Category Archives: children

Homemade Hand Sanitizer (Spray or Gel)

This has been a heckuva week. Concerts, CD sales, car died and needed a new fuel pump, oh yeah, and there’s this big looming holiday where I professionally must produce at the absolute highest level all year for three straight days of insanity while honoring the magical Holiday Family Warmth Imperative at home…

I’m a choir director, among other things. And my choirs are all getting sick. Sneezing, coughs, laryngitis, people with 2-week sore throats. I don’t want to get sick myself (choir directors do not get sick days in December), so I’m staying away from folks, not touching anyone except my family, and trying to wash my hands rabidly. I hate most commercial hand sanitizers; even the allegedly unscented ones give me headaches. So I looked up some recipes online for homemade hand sanitizers. They are basically pretty simple, and boil down to some easy-to-find ingredients (though not everyone has aloe gel in the house, it’s easy to buy, I got a big bottle at Trader Joe’s a year or two ago to put on burns) and about 5 minutes of effort.


Homemade Non-Toxic Hand Sanitizer

In a glass (pyrex?) bowl or measuring cup, mix together:

  • 1/4 cup aloe vera gel
  • 1/2 cup grain alcohol (er…okay, I guess not everyone has this in the house either…it’s for medicinal uses, really!)
  • 10-20 drops antibacterial essential oils

Mix well, funnel into a spray or squeegee bottle.  Shake well before using.


That’s it. Easy as pie.

The nuances: if it’s too thick to spray well (though I have no problems with it), you could add a little distilled water, but not much or you’ll dilute the alcohol too much.  And your choice of essential oils will have a fairly significant effect both on its odor and its efficaciousness. Some favorites:

  • Tea tree oil--this is the heavy-hitter, antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal.  Good stuff all around.
  • Manuka oil–similar to tea tree, but some say it’s even better at what it does.
  • Lemon oil–this can cause skin sensitivity, so use with caution and discontinue if your skin doesn’t like it, but this is a great germ-killer. Orange too, which is a little gentler
  • Lavender oil–I know, it smells all gentle and flowery, but it’s a hugely important medicinal oil. I use it liberally in almost everything I make–besides being antibacterial itself, it’s one of the gentler essential oils, which means you can get away with using more of it in a blend without it becoming too harsh.
  • Eucalyptus oil–blah blah blah antibacterial antiviral see above. Yet another. (There are lots of these!)
  • Rose Geranium–a very powerful medicinal oil, but honestly I find its flowery scent too strong to use for much. On the other hand, a drop or two of this added to a blend you find too medicinally smelling could gentle it up a bit.

My personal blend of choice is probably not the antibacterial heavy hitter it could be, but I use 9 drops lavender, 6 drops clary sage, and 3 drops lemon oil in mine. Mostly because I love this smell, it’s sort of my own personal antidepressant/antistress blend. Which, given my month, is probably going to be as key to avoiding illness as anything else. Tea tree and lavender together would be a good cheap effective blend.

So use it. Or something like it.  And don’t get sick.  And if you get sick, don’t come anywhere near me.

Posts may become a little more sporadic in the coming weeks, and instead of blogging about cool things to do for the holidays I’ll have to actually be doing them. Or I’ll link back to some of last year’s posts–as I recall, last January I had some slightly intelligent things to say…

Oy. God, I’m tired.


Spud goes Thud.

Okay, not to put too fine a point on it, but this is just stupid.

The Root of All Evil? White Potatoes Dropped from School Lunch Programs

I mean, come on. It’s insane that potatoes were ever a) treated like a vegetable, and b) served as tater tots and french fries and called “nutrition,” but that’s not the potato’s fault. Potatoes are awesome.  And cooked properly, they taste great and are remarkably healthy.

And my son wonders why I pack his lunch every day?

Eating down the Fridge: Day 3 (Potato Pancakes!)

Still working on Thanksgiving.  What turkey isn’t eaten yet pretty much is gone into the freezer to later be made into shepherd’s pie or soup or something.  But there were still a few mashed potatoes hanging around…

So I made them into pancakes.  Very good, very easy, give it a try!


