Monday, May 31, 2010

Salvage and Scrap

I needed a win. A big one. After the failed attempts of the past week, I was determined to get something right. I really think sewing could be something I like. I'm drawn to all the opportunities to be creative. I love the fabric store and if my kids weren't pleading boredom 10 minutes after our arrival I think I could get lost in there. My daughter is slowly coming around. I let her help me pick my fabrics now and she loves the thread display. She said it looks like a rainbow. She lovingly handles each spool and tells me "This one looks like a ladybug" or "This one looks like sunshine" or my favorite "This one looks like dead grass." 

As I mentioned I was pretty discouraged about my first project, the table runner. But still the sewing machine called. I didn't really have the time or the cash to get lost in the fabric store so I assessed the supplies on hand to see if I even had enough of anything. I just started sewing so my supplies are meager but I found one half used spool of white thread, some blue and green polka dotted ribbon, and enough random fabric scraps to clothe a small army. Into cyberspace I went and I came across a tutorial for a pillowcase dress.

It's the perfect project for beginners. Really. You basically lop off the top end of a pillowcase, cut armholes, hem said arm holes, create a casing on the neckline (look at me using fancy sewing words!) and thread ribbon through the top to create sleeve ties. It turned out so cute! The hardest part for me was actually the casing. I thought the armholes would be more difficult since they are curved but I guess since sewing a straight line is such a problem for me, I did much better when I had to curve around!

The project said it would take about thirty minutes. An hour and a half later I acutally made an adorable dress out of scrap and salvage that I would be proud to parade my daughter around in any time. Is it perfect? No. Not by a long shot. Did I use Ruby the Seam Ripper? Yes. Four times. But I did it. I used what I had, I made it myself, and I am so so proud of me!

 My sweet girl in her new dress

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Susie Homemaker Hates Me

I tried to tackle my first "real" sewing project yesterday. The table runner. Let's just say I've become well acquainted with my seam ripper. I think I'm going to name it. It's red, so I was thinking Ruby. Ruby the Ripper.It was awful. I can't sew a straight line to save my life! I tried and tried but it was horrible. I salvaged the fabric by folding it in half to hide the seams and using it as a runner on one of my bookshelves. It actually looks quite nice. But I'm so disappointed. I  took a class, bought gorgeous fabric, measured, pinned and pressed. I pressed it people! I haven't touched my iron in who knows how long! And it was ugly.

I've always wanted to be crafty, to produce pretty things that are practical. I can't paint, or draw, or sew.  I take mediocre pictures. I crochet everything into parallelograms because I add stitches at the ends of my rows. I'm a so-so cook, and have yet to keep a houseplant alive for more than three months. I feel that simplicity involves a lot of domesticity and though I've been learning a lot and trying my best, today was full of failures and left me highly discouraged. Not only did my table runner flop, my homemade pizza dough did not rise, I forgot a load of laundry in the washer and it mildewed, and I nearly sent our garbage disposal to an early grave because of some aquarium gravel I accidentally let slip from the colander when I was cleaning the tank. Susie Homemaker would have kicked me out of her house today for sure!

I have a kind of self defeating attitude. A series of failures, heck ONE failure, and I'm convinced that I'm hopeless and that everyone is good at something but me. Perfectionist syndrome at it's worst. It's something about myself I don't like but don't quite know how to get over. Do you ever have those days when it seems like everyone can do something well and you can't? Sometimes I feel like everyone has a skill or a hobby that they excel at and I was somehow overlooked when the talents were being handed out. I've tried my hand at many and truly succeeded at few. 

I was flustered and upset, still recovering from my flu so I decided to end my day with one of the only things I KNOW I'm good at. Something I can't mess up, something that works every time. Baking. I'm really good at baking. One batch of chocolate sugar cookies later and I'm feeling like my old self again. And while I was waiting for the mixer to cream the butter and sugar into fluffy goodness, I realized that my self-made pity party was unnecessary.  Today was a bad day, domestically speaking. It doesn't mean I'm not good at anything. It doesn't mean I'm a bad wife or mother. My husband said he likes the new runner on the bookshelf, the kids liked the pizza even though the crust was dense and crispy, and the laundry and the garbage disposal situations were remedied with a little time and effort. It doesn't mean that any of the things I failed at today will continue to fail me in the future.  It just means I need more practice....and more patience. Patience especially. 

