Monthly Archives: February 2013

Adios, Antiperspirant!

I had a guest speaker on natural housekeeping in the new mom’s group I attended after O was born say that she would not put anything on her skin that she couldn’t eat without harm. This made lots of intuitive sense to me and prompted a switch from lotions and cremes to simple organic oils for moisturizing. Recently I’ve also simplified my hair care routine along these lines. Antiperspirant, however, was one potentially toxic chemical I was not willing to part with. I work as a nurse in a hospital setting where I am sometimes very physically close with my patients and/or co-workers and thus have strong feelings about not having body odor. My experiences with natural deodorants in the past have been mixed to bad and I would not consider any of them an option for everyday use. I have only recently reconsidered because I have been out of work on pregnancy related leave. The combo of not wanting to be infusing the unborn babe with aluminum and not having to protect the folks I work with from the possibility of B.O. made me reconsider. I had also read a few accounts of people finding baking soda to be superior to antiperspirant. Hmmm.

With some trepidation, I whipped up this deodorant recipe. Took about 5 minutes.


1/4 cup coconut oil

2 tablespoons corn starch

1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon baking soda

a few drops of tea tree essential oil and about 10 drops of peppermint essential oil (or whatever you like the smell of)

In the coolish climate of my house coconut oil is solid all the time, so I heated the oil until it softened (I used a small canning jar in the microwave). I mixed the powders and oils in thoroughly. That was it! You do have to apply it with your fingertips. I use about a pea-sized amount in each pit. If I use more and I have just shaved it burns a bit at first. Baking soda is very basic stuff relative to our skin’s pH, not good to over-do it.


After testing in all sorts of sweat inducing situations both B and I have been surprised with the results. It works! For real! Most astonishing- I have to agree that so far it has been better than antiperspirant if I reapply daily. Now I can’t even rely on sniffing my shirts to know when to wash them, they so rarely smell like anything.

I did have to desensitize myself to feeling of sweating a bit outside of exercise induced circumstances without concern. Ever since I was the victim of an antiperspirant/deodorant failure in 7th grade (enough said), I was always sure that any feeling of sweating in my day to day life was just the prelude to horribly offensive body odor. Deodorant that can heal the scars of 7th grade! True success!


Best Family Tradition Ever

My mother is an excellent seamstress! This gets her in to all sorts of trouble. Like the down jacket she hand stuffed for my sister as she headed off to college in frigid New Hampshire, or the time she agreed to make my wedding dress.


Just a simple little thing to whip up in the midst of throwing a wedding in one’s garden!

But no project can match the hours my mom has spent over the years upholding the best family tradition ever- the quilts! It goes like this: pregnant moms pick a theme for their quilt and make a list of all the most important women in their lives in the months before the birth. Each important woman is sent a square of fabric and batting to embroider for the quilt. The assignment is welcomed by some and dreaded by others, I’m pretty sure. It seems not everyone is drawn to spend hours upon hours coaxing needle and floss into quilt square perfection, but most do it anyhow. Occasionally we find some serious talent hidden among us, but even the simplest squares carry lots of good love and support for the moms to gaze upon with bleary eyes during the inhumane hours newborns like to keep.  Inevitably there is a rush in the final days before the quilt shower to present the quilt- reminders are made, overnight mail packages arrive (or not! panic!). Finally a complete number of squares is pulled together and the arranging begins, weighing all the possible combinations.


There is a lot of careful ironing…


and straight sewing…


… and far fewer exclamations of fury than my sewing machine is used to.

Common themes include children’s songs or nursery rhymes. I, of course, was drawn to more homestead related themes. O’s quilt theme was “Farm Animals and Their Products,” and this babe is to receive a “Beneficial Insects” quilt. Creative license was encouraged! My sister-in-law made a square of grasshoppers on a skewer- not an insect you would necessarily like in your garden, but an excellent protein source. My friend Kate made a City Bug in front of the Golden Gate Bridge, complete with rainbow flag flying in the distance. I made a square of the end-of-summer spiders whose webs booby trap our entire property August through October. They enjoy open spots at just about face level for web-making. Years ago, after a long commute by foot, BART train and Muni from Oakland to San Francisco, I told my nursing school friends about the particularly large specimen I came eyeball to eyeball with just before taking down her extensive web with my face that morning. Halfway through my recounting, one of my ladies began staring intently at my hair and uttered a most ominous “HOLD STILL” as she lunged in to sweep that very creature from my brow. Yeesh. The quilt also included many other beautiful and helpful bugs, each bringing with it a piece of its maker. Makes my mother’s, and gardener’s, heart swell.

In the end, thanks to all my favorite women,  we had this:


Which later proved surprisingly hard to capture well on film. Trust me, this quilt is gorgeous in person. But here’s the idea:




I’m scheduling this post to go out on this baby’s due date. Could be he has already arrived!

Or maybe I’m still waddling about.

Wish us luck!

The Little Mustang Does It Again!


I really, really thought Sebastian’s last show at Yarra Yarra Ranch was going to be a peak in terms of scores and ribbons. This weekend the competition was still at Yarra Yarra but with a new judge, on a new day.


