Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Furniture renovations for the win

I'm pretty good about using things as I need them and not just using, say, a nightstand when I need a nightstand. Thinking outside the box, as it were. When I was growing up, I had a loft bed, and the top of my tall dresser was my nightstand. I've used file cabinets, actual nightstands, upside down trash cans, stools, chairs, and most recently: a small bookshelf.

Bookshelves are great for nightstands. They don't come too far forward, so you aren't trying to scoot around them getting into bed. They have lots of storage space for the room they take up, and if you want things on them to be hidden you can put them in decorative boxes/baskets.

The problem with my bookshelf was, it had to be placed in such a way as to either block the outlet from being usable at all, or else pulled 3-4 inches away from the wall to allow the plugs some room. Of course, pulling it away from the wall presents other problems, namely earrings and pill bottles getting dropped behind it. Not helpful. Also due to my mobility issues, I needed my plugs a bit more accessible than being on the floor in a plug extender or behind a piece of furniture.

This was my solution: Putting a 1x4 on the back to extend the depth of the top shelf, while leaving a gap behind the remainder of the unit. The shelf doesn't need to hold anything heavy; my lamp is rather light and could stay toward the front anyway, and the rest is pill bottles in a light basket, my phone, and whatever else gets shoved up there that stays for a few days before being cleaned up again.

I also screwed in a couple screws to hang a plug extender right next to my head. Ok it's actually about a foot away from my head, especially the way I sleep, but it's not on the floor and that's what's important. (That I actually did in our last apartment, and then we spent three weeks finding the exact extender plug that matched the holes because we didn't label it. It's labeled now, and will also not be removed from the unit again.)

It is properly level, it curving up a bit is an optical illusion. I used "mending brackets" on it because my original plan of L-brackets wouldn't work; the back is attached by being inset a bit like a puzzle, as are the sides, so there wasn't a solid spot to screw into except on the top there. It's not ideal, I would have preferred a smooth top, but it is effective and it was a fast solution. If possible, I still recommend L-brackets underneath instead.

You can see the two screws for the extender plug there, pre-unearthing it from a box. And the Goodwill sticker at the unit's front left corner (top, here). CLEARLY it needs some love in the form of a good sand-down and painting job. But in the meantime, it's FUNCTIONAL and that's what's most important to me. Besides, it's usually covered by baskets and a lamp anyway.

Speaking of the lamp, due to the trim at the floor on the far side, there is a 1/4 inch gap between the unit and the wall. Perfect for running the lamp cord down to the outlet behind, so that I can focus my extender plug on things like my computer, phone cord, and whatever else I may need to plug in but not leave there or have maximum slack for sitting in bed.

Now, does anyone want to come over and paint it?

What DIY projects are you working on right now?

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Latest Dirt: Gardening 2014

Saturday I wanted nothing more than to dig in some dirt. After all the snow, wind, rain, and grey of winter, I just needed some sunshine and dirt time. So I spent a little time (only 20 minutes or so) prepping my containers for planting. Surprise surprise, I didn't get any "before" pictures of the cluttered balcony. This is a failing I'm certain we're all going to have to learn to accept. 

This is the set-up we're hoping to use for our garden, though the cascading effect of the ones on the left means they may get less sun than if I cascade them out. Unfortunately it also means that would make the herbs less accessible for fast snipping while cooking. I might try working on a shelving mechanism to get maximum light and access. 
Once I'd pulled out all the clover, and turned the dirt a bit, some delightful plants came into view. Like these darlings! To the left and right bottom corners you can see tiny springs of oregano that popped in for some reason. This big thing... Well, it's in the dill pot, but it was growing outside the area where I'd planted the dill and it doesn't SMELL like dill. I transplanted it toward the center until I decided what to do with it. Any input identifying it is welcome. 

My poor lavender. I didn't harvest it properly last fall, and I think it froze and dried out over the winter. Everything pretty well just fell off when I went to trim it back, all the stems were cracked and dried, nothing green inside. I left the stalk to see if it can be encouraged to grow. If I don't have anything green within a couple weeks here, I'll splurge on another plant to replace it. I loved having lavender around too much to go without it. I will say that the dried lavender leaves made the compost smell much nicer than dead onions!

