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On Plot Lines, Needlework, and the Unfortunate Deterioration of Eyesight April 3, 2014

I am currently in the process of re-watching the entire “Downton Abbey” series for the fifth or sixth time. As the drama plays out, I sit silently upon the couch with a tiny needle gripped between my teeth. I gaze at the diagram, searching for the row where I last left off and consider how much easier this was before I needed bifocals. Now, the tiny thread-color symbols seem to blur into a single, indistinguishable mass vaguely recognizable as “things I’ve stitched” and “things I haven’t stitched”.

Because I am hand making a large number of my Christmas gifts this year, such trials must be gracefully borne. When I was younger, such endeavors were the result of a restricted budget. (After all, how much could a kid do with $2 a week?) While I make significantly more now, the principle remains the same. Health insurance and fuel for my truck take precedence over fancy presents – even for those whom I love most dearly. So here I am, carefully stitching the first of what promises to be at least four meaningful gifts destined for the walls of my closest friends.

Of course, unlike when I was a child, these gifts are not simply glue-gunned bits of scraps. While everyone will be receiving some form of needlework, not every item is identical. Nor is each item simply a variation upon a theme. These are not mass-produced trinkets designed to save me the bother of shopping or the investment of money which might otherwise be spent on play things. These are carefully selected items designed to convey message and meaning to those who receive them.

That the creation of such gifts takes time is evident, so I had the wisdom to begin my work in January. And, since stitching is a relaxing, but not particularly stimulating task, it was incumbent upon me to find something else to captivate my mind for the many hours of labor ahead. Movies like “Indiana Jones” and “Star Wars” quickly made their way onto my list as did “The Mummy” and a few “James Bond” films. I contemplated watching the entire series of “Stargate SG1” again as well as assorted seasons of “Star Trek”, “Dr. Who”, and “M*A*S*H*”.

Doubtless my TV watching hours will seem quite extravagant by the year’s end, but I anticipate that each moment will have been well-spent. I should be able to recite all of the Dowager Countesses lines for four seasons and may even be able to hum the “Imperial March” backwards. The best part, however, will not be the knowledge that I can provide hours of entertainment at any party or even that those I love will receive genuinely meaningful gifts – it will be the delight I feel when I walk into the optometrist and explain that it’s entirely my friends’ fault that I need stronger bifocals. Then again, it may be the look on my friends’ faces when they discover that they took the blame!


Make Your Own Shampoo October 31, 2013

Blessed with great oil glands, I spent much of my adolescence fighting with hair that, even when washed, could sometimes leave me looking like a greasy punk.  It wasn’t until late in High School that my mother and I discovered that the trick to keeping my hair looking consistently clean was to change out which shampoo I used every few days.  With two bottles in hand, it was possible to look professional, rather than “geeky”.

Whether this would change when I began making my own shampoo, however, was a big question mark.  Knowing that experimentation would be necessary, I ensured that plenty of store-bought “poo” was still left in the bottle and waited for the weekend.

My first formula was by-the-book:  ¼ cup of unscented liquid castile soap, ¼ cup of water, ¼ tsp. of grapeseed oil, and five drops of essential oil for aroma.  That this was too much oil, even when “diluted” was immediately evident.  I woke up two days later looking too much like Severus Snape for my own comfort.  Quickly washing my hair with the store-bought stuff, I decided to wait for the following weekend to continue experiment.

In my second attempt, I decided to see what would happen if I used the same formula, but eliminated the grapeseed oil.  This worked marginally better and with courage, I entered the new workweek.  About midway through, however, the same greasy look began to reappear and I knew it was back to the drawing board.

In its third incarnation, I had the wacky idea to replace the ¼ tsp. of grapeseed oil with ¼ tsp. of baking soda.  (I’m not entirely certain why I decided to attempt this, other than that my mouth felt better after I used it in my toothpaste… so it must be good for hair.  Right?)  Much to my delight, this did work (though I’m not certain of the scientific “why”) and, for the next few weeks, I happily washed away with the new formula.

