their take on spray-on moisturizer, and it’s perfection in a can. This stuff was made for people like me who are super lazy about putting on body lotion. St. Ives’ is a light formula in a light spray with a faint, pleasant fragrance, and it practically applies itself! It’s delightfully effortless, and I really have no excuse to not moisturize, now.

 

8). Olay Body Ultra Moisture Body Wash with Shea Butter.

 

According to Callaghan, the "Format Avantageux" is complete Quebecois... the French wouldn't say "value size" like that! It seems that all the French on the packaging of products in the States is Quebecois. Interesting.

According to Callaghan, the “Format Avantageux” is complete Quebecois… the French wouldn’t say “value size” like that! It seems that all the French on the packaging of products in the States is Quebecois. Interesting.

 

Here’s another wonder of a moisturizing product! We’ve actually been using this body wash since spring, and we’ve discovered that other moisturizing body washes just don’t compare. We keep coming back to this one; we re-purchased it again in July, so I thought I’d put it on the list.

Oh, and by the way, that St. Ives lotion spray following a shower with this Olay body wash results in the silkiest skin ever. Great combination!

 

9). L’Occitane en Provence Beurre de Karite (Shea Butter) lip balm.

 

L'Occitane en Provence shea butter lip balm... very simple, and very effective.

L’Occitane en Provence shea butter lip balm… very simple, and very effective.

 

L’Occitane en Provence was one of those little shops in the mall I always walked past and never entered; neither did I ever feel compelled to try their products when I lived in southern France, where the company originated and therefore has shops all over the place. Even after our friend Chantal gave me this little pot of lip balm, it took me a while to try it… she gave it to me in April, and I didn’t really start using it until June. In July, though, I found myself reaching for this product more and more as my lips became drier with the intensifying summer heat. This is a very effective all-purpose lip balm.

And hey, I just realized that all three of the skin-care products on my list this month feature Shea butter! Theme not intended. =)

 

10). Prescription sunglasses.

 

Driving legally again!

Driving legally again!

 

Did I ever tell you about the time I lost my prescription sunglasses in France at a gas station somewhere between le Vercors and Nice? Well, that happened, and I’ve been driving illegally ever since… until now. Oh yes! Now cops can pull me over all day, and they’re never going to cite me for driving without corrective lenses. Ha!

Happy Friday, Everyone! =)

What I’m Digging Right Now – May Favorites

May was a long month that brought a slew of healthy challenges. (If there isn’t already a book called The Introvert’s Guide to Surviving a Month of Houseguests, I might write one.) May was also fun, satisfyingly busy, and rife with “little things” that provoked delight. I actually had to decide which ones to feature here! I doubled some up, so the 10-item list below really contains 13 things. Let’s start with…

1). New reading glasses.

 

Animal print reading glasses in the shadows

Animal print reading glasses in the shadows

 

Before we went to California for Memorial Day weekend, I went shopping for a summer hat for Mom and ended up walking out of Steinmart with two hats for her and these reading glasses for myself, because seriously, who am I to pass on a pair of animal print reading glasses?

It’s great knowing my prescription, by the way. This purchase was a no-brainer, and in fact, I was hardly responsible… the display of animal print glasses pulled me toward it, and all I had to do was find the ones marked +1.25.  I actually needed a pair, though (my rickety old ones fall off my face when I look down).

 

2). Snapea Crisps Harvest Snaps.

 

Snapea Crisps! SO GOOD.

Snapea Crisps! SO GOOD.

 

Snapea Crisps are an old favorite of mine I re-discovered when we got back to the States. At some point during the month of May, they became a staple in our kitchen. They’re as satisfying as potato chips, but they’re baked rather than fried (0 trans fats, 0 cholesterol), and they carry nutritional value… one lightly-salted serving gives you 5g protein, 4g fiber, 230 mg potassium, 6% calcium and 8% iron. I always count out an exact serving of 22 pieces, because if I don’t, I’d probably consume the whole bag in one sitting.

