Posted in Lists

Drawing up a gratitude list 

November is a popular month for gratitude, given the holiday that’s named for the emotion, but my motivation this year is a little different. I’m grateful that October is over! “Isn’t that the same thing as being-in-November?” you ask reasonably. Well, not precisely. 

The thing is, almost every major Drama, Trauma, and Tragedy in my life has happened in an October–leaving me with a superstitious fear of a “cursed” month. Add in the fact that those events (ranging from loss of a job to loss of a spouse, from severe complications of childbirth to last year’s vacation in a psych ward) have left me with a lot of unpleasant “anniversaries” in October–and it’s just a rough month. 

I literally spent the month praying that I could get to November 1 without anything awful happening–aware that if I did, it would be the first time in about a decade.

It happened! I broke the streak and got all the way through October without an Awful Event of any kind. I’m very nearly giddy over it. And helping with that reaction is the fact that I got my mental-health meds adjusted a couple weeks ago, after realizing I was on a downward slide toward Depression. I’m emerging from the haze of lethargy and indifference and feeling increasingly like ME again. (Witness the fact that I’m back here writing again–a silent blog is a danger sign with me.)

All that said… I’ve been on a sketching-kick, specifically a gratitude list. So although I’m usually one to express myself with words, today I’m offering my “gratitude album.”

I’m grateful for the man who married me. His voice puts a smile on my face, and his laugh lights my world. He has loved me (and prayed me) through some of my worst. It’s a joy and an honor to be “Mrs. Smith.”

I’m grateful for a job that keeps me challenged and interested, and where there’s room for growth.

I love RV-living, and our cozy little home. I’m grateful to live so comfortably!

I’m grateful for Vertical Church, and my church-family.

I’m grateful that I grew a pair of bright, vibrant, good-hearted people. (Readers, too.)

I’m grateful for modern medicine, and my mental-health meds!

I’m grateful for COFFEE!

I’m grateful to live in Idaho.

I’m grateful for my Ma, who has continued to love me no matter what.

I’m grateful for my teddy bear, Toots, who has been a comfort for more than four decades. (Here with Jon, who sewed Toots an Army outfit.)

I’m grateful for Open Adoption, and that the boy-I-grew has such a fabulous family.

I’m grateful for BOOKS!

I’m grateful to have my driver’s license back, and for the car Jon bought me when I got it back. I so appreciate being able to drive myself to appointments and work rather than hiking everywhere.

I’m grateful for open roads and motorcycles.

I’m grateful to be Sober! This is my owl-sticky-note marking my favorite page of the Big Book. “If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are halfway through.”

I’m grateful for my health. Crohn’s Disease has been in remission for 16 years, and I’m healthier than I deserve to be, given my alcoholism. God is good.

I’m grateful for my great Sis, who shares many of my memories (and quite a few of my quirks). And a grand welcome this week to her new daughter!

I admit it–I’m grateful for my iPhone. 

I’m grateful for challenges–like learning to ride.

I’m grateful for seaside vacations!

I’m grateful for a guy who fixes things… and builds things, and COOKS things!

I’m grateful for FUN!

The back of Jon’s helmet is a reminder for the road-of-life… I’m grateful that God has ALWAYS had my back.

Posted in Lists

Step Aside, Monday. This is a Job for COFFEE!

b7bb47cd0c2c66ea78a35710f4fab489It’s a very sweet thing that my husband brings me a cup of coffee every morning before I’ve even sat up. I suspect it’s also an act of self-preservation on his part.

I am a person who fuels and functions on caffeine. Coffee all day. Makes me happy. It should probably be listed among my mental-health medications!

So here’s “Put it on a T-shirt: The Caffeinated Edition”…

  • Coffee is my favorite way to trick myself into doing stuff.
  • Procaffeinating. (n.) The tendency to not start anything until you’ve had a cup of coffee.
  • 74aa1e7f98211fa8c6195912a2811aa1First I drink the coffee. Then I do the things.
  • There are two kinds of people: coffee people, and sad people.
  • Coffee helps me person. Personing is hard without caffeine.
  • I laugh in the face of decaf.
  • The early bird can have the worm. I’ll take the coffee.
  • Coffee = Inspiration Juice!
  • Warning: Do not activate this person without coffee.
  • I drink coffee for your protection.
  • How do I take my coffee? Seriously. Very seriously.
  • There’s too much blood in my coffee stream.
  • Perkatory: the anguished wait for a pot of coffee to finish brewing.
  • Don’t let them tell you fairy tales aren’t real. I drink a potion made from magic beans every day, and it brings me back to life.

As for bringing me coffee in the mornings, Jon jokes that he’s Biblically inspired to consider it his job… The Good Book says HEbrews!


