Archive for December, 2011

Husband’s work had a gift exchange this year, but it was something a little different. They had a Yankee Swap, but instead of buying a gift, everyone was supposed to bring a handmade, homemade gift they made themselves.

In addition to being less commercial and (likely) more eco-friendly, it was a great way to showcase everyone’s talent (or lack of talent, as some of the gag gifts suggested). And it was just plain cool.

Gifts ranged from knitted scarves, bookmarks, screen-printed pillowcases, framed photographs, baked goods, mini clay sculptures, mix CDs, and so much more. What a cool idea, and so completely obvious. It seems like just one more thing to have to do in an already busy time, but I had so much fun making my gift, and I imagine others did too. What a great way to bring some meaning back into gift giving. I usually try to make most of my gifts anyway, but it was fun to know that everyone had made theirs too. Usually, I’m the rogue crazy environmentalist offering homemade lip balm and vanilla extract, wrapped up in a reusable bag made from an old umbrella, and it felt good to not be the odd one out for a change.

So what did I make? I wasn’t sure where to start, but I wanted to definitely make something fun and whimsical. Then husband asked, “what’s a Yankee Swap without a Yankee to swap?” And it was all over from there. I had to make a Yankee. Uncle Sam was my inspiration (whom I have now decided bears the surname Yankee).

And here he is, himself. Uncle Sam Yankee.


Did anyone else give or receive cool handmade gifts this year?


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If you try out an internet search on essential oils, you’ll get a ton of hits about aromatherapy. And not much about their use in cleaning products. I’ve ended up finding overwhelming, massive, and unhelpful lists of tons of essential oils, describing which ones have antibacterial properties, which ones have antifungal properties, which ones are safe to put a drop on your skin, and which ones are best for various cleaning products. Everyone has their own opinion when it comes to these things, and it’s just plain overwhelming.

And lots of sites out there claim you need a whole arsenal of essential oils to get various cleaning jobs done. But in my experience, any of those lists I’ve seen seem way too long. So which essential oils are the, well, truly essential ones? I can say I’ve been making a lot of my own stuff for a long time, and I have a total of five bottles of essential oil in my cupboard. And that’s even more than you really need. If you’re just starting out (or even if you’re not), here’s my short rundown of the essentials.

Tea Tree Oil

This is the main ingredient that gives the antibacterial kitchen and all purpose cleaner it’s truly cleaning kick. It kills everything while still managing to be pretty mild, and it smells nice too. It’s also a must for the deodorant recipe. And if you like the scent of this one, you can stop right here. It can go in your laundry detergent, shampoo, everything.

Lavender Oil

If you like a bit of variety, lavender is a nice scent. It’s very clean-laundry-ish, so this is the one I put in my detergent, dryer sheets, shampoo, and air fresheners. It’s also a good antibacterial one, but the tea tree oil is best for the spray cleaner. Maybe not truly a must-have, but it’s nice to have something different once in a while to take a break from the tea tree oil.

Peppermint Oil

This one is a good additive for homemade toothpaste, but you can just use peppermint extract instead if you have that. I’m not big on the scent, so it pretty much just gets used in my toothpaste.

Eucalyptus Oil

This one has a good fresh scent, but it is very strong. Think Vicks Vapo-rub. This one is a good one to add a drop or two to onto your pillow if you’re feeling congested. But go light on it. Eucalyptus oil seems to have more of a potent scent than the others. If you want to add it to dishsoap or something, four or five drops would do the trick.

Rosemary Oil

I ended up getting this one just because I started getting tired of the lavender scent (gasp! who could ever tire of lavender?!?). I just needed something a little different, and it has a nice, crisp, fresh scent that works well with laundry soap, dishsoap, and shampoo. I alternate this one with the lavender between batches just to change it up a bit.

So there you have it. Don’t let the immense amount of essential oils out there overwhelm you. As far as cleaning products go, you only really need one or two to get the various jobs done.

Which essential oils are YOUR essentials?

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I posted a while back about my participation in Naitonal Novel Writing Month, and I’m back now to let you all know that I succeeded! I was in fact able to crank out 50,912 words over the course of one month, and I now have a (mostly) complete first draft. The last several chapters are only really in synopsis form, but they’re at least fleshed out.

Of course, that also meant that since I was doing so much writing, the last thing I wanted to do was write some more when I had a spare minute. So I ended up neglecting this space over the month. I have to say, I was sort of hoping that one of my characters would have decided to write a blog, just so I could have shared with you all what my characters were writing about. Alas, none of them really seemed interested in blogging. They were all too busy unraveling conspiracies, solving crimes, and leaving gigantic plot holes for me to try to fill.

So what did I learn from this experience? That it’s ok to try something new, to just jump in, maybe even without a full-fledged plan, and just get to work. That focusing only on quantity does not obscure the quality as much as you might think. That mistakes are there to give us perspective. That when you let go of your expectations and allow ridiculous things into your mind, that somehow, they form good ideas. That I’m capable of more than I give myself credit for sometimes. That I really just might be able to do anything I put my mind to if I work hard enough.

And those are important lessons, not only in my own life, but in the grander scheme of the world. Think what we could accomplish if everyone on the planet all put their heads together to solve this climate crisis, if all our leaders and governments around the world truly supported and implemented sustainability plans. Or even if they just worked on coming up with solutions for even one month. The problems seem almost unsolvable they’re so big. But I believe human imagination and innovation are limitless. We just need to put them properly to work.

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