Then, one morning, I woke up to discover that it had happened again.  With frustration, I examined my little bottle of essential oil and wondered – what if I used a more acidic variety.  A few hours later, I returned with a tiny bottle of lemon essential oil.  Remixing the shampoo, I added ten drops.  It was double what I normally added, but it was a risk I was willing to take.  And it worked.  Months later, I’m using the same formula and am delighted to report that the heavy oil is gone and my hair has attained that “fluffy” quality that I was seeking.

I’ve included my “greasy-hair” shampoo formula below.  Try it, improve it, and share your results in the comment box.  And if you don’t have oily hair, but still make your own shampoo, feel free to share your formulas as well.  I look forward to hearing your story!


Shampoo Formula for Oily Hair

¼ cup water

¼ cup liquid castile soap

¼ tsp. baking soda

10 drops acidic essential oil (lemon)


Oil: A Substitute Cleanser May 30, 2013

Filed under: Homemade,Toiletries — acgheen @ 12:00 am
Tags: ,

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!


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!


The Toothpaste Experiment April 18, 2013

Filed under: Homemade,Toiletries — acgheen @ 12:00 am

I squeezed the plastic tube tightly between my fingers.  I had seen this coming.  My toothpaste was gone.  As I tossed the empty container into the trashcan, I made a momentous decision: I wasn’t going to buy another tube.  After years of paying $3 for a couple ounces of paste made from ingredients that I couldn’t pronounce then filling the local landfill with the empty tubes, it was time for a change.

I spent some time online looking at different recipes for homemade toothpaste (something that my father fondly remembers) and decided that most of them looked revolting (baking soda, salt, and hydrogen peroxide).  What I wanted was something that didn’t taste like straight baking soda, but had the cleaning power of the paste that I bought at the grocery store.

Eventually, I did come across a recipe that looked like it might meet my requirements and I began what would turn out to be several weeks of intense experimentation which concluded with a highly refined (and inexpensive) product well suited to my needs.

The formula I had selected called for equal parts baking soda and coconut oil (which, for anyone interested, does not even vaguely taste like coconut).  My first attempt with this recipe was distinctly unsuccessful.  The baking soda was present in too large a quantity for sensitive teeth or a discerning pallet.  While this did suppress any chance of my accidentally swallowing my concoction, it also left me with sense that my teeth and gums would never be quite the same again.

I determined that my best bet was to reduce the intensity of the paste by increasing the amount of coconut oil.  This natural disinfectant is available in most grocery stores for a few cents an ounce (more if you prefer to use the organic variety).  The oil is sold in a solid form, though it melts at a fairly low temperature (around 76 degrees Fahrenheit) and a few seconds in the microwave is sufficient to render it soft enough to successfully blend with the baking soda.  I finally settled upon a gentler formula that involved mixing 3 tbsp. of coconut oil with 1 tbsp. of baking soda.  It didn’t foam in my mouth like the paste I was used to, but it did the job.

The next issue to be addressed was that of “scrubbing power.”  While my original formula did clean my teeth reasonably well, it lacked the abrasive quality of the gritty blue stuff found in the tubes: a feature which helps to eliminate plaque and tartar buildup.  In my father’s day, this issue was addressed with the addition of a small quantity of salt.  Not wanting to further foul the flavor of my concoction, I chose instead to add ¼ tsp. of ground cloves.  Not only did this supply the abrasive quality I was looking for, but it also helped to mute the flavor of the baking soda.  So far, I was finding success.

I then proceeded to work on adjusting the flavor further with some peppermint oil.  This comes in three varieties: essential oil (used primarily for massage and not recommended for internal use), candy flavoring (often containing additional preservative ingredients, but still suitable for toothpaste manufacture), and food grade (my personal favorite).  After several attempts, I settled upon the addition of ¼ tsp. – just enough to mask the baking soda flavor.  In combination with the cloves, it actually provides a rather pleasing taste.

The result was a successful formula for homemade toothpaste that met all of my requirements: it was effective, inexpensive, and palatable.  Perfect proof that with a little time and ingenuity, you can do just about anything!

If you’d like to try making your own toothpaste, try the formula below:

1 tbsp. baking soda

3 tbsp. coconut oil

¼ tsp. ground cloves

¼ tsp. peppermint oil

Don’t be afraid to experiment… and when you do, share your results with the rest of us.  Adventures are at their best when shared with friends!


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