Nutritional density notwithstanding, I know it’s unhealthy to snack on crispy, salty little things in front of the T.V. – we are aware, and we do try to keep it to a minimum. But… you know. Some things just go together beautifully. Rock stars and models.  Desert and rain. Snapea Crisps and Mad Men.

 

3). Artichokes and cherries.

 

thatasianlookingchick.com-artichokes

 

thatasianlookingchick.com-cherries

 

It so happens that two of my favorite varieties of edible flora come into season in May!

When I bring home artichokes, I keep it simple, boiling them with a bit of olive oil and salt and eating them with grape-seed oil Veganaise. Prepared in this manner, the artichoke becomes a glorious magic carpet that carries me off into a cloud of gustatory euphoria. Forget food porn. The artichoke is nature’s Demerol. We’re still indulging, as they’re having a long season this year.

As for the cherries, they ripened earlier than usual this year in the California orchards… they’re technically more a June fruit than May. Dad took us cherry-picking when we were there with Callaghan’s father, though, so they made it onto the list. We brought home heaps of lovely Brooks and Rainer cherries. Like the Snapea Crisps, I have to ration them out when I start eating them, because I will OD on them (if you’ve ever OD’d on cherries, you’ll know what I mean when I say it’s not pretty).

 

4). Clif Mojo Dark Almond Cherry Trail Mix bar and Cascadian Farms Organic Peanut Protein Bar.

 

My new favorite energy and protein bars... and a weird fruit that seems to be a mutant kumquat.

My new favorite energy and protein bars… and a weird fruit that seems to be a mutant kumquat.

 

Yet more food!

You know I’m always on the hunt for perfect energy and protein bars, “perfect” meaning simple, delicious and balanced. In May, I discovered the Clif Mojo Dark Almond Cherry Trail Mix bar and the Cascadian Farms Organic Peanut Protein bar, and they are fantabulous both pre- and post-workout. Anytime, in fact.

 

Now, let’s talk skincare products…

5). Olay Total Effects 7 in One Anti-Aging Eye Treatment.

 

Olay Total Effects 7 in One Anti-Aging Eye Treatment

Olay Total Effects 7 in One Anti-Aging Eye Treatment

 

I ran out of eye cream in May, so I thought I’d get one I hadn’t tried yet. I picked up the Olay Total Effects 7 in One Anti-Aging Eye Treatment, and it quickly became a favorite. It appears to have a tint of color, but it doesn’t… it’s slightly brightening, and it actually reminds me a lot of Clinique’s All About Eyes (it’s similar in color, and it has the same light, velvety texture and feel on the skin). I put it on twice a day, in the morning and at night. I’m definitely going to re-purchase it once this one’s finished!

 

6). Garnier Clean Nourishing Cleansing Oil (for dry skin).

 

Garnier Clean Nourishing Cleansing Oil

Garnier Clean Nourishing Cleansing Oil

 

I used to use olive oil on my face at night, so when I came across this new cleansing oil from Garnier last month, I thought I’d try it out. The verdict? Love it. It’s light yet rich with jojoba and macadamia nut oils, it smells nice, and it just feels good when I work it into my skin. Now, that part of my nighttime routine is less about removing my makeup and more about my face getting massage therapy. I rinse the oil off with water and follow it up with my normal nighttime cleanser (I’m currently using one by Simple).

 

7). Victoria’s Secret VS Fantasies fragrances in Sensual Blush and Amber Romance.

 

Victoria’s Secret VS Fantasies fragrances in Sensual Blush and Amber Romance

Victoria’s Secret VS Fantasies fragrances in Sensual Blush and Amber Romance

 

May brought warmer weather that I interpreted as an excuse to get a new fragrance. Walking by a Victoria’s Secret one day, I impulsively went in and tested every scent in their VS Fantasies collection on every available square inch of skin on both my arms until I couldn’t smell anything anymore. In the end, I decided to go with Sensual Blush (I got both the fragrance mist and the ultra-hydrating hand and body cream) and Amber Romance (the eau de toilette). I layer them, and the combination is sensational!

