Category: Earthy

Jun 14

The Parent Files: Parenthood Bloopers

Today, I’m delving into one of my areas of expertise: parenthood bloopers.

Come on, admit it.  If you’re a parent, aunt/uncle, babysitter, etc., you’ve been there, haven’t you?  I sure have.

Here are some of my many, many blooper moments as a parent:

 

Drew Hays

Image via Unsplash/Drew Hays

I’ll start with my oldest child.  When he was a toddler, he used to walk around singing the lyrics to one of his favorite songs.  No “I’m a Little Teapot” for him, though.  Our little guy could barely talk, but it didn’t stop him from belting out, “Rox–anne, you don’t have to turn on the red light…”  Maybe it wasn’t the optimal choice of music to share with him, but Sting would be so proud.

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Later, when my oldest was maybe four or five years old, he was playing outside with some neighborhood friends.  Apparently, everyone was hot and thirsty, so being the nice host that he was, he went into our garage to get some drinks from the fridge.  We must have been out of juice boxes, because the next thing we knew, he was handing out a round of beers.

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Both my older and younger sons were active as little ones; I used to say during my older son’s toddlerhood that he only stopped moving when he was asleep.  His younger brother was, instead, notorious for climbing.  I once left him playing with some toys on the floor of our dining room, while I dashed into the kitchen.  I was gone for a only a minute or so, but I came back to find he’d vanished.  His toys were there, but he sure wasn’t.  I ran around the main floor of our house, calling his name, and when I made it back to where I’d started, a little voice greeted me, saying, “I up here, Mommmy.”  There he was, at eye level, sitting on the top shelf of our baker’s rack.  

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This same son (my second) once got his head stuck between the “bars” along the back of our old rattan sofa.  I was on the phone with a friend and he was sitting right next to me–one minute he was playing with the cushions; the next, he’d pushed his head through the frame.  I nearly had to turn the sofa upside down to get him out.  Did I mention I found my first gray hair shortly after he learned to crawl?

Brian Mann

Image via Unsplash/Brian Mann

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Turns out girls aren’t any easier.  Years ago, I was again on the phone (I really didn’t talk on the phone that much), when a police officer showed up at my door.  He told me someone from my home had called 9-1-1.  I was so embarrassed and couldn’t understand what had happened, since my one-year old daughter and I were the only ones there.  That was when I remembered having pulled the phone from my daughter’s pudgy little hands before I’d called my friend.  Guess who’d made her very first phone call?  

贝莉儿 NG

Image via Unsplash/贝莉儿 NG
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Apparently, this little girl of ours had a thing for technology.  Within a few months of the 9-1-1 call, she was playing with our remote control (guess I hadn’t learned my lesson yet), so what did she do?  Ordered a *naughty* film via pay-per-view, right smack onto our television.  It was a little shocking to turn around and see that Sesame Street had become … something else entirely. I still don’t think the cable company believed me when I tried to explain who’d ordered the film. 

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In kindergarten, my daughter repaid me for her earlier adventures by making me a beautiful Mother’s Day card.  On it, she’d written that my favorite food was macaroni and cheese (such a gourmet) and my favorite hobby?  Taking naps.  Almost earned a nomination for Mom of The Year, based on those credentials alone.

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Try as you might, the chaos of family life really does get the better of you sometimes.  One day, during a particularly busy moment, I heard someone call out.  Since I was occupied with something, I handled it the way I usually did: held up my hand and said, “Okay, just a second.”  Took me a full minute to realize I was talking to the microwave.  It had beeped and I’d answered.

Krzysztof (Kriss) Szkurlatowski1

Image by FreeImages.com/Krzysztof (Kriss) Szkurlatowski

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The kids are all older now, but parenting is still blooper-friendly.  This past year, while my family and I were staying at a hotel, I got up in the dark and walked straight into the corner of a wall.  Being ever ready to set an excellent example, I dropped the F bomb, loud and clear.  My 9-year old was so disappointed she could only shake her head at me, my thirteen-year old was completely embarrassed (either for me or by me, I’m still not sure which) and my 16-year old thought the whole thing was hilarious.

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Still, one of most-notable parenthooding bloopers happened when the kids were younger: at a birthday party for one of my sons, I was trying to feed my infant daughter some pureed butternut squash.  She would often turn her head a few times before she’d finally take a taste and start eating.  This day was no different.  I was talking to family and friends, while my husband held our baby girl, so I could feed her.  After I finally got the first bite into her mouth, my husband started laughing and said, “Do you know what you just did?”  I didn’t, so he filled me in on it.  “You fed me,” he said.  “I kept trying to turn away, but I finally just gave up and ate the squash.”

By Totorosan1 - Own work, Public Domain, httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid=34481075

By Totorosan1 – Own work, Public Domain, httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid=34481075

Ah, the joys of parenting.  No one ever said it was easy!  I would love, love, love to hear I’m not alone in my bloopers!  Please feel free to comment and share away with any of your glorious parenting/aunt-or-uncling/babysitting/etc. hiccups!

Remember: “A day without laughter is a day wasted.” ~ Charlie Chaplin

May 29

Hair and Now

Am I the only one who caught an ear worm from that title?  Luther Vandross?  1989?  Here and Now?  Pretty sure it was played during at least one of my proms.  Anyway, I’m showing my age, time to move on….

Today’s post has nothing to do with Mr. Vandross or with music of any kind.  This one’s about … how’d you guess it?  Hair.