Thyme! I had two plants in here, a lemon and an english thyme. The English one you can see here, growing happily. The lemon I thought had died off completely, but once I got the dead stems out of the way there was new growth underneath.

But there is also this huge overgrowth of moss underneath. None of my other planters have this moss issue, and I'm wondering if they're beneficial to each other. Thyme grows wild in the mountains, or so the song goes (you're welcome for the ear worm) and so does moss, so they're either natural besties or competing for nutrients. Not sure which theory to go with but for now I'm going with friends. What do you think?

Sunday I took a bit of time to pull out the seed packets and get the seeds soaking in warm water. It's a trick I learned for using seeds intended for previous growing seasons, and one my grandmother used to revive seeds from as early as 1969 with about an 80% germination rate. I've had some rough germinations from my seeds the last couple attempts, so I thought I'd try this version. Directions varied from soaking them for an hour to overnight/a full 24 hours. I'm going the overnight route due to scheduling, so I have Mr. Moon to help me move the heavy planters around.

All in all, a lovely couple of days digging in dirt. Mostly herbs again this year, though I did get some lettuce and kale started for greens. I might also pick up a few more planters, if I can work out a shelving mechanism to have room for them, because I'd really like to have a couple more versions of greens and maybe some tomatoes out there.

What are you planting in YOUR garden this year? 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Homemade dandruff remedies

This is going to get a bit gross. Don't eat while reading this, and feel free to skip it. It's just scalp stuff though so it isn't TOO gross.

I've had psoriasis & eczema since I was a kid. High school was horrid, because being a swimmer, the chlorine really irritated my skin. Frankly I didn't know anything else and I liked swimming enough that it didn't bother me too much, I just went through a lot of lotion. After high school, I still have kept the habit of having a bottle of lotion next to the bed for my hands and feet, and my worst spots are my upper arms. And my scalp. Oh, my scalp.

My scalp has been the bane of my existence for as long as I can remember. No amount of dandruff shampoo has ever helped. Quite the opposite, it's always made my scalp worse. Since HS I've known that showering more than every 2-3 days irritates my skin horribly, but I can keep the patches on my arms down to splotchy-hive-looking things (not too scaly and gross) if I don't shower too often. My scalp has also seemed to like this arrangement best, up until about two years ago.

Two years ago my scalp suddenly erupted. I didn't even have to scratch my head to have a blizzard fall every time I bent over. Gross! I saw two dermatologists, two allergists, had a bunch of tests done, and all anyone could tell me was, you have dandruff. THANKS A LOT, CAPTAIN OBVIOUS! No but really, I've done so much for this in the last two years, and nothing has ever helped. I had three different kinds of shampoo, and it's not like they worked for a while and then stopped so I could just rotate through them. They never helped. Steroid and anti fungal ointments to go on my scalp that made it look greasy and attract dirt like you wouldn't believe, but still didn't help.

Then about 6 months ago it suddenly got even worse. Besides just flakey patches, now I suddenly had the plaquey chunks that I hadn't had since my last swim season of high school. And they smell like brewing bread or beer or something. So, pretty solidly a fungus, and pretty clearly growing out of control, and now it is IN MY FREAKING EARS. Along the way the last two years,

  • I started shaving my head pretty radically and regularly to be able to clean my scalp better, with mixed results. 
  • I went back to the anti fungal prescription shampoos. Still no luck. 
  • I tried coconut & olive oil hair masks. Nothing, now the plaque chunks were just greasy. 
  • I tried scrubbing with baking soda, but I can't get it into my scalp unless I've JUST shaved and even then I have a mohawk so the center portion is still bad and I refuse to shave my head entirely. 
  • I tried rinsing with apple cider vinegar with no results. 
  • I started scrubbing my head with a sugar & olive oil scrub (with peppermint and tangerine oils) occasionally but it makes my hair greasy so I can't do it too often.
Finally this week I decided enough was enough. I'd scratched my ears so hard they bled. My scalp had bloody scratch marks from scratching in my sleep. I've ditched the pharmaceuticals. They haven't ever done a thing for me and the dermatologists never even looked at what was wrong before they prescribed them so I just don't care about them anymore. It's back to home remedies. 

