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  • Natural Cleaning Methods

    The smell of a clean house is something that should be associated with good things like cleanliness, health, and productivity.  Since I have come to discover the myriad of harmful chemicals contained in most store-bought cleaning products though, I now associate these smells with toxicity, respiratory problems and waste.  There are some wonderful ways to clean your house using all-natural non-toxic products you may already have in your kitchen.  Not only does this charge the house with a good clean energy, but it also is quite economical and resourceful.  I also love the ability to incorporate aromatherapy in to the cleaning.  Here are some of my favorite homemade cleaning products:

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    Counter: Simply mix up a mixture of distilled water (or boiled and cooled) and essential oils with antibacterial properties in a spray bottle.  I am always saving old spray bottles for this purpose.  My favorite mixture for the kitchen is water with tea tree, lemon and grapefruit.  I also like the mixture of peppermint and vanilla or of lemongrass and coriander.  The bonus to this cleaner is you don’t have to worry when spraying near food or on a surface that you might later make a sandwich on.

    Foaming Hand Soap: Using an old foaming hand soap dispenser, add about two tablespoon of castile soap and a teaspoon of oil (almond, olive or jojoba all work well) to distilled water.  Be sure to add the soap and oil after the water so it doesn’t get all bubbly.  Drop in about 15 drops of essential oil of your choice.  I initially bought foaming hand soaps at Whole Foods and used the bottles to make a homemade mixture once these ran out but you could also buy empty foaming soap dispensers.

    Floors (wood or tile): In a bucket mix a couple gallons of hot water with a generous squirt of Dr. Bronner’s (or any castile) soap, along with essential oils (about 30 drops) of your choice.  I really like to use the peppermint castile soap and change the essential oils depending on the season/mood.  One of my favorite mixtures is Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap with tea tree, lemon, eucalyptus and cinnamon essentials oils added to the water.  If floors are greasy or you need to cut scum, ¼ cup of distilled white vinegar can be used instead of the castile soap but don’t do this too often or you may strip the wood floors of the wax or oils they are coated with.  And do not mix the castile soap with vinegar.  They will essentially cancel each other out.  You can read more about that here if you’re interested in the details.  A little bit of olive oil added to the floor washing will help seal and shine wood floors.  Sometimes I like to rotate cleaning with castile soap, then vinegar, then oil on different weeks.

    Disinfecting: Spray hydrogen peroxide (an effective bleach alternative) on surface .  It also whitens and helps remove stains, especially in grout.

    Mirrors/windows: Use a mixture of distilled white vinegar and water (approximately one quarter cup of vinegar to each gallon of water).  I keep one pre-mixed in a large household spray bottle.  Just spray and wipe.  I have found that using old newspaper or making use of the flyers that come in the mail in place of paper towels works really well for preventing streaks and reducing waste.

    Carpet deodorizer: Sprinkle baking soda on rugs and carpets before vacuuming.  The baking soda can be left on the rugs overnight for extra freshening.  This could also be used on cloth furniture to combat odors.

    Bathtub/shower/sink: Squirt a generous dollop of Dr. Bronner’s soap across the surfaces, and then sprinkle with baking soda.  Scour away.  The baking soda has a mild abrasive action.  The thing I like about this mixture is that these two things are often ingredients I put in homemade baths so if any gets left behind, it’s no problem at all.  If you have areas of mold or mildew growth, spray undiluted white vinegar on the areas and wipe after fifteen minutes or so.  Baking soda will help if you need scrubbing action.

    Toilets: To wipe the rims, I just use a simple mixture of peppermint and a generous amount of tea tree oil with distilled water.  My homemade disposable baby wipes actually do this job really well too in between cleanings.  For the basin, scrub with Dr. Bronner’s soap mixed in a small squirt bottle with distilled water and lots of tea tree oil.  Again, the added benefit here is if the cat ends up drinking from it later, she is safe.  Or at least only threatened by Chief’s disgust, hee hee.  I also like to put a few drops of a favorite essential oil inside the toilet paper tube to freshen the bathroom without chemicals.  The toilet could be sprayed with hydrogen peroxide and then wiped for further disinfecting.

    Litter box: Remove the litter and spray with the same solution used for toilets above (a mixture of peppermint and tea tree oil with distilled water).

    That pretty much covers all the surfaces in your house!  To summarize, I have created a shopping list below:

    • Distilled white vinegar
    • Castile soap
    • Hydrogen peroxide
    • Baking soda
    • Essential oils.  Refer to the aromatherapy post for a more detailed list but great, inexpensive ones to start with for cleaning are as follows: peppermint, tea tree, clove, lemon and eucalyptus
    • Household spray bottles
    • Oil (olive or almond)

     

     

  • Cloth Diapering: An Introduction

    There are a million blog posts about cloth diapering (and plenty of blogs devoted entirely to them) but I will add my two cents worth so that I can refer people to my post or in case I have an insight that has not been captured before.

    When most people think of cloth diapers, they think of the old-fashioned prefolds or flats. While those are still an option, cloth diapers have come a really long way and are as easy to use as disposables – no pins or wet pails needed.  I’ll give a feel for the flavor of the new cloth diapers and help you decide how to go about purchasing, caring for and troubleshooting possible problems with the diapers.

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    My reasons for cloth diapering

    I have found that with anything you do with parenting or life choices, you can justify it one way or another.  Many people will look at you like you’re crazy when you mention you are cloth diapering.  Like anything that is worthwhile or isn’t “convenient” or part of our throwaway culture, it requires you to put in a little bit of  time/mental investment up front but then quickly becomes part of your routine.  I promise it’s a lot easier than you think has the potential to leave you feeling good about your choice.  I don’t think anyone “feels good” about disposable diapers.

    I decided that I wanted to cloth diaper even before I knew I was pregnant. My reasons for wanting to do it were pretty simple.