After his first test (Training Level, Test 1) the judge commented to Sue, my trainer, “Thank you. Lovely test.” as she rode out of the ring. This is a big deal to hear anything but a “Thank you” as you leave, the equivalent of “you may be excused”. When I heard “Lovely test” I began to have some hopes that things had gone very well. To my eye, the test looked almost flawless but, as you can imagine, I am somewhat biased. Low and behold, he scored a 75.8%!!! For all the non-dressage folks out there, that is *really* good. For his second test (Training Level, Test 2) he was not as forward moving, and we found out why when he finally pooped right in front of the judge’s table. As Sue later pointed out- nobody likes to run around when they really have to poop. So he picked up the wrong lead twice in the trot to canter transition required at that moment and scored a 3/10 for that move. The rest of the test, however, was still awesome enough for him to score a 71.3% overall.


Yep, two more blues!

So there is our victor, enjoying a net-free flake of hay in celebration of winning some totally useless (translation: inedible) floppy blue things his ecstatic mother smooshed into his mane. I had this super cute picture idea where I pinned the ribbons to the mesh of the stall door and was going to have him put his head out the v-shaped cut out between the ribbons, but of course he was too short to stick his head out. Alas, a small horse showing in a big horse world.

On my drive home I was reflecting on the fortune of buying this wild little horse at auction and finding such success in the sports we have tried. There are the important factors of conformation bred through generations of hardiness and early conditioning in the rugged mountains of Nevada, but I also appreciate that Sebastian had time to grow up quite a lot before being handled by humans. There are horses who are fortunate enough to only ever interact with excellent horsemen who understand how to communicate the strange and often counter-instinctual things we ask of our ponies in a positive and effective way, but these horses are rare. I looked for about a year before I bought Sebastian, and I found a number of young horses who would have been huge projects not because of their age or inexperience but because of the interactions they had had with humans. Buying a wild horse with 90 days of training from a natural horseman was actually an easy way to start a good relationship. Sebastian knows how to be a horse, first and foremost. He has suffered from plenty of my mistakes over the past few years but he has a real training foundation (thank you Bob Mundy and Susan Dockter!) that has made everything else we have done so relatively easy. This next piece of dressage training with Sue Corrie is teaching him up to better use his body, correctly and efficiently. I have been fascinated to see how well this translates to show ring success when laid on top of his natural horsemanship foundation. He unloads from the trailer at a show and looks around with curiosity, not anxiety. Sue can hop on without any ground work or lungeing and find that he is mentally the same horse she knows at home. He can really show off what he has learned with Sue because he isn’t nervous. Nope, he doesn’t have the movement to be competitive at the higher levels of Dressage but for me that’s an excellent trade off for a horse that is just so easy to do things with.

Now watch, next show he’ll be a complete maniac because I tempted fate and wrote all those things down. I’m knocking on some wood here. I’ll let you know after March 30th- our next outing!

My Hairdo Has Gone Back to The Land

My hair has been the subject of many experiments over the years. There was the summer I was a camp counselor and let all my body hair grow out while I cut the hair on my head almost entirely off. That same summer I attempted to use Dr. Bronner’s pure castile soap for all my cleansing needs and ended up with a thatch of hair roughly the texture of straw. Not recommended. When B and I first officially met just after college my hair was a grey-violet hued pixie cut, recently lightened by a friend who assured me that the pain caused by the peroxide on my scalp was directly proportional to how awesome it would look in the end. Sort of true, actually. I distinctly remember the first few days of my roots growing in. The dark specks at the base of each light hair shaft looked like an army of lice emerging. Oh my. Over the years my hair has grown longer and tamer, with the sometimes additions of brightly colored extensions just to keep things lively.

I have a hairdresser that I love (Michelle at Barbarella Beauty Lounge in Berkeley) and this latest move away from the mainstream of beauty product consumerism was actually her idea. Most shampoos and conditioners had been giving me a subtle rash on my forehead, so she suggested that I just stop using them all together. It seems that baking soda and vinegar can replace them entirely.

When I checked this out online I was not convinced it would work. Amidst the glowing reviews of the no-shampoo lifestyle there were tales about unappealing transition periods of greasy do’s. I also must say that the pictures of shampoo free locks, when provided, were not always inspiring. However, the ideas of slashing my hair budget, using fewer chemicals on my body, leaving the rash behind and buying less plastic were all compelling enough to get me to try.

So here is the current hair care line-up:


The routine is this: you mix a tablespoon of baking soda into a cup of water, pour it on your wet scalp and hair, scrub your scalp with your fingertips, then rinse. You do this a second time, now substituting vinegar for the baking soda. Your hair will smell a little like a salad at first, but that fades and vanishes completely by the time your hair is dry.

B and I have both been using this method for about 6 months now and I have to say the results are excellent. Neither of us noticed a transition period or any real changes in the textures of our hairdos, and my skin cleared up entirely. B no longer needs to use any product after washing to make his hair less poofy, and I use just a tiny bit more of the styling serum I have always used. It was actually so easy it felt a little anticlimactic. Highly recommended as a painless way to make your life simpler and cheaper. Give it a whirl!