Posted in Family, Lists

When You Wait till You’re Married (List#3)

marriage is a gift from God

In company with dinosaurs and dodos, we have to list the wait-till-you’re-married man as extinct, do we not? I honestly believed so, at least as it applies to this country and culture… but I’m here to report that the subspecies is not defunct. I met Jon last year. And I married him this February. And then we started our life of sleepovers. No, this post is not about Intimacy—or at least, not the type you’re thinking. (Hey, get your mind out of the gutter!)

Today’s Random List touches on a different sort of intimacy…  the familiarity and affection found in knowing someone else, down to their little habits and routines… Having previously followed a different order-of-operations in relationships (meaning I’d always lived with men before marriage), last February I felt both amused and awkward to find myself married to Jon and just figuring these things out… Continue reading “When You Wait till You’re Married (List#3)”

Posted in Mental Health, Recovery, Writing

If God Acts as Travel Agent, Don’t Argue the Itinerary

I dreamed last night that I was back in Safe Haven, the psych-facility where I recently spent ten days, and the dream felt comforting. The place is well named.

landline phone cord "remember these?"
a phone with a cord… and withOUT Google!

My cell phone was one of the things I missed most in there—not for calls, but for Google (I hadn’t realized how many things-a-day I look up!) and for the camera, and for texting. This post gets doodles instead of photos, because I didn’t have my camera!

We were allowed, between group-sessions and scheduled activities, to take turns using the phone at the nurse’s station. My first day (when I was still miserably trying to claw my way out of there) I was calling my husband nearly every other hour. That’s a lot of calling for someone as phone-phobic as I am, but I was raw and out of my comfort zone and looking for the balm of his voice.

Technically, I could have announced my intention to walk out at any time—despite the lock-down conditions, I was on a voluntary hold—but I was looking for someone to tell me it was okay to go. Let me be more honest: I was  trying to manipulate the psych-doc into telling me it was okay to go. But by the fourth day, I told her I was maybe doing TOO well. She mistook my announcement for another attempt to get myself released, but I corrected her interpretation. “I’m actually afraid to go home right now. I think I’m feeling TOO good.”

Continue reading “If God Acts as Travel Agent, Don’t Argue the Itinerary”

Posted in Family, Travel

Hill-Climbing, Hummingbirds, and Handguns

This evening, a particular piece of kid-art caught my eye. We have their notes and drawings tacked up all over the place—on the walls, on the fridge—but when something is always there you sometimes stop seeing it.

Elena Grace’s drawing of the family at the lake, one year ago

That’s the case with this piece , carefully dated 8-2-11 (almost exactly a year ago) with sticker-letters spelling out the message: “Mom, I wish I could see you more often. Love, Elena Grace.” It’s accompanied by her drawing of all of us at the lake, and her note reminded me with a jolt that just a year ago (due to our 2010 alcoholic relapse) we were only seeing the kids for a day here and there, not even overnights.

my scariest subscriber!

What a long way we’ve come (thank you, God!) that we have them for a week at a time this summer, and on the Fridays when their dad picks them up, we know we’ll have them back the next Friday. Christian’s parting words on his way out the door to his dad’s truck this afternoon were: “I’ll call you. Post something!” Scary as it may sound, my eleven-year-old now subscribes to my blog, and has even read through all the archives. Well, you can bet he’ll keep me pretty honest. (By the age of three, the signature phrase of Mr. Fact-and-Detail was: “Actually, Mom…”)

An aside to my child: Remember, Buddy, that Mom wears a t-shirt that says “I make shit up,” and that first and foremost I’m a storyteller. Cut me a storyteller’s slack, yeah? Love you!

Silver City, Idaho: the “ghost town” that’s still kickin’

This week we used our time with the kiddos not only for chicken-house-building, but also for a camping foray into the Owyhee mountains to the old mining town of Silver City. I wrote about Silver City last summer for an Idaho travel magazine (“reprint” of the article here), and on that visit Keoni & I stayed in the Idaho Hotel, which has been in operation for one hundred fifty years… I know that sounds like a new building to my friends in Europe, but here in the American West that’s about as old as it gets.

As we pulled into town this week, the hotel owner, Roger, was out front of the hotel putting steaks on the grill. Keoni pulled the van up beside him and rolled down the window. “I don’t know if you remember us–we stayed here last summer…” Whether truthfully or politely, Roger said he did, and Keoni went on to add, “My wife wrote the article for Western Byways.” Whether or not he remembered us, he remembered the article—and evidently with pleasure. (I wonder, in retrospect, if it’s a bit unnerving to be told there’s an article being published about your place, and not to have an idea which of your recent guests might have been the snoop writer…)

one of the drug store counters… Roger bought it, contents-and-all, and is working to restore it

We reiterated how much we’d enjoyed our stay last year (as if he hadn’t gathered as much from the article), told him we’d brought the kids up to camp (he peered into the back of the van and waved his barbecue tongs at them in cheerful greeting), and asked if there might be a possibility that he would unlock the drug store (which he also owns) at some point so the kids could have a look. He agreeably set a time for the next morning, and we headed on up the road.

