beeswax lip balm

Making your own lip balm is really easy.  Save your empty tubes and tins.  In a small container with a pour spout, microwave 1 part wax to 2 to 4 parts oil such as olive oil, jojoba oil, shea butter, coconut oil, or cocoa butter.  Less oil makes a firmer balm.  When melted together add 5 drops of peppermint essential oil and 1 drop of rosemary.  Pour into containers.  Allow to cool for several hours.
Before pouring in the new balm, if you're using tubes turn the dial so the stopper goes back to the bottom.  If it doesn't catch at first, press down on it while turning the dial.  


cowl in Blue Sky Alpacas brushed suri yarn

I knit this cowl several years ago with Blue Sky Alpacas brushed suri yarn.  It's the most amazing yarn ever.  I am surprised how it still looks new and despite how fuzzy the yarn is, it never pilled.  This was knit in garter stitch on size 4 needles to 4" wide and 20" long and the ends were grafted together.


muesli & slow cooker oatmeal

I've been making my own breakfast cereals lately.   I like store bought kinds, but they tend to be filled with sugar and cheap ingredients.  Muesli is great because it's a cold cereal that you can eat with milk as you would with any store bought kind, and it's easy and inexpensive to make at home.  I made mine in a 1/2 gallon mason jar that I rolled around on the carpet to mix. 

3 C oats
2 C whole grain or corn flakes
1 C raisins
1 C slivered almonds or nuts
1/4 C sesame seeds
1 t cinnamon
dried fruit (I dehydrated apples and berries this summer.)
other possible additions- barley flakes or any flaked grain, cardamom, cacao nibs, powdered ginger, pumpkin seeds

This is great with homemade almond milk.

You can cook steel cut oats in a Crockpot! I like them a lot, but the make a mess when they boil over on the stove top.  With the slow cooker you turn it on before you go to bed and in the morning you have breakfast waiting for you.  They don't boil over either.

1 C steel cut oats
4 C water
cook on low for 8 hours

flavorings: raisins, cinnamon, brown sugar
I also like to add strained almond pulp from making almond milk.  (I freeze it to be used later.)

If you live in Portland Bob's Red Mill Store is a great resource.  I bought whole oat groats (the entire grain, not cut into pieces or rolled) there which were great in the slow cooker. 


Las Pozas de Edward James in Xilitla, Mexico

Las Pozas is a surrealist sculpture garden built in the 60s and 70s by the English art patron Edward James.  It's way off the beaten path in a remote region of northeastern Mexico called the Huasteca, which is known for its waterfalls and cloud forest jungle. Though geographically close to major Mexican cities and the US border, this area remains very isolated, probably due to the fact that all of the roads that lead here are terrible.  Driving here was like going back in time.  On our way there, in many places we saw more donkeys on the road than cars.

Spending the day walking around Las Pozas was such an amazing experience.  It's a massive site with hundreds of imaginative and unexpected cement structures like stairs that spiral up into the air, multi storied towers, and winding pathways.  It's all built next to a series of waterfalls and turquoise pools for swimming.  Edward James's wish was to allow it to disintegrate, and it's being slowly eaten by the jungle. Quite a bit was already crumbling in 2007 when I was there.  I believe since our visit that it's been purchased by the Mexican govornment.  (Fondo Xilitla is foundation that currently manages the site. Here's another article about preservation efforts.)


Las Pozas is outside of the hilltop village Xilitla, where we stayed at the fantastic hotel El Castillo, former home Las Pozas's architect.  It's filled with architectural oddities like a pool shaped like an eye and cement hands "holding up" the ceilings. The room we stayed in had gothic cathedral windows with a view of the lush surrounding mountains.

The Huasteca region is also home to many natural wonders like massive waterfalls, underground rivers, and caves, and beautiful wildlife.  You can visit El Sotano de las Goladrinas, one of the deepest pits in the world.  I'd recommend hiring a guide because we missed some cool things here just because we couldn't find them.  Traveling in Mexico made me understand infrastructure I take for granted as an American.

