Intentional Living: All-Purpose Cleaning Spray

And your castile soap
*a modified HAIKU, I now realize. Whoops!

I started off strong there, didn’t I? Yes, this silly issue bothers me enough to bring me back after an unintentional leave of absence to raise the cutest little stuffed animal pupper that we adopted into our family. (Other updates include deleting (not just deactivating) my facebook account/s, planting like a million laurels in our yard, and taking family photos for the first time since January 2012.)

I’m currently reading yet another minimalism/intentional living book that recommends mixing Vinegar and Castile Soap to make the perfect all-purpose cleaning spray for your home. I don’t expect those of us trying to clean our home more naturally to be chemists, but upon using these two ingredients together a few years ago, I noticed that the combination creates a very strange consistency. A quick google search led me to a Bronner herself, explaining why her family's Castile Soap should not be mixed with vinegar, or any acid. Lisa Bronner writes,

“In great part it’s due to the fact that vinegar is an acid and the castile soap is a base. They will directly react with each other and cancel each other out. So, instead of getting the best of both (the scum cutting ability of the vinegar and the dirt transporting ability of the soap), you’ll be getting the worst of something entirely new. The vinegar “unsaponifies” the soap, by which I mean that the vinegar takes the soap and reduces it back out to its original oils. So you end up with an oily, curdled, whitish mess. And this would be all over whatever it was you were trying to clean – your laundry or counters or dishes or whatever.”

So please stop mixing vinegar and castile soap together. And authors, please stop recommending it in your books.

For a much better DIY all-purpose cleaning spray, I recommend:

In an 8 ounce spray bottle, add:
¼ cup vinegar (use infused vinegar if you like*)
5 drops GSE (grapefruit seed extract)
10 drops tea tree essential oil
10 drops lemon essential oil
Fill bottle to top with water
*I infuse mine with rosemary cuttings from the yard and leftover lemon or orange rinds.

Give it a little shake every time you use it. I find that the light mist from these spray bottles does a perfect job covering our kitchen counter tops with the right amount of cleanser. Then I wipe with a slightly damp rag.

In case you'd like to old-school label yours as well, this is the label maker I used.

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Film Photos: Deception Pass and Anacortes 2012

These are some favorites that I never shared. We stopped to walk around Deception Pass and went on a (mostly whaleless) Anacortes whale-watching tour our first year living in Washington.


Intentional Living: Feminine Hygiene Products

Chemicals in where?
No thanks, please let's not go there.
Cotton is enough.

Feminine hygiene products. If that doesn’t apply to you, feel free to tune out today.

I’ve been extremely excited about the influx of healthier feminine care options into the market lately. It seems crazy that we’ve all been using these chemical-laden products for so long without second thought. Or if you haven’t had that thought yet, maybe it’s time!

My favorite company to offer organic products is Lola. I’ve been using their products for over a year now. They have a great subscription system that is fully customizable. I get their organic tampons in all sizes (and have not tried their pads.) I prefer the design of their compact applicator tampons the best. They come in light, regular, super, and super +, but the applicator is plastic. I’ve switched to buying the cardboard applicator for regular and super (they’re currently not available in light and super+) because they are fully biodegradable.

Another great company offering organic tampons is Sustain Natural. I buy other products from them, but decided not to buy their tampons because they only offer regular and super and their boxes aren’t fully customizable. However, their applicators are made with bio-plastic, and I just really like this company.

Speaking of applicators, there is a new product out of the UK called Dame currently running on Indiegogo. From their site: “D is a reusable tampon applicator. It uses self-cleaning technology and medical grade materials so you can enjoy the comfort of an applicator without the plastic waste.” I’m intrigued.

All great options, but you can even find organic tampons on the shelves at your local stores now. Even Brandless is selling $3 boxes!

In switching from conventional to organic tampons, I’ve realized that they work just as well, but maybe hold a little less volume than you’re used to. So in the time you would expect to wear a regular sized conventional tampon, you may want to bump up to a super organic one.

Finally, do you flush your tampons? I can’t unless I want to risk an emergency plumbing bill. Our house has a sewer pump that doesn’t handle anything beyond organic waste and toilet paper. But in general, you just shouldn’t. Main line sewage clogs are becoming a big problem, and I’d like to do my part to make it easier to create reusable drinking water. This article covers it.

A couple months ago, I realized how much toilet paper I was going through to wrap used tampons for the trash. I was hoping to find an eco-friendly way to dispose of them and came across MaskIT! I highly recommend this product. According to their website, one female goes through 24 rolls of toilet paper to cover one year’s worth of tampons (I think I went through more than that.) Their MaskIT pouch is made from plant starches, vegetable oils, and compostable polymers and is completely biodegradable. It’s easy and hygienic, and I’m just so happy to have found them. They even sent me a hand-written thank you card with my order that reads “Small changes make a BIG difference when we work together! Thank you for helping us save trees!”

