Month: April 2014

Barter System


Catnip mice make nice gifts for friends who are owned by cats!

This winter, I asked one of my classmates who lives near me if she could give me a ride home from class each week. We were slated to leave class around 9pm, and we go to school in a place that had the highest crime rate in the entire United States in 2012. I was feeling a little nervous about taking public transportation alone that late at night.  I offered to give her gas money, but she wouldn’t accept — she said having a buddy to walk to the car with was as beneficial to her as the ride was to me! Sweet of her, but I did want in some way to thank her. Let’s face it, making an extra stop when you’ve had a 12 hour day is a real pain!

So — I devised a little thank you gift that I gave her each week as I was getting out of the car. It became a fun challenge — what tiny expression of appreciation could I whip up for her? It helped that we have loads in common and she is the creative sort that appreciates home made items.

I really like the idea of exchanging favors and hand made items (and favors for favors, and hand made items for hand made items). It feels as if we were exchanging important parts of ourselves (our time, our energy) rather than money, which can feel so impersonal and insufficient. I feel as if our little exchanges deepened our friendship.

I wanted to share some of the items that I gave in case there is a person in your life that you’d like to thank with a little bit of yourself:

1. Tea in a tiny, pretty tin. I knew that she got a tea pot over the winter break so that she could enjoy loose leaf tea, so for 3 of the little gifts, I took one of the 2 oz tins I purchase by the case (because I love to give gifts of tea samples from my collection!) and decorated it with drawings, stickers, and a label describing how I like to prepare the tea. I filled it up with a tea I thought she might enjoy and not have easy access to buy, and voilà! Several nice pots of tea and a reusable, prettified tin for other uses.

2. Bookmark. She’s an English major  — what can be more useful? 🙂 I used these excellent directions from The Prudent Homemaker to make a tasseled bookmark. I used two of the reading quote images so that the bookmark would be double sided, and covered it with clear contact paper. It should last a good while!

3. Catnip mouse (see photo above!)! We always talk about our kitty cats. This pattern from The Guardian worked up quickly and cutely! I also “marinated” the little mouse in catnip when it was done and gave it to her in a sealed bag for maximum catnipitude.

4. Vanilla extract. I make my own, and have a case of 2 oz amber glass bottles at the ready for gifting. Making pretty hand made labels is half the fun, too. I think this is one of the most popular things that I make (as evidenced by the fact that I have one amber bottle left in my stash! Must get more!)! Good vanilla extract is so expensive, and making it yourself is cost effective and if you use lovely vanilla beans the quality is off the charts wonderful. This is a gift to you as well as others! Keep it around for all of your baking and tons of small gifts.

5. Cookie mix in a jar. I used this Cowgirl Cookies recipe but with only chocolate chips, and not M&Ms (too sweet!). I love this gift because the person not only has the cookies, but after will have a super useful Mason jar!

6. Peanut Butter Eggs. I made a batch for Easter, and saved two for gifts. I put them in a pretty tin that I had saved from a gift of Godiva chocolate someone gave me (and covered the Godiva stuff with a sticker) for a nice presentation. I got a text the next day saying “OMG those peanut butter eggs were divine!” so I know this gift went over well! Note: I didn’t use shortening but rather coconut oil as the emulsifier in the chocolate. Worked a treat! I can see using this recipe to make peanut butter cups at any time of the year as gifts for chocolate lovers.

7. Vanilla sugar. So easy to make, but so useful to have around to make your coffee or tea extra special, and the best cinnamon sugar toast ever! I put this in a little glass jar which will also give her a reusable storage option when she’s done the sugar.

8. Body butter! I gave this to her in the height of the cold, brutal winter, when your skin needs all the moisture it can get! It’s easy to make and a staple item in my own personal care routine, so I usually have some around to put in a decorated tin as a thank you. Remember, this gets melty in warm weather, so communicate that to any giftees. The last thing you want is for your gift to ruin their handbag on a hot day, etc.

I think I’m forgetting some (I’ll update this post if I remember!) but you get the idea. Small, useful, thank you gifts that show your appreciation. Do you have any little hand made put togethers that you use to say thank you? I’d love to hear about them so that I can have an entire arsenal of tiny gifts for the future!

Rana Plaza: One Year After

On Thursday 4/24 it will be one year since the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh. I realized that I haven’t purchased any new (and very little used) clothing since this tragedy occurred. It has made me feel sad and sick and paralyzed and angry — I haven’t even moved much beyond just… not buying anything whist I think about it some more.

I wanted to pause and acknowledge that although a few changes have been made, things are still pretty terrible. Not only are the factories that get inspected still full of violations, but there is a whole other layer of off the books  factories that big companies use to maximize their profits. It’s infuriating and immoral yet it’s the only work for over 4 million people — are people like me making it worse for them to earn what little they do? How do we make the corporations that use these factories pay the workers more and improve the conditions? I honestly don’t know. They haven’t even paid the families of the dead and injured what they said they would pay them.

Did the Rana Plaza disaster change your fashion buying habits too?  I make it a point to not read the comments on most online news articles, but was extremely interested to read what people had to say about this subject. It seems most people who were moved to comment feel as paralyzed and unsure as me, and have been buying less, and buying used.

