a simple, [mostly] homemade beauty routine

beauty IIHi, my name is Erin and I have a confession: I’ve gone all-out hippie. I always smell of herbs (not those herbs)  and I dream about composting and layering ethnic fabrics all over my home. I prefer to sit on floor cushions and would rather drink kombucha than a margarita. Well, most of the time.

Hand-in-hand with my crunchy tendencies go my green-and-clean beauty routines. For the past year I’ve been working hard to detoxify my beauty and body care products, and the more I research it, the more I love it. I’ve gone from purchasing products to making my own, and not only is it saving my money but my skin is reaping the benefits. Let me tell you a little about what I’ve been doing lately.

In the mornings I wake up, drink some water, and make myself a mug of apple cider vinegar tonic. Inspired entirely by my friend Jane at Raw Milk Marathon, I boil water and measure out 1 Tbsp. unfiltered raw apple cider vinegar, 1 Tbsp. local honey and a few dashes of a cinnamon-tumeric combo, plus some fresh grated ginger if I have it. That, plus 8 oz. hot water, makes a stimulating tea that tastes exactly like hot apple cider and does incredible things for my digestion and clears up my morning brain fog. Take note of this, because it’s remarkable: digestion affects skin. Isn’t that crazy? It’s amazing, and I learned it from Liz Wolfe’s Skintervention Guide.

Whenever I remember in the mornings I like to do a quick lymphatic massage and some dry brushing to stimulate circulation and wake my body up. I’ll usually splash my face with water or a spritz of a toner, then moisturize and add makeup, if necessary for the day.

The bulk of my cleansing happens in the evenings. I cleanse my face with the oil — not surprisingly, it’s called the Oil Cleansing Method — using only hemp oil these days. To oil cleanse, you simply massage a small amount of oil into the skin on your face, then steam the skin with a washcloth soaked in warm/hot water. The warm washcloth opens the pores and will also eventually help remove the excess oil. I do this cycle a couple of times before gently wiping my face with the washcloth and finally splashing my face with warm water.

For a while I was using a combination of olive oil, castor oil and tea tree essential oil, which worked well enough, but I was craving some experimentation and hemp oil fit the bill. I’ve also cleansed with straight jojoba oil and coconut oil before, and those were also good alternatives — I still remove mascara and other stubborn makeup with coconut oil. After cleansing I spray on a toner, like Lovely Lady Everlasting toner or a homemade apple cider vinegar toner (from the Skintervention Guide). Now I’m spritzing with plain orange blossom water and it’s incredibly refreshing.beauty III

To moisturize, I apply some more hemp oil or any variety of salves and oils I have stockpiled. I have a bottle of Tarte Maracuja Oil that I like, a little tub of Green Pastures Beauty Balm, some Lovely Lady Everlasting-Argan Immortelle Facial Nutrient, and a tin of Zum Rub in frankincense & myrrh. They are all different and beneficial for different situations, but lately I’ve been using the Zum Rub exclusively to combat breakouts and it’s worked really well. Speaking of which, I use tea tree or lavender essential oils for spot treatments or a dab of Primal Life Organics Banished Primal Blemish Serum for more serious breakouts. (Which are, thankfully, rare these days.)

I exfoliate my face gently with baking soda, and I exfoliate the rest of me with dry brushing before the shower and my homemade coffee scrub while in the shower. I wash my body with Dr. Bronner’s liquid castille soap or an herbal-infused Lovely Lady bar, and moisturize with Everyday Shea unscented shea butter lotion or plain coconut oil.

I brush my teeth with homemade tooth powder and finish with a swish of hydrogen peroxide and flossing.

My deodorant is another homemade concoction, made with coconut oil, baking soda and lavender + orange essential oils. I recently won some goodies from Primal Pit Paste and I’m eagerly awaiting their arrival in the mail.

Every Sunday evening I try to make the time to apply a cleansing mask, and for a few minutes I feel like I’m at a spa. My current favorite mask  is a mix of equal parts clay, cocoa powder and maca powder, combined with water. Find the recipe here. In the evenings I also try to drink some herbal tea — I love Traditional Medicinals brand Detox tea and Roasted Dandelion tea — for its relaxing and liver detoxifying qualities. Quality sleep and regular liver detox can also help with skin health and vitality.

But, above all, a healthy diet and good stress management are key to maintaining good skin. I take a few supplements here and there to help out with the process, but by keeping my food in check, my rest plentiful, and my reactions to stressful situations positive, I can manage skin health and rely less and less on products. Because really, natural beauty is truly the most beautiful!

simple, homemade cleaning supplies

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Simplify, simplify, simplify. This has been my song of late. I’ve been working hard to pare down our belongings and, in the process, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about living cleaner and wasting less.

