Minimizing: Personal Library

I’ve been reading for almost as long as I can remember. As a child, I had Hooked-on-Phonics at an early age when my mom noticed my interest in books and storytime. She was smart enough to feed that interest and it grew as I did.

In high school, I was one of few friends who still read for fun. This trend continued into college, sometimes to the detriment of my actual coursework.

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Herbal Face Food: A Review

Last year there was an increased interest in natural and organic skincare due to interest amongst women about what goes into the products that we, willingly, slather onto our skin every day. Sometimes, two or three times a day. In 2017, we’re likely to continue to see this sector of the beauty industry grow (thank goodness!), especially with products containing beneficial bacteria and superfoods.

Natural vs. Organic Skincare

In order to understand what we’re buying, we first need to understand how products are labeled and marketed.

A product labeled “natural” is not regulated by the FDA and may be nothing more than a marketing plow. But, generally, it means that products have been made with some, if not all, natural ingredients. Organic products, on the other hand, are strictly regulated and are composed of ingredients that are 100% organically produced — without pesticides, chemical fertilizers, or GMOs.

Is one better than the other? I’m not sure, and it will vary depending on who you chat with, your preferences in products and your skin type. In my experience, I’ve tried natural products, such as Bare Minerals, and loved them. Then had hit-or-miss success with other natural brands, like Honeybee Gardens, depending on the product I was using. When I looked into Herbal Face Food, I was a bit skeptical…even though they had plenty of great reviews.

A post shared by Ashley Houk (@dinkerdwn) on Jan 17, 2017 at 2:16pm PST


Super-Antioxidant Skin Serum Ingredients

  • Aloe Barbadensis (Aloe Vera) Leaf Extract
  • Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Extract
  • Lavandula Angustifolia (English Lavender) Flower/Leaf/Stem Extract
  • Origanum Vulgaris (Oregano) Flower Extract
  • Eugenia Caryophyllus (Clove)
  • Thymus Vulgaris (Garden Thyme) Flower/Leaf Extract
  • Commiphora Myrrha (Myrrh) Leaf/Cell Extract
  • Jasminum Officinale (Jasmine) Flower/Leaf Extract
  • Vetiveria Zizanioides (Vetiver)
  • Cananga Odorata (Ylang-ylang) Leaf Oil
  • Pogostemon Cablin (Patchouli) Leaf Extract
  • Santalum Album (Indian Sandalwood) Extract
  • Elettaria Cardamomum (True Cardamom) Seed Extract
  • Citrus Nobilis (Tangor)
  • Citrus Medica Limonum (Lemon) Leaf Peel Stem

Ingredients for all products, along with application instructions, can be readily found on the Herbal Face Food website.

I received a sample of Herbal Face Food’s Super-Antioxidant Skin Serum as part of the interview process for a remote position with the company, however, I’m not being compensated for this review. I simply wanted to share my experience and information about the product.

I was super-excited when it arrived in the mail! When I ripped open the package, the sweet smell of herbs wafted out and I got even more excited. Now, some people may not enjoy the earthy, natural scent…I get that.Plus, the packaging is simple and recyclable; the serum comes in a small, glass bottle with a dropper top.

Herbal Face Food products are organic, raw and edible, and entirely plant-based. Since I’ve been trying to green my beauty routine for quite some time, these facts pleased me, so the trial began!

My Experience

I have, what I would consider, fairly sensitive skin which seems to have become more sensitive as I’ve gotten older.

Upon application you will feel a hot, burning, stimulating sensation and can be accompanied by temporary facial flushing. This hot sensation is a sign that the product is working and will last a few minutes.

Upon discovering that there would be a “hot, burning” sensation, which should dissipate over time with continued use, I was concerned that this might not be the product for me. Luckily, I was able to ask the company’s founder if it was safe (or recommended) for sensitive skin. In short, his answer was…Yes, but it may take longer for my skin to be less stimulated.

My first use was…not great. I applied the instructed “quarter-sized” amount before bed and my face felt like it was on, literal, fire. The next morning, I reduced this to a nickel-sized amount and found it was still too intense. When I washed my face before bed, the amount was, once again, reduced to dime-size and was still a little too spicy. Finally, on the fourth application, I found my sweet spot of 4-5 drops.

I’m, admittedly, not the most stringent about my skincare routine. I try to wash and moisturize twice a day, but more often than not it only happens once. (I know, I know…shun the non-believer.) BUT, the times I have dedicated myself to washing and moisturizing twice a day, my skin definitely improves. For the 10 days-worth of serum I had, I made it a point to wash and serum every morning and every night.

