Next on my list of problems to solve in a greener, chemical-free way was hand cream.

These hands are working hands, battered even…  They suffer in the kitchen (poor knife skills according to beloved hubby!) and in the garden (I KNOW, I should wear gloves…) and even on hikes they get stabbed & snagged by thorny bushes more often than not.  And they get really, really dry.  I get through tubes of hand cream trying to nourish and repair them.

Making my own hand cream took a little research and some forward thinking.  Turns out most good homemade lotions contain shea butter – an ingredient I haven’t figured out how to source here in Montenegro yet.  Steve’s recent visit to the UK saw him return with goodies for my hands: sweet almond oil (which I have since found out can be sourced quite cheaply across the border in Bosnia), shea butter & beeswax pellets.  I should be able to source beeswax locally & cheaply but it may take some time to arrange – knowing Monte! – and I was desperate to get cracking & avoid buying any more commercially produced products laden with goodness knows what nasties so I caved in & ordered the pellets online too.

Together with my coconut oil, I now had the basics of a lotion:

March - hand cream 1

Ingredients for homemade hand cream

I combined 2 tbs shea butter, coconut oil & sweet almond oil with 1 tbs of beeswax (the other advantage of getting pellets is you can measure by spoonfuls!) in a glass jug which went inside a saucepan 1/3 filled with boiling water, bain-marie stylie.  On a medium heat, the water bubbled & the contents of the jar slowly melted, helped along by a vigorous stir with a chopstick every minute or 2.

March - hand cream 2

Ingredients melting in a makeshift bain-marie

Once fully melted, I removed from the heat and allowed to cool for a few minutes before adding in the last critical ingredients: essential oils.  Lavender is antiseptic, anti fungal & healing, Geranium has multiple benefits including improving the health of skin & also has a wonderful smell and Cedarwood tightens the skin and protects it from toxins and bacteria.  All 3 oils blend well together.

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Molten liquid, cooling slightly before adding essential oils

I added a few drops of each oil into the mix and whilst still melted poured it into a glass jar.  Here’s the finished product after 5-10 mins when properly set:

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Jar of homemade hand cream!

Never mind all the pretty pictures – does it actually work???  Yes!  So far, so good.  It feels greasy when it goes on but I don’t mind that at all and I’ve got into the habit of applying it just before I go to sleep so that it soaks into my hands overnight.  And you don’t need much.  A month into my new experiment & I’ve hardly dented the contents of my jar – just a little blob thoroughly worked in will do the job.  And it smells delicious.

I’ve yet to work out how cost effective it is.  I will see how long all the ingredients I have invested in last and then calculate the cost but I suspect it will be a long while before I’ll know for sure.  I have enough ingredients to make another 3-4 jars and if this jar lasts as long as I think it will, I’ve probably got 12 months+ to go before they are all used up…

Since I’ve been blogging and facebook posting about green body care, people around me have been surprising me with their contribution to my ‘kind to the environment, kind to me’ journey.  Turns out that at least 2 good friends here haven’t washed their hair with shampoo for a while, either – in one case it’s been years.  Another friend, Nadia, has given me herbs from the Yemen to condition my face.  The first time I used it (see pic below) I didn’t get the right consistency of powdered herbd to water so it didn’t really spread well on my face, but subsequent uses have been more successful and it feels amazing.  I leave it on for a few minutes and then wash it off in the shower.

March - face mask

Yemeni herbs in face mask!

 

Helping to clean Steve’s temporary bridge with some weird floss brought me very close to the reality of dental hygiene.  I want healthy, white teeth please & a sweet smelling mouth.

