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Oil: A Substitute Cleanser May 30, 2013

Filed under: Homemade,Toiletries — acgheen @ 12:00 am
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I frowned.  This wasn’t exactly what I’d been looking for when I’d typed the words “homemade facial cleanser” into the Google search bar.  To be honest, I’d been hoping for something more along the lines of the natural, herb-centric cream that I had been using… just a bit less wasteful and a touch cheaper.  Instead, there it was: oil as a substitute cleanser.

I took a moment to read a few of the articles (there were a lot of them) and noticed that each promoted this counterintuitive method of removing grime as the best thing since the washcloth.  The reasoning seemed sound(ish): when we clean our faces, we strip them of the natural oils which protect them and in doing so open our pores to invasion by all sorts of nasty stuff that promotes everything from acne to rosacea.  Using just oil and water, however, allows our skin to do what comes naturally… and results in all sorts of advantages like brighter, softer skin.

After a few minutes of careful contemplation, I decided to give it a try and popped onto my favorite online shopping outlet for two simple ingredients: almond oil and tea tree oil.  (According to one article, the addition of 8-10 drops of the latter to 1.5 oz. of any other oil of my choice would result in an increased resistance to acne.  While I’m not prone to zits, it seemed like a good idea.)  My products arrived in the mail a few days later and I quickly mixed the two oils in a small container and set the solution in my bathroom cabinet.

For the first several days, I cleansed twice a day – wetting my face to remove any dirt on the surface, then opening the pores with hot water and massaging in the oil.  After allowing it to sit for about five minutes, I’d use a washcloth soaked in hot water to remove any residual oils, then douse my face in cold water to close the pores.  It wasn’t long before cleansing became a daily ritual rather than a twice daily ritual.  My skin had taken to the oil like a duck to water and I felt clean most of the time.

Perhaps of even greater interest was the way in which my combination skin was reacting to the new cleanser.  Aside from the promised effects, I was also experiencing something unique: an imperviousness to windburn.  I had forgotten to apply my moisturizer several days in a row (my skin felt moist, so it simply slipped my mind) and on both occasions had been exposed to a chilly gusting breeze throughout the day.  When I returned home, my skin was still soft, supple, and it’s normal olive tone.  Not surprisingly, the oily solution also reduced my encounters with sunburn.  (After all, most things burn more readily when they are dry… and my skin was not!)  I was hooked.  Oil as a cleanser really is the best thing for skin since the invention of the washcloth!

Take a look online and you’ll find a selection of interesting recipes for this homemade cleanser.  You can use just about any oil you like, though I’d stick to lighter selections like almond or sunflower.  These will help prevent breakouts rather than promote them.  I’d also advise that you give the practice some time.  One of the articles I read suggested a trial period of one month and I’m inclined to agree.  Cleansing your skin with oil feels a bit strange at first and it takes some time to get used to it feeling “normal”.  Once you do, however, you won’t want to go back!

If you’ve had some experience using oil as a facial cleanser, please feel free to share it (as well as any of your favorite cleanser recipes) below.  After all, adventures are always best when shared with a few good friends willing to take a risk!


The Goldfish Were an Accident May 23, 2013

The goldfish were an accident. They weren’t the plan, just the beginning of the plan. Originally, my intent had been to use them as an aquarium “starter pet”. I had kept 10 cent feeder fish as a child and, with a life-span of a few months, they seemed the perfect candidates for establishing my reputation as an aquarist. In three months, I’d have made most of the mistakes a new fish keeper can make and, armed with this knowledge, would move on to brighter tropical fish and, eventually, to the holy grail: a saltwater tank.

