Archive for May, 2011

One of the hardest things for some gardeners to do is to let people in to help. Since I’ve been teaching about gardening in the last couple of years, I’ve gotten better at this. After all, the plants know what to do; someone’s “mistake” in a garden is not going to have that big an impact.

For someone so grouchy (who, me?), I seem to have accumulated quite a community centered around my gardening. It’s rather a pocket metaphor for how one’s life changes with time. In the past I had only brought people into the garden once a year or so, for a garden party we give each year at the flowers’ “peak,” around mid to late July. Now I’ve got friends helping me with tasks through my Hipster Supported Agriculture project, community gardens, and a huge online community of mentors and friends that is growing and developing daily.

This month we’ll be writing about our gardening communities, if you can describe thus the men that we corral into the heavy lifting. I have two semi-reluctant gardeners in my life: my son (call him Jay), and my husband, (call him Wei). (There’s a third one as well, my daughter Jee, she’s a little more reluctant and a lot better at resisting me.)

I think they’re fairly intimidated by the green things, except when it comes to eating, but can be convinced to build things– a pond, paths, patios, trellis, rain barrel systems, potting benches, fencing.

Wei is also very much into critters. Fish. Birds. Worms. He’s always goading me into getting chickens, and I’m pretty sure he’d like a hive, not to mention worm compost. We have binoculars at the kitchen window so he can spy on the birds.

It was the animals that finally got Wei into the garden, and got me to understand that it is, in fact, our garden, not just mine.

One summer day last year, Jay burst into the kitchen to exclaim that “the garden is just teeming– there are so many things alive out there!”  A garden is just the not-so-quiet center of life; it will touch all your communities, large and small, if you let it.

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Last week we spent several days cleaning my (Xan) mother-in-law’s apartment.

Before you get all sad on me, this was not because she passed, but because she invited friends from the Old Country, whom she has not seen in nearly 60 years, to stay with her.

Mom’s apartment is the subject of rueful, affectionate…,well, I have to say, disgust in the family. She never throws anything away (we’re talking thousands and thousands of those plastic bags you bring your veggies home in from the market), and  she likes to be able to “get at her things” meaning nothing goes into cabinets, it’s all out on counters. She fries everything. Rather than cleaning, everything is covered in little bits of saved plastic and old newspapers, which she changes, oh, once a decade. She’s 87 and frail.

When my daughter was 6, she ran barefoot into that kitchen and had to be carried back out, crying. The level of grease is not to be described.

We had to clean this needless to say. We cannot let people from the Old Country see how she lives. They’ll blame us! We started with her stock of cleaners– 409, Comet, Palmolive, that soap-treated steel wool, sponges. A couple of hours into it I realized these products were not going to work. I was feeling ill from the fumes, and things weren’t getting clean.

So I brought in my REAL clean stock–vinegar, washing soda, rags, brushes. Forgot the castille soap, so I stuck with the Palmolive as a surfactant. Halfway through I knew I would be writing this post, and was wishing I had brought my camera to document the difference.

And the difference was amazing. Easier, cleaner, and I felt like I could breathe. If these things can clean the Superfund site that was Mom’s kitchen, they can clean anything.

So, I’m making the transition. I have my borax. I have castile soap, washing soda, salts and vinegar at both the kitchen and the laundry stations. I have my Ligget’s bar shampoo (everyone’s been complimenting my hair) and I’m going to take Susy’s challenge and find a natural deodorant. I just took out towels washed in Peppermint castille soap, borax and vinegar; they’re hanging on my line in the basement and making the whole room smell wonderful.

Most of the difficulty of relearning the old cleaning skills is in, as I said in an earlier post, establishing a new routine. Instead of pouring out a capful of chemical cleaner, I need to measure, dissolve, and mix. Instead of just grabbing the product off the grocery store shelf, I have to hunt it down a bit. But routines can be changed, and old dogs like me can learn new tricks. Little by little I’ll start removing the old items from the household so that my husband will have no choice but to learn these new old ways as well.