Waste not, want not. That’s the refrain that I hum in a round with the first tune, wondering all the while how I got to be such a child of the disposable era. My grandparents are incredibly frugal, and my great-grandfather most of all; a trait he held onto from his Depression-era childhood, no doubt, and he is waste-less to an almost frustrating extreme. My family likes to tell the story of one Christmas in which we got him a new horse blanket to replace an old one ridden with holes and worn to shreds. A few months later my dad found the new one in the barn, still pristine in its original packaging – my great-grandfather was intent upon using the original until it could be used no more.

Instead, I’m tossing out things left and right – single-use containers, old things of mine that are still useful but no longer desirable, food scraps that have plenty of potential for nourishment. Since when did it become acceptable to discard paper plates and napkins and towels like it all just disappeared into thin air?

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There’s enough potential discussion here for an entire blog post – instead of continuing with the rant, however, I want to share a few ways that I’m making our household a little greener and cleaner, a little simpler and a little less wasteful.

When citrus was in fine form this winter I started thinking about how I could get some use out of the vibrant, fragrant fruit peels that I had been previously tossing in the trash. A quick web search gave me the idea to steep them in vinegar to make my own citrus-infused, all-purpose cleaning solution. Now I have a collection of citrus-infused vinegars – lemon, lime, orange-grapefruit – that I use for all manner of things around the house.

A quick spritz from a spray bottle cleans my bathroom surfaces, while a splash in my dishwater keeps hard water spots at bay. I add some baking soda to scrub my bathtub, and use the same mixture to clean the toilet. The same vinegar goes into my laundry to make everything super-soft and add an extra dose of disinfectant.

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We don’t have a dishwasher, so cleaning the pots and pans is an in-the-sink ordeal every day. Add to the equation the local water – it’s infamously bad – and I have a potential for grimy dishes all day long with a lot of my money going to Dawn dish soap. But I’ve found an alternative in Dr. Bronner’s Sal’s Suds – an all-natural, super-strength, multi-purpose soap. A couple teaspoons in a sink of hot water, plus my vinegar, makes for an inexpensive and eco-friendly dishwashing alternative.

I use Sal’s Suds around the house for anything that needs a deep clean, particularly the floors. Again, the formula is simple: soap + vinegar + water. I recently invested in some reusable cleaning cloths from Natural Linens on Etsy to replace my disposable Swiffer wet mop pads. A couple of these soaked in my cleaning solution and tucked around a Swiffer mop is just as easy as conventional mopping, only instead of contributing to my week’s waste at the end I just toss the cloths in the laundry.

I also make my own laundry detergent, and have been for a couple of years now. I use this recipe and like the combination of citrus and lavender-scented soaps in the mix. I’ve been considering switching to Soap Nuts but I hear mixed reviews. Any thoughts?

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I’ve been slowly but surely working through a bulk box of scented dryer sheets, and hoping to find a less wasteful alternative once that batch is used up. However, in the interim I’ve been finding new uses for my spent dryer sheets – like polishing the stainless steel hardware in my kitchen and bathroom. The waxy finish the dryer sheets leave behind help keep fingerprints and watermarks at bay for a little longer than usual, and I feel better getting some extra miles out of what would have been a single-use product.

I’ve been learning more about homemade cleaning solutions made from essential oils, and hope to implement more of those formulas in our new home. (I don’t want to make a batch of cleaners that I can’t take with me before the move.) Some key players in the world of essential oils-cum-cleaners include: clove, rosemary, tea tree and thieves essential oils. All of these are antimicrobial and have disinfectant properties, plus smell like a garden. Bonus!

In other parts of the home, I’m working toward making greener shifts. I prefer burning pure beeswax candles over anything else nowadays – they don’t release any toxins, unlike many synthetic fragrance-laden candles, and instead clean the air and impart a warm, honey aroma. I’m hoping to invest in one of those cool rolls of reusable “paper towels.” I’ve seen a few on Etsy that are made of absorbent fabric, in which each sheet is affixed together with Velcro or snaps to mimic traditional paper towels. It’s defying convention while still appearing to be a conventional product!

