Monday, February 24, 2014

Shortbread with Essential Oils

My essential oils are unique in the oil world for many reasons, but one reason is that many of them are safe to ingest, and great for cooking and baking. I've been trying to make an edible creation for each of my classes, and yesterday's class got treated to shortbread cookies drizzled with lavender chocolate. 

Lavender is an excellent oil best known for its relaxing properties, but it's also a wonder to support skin health - we use it for bedtime massages to get both benefits!


Shortbread cookies

This is just a basic shortbread recipe, you could even use a sugar cookie recipe.

3/4 lb of grass-fed, organic butter, softened
1 cup organic sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I use maple syrup in the place of vanilla when I'm out)
3 cups all purpose flour (I use a blend of whole wheat and unbleached white flour, if you use just white flour, you might need a little more flour in your recipe)
a pinch of salt if your butter is unsalted

Mix the butter and sugar together in a stand mixer or with a hand mixer. Add vanilla. Separately, sift the salt into the flour, then slowly add the flour to the butter/sugar. Mix on a low speed until it "comes together." For me, that took about ten minutes. The dough stays pretty crumbly for a long time, but it will eventually start to come together. Wrap it and chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350*F. Roll the dough to desired thickness (I like between 1/4" and 1/2"), rub with a small amount of sugar, and cut. I didn't have a rectangle shaped cutter, so I used a knife. Place the cookies on a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes, or until the edges start to brown. Cool.

Lavender Chocolate Cookies

Chop an organic dark chocolate bar and set up a double boiler. When the cookies are cool, melt the chocolate and add 1-2 drops of lavender essential oil. Drizzle the chocolate over the cookies, or dip one end of the cookie into the chocolate. 

(Confession: I forgot to buy a dark chocolate bar, so I used chocolate chips yesterday. Still delicious.)



Thursday, February 20, 2014

Dreads Update - About 20 Months Of Dready Goodness

My dreads are gettting old and mature, and I recently sat down to do some maintenance. As they get older, they get tidier, but my baby hairs are getting much longer, which means I've got a lot of new dreads and a lot of loose hair that needs to be taken care of. I started with about 45 or 50 dreads, and I'm up to around sixty now! It's hard to get an accurate count, since I have several around my face and in the back that are made from baby hair and are only a few inches long. As I was working on tidying them up today, I decided to take a few pictures, and then I realized I hadn't blogged about my dreads since the day I started them! 

You can't really grasp the size of this big guy,
but it's at least three times as thick as most of my other dreads.
There was a pretty natural split at the scalp,
which indicated to me that this one wanted to be two dreads
Over the course of the day, I ripped it all the way down to the big fat paddle at the end...
Now I'm not sure what I'm going to do, except slowly pull that end apart.
Finally got them separated, with just a tiny bit of cutting.
There's some truly crazy things going on in my hair...
This is after splitting the fatty, before my deep cleanse.

I vary my wash routine quite a bit - today was a scrub with a sratch-made soap
 and then an essential oil/kombucha vinegar rinse.
After the work. It's not a big difference, because they aren't
quite as wild as they once were, but they look tidier to me.


Sunday, February 16, 2014

Emotionally Strong

A friend of mine linked this post on Facebook the other day, and I copied it because I wanted to make some commentary on it. I've left the original intact, and, to be honest, I can't think of a whole lot to add. This writer really nailed it. 

Sometimes in life we come across people who get more from us than they probably deserve. People who, for whatever reason, escape our anger and appeal to our humanity. We feel compelled to help these people, knowing that they can benefit from a little compassion and sympathy. And then we reach out to them however we can. 

In that vein, here's 15 things that emotionally strong people don't do. Take it to heart, readers. There's good stuff in there.

1. They Don’t Beg For Attention
Needing attention is directly linked to emotion. Those who feel the need for recognition only find themselves experiencing feelings of worth when others make them feel needed; it’s as if these people are uncertain of their value, or if they have any ounce of self-worth. Feeling unsure of your worth is a self-fulfilling prophecy; if you don’t know you matter, then no one will ever believe you do.

2. They Don’t Allow Others To Bring Them Down

Emotional strength requires resilience. This world is filled with haters and trolls. There are jealous eyes lurking around every corner. The unfortunate truth is that often the people who hold us back the most are those closest to us. Getting rid of these people is often the best solution, but also the most difficult. If you can quietly remove these people from your life, that’s one fewer bridge burned and much less of an emotional trigger.

