August 22, 2011

5 Easy Herbs to Grow...and How

We hope this modest selection will grow in sufficient quantity to make a real difference in our menu selection, helping to balance our diets by encouraging us to create healthier dishes enhanced with fresh greens, and in our connection with the earth itself, by involving us directly in the grounded work of its natural cycles and rhythms. We also hope to reduce our food waste, as store bought herbs come in bunch sizes we can hardly use before they spoil, in spite of my failed efforts to try freezing various herbs. Gathered from a number of online sources, what follows are the essential data on nursing five of the most popular and easy to grow (we're told) herb varieties. 

These can each be grown, or at least started, indoors. They each promise to be easy, but then again, they hadn't met me before today, so I won't hold them to it. Regardless, I feel inspired, positive, and armed with great data. Will report on the progress of each in a couple months time, even if the result is decidedly less than herb-a-licious. Wish us luck.

And in the interim, if you have tips, tricks, or experience for better or worse, I could certainly do with hearing it. I am, after all, a newbie among a world of veterans, or at least that's how it feels from here.

annuals - complete their lifecycle & die forever in 1yr or less. But seeds produced may bring new growth the following season.

biennials - go to seed in 2nd year. complete their life cycle, never to be reborn. However, the
seed may bring new growth the next season.

perennials - leaves/branches may die, but the plant regrows/blooms each year.

arugula - annual but regrows from seed easily and is hardy. likes it cool. (heat causes bolting/seeding). flavor becomes stronger and stronger until it can be too strong/bitter for some by the end of the season in fall. at end of it's useful season allow it to flower. leave for weeks. once dead, remove dry stalks. the following spring new growth is likely. harvest outer leaves only and often if possible, to encourage regrowth. plant every 3-4 weeks  to ensure supply. germination 5-7 days. part shade ok. is sterile, so needs insects for pollination for self-seeding, therefore best to grow outdoors. once it has completely flowered and begins to brown, STOP water. allow it to complete its life cycle. Arugula Reference here.

basil - is a biennial. it is recommended to have multiple plants, at least 2 and never to take too many leaves off at once or the plant will not recover. it is best to pinch the leaf only not the stalk (you knew that didn't you), and to pinch off any little flowers as soon as you see them. Sow every 2 weeks throughout growing season in order to keep constant supply. requires more or less full sun 5 hrs a day or so if indoors (6-8 outdoors). harvest time: 10 weeks from sowing. mature height is about 4" tall. keep moist but not too wet. attracts bugs/slugs if kept outside. likes warmth. Germination ~7 days. likes good circulation, so coarse compost is good &/or rocks in bottom of plant pot for good drainage. Basil Reference here.

cilantro - an annual. grows 1-3 ft high. begin harvesting at 6" height. partial shade okay, but needs 8" deep pot minimum. sow every few weeks to ensure supply is constant. careful to keep moist but drained. Once it flowers, collect seeds for re-germinating or dry for spice use (will need drying). plant likes liquid fertilizer every couple of weeks. does not like to be repotted. Cilantro Reference here.

lavender - perennial. hardy but needs some care its 1st & 2nd seasons until it's established. Grows indoors or out. Full Sun. well-drained soil (not too wet), so allow soil to dry out between waterings (ex water 2x week, less in winter). Prune--cut back plant by 1/3 to half, either once flowering season is over, or just after new buds begin in new season, to keep the plant compact. fertilize every couple of weeks. PROPOGATION: take a few long 3-4" stem cuttings and place in moist pot, preferably in spring or indoors until the spring. From seed is more difficult to catch on and grow and should be done in spring. Lavendar References - multiple, no link

rosemary - perennial. propogates best from cutting. Seeds can be difficult to germinate and often don't grow true to their parent. It's possible to root rosemary in a glass of water, but a bit more effort will give more dependable results. Easy to care for once established. Rosemary Reference here.
1.     Snip about a 2 inch cutting from the soft, new growth of an established plant.
2.     Remove the leaves from the bottom inch and dip that tip into a rooting hormone. Rooting hormones can be found in any garden center.
3.     Carefully place the dipped end into a container of dampened, sterile seed starting mix. Choose a mix that says it is well draining, like something containing peat moss with vermiculite or perlite.
4.     Place the container in a warm spot with indirect sunlight.
5.     Mist the cuttings daily and make sure the soil does not dry out.
6.     In about 2-3 weeks, test for root growth by very gently tugging on the cuttings.
7.     Once your cuttings have roots, transplant into individual pots about 3-4 inches in diameter.
8.     Pinch off the very top of the cutting to encourage it to develop branches.
9.     Begin caring for your cutting as a rosemary plant.
10. Prune to keep the plant full and lush, shapely, etc.

