Two Dollars of Joy

It wasn’t even my $2.

I was wandering around the Ithaca Children’s Garden with a friend of mine this morning (she has a child, don’t worry– we weren’t just creepy adults walking through), and it turned out that they have a little garden summer camp, and a bunch of 6 and 7 year olds were picking fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers from the garden to sell at a little farmers’ market that they were hosting.  One of the little girls walked right up to us and invited us to come shop.  Adorable.

So we went over and this is what we saw:


3 5 6 7 4 8

One of the boys held up a handful of mint (chocolate mint, he informed me) and something that looks like dill but which I’m hoping is fennel and told me that it was “after dinner tea,” and that it was FREE!  I’m certainly not one to turn down a free bundle of after dinner tea herbs.  The friend I was with let me borrow $2, so I bought a peach tomato (for $1.50) and a bouquet of edible flowers for 50¢– pea flowers, nasturtium, and calendula, if I remember correctly.  Darling.   I ate the tomato then and there, like a peach, and it was still warm from the late morning August sun.  The flowers and herbs were a bit wilted by the time I got them home, but all I can think is that I have never tasted so much joy for so little money that wasn’t mine to begin with. (My bunch of edible flowers and after dinner tea herbs in photo below).


Cheap Things I’ve Bought That I Love: Castile Soap

Oh Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap.  This stuff is wonderful.  I started using it back in high school for backpacking trips because it’s biodegradable.  It’s super concentrated (so you waste less packaging), organic, and fair trade.  And the peppermint smell is just invigorating, clean, and fresh.  They sell other scents (lavender, orange, etc.) and you can also buy it in bar form.

So most commercial hand and body soaps contain sodium lauryl/laureth sulfates and other harsh chemicals that strip your skin and cause some pretty nasty things to happen once they disappear down the drain.  Dr. Bronner’s soaps are a good way to be better to your skin and the environment.

A 32 oz. bottle can cost anywhere from $9 (at Trader Joe’s) to about $13 or $14, which might seem like a lot for soap.  But it’s super concentrated, so a bottle lasts forever.  I’ve been using the same bottle for over 3 months for hand soap in the kitchen and bathroom, bathing soap, and shaving cream.  I think I can get another month or 2 from the same bottle.


* Dilute with equal part water for hand soap ( just pour into your hand soap dispenser when it’s empty, and refill as needed)

* Dilute with equal part water for bath soap & shaving cream

* Pour 1/3 c. into running bath water for a good bath

* Shampoo

* Baths for infants and children– when I have kids I will use unscented Dr. Bronner’s for their baths and hair washing, no question.

* Pour 1/3 cup into a bucket of warm water and use for mopping and other cleaning

* Dish washing detergent (recipe here)


Trader Joes has the best price on this stuff, but you can buy it at most grocery stores (even Target carries it now!).  Or order it from here and get $5 off with coupon code WER470 (and free shipping on orders over $20).

Also: Dish Towels that I Love

I also bought these dish towels at IKEA recently for 79 cents apiece.  They are wonderful.  Simple, clean, soft, with a bright red stripe down each side.  So cheerful and adorable.  They remind me of France…

More Info about Castile Soap

Information and uses

Homemade Shampoo using Dr. Bronner’s

4 Ways to Simplify Your Bathroom

Health Benefits of Raw Honey

I think the first time I ever encountered raw honey was in France.  But I didn’t know it was raw, and I didn’t know there was a difference between regular honey and raw honey.

It was in the kitchen of the parents of the woman whose children I was there to nanny.  In a wisp of a town on the coast of Brittany.  And there was always a little pot of honey on the counter in the kitchen.  A soft, solid-ish, creamy, golden kind of honey.  I had never seen semi-solid honey before. But I would put a teaspoon in my afternoon cups of herbal tea and it tasted like heaven.  Nothing like the regular liquid honey you typically see in stores.

So what is raw honey, anyway?  Raw honey is unpasteurized; “regular” honey has been heated, a process which also depletes the honey of most of its healthful properties. Raw honey will cost a tiny amount more than regular honey, but it is worth it, I promise.  Also, if you can find it locally produced, of course buy that.  Raw honey will often come in a solid or semi-solid form and can range in color and taste, depending on the type or types of flowers the bees have been visiting, the season, etc.