 

8). Chihuly in the Garden

When I realized that artist Dale Chihuly had returned to the Desert Botanical Gardens to show his work again – I’d gone with a friend to see his exhibit there a few years back – I had to seize the opportunity, and it was an excellent circumstance that one of our houseguests was with us at the time. Chihuly in the Garden was quite an unusual treat for a visitor from France! Spring in the desert is magnificent as it is, with all the cactuses in bloom… add the installation of Chihuly’s colorful glass sculptures amongst the desert flora, and you find yourself in a place of sheer alien beauty. It’s like springtime on another planet.

 

thatasianlookingchick.com-Chihuly2014_1

 

thatasianlookingchick.com-Chihuly2014_2

 

thatasianlookingchick.com-Chihuly2014_3

 

thatasianlookingchick.com-Chihuly2014_4

 

 

9). Chef (film)

 

chef-movie-poster-2014

 

We loved, loved, loved this movie! We loved everything about it… the story, the writing, the cast, the humor. It’s a comedy, and it’s incredibly well-done. I’m not in the business of writing film reviews, so all I’ll say about Chef is GO SEE IT!

 

10).  Evernote

 

Evernote-730x730

 

Ooh, online organizational tools!!

Yeah, I know. But what can I say. I had to start using it for work, and now I’m a card-carrying Evernote nerd with a paid subscription for a personal account (in addition to my work account). Two Evernote accounts! Yikes.

I still maintain my beloved Franklin-Covey agenda, though. Paper forever!

That about wraps it up for May. We’re only two days into June and I’ve already noted two things for my June Favorites post, so it looks like another fun month ahead. =)

NEWS – You Can Take the Girl out of Arizona, but You Can’t KEEP the Girl out of Arizona.

Yeah, good luck with that!

So. Our move has evolved, rather surprisingly, like this:

Phase One: (planned) Back to the States (June 2013)

Phase Two: (spontaneous) Back to the Desert (November 2013)

Surprise! Surprised?!

That’s right… we’re moving in November, as in, about a month from now. According to the Taoist calendar, I’m in a CHANGE year, which I guess I might have figured out by now, anyway, even if I didn’t know it. We just decided on this move in the last, like, week and a half.

One thing’s for sure – Texas is a fun and interesting place! We agree with our friend who remarked, “Austin is a town to fall in love with.” We’ve been here for four months now. Great times have been had and awesome people have been met and there’s so much to do here, it’s just been crazy-wonderful. Our plan was to stay for a year and then decide what to do after that. We’ve had a few other places in mind, in the case that we did decide to re-locate again. The short list included Lincoln, NE and Denver, CO.

But the longer I’m back in the States, the more I find my thoughts returning to the desert, to the Greater Phoenix Metropolitan Area, aka the Valley of the Sun (Phoenix is situated in a vast desert valley, surrounded, as per definition, by mountains). Callaghan loves Phoenix, too. We talked about it, and then we looked around at The Shipping mostly still in boxes, and we thought, why wait?

We’re going back to the Land of AZ!

It’s not that I think that one place is better than another, because I don’t. This is simply about feeling right somewhere, which is a very personal thing… feeling spiritually connected to our environment can only be a deeply personal thing. Just as some people believe in soul-mates, I believe in soul-places.

I was born in San Francisco and raised in San Jose, and the whole 18 years I spent in the Bay Area, I never felt comfortable there… not because of the people, but because I didn’t feel that I belonged. It wasn’t my place. In high school, I plotted my escape planned my departure for the earliest opportunity (hello, U.S. Army!) and never looked back. Now, I’ll go to California to see my family and just to visit, but live there again? Not going to happen. I’m hardly alone in this. It’s a pretty common phenomenon, people growing up and leaving their hometowns. It’s like we have to wander away from the place of our upbringings in order to discover where we really belong. Often, we find our special places by accident. You arrive for one reason – school, a job, a significant other – and before you know it, it’s been decades and you’re still there and you’re feeling that content, rooted belonging feeling, and you can’t imagine being anywhere else.