3. They Don’t Hold Grudges

If you’re holding a grudge, then you already care more about a situation than you should. If a person apologizes genuinely, forgive him or her. If this person doesn’t apologize, then don’t interact with him or her, but don’t hold grudges. People with whom you seek to alienate and hold grudges against take up too much of your mental energy, doing more harm than good.

4. They Never Stop Doing Their Own Thing

Emotionally strong individuals do what they do because they love doing it. They don’t plan on slowing down or stopping for anyone who deems their happiness inappropriate.

5. They Never Stop Believing In Themselves

Those who love themselves and understand themselves — those who aren’t afraid or proud to be themselves — never doubt themselves. You amount to your own self-worth, not a shilling more.

6. They Don’t Act Like Bitches Or Assh*les

People are mean. But we wonder, why? Being a jerk is only good as an intimidation factor, and if you’re trying to intimidate people, then you better be a negotiator by profession; if you’re intimidating just for the sake of it, you’re obviously overcompensating for a lack of confidence. Do you also drive a very large automobile, perhaps? I hear they make pills for that.

7. They Know Better Than To Let Just Anyone Into Their Lives

The emotionally strong are emotionally strong for a reason: They don’t expose themselves to people who break down their defenses and crush their morale. Most people in the world are lost and will be more than happy to take you along with them. Don’t let an awful acquaintance ruin your happiness.

8. They Aren’t Afraid To Love

If you’re afraid to love, you don’t have enough confidence in yourself. You obviously think you can’t be in a lasting relationship, but only in one that is doomed for disaster. You don’t want to get hurt again because getting hurt really sucks. There is no reason for you to get your heart broken again because you are awesome. If things don’t work out, it’s not you. It’s the two of you together. Unless, of course, you are an awful human being; in that case, it is you.

9. They Don’t Lie In Bed Dreading The Day Ahead Of Them

The best part of your day should be the moment you wake up and realize you’re still alive. We take life for granted too regularly.

10. They’re Not Afraid Of Slowing Down

Emotionally strong people aren’t in need of constant action and excitement. They don’t need to run around all day and keep moving in order to avoid their demons. They appreciate a slow moment because it brings them closer to what it feels like to do nothing but living, breathing. This is not to say that they don’t enjoy excitement in their lives, but they aren’t junkies and are more than happy to just go for a walk and smell the roses.

11. They Don’t Do Things They Don’t Want To Do

We all do things that we don’t love to do, but we should never do things that we don’t want to do. The emotionally strong understand that and almost always manage to figure out a way to focus on what they love, which allows them to figure out what they need to do, in order to do what they love. Although they may not love every second of it, they like doing what they are doing because it’s bringing them one step closer to what they would love to do.

12. They Have No Problem Saying “No”

If you can’t say “no,” you will get abused. You’ll be considered a pushover and no one will ever ask you for your opinion or take it seriously when you give it. Saying “no” reminds people that they don’t have control over you.

13. They Don’t “Forget” To Give Back

We’re not too busy or too poor to donate our money and/or time. We don’t forget, either. Some people just choose to ignore our responsibilities as human beings. The stronger you are emotionally, the more you come to appreciate others and life itself. You give life more worth and you begin to empathize with those who were dealt a bad hand.

14. They Don’t Feel The Need To Fit In

The stronger you are emotionally, the more independent you become. You don’t feel the need to fit in because you fit in where it matters: the world. People form smaller social groups that are often skewed and unhealthy. Wanting to fit in doesn’t say much more than “I’m afraid to be myself.”

15. They Don’t Forget That Happiness Is A Decision

Most importantly, the emotionally strong have learned to understand the power their brains have over both the mind and body. They understand that emotions are reactions, not reactions to direct physical causes, but to the way we perceive those causes. In other words, our emotions don’t reflect reality; rather, our emotions reflect the way we interpret reality. Understanding this gives us near-full control of our emotions and, therefore, our lives.

Shameful Secret Saturday #2

This one is probably not much of a surprise, but it's been YEARS since I cleaned out my refrigerator. YEARS. Sure, I pull out the leftovers every few weeks, but I haven't truly gutted the thing in a really long time. After being snowed in most of the week, I started really looking at some of the bottles and jars on the backs of the shelves, and decided it was time, so I tackled it this morning.

I have a really hard time throwing away something that might be useful, especially food and cosmetic type products (sometime, I'll show you my stash of "natural" beauty products that I don't use but can't bear to just toss in the garage.) When I looked in the refrigerator, I realized there's a bottle of flax seed oil that's been there since I was pregnant with E. That's four years ago, folks. 

