December 10, 2018

Zeroing In

This is very much a work-in-progress... But in case anyone wants to get started on alternatives to store-bought cleaners and cosmetic items, I am putting this out there with the intention of cleaning it up at a later date.

Links to recipes are provided in many cases. I have chosen those that work for me, and a few I haven't tried but have verified that they work for others. The type of water you have can impact results greatly, and some recipes will require adjustments in hard water, specifically. Usually that means adding a form of salt to the ingredients, but I recommend doing a search for the type of recipe plus "hard water" to get more information; sometimes that can help.

Everyone's hair and skin are unique, and that will affect which ingredients you should choose. I will try to give general guidance on this, but feel free to experiment and research for your own best practices. Likewise, avoid or discontinue use of anything that causes discomfort or allergic reaction. In most cases, I have chosen only the most benign of ingredients; however, anyone may react to anything, and some ingredients may have limited cautions for specific reasons that do not undermine their overall utility. (For example, citrus oils: very useful in many things, but cause sun sensitivity in skincare; you may sunburn quicker or worse with citrus oils. Thus, I leave them out of skin products, but use them extensively in cleaning recipes. Same with baking soda: I am wildly sensitive to it in body care items, but use it daily in housekeeping.) For pet care, I have used diluted castile soap to wash my cats and a dog or horse on rare occasions, but I never include essential oils for animal use unless dealing with a specific skin condition or fleas. I have no experience with birds, reptiles, or small furry friends like rabbits or guinea pigs or hamsters. I will give specific suggestions for babies and children in a separate post.

Also, there's no medal offered for Making All Your Own Stuff. If you are busy, or low on energy, or have your hands full with young children, or simply do not want to make everything (or anything) that you use, no worries! There are many excellent quality vendors out there now, offering products that suit any lifestyle from Paleo to Vegan. The trick is to find ones that don't use plastic packaging and excess packing materials, but using "zero waste" in the search parameters will help with that. If you have access to a good local natural foods shop, or farmer's market, it's likely that you can find some good options there. I happen to like making my own stuff, and I happen to have the time. I do think it's rewarding to see how self-sufficient one can be. But I absolutely recognise that other people have other priorities and preferences, and that's just fine, too.

If interested, I have a Pinterest board on which all the recipes referenced below may be found, as well as others not included here. There are sections on several different aspects of living a lower-waste, greener lifestyle, and I add to the board on an on-going basis. Feel free to use it as a one-stop resource and spring-board to many other Pinterest users and Zero-Waste focussed blogs.

https://www.pinterest.com/nofixedstars/choose-to-reuse/

Basic Ingredients List:

baking soda
vinegar (cider or white)
sea salt
castile soap bars
washing soda
soap nut concentrate (Natur-Oli brand, "extreme-18x")
OR plain soap nuts
hydrogen peroxide
rosehip oil, argan oil, jojoba oil, etc. (your choice of one or more)
coconut oil
squalane (I order mine from Amazon)
hyuralonic acid (ditto)
bentonite clay powder
food grade aloe vera


Useful Essential Oils:

frankincense
helichrysum
rose geranium
neroli
calendula
lavender
lemongrass
lemon or rosemary
tea tree
grapefruit
peppermint
"On Guard", "Thieves", or similar oil blend

Optional Ingredients and Products:

ground cloves
calcium-magnesium tablets, crushed to powder
food grade activated charcoal powder
epsom salts (for bath salts)
rosewater
papain (enzyme from papaya) tablets, crushed to powder
rice bran, powdered
fine castor sugar
milk of magnesia, unflavoured or original mint
"Scent of Samadhi" deodorant herbal powder
rhassoul clay powder
silk dental floss in cardboard or glass containers
wood bristle hair brush
natural boar bristle hair brush
horn or wood comb, metal wide-tooth comb (if interested in dying hair)
cassia obviata powder ("neutral henna")
lawsonia (henna) powder
natural indigo powder
Weleda Calendula Baby Cream
Dr. Hauschka's Rose Facial Cream


Other Items List (some may be re-used, DIY, or bought):

felted wool balls for laundry drying
assorted bottles for containing what you make... Re-use old shampoo containers, spray cleaner bottles, the glass dropper bottles that essential oils and base oils come in, small wide-mouth jars, etc. You may wish to purchase a few glass bottles and jars if you have none at hand that suit the purpose and are empty. I reuse dropper bottles that my base oils come in for my serum; and I find that the pointy-capped squeeze bottles intended for mustard and mayo at picnics are super for shampoo and conditioner rinses...Hideous colours, often, and yes they are plastic, but they work really well and don't break if they slip out of your hand in the shower.
There are all kinds of screw on caps to fit mason jars of all sizes, which can make dispensing things more convenient. I like to replace the fiddly 2-piece canning lids they have with (alas, often plastic) solid screw-on caps.
large measuring cup or beaker
funnels, large and small
mixing bowls, spoons or spatulas
old towels

Things to Remember:

* Ingredients such as activated charcoal and aloe gel and bentonite clay for use in these recipes should be "food grade".
* Essential oils should 100% pure, undiluted, "therapeutic grade" oils.
* Henna and indigo should be 100% pure and natural, with no synthetic colourants. No "black henna", no blends other than real henna and real indigo powders. Always follow directions for the particular formulations you have bought, as they do vary greatly.
* Henna does not mix with chemical hair dyes... If you have salon or home chemical dyed your hair, it is best to wait until it is gone before using henna, to avoid strange green tones and patchiness.
* So-called "blonde henna" is a blend of lawsonia and cassia: it is lovely on very light hair, but it cannot lighten hair itself. Thus brunette hair will not be blond after using it. Naturally light hair, and pale grey shades will find it effective, generally.
* Activated charcoal is MESSY. It's a super-fine powder that becomes airborne and gets everywhere. Forewarned is forearmed...
* Whenever water is called for in a recipe (unless added at time of use), it should be distilled water or boiled and cooled under a cover tap water. This reduces chances of spoilage and contamination.
* Clay powders vary in their properties and mineral contents, but are generally interchangeable---if you have one but another is called for in a recipe, you usually can simply substitute one for another. Many people like bentonite clay in facial masques, especially for acne-prone skin; I don't care for the feel of it and find it too harsh on my skin, preferring kaolin or French green clays. I use rhassoul for hair treatments by preference, but if out of it will happily use another clay.
* It can take time for hair, scalp, skin, and underarms to adjust themselves to new products after years of using conventional store-bought ones... For some people the transition time is minimal and barely noticeable, but for others it can be rather tricky. Patience is key. It will resolve. Example: many find that stopping use of anti-perspirants causes excessive sweating for a period of time, and some notice metallic or other unusual odours. This passes, and can be accelerated by applying a clay paste to the underarms a few times. Allow it to sit for 5 or 10 minutes, then rinse. Or sleep in it overnight, covered with an old tee shirt. Generally it resolves after a fortnight or so, and many find after a time that they sweat less than ever, and that their body odour is milder using alternative deodorants than it was with conventional ones.
* I always recommend that when starting alternative hair care you should begin by doing a clay masque on the hair, perhaps once a week for the first month or so. This seems to assist in removing build-up on the hair and scalp, and results in a smoother transition. If you experience excessively oily hair during the transition, it can help manage that as well.
* Many sites offering information for alternative hair care techniques emphasise not washing hair more than once per week. If you are used to washing daily or every other day with conventional shampoos, this will virtually guarantee that your will have an oily mess, which they suggest you hide with a scarf and simply persist in this regime until the scalp adjusts. This is correct---the scalp will adjust, and possibly quicker---but you may not enjoy having dirty hair, oily pillowcases, and going out in scarves. Rest assured, there is no need. The assumption that this is an all-or-nothing process is false. You can just as well transition gradually and painlessly by simply letting your hair and scalp drive your washing as needed: if you normally wash daily, go to every other day. Eventually you will notice that you don't seem to need to do that, and can try washing every three days. If you find, after a time, that your hair is still clean on the third day, go to every four days...and so on, as desired and required. If you have been working out or gardening, a simple water only rinse in the shower can take care of sweat and dust. If you find hair is oilier than usual for some reason (medication, illness, hormone fluctuation), just wash it when you need to without fussing about how many days it's been. Or brush some dry shampoo through.
* I do not personally recommend the "no-poo" techniques that rely on baking soda as a shampoo replacement. It is destructive to most hair types over time, even with an acid rinse.
* Speaking of rinses, vinegar-water or lemon-water mixes make fabulous conditioners. They are not, however "no tears" formulations such as many children's products are, being acidic rather than basic in nature. They are absolutely safe and effective on kids, but children should be taught to close eyes tightly and/or cover them well with hands when using a vinegar rinse or detangling spray to avoid stinging.
* Special considerations for textured hair:
People with textured hair usually find that natural hair care and less frequent washings improve the elasticity of hair and reduce breakage. I recommend very fragile hair types use a pre-wash treatment of coconut oil (just rub on hands and then onto hair, working through) and scrub scalp only during washing. Wrap hair in towel and gently squeeze towel or pat out moisture---never rub harshly. Some people like to use an old tee shirt or other jersey fabric instead of towelling as it's gentler. If hair is worn natural, simply detangle and separate with fingers. If planning to style in twists or braids, use a wide-tooth comb to section hair. (Plump twists and braids do less damage than finer ones.) The so-called 'Bantu knots' will give curls or afro effect and volume when undone. Use fingers only for un-sectioning and fluffing. You can use additional argan or coconut oil on the ends daily or as needed. Sleeping in a silk scarf or on a silk pillowcase also helps protect the hair. A spray-on, leave in coconut milk based conditioner can be useful for textured hair. If you have been using a relaxer process on hair, the treated hair will require more protein than any new growth, natural hair, and likely will "eat" oils faster. If growing out hair that has been relaxed, twist-outs and braid-outs are styling choices that can equalise the texture.