And I think that together, we’ll save the world, one bar of soap at a time.


rose & lavender hand oil

For me, Jennifer, things haven’t changed too much this past month. I have had loads of fun mixing and experimenting with some new products. Researching has been a blast and I’m thrilled to see so much available on the internet for so many people to access. As for my cleaning supply list, I really didn’t purchase anything new, which I absolutely love! Of course we hope that most of you will purchase a whole lot LESS, but having already kept a basic group of items including Borax, cleaning soda, old boxes of baking soda, vinegar, and castile soap, well, purchasing was easy on me this month.

The few things I did pick up were nice oils for my skin which were absolutely lovely. I adore the rosewater hand oil that I created (which I lovingly coined “hand salad dressing” here at home), but regret not having time to play more with concocting new recipes. I’m hoping we get to do this again in a few months so I can experiment some more ::hint hint::. But my absolute favorite was the Milk & Honey with Coconut scrub I started using! My face feels amazing and the smell is just YUM.

So what does the future hold for me and Real Clean “products” and “not-products”? I am definitely going to take up Emily on the hair washing experiment; I’ve given up for the time-being on finding a recipe that I like for dishwasher detergent; and I will get back to brewing and concocting some more yummy hand lotions and balms.


We hope you’ve enjoyed our “Real Clean” month!

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Weekend photos

We’re changing the scheduling a little bit at Not Dabbling. You’ll have noticed this week’s “round up” on Monday, and our contributors Tuesday through Friday. On weekends you’ll find our photos. We may end up posting them all at the same time, or we may drop in bit by bit and show you what we’re up to on our “down” time as the weekend progresses.

So check back in, see what we’re dabbling in this weekend, and link to your own dabblings, post them on our Facebook page or add them to our Flickr group!


Here at Chiot’s Run we’ve been super busy working up our new garden area and planting all kinds of things. The rain has made it a bit of a challenge this year as the ground isn’t dry enough very often to work. This past week we finally had a dry week and I’ve been spending days in the garden from sunup to sundown (with my work thrown in wherever I can find time). I’m so loving the beautiful color in the garden, after a long dark cold winter it’s certainly wonderful to see everything bursting forth in bloom.


For the past three years, Memorial Day weekend has meant a gathering of old friends. It’s a weekend that my inner geek gets to explode! Hubby and I used to play World of Warcraft and a few of our old guildmates come to visit us every year. It’s funny: when you play a game online with the same people several evenings a week for several years, they become as close or closer to you than some “RL” (real life) friends.
rocking chair
We’re fortunate to have the space and the environment to become the annual hosts for the event. We’re also all fortunate that we’re each foodies, and appreciate a variety of different tastes. With those similarities we try to find the time to enjoy as much of the local food as possible, the cuisine and dining of the city, and they even allow me to fulfill my desire to cook for and entertain them.
Strawberry Hat
Yes, the Geek Week makes me happy in so many ways. I love my friends!


On a gloomy but finally warm(ish) day in Chicago I (Xan) spent the morning and early afternoon working a plant sale fundraiser and putting in my community garden’s “Grow2Give” beds– we’ve planted 11 4×6′ raised beds with tomatoes, peppers, beans, eggplants, okra, carrots, onions, leeks, broccoli, cabbage, plus a “Three Sisters” plot.  The plants were mostly grown by the greenhouse club at our local public high school and all harvests will go to the WIC program, the high school kids, and 4 local group homes for troubled teens. All the plants are logged on MyFolia.com as Peterson_Garden_Project.


Our weekend kicked off beautifully here at Tanglewood. My husband and I hosted what we have been calling the Tanglewood Detangling party and we spent the day with friends and students in the orchard, tearing and ripping and cutting and hacking away at the terrible invasives that were choking the geriatric apple trees. While this was all going on, my younger students worked to diligently transplant at least 150 lettuce seedlings (forellenschluss lettuce – I loved trying to teach them how to pronounce it!) By the end of the day you could barely recognize the place! It looks wonderful! We thanked everybody with a pizza feast with rhubarb lemonade and various REAL food pizzas including my favorite – asparagus, oyster mushrooms (home grown!) and basil pesto.

How is your long weekend coming along?