My hair has a long history of crimes and misdemeanors: frizz, dryness, notoriously awful haircuts (some committed by yours truly), extreme brassiness when mixed with the wrong colorants, etc., etc., etc.  These days, though, it’s behaving much better.  Why?  I think it’s mostly because I’m treating it right.  While I’m no expert on haircare, I’ve done plenty of research and loads of experimentation (a.k.a. cruel and unusual punishment), so I’m pleased to share the route I’ve found to happier, healthier hair, here and now.

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Behold the Sandalwood Comb, in all its glory

Combing/Brushing

Can I make a confession?  I’m a little in love with my brush and even more with my comb.

My brush is made with boar bristles.  (*Some companies sell humanely-harvested versions.)  Can you say volume??  After flipping my hair over (brushing outward from the nape of my neck), I flip it back again to admire my spot-on impression of Sideshow Bob.  Despite boar bristles’ ridiculous effect on me, they’re very kind to hair; they spread out oils to reduce dryness and frizziness, while adding shine and improving texture.

My comb–ah, my comb.  It’s wide-toothed, so it can be used on wet or dry hair.  My favorite part, though, is that it’s made of lovely-looking, lovely-scented sandalwood.  It’s great with detangling, doesn’t cause static, and its nearly-invisible seam won’t catch in my hair.  I use it both before and after brushing, to rid my hair of tangles and also to help bring out my hair’s waves and shine.  Plus, did I mention?  Sandalwood smells divine.  Trust the comb-sniffer on this one.

Shampoo/conditioner

Let’s talk process.  So, you think you know how to wash your hair?  Could be.  Depends on how well you follow instructions.  I’m talking the whole “Lather, rinse, repeat” bit.  Do you do this?  If not, do.  Do do it.

Also, when working the shampoo into your hair, focus mainly on the scalp.  Your first wash will loosen sebaceous oils; your second will send them packing.  *Bonus: massaging your scalp stimulates blood flow, increasing the health of hair and scalp, while encouraging hair growth.

You may have heard some talk about low poo or no poo–yes, we’re still talking about hair.  This is referring to the shampooing spectrum.  It exists, really.  I’ve seen graphics.  I won’t go into too much detail, but basically, at one end, there’s traditional shampooing and at the other end, there’s no poo, or a “wash with water only” method, which–let’s be honest–I never intend to try.  In between, there’s a “wash with baking soda/rinse with apple cider vinegar” method, which also sounds a little too hard-core for me, and a “wash with shampoo bars” method, which I have tried with little to no success.  (Granted, I did make my own shampoo bars, which could have been an issue, but the apple cider vinegar-rinse didn’t work for me, either.  Every time my hair got wet, I smelled like a salad.)  Moving on up, there’s the “natural shampoo” option, which is where my hair and I are currently living–very happily, I might add.  I’ve even dragged my husband and kids into the natural-shampoo zone and, I promise, we’re all very well adjusted.  Which reminds me: if you want to join us in natural shampooing, it will take some time for your hair to resume its natural balance of oils.  After that, it should be all smooth–and shiny–sailing.

In case you’re wondering what I mean by “natural shampoo,” I also like to call them “NO” shampoos.  (Really clears things up, doesn’t it?)  As an example, my current bottle of Shea Moisture’s Jamaican Black Castor Oil Shampoo has this list on its label: No Sulfates, No Parabens, No Phthalates, No Paraffin, No Propylene Glycol, No Mineral Oil, No Synthetic Fragrance, No DEA, and No Animal Testing (yay for this!).  All these negatives add up to a great big positive, if you ask me.

Oscar Keys

Image via Unsplash/Oscar Keys

Bad hair day. Don’t look at me.

Dry Shampoo for Oily Hair

In the past, I could not–I repeat, NOT–skip my daily shampooing.  Now, though, my hair loves its in-between washing days.  Nonetheless, if any surprise oils do crop up, I have another natural tool in my arsenal to deal with them: dry shampoo.  I work a small amount through any oily areas (moving from the scalp, outward) and brush it through my hair to blend.  Since dry shampoo can be costly, I’ve been making my own:

1/4 cup arrowroot powder or non-GMO cornstarch

1/2 TBSP colloidal (finely-ground) oatmeal (optional)

2 TBSP cocoa powder (optional–I use this to darken the powder for my brown hair; it can be left out for lighter hair)

5-10 drops lavender essential oil (optional–I use it for its fresh scent, but other skin/hair-safe essential oils can be substitued, such as peppermint)

Argan Oil for Dry or Frizzy Hair

Warning: a little goes a long way!  I keep some argan oil in a little spray bottle, scented with 5-10 drops of lavender (or peppermint) essential oil.  If my hair is frizzy or dry, I wet my hands a bit, spray a very, very small amount of the oil solution into the center of my palm, rub my hands together and then lightly pat my palms over any dry areas of my hair.  Keep in mind, though, my hair is curly-ish, so to avoid making straight hair look greasy, it might work better as a night-time, pre-wash treatment to bring the extra shine.

FreeImages.com-Ewerton Thomeu

Image via FreeImages.com/Ewerton Thomeu

Fight the Frizz!

More Hair, Now

Well, maybe not now, but soon.  In searching for ways to help thicken my fine air (and to help my husband’s hair regrow where it was thinning), I researched natural ingredients.  These are reputed to encourage hair growth and/or maintain the health of hair and scalp: castor oil (cold-pressed and cold-processed is best), rosemary essential oil (**NOT to be used by pregnant women, children, or those suffering from epilepsy or hypertension), lavender essential oil and dry nettle.