Keoni had some “help” (and a duel?) with the tent…

We had intended to bypass the established campground just out of town and stake out a spot upstream, but the campground turned out to be entirely deserted, so we decided after all to claim a creekside spot there. Elena Grace gave Keoni a hand with the tent, and both kids disappeared up the banks of the creek.

disappearing across the creek…

I have to pause here and note that I’ve never in my adult life gone camping without being the person who packed for the trip. This was actually the first time Keoni and I have had the chance to camp together (thanks to the loan, from my parents, of two tents—including the awesome orange one that predates ME), and while I was frantically trying to finish up my writing Tuesday, he packed up the van for our adventure. It was a strange sensation for me to get into the vehicle without a single idea of what had been packed. He’s organized, OCD, and super-thorough (far more so than I would have been, in all truth), so I had no reason to worry. It was just an odd sensation. Yet another reminder that I’m with a man now who takes care of things.

Our Fire Guy at work with the flint & steel

And take care of things he did—the camp popped up around me in no time, and by the time the kids returned from their foray up the opposite mountainside, he had sausages on the grill and a fire ready for Christian’s flint-and-steel.

It’s one of the inescapable facts of camping—at least around here—that ninety-degree days flip in a flash into near-freezing nights. Not long after the sun disappeared behind the mountains, I was hurriedly trading my sweat-soaked t-shirt and shorts for jeans and layers of sweatshirts. (And yes, the kids both piped up that they were glad their dad let them take their warm sleeping bags.)

marshmallows & a fire—indispensable to camping

The marshmallows came out, of course, quickly followed by a perfectly full moon, rising from behind the mountainside the kids had so recently conquered. After several s’mores, Elena Grace climbed stickily into my lap and leaned back against me, gazing at the moon. “It’s just been shopping, you know,” she told me, matter-of factly.

Oh? Does the Moon have shopping bags?

“Mm-hmm.” She gazed some more. “It likes taking baths. And it always washes its hands after it goes to the bathroom.  It likes people… and fish. Golden fish!”

I think I may have a Writer here. I’ll have to ask her what the Moon shops for…

morning in the Camp… Including Mom (with coffee!) when she finally emerged

Keoni and the kids were up early, and I emerged from the tent for a few cold minutes before I conceded that my writing-until-five-the-previous-morning had caught up with me. Gravity definitely felt like my enemy—smell of bacon and coffee notwithstanding—I needed some more sleep. On my second attempt at emerging, the air had warmed, the coffee was still waiting, and Keoni was cleaning up what turned out to be the worst “disaster” of our trip—the aerosol whipped cream (for pancakes & cocoa) had deployed inside the cooler. When that’s the worst mishap of a camping trip, you know that someone has packed well!

We headed back into town, where we met up with Roger and his strongly-wagging tail, which is incidentally attached to his dog Kodiak… He and a friend were doing some work on the drug store this week (I believe he intends to open it for regular public viewing once the restoration-work is farther along) and he ushered us in to have our look around. When he bought the drug store, some of its contents had been untouched for decades. There’s a cabinet of unopened medicines, the newest of which is from 1903… A full dentist’s office with all the tools where they were left… Typewriter and shipping boxes, embossed order-forms (dated 1914) for opium, lamps and bottles and all manner of things. It’s purely fascinating, truly.

the fascinating Silver City drug store… And Kodiak, our tail-wagging “tour guide”

I think what’s so fascinating to me about Silver City is that there’s so much history still there—and the few folks who still live there (though only a couple of them year-round, as it’s snowed in through most of the winter) are maintaining and restoring and keeping the history alive.

trying our hand at gold-panning…

As Roger said to us, you can tell a Local in Silver City because they’ll go around with their noses to the ground after a rain, to see what artifacts might have washed to the surface. And indeed, when Keoni was digging around in the creek-bank by our campsite, seeking worms for Christian’s fishing, he uncovered rusted square-headed nails and even a rusted padlock embedded in the banks. The campground itself is situated where China-town stood, Roger told us, and it’s apparently quite common to find Chinese coins and opium bottles after a rain.

I confess to being a little bummed by the realization that I had a less-than-avid audience for the history-stuff in my kiddos. My own frame of reference is a childhood spent with a sister who was a History-Major-in-the-making by the age of six, and the two of us would easily have spent a full afternoon just in the cemetery, not to mention the rest of the town… But on the other hand, these two will happily entertain themselves for a couple hours with just a stream for entertainment, so I really can’t complain.

