Category Archives: DIY

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.


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!

I have food on my face. (Mocha-Frappuchino Facial Mask)

I may have mentioned that Crunchy Betty rocks.

Today, since I had the ingredients all in my fridge, and since I was going to work from home this morning anyway, I decided to try her Mocha-Frappucino Facial Mask.  My face has been getting sort of dull and oogy, and since ditching most of the commercial products I haven’t really settled upon anything new to keep it life-ful, so I figured what the heck. So here I sit, with a sort of odd mixture of coffee grounds, cocoa powder, yogurt, and honey on my face. Feels sort of weird, but no weirder than any other mask I’ve ever used–what’s more bizarre is the delightful smell surrounding me–yes, this is food I’m wearing on my face.  It’s scary-easy to make, just mix equal parts (I honestly made way less than her recipe) coffee grounds, cocoa powder, and plain yogurt, with half-a-part honey (I did a teaspoon each of the first three and then half a teaspoon of honey, which was plenty for my face for one use), schmoosh them up good, and smear them on your face. Wait a bit, rinse off, while gently rubbing the coffee grounds around to exfoliate. Which I’m going to do now…hang on for a few minutes, okay?

VERDICT: Holy ever-loving Mother of God. I mean, with full out Hail-Mary-full-of-grace-thank-God-for-my-amazing-feeling-face.  (I don’t mean to take her in vain or anything–I’m sure if she had access to this facial mask she’d be just as blown away.) Wow, I totally didn’t expect it to be this unbelievable.  It took me longer than I expected to get back to my computer just because I was standing up there just sort of touching my skin for a few minutes, not quite believing what it feels like. Pores closed up, nice and smoothly consistent all over, no scary tingles or burny feeling or anything. Just plain…lovely.

A couple of notes: First of all, I didn’t take Betty’s advice on two fronts: one, she said if one is going to use recycled coffee grounds one should use ones that were very fresh, like within 20 minutes of brewing. And that due to mess, one should probably rinse it off in the shower.  I did not take these pieces of advice for one basic reason: I didn’t want to try this while my family was home, and sit there with a brown lumpy face at breakfast while I drink my coffee and have them give me crap over it.  So I waited till they were gone, then used the grounds, and washed in the sink.  I do not feel particular caffiene jitters at the moment, and I did not make a huge mess in the bathroom…but one of these days I should try it with non-used, freshly ground beans instead and see what comes of it.

All my friends whom I love–the next time you feel tempted to go out and buy some expensive facial mask or wash or whatever, please, please try this first! Do it when your loved ones aren’t home, you don’t have to tell anyone, just give it a shot. (Er…make sure you’re not allergic to any of the ingredients first, okay?)  It’s incredibly cheap, is ten times better than any store-bought mask I’ve ever found, and believe me I’ve found a few, and it’s AMAZING.

Okay, time to start working. With this lovely smell of chocolate still all around my face…

Canning Tomatoes (as easy as I could make it)

Okay, so despite a previous attempt being enough to resolve me to never do it again, I was seduced by the $13/half-bushel canning tomatoes at the local farmstand, so I took the plunge and tried it.

Last time I did tomato sauce, which involved endless food mill time  (it was my first time using the food mill–I do not like it, Sam I am! Glad I only paid $12 on ebay for the thing, because I really dislike using it!) and even more endless cooking down time, and which in the end still didn’t give me the result I wanted.  So this time I took it easier and just did plain old Chunky Canned Tomatoes.  Nothing added except a little lemon juice and red wine vinegar (because I ran out of lemon juice).  I’ll do the adding at the other end, when I cook. has very good and easy directions for tomato canning, as do a few more places–at this point I feel comfortable enough canning that I do improvise slightly as long as I make sure safety measures (long enough processing time, sufficient acid content) are followed.  So here’s what I did; total 2  hours with kids scurrying around and one barfing dog to deal with during that time, and the last 45 minutes was just waiting for the jars to process. The reason I improvised was that I wanted something bigger than diced tomatoes but which would already have cored and seeded the tomatoes before canning them.  And I wanted something that would have the tomatoes packed in their own juice, not water or juice-purchased-elsewhere.  And trust me–this method makes a LOT of its own juice!

Jenn’s Easy Canned Tomatoes

Put the canning pot on to boil FIRST.  It’s a big sucker, and if you have a gas stove, it’ll take forever.

Put 7 or so quart canning jars in the dishwasher AT THE SAME TIME.  And lightly simmer the lids, and follow whatever jar prep processes you like to follow.

Washing the tomatoes: Since these were not organic (even though they were local), I did definitely want to wash them.  I filled half the sink with soapy water and the other half with clear.  Swished them around in the soapy water, scrubbed them a bit, shifted them to the clear water.  Rinsed out the soapy half and filled it again with clear cold water. (I didn’t use much soap; if you’re worried about rinsing, hey, rinse more!)