They can be mixed in a glass bottle (about 2 oz. castor oil, 5-10 drops each of rosemary and/or lavender essential oils, 5 or so capsules’ worth of dry nettle).  Gently massage a small amount into scalp, leave on for a while (overnight works well), and later shampoo from hair.  If it’s hard to remove, work in some conditioner first to loosen the heavy castor oil, before shampooing.  That’s it.  Easy, peasy.  After using it, my hair seems thicker and, as my husband’s barber, I can attest to seeing more hair where, previously, there had been less.  (*The Shea Moisture Jamaican Black Castor Oil Shampoo I mentioned earlier is also a great one for promoting hair growth–no, I’m not affiliated with the company.  I just love their products.)

Grow, grow, grow your hair….

Henna

Due to health concerns and the fact that chemical colorants don’t like my hair, I switched to coloring it with a combination of henna, indigo and amla powder.  I’ve been getting a lot of compliments on the color, which is a warm brown/auburn, and my hair is shinier than ever.  For more details on my henna experience, please check out my previous Henna Gabber blog post.

Image via Unsplash/Ashley Bean

The goal: hair zen.

So, there you have it, my tried-and-true methods for pampering my hair the best way I know how: naturally.

If you give any of these methods a try, it would be great to hear whether or not your hair falls in love.  (I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that it does!)  Also, if you have any other methods you’d like to share, it would be great to hear that, too!

 

**A FINAL NOTE ABOUT ESSENTIAL OILS: It is always best to check health warnings before using ANY essential oils and I NEVER recommend ingesting essential oils or applying it neat (undiluted) to the skin.  Use EXTREME caution when exposing children to any essential oils (diffusers, etc.) and NEVER use with children under two years of age.  Here’s a good post on essential oil use with children, in case you’d like to learn more: http://naturopathicpediatrics.com/2014/09/08/essential-oil-safety-danger-essential-oils-seizures-children/ and one for adults: http://www.aromaweb.com/articles/safety.asp

 

May 16

The Wisdom of Chickens

I love our chickens.  I do.  When we first got them, I expected to like them, but I really have come to love these funny, feathered little girls.  Not only that, they’re far more interesting and intelligent than I ever would have guessed.  Here are some life lessons I’ve learned while watching chickens:

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Beautiful baby

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  Awkward adolescents

Is someone genuinely pecking at you or simply trying to help rid you of gnats?  Know the difference.  On a particularly warm, muggy day, I noticed the girls were pecking at one another’s faces.  This concerned me for about half a minute, until I realized they were simply trying to keep the gnats away from each other’s eyes (and gain some bonus protein, to boot).

We all know it can become annoying to get unasked-for advice.  There is definitely a point where the gnat-pecking becomes more irritating than beneficial, but keep in mind that your helpers are essentially trying to chase away your problems.  If they have your best interests at heart, there may be some value to their pecking.  Chickens know the difference; I’ve seen the proof.

Avoid trouble makers whenever possible, but if you can’t hide out in a coop, puff up your chest and spread your wings.  Daisy is a lovely chicken, but she’s at the bottom of the pecking order in our little flock.  At least I think so.  On a couple of occasions, the other girls have given Daisy a hard time, so what does she do?  Avoid them.  She hangs out near the nesting boxes while they’re in the run area, or vice versa.  The extra space usually helps and, within a few days, the others have unstuck whatever’s in their craw and things are fine again.  Sometimes, though, Daisy turns the tables.  She’ll chase another hen to steal something yummy from its beak or she’ll be the first to confront our dogs if they get too close.  She may be mild, but our Daisy is a force to be reckoned with when she’s in the mood.

Avoiding trouble makers can be a useful tactic.  Cut them out of your life to whatever extent you can, detour around their drama whenever possible, and when there’s no room to take flight, go at ’em with head forward, chest puffed, and wings spread wide!

Stand up to those bold, rooster types.  I don’t have any stories to share here, simply because we don’t have any roosters.  Regardless, you and I both know the type: loud, bossy.  If they start flapping in your direction, let them know where you stand.  Flap your wings back, crow if you must.  Of course, some of these bold, rooster types may be trying to disguise some kind of deep-seated pain or insecurity.  If so, blustering back at them won’t help and it’s probably time to try a gentler hand.

Know when to coo and when to squawk.  Cooing is for friendly interactions, of course, for day-to-day small talk and the exchange of pleasantries.  When your needs just aren’t being met, however, you might have to do some squawking to be heard.  My girls coo at me every morning, when they’ve just woken up and come downstairs.  (They have a sort of modified-armoire/town house in the garage for overnight safety—yes, I’m an overprotective chicken mama.)  By mid-morning, however, they’re squawking loudly, insisting on being let out into the sunshine.  What can I say?  It works.

Keep things in perspective.  Chickens use one eye for distance, the other for close-up detail.  It’s important to pay attention to the finer details of life, but don’t forget to keep an eye on the big picture.  My girls can spot a tiny spider crawling over a blade of grass just as easily as they can locate a hawk circling high in the sky.  Both perspectives have value and it’s important not to neglect one for the other.