    • Environmental impact.   I could look up a statistic that says how many pounds of diapers are thrown away in the average year or for the average baby and how long they take to decompose (500 years!!) but anyone who has used disposable diapers for a week is aware of this impact.  Besides the amount that ends up in landfills, there is also the amount that ends up in our weekly trash.   Which brings me to my next point…
    • Rubbish generated. We work hard to only create one tiny bag of trash in our house on a weekly basis by recycling, composting and trying to minimize our consumption.  It is a source of pride for us and I don’t want it to go away just because we had a baby.
    • Built to last.  I don’t like anything that is made for a one-time use. I like things that are well constructed and can be used over and over.  Most of today’s cloth diapers come with adjustable sizing and will fit a baby from 8-35 pounds (that’s from birth through to potty training!).
    • Economics.  Especially if you plan to have more than one child, the economics of cloth diapers wins.   There are many different options and I’m sure you can crunch the numbers yourself.  In our case, we purchased 24 cloth diapers to last the duration of our baby’s time in diapers.  We bought fairly “fancy” ones so our entire stash was about $500.  Detergent and electricity could be factored in but if a child goes through about 8 diapers per day and diapers cost an average of 30 cents each, that’s already nearly $1000 in the first year, not to mention wipes.  We do cloth wipes since we are doing the cloth diapers so we save money there too.
    • Less toxins and chemicals in contact with baby. The ingredients put in to disposable diapers (dioxins, VOC’s, sodium polyacrylate, fragrance) to absorb and wick and dye and advertise Disney and Sesame Street characters makes me a little nervous.
    • Eliminates errands.  I can’t stand shopping or running to places like Target, etc. It cuts in to my creative time or time that could be better spent with my baby.  I love that we never have to run out to pick up diapers or wipes in the middle of the night or on a nice day.  Avoiding these stores also means spending less money on stupid crap you don’t need that you never would have  bought if you hadn’t gone to the store.
    • Contain “blowouts” and smell.  The few times I have had to use disposable diapers I have noticed the baby becomes a lot stinkier after having a poo in the disposables and some of the poo gets dangerously close to exiting the diaper and getting all over the clothes.  I have never had a blowout in my cloth diapers.
    • Helps prevent diaper rash.  Anecdotally I have heard that cloth diapers can help with diaper rash issues and some people use them because of sensitivities their little ones have to the plethora of chemicals used in disposable diapers.  I have not really encountered diaper rash but also haven’t used disposables for an appreciable amount of time to determine if they happen more often in disposables.
    • Expedites potty training  I’ll update my thoughts on this when my baby gets older but I have heard that the child is more aware of the correlation between going to the bathroom and an uncomfortable wetness so can ask to use the toilet earlier.
    • They’re cute!  Today’s cloth diapers come in really fun patterns and colors and leave your babe with a really fluffy little mushroom butt.  For girls, cloth diapers can be used as little bloomers and both genders look cute in just their diapers, especially when the mercury rises or they saturate any shirt they wear in drool.
    • They hold their value  Believe it or not, cloth diapers actually fetch pretty good values on sites like Craigslist so if you are done with them, you can sell them or pass them on to a friend who is interested in trying cloth diapers.

    Decisions to make if you decide to cloth diaper

    • Brand  Of course you can make up a stash of all different types but I chose to go with all one brand – bumGenius by Cotton Babies.  I don’t have nearly the experience as these blogs devoted to cloth diapers and simply went with the recommendation of a few other mommas I had trusted to have done their research.
    • Type You can generally choose between All-in-One’s (or AOI’s as they’re often called) or those that require stuffing with an insert (pocket diapers). Today’s cloth diapers generally have a cover or outershell often in a poly blend (the cloth diaper lingo usually refers to this as calls it PUL for PolyUrethane Laminate) and then have absorbent inserts that catch the poos and wees.  The AOI’s have these inserts sewn in whereas the pocket diapers need to be stuffed with an insert.  If you go with the type that require stuffing, there are different types of inserts you can use (e.g. hemp, bamboo, cotton, microfiber terry).  Moms seem to be pretty divided about which one they are loyal to and I’m still not sure which one I prefer.  I have made a list of the pros and cons below if you are more interested in pursuing that.
    • How many  The more diapers you have, the less things seem like an emergency at times.  I bought 24 diapers which equates to diaper laundry every other day – the same that is recommended by the manufacturers.  At the newborn stage, babies can soil up to 12 diapers per day.  Now, at the 4-month mark she generally goes through about 8 diapers per day but the extra diapers allow for long drying times on particularly cold or damp days.  The diapers generally need to be line dried.  I would say to err on the side of too few as you start.  You can ease in to it and see what you like.  They also put out limited edition prints and you may want to acquire some of these and will feel less guilty about it if you need to add to your stash anyway.  I also didn’t know the gender of the baby prior to the birth so wanted to get some pink ones after I found out it was a girl!  I used disposables for the first month just because my baby was under 7 pounds and because I wanted diapers that had a cutout for the umbilical cord, not to mention the first month after a baby’s arrival is a bit overwhelming.  That gave me a chance to slowly build up to the cloth diapers and get used to them.

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    Pocket Diapers vs. All-in-One’s

    The bumGenius brand calls their All-in-Ones (AOI’s) their Freetime diaper.  These diapers have the insert sewn in and the beauty of these is they give a little bit of extra free time (as the name implies) since stuffing them is not required. There are a few drawbacks to them though. The first is drying time. I find they can sometimes take quite a bit of time to dry in cold or damp air which can be kind of frustrating. On a hot sunny summer day they will dry in a few hours though.   The pocket diapers (called 4.0 by bumGenius) can have their inserts tumble dried and the covers dry quite quickly.  The other drawback to the Freetimes is that they can be a bit difficult to clean. I have not experienced this too much myself yet since my baby is still exclusively on breast milk (which is water soluble and doesn’t require pre-rinsing). The final drawback is that you don’t have the option to stuff them with an insert other than the type sewn in which is a terry microfiber for bumGenius brand.  On days it’s hot and sunny and I’m short on time, I love my Freetimes.  On days it’s cold or damp or I really want to use my hemp or bamboo inserts, I love the 4.0’s.  There isn’t a clear winner to me.

    Caring for cloth diapers

    My routine for caring for the cloth diapers is pretty simple. When the diapers first arrive, you need to wash them a couple of times. Then, when the baby is just on breast milk, the diapers don’t require any rinsing. This will make you a little nervous at first but, trust me, it’s a blessing and enjoy this poop honeymoon.  Once the baby starts on solids or formula, they need to be rinsed before being put in to the washer machine.  BumGenius makes a really nice sprayer that can attach to the back of your toilet which makes this job a lot easier.  I also love the SprayPal for particularly messy ones.