I only talk about tampons here because that’s my preference, but if it’s not yours, hopefully you’ll still think about the products you’re using. There’s always the Diva cup, but I’m just not there.

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Intentional Living: The Basics

Plastic everywhere,
But not in my body please.
We can do better.

I’ve realized lately that there are a few earth-friendly tasks that I assume everyone does. And it’s sadly just not true. So I’d love to share these actions that I find to be very basic and easy to implement into your daily life.

1. Recycle everything you can. Find your local recycling program’s requirements and learn them. Tape the guidelines to your refrigerator or your recycle bin and do your part. Nothing that is recyclable should end up in your trashcan.

You can always just get another little bin to hold your recyclables, but if you’re looking for a good system, we’ve used these slimmer connectable trash cans in the past, and recently switched to this stackable Muji system. Ideally, I would try to stay away from plastic bins and have stainless, but I find this to be a good solution for now based on price, convenience, and size.

Our Muji trash bin: recycling on top, trash on the bottom, and compost in the freezer. :)

2. Use steel or glass water bottles. There is no need to buy plastic water bottles unless you had a lapsed moment where you forgot your reusable water bottle, aren’t near home, and can’t find a place to give you a glass of water (happens to us all). I highly recommend Klean Kanteen (stainless) and Bkr (glass), both of which I wash in the dishwasher (always a big selling point for me.)

If you like that bottled water comes filtered and want to be able to refill away from home, I recommend keeping a GoPure water purifier pod in your reusable water bottle.

3. Do not have plastic straws in your home. You will be just fine without a straw. Or, buy a plastic alternative straw. I have 4 stainless straws (2 regular and 2 smoothie sized). They also come in glass, bamboo, and there are compostable plant-based packs on amazon. You have options. Then, try to pass on that straw when you’re out and about.

If we can make these three simple adjustments the new baseline, maybe we can have an impact on this.

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Been gone for too long,
Want to get back to routines.
First, in Florida.

Just over three weeks ago, the nice routine we’d developed since settling into Portland was well shaken. Late Friday evening, we received an email from the company that owns my daughter, Tova’s, school that the school would be shutting down at the end of term.

I have to say, we’ve become used to a quick change of plans. But our move back to the northwest was very purposeful. We were ready to live in a place that we loved, to dig into community, and have Tova stay in a school for longer than one year (which she hasn’t done since preschool).

Now, we’re on a hunt for Tova’s 7th school. David and I went on three school tours just last week, and one the week prior. Tova has missed school to go on a couple of those, and she’s doing a trial day at a prospective school next week. At the same time, a group from our current school is trying to save/reopen the school, and we’ve been attending those meetings. None of us want to be doing this right now, but we’ll push forward and make the best of it.

So here we are, ready to enjoy Spring Break with family in Florida. We’ll hopefully get back to that nice routine (and regularly scheduled house projects and blog posts) next week.


Film Photos: Washington Tulips 2013.

I'm going back in time quite a bit, to before we moved away from Seattle. We are heading there (for our first visit since moving back to the PNW) later this week, so I won't have another post for a week or so. Enjoy these photos in the meantime.

These are from Roozengaarde Tulip Farm in Mount Vernon, Washington. It was April in 2013.


Intentional Living: Coffee Products Part 2.

Taste, smell, and method
Are all part of enjoyment.
I love my coffee.

I just love coffee. I'm so happy to live in a big coffee city and have extremely wonderful coffee shops absolutely everywhere. We'll prefer a traditional latte at Barista, or try a new concoction at Never. There's Heart, Good, Stumptown, Kiosko, Coava, Tov, and that's a small fraction. They're all amazing. And on most weekend days, David and I enjoy our second (or third) cuppa at one of them.

But for that first cup, on a cozy weekend morning snuggled up with a book, David greets me with a nice hot cup of French Press. When we run low on coffee beans, we'll pick up a bag at one of the aforementioned coffee connoisseurs. We've had a Bodum Bistro Burr Grinder since 2011 (seriously! We have it in white, but the copper looks v cool.), and keep it on coarse grinds for our copper 8 cup Bodum Chambord French Press. We drink our coffee black, so that's all we need.