Potato Pancakes

Mix together in a bowl:

  • 1 cup leftover mashed potatoes
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbs milk (optional)
  • 1/4 cup bread or cracker crumbs (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • few shakes black pepper (to taste)
  • sprinkle of oregano, cumin, thyme, curry powder, or any other spice you like…I did just oregano and it was great

Heat skillet to medium high heat with a little oil. (Oil can be omitted in a non-stick skillet, but don’t let it get too hot without food in it, or it can release toxic fumes!) Plop spoonfuls of potato mixture into pan in whatever size you like; flatten if necessary.

Let cook about 5-7 minutes on one side (lower heat if necessary and they are getting too brown) till the bottoms are nicely brown and a little crisp.  They’ll get crisper if you use more oil, of course. Flip and cook on other side, flattening pancake with spatula.

Serve with nonfat Greek yogurt (or sour cream, if you must) and chives, or warmed applesauce, or whatever you want.


This entire prep took maybe 10 minutes beginning to end.  Really easy, and if your kids are one iota less picky than mine I’d bet they’d go over famously.  Also, it should be mentioned that how you make your mashed potatoes will have a lot of impact on this recipe–I do fairly dry garlic-smashed potatoes, so I needed a little milk to make my pancakes work okay.  If you already do very smooth and moist mashed potatoes, you may not need any added liquid, and if you salt them liberally in prep you may not need to add any.  Use your judgment.  You could also probably vastly increase the amount of potato per egg, if you want to keep calories down and/or stretch your eggs. Or maybe even skip the egg all together, if you have some other vegan-ish methods of binding it all together…

These are delicious–easy and light and full of flavor; I’d make these as appetizers for a party or a brunch side dish or something like that in a heartbeat.

Chew on this! (Dental Sealant Safety)

My seven year old has had his first batch of molars for a year or so now.  My daughter has her first loose tooth.

The dentist, whom I actually really like and respect (he let me get a small cavity filled without novocaine, which wasn’t bad at all) –he’s the first dentist who’s actually listened to my concerns about things, and not just blown them off–is recommending sealants for my son.  I’m very ambivalent about the whole thing–for one thing, BPA is used in a lot of dental sealants–or rather, BPA is no longer used in any of the sealants, but many of them are made of things which break down into BPA when they contact saliva.

Our doc says that he doesn’t use the BPA sealants, but I don’t (yet) know exactly what he has used.  I’m going to ask him, though, now that I found this post on The Green Phone Booth with some actual detailed information about which sealants do and which do not have BPA in them.  Non-Toxic Kids has a good one too…And this article has information from a couple of studies on the topic–the crux seems to be that none of the sealants leave BPA in the bloodstream in any measurable amounts, but they do leave it in the saliva for the first hour or so after application.  Which, to me, says that if we swallow our saliva we’re ingesting the stuff.  And articles like this one scare the heck out of me.

When I hit puberty, I immediately got a buttload of cavities, which were of course filled with the silver fillings we all used Back in The Day. I’d like to avoid that for my kids if possible (not the silver part, the cavities!)–but not by exposing them to something even less safe.

Anyone have any additional research that I can add to my roundup here?

Of Hair and Acceptance

Occasionally on WordPress I check out the “freshly pressed” section on the homepage, where some of the “best” blog posts of the day are featured. (Some I have to wonder, why is this here?–but that’s me.) Came across one a few days ago that was fairly awesome:

I Love My Hair!

And it has in it an amazingly cool video from Sesame Street:

This video has apparently, in the few weeks it’s been around, gone absolutely viral and been seen by tons of women and girls (and probably boys and men too) all over the net, and it’s fabulous. And it got me to thinking. (**DANGER** Jenn is thinking again, Jenn is thinking, **DANGER WILL ROBINSON**)