Amazing what making a batch of cookies can do...

Thursday, May 27, 2010

In Case You Were Wondering

Just a little follow up on some of the goings on I've mentioned in previous posts:

The Chickens

As mentioned, my HOA will not allow me to keep chickens but my friend Anna's will. Since she wanted to start her own little hen house, she graciously agreed to let me keep my chickens at her house in exchange for help with feeding, cleaning and the like. The kids and I went to check on little Minnie and Olivia and my how they've grown! They've been living in Anna's garage but are just old enough to move on out to the coop Anna's hubby constructed. And by the end of the summer, the girls should start laying! Minnie and Olivia are joined by Goldie and Nugget, making our shared flock a total of four. Hopefully we'll be able to add more hens later in the year.

 The Girls!

The Herbs

My first a attempt at hang drying herbs was successful. About a week into the process they started slipping from their bundles and making a mess of my windowsill. I took down all the little bundles and put them in to one big one and secured them with a rubber band so the herbs wouldn't fall out as the stems shriveled and dried. I now have one mason jar full of homegrown, home dried parsley.  

The Debt

We're getting ready to make our first double car payment and it feels great. It going to feel even greater to see the principal balance go down so much! Our savings are right on track too. I've been planning meals with the sales flyers and couponing like a mad woman. Last week I did two weeks worth of shopping and came in at $142, or $71 a week to feed a family of four.  There's room for improvement but I feel pretty good about that number.

The Sewing 
I have washed, pressed, cut out,  and pinned my table runner to be. I had planned for the sewing to be done at this point, but I've had a stomach flu the past two days (and still have it) and was unable to complete any of the tasks on my to-do list. I still need to cut the scraps into napkins and edge them. I also discovered that if I register for my sewing class on the first Saturday in June, I'll save 50%. Guess I'll be taking a trip to the craft store. Oh! And my borrowed sewing machine is now my own. I traded my son's crib and changing table for it. Cool!

The TV

The kids have had little complaint about losing TV time.  My daughter still asks EVERY DAY if she can watch a movie while my little one naps but she's gone from crying about it to sighing about it so I suppose that's progress. I've also been trying my hardest to come up with ways for a 3 year old and 1 year old help me with dinner preparations so they stay calm and entertained in lieu of Dora the Explorer. My baby boy takes his own little plate and spoon to his highchair. Precious.

The Garden 

The garden is well. Now that the temps are hitting the triple digits on a more regular basis I'm a bit worried but all the plants seem to be holding up well.This week we harvested zuchinni, yellow crookneck squash, red onions, green onions, tomatoes, turnips, beets and radishes. We also harvested what my husband thinks is a melon. I think it's a pumpkin. It tasted like neither. There's another one on the vine so we'll let it go longer and see if does indeed turn orange!

 Some turnips and tomatoes. We have the BEST tomatoes!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Attack of the Sewing Machine Needle

I told you all I was afraid of that needle. So afraid in fact I've been staring right at when I sew resulting in very crooked seams and the hopeless feeling that I may never be able to create something presentable. I spent a little time with my husband's grandmother a few weeks back. We spent an entire afternoon in her "sewing room" which is actually a 20 by 20 steel building, complete with floor to ceiling shelves of neatly organized fabric, a quilting machine and a huge table, big enough for any project she dares to undertake. Dearie has been sewing most of her life. She makes most of her clothes, has made more than one quilt for each grandchild and I swear could make a dress out of a four inch square scrap. She's pretty amazing with a sewing machine. 

She promised that in no time I would be making my daughter her own clothes but started me out by making cloth napkins. I've been wanting to wean from paper towels anyway since they are so environmentally damaging so making napkins sounded perfect. But that damn needle. She said the easiest way to edge the napkins was with a simple zig zag stitch. But I kept looking at that needle, praying for my fingers, and about half way down each side my zig zags were neither zigging or zagging anywhere near the fabric. Dearie slapped a piece of masking tape on my machine so I could look low and stay away from the cursed needle. Viola! Straight (ish) seams! She also suggested I take a formal class to help improve my skills.

