Sunday, January 26, 2020

Our Year of Buying Nothing: The First Month

At the very end of December 2019, I made the last minute decision to enact this resolution: to make no purchases for the entire year. Of course, we'll still buy food & toilet paper; we'll still go to the occasional restaurant, and if necessary we'll buy replacement items if something essential breaks. This decision followed on the heels of a string of random purchases I made during November & December, more than my usual. We spent not only money on these items, but time in installing and learning how to use them, moving things around so they had a proper place in the house, and storing associated paperwork and processing the packaging. While I don't regret these purchases, I have seen how dangerously easy it is to get into shopping online sales; one click and something new and exciting is on its way to your door. I feel our family is pretty well taken care of materially and should be fine for some time. I'm excited to see how long we can go without buying anything more.

A Life Unprocessed

We are a family of four (plus this lovely cat) with one full-time earner and myself, a mostly stay at home parent who is just transitioning to working more regular hours. I've been able to be home with my kids their whole lives, an honor I don't take for granted. In addition to raising & educating the kids, being the stay at home parent has also meant that I have more time to make our meals from scratch, as well as finding other ways of being frugal through the years (which you can read about in my previous articles). Many years ago, I started a Buy Nothing Facebook group in our community, and it took off like wildfire. This group, and the others like it that have since sprung up, is an amazing resource for neighbors to gift all kinds of things to each other. I love being able to offer up anything we find we no longer want or need to the group. Anytime I want to buy something, I ask first in my gifting group to see if I can find a similar item that a neighbor no longer has need of.

This resource in no small part enables me to go most of the time without buying anything. Last year, the only clothing items I bought for my kids were two pairs of jeans for my older son who had shot up like a weed, new shoes for my kids & partner, and new slippers for myself. Oh, and for Christmas I bought my partner a sweet new flannel shirt. For all our other clothes, our needs were more than met by the offerings in our neighborhood groups. In addition, because I personally love clothes and getting together with friends, twice a year for the past 5 years I have hosted trading parties, where everyone can bring their nicer castoff clothes to give away and come home with bags of new things to try for free.

So, here we are nearing the end of the first month, and while my hasty resolution has presented no real hardship, there have been a few challenges. For example, I have a Christmas cactus that has been in a horribly ugly plastic pot ever since two naughty kittens knocked it off a windowsill and it's original beautiful ceramic pot broke. I've looked for a replacement pot for years on my Buy Nothing group, and even at yard sales, but they never seem to be big enough. Suddenly, a few days into the new year, I felt I *must* get a real pot for my otherwise lovely plant. I think the constraint of not allowing myself to buy something made this desire for a replacement pot feel suddenly urgent. However, I just reminded myself that, as it's been doing fine in its plastic pot for so long, it can surely go another year without any horrible repercussions.

Another challenge was not buying my cat a scratching post. He transitioned to an indoor-only cat a year or so ago, and since then has found lots of places around the house to scratch up, some approved by us (doormats) and some we would much rather him not (the nice wool carpet and the door frames). He doesn't have a real scratching post, and it occurred to me recently, after seeing an ad for a cute cactus shaped cat tree/scratching post, that this would be just the thing. I went so far as to click on the ad, and ever since then my Facebook feed has been inundated with ads for cat-related items. Of course, as all pet parents must, I want the best for my kitty so if something would be good for him or useful, I can often justify the expense. Fortunately my partner is very practical and reasonable, and by running purchases by him I have often saved myself the regret of being stuck with an unhappy selection. Also, we visited his family earlier this month and they told me how easy it is to make your own scratching post, with some twine and wood. I have not pursued this, but knowing I can make something myself is often enough for me to not want to buy it.

I look forward to future challenges. I'm sure I'll be faced with more difficult decisions than those that have presented themselves to date. Perhaps my son will grow another two inches and we won't be able to find any decent pants for him from our gifting groups. Perhaps something that seems quite essential will break and we'll have to decide how necessary its replacement is. I'll try to keep track of these challenges as they come up, and document here how I deal with them. In future posts I'll also speak to how this resolution affects us as a family, whether it becomes a hardship at all or if we notice positive effects beyond the obvious of saving money, reducing clutter, and reducing waste.