I am a Euro-American woman, and I have very fine stick-straight hair. All my life I have wanted thick, curly hair.  I was like Ramona in those Beverly Cleary books, who saw that girl Susan with the “boing-boing” curls and just envied and loved and wanted from afar.  I slept on rollers, I sprayed goop into my hair, and I went through that period in the eighties wherein I got really bad eighties perms as often as I could, and still couldn’t get the thickness and wave I wanted. (I’m serious, my hair is so straight it wouldn’t even take perms most of the time, and even those would fall completely straight within a few weeks.) I had a friend in junior high, an African American girl with long hair that she could play with and braid and she didn’t even have to put fasteners at the bottom to make the braids stay in; in boring geography classes (which were most of them; Mr. Roark, bless his heart, was a really nice man but he didn’t stir one to passionate yearnings for deeper knowledge) she would fiddle with it and braid and un-braid it over and over–oh, I loved her hair, I envied her hair, I so wished I had her hair…

(Er…okay, I read those last few sentences and want to clarify, it wasn’t some psycho stalker thing, it was a seventh grade girl with a whole set of negative body-and-hair image issues admiring a friend’s hair.)

Even as an adult, it’s been quite a journey. The turning point for me was when I was sitting next to my friend Heidi in a rehearsal one day–Heidi basically has the Exact Hair I Have Always Longed for, thick and long and curly and absolutely beautiful.  Like Jean Rowena Whatserface the ingenue high school girl in Mr. Holland’s Opus–anyway, I had that day tried to do something to my hair, I forget what–curled it, braided it to get wave in it, I forget what, and it had been actually fairly successful, though my hair was still mostly very straight.  And Heidi had hit hers with a fully straight blowout. Every bit of that gorgeous wave gone.  In effect, she had gone to a whole lot of time and effort and possibly cost to make her hair do exactly what mine always does without any effort at all, and I had gone to as much time and effort to make mine look like hers.

The insanity of that hit me that day, and since that day I have embraced the stick-straightness of my hair. I embrace the sort of medium-boring-brown color (although I occasionally hit it with reddish temp stuff when I feel I need some color in my life), I even embrace the threads of white at the temple that threaten to explode one day into a full-blown Bride Of Frankenstein stripe.  My hair is what it is, I love it, and I don’t need to change it to look like anyone else’s hair. (Also, just to clarify: Heidi is a beautiful woman. She is beautiful with a blow-out, she is beautiful with her hair waving the way it normally waves, and Heidi can wear her hair any damn way she wants to and she’s just plain gorgeous period. Her hair, her choice–but realizing that she would choose exactly what I was always trying to get away from was a big deal for me. :-))

Now to be clear here–I don’t in any way mean to equate or even compare my probably very typical little hair-image struggles with what the African-American community (or any communitiy of color, really)  has had to deal with and continues to deal with in terms of constant cultural pressure that blond-and-pale=beautiful, and the degree to which one matches that beauty standard=how beautiful one is, and the farther from that standard one is=how un-beautiful one is.  It’s just sick, and it’s why videos like this are so important for little girls–of all colors, IMO–to see. So are movies like Chris Rock’s “Good Hair”–a really interesting and eye-opening look at African-American hair culture, inspired by Rock’s daughter one day asking him the question, “Daddy, how come I don’t  have good hair?”

See this movie, seriously. (And if any part of you just went, “I’m white, why would I need to see this movie? It doesn’t apply to me, does it?” I’d say, definitely, you need to see this movie.)

Another story: about a year ago, I was watching the opening scene of Rent with my kids for the first time, the Live from Broadway version filmed in the theater. (Okay, this is the part where my husband goes, “oh HONEY, did you have to tell the whole blogging world that our son likes Rent??” Sorry, sweetie–he loves the song, it’s loud and it has screaming electric guitars and drums and lots of words and he just digs it. And it’s not his fault, or yours, that his mom is a Rent-head.)

(By the way, Rent features actress Tracie Thoms, who is also featured in Chris Rock’s “Good Hair.” Maybe it’s just me, but I think she’s sort of a goddess.  In a non-psycho-stalker kind of way.)

I’m not going to re-hash the plot and characters here, but suffice it to say that Roger and Mimi are the sort of central love interest, and Mimi in this production is played by a gorgeous actress with brown skin and thick, black, curly hair and pipes that just don’t quit.  We’d listened to the recordings in the car often enough that my kids know most of the songs (don’t worry, I skip “La Vie Boheme” when they are in the car), and they knew the kid-friendly version of the story pretty well.

