Summer Picnics (with Less Plastic)

DSC_2648Words (or at least my words) cannot begin to express the rapturous joy with which we emerge from the bitter desolations of the subarctic winter and enter, with bare arms and faces pointed to the bright and finally warm sun, the glories of spring.

And what do we do in these precious days of warmth, me and little crew, but pack our bags in the morning with sunscreen, half a gallon or so of tick spray (a homemade concoction that includes citronella and geranium bourbon essential oils, hats, towels, extra clothes, water bottles, and enough food to count as lunch. Apples, bananas, pb&js, little pieces of salami, cashews, some type of chips if we have them on hand, etc.   And we go out for as much or the morning as remains after I have packed all of our sundry things, and we have a picnic for lunch. Once we manage to leave the house and set forth, I feel like a combination of the 1994 movie version of Marianne Dashwood going out for a walk on a soon-to-be-stormy day and Fraulein Maria going out with the children in their curtain clothes, with baskets and guitar. See that look on her face? This is basically us:

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Anyway, whatever your days look like this summer, whether frolicking through the Alps or tumbling down rainy English slopes or perhaps just hiking on whatever paths might be free and not subject to the oppressive taxation of the State, I hope they involve some form of eating food outside.

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I’ve been trying to use as little plastic as possible for these excursions and for life in general otherwise, and I wanted to share a few of the things I’ve been using to pack food that don’t involve ziplock bags.  I have neither time nor inclination to expound here all the various evils of plastic,* but suffice to say: it’s ugly** and it’s bad for us and every other living organism on the planet. So we pack up our little snack lunches in various cloth bags, metal tins, etc. Here’s what we use:

My top 4 Reusable Things for Picnics (and Snacks in General):

  1. Water bottles. We use these Kleen Kanteen ones for the kids, with these (somewhat leakproof) green lids. The kids each have one and only one, so we keep good track of them and they go everywhere with us. I have a stainless mug that I carry hot tea in on cold days and cold tea in on hot days.
  2. Cotton zippered pouches. The pouches made for snacks are expensive! And lined with plastic! But mostly, they’re expensive. So after wanting to buy snack pouches to replace small ziplock bags for about 2 years now I finally bought these little canvas bags. (They come in various sizes– one version we bought is smaller, and has 2 separate zippered pouches, and the larger size has a little loop that is nice for little hands to hold on to.) These are not waterproof, so you know, they’re not for yogurt or spaghetti and things like that, but we weren’t really using ziplock bags for those things too much anyway.  They are great for grapes or pretzels or nuts and dried fruit, etc.*** Depending on the size, these cost $2-3 per pouch and come in sets of 4-6.
  3. Stainless steel containers of various sizes (similar to these) for stuff that might leak, and anything else, sandwiches (though we also put sandwiches in the cotton bags), leftovers for John to take to work, etc. We own four: 2 small circular ones, the large one shown in these pictures, and another one that’s about the size of a sandwich. (Here are some similar ones, with silicone lids.) They’re a small bit pricey– we’ve collected these four over the course of about a year, one at a time when they’ve gone on sale at Wegmans. I’m sure they’ll get lost at some point, but as with our stainless water bottles we make a point to keep track of them precisely because they cost a bit more, and it has never felt like a burden to do so.
  4. Cloth napkins. Buy fancy linen ones or find any old kind at the thrift store, or use cotton handkerchiefs. For wiping faces and hands and wrapping up a bundle of sandwiches, etc.

Before we had the pouches and the stainless steel containers I would wrap up our sandwiches and various things in cloth napkins or put them in some of our glass pyrex jars with lids. We generally pack finger foods so we don’t need utensils. I’m all about the cost effective fruit, so we mainly stick to apples and bananas.  Little ball jars with lids would make a good and inexpensive snack container. We usually don’t take a cooler, but if we’re bringing meat or cheese or something and it’s particularly hot out we might.

(We also used, and still sometimes use, ziplock bags of various sizes, but I wash all of them, even the small ones and reuse them. Because, see below).

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Anyway, I hope I haven’t been too preachy! Hoping, for us and for all two of you (hi mom and dad! I love you guys!), that this will be a spring and summer of picnics, mountain wandering, and Ivanhoe reading. And maybe a tiny bit less plastic.