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---Cleaning Recipes---

All-purpose household cleaner:
vinegar + water + tea tree oil (Works on windows/glass too. If something is very filthy. wash with castile soap and water first, then use this cleaner.)

All-purpose household scrubbing powder:
baking soda

Hand-washing dish detergent:
bar of castile soap

Automatic dishwasher detergent:
2 tablespoons baking soda + 2 drops of commercial dish detergent
hard water variant:

Toilet cleaner:
Same as all-purpose cleaner: vinegar + water + tea tree oil + castile soap (grated bar or liquid)
Some people increase amounts of essential oils. May pour peroxide into bowl for whitening after scrubbing.

Pet odour eliminator:
vinegar + water (spray to saturate area); baking soda sprinkled on and allowed to sit for some time, then scrubbed or vacuumed up.

Laundry detergent:
baking soda + washing soda + castile soap (May be made as powder or liquid.)
OR just use a fabric bag with soap nuts in it in washer. If you wash in cold water, dunk the soap nuts in their bag into a bowl of hot water for 5 minutes before putting them (and the liquid) into the washer.

"Fabric softener" for use in dryer:
felted wool balls: Things come out less stiff and they reduce drying time.

Spray fabric (or air) freshener "febreeze":
water + vodka + lemon oil

---Cosmetic Recipes---

Facial cleanser for make-up removal:
coconut oil and a soft face-cloth; in morning, just wash with damp face-cloth or splash with water.

Facial toner (optional):
pure rosewater in a spray bottle
Thicker, oily skin may use witch hazel + rosewater in equal amounts.

Facial serum:
choice of base oils (suited to skin type) + essential oils + squalane + hyuralonic acid

This is my own recipe, created for my dry, sensitive, delicate skin... 1 ounce argan oil + 1 ounce rosehip oil + 1/2 ounce squalane + 1/2 ounce hyuralonic acid +  30 drops frankincense oil + 20 drops helichrysum oil + 20 drops lavender oil + 15 drops neroli oil + 15 - 20 drops ylang-ylang oil + 15 drops calendula oil. (Shake well before each use. Best dispensed from dropper bottle. Use 3-7 drops or roughly a quarter of a dropper, and apply to just washed, still damp skin.)

(I hope to add recipes for oily skin and special issues later...)

Exfoliant:
papaya enzyme + rice bran + water added at time of use. (Store as dry powder.)
 OR "Vic" cloth (slightly abrasive facial wash cloth. Microfibre face cloths work well, but I'm trying to steer clear of synthetic fibres lately. There are lovely woven silk face and body cloths which I hope to try sometime.)

Clarifying masque:
clay powder + activated charcoal powder + aloe gel + jojoba oil + water. (Equal parts clay and charcoal powders: perhaps 1/2 cup of each, and about 2 tablespoons aloe and 1 tablespoon oil; then mix in water if needed to desired consistency, aiming for a smooth, thick slurry.)


Shaving cream (Optional; soap works fine for many):
plain coconut oil
(May scent with essential oil, and/or add up to half other base oil. Almond is nice. This can be used, sparingly, as a beard conditioner as well.)

Body scrub:
sugar + coconut oil + essential oil of choice (I've never measured this; I just mix sugar into coconut oil until the consistency is right---thick, not runny---and add scent oils until I am happy with it. In cold weather, you may need to soften the coconut oil by standing it in warm water for a bit, but you don't want it liquified.)
OR use a loofah

Shampoo:
soap nut concentrate + water + aloe (1 part concentrate to 13+ parts water and 1 part aloe gel. Shake before use.)
OR use dimethicone/silicone/whatever-cone-free store-bought conditioner diluted half and half with water.

Conditioner:
vinegar + water + optional essential oil of choice---lemon or lavender are nice. (Equal amounts vinegar and water, and drop in scent oil to preference. Shake before use.)
Same thing can be used in spray bottle to detangle children's hair. Have them close/cover eyes, and bump up the amount of lemon or lavender oil to reduce whinging about vinegar smell if need be. (Once hair is dry, the vinegar smell goes away.)

Dry shampoo:
arrowroot powder OR cornstarch + cocoa powder (May add a bit of bentonite clay, if desired.)
Blend until you get a colour that disappears when brushed into your hair.

Setting spray:
lemons + vodka

https://www.zerowastewisdom.com/single-post/2016/11/27/Lemons-and-Vodka-Hairspray

Light hair gel:
plain aloe vera gel (May add essential oil scent.)
OR flaxseed gel: flaxseed +water (May add scent oil.)

61208

Body wash:
Bar castile soap is all you need, really.

Deodorant:
milk of magnesia, dabbed on. (M. of M. is runny when first opened, but if decanted into a suitable jar for dabbing, it soon thickens up into almost a custard-like consistency. I accelerate that process by leaving the lid off the jar whenever I refill it for a day or two.)
and/or "Scent of Samadhi"
OR one of the many DIY deodorant recipes on the internets...

