These are a few of my favorite things...

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With all due respect to The Sound of Music (a musical by which I am not a fan of), I figured I'd share a few of my favorite things with you. These are things that I've recently discovered - things that have really made a significant impact in my life. They run the gamut, from food to soap to luggage; an odd or unusual mix? Yes. But truly life changing (at least for me).

And for those who really know me, you'll vouch that I don't purchase something without first conducting a ton of research, followed by some significant obsessive-compulsive internal debate, followed by more research, and only then, when I'm confident that I'm buying the absolute best, will I pull the proverbial purchase trigger. So trust me when I say that I've done my homework on these items. Let's get to it, shall we?

Nutritional Goods

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Unless this is your first visit to my blog, you'll know how much I worry and obsess about diet, nutrition, training, and general health. It consumes me. So, I pay fairly close attention to what I eat (save for the weekends, when I've been known to inhale an entire school's worth of fish fry or a dozen of Greenbush Bakery's donuts, but that's another story).

I've been focusing on the quality of what I consume more so than the "raw numbers" (nutritional data), as I've realized that quality, or values such as bioavailability, is almost more important than the sheer number of calories, protein, fat, or carbs in a given food. If your body can't digest it, it's not doing much good. Think of it as if you were putting premium unleaded racing fuel into your diesel powered car... when you look at the raw numbers for that racing fuel (the octane rating), it's impressive. But, your diesel-driven car can't burn gasoline, so the net result isn't favorable.

I consume a lot of protein powder(s), so imagine my delight when I stumbled across a local company called Tera's Whey. It's a small, family-owned company that produces what may be the highest quality protein powder I've ever utilized. 100% of the product is natural and organic. It's low-glycemic. It's locally sourced - they buy the whey from local dairy and cheese farms, and can trace it back to the source. No fillers. No additives. Just plain, wholesome, delicious whey protein. 110 calories per serving, 20+ grams of protein, 3-4 grams of carbs, and little-to-no fat.

I started with Tera's dairy-whey-based products, and tried a number of different flavors. I determined that the vanilla was my favorite, with blueberry scoring a close second. But then I discovered a "goat-whey" product from Tera. It had more protein, less sugar, less total calories, and came in a pomegranate-cranberry flavor. Hmm. Sounded intriguing, but goat whey? Yikes!

So I did what I do - a lot of research. And it turns out that goat's milk is actually superior to cow's milk in every possible way. It's much more bio-available to the body than cow's milk; it's easier for the body to process, digest, and utilize, by a factor of nearly 10 (cow's milk rates at around a 10-11 on a 100-pt bioavailability score; goat's milk comes in around 92-94). It's non-mucous forming. It neutralizes acid. The triglyceride structure is medium-chain, which means the fat globules are more readily digested and more difficult to absorb. The low-level of sugar contained within goat's milk contains no lactose and stimulates almost no blood-sugar response. Win, win, and win some more.

I bought a sample packet of Tera's goat-whey protein and gave it a try. It was fantastic! Goat products don't have that "musky," "dense," "all-coating" taste or feel like cow products do - it's really smooth and light, with just a very slightly sweet and clean taste. Combined with the pomegranate-cranberry flavor, it was awesome. I immediately fell in love with the stuff. So much, in fact, that I'm currently out of it, which is why I used the vanilla whey container for my photo. I'm off to the store after I complete this entry to restock.

And speaking of goat's milk products, you'll notice the goat's milk yogurt. It, like the whey, is unbelievably good and even better for you than traditional yogurts. The taste is to die for, literally. If you hate yogurt, I guarantee you'll like the goat's milk yogurt. It's so smooth, and even in the plain, unflavored form, it tastes almost like frozen custard. Best of all, you enjoy all of the benefits as described above, while minimizing calories - a 6oz container of goat's milk yogurt weighs in at 100 calories, with 4 grams of fat, 7 grams of carbs, and 7 grams of readily available and highly digestible protein.

As much as I enjoyed Skyr and Greek yogurt, there's simply no possible way I could go back to cow-based yogurt. And, the goat's milk yogurt costs just slightly more than Greek yogurt and significantly less than Skyr. I buy mine at the local Willy Street Co-Op, but you can also find it at places like Whole Foods and other organic/naturally-focused grocery stores. A 6-oz container runs about $1.89 or so (Greek runs about $1.50; Skyr about $3.00). Please give it a try! It also comes in various flavors, if you're into the fruit-based yogurts.