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*i.e., the harm they do to animals, the harm they do to people, the fact that MOST OF IT NEVER GETS RECYCLED, or the fact that even if it DOES it takes an enormous amount of energy and creates an enormous amount of pollution to do so, and even when recycled, the fact remains that it’s still plastic, it still exists, and all that will happen to it is possibly be used for a period of time by people and then ultimately break or be broken down in some form, over some time period, into invisible molecules of plastic. Also, please consider the human beings who work in plastic factories. Can you imagine spending most of your waking hours in a ziplock bag factory, breathing in the fumes of melted plastic? Living next door to such a factory? Is it morally acceptable for us to use these things while other people are breathing in those fumes all day, every day? Just so that we can continue to bustle about in our frantic lives at faster and faster paces, tossing food into ziplock bags?

**If you’re not convinced by the envorinomental/human health arguments about plastic, please consider the aesthetic elements of it. We are affected and shaped by the things that surround us, at least to some extent, and if we learn from earliest infancy**** that food comes primarily out of plastic pouches or tucked in plastic bags, what does it teach us about the purpose and quality of food, about nourishment, both to body and soul, and about how we interact with the world around us? The latter part of that question, I fear, is becoming answered increasingly with choices of convenience and cheapness, reflecting that at heart, we care neither for the consequences upstream of our ziplock bags (what about the people who work in the factories who produce them; or downstream, after the plastic has served its fleeting purpose and we have thrown it into the trash, and our ziplock bags and baby food pouches and squeezable yogurts and coffee cups come to visit us and our children and our children’s children in the form of microscopically small particles of plastic in our water and all of our food.)

*** And yes, most of these foods come packaged in plastic. I know. I try to buy as much as I can from bulk bins, but many things are sadly more expensive to buy that way….. Perhaps more soon about my paltry attempts to make good choices on a tight budget in the grocery store.

**** This is going to sound really aggressive, but y’all it is possible to feed babies otherwise than out of plastic pouches. I fed two just fine with zero of them. Plastic is not healthy for us, and just because companies put baby food into it doesn’t mean that it’s safe and healthy for your baby to eat it. Even if the food inside the pouch is organic, it is now organic food with plenty of leeched plastic in it.  If plastic food pouches are your deal and it’s how you survive, then keep on with it, sister. I have used and still use plenty of plastic other areas. But astonishingly, miraculously, human babies have managed to be fed throughout, and even to survive, their infancy without such contrivances for millennia. But then, people also have managed to survive without cars, coffee, bathtubs, electricity, seltzer water, libraries, etc.., and I use those things plus others quite liberally. And most of the food I buy comes in plastic, even though I make every effort not to.

So anyway. here’s to muddling through, doing what we can do do whatever we’re doing. And here’s to picnics and summer, whatever the food might be packaged in. (Just this very day– this is a few days after I wrote this post originally, because of course I felt the need to edit it extensively– I took Margaret out to a park and she had a little snack bag of freeze dried strawberries from Aldi, so in essence no different than pouches, and if I calculated the price per pound of it it would cost more than gold. So much for all of my preaching about plastic and frugality.)

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Two Easy Ways to Make Money

OK, I hate to post about stuff like this, and I’ve written about one of these before, but I wanted to share 2 things I use to make money back on stuff I already have to buy anyway. One of them (Ibotta)* I’ve just started using and have made $30 on in the first 3 weeks of using it, and the other (Ebates)* I’ve made $68 on since I started using it in 2015. So ok, that’s not a lot of money.

BUT I wanted to share this because Ebates is the easiest thing in the world to use, and right now (just for a week) it’s offering 15% cash back on purchases from over 400 stores.

Stores like Boden, Aveda, The Container Store, Le Creuset, Lou and Grey, Madewell, Melissa & Doug, Sierra Trading Post, basically almost any website that sells clothes, skincare, shoes, or anything else.