Our local craft store provides such lessons for $35 a class. I thought it was a little much, especially since I've been such a cheapskate these days. But I really wanted to learn. I think I could really like sewing so I paid and I went. I can't believe how much I learned! Most of the class focused on reading a pattern and laying it out. For some reason or other, it never occurred to me that I might ever need to use a pattern and had I tried to do it on my own, I probably would have crumpled it, stomped on it and threw it away. But now I know what the symbols mean and I'm familiar with the vocabulary they use. I was so inspired I almost bought a pattern and some fabric right then and there. Almost.

I think I need a bit more practice before attempting a "patterned" project. I'm planning to take the next level sewing class in which I will actually make something. A drawstring skirt I believe it is. In the meantime, I found some super cool fabric and will be making a table runner and of course, napkins with my leftovers.  Pretty soon, I'll be sewing the straightest seams this side of the West Valley!

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Debt Snowball

Since staring this whole process, there has been an elephant in the room. A great big something that no one wants to address. My husband and I have both committed to living greener and more simply. We want to be happy with less. But we are both having some difficulty with the "less" part. Whoever said money is the root of all evil may be on to something.

I'll spare you the gruesome details, but we have a fair amount of debt. My student loan balance is enough to make you gag, and it's only one of many. We've tried to get out before but we never made it longer than a month or two. But this time, it's different. I want to live BETTER. This is the only life I get. I don't want to spend it worrying about making payments or wondering where my next check is going to come from. My husband makes a good salary. There is no reason for us to be living above our means. The money he brings home is more than adequate to sustain us. So why are we always out of money?

Last night, the two of us sat down and honestly discussed our finances. The first thing we did was write down all of our debts: loans, credit cards, ect...YIKES. We did it in permanent marker too! Then I listed all of our monthly bills. I take care of the bill paying and my hubby didn't have the slightest clue how much our electric bill averaged or how much we pay a month for internet service. To be equal partners in this endeavor, I felt it was important for him to see how much of our money actually goes out to maintain our lifestyle. We decided to adapt the  "Debt Snowball" method, popularized by financial guru Dave Ramsey. Basically, you put as much money as you can toward your smallest debt. Quickly paying something off is supposed to give you the momentum you need to keep going. When the smallest balance is paid off, you take all that money and apply it to the next debt. Here's a bulleted list (you all know how I love bulleted list) of our game plan:

  • We will have ONE checking account. Despite being together for almost seven years, hubby and I have never had a joint checking account. He did his thing and I did mine. No more. We need to be able to check up on each other for accountability.

  • We will put 10% of each paycheck in savings. We get paid weekly so there should be savings deposits four times a month.

  • Ramsey says to pay the smallest debt first but we decided to pay off our van first. We found enough money in our budget to double the car payment and can get it paid off by Christmas. Once the car is paid off, we'll have a sizable chunk of change with which to start attacking the other debts on the list, going smallest to largest.

  • We both believe credit cards are important to have in case of emergency. Instead of cutting it up, we froze it. Yep. Literally. We put in a little glass bowl with water and put it in the freezer. It's out of sight, impossible to use, yet can be chipped out if say, a tree fell on our house before we had enough savings to pay for repairs.

We posted the "List 'O Debt" in our closet so we will see it every day, more than once a day. As we pay things off, we will cross it off the list. This is going to be hard but I know it will be worth it.  All of the things I am doing, all the skills I am learning will mean so much more to me when I know that I can live completely free and truly simple. Wish us luck!

 Frozen Credit Card

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Make it Rise

I read somewhere recently that women have forgotten the crafts of homemaking. No, I'm not talking glue guns and scrapbooks I'm talking about the "craft" of living. Making candles, making soap, making bread, butchering, gardening, sewing....back in the day women were required to do these tasks in order for their families to survive and prosper. Women took pride in their everyday housework. The industrial revolution changed all that. Instead of being self sufficient, families began to rely on wages. The husbands went out to earn money, leaving an IMMENSE task list to the ladies at home. Modern conveniences were invented to help women with the  "drudgery" of home keeping. So what's left? Millions of women, stuck at home with a brand new vacuum cleaner, prepackaged food, a credit card and a whole lotta depression and loneliness. No wonder the housewife gets such a bad reputation.

