Like a Cold Drink on a Hot Summer’s Day

The facts are such:

  • It’s summer.
  • I’m in Saint Louis.
  • I wait until my kids are in danger of evaporating  right before my eyes before I turn on the AC.
  • The kids and I spend a lot of time outside.
The logical conclusion to these facts: Cold Drinks Required. In Abundance. All Day.
No Exceptions.

There are some great insulated bottles and thermoses out there that promise to do just that: keep your drink cold all day long. If I had a whole bunch of different ones, I would do a side-by-side comparison test for you, but since I only have one, I went ahead and tested that one (because how disappointing would it be if you thought you were going to have a cold drink in the middle of a hot afternoon in the park and instead you got a mouthful of steam?).

The Trial

At 9:00 am, I mixed up some icewater, poured it into my Ecococoon bottle, and took the temperature with my instant-read thermometer: 33.3, a nice, cold number.

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Then I put the lid on and abandoned my Ecococoon in my van, sitting in the sun, on a hot Saint Louis day. Not the hottest day ever, but I figured low 90s was an adequate proving ground for the test.

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Bye bye, Ecococoon… I hope you make it.

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At 3pm, I took my thermometer outside, released the steam from my van, took the top off the bottle, and took the temperature again: 37.8.

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A rise of 4.5 degrees in six hours – not bad! I took a little taste test as well (carefully, because the outside of the bottle was wicked hot); a 37.8 degree drink is still delightfully cold.

I locked my Ecococoon in the van again and let it languish there for the remainder of the day. At 9 pm (ok, a little past 9 pm as my 9-month-old failed to cooperate about bed time), I rescued the bottle from my van, brought it into the house and took the temperature again: 48.6.

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That’s a total rise of 15.3 degrees in 12 hours. Now, 48.6 is definitely not as cold as 33.3, but a 48.6 degree drink at the end of a day in the Saint Louis inferno is worlds better than a 90 degree drink at the end of said day. Also, I took a drink, and it was still delightfully cool.

And just to wrap things up nicely, I left my Ecococoon on the counter in my house (which, because I had refused to turn on the AC, was now hotter than my van that was cooling down more quickly after the sun set) and took the temperature at (approximately) 9 am the next morning: 56.2, a rise of 22.9 degrees in 24 hours.

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I don’t think 56.2 really qualifies as a cold drink, but seeing as how it barely went below 80 in my house that night (I know, my poor family), I’m still impressed. Also, I did not put any ice in the bottle in the beginning, only ice-temperature water, so this was strictly the bottle insulation doing the work here.

Conclusion

The Ecococoon bottle really did keep a cold drink cold for a whole waking day (12 hours), and mostly cool for a real whole day (24 hours). Since it’s stainless steel, there was no leaching of whatever-plastic-is-made-of while it sat in the heat, and compared to buying drinks for my kids wherever we happen to be when they get thirsty, the price is a steal. Now I have to give my kids each one of their own so they stop fighting over mine!

Disclaimer: As you can see from this page, I am a local distributor of Ecococoon stainless steel cups and bottles, so you could say I sponsored this post. :) But the reason I became involved with Ecococoon in the first place is because I love their products, and the bottles really are that great; no temperatures were photoshopped in the making of this post, promise!

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A Sad Summer Saga

Remember how much I loved my homemade coconut oil based deodorant? Well, I tempered my praise just slightly by acknowledging that Saint Louis in the winter isn’t much of a proving ground for deodorant, and promised an update in July.

I would now like to apologize to everyone in Saint Louis for making that statement, just in case it in some way contributed to Saint Louis deciding to give us a heat wave that produced temperatures over 100 for almost two weeks in a row, with nary a drop of rain to relieve us. Pretty much all we’ve done outside lately is dash out anytime anyone on our block has a sprinkler on.

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So, how has the deodorant fared? Well, I’ll just come out and say it: not as well as I would have liked.

First of all, we keep our upstairs (where the bedrooms and bathrooms are) rather warm during the day to give the air conditioner a break, and coconut oil melts around 76 degrees or so, which means some of my deodorant melted out of its convenient deodorant container. You could avoid this by keeping it in your fridge, but for some reason the idea of deodorant in my fridge just makes me cringe a little. Or simply use a different container where you always spread the deodorant on with your fingers instead of applying it from the stick.