The fish, however, had a different plan. Using a common calculation (1” of fish to every gallon of water), I was able to determine that my five gallon fish tank could easily sustain five 1” Lionhead Goldfish. These were fancier than the feeder fish and would give me greater enjoyment during the coming months. If you’ve ever heard the old wives tale that a fish won’t grow bigger than its bowl, you’re about to learn otherwise. My dedication to my piscine friends led to rapid growth and it wasn’t long before I was replacing their five gallon tank with a ten. It was in this aquarium that two of my fishy friends eventually met their demise… but not without what proved to be an unusually long run of several years! Three fish remained and, having now recognized that my goldfish (whose names had been changed multiple times to reflect everything from my love of “Lord of the Rings” to my fascination with Israeli history) I began to apply myself quite seriously to the art of goldfish keeping.

I admit to having been less than satisfied with most of the books available at the pet store. These were clearly written with the average six year old with a few feeder fish in mind, but I was looking for something more… adult. It wasn’t long until I had found it: “Fancy Goldfish: Complete Guide To Care And Collecting” by Dr. Erik L. Johnson, D.V.M. and Richard E. Hess. The volume was a goldmine! From the history of the goldfish’s development and criteria for collecting and showing to tips on trouble-shooting aquarium problems and even performing a necropsy on a dead goldfish, it had the very scientific approach for which I had been searching. I read the book cover-to-cover and over the following months was able to make good use of nearly every tip or trick it contained… even to the point of saving one of my fish’s lives!

It had been a long day at work when I returned home to find Golda (named for the inimitable Golda Maier) sitting at the bottom of the aquarium with her fins clamped firmly to her sides, her gills barely fluttering. I tapped the tank, but received no response and, crouching down to look her in the eye, realized that she had swallowed a rather sizeable rock. (I had taken care to select gravel too large for my fish to ingest, but apparently nothing is really too large for a reasonably determined goldfish.) It instantly became apparent that the only way to restore Golda’s ability to breathe would be to remove the rock myself. And for this, I turned rather frantically to Dr. Johnson. Buried amidst the pages of his volume were succinct instructions for anesthetizing a goldfish.

I admit that I approached the task a bit nervously. After all, Dr. Johnson was clear that the overuse of the oil of cloves which I had purchased for my medicine cabinet months earlier could lead to euthanasia rather than sedation. And I certainly didn’t want to kill poor Golda! Not after all she’d been through. Five drops (no more) were placed in a small quarantine tank along with water from the aquarium. Stirring the solution carefully, I netted my baby (now almost as big as my hand), placed her inside, and watched the clock.

I felt like a surgeon: monitoring vital signs, waiting, watching, hoping not to leave her too long, but knowing that if I didn’t allow her to become sedate enough, I risked doing serious harm when I tried to maneuver the rock out of her airway. Certain that she was ready, I removed her to another container filled with fresh water and gripped her firmly in my left hand as I inserted my tweezers into her oversized mouth.

That she was cognizant of the process was obvious, but she struggled very little and, within a few minutes, I had removed the bolder and returned her to a recovery tank. Over the next hour or so, she slowly returned to normal and was eventually returned to the aquarium.

Years have passed. My three remaining Lionheads are now eleven years old (a well-cared-for goldfish can live as long as 25 years) and make their home in a twenty-five gallon tank. The size of baseballs (and one nearly the same shape), they bob peacefully, lining up at the bottom of the aquarium to stare at me as I write. Even Golda, who has never been quite the same, seems to smile as I type. “The Eyeballs” as I call them now, have become a fixture in my life. A peaceful reminder that sometimes a beginning becomes an end and that not all projects turn out quite as we expect… but that often those twists lead us onward to something even better!


The Biggest Obstacle Isn’t Found On the Road May 16, 2013

Filed under: Bicycling — acgheen @ 12:00 am
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The morning was nearly perfect.  The temperature was in the eighties and the humidity was high, but the air was still and the cloud cover sufficient to keep the sun out of my eyes.  As I rolled my bike out of the garage, I noted that my tire pressure was a little low, but quickly determined that it was sufficient for one more outing.

Despite my apparent fearlessness as a child, I had long since adopted a more mature policy of simply avoiding anything that might even vaguely resemble a road hazard.  I tried to keep my pressure in range and enjoy a smooth ride, but I felt good this morning and maybe I’d have the opportunity to make use of the lower pressure (as well as the slightly more sophisticated shock system which had come with my bike).  Today, I would ride without fear and take the obstacles I met head-on.  I would be indestructible.