Health Benefits of Raw Honey  (these benefits do not apply to regular honey– look for a label that says Raw)

* Contains propolis, which is a substance the bees produce to keep bacteria and viruses out of their hive.  The propolis contains a number of healthful enzymes that are destroyed when honey is heated (i.e., regular grocery honey– or even raw honey is heated above about 118 degrees f.).  And people, I do not know what enzymes are, I’m just going to be honest with you.  But they’re important. (Some theorize that the body’s appearance of aging is connected with the depletion of enzymes, and raw honey is one of the few foods that can be ingested to get a surplus of amalase, an important enzyme.)

* Contains healthy bacteria (such as are found in yogurt and fermented foods)

* Full of powerful anti-oxidants, including the flavanoid pinocembrin, which is unique to honey

* Can be used topically as a moisturizing and acne-fighting mask, which is great, if you are approaching 30 and are trying to somehow battle aging skin and blemishes at the same time, which is something that I obviously don’t know anything about, but it would really suck I bet.

* Aids digestion

*Alkaline forming

*Increases fertility

*Heals burns and other skin wounds (obviously please check with a doctor first for serious injuries)

* Helps to keep blood sugar balanced more than white sugar (has a lower Glycemic Index number, which means it’s absorbed more slowly into the bloodstream– but still, if you are watching your weight, be careful because even raw honey will still cause you to gain weight.)

* Thought to help improve symptoms of allergies

* Also reported to slow down hair loss (read here for more)

*A study at Penn State showed that children with upper respiratory illness improved significantly when given raw buckwheat honey (see here)

* Elderberry syrup and raw honey work wonders together for colds and other such sicknesses (I had a terrible sore throat a few weeks ago, the kind that, for me, usually turns into 2 weeks of misery and a couple of visits to the doctor and a round of antibiotics– and I drank somewhat enormous quantities of homemade elderberry syrup with raw honey… and I got better.  Fast.)

Be careful not to feed honey to infants under 1 year.

Raw Honey and Heat

Just as regular store-bought honey is rendered less healthy by a heating process, raw honey can be damaged by over-eating as well.  In Ayurveda, heated honey (above 118 F) is actually believed to be a poison to the body.  I’m not sure why, but I do know that the living enzymes and probiotics in raw honey will be killed at 118 degrees F, so try to keep it warm, rather than hot.  (You can test a liquid for temperature with your finger– if you can keep your finger in it for 10 seconds or so without pain, you know it’s cool enough to put the honey in.  If it’s hotter than that, the enzymes and probiotics will be destroyed.)

Sources and More Information

Read here for more information on medical studies, the history of honey, etc.

Read here for a list of ailments for which honey can be used as a treatment

A somewhat inscrutable John’s Hopkins article on enzymes and aging

Read here for more information on honey and Ayurveda

Cheap things I’ve bought in Ithaca that I love

Breakfast sandwiches from The Piggery.  $4.50. Local eggs, bacon, sausage, and cheese.  The rolls are made at the Ithaca Bakery and are soft and delicious.  Local cream for the fair trade coffee.  All the utensils and plates and cups are compostable.  Everyone, please come visit us so we have an excuse to eat there every day!

tea for dessert

I’ve written a little recently about how I’m trying not to eat sugar.  It’s sad, because I have such a sweet tooth and I love sugary desserts, but I think for now the low sugar intake is helping my skin, so it’s worth it.

One thing that helps me is drinking tea, lots of tea.  I’ve written about how red bush tea can help with skin issues, so I try to drink a lot of that.  Red bush is nice because it’s naturally very sweet & a lot of brands sell it blended with other wonderful flavors.  Here are some recent favorites:

Tazo Organic Apple Red Tea: Tastes like apple pie.  It’s wonderful. Naturally caffeine free.