The Results

Herbal Face Food is anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, anti-aging, non-allergenic, and chemical free. It can be used to address the 10 most common signs of aging, including fine lines, large pores, firmness and discoloration. It can also treat acne, eczema and other skin issues.

Now, I’m only 31, so I don’t have too many signs of aging. Sure, I have smile lines and forehead wrinkles and, maybe, a touch of crow’s feet, but nothing major so I didn’t see much change in these areas.

I do, however, have fairly large pores, regular breakouts and a small discolored area near my hairline. The very first thing that was clear about the Skin Serum was that it definitely combats acne…and fast!

When I started the trial, I had a few pimples on my chin and forehead. Typically, they like to stay red longer than I want, and Herbal Face Food did reduce their redness, soreness and helped clear them up in a day or two. Acne? Check! Redness? Check!

Large pores are the worst, in my opinion. It may not be true or I may be looking too closely, but it feels like everyone can see them from a mile away. Try as I might with face masks and exfoliants, they never seem to really get smaller or go away. But after a handful of days using Herbal Face Food, they seemed to be going away…even in my magnifying mirror! Large pores? Check! Firmness…could smaller/tighter pores equal firmer skin? Maybe.

Since I have used all my Skin Serum, breakouts are taking longer to go away and tend to be redder than I’d like; my pores are back to their usual, annoyingly obvious size; but the discoloration/uneven skin tone has yet to return. The one thing that has changed since using Herbal Face Food, and helped reduce breakouts, is being in the habit of washing and moisturizing my face twice a day!

3 Tried-and-True Home Remedies

A friend of mine recently shared a post about home remedies that she loves, which got me thinking about some of my favorite remedies. I can attest to the salt water gargle she mentioned. I hate it. It tastes bad and it never really makes the soreness go away, as she states. My usual treatment plan is to gargle once in the morning and before bed — the times when my throat seems to be at peak soreness. While it may not remedy your sore throat entirely, it does help clear chest congestion, phlegm, or mucus that built up. This is particularly useful as your head cold sometimes turns to chest cold before you know it!

If you’re looking for a few more natural remedies to try out, these are a few of my frequently used.

Photo by Liz West/Flickr.


Use: Poison Ivy

I’m very allergic to poison ivy. I’ve tried calamine lotion, in all varieties, and oatmeal baths to end the misery. Nothing ever seems to work well, except, jewelweed (aka, Touch-Me-Not).

Jewelweed, of the impatiens family, is a natural remedy for poison ivy. It prefers to grow in humid woodlands often near poison ivy.  It is by far the most effective treatment I’ve ever used! Simply ask someone to venture into the wood to retrieve some, cut open the stems, and rub the juice directly on the affected area. Viola!

We would collect a bunch, juice it, and store in a mason jar in the fridge. The liquid can remain potent for up to a year! I highly recommend washing the area thoroughly with soap and water as soon as possible after contact — the oil takes about 8 hours to take effect.

In more recent years, I’ve opted for jewelweed soap from the local natural health food store. It works wonders and smells nice!

Photo via The Hostess Diary.

Small Glass Bottles

Use: Splinter removal

Vanilla and peppermint extract can usually be found in small, amber bottles in the baking section at most grocery stores. Once you’ve used it up baking, wash the empty bottle for later. Place it in your medicine cabinet for those pesky splinters that are too difficult to get with tweezers.

I clearly recall being held down on a counter by my Dad, Mom, Uncle, and Grandpa as my Grandma tried to remove a splinter I had gotten in my toe. I screamed and cried as if they were amputating without anesthesia. No parent wants a repeat of that experience. This little trick will keep crying to a minimum and painlessly remove splinters of all kinds!

Nearly fill the bottle with hot water and place the opening over the splinter. Let it sit to creating steam and a vacuum that will extract the splinter. Easy, painless splinter removal!

Alternative method: Light a match, drop it in. The flame will use up the oxygen thus creating a vacuum.

Photo by Pixabay/stevepb.


Use: Sore Throat/Colds

Lemon and vinegar are staples in any home apothecary. Another recommendation: honey. Oftentimes “natural” honey isn’t really much better than the commercial brands, and I’ve found that they’re usually equal in price. Honey can be added to tea for soothing sore throats or concocted into a tincture of sorts.

My grandmother always drank a small glass of vinegar, lemon, and honey (diluted with water, of course) in the mornings if she felt a cold coming on. She swore by this remedy! As my dad got older, he adopted it too. I’ve read that cayenne pepper can be added to the lemon/vinegar mix — or used like salt water gargle.

Originally written for the WordPress blog Taste for Two.
Featured image by kerdkanno/Pixabay.

