Friday, December 19, 2014

Jen's Crunchy Life Experiment: Homemade Shampoo

I've got a "thing" for Christmas. Lights and kids and singing....and snow and blankets and conifers and deer tracks. It's all good - all of it - and I look forward to it each year.

But I don't look forward to the dryness. Every year, without fail, I get flaky skin....especially on my head. Now hear me out, this isn't your average dry scalp. No, this is a grease-scalp that also, somehow, flakes. I know. It's gross. I completely concur. 

To combat the grease and itching, I would wash my hair every-other day with a shampoo and conditioner like this:


I switched to some lesser-known brands, then back again, then tried another brand, then another....but it seemed no matter brand, type, or conditioner, I would always end up with dry, brittle ends, flakes, and, much to my dismay, greasiness. 

Now where I live, winter is cold. It's frigid outside. What better way to stay warm than to literally let your hair down? My hair is long and covers my neck all scarf-like. It fits nicely under a hat when I wear it down and it gives me the chance to grow out that semi-permanent ponytail bump I imprint on my hair all summer. 

But between the itching and the flakes, I didn't feel much like letting my hair down.

There had to be a better way, I thought. I'd tried literally hundreds of shampoos and conditioners, but wasn't willing to blow huge amounts of money on either. I even got a boatload of free Wen shampoo from a family member and thought "EUREKA! THIS IS IT!".....until it, too, made my scalp oily and impossibly itchy. 

After a few cycles of trying and failing, flaking and feeling gunky, I decided my scalp was broken. Maybe it was time for a reset.

So I stopped - completely. I stopped shampooing. Stopped conditioning. Stopped putting product in my hair. I stopped. They call it no-poo on all the other blogs....meaning no shampoo.

So let me tell you about my no-poo experience. I used baking soda in the shower three times a week, followed by an apple cider vinegar rinse. Immediately, the itchy scalp stopped. I mean literally overnight, after the first wash, my scalp no longer itched like crazy. It was still greasy, but I'd read this was to be expected for the first few weeks. 

About a month into the process my scalp wasn't as greasy, but the flakes increased. I was starting to get a little irritated (see what I did there) at this point and decided I needed to find a gentler cleansing method that didn't rely on straight baking soda but also didn't depend on expensive organic shampoos and crap. 

I needed a new hair care routine.

The Procedure

There's a couple thousand homemade hair care recipes out there. Let me tell you what went into my decision-making process.

1. I have white hairs peppered among my dark brown hairs. I do not, I repeat, do not, care about these hairs. In fact, I actually really love them and secretly believe each one holds a memory like that creepy whispering tree in Avatar. I get pretty mad when friends offer to pluck them out. One day, I think, I will have a silver mane like the most badass unicorn ever born and I don't want anyone hindering my progress to that destiny. So needless to say, I do not color my hair. 

2. My number one priority was to reduce my cleansing needs while retaining comfort and manageability. 

3. I care very much about the strength of my hair and it's ability to go from pile-on-head to waves-draping-down without a ton of breakage at the crown. I needed something that would inject my hair with a little bit of moisture but also leave it de-greased and shiny.

4. I hate, and I mean hate, tangles. 

So first, the shampoo replacement.

I found this recipe by The Wellness Mama and adjusted it just slightly:
  • 1/4 cup coconut milk (I use canned, regular stuff from the bottom shelf of Target)
  • 1/3 cup castile soap (I use peppermint Dr. Bronners)
  • 5 drops of peppermint essential oil (way less than what she recommends - the soap's scent is strong enough)
  • Pinch of baking soda (just cuz I really do love how it makes my scalp feel)
I did NOT add vitamin E (it's optional but I didn't have any, you know, lyin around). I also have not tried adding olive oil yet, but think that would help with some of the dryness.

I mixed up all my ingredients and tossed 'em in a blue clearance-priced hand soap bottle from - you guessed it -  Target. Baddahbing baddahboom. 


I wash my hair on Wednesdays and Sundays, using a very small amount. This shampoo goes suds-to-tha-wall like a mother trucker - very foamy stuff. Also the peppermint castile soap tingles, something I didn't expect, for some reason. Very minty-fresh and so clean-clean.

I use an apple cider vinegar rinse afterwards as a detangler and shine-enhancer. I just pour a couple tablespoons of vinegar into a squirt bottle and fill it up the rest of the way with tap water. Apple cider vinegar truly is an amazing detangler, I had no idea. And while it does smell in the shower, your hair does NOT smell like vinegar afterwards.

I started using a boar-hair brush to help distribute the natural oil in my hair. I brush before I get in the shower, but never afterward while the hair is wet. I also brush in the mornings every-other day or so, when I can remember to do it or want to style it later.....although, let's be honest, my version of styling these days is just wearing my hair down, naked and maybe only slightly curled at the ends. Fancy Jen - lookout!

The Cost
So I'm going to give it to you straight. With the amount of cheap shampoo there is out there, including the Suave Kids brand I let my kids use up until recently, there's no way you're going to spend less making your own shampoo. If you go no-poo, maybe....but if you're using one of those 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner products that cost $1.99 at WalMart, don't expect to pay less for the homemade shampoo ingredients. It won't happen. 

My old shampoo cost $6.69 for 33.8 ounces, or $0.20 per ounce.

