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Flexible schedules and the ability to work from home top many workers’ lists of must-haves in their jobs these days, and I agree. Especially for creative work, or work that dos not have to be done in person or at certain times of day, I think we do our best work when we can dictate our own environments.

For me, this most recently has meant that I’m working from home or from coffee shops as I pursue a career writing full-time. But even before that, my day looked a little less like your standard 9-to-5, especially during two periods when we were moving and I didn’t have an office space to call my own.

I took for granted what having an office afforded me: the ability to leave certain things behind that I used at work every day. I found myself with a bag like Mary Poppins’, lugging with me on my commute every tool of my trade. On any given day you might have found a label maker, a package of envelopes, and a tangle of chargers and headphones swimming in my tote. Not only was it heavy, it was ineffective. I had to fish out smaller items I needed, and I ran the risk of forgetting something vital.

I have fewer weird bits in my bag these days, but when I want to work somewhere other than my dining room table there are still a significant number of things I have to remember in order for my day to run smoothly. And, if you’re a nomadic worker like me, I bet you need similar things.

An organized bag for the nomadic worker.

  • My laptop, in its case
    Without the case, I worried that my beautiful MacBook Air was getting scratched up! Plus it feels more secure. If you have a bag with a laptop compartment then this would be superfluous.

  • My trusty water bottle
    Most coffee shops have a jug of water where you’ll be able to refill.

  • Laptop charger, with Power Curl cord cover
    I’m still getting the hang of wrapping the cord well, but the Power Curl keeps it all together and helps it sit flat when it’s plugged in. Less chance of someone tripping over it as they walk past your table!

  • Pouches galore!
    My current preferred tote bag doesn’t have any internal pockets, meaning small items get lost in the bottom. I decided cute pouches would be my weapon of choice to combat that. Another advantage of pouches is that if I need or want to switch bags it’s easy to grab all of them or just the one I need and know I have all of my items.

  • Notebook and “planner”
    I’m trying to do less self-censoring and write down all my ideas. Sometimes this looks sort of like a journal entry, other times it’s a bulleted list, and still other times it’s notes from something I’m reading or watching. This is 2015’s notebook, and everything I write goes in there. As far as the planner, I’m using Passion Planner pages stapled into a cute file folder (no manila for me!), and I love it.

Pens for color coding.

So what’s in the pouches?
The library card canvas pouch holds my keys, my hand cream, headphones and phone charger on Bobino cord wraps to keep them from tangling, and a granola bar. My motto is have snack, will travel. My current favs are Cascadian Farm Protein Roasted Nut Bars.

The mint green pouch has pens and pencils galore. A girl’s gotta write, and a girl’s gotta color code.

The coral and yellow coin purse holds my chapstick and a pair of nail clippers. You never know when you might need them.

I appreciate utility, but I also like my life to be aesthetically pleasing. I’ve tried to strike a balance between the two by choosing useful items in bright colors or fun patterns. My brain seems to emulate the state of my bag, so when my bag is organized I’m less scattered and I focus better. I avoid those moments at the coffee shop where I realize my phone is dying and I don’t have the charger. My pens aren’t marking up my laptop and my chapstick is readily found. My bag works as hard as I do, and yours should too!

P.S. I’m not a total stickler…not everything has to be perfectly organized, and sometimes I break my own rules.

Disclosure: links are my Amazon Affiliate links…purchases help support my blogging habit

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There are so many things in this world to worry about. Not only what to eat and what to wear, but also, if you’re an enlightened and conscientious individual, the materials those clothes are made of and the ingredients that went into the food. Not just what to do for work and for fun, but also how you should get there. Not just keeping your home clean, but also what you use to do so. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by trying to make good choicses. Sometimes I go to Wal Mart. Sometimes I’d rather eat a Reese’s, which is apparently one of the worst offenders in the already-bad-enough realm of chocolate manufacturing.

Recently I was buying a hand-poured soy candle at a local craft fair, and the maker mentioned off-handedly that I was making a great purchase because regular candles release toxins into the air of our homes. Great, I thought, yet another thing to worry about. But a little bit of research has me convinced that changing the type of candle I burn is a relatively simple safeguard against a potential health hazard.

Soy candles are a better alternative to traditional paraffin wax.

A few years ago I went candle crazy. I found there were almost always coupons for the brands available at Target or the grocery store, and I got amazing deals on them when they went on sale. I loved the names of the scents and the thought that, if I burned them, my home would evoke all the emotions associated with those delightful phrases.

Unfortunately, there are three main potential hazards in those run-of-the-mill candles.

  • Paraffin wax, which is what most candles are made of, is a petroleum by-product. It can release carcinogenic soot containing benzene and toluene, the same chemicals found in diesel fuel fumes. Yuck! In fact, there’s a veritable laundry list of -enes, -ols, -anes, and -ides that might be hiding in your candles. It’s unlikely that simply burning a candle periodically could release high enough levels to be of concern, but I don’t see why it’s worth the risk.

  • The synthetic oils used to create those charming scents, not to mention the dyes that make my cute spring candles pink, can be triggers for allergies, especially for individuals with asthma. They can also be skin irritants. They contain some of the same toxins as paint remover! If I were stripping paint, I’d be sure to do it in a well-ventilated area, and yet I burn these candles in my enclosed home, and sometimes even in cordoned-off rooms like the bathroom.