I recently stumbled across a newly improved French Press design called Rite Press. It is currently a Kickstarter campaign that has received over $900k over its small $20k goal. Incredible. The big selling point is that the bottom twists off to easily remove the used coffee grinds and is marketed as the "no mess french press." It sounds fantastic to me! Another big selling point for us is that the materials used will help hold in heat longer. And no plastic! They also tout a thermometer and timer, which could be useful. Rite Press originally launched with stainless steel options, but they just released the Ceramic Rite Press. I have backed the Ceramic option in Black and Gold. It is beautiful.

The campaign ends in just over a week on March 9th, so if you're as excited about Rite Press as I am, snatch up the lower prices now. Of course, I haven't tried this product yet, so I can't speak to its performance. I guess we'll all see if it lives up to the hype!

Not often enough, during the week, I'll use a Bialetti Moka Express to make some very strong and delicious espresso to enjoy. I started with the 3 cup stovetop espresso maker and we recently purchased the 6 cup for when David would like some, too. To note, Bialetti "cups" mean 2 ounces (not your typical 8 ounce cup). So a 3 cup maker produces 6 ounces of espresso. You need extremely fine coffee grounds for the Moka Express. The Bodum Bistro Burr Grinder requires the machine to run while changing the coarseness setting. Since French Press and Moka require such extremes, it's difficult to reset, and you get a lot of mixing coarse and fine grinds if you switch back and forth often. Therefore, I keep a small hand burr grinder set to fine grinds and use it when I have the spare time. (I have my eye on this pretty one, but just be sure it's a burr grinder.) I always prefer freshly ground coffee, but since using a manual coffee grinder can be time consuming, I like to have a bag of finely ground espresso in the cabinet just in case.

My two favorite things about Bialetti are the taste and the process. I recommend watching a video of how to brew your espresso with this machine, because you learn how to listen for your coffee to be ready. It's quite an accomplishment when you get the timing right. Another good bit is you can't use soap to wash it. A quick rinse, and you're done!

The great thing about all of these products (maybe minus the burr grinder) is that there is minimal plastic and extremely minimal waste. No plastic for a landfill and no plastic fumes or chemicals in your drink. A small investment up front can last for several years with basic care.

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Intentional Living: Coffee Products.

Get to school on time!
Compromise can be ok.
Quick coffee to help.

In my quest for healthier, more sustainable living, I’m always on the lookout for products that will help me use less plastic, create less waste, add to my family’s health, and hopefully be cost effective. When I feel like I've found a winner, I'll share some of those time-tested favorite products with you. Today, let's talk about one of my favorite subjects: coffee.

My daily morning coffee routine has become more of a compromise than you might assume. Yes, I love our French press and Moka Express (I don't like pour-over), but on mornings that require school drop-off, I opt for a faster, single-cup option. The dreaded wasteful Keurig (or off-brand, as mine is) has come to my rescue, but I've found ways to feel more comfortable about using it.

I'll back track a little bit and mention that I tried to switch to a Nespresso machine. I was very excited about the aluminum capsules and their recycling program. And I prefer the taste of espresso to drip coffee. It was a clear winner in my mind for a fast single-cup option. My body, however, felt differently, and I developed a crazy rash. Right before we went to Hawaii. When I realized what was causing the rash and stopped drinking Nespresso, it cleared up very quickly. Then a few months later, I tried drinking it again, and the rash popped back up. I researched and could find no good explanation. It should just be coffee grounds in aluminum, so it's still a mystery.

I returned to finding a better solution to plastic Keurig pods and found San Francisco Bay Coffee Company's OneCup options! It's a single-serve coffee pod that is made from plant-based renewable resources. They are biodegradable, compostable in some systems, and shipped in a biodegradable bag and recycled/recyclable box. The coffee grounds are Fair Trade and have an organic option in Organic Rainforest Blend. I buy a 36 count box about every 5 weeks.

In case you're interested, I bought an off brand single-serve coffee machine because it is much smaller and has a better design. You can find it here, though note that the OneCup coffee pods don't fit perfectly in this machine. It hasn't deterred me from using them together for the past year, so it's just a heads up.

Whenever the time presents itself, sometimes for my second cup of coffee after school drop-off or on the weekends, I very much love slow-method coffees. Look for Part 2 about my favorite slow coffee setups soon.

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That Danish Life: Candles.

A flame lights the mood.
When all you want is hygge
Go make a candle.

Buying nice smelling candles is expensive. And if you want to be picky about the wax and fragrances, you’re going to pay even more. You can save quite a bit of money and feel accomplished that you created something useful and beautiful if you make them instead!