And finally with respect to the food front, I've been trying to limit my soda intake, so I've been drinking a lot of tea. I really like to brew my own and prefer to use Adagio teas, but when pressed for time, I've discovered that Honest Tea's "Just Plain" line of teas are phenomenal. The ingredients? Water and tea. That's it. No calories, no additives, just simple tea. Squeeze in a little fresh lemon juice and enjoy it. Yummy. I'm having a big glass of it as I type this.

So there you have it - three recent food discoveries. Seriously, give the goat's milk products a try. You'll kick yourself for not trying them earlier in life - I know I certainly have!


Maintenance products for the bod-squad

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I hate soft water. Hate it. In fact, hate may not be a strong enough word to describe my loathing of it. I despise it. I hate that it leaves my skin feeling all slimy and "coated." Nevermind that it does absolutely nothing to prevent water spots in my bathroom, and that I find salt particles in my drinking glasses. I hate the stuff.

Which is why I'm so fond of a new line of body cleansing products from a small company called Shikai. Their products don't use any traditional soaps, so they rinse much better than your typical soaps and shampoos - even the "high end" products like Aveda.

It was purely by accident that I discovered the Shikai products; a small sample of their moisturizer was included in the goody bag from a recent race event. I almost threw it out, but for some reason decided to check into the company, and boy am I glad I did. They spare no expense when it comes to producing their products - integrity is the number one ingredient in their process.

And when I tried the moisturizer, I was floored by it. No greasy feeling. It absorbed quickly and left my skin feeling incredible all day. Nothing "clung" to the moisturizer; my legs, which are normally as dry as a dehydrated piece of armadillo jerky hide, have never felt better. No itching, no flaking, no dryness. It's glorious. And a pea-sized drop of their moisturizer covered both legs. The sample lasted nearly a full week!

I kept researching Shikai, and decided to give their shampoo and shower gels a try. Guess what? They were just as good as, if not better than, the moisturizer. And, they cost less than the Aveda stuff I was using. And they they smelled better. A drop of shampoo the size of a nickel creates a wonderfully rich lather that rinses completely clean; no conditioner or hair product is needed afterward.

A small palm's worth (about the size of a 50-cent piece) of the shower gel is enough to soap my entire bod, even after a grueling workout day, and just like the shampoo, it rinses completely clean. I don't feel slick or slimy when done, even with that dreadful soft water. The scent of the gel is so light - it doesn't interfere with anything at all; it blends well with my deodorant. If you happen to see any of the Shikai products while out and about, be sure to grab some. Especially if you have dry skin - it's simply amazing. Oh, and they don't do any animal testing, nor do they use any animal-based ingredients. All natural, all organic, all quality.

And finally, you'll see my other favorite line of skin-care products: Nancy Boy. I've been using their stuff for a while - it's always served me well, but it seems to be a bit more "traditional" than the Shikai products. That said, I'm still totally in love with their facial moisturizers and their body lotions. I find myself reaching for the Shikai body lotion more often, but the Nancy Boy stuff will always have a place on my shelf. I use the facial moisturizer every single day - it absorbs quickly, doesn't leave behind any oil/shine/sheen, and has a very light cucumber scent. It also works great post-shave, as it's very soothing.

I have the world's most sensitive skin - I'll break-out at the mere mention of the words "clog" or "oil" or "pimple"; none of the Nancy Boy or Shikai products have caused an issue for me, so take that for what it's worth as well.


Luggage

I'm a gear junkie, and when I travel, I tend to over-pack. Try as I might to lean-out my travel items, I always end-up wanting for more room/space, which means I usually get saddled with carrying multiple bags, paying for extra luggage fees, and struggling to make my way from point-to-point.

Take my current routine, for example: I have my laptop bag, which usually carries my laptop, my laptop accessories, phone accessories, a few magazines, adapters, a book or two, pens, pencils, and a few miscellaneous items. I also have a regular backpack, in which I stuff some basic "carry-on" items: an emergency change of clothes or some running/workout gear, a water bottle, any medications, my iPad, and any other items that won't fit into my laptop bag. And then I have my normal suitcase, in which I stuff a bunch of clothes, toiletries, and everything that I can't fit into the other two bags. Ugh!

Enter the geniuses from Tom Bihn. These Seattle-based-luggage-designing-and-manufacturing-gurus know a thing or two about creating luggage of the highest quality and most useful and practical nature. There's no other way to go about saying it - they know their (expletive); I mean, "stuff."