The cast is very multi-ethnic, and there is exactly one blond-hair-pale-skin actress in the chorus who plays a number of small roles.  As we watched that opening scene, the blond actress flashed onscreen for just a moment, and my daughter automatically pointed and said, “Look! There’s Mimi!” As in, after being Disney-Princessified, my daughter assumed that any heroine love interest character in any movie would be blond and pale.  She saw the blond, and just knew this had to be Mimi, because that’s what Mimi should look like. It sort of blew me away; it was like Heidi’s blowout in terms of flipping on an internal lightswitch and making me go, WHOA. This Changes Here.  So I flipped to another scene in the movie (don’t worry, not the pole dancing scene) and let her see the real Mimi and watch her interact with Roger and hear her sing and see how beautiful she is. And started buying non-blond Barbies.

So does this have anything to do with greenness of any kind? Well, maybe.  Because the thing is, how much of what we–especially women–consume and buy and put on our hair and faces and into our bodies is nothing more than some feeling inside our selves that we need to do this if we are going to be attractive? I have never heard a woman who wears makeup every time she leaves the house say, “Oh, I know I look just fine without it, I just like to wear it.” But I have heard many times, “OMG, I can’t let people see me without my ____ on!” (foundation, mascara, lips, whatever.) How much do we do, how much time do we spend, how much do we pay other people to change our natural appearance so we can be more “beautiful”? And, the question to which there is as yet no empirical answer–what is it costing us in our health and that of our environment?

I’m not judging–believe me, I am so not judging. I’m the last person to question anyone’s motives about anything–for one thing, as much as I spout about naturalness and beauty, ultimately my lack of extra beauty regimen has more to do with laziness than anything else, and I have plenty of quirky little insecuritiesand behaviors myself.  And I do have several friends who do do some of the funky hair stuff just because they like it, and I’m totally all over “do what makes you feel good about yourself” and all that.  I guess I’m just saying…I don’t know what I’m saying. Maybe I’m saying that each of us is the only one with the answer to the question, “Am I doing this because I want to, or because I’m afraid other people won’t like what they see if I don’t?”   And even knowing the answer to that question isn’t enough–because sometimes people not liking what they see when they look at us can cost us, say, a job…so again, no judging.

Just asking the questions.

Jenn, who is over 40, sorta-almost-plus-sized, has greying hair, wears no makeup, and is a beautiful woman.

Happy Birthday to ME!

Okay, to be truthful, since that birthday 8 years ago when I was 3 weeks postpartum, sleep-deprived, and nursing for 45 minutes every two hours, I’ve been fairly content to let the whole thing slide by.  And after making my husband SWEAR that he wouldn’t make a big deal out of my turning 40 a couple of years ago (after bringing belly dancers to his 40th the previous year–no, he actually did want a kinda big-deal party), I’ve tried to downplay the whole thing as much as possible.  And yet people keep remembering…and honestly, I’m sort of digging it.

But what is so cool, especially on the gift front, is how much the people who care about me “get” what I’m about and what I love and need and want and don’t need/want…My coolest gift from husband and kids, and the one I knew about in advance because I helped pick it out and had been harping on it since summer when my mom got one, is a new SodaStream seltzer-maker.  This will get its own blog post later–it’s so cool; I am a huge fizzy-water drinker, and I can’t stand all the seltzer bottles that generates…now I’ll be able to make it at home, which will cut our monthly grocery bills by probably the cost of a babysitter for one evening, and dramatically reduce the amount of recycling I add to the system.

My parents sent me a beautiful glass bead lariat necklace, handmade by an artist on one of the islands near where they live. And a purse/backpack made of repurposed old jeans from, with a vintage Wonder Woman cartoon on the side–beautiful craftsmanship, making my feeble efforts at jeans-purses feel really clumsy. I will totally use this, ALL the time. (The outer zipper pocket just fits my oversize Kindle, too.)  And some goodies from an organic artisan chocolatier from another island near where they live, Black Dinah Chocolatiers, (Ahem…cough cough…yes, as of 9:00 this morning I had already broken into the semisweet bar with ground lavender flowers. Oh. My. God.), which are to die for. Dinah also has a cafe…and a blog…with recipes.