What Do We Want? Feminism!

When do we want it? Now!

Okay, maybe that’s a little extreme for the beginning of this post, but maybe not. Feminism, as a movement, has a vital history and it’s something we’re still working toward in 2017.


A year or two ago, you would have never heard me call myself a feminist. I didn’t consider myself educated enough to place that label on myself, yet I found myself constantly reading blogs and articles and magazines that were filled with feminist ideas or blatantly feminist publications. Eventually, I found Bitch Media.

I subscribed to the magazine, then renewed. I gave the gift of Bitch to a friend and renewed my subscription, once again. I joined the b-hive and made small, monthly donations.


After moving, I missed several issues. Once I got my address change verified, they kindly extended my subscription to make up for the missing issues. Once I received the Chaos Issue, after a few short articles, I realized how much I had missed, not only the magazine itself but any similar content.

Why I had stopped trolling feminist blogs and websites? I’m not sure. Life probably got busy with moving, then job hunting and, by that point, I didn’t even realize I was missing feminist media.

Was it possible my various feeds were devoid of such content? It seems unlikely given my group of friends. Then again, I don’t religiously my check social networks.

The fact of the matter was that, in a matter of months, I had forgotten how positive, motivated, and alive the ideas and information in Bitch — and other sources — make me feel. Although I still wouldn’t consider myself super-well-educated on such topics, I do know that I love feminism and need more of it in my life!

Featured image by dimitrisvetsikas1969/Pixabay.


Creating a Self-Care Routine

I recently wrote a blog for Mother Earth Living on the importance of self-care and it is something I sincerely believe in. I know the value of taking the time to care for myself, yet I’m not great at keeping up with it.

Over the years, I’ve created a number of self-care routines, if you will. Each routine seems easy enough to maintain and is at first, but eventually, I get off track. For a time, I was keeping track of my daily acts of self-care — it could be something as simple as taking a shower to working out or meditating — which worked as a way of staying accountable to myself. I also made a point to create a gratitude list, every day.

During these times, my mood and attitude were consistently more positive. I felt happier, more motivated and creative. Even though I know these facts, I still fall short, time and time again, at maintaining the plan.

Why Even Bother with Self-Care & Gratitude?

Regular acts and practices of self-care help reduce stress and maintain overall well-being. By taking care of ourselves, we’re better able to keep up with various personal and professional obligations. Research has also shown that a daily gratitude practice can improve mood, sleep, and immunity.

If you’re anything like me, when you think of “gratitude” or “self-care” you think of big things. We’re grateful for our families, comfortable living, etc. We think of self-care as healthy eating or exercise. But there are plenty of simple things, like a sunny day or your favorite meal, to be grateful for. And just as many that are acts of self-care, from wearing your favorite outfit to exercising. It’s not the size of the act, but the intention!

My Ideal Self-Care Routine

  • Daily journaling
  • Weekly baths
  • Eating well + drinking plenty of water
  • 5+ minutes of meditation, daily
  • Yoga + aerial/circus arts
  • 20+ minutes of reading, daily
  • Writing every day (a poem, blog, short story, anything)

Do you practice regular self-care or gratitude? If so, share some of your favorite acts of self-care or simple things you’re grateful for!

Feature image via Pixabay/gefrorene_wand.


Minimizing: The Kitchen

Since one of the goals I set myself for the coming year included eating better, decluttering the kitchen seemed like a good idea. Plus, this was an area I had pondered downsizing, along with our photo collection, while watching Minimalism.

But we need dishes and silverware. And Tupperware to store leftovers. And baking dishes and skillets and sauce pans. But we definitely didn’t need two full sets of silverware; six plates, salad plates, and bowls; or the pint glass and coffee mug collection we had acquired.

We are a household of two. Our dining table seats four, max. There was no need for so many place settings, and there never will be. Yet, we had them. Just in case.

In case of what exactly? Well, in case something breaks or we mangle a fork beyond usability, which seems silly, now. Dishes and silverware are easy to replace. In most cases, you can buy them individually to replace that one broken or missing item.

So, out went plates, bowls, cups and coffee mugs. Goodbye, second set of silverware. Adios, empty Mason jars shoved to the back of cabinets.