Dental care options:

Tooth powder:
baking soda + sea salt + bentonite clay + ground cloves
May add crushed calcium-magnesium tablet if desired.

https://sustainablynourished.wordpress.com/2013/03/06/re-mineralizing-tooth-powder-all-natural-diy/

Toothpaste:
same as tooth powder + coconut oil to make desired consistency + optional peppermint oil (Some add stevia to make it sweet; I don't miss the sweetness of commercial toothpastes.)

Mouthwash:
distilled or boiled water + "On guard", "Thieves" or similar oil blend + peppermint oil.
May add peroxide if desired for whitening effect.

https://www.oursmallhours.com/homemade-mouthwash/

---Make-up Recipes---

Plain, translucent powder for reducing shininess:
very finely milled rice flour, or arrowroot powder. (If you add mica, you get a highlighter powder.)

Foundation powder:
arrowroot + cocoa powder + ginger or cinnamon (Mix until you achieve a shade close to your personal skin tone. If you need colour correction for redness/blemishes, you can use pure bentonite clay powder or French green clay powder separately, or add it to this mix.)

https://pistachioproject.com/2013/06/homemade-face-powder.html
zero-waste-homemade-powder-foundation

Powder blush:
arrowroot + beetroot powder (or alkanet powder) + hibiscus powder + peach powder. (Powdered raspberries work too. Adjust proportions until you have desired shade.)

https://thrivingonpaleo.com/diy-natural-blush/

Mascara:
activated charcoal powder + aloe gel + vegetable glycerin + vitamin E oil + bentonite clay + lavender oil
(This is a recipe I haven't yet tried, but I selected it from the many recipes out there because I believe it is sound. When I run out of mascara, I plan to try this myself. I've been using Pacifica mascara as it's the cleanest one I can buy locally and it's cheaper than the extremely pricey all natural options I could order.)

https://beautymunsta.com/homemade-diy-mascara-with-activated-charcoal-that-works/

Eyebrow filler:
almond oil OR castor oil + arrowroot OR cornstarch + charcoal powder (optional)
This is another "mix to desired shade" recipe. Lighter eyebrows won't need the charcoal.

https://ablossominglife.com/homemade-natural-eyebrow-filler#_a5y_p=2393644

Lip tint:
shea butter + beeswax + coconut oil + colourants (beetroot/alkanet, cocoa, cinnamon, turmeric...)

https://wellnessmama.com/5830/homemade-lipstick-recipe/

My personal skin care routine goes as follows:

AM- wash face/neck with warm water and face flannel. Apply 3-5 drops of oil-based serum to damp skin and massage it in. Follow that with tiny amount of Weleda baby cream. Let that absorb into skin whilst brushing teeth. Then apply make-up if I plan to wear any.
PM- use small dab of coconut oil rubbed between fingers to remove make-up (concentrating on eyes), then use a warm wash flannel to remove residue. Apply serum to damp skin and massage in. Skip any other creams.
Once per week- exfoliate gently using a masque made of papain + rice bran made into a paste with water, applied to face and allowed to dry whilst bathing. Remove by re-wetting thoroughly, then massaging in circular motion, then rinsing well.

I don't use a toner, but if one is wanted it could be sprayed on the face after washing and before the serum.

Hoping some of this information is useful to some folks!

















December 5, 2018

The More You Know...

There's a saying, "the more you know, the less you need." It usually seems to be applied to outdoor activities, such as camping, but I have found that it applies equally to other areas of life like parenting, cooking, and in the last several years, to cleaning things...such as myself, and my house.

I have been trying to reduce my carbon footprint for some time. (All of my adult life I have worked on this, really.) I wanted to simplify my cleaning and hygiene routines for all sorts of reasons: eco-protection, self-sufficiency, toxin reduction/health, cost reduction, not supporting dodgy companies, pretty much any and all of the reasons people do these things. So I began researching and then testing all kinds of simple cosmetic and cleaning agent recipes, and what I have found has made me both angry and elated.

The elation is easier to explain: I'm thrilled that I can make, for very little money and with very little time or effort, effective products to clean everything on my body and in my house. I'm not really joking when I say that baking soda and vinegar, with a few bars of castile soap thrown in, will take care of just about every cleaning need. Seriously. 

But the anger...that is harder to explain. It's a sort of slow burn that has been building over the last several years as I have realised with ever increasing clarity how much wasteful, harmful, toxic, needless, often cruel, unsustainable, and ultimately DECEITFUL crap has been pushed upon people over my lifetime. All this waste and harm for literally NO GOOD REASON. And it continues, and spreads its vile tentacles ever further, because...marketing...

And also because people don't know any better. I am including myself in this group, because although I was very aware of the issues surrounding cleaning chemicals---both for humans and for the environment---I truly didn't realise how much of the marketed stuff is totally unnecessary. Even the "green" versions. We just don't need it. Not only do we not need it, but much of it is actually counter-productive! Especially in the personal hygiene and cosmetic realm, many of the products marketed to us cause us to need more products to deal with the effects caused by use of the initial product. 