So when Nadia’s husband Tom, recommended a homemade tooth powder recipe that he said was working wonders, I got interested.  I did some online research into keeping teeth healthy – the articles are many & varied & I’ll let you form your own judgements but here’s a rough summary of what I found:

  • Being an overall healthy person is the real key to healthy teeth!  A healthy diet promotes healthy saliva and ensures that your blood is rich in minerals that feed your teeth.
  • Proper mastication helps a lot – chew your food well to exercise your teeth and gums (use ‘em or lose ‘em…).  I’m now trying to chew each mouthful of food at least 20 times and eat more raw food.
  • Remineralisation of teeth is the key.  Sodium fluoride that’s in most commercial toothpaste actually demineralises your teeth by removing the calcium which discolours them & makes them brittle in the long term.  Fluoride (or more precisely the chemical mixture contained in toothpaste & labelled fluoride) is pretty damn toxic actually…
  • Glycerin (present in commercial toothpaste) coats the teeth and traps the bacteria in.  Teeth will naturally re-enamelise but are prevented from doing so when coated with glycerin.
  • Proper saliva pH is critical – acidic saliva is bad & since stress can create acids in the body, staying chilled is good for your teeth!
  • A good flow of saliva is also important.  Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS) – found in commercial toothpaste –  contributes to ‘dry mouth’ where less saliva is produced.  SLS attacks the mucus membranes of the mouth, altering the structure of the skin, and can potentially cause toxins & chemicals to enter the blood stream, which in turn impacts health and takes us back to the first bullet above!

Yikes!!!  Unsurprisingly, with all this evidence stacked against commercial toothpaste, I didn’t need much encouragement to try out Tom’s recipe.  It’s a simple powder made from powdered clay – yes, I’m brushing my teeth with DIRT!!

Bentonite clay helps absorb toxins, heavy metals and impurities.  A tsp of this is mixed with a tsp of bicarb of soda (which raises the saliva pH to tooth-friendly levels and seems to whiten teeth too) and 3 calcium-magnesium capsules (which feeds the teeth the right minerals).

March - toothpaste 2

Ingredients for homemade tooth powder

Tom recommended grinding cinnamon, cloves & mint and adding to the mix for a fresh & pleasant taste.

March - toothpaste 1

Grinding whole cloves in a pestle & mortar for my tooth powder

I have been using the homemade tooth powder for the past 4 weeks.  I LOVE it.  It was weird at first not to have a ‘paste’ that foams  – SLS in commercial toothpaste ‘excites’ your mouth and makes it feel tingly, especially combined with menthol – but I’m actually brushing my teeth for longer and more thoroughly because I don’t get this effect.  I simply dip my moistened brush into the powder & get to work with my electric toothbrush (apparently using your toothbrush with nothing on it is probably better than using toothpaste as the abrasive action dislodges any food remnants & stimulates gums without introducing any chemicals).

The powder is strangely salty (from the bicarb of soda) at first but I got used to it really quickly and I am really happy about the aftertaste of clove & cinnamon and it seems to keep my breath really fresh.  I have ditched commercial mouthwash now too.

Two things that I’ve noticed after just a month: my teeth seem whiter and they feel less sensitive.  And it’s a winner cost-wise too!  I reckon I have a year’s worth of tooth powder for less than £10.

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March, the month in which…

… Steve finally got the consultation he needed in the UK & got an all clear on a potential cyst in his jaw.  No more wasting time & money on arranging appointments only to have them cancelled & an end to the nagging doubts.  Phew!

… Steve purchased an alarm system whilst in the UK to combat our fears re: security at our house.  He installed all the devices & sensors – the system will even phone us on our mobiles if there’s an intruder!

… It rained in biblical proportions! A whole day and night of heavy rain by the coast on 3rd March caused chaos.  Roads disintegrated & fell off cliffs, storm drains overflowed, waterfalls cascaded everywhere.  And in the North where the rain had fallen as snow, roads were closed by drifts as high as cars.  The following morning the Bura came & blew the Boka clear again.  I drove around the Bay early that morning and was in awe:  where had all the water gone???  look at the snow on the mountains!!  Wow.