    I put the dirty diapers in to a dry pail (i.e. don’t require soaking in a bucket like the old generation did).  I have a wet/dry bag from Planet Wise so I just keep that hanging next to the changing table and this can be thrown in to the washer machine with the diapers.  It’s also nice for daycare when you want to bring some clean, dry diapers in the front zippered pouch and then the soiled ones can be put in to the wet portion and be taken home to get washed.

    I do cloth diaper laundry every other day and then hang them to dry in the sun whenever possible.  We don’t have a clothesline so I just use a drying rack.  I use bumGenius detergent but Ecos Free and Clear can be acquired commercially and I have also heard good things about Charlie’s Soap and Rockin’ Green.  Each time you wash the diapers, they should first go through a prewash in cold water.  Then they need to be washed on a regular cycle in hot water with an extra rinse.

    Things about cloth diapers that they tell you but you may ignore. Don’t ignore them!

    I did have a couple stumbling blocks along the way so I’ll share those with you now…

    • Wash with one of the detergents specified by the manufacturer. I tried washing mine with what I thought was an “even better solution” with nice natural ingredients but even some of these “good” ingredients with oils, etc. can build up on the diaper and cause stink issues.  You will need a detergent with no enzymes, softeners, brighteners, fragrances, oils, etc.
    • Do not tumble dry them. Doing so may eventually lead to wear and tear issues in the PUL and cause leaking.  You can use a low heat in a pinch and sometimes I throw them in for a few minutes if they have been drying outside to make sure any debris or bugs are removed.
    • Do not use diaper creams. There are some that can be used with cloth diapers (or can be made). If you use commercial creams, they may build up on the diapers and cause stink issues or will cause the fabric to repel water and cause leaks.  I have tried making some of my own but am still tweaking the recipe.  California Baby brand seems to work pretty well and is considered “cloth diaper safe”.
    • Use sunshine to clean the diapers.  They will tell you to line dry them in the sun which you may read to simply line dry them.  Putting the diapers in the sun actually gets out the stains and sanitizes them though.  Apparently sun will bleach all organic stains.  You can almost see it happening in front of your eyes.
    • Strip the diapers if you develop stink or buildup issues.  The manufacturer will have very specific directions for how to do this.  In my case, I really hesitated because it was using Dawn detergent and that just seemed wrong in my little granola heart but that is what works.  Again, there are whole websites devoted to this kind of thing but you will find them if you run in to the issue.

    In a nutshell, cloth diapers are easy to use.  You can buy ones that function just like a disposable and simply wash them every other day with the right soap and line dry them.  You could potentially save thousands of dollars and keep your baby in a diaper you feel really good about.

  • The Present Moment

    You wish you could complete a sleep cycle but embedded in your dreams is the certain knowledge that she will be awake at any moment.
    You hear her cry and pull her in to the bed hoping she’ll mimic your still body and closed eyes. You know your attempts are futile though.
    You bundle her up and try to race out of the dark house to prevent waking up her siblings – more futility.
    You push her along the sidewalk and over bridges and start chatting to her like the baby books say to do, telling her about what you are seeing.
    But even though you only met her a few months ago, you know her and are aware that, like you, companionable silence is preferable to her at this time of day.

    This is it. The present moment. And you are there.

    Simple wonders of the world that have always been there unnoticed become a part of your day.
    The half moon sets over the hillside while the dawn breaks in the east and bathes the craggy peaks in rose as it always does.
    But today you think about how different your life was even just one week ago when you watched the full moon set another beautiful and sleepless morning.
    You remember how you felt excited and nervous about something this week and now today, you look back courageous and confident and nervous and excited about a new thing next week.
    You think about how, like the moon, you experience everything from new and empty to full and bright within a month and yet nothing about it has ever changed, just your vantage point.

    You arrive at the beach and think about how last time you were here you were pregnant – a solstice and a lifetime ago.
    You park the baby with the sun rising behind her over the Pacific Ocean and pull out your phone to take a picture.
    Your phone unexpectedly powers off, maybe due to the cold morning. You are momentarily upset you couldn’t capture the moment and then you realize that you are thankful.

    Because the moment you are experiencing cannot be captured with a shitty phone photo.

    The photo couldn’t capture the smell of woodburning fires in the salty sea air or the smell of your creamy new baby that forever fills your nostrils.

    The photo couldn’t capture the feel of nutrient dense food consumed with family and made with love during this holiday that fills your belly and soothes your nerves.

    The photo couldn’t capture the sound of the ocean waves and the happy gulls.

    The feeling cannot be summarized with a hashtag.

    You have all these thoughts and worry you won’t be able to remember them because of your “mommy brain,” a term you’ve always disliked because it implies a loss of intelligence, something that you have always prized.

    But you have come to realize that all that forgetfullness provides is amplification of the present moment and the rest of the world falls away in to the background. And you’re more than OK with that.

    You realize that a lack of sleep has brought you the gift of experiencing something you normally would have snoozed right through.

    She has drifted back to sleep in her stroller and so you gun for the coffee shop, eager to record your thoughts.

    Once again, you know in your heart that when the wheels stop and you step in to the warmth, she will wake up.

    So you sit down with your cappucino and a pen and as soon as you scribble the first word, she awakens and begins to stir and fuss.

    And so you write and you jiggle her on your knee and you burn your tongue as you drink quickly, thankful for another day to experience life and exercise your creativity. Because create you did.

  • Cloth Baby Wipes System

    I decided early in my pregnancy that I wanted to do cloth diapering.  Chief was very supportive of my plan, even though a few others looked at me like I was crazy.  That made me nervous, but after speaking to a few mommas that were cloth diapering and reading various blogs, the most common sentiment that I heard was that it was a lot easier than most people think.  Most moms who began cloth diapering after the first child or when their child was older only wish they would have started earlier.  I have been loving it thus far.  It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to do cloth diapering and then have wipes that need disposing of though, so here I have a recipe for cloth wipes that can just be thrown in the wet bag and washed with the diapers.