We buy many of our bulk foods from Azure Standard, a natural foods distributor. Below are Amazon Affiliate Ads. Any purchase made through them helps support our family. Thanks in advance!
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Saturday, March 30, 2019

The Easiest Instant Pot Yogurt You'll Ever Make

A Life Unprocessed

Straining yogurt is a hassle. It's a messy, extra step that people use to get a nice, thick yogurt. But you don't need to do it! With this simple technique, you don't have to. My yogurt is always thick, delicious, and really hassle free. By the way, I have made yogurt without a kitchen thermometer, but it's much easier to be sure you are doing it correctly with this tool, so you might want to pick one up or borrow one from a neighbor before you get started. Also, you'll need a pressure cooker with a yogurt function, and the metal steamer insert that comes with it.

  • 1/2 gallon of whole milk (or three cans of coconut milk, blended smooth)
  • 1 tsp unflavored gelatin or collagen powder (this helps to ensure thickness without straining!)
  • 1 tsp yogurt, saved from a previous batch (if storebought, make sure it has active cultures) You can save your yogurt starter in small jars in the freezer and then thaw before using, or just scrape the jar from your previous batch in the fridge.

Whisk milk with gelatin or collagen powder together in your instant pot liner. Set instant pot on "Yogurt" and hit adjust, if needed, until screen says "boil". Cover with lid and when it has reached 180 degrees it should notify you. Here is where I use my thermometer to double check that it has reached 180 degrees. If it hasn't, simply set your IP to saute for a minute or two, and whisk to keep the milk from sticking to the pan, until it measures 180. This step will improve the texture of the finished yogurt.

Next step is to remove the liner from the IP, and place it in a sinkfull of cold water to cool the mixture. You can add some ice to the sink to speed this process. (Make sure water & ice don't get into your milk pot.) Whisk the milk and check the temperature; it is safe to add the starter once it reaches 110 degrees. The best way to add the starter is to first whisk about a half cup of the cooled milk mixture with your starter in a small bowl or jar, and then incorporate that into the pot.

Finally, you are ready to jar up your yogurt mixture. Culturing yogurt in directly in jars, rather than in the pot and then transferring it later, helps it to firm up properly. Make sure your jars will fit into the instant pot with a steamer tray in the bottom. You can use four pint jars, or one half gallon jar if you IP is large enough. Place lids on the jars; it will not get hot, so plastic lids are OK. Wash out your pot, add 1 cup of water to the bottom, and place jars on the steamer insert. With the IP on Yogurt function, hit adjust as needed until it displays "8:00". Your yogurt will be ready in 8 hours!

A note on timing: Because it takes 8 hours, it's best to either start your yogurt in the evening, so it can be finished in the morning, or start the process in the morning and let it culture all day. Your yogurt will last a couple weeks in the fridge. I think you'll find it's so good, and really so easy, that you never need to buy it again.

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Sunday, March 4, 2018

Grain Free Sugar Cookies With Buttercream Frosting

This fantastic, easy recipe will impress your family & friends. Anyone who thinks of gluten free cookies as being a dry and punishing experience will disabuse themselves of that notion after their first bite. These coconut flour based cookies are rich and buttery, and so delicious. The frosting is equally rich, and a perfect adornment. Both are quick to whip up, and not at all fussy.

Sugar Cookies:

  • 1 stick of butter (1/2 c) softened to room temp
  • 1 cup sugar (I used a xylitol/natural sugar blend)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 t vanilla extract
  • 1/2 t sea salt
  • 1 c coconut flour (4.25 oz or 128 g, if you have a scale and want to be more exact)
  • 1 t baking powder
  • 2 tb arrowroot starch, plus more for dusting

In a large mixing bowl, cream butter & sugar. Add eggs, vanilla, and salt and beat together well.
In a measuring cup or small bowl, stir baking powder into the coconut flour to combine. Pour into batter and mix well. Let sit for 5 minutes so the coconut flour can absorb the liquid. Add starch and mix again to knead dough for 30 seconds. If it is sticky or too moist, add more starch, up to 4 tb total.

Dust counter with starch and press or roll dough to 1/4" thick. Cut into desired shapes and bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes, until they reach your desired shade of golden. We found them to be delicious whether baked to a dark golden brown (shown at bottom of article) or a light gold (at top).

Let cookies harden for a few minutes before removing from the cookie sheet. Cool completely before frosting. I like to place them on a cutting board in the fridge, so they're chilled and ready for frosting in about 10 minutes.

