The cake turned out fantastic, a little more dense than a cake made with white flour but very tasty, not overly sweet. We did end up making a peanut butter chocolate icing for it by melting a square of bitter chocolate with butter and peanut butter over low heat, then whisking in powdered sugar until it was the proper consistency for spreading.
I tried to come in and finish my day early, I really did. My back is aching from bending and carrying; however, I felt that I had to go out and put together a pot for bush peas since I only have about another week to plant those for a late fall crop. I layered wet newspaper, fine soil, worm castings, a thin layer of dead, crumbled leaves, and more soil, then watered it with a dilute solution of worm tea and water. The pea seeds are soaking overnight in legume inoculant. I’ll plant them in the morning in a zig-zag pattern to get more plants into the long window box I prepared. I like the bush peas because they tend to web together and not need much in the way of extra support and they’re fairly compact. Good, sweet flavor in both the peas and the pods.
Took a shower and decided to give my skin a treat, so I brought a little plastic bowl of sugar into the shower and exfoliated my face, neck, and chest. You just wet your skin and rub the sugar in gently until it turns to syrup, then rinse it away. It leaves your skin feeling so soft and smooth. Got out and gave myself a scalp massage with a few drops of rosemary and lavender essential oils, easing away tension, feeling a bit luxurious. I need to get some more sweet almond oil for my skin and hair, nothing else I’ve found makes it softer.
I still haven’t finished the dresser cloth but I did make progress on it during my breaks today. We have some good food for the week and I’m looking at Lasagna Gardening for Small Spaces,
playing with potential garden plans for next year while I sit here watching a movie. I ordered a bunch of nursery catalogs online tonight so that I can spend happy winter hours cozied up with a stack of them and a cup of hot tea.
I may need to get my dad or someone else handy to come help me build some planter boxes for next year. I mostly need someone to cut the lumber and help me get it out to my deck. I’m pretty sure I could get it put together from there. I have this idea for a two tiered box against the back wall with a trellis attached or a single, wider box with a trellis so that I can grow pole beans, cucumbers, and other vining plants. I’d like to have two half-barrels for columnar apple trees as well as the strawberry barrel I already have, and maybe another half-barrel for another dwarf fruit such as a fig or mulberry. I need to make much better use of my railing, too, installing planter boxes all around for herbs and small or trailing plants. I’m going to make the strawberry jar I already have into a planter for herbs and lettuce. I need to get rid of some of the smaller pots people have gifted to me since they’ve not proven to work well in the microclimate of my deck. Unless I can find compact, useful houseplants to put in them.
Alright, it’s time to sleep. I am one tired girl after my busy Sunday.
While walking home from the bus stop just now, I felt a sharp stinging sensation near my eye and grabbed the spot, effectively smashing the insect that had bitten me into unidentifiable oblivion (not a flea, too small for a mosquito – probably some kind of biting gnat or fly) but I now have a small but very itchy bite about half an inch from the corner of my right eye so I’m laying here with a cotton ball compress of witch hazel and tea tree oil on it. Already it’s helping. I make my tea tree witch hazel by pouring 1/3 – 1/2 of a small bottle of tea tree oil into a large bottle of witch hazel. It’s very handy for all sorts of skin complaints and makes a refreshing toner and cleanser that feels especially nice on warm days or after a hot bath. I have sensitive skin and I’ve not found it to be irritating but I’d definitely patch test it on your arm before putting it somewhere sensitive like your face.
I need to restock my supply of cosmetic clays. Right now I have none and they are incredibly soothing for insect bites, heat rash, and other summertime skin maladies. You just mix them with water, herbal tea, fresh juices, or even milk to make a paste of whatever thickness you like, then slather it on the irritated area and let it dry before washing it off with lukewarm water. You can buy cosmetic clays at health food stores, herb shops, or online – usually it’s sold by weight and I try to buy a one-pound bag at least because it goes a long way, you can mix up many treatments from a single large bag.
Alright, I’m going to take the compress off now and get some dishes done before a friend comes to visit tonight.
Today was my first day learning a fairly essential skill in this modern world – driving. For reasons of my own, up until now I have not been behind the wheel of a car and I finally felt ready and compelled to learn. I was nervous, but it was so fun that soon I was enjoying it too much to be scared of it anymore.
Afterward I met up with a new friend to go to the farmer’s market in downtown Portland. I know that spring is here now, the markets are opening and it was wonderful to peruse the offerings. I picked up some beeswax for preparing cosmetics and salves, baby turnips with their greens, some deliciously spicy baby greens, and a bag of tart dried cherries. Yum! We ate the greens as a salad with a big plate of pasta tossed with unsalted butter, Flagship cheese, and a dusting of cracked black pepper. Sometimes simple food is the best of all.