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I’m slowly switching from plastic sandwich and snack bags to reusable cloth bags for packed lunches, and I’d like to get my hands on some Bee’s Wrap after I go through my store of aluminum foil, plastic cling wrap and waxed paper. I just ordered these to replace my oft-used plastic freezer bags. I’ve always used glass Pyrex containers and mason jars for storing leftovers and packing meals to-go, but there are certainly many ways where I can improve in the realm of food storage.

We are big believers in using reusable tote bags for grocery shopping around here, but it wasn’t until recently that I realized how much plastic I still consumed with produce bags. Even when I buy my fruits and veggies at the farmers market they still want to give me a plastic bag to store everything in! The solution? Reusable bags, just like those I use for shopping, but smaller and breathable. I’ve found a few organic cotton muslin options online that I’ll be investing in sometime soon.

Another “to do” item on my green home transformation list is to purchase some houseplants that purify the air. Peace Lily, Mother-in-Law Tongue, Boston Fern, English Ivy and Rubber Plant are just a few that do double duty in the home. For outdoor living, I’d like to make a big batch of homemade citronella candles. Mosquitos love me – I’m sweet! – and there’s nothing I’d like more than to stir together a big pot of beeswax and citronella essential oil to make sure that those pests stay away.

Are you making any changes in your home this year? This journey has been a gradual one, but it’s been rewarding to know that my home is simpler and cleaner in a healthy, wholesome way, all thanks to a little effort and research and the work of my own hands.

tips for thrifting

SONY DSCThrifting has become one of my favorite hobbies.

Some of my best, recent finds include: a strapless cotton J.Crew dress, a silk robe for mornings and evenings, perfectly scuffed overalls, gorgeous pottery platters and bowls for serving and for holding plants, cut-glass whiskey tumblers, Parcheesi, a wooden-bead necklace, a stationery set, swingtop jars for storage, records, old canvases to use for new projects, a wooden table for our porch, gifts for friends and family members, side tables for our living room, camping stools and plenty more.

In my pursuit of simplicity, I’ve been trying to have more of a conscience about what I buy and from whom. I try to stay away from big-box retailers in favor of small artisans, fair-trade items or, my personal favorite, secondhand stores. Thrifting is like a big game of hide-and-seek. You search through the dusty corners and staggering piles to find what you’re looking for, not knowing even if it exists but hoping all the while. Sometimes I get extremely lucky and find amazing stuff, and other days I walk away empty-handed — but this, my friends, is all part of the game.

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I’ve been thrifting for about ten years now. What began as an occasional and timid foray into my local Salvation Army has become one of my favorite pastimes, and along the way I’ve collected some tips to help others who are just starting out.

Have patience and take your time — If you don’t find what you’re looking for (or even something purchase-worthy, for that matter) on your first few trips, don’t give up. Learning where to look and  how often to shop is part of the rhythm of thrifting, and it takes a little practice. Additionally, make sure you have plenty of time to wander when you take a thrifting trip.

Be willing to dig — Don’t be put off by crammed clothing racks or piles of dishes, but be willing to go through piles and really search for something good. You may find something within plain sight, sure, but then again you may have to rummage under a thousand other objects at the bottom of the box. It’s all about taking the chance and hoping for the best, plus a little extra elbow grease thrown in for good measure.

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Think outside the box — We are in the age of repurposing, in which old rake heads hold wine glasses and suitcases get mounted on walls as shelves. Be imaginative with what you find at the thrift store and reuse old objects for a new purpose. I recently scored two sweet little yellow juice glasses for a few cents each, and now they hold my makeup brushes and our toothbrushes, respectively. A little vintage baking pan I found for 99 cents will also make a nice drawer organizer for my jewelry.

Look for brand and fabric — When you’re rifling through the racks, look first for colors and patterns that catch your eye and then check the label. If it’s a recognizable, quality brand, you may have found a good thing. If it isn’t recognizable, there’s a possibility you’ve stumbled upon something vintage…but it also may be from Walmart. That’s where fabric comes into play. Choose leather over PVC, silk over polyester, cashmere over cotton, and you’re guaranteed to have made a good choice.

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Take a chance on tailoring — If you find a piece of clothing that is from a good brand or has quality fabric, but doesn’t fit as well as you’d like, take it to a tailor. You can take in a dress, hem a pair of slacks, cut off a pair of jeans or do any manner of things to make a thrifted item fit your body and your style. I recently found a Nanette Lepore dress for less than $10 that had a great silhouette but was about a size and a half too big. I bought it and have high hopes for it after a good tailoring.

Go with a list and with an open mind — I find it helpful to keep a running list of what I’m looking for at a thrift store. It keeps me focused in an sensory-overload situation. But don’t put on blinders to the rest of what’s out there; make sure you have the freedom to look beyond your list, because you never know what you’re going to find.