I would like to relearn some of the traditional homemaking crafts so as to make my home the best that it can possibly be. This IS my job. Just because I don't go out and earn money does not mean my contributions to my family aren't as important as my husband's monetary ones. The home should be your oasis and it is my job to make that true. That's not saying I'm going to be butchering my own animals or sewing up homemade maxi pads, but there are a few things that would not only be practical to learn, but that would instill in me a great sense of pride and accomplishment. I don't need to make my own candles, or chop wood, or sew a button hole but acquiring these skills will make me feel good about being able to take care of my family without whipping out the cash. Who knows? Given the state things, we may have to revert back to the simple, non-manufactured way of doing things. And, making anything from scratch is an opportunity to green up your home by avoiding excess packaging, petroleum product and yucky chemicals.

Anyway, homemaking skill #329 I want to learn is making bread from scratch. I'm an old pro at quick breads. No rising, no punching.....just mix, pour and bake. I've never made a yeast bread without the aid of the bread machine and even with an automated helper, the bread still wasn't quite right. My aunt, who is a chef, makes French bread every few days. She never uses a recipe, just goes by the feel of the dough. Right. You wanna know how my dough felt? Wrong. That's how it felt. It felt wrong. I misread the directions and neglected to add about three cups of flour. After a few fistfuls of flour and some very stick fingers, I got the dough kneaded into something resembling a ball, oiled it and set to rise.

 My Little Dough Ball

It Grew!

It rose as expected. Punching it down was the best part. Long story short, I divided it, let it rise again, egg washed it and finally, two decent looking loaves emerged from my oven. The best part? It was good. I think next time I'll add a little more salt and a hair more yeast to make it a little fluffier. It was a bit dense. But certainly not bad for my first time.  The kiddos certainly enjoyed it. They killed half a loaf before dinner!

Purty, no?
How much bread can I put in mouth?
It's delicious Mom!

I paired the bread with a beef stew made with homemade stock, carrots from the garden,and beef from the family ranch. The crusty loaves were a perfect companion. An entire meal made from scratch. Every single bit of it. Super cool! One up for the housewife...

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Clip and Save

Living a simple life means living happily and securely on less. Less stuff and less money. I would have to say that living with less money has been an ongoing struggle for me during this transformation. After all, I'm a good little American who supports her extractive economy by shop, shop, shopping away. And I'm damn, damn, damning myself and my family by continuing to do so with reckless abandon. My husband is no better. We've got to get our heads out of the dirt and get it together. Money does not equal happiness so they say, but I'm having an awfully hard time defending that motto when I get to buy something new and sparkly. It makes me pretty darn happy to buy stuff I don't need. The key here is to find happiness in everyday things, taking pride in what we already have, and letting the "shopping high" fall to the wayside.

The first step to living on less is being accountable for your debt and building your savings. Hubby and I are still in denial so we'll skip this stage temporarily and focus on little things until we get over ourselves and really do it up proper. By little things I mean eating out less, planning meals, ironing instead of dry cleaning ( I HATE ironing but I'll have to take one for the team,) cutting cable and internet speeds, and cutting out those aforementioned trips for sparkly, pretty, unnecessary things. As keeper of the home, I control most of these expenses so it is up to me to follow through and be disciplined. I've decided to start with grocery shopping.

A mammoth of a grocery store has opened up not even half a mile from my home. They have the biggest produce department I have ever seen with a large selection of organic produce. They also have a sizable natural/organic grocery area so I can buy all my earth friendly household and beauty products with having to schlep across town. It's gorgeous, well maintained, fairly priced and I can WALK there. No more loading the kids up in the van and wasting gas to wait in endless lines at Wal Mart. That alone is enough to encourage me to shop there!

