Saturday, October 29, 2011

Make Your Own Mosquito Repellent, bzzzzz

It's still mosquito season here, as it's nearly 70 degrees (Fahrenheit, that's about 22C) here on the southern coast of France. Mosquitoes love me so much, and I cannot say that this infatuation is reciprocal. Mosquitoes are attracted by body heat, carbon dioxide (which we exhale), movement, moisture, sound, and dark colors - are you kidding me? Basically they're attracted to everything! Just hearing that light buzz around my head is enough to keep me awake all night! Ahhh! What to do, what to do?

I've used plenty of sprays and balms and whatnot. I've heard about why it's not okay to use products containing DEET (a chemical developed by the US Army following WWII as a crop pesticide - not only can it cause damage to the central nervous system but it can melt some plastics) and in fact I don't/won't use it. So, a no-chemical insect repellent is what I'm looking for. I can certainly make one myself!

I ordered up some essential oils that are known for keeping the skeeters at bay (left, eucalyptus and rosemary) and added one dram (each of these bottles is one dram) into a spray bottle with 40-50ml of jojoba oil. Presto bingo! After shaking it up and spraying it on, I smelled like a eucalyptus tree that would be way too unappealing for mosquitoes and my skin was super soft. I win! Cost: under $5.

You can make your own mosquito repellent by using the same recipe as mine or by using a different carrier oil or essential oil.

Carrier oils: basically any oil that can be used on the body would do, if relatively unscented. Water can work too.

Essential oils: some of the oils known to repel mosquitoes are eucalyptus, rosemary, lemongrass, thyme, pennyroyal, and lavender.

BONUS: if you have an electric diffuser (the kind that plug into the wall and diffuse a scent) you can use this solution as a diffusing liquid as well. Would be great in a home with kids!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

How to Make Your Own Reed Diffuser

These diffusers are getting so popular -  I haven't ever bought one because I was afraid of what chemicals might be lurking in the liquid, but I was given one by my sister-in-law last year. I tried it out. It worked fairly well. But they're so expensive to buy! So I thought, there must be a way to use essential oils (no unknown chemicals to worry about) and make my own for way, way less, right?


So here's a little how-to, to make your own diffuser, chemical-free.

1. Choose a glass (or glazed ceramic) container, ideally with a smaller neck. You may have a perfect container around the house... an old small olive oil bottle perhaps? Check your glass recycle bin!

2. Choose an essential oil. Essential oils are extracts of plants (removed by distillation) and flowers, so no chemicals are involved in any way. You can find a list of essential oils here; some of the nicer ones for home use include almond, cinnamon, jasmine, lavender, orange, rose and lemon. Note: you can also soak plants/flowers in your carrier solution for a week and use the final product as your diffusing liquid.)

3. Next, you'll need to choose a carrier solution. The idea is to "water down" your essential oils with a different liquid so that it can diffuse more easily. You can use any combination of perfumer's alcohol, rubbing alcohol, dipropylene glycol, vodka, jojoba oil, vegetable oil, mineral oil -alcohol helps oil bases to flow easier. You want the reeds, which will be placed in the liquid, to be able to "suck up" the liquid and therefore diffuse its odor. Mix your essential oils into your carrier solution until you get a strong scent.

4. Place 6 (or more) reeds in the liquid, making sure they stick out of the vase/bottle at least 3-4 inches. Bamboo skewers (with the tips cut off) may also work. If it appears that the solution is not traveling up the reeds, add more alcohol to your solution and stir thoroughly.

That's it! Now you have a natural diffuser for your home that is safe - though remember yours may be flammable, and make sure to keep the diffuser out of reach from little hands and paws!

(my) reed diffuser

Good luck and happy crafting!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Composting: It's Not Just for Yards Anymore

So many of you may have noticed, I live in France (yes, croissants, cheese, yada yada). Up until a few weeks ago I lived in Paris in a tiny apartment with a little ledge of a balcony (I wouldn't even call it a balcony). Now we live in Marseille, on the ocean (whew!) but we're back to no-balcony status, just an extended window-sill. The point is, no yard. And we're nowhere near even thinking about yards, though I do swoon when I see pictures of homes for sale in the area that sit on their own apple orchard... apple cider? Apple pie! Cinnamon apple muffins. Oh, I could love me some apple trees!

But I digress. As a transplant from Portland, Oregon and a lover of the Earth, I've been dealing with an "issue" for a while which is the following: how the heck do I compost in my small place? I used to be able to throw my goods into my big black bin in the corner of my backyard where it would happily decompose thanks to worms (and my plants sure did love the result). But now this is a near-impossible feat, as there isn't any room for a bin and the thought of having the worms in a bin in the house... with a cat who would surely get into them and leave us with worms all over the house. (This is the cat who, one night, was able to open our aquarium, eat 13 small shrimp and almost close it back up completely - we were never the wiser until we realized that a shrimp rapture probably did not happen. Horrible.)

So, how do I compost without worms and without a yard? Is this even possible?