August 20, 2011

The 4 R's of Mail Consumption

from unjunkmail
In present day, I'm guessing a lot of us use idea one (below) to some extent, though some younger adults are especially resistant to opening their own checking accounts. I know because my little brother is one of them. Wait. So is one of my closest girl friends and she's, well, in her late-30s. Not having a bank account is akin to asking for a monthly headache. I can't imagine trying to pay bills without one, or how about applying for an apartment? Ironically, it's not a simple way to live in our society. One day I'll convince them of that. I hope.

1. Refuse Paper-Bills; Auto Bill-Pay. 
Yeah, this is the one I'm guessing you already use. Isn't it wonderful? Fluctuating bills still need scrutinized, so some folks may still have such bills on paper, but it's generally easier to view and harder to lose a bill that's online, and recurring same-amount bills, like rent or a mortgage, are a no-brainer as auto-pay candidates.

Sole Proprieters and even non-proprietors are eligible vendors, too---Did you know?
Do you also know it's easy to set up your friend in need or your sole proprietor landscaper as a bill payee? I've done it without a glitch. All my bank required was a name, bank account & routing information, and at least a week; auto-pay transactions to individuals are slower than other tiers of payees that may already do business with the bank. For example, when I pay my Chase card from my Chase checking account, I get the fastest pay option available: same day. But, if I want to pay a Capital One card from my Chase bank account, I may be waiting a couple of days or more, and setting up a new vendor that Chase may never even have heard of also takes a bit longer. So, always make sure you have at least a week to spare before the payment's due, even once they are set up. Oh, and the other good news; you only have to set a new vendor up once. Trust me, this comes in handy when it's been two years since you paid person X (assuming X's account info hasn't changed).
Image from

2. Reduce Junk Mail. 
Saves me time reading or sorting through it; saves me time weekly from running it to the curb. Saves the planet and makes me feel good.

DMA Choice (Eliminate Junk Mail)
This god-send from the Direct Marketing Association can nearly eliminate credit card offers, catalogs and magazine offers. It sends a request out to all major credit entities like Experian and Equifax, and it's free. So that it can be accurate and thorough about getting my name off lists, the https protected site does ask for sensitive information, but most is optional. Still, it's a reputable organization and the more info I'm willing to provide DMA, the better their efforts will be to help me. The entire process, including signing up for a free DMA account and requesting to be removed from all the aforementioned options, took less than five minutes.

The DMA site is so incredible; a person can even reduce her junk e-mail, register as a caretaker, or register that someone is deceased, in order to reduce unnecessary mail!

3. Reuse it. 
Yesterday I used some old newspaper as a tissue paper substitute for stuffing the bottom of a big gift basket (which itself was a new fiber trash bin doubling as the "basket"). Other days, I save paper as the upcoming winter's fire-starter.

The Re-use Trap
Saving paper and cardboard and other materials for future use is great, but don't fall into the trap of collecting much more than you can use in a reasonable amount of time. I've made that mistake repeatedly with boxes. It's an easy trap to fall into, and a hard habit to break. Do a regular sweep of the excess if you want to stay organized and feel on top of things.

4. Recycle. 
And you guessed it; the rest goes into the compost & what doesn't make it into the compost ends up in the recycling bin.

And finally, it may be more than you ever wanted to know or think about mail, but if you're at all curious, look up unjunkmail sometime. It has interesting ideas and information. And if you have some other creative ideas for taming the junk mail beast, please do share.

August 15, 2011

Personal Care Recipes: An Essential Arsenal

So, I haven't made jack in terms of personal care products. I'll let you know when I do, but I'm in the researching phase, so that I CAN make some truly good products. And what I'm finding is extremely encouraging. The key seems to be keep it simple (aka easy) and make it small & often (as needed) in order to avoid spoilage. Below is my new go-to list for the tasks to come. What have you tried that's worked...and not worked?

Make My Easy Body Lotion
Easy. A nice Body Lotion Recipe from Ready Made.

Here's a super Easy Liquid Soap Recipe from Savvy Housekeeping. It took me less than 10-minutes, including preparation. I used a sample size bar of soap (and using a cheese grater made soap flakes), a tsp of vegetable glycerin (optional), 2.5 cups of water, and a few drops of my favorite essential oils (optional). Heated 2-3 minutes until melted. Left to thicken overnight, stirring occasionally throughout the evening. The result: perfect liquid soap.

Shampoo Bars (the 100% natural variety)
Have you tried some--what do you think?

Okay, this one's not a recipe, just a recommendation; albeit, an untried one. I'm not yet sure I'll ever make my own hard soaps from scratch. But they sound like such a fab, natural and wasteless (or nearly) way to keep clean. Still, I've heard mixed reviews and I don't have my own two cents to add just yet. UPDATE: my first shampoo bar is called Egghead from Connecticut Natural Soaps (Etsy). It lathers great, though not as foamy as commercial shampoos, and left my hair feeling squeaky clean. I will update again after some weeks with my satisfaction rating.