(not pictured) Salada Asian Plum White Tea: This stuff can be hard to find, but it’s really great, and a really good price. (White tea comes from the same tea bushes as green tea, but it’s younger and more delicate in taste– and has more anti-oxidants)

Whole Foods Orange Vanilla Creme Red Bush Tea: Absolutely delicious and the most economical ever!!! Only $4 for a big box of 40 tea bags– and it’s organic.  Naturally caffeine free.

Tazo Honeybush Tea: Honeybush is actually a cousin of red bush (or rooibos) and has a sweet taste (hence the name).  Naturally caffeine free.

Some good places to buy tea:

Mountain Rose Herbs (You can buy in bulk, which lowers the cost significantly.  All their teas are certified organic, and many of them are fair trade, as well)

Republic of Tea (see here for their list of fair trade teas)

free online list-maker: teux deux

First of all, guys, I just want to say that the internet really stresses me out.  I’m not going to get all into it right now, but I basically hate the internet. I do.  There is just too much stuff, and it stresses me out.  However, the internet is good for a few things.  Watching Downton Abbey, reading Mindy Kaling’s blog, and……… making lists.  I have been in the market for a really awesome, free task-manager or list-maker of some sort.  And I finally found it, and I love it, and I literally paused Downton Abbey to share this with you.  Guys, I did.  That’s how amazing this thing I am about to tell you is. Although maybe everyone else already knows about it, in which case you can just laugh at how behind the times I am yet again.

It’s called Teux Deux. (I just read about it on The Pioneer Woman). You can get it as an app (though it’s not free)– or, if you are one of the 3 other people in the country who doesn’t have a smart phone, you can get it on your computer for free. I signed up about 5 minutes ago and it’s amazing.  Beautiful.  And free.

With bold, energetic fonts, clean lines, no ads. And beyond easy to use. I am in list-making heaven.

The main page is basically a weekly calendar, and you can enter items to do and then drag them around (i.e., when you don’t wash your car and go to the Post Office like you were supposed to do Tuesday morning because you were watching Downton Abbey and then writing a blog post, you can move those things to Wednesday. Or Thursday.)  There’s also a category for SOMEDAY, which is great for those big things you want to keep track of but know you aren’t going to do today or tomorrow.

And uncompleted tasks are automatically rolled over to the next day!!

And once you’ve completed a task, you just click it to cross it off, and and an actual line goes through the words– very satisfying.  You can also delete completed tasks if you prefer.

You can also make headers or sub-categories in the Someday area.  So you can have a list of movies you really want to see, a list of recipes to try, a list of music to listen to, a list of professional goals, a list of activities to do with your kids, a list of people you want to stay in touch with, etc.

(Um kind of along these lines there is a really great book called Getting Things Done by David Allen.  His basic premise is that we all use a lot of mental energy holding to our lists in our heads, whether it’s the day to day things like laundry or the big, long term things that you should do or want to do etc.  So he says, listen.  Write every single thing down on pieces of paper and organize it by category, and then go through the categories and figure out what you need to do in a given day or week.  Anyway, it is extremely helpful, and I think Teux Deux is going to be the perfect platform to make that system work better– right now I have everything written on pieces of paper in file folders, and it’s great but not as great as Teux Deux is going to be.

health benefits of ghee

For the past week or so (as part of my new skin care regimen, based on the recommendation of this book) I have been drinking warm milk (or maybe half and half diluted with a little water because I didn’t have any milk) with a teaspoon of ghee at night before bed.  I also add a pinch of turmeric and the whole thing is just golden and lovely.

Ghee (a staple in Indian cooking and similar to clarified butter) is butter that has been heated until the water is cooked off, the milk protein (or casein), lactose and other milk solids sink to the bottom, some impurities rise to the top to be skimmed off, and the milk solids are strained out, leaving pure, golden, beautiful, delicious ghee.

According to a 16th c. Ayrvedic text,  “Ghee is sweet in taste and cooling in energy, rejuvenating, good for the eyes and vision, kindles digestionbestows luster and beauty, enhances memory and stamina, increases intellect, promotes longevity, is an aphrodisiac and protects the body from various diseases” (quoted from here).