But.....yes, there's a but. Though far from the most expensive grocery store, they aren't the cheapest. Wal Mart is, but I really, really despise shopping there. It's a corporate monster with questionable produce and sticky floors. So in order for me to shop at this new grocery store, I'm going to have to change the way I shop in order to avoid racking up my family's food costs. A bulleted list for your viewing pleasure:
  • I'm going to have to walk. It's ridiculously hot here right now so I'll have to make the trek early in the morning or after dark but I'm not wasting gas money to drive the .4 miles or so to the store. Time to invest in sturdy wagon.
  • I will transfer my prescriptions to the store. Save more gas and get a gift card for groceries!
  • I will use the weekly store ad to plan my menus with what is on sale, not with what I'm craving.
  • I will make a list and STICK TO IT.
  • I will clip coupons. I will try very hard to remember to take said coupons to the store.

 I spent a few minutes this afternoon with the Sunday paper, a pair of scissors, and glass of sun tea with mint. I have quite the coupon collection and hope to add to it soon. I find that the majority of coupons are for processed foods, which we don't eat a lot of, but there were a few that could save me some bucks. I think the biggest help here will be meal planning with the weekly ad. Also, I'll soon be able to rely more on our garden for produce now that things are starting to ripen, as illustrated by the beautiful bucket of carrots pictured below. Note the cute chubby hand reaching for a snack.

Now if I only I could remember my resuable bags...

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Big Black Box

I have a serious love/hate relationship with our TV. I do like TV. Well, some if it. There are a handful of shows I watch regularly, but the rest I could do without. The shows I really like I rent on DVD and just watch them without endless commercials bombarding me to buy things I don't need, and news teasers informing me of yet more bad things to come. I've made an effort to watch only what I really like and keep the set off the rest of the time. For me, this translates to Lost on Tuesdays, Ghost Hunters on Wednesdays, and yes, Family Guy on Sundays. Don't judge. It's funny. I've also allowed one movie a week since hubby and I like to spend either Friday or Saturday night cuddled up with the newest rental. I know. We're WILD. That's about 4 1/2 hours a week total tube time. Not bad considering Americans spend an average of 3 hours and 42 minutes A DAY in front of the television.

And though I may have my viewing habits under control, I think my kids are watching too much TV. According to Nielsen ratings company, children ages 2-5 are watching 32 HOURS of TV a week. What? My kids are nowhere near that number, thank goodness. They watch cartoons in the morning and the set goes off at 10 a.m. and doesn't come on again until after they are in bed, if at all. But lately, the Arizona sun has been warming up and threatening to scorch us alive if we stay outside too long. So... that puts us in the house, looking for things to do. That two hours of cartoons has morphed into movies at rest time and Dora while I cook dinner. After doing the math in my head, though not 32 hours, my kids viewing time adds up to more than I'd like.

We're not totally dependent on TV for entertainment. My kids and I keep a pretty busy schedule. We go to the gym, the library, play dates with my mom's group, gymnastics, and swimming lessons. We color, we bake, we read oodles of books. In the summer we play in the pool, the splash pad and run through the sprinklers. But if there is no parent directed activity provided, my kids want to watch TV. And after doing said activities, plus cooking, cleaning, laundry and all other home related tasks, I'm out of ideas and exhausted. It is ridiculously easy to turn on the Wonder Pets and let all be calm for half an hour. But when your kids pretend to be watching TV during playtime, you know it's time to cut back.

I am the one at fault here. I'm the one who controls the remote. I want my kids to be curious, engaged, creative and independent. TV fosters none of those things. I want them to appreciate the world around them by exploring it and taking part in it.Granted, children's programming has come a long way,  but I'd rather they learn from the world around them than from talking characters on TV. I want them to appreciate the things that matter like family, community and simplicity. I am the one who must take control.  