First I searched home remedies for dandruff. I'm pretty skilled at dealing with fungal infections, being prone to them for a lifetime, so I focused on the most commonly recurring themes and anything that looked good for fungus. As you may or may not remember, I'm allergic to tea tree oil so that's a common one I have to avoid. 

Common elements seemed to be baking soda and vinegar, tea tree oil, lavender oil, peppermint oil, and detox baths. 
  • No 'poo is baking soda as an abrasive agent and to absorb oil deposits, then a vinegar rinse to remoisturize and rebalance pH levels on the scalp. But I knew that didn't work for me. I saw some dandruff remedies say to use just baking soda, or mix it with shampoo, or even dissolve it in warm water, so I figured the baking soda chemical reaction was probably more important than its abrasive qualities. 
  • Vinegar ratios were anywhere from 1:9 (1/10th vinegar) to 1:1 (half vinegar) and used either apple cider or white vinegar. No 'poo methods recommend white vinegar for light hair, and apple cider vinegar for dark hair, stating that white vinegar on dark hair can lighten hair and ACV on blond hair can make it brassy. Interesting. Apple cider vinegar it is.
  • Lavender oil, peppermint, lemon, grapefruit, orange, and rosemary all have anti fungal properties and are all ones I own. 
Other remedies that came up less often but still repeatedly included:
  • Aloe vera gel on the scalp for 15 minutes, then shampoo as normal. 
  • Warm oil scalp treatments for 15 minutes to overnight. 
  • Sugar scrubs with coconut or olive oil or both. 
  • Honey scrubs with coconut/olive oil. 
  • Honey on a lemon & scrub. 
  • Green tea as bath water, hair rinse water, and hydrator.
Once I'd done my research I came up with a plan. Everything said to use them every day or two for two weeks and then once a week or so thereafter, which is right up my alley as a treatment plan. 

The first night, Thursday, I took a detox bath. Epsom salts and lavender oil. I put a ton of peppermint oil into my aloe shampoo, and believe it or not I'm going to put more in because it's not as tingly as I want it. Once I had the shampoo on my hand I sprinkled on some baking soda, and scrubbed that in. Let it sit for a minute or so, then rinsed it off. Lather, rinse, repeat--yes, I did the shampoo & baking soda again. I made sure to get it in my ears, and I let that sit. Just soaked in the water with epsom salts and soothing, relaxing lavender for about 5 minutes, and then rinsed that off. I filled a dollar store ketchup bottle half full with apple cider vinegar, and half full of lukewarm water. Squirted that through my hair, making sure to rub every inch of my scalp with it and get it into my ears. Of course, it drained down my face, so I rinsed that off with cool water. By the time I'd saturated my head twice over, I'd used... 1/4 of the bottle. Phooey. So I drained the bath (which let me tell you looked digesting by now so I was grateful) and rinsed my entire body with the vinegar wash. 

Results: HIVEY HIVEY HIVES all over my face, neck, and chest. Angry angry skin. Head not too itchy, ears still itchy. I think the vinegar was too strong for my poor sensitive skin to handle. But there were no chunky plaque deposits on my scalp anymore, even if there were still a lot of flakes. Improvement in one shot, that's what I like to see. I woke up the next morning THIRSTY AS YOU WOULD NOT BELIEVE. Standard practice with detox baths, though, so that was a nice way of my body telling me I'd done something do it and having it respond as expected. 

Second night, Friday, I took a spill and bonked my head on the floor. I was sore, I was tired, and Mr. Moon got off work late. But "every night for two weeks" was my game plan, and if I can at least do every night for a week I'm doing good. Besides, after twisting myself and falling down, an epsom salt bath is really good for me anyway. Repeated the shampooing, again twice, making sure to get into my ears and behind them. Reduced the ration on the vinegar rinse a bit--I intended to do about 1:3 vinegar:water, but it ended up being more like 1:2. Still, 1/3 vinegar as opposed to 1/2 vinegar was better, and it didn't sting as much. Also got some rosemary in the bath this time; rosemary oil is supposed to boost other oils for one, and is an anti fungal agent itself. 