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REAL itchy

Well, I have proven once again that I am allergic to poison ivy. While string-trimming out around the newly planted (and recently flooded) fruit trees at our farm I found myself knee deep in poison ivy, mid-weed-whip. I looked down in horror to find myself covered in itty bitty little flecks of green, some of which were bound to be the ground up leaves of the poison ivy in which I was standing. Covered. I had them on my face, in my hair, on my legs, hands, neck, shoulders. Did I mention I was in shorts and a tank top? I was at first mortified, and then a sort of strange calm came over me. Hey! There’s nothing I could do about it at that point! So I continued trimming the poison ivy and upon finishing I dashed into the house, grabbed my bottle of all natural dish detergent and ran to the shower.

Have you ever taken a shower in dish detergent? It’s slimy, and certainly not friendly if you have dry skin! The reason for detergent is that you need something to cut oil asap. Poison ivy rashes are caused by the oil in the plant called urushiol. What a cool word, right? oo-ROO-she-ol. It’s fun to say. Not so much fun to have a reaction to. Many people are under the impression that poison ivy causes “poison” filled blisters to appear on your skin. They believe that if these blisters burst, the rash will spread. In fact, the “ooze” that is found in these blisters is just fluid from your body as it reacts to the urushiol. When poison ivy “spreads” it’s really just your body continuing to react to the urushiol that it has already been exposed to. Poison ivy rashes are simply (very common) allergic reactions to urushiol. In fact, some people aren’t even allergic to poison ivy at all!

When I was a kid, I was terribly allergic to poison ivy. The past few years have proven that I’ve become less so, and I was convinced that I’d grown out of my allergy entirely. I still scrub like mad if I know I’ve gotten into some, simply because it’s not worth it to be wrong. The itch that accompanies poison ivy rashes is a very unique itch. It’s like a burning, intense, throbbing itch that demands your attention. It’s terrible. Yesterday morning, I woke to “The Itch” on my neck. It’s always somewhere super visible too!

I used all sorts of remedies for poison ivy when I was a kid. Calamine, with it’s creepy pinkish-white opacity, was a common one. Cortizone was another one. I decided this time, however, I was going to find something natural to treat the itch. (I know this is more of a remedies post than a cleaning post, but it’s certainly relevent!) I did some internet research and found that people actually put chlorine bleach on their poison ivy rashes. What?! That’s ridiculous. Obviously you need something that will dry out the rash, but bleach is such an extreme and noxious answer to a simple problem.

You may have noticed by now that oats, vinegar and baking soda seem to be common in all of the cleaning recipes posted. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t live without any of them. Oats, or oatmeal even, seem to be one of the most soothing things I can think of for skin irritation. This morning I tried a compress of steaming hot (organic) oats wrapped in muslin and within moments I was feeling relief from the itch, not to mention calmed by the sweet smell of oats. I followed up with a paste of baking soda and water (apparently you can mix oatmeal right in with this paste, but I was being lazy) and then after leaving that on for some time I rinsed it off in a light wash of apple cider vinegar. Tada! I was itch free! It will take a few days to tell if these remedies really hold up.

I’m finishing the whole thing off with a light application of calendula-based cream that I happened to buy a few months ago at a farmer’s market. The ingredients are great – beeswax, calendula, goldenseal. Calendula and goldenseal are great healing herbs, and I hope this summer to make my own calendula oil. Unfortunately right now the calendula is just budding up, and the blossoms that were open were destroyed by torrential downpours earlier this week, so it’ll be a while before I get to pick and dry many blossoms.

Have you tried any natural remedies for poison ivy?

Want to read more from Tanglewood Farm? Check out Emily’s blog over at A Pinch of Something Nice where she writes about her experiences with her gardens, her livestock and her leased historical home in SE Michigan.

Also, make sure you check out Susy’s great recent post on Poison Ivy over at Chiot’s Run.

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I have had a whirlwind of a month and admittedly have not had the chance to try all of the fun recipes and concoctions that I had planned on. I suppose that’s what happens when you do so much on impulse and forget that there are only 24 hours in a day. That, and I’m a complete ditz when it comes to remembering all the things I want to do in a day.