Christian reading in the tent. (Lessons learned: he needs more than 3 books for a 2-day camp-out, and she now knows that eBooks can’t get recharged…)

I almost did—complain, that is—when Elena Grace was throwing a temper-tantrum about her flip-flops being “wet and sandy” (of all things!) when she was trying to play in the stream… “I hate this place! I am NOT joking!” she shrieked, throwing one of her sandals on the ground. Can this seriously be MY kid, I was wondering… Until she finished her fit with this lament: “If I could just be barefoot!”  Oh Lordy, she is REALLY my kid!

Sorry, sweetie—I misunderstood the nature of the problem. By all means, be barefoot. (She was, for most of the rest of the trip. And I’m remembering a week-long canoe trip around Lake Coeur d’Alene in northern Idaho in my teens—a week in which I didn’t once don any form of footwear…) Okay—so we need to work on the tantrum-part, but yeah. She’s mine.

Our Camp Cook!

After some down-time back at camp (despite the sleep-in, Mom needed another nap on a blanket in the shade), we poked our heads into the hotel again and asked Roger if he might have some horseshoes we could borrow—he did—and we walked down to the horseshoe pits in the town’s Memorial Park. Christian’s unique (but effective) style of horseshoes looks something like bowling, but his bouncing-and-rolling tosses land well. Keoni overthrew a couple into the creek beyond, and we ended the evening with new horseshoe-terms. In addition to “leaner” and “ringer” (Christian ended with TWO ringers on his last toss!), we now have “slider” and “creeker” (meaning one that lands in the creek)…

Back at “our” creekside, we had tied a couple of Elena Grace’s bright-pink socks to one of the tent-lines so we wouldn’t run into it—and we had the pleasure of a visit, during dinner, of a pair of hummingbirds determined to find food in them. Heaven help them if they manage to get sock-juice from those, was the general consensus around the campfire…

It has been a week of “firsts”… Our first opportunity to camp together, the kids’ first foray to Silver City… And the last “first” for the week: my first go with a loaded weapon. On our way down the mountain, we stopped at a spot Roger had recommended for target-shooting, and set up targets against a steep hillside.  I confess I wasn’t prepared for the KICK of a 40-caliber handgun, but by my fourth clip I was taking out my targets consistently. And having fun. Look out, World!

Flash… and KICK! Aim… and ENJOY!
Posted in Family, Home

Kitchen Chemistry #3: PEOPLE-Cleaners

Two of my testers: Elena Grace (8) & Kapena (16). And wouldn’t you know it—she needs to be cleaned. AGAIN.

Well, here we are with the third installment of Kitchen-Chemistry do-it-yourself cleaners—doing positive things for both our wallet and our well-being! If you’re just joining, the previous installment covered household cleaners made from kitchen ingredients… They’re doing a great job of cleaning the house, they cost next-to-nothing to make, and we know they’re better for the environment (an immediate concern in our case, given that we’re living on a river-island with a very high water-table and using well-water)…

Since then I’ve been experimenting with people-cleaners, so here are my favorite recipes, tried and tested by my personal guinea-pigs family…

First, A Few Words About Castile Soap

The most expensive ingredient in the shampoo recipe is liquid Castile soap, made mostly from olive oil, and named for the region of Spain where it originated. I spent a fair bit of research-time trying to find a way around this expense (about 25 cents per ounce if you buy by the gallon, as much as 50 cents per ounce in smaller bottles), and concluded that I’m not equipped for home soap-making. It’s a more hazardous brand of kitchen chemistry, due to the use of lye, and requires some precision instruments (scale and thermometers) which we don’t have on hand. For body wash, you can find recipes that bypass the use of lye by grating existing bars of soap and adding your own ingredients, but bar-soap on hair doesn’t work well (I’ve tried)–so for shampoo I’ve included both the full-on”Food-Stamp Kitchen-Chemistry” suggestion, and the one I liked better, with the use of Castile soap when I can afford it. OK, on to the good stuff…

DIY Shampoo

Shampoo was a tricky one because, although I’m none too picky about things like body-soap, I’m very fussy about how my hair feels.

One of the most frequently recommended shampoo substitutes is a simple mix of baking soda and water, preferably followed by a rinse of apple cider vinegar. It works, and it’s absolutely the cheapest approach, although it’s not my favorite find. The cider vinegar leaves hair soft and shiny (and surprisingly, not smelling awful after rinsing), but it is a bit strong during application in the shower. (On the up-side… When you’re dousing your head with the equivalent of half a cup of “smelling-salts,” you’ll be plenty alert by the time you step out of your morning shower!)  The lack of lather felt odd when I was “shampooing” with the baking soda, but it got the job done.

lake shampoo
Christian “shampooing” at the lake

I should note that the baking soda approach is the favorite of our 11-year-old son, Christian (who doesn’t care about “conditioning” and skips the vinegar step)—I had promised him that if I came up with a suitably biodegradable shampoo-substitute, he could take his “bath” in the lake. Promise kept—and I definitely scored Cool-Mom Points with this one!  His only challenge is in rinsing all the baking-soda out, given his curly crop of hair with its approximate consistency (and tenacity) of velcro… For the rest of us, however, the Castile-soap recipe is the winner…

Big excitement: I got to use our home-grown herbs for this recipe!