Results: Face still mildly hivey, everything else fairly happy. But dry. So, so dry. I felt like my skin was going to crack open and I couldn't even get a wide-tooth comb through my hair. So I put on some coconut oil, on my scaly arms and my face and even rubbed it into my hair and scalp. Let that sit overnight. Woke up still feeling thirsty but able to move my mouth this time so that's an improvement. Also not as sore I expected to be after such a fall. Next morning, no cruddy deposits behind my ears, hair still greasy and coconuty, ears miraculously not itchy, but scalp is slightly. Ears have very mild flaky deposits, scalp... too greasy to tell thanks to the coconut oil, but no plaquey deposits is nice. 

So the plan for the next two weeks is to 
  • Continue epsom salt baths every night. 
  • Keep lather-rinse-repeating with the shampoo & baking soda scrub every night
  • Rinse with vinegar solutions of decreasing strength from 1:3 down to 1:9 over the next few days then sticking with 1:9 for the remainder of the two weeks. 
  • Increase the amount of peppermint in the shampoo, because I like it better when it's nice and cool & tingly, but I'm thinking about also adding some orange oil to it because for one I like the way it smells and for another it's nicely antimicrobial as well as moisturizing. 
  • Use coconut oil on my skin every night, and on my scalp/ears/hair as necessary. 
  • Get better about increasing my water intake since dehydration helps fungus take hold and it will help a lot of my issues anyway. 
I don't want to add too much more to the process because I want to see how it works as a rehabilitative plan. However, I do enjoy using my sugar scrub on my scalp and skin, and I enjoy green tea baths, so after the first two weeks is up I'm definitely varying the routine a little for the weekly maintenance stuff. I will keep the baking soda shampoo & vinegar (or green tea) rinses pretty constant as an every shower/bath" kind of thing though. 

Sorry, this post is not fun or glamorous but it's the realities of life. I am so grateful for all that I've learned so far with home remedies, and I'm looking forward to learning so much more. I'm also pretty grateful for my parents and schools teaching me the value of the scientific method; I tried doing one variable at a time to see what helped, and now I'm combining a bunch of things that sort of helped on their own to see how they do all together. And of course, writing and sharing the results in case they might help someone else!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Adventures in Food: Rice Vinegar

So at my favorite chinese restaurant, they have an amazing delicious vinegar on the table, used as a condiment. I've asked a couple times what it is, and they look at me as if I have three heads and say it's vinegar. When asked what kind, they say, "Vinegar." I haven't gotten up the nerve to ask to see the bottle. And ultimately that's probably going to have to be my next step.

But in search of this delightful condiment, I purchased a bottle of Black Vinegar. I was hoping against hope that it would be what I was looking for. While it is delicious, and the right color, it is not the same stuff. The stuff on the table is light, roasty, malty, but much richer than a standard malt vinegar. The stuff in this bottle tastes like worchestershire sauce as a vinegar rather than a salty-sauce. Good, flavorful, and has come in very handy in my stir fry adventures, but ultimately not what I'm looking for.

What's unclear is whether Black Vinegar and Black Rice Vinegar are even the same thing. I think they are. And this issue could even be a simple matter of brand; it being not a single-ingredient fermented into vinegar so much as many of them being mixed for a condiment.

In the meantime, I'm pretty excited because I've discovered there are even more types of rice vinegar. Time to stock up and play around with them!

Unrelated to vinegar, I'd really like to work on my curries. I certainly am not a pro at stir fries, but I've gotten good enough at them that they're edible and even pretty good when I put a little effort into them. I'd say I'm at a low-intermediate level with them. I'd really like to get somewhere past "basic beginner" with curries and at least be able to tell what sauce is what. Heck I can't even do that with Italian food but I prefer curries anyway. Very excited to explore Northern Indian, Southern Indian, Thai curries... I don't even know what other ones are out there! Very exciting projects ahead. As soon as my kitchen is unpacked.
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