Natural Crafts

Easy Non-Toxic Air Freshener and Play Clay

Homemade Gelatin Air Fresheners

My kids really enjoyed making these and giving them to friends and family. Everyone we gave them to was thrilled with their gift and asked for refills throughout the year. So be prepared for future requests or, better yet, include the recipe on the jar or glass.

We usually double the recipe to make a quart and then pour it into pretty 4 oz jars that we get at the dollar store or yard sales.Votive candle holders, little vases, juice glasses and even little bowls work well. Just make sure that they’re clear if you’re adding color to your gel. You can even get fancy and use the smallest fishbowl you can find, let the gelatin set somewhat and add tiny toy fish, plastic plants or pretty stones. Use your imagination, but just remember that the gel is going to dissolve eventually and won’t be propping up whatever you add to the jar.

Non-Toxic Gel Air Freshener
2 Cups of Water
4 pkgs of unflavored gelatin
large pkg of DIET flavored gelatin
20 drops of essential oil
1 Tbsp Salt or Vodka (keeps it from getting moldy)

Optional-Food coloring for unflavored gelatin

Heat the water to boiling. Stir in the gelatin and remove it from the stove. Add the other cup of water and stir thoroughly. This is important because you don’t want lumps in your gelatin. Add the essential oil. If you’re adding coloring, add it now. Pour into decorative containers and cool until firmly set. (If you put them into your fridge uncovered, your fridge will smell like the essential oil. This might not work if you’ve used something very strong.)

Non-Toxic Play Dough
1 Cup Water
1 Cup Flour
1 Tbsp Oil
1/2 cup Salt
2 tsps Cream of Tartar
1 regular pkg DIET flavored gelatin

Combine and mix all ingredients, then knead with your hands. You may want to sprinkle flour on your hands first. When smooth and dry, put it into plastic bags and close tightly. This will keep for up to six months. You can use it to make ornaments. Roll out the dough and then cut it with cookie cutters. Put a hole in the top with a straw and let them dry. Thread a ribbon or ornament hanger through the hole and hang them on the tree. This dough can almost be painted.

Some ideas: Use powdered ice tea mix and add some ginger to make brown “gingerbread” people ornaments. Because of the salt, this shouldn’t be eaten, although it’s technically non-toxic. Too much salt can cause nausea, especially in kids.

Natural Crafts

Make a Sweet-Smelling Pomander

Pomanders are easy to make. They’re a good craft project for kids and can be made in an evening or afternoon. However, if you want your pomander to be ready for Christmas, now is the time to start it. And if you want to make something other than the usual clove-studded oranges, read on.

The basic pomander that most of us have made at least once in our lives is the orange pomander. To do, poke holes in an orange with a sturdy toothpick or one of those plastic flossing picks and then stick whole cloves in them. You can make a pattern, such as spirals or any geometric pattern. Just don’t put a row of cloves right around the orange, or the skin might peel off at that point. When you’re done, shake the orange in orris root powder in a paper bag. Orris root powder is a fragrant preservative.

For a pomander that’s a little different, start with an apple. Stud it with cloves in the usual way, but then roll it in cinnamon or cinnamon and ginger, or cinnamon, ginger and allspice. Or apple pie spice. I used pumpkin pie spice by mistake once and it still smelled heavenly.

Another variation: Use a lemon, stud it with cloves and then shake it in ginger in a paper bag. This is one of my favorites, because it reminds me of my favorite ginger ale. The one with the twist of lemon. Or use a lime, stud it with cloves and shake it with nutmeg.

Whatever kind of pomander you decide to make, you must leave it in the paper bag, in a dark, dry place for three weeks or so until it’s thoroughly dry. When it’s dry, take it out and cover it with a piece of netting. This keeps it together as it ages and dries out more. I like to embellish my pomanders with beaded straight pins and sequins. Just put a straight pin through the hole of a sequin and push it gently into the fruit. A pretty ribbon to tie the top of the netting and the pomander is ready to hang or give as a gift.

Pomanders may also be hung on the Christmas tree, from a curtain rod in a window, or in a closet. They can be tucked into drawers like sachets or several can even be used as a centerpiece in a pretty glass bowl. Use your imagination and get started now, so that when Christmas comes, you’ll have plenty of pomanders to keep your house smelling sweet or to give as gifts.


