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Good old baking soda. I’ve always had a box open in the fridge, but never really given much thought or consideration to the versatile dust until a few years ago when i jettisoned most of the chemical base cleaners in my house.  Since investing more time on learning alternatives to chemicals and modern goops to clean my home and treat my fire ant stings, i’ve discovered some great uses for baking soda.  Here are some of the ways i’ve been using my baking soda in the last year:

  • Insect sting relief: When i get a fire ant or hornet bite, i score the bite with a sterilized razor blade and apply a poultice of baking soda on top. Sometimes i also add essential oils or mashed borage leaves when i have them. The baking soda helps suck the poison out and prevents the massive swelling i tend to get from those nasty bites.
  • Drain cleaner: Pour boiling water into your drain. Once drained, sprinkle some baking soda into a clogged drain and follow with some vinegar and cover it up. A little explosion will happen in the drain and force the nasties down. Follow with some more boiling hot water to help further dislodge things and repeat as neccessary. (It helps to scrape out the nasty hair first, if applicable)
  • Cleaning the garbage disposal: Same steps as above. Freshens the gunky smell and gets the grime off.
  • All purpose cleaner: The grittyness of baking soda works well to clean just about anything. Combine with Borax and you have a super hero team of scrubbing power.
  • Biscuits. Yum.
  • Add a scoop of baking soda or borax to a load of laundry for cleaner, softer clothes.
  • Sprinkle some baking soda or borax in the compost pail or trash basket in the kitchen to keep those funky smells less funky.

I love to use baking soda in my carpet powder concoctions. I use an old parmesan cheese canister to sprinkle my mixture of essential oils, baking soda and diatonaceous earth to freshen the carpet and kill any nasty critters crawling about the house via puppy feet.

As you probably know, i also make my own tooth powder that heavily features baking soda, along with salt, clay and essential oils.

Arm and Hammer has a neat little website feature that discloses all sorts of ‘secret uses’ for baking soda. Check it out. Some of their tips include:

  • Clean walls or furniture with a paste of baking soda – acts like that magic eraser
  • Adding baking soda to the rinse cycle specifically helps freshen up those sheets even more
  • All purpose deodorizer – that’s what that open box in the fridge is for (even though i still bake with that one, gross) and sprinkling it about in the form of a carpet freshener is great all over the place including on pet bedding or anywhere else.
  • Pamper that bod: add to shampoo to get your locks cleaner and shinier, soak your feet, scrub your body, relieve an acid stomach, add to a bath to neutralize the ph and get you cleaner/fresher, use as deoderant….
  • Clean off car batteries
  • Clean up oily spills
  • Bring it camping and use it for everything: washing hands, clothes, dishes, teeth, hair, fire extinguishing, EVERYTHING
  • You can safely clean just about ANYTHING with baking soda, right down to vegetables, the dog herself or baby’s favorite chew toy

Wow. That was intense. I never knew the true power of baking soda. I can’t wait to whip up my carpet freshener and use it EVERYWHERE on EVERYTHING, not just carpets. So put away those nasty chemicals and stock up on some baking soda. It’ll cure what ails ya, or your dirty floor, or toilet, or teeth, or hair, or dog, or…………

How do you use baking soda?

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Ever since I heard that “Oil of Olay” may use animal testing, i decided to stop using store bought facial cream. Luckily, at about the same time i discovered Rosemary Gladstar’s recipe for natural lotion. I then adapted that recipe to  create the lotion my customers know and love:  Everywhere Cream. I love Everywhere Cream, but i also like to use a beauty serum just before bed that is concentrated of pure oil and essential oil, without the water and beeswax that makes E.C. so great for daily wear. You can make the same serum easily, and can substitute your favorite essential oils, depending on your skin’s needs.