Don’t be afraid to try something new, it could turn out to be spaghetti.  Sometimes our girls get leftovers, but the day I dumped a small pile of spaghetti in their outdoor run, they gave it a, “What the…?” look.  Trust me, they did.  The stuff seemed to be a glorious collection of worms, maybe, but not quite….  Anyway, the first who was brave enough to try it, ended up with more yummy noodles than the others that morning.  Point is, you never know what you’re going to like.  Something that seems no better than a pile of worms could end up being delightful.

There is some flexibility in pecking order, but not much.  With chicks, pecking order squabbles begin at a very young age.  Some seem to be born leaders; others, followers.  That said, pecking order is not set in stone.  If you want to move up, go for it.  Just be prepared to fight your way there and be ready to fight to keep your spot.  Hmmm, maybe being in the middle isn’t so bad after all.

It’s perfectly fine to roost permanently on the lower rungs, but prepare to be dumped on occasionally by those on top.  Remember this, too: some of those roosting on the top rungs had to deal with somebody else’s crap before they could work their way up.  It’s all about what your goals are, what’s important to you.  Like I said, if you’re all right with remaining on a lower rung, there’s nothing at all wrong with that.  You just might want to scoot off to the side a bit.

If you happen to be a chick at the lower end of the pecking order, you still have options.  Let’s face it, if bullies sense weakness in another, they can become relentless.  So it is in the chicken world.  In my opinion, if you’re a picked-on chicken, maybe the best thing to do is give yourself some time to heal your wounds.  Then, preen your feathers, head out, and strike up some new friendships, either among those at your end of the pecking order or within another, gentler flock.

If you’re one of the leaders, you’d better lead well.  The survival and well being of the flock depends on the leaders.  If you’re at the top and see a chick shivering out in the cold, you’d better go and get it, so you can lead it back to warmth and companionship.  We all know the quote about power and responsibility and it’s a popular saying for good reason: it’s true.  The ones at the top should be setting the best examples.  Don’t look to the politicians on this one; the chickens have much better advice.

Stay low and spread the word at any sign of danger.  Lately, I’ve read of more than one attack happening upon an innocent victim in broad daylight, while bystanders stood by and did nothing.  Really?  Do something.  Avoid danger whenever you can, but when you can’t?  Spread the word, work as teams, defeat the danger!  There is strength in numbers and none of us should ever forget it.

Want to stay warm?  You’re going to have to get close to your neighbors.  Chickens cuddle up together when it’s cold at night and spread out again in the day’s warmth.  The lesson I take from this, is that while we should all be comfortable and content being individuals, there is warmth and safety in community.  We might not want to get overly close to everyone around us, but others have value.  Distancing ourselves too much from the flock can leave us vulnerable and out in the cold.

December 2013 009 - Copy

Violet and Daisy

Choose a partner who will protect you when predators move in for the attack.  You want a mate who has your back.  Roosters tend to have their ladies’ backs a little too literally, hence the need for chicken saddles.  Ouch.  I’m not referring to this (nor am I suggesting you seek such behavior in a partner).  What I do mean, is that a rooster will take on a much larger predator–with only his claws, spurs, and beak as weapons–in order to protect his feathered females.  Sure, this is the kind of bravery romance novels are made of, but in real life, shouldn’t you know your mate will be there when the going gets tough?  I think that’s when we all need our roosters most.

Remember who gives you your treats.  No pecking that one.  Enough said.

For the Mama Hen in all of us: Love your chicks equally, but treat them as individuals.  Also, show them how to survive, introduce them to the ways of the world, and then let them explore it on their own–all the while keeping one eye on them and the other on the lookout for hawks and foxes.  Above all, keep those babies safe and let them know they will always have a warm place by your side.  They’ll be happier chicks for it.

Go for what you want. No one’s going to offer you that worm.  Get in there.  Don’t wait by the sidelines, hoping someone will hand over your hopes and dreams.  Dart in, dash in, stride in boldly.  Grab hold of your goal.  Then, if someone tries to steal it from you, hang on tight and refuse to let go!

You are who you’ve been since hatch day (more or less).  Accept it and be happy.  Our hens might look almost identical to the average viewer, but I can tell them apart by sight.  Some are larger, some smaller; some have light feathers, others darker.  Some have small, neat combs, while others (Daisy) have permanent bed head or look like they’re wearing a punk-rock mohawk (Rosie).  These are observations, not judgments.  There is no body-shaming among our flock.  Not only do they vary in appearance, but they also have different personalities.  Rosie loves to chat and answers each time you ask her a question.  Daisy is quiet and sweet, though she happens to have a bad-a$$ looking rooster spur on one leg.  Hyacinth is quiet when you hold her, but the first to yell when she wants to go outside.  Violet, since her earliest days of life, has loved to sing.  She also, equally, adores long baths and attacking paper towels.  Honestly, if she spies a towel in your hand, she turns herself into a little golden ninja.

These girls are who they are and we love them each for it.  Too bad society hasn’t figured out this one yet.

bathing chickens 5 25 14 001  Violet, our bathing beauty

A final lesson I’ve learned from watching chickens: take care of yourself.  Rest well, eat healthy foods, enjoy the sunshine, and live life on chicken time whenever possible.  Our backyard chickens rise with the sun, spend the day eating, drinking, socializing and keeping an eye on one another.  As soon as it starts to get dark, they go up and tuck themselves into a cozy bed for the night.  Chicken time, chicken life.  It suits them well enough and, if you ask me, these are some wise chicks.

 

Do your pets have any wisdom to impart?  Go ahead, you can ask.  I won’t tell.  You’re more than welcome to comment with any personal insights into animal or human nature.  Or, if you just have a funny pet tale to tell, we’d love to hear it!  Bonus points for links to pet photos!