It wasn’t long before I had the opportunity for which I had hoped.  I was on a downhill stretch in a new neighborhood and gathering speed at a reasonable clip when I noticed that someone had placed a rather large speed bump inconveniently near the bottom… and that a gremlin had covered the entire bump in river rock.  I tapped the brakes, but knew that I wasn’t going to be able to shave off enough speed to “ease over” the obstacle as I normally did.  I was going to have to take it head-on, full bore… fearlessly.

Rising off my seat, I shifted my center of gravity forward, tucked my head down… and flew.  Right up and over the bump as though it were no more difficult than tying my shoes.  It was a moment of sheer freedom.

As I touched down, I glanced behind at my riding partner who had been able to take the bump at a more moderate speed and smiled.  I felt myself sit up a bit straighter in my seat, pleased with the knowledge that not only had I taken the obstacle with the finesse of a pro, but that someone had actually seen me do it.

We encountered our next hazard when the path we were following turned from pavement to a mixture of sand and gravel.  I could have turned back, but I was feeling fantastic and was up for more.  Standing up on my pedals and maintaining my speed, I made full use of my handlebars to guide my bike upright down the trail.  No problem here.  I had seen these rocks before and I had conquered them.

After a nice loop of a sandy trail, we headed back into town where I encountered my third big obstacle of the day.  This one turned out to be a human on a busy road.  The driver was going about 35 mph and I knew that I could sprint an easy 20 and be across the road in time without his ever even having to tap the brakes.  I took off like a shot, made it across, and had begun to pedal my way down the road when the driver hit his accelerator and paced me while blowing his horn.  I have to admit that this unsettled me and, for the next few minutes, I fumed while griping to my riding partner about discourteous drivers.

I admit that my mind was still focused on my prior encounter with the motor vehicle as we pulled up to the crosswalk and I reached for the button and did the unthinkable.  After a day of fabulous, fearless riding, I dropped my bike breaking my water bottle cage and skinning my knee, bruising my leg in five distinct places and slitting my thumb.  It wasn’t until I managed to release myself from my rather unusual pedal straps and regained control of my gripped my handlebars that I noticed the last of these injuries.  I looked down for a moment, watching as blood dripped down my grip and onto my leg.

I think I’ll leave the blood on my handlebars for a while – a reminder that the biggest threat to my safety on the road isn’t an obstacle in front of my bike, but the ones that exist within my own mind.  Next time, I’ll ride safer: not just fearless, but focused.


Homemade Deodorant May 9, 2013

Over the last few months, I’ve been laboring to replace my store-bought toiletries with less expensive homemade varieties.  Yesterday, I ran out of deodorant, so today I found myself in the kitchen experimenting with making my own.  I recorded the entire experience for my YouTube audience, so it you’d like to watch the time-compressed version of my experiment… complete with head-scratching moments, click here.

Take a quick look online and you’ll notice that just about every recipe begins with powdered arrowroot.  Manihot esculenta or “Cassava” is native to the southern states of Texas, Florida, and Alabama, Mississippi, and Hawaii. While it is possible to collect your own, do so with care.  The raw root and tuber peelings are poisonous and can lead to difficulties breathing, dilation of pupils, spasms, coma, or even death if ingested.  I bought mine online, already ground and dried.

My recipe called for me to mix ¼ cup arrowroot powder with ¼ cup baking soda in a small dish.  Other recipes recommend adding up to 4 tbsp. of starch to the mix to help with absorption, but due to my lazy nature, I elected not to dig through my icebox and just stick to the basic recipe.

Once these two ingredients are well combined, it’s time to add 1/3 cup coconut oil to the mix.  I confess to having had some difficulty with this step, since it’s still rather cool here and the oil had not yet naturally reached its 76 degree melting point.  (Even if it had, I’m not sure that it would have been capable of absorbing the entirety of the powdered substance.)  I tried adding a few drops of tea tree oil (for its disinfectant properties) as well as about ¼ tsp. almond oil (for a more pleasing scent), but was still unable to successfully mix the ingredients.