When we had WIC, we used to get bottled juice, which we never drink. After a while, I stopped buying it, but at first, I thought I should get it to use for something. That something has turned out to be taking up room on my top shelf. 

The BEFORE picture.

 I wish I had a picture of what the outside of this refrigerator looked like a few weeks ago, before I cleaned the stove. While I was waiting for the stove to soak, I noticed how truly disgusting the vent plate on the frig was, so I vacuumed and scrubbed, and now our fifty year old refrigerator doesn't sound like it's on its last legs. It's actually spooky quiet now. I also cleaned the bottom edge, where E frequently stands, so it looks deceptively clean in this 'before' picture.

The highlights of my findings: two nearly full jars of chow chow made in 2011. A bag of Craisins (about 1/4 full) with an expiration date of Mar 2012. Three jars of salsa. Two bottles of red wine (I don't drink red wine). A rouge string cheese stuck behind one of the drawers. Five empty (or nearly empty) ziploc bags.

AFTER.
You'll notice a few things if you look closely... I didn't throw those two bottles of red wine away, because sometimes friends come over who do drink red wine. That's probably who left it in the first place, you know?

I didn't throw away that bottle of flax seed oil. I can't find an expiration date, but it still smells fine, and I feel certain that oils start to smell rancid when they go bad. It only has a little left in it, and I want to use it! I did promise myself that I would throw it away if I haven't used it by April.

There's orange GatorAde from when we all got sick a few weeks ago. As a rule, we don't drink things like that (especially E and me), but I can't bear to throw it away, because what if DP gets sick again and he wants to drink GatorAde?

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Tightwad Tuesday - Lady Bits

Everyone knows I'm a little crunchy. I live an alternative lifestyle, for certain. Everyone has their own reasons for moving toward sustainable, healthy, alternative living. My reasons?

I want to be good to this Earth. We only have one home, and I want to know I'm being the best steward I can be.

I enjoy making-baking-sewing-knitting-building-doing it myself. I get a sense of pride from being able to say, "I made it from scratch," or "I don't have to buy that anymore." I just like it.

I really enjoy saving money. For nearly six years, we've lived mostly on DP's income. Until recently, I had a very part time job, and living in the twenty-first century can be expensive. We enjoy going out and renting movies and having nice things, but it's not possible to do that on one income in this economy, unless you are tight. I want to share some of the ways we save money in our house, so here's Tightwad Tuesday, a sister to Make It At Home Monday.

My very best personal money saving measure? Feminine hygiene products. (Don't those words sound gross?) When I started down the slippery slope that is alternative living, I think it started with food - organic was the first move, local came much later. Soon after we started eating a more organic diet, DH and I moved in together, and we started re-evaluating our family planning method. I'd been on "the pill" for quite a while, and I was ready to move to  a non-hormonal method of conception control. I (of course) dove into research, and started coming across words like "rhythm method" and "Fertility Awareness." Looked like a plan, so I bought a few books and joined a few chat forums. Then I started seeing words like "Diva Cup," "Glad Rags," "mama cloth." Okay, I thought. I'll bite. What's this about?

Are you intrigued yet? Okay, so basically life is so much better when you stop using dioxin soaked, over priced and truly disgusting "feminine hygiene products." I made the first jump into mama cloth nearly seven years ago (WOW!) I spent $100 on my package, which was enough to get me through my whole cycle. Let's do a little math, because that's always fun.

Avg 28 day cycle = 13 cycles per year
Avg period lasts 6 days, and you 'd use, I don't know, 5 or 6 tampons/pads per day? = 30-36 pieces/cycle
That's 390 to 468 pieces per year.

(Let's take a moment and just think about the garbage that's producing.)

Now, back to math.

I found a box of  54 tampons on Amazon for $8.20 (remember, I've been out of the game for seven years)
That's about $0.15 per piece. 
So you're spending about $75 a year on tampons/pads if you are buying them from Amazon, and likely a little more if you are buying them elsewhere.

Your cloth pad stash pays for itself in a little over a year. 


Photo courtesy of Jade Made Creations.
Jade is a sweet sweet friend of mine, and very talented with a sewing machine!
Now I'm going to pull out the big guns. After E was born, I treated myself to a Lunette cup. It was $40. If I had been switching away from conventional products, it would have paid for itself in about six months. 

Those numbers don't seem like much, but let's look at it this way: I've used cloth pads or a cup for six years (you can't count the year I was pregnant/postpartum, even though I did use cloth in my postpartum days). At $75 a year, I've saved over $300, after you subtract the cost of the pads and cup.