Make My Hair Silky Conditioner
I couldn't find much in the way of conditioner bars. And what I did find wasn't good. So here's the next best thing: a site with a fantastic Hair Conditioner recipe.  And an adaptation of that Recipe <--here from Ready Made.

I was astonished to learn about the ease of finding guar gum & xantham gum and how fantastic they can be for DIY personal care products. I will probably adapt and adjust/tweak this recipe over time. But it looks like a FANTASTIC base.

DIY'ers Best Friends: Reference Materials
Emulsifiers - Check out this great page on various natural Emulsifiers: the key to many a great homemade product.
Skin Deep - Skin Deep is a great site for learning more about cosmetic ingredients, including their potential for being hazardous to our health.
Borax - this natural wonder mineral can be used for everything from preservative (cosmetics) to detergent to emulsifier. While borax shouldn't be ingested, it is natural and less toxic than many chemicals used as preservatives.
Washing Soda - great for tough cleaning jobs. Per eHow, it is cheaper and easily made from baking soda (cook baking soda on a sheet at 400 F for 2hrs), let cool and store in an airtight container. Or, make liquid washing soda by boiling baking soda in water.

HELP: this page is heavy in web links. And we all know links are made to be broken. Please let me know if you notice any of my links are ever broken.

August 14, 2011

Seven Alternatives to Accepting Plastic Bags (when you forget your own reusables)

What happens when I forget or for some reason don't have my own reusable bags in the checkout? In the old days, say six months ago, I would come home with multiple disposable versions given to me by the clerk. 

The Problem: Absent-Mindedness
Frequently I would realize as the groceries or clothes were being bagged, that I had forgotten my own bag, and think "Damn it! Next time," and "what is wrong with me, why is it so hard to remember a bag?" Of course, all that's wrong is that I haven't developed the habit of remembering or incorporating the mindfulness of bags well enough. With me and many others, it's a process that takes time; quite a long time if you never make it a priority.

Usually, I'd want to stop the clerk, but s/he'd be practically finished bagging before I even had the thought, and out of some misplaced politeness, I didn't want to insult her by undoing her labor. Back then, if I remembered quickly enough, I would ask the clerk not to bag if I didn't have many items, or just to bag the essentials (such as multiple smaller items, so my hands would be available to carry the bigger items sans bags). Much of the time I had my own bags waiting in the trunk of my car. So there were a number of times I actually left my purchases on the conveyor belt and ran out to my automobile to get them, but that often backfired as you can imagine, losing my place in line. I always thought I'd be super speedy and sometimes was, but other times, the clerk was faster. And I tired of that strategy.

And unbelievably, about a third of the time that I had forgotten my shopping bags, I actually had one *right* in my purse that I kept for just such occasions. Unfortunately, I used it so infrequently that I almost never remembered it was there, even moving around it in a pocket when looking for my wallet or keys, because the neatly folded and zipped bag had become a part of the purse and no longer an object within it, somehow. I know. Some of you can not understand or imagine such mindlessness. Neither can I at times.

The Solution: A Rule
Finally, I made a rule. Since I always remembered that I'd forgotten my bags at some point during the checkout process, and though that wasn't really good enough, it was enough to effect small--shall we call it, starter change. I incorporated some of my old tactics and thought of some new ones, and made a rule to apply one of the these every time. Here are seven alternatives to outright giving in to having a half-dozen double-bagged disposables being handed to you at the checkout.

7 Alternatives to Accepting Plastic Bags (use in conjunction where possible)
   1 - Leave. If I remember before entering store, I may leave if I need to do a big shopping; or*
   2 - No Bag. If I need just a few items that can be carried, I'll request no bag; &/or
   3 - Skip some items. I may for-go all but a few items that can fit into my handbag; or
   4 - Unbag. If bagging has begun, interrupt & ask for un-bagging, overcoming politeness; and
   5 - Put some back. If in line with too many items to unbag, step out of line & put some back; or
   6 - Use a cart as a carrier. Request to use the trolley or hand basket & just unpack it at car, or
   7 - Do a Runner. last resort: run out to car & grab the often waiting reusables from trunk, even
        if it means waiting in line again.

*I have at times considered leaving stores and returning, but there's the issue not only my time, but added energy consumption/pollution, as I usually drive to do my shopping (an issue to be tackled in its own post some time in the future). So if I leave a store, I generally don't leave with the intent of returning immediately, but rather of waiting until I can make the trip more cost-effective (in other words, when I need to make a run in that direction for additional purposes). Obviously, if certain items are urgent, then I will do the shopping at that time that is essential and carry those items.

And it's working! I mean, I still forget my own bags at times. But I remember a lot more often. And for now, while I'm cultivating the habit of remembering, I can deal with forgetting on occasion as long as I have fail safe measures to rely on.