Getting Around In a Green Way

I’ve admitted before that I drive an SUV. Odd choice for a person who advocates going green. However, where I live dictates that I have to drive a 4WD vehicle. What I paid for my 2001 Dodge Durango dictates that I have to pay it off before I can buy something more efficient and eco-friendly. Until then, I try to keep my trips to a minimum and do what I can in other areas to help the environment.

When I can afford it, I intend to buy a small, fuel-efficient car, maybe even an alternative energy powered vehicle. At any rate, my next vehicle will be much smaller than the one I have now, and if I can sell my house, I’ll be living somewhere close enough to town so that I don’t have to drive most of the time. Since my house and acreage isn’t exactly the residence of choice for Mr. and Mrs. Homebuyer right now, moving might be far in the future.

So, if I stay here, I’ll be driving my little car into the city on narrow roads which also host huge log trucks, SUVs and pickups the size of mobile homes, oil delivery trucks, UPS vans, dump trucks and snow plows. Maine roads are a scary place to drive a small car. As are highways almost anywhere in the US, because we share them with trailer trucks, buses and delivery trucks.

In other parts of the world, there are truck lanes which are separated from car lanes by a real barrier. I doubt very much that there’s a chance of the US adopting that approach, but I think it’s a great idea. So are bike lanes. Almost every time I drive down the main route that leads to the city, I have to almost stop because someone is riding a bike in the travel lane, because there’s no other place to ride it.

I’m totally in agreement that bikes are a great mode of transportation, but I wouldn’t ride one in this part of Maine if you paid me to. True, by law, they have just as much right to be on the road as cars do. Unfortunately, the reality is that this isn’t going to protect you as you ride in the inside lane that isn’t wide enough for your bike and a car. When both lanes have cars in them, there’s no way they can pass you without hitting your bike. This leads to many near-accidents and sometimes a bicyclist’s injury or even death.

My point in all this, is that we don’t just need more fuel-efficient cars and alternative modes of transportation. We need the infrastructure to support them and encourage more people to adopt them. If there were bike lanes, more people would choose to ride their bikes to work, school and for errands. If trucks and buses were separated from cars on the highway, small cars would be a safer option for new vehicle buyers. If every road had sidewalks – something that very few rural roads have around here – more people would walk, which is the best way to get from one place to the other.

Frugal Tips, Green Consumer

I’ll Say It Again: You Don’t Have to Be Rich to Be Green

It’s summer and I’m busy, so here’s a post I wrote back in March that’s even truer today.)

Most of us are feeling the economic pinch of higher prices these days. Rising fuel and heating costs are contributing to higher prices for just about everything. So how can the average family combine cutting back on luxuries with going greener? True, many organic, natural and eco-mindful products cost more than the cheapest alternatives, but that just doesn’t mean that we have to give up and buy generic detergent at the dollar store. It means that we have to be ever more creative, innovative and clever. It also means that we might have to trade time and/or convenience for cost.

For instance, I love 7th Generation products. I’ve used them for years and I know that they work as well or better than their polluting, less ecologically sound counterparts. At my supermarket, they’re usually priced higher than the generic brands, but sometimes only a few cents higher than the big national brands like that detergent that comes in the orange package, for instance. What really helps is their newsletter and the coupons they almost always have on their site.

I signed up for their newsletter a while ago and have enjoyed several of their coupons since then. Here’s the link if you’d like to sign up to get the Seventh Generation newsletter. And here’s the link for their coupon page. Last time I looked, they had coupons for cleaning products, diapers and detergent. I really like their new 2X concentrated detergents.

Here are some other sources for green coupons: Pristine Planet always has a good selection. My favorite coupon site for everything RetailMeNot has a long list of coupons for green goods. However, be sure that you check the expiration date on the coupon you want to use. Some of them are out of date. also has a very good selection of online, offline and printable coupons.

If you can’t find a coupon, maybe you can use something else. A couple of pieces of aluminum foil for dryer sheets. White vinegar in the fabric softener ball instead of that blue softener that has formaldehyde in it. Hey, you want to soften your clothes, not embalm them, right? Ditch the paper towels and say what we do when we dust. Holey socks, Batman! (Since my only method of darning socks involves dropping them into a trash can while muttering, “Darn these socks!”, dusting with them works better than darning them.)