* anti-inflammatory


* stimulates the digestive system and may promote weight loss

* “lubricates connective tissues and promotes flexibility”

* said to help brain function and assist in mental health

* promotes healthy glow in the skin

* highly recommended for women during pregnancy (though of course please check with your physician or a qualified nutritionist first)

* helps to heal burns

* contains conjugated linoleic acid, a powerful antioxidant

*Ghee will last indefinitely stored at room temperature (if kept in an airtight container and moisture-free), and its beneficial properties grow better with age— up to 100 years, according to one article I read.

*Its chemical structure withstands very high temperatures– over 400 F– which makes it ideal for cooking.


I just bought mine at the store, but if you want to make your own it’s very easy.  You will need unsalted (preferably organic) butter and some cheesecloth or clean dishtowel.  Here’s a video that will teach you how, and some good written instructions here.  You can use ghee just about anywhere you would use other cooking oils– you can sautee vegetables in it, roast potatoes in it, etc. (I don’t think you can replace butter with ghee in baking, though!)


So yes, ghee is very high in fat, but this stuff actually will help you to lose weight if taken with moderation.  Here’s an interesting article about what happened when Indians stopped eating ghee and Americans stopped eating butter (the link includes a video showing how to make ghee).  And another interesting article on the nutritional benefits  of regular butter. This is a heated topic in nutritional circles, and again, I am not a microbiologist or nutritionist or chemist. But I also drink half and half with melted (basically) butter at night, and I haven’t gained an ounce of weight. I mean, if you eat a pound of ghee a day you might be in trouble, but a heaping teaspoon in some milk is not a problem.


The Yoga Journal

The Health Benefits of Cooking with Ghee

Agriculture Society

free things to watch online that I love: downton abbey

My precious sister-in-law mentioned this show over Christmas, and so I’ve started watching it when John is traveling for work.  It’s gorgeous.  Probably everyone already watches this, but in just in case: it’s a drama set in the home of British nobility in the 1910s.  The entire cast is exquisite, and of course, somehow Maggie Smith seems to steal the show. (How could she not with lines like (with respect to someone who had died in the house): “Of course it would happen to a foreigner.  No Englishman would dream of dying in someone else’s house.”

Downton Abbey quotations of the day:

Anna: “I love you, Mr. Bates.  I know it’s not ladylike to say it, but I’m not a lady, and I don’t pretend to be.”

Mr. Bates: “You are a lady to me, and I’ve never known a finer one.”


Lord Grantham: “I cannot use my library because one of the maids is in there applying for another job?”


One of the maids: “Heaven forfend she should have to put a comb through her own hair.”


tips for healthy skin, part 6: homemade rice flour and licorice root cleanser

One of my favorite skin care products of all time (which I have bought exactly once in my life) is Dermalogica’s Daily Microfoliant.  It is a super fine powder that you mix with water and use wash your face.  It isn’t abrasive at all, and it made my skin feel unbelievably lovely.  It contained oatmeal, rice powder, and licorice root extract, among other things.  Alas, I ran out, and so I decided to make my own version of it instead of buying a new (very expensive) bottle.

My first attempt, a few weeks ago, I used my coffee grinder to grind the brown rice.  Unfortunately, my grinder wasn’t able to get the rice fine enough, so I bought some rice flour at the grocery to use instead.  (I have also added goat’s milk powder, as it is part of the skin regimen recommended for oily skin in Absolute Beauty, the book on ayurveda I’ve been reading and highly recommend).  This stuff is wonderful, and has such a calming effect on the skin.  Here’s the recipe:

Rice flour and Licorice Cleansing Grains

Mix together 3 T brown rice flour, 3 T oat flour, 2 T milk powder* (doesn’t have to be goat’s milk), and about 1/2 t. licorice root powder (probably easiest to find in capsule form. I used 3-4 capsules, gently broken open (discard the capsules)).  Mix together, and put through a sifter if the milk powder is clumpy.  To use: Remove makeup first, if wearing makeup.  Mix about 1/4 t. powder with lukewarm water and massage gently over damp skin.  Rinse, and pat dry.  (You can also mix into a thicker paste and leave on your skin for 10 minutes as a mask.)

Store in a clean salt/pepper shaker for easy dispensing!

