April 30, 2012

2nd Annual Earth Day Party 2012: A Natural You

So this year's Annual Earth Day Party was April 21st--the day before Earth Day (which was on Sunday). And the theme was "A Natural You"--Discovering ways to be more natural: for your health, hygiene and home. A chance for like-minded individuals to get together and chat, learn, eat and discuss about how to live more naturally and what that means.

(...and of course, I forgot to take pictures again...but next year I won't!)

We had fun chatting and sharing thoughts on more natural-type product options in the home for health. And there were quiz questions along the way. Quiz yourself and see how you woud've done:

1. What are the two basic functions of the liver?
     a) metabolizes food/breaks down fat and nutrients necessary
     b) to get rid of toxins and chemicals
    ...so if your body is too busy getting rid of chemicals and foreign things in your body, it can't break down the fat in your body. Hence why detoxing is important. And Detoxing can be as simple as using more natural skin/hair care/cleaning products, to eating more organic and less preservatives and such. The less chemicals we're surrounded by, the less our liver has to eliminate and more it can focus on it's main purpose of breaking down our fat.

2. What are the seven chanels of detoxification (ways our body eliminates toxins)?
As we work on each of these channels, we can better rid the toxins from each area...
1. Lungs - what we breath. get fresh air, don't smoke and get aerobic exercise
2. Liver - manager of entire detox process in body
3. Colon - last stop for toxins, before expelled (daily bowel movement). Keeping hydrated helps.
4. Kidneys - produces urine (waste) to expell
5. Skin - what we put on our skin--sweat removes toxins
6. Blood - regular exercise stimulates blood flow and helps the blood transport necessary things through it's system
7. Lymph - immune system and filters bacteria

3. What are three or more things to avoid in processed foods?
  a) high fructose corn syrup
   b) hydrogenated oils
   c) artificial sweetners
   d) processed soy products
   e) certain food dyes (like red. no.2)

4. True or False: Soaked/Sprout grains are better than whole grain foods.
Whole grains have phytic acid, which inhibits your body's absorption of the nutrients an minerals in the whole grain. So in order to maximize your body's use of the nutritional value of the whole grain, it's best to soak or sprout the whole grain, which starts the process of breaking down that pytic acid so your body doesn't have to work so hard. Picture eating a hard dry seed versus a moist seed that is just starting to sprout. The latter is easier for your body to digest.

5. True or False: when possible, choose vegetable oils over butter for cooking and baking.
Butter is actually a good natural fat, though could give cholesterol problems if over eaten. So although it could potentially be a problem if over done, it's better than any vegetable or canola oils, which are highly processed/refined and not as healthy for your body in their less-natural state. Extra-virgin and unrefined coconut oil are excellent options. And stay away from fake butters and margarines, including most types of shortening (although they have healthier types now)--anything fake plays a toll on our bodies' natural processes.

6. What am I? I can be used as a shampoo, deodorant/odor absorber, toothpaste, gunk remover, water softener, drain cleaner, etc?
Answer: Baking soda (I've tried half of these and appreciate knowing their use as an emergency, though I wouldn't always use them on a regular basis.)

7. What are the main culprits to avoid in laundry detergent?
worst: SLS, phosphates, NPE; other things if possible: enzymes, fabric whiteners, fabric brighteners, fabric softeners, fragrances, bleach

8. Which essential oil is most versatile and safe to use on anyone--therefore a great option to have in your home?
Lavender! It's mild and calming and can be used neat (on skin, undiluted) on children and prgnant women (which is not like many others). It can be used to calm emotions and help you sleep, or on your skin for cuts and cleansing. It also smells great and is a good air freshener.

Well, those were the questions. How did you do? Most of us only could answer a few. So this was a guide for our discussions about how to better incorporate things into our home and health that will better help us live more naturally.

Some products highlighted were the Norwex or E-cloth rags/towels (2 different brands) that wipe up 99% of bacteria and eliminate your need to use a cleaning product--just add water or use dry for dusting and it picks up everything. The rags with silver in them are more expensive, but teh silver is anti-bacterial, so it doesn't stay in the rag, like the general purpose e-cloth. Norwex is a multi-level marketing company that charges about $15 per silver rag--which Charise bought and uses and likes. I use the e-cloth general purpose for most things, but then a silver-containing anti-bacterial e-cloth for the wiping up raw chicken juice and such.

 Two brands. Two different options. I personally found a good deal online for two general purpose e-cloths for $8 and then also two polishing rags for $8 as well, since they were on a summer sale. And I use the polishing rag for windows and metal surfaces because it wipes them streak-free, very well. The siler-ion rags are about the same as Norwex...just a buck or two cheaper (so I did buy one of them).