All you have to do is sign up, and then either:

  1. Go to any website from the Ebates website (you can browse by category or search alphabetically for a store), and the money will go right into your account, and they can send it to a PayPal account, etc.
  2. Go to the bottom of the website and find the column that says APPS, TOOLS, AND SERVICES. Underneath that you’ll want to click on “Ebates button”. Once you get that set up, whenever you visit any website that participates in Ebates a little box will pop up on your screen and tell you exactly how much cash back you’ll get if you make a purchase.  See picture below (guys! I figured out how to take screen shots! I hope everyone is proud of me!). Then you’ll click “Activate 15% cash back” and shop as usual, and you’ll get 15% back.

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I know all of this is a little contrary to my recent posts about shopping secondhand. I STILL advocate buying things gently used when at all possible, but there are times when you might need to buy something new. Just promise, if you do sign up for Ebates, you won’t use it to justify purchases you wouldn’t have made otherwise!!!!! Just use it if there are things you need, and maybe you could get them right now while you can get 15% back. But it’s always better to not buy anything at all, cf. this guy.

And then, Ibotta! This one I’ve been using for groceries, though you can also get money from shopping through shopping on Amazon mobile, and things like flights and hotels. You can use it at almost any grocery store: Harris Teeter, Wegmans, Krogers, Whole Foods, Walmart, CVS, Walgreens, and a ton of others (see partial list below). All you do is sign up and then search the current “offers”, which will be things like $0.75 cash back when you buy a certain kind of kombucha or a certain brand of salsa. (They also have offers for any brand of eggs, bread, milk, shredded cheese, bananas, kale, etc. So you can buy what you normally buy but get cash back for it. Plus offers for organic food, gluten free items, etc.) Then when you’re done shopping you just take a picture of your receipt (in the app) and they automatically tally up however many purchases you made that correspond with offers you selected, and once you get to $20 you can transfer money to a PayPal account or you can get gift cards.  (Below– photo from the Ibotta website, partial list of participating grocery stores.)

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Also, when you sign up you’ll get a certain amount of time (mine was a month) to redeem a certain amount of offers (mine was $10– not sure if it changes), and then you get a welcome bonus (mine was $10). So it took a little bit of strategizing that first month, but still without buying anything I wouldn’t have normally bought I was able to get the $10 bonus, plus I’d made $10 from the offers I used.

Anyway. I don’t have time in life right now for anything complicated and unnecessary. But these two are both the easiest, and it’s nice to get a little money back, if you have to be spending money in the first place.

And of course, it’s better to not buy anything. And please don’t use these, or anything like these, as an incentive to buy something you otherwise wouldn’t.

Also, coming soon! Blog post about how the jeans I bought didn’t quite work, but how I bought another pair from eBay (also J Brand, and for only $30 this time) and then I bought a linen dress from another secondhand online venue, somewhat by accident,  and some (more) thoughts in general about buying secondhand things.

I’m also going to write a post entitled “Ode to the Public Library (or How, if you Are a NY State Resident You Can Get a Library Card for the NYC Library System and get Any ebook or e-audio Book For Free, or How to Replace your Retail Therapy Habit with Getting Books for Free from the Public Library.”) Also, speaking of libraries I recently walked past the shelf in the fiction section that held the book Ivanhoe, and on a whim (because free books!!!!!) I picked it up and YOU GUYS. It’s delicious. But really, the essence of what I’m trying to say is please oh please spend less money and instead enjoy free things like library books and sunshine.

*And yeah, if you sign up using one of my links, I’ll get a small referral credit. Which I am hoping to use to buy shoes for my children, because one of them might not have any summer shoes right now.

7 Lovely Places to Buy Used Clothes Online. (Or, How to Spend Less But Buy Better. And Ya’ll, I Bought Some Jeans.)

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A friend of mine recently mentioned that she doesn’t love most of her clothes and wants to rebuild her wardrobe. But also doesn’t want to spend any money. I completely resonated with this, especially the not wanting to spend money part.

(I’ve gotten rid of the 80% of my clothes I like the least, so most of what I have left I like pretty well. Read here for my advice about creating a new wardrobe just buy eliminating the clothes you like the least, if that’s where you are; that post was written about getting rid of fall clothes, because that’s the season it was at the time, but it could just as easily be applied to your spring wardrobe, if it happens to be spring where you live. It’s still definitely winter here, so we’ll just move right along and I won’t be one tiny bit jealous that you’re wearing linen and flip flops and basking in the sun!)

