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All-Natural Rant

Ok. I have to rant for just a sec.

I work in a shop that sometimes gets door-to-door people in trying to market whatever they’re selling, and one day, some guy confidently came in with a question for me. “You’re a girl, so you must love makeup, right?”

I bit my tongue on most of what I wanted to say: that I’m a woman and not a child, that just because I’m female doesn’t make me genetically predisposed to love makeup, that I really don’t think there’s anything wrong with how I look currently that needs fixing, that my health is far more important to me than smearing carcinogens on my face every day is, that honestly, I like sleep much more than spending extra time on my appearance in the morning, and that anyone shallow enough to judge me on how I look or my choice to not use makeup doesn’t deserve the privilege of being a meaningful part of my life. I just merely replied that I don’t wear makeup because so much of it has so many terrible chemicals in it.

“But everything we carry is all natural!”

Not interested, thanks.

I can’t possibly roll my eyes back far enough in my head. All natural, huh? Yeah, sure it is.

I’m so tired of the phrase “all-natural” being touted (at least in the US anyway) as synonymous with “safe,” “healthy,” and “non-toxic.” Really tired of it.

Just because something is all-natural doesn’t mean it is safe, healthy, or non-toxic. All it means is that something is labeled as having been made from ingredients found in our natural world, and it doesn’t even mean that label has to be telling the truth if it’s outside the purview of the FDA. That doesn’t make them safe. Actually, legally that term (from solely a food standpoint, anyway) doesn’t really mean anything. Here’s what the FDA’s website has to say about the matter:

What is the meaning of ‘natural’ on the label of food?

From a food science perspective, it is difficult to define a food product that is ‘natural’ because the food has probably been processed and is no longer the product of the earth. That said, FDA has not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives. However, the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.

Now this is all murky enough when it comes to food, but even more so when considering cosmetics, cleaning supplies, toys, food storage containers, clothing, and other things we come in close contact with for extended periods of time that can effect our health but that are outside of the domain of the FDA . Technically, lead is all-natural, mercury is all-natural, arsenic is all-natural, and the list goes on and on. None of these things are safe. I don’t want stuff like that in things I come in contact with. Heck, jalapenos are all-natural, but I still don’t want them in my face cream.

I’m not saying I want to live in a bubble. I don’t. I’m not even sure it’s possible to avoid everything I want to avoid. But as long as lead is still an ingredient in lipstick, but it’s still ok to be called “all-natural,” I think there’s a problem. To me, this isn’t about disclosure of ingredients on labels (because who knows what all those chemical names in cosmetics are anyway?), it’s about not putting toxic or potentially toxic ingredients in stuff in the first place. And about not conflating the label all-natural with safe.

I think the Story of Stuff sums it up a little better than my currently angry, emotional self can:

And the next over-confident, condescending, horrifyingly sexist guy to come in trying to sell their new makeup going to get an earful from me. :)

My mother gave me an old set of wooden dishes from when she and my dad were first married, and they had been looking pretty shabby and in need of polishing. For a while now, I’ve been meandering around on the internet looking for a good wood polish to keep these wooden dishes looking nice, and I stumbled across a recipe that does the trick without a whole lot of hassle. Just rub it on, leave it sit for 10-30 minutes, and wipe it off. I tweaked it a little to my own liking (I’m a tinker-er, what can I say??), but as I was using it, I found that it is great for so much more than just polishing my wooden bowls.

It also makes a great conditioner for leather shoes and gloves, a really nice balm for dry skin, and honestly, my hair has never looked better since I’ve started using this exclusively as my only hair gel/protection from split ends. As someone who does henna, it’s an absolutely wonderful post-henna balm, too. Add some thieves oil, and you’ve got a great homemade Vicks-style chest rub, or any kind of healing lotion that you can put wherever the infection is. (Thieves oil is absolutely amazing, too, but that’s another post for another time…) This stuff is an awesome everything balm.

I just don’t know what to call it, since I use it for everything. And “Everything Balm” sounds weird. What to do, what to do…..

The good news is that it’s super easy to make, especially if you’ve made my lip balm recipe before, as it’s very similar.

Here’s what you need:

  • 2 Tbsp finely grated beeswax
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 capsule vitamin E oil
  • Popsicle stick to stir
  • 4-oz glass Ball jar

As far as grating the beeswax goes, it’s not a good idea to use a grater that you ever plan on using for food again–beeswax is hard to get cleaned off. Trust me on that one. I have a grater I use specifically for grating soap, beeswax, and other things I don’t want on the grater I use for food. Also, make sure your wax 100% beeswax, without paraffin or anything else in it. Beeswax is a bit on the pricey side, but it is definitely worth it.