My homemade shampoo, with all ingredients added up and divided out according to the recipe, costs $0.99 per ounce - a difference of $0.79 an ounce....which means if I were to buy it like I did the old stuff, it would cost me more than $26 for the same amount of product.

Ouch.

But allow me to walk you through the way I justify this expense in my head....

#1) I use less product with each wash
#2) I wash less
#3) I don't need to buy add-in products (mousse, foam, leave-ins, masks, whatever)

Plus, there's those pesky toxicity levels in commercial products (taken from ewg.org)....

Health Factors
  • Propylparaben: Developmental/reproductive toxicity, Ecotoxicology, Endocrine disruption, Allergies/immunotoxicity, Miscellaneous, Use restrictions
  • Fragrance: Ecotoxicology, Allergies/immunotoxicity, Irritation (skin, eyes, or lungs), Miscellaneous, Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive)
  • Octinoxate: Enhanced skin absorption, Biochemical or cellular level changes, Developmental/reproductive toxicity, Endocrine disruption, Allergies/immunotoxicity, Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive), Persistence and bioaccumulation
  • EXT D&C Violet 2: Cancer, Allergies/immunotoxicity, Use restrictions
  • Diazolidinyl Urea (Formaldehyde releaser): Cancer, Allergies/immunotoxicity, Contamination concerns (FORMALDEHYDE), Use restrictions
  • Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate: Ecotoxicology, Allergies/immunotoxicity, Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive), Use restrictions
  • SD Alcohol 40: Enhanced skin absorption, Cancer, Developmental/reproductive toxicity, Multiple, additive exposure sources, Contamination concerns (BRUCINE, T-BUTYL ALCOHOL, BRUCINE SULFATE, QUASSIN), Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive)
And I'm gonna stop there. The list CONTINUES, though, people. It continues and it's scary as hell to think I've exposed my kids to this crap for their entire lives. 

But moving on. Lets' talk about our homemade shampoo ingredients.

Coconut milk: 
  • High levels of calcium, potassium, magnesium, and zinc
  • High levels of Vitamin C and E
  • High levels of essential fatty acids and antioxidants
  • Moisturizes hair, promotes growth, and can control hair loss
Dr. Bronner's Castile Soap:
  • Vegetable oil-based (no detergents)
  • Certified fair-trade and organic 
  • Ethical sourcing
  • No artificial or petroleum-based additives
  • Biodegradable
Peppermint oil:
  • Reduces hair loss
  • Moisturizes dry scalp
  • Promotes hair growth
Conclusion
I am now down to washing my hair twice a week - unheard of in previous winters. My hair is manageable and shiny, but I do have some residual dandruff. I am hoping to get it cleared up by adding some olive oil to the shampoo blend and mixing up my ratios a little bit.

All in all, I feel better about putting this stuff on my head, on my kids' heads, and on the head of my husband. Although my hair is far from runway-ready, it feels ten times better and I am much more comfortable than I've been in years. I will not go back to conventional shampoos, although I may continue tweaking my homemade recipe and trying new ingredients.

Any of you try homemade shampoo or the no-poo method? How did it work out for you? Why did you stay on it? Why did you quit? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so very much for reading.

Tune in next week as my experiment continues with homemade deodorant! Yesssssss!

And in case you missed Part 1 of my Crunchy Life Experiment:




Friday, December 12, 2014

Jen's Crunchy Life Experiment: Homemade Face Wash

The very first stop on this all-natural, handcrafted journey is Facetown, pop. a million bumps of terrible.

I've always struggled with my skin. Take a group of uncontrolled hormones and mix them with a gang of pretty mean genes and you've got Jen, the Queen of Breakouts. I've tried everything from antibiotics to birth control to four courses of Accutane (scary, I know) to retinols to peroxides. Nothing, and I mean nothing, ever helped.

In fact, the only thing that ever truly makes a difference with my skin is my green smoothie obesession. I still drink those suckers and lemmie tell ya, they will blast hormonal acne right outta town if you drink them regularly.

But I still need to wash my face, right? Smoothies take care of the inside, but what about the outside? My normal cleansers were leaving me with combo skin - dry around the eyes, hairline, and cheekbones, but oily everywhere else. Like a shiny, flaky little mask of irritation. So naturally (see what I did there??), I decided to start my crunchy life experiment with a homemade face wash. 

I found about ninety-thousand different methods and settled on the oil cleansing method, swiped right from the Wellness Mama. I was intrigued by the science here....oil dissolves oil, yes? Absolutely, totally, 100%, yes. Best part? When you wash with oil you give yourself like a 5 second spa session. Check it out.

The Procedure
Step 1: Figure out what oil combination you want to use. 

I use castor oil and olive oil in a 1:3 ratio, and drop in a little bit of tea tree oil. Olive oil is cool because I can buy it from the same store I buy my groceries. Easy. I use this castor oil from Amazon. 

Castor oil can be drying so you gotta watch your face and adjust fire as necessary. I normally use a 1:3 ratio with castor and olive oil, but decrease the castor a tad when my skin is feeling tight. Different skin types need different oil ratios. Wellness Mama breaks down various oil combinations in this link

*Side Note: I researched olive oil ahead of time because a ton of the popular brands out there are not, in fact, olive oil at all. They're like some vegetable/canola/watered down blend of oil or something. Really disappointing, but hey...this is America's food system here, am I really that surprised? Happy to share that after all my research, I found California Olive Ranch, sold in Jewels, WalMarts, and Targets, is truly, really 100% olive oil. Hurrah!