Second, let’s all be honest: no homemade deodorant is going to act as an antiperspirant. Some of the recipes using cosmetic clay claim to absorb moisture, but you have to wonder how much. For the most part it’s doing great if it keeps you from being smelly, and in that regard I do still like this deodorant, but it’s not going to keep you dry. Since I spent the majority of my adult life using commercial antiperspirants, I might be a little spoiled in that regard: I *like* being dry. Unless I’m purposely engaged in some sort of athletic endeavor, I don’t like being sweaty. So while this particular deodorant has succeeded is keeping me smelling fresh in the summer, it does not keep me feeling fresh (or looking fresh), so anytime we’re headed to church or a dinner or party or anywhere I want to wear something other than a t-shirt, I’m very tempted to break out the old stick of antiperspirant I might have accidentally left in my cupboard. It’s a day-by-day decision.

So there you have it: whether or not this deodorant works for you in the summer likely will depend on how sweaty you are naturally, how hot it is where you happen to be, and how partial you are to wearing a dry shirt.

If anyone has any genius homemade/natural deodorant recipes or suggestions that actually do “absorb moisture” I would love to hear them!

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Smelling Fresh Sans Aluminum

The deodorant experiment? In full swing.

Results so far? One hundred percent success.

When I decided to try making my own deodorant, I started at Crunchy Betty (which is rapidly becoming my default resource for all things natural and homemade). There are two deodorant recipes on Crunchy Betty: the original homemade deodorant, and the Not A Secret homemade deodorant, with a slightly longer ingredient list. I really liked the look of the second one, but didn’t have everything it called for (and was too impatient to order it), so I kind of combined the two. Also, I looked at the price of essential oils at Wholefoods one time and my mouth immediately dropped into an open-jaw position and was unable to close for several minutes, so I used an alternative method for adding fragrance.

In the end, my recipe looked like this (I’m almost certain):

  • 1 1/2 Tbsp grated beeswax or beeswax beads
  • 4 Tbs coconut oil
  • 4 tsp corn starch
  • 2 – 3 strips orange peel
  • 1 Tbsp dried rosemary

I started by melting the coconut oil in a small saucepan, then adding the orange peel and rosemary. (These pictures show a lot more orange peel and rosemary than the recipe, but I think the scent is a little too strong, so I will reduce it to the amounts in the recipe next time.)

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When the orange peel started to sizzle in the coconut oil, I removed it from the heat and let the orange and herbs infuse the oil for a while — about 20 or 30 minutes, you could go ahead and eat the naked orange while you’re waiting — then strained out the solids (a larger strainer definitely would have been useful here, but I saw it in the kids’ sandbox out the kitchen window and settled for this one).

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I then returned my Orange-Rosemary infused coconut oil to a small saucepan and melted in the grated beeswax.

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Once the beeswax was all melty, I whisked in the corn starch, then removed it from the heat to let it set up a bit.

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When it was cooled slightly but definitely not solid, I poured it into my clean, empty deodorant container. This recipe filled it up to the very tip-top, so I carefully moved the container into the freezer to help it set up to a solid quickly.

Then I got impatient and removed it from the freezer just a few moments later, because the top looked solid and I wanted to smell it, at which point I dropped it on the kitchen floor and the not-solid inside splooshed all over the floor and cabinets. I’m not going to elaborate further, but let me just note that if this happens to you, it is wise to simply shrug your shoulders and clean up right away while everything is still liquid, because if you walk away to throw a tantrum and come back five minutes later to clean up, your penance for throwing a tantrum will be trying to clean the now-solid coconut oil beeswax from the tiny molding grooves in your cabinet doors.

Then I started over, and ended up with this:

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And it works! It stays solid in the cupboard, but softens nicely as soon as you use it. It does not feel at all sticky when on (my biggest complaint with the “natural” aluminum-free deodorants I’ve tried from stores) and I haven’t noticed any residue or stains on my clothes. I know the dead of winter in Saint Louis isn’t much of a proving ground for deodorant, but it seems to work as well as my old deodorant on distance runs. Although to be fair, we’ll have to have an update in July.