This was my souvenir from Xilitla, a passionflower vine.  It's taking over a corner of our living room.  I got the seeds from a delicious agua fresca there.  I had them for several years here in Portland before trying to germinate any.  The plant is several years old now.  Luckly two sprouted because to fruit they can't self pollinate.  This hasn't bloomed for me yet, but I'm still hopeful.  Passionflowers have to be the most beautiful and strange flowers on earth.  They come on lots of different colors, and I wonder what these will be.

other posts about our trip:

some other great Las Pozas pics:



pendleton scrap wool rug

Here's a new small rug I made from Pendleton wool selvadges.  It's super thick.  The strips varied in width, and it created a bumpy fabric.  I have it for sale here on my Etsy page.

hanging orchid box

I made this orchid box for our bathroom window, based on a project I saw in the really cool book Cultivating Life.  The wood I found on a Columbia River beach.  I drilled holes in each end and then assembled the "log cabin" by running wire through the holes. I glued 4 slats across the bottom with JB Weld (best adhesive ever!), hot glue or super glue would work too I'm sure.  Moss was picked up off the ground in a nearby forest. Twine and wire came from the hardware store.  

This planting supposedly resembles an orchid's natural environment, as a parasite up in the treetops.  The roots need lots of air circulation to not rot, and I think pots can encourage that.  Planted this way, the roots will grow outwards, eventually feeding off of the box itself.  This window is in our shower.  The extra humidity I'm sure will be good for them too. 

I like hanging house plants in windows.  It frees up counterspace, and the plants get more light- especially important for the sunless winters here in the NW.  I love this DIY post on Design Sponge about a window hanger made from leather. 



kim chee

I made kim chee!  I've been curious about home fermented foods.  I used the recipe in The Whole Foods Encyclopedia. (great book!)  You mix napa cabbage, garlic, ginger, chilies, sesame seeds, and salt and let it ferment for several days at room temperature.  This was great, next time I'll add more chilies though.

fruit preserves and garden vegetables

I made four batches of preserves this summer- red plum, blueberry, strawberry, and wild blackberry.   I used the recipe in the Tartine Bread cookbook, which has a 75% sugar to fruit ratio (by weight).  I doubled the recipe (ended up using 2 kilos of fruit per batch) which fills all 12 of the half pint jars that come in a pack.  I used Pomona's Universal Pectin.  All of these came out great.  The plum was surprisingly delicious.  The blackberry is fun because they're free and everwhere at places like Kelley Point and Sauvie Island beaches, and you can feel like you're doing nature a favor by harvesting an invasive plant.

I like to use as little sugar as possible so the flavor of the fruit comes through.  I like the reicipies in Jam On, which have a 50% sugar to fruit ratio and several that use only honey.   Does anyone know how little sugar can you safely use?  For these batches I used cheap white sugar.  I would like to use something more high quality next time.  Does anyone have any suggestions for a natural sugar?

Some things I grew this summer: 

spring greens- mizunte, red russian kale, swiss chard
lots of zuchinni
old german tomato
butternut squash

orca beans are the coolest ever.   I experiemented with planting some of these that came from the grocery bulk section.


Teotihuacan, El Tajin (pt 2 of our 2007 trip)


Our next stop, northeast of Mexico City, was the massive pre-Aztec ruin site Teotihuacan.  The pyramids there are some of largest in the world.  They could easily be mistaken for mountains at a distance.  If you go here bring plenty of water and a lunch.   It's a huge site and takes all day and lots of walking to see.  We ate breakfast that morning that a fantastic restaurant that was facing the Pyramid of the Moon and dinner that night in a restaurant inside an enourmous nearby cave, where I tried the huitlacoche, the black corn fungus.

After leaving Teotihuacan, we headed East to Papantla, which is the vanilla growing capital of Mexico and is also nearby the ruin El Tajin.

 I got a bag of 10 vanilla beans in the Papantla market for $2 and also learned that the vanilla bean is the seed pod of an orchid. From there we spent nights at Xalapa, Veracruz, and Acayucan. Continuing further south we arrived at Villa Hermosa only to find that all of the roads leading into the Yucatan were closed due to flooding. We ended up retracing our path north while waiting for the floodwaters to subside. It was frustrating, but we got to see something we would have otherwise missed- and what ended up being one of my favorite places on the trip, Las Pozas and Xilitla.


DIY bath products: aloe and jojoba anti acne facial lotion, lotion for dry skin

I've made my own facial products for several years now.  It's fun, you save a ton of money, and they work better than most things you can buy in a store.  Here are some recipes I've had success with.

Moisturizer for Acne Prone or Oily Skin:
1/2 C aloe gel ( Lily of the Desert works well)
1/2 to 1 t jojoba oil. 