Use your ingenuity and figure out how to do things without all the gadgets and plastic junk they sell at Wally World. You can do it. You might even find that it’s fun to think outside the box. (And after you’re done, give the box to your kid to play with instead of buying them a lead paint covered cute little toy from the discount store. Kids love boxes.)

If you think of anything that can help save money and the earth at the same time, share it in a comment. I’m always up for new green info – and saving green too.


Let’s Say Good-bye to Buying

The automakers want Congress to loan them taxpayer money so that they can use it to get consumers buying cars again. Congress has already loaned money to banks and mortgage lenders, so that they can get “relieve the credit crunch” and get consumers borrowing money again. Am I missing something here?

Consumers borrowing money for house after house and car after car is what caused the current financial meltdown. What Congress, companies, lenders and consumers need to support is less consumerism, not more. Further, in my not so humble opinion, society needs to re-shift its focus in a big way away from consumerism towards a more sustainable model of living.

I grew up in the fifties and sixties when things took up a lot less space in everyone’s lives. We had one TV, one car and many people lived in the same house all through their childhood. Belongings and furnishings weren’t discarded for new ones like they are now.

I blame it on the invention and adoption of plastic, this rampant consumerism. Plastic things were cheap. It was actually cheaper to throw them away than fix them, if they could even BE fixed.

Somehow, this attitude expanded to include non-plastic items until we were throwing away almost everything as soon as the “new” wore off, as my father used to say. Now, we realize that plastic with all its toxins and dependence on oil isn’t the wonder that we thought it was way back then.

Isn’t it about time that we admit that neither is consumerism the wonderful thing we thought it was? Especially in light of the unavoidable facts of global warming and what consumerism is doing to our planet, it’s time to call it a day for recreational shopping.

Instead, I feel strongly that we should turn our minds and energy toward creating a world that appreciates the environment and engenders a culture of nurturing people, instead of creating things that we don’t really need and can’t sustain.

Holidays, Recipes

Easy and Healthy Banana Cake Recipe from Ray Collins

I love Ray Collin’s “Good Life Letter“. His health information is spot on and he delivers it in a style that always makes me smile as I learn the latest way to live a healthier, happier life. He lives in England with his wife and 3 children and is the author of 3 books which should be on everyone’s bookshelf. His latest, The Spice Healer, is a fount of information that tells you how to add years to your life with simple cooking spices. It includes 30 recipes for everything from tea to pizza too.

I don’t know if this recipe is in The Spice Healer, but I know that it’s tasty and very easy to make. If you like, you can make it as 12 medium sized cupcakes instead, or even a loaf cake. Frost it with cream cheese frosting. Glaze it with a simple vanilla glaze, serve it with yogurt or just eat it by the slice. It’s all good.   In the newsletter with this recipe, he also managed to work in his grandmother’s knickers, marshmallows and a game called fox and hounds, but if you want to read about any of that, you’ll have to go to his site and read the newsletter. Here’s the recipe:

Banana Cake from Ray Collins

(Ray didn’t specify a cooking temperature, but I found that 350 worked just fine.)

Bananas are such a versatile and practical
ingredient, plus they are naturally sweet. Make a
banana cake by mixing 2 mashed bananas, 2
tablespoons of Manuka honey, 2 eggs, a few
chopped nuts (pecan, hazelnut or walnuts) and a
little melted butter. Then add it to 2 cups of flour
and a teaspoon of baking powder and the same of
baking soda. Bake for half an hour in a hot oven
and eat with natural yoghurt.


Summer Solstice

If you happen to be awake at 1:45 a.m. on June 21st, you’ll be able to greet the Summer Solstice with open eyes. Of course, if you’re in my neck of the woods and you’re outside, your eyes might get full of raindrops and/or mosquitoes. This IS Maine in June and the recent monsoons have really bucked up the small insect hordes.

What with the lowering clouds and frequent showers, it’ll be hard to tell that this is the longest day and shortest night of the year. Also not readily apparent is the fact that – from here on out – daylight starts to fade and second by second, we lose a little bit of daylight every day until we get to the Winter Solstice on December 21st of this year.