Step 2: Put your oils in a container. 

I use an old glass honey container with a lid. Mason jars work, too. Use something you can close and pour into the palm of your hand easily. 

To avoid needing any instructions whatsoever, I keep my oil ratio super simple....I stick with tablespoons. So I pour 1 tablespoon of castor oil and 3 tablespoons of olive oil in the jar, and then I put some drops of tea tree in there, and whammo. Those four-ish tablespoons of oil literally last me over two weeks, with washing 1-2 times a day.....as you'll see in the next step, you don't need much to get the job done!

Step 3: Using only a quarter-sized amount, gently rub the oil onto your face. 

This is phase one of the spa treatment. Rub in circles, gently, getting all the way to the hairline. Ooooo-saaaaah. Also remember to only use a quarter-sized amount, an element of this method that rocks my socks off. The oil lasts such a long time because I don't need a ton of it to cover my face. 

Step 4: Give your face a mini-steam treatment.

Take a washcloth and stick it under hot water - as hot as you can tolerate with bare hands. Then squeeze out the water, and as fast you can without hurting yourself, tip your head back a little, and put that washcloth right over your face. 

This is, perhaps, the best, most self-indulgent part of my day.

I sit there under that washcloth until my breathing makes the cloth cool down, then I stick it back under the hot water, wring it out, and flip the opposite side over my face. It takes maybe 2 minutes, but it is so, so nice. The tea tree oil smells awesome.

Step 5: Gently wipe off excess oil.

Using the corners of the cloth, gently wipe off excess oil. Be gentle and love on your skin a little. 

My face feels awesome after I wash it. It feels good, clean, happy. Want proof? Well, as scary as this is, here are some lil' pictures of me from this morning, immediately after washing my face. No makeup, no filters, just happy face Jen, acne scars and all. 




The Cost
One of the things I promised to deliver during this experiment was the price of the homemade version versus the store bought version. Not all homemade products are cheaper, as you will find out in the next few weeks. Of course, your cost savings will depend on what products you used/will use, but in my case, homemade face wash wins....by a landslide. Let's break it down.

My store-bought skincare routine consisted of these products (and please don't cringe at the eye cream...I got it for free one time and then got hooked.....flaws, forgiven, people, flaws, forgiven):

 Facewash: $5.59

Moisturizer: $8.79

Eye Cream: $40.00

Now if we break that down per ounce of product, we get these numbers:
Face wash: $0.76 per ounce
Moisturizer: $3.52 per ounce
Eye Cream: $80 per ounce (INsane, I know....I know....)

Homemade face wash initial cost:
$12.39 for 16oz of castor oil
$10.99 for 25oz of olive oil
$9.99 for 1oz tea tree oil

So just divide to see how much I paid per ounce...
$0.77 per ounce for castor
$0.44 per ounce for olive
$9.99 per ounce for tea tree

And then factor in the recipe - we're making 4 tablespoons, or 2 ounces, of product here. So using the 1:3 ratio in tablespoons, and with only a few drops of tea tree in a bottle holding 600 drops, the per ounce price is:

$0.59 per ounce

($0.39 for castor, $0.66 for oil, and $0.12 for tea tree, divided by 2)

And the best part? I don't need the eye cream and moisturizer anymore. The areas around my eyes aren't dry, my skin isn't flaky, and contrary to what I expected, I am not breaking out like a madwoman. So really, I am saving $0.17 per ounce on the face wash, but also $3.52 per ounce on moisturizer and $80 an ounce on eye cream. That's a slew of nonexistent ounces right there.

Health Factors
Let's talk toxicity. One of the most attractive elements of homemade beauty products is the safety of the ingredients. My old products didn't do so hot on the Environmental Working Group toxicity scale. Here are some of the most surprising hazards I read about:

Face wash:
  • Fragrance: Ecotoxicology, Allergies/immunotoxicity, Irritation (skin, eyes, or lungs), Miscellaneous, Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive)
  • Salicylic acid: Enhanced skin absorption, Multiple, additive exposure sources, Irritation (skin, eyes, or lungs), Use restrictions
Moisturizer: 
  • Propylparaben: Developmental/reproductive toxicity, Ecotoxicology, Endocrine disruption, Allergies/immunotoxicity, Miscellaneous, Use restrictions
  • Diazolidinyl Urea (Formaldehyde releaser): Cancer, Allergies/immunotoxicity, Contamination concerns (FORMALDEHYDE), Use restrictions
  • Methylparaben: Biochemical or cellular level changes, Endocrine disruption, Allergies/immunotoxicity, Use restrictions
Eye Cream:
  • Mary Kay won't publish ingredients to their buyers and as such, a lot of "underground" work has been done to figure out what these lotions and potions actually contain. I read a number of interesting things about Mary Kay products, including their heavy use of parabens (check out those parabens listed under my old moisturizer -  they sound fun!). I'm gonna go ahead and conclude Mary Kay is pretty damn awful, despite the pink cars. 
Alternatively, our homemade face wash has some pretty awesome ingredients with some pretty awesome benefits.