So here’s a list of webby things that I looked into this past month that I wanted to try:

Strawberry leaf mouthwash via The Green Girls

Our very own Chiot’s Run’s (Susy) recipe for toothpaste

Go through and create a Spring Cleaning Kit c/o Mountain Rose Herbs blog

Make the All-Purpose Cleaner and Tough Dirt and Grease Formula at Rodale.com

(Honestly since I cut out a lot of commercial cleaners so long ago, I don’t miss having all of the bottles of goop around. The thought of having to stock up on spray bottles for one specific use irritates me a bit, but that’s a rant for another post!)

All of these which I could’ve done in the time it took me to write this column today.

Now the one thing I really, really wanted to do that didn’t get the opportunity to do was to create my own Burt’s Bees hand salve recipe. Mmmm I adore Burt’s Bees, but I can’t necessarily afford it as quickly as I can go through it. Fortunately I can get my own beeswax for free (and you can purchase it cheaply through Mountain Rose Herbs) and other items  can be found in my home, at health food stores, or at MRH. If you’re vegan, you can use shea butter or cocoa butter as an alternative to beeswax. Here are some ideas at TipNut.

What projects will you try?

Jennifer can also be found at Unearthing this Life where she blargs about her life in rural Tennessee – at least when she’s not out working the fields to death!

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Deodorant is probably one of the hardest things to find a REAL version of that you like and that works for you. That’s probably because as humans we’re made to sweat – there’s a reason that we do – it’s not just some random thing that happens. It takes a lot of pretty serious chemicals, waxes and other weirdness to make us not sweat. As a society we’ve become so worried about pseudo cleanliness and often associate a “natural” smell with being unclean – which is really kind of a sad state of affairs if you think about it. We prefer to give ourselves cancer and other health problems by wanting to smell like synthetic things and look down upon those that smell “normal” and “natural”.

I have a bit of a different perspective on this because I grew up in Colombia, South America. Since it was a third world country while I was living there, the standard of living was very meager. Most people didn’t wear deodorant because they could barely afford food, much less something that would make them not sweat. Since the city we lived in was on the equator, it was hot, hot, hot. Since sweating helps your body cool off, the last thing you want is to not sweat. Deodorant was usually just a quick wash or a shower before bed, or before you went to the store. Everyone smelled sweaty and no one thought anything of it, it was just the natural way to smell. I think because of this the smell of sweat isn’t offensive to me, it doesn’t bother me when people smell a little, I find it “normal”. I know most folks who have grown up in the United States have a different view of this. A fear of “smelling” of anything natural is instilled in us from a young age. Somehow we’ve equated the smell of sweat to being unclean.

Now if it were a perfect world, we could simply quit wearing deodorant, tell people we were going natural and they would accept us even if we smelled a little sweaty – but that’s not the case. People expect us to not smell, or to even to sweat for that matter. As members of this type of society we try to find a balance between not poisoning ourselves and yet trying to mitigate the natural odors that come from being human.

Probably the biggest hurdle for folks making the switch to an all-natural deodorant is that you actually perspire. Most people wear anti-perspirants which blocks the production of sweat. Moisture in your pits can be a bit weird if you’ve been wearing anti-perspirant for you entire life. All-natural deodorants have ingredients that are supposed to limit the growth of odor producing bacteria that can happen when you sweat, they don’t stop you from sweating. I think another one of the big hurdles of switching to a non-toxic deodorant is that we all have different body chemistry. We all produce different kinds of bacteria and perspire at different rates. That means you’ll probably have to try a few different products until you find one that works for you.  You also have to be careful when choosing an all-natural deodorant because sometimes they still contain questionable ingredients.  We purchased an “all-natural, aluminum free” deodorant from Arm & Hammer and when we read the ingredient list it was was filled with unpronounceable chemicals.