No way do I want to think about that when daisies are blooming, humming birds and bees are buzzing around the comfrey and wild strawberries are sparkling in the grass like rubies. So, in spite of the rain, the bugs and the dwindling tomato growing season, I’ll celebrate summer’s entrance and hope that the sun will return, also, before the slugs take over the garden.

Green Living, Holidays, Recipes

5 Ways To De-Stress Your Holidays

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, at least here in Maine. Snow is falling on the pines. The chickadees are flocking to the suet and sunflower seeds. Shoppers are mobbing the mall, although I’m not sure where they’re getting the money to shop this year, which leads me to the subject of why this season can be stressful and what you can do about it.

  • First of all, take a few deep breaths and think about what YOU want this time of year to be like. Never mind what your family, your friends, you Facebook friends and your Twitter tweeps think Christmas and the holiday season should be. What do YOU want and expect this season? I think that one of the biggest sources of stress, this time of year, is when our wants and expectations don’t match up with the reality of the season. No matter how old we get, we’re still that three year old who really expects a pony under the tree on Christmas morning. And when we get a sweater instead, we’re seriously disappointed, even if Aunt Joyce DID knit it with her own two loving hands. It’s not a pony and we wanted a pony and not getting what we want just doesn’t cut it at Christmas, does it? And that applies to 3 year olds all the way up to 83 year olds and beyond.


  • The second source of stress is that we try to do too much at Christmas. We over-shop, over-bake, over-buy and wear ourselves to a frazzle, until we’re complaining about all we have to do and feeling pressured to do more. Don’t fall into this trap. Keep your holidays as simple as you can and leave plenty of time for unplanned changes, both good and bad. It’s the time of year when people get colds and flu, oftentimes right before a school concert or a family get-together. If you expect this and have an alternate plan for these kind of speed bumps, it will be a lot easier to cope with them, instead of making it up as you go along or taking a sick kid to a social gathering where he – and the people around him – will be uncomfortable every time he coughs. (Natural Care for Colds and Flu – a free guide can help with those nasty bugs too.)


  • Enjoy old traditions, but make new ones too. It’s wonderful to have family traditions and the holidays are a time when we unpack the old ornaments, catch up with old friends and bake our old favorite cookies. It helps families bond and it reassures us that – even though it seems as if everything changes – some things stay dependably the same. Just don’t forget to leave yourself open to starting a new tradition, which is how all the old traditions started, after all.


  • Make it easy on yourself by letting some things slide. Do you really have to clean your house completely because you’re having company? They’ll be focused on the friends, the food and the Christmas decorations, not the dust bunnies under the beds. Just organize the clutter a little and don’t apologize for disorder, because that just draws attention to it. Tell yourself that you’re just into relaxed housekeeping and leave it at that while you enjoy your guests and your family.


  • Balance the extra baking you’ll be doing with easy meals that can make themselves or make-ahead meals that can be frozen for future use. I’ve finally started to organize my recipes on Lill’s List and will be adding to them on a regular basis, so try one out in your crock pot and don’t forget the easy no-bake cookie recipe. The delicious, fruity little round cookies keep for up to two months in the freezer, so you’ll never be caught without goodies for drop-in company.

Most of all, remember to savor the season, slowly and comfortably, at your own pace. Instead of dashing through the snow, 24/7, take some time to sit by the fire and sip a cup of hot chocolate from time to time.

Natural Crafts

Daylight Savings Time Changes Everything

Last March, I started knitting a pair of wool socks. They were my third of 2009 and somehow I lost the thread – literally – after I finished the first one and right after I started the second one. Slow forward (this IS Maine, after all) to last night while Daughter and I were watching “My Man Godfrey” one of our favorite movies. I dropped the TV remote and when I reached down beside my chair to pick it up, I came up with a sock. With a little more rooting around, I found the other sock – the one that I had just begun last March.

After the movie, I started knitting and didn’t stop until I got to where it was time to turn the heel. By then it was after midnight and even though I knew that, with the time change, I’d be gaining an hour of sleep, I put the sock aside and went to bed. Reluctantly though, because I was in that zone knitters get into when they’re really into knitting and the stitches are almost knitting themselves. I had work to finish today, but tonight, I’ll continue to knit on it. If I take it along to Daughter’s dental appointment, I should be finished with it by Tuesday at the latest.