Post-Minimizing Kitchen “Must-Haves”

  • 4 plates and 4 bowls
  • 2 wine glasses, 1 tumbler, 6 coffee mugs (I know, we have a problem!), 5-pint glasses
  • 2 cast iron skillets
  • 1 cast iron Dutch oven
  • 3 stainless steel, nesting saucepans
  • 1 large stock pot
  • 1 set of silverware (service for 4 + serving utensils)
  • 1 whistling tea kettle
  • 1 cast iron teapot with warmer
  • 3 nesting mixing bowls
  • 4 12-ounce “casserole” dishes (used as prep bowls)
  • 4 baking dishes (varying sizes)
  • 1 pie pan
  • 1 casserole dish
  • 9-piece glass food storage containers + 10 larger plastic ones
  • 1 set of measuring cups and spoons
  • Set of 4 canisters
  • 3 stainless steel knives (chef’s, utility and paring)
  • 1 strainer
  • 1 rolling pin and dough mat
  • 2 cutting boards (one for meats and one for everything else)
  • French press and coffee grinder
  • 2 cookie sheets and 2 muffin tins
  • Misc. appliances:
    • Crock-Pot
    • Coffee pot
    • Microwave
    • Toaster
    • Blender
    • Food processor
    • Hand mixer

Sure, we got rid of quite a few extraneous dishes. Our cabinets certainly look more organized and less cluttered. But after looking through all of them to compile this list, it still seems like an awful lot!

Now, here I am, questioning the utility of some remaining items.

Do I really need two teapots? Probably not. Do we need a French press and a coffee pot? Maybe not, but I’m not sure everyone will be up for losing either. Is a microwave necessary? I’m not sure. We could reheat/cook things in the oven or on the stove.

Perhaps minimizing kitchenware is a gradual process, like clothing.

Feature image by atravellingmom/Flickr.

Honoring Ancestors in a Modern World

The average person is most likely to honor, or at least consider honoring, their ancestors near Halloween or Dia de Los Muertos, but this can be done anytime throughout the year. In fact, many indigenous cultures have daily rituals to do just that. These practices are based on love and respect for the dearly departed and, in some instances, related to the idea that spirits have a continued existence beyond the earthly plane. Throughout many global cultures, including Asian, Native American and European, the purpose of ancestor veneration is to maintain a kinship with family and community.

3 Modern Ways to Honor Ancestors

  1. Fulfill your potential. Whether you’re a regular goal-setter or shared a lifelong dream with one family member, don’t lose sight of these desires after a loss. The road may be long and hard and require a lot of legwork to get to the best version of yourself possible, but achieving your desired outcome will please your ancestors more than anything.
  2. Do good in the world. Donate your time or money to a cause that holds value for you or a deceased loved one. These acts of generosity will not only allow you to feel connected to your ancestors, but they’ll also elevate your well-being.
  3. Create space for your ancestors. This can be a physical altar in your home, or simply your own being. Creating a physical space can help reflect who they were to you and serve as a reminder of your continued relationship. Personally, I’ve created space by placing photos in my home, carrying mementos, and wearing clothing that once belonged to my loved ones.

You don’t have to be a pagan, shaman, or clairvoyant to maintain a connection with your ancestors. The only requirement is a desire to cultivate these relationships further and to establish some regular practices that will help you along the way.

Featured image by John-Pa via Flickr.

Notes from a Self-Imposed 30-Day Vegan Challenge

I like to experiment with my diet from time to time. A couple years ago, I decided I’d try going vegan — just to see what it would do for me. I’d been having some issues with my face/neck breaking out, which was unusual, and I wanted to see if it’d give me the same energy-boost going vegetarian had years ago. At the time, I was realistically more of a pescatarian or flexitarian. To this day my diet remains predominantly vegetarian, sometimes even borderline vegan, but occasionally I do eat fish, poultry or wild game.

Start Date: November 17, 2014 (knowing full well I wouldn’t adhere at Thanksgiving)
Current Phase: Day 17/30

So far, I’ve been a terrible vegan!

The weekend before my foray into veganism, I went home to visit my family during deer season. My step-brother, sister-in-law and two nieces were also visiting. The oldest had arrived with what was claimed to be an earache from their flight, but by Saturday morning it was obvious she was sick. By Monday evening, it was clear that I was too. My mom sent home leftover homemade chicken noodle soup on Sunday for Boyfriend. I gladly ate its healing deliciousness while I was home sick on the sofa with every necessity within arm’s reach.

Within that first week, I also discovered that smoothies or oatmeal, even with brown sugar and cinnamon, don’t cut it for breakfast. At least not for my body, and honestly the oatmeal was just gross. I tried both options a couple of times before giving in to the urge to just eat my usual breakfast, which includes eggs of some kind — over-easy with toast or scrambled for a delicious breakfast burrito.

This is approximately what my oatmeal looked like. Hopefully, this tastes better than mine did!