Place the grated beeswax into your small glass jar (a 4 oz Ball jar will be just the perfect size for one batch) and place it in a pan of water on the stove. Use your jar as the double boiler, but there’s no need to really boil the water below. You just need to heat everything until the beeswax all melts. It needs to be fully melted: no clumps, no bumps, just smooth liquid. When it’s completely melted, add the coconut oil and melt that fully, too. Add olive oil and vitamin E oil. Mix well. Remove from heat, and that’s it! You’ll just need to let it cool a bit before putting the lid on.

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Almost all melted…

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Finished and cooled, well-loved (and almost gone) mixture

What I like about this is that the beeswax is melted in the container you’re already going to store it in. Melted beeswax is a pain to clean out of a pan, but this is completely no-mess. Not even a single dish needs washed afterward!

Now, the only question I have is what to call it…..

What do you think? What would YOU call it?

Well, folks, today is the day. The day I finally dumped dirt—yes real dirt (well, mostly)—out of my compost bin.

People always think it’s daunting, hard and complicated to compost. But it’s really not. It just takes a quick, relatively inexpensive trip to your local hardware store ($40 or less), a little bit of time to make your compost bin (an hour or less), and a few new habits (like saving food scraps in a separate container, getting used to what’s compostable, and turning the bin once in a while). Oh, and a bit of outside yard space.

If you’re not sure where to start, this is an excellent video, and it’s exactly what I referred to when I started my bin. It’s super helpful…go watch it!

You will need:

  • A giant plastic trashcan and lid
  • A drill and ¼-inch drill bit (the video recommends pounding holes with hammer and nail, but that takes forever. Just use a drill.)
  • A couple of cinder blocks or something else to lift your bin off the ground circulation (mine is up on an overturned milk crate, which works fine, too).
  • I also recommend a few bungee cords to hold the lid on your can. Otherwise, the lid comes off when you try to roll it. Not fun.

Use the drill to poke holes all over the sides of the bin. Mount it up on the cinder blocks and secure the lid on top with the bungee cords. After you’ve added your material to the bin, it will need turned about once a week, and turning is as easy as rolling the bin on its side around your yard for a few minutes.

Actually, I recommend making two of these bins. I’ve found that if I keep adding stuff to one of them, it never is able to fully break down. So when one is full, I trade bins so the full one has time to be left alone to decompose (but still turned regularly). The theory is that by the time the second one is full and ready to be left alone, the first one will be ready to be emptied of freshly made mulch and ready to start the process again. That mostly worked for me, but after a while I just have to trade them when one is full. As the contents break down, they take up much less space, making room for more.

Here is what my setup looks like:

Now, I know they say that your fresh, ready-to-use compost will be ready in 4-8 weeks if you follow all the instructions and do everything just right, but I’m here to tell you that even if you do absolutely everything WRONG in almost every possible way, you’ll still get good compost…..eventually. Mine took maybe about two years or so. I think. I don’t know for sure, I lost track. I almost never turned it, didn’t always have a good balance of materials (more on that later, keep reading), and didn’t do anything with it in the winter time. If you’re going to be lazy like me, truly no-hassle compost takes a bit (or a lot) more time. But it does work.

But even before you start out with lazy composting (like me), there are still a few things you should know first.

With composting, items are classified into two categories: carbon-rich “brown material” and nitrogen-rich “green material.” For a healthy (read: faster and without a strong stench) composting process, you’ll want to balance your browns and greens. Some websites out there say you need equal amounts, and some say you need more brown than green, even up to twice as much. I don’t keep exact tabs on mine, I just make sure to add enough brown so it seems to balance out all the food scraps. Trust me, your bin will let you know if it’s out of balance (it will stink to high heavens). Just take a deep breath (before you take the lid off!), add some more brown material, and mix it in as best you can. That helps.

Ok, so what’s green, what’s brown, and what CAN go in the bin?

Brown (carbon-rich) material:

  • Cardboard (shredded)
  • Office paper and junk mail (shredded, remove the plastic envelope windows)
  • Newspaper (shredded)
  • Wood shavings/wood chips
  • Sawdust
  • Leaves
  • Straw/hay
  • Pine needles
  • Wood ash
  • Corncobs and husks
  • Dryer lint

Green (nitrogen-rich) material:

  • Fruit peels, cores, pits, rinds, and scraps
  • Veggie peels and scraps
  • Any overripe or moldy produce
  • Tea bags (remove any staples)
  • Coffee grinds and filters
  • Grass clippings
  • Weeds
  • Flowers and clippings

Not sure whether green or brown, but still OK to put in:

  • Egg shells (crush first for faster breakdown)
  • Breads (donuts, pizza crusts, crackers, pasta, anything made from flour)
  • Grains, cooked or uncooked
  • Old spices
  • Expired boxed foods
  • Vacuum bag contents
  • Hair and nail clippings

What shouldn’t go in the bin?