This was made crystal clear to me in my long-term experimenting with alternative hair care options. My life in this area would have been greatly simplified had I known decades ago that there were alternatives to the shampoo-and-conditioner product routine, and that they were, in fact, both easier and more effective (not to mention cheaper) than the products from the shops or salons. Everybody's hair is different, so what works beautifully for me may not be the best choice for another; but there are plenty of simple, effective options for natural hair care to choose from. I can virtually guarantee that with a little experimentation and patience, anyone could find a satisfactory solution for his/her hair and lifestyle. The most salient thing to realise here is that conventional shampoo actually creates dry, stripped hair that "needs" to be conditioned. And conventional conditioner actually weighs hair down and makes it look and feel dirty quickly. Many conditioners also contain various silicone-type agents that seal the hair shaft to rectify the damage caused by shampoo (which we can see and feel as tangly, dull-looking, roughened hair with split ends, often), and this coating of silicone agents furthers the damage by building up on hair and sealing out the conditioning ingredients. Silicones make hair look shiny and smooth temporarily, but over time they cause more damage to hair's integrity and health. Add heat-based styling or regular blow-drying, and/or chemical dyeing, and it's no wonder that so many people have damaged hair. Sulfate-free shampoo is a slight improvement, but ditching conventional shampoo entirely is game-changing. 

In my quest to understand all I could about hair care alternatives, so I could recommend them to others with different hair types, I tried the following: 'no-poo' using baking soda and vinegar, castile soap, bar shampoos, dry shampoos, CO (conditioner only, or "curly girl") washing, traditional herbal blend powder from india, shika-kai, soap nuts, rye flour, rhassoul clay, water-only, acid-only, water-wash + acid rinse, honey, rice-water; vinegar, herbal teas, aloe, vegetable glycerin, and numerous types of oils as conditioners; and various combinations of these things. I endured the dreaded (and really, it doesn't have to be so bad) "transition" period as my hair and scalp got used to shampoo-free life. Out of all the protocols I tried, the only ones I would *not* recommend are the most common ones: baking soda as a shampoo, and castile soap. Baking soda will damage hair, over time, and vinegar rinsing is a must if you are going to do it, especially if prone to dandruff. People with very short hair probably can get on fairly well with it, though. Castile soap is a mess on anyone bigger than a baby; difficult to rinse adequately, tangle-inducing, and builds up. If you must use it, dilute the heck out of it, rinse very well, and use an acid rinse. 

Long story short, life is good now: I wash my hair with diluted soap nut concentrate and condition it with a vinegar rinse. It stays clean for 4-5 days at least, and is utterly healthy. No split ends, despite having nearly calf-length hair. When I travel, I take a small bottle of half water/half cheap silicone-free conditioner and use just that to wash my hair, as it works well in any kind of water supply. It wasn't the hair care journey, despite the clear lesson about product-induced difficulty and dependence, that made me cross.

I make pretty much all my own cosmetic stuff (except a few mineral make-up items I buy from clean, cruelty-free, low-waste makers) and all of our cleaning stuff, out of a handful of ingredients: baking soda and vinegar, sea salt and clay powder, coconut oil, argan and rosehip seed oils, hyuralonic acid and plant-derived squalane, bar castile soap, washing soda, and some essential oils for therapeutic properties in my facial serum and for scenting things. The last hurdle has been dishwashing detergents---I recently switched from commercial dish soap to a bar of castile soap and natural fibre scrub pad and brush, which is great, but I was still buying detergent for the automatic dishwasher. I wanted to buy powder detergent in a cardboard box, but they are all scented and give me breathing issues. So it was unscented liquid detergent in a horrid plastic bottle we were using, and it bugged me daily. I did find that I could use about half---or less---of the recommended amount of product, and the dishes still got clean. (This is true of almost every product I have tried reduction with, especially cosmetic items---they tell you to use three times as much as needed so you end up buying more, sooner...) But still, that plastic bottle needed replacing regularly, and it reproached me every time I ran the dishwasher.

Then one day, about a fortnight ago, I ran out of the stuff. I looked up DIY alternatives on Pinterest because I figured I could probably just use a bit of dish soap and something or other, but I knew the amount was critical; otherwise you end up with soapsuds all over the floor. After perusing numerous posts and formulas and recommendations, I decided to keep it simple and went with a 2 ingredient recipe: baking soda and ordinary liquid dish soap. I put a bit less than two tablespoons of baking soda into the little detergent cup, and squeezed two drops of dish soap on it. I closed the cup and ran the dishwasher per usual. Hurrah---no suds on the floor. And the dishes came out just as clean as ever. They weren't any spottier than usual, either. I do have fairly soft water, so that likely plays a part. Those with hard water may need to add other ingredients, like citric acid and washing soda or salt, to get similar results. Still, it's easy and cheap to make, and it's one less plastic bottle being brought into the house. Now I am officially down to three regularly purchased items that come in plastic: the regular dish soap (which should last a hell of a long time now that only two drops are getting used per day, and with which I shall experiment by switching liquid castile soap for bought dish detergent), the hydrogen peroxide I keep in the laundry for occasionally bleaching stained linen, and the small bottle of concentrated soap nut extract which I dilute heavily to make my shampoo. 