DIY shampooI steeped the rosemary and lavender in the water, strained out the herbs, then added the Castile soap, oil, and honey. The whole batch went into an empty bottle of bought shampoo (Reduce, RE-USE, Recycle).

I found the Vitamin E oil at Walmart ($4 for 2 ounces, which will last for quite a few batches). I also saw recipes recommending coconut oil, grapeseed oil, and other light vegetable oils, but (thanks to that “Vitamins” e-book I wrote), I know Vitamin E is good for hair growth. The honey is intended to add shine, and the rosemary & lavender are supposed to be good for growth, as well as fragrance. One usage-note: give the bottle a good shake before using, because the oil tends to separate out.

nettle teaOur 16-year-old son, Kapena, needs dandruff shampoo, so I made a separate bottle for him, adding a couple bags of nettle-leaf tea to the steeping step. (For some reason, no one was in favor of adding stinging nettles to our garden. Hmm.)

DIY Conditioner

DIY conditionerOnce again, the most frequently recommended conditioning rinse that turned up with my research was vinegar.  And I found one version that takes some of the wallop out of the vinegar-in-the-shower smell. I filled a spray bottle one-third with apple cider vinegar and the other two-thirds with water. A couple sprigs of rosemary and a few stalks of lavender in the bottle add some pleasant fragrance. I just use the spray-bottle in the shower after I shampoo, leave it in while I soap up, and rinse it out before shutting off the water.  Some users actually recommended leaving it in rather than rinsing out, but I really don’t want to go around smelling like a fish-and-chips shop…

DIY conditioner
my spray-bottle of apple cider & herb conditioner

I’ll add that it did feel strange at first because I’m used to the creamy/slippery feel of conditioners, and I feared that this rinse wouldn’t be any help as a de-tangler. My hair gets way more snarled than you would expect, given how straight it is… But to my surprise, it combs out easily! There’s a faint whiff of vinegar while it’s still wet (Christian says it smells like sunscreen when I’m just out of the shower, hmm), but that scent doesn’t seem to linger.

Then there’s my very favorite conditioning, which I’m doing about once a week: Mayonnaise! I can’t believe what a gorgeous difference this makes—my hair tends to get dry and frizzy, but after my mayo-treatment it’s soft and shiny … Honestly, t’s like somebody else’s hair! I’ve never used a conditioner or hot-oil treatment, no matter how expensive, that worked as much magic as mayonnaise.

It looks pretty goofy (sorry, you won’t get a photo of this process) but I rub the mayo into my hair before I get in the shower, leave my greased-up hair wound on my head like a turban for ten minutes or so, and then hit the shower. Washing the mayonnaise out works best if you add your shampoo before getting your hair wet. Then just shampoo & condition as usual. One note on this one: it doesn’t make any difference to the results, but it’s a lot more comfortable to use room-temperature mayo rather than straight-from-the-fridge cold.

DIY Body Wash

bathtub reader
Elena Grace insists on body wash over bar soap. Of course, she still has to be reminded to USE it… Left to her own devices, she’d finish her book and get out still unwashed.

I was initially going to skip the idea of body wash, because I didn’t think I could get any cheaper than just buying a bar of soap. In fact, most of the recipes involve a bar of soap being grated into them anyway. However, Miss Elena Grace raised the protest that she doesn’t like using bar-soap, and on further reflection, the diluting ingredients added to the grated soap might actually make it stretch farther. I haven’t managed a statistical comparison of how long a bar of soap lasts us compared to a bar-of-soap’s-worth of body wash, but at half a gallon of body wash per bar of soap, I think we’re coming out ahead—and Her Highness is satisfied.

There’s a multitude of recipes to choose from, including those made with Castile soap and those made from existing bar soaps. In this case I went for bar soap because it makes a larger volume at lower expense. There are also all kinds of suggested additives, so you can get pretty creative with whatever you’d like. Add herbs, add essential oils, add a couple tablespoons of honey or coconut oil…

Elena Grace planting some new lavender–some of which will get used in shampoo

Some recipes include glycerin and some left it out—a little research revealed that glycerin makes soaps translucent, but doesn’t necessarily add to the “cleaning power”… It does act as a moisturizer, however, so if you have really dry skin you might want to include it. If you want to add glycerin (the body wash would no doubt be prettier), it’s pretty cheap and can be found by the Bandaids.