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    Even if you don’t cloth diaper, these wipes could also be used to wipe up a child’s face or body.  And, let’s be honest…I admit that sometimes a quick scrub to myself with these in the morning is the closest I get to a shower before I head out of the house!  I also like using these wipes to get in to the little rolls of chub that milk likes to get stuck in.

    I watched a number of YouTube videos and read a number of blogs and then did some trial and error to come up with my favorite method and recipe for these wipes.  I made my own video here.  As with all these kitchen beautician recipes, don’t become hung up on acquiring exactly what is listed but just jump in and do a few tests with whatever you have on hand and I promise you it will quickly become second nature and you’ll find your own tweaks that you’re happy with.

    Cloth wipes

    First of all, you will need wipes.  I ended up buying some unbleached organic cotton ones from OsoCozy.  A number of other moms just used cut up old t-shirts or receiving blankets so you could do that if you want to save money or if you are handier with a sewing machine than I am.  I usually fill the wipes warmer with about 30 wipes but you could do less depending on how often you need them.

    Solution

    There are a lot of recipes out there but my favorite mixture is below:

    • Boiled then cooled water (or distilled water)
    • 2 Tbsp. coconut oil
    • 1 Tbsp. castile soap (I use Dr. Bronner’s unscented)
    • 1 Tbsp. witch hazel
    • 1 Tbsp. aloe vera gel
    • 10 drops essential oils.  My favorite is a mixture of tea tree, lavender, and vanilla essential oils.  Other good options are chamomile or tangerine.  You could also make a big batch of chamomile tea with the boiled water to incorporate it that way.

    I think the water and oil are the two most crucial ingredients because they are what really clean and soften the skin, respectively.  Coconut oil could always be substituted with almond oil, grapeseed oil, olive oil, or whatever else you have on hand.  Go ahead and try a batch with just these two things if you need time to acquire the other items listed in the recipe.  The witch hazel adds astringent properties and the aloe vera gel soothes skin.  The essential oils provide a nice scent, allow for the incorporation of aromatherapy and many have antibacterial and antifungal properties.  Baby shampoo could be substituted for the castile soap.

    Method

    You could also use distilled water but I usually just boil a full teapot of water when making my tea or coffee in the morning and then set the unused water aside.  Boiling it will ensure you have killed any bacteria that could foster mold growth, etc.

    In a large bowl or casserole dish, I put in the oil, castile soap, witch hazel and aloe vera gel and then pour the warm water over it.  I then drop in the essential oils.

    On other blogs or videos I watched, moms rolled up their little cloth wipes.  Bless them but I really don’t have the time to spare.  I just fold mine in half and it takes about 1 extra minute for every load of laundry.

    I take the stacks of folded wipes and dip them in to the solution until they are saturated but then squeeze them out so they are wet but not dripping.  You generally don’t want them too wet or baby’s bottom will stay wet after wiping and could result in yeast, etc.

    I then place mine in a special wipes warmer made for cloth wipes and I really love it.  It is by Prince Lionheart*.  I know that wipes warmers aren’t really necessary but it’s kind of a nice treat and my little one loves having her diaper changed.  I like the way it opens up fully and the wipe doesn’t need to be pulled through an opening.  It’s very easy to do one handed.  I have heard of some other ones that work well for cloth wipes including the OXO brand, but haven’t tried it so I can’t speak to it.

    For travel, I place about 5 wipes in to a Buti-pod that I really like.  Again, as a mom it’s nice to have little emergency showers in your handbag!

    If there is any extra solution left in the dish you dunked the wipes in, you can set it aside and add it to the next bath.  Another option is to put it in to one of the perineal irrigation bottles you might have leftover from your delivery.  These things are the best for a number or purposes.  I sometimes use it to soak cotton balls that I use to clean in crevices or you can squirt the solution on to a dry cloth wipe and wipe baby up that way.

    That’s it!  It sounds like a lot but, as you can see from my video, each batch takes about three minutes to make once you get the hang of it.  It’s so nice not having to buy wipes and not even needing a rubbish bin in the nursery.

    * As far as cleaning your Prince Lionheart warmer, I wipe it out every time I change out the wipes.  I remove the Everfresh replacement pillow, rinse it and wring it out.  While it is removed, I spray the inside of the warmer with a vinegar and water solution and wipe it out.  The replacement pillow needs to be replaced once every three months.

  • Aromatherapy: An Introduction

    Aromatherapy is a way to incorporate essential oils to promote physical or psychological healing using our sense of smell.  Essential oils are the concentrated liquid portion of aromatic plants.  Aromatherapy can be used to inspire or maintain moods, aid in pain relief, correct conditions or influence performance and productivity.  In this post, I’ll give some ideas about some simple and versatile oils to buy if you’re just starting your collection and easy ways to use them.

    I think the sense of smell is one of the most underutilized senses.  Other animals rely upon it so heavily but humans tend to think of it more like an accessory.  Aromatherapy is a simple way for us to boost this sense.

    How Aromatherapy Works

    The sense of smell is special because it is so often associated with the formation of memories and can instantly transport us back to how we felt at a certain time and place.  The reason this happens is the same reason that aromatherapy works.  Our olfactory nerves are located very close to both the amygdala and the hippocampus in our brains.  The amygdala processes emotion and the hippocampus is the area of our brain responsible for associative learning.  Each time we smell something new (which happens the highest concentration of times in our childhood) we begin to associate that certain smell with a particular person, place, or memory.

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    There are many ways to incorporate aromatherapy in to your life.   Essential oils can simply be inhaled or massaged (diluted) in to the skin for their healing properties.   Other ideas are below.

    Ways to Incorporate Aromatherapy

    Aromatherapy diffuser: These come in a variety of forms but my favorite one is this one that dissipates the oil with a fine mist of water.  You can also find ones that you light a tea candle underneath.  These are nice but you have to watch them closely so they don’t boil over.  You can also diffuse the scent in to the room by using a lamp ring (works especially well if you’re studying or working at a desk) or by sprinkling some essential oil on logs before you light a fire.

    Household cleaning: Essential oils can be incorporated in to natural cleaning products to make your home smell good as you freshen and cleanse it.  I’m working on a post about natural cleaners, but essential oils can be mixed with water as a counter spray or dropped in to a bucket with the mopping water.