  • No meat or dairy products should ever go in your bin. This includes meat, fish, animal fat, bones, and pet/animal feces, as well as any kind of cheese, butter, milk, yogurt, sour cream eggs, etc.  Adding any of these items will make it smell bad (like really, really bad!), attract maggots, and attract all kinds of other critters, large and small. Certain kinds of cat litter may be ok (you’ll have to read the label), but only the litter. You’ll still need to scoop the feces out. Basically, if it came from an animal, it shouldn’t go in your bin. Eggshells are about the only exception to this rule.
  • Also, you don’t want to put excessive amounts of cooking oils in either.

Other helpful hints:

  • Keep your bin in the sun, if you can. Warmth makes for faster breakdown.
  • Chop or shred materials before adding them. The smaller they are when they go in, the faster they will break down.
  • The more often you turn you compost, the faster it will break down.
  • If it’s dry, water it. You want to keep it moist, but not dripping.
  • Once you have some soil start to develop (or if you start with some soil in it) adding some worms will also help material break down much faster.

The most important thing here is that you don’t have to be an expert to compost your food scraps. Nature has been composting without fancy plastic bins since pretty much the beginning of time. She doesn’t really need our help, but there are certain things we can do to help speed the process a bit.

I’m not an expert. Heck, I think I’m a great example of what not to do when you’re trying to compost, but I still get an ok result. What I like best is that our trash doesn’t stink (because there’s no food scraps in there anymore) and we hardly have to take it out anymore, between composting and recycling. And diverting compostable food waste from incinerators and land fills is one of the single most important things we can do for waste disposal in general. I wrote about that earlier when I toured my local incineration facility. What I remember most is that they estimated 40-70% of everything they process is stuff that shouldn’t be there, be it recyclables, or food waste. That’s huge. And we should all be doing our part to decrease that number.

I think I’ll save the easy and convenient kitchen habits I’ve figured out for a later post.

So….does anyone compost? Who’s got tips, tricks, and any more advice?

A while ago, I started making homemade cat food for my cat. It took her a while to really like it (she doesn’t do well with change) but now she hangs around the kitchen when she knows I’m making it to be sure she gets a scoop of it when it’s freshly made. She absolutely loves this stuff.

I got the inspiration from Beth Terry’s My Plastic Free Life blog post about her own homemade cat food, and decided to give it a try for myself. I was not only looking to reduce our waste in terms of cans, but I wanted to give our cat a healthy food that wasn’t made from corn and grain products and processed junk. When we adopted her, they recommended a balance of wet and dry food for her, and we were having trouble finding a wet food she could eat. Up to this point, Maddie would get sick if she ate anything processed we tried. She would scarf it down at first, then get sick. And then she wouldn’t eat any more of that kind. Ever. After going through several brands/kinds/flavors of wet food, this was the last thing I could try.

So I went to the BalanceIT website, put in all of Madeline’s info, chose my base ingredients (I chose chicken and white potatoes) and got a recipe and vitamin supplement from them.

I have tweaked the recipe a bit, and did the math so I can make about 2 weeks worth of food at a time.  She still gets dry food as well, so this wet food I make is really just a bit of a supplement to that. I divide it into jars, with about 3 days worth per jar. They freeze ok, but keep in the fridge for only about 3-5 days. So when the fridge jar is empty, we replace it with another one from the freezer. She gets a little bowl of it every morning. Apparently, it’s good enough to make it worth begging for, starting at about 4am.

Recently, my sister was thinking about trying it out for her cat, so I shared my recipe with her, just to see if her cat would like it before she made the investment. I gave her a bit of the supplement powder, she made a big batch from my tweaked recipe, and her cat absolutely wouldn’t touch it. Quinn apparently is a dry food kind of kitty.

The next time my sister came to visit, she brought her batch of cat food with her, so it wouldn’t go to waste. I was just about out of Maddie’s current batch, so it was perfect timing. The next morning, after her ritualistic begging for several hours, Maddie was served Sister’s food. And she wouldn’t touch it. She kept begging, acting like we were hiding her good food away somewhere else.

As the days went by, she grew more and more desperate for her old food (even though this stuff was the same!) and more adamant that we had some of the good stuff and were keeping it from her. I dare say we threw a good portion of it out because she just wouldn’t eat it. Even though it was the same food, from the same recipe.

Now, I know people who say it’s important to buy veggies from a farmer’s market, where you can get to know the people who grow your food. I think this might be how my cat is now: she won’t eat her food unless she knows the cook and is present to monitor the cooking process. I can’t think of any other reason.