 And so I will. Here's the plan:
  • The kiddos can watch whatever they want in the mornings. Disney Channel, Nick Junior, a DVD. But the set goes off at 10:00 am. NO EXCEPTIONS. 
  • The TV will not be turned on again until after they are in bed, if at all. 
  • One night a week, we may have a family movie night. Popcorn optional, pajamas a must. 
  • No more Dora with dinner. This will be painful for Mommy but her children will be happier, healthier, and more independent without Little Miss Explorer.
  • I will try my hardest to provide fun activities every day. But, I will also encourage my children to learn how to play by themselves and with each other. Mommy can't do everything and be everywhere. 
Oy. Wish me luck. I think this is going to be harder for me than it will for them. If you have any TV free suggestions please leave them in the comments. I'm going to need all the ideas I can get!


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Culinary Explosion

The humble chicken. I think the reason I can't be a vegetarian is that I would miss chicken too much. Well, chicken and bacon. And bacon covered chicken. I digress. Anyway, my local grocery store had buy one get one on whole chickens (organic even!) and I couldn't pass it up. I think a whole chicken is a little known way to save a bundle at the grocery store. Buying a whole chicken is CHEAP and getting two for the price of one is even CHEAPER. They freeze well and thanks to a fellow blogger I learned that you can just stick the whole bird (nasty gizzard bag removed) in a crock pot, sprinkle with your favorite spices and walk away for seven hours. The meat was super moist and after dinner you have great tasting leftover chicken for the next night's feast! AND....I put all the skin and bones back into the crock pot with the chicken liquid and  set it on low overnight and woke up to my own organic chicken stock which I turned into chicken noodle soup (with homemade egg noodles.) How simple is that?
Hubby and I also tried some more canning. We canned a week's worth (about 10 pounds) of zucchini, slicing them into pickles. We packed 12 jars, but ended up with eleven. One of the jars exploded. We put the lid on the processing pot and heard a pop. The bottom of the jar blew right off, in a perfect circle. Since we're still fairly new to the art of canning, we're not exactly sure what happened. I'm thinking that when hubby filled the jars with brine, he didn't leave enough head space causing the pressure in the jar to be too extreme and thus, it blew up. Good thing we had the lid on the pot. Watch out! Flying pickles!

We also experimented with another type of food preservation: salt packing. We had about a jar's worth of radishes that hubby washed and trimmed. He then layered them in a jar with salt, herbs and garlic. We're to let the jar cure for three days, then  fill the jar with hot water and return it to the pantry for three months. After said period of time, the radishes are cured and ready for eating. It sounds sketchy to me but it's worth a shot. Any type of food preservation that doesn't involve standing over a hot stove, or burning my thumbs on hot jars gets a big thumbs up from me!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Beautiful Mothers

Ah, Mother's Day. A time to celebrate the creatures who bring life to the world. I celebrated Mother's Day with slobbery baby kisses, a newspaper wrapped, sticker covered DVD set of one of my favorite shows(Big Love...Mormon drama!)a delicious dinner prepared by the best husband in the world, and a facial at an awesome organic spa. Oh yeah. A spa that uses organic products. Brilliant.

A couple of friends of mine who share in the desire for more conscious beauty suggested I try the place out. Blu Sol offers "personalized massage therapy, first rate organic products, and professional staff; all in a safe, clean, and rejuvenating environment." I've been once and that's all it took. I was hooked. The spa is beautiful, the esthetician has magic fingers, and not one single chemical is smeared on my already stressed out skin. 

Since I've started this whole "going green" thing, I find that people ask me for product recommendations on an almost daily basis. But it is beauty products I get the most questions about. I am by no means an expert but I have tried lots of products and spent lots of money trying to find eco-conscious products that deliver. As I've said before, just because it's natural doesn't mean it works. I'm still searching for that perfect product in some categories, like shampoo for instance. As of yet, I haven't found an organic shampoo that doesn't make my hair look and feel like a fuzzy steel wool pad. And there are some thing I don't know if I'll ever be able to go green with, like deodorant. But I will not be discouraged. There's a huge market for organic beauty and more products are added every day. 

If you interested in greening up your routine, here's what me and mine are currently using. I am not trying to be an advocate for consumerism. I like shopping just as much as the next woman but don't just run out to buy products because you can. Use what you have, and don't be wasteful. When you empty your jar, or bottle, or tub THEN replace it with a greener alternative and recycle said jar or bottle or tub :) 

Feel free to leave suggestions if you have a product you love, or questions if you have them. Happy shopping, and Happy Mother's Day!!