Castor oil:
  • Anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-bacterial
  • Supplies fatty acids for cell membrane repair and health
  • Full of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals
Olive oil:
  • Anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, antibacterial
  • Full of antioxidants 
  • Natural exfoliant when mixed with sugar or salt
Tea Tree Oil:
  • Anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal
  • Pain reliever
  • Soothing scent that makes you feel like you're in a spa even though you're in your bathroom holding the door closed with your foot because a small person is inevitably banging down to door and telling you about her poop
Conclusion
Success! This homemade face wash routine absolutely works for me. I love it, love it, love it, and highly suggest it to my fellow SkinSux club members. Maybe after some consistent oil washing, we can change the name of our club to SkinRules? Eh? EHHHH?

Stay tuned - the experiment continues next week with homemade shampoo! And as always, thank you for reading :)




Friday, December 5, 2014

Homemade Toiletries: An Experiment in Peacemaking

Ever wonder about those crunchy ladies? You know the ones I'm talking about. All natural beauties who eat nothing but veggie wraps made of backyard-grown organic heirloom spinach and self-raised-and-butchered chicken? They bake their own bread, wash their hair with baking soda, and brush their teeth with a chewing stick?

No?

Well I do.

You see, sometimes, this world comes at us with 1,000 angry, horrible things. Sometimes people get sick. Sometimes people get beaten. Sometimes people die. And in almost all of those instances, it is not, in any way, shape, or form, ok. I hear these disgusting stories and I fear for my family. I hear these disgusting stories and I fear for my friends and for the future of our country. When I get scared, I get angry, and when I get angry, I want to fly into action. The problem is, the horrors I witness on the news, or in the paper, or on my Facebook feed, these horrors seem so removed from me, a chick in PJ pants, chillin' on the couch. I feel helpless. I can talk and scream and rant and cry until there is nothing left, but when push comes to shove, I cannot force someone think the way I do, no matter the amount of life, liberty, and happiness at stake. The only thing I can do, and the only person I can truly control, is myself. My actions. My thoughts. My words. My vote.

So, on this, a day where I look back at the week and think "Why is this happening, how can people be so horrific, and what can I do to stop them?" I am going to fight oppression and injustice by being the best damn person I can be, living life according to the basic human principles I find important, and try my damnedest to leave my kids with a world they can still find beauty in, despite the bleak outlook we face today.

The crunchy life is one of my coping mechanism, one of my tools. It's a way to get back to my roots, literally. It's a way to educate about the falsities we fail to recognize as we blindly cycle through the churning, mechanical consumerism and politics we've come to depend on for everything in our lives. It's a way of providing a new outlook for my family, my readers, and it allows me to offer my kids the opportunity to sever ties with the social norms and non-questioning behaviors that continue to kill us, quite literally. It's my way of asking questions and encouraging them to do the same.

Why? What does it mean? How can it be done better?

I know I'm not solving our nation's problems, here. A homemade tube of toothpaste isn't going to fix the inequalities and terrors we face today. Homemade shampoo pales in comparison to those working to develop legislature, or creating petitions, or marching peacefully in protest. My hope, however, is that these silly little recipes, this focused effort on making meaningful choices, damning the man's standards, and exercising my right to live a life centered on responsibility, will ignite in my children a passion to move with purpose and meaning...to shun the phrase "ignorance is bliss" and to instead ask questions, to dig deeper, to investigate and clarify what it means to be a free country.

Blogging about deodorant doesn't create justice in a world that seems to have none...but if it convinces even just one person, just one person, to think outside the box, to extend beyond that which we've been raised to believe our entire lives, then maybe, just maybe, we have a shot at widening our minds to encompass the change we need to undergo as a nation and as individuals each and every day.

So without further ado, allow me to introduce to you....

Jen's Crunchy Life Experiment

For the next few Fridays I'm going to highlight a homemade product I've made and been using in my home. I'll discuss the cost comparison, the ingredients, the challenges, and every little detail in between. I'll divulge the facts and studies I've found that contrast with the faith I've traditionally had in our governmental regulating bodies. I will frame the contest, so to speak, and give you a firsthand perspective of how reducing my dependence on grocery stores has impacted my life.

You'll find out why my medicine cabinet looks like this:


And why my bathroom cabinet looks like this:


And how this could be a real life hair care routine:


And why I have random charts like this taped to the inside of my closet doors:


And who knows? Maybe following along or joining me in this little experiment will help you break through some of the mental barriers you have in your life and cause you to revisit things you never even realized were in there. And yea...sometimes, a simple glass jar full of lotion can do that...because even at its most basic level, change paves the way to a better you, a better me, a more peaceful we.

Thank you for reading, lovely friends. 

Jen


Friday, November 21, 2014

The Hippie Wanna-Be Chronicles: Bone Broth

It's the weekend before Thanksgiving, otherwise known as "buy all the food ever" weekend. Everyone is picking out their birds, deciding on who's bringing what side dish, and finalizing drink and dessert offerings. The excitement is climbing - everyone is looking forward to food, family, and a mid-week day to just chill on the couch.

And me? What am I doing to prep for the big day? Oh I'm just cleanin' up some puke and wipin' noses. My little one, 2 years old, has been sick since SATURDAY. That's almost 7 days of nonstop sniffling, choking, sobbing, coughing, and gagging, combined with random fevers and fits of rage. When my little one gets a cold she gets a cold.

Funny, though, the rest of us are pretty much ok. 