Well yes, yes it is. And as a benefit, I have a window ledge and that appears to be just enough space to work this out. So let's learn a bit about composting!

First off, you need to build or buy your "box". It doesn't need to be a box per se, but a suitable container that can close effectively and has ventilation. Any container you're not using would work just fine (bonus if it's clear - it lets the sunlight in even if it is closed), as long as there are holes in it and it will be convenient for you to "turn" it (basically, stirring it). For a smaller home bin a small shovel (think the kind you might use at the beach to make sandcastles) would be great, very small compost bins would do fine with just shaking the bin/box with the lid closed.

For what goes into the compost bin: there needs to be a balanced carbon to nitrogen ratio, which means you'll need to layer "brown" materials (like straw, shredded paper, wood shavings and/or dry weeds, etc) with your "green" materials (vegetable scraps, green weeds, etc.) and garden soil or finished compost. The pile needs to be kept damp and under the sun! If it gets stinky, stir it up! It will help aerate the pile with oxygen. Adding lime is a good trick to keep smells (and insects!) at bay.

Layer up your compost bin (the base should be soil) and make sure it sits under the sun or near a sunlit window. Heat speeds the process up! As you keep adding to your compost pile you'll find which things decompose quickly and which don't, allowing you to change your levels of brown and green materials to encourage decomposition.

Voila! Be patient. In time you'll have a rich soil that will be perfect for your herb seedlings!

Good luck and happy composting!

photo credits: Ellen Levy Finch, Pfctdayelise

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

How to Give New Life to Old Soap

You may, like me, use bars of soap. (My new favorite? My savon de Marseille bar in violet! yum!!).

(my new favorite!)
It's always frustrating to get the the end of the soap bar, you know - when it's too small to be used comfortably in your hands but too big to justify throwing it away. What to do, what to do...

... turn it into a new bar of soap!

It turns out you can put all of your old soaps into a new soap pretty easily. Here is how!

  1. Collect all the leftover pieces of soap in one place. When you have enough to make a viable piece of soap, either crumble them (they must be dry) with a mixer (hand-held or otherwise) or chop them into small pieces with a knife. 
  2. Put the pieces into a container (glass is ideal) and construct a water bath. You can add just a pinch of water to your soap mixture. 
  3. Bring the water to a boil and make sure to stir your soap mixture. When the mixture is smooth (dough-like, will likely be a bit "bumpy"), it is ready to pour (or scoop).

    4. Scoop the mixture into a pre-oiled mold and let the mixture set. (Silicon cupcake molds or similar will work great too!)

    5. When it is dry and hardened, pop it out and voila! New soap. 

This was loosely taken from the wonderful La Saponaria site, run by Italian soapmakers Luigi and Lucia, who make natural soaps from local ingredients. 

Have fun!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Say YES to Cloth Diapers!

Disposable diapers:  the invention of the century for busy moms. They come folded up neatly in plastic packaging, they do their job, then they are tossed in the trash to never be seen again. With a market of nearly seven billion dollars a year, you can bet that Huggies isn't going out of business soon. But those commercials with happy babies crawling around in their Pampers don't tell you the real truth: what's best for your baby and the earth is to never use them.

Disposable diapers don't biodegrade, so they sit in landfills - about 25 billion of them in the US  a year. They're the third largest consumer product in landfills at this very moment, taped shut with babies' solid waste trapped inside. Gah. (For the record, disposable diaper companies instruct diaper users to put all fecal matter in the toilet before discarding the diaper, but no one does.)

Some other amazing facts about disposables? 

"Disposable diapers contain traces of Dioxin, an extremely toxic by-product of the paper-bleaching process.  It is a carcinogenic chemical, listed by the EPA as the most toxic of all cancer-linked chemicals.  It is banned in most countries, but not the U.S.
Disposable diapers contain Tributyl-tin (TBT) - a toxic pollutant known to cause hormonal problems in humans and animals.
In May 2000, the Archives of Disease in Childhood published research showing that scrotal temperature is increased in boys wearing disposable diapers, and that prolonged use of disposable diapers will blunt or completely abolish the physiological testicular cooling mechanism important for normal spermatogenesis." - Real Diaper Association

 So if you're not using disposable diapers, what do you use?

Cloth diapers! 

Moms swear by them. No diaper rashes, no irritation, no stinky trash, no problem. Sure, you've got to do a little extra work by spraying some poop into the toilet but it protects your baby, saves you money, and has little impact on the environment (unlike disposables).

It's so easy to get a few and try them out. If there is a cloth diaper service in your area, give them a call and do a trial run. If you're already convinced, there are many companies that make great (and cute!) products that will be a perfect fit for you and your baby. Here are a few companies to look into (and remember, you may be able to find some gently-used cloth diapers too!):

Also check out Etsy if you're interested in supporting other moms who have small cloth diaper businesses.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Turn an Old Tee-Shirt Into Your New Favorite Bag

As some of you may know, I love finding new ways to use old tee-shirts. As of recently I am starting to use them to make collars for dogs and cats, but I've found plenty of ways to reuse those shirts that can't bare to be parted with yet stay in the closet for years.