What made me suddenly return to knitting socks? Or, more to the point since I love to knit socks, why did I suddenly stop in March even though it was mud season in Maine which certainly calls for thick socks, preferably wool, because wool is warm even when it’s wet? Maybe it was because March is also when gardening season starts, the weather gets better and the roads aren’t so icy and we can get out to Audubon meetings and meet-ups with other home learners. Or maybe it’s because I’d knit one too many pair of the little buggers and even with the stripey wool I use that self-patterns into interesting designs, I’d just had enough of fashioning footwear from scratch.

On reflection though, I think it was just that the light had changed. The days were getting longer and the angle of the sun was changing and making it feel like Spring, the season for seedlings and new beginnings and bare feet – well, Crocs, at least – not boots. Or maybe it was because, in March, we lost an hour, so even though I went to bed at 10 that night, when I got up at 6, it was really already 7 and I felt like I just couldn’t catch up. There was barely enough time for the basics, never mind time for knitting. Besides, I was yawning by 8 o’clock and in bed by 9 for a couple of weeks until I got used to the time change. I was cranky and edgy and out of sorts and didn’t feel like dealing with turning heels and picking up stitches to make gussets and don’t even mention Kitchener stitches to me in Spring!

The only part of knitting socks I don’t like is making the toe seam. For years now, I’ve been using the Kitchener Stitch, which involves weaving the two sets of stitches together with a large darning needle. It’s not knitting. It’s sewing, and I hate sewing. I’m not good at it and I always make a mess of it with at least one stitch that won’t lie down and spoils the line of the seam or rubs against my toes and reminds me, every time I wear the blessed things, that I’m lousy at Kitchener.

So, you have no idea how chuffed I was when I stumbled across the following link to An Alternative To the Kitchener Stitch! I was almost afraid to try it, but I found an almost finished sock I don’t have enough wool to make a mate for and tried it on that and it worked so well, I wanted to go back and unravel all my knitted socks and redo the toes. Alas, I’m not good at unraveling either. (And what is the difference between raveling and unraveling I’d like to know?) Well, anyhow, if you’re a knitter, try the alternative and let me know how it works for you. And, TECHknitting, you’re going right onto my blogroll of Good Sites. Mind you, I almost feel as if I should make a special category for your site. Sanity saving sites, perhaps?


Click to Donate Redux

I used to click on these sites all the time, but then I got too busy. What with home schooling, internet marketing, researching and freelance writing, I had no time for clicking on anything that didn’t earn me money or give my daughter something to learn about. Since April of this year, when I made my “new year’s resolutions”, something I do on my birthday, I’ve been clicking again and here’s why: I want to do good. Not well. Good.

I have a good life with a family I love, a place to live where we can have pets and walk around in woods and fields. We’ve had our ups and downs and even some tragedies, but most of my life has been good. There’s no other word for it. I realize that I want other people to have good lives, and I know that many people are struggling just to stay alive. So, I donate to several worthy causes and I click. Daily. No more excuses.

If the Depression recession has you thinking that you’re going to have to stop donating to the local food pantry and start making withdrawals from it, click instead. If you’re shopping at Goodwill instead of donating to them, you can still click so that other people will have a warm coat or a hot meal this winter. Click to save baby seals. Click to provide medical care to kids who might not grow up unless we help them. Click to save the rainforest or whatever else is important to you.

My daughter’s favorite site is Free Rice where you answer questions on Art, Vocabulary, Chemistry, Languages, Math and Geometry to donate rice. You can watch a video of the rice being distributed and find out where the rice you earn is going to. If you’re home schooling kids, this is a great site to have them start the day with. What’s better than learning something, helping someone else and having a good time doing it?

I’ve added some links to “click to donate sites” on my sidebar and will add more as I find them. I suggest that you start with The Hunger Site or because both sites have links to other “click to donate” sites. Another way you can help is by joining me at Social Vibe, where you can find out how to “get social” while you help others.

I’m always telling my kids, “We’re all in this life together. Why not do some good while we’re here?”

Well, we’re all on the Net together, so why not do some good while we’re here too.