Monday, November 21, 2011

Natural Beauty: It's Easier Than You Think! Plus... Kitteh!!

A more natural way to clean your teeth: Kitteh!

*blows the dust off this thing*

It's been a while! Six months, if we're counting, since I posted. While it's true I only have four official readers, I blog more for my own sanity than anything else, with a large dose of "I hope I can help improve lives and the health of the planet" mixed in. The two are largely related. But I thank those of you who follow, and hope that you enjoy the blog. As always, I welcome green tips and hints and know-how from you too! :)

Someday, if I'm ever fortunate enough to build my own home, it will be modest in size, and laid out in a way that makes sense. I love a common area that includes kitchen, dining, and living. I love views of the outdoors, and even bringing the outdoors inside via "french" doors.

But more specifically, I want two things directly off the kitchen: a bathroom, and an herb garden. To make it even better, that bathroom could be outdoors alongside the garden! Before you think hick or outhouse, please see exhibit A.

Beautiful yes?

I want to be able to take my herbs into the kitchen for cooking, and into the bathroom for beauty. I also want my bathroom to have easy access to my kitchen because truth be told, 90% of my beauty products now come directly from the kitchen. The rest come from kind people, for a small price, who make what I am too lazy to make myself, such as jojoba oil and Castille soap (directly from olive and other oils plus an alkali which disappears when the saponification process is complete).

None of what I now use is harmful to either myself nor to the environment. This makes me happy :)

Why do I do this? It was really made clear to me why when last week, feeling down and looking for a boost, decided to treat myself to some good ol' fashioned conditioner. As a concession to greenness, I went to my local co-op. I perused the bottles. Each boasted ingredients on their front labels like coconut oil, honey, jojoba oil, essential oil. The back labels showed that, trumping these natural ingredients, were some of the usual chemicals we are familiar with, mostly preservatives and agents that make the product look and feel the way we've come to expect our beauty products to look and feel.

That moment reaffirmed for me the conclusion I'd already come to, both in beauty and in food. Skip the extra, unnecessary, often harmful ingredients and get back to the source.

The list is simple:

"Products" for my skin, depending on mood, time and needs, are the following:

  • citrus essential oil or a squeeze of lemon or other citrus juice in steaming water. Dip a cloth in and, when cool enough to not burn, lay over face for 5-10 minutes to open pores.
  • Oatmeal, either rolled or ground, a bit of water mixed in, and rubbed over the face or body as a cleanser. Rinse.
  • Sugar, turbinado or "in the raw," a few drops of water mixed in, and gently rubbed on the face or body in a circular motion. Can also add a few drops of unrefined coconut oil (or other nut oils) and honey. This is an excellent exfoliant. The oil helps to moisturize and the honey helps keep moisture in.
  • Yogurt, plain and whole milk, at room temperature and applied in a thin layer on the face or body. Leave on for 15 minutes. The lactic acid in yogurt is an excellent exfoliant and facial smoother, otherwise known in the beauty world as an Alpha-Hyrdroxy Acid (AHA).
  • Honey, if used with the sugar or not, is excellent as a finisher because of its moisture retaining abilities, and its ph, which is similar to apple cider vinegar
  • Apple cider vinegar, a little bit (a teaspoon for face) mixed in a cup of water and splashed on face, is an excellent toner. No need to rinse afterward; the smell will dissipate.
  • Coconut Oil, unrefined (my personal favorite), or other oil such as jojoba, olive, etc. (not mineral, baby, vegetable, or petroleum jelly!), rubbed on the face. Excellent moisturizer. A little goes a long way!

"Products" for my hair are the following:

  • For an extra special hair treatment, mash a banana (and when I say mash, I mean puree that sucker in a food processor until it's a liquid. Trust me...) and add a few drops of coconut or other nut oil. Pack onto your hair, cover with a towel, and let sit for 30 minutes. Rinse. I like to shampoo afterward, but I'm sure that thicker, coarser hair could handle this with just a rinse. This is a great treatment for your hair, leaving it smooth and strong. Add an egg for extra protein.
  • Coconut oil, unrefined, added to the ends of my hair (I usually get everything below the ears). A very little goes a long way here. If I am planning on washing my hair the following day (my locks get washed twice a week on average), I put this on the night before. I rub it in well, brush it, and sleep on it. If the strands of your hair are thick and/or coarse, you can apply the oil after you shampoo instead.
  • Castile soap with apple cider vinegar and hemp oil (jojoba would work as well), and essential oils. I take the easy route here and buy it already made. A little goes a long way here. It's very watery. I just apply it to my roots, a drop here, a drop there, and wash the roots. I leave the ends alone (unless I put on too much coconut oil, then I give the ends a few drops). It may or may not suds up. Don't worry! You don't need bubbles to clean your hair. It rinses very easily and quickly. A note: if this is the first time you've used Castille soap, be aware that it won't strip your hair and scalp like shampoos do. Your hair, and you, will take a few weeks to adjust.
  • Honey, about 1/4 cup, rubbed between palms and then distributed through hair. Don't worry; it will not stick and will rinse very easily. As with your skin, this will help retain moisture in your hair. Leave on a few minutes and then rinse with--
  • Apple Cider Vinegar, 1-2 tablespoons mixed with a cup of water. Dip the ends of your hair in the cup, and then pour the rest over your hair, rubbing into the scalp and evenly distributing. Let sit for a minute or two and then rinse briefly with cool water. The ph of the ACV will shut down the cuticle of the hair, leaving it smooth and shiny. Between the oil treatment, the honey and the ACV, you will no longer need "conditioner."
  • I don't use styling product, but they are indeed available in a manner that won't harm you or the planet. You can buy them or make them.

And that's it! My family is no longer surprised to see me carting food from kitchen down the hall to the bathroom. In fact, I now keep some of it in the bathroom like honey, oats, and sugar infused with lavender.

This has been a updated version of a previous post of mine on skin care. Hope you found it useful! :)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

It All Starts With Food

Local and organic. New buzzwords, movements, often called "elitist" because supposedly only middle to upper class people can afford it. I won't go into that in depth because others have done so sufficiently. However, I will say that yes, buying organic food in the manner that most food is bought today, namely in packages and with numerous ingredients, is often prohibitively expensive. Boxes of cookies, bags of chips, frozen dinners, etc.... you're still paying for the brand and manufacturing on top of the added costs of organic. Part of moving toward an affordable organic diet means leaving behind many of the packages in favor of whole food.

I'm grouping organic and local together here because they are often one and the same, but a quick definition of each:

  • Local*: not the Safeway, Albertson's or Fry's around the corner. Local means not just operated locally but owned locally as well. Even chains that are franchised like McDonald's and Subway are not local. They are run on a formula, no matter their locale, and the bulk of the money leaves the community and goes to the corporation. Local are your mom and pop, independently owned businesses.

  • Organic: the term often confuses people, but it's not confusing at all. Think of organic as the way your grandparents, great-grandparents and before them grew and ate their food. Organic uses natural inputs rather than chemical. Instead of chemical fertilizers, manure and compost is used. Instead of chemical pesticides, companion planting with pest-averting plants is done, along with growing bio-diverse crops. The healthier the plant naturally, the better it can fight off pests and disease. Instead of growth hormones and antibiotics, animals are allowed to grow and eat naturally. There's no mystery here, no smoke and mirrors. Just naturally grown and raised food.

The reasons local and organic are important (not a complete list):
  1. Good for the environment. I was talking with my kiddos the other day about how becoming interested in truly healthy food (not about reading labels but getting away from labels) naturally led me to environmentalism. The two are so closely linked on many levels. A few years ago I watched a video of a cow being slaughtered in a rather inhumane but commonly done way. It led to me thinking about not just the meat on my plate but the living being it was before. I started reading books like The Omnivore's Dilemma, In Defense of Food, and Fast Food Nation, and watching movies like Food Inc. Becoming aware of progressive yet old-school (seemingly paradoxical) farmers like Joel Salatin.

    Thoughts led to action, and I changed the way I shopped and ate.

    Food, what kind we buy, where it comes from, how it was grown, the packaging it comes in if any, and how we dispose of it all affects the planet. Organic is better for the planet because it relies on natural inputs rather than chemical which leads to less pollution in our rivers. Local farms (and by local I don't mean the Con-Agra place doused in Monstanto chemicals with Monsanto GMO crops that's down the road) are more visible and therefore accountable to the community. When our local environment is degraded by industry we are much more likely to be aware of it, to speak up, to take action and to have an effect.

    For example: rainforests are clear cut every day for cattle grazing land, coffee, palm and soy production. Most of us would care if it was "our" rainforest being destroyed. The truth is, it is our rainforest. Distance might remove it from our daily thoughts, but the effects of its deforestation are felt around the world. The oxygen the rainforest provides is essential to the planet as a whole, along with it being part of our global climate control.

    We've been trying to "save" the rainforests for decades now but with little effect. Why is that? Because our actions and habits do not reflect a real commitment to conservation. We have not changed the message that we send to corporations which propels them to clear cut the rainforests. Scaling back our meat consumption and keeping our ranches small and accountable where we can see them is one (of many**) excellent way to protect the rainforests. We need the air they provide more than we need that quarter-pounder with cheese.