How is it, I wonder, that my youngest can be horribly, terribly ill, but the rest of us are good?

Well for starters, she is younger and is building up her immunity. She is naturally going to be hit harder because she is a small, small person with only 2 years under her belt. She's what I like to call an "immunity lightweight."

But there's something else...something a bit more hippie going on here. 

You see, my other kid, the big one, who has a substantial 6 year lead over her younger sister, always, always gets sick. This kid never catches a break....instead she catches illnesses. She is constantly bringing home what other parents drop off at school and has never escaped a family cold or stomach flu. Ever. 

Except this time.

Now don't get me wrong, she got something. She was sleeping longer, draggin' butt earlier in the week, but after taking a day off to recuperate, she went back to school with no problems. She missed one day, compared to the 3-4 days she's normally down for the count.

The difference? 

Bone, Broth.

Now some of you probably know, I am huge on meat raised by farmers you know. I believe in voting with your dollars and food is probably the most important ballot out there. It's a horribly deceitful market in the US and we should care about it because food can save lives. Food can make you a better person. Food can make sick people well. It's a fact, people. 

When I realized my big girl was ill, I whipped up a huge green smoothie (they aren't disgusting jars of scum after all) and she chugged it down with a smile. Then I tossed some navy beans in a crock pot with some of the best stuff on earth - homemade broth.


I love perusing the meat menu at Wallace Farms. Each time I look, though, I see these chicken backs jumping out at me. They are so, so cheap. I needed to find a way to use them, so I started googling the crap out of them. 

Turns out chicken backs aren't good for anything other than - you guessed it - broth (also called stock, which confuses me, so I'll just keep calling it broth).

I found a couple great recipes online and sort of blended them together to work for me. I'm not going to lie to you and say this was a fast process. This was perhaps the longest cooking session I've ever had. But you know what else is long? Sleepless nights when the whole family is sick. Losing a weekend to broth-making was well worth it to me.

Lemmie show ya what I did.

Pick a bone. Hahaha I've got a bone to pick with you....no but really. You can get beef bones (knuckle and marrow bones) or chicken bones. Obviously, the beef bones will result in beef broth, the chicken bones will result in chicken broth. All 3 types of bones have glorious, beautiful, luscious gelatin and minerals. You can read an awesome post about the benefits of drinking broth by checking out this post by Katie from Kitchen Stewardship. She links to a ton of resources explaining the immense nutritional value of bone broth. 

Bottom line, it's the shizz.

So I started my bone broth session by buying 3 packages of chicken backs. Three come in each package - more than enough. Be sure to buy your meat and/or bones from someone you know or from a local farm that can vouch not only for how the animals lived but how they were butchered. This makes a difference in both the quality of your broth and the quality of our agriculture system!

Next I filled two huge pots with water. I didn't use filtered water, or distilled water, or whatever. I used tap water, my well tap water, all full of iron and whatever else is down there. I didn't measure it out, either, I just filled them up 3/4 of the way full. 

I didn't saute/brown the backs beforehand because I hate dishes (we don't own a dishwasher....unless my husband's hands count...in which case....yay! I own a dishwasher!). You can always saute everything, including the veggies in the next step, before adding it to the pot. I mean...it's broth, sooo....I didn't see the need....but whatever tugs your tag!

After splashing the slippery suckas gently placing the chicken backs in the pot I added some leftover onion tops, leftover carrot tops, scraps of garlic skin, and some roughly chopped/cracked garlic cloves. I didn't add celery because I hate the stuff, but that's another great vegetable to add to stock. Remember, these don't need to be the "pretty parts" of the veggie. Kitchen scraps destined for the compost or garbage work really, really well just the way they are. 


I brought it all up to a boil and then lowered the heat to a gentle simmer. I cooked the chicken in there like that for an hour - then I took the backs out, plucked the meat off of 'em, and stuck the bare bones back in the pots. 

I got a good batch of meat off my backs. You can call me the Bone Plucker. I froze the meat and used it later for tacos and soup. 


Then came the fun part. I let that stuff chill, on a low simmer, for 20 hours. That's twenty hours. I felt like a witch at her cauldron, checking throughout the day and skimming some of the foam off the top (it'll happen, that foam - it's not dangerous. It's foam.). **Side note, if you have a gas stove, be sure to put your exhaust fan on (lowest setting is fine). I did not do that, because ya know, I'm into gassing myself and my whole family,like a boss. The carbon monoxide detector went off at one point and we spent a good hour freezing our butts off as I aired the place out. Safety first, people! Learn from my mistakes!!


Once 20 hours was up, I strained the two pots into bowls. I was sad to see the bones go, but I knew I'd gotten some good stuff out of 'em. I dumped them and the veggies in the trash and got to work on the next phase of my bone broth adventure - storage.

Everywhere I went (you know....on Google and Pinterest...) people were saying it's best to let the broth sit in the fridge overnight and then skim the fat off in the morning. So I went ahead and poured the stuff into jars, left it in the fridge, and skimmed the fat off the next morning. I'm tellin ya, it didn't make that much of a difference and next time, I will totally skip this step. 

Now there was no way I could eat all this broth before it went bad. I ended up with 18 pints and 3 quarts of the stuff -  a truly incredible yield for $9.51 worth of chicken and as you can see, the broth was oh-so-golden and nutra-packed. Nomnomnom. But what to do with it all?