Please feel free share any of your favorite thrifting tips in the comments. Or, leave me a note telling me about what good secondhand finds you’ve snagged lately!

daily dose of green

SONY DSCMy dad tells a story about how his grandparents would, in the springtime, hunt various roots and shoots and make them into a spring tonic. These concoctions were meant to clean the blood after a long winter of eating canned food, heavily salted meats and little fresh produce.

I can imagine them, savoring the first weak rays of sunshine as they foraged garlic scapes, combed the fencerows for baby ferns, tended to the well-kept secrets of wild berry bushes. What joy those first harvests must have brought!

How different that is from the way we eat and live today. We can go our entire lives without understanding the seasonality of foods, taking all that we can get from our ’round the clock grocery stores and co-ops. Thanks largely to the state of California, I can buy engorged strawberries in March and artichokes in November if I want…but who wants something like that after the first taste of a real June berry, tiny and sweet like a gem.
SONY DSC In the early summer, old timers start talking about poke salad, or poke sallet, as another tonic for the impending hot months. Taken from the back forties or the fencerows, baby shoots of the pokeweed plant would be peeled, boiled, and tossed in some mixture of butter or bacon fat or raw egg to make a fresh, mineral-rich side dish that must have been so refreshing to palates dulled by winter’s dark.

This is my equivalent of a tonic – a jolting shot of fresh green juice, full of vitamins and water and feel-good freshness. Instead of sasafrass tea or plates of poke, I’ve been putting my birthday present from Andrew to good use each week, churning out a few new combinations of juice, but mainly sticking to this recipe, my old standby. (It is fitting that my birthday present is helping me recover from a two-week-long birthday celebration full of too much cake and wine, isn’t it?)
SONY DSCVibrant Green Juice

1 head of romaine

1/2 bunch of kale

2 Granny Smith apples

2 cucumbers

4-6 stalks of celery

1 inch of ginger root

1 lemon

Thoroughly wash and chop juicing materials and, bit by bit, feed into juicer. Make sure to follow softer, juicier vegetables with something more firm, like an apple after a cucumber. Stir to combine and serve over ice.

This is also a great way to use up organic vegetable scraps from the week — trimmed kale stems, cucumber peelings, lemon rinds, and the like. We’re working on putting a backyard composter together to continue to reduce waste and recycle, plus I’m working on learning to cook and bake with my fruit and vegetable pulp. My first experiment was with these muffins, and I’m hoping to turn some savory scraps into a binder for meatloaf or meatballs sometime soon.

oh true apothecary

SONY DSCI started working on my May goals with perhaps the oddest one: make my own toothpaste or, in this exact case, tooth powder.

It was easy. I used this excellent recipe from Wellness Mama, tweaked to my personal taste. Grinding herbs and powders in my mortar and pestle made me feel very witchy, like the mysterious-gypsy-herbalist-with-a-cabin-in-the-woods that I wish I was.

I’m keeping my powder in a little glass jar in our vanity cupboard in the bathroom. When it’s time to brush my teeth, I simply wet my toothbrush and dab it in a little of the powder, and scrub away. It really makes my teeth feel clean, and my mouth fresh. Don’t be alarmed when the Bentonite Clay turns your toothbrush and your sink brown — yes, it tastes a bit like dirt — because it all washes right out.

Re-mineralizing Tooth Powder

4 Tbsp. Bentonite Clay

3 Tbsp. Calcium Magnesium powder

1 Tbsp. baking soda

2 Tbsp. powdered mint leaf

1 Tbsp. cinnamon powder

In a mortar and pestle, grind nine Calcium Magnesium tablets into a fine powder. Combine in a bowl with clay, baking soda, cinnamon and powdered mint leaf. (You can order powdered mint leaf online. I had some dried mint from last summer’s balcony garden harvest, so I ground that up in my mortar and pestle and saved a little cash in the meantime.)

I mentioned that the clay tastes a bit like dirt, and it does, but in the most pleasant, earthy way. The flavors of the cinnamon and the mint help make the powder feel a little more like using regular toothpaste, but with a subtle flavor.

This is one of many small changes I’ve been making in my efforts to simplify and green-ify my home and beauty products. This tooth powder joins homemade deodorant, oil cleansing, homemade laundry detergent and citrus vinegar wash, plus the hunt to find the perfect non-toxic mascara.

That herby witch cabin in the woods gets nearer to reality every day…