Lunches have consisted of leftovers from dinner, or the trusty PB&J sandwich. More than likely a sandwich because I’ve also been terrible at cooking lately, which isn’t helping anyone succeed at this self-imposed challenge. During the first week, we made several meals, all of which were yummy and served me well at lunch, as well. Luckily my boss and her parents are vegan, and she was kind enough to share their tried-and-true recipes along with some pointers (for me that meant how to successfully cook tofu)! It’s been a lifesaver and definitely made my attempt easier.

The past two weeks, however, haven’t gone so well. At all! It’s getting cold and, apparently, that means I’m getting lazy. It’s dark by the time I leave work and then I have no desire to cook good, hearty, warm food when I get home. Boyfriend isn’t any more interested in hanging out in the kitchen than I am. We’ve eaten like crap and our bodies are definitely paying the price.

We’re both relentlessly tired, bordering on exhausted (I skipped my trapeze class, went to sleep at 8:30 PM, and slept solid all night); we have no motivation to do much of anything at all, and we’re kind of grumpy.  My break-out issue is returning, with the bloat not far behind — thanks gluten-based carby food coma.

Vegan Challenge: The Upside

I’ve managed to not consume dairy-milk at all, and I’ve only eaten cheese twice. (It was my birthday and I wanted Mexican food, so sue me.) I knew that cheese and eggs were going to be my weak points, but surprisingly I don’t really miss or crave cheese. I’ve found that avocados make a great cheese replacement for sandwiches and the like, and I love avocado so it’s a win-win. Eggs returned for breakfast; it’s my favorite meal and a bowl of cereal or oatmeal just isn’t very satisfying.

In eliminating animal by-products from my diet, I’m forced to snack healthier. Typically, I eat fruit for snacks, but no more yogurt at lunch means branching out to try new fruits I wouldn’t typically choose. I’ve also taken a look at the amount heavy, hard-to-digest foods I eat regularly. Most of these are gluten-based — pastas and breads — and cutting back on them more consistently than I have in the past reaffirms the suspicion that I may have a slight intolerance (hence the breakouts and bloating).

We’ve passed the halfway point, but I’m not sure that I’ll make it the full 30 days. Even if I don’t, this short time has definitely given me a chance to look at my diet and learn more about eating healthy, whole foods. The usual flexitarian diet suits me better, but there are clear ways I can do it better than I have been! Alas, on to more experimenting and tweaking.

Have you tried or are you following a vegan diet? What has your experience been like? What are some of your favorite vegan recipes or blogs? What foods do you miss or could you not live without?

Originally written for the WordPress blog Taste for Two.

Minimizing: Clothing

The current Mission to Minimize started shortly before Christmas, and I purposely put off closets/clothing until the post-holiday season because we, inevitably, get some new clothes as gifts. Typically, I come home with what could pass for an entirely new wardrobe, but this year, I did not!

I did, however, get a pair of loafers, a dress, a couple tops, some tank tops to wear under sheer blouses, and some leggings. And my man got a couple long-sleeve tees and a new flannel.

As much as I love fashion, I’m super-thankful that I didn’t fill my wishlist with clothing and that my family has been cutting back on the amount of stuff they buy for my birthday and Christmas. It makes unpacking much easier, helps me keep things on the minimal-ish side, and allows me to hold onto the items I truly love.


No matter how many times I declutter throughout the year, clothing is always an issue.

After the KonMari experience, my clothes only needed about half the closet space they previously had. It was also the first time I’d ever purged clothing and seen a real, noticeable difference once the task was complete.

In the past year, I’ve also managed to pare down my “dresser clothing” — socks, underwear, bras, tights, pajamas, etc. — into a roll-away tote that fits under the bed. My man has most of his clothing, aside from dress clothes, flannels and long-sleeve tees, in one, as well. But my clothes still take up a majority of the closet.


Right before the holidays, I donated 2 trash bags full of clothing, shoes, and jewelry.

Right after Christmas, I went through my closet once again. In part to make room for the few new items I’d received, but also to switch out all of the bulky, plastic hangers with new, low-profile, felt ones. Once again, I walked away with 1-2 bags that were filled with clothes, a bit more jewelry, and a few pairs of shoes.

My closet doesn’t look much different. But I am, admittedly, addicted to jackets. I’m notoriously cold and wear one with most outfits, regardless of season or temperature, which means that options are nice. Sure, this section of my wardrobe could probably be whittled down more, but I just can’t bear to get rid of more!

Since my wardrobe isn’t quite as sparse as I think I’d like it to be, I’ve made a plan:

For the next few months, I will work with all the items currently in my wardrobe. Then, I will revisit my closet to see what I did or did not wear. This will, hopefully, help me decide which items stay and which should go.

Feature image by Rubbermaid Products/Flickr.