I decided I would take a line from The Brady Bunch and can it (*whine whine whine* "Can it, Cindy!"). Now, for those of you who don't know, which included me before this bone broth adventure, you need a special canner to can bone broth. Only acidic foods, like fruits and jams and stuff with vinegar, can be canned the old fashioned way with a big pot and some boiling water. Non-acidic foods, including broth, need to be canned with a pressure canner.

Luckily, I found one for sale by a sweet old lady at an autumn festival near my town. She sold it to me for $32 - and gave me a quick instruction run-down before I hauled it away. (Be careful and don't buy dangerous stuff from weirdos yaddah yaddha yaddah...I later downloaded the manual because I didn't really understand a thing she said. Gasket what?)

The first step is to reheat your broth. Awesome. I hauled the pots back out and emptied my jars. While the broth heats back up, you need to prep your jars by making sure they're clean and warm. I washed mine out and let them sit in a hot water bath. ***For a more in-depth post about the specifics of pressure canning, check this post out by Simply Canning).


Then I poured my hot broth into my hot jars and burned my hot hands. Carefully, and following my pressure canner's instructions, I stacked my jars, added water like I was supposed to, sealed the lid on the canner, and watched that pressure rise. 

I was such a freak about it. I checked it constantly. 


Ding! Fries are done!


I now have a shelf full of canned, golden broth and let me tell you, it's dang delicious. I made some crockpot soup with it mid-week, on the day my older kiddo stayed home, and we ate it for dinner.

I kid you not, the very next day, she was ten times better...well enough to go to school and the family reading night they hosted until 8PM. She woke up today with a smile and not a smidge of sickness in her eyes. 

Guess which little person didn't want to eat my soup...and is still sick as a dog? I rest my case.


Have you ever tried cooking your own broth? Would you try it? I promise, if I can do it, you can do it. Nature's medicine! Peace and love and waving my arms in the wind like a tree....thank you so much for reading :)


*Disclaimer: Wallace Farms has never given me a dime for my opinion or the repeated mentioning of their high-quality, responsibly raised and butchered meats. This is not a sponsored post! They really are that good - check them out!!

Friday, November 14, 2014

How to Not Be a B*&#% during the Holidays

I figured after last week's laundry horror story, I needed to shift gears, focus on the spirit of the season, and write something a bit more helpful. You gotta forgive the randomness of the topics lately, people. I am a dirty, zombie-eyed woman who is swiping prompts directly from life....and sometimes that life seems to consist only of laundry...ass-kickin' laundry.

But not this week. This week my blog prompt was practically hand-delivered to me in a neat little package by a shirtless man with huge pecs and a bottle of wine hanging off his belt loop like a hammer from heaven. Ok maybe not that perfect. But pretty close.

So I go to these meetings every 2-3 weeks. No, they're not AA meetings...although seeing as how my fantasy delivery man literally has a wine bottle hanging off his belt....

But no, no, these are MOPS meetings. MOPS = Mothers of PreSchoolers. They apparently have chapters all over the world. The hook for me? Free breakfast.

*In all seriousness, my MOPS group provides childcare for 2.5 hours every 2-3 weeks so I can sit and eat, listen to awesome guest speakers (professional organizers, yoga instructors, and female badasses). We make things (necklaces, holiday plates, blankets for the homeless) and I get to talk with other women who are just as under-dressed and tired, all while drinking orange juice without having someone yank on my hand and demand a sip that will inevitably result in backwash. There is a yearly fee that comes out to $7 a month - they do offer financial assistance. If you're a mom (your kid does NOT, as the acronym suggests, need to be in preschool) and you're looking for people to talk to, find a MOPS chapter near you.

The theme for the group this year is to "be you, bravely." At our last meeting, the group leader queued up a video and told us it was all about being generous and giving - of course to correspond to the Thanksgiving holiday, which is supposed to, apparently, be all about giving. 

Here's a little secret about me, in case you didn't already know... I am not naturally all that generous. I mean, I give to charities, and I donate everything I don't keep, but when it comes to my time, my food, and my heart, I am a greedy old Scrooge. I cling to them all with a fierceness unmatched.

Thanksgiving was once my favorite holiday. I love food. I love eating. I love the excuse to sit around. As I've gotten older, had kids, and gotten married, Thanksgiving has kinda lost it's jazz. Don't get me wrong, I love seeing my family and I still love eating, but the joy has kinda been muffled by the intense pressure to be everywhere, do everything, help with as much as possible, and make everything Pinterest-perfect, all while maintaining my older, slightly-less-than-girlish figure. Growing up sucks sometimes, man.

So I, like many American women, end up acting like a total B*&#%. I stress myself out to the point of treating the people I love like garbage.

Real-Life Example from Chronicles of Jen, Circa 2006: 
I wanted to bring dessert to Thanksgiving dinner. I was dead-set on impressing my husband's family, particularly his grandmother, and had concocted this plan to bake a pie. Not just one pie, actually, two pies. Pumpkin. So I went out and blew all this money I didn't have on ingredients I'd never used before. Naturally, I messed up the recipe (who knew confectioner's sugar wasn't called that because it was perfect for baking??) The pies were absolutely awful. And the worst part? The entire time I was baking these pies, I was ignoring the baby, screaming at her to stay out of the kitchen, crying and yelling at my husband, telling him I was doomed, doomed. Life was over. That's it.