Christmas photos 2013 009

Hyacinth, Daisy, Rose, and Violet–the year we tried, unsuccessfully, to create an American Gothic-themed Christmas card

Apr 10

Sunday on the sofa

It’s Sunday here, April 10th, and the snow(!) from yesterday has melted.  While we wait for spring to return, we’re all doing a little relaxing indoors.  One of my dogs, Tess, a mixed-breed rescue (who was named–by my family–after my main character in My Watcher’s Eyes), seems to have made it into a science.  In fact, I’m starting to suspect she’s becoming a true couch potato and, quite possibly, spending her free time watching Seinfeld episodes when we’re not around….

20160409_190145    It might just be me, but I’d say she’s a George Costanza fan.

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Image courtesy of The Seinfeld Show (unable to find additional attribution)

I’m beginning to think it’s time for all of us to get up off the couch….  Snowy or not, I say we all go out and seize the spring!

Apr 05

Spring is here, no matter what the thermometer says!

It’s April 5th, so what did I wear to run the kids to their dental and orthodontic appointments this morning?  A lightweight cotton shirt, with another lightweight cotton shirt (okay, cardigan) on top.  It’s spring, damn it, and apparently I’m willing to suffer to prove it.  (Didn’t prove anything, by the way, except that I’m a really poor outfit planner.  I froze this morning.)

Yes, the thermometer read a balmy 26 degrees when I shivered my way into my car, but I refuse to believe I’m the one at fault.  Mother Nature, you seem to be a little confused, dear.  Please check the calendar and get back to us.

It may feel like winter out there, but I have pictures to prove otherwise:

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Baby plants, waiting patiently in their nursery for the big, bad Frost Monster to head North.  Plus, sunshine and blossoms.  Need I say more?

Maybe just this: please return our spring, Mother Nature.  We’ll be happy to accept, no questions asked.

 

Mar 27

Happy Easter from us and our bunnies!

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Hoping your spring blooms with good health and happiness!  xo

 

Mar 18

Fun Friday!

Since it’s another Fun Friday, thought I’d share a photo of one of my writing buddies….  We thought he was a Golden Retriever, but it turns out he’s an elusive, rarely-photographed Pillow Retriever.

Honestly. He’s waiting to go outside and he’s hoping I won’t notice he’s trying to take something with him.

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Hope you all have a Fun Friday and an even better weekend!  Take care!

 

Mar 07

Household Help

So.  When you ask your butler for a little extra help—what?  No butler?  All right, then surely your maid—no maid, either?  Oh good, then I don’t have to be jealous. 😉

Please, let me assure you, however, you do have household help.  We all do.

I’m referring to the everyday ingredients just sitting around your house, ready to pull double-duty to help you.  I’ve listed many of them below (and of course they’re in alphabetical order, because that’s how much I love my readers).  Each and every item on this list has its normal, everyday use (which I won’t bother mentioning), but also a myriad of others.  I’ve only listed some of the most useful-ish of uses and didn’t go into detail with them, because if I did, this blog post would be three hundred pages long.  Feel free to interpret the list as a jumping point, to dive off into Google-mania, should you choose.

Anda Ambrosini

Image via Unsplash/Anda Ambrosini

Activated Charcoal uses: teeth whitening, homemade eyeshadow/eyeliner (as I’ve shown in my homemade makeup tutorial), included in homemade deodorant recipes, a paste of this plus baking soda will draw out toxins from spider bites, bee stings, etc.  *Caution: can stain clothing and rough or porous surfaces

Aloe Vera uses: treat minor burns/sunburn and insect bites, facial moisturizer, including before and after shaving, help treat acne, scars and stretchmarks, wrinkles and other signs of aging

Aluminum Foil uses: remove tarnish from silverware (line pan, add 2 tsp salt and fill with cold water, let silverware soak for a few minutes, then rinse and dry), sharpen scissors by cutting several layers of foil, clean iron by running over foil, use beneath clothing when ironing to help release wrinkles, wrap paintbrushes in foil (or plastic wrap) and freeze until next use (defrost before using)

Apple Cider Vinegar uses: armpit detox (yes, you read that right!  Find the instructions here), post-shampoo hair rinse, facial toner, upset stomach soother, detoxifying bath, gargle for freshening breath or soothing a sore throat, remove warts by soaking a cotton ball in ACV and leaving on overnight (protect surrounding skin by coating in coconut or other heavy oil), fruit and vegetable wash, deodorizer, add a little dish soap to ACV to trap fruit flies

Baking Soda uses: soothing bath soak, make paste to scrub sinks, bathtubs, stainless steel surfaces or cookware without scratching, freshen carpets, add to washing machine to brighten clothing, use paste to help whiten teeth, deodorizer, gently exfoliate skin with a water/baking soda paste, combine with distilled white vinegar to unclog drains safely, make a paste to remove the itch from insect bites (can combine with activated charcoal)

Lotte Löhr

Image via Unsplash/Lotte Löhr

Banana peels uses: polish shoes, buff scratches in CDs to keep from skipping, soothe an itchy bug bite, bury pieces of peel in soil around plant bases to keep aphids away, buff teeth with the inside of a banana peel to whiten, dust plants with the inside of a banana peel—they’ll love the added potassium!