  • At some point candle makers started using bits of lead in the wick to help it stand up better. Candles in the United States are supposed to have pure cotton wicks, but not all candles are manufactured here. We’ve banished lead from paint and children’s toys, and yet it’s still sneaking in under the guise of a happy, relaxing treat. If you notice a ring of soot on the lip of your candle’s jar, that may be an indication that the wick contains heavy metals. You can also pull apart the fibers of the wick using your fingernail and take a peek—if you see metallic streaks, set it back down! Again, the likelihood of this creating enough pollution to do harm is small, but burning these types of candles can potentially lead to poor indoor air quality that is as harmful as secondhand smoke and there are horror stories out there (of course).

So what should we do if we want the soothing presence of a flickering flame and the refreshing scent of a candle?

First of all, avoid inexpensive candles, imports, grocery store aromatherapy, and anything with a metal wick. I like the newer wood wick candles that crackle cheerily like a fire, though the verdict is still out on whether the wood is treated in such a way as to render it harmful. I’m going to choose ignorance is bliss on that one for now. Secondly, don’t burn any of your candles for more than an hour or so at a time, and never in a completely enclosed room. If you’re sticking with traditional candles, it’s even best to have a fan on for ventilation (though that ruins the relaxing mood).

You have a few options when it comes to the wax. Soy is a popular alternative to paraffin wax, and it’s the type I’ve chosen to purchase. Soy candles are everywhere these days! It doesn’t release harmful fumes and also offers longer burn times than traditional paraffin wax. However, not everything labeled as a soy candle is actually 100% soy wax, so make sure you double check. And also, most soy beans grown in the U.S. are not GMO-free. Many people avoid soy in their foods for this reason, and that logic would carry over into the realm of candles.

Beeswax is probably the best choice when it comes to candle wax. It literally is the wax made by bees and actually removes impurities from the air as it burns.

honeycomb
source

Beeswax naturally has a light scent of honey, or you can find varieties scented with essential oils. Essential oils are all the rage right now and can offer a variety of health benefits. A downside to beeswax candles is that they tend to be expensive, but it’s relatively easy to make your own if you can get your hands on beeswax sheets or granules.

Another positive upside to purchasing soy or beeswax candles is the opportunity to support your local economy. Because the ingredients are minimal, it’s easy for solopreneur crafters to break into the candle market. Soy wax can be poured into a variety of vessels, and the beauty of it is that, since it’s all natural, you can rinse and re-use the vessel after the candle is spent! I’ve seen booths at local markets selling soy candles in vintage tea cups and other beautifully delicate jars.

If you’re ready to ditch the paraffin and lead, Etsy has a number of stores offering handmade candles. I’ve enjoyed purchases from Sugar N Spice Naturals and Yo Soy Candles. I haven’t purchased any beeswax to date, but that may be next on my list.

You don’t have to take my word on this. A little organization called the EPA released a study over a decade ago called “Candles and Incense as Potential Sources of Indoor Air Pollution” and plenty of other bloggers and news outlets have spread the word as well.

We’re all going to die of something some day, and it’s impossible to mitigate every potentially harmful situation. It’s our choice what we do with the information once we know it, but I think it’s worthwhile to be aware. If I can enjoy the lovely scent of a candle without worrying about lead soot, toxins, and allergens, then I’ll spend a few dollars more to protect my home.

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Sometimes I literally forget to breathe. I’ll be sitting on the couch watching TV and realize, with a sharp intake of air, that I’m not sure how long it’s been since I last took a breath. My body subconsciously preserves itself better than my brain can. It won’t let me stop breathing. But sometimes my psyche tries to anyway.

Anxiety-inducing ladder

It’s an anxiety-inducing thing, really, to realize you haven’t been breathing. And yet at the root it stems from anxiety, and so it’s a vicious circle.

The year we lived in Huntsville I remember going to the doctor and explaining that I’d been feeling short of breath. I expected him to listen to my chest with a stethescope, to peer down my throat, to look in my ears. Perhaps I had developed asthma. Perhaps it was bronchitis. Instead he said, “It sounds like you have anxiety.”

No I don’t, I thought. I’m having trouble breathing. I don’t have anxiety.

And yet. The trouble with breathing has been a sometimes companion since then. I recognize it now. Oh, hi, anxiety, I tell it, as I force my chest to expand, my lungs to fill.

Lying in bed at night it feels like a lot of responsibility, to have to remember to breathe. How can I fall asleep when my lungs need me to fill them with air? How can I for one second take my mind off the pulling in of oxygen to fall asleep?

It catches in my throat, the big breath I try to take to appease the feeling that I can’t get enough air. It travels frantically down my windpipe. My brain tracks it, wonders why it isn’t helping, wonders why it has to wonder about it at all.

Most people associate fast, shallow breaths with a panic attack and think that’s what it means to hyperventilate. But according to Calm Clinic, the feeling that you’re not getting a full breath can actually be caused by getting too much oxygen, and you make it worse when you anxiously try to take deeper breaths. The feeling I experience is an anxious breathing sympton known as conscious breathing:

Normal breathing is subconscious – your body takes in exactly as much air as it needs to function, because it knows exactly how much it needs. Conscious breathing is when you think about your breathing and control how deep your breaths are. Often you think you need to take deeper breaths than you really do, and this brings in more oxygen than you need. It’s not uncommon to respond by yawning or trying to take even deeper breaths only to make the situation worse.

The urge to yawn, to try and consciously regulate my breathing, can come upon me when I least expect it. When I’m getting ready to go out with friends. When I’m contemplating a blog post to write. And even when I’m calmly watching TV. Something inside me is not so calm. Something inside me is anxious, and it thinks I can’t breathe.

When I first read about these symptoms I was amazingly relieved that I wasn’t alone, that my body wasn’t completely betraying me, that there was a name for what I was feeling, that it had a root cause. There’s power in naming what ails you, especially if what ails you is anxiety. When you name it, it has less power over you. You’re anxiety, you can tell it, and you don’t control me.