Burt's Bee's Natural Acne Solutions Cleansing Gel and Tasha & Co. Pureza
One of the only acne cleansers I've tried that doesn't completely ravage my skin. Smells a little funny but I like it anyway. Tasha and Co. is the brand used at the aforementioned spa. It is very soothing and I use when my skin isn't acting like a teenager.

*Day Cream:
Devita Solar Protective Moisturizer
LOVE LOVE LOVE this cream! I've always worn sunscreen on my face but this cream is the BEST SPF cream I've used. It's chemical free, absorbs quickly, doesn't make me break out and makes my skin smooth as a baby's you know what. Plus, it's locally made in Glendale, Arizona.

*Night Cream
Aubrey Organics Lumessence Lift Firming Renewal Cream with CoQ10 and Josie Maran's Argan Oil
A mouthful to say but Lumessence is good stuff. I haven't been using it that long so I can't really attest to it's lifting and firming properties as of yet but it hydrates without heaviness and my skin looks refreshed in the morning. As for the argan oil, my friend Anna, self proclaimed "product whore" turned me on to this little miracle. I mix a few drops in with the Lumessence ream. I feels great, is super hydrating and I swear it's lightening old acne marks. I also put it in my hair for softness and shine. Get it. You'll love it.

*Eye Treatment
Keys Eye Butter
A few months ago, the skin around my right eye got itchy, bumpy and flaky. I tried everything to get rid of it. Nothing worked. I read a review for this eye cream and the rest is history. It's rich but not heavy.  I use it morning and night and have noticed those pesky little fine lines are a bit less noticeable.

*Spot Treatment
 Burt's Bees Natural Acne Solutions Targeted Spot Treatment
Smells TERRIBLE but is honestly the best non chemical spot treatment I've tried. Dries the little buggers right out!

*Body Moisturizer
Burt's Bees Thoroughly Therapeutic Honey & Shea Butter Body Butter
Sweet, creamy and perfect for my dry skin. And my husband said it smells good enough to eat.

 Purple Prairie Botanicals Sun Stuff SPF 30
I use this on the whole family. I've tried a LOT of non-chemical sunscreens and this is the best of the bunch. It's easy to rub in, it doesn't leave a white cast like most mineral sunscreens do and was voted to be one of the top ten best non-chemical sunscreens by the Environmental Working Group. Reasonably priced and sustainably made. Their Sun Stick is especially perfect for squirmy kids who hate having sunscreen rubbed into their faces. Just swipe and go!

*Body Wash/Soap
Method Olive Leaf Body Wash and soaps by Sappo Hill
Method's Olive Leaf body wash smells yummy and produces a rich, creamy lather. Good for shaving too.It does have some ingredients I'm not sure about but I'll finish the bottle and go from there. Certainly a better choice than traditional body washes. Sappo Hill Soaps are awesome. I use the almond scented bars for me and the fragrance free oatmeal soaps on my kids. Sappo Hill soaps are made in small batches and have NO PACKAGING to throw away thus lessening your environmental impact. It's a bit weird to just pick up an unwrapped bar of soap off the shelf but I got over it when I lathered up.

*Kids Hair Care
 California Baby Calming Shampoo and Conditioner and Jason Naturals Kids Only! Extra Gentle Shampoo and Conditioner
As soon as I switched to organic bath products, my son's eczema all but cleared up. California Baby is a natural as it gets. However, I've been using Jason Natural's products because they seem to detangle and condition my daughter's long, thick hair better than California Baby. The shampoo lathers better too.

Tom's of Maine Whole Care Fluoride Toothpaste
Minty goodness, fewer chemicals. The company uses SLS in many of it's toothpastes which has caused some hardcore organics to abandon the brand. SLS is a foaming agent that has questionable side effects according to some research. The jury is still out with me. I like it. Tom's also makes kid's toothpaste. My daughter loves Silly Strawberry.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

What's That Hanging in the Window?