Anyway. I’ve been thinking a lot lately, well the past few years, about building a new wardrobe when you don’t have much (or any) money to spend on it. Simply because we live in such a spall apartment I haven’t had room to keep a ton of clothes, so I’ve become a minimalist out of necessity. And through the process I’ve realized that it is so, so, so freeing to own fewer clothes.

And also through this process I’ve realized that the things I love the most are generally pieces that I spent just a little more money on. Not always, but usually.  For example. When I was a freshman in college I spent $50 or $60 on a black cowl neck sweater from J. Crew. (It was one of maybe 4 or 5 clothing purchases I made in college that wasn’t from the thrift store or Target.) BUT that sweater has lasted for 17 years (yes, I am old) and it’s still my favorite sweater. If I could go back in time I would have bought 2 in every color they had.

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As another example– 2 summers ago I found a linen dress (with pockets) at Garnet Hill that I adored, and I bought it when it went on sale. (I spent $70 on it, I think). But I have worn it every day (when it’s not in the wash) during the summer, for hikes with the children, splashing in creeks, and to church. (The $70 still felt extremely spendy though, so last summer I didn’t buy any clothes, other than a couple of t-shirts. And I may very well buy nothing this summer, because of this guy, but that’s a whole ‘nother story. Well, and because of her. Somewhere she says, about clothes, that she already has “more than plenty.” Yes and Amen.)

BUT I think the mentality of wanting to buy quality clothes can lead down a path of simply spending too much. Over the past few years as I’ve tried to be more conscious of buying better quality clothes I’ve ended up, more often than not, just not buying anything at all.

Because what if you really can’t afford the price tag of nicer clothes? 

Enter the world of online consignment stores. Here’s the thing: once you buy almost anything brand new in a store and take it home, its value drops by about half. Possibly a bit less than half if you never wear it and it has the tags, but the point is– you can find nearly new clothes in pristine condition for half or less than what they cost if you buy them brand new. (If you’re not as worried about the actual cost of clothes, there is also the environmental/ethical side of the clothing industry, which makes purchasing secondhand simply the best way to buy clothes, in my humble opinion.)

So probably everyone is familiar with Thred Up. But here are a few other stores to try. It can be really overwhelming to sift through so many listings, but if you can figure out some brands that you LOVE but can’t afford new, just keep a list of those and start searching.  (I’ve learned about a lot of super pretentious brands from this blog that I could never afford, but which I look for secondhand online, see for example, her post about blue jeans.) (Or, in any of the below stores, just search by quality materials– linen pants, linen dress, silk camisole, etc., and see what comes up.)

I haven’t bought any clothes in the past few months, used or otherwise, but I’m hoping to buy a pair of really good quality jeans from one of these stores below soon. (My current (one) pair of jeans are at least 3 years old, I think actually 4, from the Gap. They are so stretched out and faded it’s getting quite pathetic.) (UPDATE: I actually JUST bought a pair of J Brand jeans from The Real Real, see below. They were $55. Guys. I have been wanting a nice pair of jeans for literally years. Now we’ll just have to see if they fit!)

Anyway, enough of all of that. Here are some places to try if you’re looking for lovely, secondhand clothes (or shoes, bags, coats, etc.):

7 Lovely Online Consignment Stores (Other Than ThredUp)

  1. Tradesy Everything from the Gap to Louis Vuitton. Super easy to search by brand, color, price range, size, etc. You can search for “linen pants” or “silk dress” etc. and then refine your search by size, price, etc. (Referral link: you get $20 off a $50 purchase, and I get a $10 credit!)
  2. The Real Real. Basically the same as Tradesy. Some really insanely expensive stuff, but also more reasonable items. [I JUST bought a pair of J Brand jeans from here. It’s my first purchase from this place, so I’ll let you guys know how everything works out once the jeans come!] (Use referral code for $25 off your first purchase).
  3. Slowre. This is a smaller website that specializes in selling secondhand clothes that were produced ethically. Eileen Fisher, Elizabeth Suzann, etc. I haven’t bought anything from here (everything’s still quite pricey, but worth a look!).
  4. Poshmark. Less fancy than the above, this store features clothes sold by their owners through the Postmark website, sort of like an eBay just for clothes. Again, as with the others, it’s really easy to search by brand, price, etc. And since you’re buying directly from an individual you can contact the seller and haggle a bit on the price. (They also sell kids’ clothes)
  5. Vinted.com. Similar to Tradesy and The Real Real.
  6. WornWear for used Patagonia clothes. I’ve never bought anything here, because it’s all really expensive, but I browse every once in awhile because there’s a coat I love of theirs I’d like to find used. (And here’s a similar website for used REI clothes & stuff.)
  7. Ebay.  Just wanted to throw this one in there. A good place to look if you’re searching for a specific brand. You might not find what you’re looking for, but it’s worth a look.