    Personal Care:

    Aromatherapy can be incorporated in to any personal beauty or maintenance product you use as you’ll notice in almost all my kitchen beautician recipes.

    • Skin moisturizer: Try mixing a few drops of essential oil with organic fragrance-free body lotion like I talked about in the travel post.
    • Face masks: Included on this site are kitchen beautician recipes with a little bit of essential oil including the hydrating oatmeal banana mask, and a pumpkin facial for glowing skin.
    • Body scrubs: I have a few body scrub recipes I love including the tropical vanilla hydrating scrub with vanilla and bergamot essential oil and the epsom salt and ginger scrub with lime and ginger essential oils.
    • Body powder: Check out this recipe to make your own body powder.
    • Baths: Most of the bath recipes I have on this site (like the rose petal, spirulina sea salt detox, oatmeal milk and honey, drunken red wine baths) contain some essential oils.  Be mindful that if you have sensitive skin, some oils might irritate it, especially in the bath.  I love oils of bergamot (and other citrus scents), cinnamon, and peppermint but have found that these are better inhaled as they can be irritating to the skin.
    • Facial cleanser: I really like incorporating a couple drops of essential oil in to the oil cleansing method or using a few drops with witch hazel or rose water as a toner.  Rose, vanilla, carrot seed, or geranium oils are good choices.  A little bit of tea tree oil can help acneic skin.
    • Facial steam: Steaming your face using a towel as a tent over your head with a few essential oils can really open up the pores or can help during times of congestion.  I talk about this in my post on eucalyptus oil.
    • Massage: If you would like to use it in massage, try mixing it with almond oil or coconut oil for a nourishing skin treatment.  Don’t forget that giving a massage to someone with aromatherapy will provide the same benefits for you!  I love giving my baby a massage with jojoba oil mixed with a few drops of vanilla after her bath.

    Wellness: Essential oils can help during times of sickness to alleviate symptoms and help you feel better.  Some of the oils like cajeput, peppermint, and ginger specifically work really well on sore muscles or a congested body.  Most essential oils are naturally antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral and can help keep your skin and home healthy.  Try adding a few drops of eucalyptus oil in a humidifier if suffering from a cough or congestion.

    Aromatherapy Benefits

    If you are just starting out with aromatherapy, sometimes the decision about which oils to purchase can be overwhelming so I’ve listed some of the basics both by mood a person is trying to achieve or just a good starter kit to make a lot of different types of blends with fairly inexpensive oils.

    Uplifting: bergamot, tangerine, grapefruit, vanilla

    Activating: lemon, lime, rosemary

    Strengthening: cedarwood, rose

    Warming: clove, cinnamon, nutmeg

    Sensual: ylang ylang, geranium, vanilla, patchouli

    Replenishing: eucalyptus, peppermint, carrot seed

    Meditative: sandalwood, frankincense, clove

    Balancing: clary sage, ginger, rose, geranium

    Relaxing: lavender, geranium, wild chamomile

    Recommended Starter Kit:

    Included in this starter kit are a list of inexpensive (with the exception of chamomile and vanilla) essential oils that will allow you to incorporate all the different types of benefits and properties of essential oils.  The vanilla and the rose oils often come blended in a jojoba carrier so they can be applied directly to the skin but are quite expensive.  I have always liked the Aura Cacia brand and it is easy to find in most natural health or grocery stores or on Amazon.  I also really like Mountain Rose Herbs and is one of the only places I have been able to find undiluted rose and vanilla essential oils.

    • Peppermint
    • Eucalyptus
    • Lavender
    • Grapefruit
    • Tea tree
    • Lemon
    • Ylang ylang
    • Geranium
    • Tangerine
    • Vanilla
    • Rosemary
    • Cedarwood
    • Rose absolute
    • Chamomile

    References

    I really like the AuraCacia app that is available for iPad.  It gives lots of ideas for recipes, talks about the properties of many oils, and says what it mixes well with.

    The Mountain Rose Herbs website is great for listing the origin of essential oils, properties, uses, contradictions and indications on what blends well together.

  • Celebrating a Mother’s Love

    In a few days, I will celebrate my first Mother’s Day. Because I became a mother 5 weeks ago, this one will be different for me. I expected motherhood would bring me feelings of deep love for my baby, but I didn’t expect to reflect so much on how much my mother must have loved me. I have come to realize this ferocious collective love for our children is what makes this world go round.

    Someone cared immensely for each and every one of us in these early days. Without that love and surrender, none of us would have survived, let alone thrived. So this week I celebrate not really what it means to be a mother, but what it means to have been someone’s infant. No matter the state of your relationship today or your perceived shortcomings, once upon a time your mother cried happy tears because of the miracle you represented.

    Pregnancy has its well-known aches and pains but when I was carrying my child, it didn’t feel like a sacrifice. It simply seemed like a long voyage to a promised land. Until I experienced it, though, I never appreciated the fact that my mother went through the very same things I did when she was pregnant with me.

    She decided she wanted me. She asked my dad about having another baby. She tried to get pregnant and spent days or weeks wondering “Am I?”. She analyzed herself physically, trying to determine if she felt different. It’s likely she had constant heartburn and nausea and uncomfortable sleepless nights and cramping and hip pain and peed at least two times every waking hour. She wondered if everything she was feeling was normal and worried about miscarriage. She wondered if I would be healthy. She wondered if I would be a boy or girl. She wondered if I would be like her or my dad or neither.

    She spent weeks wondering when labor would start. She went through childbirth. Her heart burst open when a wet baby emerged from her. I know she felt the same joy I felt when we found out our baby was a daughter. She probably felt relief at no longer being pregnant, only to then remember being a lactating mother isn’t any easier.

    She went home from the hospital, on a high from witnessing this miracle while on the brink of deliriousness from lack of sleep, sore and vulnerable and still expectant even though I had arrived. She put her ear to my mouth to make sure I was breathing many times.