What a mess we have gotten ourselves into!

Sometimes You Feel Like A Nut…



…a soapnut!

Remember when I discovered that my “eco” laundry detergent with cartoon planet earths and bunnies all over the label  contained chemicals that can kill aquatic life? I was determined to do something about it, and started researching alternatives. It came down to purchasing another brand that is low impact (but is a little hard to get, and still comes in a giant plastic jug) or making my own. Making my own started to sound like the more appealing solution until I ran across — SOAPNUTS!

Soapnuts are actually berries from the Sapindus genus of trees and shrubs. They contain saponins (soapy stuff!), which are a natural surfactant. They couldn’t be easier to use – pop 5 of them in a little muslin bag, put the bag in your washer, load your clothes, and let the machine do its thing. You can reuse these soapnuts 5 to 7 times (squeeze the bag after a load — still soapy? They are good for another round!). When they are no longer soapy, pop them into your compost bin. Between loads on different days, I take them out of the bag and put them in a little dish to dry — I read this helps them last longer. No plastic jugs to contend with, too! The ones I got came 100 soapnuts to a tiny cardboard box with no added plastic. You can get them in bulk at many herb purveyors like Mountain Rose Herbs too. 1 lb of soapnuts there are 6 USD, which will do up to 200 loads of laundry. That’s pretty much $6 a year for laundry detergent!

I know the magic question you want answered — how do they work?

I think they work great! I actually think my laundry is cleaner. I say this because the colors look brighter and my towels are more absorbent! Everything feels slightly crisper, too. I imagine this is because there is no soap residue in the fabric. I did the first loads with just soapnuts, then started adding my usual glug of white vinegar and a little baking soda, and I’m really, really, really happy with the results. I also love how everything smells like … nothing! It just smells clean. No itching or other sensitivities as well. I have no trouble remembering to take the little bag out because I always have multiple things in each load that I air dry, so I’m always fussing over what I take out of the machine. I read that if you forget and throw them in the dryer, it’s no big deal. They will still work again, and will not adversely affect your clothing.

You can also simmer soapnuts in water and make a liquid soap from them, which you can also use as a laundry detergent, in the bath, as a shampoo, and to clean with. Some people use their soapnuts in the laundry 5 times then simmer them in water to get the last bit of soapiness out of them — that sounds pretty smart.

You have no idea how happy I am to have come to such a green, simple, inexpensive laundry solution! Since these are berries, I don’t even think I need to use any soap coupons for these — what do you guys think?

Liquid Gold


I have been hearing so much about facial moisturizing with oil. At first. it sounded to me like a recipe for disaster — oil on my face? Don’t I wash my face to remove oil? Don’t I powder my face to minimize the appearance of oil? My experiments with the no-poo method for my hair have lead me to a new appreciation of trying things that don’t seem like they make sense but actually make perfect sense once you peel back the layers of marketing and pseudo-science we’ve been exposed to. Facial oils are a simple way of adding back moisture to your skin in a way that mimics ideal natural oil production. I say, “Let’s give it a try!”

Why? Even my most natural store bought moisturizers have loads of ingredients and preservatives. Making my own lotions can be time consuming and expensive, not only because of ingredient gathering and blending, but because they can have a pretty short shelf life and require frequent making (especially if they contain water). Alternatively, oils have a pretty good shelf life and their simplicity is very appealing to me.

As far as oils are concerned, I’ve heard the buzziest buzz about Argan oil. Some call it Liquid Gold. One reviewer on a beauty site said that it made her skin feel like a “rose petal baby butt.” I chuckled at the hyperbole, but guess what? I bought myself an ounce after reading that, completely intrigued. At worst, I could use it for body care and call it an experiment.

. . .

I’ve now been using Argan oil for just over a month, and love it. Don’t get me wrong — it’s not a miracle. I don’t look 10 years younger or now have a naturally porcelain complexion or any of the other mumbo-jumbo advertisers like to tell you. What I do have is comfortably hydrated and soft skin from 4 tiny drops of oil an application — and that’s pretty darn cool. The first time I used it I actually DID say to myself, “Wow. My skin DOES feel like a rose petal baby butt!” It hasn’t caused clogged pores, a shiny face (my skin might be less shiny to tell the truth), or any other unwanted effects. My one ounce bottle contains organic argan oil and was $9 USD. I expect it to last at least until 2015.

I like to use it after I clean my face and spray it with a light misting of rose water. I put a drop of argan oil on each fingertip (not thumb), press the fingertips of my other hand to the ones with the drops of oil to distribute the oil, and pat the oil on my face and neck. It absorbs immediately. That’s it. The end. Simple, affordable, effective, organic, one ingredient facial moisturizer.

I’m not entirely sure how to calculate an ounce of argan oil into my rationing scheme, but I think 2 soap coupons will do. My new totals:


Clothing: 66 out of 66
Soap: 30 out of 36
Tea: 6 out of 10

Pretty good as I am now past the one quarter mark of the challenge!

(image: argan oil and the nuts it come from, courtesy of