A few more notes: all of these stores are also places where you can send in your unwanted items for store credit or cash. The only place I’ve actually done this is ThredUp, and it’s super simple. (They mail you a bag for free, you fill it and mail it back. They deduct some from what you earn to pay for the shipping.) Just check the various websites for instructions. Just be prepared to get a lot less money back than you think you deserve. (Remember: clothes lose an insane amount of value as soon as you wear them once.)

The other thing is that I don’t know how easy/hard returns are for these stores. Just check before you buy. ThredUp has free and easy returns. Make sure you take that into account.

Read here for advice on buying secondhand clothes for kids.

(Also, if you can’t find something secondhand that you love, try Everlane for ethically produced basics. Their new underwear line looks amazing. And hell yes to their underwear models. Amen.)

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Some Pants I Got For Free (And a Pretty Good Source for Organic Cotton Basics)

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(So, for all four of my faithful readers, I wanted to say a few things! First of all, thank you! And I love you! Also, I’m going to tinker around with some new themes, to change things up a little bit, so if it looks different that’s why! Also, I’m planning to either shut this down completely, or to start using this as a platform to excoriate the continued production and purchasing of single-use plastic products, with some posts about small space living with kids thrown in. I’ve been moving towards having our family consume and toss/recycle less plastic for several years now, and I also have figured out how to have 4 people live in a small 2 bedroom apartment with some measure of ease and loveliness (well, about as much ease as you can expect with 2 little kids, but I mean, I don’t have piles and heaps of THINGS stacked around everywhere), and I want to write about both of those things a bit more.)

Anyway. Back to this post, before John gets home from the park with the kids!

A few weeks ago one of my friends gave me a little bundle of hand-me-downs that included a pair of black Pact yoga pants. (I think they’re these ones, which as I’m typing this are on sale for $17.50). As soon as I touched them I realized that THIS, THIS is why people buy nice clothes. Because the cotton feels like straight up silk. They were and are the essence of yoga pant perfection (as someone who does not prefer to do yoga in skin-tight, crazily patterned leggings which seem to be what all the youngsters are wearing these days).  I have had one pair of yoga pants for the past about 8 years. I bought them from Athleta when I was first married and they are ok, but super synthetic and I haven’t been crazy about them lately.)

Anyway, you guys probably didn’t want to read my yoga pant life story, but there you go. The essence of what I am trying to convey here is that these new ones are amazing. They are all I want to wear.  And as I wore these every single day I started to imagine a pair of leggings made out of the same silky Pact material. Or actually, what happened was an ad popped up in my Facebook feed that featured Pact leggings on sale for $15, and then I started imagining how life-changing such an item would be. I don’t know how Facebook knew that THAT WAS EXACTLY WHAT I WANTED TO BUY, but there you have it.

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I’ve been on a pretty big no-buying anything kick lately, but I wear leggings a lot in the winter, and my current ones were made out of polyester, and the texture just makes me cringe every time I wear them. So guys? I bought them. Shipping was free, and when my leggings arrived they were just as silky and soft and a little thick but not too thick, and the package came with a voucher for a free pair of socks! (Caveat emptor: the sizing chart on the Pact website, based on inches, which I re-measured just to make sure, indicated that I should buy a size smaller than the size of the yoga pants I had been given. However, the yoga pants fit quite well, and possibly even a bit on the snug side? So I ordered my leggings in the same size as the yoga pants, a size up from what their sizing chart said, and they fit perfectly. If that even makes sense?)