As usual, the best gifts are the intangibles–like my kids and husband making pancakes for me on a school morning, and two handmade cards, one with a picture of my son and me–with HUGE hands–standing together, and another of my daughter and I in a field of flowers at sunset (pictured above).  And more Facebook happy wishes than I ever would have hoped for or expected.

It’s a good day.

Apple Picking! (Oh, and Meatless Monday recipe…)

My kids have been anticipating this day since about July. It’s our annual tradition, where on Columbus Day the family–all four of us, because it’s that rare thing: a holiday where the kids, the bank people, and the People Who Go To Church And Want Music all seem to take the day off and not require our presence–heads a couple hours away for the whole day to an Illinois apple orchard for a day of apple picking, hayrides, petting zoos, and other stereotypical but lovely autumn amusements.  (Unfortunately, because of the meager and early apple season this year, it looks like we may not get to pick…I hope there are not tears…) Another thing it sounds like no one has are the windfall apples, ugly beat up ones they sell for cheap to people like me who make apple butter in large quantity…oh yeah, and it’s Monday, isn’t it?

Black Beans and Rice

Our Meatless Monday dinner tonight will be very simple–make about 1.5 cups of rice (i.e. half a cup of rice and 1 cup of water), add a can of drained black beans, add a teaspoon of cumin, a teaspoon of your favorite chili powder  and maybe 1/4 tsp cayenne  or a few shakes of chili sauce,  stir and eat. You could throw in a can of green chilis, or a jar of salsa, or you could saute some onions and peppers and throw them in, or you could dump in a can of diced tomatoes, or you could add a cup or two of broth and make it soup. Or some “all of the above” kind of thing…the possibilities are pretty endless. Bon appetit!

Melt and pour soap adventures

This is the last week of school, and I’m suddenly realizing I have no idea what to have the kids give their teachers as an end-of-year little gift. (There’s actually a “class gift” that everyone contributes to, which is nice–they’re building a butterfly garden outside the school, and each child paints a stone that becomes part of the environment–very cool.)

I discovered melt-and-pour soaps last Christmas at teacher gift time; there was a bit of a learning curve, but we’re much better at it now, so I feel okay about doing it again. (Actually, only three out of the six got soap at Christmas, and they were tiny little bars.) Since then I’ve bought soap molds and experienced a lot of trial and error, and I have something like six pounds of unmelted soap block sitting in the closet.  It’s a great project for kids, as long as the adult does the melting, because they can pour and stir and color and blend themselves.

So…off we go. 

Below is a really good site for basic instructions; if I’d had this in December, I probably would have screwed up a little less:

Melt and pour soap base is available in a lot of places, but if you get it from, say, Michaels, it is a lot more expensive. (I’m still glad I did that for my first pound–it was a good way to ease into the process.) I think I paid about $10 for a pound-size soap block, which makes maybe 4 bars of soap depending on the size you use, which isn’t that much less than buying nice glycerin soap somewhere else. 

I honestly can’t remember where I bought the 6 lbs I have in my closet, but any internet search for “melt and pour soap” will give more hits than anyone can possibly need. has some good-looking prices and products; I’ll probably try them next. 

Just a few hints, after one has read the basic falling-off-a-log instructions:

Color: I bought three little bottles of soap coloring from Michaels, in the three primary colors, and I’ve managed to work within that palette so far.  One would think there’s a whole lot of variety to be found from mixing red, blue, and yellow, but somehow in practice…not so much. Probably with better colors I could get better results, but our first few bars of soap looked a bit like radioactive waste…

This batch, for 12 ounces of soap, we used 3 drops of red and 4 drops of yellow, which gave a fairly nice coral-pink.  The next batch Bear wants to be green, which unfortunately was the hue we never managed last time and wound up with the radioactive waste look, but we’ll give it a try…

Fragrance: Some websites have suggested about 1.5 tsp of essential oil per pound of soap, but in reality that’s going to depend a lot on what oils you use.  Peppermint overpowers almost anything, as does Tea tree…Lavender blends too quickly into the background, as does Clary, but Geranium Rose leaps to the forefront. They seem, to me, to be behaving differently in soaps than they do in ordinary aromatherapy blends, but that could be just my own impression.   Also, as nice as the spices and citruses may smell, it’s not a good idea to use them in skin care products, because they are sensitizing. (Sweet Orange in small amounts I admit i do use…but I also want to be clear when I say that that I know I’m going against other advice, and no way would I advise anyone else in that direction.)