Buttercream Frosting:

  • 1 stick of softened butter (1/2 c)
  • 1.5 c powdered sugar
  • 1.5 tb cream (from the top of can of coconut milk, or heavy cream)
  • 1 t vanilla extract
  • small pinch of salt
  • 1/2 packet of Color Kitchen plant based food coloring, if desired

Beat butter in mixer until smooth. Slowly stir in powdered sugar, then mix on medium until mixture holds together. Add cream, vanilla, salt, and color if using, and increase speed until everything is well mixed, scraping down the sides and bottom of bowl as needed. Frost cookies, then store them in the fridge. Any leftover frosting can be stored in the fridge for up to a week; just bring to room temperature before using.


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Wednesday, February 28, 2018

(Gluten Free) Pasta with Marinara in the Instant Pot

A Life Unprocessed

Cooking pasta in the Instant Pot is simple and rewarding, provided you use the right amount of liquid, and the right type of noodles. While you can definitely cook actual spaghetti in a pressure cooker, it has more of a tendency to clump together and remain crunchy than corkscrew fusilli. Fusilli noodles are a fun, helical shape, easier to fork than spaghetti, and hold onto the sauce better as well. We love the gluten free quinoa and brown rice fusilli that we've been using for years. It has more fiber & protein than traditional pasta, and I personally can't tell the difference in taste. 

Here's how to make pasta with marinara in an Instant Pot. This recipe is for a standard 6 quart model, but if you have an 8 quart pot, you can double the recipe. We generally use ground beef, but found that ground lamb makes a delicious variation. You can also easily make this a vegetarian meal by omitting the meat. 

  • 1 lb ground meat, if using
  • 1 diced onion
  • 20 oz fusili noodles
  • 24 oz tomato sauce
  • 2 c broth or water
  • 5 cloves minced garlic
  • 2 t paprika
  • 2 tb Italian herbs (I use a blend of oregano, sage, thyme, and rosemary)
  • 1 tb sea salt

A Life Unprocessed

Saute meat and onions in the IP until brown. Saute onions in a little oil, if you are not using meat. I like to slide my Instant Pot under my stove's vent when I'm sauteing, as long as the surface of my stove isn't hot.

Once onions are soft and meat browned, add noodles and then everything else. Try to cover noodles with sauce and broth, but if a few stick out that's OK. Cover, then set to manual for 4 minutes. Let it release pressure naturally (NPR). Once you can open the lid, give the pot a good stir to incorporate the meat, onions, and spices.

A Life Unprocessed

Serve and enjoy! I love to eat this sprinkled with fresh parmesean, or my homemade sauerkraut, and gomasio seasoning.

We purchase our wonderful noodles and organic tomato sauce directly from Azure Standard, a natural foods distributor. Below are affiliate links for Amazon. Any purchase made through the links helps to support our family, without any additional cost to you. Thanks in advance!

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Friday, February 16, 2018

How I Finally Got to Sleep: Ending Insomnia Naturally

A Life Unprocessed

For years I struggled with insomnia: waking each night around 2 a.m., tossing and turning, and finally just getting up. I learned to nap during the day if I could squeeze one in, but I was sleep deprived in a chronic, dangerous way. Sleep deprivation can lead to all kinds of health problems, and mental & emotional issues as well. I was very aware of these risks, having read nearly every article and book out there on how to sleep. Teaching myself to sleep right became kind of an obsession; I made spreadsheets of all the things I was supposed to do each day in order to sleep better. I kept track of every little thing, so I would know what worked and what made it worse. The only problem was that nothing ever seemed to work; it only got worse.

After three years of this, I happened upon an article about how people who define themselves as having insomnia made their sleep problems worse. And not only that, but they felt worse the next day even when they got as much sleep as people who don't think of themselves as having sleep issues. I realized that the problem for a lot of us, for me in particular, could be in my mind. I had so much stress built up around bedtime, that I often felt a little panicked if I wasn't in bed by 10 p.m.- that golden hour for getting perfect sleep. I had tried every natural sleep product my friends recommended over the years, and even a couple of unnatural, over the counter ones recommended by my doctors. I had done a sleep study: hooked up to wires and tubes and stuck all over with goo. It felt like the worst night of sleep in my life, but afterwards I was told that I didn't have sleep apnea. I came very close to getting surgery on my deviated septum, believing at the time that this was what was keeping me up. I canceled that surgery at the last minute, panicked that it would only make things worse.