I love not needing cleaner. In fact, cleaners take away the effectiveness of these rags, so don't use cleaners or detergent when washing them. You can just boil them in hot water most times and they should last you 600 washes at least. You can put them in the laundry with a touch of detergent if you have natural laundry detergent (free of any of those things listed in the question above about laundry detergents).
this is what I use...it's mostly coconut soap and does a fine job for basics everyday washing.

We also talked about what to avoid in shampoo products and such (see my post on it), and honestly the list is ridiculously long, so I just try to find shampoo with a few ingredients, and all of which seem pretty basic). making your own body wash or shampoo using just a spray bottle with water and some castile soap (plant-based, like Dr. Bronners) and then scenting it with essential oils for smell or for their properties (like rosemary for dry scalp, etc). And everyone got to make their own and take it home. Paul and I use these for body wash (and Paul for his hair too....though I personally don't like it on my long hair, so I use a plant-based shampoo I bought).

If you want, see the post on essential oils 101 to learn more.


We also highlighted some natural mineral makeups we use. Minerals are great because it doesn't clog your pores and actually reflects the light better from your face. I've been using it for three years now. I've tried Naked Minerals, Everyday Minerals, Ocean Mist Minerals and Signature Minerals. My favorite are Everyday and Signature. The latter having free samples online if you want to order some to try and just pay $5 shipping. I highly suggest it! After finding my perfect shades for basic foundation I just buy those powders bulk and pour them into my container whenever it gets empty. And I get enless supplies of their sample eye colors that last forever, since I don't wear much. It's a fun way to explore without spending a ton of money and on good natural stuff.

We touched on the no-no's of using anti-perspirant which has aluminum that clogs your sweat pores and gets locked in your shirt's armpit area--yuck. We talked about some natural deodorants to try. We've tried Kiss-My-Face, Tom's and a Deodorant Crystal--our favorite. But switching over will take a week or two transition and the anit-perspirant generally is so full in your clothes and such, that it's hard to get that out. So be patient in trying to explore and realize there are other factors to take into account including your body getting used to not having what it's use to, as well as what your clothes have been used to and might still trigger smells that have been accumulating for awhile.

Then we ate some energy bites from Ali and other various salads and pirate booty rice puffs, crackers, trail mix, fruit, etc. See Greek Salad or Fruit Salad Recipe if interested.

April 27, 2012

Hen Haven: Our Chickens and Coop

So we got baby chicks near the end of March and had them indoors, heat lamp and all...but they were so big for their tub by this last week, that we were ready to move them outside and get them use to the outdoor temperatures and situation.

We got four types: Ameracauna--will lay green eggs ("Scratch-n-Sniff" because she's bi-polar and always scratching everything and seems kind of jumpy), Buff Orpington--will lay light brown eggs ("Sandy" because of her color--she's the smallest and most timid, but I assume she'll plump out when bigger), Plymouth Barred Rock--will lay light brown eggs ("Rocky"), and a California White Leghorn--will lay white eggs ("California" because the breed and color and it seems to just fit her). They definitely have personalities and are so fun to hold and pet. And I think they've finally outgrown their overly jumpy stage at every little noise.

I'm glad to be out of the baby chick stage, because although cute, they poop and throw pine shaving all over everything--in their food and water and such. They're not very clean. So, I was happy to hurry up and finish building the coop so I didn't have to deal with cleanliness-issues as much.

I built the A-frame last fall with scrap lumber from dumpsters in the neighbor (from all the house building going on our street). And then last week I finished the rest and painted it and added the chicken wire (which was the least fun part--that stuff is pokey!). And the most expensive part was the primer and paint and screws, because the rest of the stuff I scavenged for free. The green is called "Garden of Paradise," which I thought was pretty cool.

Honestly, it was hard to make and I didn't have any set plan to follow, since I just was using scrap wood and making the fewest amounts of cuts possible into a plan that seemed practical and most convenient for me--and so I didn't have to use the scary wood saw cutter thing that is ridiculously loud. And I probably won't do it again. But I'm glad a did it, and that it's now over with and I can just stare at it and think..."I have chickens in my back yard. Alright!"
Money-wise, does this make sense? Short-term, no. Long-term...break-even if not saving a little money, if you're smart about it and don't spend tons of money on a coop and fancy stuff you don't need.