    She learned how I signaled hunger. She learned how to make me stop crying. She fed me every 2-3 hours around the clock for the entire first few months of my life. She figured out how I liked to be carried. She left me for the first time for a few hours (like I have done today with my daughter, writing this from a coffee shop). Like me, she probably felt a mixture of guilt and elation at being by herself and she probably missed me intensely like I am missing my daughter right now.

    She watched my face in the middle of the night, singing silly made-up songs like I sing, and wondering when my eyes would close. She wondered if she was doing it right. She figured out how to juggle work and mothering. She wondered who I would become. And most of all, she wondered if I would always be safe. She hoped she had given me the tools to take care of myself one day.

    She never knew if I was going to sleep for 5 minutes or 5 hours and couldn’t plan anything. She wished that, more than anything, someone would come pick up the kids and give her a break so she could just chill and be alone with her thoughts for an hour or two. She wished we would just not bother her for a little bit, not to be lazy but just long enough to get some food on the table for us after a long day at work. I never knew any of this until a few weeks ago. I just always assumed it was easy for her. Loving us was easy but caring for us had its challenges.

    When a baby grows inside you, you feel like he or she is always connected to you. The umbilical cord gets cut but it feels like there is forever an invisible cord tugging on your heart. Because you sheltered this little soul, you somehow feel responsible for her fate. Nearly every person in this world has a mother that feels this way. You were that person to your mother.

    I think the best gift we can give our mothers is simply acknowledging how much they loved us. Thanks for loving me, Mom.

  • Energy Bars Recipe

    I like these all-natural energy bars because they only contain a few easy-to-find ingredients and allow you to get protein and a burst of simple sugar while also satisfying a chocolate craving.  They’re great to have during endurance training or when setting off on a hike or bike ride.  The recipe below calls for cocoa but use carob powder instead if you are sensitive to the effects of the caffeine or theobromine found in cocoa.

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    Ingredients

    • 1 cup local, raw honey
    • 1 cup organic peanut butter (or mix half cup peanut butter and half cup almond butter)
    • 1 cup cocoa
    • 1 cup sunflower seeds
    • 1 cup sesame seeds

    Directions

    In a saucepan, heat the honey over low heat until warm.  Slowly stir in the nut butter until it is mixable.  Remove from heat and add the cocoa and seeds.  You can substitute with pumpkin seeds, pine nuts, etc. or add some additional nuts but just be mindful you don’t put in too many seeds/nuts or use something that would affect the cohesiveness.  For example, use slivered nuts instead of big whole nuts.  I have accidentally gone a bit nut crazy at times and they were sort of crumbly.  Feel free to add other dried fruits like blueberries, cherries, cranberries or goji berries.

    Spread mixture in to an oiled (I use coconut) 8 x 8 inch pan.   Dust with coarsely ground sea salt and cinnamon and allow to cool in the fridge for a few hours.  They will keep in there for about a month and can be frozen indefinitely.

    Cut in to squares of 25 or 16 depending on the size you prefer.

    I like the health benefits of the almond butter but I think they make them a bit more gooey, especially if using the freshly ground stuff.  You may want to initially try them with just peanut butter if you eat peanuts.

    After the first night in the fridge, I like to remove the squares and individually wrap them in cling wrap and put half in the freezer.  They make great on-the-go breakfasts in a pinch and Chief loves bringing them to golf.  I also think they would make a great snack for a child’s sports match when feeding the team.  If primarily serving these to kids, it might be a good idea to use the carob powder I mentioned earlier (because of the caffeine factor).  Carob powder is not quite as chocolately tasting but has a similar look and texture to cocoa.  It can be found in the baking aisle of a natural grocer.

     

  • The Oil Cleansing Method For Clear, Radiant Skin

    Oil cleansing is a way to cleanse your face with oil.

    Wait…what?

    Yep, that’s right…problem skin can be combated with oil whether the problem is acne, sensitivity, or dryness.  I have been wanting to write a post about the oil cleansing method for facial cleansing for a long time.  I was determined to make it work because I love how natural, minimalist and organic it is.  Plus, I had heard amazing things about how it left skin clear, radiant, and dewy and got rid of acne.  I tried this method for a few weeks a couple years ago and it didn’t work very well during that first attempt, so I gave up.  I was really excited about it though, so I knew I needed to try it again and troubleshoot because I felt confident this was the best method/product out there.

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    Why?

    My favorite thing about this method is how simplified the routine is – it eliminates the need for eye makeup remover, toner, moisturizer, and cleanser.  That translates to a lot of dollars saved and a lot of steps eliminated.

    My skin has always been pretty normal.  I have gone through some periods where I was really prone to spots, generally during times I was under a lot of stress or my hormones were haywire.  I blogged about that in this post.  I finally used Accutane (isotretinoin) to clear it up because I was so fed up but if you’ve read any of my blog, you know important natural methods are to me.  I kind of wish I would have tried the oil cleansing method as a last-ditch effort before doing Accutane.

    How does it work?

    So the premise behind using straight oil to cleanse your face is pretty simple.  The idea is that by using harsh and artificial cleansers to clean out your pores, you basically just end up stripping the skin, making it produce more oil to compensate, setting up a negative feedback loop. A person then tends to wash even more and be more harsh on spots or conditions that result from these methods.  The abrasiveness of some of these usual facial cleansing products (whether chemical or physical) can also aggravate skin.

    The oil cleansing method is based on the simple chemical phenomena that oil dissolves oil.  For that reason, oil is the constituent used to dissolve excess oil in pores and and loosen it along with impurities from the skin in this method.  There are different combinations of oils that can be used depending on your skin type and I like the added benefit that it’s very easy to find organic oils at affordable prices.  Trying to find organic cleansers to buy is extremely expensive.

    The oil that is most often touted as the base oil for this method is castor oil because it has somewhat toning and anti-inflammatory properties.  I generally avoid this oil because it cannot be produced without workers involved in its refinement being exposed to some level of toxicity.  It also requires  chemical extraction from solvents, deodorization, stabilizers etc., which concerns me (and is the same reason I avoid canola or corn oil in my food).  I prefer something than can be processed with a simple cold-press process.