The recipe is simple: Start a half-gallon of water boiling in a large pot, and then put your bar of soap in a microwave-safe container and zap it for about 90 seconds. (After dozens of sites with instructions to grate the soap, I found one that recommended the microwave. By golly, it works! And takes most of the hassle out of this recipe…) Do watch it while it melts to make sure it doesn’t bubble over and make a mess in your micro. Pour the softened soap into your boiling water, add any ingredients you choose (I included a couple tablespoons of Vitamin E oil—great for skin as well as hair—because I do have dry skin, and hadn’t bought glycerin). When it’s thoroughly mixed up and the soap thoroughly melted, pour it into containers (we’re just re-using containers from previously-purchased  body wash bottles) and let it cool. (One lesson learned: if you’re pouring into flimsier plastic, let it cool a little before pouring. I have one crumpled-melted Dial bottle to offer as evidence…) It looks pretty watery for a while, but it thickens up nicely a few hours after the initial cooling.

Dial bottle
lesson learned: if you’re pouring into #1-PET plastic bottles, wait till it cools down somewhat…

Because you’re using manufactured soap for this, you don’t have to worry about preservatives or spoilage. Having said that, if you do pick up a recipe with Castile soap, I’ll pass along a tip which didn’t accompany all the Castile-recipes I saw, but probably should: add a teaspoon or so of citric acid to prevent bacteria from growing in your mixture. (For the Food-Stamp kitchen-chemistry version, you can use a packet of unsweetened powdered lemonade.) If you make bigger batches of shampoo than the recipe I gave above, you might consider doing the same with the shampoo.

And I’ll add that an advantage to this body wash approach is that you can use a favorite brand of soap. Kapena likes Axe products (drenches himself in them, to be honest), so a bar of Axe soap-turned-bodywash made him very happy. We’ve always liked Irish spring, so we’ve got the green body wash in our shower. And when the kids tried out their new pocket knives by carving up bars of Dial soap (my favorite “sculpture:” Christian carved a cell phone that cleverly had the “Dial” logo on its back) I gathered up their shavings and leavings and added that to a batch as well.

DIY Body Scrub

DIY sugar scrub
ingredients for a sugar scrub: white sugar, brown sugar, pumpkin spice, olive oil

Ah, the luxuries in life! I’ve always enjoyed a good exfoliating body scrub, and it turns out they’re easy to make. Most scrubs use sugar or salt for the exfoliating agent, but I’ll add the warning that you shouldn’t use salt if you have dry skin. (I could give the whole chemistry-teacher lecture about osmosis… Or we could keep it simple and I’ll just say that salt sucks the water out of your skin cells and leaves your skin dryer.)

DIY sugar scrubThere are so many delicious recipes, I couldn’t narrow down the field to just one! At its most basic, the body scrub recipe boils down to one part oil to two parts sugar. As for what type of oil, you can go with baby oil, vegetable oil, coconut oil, almond oil… Whatever tickles your fancy (or whatever you already have in your kitchen).

Possible additives for fragrance include vanilla extract or pumpkin spice (which is just allspice & cinnamon & nutmeg) or lemon zest (grated lemon peel) or even coffee grounds (love that one!)… Pretty much whatever comes to mind.

DIY sugar scrub
a (Parmesan cheese) bottle of sugar scrub

I found the easiest way to mix is to add a little of the oil to the dry ingredients—just enough to make it “crumbly”—and mix it all thoroughly. Then put it into whatever container you plan to use, and add the rest of the oil. My current scrub is in a Parmesan Cheese bottle (so fancy!) because that’s what was empty at the time. Note for next time, though–a shallower container would be more convenient. Now that I’m into the bottom half of this one, I’m keeping a spoon in the shower to scoop it out…

In a nicer container, this would make a great gift. I’m remembering spending something like fifteen dollars for exactly the same sugar scrub I just made with about twenty-five cents’ worth of ingredients. (Ouch!)

One more note: the days I use the sugar scrub, that’s a good time to have the DIY tub-scrub ready—the body scrub tends to leave an oily film on the bottom of the shower. But wow, does it do a great job on me.  The first time I made it, I used it one one leg and not the other (no moisturizer afterward) and I could see the difference. You know that scaly-white alligatory look of dry skin? That was the un-done leg, and the other one… Silky smooth.

DIY Eye Makeup Remover

DIY makeup removerI’m not picky about using body-soap on my face, but when it comes to removing eye makeup, soap just doesn’t do it. If you plan ahead and buy the “mild” Castile soap, it’s sometimes the same price as regular, and is fairly easy on the eyes. Alternatively, Johnson’s baby soap (“no tears”!) works great.

DIY-Eyemakeup-RemoverJust mix a teaspoon and a half of the baby shampoo or mild Castile soap with a cup of water and a quarter teaspoon of olive oil.  Give it a shake before each use, and apply with a cotton swab or re-usable cloth. I’ve always liked the Almay eye-makeup remover pads, but at five bucks for 80 pads, that’s out of my price range these days… And this little mix does just as well!