Simple Beauty Serum

  • 1 part jojoba or sweet almond oil
  • 3 parts hempseed oil
  • several drops essential oil of your choice (peppermint, lavender, patchouli, helichrysum)
  • several drops calendula oil (oil infused with calendula petals)

Jojoba closely matches our skin’s natural oils, which makes it the perfect choice for a facial moisturizer. It also has a very long shelf life, which makes it a great choice for a “a little goes a long way” type beauty product. You’ll have this serum on your shelf for a long time, and you don’t want it to spoil. Unfortunately, jojoba is becoming endangered/ near extinct, so i try to limit my use of this precious oil. Sweet Almond oil is also very gentle and non-irritating to facial skin. It is much less “oily” than thicker oils like olive and shouldn’t cause breakouts. Hempseed oil is my favorite oil for mature or sensitive skin. It helps to smoothe out wrinkles and scars, and is great for all skin types.  I choose peppermint and lemongrass essential oils: peppermint is good for puffy skin and lemongrass is great for reducing pores. Don’t use too much of either  though, as both are a bit volatile and can sting.

I also like to add a few drops of calendula oil that i purchase from Herb Pharm. You could also infuse your own, but i like to purchase theirs and not risk getting my oil moldy from petals that may not be dry enough. Combine all ingredients in a small vial and massage a few drops into your face before bed every night, focusing on your ‘trouble spots.’ I think you’ll notice happier (and less wrinkley) looking skin within several weeks!

Do you moisturize your face before bed? What do you use?

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Foraging doesn’t have to be in the woods or even in a wild place… one can find GREAT foraging in your own driveway or along a neighbor’s fence. (Be sure it’s a friendly neighbor, or that the produce you’re foraging is, in fact, not being harvested by them).

Earlier this Spring my husband came in all excited that he had discovered a cherry tree tucked along a fence between our apartment complex and a neighbor’s house. I watched the fruit as it developed through the Summer and picked the first one the other day. They’re dark red fruits, the size of a very LARGE cherry and are not tart but not too sweet either. They taste more like: plums! But is that what they are? Here are some photos of the fruit and foliage. I’d love to pick a whole mess of these guys and make some honey sweetened jam or compote…. but it might be nice to know what fruit i’m actually dealing with!

What’s your vote: Cherry? Plum? Something else?