Somehow, I had this moment of sheer rage when I realised how easy it was to wash the dishes with a dash of soap and a spoonful of soda... I was just overwhelmed with frustration at this latest example of how we are sold things that we don't need, that are sucking the planet and her living beings---including other humans---dry, all for the profit of large corporations that manufacture and market useless or even harmful products aggressively and dishonestly. There's petty anger, the kind of anger you feel when someone pushes your buttons in a relationship or workplace. This was not that kind of anger. It was a wild, righteous upwelling of rage at exploitation...and it led to a moment of clarity about my own personal choices, and how there could be a huge ripple effect if more people simply knew how much healthier, simpler, easier, and cheaper their lives could be by moving away from buying so many of the products we all take for granted as modern consumers. Yes, I have to make bottles and jars of these items for my household, but it takes really very little time or effort. I spend perhaps an hour 2-3 times per year doing this, making many months' supply of cosmetic and cleaning stuff at a go. Honestly, compared to driving out to the shops because we are out of this or that product, or endlessly ordering them from online vendors, it's arguable that I spend a lot LESS time doing it myself. I still have to purchase the ingredients occasionally, but it works out to about twice a year for most stuff. I get through vinegar and baking soda faster than anything else, and those are easy to obtain locally in large (and recyclable and/or reusable glass and cardboard containers) which can be done perhaps 3-4 times per year as part of one of our weekly or monthly grocery shopping runs. 

So my question is, should I attempt to point more people in this direction of clean-and-green self-sufficiency? How does one share this kind of knowledge in ways that aren't patronising or overwhelming? Ways that get the knowledge taken onboard and used, rather than praised and ignored? I have often discussed with friends and acquaintances how I do these things, but their response is always something along the lines of "Wow, that's brilliant. But I simply would never have the time to do all that." No matter how often I say it takes little time and effort, their perception is unaltered. I am wondering if I should hold demonstrations of how to make basic household cleaners, or little seminars on 'My Zero-Waste Personal Care Routine', or something like that. 

Yet why should they listen to me? I cannot get my own husband to use a reusable coffee cup for his daily cafe visit. I trot along, doing my thing: I take my own boxes for takeaway; I have metal water bottles and ceramic coffee cups, cloth napkins and real flatware in my purse and car for use out of the house; I take cloth bags to the shops; decline straws, etc, etc. My house inches ever closer to goals for minimal use of disposable paper items and plastic crap and trash generating. Well and good. Most people where I live don't do any of these things. And there are rarely conversations about such actions in public, because it seems to cast aspersions on those who do not do them. How do we get sustainable living concepts some visibility beyond the walls of our own homes? 

The very prevalence of Zero-Waste focussed blogs and the plethora of DIY information on the internet tells me that quite a few people are interested in, and probably practicing some degree of, more sustainable lifestyles. I do not see them in my community, however. It seems like there is a lot of information available which is not reaching enough people, or the right people, or it isn't being presented in an effective way. 

The thing is, it does seem overwhelming to contemplate changing the way in which you live your daily life. It looks intimidating (it need not be), and difficult ('tisn't), and expensive (not at all). It doesn't have to be all-or-nothing. It can be gradual, gentle, evolutionary. I've been nearly three decades getting where I am with it, starting in student years with using refillable cups and bottles on campus and recycling in my first home. It really gained traction when I had my daughter, and chose breastfeeding and cloth nappies and natural fibres and homemade foods over the more common practices. We started an organic garden and began composting. Cloth napkins replaced paper ones, a basket of old towelling squares replaced the paper towels. We began weighing furnishing and appliance purchases from a different slant. I gave up buying most clothing new, choosing second-hand whenever possible. Gift wrapping is done with Op-Shop scarves, tied furoshiki style. Each little step takes us that much further along. 

I don't say this to elicit approbation, or in any spirit of smug self-congratulation. I am sure that many of you reading this do similar things, probably more than I do, and for longer. It's not a contest, and I'd carry on even if no one else did it or cared. However, I'm genuinely curious about whether you live in communities that are more eco-aware than mine, and thus feel less constrained about discussing sustainability with people. Do you have access to bulk-buying shops, farmer's markets, dairy and non-dairy milks in glass bottles? When I have traveled domestically, I find a few areas that have a real stake in sustainability (parts of California, Vermont, and Oregon come to mind), a fair bit of green-washing, and a whole lot of unsustainable living. I see many, many people for whom this whole question is not on the radar; the fact that I even have the ability to question the status quo about lifestyle is an artefact of my privilege. 

I actually enjoy living this way, and have only felt gains in quality of life and convenience. How do I provide this information to others most productively? I believe that the ripple effect will be greatest if I offer information in the form of example, and specifically if I can communicate the serenity, the joy, even the luxuriousness a simpler but higher quality lifestyle can bring. There is a perception that sustainable living is austere and uncomfortable. I have not found that to be true at all. 