Let’s have a quick chat about your fragrance and wax. Most fragrance oils are synthetic. That means they’re made with chemicals, and when you burn them, those chemicals get into your lungs, on your skin, and coat your house. I use essential oils for any recipe that might require a fragrance. The smell will not be as strong, but I think it’s worth it. As for waxes: paraffin is most commonly used, but is a by-product of the crude oil refinement process (read: toxic). Beeswax is nice, but I honestly don’t want all yellow candles. It also has its own smell, which can detract from whatever scent you’re trying to make. Soy wax melts clear, dries a milky white color, and blends well with your oils. Therefore, I make my candles with soy wax and essential oils.

What you need:
Soy wax
Pouring Pot - I bought a 4 pound pot and it's far larger than I'll ever need. I recommend this 2 pound pouring pot instead.
Essential Oils
Wick Cutter

*I’m still trying to figure out the best routine for the wicks. I like using the foam sticker to keep everything in place, but it’s very difficult to get off when you’re ready to reuse your container and it creates unnecessary waste. However, using the traditional method of dipping the end of the wick in hot wax and letting it cool in place in the container simply doesn’t work. As soon as the rest of your hot wax hits, it melts and moves and bends. I'm going to try these wick centering devices next. Any tips are appreciated.
**You can use any jar, bowl, or cup as a container. I just prefer using these aluminum jars with lids. Though, reusing containers instead of recycling them is the best option.

What to do:
Place water in your pot and place it on the burner on high.
Using your intended candle container, pour two scoops (not heaping) of wax into your pouring pot and place on the pot of hot water to create a double boiler.
While you wait for the wax to melt fully, attach your wick.
Once the wax has melted, quickly remove from heat.
Set aside and wait about two minutes while the wax cools down.
Add 10 drops of essential oil per ounce of soy wax. (For my 4oz aluminum jars, I use 40 drops of essential oil.)
I usually just swirl the solution to mix, but you can also use a whisk, etc.
Place your candle container on a kitchen towel.
Pour your wax solution into your container.
Wrap the towel around your candle to slow cooling (this helps the wax solidify evenly).
Wipe out your pouring pot before the wax hardens.
After your candle has solidified, trim the wick ⅛”. I recommend using wick trimmers to help get the correct length, but you can try scissors as well.

There are several candle DIYS that will tell you to use a thermometer for specific wax temperatures, but I found that to be tedious. The only concern is that your essential oils have flash points, at which they will evaporate. If you wait and let the wax cool, just before it starts to solidify, to add your oils, you won’t have any problems with this. If you would like specific temperature details, the wax can cool down to 122 degrees fahrenheit, but should be fine up to 150 degrees for most essential oils. (There is a good guide to essential oil flash points here.)

You can always use a single essential oil for your candle, but if you’re interested in making blends, my favorites are below:

I buy my essential oils from Edens Garden. I also recommend Mountain Rose Herbs.

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Home Renovations: Wall Shelves.

Shelves for books and looks
Paired atop a piano,
Music to my ears.

After our neighbor gave us a beautiful piano (yep, best neighbors), and it was given a prominent spot in our living room, we decided some shelves above it would be great. We mulled over the idea for a few weeks until David noticed some very interesting shelves at a local coffee shop, Good Coffee:

They were perfect and I knew I had to recreate them. My favorite part was the little alcove for a plant in the center. Yes, please. I immediately sketched out a blueprint, measuring the wall and noting the studs.

I used painters tape to create a mockup on the wall, which stayed up for quite a while.

Then came the research for what type of shelves to use. I didn't want to use brackets underneath because they compete with books or decor for shelf space. And I liked the clean lines of floating shelves. My first plan was to use steel floating shelf brackets (these can be pretty expensive for the heavy duty versions) and buy big 2"x10" solid wood boards and drill in the holes for the steel bars. I headed to Lowe's to check out the lumber, and their head guy talked me out of it. Mostly, it would be extremely difficult to drill a perfectly straight hole by hand. There was no room for error. I hated that he was right, but glad to contemplate some cheaper options. The two of us walked around the shop for almost an hour, and new ideas started percolating. I was back to the drawing board and went home to re-think my plan.

I ended up buying 1"x10" boards and adding a lip to the front and exposed sides. I also found some steel braces to use underneath that are mostly hidden (especially when painted to match the wood/wall).

The whole experience was quite a learning process. And very old school. I sanded and set every last finishing nail by hand. But for my first real woodworking project, it felt like a right of passage. (Though I definitely have an air nailer and orbital sander now.)

I also learned a lot about wood filler, wood glue, and trying to get even paint without using a spray can. I didn't want the streaks of a paint brush, and even the low nap that was recommended by a Home Depot employee had too much texture. Thanks to some amazing friends, I learned that high density foam rollers were the way to go. And I used a foam brush on the underside edges. The paint is Behr's Ultra Pure White (which we'll slowly be using on all of our interior walls.)