So why even bother making my own deodorant? If aluminum in deodorant really had the potential to contribute to chronic diseases like Altzheimer’s, it certainly wouldn’t be sold in a highly regulated country like the United States, right? I mean, that would be like allowing widespread use of genetically engineered foods without first doing any sort of research to rule out the potential to contribute to intestinal problems and food allergies, or like letting doctors use a neat new x-ray technology to examine babies in utero without first considering the possibility of serious consequences like birth defects. Oh… wait.

Seriously, I have no idea if aluminum in deodorant is dangerous. But I do know that in the last fifty years we have introduced hundreds and thousands of brand new never-before-used-on-humans chemicals and materials into our immediate environments (and bodies) and we simply do not know if or what the long term consequences of their use might be. And I know that when I have the option, I feel better not giving those unknowns immediate access to my lymph nodes.

But if you know me, and I smell bad, please write me a little note or something. I’m open to experimenting with more recipes.

**UPDATE** See this post for an update from the midst of a July heatwave…

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Healthy Party Food

I like having birthday parties for my kids. The days that each of them were born comprise the best days of my life, and I think they should know that and celebrate. We keep them fairly small — family and a few friends — and steer clear of extravagant (although that usually means a lot of DIY time and work - more on our rainbow party here).

When it comes to food, I always let the kids pick out their special birthday treat to make, which is usually ice cream sundaes or a cake or cupcakes of their choice. This time around my new 5-year-old insisted on a cake with real strawberries, so we built a triple layer strawberry cream cake.

But aside from the one special treat, I try to keep the rest of the party snacks on the healthy side. My kids aren’t used to loads of sugar, and letting them snack on candy and chips and random sweets throughout the party is just not going to have a happy ending for anyone. None of them have ever complained about this. They have their birthday treat to look forward to, and for the most part, kids (and adults) happily snack on what’s within arms’ reach. Whether it’s candy or fruit that is sitting out, there’s a good chance they’ll mindlessly eat the same amount.

So here’s our healthier party snacks food spread:

Rainbow Fruit Skewers

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We had a vaguely themed rainbow party, so these were perfect. Strawberries, cantaloupe, pineapple, green grapes, blueberries, and purple grapes. They looked beautiful, the kids thought they were neat, and they were delicious, of course.

Veggies and Humus

You’re supposed to eat the rainbow, right? We kept right on going with grape tomatoes, baby carrots, bell pepper slices, and celery sticks, all favorites of my kids. The homemade humus is a Cooks Illustrated recipe (if you happen to have a Cooks subscription or want to start a free trial).

Homemade Crackers

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Every time I look at the list of ingredients on a box of crackers from the store, I’m slightly more scandalized. What is all that stuff? It turns out crackers aren’t that hard to make at home. I opted for almond flour crackers due to one of our young guests having a wheat allergy. The Rosemary Fig Crackers (which I LOVED) and Sesame Crackers are both recipes from Elena’s Pantry. The trick to baking crackers at home is getting them rolled out thin and evenly, so take your time with that part! I often also have to remove the crackers on the outside of the sheet first, then put the rest back in the oven for a few more minutes to finish crisping.

Paleo Cupcakes

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Along with the wheat allergy, some people at our party follow a paleo diet, so I got adventurous with a batch of paleo-friendly coconut flour chocolate cupcakes (sweetened only with honey) with dairy-free chocolate frosting (recipes also from Elena’s Pantry). They were surprisingly good! The chocolate frosting was particularly rich and scrumptious, and it had a great texture. The cupcakes disappeared as fast as the strawberry cake.

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And that food lineup got us through a couple hours of mid-afternoon party. Everyone managed to eat dinner afterwards, and no kids went to bed or woke up with a stomach ache or super crabbiness (at least, not more than normal). When it comes to kids’ parties, have healthy food options, and leave happier!

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Who Needs Shampoo?

One of my ongoing goals is to reduce the amount of random and largely unknown chemicals in my family’s immediate environment. I’m trying not to let it make me crazy – there’s only so much I can do at one time – so to start I’m picking and choosing little things I can rethink and replace.

Project number one was my face wash, which I replaced with honey and the oil cleansing method. My 5-year-old daughter now thinks it is totally normal (and lots of fun) to wash her face with honey.

With this little success under my belt, it was time for my shampoo and conditioner to exit stage left. I have to admit, I was skeptical about this. My hair is super thick, and has always tended toward dry and frizzy (or so I thought). I was the one that could leave regular supposed-to-be-rinsed-out conditioner in my hair, and it still wasn’t enough to weigh it down. But after reading Crunchy Betty’s No ‘Poo to You Too, I decided to give it a try. I rarely leave my house anyway. Who would notice if things went poorly?