  2. Good for our health. This one needs very little explanation! Food that was picked yesterday and eaten today is far more rich in nutrients than food that had to travel. The rule for local is within a 150 mile radius. Food that is organic is better for you because it has not been doused in chemicals, hormones and antibiotics. A good website for local food in your area is Local Harvest.

  3. Good for the community. Here's where it all ties together.

    What's good for the environment is good for the community. It goes without saying that the healthier our planet on a global scale, the healthier our ecosystems on a local scale.

    What's good for personal health is good for the community. Medicare. Universal healthcare. Taxes to pay for both. Healthy people are less of a "burden" and remove a great deal of need for these debates.

    In addition, local businesses are good for the community, both economically and for that "sense of community" that we talk a lot about but no longer really experience. How many of us wish that the Mom and Pop stores were not going out of business? But, how many of us shop at those stores rather than at Target or Walmart or large grocery chains ? Probably not many, which is exactly why they are closing. It's not some evil corporate conspiracy to go after the Mom and Pop. Well... it is but... they have accomplices.


    We are lured by cheaper prices, larger selections, and convenience. At the end of the day, our money, after paying a few minimum wage workers, leaves town. Gone. Plus, these stores often don't stock local goods, so local artisans and farmers are not supported by these places as they would more likely be in locally owned stores.

    When I first started shopping at a little local grocery here, I was stunned at how small the place was. They had nothing, or so I thought. But I kept going back, determined to like it. And now, I do. I love it. They have everything I need, and when they don't, I go without and I manage to survive. No asparagus in September? That's ok... it's not in season then anyway. On the rare occasion when I go to the larger stores, I wander aimlessly, gazing undecidedly at all the packages, just as I did when these were the places I did my shopping. Shopping was always a huge ordeal and I hated it. So many isles, so much needless choice.. people staring in confusion at labels.

    Now I find there isn't even anything I want there anyway. Nothing is local. The organic fruits and veggies, largely ignored by most shoppers there, are old and squishy. The packaged organic stuff is.. well, where does it come from anyway? Safeway's brand "O," for example, is made by Lucerne. Buying organic from them mostly goes on to fund the rest of their operation, which is decidedly not organic, and not local, not even in Pleasanton where it's based.

    I find that somehow, somewhere along the way, I've lost my taste for the post-1970's grocery store, and prefer those places which, like Salatin, offer us a wonderful paradox: progressive and old-school.

* a word on coffee and other things that can't be grown locally. Most of the food we eat can be found locally. For those that never can, I say buy them! Local eating isn't about never eating another banana again. Of course some people take it to that extreme, but I think extremes set us up for failure. In the case with coffee, it can still be roasted locally, offering both a better cup of coffee and money to local roasters.

** a word on rainforests... and coffee! Coffee is one of the reasons the rainforests are being clear cut. If you've ever wondered what the term "shade grown" is, it's coffee that is grown without the need for clear cutting. To drink your brew guilt free and even do some good, buy it fair trade and shade grown from a local roaster (you guessed it: not Starbucks!). It's interesting to note that buying coffee organic actually hurts the farmers because they are typically too poor to buy the organic certification but also too poor to buy the chemicals... so they are likely to be organic anyway, just without the label. This is true for most small-farm crops in Mexico, South America and Africa.

More on the reasons rainforests are clear cut and what you can do about it can be found here


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Earth Hour--March 26, 2011! Party in the Dark! :)

My Earth Hour Lantern, 2009

This is your friendly reminder that on March 26th, which is in 4 days, this Saturday, it will be Earth Hour!!!

Watch this beautiful and inspiring video, the Official Earth Hour 2011 video. :)

What is Earth Hour:


Earth Hour started in 2007 in Sydney, Australia when 2.2 million individuals and more than 2,000 businesses turned their lights off for one hour to take a stand against climate change.


...Earth Hour 2010 became the biggest Earth Hour ever. A record 128 countries and territories joined the global display of climate action. Iconic buildings and landmarks from Asia Pacific to Europe and Africa to the Americas switched off. People across the world from all walks of life turned off their lights and came together in celebration and contemplation of the one thing we all have in common – our planet.


There will be those assholes (yes, assholes) who will turn on all the lights in their home, thinking they are being clever in their juvenile form of protest. To those people I have nothing to say.

There will be others (not assholes, perhaps simply cynics or inquisitive types) who will question what good an hour with no power does. To those I offer two things.