There is another consideration here: the news about the state of the planet is so bad, so grief inducing, that I think many people simply turn away from listening to it. They turn away from changing anything because it is associated with the whole overwhelmingly awful big picture, and with deprivation and gloom. I'm not saying the outlook *is* anything but gloomy, but it seems like that shouldn't quash our efforts to make a difference. As for me and my house, we will serve the earth... 

November 7, 2018

dumkopf uber alles

chim-chimeny, chim-chimeny, chim-chim-cheroo
you elected a fascist, let’s see what he’ll do...
chim-chimeny, chim-chimeny, chim-chim-cheree
he’ll start taking rights---both from you and from me,
there goes our health care, without plans for more,
and the hate groups are laughing as memberships soar,
the white house a circus of buffoons and boors,
a president tweeting of nuclear war,
chim-chimeny, chim-chimeny, chim-chim-cheree
parades feature klansmen and alt-right nazis,
children imprisoned as racists all cheer,
journalists subject to threatening jeers.
chim-chimeny, chim-chimeny, chim-chim-cheroo
his election’s a thing we will all live to rue---
well, at least those who *do* live
to see this mess through..

November 6, 2018

the wood-witch's wisdom

The witch lived in a house in the forest, as witches often do. It was, in fact, a gingerbread house of sorts, or at least a house with "gingerbread" trim that curled and scrolled about its eaves and porch. The house had been built a few lifetimes ago, when the forest was more of a meadow with a belt of woodland around it; in the intervening years, buttercups and daisies had given way to beech, oak, and pine. The house was now invisible from any of the land around it, and too dark from trees to grow more than a small garden, but the patch of sky above it showed the stars beautifully at night.

She lived more or less alone, apart from a three-legged dog and a cat with one eye, and various other creatures like the hedgehog family that came and went from the herb bed and potting shed. It seemed that the witch, being so very whole herself, attracted the broken and spiky and reviled beings of the world. Some came to be healed and fed and loved, and others, usually men, came to poke holes in her as if they couldn't help it. She fed and loved them too, for a time, but often they didn't heal. The persistence of brokenness puzzled her. Men puzzled her on the whole. She regarded them much as she did the black snake that occasionally sunned itself on a stone at the wood's edge: rather beautiful, in their way, and undoubtedly useful in the grand scheme of things, but cold-blooded and sharp of tooth, and potentially dangerous.

It was autumn, and the leaves were a glory and a song upon the trees, setting the eye ablaze and the mind a-dreaming with beauty and change. The witch wandered about gathering wood to see her through the winter, and collecting what the forest offered in its season of bounty: berries, mushrooms,  bark and pine needles. She went farther afield too, even into the town sometimes, to gather along the hedgerows and fields, and to buy milk and cream (she was desperately fond of butter), and a bit of flour, and tea leaves, and sugar. She bought her clothing there too, from the second-hand shop mostly, as she wasn't especially skilled with a needle. She was good with dyes, though; often what she bought was transformed with plant magic into joyously coloured frocks from the humdrum things they started as. Sometimes, her shopping done, she would even take tea in the little tea-room in the town centre. She would sit with her basket and patchwork bags under the table, looking out at the cobbles and shop fronts, blissfully enjoying her tea and cakes despite the covert stares of other patrons, and occasionally petting the cats that always appeared when she was there. Either she was unaware, or simply didn't care, that her frocks were considered outlandish, and her lack of hat and length of hair unseemly, and that every aspect of her appearance and behaviour and lifestyle mystified the good people of the town.

Whatever they thought of her and her odd ways, people did visit the witch occasionally. Sometimes if they were ill, they would send someone to bring her back to their houses, which put the doctor's nose out of joint entirely. She had helped to deliver not a few babies in the poorer houses, and a couple in the great houses too, when the lady in childbed had taken a dislike to the doctor. She was known to be good with herbal remedies, and good, too, at untangling hearts and minds. Somehow, after an hour spent by her fireside, chatting and taking tea, people felt their lives smooth out a bit, and they went home more comfortable than they came.

In another time or place, they might have shunned the witch, or worse. They might have let mystification run amuck, and come to resent or fear her, and behaved badly. As it was, on the whole they let her be, with a touch of envy and a bit of head-shaking, but nothing harsher. It was easier, and safer, for her as she grew into middle age than it had been when she was young and lithe and a magnet for the eyes of men as she walked. Her lonely house in the wood was a refuge not just for her, but for any in need of a bit of patching up. If she herself was broken, it didn't show. Her body was growing a little creaky, but her soul seemed sound. Whatever sorrows might haunt her at times---as they do all living folk---didn't shake her essential wholeness. She was at home in herself and in the world. At times, when she laid her hands on someone's pain, there was a light on her face that seemed to shine from within. Children saw it, animals felt it, and the injured and grieving warmed themselves by it.