Insomnia and sleep problems are incredibly common. Once I started posting about my sleep issues on Facebook, I realized how widespread the problem is. I started an insomnia support group, so I could learn from what worked for others. I shared the article linked to above with that group, and one member admitted that it was so important to her not to define herself as an insomniac anymore, that she almost hadn't joined my group. She hadn't had sleep issues in years, ever since she let the label of insomnia go. Another member took issue with the idea that her sleep problems, which she felt had a physical cause, were all in her head. Definitely, there are different causes of sleep issues; for many of us it begins with the birth of our first child. We can start out with one cause, and then the problem becomes chronic along the way, as the original cause is replaced by anxiety around sleep. We need to make sure we change the things we can in our lives to create better sleep hygiene, but we need to also do what we can to give our minds a break from stress around sleep.

Sleep is essential. Along with eating right and exercise, sleep is one of the three pillars of health. It should come naturally, it should come easily, and I was so frustrated that it constantly seemed beyond my grasp, no matter how much I tried to do things "right". I did learn some little tricks along the way, from all my sleep books & articles. I found that it's important to take the right steps for sleep hygiene, but also to remove the stress around sleep.

Here's what finally worked:

  • Brief Meditation Morning and night, for 5-10 minutes. I find that it's a nice beginning and end to each day, and 5 minutes is much easier to squeeze in than the standard 20 minutes that is usually recommended. Occasionally I can't fit it in during a busy morning, so I'll do my morning meditation in the afternoon. I don't stress about it. Meditation has too many proven benefits to ignore.
  • Journaling In order to reduce nighttime stress levels, it's helpful to write about anything troubling us, before laying down to sleep. Anytime I have something bothering me at bedtime, I write about it, including all my fears and any possible solutions. Getting my worries down on paper lets my mind off the hook, so it can go on to do the important work of sleep. As a nightly habit, I also write down three unique things that I'm thankful for; one thing I'm proud of; and one thing I'm excited about. This is a good habit to help focus on the positive; whether it helps with sleep or not I can't say. Sleep problems are commonly caused by, or exacerbated by, depression, so anything we can do to lighten up should help.
  • Earplugs This was a hard one to get used to at first, as I disliked the feeling of pressure inside my ears. But after a few nights with earplugs, I barely noticed them. And, wonderfully, I no longer woke to every outside noise. Now, when I put my earplugs in, I feel l am in a cozy little cocoon where nothing can bother me. If you are caring for infants, it's probably best to leave out the earplugs for now.
  • Blackout Blinds It's important to get your bedroom as dark as you can make it when you sleep. Cover or remove anything that has an LED light at night. Remove night lights from bedrooms, and keep them in common areas and bathrooms instead. Our neighbors keep a light shining all night, so we pull our blinds down all the way. The darkness should be so complete that you cannot see your hand in front of your face.
  • Caffeine Moratorium Don't worry, it's not off limits. For me, anytime I drink coffee or black tea after noon, I'm risking being wide awake in the middle of the night. So I have the hard stuff in the morning, and stick to green tea or herbal blends later on. I have a nightly cup of herbal tea at bedtime, but I feel it's more a cozy ritual and less about the specific herbs I drink being helpful for sleep. These days I'm drinking catnip tea before bed.
  • Screen Ban I cheat on this one, because I do read books on my phone before bed, using the Kindle app. But after tucking in the kids, I no longer scroll through social media. Our only TV is in the den, far away from bedrooms. Blue light from LCD screens has been shown to reduce sleep quality, so we use a free app (Twilight for Android, f.lux for Apple) that automatically filters out the blue light after the sun goes down. I also turn my phone on airplane mode, to make sure my sleep isn't interrupted at night by little incoming messages. This also to reduces my temptation to check Facebook after hours. With airplane mode on, all I can do is read my book in peace; it's kind of perfect.
  • Drink in Moderation Or, don't drink at all if you like. Definitely, the more you drink, the more degraded your quality of sleep will be. It's best to have just one or two drinks, and to have them earlier rather than right before bed, so the alcohol gets metabolized before sleep onset. Yes, wine can make you feel sleepy and even help in falling asleep; however quality of sleep can be hindered by alcohol. I find that I can fall asleep easily after a couple of drinks, but then I'll pop awake around 4 a.m., regretting that last glass of wine. Also watch things like sulfites, additives, and weird mixers. We try to enjoy our booze with the least chemicals and sugar possible. My favorite mixed drink is a vodka or tequila with soda water. It's so light and easy to drink, and doesn't leave you feeling sick. I've had good luck with sulfite free red wine as well.
  • No Pets At least, no pets in the bedroom at night. I am too sensitive to every little movement, every meow (even with earplugs) and cats are nocturnal. We set up our attached garage as our cat's nighttime apartment, so we can all get better sleep.