I started doing some cleaning but realized shortly into that venture that the problematic parts of my lower back were starting to twinge, so rather than exacerbate it, I mixed up a mustard bath by whisking a few tablespoons of powdered yellow mustard into a half cup of baking soda, then mixing in a dash of eucalyptus, rosemary, and lavender oils. Half of the batch in a hot bath is incredibly effective relief for back and muscle pain, plus it’s great if you have a cold with no fever because it really opens up your pores and sinuses and leaves you feeling toasty warm for hours afterwards.
Tomorrow I’m supposed to go hiking and picnicking with friends in honor of someone’s birthday, so tonight I’m resting up so that I’ll be fit and hopefully pain-free tomorrow so that I can enjoy myself. I’ve been putting a great deal of effort into increasing my physical fitness (the unheeded survival skill), so I’m looking forward to getting in a great deal of hiking during the nice weather.
Today was a rough day. Someone drove through a puddle on purpose to spray water on me as I walked to the train station, soaking my socks and shoes all the way through. I got to work chilled and miserable. Thankfully I was able to change into my office slippers and let my wet things dry draped over a chair in my warm office. I made myself some coffee, heavy on the soymilk creamer and sugar, then worked really, really hard all day long, bringing home nearly as much work with me tonight. After finishing all of my take-home work, I’ll admit that I was feeling a bit fried.
I decided that I needed a little tlc in the form of a hot shower with some nice bath products. I have some unscented goat’s milk soap that I like, but I wanted something with some zing, something that made me feel like a woman brimming with dreams and fire and confidence. I took the last of my bottle of sweet almond oil, then added drops of rosemary and lavender essential oils to make a green, spicy floral blend that I love. After my shower I slathered on the herbal oil, then gave myself a hand, wrist, and foot massage with a heavy, unscented cream. I made myself a cup of chamomile tea, too. Feeling much better now. All told, my mini spa experience cost less than $2 in ingredients but the effects of a little focused time and tlc for myself are priceless.
Now to finish my tea, meditate, and get a well-deserved rest.
After reading many posts on natural beauty forums about people switching to not using shampoo on their hair (ignominously called “no poo”) and singing the praises of softer, healthier hair, I decided to try it for a month to see what all of the fuss was about and to see if the no poo method would be a viable option in a long-term survival situation where you found yourself without toiletries but still wanted to avoid lice, sores, and other nastiness.
There are several methods of doing this, some involving the use of baking soda, herbal preparations and/or vinegar rinses to clean hair and some involving scalp massage, clear water rinses, and combing with a wide-tooth comb. I chose the latter because the first method involves a lot of trial and error trying to find the chemical ratios that work for your scalp and hair. I have other things to calculate so I went with the massage method.
So I made up a routine of brushing my hair and giving myself a little scalp massage before showering, then rinsing my hair with more scalp massage in the shower, followed by a comb-out with a wide-toothed comb while my hair was damp. In between washes, I give myself scalp massages and brush my hair well once in the morning and once at night.
My hair is a strange animal. It’s very thick but very fine in texture. It’s long and heavy with a tendency to wave near the ends and picks up curl easily. It also is prone to amazing multi-layered split ends and dry, itchy scalp.
Week one was the week of extreme dryness. My hair looked terrible, lots of frizzies and wings and a coarse, unpleasant texture. My dry scalp became an itchy mess, so I gave myself scalp massages with a drop of lavender essential oil to calm and soothe the irritation. The anecdotal evidence seems to point to shampoo messing with your body’s output of hair oils, causing under or overproduction. I don’t have the science to back this up, but this is the firm belief of many no poo adherents.
Week two was the week of extreme oiliness. Apparently something in my body decided to turn on the faucets because my hair became an oil slick. It was soft and shiny, but a little too oily. On the upside, my dry scalp all but disappeared toward the end of this week.
Weeks three and four saw a normalizing of my hair as my body adjusted to the lack of shampoo and began producing oils at a more normal pace. My hair is now softer than it’s ever been and very shiny with almost no frizzies. People have been stopping me on the street to comment on how beautiful my hair looks. When they ask what I use on it and I tell them “nothing but water”, they look shocked. I have supermodel hair without the use of any product beyond the few drops of lavender oil I used on the scalp irritation early on.
Unless my hair is absolutely filthy – as in, home construction filthy – I doubt that I’m ever going to use a shampoo and conditioner again. And I don’t need extra hair product to tame the flyaway pieces because they aren’t there any more. They’re tamed and smoothed by my natural hair oils. This is great and it’s going to save me money in the long run.