I’ve used a few of the products we’ve purchased – but to be honest I rarely wear deodorant. I have very sensitive skin and my armpits have always been ultra-sensitive to just about everything.  I’ve always preferred to not wear it rather than to have red irritated armpits. Because of this, Mr Chiots has been the guinea pig for this experiment in our family. He’s been willing to try to products and head out in the heat of the day to work up a sweat to put the products through their paces. Here’s a summary of each of the products that we’ve tried and who likes each product best:

Burt’s Bees Men’s Deodorant
This is a men’s deodorant so I didn’t try it. Mr Chiots did not like this deodorant at all, not one bit. He wore it once or twice and that was it. He didn’t like the feel and he said it didn’t work at all.  The smell is rather nice though if you’re looking for a “manly” smelling deodorant this is a good one.  The ingredients are pretty normal too, nothing to weird.

Tropical Traditions All-Natural Deodorant
Until this, I had never used a roll-on deodorant and I must admit – it was a little weird to put a wet product under my arms. You kind of have to hold your arms up for a minute or two for the product to dry – which really isn’t a problem. Mr Chiots was not a fan of this at all, I didn’t mind it so much. This deodorant worked fairly well. I found that it worked even better if you reapply halfway through the day. The three fragrances are all nice, I used the lavender and Mr Chiots opted for the Frankincense. I’ll keep using this product when I need deodorant (which is only when I’m going out in public for a long period of time). I like that all the ingredients are something I wouldn’t be afraid of consuming. Tropical Traditions was kind enough to offer to send one of our lucky readers some of their all natural deodorant to try. All you have to do is comment below for your chance to win. I’ll announce the winner next week!

Crystal Stick Body Deodorant
Mr Chiots and I have both tried this product. I don’t particularly care for it as it irritates my underarm skin making me itchy. Mr Chiots loves this product – it’s his favorite product by far. He likes that it goes on easily and dries quickly. He appreciates that it isn’t creamy or too textured. For him this product worked better than all the others that he tried.  He’s been using this produce exclusively for the last few months and is very happy with it.

One of the best all natural forms of deodorant is to simply wash each evening. It’s all natural (if you’re using non-toxic soap) and you don’t have to keep an extra product around! If you don’t want to take a full shower, simply wash your armpits with a washcloth & soap. This is the method I use often as I find a bar of soap to be the best defense for underarm odor.

I know a lot of you make your own deodorant and have recipes for them. List them below if you’d like, or write up the recipe on your blog and link to it in the comments. One lucky commenter will win an All-Natural Deodorant from Tropical Traditions. We have a winner!

Have you found a type of all-natural deodorant that you like? Do you make your own?

For an extra chance at winning sign up for the Tropical Traditions Sale e-mails (they have great sales all the time) or follow them on Twitter as they tweet their sales.

I can also be found at Chiot’s Run where I blog daily about gardening, cooking, local eating, maple sugaring, and all kinds of stuff. You can also find me at Ethel Gloves, Simple, Green, Frugal, Co-op, and you can follow me on Twitter.

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Sometimes the most mundane activity inspires the most profound thoughts. After gathering a spring harvest of radishes and early onions, I slipped a piece of bright red crunch into my mouth and experienced the most revelatory moment:

I made this.

Urban Americans are so disconnected from food origins that it takes a profound act of courage to eat something that no one has inspected, or vetted, or processed, or labeled, or packaged. In a culture where every single piece of fruit literally has a label and a number; where small storefront grocery stores are mistrusted if not demonized; where children ask “what is it” when confronted with a cherry tomato on the vine, and have never snipped the ends off a bean, eating something that only you and God have touched is nearly subversive, if not actively revolutionary.

I learned from a friend on MyFolia that “in the UK, everyone is ENTITLED to an allotment, because “landless citizens have a right to the commons.” Here in the states we’ve let cities like Detroit and New Orleans die, because god forbid someone should use someone else’s land (i.e. vacant, abandoned lot) to grow their own food. God forbid the government or private companies should be compelled to redeem land that they allowed those companies to poison, so that no one CAN use it to grow things on, while allowing agribusiness to drench our inspected, vetted, processed, labeled, packaged foods with poison.

I grew a radish, a carrot, a tomato, a bean. I ate it hot from the sun—God’s hand to my mouth.

I am a revolutionary.

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