Here's what might help with sleep; I don't know for sure but I do it anyway:

  • Exercise Daily Forget three times a week: exercise every day. Bodies were meant to be used, not to sit. We spend so much of both our work and our leisure sitting; we really need to consciously move when we can. The only people exempt from this are people with very physically demanding jobs, like construction workers or landscapers- but if this describes you, you might find yoga helpful for countering repetitive motions and minimizing work related stresses. For others, start where you can. Commit to a gentle walk and a few stretches every day. Do more if you are able. I like the idea of breaking a sweat every day, though I can't always make that happen. In order to keep our bodies working properly as we age, we must use them all we can. 
  • Eat Well Avoid things you know bother your tummy; don't eat too much; don't eat too close to bedtime (leave at least a 3 hour window between dinner & sleep). Eat nutritious, whole foods, made from scratch with natural ingredients whenever possible. Don't beat yourself up for the occasional junk or treat; what matters is what you do most of the time. 
  • Daylight At night we want deep darkness for proper melatonin production; in the morning, getting outside for some exposure to natural daylight will help balance waking hormones for a new day. A quick walk around the block is pretty easy to fit into our morning routine, and has the added value of moving the body. You could also have your coffee out on your porch. Getting outside soon after waking up is ideal, but it doesn't have to be a big undertaking. I recently bought our family umbrellas so the interminable Pacific Northwest rain won't keep us from our daily walks. Even on heavily overcast days, the natural light outdoors will trigger hormone production and help regulate sleep cycles.
  • Bedtime One central tenet of sleep hygiene is going to bed at the same time every night, and getting up 8 hours later every morning (or more, since it can take a bit to fall asleep). Most of us produce sleep initiating hormones at around 10 p.m., so that's the ideal time for lights out. I do pretty much follow this, but I no longer get bent out of shape if we are still tucking the kids in at 10:30. What matters is that we have an enjoyable, relaxing evening. 

Further Reading (Affiliate link):

  • Sleep Smarter: 21 Essential Strategies to Sleep Your Way to A Better Body, Better Health, and Bigger Success This book, by Shawn Stevenson of The Model Health Show, is laid out clearly with a different section for each strategy to encourage better sleep. Stevenson explains the science behind each idea, with a down to earth, modern voice. I tried nearly all of his suggestions (I skipped the silver sheets and grounded bedding!) and because of these tips I really did start to sleep better. I recommend you check it out to see if he has ideas for things that might work for you that I didn't include here. Not everything felt like it helped me, but it might be just what you need. He really sums up current sleep science in such a thorough way that I found every book I've read on sleep since this one to be redundant.

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Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Peanut Butter & Yogurt Dip

This easy to make dip is a crowd pleaser. Feel free to use any nut butter you like, but peanut butter is definitely my kids' favorite. It's amazing as a dip for apples, as you can see, but it's also a delicious topping for pancakes & waffles. Use your imagination and let me know what other creative uses you come up with for this versatile dip.

A Life Unprocessed

It's pretty good for you too; although this time I made it with some corn syrup that had been sitting around in my cabinet for a hundred years, I would normally make it with raw honey. You can use whatever sweetener you feel good about. I used chunky peanut butter; creamy nut butter will yield a slightly more uniformly smooth product.

A Life Unprocessed


  • 1 c cream cheese
  • 1 c plain yogurt
  • 1 c peanut butter
  • 1/2 c honey or syrup

Blend all ingredients together until smooth. Taste, and add more sweetener if desired. This time, I made it with "light corn syrup" which doesn't seem to be as sweet as honey, so I ended up adding more. Powdered sweeteners will work as well; feel free to use whatever you have.

I used goat milk yogurt but any kind of yogurt will be fine. If you are using sweetened yogurt, you won't need as much honey.

A Life Unprocessed

It keeps for at least a week in the fridge. This makes a fairly large batch, so you can always halve the recipe if you don't want so much. Or, make the full recipe and then freeze some for later.