At this point, you’ll want to have ready:

  • Big pot of boiling water
  • Big cutting board and sharp knife
  • Sink or MASSIVE bowl with cold water and ice cubes
  • bowl for tomato skins and stems
  • bowl for seeds and juice (what you’re discarding or doing something else with)
  • bowl or pot for tomato pieces (what you’re canning)
  • Lots of cleaning rags or paper towels.
  • Clothes you don’t give a crap about, or a good apron, or both

When the water’s at a full boil, put as many tomatoes in as you can reasonably fit and let them stay for maybe 3 minutes. (I went 5 once for a batch and it didn’t hurt anything.) During this 3 minutes, add a bunch of ice cubes to the clear cold water sink. Then remove the tomatoes to that icy water immediately to keep them from cooking more.

At this point, honestly, I just used the tomato-skin water as my canning water, but if you chose to you could put new water on to boil right about now.

At this point the skin should slide off easily. Cut the stem end off, slide the skin off, and cut the tomato horizontally in half. Squeeze the seeds and inner juice into a separate bowl, and then squish the tomato pulp itself into your pot. (Oddly, this isn’t as gross as it sounds.) Continue this process until your pot is full or you run out of tomatoes. (I didn’t use my biggest pot and needed two batches. Live and learn.)

Put the pot of tomatoes on the stove and heat, and let it simmer for just a few minutes.

Into each quart jar, put a tablespoon or two (opinions vary–go with 2.) of lemon juice.  This removes any doubt about the acid level of your tomatoes. Spoon tomatoes into quart jars, stir or “bubble” them down to make sure you don’t have air pockets,  and add a little more juice from the pot as needed to fill them to the right head space level.  I got just under 7 quarts of tomatoes, so one of my jars is very juice-heavy; I might just make tomato paste or something out of it, I don’t know.  Place lids on, screw rings on lightly (“finger-tight,” is what they say), and process for 45 minutes in a hot water bath.

(And as usual–please do your homework on safe canning procedures– is a good site, and I have listed a bunch of others at The Green Phone Booth. I am not a nutritionist, a doctor, or even a proper foodie, and I don’t even pretend to play one on the Internet. Consider this the disclaimer.)

I also, by the way, didn’t want to dispose of all that lovely tomato juice–I strained the seeds out (and it’s unbelievable how many seeds I did successfully get out of those tomatoes!), boiled it down a bit so it was less watery, and ended up with about a quart and a half of nice, fresh-tasting tomato juice.  If you like tomatoes but don’t think you like tomato juice, give this stuff a try–it tastes simply like fresh tomatoes, and comparing it to anything I’ve gotten out of a bottle at the store is like comparing fresh summer peaches to the canned “cling peaches in heavy syrup” ones you get in the canned fruit aisle. I didn’t do the “proper” canning procedure with it, just the highly suspect “open kettle” method we’re not supposed to use any more, because I plan to drink it all within the next week or so anyway. (See the Food In Jars blog for other things not to do when you’re canning, and other handy Canning 101 tips!)

Made chili with one quart, just to see how they did: delicious.  Very very good.

Only weird thing, probably because I didn’t cook them down enough beforehand–in the couple of days after sealing, the “head space” has increased quite a bit; they aren’t even close to full now. I’m assuming the tomato stuff just sort of broke down, and the air trapped inside the tomatoes is no longer inside but outside them, which means they won’t keep as long in the jars; I should have simmered them longer…(That’s okay–the way I use tomatoes, I’ll be lucky if they make it to November). Also, I was victim of the apparently very common issue of the water separating from the pulp, which mean I had an inch of sort of unattractive yellowish water at the bottom and the tomatoes at the top; it’s not a big deal, according to the sites I checked, and once I shook them up again after the jars cooled it hasn’t re-separated.

This was easy enough and tasty enough that I would do it again and probably will next year, maybe going for a full bushel (14 quarts in the end) instead of this year’s half bushel (7 quarts)–my canner holds seven quarts at a time, so that would basically be two full batches, probably more like 3-4 hours total.

Wrap Shorts! (a tutorial)

Okay, I am sitting here wearing the absolute most comfy shorts ever. And I made them myself the other day, in literally about 40 minutes which included a couple of breaks to answer the phone, greet the kids, and feed the dogs.

The basic tutorial you can find in all kinds of places with a google search of “how to make wrap pants.”  They are incredibly, amazingly, easy.  If my instructions here are not complete enough, definitely check out places like Indietutes, Crafty Tutorials (who make them look almost sexy, which they don’t on me), or Laupre, who all have instructions and photos for how to make and wear the things.  You can make them in almost any length–floor length, capri, or even shorts. Which is what I did this time, since I love my long ones so much.

You need a sewing machine and fabric.  How much fabric kinda depends on how big you are.  For me, it took about a yard and a quarter to make shorts.  It would take more like two and a half yards to make long pants. It’s also your call what kind of fabric to use–I have a bunch of really lovely light cool batik stuff I got on sale probably 4 years ago that’s been sitting in my stash all this time…it works beautifully for this kind of garment.