Total B*&#%. For what? For PIES. Pies, people. I yelled at my baby and husband because of pies. How is it possible that an intelligent, young, relatively happy young woman could be reduced to tears the day before her favorite holiday because of pies? I'll tell you how. Because I allowed the disgusting, comparison-centric culture of my surroundings to infiltrate my ability to see things clearly. I wanted to impress. I wanted to be like the ladies in the magazines. I wanted to be accepted.

Now, 8 years later, I am worn and weathered by the various problems that pop up during the holidays. I anticipate the pressure to do more, be more, and it's made me bitter....mean, even. A real B*&#%.

So when the MOPS leader told me we'd be watching a movie on how to be more generous, I almost got up and left. I don't need anyone telling me to do more or be more - I tell myself enough of that throughout the day. I'd just gotten my boundaries all laid out for the season and now I was going to be guilt-tripped into more obligations? Obligations that will make me "generous," yet crazy as hell? No thanks.

But then the lady on the video started talking...and I found myself wanting to listen. If you're a sensitive person like I am, you'll want to read this next part....

You see, instead of enacting various quotes and images designed to make me realize how much I have to be grateful for and how crappy I am if I can't be happy in the lovely life I have, the video centered around one, non-offensive idea:


Operate out of abundance, not scarcity.


See? Totally doesn't send my hackles up, that sentence. It doesn't make me feel bad about myself for not being a giddy, happy person. It doesn't make me feel like I need to do a hundred different things to prove I am grateful for everyone and everything I have. It simply tells me to live a life of abundance, not scarcity.

Well that's great, Jen. Abundance, right. Awesome. Thanks....but what exactly does that mean? 

For me, it means I need to stop looking at my time as scarce. I have just as many hours in my day as Gandhi had in his. Or Martin Luther King. Or Jesus. Yet, here I sit, feeling the need to protect my time with everything I have. I don't want to do anything, plan anything, or be anywhere, because I see my time as scarce. I'm terrified of my own anxiety - and controlling time is my way of self-soothing.

When I change that mindset and think of my time as abundant, magic happens. I have 24 hours in each day! Can you imagine? What would you do with 24 hours? That's a TON of time I can use however I want. I can knock out some push-ups. I can clean some dishes. I can write a book. I can dance with my kids. I have all the time in the world - I am abundantly blessed with time. 


When I operate out of scarcity I always have an excuse....but when I operate out of abundance, with the mindframe that I've got all the time in the world, doors open. Not every door, obviously - it's still important to have boundaries and plans. But some doors. One or two more doors than usual. I give myself permission to sit and read for as long as I want. I give myself permission to randomly stop by a friend's house to say hello. I give myself permission to take as much time as I want to sleep or write or design holiday cards if I want because I am not on death row or suffering in a third-world country - no, I am blessed with an abundant amount of time. 

Another area of generosity the lady in the video touched on was money. Thinking of income as abundant can be hard, especially when we all think we need to buy, buy, buy and be perfect, perfect, perfect this time of year. Luckily, as much as Pinterest can push you into comparison hell, it can also shoot you into handmade heaven. We're short on funds this year, but have rekindled our love for Goodwill. I learned how to make cookies plates with ModPodge and fabric scraps. I've designed a choose-your-own adventure gift - the recipient chooses from three "we-will-come-do-this-for-you" options...and they ain't no joke, these tasks. These are serious tasks...like a grown-up coupon book of awesomeness. 

Think about where your fear of scarcity exists the most. Are you afraid to share your passions? Are you afraid to share your favorite objects, like grandma's china or baby items your kids have outgrown? Do you really want to keep objects in your home that you're deathly afraid of losing? Are you afraid to spend money? Maybe you can't buy a new scarf, but can you afford yarn? Grab a pair of knitting needles? Checkout a book on knitting for beginners? That isn't scarcity, people. That is abundance. We have dollar stores and knowledge at our fingertips - what a beautiful thing. 

So my plan on how to not be a B*&#% during the holidays? Instead of focusing on clean baseboards that nobody even looks at, or screaming at the kids because I don't have enough time to peel the potatoes, I'm going to try real, real hard to soak up the abundance in my life, moment by moment. 

And you? What do you find yourself stressing about as the holiday season swings into gear? Can the principle of abundance work in your scenario? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you for reading :)

Friday, November 7, 2014

When Doing Laundry Kicks Your Ass

Ahhh laundry day. I do the laundry every Tuesday and Friday. Sometimes, when I'm feeling especially cheeky, I will do the bedding. Today was one of those days.

Now some of you may remember, I am exactly 1-week in to writing my very first novel. What you may not know, however, is that I've set a personal goal to write double the amount of words the NaNoWriMo initiaitive is all about.

The normal sane still really hard standard number of words you're expected to write to "win" NaNo is 50k. I am shooting for 100k. I read publishers (who are obsessed with word count and not pages - who knew?) typically expect an adult fiction novel to be between 70k - 125k words.

This rocked my world. I thought for sure 50k was the standard and would give me a good book to edit. Nope - not even close. So my goal went up, and my sleep went down. I get up around 4 and write for 2 hours, and then write for another 2 hours at night when the little one goes to bed. I don't go above 2 hours a session because I've found 2 hours is my magic moment where the brain goes "smoosh" and all inspiration goes right out the window.