Beer uses: shampoo your hair with flat, warm beer, treat brown spots in your lawn by helping to kill fungi and feed nutrients to the grass, help remove stains from carpet, kill slugs in the garden, polish copper pots, catch fruit flies

Beeswax uses: make candles, lip balm, moisturizer, lotion bars, homemade mascara and/or salves, use it in place of other waxes to wax thread, make crayons, polish wood and countertops, make reusable food covers by coating cotton fabric, alternative to oils for household lubricant, waterproof shoes, help prevent rusting on tools

Bleach uses: sanitize items, clean wooden countertops and cutting boards, get rid of mold and mildew, add a little to the water holding cut flowers to keep them fresher

Castor Oil uses: encourage hair growth (massage some into scalp each day—if hard to remove when showering, work in conditioner, rinse, then shampoo as usual), soothe delicate skin under eyes (but keep away from eyes themselves), massage into skin to help relieve the pain of arthritis or sore muscles, apply to lips to moisturize (I use it as part of my homemade lip balm)

Aliis Sinisalu

Image via Unsplash/Aliis Sinisalu

Chocolate (the darker, the better) uses: help prevent cavities, promote health—heart health, fight depression, improve circulation, boost brain activity, increase good cholesterol, antioxidants help prevent cancer, stimulate insulin production and boost kidney health, also help reduce food cravings and, just to gild the lily, it’s also an aphrodisiac.  Really, though, do we need any of this to convince us to love chocolate?

Cinnamon uses: help promote health—anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, help lower cholesterol, boost brain function, simmer in water with citrus peels to scent your house, cinnamon tea can soothe your stomach *but don’t drink if pregnant!*, repel ants and moths–I’ve used it for ants and it worked wonderfully!

Citrus Fruits uses: polish copper with lemon juice or brass/aluminum with a paste of lemon juice and cream of tartar, lemon can be used to help remove lime scale and stains from sinks and faucets, soak citrus peels in vinegar/water cleaning solution (strain before using) to boost antibacterial powers, help clean laundry by adding to wash or scrubbing underarm stains with lemon juice/water solution, grind citrus peels through your garbage disposal to help clean it and remove odors, lemon juice will clean windows, an orange studded with cloves will bring a great scent to your home and will keep moths away if stored in a closet

Eggs uses: beat with olive oil and apply to hair once frothy, feed your dog a weekly scrambled egg to bring luster to its coat, whisk egg whites with some water to cleanse your face and tighten pores, or use the Vitamin A-rich yolks to wash face, whip up egg whites to clean leather and buff to a shine, cool the water after boiling eggs and give it to your plants, break up egg shells around the base of plants to deter slugs and other soft-bodied pests—tomatoes especially love the added calcium from such an eggshell treatment, compost egg shells or fill them with soil to use as seed starters

Epsom Salts uses: add to your bathwater to soothe aching muscles and help promote better sleep (your skin will absorb the magnesium), use a high concentration of Epsom salts to water as a soak to help remove a splinter, boost growth of roses or tomatoes by adding some to soil around base of plant, make a paste to clean tile and grout, paste will also reduce itchiness from bug bites and minor sunburns

Sonja Langford

Image via Unsplash/Sonja Langford

Honey uses: great for skin, use as a mask and rinse after ten minutes or dilute some in water and wash your face with it (manuka honey works especially well for facial washes), use it to make a hair mask or homemade shampoo, add some to your bath for a sweet-smelling, skin-softening soak, raw honey’s antibacterial properties help treat minor wounds as well as sore throats or dry coughs, locally-sourced raw honey can help lessen seasonal allergies, also helps alleviate nausea and indigestion.  As long as it isn’t contaminated by something else, honey never spoils!

Hydrogen Peroxide uses: disinfect small wounds *but only use once in the beginning—will kill off healthy skin cells with continued use, mix into a paste with baking soda to help whiten teeth  (watch for tooth sensitivity), disinfect toothbrushes, clean household surfaces, clean fruits and vegetables

Milk of Magnesia uses: homemade deodorant (no kidding!  Just apply and let dry) *just make sure your milk of magnesia only contains water and magnesium hydroxide, rather than added bleach/bleaching agent sodium hypochlorite*, balance oily skin, help prevent acne, help treat minor skin problems, such as sores and rashes,

Oatmeal uses: colloidal (finely ground) makes a great face powder, cooked and cooled oatmeal can prevent or treat acne, combine with honey for a soothing mask, add to bathwater to soothe your own or your pet’s skin

Oils (Coconut, Grapeseed, Olive, Sweet Almond, etc.) uses: great for moisturizing skin and making homemade skin products, but various oils have different properties, so it’s important to know which one is best for you.  Here are two resources to help you determine that: one and two

Peanut Butter uses: use in place of other oils as a household lubricant, disguise medications to give to pets (just ask my dogs how well this works), remove glue from hair, remove stickers from items, clean leather with it (my dogs would love this a little too much, however), use to shave if you run out of shaving cream!  I included that last one specifically for my cousin Jim, who once challenged me to find a use for peanut butter, after hearing of my milk of magnesia deodorant.  He probably won’t see this, but in case he does–Hi Jim!

Rubbing Alcohol uses: clean bathroom fixtures, help remove some stubborn laundry stains, remove stickers from items, can be used as a stand-in nail polish remover, clean windows

Sugar uses: making lovely sugar scrubs for skin, a dash of sugar in the mouth can help ease the pain of a burnt tongue or from spicy foods, feed cut flowers when combined with white vinegar, clean coffee grinders, etc., make a paste to rub into grass stains before laundering, trap pests like wasps, roaches and flies, and also helps feed the butterflies.  We love the butterflies!  We’ve had two injured butterflies join our family over the years and they would drink a sugar-water mixture right from the palm of our hands.