There is a grace that comes with wholeness, or perhaps wholeness is itself a grace. There is grace and wisdom in letting go, and in opening to receive, as trees do, as flowers do. It is beautiful to behold, and draws the broken beings to it, because that is the way the world works in its infinite wisdom and mystery. It is always wise to love what is different and whole unto itself, because it may have a medicine. What is whole contains the seeds of healing for what is broken. This is what the witch knew from looking at the world and living her life in her way, sound as a nut in its glossy shell: she was a part of the whole and thus unbreakable. Whatever happened to her couldn't touch the core of her; cracked or swallowed up, she was still part of the great wholeness. That was the source of any magic she had, and she knew it.

May we all find a witch's grace, soon or late.



September 13, 2018

borealis


i tied a ribbon to a branch
on some wind twisted tree
alone in a field of snow
the northern lights rippled above
wild ribbons in the sky
significant yet ordinary here
a sight my ancestors knew,
boreal magic, their green-blue glow
lights polar nights strange to me
until now. i have entered a tale---
i shall ride a white bear
or a reindeer to the snow queen's lair
for love, climb glassy hills,
dance swans into life from my sleeves,
speak secrets with pale foxes,
fly on the barred wings of an owl
under those waving curtains of light,
i will touch magic in carved stones,
know the true bride from the false,
spin light into gold,
free the firebird in my heart,
draw myself alive again
from the mortar louhi kept a while,
grinding my tears into salt
instead of drowning by inches.
my ribbon prayer will bleach and fray
as i do, and one day
i will whisk away my bear borne tracks
with an old birch broom,
leaving only stories behind
to cover my cast-off bones
and my spirit will sing in the wind
and clatter in waves of light
until it finds a new home,
in another tale,
winter-borne and strange.


September 11, 2018

the same landscape



I went hiking with some people who were all more of the doing type, while I am only, or mostly, a being type. Partway through our planned route, we came to a beautiful spot by a bend of a small river, where there were a few trees making gracious shade, and large flat rocks beckoning to be a seat there by the river's voice. I decided to remain there, while they continued onward. I watched them grow smaller as they moved into the distance, following the curve of the path ever upward into the hills. Where I sat was high enough to see the sagebrush rolling out and down, to see some of the river's path to lower land, and the higher hills in a dark, protective curve behind and to the north of me. I sat in the shade, resting, and breathing in the scent of the sage, the smell of warm stones and sand. I listened to the slight sounds of dry grasses and leaves moving when the wind moved over us, and the small song of the river caressing its stony bed. This was its early autumn song; it would sing a louder one, no doubt, and do a wilder dance, come spring, when the snows melted on the hillsides and flowed into its course. Insects in the brush sang in bursts, a lone hawk moved high overhead in hieratic circles; and somewhere hidden from me, a bird called in notes I didn't recognise, so I couldn't put a human name to the bird, only listen and love it wordlessly, as a guest in its home. The whole place shimmered with the joy of sunlight on water, the gratitude of moisture in a dry land. I pulled off my boots and socks, rolled up my trousers, slipped out of my shirt, and waded into the water. Surprisingly cool under the strong desert sun, it drew the fatigue of walking from me and filled me with the same joy or wordless peace that lay over all the place, that was written on the sky in the hawk's flight and the high thin clouds drifting, that was in the song of the bird and the insects and the leaves and the water.

I don't know how long I sat in the river or drowsed there afterward on the shaded rocks. I drank a little of the river water, sacramentally, although I had a full bottle in my pack. I ate a bit of the food I'd brought. My clothes dried, I put my shirt on again. I became part of the song there, in my silence; sometimes, you have to be silent to be truly part of a song: this is a mystery.

Eventually, the others returned. They rejoined me, speaking about the wide views they had enjoyed from the ridge tops, moving as a group to the river to splash hot faces and arms, though no one else drank from it. They talked of the snake they had glimpsed at the edge of the path, and the steepness of the last section of the climb. They asked me what I had been doing there, all that time, and I said lamely that I had been resting on the rocks and listening to things. That I had gone into the river for a bit. That it was a very comforting place. I said the kinds of things that being people say to doing people, knowing that it wouldn't mean much. Then we all got up, putting on our packs and hats, making ready to hike back out. I dipped my cotton scarf into the water and tied it wet around my neck, for coolness, but also to keep the kindly spirit of the river with me as long as I could. In silence, I said my farewells to the river and the stones; the earth and the sage; the trees, the sky, the hawk; the hidden insects and unknown bird.

I didn't miss the view from the hills. I didn't miss the conquering exertion of the climb, the 'achievement' of it. I wondered if any of them felt a kinship with the hawk up there on the ridge, or if their spirits had time to hear the song of the land as they moved through it. I wondered how different the wind sounded up there, and if they noticed it. I wondered what they would remember of the place later. Somehow, I was especially happy to rest in being more and doing less that day. I would carry the taste of that water with me, and the scents and sounds and shifting light and colours, forever. I would have the peace of that place in my bones.

August 28, 2018

totem



i have moved
without your moving me
i have seen 
what you have not
i remember
all that might have been
i know what you forgot




Zeroing In

This is very much a work-in-progress... But in case anyone wants to get started on alternatives to store-bought cleaners and cosmetic items...