So today was the day. Sister’s batch has run out and I started making a fresh batch for for Maddie. She was just about the happiest cat ever. She licked out the tuna can and the chicken container (quality control for freshness), and sat in the kitchen monitoring the potatoes as they boiled. She oversaw me adding the oil and vitamin supplement, mashing the potatoes, and stirring the meat in. And she sat by her bowl waiting for that fresh, hot scoop. When it was served, she dove in. Success.

And after a nice hot meal of her favorite food, a very happy Maddie went to take a nap.

Carpet freshener makes the whole room smell fresh and clean. Maybe it’s not a total necessity, but it’s nice to have. The good news is that it’s super easy to make.

Save an old parmesan cheese container, and fill it mostly with baking soda. Then, dump it back out into a bowl. This is so it’s easier to mix everything up. Shaking it all up in the same container doesn’t distribute the essential oils as well. In the bowl, shake some dried cloves, dried nutmeg, and about 20-25 drops tea tree oil. Stir well, and pour back into the shaker container.

Shake onto carpets, leave sit for about 5 min or so, and vacuum. (I’m going to assume this would work well on furniture/mattresses as well, but I haven’t tried it yet.)

There truly are a ton of tweaks of this on the internet, so play around with it to get a scent/texture you like. Some people put cinnamon in as well, or skip the spices and just use essential oils they like, or just use plain baking soda. If you’ve got light colored carpets, you may want to forgo the dark spices. I’ve got a light-ish speckled berber, and it doesn’t show, but if I had all white, I might not want to risk it.

As for the base, baking soda is good at neutralizing odors, but there’s some info out there that it doesn’t play nice with hepa filters on vacuums. I’ve got an older vacuum that uses a bag, so I don’t have to worry about that. Basically, the baking soda’s powder is too fine and clogs up the hepa filter, I think. Other sites suggest using cornmeal instead of baking soda if you’ve got a vacuum with a hepa filter, but I haven’t tried it, so I can’t vouch for whether that works. I’m not sure if cornmeal absorbs odors the way baking soda does, or if it simply acts as a way to dilute and spread out the essential oil scent.

Also, some sites recommend adding borax to the mix as well. I would suggest a bit of caution for this. While borax does occur naturally in the environment (hence it’s “all-natural” label), that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s safe to use in high quantities around pets and children. It’s not good to breathe in, and it irritates eyes in powder form. While I use it in my laundry soap and to sprinkle in the toilet to clean it, I certainly wouldn’t want to use it in my carpet powder. To me, there’s a difference between diluting it in water to use it and using it straight from the box.

Anyone else have any good carpet freshening suggestions?

Popcorn is one of those things. I really like it, but it comes with a lot of waste and lots of unhealthy additives, preservatives, and who-knows-what else. And so I don’t buy it. But I still miss having popcorn once in a while.

I never wanted another appliance (like a popcorn popper) to store that I’ll hardly ever use, and popping popcorn on the stove sounds annoying. But I recently found that it’s super easy to make popcorn in the microwave, without the necessity of it being processed, pre-packaged, and sold in individual envelopes with that weird plastic foil thing inside. (What is that thing anyway?) It comes out just like microwave popcorn, but a whole lot cheaper, with less waste, and (presumably?) a bit more healthy. But watch out, it’s just as addictive!

You’ll need:

  • A regular paper bag. Not a huge one, but maybe the next size up from the small lunch-sized one.
  • 1/2 cup popcorn kernels
  • 1 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp. salt

Place the oil, salt, and kernels in the paper bag, fold it over a few times and microwave for about 3-5 min or so, until it sounds done, just as you would with regular microwave popcorn.

That’s really it.

And, instead of just settling for whatever comes in the package from the store, you can experiment and tinker with it when you make your own (which I find fun). I made a batch last night with rosemary and parmesan cheese in the bag too, and it came out really great. I also drizzle a bit of melted butter overtop.

Yum!

As far as waste, you’ll still have the plastic bag the corn kernels came in, unless you can buy them in bulk somewhere. And the paper bag too, which after being coated with oil won’t be recyclable. But it’s still compostable. And you can reuse it a couple of times, as long as you can store in somewhere it won’t pick up dirt/dust, or get moldy, but I wouldn’t want to keep it more than a day or two.

My Quilting Hobby

I thought I’d fill you all in on what I’ve been doing, since I haven’t been posting all that often anymore. So here it is, a little glimpse into my hobby of making mini quilts.

In Flight, 13 x 19 inches

Snowflake, 13″ x 13″

Harbor Light, 13″ x 9″

Birch Trees, 14″ x 9″ (adorned with real birch leaves, dipped in copper and gold plated)

A Walk in Capitol Square, 17″ x 14.5″

“Tin Goose over South Bass Island” 12 x 12

And a few unfinished works in progress:

Dancer, 11″ x 10″

Violet, 10″ x 14″

Maddie even let me take 2 whole pictures before jumping into the frame!

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