Morgan Sessions

Image via Unsplash/Morgan Sessions

Tea uses: tea leaves freshen carpets, brewed tea will help shine a wood floor or wooden furniture, tea leaves deodorize litter boxes, refrigerators, etc., wet/used tea bags soothe tired eyes or minor burns/sunburns and help dry out poison ivy rash, wash your face or bathe with green tea to nourish skin and help prevent acne, use a wet teabag to stop the bleeding from a lost tooth or to reduce bruising, brewed tea will add shine to hair, use in garden as fertilizer

Toothpaste uses: remove scuffs from shoes, polish irons and diamonds, prevent mirrors or goggles from fogging (wipe on, wipe off, Danielson), shine sinks and fixtures, remove crayon from walls and stains from clothing, remove water marks from wood furniture, treat blemishes, remove smells from hands

Vinegar uses: dilute with water (can also add citrus peels and strain solution) to make an antibacterial household cleaner, polish scissors, wipe down electronics, remove water marks from wood (wood ash will also do this), clean windows, remove carpet stains, brighten brickwork or woodwork, use as a fabric softener in your washing machine and a drying aid in your dishwasher, deodorize and polish surfaces, unclog drains (use with baking soda and hot water), clean coffee makers and other kitchen appliances, fight mold and mildew, help keep car windows frost free, help deter weeds (don’t get it near the plants you don’t want to annihilate, however)

Alice Donovan Rouse

Image via Unsplash/Alice Donovan Rouse

Wine uses: dye fabrics, soften skin, white wine will remove a red wine stain, clean kitchen surfaces (not granite!), remove grass stains, clean fruits and vegetables, promote heart health.  There must be one or two more uses for wine….  Oh, nevermind, I’m sure you’ll figure out something to do with it!

Witch Hazel uses: tighten pores, heal blemishes, shrink swollen varicose veins, help with bug bites and sunburns, help treat dandruff, soothe puffiness under eyes, treat and heal minor wounds or skin irritations

Yogurt uses: support immune system, fight yeast infections, soothe skin as mask treatment, help with digestive upset, soothe sores and sunburn pain

 

So there you have it, a list of some of our wonderful household helpers.  Just think of all the cleaning, pampering and healing we can do while we’re pining for our beloved Downton Abbey–maybe with a glass of red wine in one hand and a box of dark chocolates in the other?  For the health benefits, of course.  We may not have a Mr. Carson or a Mrs. Hughes to help us run things, but we certainly have our own cast of household helpers.  Ta-ta for now … it’s tea time here!

Have any household helpers you’d like to add?  Please share in the comments, because we’d love to hear about them!  Thanks for visiting!

 

Feb 17

From Coop to Nuts

I should make it clear from the start that this won’t be a true “soup to nuts” article on keeping chickens; the information is simply too vast to condense it here. However, I do think the title suits the subject. It can be read as either: owning chickens can drive you slightly nuts, or you may become absolutely nuts about your chickens.  For me, it’s a little of both.

Over two years ago, my family began raising four Buff Orpington chickens: Hyacinth, Daisy, Rose and Violet.  We call them our bouquet. Yes, we named them after flowers (and with a nod to a Brit-com from the 1990s called Keeping Up Appearances).  Although it took a while, we can now tell them apart.  Not only are their combs slightly different, but their personalities are also unique.  For instance, ever since her babyhood, Violet has enjoyed singing out her peeps very prettily.  As a chick, she used to steal bits of paper towel and run away screaming; now, she’s much more ninja-esque about the whole thing.  Hyacinth is usually quiet and peaceful, but occasionally she’ll let out a loud squawk or two.  It’s always a surprise.  Rosie loves to carry on a conversation and will happily answer nearly every time you speak.  Daisy, sweet Daisy, with her single rooster spur, is the largest and most docile of the bunch.  They can’t help but remind me of a group of darling, elderly ladies, with their love of a good chat and the way they tuck themselves in for an early bedtime each night.  These chickens are more than simply egg-layers, but I’m sure you’ve already guessed as much.

Like similar breeds (Australorps, Barred Rocks, etc.) we chose Orpingtons for the fact that they’re cold hardy, quiet and friendly.  Plus, we hoped their large size (7-8 lbs for adult hens) might deter our dogs and cat from becoming overly curious about these new, feathered family members.  That’s correct. I just called them family members.  They don’t live indoors with the rest of us, but our chickens can look forward to being here for the long haul: past the point of abundant egg-laying, they will be welcome to spend their days happily clucking about in our yard.

Though my family and I are–relatively speaking–newcomers to the world of backyard chickening, we’re hardly the first.  It seems we won’t be the last, either.  During the past decade, chickens apparently have been falling into favor and gracing backyards–from rural settings to urban lots–in increasingly greater frequency.  I must offer my public service announcement at this point and say I sincerely hope none of these new chicken owners have “pecked” off more than they can chew, so to speak.  Keeping chickens requires a fair amount of work and, barring predators and illness, they can live a decade or even longer.  I believe the Guinness World Record holder lived to be at least 22. Not only is that one dazzling feat of survival, it’s a long time in terms of daily chicken care, especially keeping in mind that most chickens experience a steady decline in their egg laying after the first couple of years. This brings me to the dark side of the surge in poultry popularity: large numbers of pet chickens are being abandoned, forced to become the problem of animal shelters already bursting at the seams.