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Today’s post is a very important message to all the skin-parents out there. A friend of mine recently sent me an email warning me about using essential oils on my dog, Pocket. As i posted recently, i have blended an essential oil mixture to use on Pocket to prevent fleas, ticks and mosquitos without relying on those nasty chemical treatments. I’ve been using it with good success, as an occasional neck drip but mostly as a “rub it around on her belly and tail feathers” barrier when we go hiking. She’s had no problems, but i was also careful to dilute the essential oils i used with a lot of jojoba oil. It’s very important to remember that essential oils must ALWAYS be diluted before use, for humans and pets alike. There are a few exceptions that can be used undiluted on occasion, but as a general rule you should water down your essential oils in oil, vodka or witch hazel.
In my friend’s case, she was using a brand name treatment that is available in stores and across the internet. Please read her warning below and weigh your options carefully when choosing a flea treatment for your pet:
Be very, very careful when using essential oils on Pocket. I honestly wouldn’t recommended it at all.
I used Sentry brand “Natural Defense Flea & Tick” squeeze-on treatment, as well as the same name carpet powder. The ingredients are peppermint oil, cinnamon oil, lemon grass oil, clove oil and thyme oil.
Within one day of treating Tres, he was having severe difficulty breathing. I wondered if it was the flea treatment, but thought that it would be strange if any of those ingredients caused him harm, as I thought they were safe (which is why I used it, as opposed to a chemical treatment). Well, three vets and four days later, we finally found a vet who had seen this before and read studies on it and, yes, essential oils can be toxic to dogs and cats. Their bodies metabolize them differently than ours. Tres’ rapid breathing was caused by his body being so acidic that it was toxic from the oils. His body was trying to get lots of oxygen to help his liver and kidneys eliminate the toxins. It has been nine days and his breathing is still not quite normal. But it is better. He wouldn’t eat, he could barely walk and he sounded like he was hyperventilating. It was HORRIBLE. I would just lay in his kennel with him and sob. The vet said we are lucky that he is still alive.
The only thing we could do to treat him was wash him with dish washing detergent (4x) make sure he had plenty of clean water, high quality protein (he would barely eat though) and lots of rest. And 12 mg of Benadryl twice daily. We go to the vet next week to do blood work to see if there has been any permanent organ damage. We’re hoping and praying that there isn’t any.
I’ve called the company and they refuse to acknowledge that their product could have done this. I find that interesting, considering that I found 200 complaints about their products killing/harming dogs and cats at the Consumer Affairs website and there is a Facebook page of people with similar experiences who are gathering up in order to file a class action lawsuit against the company.
It is going to cost $400 to get our area rugs cleaned (I used the powder on them) and we’ve incurred a few hundred dollars in vet bills so far. Sentry says that they will do an investigation and “possibly” refund us for costs incurred.
PLEASE pass the word on to all of your friends and family with beloved cats and dogs. Products with essential oils are even more harmful to cats, as they clean themselves and ingest them. The best flea treatment to use is Frontline Plus.
Josh made up a new slogan for Sentry: “Works so well it kills your pet, too!” 😦
Scary stuff! Please be careful when using any medication on yourself or your pets, natural or chemical. Also avoid clove oil like the plague: it is intensely volatile and dangerous even to humans if undiluted. Use it on your gums, carefully, but keep it away from the pups! Prevention is always the best policy: plant flea and mosquito preventing plants in your landscaping like pennyroyal and catmint, brush and pick over your pet often to see if fleas are even a problem and always be careful when using a new product on your pets as they may respond differently than you’d expect. I like to mix a carpet powder for home use that should be safe for everyone involved: a blend of 60% baking soda and 40% diatomaceous earth plus a few drops of essential oils for the scent. The b.s. freshens the house and the d.e. helps kill unwanted pests. I’ve also heard from a reader that you can shake salt all over your house and let it sit for a day before vacuuming…. that sounds a little messy but very safe.
Be careful out there, everybody! -Miranda & Pocket

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My husband and I found ourselves at the Black Sheep Gathering last weekend, where i filled my brain with too much information and my shopping cart with too much roving. Both of these opulences make me very happy. 🙂 Some of the information that is now housed in my brain has to do with natural dying, specifically dying yarn with a type of mushroom, log wood and cochineal (a type of scale insect.) We took a class on Saturday, taught by a woman who has been dying with mushrooms and other natural things for over 10 years. We learned a lot and got to take home some lovely yarn.

Pink: cochineal, Yellow: Dyer’s Polypore (mushroom), Blue: Logwood

I was hoping to learn a little more about different kinds of plants, different kinds of mushrooms, and how to know what plants/bugs/mushrooms are good for dying, but i’m still happy we took this class. Maryka covered all the details of pre and post-mordanting the fiber, and walked us through the entire process from white to dyed yarn. I definitely feel confident that i can follow her directions and dye my own yarns using foraged plants, but will have to do a bit more research on what mushrooms and plants to pick for dying. More information absorption is in my future! I’m really fascinated by dying with natural/foraged materials, and love the subdued colors that result. I can’t wait to cloth myself not only in handspun, hand knit garments, but to have those garments also hand dyed using plants found growing just miles from my house. Cool, right?

Do you dye your own yarn or roving? Do you prefer artificial or natural dyes?

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… all starts with diet. That’s right, folks. When people come up to me and tell me how gorgeous and healthy looking my long hair is, or how my husband’s hair looks much thicker than in the past, i tell them about my herbal hair rinse, and about my diet. As clarification, i mean “diet” as in “the things i eat” not “the things i eat to lose weight.”