I’ve had bronchitis now for about two weeks and it’s no fun at all. Last night I was making some hard-boiled eggs for egg salad and snacks and realized that if I was boiling water anyway, I might as well use the cooking water to give myself a little steam to alleviate my suffering, so I caught the cooking water in a pot set under the strainer, added a huge handful of dried thyme leaves, and then sat on the kitchen floor under a towel enjoying the new-found sense of freedom that comes with breathing clearly again after being sick for weeks. After ten minutes of blissful breathing, I decided that I still didn’t want this water to go down the drain so I drew a bath, strained the thyme tea, added epsom salts and a few drops of eucalyptus oil, then took a comforting soak. It felt wonderful. I massaged my chest muscles, which ache from coughing, and gave myself a footrub, too.
After I got out, I left the bathwater to cool, then used a bucket to take it out to the garden to feed my plants the enriched (magnesium sulfate and human skin must be good for something) water. They’re all still alive and perky today, so I guess it did them no harm and it felt better to use and use and use that water rather than just watching it slide down the drain.
The past few days have been the first warm sun we’ve seen thus far this year. Even I, who am not a sun-worshipper by any means, far preferring the cool of autumn and winter to the rest of the year, can’t help but feel energized by the warmth and the birdsong and the lifting of the plants toward the sun.
Today I trimmed the marjoram back to get it to fill in more since it has grown leggy over the winter and the sweet, spicy scent of it sent me running upstairs to fetch the solar oven out of storage. For the first time I’m attempting to use it as a dehydrator. I placed the sprigs on one of my small baking racks to let air circulate around it I’m going to see how long it takes for it to dry the few sprigs of marjoram, which I’ll then powder with some sage and add to some melted castile soap to make myself a lovely ball of herbal soap. As an added benefit, sage reduces sweating and body odors and the marjoram is very relaxing. Homemade soap is so easy if you grate a bar or two of castile soap (I use Kirk’s brand, but any will do), then put it in a glass container with just enough boiling water to turn in into a liquid soap, let it cool a bit, then add whatever ingredients you like such as ground oatmeal or nuts, scents, and herbs, then either pour it into a mold or wait until it starts to solidify and shape it into a ball. One of my favorite molds is a clean plastic cookie tray with ridges, because it gives you a bar with pretty designs and is great for when you want to make enough soap to stock up or give as gifts.
Back to the solar ovens: I’ve spoken with other people online who use their solar ovens as dehydrators and I hope that it works as wells they say because I’d love to dehydrate some fruits and vegetables and make some fruit leather to snack on this summer. I just need to find some narrow, dark baking trays or biscuit pans for maximum heat absorption. A few people have also told me that they use their oven as a dry canner for jams and I might try that this summer, as well as trying to make strawberry oven preserves. I love being able to cook so much without heating up my house during the hot part of the summer. I just put in my dinner ingredients as though it were a crockpot and leave the oven on the deck. We come home to hot meals that take little effort and use no power to cook.
I continue to be pleased with the organic produce delivery. The quality and quantity is spectacular. I’ve introduced my daughter to several new vegetables and she’s liked them all so far, including the stir-fried kale we had last night. I got out the wok and stir-fried the kale in a mix of grapeseed and toasted sesame oil with loads of garlic and ginger, then added some tamari as it cooked down. We ate it over shiitake-almond rice that I made by tossing some basmati rice in the rice cooker with chicken bouillon, a knob of ginger, slivered almonds, and sliced shiitake mushrooms. It made a delicious combination that the five year-old pronounced “Yummy, mom!” with a high-five for emphasis.
The leftover rice is going to be the basis for fried rice tonight – a household favorite and a great way to clean out the fridge. I also have to deal with the chicken stock that I made from rotisserie chicken carcasses the other night. They make the easiest chicken stock in the world since they’re so heavily brined. I put them in the big crockpot with water to cover, a quartered onion, and some carrots broken into large chunks, then cook it on low overnight. Cool until the fat has hardened on top, skim, strain, then pick any meat off the bones. From there I either freeze it or make soup. Sometimes I’ll boil the broth down with some vegetables to condense it by half, then freeze that with the bits of meet and veggies to make a condensed soup base that can later be thawed and heated with an additional equal measure of water and rice or noodles for a quick dinner.
People sometimes get discouraged and tell me that the way we live is too work-intensive, but it’s not generally hard work and I feel better putting in a bit of extra effort in order to feed my family well and reduce the amount of waste coming from our house. Once you get in the habit of seeing not only the immediate meal but what can come from it or seeing the use of a bit of clipped garden herb, it becomes more of a hobby than a chore.