That’s how it happened with me and Arizona, back in 1991. After the Army, I accepted my then-boyfriend’s (also an ex-soldier) invitation to move to Phoenix. It was August, right when Arizona’s at its feistiest. It was scorching hot, dry, and alarmingly sunny year-round with brilliant blue skies and these ridiculous sunsets you just wouldn’t believe, and alien red rock formations with holes in them and gigantic cactuses everywhere. The sky was enormous. There were haboob (dust storms), and the July-August monsoon season brought the heavy aroma of creosote with the rain and the lightning over the desert. It was magical. With the surface streets laid out nice and neat on an idiot-proof grid system, you can get all over the enormous Valley from one end to the other without ever setting tire on a freeway, but an elaborate and efficient freeway system does exist should you desire to use it.

Next thing I knew, I’d been there for 20 years, longer than I’d lived in California. I never wanted to leave. I loved it. Being there just felt right. It was my place.

Then I met Callaghan. We got married. The plan was for him to live with me in Arizona for a year, but it turned out that he had to be in Europe for his business, so after just a few months, we ditched the plan and moved to France.

By January this year, Callaghan’s business circumstances had changed, so we were free to move back to the States (he has dual citizenship, as you may recall). We both wanted to move, and our adventurous spirits tingled with the possibilities. The question “Where should we go?” carved out an enticing open door in our lives, and there were so many places that could answer it! It was easy to sweep my beloved Arizona under the “been there, done that” rug while scanning the horizon for something new. The United States was like a gigantic candy store, and we were standing in the middle of it with ONE decision to make, to start.

We decided on Austin for all the reasons in this post.

And Austin is truly fantastic! What I didn’t anticipate, though, was seeing Phoenix everywhere I looked! The similarities are real, but I’ve come to realize that the reason I see Arizona all over the place is that I want to see it. I miss it. The saying goes, “East or West, home is best.” Arizona is my home. For me, it is best.

There’s great diversity in the Valley, and I’ve lived all over it… Phoenix’s many suburbs include (but are not limited to) the municipalities of Avondale, Glendale, Paradise Valley, Tempe, Scottsdale, Chandler, Gilbert and Mesa. We’re going to settle in Tempe, because it’s my favorite, and I’m planning to find a job there.

We’ll rent an apartment at first, but we’ll eventually buy a house so when the BIG ONE hits and California falls off into the ocean, we’ll have beach-front property.

I can’t believe it! We’re moving in November!

Here’s a smattering of pictures I’ve taken in Arizona over the years:

 

Desert blooms in the springtime make me so happy! This was one of the plants in my front yard.

Desert blooms in the springtime make me so happy! This was one of the plants in my front yard.

 

A shot of the sky at dusk

A shot of the sky at dusk

 

I miss the giant Saguaro cactuses, too

I miss the giant Saguaro cactuses, too

 

I love these alien red rock formations near the Phoenix Zoo and Desert Botanical Gardens...

I love these alien red rock formations near the Phoenix Zoo and Desert Botanical Gardens…

 

I can smell the creosote in the air just looking at this monsoon season sunset!

I can smell the creosote in the air just looking at this monsoon season sunset!

 

Stormy monsoon sky!

Stormy monsoon sky!

 

Phoenix's Camelback Mountain

Phoenix’s Camelback Mountain

 

This was my favorite sunset, and I remember it well... I came home from work to my Tempe apartment and went straight out to the balcony to take this picture. Pink Floyd's "High Hopes" was playing.

This was my favorite sunset, and I remember it well… I came home from work to my Tempe apartment and went straight out to the balcony to take this picture.

 

Sedona. Enough said.

Sedona. Enough said.

 

 

 

 

 

Note: None of these pictures were photo-shopped, touched-up, color-corrected or otherwise manipulated in any way. Arizona’s a natural beauty.