The chicks cost between $2.50 and $3.50 each. Then we had to buy a heat lamp and bulb (abt. $15) and some pine shavings (abt. $12 that will last a year or more) and some medicated chick food for their first 18 weeks...about $15). Then we bought the water and food containers for about $8. Total that up and it's not bad, considering we buy between 2-3 dozen eggs a month I think. The coop cost about $40 to make (using paint and nails and hinges I had to buy, but we have tons of paint left oveR). The main cost that recurs is their food, but they eat anything and we made it so that the tractor will move and they can forage, so their food supply is supplemented by foraging and our kitchen scraps (that we choose not to put in the compost).
I'll probably post an update in a few months, once they start producing eggs and see if I'm still liking this all and how the coop is working out. I'm sure by then it will have the wheels, so we can move it around more easily--like a tractor. :)

April 6, 2012

Essential Oils 201: Art of Blending Oils

How to Blend Essential Oils

Blending essential oils is an art and usually requires a little bit of training and experimentation. If you choose to create your own blends, it is important to understand that the order in which the essential oils are blended is key to maintaining the desired therapeutic properties in a synergistic blend. An alteration in the sequence of adding selected essential oils to a blend may change the chemical properties, the fragrance, and thus the desired results. In general, essential oils that are from the same botanical family, usually blend well together. In addition, essential oils that share common constituents also mix well.
There are four blending classifications. The following information explains the characteristics of each classification, the order in which they should be added to the blend (Personifiers first, Enhancers second, Equalizers third, and Modifiers fourth), and the amount of each type of oil as a percentage of the blend.

  • The Personifier (1-5% of the blend) essential oils have very sharp, strong and long-lasting fragrances. They also have dominant properties with strong therapeutic action. Essential oils in this classification may include: angelica, birch, cardamom, cinnamon bark, cistus, Clary sage, clove, coriander, German chamomile, ginger, helichrysum, mandarin, neroli, nutmeg, orange, patchouly, peppermint, petitgrain, rose, spearmint, tangerine, terragon, wintergreen and ylang ylang.

  • The Enhancer (50-80% of the blend) essential oil should be the predominant essential oil as it serves to enhance the properties of the other essential oils in the blend. Its fragrance is not as sharp as the personifiers and is usually of a shorter duration.Essential oils in this classification may include: basil, bergamot, birch, cajeput, cedarwood, cumin, dill, eucalyptus, frankincense, galbanum, geranium, grapefruit, hyssop, jasmine, lavender, lemon, lemongrass, lime, marjoram, melaleuca (Tea Tree), melissa, myrtle, orange, oregano, palmarosa, patchouly, petitgrain, ravensara, roman chamomile, rose, rosemary, sage, spruce, thyme, wintergreen.

  • The Equalizer (10-15% of the blend) essential oils create balance and synergy among the essential oils contained in the blend. Their fragrance is also not as sharp as the personifier and is of a shorter duration.Essential oils in this classification may include: basil, beramot, cedarwood, cypress, fennel, fir, frankincense, geranium, ginger, hyssop, jasmine, juniper, lavender, lemongrass, lime, marjoram, melaleuca (Tea Tree), melissa, myrrh, myrtle, neroli, oregano, pine, roman chamomile, rose, rosewood, sandalwood, spruce, tarragon, thyme.

  • The Modifier (5-8% of the blend) essential oils have a mild and short fragrance. These essential oils add harmony to the blend.Essential oils in this classification may include: angelica, bergamot, cardamom, coriander, eucalyptus, fennel, grapefruit, hyssop, jasmine, avender, lemon, mandarin, melissa, myrrh, neroli, petitgrain, rose, rosewood, sandalwood, tangerine, ylang ylang.

Depending on the topical application of your blend, you will want to add some carrier/base oil. When creating a therapeutic essential oil blend, you may want to use about 28 drops of essential oil to 1/2 oz. of carrier/base oil. When creating a body massage blend, you will want to use a total of about 50 drops of essential oils to 4 oz. of carrier/base oil. Remember to store your fragrant creation in dark-colored glass bottles.
Here are some helpful charts on blending properties, smells and dilutions:

How to dilute for various methods of application...
Perfume: 15-30% essential oil, 90-95% alcohol, 5-10% water

*sources: three books....
Advanced Aromatherapy by Kurt Schnaubelt
Modern Essentials, DoTerra
complete Guide to Essential Oils and Aromatherapy by Valerie Worwood

Kitchen & Living Room: Crafting and Color Fun

So, it's hard to create without inspiration and motivation. My motivation is that I'm going to have a second kid soon and then what extra time will I have to do silly little things like I'm posting about that make me feel like I'm creative. (j/k...I'll still have/find time, but it will take more effort, that's for sure). Anyway...allow me to continue...