And now let's get to the really good stuff. When I switched, my period got a day shorter. I had fewer cramps, and my flow lightened. Now, I have about a three and a half day period. I've saved 2,400 pieces of feminine hygiene waste from the landfill. I've not bought into the idea that women are less than clean. I've bucked the system and given Kotex a great big middle finger. 

Photo courtesy of www.menstrualcups.wordpress.com

I have a few points of discussion.

I said I wouldn't post any more blogs with "life lesson" tags. But, you know, the life lessons just keep coming.

Here's what I have to say for today:

Moving on is hard. Really hard. I know that, because I'm doing it. But it's also necessary. And dwelling on the past, holding on to the past, even if you put it on a top shelf in the garage, is not healthy. To truly move on, you must purge your life of the past. Just like a drug addict fresh out of rehab, you can't keep contact with the toxic things in life. Get rid of those toxic things. Learn to numb yourself to them. Do what you have to do to protect yourself.

Secondly, mental health is no joke. It affects millions, and it causes upheaval and tragedy in people's lives. It causes mass shootings and bombings, but it also causes families to fall apart and people to quietly commit suicide. It's hard to admit you need help. Trust me, I've been there. It's hard to tell people you've gotten help, because there's a stigma attached to that. So here it is... Therapy is good for me. Liquid xanax keeps me off the real stuff. There's nothing wrong with being on the real stuff (with a proper treatment plan and in conjunction with therapy), but as a nursing mama and crunchy lady, I'm just not interested in that. I'm a strong woman - I never knew how strong until recently - but I need somewhere to vent. And my friends and family don't deserve to listen to me be obsessive or sad or angry. They deserve the best of me, and when I have a safe space to vent those feelings properly, I save the best of myself for the people I love.

Sometimes, you have to hit rock bottom before you realize you need to ask for help. Thankfully, I didn't make it quite that far, but I've been there for those who have. It's a truly rewarding experience to see someone you love turn into the person he or she always should have been. It's rewarding to be that person, too. For me, it was more of a returning to my former self, but I have made a few changes. I'm a healthier, happier woman, and my family deserves that.

I blog a lot about natural living and being crunchy and good to the Earth, but the bottom line is this - take care of yourself, physically, emotionally, spiritually. Live your life and enjoy your journey. Find your own way, and when you go the wrong direction, don't be afraid to ask for help. That's why you're not the only one on the Earth.


Monday, February 3, 2014

MIAHM - Laundry Soap Switch Up

A few years ago, I suppose right around the time I was pregnant with E, I decided it was time to switch away from store bought laundry detergent. I started experimenting with homemade laundry soaps, and had limited success, so I settled on Charlie's Soap, which is made locally and supposed to be excellent for cloth diapers. I used Charlie's for quite a while, then had some issues with "cloth diaper stink," so I started using a cloth diaper soap called Rockin' Green. I continued to have issues with stink (by the end, it was cloth diapers AND regular laundry), and kept blaming the laundry soaps, until we got hooked up to town water. At that point, all our stink issues disappeared. Apparently the well we were using was providing us with sub-par water!

At that point, I gave homemade soap another go, and it's been working great for our family for nearly two years. The recipe I use is pretty basic, and very popular - washing soda, borax, and grated castile soap.

Enter Pinterest. I follow a few crunchy mamas on Pinterest, and a few weeks ago a pin called "Borax free laundry soap" popped up. Then a few other Borax free recipes came through in the following weeks. Borax is a main staple of DIYers, so I needed to figure out why Borax was suddenly becoming an undesirable ingredient. Enter Google. Here's one article I found. Apparently Borax has the potential to disrupt the male reproductive system, causing low sperm count and something called testicular atrophy. There's some confusion about this out there. Borax is natural. There are two different chemicals that are both called borax, and one is safer than the other. Borax is only toxic in really high ingested doses. I live by the precautionary principle. If there's a safer and just as effective alternative, I'm going to use it. With two male reproductive systems in my house, I'll pass on the Borax.

The Borax free recipes just suggest substituting baking soda for Borax. I'm going to give it a try, since I'm completely out of laundry soap and I have a pile of laundry to catch up on. The recipe is fairly simple - one bar of laundry or castile soap (Fels Naptha is a common choice), grated. Use three parts washing and baking soda to one part soap. So if you have a cup of soap, mix in three cups each washing and baking soda. I use about 1 1/2 TBSP per load.