In the end, they're not perfect, but they're exactly what we wanted, and I'm quite proud.

Some links:
The brackets I almost bought
Similar braces to what I used
Nail Setter
High Density Foam Roller

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That Danish Life: Products.

Cozy head to toe.
In the house, grey and rainy
Forever I stay.

Let’s get hyggelit. Join the #1 happiest nation in the world and indulge in comfy and cozy moments. These are the things we find essential for hygge in our home.

Cozy slippers - I can’t recommend these enough. These felt slippers are made of 100% pure natural wool with a sole of soft calfskin. I recommend the open heel to slip right on, as I’ve read their other options require being pulled on. I want these for summer.
Cozy pants from Everlane
These chairs
Blankets (my daughter's blanket of choice); though The Citizenry has a beautiful selection
A hot cup of French Press Coffee
Candles (DIY to come)

We can't get enough of our weekend morning reading sessions. Let's do more of this.

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Home Renovations.

You can make it yours,
Build stuff and get hands dirty.
Work is never done.

This past summer 2017, we moved to Portland, Oregon, and bought a house! We bought it from flippers who left it looking pretty, but after moving in, the 1955 birthdate started to show. We’ve had to redo pipes, do extensive waterproofing, and have plenty more to go. Thankfully, we get to mix in fun projects with the bad, and I have loved tackling everything from wiring new lights, to building shelves, to making and painting perfectly sized canvases for our living room. I’ll share my projects, discuss plans, and daydream over wishlists in this series. I don’t expect to have every detail of my renovations for you to follow to do it yourselves, but that might evolve over time. As always, never hesitate to ask a question!


Minimalism: Books.

What is it you really need?
Books can help us learn.

A year and a half ago, I picked up The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo at the library. I joined millions in the pursuit to declutter and organize my stuff and my life. I talk about my journey on The Practical Minimalists' Podcast, so I won't recount it all here.

Around the same time, I was reading about the human brain and how it gets programmed in specific ways according to how we're raised and the habits we form. About how it takes a lot of effort to make changes and reprogram, but it can be done.

I've always had a tendency toward materialism and shopping addiction, so a life of decluttering and then buying less was going to be tough. It took reprogramming. I started with Kondoism and was intrigued, but knew I would need more to stay on the path. So I kept reading and over time, it got a bit easier for my default setting to change from "I need this" to "Do I need this?"

Honestly, I could use some more reprogramming recently. My brain rewiring has taken a big hit after buying a house in Portland. I've saved money here and there by doing projects myself, but I'm still constantly tackling new projects and buying the goods needed to do so. And in my quest for a well organized home, if what I already have isn't the perfect picture in my head, I'm likely to bring something new into the house that is.

I feel good and bad about this. Our home brings me a lot of joy, but my wish list is usually long, and I find myself wanting more. I think it's time to take a break from the Hygge Reading List and get back to being happy wanting less.

After Marie Kondo, I went on to read my favorite book on the topic, Simple Matters: Living with Less and Ending Up with More by Erin Boyle. Her blog and Instagram are of the few that I consistently read. I don't have the constraints of a tiny apartment, but her advice always feels relatable.

Next was The Joy of Less: A Minimalst Guide to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify by Francine Jay. The biggest benefit of this book was reinforcement for that brain reprogramming. I also used it to help guide me through my house room by room.

I bought Make Room for What You Love: Your Essential Guide to Organizing & Simplifying by Melissa Michaels, but honestly it is still on the shelf with a bookmark not very far in. I will probably revisit it some day, but Melissa's perspective is very tied into her religious path, which just wasn't what I was looking for at the time. If that's what you're looking for, you'll likely love it.

Finally, I read Chasing Slow: Courage to Journey Off the Beaten Path by Erin Loechner. This one has a similar perspective as Michaels' book, but feels more like a conversation in pursuit of inner peace. It brought the minimalist considerations beyond stuff, to self.

I just picked up Remodelista: The Organized Home by Julie Carlson and Margot Guralnick at the Amazon Bookstore the other day. It's filled with practical advice and beautiful images. But I'm in need of another Boyle-esque book to get back on track. Remodelista will be lovely, and I'm sure it will instill all kinds of organizing ideas that have me sneaking off to the Container Store. Do you have any suggestions to reinforce the "Do I need this?" training?

Note: The painting in the background of the photo is by Emily Jeffords.

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Film Photos: Dubai 2017.

Once my profession,
Now a hobby to enjoy.
Time to share photos.

Though it's no longer the purpose of this blog, I would still like to share some of my film photos with you from time to time. I'll start with our trip to Dubai in March of last year.

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