    Instead, I recommend finding an oil or mixture of oils (below) that works for your skin and is easy enough for you to obtain.  Here are generally the oils that are used for different skin types (from the Crunchy Betty blog):

    • Hazelnut or sunflower oil (for typically acneic skin)
    • Sunflower, grapeseed, or sweet almond oil (for oily to normal skin)
    • Jojoba, grapeseed, or apricot kernel oil (for normal to dry skin)
    • Avocado or apricot kernel oil (for dry skin)

    Olive oil and coconut oil are also mentioned a lot when referring to this method.  I have not carefully tested them myself but I have heard anecdotal evidence that they can be somewhat comedogenic (pore-clogging) so I have generally avoided them unless I’m in a pinch.  I would definitely recommend trying this method with some of the other oils first and then doing a more of a scientific test with these more common oils to see if changing the oil changed the outcome.  I’d hate for you to give up too soon because you started with the wrong oils like I did.

    When I first tried this method, it didn’t really work for me and left my skin prone to breakouts.  I think there are a couple reasons for this and I’m glad I went back and gave it another try.  The first was that I was using a cleansing oil I bought online – Deep Cleansing Oil by DHC.  It seemed to be good from the reviews but was an olive oil base and also had some ingredients in it that I didn’t know what they were (preservatives, etc.).  I think the other reason it didn’t work was because of the way in which I was doing it.  I was basically just using the oil to wash my face and then wiping it off.  As I later came to find out, giving the face a little steam is the best way to loosen anything from the pores after cleansing.

    So, all this background – now how is it done?  First decide which oils you are going to use.  Some people like to make a mixture in a small bottle and add a couple drops of essential oil.  I have sort of normal/combination skin so I just use whichever oil I have on hand, usually almond or grapeseed and then I add in apricot kernel or argan oil if it’s during a time of the year my skin is prone to dryness.  I also really like Jason’s Vitamin E Oil (5000 i.u.), which can be found online if you’re an Amazon junkie like me or at a natural grocers.  It is a pre-made mixture of safflower, sunflower, rice bran, avocado, wheat germ, apricot kernel, and almond oils.  It can be used straight out of the bottle for this method and travels really well.  Most people do oil cleansing as part of a bedtime routine.  I do it every night.

    This is generally the method I follow:

    1. There is no need to remove eye-make up first but if you have a lot on, you may try putting some coconut oil on a cotton ball and removing it so it doesn’t smear all over your face.
    2. Get warm water running from the faucet.
    3. Splash some warm water over the face.
    4. Thoroughly wet and mostly wring a washcloth (nothing too abrasive).
    5. Put the washcloth in the microwave for about 30 seconds.
    6. While the washcloth is in the microwave, begin massaging about one tablespoon of oil (or a quarter size amount) in upward, circular motions in to damp skin.  There is no reason to avoid the eyes like with other cleansers.
    7. While you are massaging, really take the time to envision the best skin you can imagine.  This massaging motion helps bring blood to the surface and will result in a nice glow, like after a facial.  Pay special attention to problem areas.  Use this same oil to remove any eye make-up (assuming you haven’t put in any irritating essential oils).  Try using affirmations during this part, e.g. “I deserve beautiful skin.”  “I take gentle, loving care of myself.”
    8. Remove the washcloth from the microwave and drape it over the face at the temperature at which it’s just cool enough that it can be tolerated without burning your skin.  The steam will loosen any impurities and oil from your skin.
    9. Lie down with the washcloth on your face for about 30 seconds to 1 minute.  For many of you, you may find this is the first time during the day you have had one minute to yourself so use it as a minute long meditation and a chance to get off your feet and begin preparing yourself for winding down for bedtime.
    10. Once the washcloth has cooled off, gently wipe down the skin.
    11. Rinse the washcloth and repeat steaming the face (microwave again).

    You can skip the microwave step, but I find I like the washcloth really hot and can’t get it to the temperature I want without burning my hands when I wring the cloth.  I really like this video from Mommypotamus that describes the method.  I don’t use the two cloths likes she does just because I don’t have enough washcloths or do laundry frequently enough to warrant it (though I suspect this will change when my infant arrives in a couple months).  I just rinse and re-use the original washcloth, trying to use the opposite side if I remember.

    Your skin may go through an adjustment period when you start this method though mine didn’t.  You may be unblocking some clogged pores the first few days so if it starts with a bit of a breakout, just stick with it and see how it is working after a week or so.  Whatever you do, don’t be tempted to return to a regular cleanser during this adjustment period.

    You might be surprised when I tell you that your skin may feel dry as a result of cleansing with oil.  If so, add a good nighttime moisturizer (or just a bit of oil) or do whatever other skincare routine you follow at night.  You may not need any extra moisturizer, or can adjust to one of the less drying oils if you do.  I like to dot some organic argan oil around my eyes after cleansing as an eye cream but find I don’t need any moisturizer.

    Your face will probably be neither dry nor oily in the morning with this method so there is no need to wash it when you wake up.  Usually I just rinse my face with water and/or wipe it with the Aveda shammy cloth.

    Other resources
    http://www.theoilcleansingmethod.com/
    http://www.crunchybetty.com/nitty-gritty-on-the-oil-cleansing-method
    http://wellnessmama.com/7569/oil-cleansing-for-naturally-perfect-skin/

     

  • Cherry and Almond Superfood Chocolate Smoothie

    This is one of my favorite smoothie recipes.  It’s a great smoothie to have during times when you are really working your body hard with training or muscle building because it has lots of protein and the cherries help to reduce inflammation.

    Approximate Recipe for 2 Servings:

    • ¾ cup pitted cherries.  I just use frozen organic ones, unless they happen to be in season
    • 2 tablespoons cocoa – I like mine extra chocolately, reduce if you don’t
    • 2 tablespoons almond butter
    • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
    • 2 teaspoons ground flaxseed
    • 1 tablespoon honey
    • Generous dash of cinnamon
    • 1 ¼ cup unsweetened almond milk or hemp milk

    Cherries contain significant amounts of beta carotene, vitamin C, fiber and potassium.  They are also full of quercetin and anthocyanins, which are antioxidants that can help  reduce inflammation from muscle strain or arthritis.  Some studies have shown the reduction to be similar to some well-known pain medications.  Cherries also contain a significant amount of melatonin, which can help regulate sleep and ease irritability.