These are a few little things I've been doing for my kitchen and Living room...
INSPIRATION: the colors and the leaves above back sliding door...
I forgot to take a before picture, but this was a $5 shelf at a garage sale and I just stained it to match our carpet tack strip wood trim thing, so it's subtly black and matches our bamboo curtains (black and beige). Then I modpodged paper onto each shelf to match the three leaf colors (the inspiration photo).

The green paper is cool because it's design isn't all over, just on one side of the paper, so it's adds a fun flare, but I'm not sure if you can tell that from the photo.

LIVING ROOM INSPIRATION: No, not Ethan, although he is inspiration enough for other areas of my life. :) It was the colors and busy patterns of curtains... 
I just adore these crazily-busy patterned curtains. Don't ask me why, but I do. Such funk and logic combined into one hanging wall art (we don't need a tapestry on this large wall when we've got these curtains!) Though I admit, I know a lot of people probably don't care for them. Oh well. It's my living room and even Paul had to adjust a bit--not too much though. He rather likes them now. :)

I had scrap scavenged wood from the construction dumpster a few houses down. So I cut them, sanded and stained them to match the same shelf and carpet tack trim stuff (blackish-beige). Then I modpodged on colored paper that exactly match the curtain colors, plus the black of the mantel. All the patterns vary and I admit, I did spend money picking out the perfect paper. Each one was about $1. So I spent $6 for this. I know, it's not amazing, but it's small and simple and a way to tie in colors frugally and a good creative way to pass time. I was going to put a letter on each block, but I'm not sure what I want to emphasize. I was going to do FAITH in five blocks, but I had to add a sixth, and then thought FAMILY...but I kind of like it plain. so...who knows.
And by the way, I adore the teal block and pattern which goes so well with the vase! Now I want to paint a wall teal to match! But that will be next year I think. And also make teal pillows, but I might do a scrap pillow that includes all these colors to, that I can throw on our couch.

Ok, that's it...for now.

More Bathroom Creativity

Ok, like I've been telling some of you, I'm in this "project-craze" mode of pregnancy and just want to be doing crafts and colorful things and such. So here are a few things I've done to add little touches to my two bathrooms.

Found a $1.50 scale at Thrift Store and modpodged paper onto it, since it was ugly before. Now it matches and looks feminine (subtly).
see these little boy shorts..hand-me-down for Ethan. So I cut them up and made a spare toilet paper roll holder--thank you pinterest. I just used a shoelace, because I had a spare, but the one below is different (I'll explain). This one is in the guest bathroom with the modpodged footstool I did last month.

This is the toilet roll holder I made for our bathroom. I cut some of the extra African wrap we got from my Mom and put on our window and used that, so they match. I then used ribbon to tie it on, and would've loved to have added some wooden beads to dangle down on the ties, but that was too much hassle, since the beads I wanted to use needed a neeedle to get that ribbon through. If I ever feel up to it I'll add some cool chunky wooden beads later.

Garden Highlight: Asparagus Patch

So, I've never known a thing about asparagus until I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and read about this family that lived for a year on all local or homegrown things. And I thought, wow...a perennial asparagus plant would supply our desire for garlic roasted asparagus and asparagus soup.

So, I looked into it and planted an asparagus plant recently. And because we bought it mature, we've already been able to harvest one spear (though they can grow up to 6 inches in a day if you don't watch them--like this one grew four inches before I realized I should've cut it the day before).

In case you're unsure of how it works, you generally plant these dead looking long roots that look octupus-ish in a 12 inch deep trench and barely cover, then water. Each day you add more soil until it's back to ground level. They start shooting spears out of the ground. You cut them when 6-8 inches tall and 1/4-1/2 inch think. But don't cut the thin ones, because they either are the male spears that haven't gotten big enough this year, or the female spears that pollinate the other. So leave those all to reseed this fall and you'll start having a "weed patch" of lots of asparagus.

Be patient. These plants are perennial and will produce for up to two decades generally, but they take about 3 years to really establish most of the time (except we bought ours already 1-2 years old, which helps. The crowns are just a few bucks and since they proliferate you don't need many. But plant them in full sun, good soil (with extra phosphate and good drainage). But they love water, as long as they don't sit in it and get root rot. And they normally just are harvestable in spring for a few weeks.

So, hopefully it will keep growing well and be a faithful garden keeper and mulitplier. :)