One: it highlights the power of conservation. If a relative handful of people in one hour of lights-off saves energy and reduces carbon emissions, what could we accomplish with long term, concerted, committed, cooperative solutions? For example:


...during the 8 pm to 9 pm duration, Chicago saved about 7 percent in energy. The 818 megawatt hours of electricity saved are equivalent to nearly 1.3 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions or taking two 400-megawatt coal plants offline for one hour.


And, two: following on the heals of that, it's about spreading awareness, both to others and within ourselves, of the very real and serious issues (despite political spin) facing us as a result of our over-consumption of ...well.. everything. The goal is to spark an interest, either initial or renewed, in changing the way we live on the Earth.

We usually get out in the backyard, enjoy some food and conversation. I take a few pictures. We've stretched it to two hours before. It can be a bit depressing, looking around and seeing that we are the only ones participating. To combat that, the kids and I give a shout to the neighborhood, "Happy Earth Hour! Whooohoooooo!"

If the thought of being an eco-nut all alone in the dark gets you down, try finding an Earth Hour event in your area, or start one of your own! I know in the past I've seen events listed on the Earth Hour site itself, but am not seeing that this year. Maybe I'm just not awake enough yet! But, a simple Google search should result in some events for this year's Earth Hour. Give it a go!

Have fun, and lights out!! :)


Earth Hour 2011 will take place on Saturday 26 March at 8.30PM (local time). This Earth Hour we want you to go beyond the hour, so after the lights go back on think about what else you can do to make a difference. Together our actions add up.


Monday, March 21, 2011

Mark Bittman on what's wrong with what we eat | Video on

Mark Bittman on what's wrong with what we eat | Video on

A note on local eating: yes, in the past there was no label on the type of eating one did. Today, however, with our food culture being so out of whack, should one decide that they want to eat locally, it takes a concerted effort. That concerted effort naturally inspires labels. Eating locally is not "elitist" if it's done for health of community and self. A carrot that came from across town, that was picked yesterday and eaten today is much healthier for us. And, a local farm is healthy for the community and the Earth. It isn't elitist to want to know where your food comes, and for the farmers and ranchers to be visible and answerable to their customers.

Mark Bittman writes my favorite cookbooks: How to Cook Everything and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

What Fits the Land

This farmer, on the brink of financial ruin, learned a lesson from his cows and the way they grazed when allowed to graze freely. He no longer spends money on chemicals and fertilizers, and milk production is up. Ever hear that happier cows make more milk? That first morning after they broke out and grazed in the field of wild oats and clover, the farmer noticed they smelled fresher, like the green pasture. They also made 200 pounds more milk than usual that morning.

These cows made me smile :) Nature knows what to do. If we are willing to watch, listen and learn rather than fight and conquer it, we all benefit.

No 'Poo?

A while back I'd posted about a no shampoo regimen I was trying by using baking soda as a cleanser and apple cider vinegar as a conditioner. It was working great until about week 4 and then.. I don't know what happened. My hair felt dry and crispy, but the hair near my scalp felt gummy, and the hair at the back of my head had a definite oily look to it. Overall, it felt dry but unclean. Not good.

I didn't want to go back to shampoo though. That would have been a huge step backwards and I wasn't willing to just give up like that.

So, I headed to the Food Conspiracy Co-op and bought a bottle of "shampoo." It's Uncle Harry's Hair and Body. The ingredients are few and simple: Castile soap, apple cider vinegar and hemp oil (some can contain other ingredients like lavender essential oils, but nothing harmful).

The cool thing about a shampoo like this is that, unlike commercial brands with harsh ingredients, this could actually be made at home. Large bottles of Castile soap and apple cider vinegar can be purchased relatively cheaply, and hemp oil is available at health food stores and online. If one really felt energetic, even the Castile soap could be homemade.

At the moment, I'm being lazy and just using good ol' Uncle Harry's. Perhaps when I'm done painting walls and scraping/staining floors and moving, I'll give it a go. Maybe.

Been using the shampoo a few weeks now. It produces suds (which I know is super important to some people), doesn't have a harsh smell, and makes hair feel wonderfully soft and healthy. I do follow it with a rinse of 2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar with 2 cups of water (I just use the water from the shower so it's not a cold shock), but I skipped that one day and the shampoo was fine on its own. My hair gets a wash twice a week.

I will say, since I started this whole thing, back with the baking soda/vinegar, I have not had a single split end. Given that my thin hair is rather prone to them (a few months after a cut my hair usually looks like it was run through a lawn mower), and compounded by living in a very dry desert, that is proof enough for me that giving up the 'poo was the right way to go.