In an inexplicable fit of confidence in my hair, I decided to try to go all the way completely shampoo-free at first, as in, rinse with water in the shower and that’s it. No washes of any kind.

Now, any change like this is going to require a few weeks before you can see how your hair is going to react. It needs an adjustment period where you promise not to get angry at it for being oily or dry or heavy or greasy or totally out of control. Give it ample time to figure out just what it’s supposed to be doing in the absence of being daily stripped of natural oils and having them replaced by fake ones. Your hair will remember what to do, but it won’t be on day 2.

But, if, after a few weeks, things are not going to your liking, you might have to be the one to make some adjustments. After three weeks of being left completely to its own devices, my hair had decided to morph into a helmet. I’m not talking about the kind of helmet any high school girl in the 80s could build with a can of AquaNet and some backcombing. No, this was much more serious than that. This was a helmet that could protect a person in an NFL collision. And since I have no intentions of becoming involved in any NFL collisions, this was of no use to me.

I had to admit it: my hair is not capable of taking care of it self. Call it immature, call it lazy, but it needed help.

So I started a fairly standard no ‘poo routine:

  1. Baking Soda Wash: Dissolve 1 Tbsp baking soda in 1 to 2 cups water. Rub into your scalp and rinse completely.
  2. Apple Cider Vinegar Rinse: Mix 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar in 1 to 2 cups water. Focus on the ends of your hair. Rinse out the vinegary smell with clean water.

The first baking soda wash was a helmet-busting miracle. In just a few seconds, the baking soda wash dissolved the hair helmet and I left the shower with hair back to normal. Actually, better than normal (by which I mean shampoo/conditioner normal): soft and swingy, to be exact.

For the next week or so I used the baking soda wash almost every day, with the apple cider vinegar rinse every other time. Now my routine is to use the wash two to three times a week (simply rinsing with water in between) and using the ACV rinse once or twice a week. My scalp is happier if I keep the ACV rinse to the ends of my hair only.

[Side Note: I was convinced my head was going to smell like vinegar after using this, because the vinegar smell was strong while I was mixing up the rinse and was super strong when I put in on my hair in the shower. However, a quick rinse with water takes it out completely, and I’ve never noticed any vinegar smell in my hair after leaving the shower. And I’ve tested, because no one wants to smell like vinegar.]

The only thing I’ve noticed that I don’t absolutely love about this new system is that my hair is more prone to static.

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Ok, not that bad, but with the dry winter air, if I run a hand over my hair, the resulting static will send a few strands here and there shooting off into the air or sticking to my face. I’m sure there is a natural remedy for this – maybe just a very VERY small amount of coconut or jojoba oil smoothed on the top of my hair after showering – and if I ever get motivated enough to try something, I’ll let you know.

My plan was to post a picture of me, with my hair that has been no ‘poo (and no product of any kind) for several months now, but I have to be honest: a stomach flu ravaged my entire household this last week. If I post a picture of myself, you will not notice the healthy hair, because you will not be able to focus on anything other than the picture of death that is my face, after having the flu myself for about 36 hours and dealing with three young children who had it before and after me. You witnessing that would really run counter to the idea of this blog, so instead I’ll try to add a picture later.

Yikes, I just realized this really rambled. Here are my no ‘poo results and tips, in a much more organized and succinct fashion:

  • Do not throw in the towel in the first three weeks. Have patience with your hair.
  • Adjust your wash/rinse frequency as much as necessary. Neither the weather nor your own hair chemistry will stay constant.
  • I don’t use a hair dryer or any styling products on a regular basis (umm… or at all). I would guess that the baking soda wash is pretty effective at cleansing most styling products, but it will be up to you to experiment.
  • Your hair will not smell (dirty, or like vinegar). I promise.
  • It’s winter. You get to wear hats all the time anyway. Just give it a try! No one will be looking down on you if it seriously does not work and you have to go back to shampoo now and then.

Next item to come from my kitchen instead of the health and beauty aisle: deodorant. Yes… I’m slightly terrified of aluminum collecting at the base of my brain. Yes, I’ve tried aluminum-free deodorants from the store and hated them. Yes, I’ll let you know how it goes…