The recipe suggested that more coconut oil might be necessary, so I doubled the ingredient, then popped the entire dish into the microwave for about 20 seconds.  This did the trick and it took only a few seconds longer to fully combine all of the ingredients.

I had saved the last two deodorant containers I had used and was able to return the platforms to the bottom, then pour my own mixture into the tubes.  I allowed it to set up for a little over and hour and ended up with a solid, freshly aromatic stick, very much like the ones that I usually purchase.

If you’d like to try this experiment for yourself, I recommend trying the following recipe (I’ve added links to the products that you’re least likely to find in your local grocery store):

¼ cup arrowroot powder

¼ cup baking soda

2/3 cup coconut oil (adjust quantity for your climate)

5-10 drops tea tree oil

¼ tsp. almond oil

  1. Mix the powdered ingredients thoroughly.
  2. Add oils (microwaving to soften, if needed) and combine.
  3. Pour mixture into old deodorant tubes or sealable Tupperware and allow to set.

Note that in warmer climates, this mixture may be a bit more liquid than you’re used to.  Don’t worry.  It will work the same way, you just need to massage it in rather than apply it with a stick.

Give it a try and, if you come up with suggestions for your fellow adventurers, feel free to share them here!


Digging the Past May 2, 2013

I have to admit (though perhaps a little sheepishly) that I have never quite outgrown my love of dinosaurs.  There is something about the “terrible lizards” which has fascinated me since childhood.  I find their lives, the mystery of their extinction, and the processes through which scientists attempt to recreate the ancient world in which they lived to be simply enthralling.

My parents did their part to feed the mania.  From books and movies to plastic toys and an unforgettable trip to Dinosaur National Monument in Vernal, UT, I had everything that a dinosaur-crazed grade-schooler could ever want.  I could name every known species and identify their bones, explain what they ate, and how they raised their young.  And I treasured the dream of someday uncovering a new species, myself.

To this day, I secretly savor the desire to go on a dig and perhaps it is for this reason that I grew so excited when I first heard that our local museum was to serve as host to “Sue”, a T-Rex uncovered by paleontologist Sue Hendrickson in 1990.  The most complete skeleton uncovered to date, Sue came with another surprise: soft tissue.  Current evolutionary theory is unable to account for the mysterious appearance of something which should have decayed a few thousand years ago, so the discovery left scientists puzzled… and lovers of fantasy works like Michael Crichton’s “Jurrasic Park” on the edge of their seats.

The idea of reviving an extinct species has its appeal.  We have, after all, seen the ecological devastation caused by modern extinctions.  We’ve watched the predator/prey balance shift everywhere from the tundra to the rainforests – been silent witnesses as unchecked populations clear the vegetation required for other species to survive.  Yet reintroduction may, in and of itself, pose a similarly unfortunate shift.

It’s for this reason, that I couldn’t resist the urge to pick up a copy of the April 2013 issue of National Geographic Magazine.  The cover article, “Reviving Extinct Species” does an excellent job of outlining everything from scientific questions like, “Is an animal recreated from mere DNA an actual copy of the original extinct species” (yes, there’s some question about this) to the ethical concerns of reviving something which our world may no longer be capable of supporting.  The article was, indeed, thought provoking.

But back to Sue.  I’d been through the entire museum twice, taking time to look at the bones of other dinosaurs that had been brought in for the occasion, and now found myself seated on the bench across from the cast of her giant skeleton.  It was early afternoon and the school field-trips had departed, leaving the large atrium hanging in silence.  I watched as glowing red light faded in and out, enhancing the fierceness of her razor sharp teeth and, for a moment, I almost thought I could see her move – her large, muscular limbs coming to life, her tail sweeping behind her as her footsteps shook the ground.  And for one brief, horrifying moment, de-extinction seemed like a wonderful idea!


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