Our garden is being good to us. Already this week we've eaten greens, tomatoes, carrots and squash pulled right from the ground. Looks like the zucchini will be ready to start eating by the end of the week, and maybe some eggplants the week after.  I can't describe how satisfying it is to eat something that you grew, or to be able to plan your dinners around what's ripening. Our herb garden has also been quite generous. So generous in fact, our cilantro got so big it went to seed and we had to pull it up. We affectionately called it our cilantro tree. Anyway, our parsley seems like it will soon be following suit. After an herb flowers, the leaves can be bitter and woody. I missed my chance with the cilantro but I intend to put up some of the parsley for a rainy day.

And how exactly should I go about doing just that? I've never dried herbs before. I read about oven drying but I don't really want to waste the electricity to dry some parsley. I don't have a dehydrator and again, I don't want to gear up a major appliance for a bit of parsley. So I'm going to do it the old fashioned way, the way Laura Ingalls Wilder described her Ma drying herbs ( I love that series. I've read it multiple times!) I'm going to tie it up with twine and hang it in my window.

Technically, I don't have twine. I have utility cord pilfered from my husband's tool box.  It's yellow and gaudy but it will work. Some websites suggested I tie a paper bag around the herb before hanging it to keep off dust and catch any leaves that may fall prematurely but I don't have any paper bags and neither did Ma Ingalls so I'll take my chances with dust bunnies and the renegade leaves. The process was quite simple really. I cut the herbs, arranged them in small bundles, tied them with cord and hung them from my curtain rod in my kitchen window where they will hang for approximately two weeks, give or take. Hopefully, barring mold or bug related catastrophes, I should have some lovely dried parsley to use at my whim when that parsley bush finally does go to seed. And, depending on how this goes, I'll soon try this method with the other herbs growing in my garden. Except the dill. I don't want my house to smell like a pickle!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Addicted to Oil

Reason # 1,389 I have been trying to wean my family from petroleum based products and use greener more environmentally friendly products: 


If you have been living under a rock and have no idea what I'm talking about, let me fill you in. On April 22, an offshore drilling rig operated by British Petroleum or BP exploded and is currently gushing immeasurable amounts of oil into our oceans. Let's set aside the fact the deep ocean drilling is irresponsible and dangerous, but rumor has it, BP suggested that an accident leading to a giant crude oil spill -- and serious damage to beaches, fish and mammals -- was unlikely, or virtually impossible and in declaring such, had absolutely no plan "B" if something were to happen. Well lookey here BP, the impossible has happened. And instead of admitting their mistakes, BP is quick to point the finger at the workers on the rig, contracted by Transocean, claiming they failed to improperly cap the well which of course, Transocean denies.

Does it really matter at this point? There are more than nine million gallons of crude already in the ocean and more is added every day.The Gulf of Mexico is is one of the most significant life-sustaining ecosystems on earth. This disaster threatens to destroy the ecosystem that exists there, as well as all of the human industries that thrive in the region, like fishing and tourism. This is a disaster, and I think it is being greatly downplayed by the media. Pardon my French but this is serious shit. Our planet NEEDS oceans. WE need oceans. Oceans influence the climate by absorbing and storing carbon dioxide and by regulating our oxygen. What's going to happen if our ocean is filled with oil? This is nothing short of a catastrophe.

So let's say they get this under control. Unlikely, but let's pretend.  They cap the well, the oil stops and we get this cleaned up. What will happen next? According to William Dietrich, novelist and Pulitzer prize winning journalist, nothing will change. He thinks that eventually there will be investigations, some kind of Congressional legislative reform, and -- if the spill is costly enough -- an overhaul of BP management. A slap on the hand. Technology will take a stride ahead and things might get a bit safer, for a while.But the threat will remain, vigilance will relax, and risks will run higher as the world gets more desperate for oil and drills in ever more inaccessible places.

We have so many options. All Americans have access to sun and wind. Why haven't we been making more effort to find alternative energy sources? What have we done? Dietrich warns that until we make real strides in weaning from fossil fuels -- which, incidentally, would help save the climate, save the oceans, and get us less entangled in endless wars --we should all be scared for what the future holds. I for one couldn't agree more.