Grow 23 Fruit Trees On No Acreage

I admire people that landscape well. Follow a plan. Make a plan to begin with! I am far too much of a crazy plant collector to accomplish these tasks. I get so excited about particular plants that I have a hard time adhering to the basic rules of good design. I stuff things in wherever I think they might survive and rarely buy more than one of anything, much less the odd numbers of things that work well for groupings. I sacrifice cohesion for the delight I get from the individuals. This past week I literally gasped to see that one of the bulbs I planted in Fall 2011, that did nothing of note last Spring, is suddenly in sparkly bloom.


Nope, I didn’t plant it in a drift or next to anything that will provide a complementary color or contrasting texture. Totally worth it.

So this never ending desire to collect, combined with our limited sunny space for growing, has spilled over into our edibles and made me a devout follower of Backyard Orchard Culture. Instead of one large fruit tree that will grow too tall to harvest from the ground, make lots of shade, and provide way too much fruit for one household at the time of ripening, you plant perhaps 4 trees in the same space. The key is controlling the size of each tree, ending up with what are essentially large fruit shrubs that can easily be harvested and pruned from the ground. Size control is achieved by severe pruning at the start of the tree’s life, root competition between the trees, and pruning while the tree is in leaf to limit photosynthesis. You can easily extend your harvest by choosing varieties that will ripen at different times in the season.

Late Winter, 2010

Late Winter, 2010

There are many different ways to configure one’s orchard- for more info check out Dave Wilson Nursery’s website. In our space we chose to plant trees about 6 feet apart along a metal pipe fence. We loosely espaliered them to keep them from getting wide and taking over the path beside them. Their roots compete with one another, as well as being limited by the concrete retaining wall of the fence. We have 16 trees along this fence line, 4 citrus trees bordering the veggie beds, and 3 more citrus in pots on a deck. 23 varieties of fruit on our tiny homestead! Miraculous!

Early Summer, 2012

Early Summer, 2012

This year we are replacing six trees that proved to be less fruitful or required extra work to keep healthy. It’s survival of the fittest on this homestead! In our mostly frost free area January is the time to plant for a successful Backyard Orchard Culture. The trees come dormant, with their roots bare of dirt. The first pruning cut is the most important. Whack those buggy whips off at about 18″ to promote the development of very low branches.


Not only does this make sense for all the future development of the above ground part of the tree, but check out what you have to put under the ground:


Ak! The size of the root ball on bare root trees is totally anxiety producing. How can that meager clump support a whole tree? In truth, it can’t do it very well. If you let a tree push new growth all the way up a 6 or 7 foot trunk the first year after it has been dug out in this fashion it will likely be a sad, stressed out tree. That’s why it’s better not to buy the trees later in the year that have been potted up by the nurseries without real pruning. Best to wait until next year. If you get to the nursery very soon, however, whack away and feel good about it! Balance that shoot to the roots.

You’ll be glad to know I had the family members who are not 38 weeks pregnant helping with the digging and heavy lifting. I had one especially enthusiastic helper:


Good times!

It’s Only 20,002 Bees. What Could Go Wrong?

I hear it’s common to have crave strange foods and reorganize every closet in your house when a person is pregnant. Yep, I have been doing those things, but mainly when I am pregnant I want more animals.

If not for B, who likes to remind me that I had one dog when we first met, I think I might already have been featured on one of those reality shows about animal hoarders. I would be the one with features blurred, skittering off the property by horseback and surrounded by a dog pack, crying out in anguish over all those less mobile species I would be leaving behind. Rationally I understand that acquiring more labor intensive mouths to feed and care for just before giving birth to the ultimate variety of labor intensive mouth to feed and care for is not a good idea. But did you know that there are miniature cows? Seriously. Who can resist?!

B, that’s who. After a chat with the 4H cow lady at a harvest festival in the fall, I was sizing up our Redwood tree paddock for the modifications needed for a mama mini cow and her offspring. B, however, thought that daily milking and the eventual slaughtering of 700 pound animals might be beyond our capabilities as urban homesteaders with full time work, family commitments and a newborn human on the way. I admit this did ring somewhat true… but only after B gave a lukewarm thumbs up to starting bee hives this year. Bees! In April I will bring home 2 boxes with round about 10,000 worker bees and one queen each.


Wouldn’t that critter above be even more lovely if there was a chance she was about to return home to one of my very own cozy hives? Indeed!

I have been obsessively researching this new hobby and still feel rather unprepared. Apparently even very good and experienced beekeepers can meet with complete failure, sometimes for no clear reason- hives that bees just abandon or mysterious sudden die offs. But the rewards are so tempting: jars upon jars of honey, better pollination of our garden, beeswax galore, and the chance to observe some bizarre and fascinating insect action. Did you know that bees dance to tell one another where the best foraging spots are, adapting the choreography to account for time elapsed in order to keep the map properly oriented to the sun’s position in the sky? How tremendous is that?? This weekend I will attend an intro to beekeeping class at a place called Beekind in Sebastopol. I will be making my first foray into the purchasing of bee housing and gear, including attempting to try on beekeeper suits 9 months pregnant. Such timing. I can’t wait!