ANYWAY, I know no one cares, BUT if anyone is in the market for cotton t-shirts, socks, under-things of various sorts (for men, women, and children) that happen to be pretty reasonably priced (when on sale!) and supposedly somewhat ethically produced, Pact is a good place to start. (Use this link for $20 off a $60 purchase).

I know everyone has seen The True Cost (you have, right?) and it’s pretty old hat that we shouldn’t be buying as many clothes for all the various environmental and ethical reasons, and I guess trying to buy basics from a company like Pact is possibly a slightly better alternative than running out to Target? But as this must-read article points out it’s a little more complicated than that:  “we are not going to shop ourselves into a better world.”

(In case anyone needs a little inspiration to buy fewer things, read this blog! This young lady is hysterically funny, brilliant, and lives in Paris. I want to be her. This is what she says about her tiny, 100% thrifted wardrobe: “It’s more than plenty.” Yes, amen, even so.)

(Read a bit here about how to refresh & renew your wardrobe without buying a thing.)

Homemade Rice Flour and Licorice Exfoliator (& Some Books about DIY Skincare)

I wrote this post a few years ago, and since then I’ve been saving a ton of money by making a lot of my own skincare items.  I just cleaned our linen closet out, where we keep all of our extra bathroom things, and I’ve found several glass jars of various creams, one of which may or may not have been made out of tallow because of some crazy blog post I read a few years ago. And in the same clean-out I threw out the remnants of a probably $10 container of some organic exfoliator I had bought at the health food co-op last year. It just didn’t work very well, and I wish I had saved the $10 and just gone back to making my own exfoliator (recipe below).

I’ve been re-inspired about this after recently reading a few lovely books (Skin Cleanse and The French Beauty Solution) that both contain a bounty of skincare recipes by women who know their stuff. There are obviously about 70 billion blog posts written by random people with random make-it-yourself skin care ideas (of which yes, this is one), and I’ve used a lot of them. (I’ve used this recipe for deodorant for over 3 years now I think. Costs pennies, and uses zero plastic.) But I do think it’s helpful to have a book or two written by a somewhat qualified person if you really want to learn more about making your own skincare products.

ANYWAY. Adina Grigore, the author of Skin Cleanse compellingly lays out how companies market skin care products to us by making us believe that our skin is too oily, too wrinkly, our pores are too large, that we are deficient and ugly and we need their product in order to be beautiful. I think it is deeply important and good for us to learn how to care for our whole selves, skin and all, with gentleness and grace, and that sometimes skin care products are part of that. But for some reason, reading Skin Cleanse made it click with me that I do not want to literally buy into that whole scheme. I will NOT be a cog on the wheel of the mass marketing of skincare products. Also, I can’t afford to buy all that crap.  So I’ve been using some of the Skin Cleanse  and French Beauty recipes. Buying 90% fewer skin care products in stores.

Which made me remember this exfoliator, some version of which I’ve used off and on for years now.

So. One of my favorite skin care products of all time (which I have bought exactly once in my life, now over 8 years ago) 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.  When I ran out all those years ago, I decided to make my own version of it instead of buying a new (very expensive) bottle.

The first time I made this I used my coffee grinder to grind 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 just kept the bag in the freezer and have used it for subsequent batches. (I also added goat’s milk powder, as it is part of the skin regimen recommended for oily skin in Absolute Beauty, a wonderful book on Ayurveda and health/beauty/skincare).  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: Once or twice a week– Remove makeup first, if wearing makeup.  Mix about 1/2 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.

 

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I Almost Bought a Yogurt Maker, but Then I Didn’t (or How to Make Yogurt Without a Machine)

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So guys. A month or so ago someone posted a video about plastic on Facebook, and even though I have seen multiple documentaries about plastic already and considered myself to be pretty responsible in that area (I mean I usually bring my own bags to the grocery store for pete’s sake), for some reason it finally sunk in. Plastic doesn’t go away. It just breaks down more and more, finally into tiny pieces, invisible to the naked eye, and saturates the ocean, all the water everywhere, and our insides. And plastic is really not that great for our insides.