 Yep, all made with tee-shirts! But it's not just about jewelry, you can turn your favorite old shirt into a tote bag, making it usable again to bring all of your fresh fruits and veggies home. 

Aren't these cute?!
I've posted a few other tutorials that I've made myself on here; I've just moved and I've only unpacked the necessities at the moment so I'm going to have to point you to a tutorial that was made by someone else. BUT! These are so easy to make, I would have just written the same thing. :-)

So if you've got a few extra tees and minutes to spare, try your hand at this super easy tee-shirt bag tutorial! The best reason for making these? You won't have to use plastic bags when you go to the store! And you'll look cool because everyone will know that you're doing your part in saving the environment. 

Also hit up this site for 35 free patterns for reusable totes! Holy moly, I'm going to have a field day once my sewing machine is up and running again. 

I'd love to see your versions! 

Happy crafting! 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Don't Sweat It! ... or Should You?

Sweating: it's natural, it's our body's way of cooling off, as it produces perspiration which evaporates in an awesome form of thermoregulation. Toxins and trace amounts of elements are released in sweat, but it mostly contains water. That's why it's so important to drink lots of water when it gets hot or when exercising.

At some point we as a society decided that sweating was unacceptable. Why can't we sweat? It's not attractive, apparently. It's not normal. Embarrassing, even. So this product called antiperspirant came onto the market, grouped in with deodorants. And it was magical, because they made armpits all over the world sweat-free.

One of the first antiperspirants, Everdry
Okay, well it wasn't really magical, no one waved their wands over armpits and declared them sweat-free. There was a pretty serious science behind it, one that involved some of those elements (from the table of elements, remember?  From science class?). Anyway, basically antiperspirants block sweat glands from producing sweat - think of it like putting a very small cork into your pores. It does this with aluminum (yes, like foil), in many forms (alumimum chloride, aluminum chlorohydrate, aluminum-zirconium, aluminum zirconium tetrachlorohydrex,  Aluminum hydroxybromide and aluminium zirconium trichlorohydrex gly to be exact). When the aluminum is drawn into the sweat glands, water passes in too. As more water goes in, the cells begin to swell, pushing the ducts shut so that sweat can't escape. Voila.

So no biggie then, what an awesome discovery! Well, hold on... there are a few disputed facts about aluminum in your body that you may want to know about.

Firstly, you could develop a rash. No big deal, just stop using the antiperspirant and it will pass. Oh, but, aluminum is a neurotoxin and can damage your DNA... well, that's kind of a big deal. Not to mention, an increased amount of aluminum is present in the brains of Alzheimer's patients, and using aluminum-filled antiperspirants certainly builds up the amount of aluminum in the body. It's also linked with renal failure and breast cancer.

So what's it really worth to you to not sweat?

If you want to go aluminum-free, make sure to check the ingredients on your deodorant  and make sure aluminum in its many forms and compounds is not included. Alum, on the other hand, is okay!

 Bonus fact: antiperspirants cause those icky yellowish "sweat" stains on your shirts - it's not from sweat at all!

Monday, October 3, 2011

An Uninhabited Island in the Pacific... Made of Trash?

Did you know that there is an unexplored island in the Pacific Ocean?

Why yes, this would be the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, also known as the Pacific Trash Vortex, a floating conglomeration of plastic, chemical sludge and trash that the Earth cannot digest, between Hawaii and California. Basically, when trash is deposited into the ocean, currents find their ways of pushing it into a certain spot where it remains trapped, and voila, a new island.  

The Pacific Trash Vortex's size ranges from 700,000 square kilometers (270,000 sq mi) to more than 15,000,000 square kilometers (5,800,000 sq mi) (0.41% to 8.1% of the size of the Pacific Ocean), or, in some media reports, from the size of Texas up to twice the size of the continental United States (wikipedia). Oh yes, this is what it has come to.

…do you see your trash floating around in there?

Plastic remnants big and small bob in the water and birds and turtles, mistaking them for food (the turtles often for jellyfish and birds for fish), eat them. Let me assure you, birds and turtles were not designed to eat plastic; what you end up with are dead birds and turtles.

317 articles of plastic found inside a dead turtle's digestive system
Sea turtle stuck in plastic bags

So no one is taking responsibility for this, of course. No one is doing anything to clean it up, really. No one really seems to care much at all. And with all the petroleum being used to make the plastic, you can be sure that plastic production won’t be slowing down anytime soon. Not to mention, this isn't the only trash vortex - the North American Garbage Patch and the Indian Ocean Garbage Patch are just as bad.

But you, dear readers, you can help.

Please reduce your plastic consumption and make sure all recyclables get into their appropriate bins - and make sure you take the pledge to refuse single-use plastics! You can also visit The Great Garbage Patch site for more information.