I’m also excited because the return of the warm, dry weather means that I can put the smoker that I got for christmas out on the deck and start experimenting with it. I think my first effort will be smoking some of the almonds in my freezer. We all love smoked almonds here. Then maybe some cheese or some salmon. From there we’ll get to jerky and all of the other good things (baba ganoush with real smoked eggplant!). I have some shelf-stable packages of tofu that need to be rotated out, so maybe they’ll get a spicy jerky marinade and a good smoking.
I’ve also been busy crocheting. I made a mid-weight poncho for myself out of Lion Brand Homespun yarn in Prairie. It’s lovely and very soft and comfortable to wear. My daughter wants some summer tops, vests, and skirts, so I need to start on those. I’ve spent the last few nights rolling skeins into balls as I watch Season Three of Lost. Better to do the prep work ahead of time than to have to stop mid-project to roll more yarn.
I really want to get some more plants in tonight once it cools off. My tomato plants have hardened off and need to be potted. I have one grape tomato plant and two bush tomatoes. Last year taught me that one of the perils of gardening on a second-story deck is that your plants are subjected to wind more often and tall plants can get beaten up quite a bit unless they’re staked really well. I’m going to start a bush cucumber plant and assess my pots to see what else I’d like to put in this year. I know that I’d like some peppers but a white mildew got all of my seedlings in the starter tray this year, so it looks like I need to buy them. I think I’d like a pot or two of lavender as well, it’s the one favorite herb that I don’t currently have in my garden (the other favorites being sage, rosemary, marjoram, oregano, garlic, parsley, and thyme). I still want some dwarf fruit trees and shrubs, but I haven’t found any to my liking. A local grocery store had some dwarf Honeycrisp and Braeburn apples but they had already branched out so much that they wouldn’t have fit into anyone’s vehicle. If I can’t get the apples, I wouldn’t mind having gooseberries, blueberries, and figs.
I need a small pack of bird netting, though, because already I spend my time at home chasing the house finches away from the strawberry plants (they love the greens). I can’t imagine it will get better once there are ripe berries to be had. Ah well, bird netting is cheap and, so long as I buy small mesh, install it properly, and check it morning and evening, no birds will be hurt by it. If I had a bigger space, I’d distract the birds and fatten them with feeders and a birdbath of their own, but with such limited space it’s very difficult. I dearly love birdwatching and it feels wrong to chase them away, but I am trying to feed my family and be practical about the money I’ve spent on my little garden, so there ya go.
After cooking for a friend’s birthday brunch last weekend I’ve found myself with leftover half n’ half and buttermilk. You can bet that homemade biscuits and creamy coffee are on the menu for Saturday morning breakfast, but there’s still more than we can consume by eating, so I’m going to use the excess to treat myself to some indulgent beauty treatments.
You can make a nice face and body scrub by moistening 2 parts powdered oatmeal and 1 part fine almond meal with just enough dairy product to make a thick paste. If you use tablespoons to equal your “parts”, you’ll have enough for your face, but if you use 1/4-1/2 cups, you can make enough scrub to get your whole body soft and smooth. If you’re allergic to nuts, just leave them out, you can use rice flour or more oatmeal instead.
You can also steep aromatic herbs like lavender or rose petals in warm milk for awhile and add the strained, scented milk to your bath. (Try to get the milk to about body temperature so that the fat in the milk will help draw out the scent). Milk baths are an ancient way of getting dry skin soft and smooth. Even without the added scent, a milk bath is a fantastic way to relax and soothe skin that’s been exposed to sun, wind, pollution, and other stressors.
My daughter’s personal favorite is when I whisk some unsweetened cocoa powder into milk and let her take a “mud” bath. She loves the chocolate scent and her bath feels more like playtime when she’s pretending to be a piglet or a catfish playing in the murky water.
Now, people have asked me why I include at-home beauty care in my list of survival skills and there are a lot of reasons. First off, making your own cosmetics saves a ton of money, reduces waste created by cosmetics packaging, and helps you use up leftover food in creative ways. Also, in an EOW (end of world) situation, good grooming and hygiene are going to help reduce the risk of inflammation and infections. Grooming helps us socially by making us much nicer to be around (someone who smells like herbs or someone who hasn’t bathed in two weeks – you tell me who you want to share living quarters with) and by giving us a way to socialize and give one another a little tlc – which can be even more vital in a high-stress situation. And, as a fellow survivalist once conceded, “I guess you’d probably want to find a mate at some point.”
Another reason to learn the preparation of beauty products is that many of the techniques used in making cosmetic products are similar to the methods used to make medicinal preparations. Infusions, decoctions, tinctures, distillations, salves, soaps, they’re all useful methods of preparation to know well in advance of needing them.
Oh, and the last and most important reason – it’s fun to do things yourself. Every recipe you try, every project you tackle, it all teaches you something that may someday become incredibly important to know.