Measuring Fabric

This is, honestly, the trickiest part.  you are going to make two identical rectangles.  The “length” measurement is easy–measure from your waist to wherever you want the pants or shorts to come on you, add about an inch for hemming (1/2 inch each top and bottom, or more if you make bigger hems), and there you go.  That’s your “length.”

The “width” of each rectangle is slightly trickier.  There are different formulas to use, but the one that works best for me is something like this:

Take your waist (or hip, depending on where you want the pants to sit) measurement. =A

Divide your hip measurement by 4=B

Add an inch or however much you want for hem=C

Add together measurement A+B+C=width of each panel.

For example, say you have a hip measurement of 40″. Divided by 8 that’s 5″.  You’ll do an inch of hem. 40+5+1=46″ wide. Cut two of these. (Hint: If you are using 44″ wide fabric and your number comes anywhere in the vicinity of 44″ one way or the other, you can get away with not having to hem the sides of your pants, and just use the selvedge, which is usually nice and clean! Ditto if, like me, you need 45″ long pants, you can avoid the bottom hem.)


Fold the two rectangles so that what will be the inseam of the pants/shorts is on the fold. (That is, fold across the width, not the length.)  Here you need to cut your crotch curve, which will represent the only real seam in the pants at all. And here we need another formula:

Crotch depth: measure from where the pants will lie on your hip/waist, down to the center crotch.  Add 3 (or so) to this number. (Alternatively, if you have a good pair of pants that fit really well, you can take your crotch curve from them.) Measure this many inches down the fold and mark.

Crotch width: take your hip measurement divided by 8. (Remember? Measurement B from above, halved because it’s now folded?) Measure that many inches away from the fold and mark.

Then you just cut the curve.  How curvy to make it is up to you–you don’t want an absolute square, but you don’t want to undercut either.  Trust your judgement. 🙂


With right sides of the fabric together, sew the two pieces together along the crotch curves.  Make this seam really strong–I usually sew it twice and then zigzag the edges just to be safe.  Try the pants on at this point to make sure they fit right, that you like the way the curve you just sewed fits, that your fabric isn’t too long or short or wide or narrow. (if  it’s too narrow…you’re kinda out of luck.  If it’s too wide, you can cut off the sides a little more, or if it’s too long you can shorten them. If you’re kinda close and wish you’d cut something an extra inch bigger, this is when you decide you’re going to do really narrow hems.


You can make the ties either out of ribbons or by sewing tubes of the actual fabric, right sides together, and then turning them right-side out.  Fabric ties tend to be sturdiest, but they also are bulkier and can make odd lumps.  Grosgrain ribbon is excellent and doesn’t slip after you tie the bow. Cut four ribbons or ties of whatever length you prefer, and sew them onto the four top corners of the pants. (Check and double-check this–it’s really easy at this point to sew something onto the wrong corner, or on the outside instead of the inside. Finish all the edges, top, bottom, and sides, using whatever kind of hem you wish.

Then go put ’em on! (the tutorials I listed above all have directions.  And I can just tell you now–there’s no dignified way to get them between your legs to tie the second bow. You’ll feel like an idiot, probably, but that’s okay, because how often do you put on pants when other people are there to see?) Like I say, they are comfy and lightweight, the perfect summer pants.  I’m planning on making a couple pairs of linen ones for work, since it can get muggy there, and hopefully a few more pairs of shorts.

And you, my friends who have sewing machines but are non-sewers…this project is TOTALLY for you!

Rainbarrel…and bench?

Okay, I think this is sort of cool–

The company is called Second Rain. They make these “integrated rain harvesting systems”–basically, cubes that fill from the bottom, so you can connect them to your downspout through tubing…you can use several of them in tandem, or stack them, or do all kinds of useful-pleasant-looking things with them…I think this is a very cool idea! Maybe when we re-do our backyard landscaping to get rid of some grass and gain some patio space and nice self-caring perennials…

The One-Hour Sundress pattern–gotta try this!

From an Igloo is one of my favorite crafty/sewey blogs, and I spend an inordinate amount of time looking at her patterns and tutorials and going, “Wow! I could totally make that!”  But somehow I never do…

This one, though, I bet I could handle:

The One Hour Sundress Tutorial

It looks fun and manageable and easy, involving a lot of rectangles, and it doesn’t require pinning fabric to slippery pieces of tissue paper and cutting it out with notches and  dots. And my daughter would love it.

I may also try the “bubblegum jumper,” as I am one of those exact people she describes who has a terror of buttonholes and needs some project or another to break the fear and just do it.  But this sundress looks impossibly easy–even I could do it.  And I have a couple of smaller fabric pieces I could make this work with, too…maybe Friday.  We’ll see.

In the meantime, I’ll spend a little more time looking at her patterns and tutorials and going, “Wow! I could totally make that!”…

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.