And I know there are a lot of other things, maybe even a lot more pressing things to worry about than the multiplication of plastic particles in our little world, but for some reason I just started caring about this. But if you are caring about something else and don’t have the energy to care about this, just do not worry about it. Or if you are using all your energy just to survive day to day, then please carry on and also do not worry about it. This is just where I am right now. So I have been on a quest to reduce the amount of plastic we are buying new. To live a slightly less disposable life.* (Because guys, recycling is not the answer. It might turn plastic into something else plastic that can be used a bit longer, but in the scheme of things, when you purchase plastic, whether you recycle it or not, you are contributing to the overall volume of plastic in the world. We shouldn’t really feel good about recycling, um does that make sense? It’s a huge bummer, I know! I’m sorry!)

I know no one is reading at this point except maybe my mom, because no one wants someone to tell them that recycling is basically as bad as not recycling, but I’m just going to keep on writing (hi mom! I love you!) anyway. Because, the yogurt maker that I didn’t buy.

Anyway, most of the new plastic I end up buying is food packaging! It’s really hard to buy food that doesn’t come in plastic! And knowing myself, my brain will explode if I think in all-or-nothing terms here. It would be next to impossible to eat completely plastic free (though i might try an experiment with that next month!), but I’m trying to just buy less. Less food in plastic. One of the first things I did was to buy a few of these bags, photo below, from this sweet woman on etsy! For buying things in bulk. (Both the natural food co-op and the Wegmans where I do most of my shopping sell a lot of things in bulk. I’ve bought all my herbs and spices in bulk for years, plus a good amount of grains and beans. It’s cheaper. But I’ve always used the plastic bags the store provides. Until I bought these little bags! I’m not trying to be all like, “Wow, I am so amazing because for the past two weeks I’ve used re-usable bags at the grocery store.” That is really not what I’m trying to get at here, y’all. What am I trying to get at, then? Well, that I almost bought a yogurt maker, but then I didn’t. So back to that story.)

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So anyway, one of the plastic things I buy fairly regularly is yogurt. Well, I mean, the yogurt isn’t plastic, but the container it comes in is. You know what I mean. Plain, full fat yogurt. In a big plastic container. So I decided that I would finally just buy a yogurt maker! I’ve wanted one for years, and I’ve tried so many times to make homemade yogurt without a machine, but always with disappointing results. Who has time for that?! So I started looking at cute little yogurt makers, but I couldn’t bring myself to buy one. I didn’t want to spend the money, and where in heaven’s name would I put it (our kitchen is tiny, have I ever written about that here? We have one drawer in our kitchen. One. Drawer.).  And what is the machine part made of, anyway? Plastic.

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So I decided to give it one more try without a yogurt maker. I knew some people used coolers for this (because you have to keep the pre-yogurt milk, whatever in the world it’s called at that stage, at a certain temperature for at least 8 hours), so I thought I would just try it. One time. So I boiled some milk, let it cool, stirred in some yogurt I had bought (I bought fancy French yogurt in a glass jar for this! It was cheaper than a yogurt maker!), put it in a quart-sized glass jar, and filled up another quart sized glass jar with boiling water. I put both jars, standing up, in a little rubbermade cooler we have, with the top closed. Left it overnight and in the morning, yogurt! It literally couldn’t have been any easier or less messy. There was one pot to wash out.  I kept the yogurt in the same glass jar in the fridge. The second time I made it I may have forgotten that I was supposed to be bringing the pot of milk to a low, gentle boil and was doing bedtime things with children and heard a horrible hissing sound coming from the kitchen, which turned out to be the milk boiling over into the burner. So I turned it off, waited until it was cool enough & stirred the yogurt in and figured it would probably be a huge failure but I didn’t want to waste 4 cups of good milk. Then, into the cooler with the jar of hot water, and in the morning, yogurt. No plastic, no machine. See here for a similar recipe. (She pours hot water right into the cooler & uses a thermometer; I don’t use one, I just bring the milk to a low boil, except when I sometimes bring it to a high, scalding boil, and then cool it until I can leave my finger in it for 10-15 seconds.)