After three months of using this recipe, my acne was gone.  I had been battling fairly severe acne for 6 years and was amazed at how well this worked.  I was totally sold on making my own bath products  after this.  Jojoba oil "tricks" your skin into not producing oil because it resembles your skin's natural oil closely.   It works better than soap to clear clogged pores.  The aloe calms irritation and very hydrating.

Moisturizer for Dry Skin:
I made this body lotion with a mix different oils I had lying around, and I found it works well on my face too.  This recipe has a lot of oil, but for whatever reason doesn't make me break out.  I found the cobalt glass jar at the Alberta Co-op. 

1 C cooled brewed herbal (calendula) or green tea
1/4 C safflower oil
scant 1/2C olive oil
spoonful of virgin, raw coconut oil
spoonful of shea butter
2 T grated beeswax
8 drops ylang ylang essential oil
5 drops sweet orange
4 drops lavender
1 drop rosemary

Heat the oils and beeswax in a double boiler (or a pyrex mixing bowl placed over a pot of boiling water) until the wax melts.  Remove from heat and let cool for 2 min.  Blend the water on high in the blender, remove the stopper on top and slowly pour in the oil/ wax mixture.  Blend until it's emulsified completely.  Add essential oils when cool and jar it.  (Mason jars are great.)

Fill a spray bottle (available in the travel area of the toiletries section) halfway with water or cooled herbal/ green tea, halfway with witch hazel, a squirt of honey, and a drop of rosemary, mint, or sweet orange essential oil.

I buy french green, red, or white clay from the bulk section of natural food stores, which can be rehydrated with water, green tea, milk or soy milk.  Yogurt, honey, or egg whites are all edibles that make great masks.

I also keep several aloe plants around my house.  Nothing beats fresh aloe!


Real de Catorce, San Miguel de Allende (pt 1 2007 trip)

In 2007 my boyfriend and I took a road trip though Mexico and Central America.  We spent several weeks driving down the gulf side of Mexico to the Yucatan Peninsula.  We left our car in Playa del Carmen (a town an hour south of Cancun) and then spent another month traveling by bus through Belize, Honduras, and Guatemala.  It was a really awesome adventure though sometimes stressful (don't try this in a low clearance vehicle. . .)  The mix of indigenous and European cultures makes these countries fascinating places to travel.  Many places feel like Europe, with old colonial buildings and outdoor markets.  The food is great- corn tortillas (flour tortillas origintated in Texas- you won't find them in Mexico), chiles, avocados, chocolate (still only found as a drink, as it was in precolonial times), mole, nopales (prickly pear), tamales, empanadas,and abundant fresh juice.  Most areas have a year round growing season, so the produce is really fresh, and there is delicious and cheap street food everywhere.  Most Americans are surprisingly unaware of the great things the countries south of the border have to offer, outside of the heavily touristed coastal areas. 

After crossing the border at Laredo, our first stop, several hours south of Monterrey, was Real de Catorce, an formerly abandoned silver mining colony high the desert mountains.  We drove for an hour up the old cobblestone road, passing by donkeys, prickly pears, and many crumbling buildings.  We arrived at a tunnel, which was so narrow only one lane of traffic can go through at a time and was only lit by our headlights.  The town is nestled in a little valley on the other side of the tunnel.  The hotel we stayed in had a rooftop patio, and I remember being woken at dawn by the roosters.  I was glad we had sleeping bags, as it was very cold there in November. 

Our next stop, 5 hours south, was the beautiful colonial town of San Miguel de Allende.  We stayed at the fantastic hotel San Sebastian, which was an old masion.  Our room was only $20.  San Miguel was one of my favorite places in Mexico.  It has wonderful architecture, panaderias (pastry shops), and there are hot springs just outside of the city.  We soaked at a place called La Gruta.   There were many vendors selling freshly pressed juices, an apothecary with herbal tinctures, and a great artisan market.  There is a large American expatriate community living here.

view from our hotel window.  lots of traffic in this town!

my boyfriend, Robert

 tilework in our bathroom

that's me!

After two days in San Miguel de Allende, we drove an hour east to Guanajuato, another beautiful colonial city famous for it's pastel buildings and maze of tunnels underneath the downtown area. Driving here was especially challenging, as we'd completely lose our orientation after going through a tunnel. I forgot to take pictures here, but it's a beautiful place and well worth a side trip from San Miguel.