DIY Deodorant

DIY deodorantThis one you can’t do without. (At least in America. Though I’ve visited some countries where eau d’underarm was the accepted norm…) And this one took a fair bit of fiddling before I settled on something that was usable. This version is a little more liquid than some variations, but that helps in applying it thinly. Too thick, I found, and it dries in powdery clumps that drop off afterward. I recommend applying after a shower (when your under-arms are dry) and before dressing–if you dribble on clothing you might as well pick a new outfit for the day. I’ll also add that this goes on white, so it’s not the deodorant you want to wear with that sleeveless little black dress.

common sense is like deodorantThe recipe I settled on (though you, too, can fiddle with amounts—more or less oil to make it less or more solid) is equal amounts of coconut oil, baking powder, and cornstarch. For people who don’t react well to cornstarch, arrowroot is a suggested substitute—more expensive, but available in the spice aisle.  The cornstarch (or arrowroot) acts as an antiperspirant, and the baking soda absorbs odors. Another ingredient suggested in place of coconut oil is shea butter—but I had coconut oil already in the kitchen. Lots of people also add essential oils for fragrance, but I’m not a fan of flavored armpits.

I wasn’t sure how DIY instructions would handle application–I found one recipe that suggested packing your DIY mixture into an empty deodorant-stick, but most recipes just suggest a jar. (I actually don’t think the stick-idea would work well—even the most solid variations weren’t dense enough to keep their shape, especially when the bathroom was warm…) Scoop some and apply with fingers, or (for less mess) with a spoon or a little wooden paddle like the ones they use for tasting at Baskin Robbins. One user suggested rubbing it into your hands like moisturizer after applying, but I find it too gritty for that. I’ve been keeping a broken-off plastic spoon in my little container, and spread the deodorant with the back of the spoon. It’s worth mentioning also that the consistency changes drastically with temperature. It might be quite solid on a cool morning, and completely liquid on a hot afternoon.

This particular recipe is not a hit with the members of the household who have under-arm hair (especially Kapena, who is wedded to his Axe deodorant) so although I’m doggedly using the batch I made (and re-mixed, and re-re-mixed), I suspect that deodorant is one of the few items we’ll continue to buy. It works, I’ll say that much for it. But I don’t love it.

DIY deodorant And after all that… An alternative that’s less messy and fairly effective: just the baking powder and cornstarch, patted on like baby powder. However, it doesn’t really “hold up” for all-day use, especially on a high-desert Idaho summer day.

I’ll share one more idea that might work for you, though it’s not for us to try. (We’re both recovering alcoholics and don’t keep any kind of alcohol in the house.) A spray-bottle of rubbing alcohol, spritzed under the arms, is said to be effective in killing odor-causing bacteria. People who use it swear by it, and it’s certainly easier (and cleaner!) than my own attempts.

DIY Toothpaste

DIY toothpasteI’ve made two separate batches of the toothpaste—one without the whitening agent of hydrogen peroxide (for the kids) and one with (for us coffee-drinkers and recent smokers). Mix six teaspoons of baking soda with a teaspoon of sweetener (Splenda or Equal or whatever you use in your coffee, as long as it’s not sugar) and two tablespoons of coconut oil.

DIY toothpaste
Elena Grace’s PINK toothpaste

Peppermint is a traditional toothpaste-taste, of course, but really you could use any flavor. You’ll want to use something, though, because the baking soda is super-salty, and it’s like brushing your teeth with seawater if you don’t flavor it. (Believe me, I tried.)

I mixed the toothpaste batches in containers for cupcake-papers, and put a cut-off plastic spoon in each for easy application onto toothbrushes. Just for fun, I let the kids pick food-coloring, so here’s Elena Grace’s pink toothpaste!


rinse & reflect
Christian rinsing his “shampoo” job…

It says a little something that we can’t use bought shampoo in the lake… But we’d use it on our kids. Hmm. Now that I’m thinking about it, that’s probably a good standard to follow: if we could rinse it off in the lake, it’s safe on our kids. And us too, come to that. Now I can actually list (and pronounce!) the ingredients of everything being used to clean My People.

Check the ingredients on your store-bought shampoo against any list of harmful-chemicals-to-avoid, and you’ve got a better reason than “being broke” to make some changes. Besides… If you’re at all like me, you might get a kick out of making your own. Here’s to healthy living!

Many thanks to my dear Husband, who has patiently put up with (and mopped up after) the various messes I made in his kitchen, and with equal patience has been dabbing experimental goops on various parts of himself at my request. Mahalo nui loa, Keoni ku’u pilikia!

Posted in Family, Home

Something to Prove (or… “MOMMY can change a tire!”)

My hubby and I were having a thought-provoking conversation the other day, about the (sometimes) delicate balance between care-taking and independence.  He knows me well enough to understand that I have a sort of fierce pride in the knowledge that I can take care of myself.  In the year that I was single, I bought my own house, worked on my own landscaping, mowed my own lawn, kept the tires rotated and oil changed on my own car, made my own meals, managed my own bills, took my own vacations…

changing oil
changing the oil this morning… “I either need some more muscle or some more torque!”