So anyway, here’s to baby steps of buying less plastic. I definitely know that no one is reading at this point, but if you are, maybe consider thinking about one small way to use a tiny bit less plastic? Try to remember to bring reusable bags to the grocery (or ask for paper instead). Buy something in bulk (spices, in particular, are exponentially cheaper if you buy them in bulk, and you can just put them in the empty jar of whatever spice you just finished). Wash and re-use ziplock bags! Even just try to buy the larger size of peanut butter or a bag of 16 tortillas instead of 8, and freeze the other 8 for another day. …….. Baby steps. Here’s my pinterest board “Life With Less Plastic.” Here’s a blog with some other ideas for using less plastic, if anyone is interested. And another blog with some good ideas.

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*Did I ever tell you guys the story about when Wendell Berry came to Duke when I was in grad school there? And how for some insane reason I didn’t go hear him speak, but I heard from other students that someone had asked a question along the lines of, “What’s the best thing that we as divinity school students can do?” (given what he had talked about in terms of farming, care for the earth, etc.). And how he said we should drop out of school and become stone masons. Or something along those lines. PLEASE nobody quote me on this, because my memory is horrible (and because I obviously wasn’t even there). But I don’t know, somehow is the spirit of Wendell Berry following me around and urging me to slow down enough to bake bread every once and awhile, or to make my own yogurt? (Ok, obviously not, but there’s something about planting gardens, and gleaning in fields and baking bread with oil and pulling up water out of a well for someone who is thirsty, making lunch for people who are hungry. There’s much about living in a way of peace and gentleness. And tending to all the household tasks because these are the things that Christ did for us.  Having enough time to partake of a meal and do the lowest kind of washing. I’m not trying to say that if you buy any plastic at all it such a terrible thing, or that trying to waste less is somehow the essence of the gospel. But I do think we have lost sight a bit of the dignity of ordinary things like washing dishes and making bread, and we usually are in quite a rush not to be doing those things.  So anyway, here’s to slowing down a bit, wherever you find yourself, whether you’re making yogurt or packing lunch boxes or sweeping the floor for the 4th time today. Slowing down enough to be gentle with ourselves & maybe just maybe also with the world. Because Love prepared us a feast and bid us with gentleness to sit and eat. And of course, she said it much, much better.

House Meals (wisdom about food from, of course, Tamar Adler)

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A dear, precious friend of mine posted an article on Facebook last week called “Everyone Should Have a House Meal.” I read the caption of the article, and I thought, “Wow, that sounds just like Tamar Adler.” And because of that, and because the article seemed to be about basically one of the great passions of my culinary life (simple, repeatable meals) I started reading it, and lo and behold, it WAS WRITTEN BY TAMAR ADLER. Who wrote An Everlasting Meal. Which is one of the most beautiful books ever written in the history of food, or of almost anything else.  So of course this article (and you have to read all the way to the end), made me nearly weep with joy.  Because she’s someone who isn’t telling me that I should be cooking new, ever fancier meals every single night of the week! With all of the ingredients! From all of the websites! A little confirmation from at least one woman, that it’s ok for dinner to come (yet again) from an egg.

In this particular article she discusses the beauty of having a house meal. A meal that you can throw together with almost no thought. You have the ingredients, it’s simple, healthy-ish, and sustaining for body and spirit.  Hers, she said, was eggs and greens. Ours is always some variation of beans. (I don’t know why that picture above has a picture of Tapatio in it, because our one and only hot sauce love forever and ever is Texas Pete.)   Beans and tortillas. Or beans heated up in a skillet with some salsa & eggs. Sometimes beans and rice, but almost always, tortillas. If we are feeling extremely rich, some scoops of avocado. Or “bracamole,” as one of our small people is calling it these days.  Oh! Sometimes some fried plantains!  A creative economy is the fuel of magnificenceHere are 5 other of our house meals, or simple suppers, as I called them.

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A friend of mine recently had a baby, and all the church folks signed up to bring meals, and I sent her a bag of fancy-ish tortillas and a ball jar of black beans that I made (& some good beef with taco seasoning, because, well postpartum and iron) and some salsa and a lime and some tortilla chips. In retrospect, maybe I should have sent something fancier, but it felt like I was sending her literally the greatest feast imaginable. Our House Meal.