… Spring was definitely sprung!  Green shoots abound and nature is bursting with colour & scent – violets, the early orchids, narcissi, daisies…

… The garden thrived.  Regular downpours interspersed with warm sunny days sent the onions, broad beans & peas shooting skyward.  A few carrot seedlings are now emerging too.  I completed most of the digging & weeding & sowing this month.

March - garden

View of the raised beds mid March

The last of the raised beds were weeded & enriched with manure.  When you click on the photo above, you may notice newspaper on the beds (held down with stones) under which the carrot seeds were germinating (they need moisture to sprout and the paper helps to keep their seed bed damp).  We moved the structure that last year’s volunteer, Jenn, had made for supporting our beans.  It was a struggle for Steve & I to handle it by ourselves as it’s super tall & heavy but we managed somehow & it survived the move OK.  After a few adjustments & Steve re-wiring the cross supports, it was solid & stable again but now 20 cms shorter (we chainsawed the legs off!) so hopefully the beans won’t grow beyond a point that we can pick them this year!

March - Den sowing seeds

Den sowing seeds in the salad bed

Some chard & rocket had survived the winter, so they got transplanted into the salad bed along with the lettuces I’d been growing at the house in trays.  I sowed lettuce, rocket & radish seed & some cvekla (beetroot) too.  All the marigolds I’d sowed some 5 weeks before were now strong, thriving plants dying to get out of their densely packed pots so they got transplanted into the raised beds to begin their mission of warding off pests & bugs.

I dug over the orchard, adding ‘humanure’ shovelled from our compost toilet chambers:

March - humanure

Steve shovelling poo! We got 4 barrows of ‘humanure’ this Spring

 

and sowed cornflowers, poached egg plants, nigella, sunflowers and other saved seed.  Most of the geraniums had been killed by frost but a few were sprouting from the base again and the cuttings I’d taken at the end of the autumn had all sprouted strong roots so I planted those out too.  The tyre wall took an entire day to weed & there’s still more work to do to enrich the soil there.

March - weeding tyre wall

Den weeding the tyre wall & this time remembering to wear her gloves!

And at the garden at our house, we pruned the grapevine & the kiwi, with the help of local friend, Vedran:

March - pruning vines

Steve & Vedran pruning the grapvine

 

At the end of the month, the ‘nursery’ looked like this:

March - nursery

100’s of flowers waiting to be planted out!!!

with cosmos, zinnia, petunia, lobelia, pansy, sweet pea, mesembryanthemum, hibiscus & snapdragon all waiting to be freed from their now-cramped pots into the garden.  And 60+ tomato plants romping away, including a few black tomatoes this year too!

March - toms

Tomatoes-to-be!

And we are SO enjoying fresh herbs in our home cooked dishes…

March - herbs

Coriander, dill & basil

… I enjoyed some lovely hikes with friends & dogs.  Equipped with my new smart phone, taking photos on hikes is easy – no more lugging the heavy Canon around.  Here’s some pics from mine & Daisy’s favourite daily walk to a ruined house on a lovely terraced plot with plenty of room for running after sticks:

March - Daisy walk

Beautiful ruined house

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Daisy waiting for the next stick to be thrown!

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A view of the wooded terraces

And the Mimosa that struggled to get going in February was in full bloom in March:

March - Daisy walk 4

Mimosa in bloom

At the beginning of the month 4 of us girlies and 5 dogs went a’ hiking from the village of Gonja Lastva to the highest point on the Vrmac ridge:

March - Vramac walk 1

The view on the way up

March - Vramac walk 2

Snack break half way up with Katie, Laura & Jen

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Stunning snow capped mountains in the distance

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What animal was this??? The dogs were very interested in the bones!

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The view from the very top where it was mighty windy!

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Stunning view of the Bay below on the way down

Other hikes this month: up above Trebesin with Jen, Berni & Daisy; to Tvrdava Traste (Fort Traste) and Stutzpunkt Grabovac (the advanced infantry position) on Lustica with Katie & Tim & the dogs & a quick hike over Bigova with Jen, Mich & the dogs before the rain set in.