So Jay, I forget, too, probably more often than you. Thanks for the comment that created the idea to make this post. Hopefully, it will help some other newbies one day.

postscript. (to be removed once the issue is resolved.) 
To those of you who have written comments on any MWL posts, I apologize that I am still unfamiliar with blogger and seem to have difficulty with my responses reaching the commenters. Or perhaps that's a setting option for the commenters. I apologize in any case, because I simply don't know. I see these wonderful comments and would love to partake in a dialogue, but alas have difficulty doing so. If you know the answer, please shoot me an email at

August 8, 2011

DIY Toiletries....Infinite Possibility Homemade Body Butter

For readers who are well-acquainted with DIY toiletries and the like, I envy you. But I'm not like you; not yet. I've never been one to make much of anything myself (DIY). The ZW lifestyle is changing all that. But like many of us, I felt too busy. Isn't that what our culture is all about? Create overworked, overtired, overstressed masses that will in-turn rely on disposable, cheap and plentiful conveniences and be too groggy to think much about the insanity of the whole picture. Who has time to think about where all those disposable containers end up...surely the incredibly intelligent human species' ruling government bodies have already solved such fundamentally basic issues. So I don't need to worry about such things, or there wouldn't be a system all worked out for me to use and pay for...right?

Even when I was in denial, I always felt guilt. Sometimes it was too subtle to notice underneath all my day-to-day weariness. I would sort of slip in and out of consciousness about this issue of enormous magnitude. I consoled myself that I was better than many in terms of following the 3R's, but in reality, I was still smack in the middle of this zombie-herd mindset. As a result, most of the time I convinced myself that humankind and its governing bodies must have all this waste stuff worked out. I mean, we're not going to trash our very habitat, that would be inconceivably stupid.

Well, I have finally, permanently come out of denial. And in looking to end my addiction to convenience, I am seeking ways to eliminate, or far reduce, my dependence on packaging, especially of the unsustainable type. At this stage, I am still working on doing so with items I use routinely. Toiletries are high on this list.

The trick is that doing it myself has to be easy. Very easy. And when I began hunting for lotion recipes, I found that for most of them, I would need to be an amateur chemist, complete with all the equipment that implies. This wasn't appealing. Then I thought, surely there have to be ingredients out that that pretty much are the whole product; like shea butter, perhaps?

With some digging I found that there are some simple least there are for body butter, which is one item I find essential in maintaining my not-as-young-as-it-used-to-be body. I love body butter for my breasts, arms, and tootsies.

Following is the basis for a recipe that can be changed to infinity to create just the body butter you love. The idea is that you need just 4 simple ingredients (5 if you want a preservative), and three tools: a microwave (or stove), stainless or pyrex container and blender:

plant-based butter   (shea, cocoa butter or other plant-based butters of your choice)
carrier oil (such as apricot kernel)
fragrant oil (essential oils are best in my opinion)
wax (important but not essential in a pinch...but just go find your natural candle and shave a little)
preservative (ex. tea tree oil, thyme oil, grapefruit seed oil, bitter orange extract, honeysuckle flower exract)  - optional

So, fancy an easy body butter making experience? Try may just have all the ingredients you need at home already. And it takes only a few minutes of melting and blending until whip cream smooth. Be sure not to boil, but do cook for several minutes, long enough that the ingredients bind well, to prevent separation later. If you do not use a preservative, you may wish to store your new body butter in the refrigerator. But if you find the consistency harder than you would like, add more oil, or less wax (the next time) and experiment until you find what works best for you.

1/2 cup olive oil (since most homes have it on hand already)
1/2 oz essential oil (of your choice, or try a natural perfume or scent you have at home) 
1 1/3 cups shea butter (or other butter, how about mango butter?)
1 tbsp bees wax (shaved or granules. you can even SKIP this ingredient if you don't have it)
1/2 oz corn starch (optional)

And, if you don't have plant-butters lying around, you can order them online. Here are two sites than carry these products. (I don't endorse the sites or their products, just offer options for you to peruse). Be sure to ask for minimal, sustainable packaging.

The trouble with not using a preservative is that natural products go bad, often in weeks, accumulating mold and the like. There are some natural preservatives like rosemary oil, but alas, the effect is still much less than a synthetic like germall.  Most commercial products include such synthetic preservatives, or their stock would simply not make it to consumers cabinets. So, I find myself torn, but will err on the side of caution, and for my purposes choose natural alternatives, with the hope of not needing to make frequent batches and risk batches going bad before I can use them completely.

UPDATE 9/19/11: Borax is another possibility for use as a preservative. It is both natural and less toxic than many chemical preservatives, though it should not be ingested.

So that's it. 3-5 ingredients and a little melting and blending, et voila! And, all but one lying around your home just waiting for creative use. Once finished, just place into a small container you've picked out and enjoy...ahhh, the simplicity.