I consider myself a bit of a “homesteader.” I think in today’s lexicon a homesteader is someone that makes things from scratch, tries to grow quite a bit of their food, and things of their home as their own cottage industry hub, rather than just a place to do board games or watch tv in. Although currently trapped in an apartment, i still enjoy making things from scratch, and there are a few stock ingredients in my cupboard that will NEVER come from a store: soap, tooth powder and broth.

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Making broth is very easy, and it uses up parts of the animal that would otherwise be wasted. You can boil bones raw, or you can boil bones after roasting for more flavor. Most folks will have most frequent access to chicken and turkey bones, but you can throw any sort of bones in that you’d like, but maybe keep your batches grouped by ‘like’ animal. I’ve been throwing goat bones in with my chicken bones lately, because i had some on hand. Cartilage heavy bones, like pig knuckles and chicken feet, hold the most gelatin and should never be discarded. Not all stock is the same, and making your own is the best way to ensure your stock isn’t full of salt, preservatives, excess water or a large portion vegetable stock. Veggie stock is great and all: but you want gelatin! Gelatin is the key to fast growing hair and nails, happy skin, and strong muscles.

Making your stock is easy: just cover bones with water and cook all day. I like to bring the stock to a boil then simmer all day while i’m at work (i’m daring) but it may be best to save this chore for a day when you’re home and can monitor the water level. It’ll smell great. You can add onions or other veggies, some salt and a bay leaf – or leave it a ‘blank slate’ to be flavored later when you cook with it. After simmering for at least 4 hours, turn off the heat and allow to cool. I put mine in the fridge or in a cold garage over night. In the morning you can skim the fat off the top, strain out the bones, and put the stock back on the stove to further reduce.

By concentrating your stock, you’ll take up less storage space and have really rich gelatin. You know your stock is good and reduced when it has a gelled consistency when cold. At this point: freeze or can (using a pressure canner) and enjoy as a base for all your soups, sauces, healthy sautees and curries.

For more about canning and using stock, visit Pocket Pause where we’ll be discussing the topic in the months ahead OR visit An Austin Homestead for the archives.

This post is part of the Simple Lives Thursday blog hop.

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Rosemary and sage are my favorite herbs for hair care, hands down. Great for shine, softness and tangles, these herbs are especially great when paired with nature’s best cleaning ingredient: vinegar. For those of you washing your hair the ‘no poo’ way, you may be frustrated with sticky hair. For folks like me with chronically itchy scalps, you might give this recipe a shot to see if it helps you as much as it helps me. Since switching away from bottled shampoo, i’ve looked for recipes i can make myself to give my hair some TLC, and this stands out as my favorite (and easiest) recipe since i first concocted it several years ago. I think you’ll love this recipe, so give it a shot! Worried about smelling like salad? Infused vinegars are great in any cleaner recipe that calls for vinegar, and they smell great. I like to infuse white vinegar with lavender and rosemary, which pairs wonderfully with a tea of rosemary and sage.

Herbal Hair Rinse

  • Fistful each fresh rosemary and fresh or dried sage, preferably in bloom
  • water
  • vinegar – white, apple cider, or white infused with herbs for several weeks to a month

This recipe is a cinch: Cover herbs with water, bring to a boil, cover and reduce to a simmer for 15-45 minutes. Turn off heat and allow to cool on the stove. Feel free to leave the tea to steep over night. Strain off liquid into a large mason jar and discard the herbs. Add an equal or greater amount of vinegar to this tea and store in the fridge. The vinegar should keep the tea from spoiling, but i like to refrigerate mine just in case. Fill an old shampoo (well cleaned) or other bottle with hair rinse and keep in the shower. After washing your hair (with baking soda, commercial shampoo, or one of my shampoo bars), simple drizzle some of this tonic directly  onto your scalp and tresses. No need to rinse!

Enjoy shiny, softened hair and a calm scalp after several showers using this herbal tonic. Do you use vinegar to clean around your house? Try infusing it with different herbs, citrus peel, or flowers. I’d love to hear how you like this hair rinse, so please send us your comments if you give it a try!

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