    As I discussed in another smoothie recipe (the banana chocolate smoothie) idea post, cocoa is full of flavonoids, which can help to prevent heart disease by decreasing blood pressure, reducing inflammation, balancing good and bad cholesterol and improving blood vessel health.  Cocoa and the cinnamon (which I put in most things that also have a sugar component like fruit or honey) help to decrease insulin resistance and help the body better deal with consuming natural sugars for prevention of Type 2 Diabetes.

    I always try to sneak coconut oil and flaxseed in to my smoothies.  The coconut oil has a special medium chain triglyceride in the form of lauric acid, which helps to increase the good HDL cholesterol in the blood.  Coconut oil helps to prevent fungal and bacterial infections in the body as well.  The flaxseed adds fiber as well as omega-3 essential fatty acids.  Be sure to get it ground, as the body can’t absorb the nutrition from the whole seeds.

    I usually have almond milk on hand, but hemp milk works great too.  The hemp adds extra protein.  If you are purchasing the almond milk (as opposed to making it), be sure to buy the stuff that is unsweetened and then sweeten the smoothie to your liking with local honey to help deal with allergens and get a good dose of the antibacterial benefits of consuming honey.

    The almond butter adds a natural source of protein, fiber and monounsaturated fats.  The health benefits of almonds are well known and include the ability to help improve cholesterol ratios, control weight gain and prevent heart disease.  They are good sources of magnesium, manganese, riboflavin and vitamin E.  The magnesium helps to prevent muscles aches and pains.

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  • 5 Things NOT to Say to Non-Parents: To My Future Self

    There are a lot of things that people with children used to say to me before I officially began my parenthood journey by becoming pregnant and becoming a stepmother in the same year that really used to annoy me.   They annoyed not only because of their content, but because inherent in these comments was the assumption I would one day have kids.  I know for myself, who struggled with fertility issues in my past, or for those who do not or will not have kids for a medley of reasons, this assumption can be kind of upsetting.

    Chief and I have a baby arriving at the end of March and so I am writing this post as a reminder to my future self about what not to say to those who do not have kids. I hope that by recording these “pre-baby” feelings and emotions, I can help keep myself connected with how I relate to people without kids.  So, here they are…the 5 big things I want to remind myself not to say:

    1. It will change your life.  Really?  No shite, Sherlock.  When you cruise through life only worried about yourself (not in a self-indulgent way but in an independent way), doing adult things, it’s different than when you have a helpless infant or child dependent on you for survival that can’t be left alone.  It doesn’t take some magical switch to be turned on once motherhood kicks in that suddenly makes you realize that life is different when you have kids.  What really annoys me is when I try to tell my friends about something fun I’m doing – anything from a nice dinner with my husband to a spontaneous trip to Latin America to an afternoon nap.  And then I get the inevitable, “Just wait until you have kids.  You can kiss those times goodbye.”  Ya, I know…the trouble probably won’t be worth the reward, spontaneity is a lot more difficult, and the simple activity might not be possible with kids.  Each time I do one of these things now, I appreciate the simplicity of the situation and I think everyone without kids recognizes the same.  This is exactly why I’ve spent the last ten years enjoying these sorts of events.
    2. Oh, you think you’re tired now…just wait until you have kids! Yes, yes, yes, we’re all tired.  Yes, little kids don’t sleep in.  Yes, they wake up in the middle of the night.  Sometimes vomiting and pooing.  Sometimes at the same time.  They need you at all hours and keep you awake.  So I know I’ll be really, really tired but that is no reason for parents to marginalize how tired a childless person is today or this week. It’s not like up until this point I’ve been milking 9 hours of sweet surrender night after night.  I sleep an average of 6.5 hours per night and I know that if I only get 4 hours per night for a few months on end it will be exhausting but that’s the obvious.  Please just let me tell you I am tired today without one-upping it.
    3. You say you won’t [insert thing I loathe] now, but wait until you have kids.  I have heard this about everything from disposable diapers to fast food to a house in the suburbs.  OK, I relent…a house in the suburbs is a possibility someday.  The point being that I will go through some fundamental changes when I have kids (see number 1) but my values won’t change.  Living a healthy and sustainable lifestyle and keeping some order in my life are always going to be things that are really important to me.  I’m not instantly going to become a consumerist with a disposable and unhealthy lifestyle just because I have kids.  Me having kids does not mean I am going to suddenly adopt your values just because we both have kids.  I know I’ll have my days when I prepare macaroni and cheese from a box for dinner and I know there will be days when the house is a disaster because I need sleep (see #2) but I’ll still be me.  I do realize there will be some things I try that are important to me that I might deem a failure but I realize that is part of the process.  It doesn’t mean I shouldn’t even try or that I should follow society’s norm on the things that really bother me now.
    4. These are the kind of things you’ll do on weekends when you have kids.  I can’t stand how every time I go to any sort of kid-friendly function, whether it’s a birthday party or dinner at someone’s house with kids, or a festival when the parents look at me and say things like, “Remember how it used to be before we had kids?  Well, just you wait.  This is what weekends are like now that we have kids- it’s all about them.”  Obviously!  It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that weekend-long benders and fine dining aren’t particularly conducive to toddlers.  These people say it like I should start preparing for my life to come to an end though.  Most people who make the leap to having kids are quite ready to mostly give up these things at this point in their life anyway.  It’s not like me being childless doesn’t allow me to see that some activities are no longer possible when spending time together as a family.  And please don’t follow it up with the “I bet this is good birth control for you.”  Kids do kid-things in kid-ways and just because I’m childless doesn’t mean I want to remain that way because sometimes they get needy or have meltdowns at places like Chuck-E-Cheese.
    5. You can’t understand the love you will have for them.  Yes, I can.  It’s very easy for me to imagine the kind of love I will feel for a child that I am raising.   What especially bothers me about this statement is when it’s used as the justification for why someone no longer cares about his or her pet. I’m not necessarily trying to say that a love for a child can be compared straight on to the love for a pet but please don’t justify your actions by patronizing me and saying it’s because I don’t understand love. I really can imagine how much I will love my children.  I know it bursts the heart wide open and it is one of the most profound emotions a person can feel but that doesn’t mean childless people are incapable of comprehending this emotion.