… I enjoyed some good times with girlfriends.  In the month of International Women’s Day, I spent stimulating, entertaining & inspiring evenings (& a lunch date) with some great International Women!  I’m lucky to enjoy the company of ladies from Kenya, Canada, South Africa, France, Holland, Portugal, Peru & UK not to mention all the local ladies.  This month with various beautiful ladies I have swapped recipes, got tipsy, stayed up all night putting the world to rights, been inspired by new ideas & philosophies and enjoyed some fabulous food, not least a Peruvian feast prepared by Liset & Nadia including dishes like this:

Salsa de Ocopa

Salsa de Ocopa

… I read ‘To Rise Again At A Decent Hour’ by Joshua Ferris.

Joshua Ferris bookThe back cover declares: ‘Some of the funniest, cleverest and kindest writing I have read in a long time’ and I wonder if I’m reading the same book?!  It was often amusing, but ‘riotously funny’???  Not for me.  I left the book feeling confused, wondering if I just wasn’t smart enough to grasp it’s appeal.  There were a lot of references to subjects that (putting it mildly) didn’t exactly play to my interests – baseball, dentistry, the Jewish religion…  And lots of complicated references to Amalekites and weird cults.  It IS brilliantly written – my favourite bits are the conversations between Betsy Convoy and Dr O’Rouke – and the concept is an interesting one.  It does address some key struggles people face in modern life – tho specifically modern, American life I think – and I admire the way the main character Paul is developed.  Even by the end I’m not sure if I like him, pity him, or loathe him.  I DID learn a lot about oral health and am more predisposed to flossing than I was!

… Steve drained the solar thermal system at the campsite, flushed it with water a few times and fitted a new expansion tank, plastic rather than the old metal one which was flaking rust into the system.

March - solar system 1

Draining the old fluid out of the system

(Check out Steve’s fancy photochromic glasses that automatically adjust to sunlight!)

March - solar system 2

New plastic expansion tank

And since the above photo was taken Steve has now fashioned a nice lid to fit snugly over the tank to stop it filling up with dust & bugs.  The system has been re-filled with clean, diluted glycol and so far no leaks!

… Steve turned 55 and we enjoyed a chilled, low-key day together – nice food, birthday chocolate, good movies & snuggles by the fire.

… We got our phone cut off despite paying our bill.  After much indignation & calls to automated T-Mobile help centres where the system indicated an agent would call us back (even though our landline wasn’t working, so HOW were they going to call us back exactly???), it transpired that Steve had inadvertently paid the bill of our friends in the Zmukic family last month (using the automated machine & punching in the wrong landline number!).  We got reconnected eventually & now have an upgraded modem and faster internet, so all good!

… Steve spent many, many long days & nights trying to re-build my laptop.  First was the process of backing everything up and getting a copy of my ID on the laptop over to the desktop to allow me to continue to send & receive emails.  Then he cleaned everything off and started the re-install only to discover that he no longer had access to a copy of Microsoft Outlook.  Eventually he had to purchase another copy online and is in the closing stages of finally getting the problems sorted.  Even he, super patient with all things tekkie, is very much over the whole thing now…

… I finally completed my ‘professional’ work for the foreseeable future.  I designed & delivered 6 workshops for the Regent Hotel this month – big groups, hard work and very challenging but lots of fun & I got some fabulous feedback so I’m feeling satisfied & a little bit richer.

… We had some ups & downs with our business this month.  Things started badly with the volunteers from Colorado, who were due to run Yoga Week, cancelling on us and other volunteers who were lined up to help us open the campsite also changing their plans.  Yoga Week is still looking uncertain but we’re on the case to make some new connections & we’ve had some great new volunteers contact us about working with us in May so we’re now feeling more confident about getting the help we need.  And the best news is that finally we’re getting bookings.  Hurrah!

 

 

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