I've had a few of their "smaller" items like their incredible laptop sleeve and iPad sleeve for a while now, and have really fallen in love with both. Simple, elegant, effective, and stylish are a few words that come to mind. Every time someone sees my laptop sleeve, they always ask about it - it usually goes like this, "That's a cool looking laptop case - where'd you get it? Can I see it? Wow, that's so cool - it's perfect!"

I finally admitted to myself (and now the world) that I have a packing problem while loading up for my most recent trip - I broke the zipper on both my backpack and my transition bag. So, after cursing those smallish, poor-quality "sacks," I went online to Tom Bihn's site and eventually chose their "Brain Bag" as the answer to my problems.

The Brain Bag can accommodate 36-liters worth of goods, thanks to two separate, zippered compartments and a slew of smaller pouches/storage areas. Tom's crew says it's designed to hold two laptops - I swear it'll hold six, but that's another story. I liked the bag for a number of reasons: it could hold a ton, but was only slightly larger than a traditional backpack in overall size. The handles, zippers, seams, straps, liners, and backing all appear to be made from the highest quality materials by talented and caring craftsman - there's nary a stray stitch or an uncomfortable surface; this is the Bentley of backpacks.

I've taken a few pictures of the bag, none of which do it any justice - trust me when I say this is a take-no-prisoners, accept-nothing-but-the-very-best, high-quality piece of indispensable luggage. You will not find a comparable bag in terms of quality, practicality, capacity, or integrity. I'll dare you to try anything other than Tom Bihn's stuff.

Here's an "outside" view of the bag:

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One of the exterior pouches - it's currently housing all of my AC adapters (for laptop, phone, iPad, and external hard-drive, along with the hard-drive itself):

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Here's a shot of the back of it; notice the perfectly padded base, the ideally sized shoulder straps, and the helpful waist-strap that helps stabilize the bag when it's really loaded down:

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Here's a look inside - that's my laptop (15" MacBook Pro with Tom Bihn Sleeve) and a pair of size 13 running shoes, with plenty of room for additional gear, in the "front" pocket:

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And here's the second "pocket," with a 3" three-ring binder and a large (700-page) text book), with plenty of additional room to spare behind the open front pocket:

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Because I ordered the bag in all black, it's a bit difficult to make-out the details, but Tom's crew has smartly placed the lift handle in the middle of the divider, so that it's easy to lift the bag when loaded - it remains balanced and centered. They also used what may be the beefiest YKK zippers I've ever seen - I think you could safely zip-up and secure a jumbo jet behind those things.

One last shot of the bag, from the back, with a "nested view" that includes the Brain Bag, the laptop sleeve, and the iPad sleeve:

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The final thing I wanted to note about Tom Bihn products is their commitment not only to building a quality product, but to providing superior customer service. It starts with their website, which is incredibly easy to navigate and understand, carries over to the super-simple ordering process, and lands squarely on their follow-up and assistance.

Soon after I ordered the Brain Bag, Tom sent me a tracking number, which indicated the bag would arrive well after I really needed it. Panicked, I called Tom's customer service to inquire about upgrading the shipping. Even though I was mere minutes ahead of the day's shipping cut-off and despite the fact that the crew had already packed and labeled my order, they happily accommodated my plea to expedite the shipping. It arrived the very next morning; I was shocked, thrilled, and vowed to be a customer for life.

Although, given the bullet-proof-build-quality of their bags, I may not need to buy too many bags in my lifetime. I have a feeling this one is going to last for eons. I'm also really looking forward to an upcoming trip that I have scheduled; I'm confident this single bag will swallow-up my laptop, iPad, magazines, workout gear, and then some.

Folks, please - don't fool yourself into thinking you'll be fine with the department store brands of bags, and please don't get duped into buying a "high end" designer or "outdoors" bag without first looking into Tom Bihn's products. I guarantee you will not be disappointed! Aside from the impeccable quality and service, they're also handmade right here in the good 'ole US of A.

Conclusion

So there you have it. Hopefully, this was a helpful post. I probably sound really excited and worked-up. And that's because I am. This is stuff that I'm proud to have "found" and purchased, and I hope that you'll feel the same, should you decide to give any of the items a try. Have a great weekend, folks, and I'll talk to you soon.

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Don't like "The Sound of Music"? Blasphemy.
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This page contains a single entry by Steve published on March 3, 2011 8:06 PM.

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