For this batch, I went the easy route and am trying to use up some of a much too old bottle of “Peace and Calming” from Young Living Oils. (Note: the Young Living company has been at the center of a lot of controversy in the aromatherapy community, regarding questionable business practices and irresponsible medical advice that flies in the face of the research of the aromatherapy community at large–advice which, incidentally, involves the use of way larger amounts of the oils than is widely deemed safe. Every shopper must make his or her own choice, but I have chosen not to continue purchasing their oils and once what I have is gone I won’t be buying any more.)  I don’t know about its theraputic value, but this blend does smell very nice and ought to make a lovely soap.

Molds: Pretty much anywhere you can get soap base, you can probably also get molds.  but molds aren’t absolutely necessary, especially if you want to really go for the “natural handmade” look.  A loaf pan or square baking dish can work just as well, although you’ll want to test out quantity to make sure you have the right container for whatever amount of soap you’re using. (If you melt your soap in a Pyrex measuring container, you can then use a different cup to measure that same amount of water into the container you want to use and find out exactly how high your soap will come and thus how thick your bars will be.)

I swear by silicone baking dishes, and using silicone for soap molds is just as easy and wonderful.  Sometimes in hard containers the soap gets stuck and is hard to unmold (though usually a quick immersion of the mold part into hot water loosens it enough to get it out), but silicone is really easy.

Additives: One word; beware.  I had this lovely idea of bars of soap with lavender blossoms scattered through it, or oatmeal, or whatever…but unless one gets the soap base that’s designed to suspend things in it, it all falls to the bottom of the mold.  Which, actually, gives a very nice exfoliating thing on one side, but not the effect I was looking for. 

So…we’ll see how it goes!

EDIT: We now have 12 lovely bars of soap, with 3 more to be made tomorrow (ran out of time!). My oval mold holds 3 4oz bars, so we made 4 different batches:
1. coral-colored shea butter soap base with “Peace and Calming”
2. green goats-milk soap base (sort of a nice green this time!) with lavender and roman chamomile
3. lavender goats-milk soap base with lavender and just a touch of sweet orange
4. yellow clear glycerin with lemongrass and a teeny bit of lemon and orange (I know, the citrus thing, but I couldn’t resist)
5. (to be made tomorrow) orange clear glycerin with bergamot mint and sweet orange

The kids have 7 teachers, and we’ll give 2 bars to each teacher. These ones came out really nicely.  And we have one additional funny little bar made in tupperware that contains dregs from several of the different batches, that’ll be ours. The kids will get a kick out of it.

Shut up, kid, and eat your broccoli stew.

Had an interesting encounter with one of my daughter’s classmates the other day. This little girl came up to me when I stopped in the kids’ classroom and said to me confidentially about my daughter, “Did you KNOW she almost never brings anything healthy in her lunch?”

Pushy kid. (Okay, she’s adorable, but she’s very Strong In Personality.)  Who does she think makes the lunch?

My daughter’s lunch, most days, consists of some variation on the following: homemade plain lowfat yogurt with honey or maple syrup and a little cinnamon drizzled on top (or, okay, chocolate syrup sometimes), a little tupperware thing with cheese curds and whole grain crackers, and another little thing with, for example, a mixture of cereal and raisins.  Yes, it’s all sort of “snacky” food, but it’s GOOD snacky food, and it covers a wide variety of different food groups.  I’d vary it more if I could get her to eat a greater variety, but this is usually what she’ll eat. 

(Our school, by the way, does “trash free” lunches, where we are to send food in reusable containers wherever possible.  It’s been surprisingly easy, and in fact was the beginning of my mission to cut down our garbage production footprint.)

Is a salami sandwich on Wonder bread, or whatever variation thereon one tried, really a “better” lunch than this?