*Some people may be sensitive to the milk powder.  If you have a milk allergy, obviously don’t use this ingredient, and if you experience any irritation, discontinue use.

Licorice root is soothing to the skin, anti-inflammatory, helps with acne and eczema, and is often used in skin-brightening products.

Rice powder is also used to lighten skin and clear the complexion.

Milk powder contains lactic acid, which is a type of alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) which works as a gentle exfoliator, promotes the production of collagen, and helps improve skin texture.  It is also hydrating and has anti-bacterial qualities.  Helps to even out skin tone and diminish scars.

tips for healthy skin, part 5: cleansing with oil

If you have struggled with breakouts, what you typically hear is that you have oily skin, and that you must fight the good fight to keep the oil off your skin at all costs.  You probably end up using seriously harsh products that leave your skin feeling taut and dry.

The problem is, when you strip your skin of the oil it naturally produces, the glands get triggered to produce even more oil.  A much healthier approach is to use oil to both wash and moisturize your face. This approach can help you simplify and streamline your skin care routine and is beneficial for any skin type.

When I was in grad school I used to go to the Whole Foods near my house several days a week to decompress.  I would take tiny samples of cheese, and then spend 20 minutes in the beauty aisle using as many Dr. Hauschka samples as I could get my hands on.  It was probably a sad sight, a grown woman surreptitiously eating more cheese samples than she should, and slathering herself with various skin oils.

But I fell in love with Dr. Haushka products, most of which are oils formulated as face cleansers and moisturizers.  I read up a little on their philosophy back in the day, and here is an interesting thing on their website called “7 Facts that Will Change Your Skin.”  It says:

Drying, soap-based products and oil-free acne treatments can rob the skin of its defenses, leaving it vulnerable and triggering the sebaceous glands to produce even more oil.  Normalizing Day Oil provides a light, clean layer of pure plant oils and botanical extracts that balance excessive oiliness while helping to soothe and minimize the appearance of blemishes and irritation.”

Now, I am not an heiress, and so I can’t afford this Normalizing Day Oil (though I have been daydreaming of using some Christmas money to buy it and you know what? maybe I will), but from the times I tried it at the Whole Foods on Broad Street in Durham, it was lovely.  It felt like pure bless on my skin.

Less expensive alternatives, and uses

Anyway, if you can’t afford Dr. Haushka products, (and, well, can any of us really afford that?) there are way more inexpensive ways to use the enriching benefits of oil for any skin type.

To cleanse:  Put a quarter-sized amount of an oil that suits your skin type (see list below) into your hands.  Rub together to warm the oil, and then massage gently onto your skin. Wipe off with a wash cloth and rinse with lukewarm water.  Pat dry. (I prefer to use disposable make-up removal cloths to avoid the possibility of bacteria that often live in washcloths.)

To moisturize:  Splash your face with water and massage a pea sized amount of oil onto the skin.

I have seen pure extra virgin olive oil sold as a skin care serum, and so I have put some (just from the kitchen) in a little glass dropper, and use a few drops occasionally to moisturize my skin.  I also typically use some jojoba (which you can buy at Trader Joes) or grapeseed oil as a makeup remover and cleanser. These oils are inexpensive (try to look for “pure cold pressed” or “pure expeller pressed” and organic varieties) and will nourish your skin beautifully.

Oils for Different Skin Types

The use of oil on the face is part of the Ayurvedic system of health, which I have been reading about in depth in a book called Absolute Beauty, by Pratima Raichur.  (Right now you can buy a new copy on Amazon for $12.)

The oils she recommends, based on your particular skin type are as follows:

For dry skin: sesame, avocado, almond, olive, castor, walnut, ghee

For sensitive skin: almond, coconut, apricot kernel, olive, ghee

For oily skin: safflower, grapeseed, almond, apricot kernel

(You can find most of those in the personal care aisles at a health food store, or from the online supplier Mountain Rose Herbs)

And then there’s Argan Oil, which I wrote about recently, and which you can buy very inexpensively here (same stuff but cheaper than Josie Maran!).  Mine came in the mail yesterday, and after about 18 hours my skin is noticeably clearer and calmer.  This is good for any skin type, and I HIGHLY recommend it.