There’s a story that has pretty much become a family punch-line, about the afternoon when my son Christian (seven at the time) and I arrived at my car in the supermarket parking lot and realized a tire had gone flat; Christian’s reflexive response was to wail, “Oh no–we don’t have a man with us!” To which I replied (with a fair amount of heat, it must be admitted), “OH noMOMMY can change a tire!”    I did change the tire (refusing several offers of help, in fact–on fire to prove a point) and we went on our way.

Four years later, any conversation on the topic of what-moms-are-capable-of-doing is likely to be punctuated by Christian roaring “Mommy can change a tire!” (and then collapsing into giggles). Evidently I made my point…

All that to say… I’m a person who can get unreasonably prickly at any implication that I’m incapable of doing things for myself.  Keoni and our sons joke that I’m “one of the guys,” and it’s true that I have a strong tendency toward some stereotypical guy-traits… I’ll refuse to go to the doctor until my chest-cold has turned into walking pneumonia, I can’t bear to ask directions when I’m lost, I’d rather spend hours trying to figure something out by myself than simply ask someone who knows, when I argue with someone I’m all about logic and dismissive of emotion…  I always wanted to be the girl who took care of her own shit.

But you wouldn’t guess this if you watched our household for a few days, because I am spoiled now. Keoni argues the semantics and says I’m not spoiled, just “well taken care of“–but I suspect most folks would agree with my verbiage. He does all the grocery shopping, cooks three meals a day for the family (every day), brings me breakfast and coffee in bed (every day), does all my laundry (and returns it to my closet according to my own peculiar system of organization), is the sole master of both the vacuum cleaner and the lawn mower… I don’t even remember the last time I shaved my own legs. I am spoiled. And purring instead of prickling.

changing oil
Like my funnel? A soda-bottle dug out of the recycle bin and cut in half… Household on a budget! :)

What happened to the prickly-and-independent Me? I can only guess (and this was the topic of our conversation the other morning) that it’s Keoni’s acknowledgement–celebration, even–of my capacity for independence that relaxed me into allowing and enjoying his care-taking.  I don’t have anything to prove with him–he already believes in me.

He’s also enthusiastic about sharing knowledge with me–and for the first time in my adult life, I don’t feel threatened by being taught. I’m learning to handle a pistol. Today I learned how to change the oil on the car. Perhaps it’s the fact that he’s so clearly an intellectual equal that makes this so easy. It might sound counterintuitive, but I was more fierce-and-prickly about these things when I was an admittedly “dominant” partner—in my first marriage it was a joke between us (in friendlier days) that my Ex was the “chick” in the relationship, and I was the “guy.” Too much truth to it, unfortunately—it was not a relationship of equals, in too many ways, and I was always walking a fine line between “taking care of shit” and not making him feel threatened by me. Is it ass-backward that that was the time in my life when I was the most protective of my position as a-person-who-could-manage? Maybe… it’s because I didn’t have the luxury of lost-ness or “weakness.” If I didn’t step up, nobody would.

My first husband… didn’t have anything to teach me. In fact, he drove me kind of crazy with the things he couldn’t understand. His lack of a grasp of the basic (intuitive, I would have thought) principles of physics hampered activities ranging from home-improvement projects to sailing, I couldn’t talk about literature with him, and his response to being asked to read my writing was to get grumpy. His first year of teaching biology, I wrote his lesson-plans for him, and explained them every morning, and got into a shouting match with him on the Evolution unit when he wouldn’t treat the word “theory” in its scientific sense. Anything that he didn’t do, he made a point of belittling. My cross-country running wasn’t a real sport, my Master’s degree in creative writing wasn’t a real thesis, my stay-home-motherhood wasn’t a real job. (Though when I went back into the work-force and he was faced with summers at home, the kids went right into daycare. Hmm.) I was in a constant tug-of-war with myself between flaring up in defensive anger when my contributions were belittled, and “dumbing myself down” to appease his insecurities.

changing oil
#79 was our son’s football number last year (and Keoni’s before him)… He says this year he’s going to be #13–our lucky number!

Today, in contrast, when I was struggling to loosen the nut on the oil pan, I could freely comment that I needed either some more muscle or some more torque. (Since we didn’t have a wrench with a longer handle, Keoni lent me the muscle, and then I got right back under the car.) I spent fourteen years editing myself at home rather than saying what I knew. Maybe that’s why I was wired to be so desperate to show “I know!“–and so loathe to admit when I didn’t.

I did nothing but stunt myself with that, and I’m joyful now to be growing again, and learning. Joyful to be with someone who has things to teach me, and who is open to new things from me as well.  And joyful that  MOMMY can change the oil… now.