Therefore, to anyone considering chicken ownership, please do just that: consider and consider and consider some more.  If, after all of your considering, you’re still interested, I hope you will do your research.  Veteran chicken owners may be happy to dole out sage advice.  Other resources include books, such as Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens, by Gail Damerow (2010), which was recommended by a friend and has been our chicken-raising lifeline.  The Internet, too, can provide a wealth of information, provided everything presented there is taken with a Rubik’s Cube-sized grain of salt.  Last, but in no way least, please check your local regulations (township, neighborhood, etc.) regarding the keeping of chickens.

As for my family’s chicken-keeping experience, our friends were right to warn us that it wouldn’t be easy.  At one-day old, our chicks arrived at our local post office in a cardboard delivery box, filling the entire room with their peeps.  We hurried them home to their waiting brooder, complete with water, starter feed, temperature gauge and a new, red brooding lamp. They ate, slept, made lots of little messes and overwhelmed us with their cuteness. They also grew and then grew some more.  Now adults, these chickens of ours still require daily care.  They sure do make yummy, mild, and sunny-colored eggs, though.

Aside from the care and the lovely eggs they produce, a lot can be said for a spending a quiet moment on a warm day with a chicken resting in your lap…or for witnessing their uniquely foul brand of entertainment.   I love to offer the girls a special treat now and then, just to see their excitement.  If it’s oatmeal I have, they stand around me, faces upturned like expectant little puppies; if it’s a tub of unsweetened applesauce, they dip their beaks, hurry to wipe them in the grass, realize they like the taste, then excitedly begin the ritual all over again.  I can’t help but laugh at their antics and, although I might sound a little strange to any passersby, I’m really just nuts about my chickens.

*Adapted from the original, which appeard in the 10/9/2013 issue of the Chester County Press

 

Feb 17

For the Love of Dandelions

I love dandelions. Maybe “love” is a strong word, but I really do like dandelions.  I’m also a fan of what they represent: a chemical-free lawn.

Unfortunately, I live in an area where many lawns are chemically treated and mine tends to stand out…especially at the height of dandelion season.  I bite my lip, duck my head a little and wait for it to pass.  Luckily, it’s fairly short-lived.

Image via Unsplash/Natalia Luchanko

Let me say, I’m not *quite* a tree hugger (yet) and I do appreciate the beauty of emerald-green lawns and well-manicured gardens.  On the other hand, I’m even fonder of the health of our planet, not to mention the well-being of my kids and pets.

Therefore, the question I pose is this: are all the acres of green carpet really worth it?

According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, “Homeowners use up to ten times more chemical pesticides per acre on their lawns than farmers use on crops, and they spend more per acre, on average, to maintain their lawns than farmers spend per agricultural acre.”  Likewise, a recent study by the U.S. Geological Survey found our environment to be riddled with pesticides. Roundup specifically was found in 75 percent of air and rain.

Why are all these chemicals necessary, again?  Oh right, the dreaded dandelions.

Then, for those of us with eco-concerns, what are the options for healthy and attractive lawns?  Luckily, there are several.

Go native.  That can be our new mantra.  Native plants and flowers (essentially those which occur naturally in a given area) require less care (hooray!) and are more resistant to local pests, thereby reducing or eliminating the need for pesticides.  Of equal importance, native plants meet the specific needs of native animals and native insects, thereby helping to keep nature in balance.  Makes sense, doesn’t it?

So, now that we’re thinking native, where do we start planting?  Well, we can consider devoting a portion of our yards to natural meadow, full of wildflowers and other native plants.  Once established, such meadows would be nearly maintenance free (again, hooray!) requiring only single, late-winter mowings.  As another option, we could dedicate a section of our yards to evergreen ground cover or a landscape element, such as a collection of trees, a rock garden or water feature.  Also, by maximizing the plants per area in garden spaces, we can reduce the need for mulch and weed control.  It’s a win for us and the environment!

Our lawns, too, can be made healthier, with some adjustments.  In terms of mowing, making sure the blade is sharp, raising it to one of its highest settings, and avoiding cutting in the heat of the day will protect grass from unnecessary damage and make it more pest and weed resistant.  Don’t scrap those grass clippings, either.  They can be spread over lawns to act as natural mulch.  Other lawn-friendly practices include fertilizing with composted manure and avoiding over-watering.  To earn additional earth kudos, we can try aerating the soil, balancing its pH and seeding it with a mix of the types of grasses best suited to the area.  I found a wealth of information regarding soil testing, etc. at Penn State’s site.

If, however, you are loyally devoted to using sprays and solutions, it’s best to opt for those with organic or biologically based formulas.  Remember, though, that the benefits of these treatments can be short-lived and are likely to increase your lawn’s problems over time.

Image via Unsplash/Jason Long

The choice is yours.  As for me, I’ll be staying chemical free and learning to embrace the inevitable weeds.  I may even try out a recipe for dandelion wine and, as long as my neighbors don’t mind picking their way through my au naturel lawn, they’ll be more than welcome to join me in a glass.  We can raise a toast to the environment, together.

*I based much of this article on information provided by the National Wildlife Federation, but there are countless resources out there, for homeowners whose brains are tinted slightly green, like mine.

*This originally appeared in the 4/6/2014 edition of The Chester County Press.