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Monday, January 29, 2018

What I Learned About Septum Piercings From Almost Failing At It Twice

Before Piercing

Do your research. When I pierced my septum the fist time, I had wanted to have it pierced for a very long time, but I decided to do it on a whim, with a "now or never" attitude. Unfortunately, I happened to be passing a piercing shop at the mall when I decided this. So, instead of going with a recommended piercer with a good reputation, I went with whoever was on shift at the mall shop. I tried to ask questions of the girl working the front counter, but she was very unhelpful and assured me the piercer would tell me everything. I was nervous and excited.

The piercing itself was quick and painful, but then it was done. The piercer gave me a photocopy of instructions for care, and told me I could switch out the jewelry in 4 weeks. The paper said 4-8 weeks, so I conservatively waited 5 weeks to switch from the rather large ring he used to a smaller one that I felt fitted my face more.

I couldn't get it in. Even though the new jewelry was smaller, and I had waited even longer than he had told me, my piercing was effectively gone. I cried. I went into the shop later that day; the same piercer was working. He couldn't get it in either, and assured me that it was my fault. I cried again. The crying didn't help, but I had loved finally having my septum pierced, even with the too-large jewelry. Just like that, and after all my weeks of careful care, I had no more lovely septum ring.

When I decided to get it repierced, a long year and a half later, I asked friends for recommendations. I had gone into two local tattoo shops, but wasn't sure how to judge about the quality of care and the pride in their work, based on their art portfolios. When several friends recommended a piercer at a tattoo shop a few miles down the road, I sent the shop a facebook message. I explained that I had scar tissue from a previous septum piercing, and was nervous about the whole thing. We messaged back and forth a bit. She assured me that she could definitely help me out. She was very knowledgeable, and easily answered my questions, providing all kinds of information about jewelry types, problems and issues during healing, and told me to wait a full 8 weeks before switching out the ring. 

The second time piercing the same spot was a lot more painful. It seemed like the scar tissue got in the way. But after a brief struggle and a few screams from what almost felt like birth pains, it was done. I had my new baby nose ring. To be safe, I waited 4 months before changing it out for a smaller ring. No need to rush.

After Piercing

Cotton swabs are your friend. You will use them to clean around the piercing, to get crust off the ring, and even to wipe your nose since you cannot use anything else. My nose was very sensitive, and took a long time to heal, especially the second time. I cleaned it and applied virgin coconut oil three times a day, making sure the ring could spin freely each time. Coconut oil was my idea, and I chose it because it has antibacterial properties. My second piercer had recommended against using petroleum products like Vaseline. 

My first peircer had just tried to sell me a packaged After Care solution (salt water). Instead of buying a bottle of salt water, I made my own saline solution fresh each time, with a bit of warm water and salt in my neti pot. Using a neti pot with a septum ring is a bit more challenging than I was used to, especially during the first couple months of acute healing. The spout will basically not form a tight seal inside the nostril since there's jewelry through it, but it still works. During the first weeks after piercing, I did not even touch it to my nose, but just used to pot to pour warm salt water around both sides of my piercing. Then I'd clean it with my cotton swab dipped in salt water, and rinse my septum with the neti pot again. Three times a day.

Maintain a Relationship With Your Piercer

A good piercer, like a good tattoo artist, cares about the work they're doing and wants it to be something you're happy with and that looks good in the long run. I have gone back to my piercer (Mary, from Mosely's Tattoo) with questions that came up during healing. I never once felt like my questions were dumb, or my problems a nuissance to her. That relationship ended up being extremely important when, nearly a year after my re-piercing, I tried to switch from a silver hinged ring to a gold hinged ring. They were both the exact same size, just different colors. I've been into gold lately, and was excited about trying something different than my standard silver jewelry. That's when I almost lost my piercing for the second time.

My nose had originally been pierced with a circular barbell, a massive thing that didn't fit my face. Mary had preferred to use a captive bead ring, which was a little more slender and easier to wear. Both rings had some weight to them because of attached beads, and would swing around as I did yoga or leaned over. This turns out to be important in maintaining a kind of open piercing hole. When I switched my second piercing to a little "seamless septum clicker" ring, it was so small and light that the only movement it ever got was when I spun it during cleanings. This made the hole become very small and tight, and to my dismay, very nearly lost me my nose ring.