Carving out an additional 4 hours of writing a day has kinda killed my "do it all" abilities. Even the simplest tasks are stupidly difficult these days.

Like the laundry.


So I ripped all the sheets off the bed this morning, grabbed my blankets and pillowcases, and headed downstairs. I chucked the pile on the floor, realizing as the pile was mid-air that there was a huge, and I mean HUGE cat poop right in the middle of the floor. Fresh, too. Oh yea, it was awesome. Naturally, my grown-woman, purple cuddle blanket landed right on top of the poo. It was actually stuck to it. So gross.

I tossed that load in first. I made the load a bit lighter so the blanket had plenty of room to spread out in there. Yuck. I promise my cat IS supposed to be litter box trained.

About an hour later, I moved the first load to the dryer and tossed the second load in the washer. My blanket look good, thankfully. But then, when I went to remove it from the dryer, I saw it had morphed into a lint-creating psycho blanket. There were fuzz balls on every piece of clothing in there. The lint thing was filled to max capacity - it was overflowing. I took the stupid blanket out and took the clothes upstairs to shake them out and fold them.

Bad idea.

Now, I'm not naturally one to rant and rave about lint - #firstworldproblems and all that. But can I please tell you. This was so insane, so stupidly crazy, I just had to take a picture of it. Who has seventeen pounds of lint fall out of their clothes when they try and fold them? WHO?


No worries. Just a little hiccup. I got this. I moved the second load to the dryer and tossed my third load in. Three loads rockin, two left to go. I waited for the dryer to finish, went down, took out the second load (which had only a little bit of the insano lint on it) and opened the washer to transfer my third load to the dryer.

Hmmm. The clothes still had soap all over em. Hmm. The water is pretty low. Hmm, it smells like garbage in here.

I turned the dial and pulled it up to get the water running again. It started flowing. I set the lid down. It stopped flowing.I opened it. Nothing. Pulled the dials. Nothing. I looked at the sad, sad pile of clothes sitting in there, all wet and soapy. I jammed a canning knife into the door latch, hoping it was that easy. Nothing.

Huh. Time to go all Laura-Ingalls on this shit.


The sheets will need to wait, though. Possibly forever.



My name is Jen and today, laundry absolutely kicked my ass. K.O.

Pretty sure I would give a pioneer chick a run for her money in the washing department, tho.

Hope you all get your chores out of the way so you can have an awesome weekend! As always, thanks for reading :)
Jen



Friday, October 31, 2014

Home Office Makeover: A Real Classy Jerk Space

So how's this for procrastinating:

I've had my own little business since October 2013.

I quit my corporate job to focus on my freelancing in August 2014.

I decided I am going "off the grid" to write a book starting tomorrow and desperately need a place to work.

So over a year later.....the office is finally done! Classic jerk behavior. 

Oh, hey Jen, some people take years to finish their remodels! Nothing wrong with taking your time! 

Except I didn't remodel a dang thing. I moved boxes around, poked holes in the wall, and vacuumed. The boxes reproduced like bunnies on Viagra. It was impossible to get rid of them all. 

But let's focus on the positive here. My office is done :)


It was once a holding area for various pieces of garbage important things. I kept it well organized. Knew where everything was.




I've always wanted a really quiet, warm place to read and was inspired by those under-the-steps nooks all over Pinterest. I did my own version, of course. 


Under that poofy white blanket? Cat pee stain. True story. It's cool. Can't smell it anymore. The Egyptians thought cats were gods so.... guess my chaise is blessed like CleoCATra! Oooooh! See what I did there? Million. Dollar. Writer.

I have a ton of art by my big girl down here and a few pieces from friends and family. My mama did the horse drawing :)




My husband put up this bomb-ass pegboard. 


The baskets are from Target ($3 each!!). They hold push pins, paper clips, ribbon, essential oils for my crazy awesome USB diffuser, some post-its, and a Tyrion Lannister figurine. Clearly the most important object in the entire office is Tyrion. He reminds me not to take everything so seriously and to accept things for what they are. The clock is not set on the right time (jerk element). I love the sparkles.

You'll notice I don't have a single picture of a person down here. I am going to write stories about people fighting and doin' it and killing each other, and something about having other people's faces staring at me while I write those things really creeps me out. So my loves are present instead in art form. My name is Jen and I like indirect hugs!

Sometimes I need a swift kick in the brain to remember:
I already have all the happiness I could ever want...I just gotta quit being a moron and make the effort to pull it out of myself.

Tea station! That Keurig was free from an old coworker. The box is cedar, my favorite smell of all time, unless of course I'm feeling fruity, in which case my Sun Valley candle does the trick. I am huge on smells, ok people? I have a ton of random candles, oils, and plug-ins, and I like them all. It smells like a real whorehouse down here. A real unsexy, cat-friendly whorehouse.


I think one of my favorite parts of the office is this new art corner for me and my big girl. It houses my scrapbook crap, stickers, all that jive. She can sit down here while I write and draw, color, glue, and cut....until she starts talking to me and I scream at her like a maniac gently ask her to go back upstairs.


I still have a few things I'd love to get done, including painting that horrendous-looking green-topped chest of drawers...but it's safe to say I love it down here. It's clean. It's filled with things I love. It makes me want to write. 

One last before and after!



Happy Halloween everyone :) Thanks for reading :)