A Life Unprocessed

I'd been wanting to change my ring out for a while, and had just been pragmatically giving my nose lots of time to fully heal before messing with it again. It had been almost a year since my second piercing. I had read that it can take a year and a half to fully heal a septum piercing, although obviously the jewelry can be switched out before that time. So one morning I was feeling like a go-getter, and I got ready. Getting ready involved me washing my hands and opening the new ring. I did not even clean my septum before changing the ring, which would probably have been a good idea. That ended up not being the problem, however. The hole seemed to just be gone.

I bravely slid the silver ring out, and tried to follow it with the little gold ring. I could get it in a millimeter or two, but after that it stopped dead. I tried from the other direction; same thing. Hands shaking, I took the ring to my boyfriend and he gave it his best. After making it bleed a little, he apologetically gave up too. Before even bringing the ring to him, I had messaged Mary in a panic. She got back to me and assured me it would be fine. Enough time had gone by that the piercing would certainly still be there. I iced my nose, took slow calming breaths, and prepared to go into the shop once they opened. While I waited I practiced some meditation, trying to keep my mind and body from going into stress mode. I don't love pain, and could not bear the thought of going through getting my septum pierced a third time, and the months of tender care that involves.

Because my hole had become so small, it was hard even for a professional to get a ring through. Gamely, she tried to insert my preferred gold ring, multiple times, multiple ways. Eventually, she grabbed a new ring, this one a hinged ring with a straight bar that goes through the septum. She got it in easily. My relief was palpable.

Now my job is to gently wiggle my nose ring frequently, to work the hole a little larger so that it will accept rounded rings and be easier to change out. And I think when I do change it again, I'll go back to the heavier, captive bead ring for a while, to make sure the piercing stays a decent size. Mary says the more often I change it, the easier it will get. For now, I'll go back to her for ring changes, until I'm confident that my piercing is here to stay.

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Friday, January 26, 2018

What Happened When I Used Homemade Dish Powder... & How I Fixed It.

I love natural solutions for everyday purposes, and had been making my own natural dish tablets for years, before finding a less labor-intensive recipe for a simple dish powder consisting only of baking soda, salt, and a few drops of soap. I recently wrote an article about that experience and how to get naturally clean dishes, which you can read here.

The Problem

When someone mysteriously warned me that the simple dish powder would clog my dishwasher, I didn't have any idea what they meant. How could 3 very soluble ingredients create a clog? But about two weeks after switching to this recipe, I found out (and remember, this is after using homemade tablets for years, so this might have been coming anyway). There was an inch of standing water across the bottom of my dishwasher after running a load, and a bunch of greasy buildup in the filter. This is it, I thought. I've gone too far, and broken an expensive appliance. However, fortunately that's not the end of the story.

The Fix

After using a rag to sop up all the standing water, I cleaned everything I could. When I examined the parts of the filter at the bottom of the dishwashwer, I found that they were very greasy, so I cleaned them with soap & hot water. I guess my homemade solution is just not hardcore enough to keep that grease from accumulating. I googled how to fix a clogged dishwasher, and found this helpful website, with tips from a plumbing company. They offer three things to try before calling a plumber, and it gave me hope that this was something I could handle.

While I tried their tips (which didn't seem to help in my case) I also read my dishwasher manual. It said that it was designed for storebought dish soap, particularly dish pods. Using dish pods, it said, would keep the pipes clean from scummy buildup. That very morning I went to Costco to pick up dish tablets. Their store brand is the cheapest I could find from a trusted source.

Bravely, I loaded my dishwasher with the now piled-up dishes, and ran a load with the chemical smelling dish tablet. It appeared to be working as normal, so I relaxed a little. When it came time to open the door, I was prepared for a flood of soapy water, but it didn't come. The dishes were clean and perfect, the floor of the appliance clear and empty. And all it took was running it with one dish pod. Just to be on the safe side, and to clear out any remaining greasy buildup as much as possible, I ran the next load with a conventional tablet as well.

Looking Forward

Now, it may seem like I haven't learned my lesson, but my plan is to alternate using my natural dish powder with storebought tablets. This is not just to reduce the cost, since these dish tablets are only 11 cents a piece, but to reduce the chemical impact. Salt & baking soda are both edible, and I feel much better about flushing them out into the environment. They don't have the grease-busting abilities of harsh chemical detergents, but if I run a conventional dish tablet once a week I think I can keep the pipes squeaky clean, and maintain the life of my appliance.

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