Monday, June 27, 2011

Recipe for Natural Insect Repellent Cream

I have this quirk -- if I can't eat it, I don't want to absorb it into my body through my skin. This makes me leery of most insect repellents and well, skin products in general. Maybe that's just me, but I already said it was a quirk. The mosquitoes and ticks this year are truly frightening, though, so I absolutely need something to keep them off.

My inspiration for today's post
In the past, I've tried gimmicks like tying a sheet of Bounce fabric softener to my belt loop. That was ineffective to say the least. I've mixed insect-repelling essential oils with a carrier oil or alcohol and sprayed that on. That worked, but the essential oils evaporated too quickly, requiring constant reapplication. I've even tried  Eau de Listerine before leaving the house. That actually worked pretty well, but my kids complained about the menthol stinging.

As for commercially available natural products, I like Badger Anti-Bug Balm, but I'm not so crazy about paying nearly $10 for 2 oz. In our house, it's gone almost overnight.

Today, I made up my own insect repellent based on the ingredients in Badger Anti-Bug Balm, which are basically citronella oil (5.0%), cedar oil (2.0%), lemongrass oil (2.0%), rosemary oil (1.0%), & geranium oil (1.0%) suspended in a base of olive oil, castor oil and beeswax.

Here is my recipe:
  • 6 Tbsp of a carrier oil (e.g., soybean oil, grapeseed oil, olive oil, canola oil... it's up to you)
  • 2 Tbsp castor oil (in addition to being super moisturizing, it repels mosquitoes)
  • Approximately 1/2 oz cosmetic grade beeswax
  • Anywhere from 40 to 100 drops essential oils of your choice.1 I used about 80 drops (total) of the following:
    • Lemongrass (mosquitoes, fleas, ticks)
    • Citronella (mosquitoes, flies)
    • Lemon eucalyptus / eucalyptus (mosquitoes, ticks, lice)
    • Rosemary (fleas, ticks, flies)
    • Cedarwood (fleas, lice)
    • Rose geranium (ticks, lice)
    • Orange (fleas)
Put the carrier oil, castor oil, and beeswax in a microwave-safe bowl. Nuke it for 30 seconds at a time, stirring in between, until the wax is melted. Add your essential oils to the oil/wax mixture. Whisk the mixture until it's creamy. Transfer cream to a container of your choice.

Whereas Badger's is a solid, my version is a cream. You could try making it more solid, though -- maybe by not whisking and possibly using a little more beeswax.

In any case, if you try this, I'd love to hear how it works out for you!


What I liked about this cream: I thought I smelled like a citronella candle, but my boys LOVED the fragrance and happily rubbed it all over, including faces. (No stinging!)

It really kept the bugs off of us. As a test, I wore it for about 4 hours while I was idling around the house and garden this morning. Not a single bite. I reapplied before the kids and I went for a midday mountain hike. In direct sunlight, sweating profusely, and packed like a burro with baby, water, and snacks, (charming image, no?), it lasted about 1 1/2 hours before it began to wear off. Even so, I still got only one or two bites, even though the mosquitoes were swarming.

An unexpected but welcome benefit was that it worked wonders on my skin. My elbows and knees have never been so soft. I'm thinking of making this again with different essential oils for a hand/foot cream.

Oh -- and did I mention that it's 100% edible? I wouldn't want to eat it, but I could.

What I didn't like about this cream: Overall, I thought the cream was a little on the greasy side and took a few minutes to absorb. However, I used olive oil as the carrier, which is kind of heavy. Castor oil is super thick, too. Next time, I'll try a lighter carrier, like grapeseed oil. I might also increase the carrier oil by 1 Tbsp and decrease the castor oil by 1 Tbsp. I wonder what less beeswax might do, too. Ah well, the summer is long yet, so I'm sure I'll have lots of opportunity for experimentation.

I wish the effectiveness of the repellent lasted longer, but given that I really can't hike much longer than 90 minutes with a toddler on my back, I guess that's long enough. Besides, I can always carry a small bottle for reapplication.


1Essential oils are extremely concentrated. Used in a concentrated form, they can produce adverse reactions, which is why one should always dilute them with a carrier oil or alcohol before use. However, in order to be effective, I would recommend making this cream 5% - 10% essential oil; this is about 10-25 drops EO for every 2 Tbsp carrier oil. (Badger Balm is 11% EO, mine was about 8% EO.) If you're using this cream on an infant (or on someone with certain medical conditions), you might consider sticking to the lower end of the range given for this recipe.

Also, if you have any medical conditions, I would recommend checking to make sure that an essential oil will not adversely affect your health before you use it. For your convenience, I found a site that contains some warning information; however, you might want to do your own research.

Finally, if the essential oils I listed don't work for you, you could do some research on other oils that might. For instance, lavender, sage, thyme and others also repel various insects. The list on this page is simply what I used.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Microcosmos: Le peuple de l'herbe

I'm a nerd, and I love documentaries. There -- I've said it.

Last week, the boys and I watched one called Microcosmos: Le peuple de l'herbe (1996). For us English speakers, that translates to Microcosmos: the grass people. Basically, it follows insects in a field in France. Doesn't sound like much of a premise, but it is without a doubt one of the most spectacular films I've ever seen.

The film's opening sequence treats the viewer like some sort of extraterrestrial. Beginning in the clouds, it allows us to descend to the treetops, down to the earth. Finally, we rest on the soil so that we can view the earth from the insects' perspective. Blades of grass appear like towering forests. Raindrops are like hailstones. The earth, from this vantage point, looks completely alien and new.

Narration is practically non-existent in this film, but it's unnecessary. The images have a drama and poetry all their own, sucking one into various vignettes of insect life. Ants vigilantly guard their herd of aphids, staving off the attacks of ravenous ladybugs. A dung beetle struggles with his monumental load. Caterpillars queue up like a cars in freight train to some unknown destination. A spider captures air bubbles to build his silvery underwater retreat. Snails frill and sway in a tender, passionate embrace.  A Godzilla-like pheasant looms over an ant colony, wreaking havoc and destruction among its inhabitants.

The close-ups, slow-motion, and time-lapse photography in this film are phenomenal. Everything from the fuzz on a caterpillar to the inverted reflection in a droplet of water is rendered in exquisite detail.

My boys enjoyed this documentary so much that they actually wanted to replay it as soon as it was over. As for myself, this film has given me a new appreciation for the insect world. Although I still have no qualms about smacking mosquitoes or squashing ticks, I have found myself rescuing spiders out of the bathtub and helping them gently out the door.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Looking Like My Dad

Certain physical characteristics run true on the paternal side of my family, like ape-ishly long arms. In fact, the last few times I've seen my extended relatives, my Uncle L--- has administered the following test. I must:
  1. Put my right hand over my right shoulder, behind my back.
  2. Put my left hand behind my back (but not over my left shoulder -- the hand has to go from the bottom of my back upwards).
  3. In this position, I must grasp the fingers of each hand with the fingers of the other hand.
When I easily smoke this test, he always congratulates me saying, "Yeah, you're definitely one of us!" [BTW, for some reason, this test never fails to make me think of the scene from Todd Browning's 1932 movie Freaks when the circus sideshows start chanting "Gooble gobble! We accept her! One of us!" However, that's probably a story for a therapist and not for this blog. ;-) hee hee ]

Image from one of my favorite scenes from Freaks

There are other classic features, too. For example, my family had returned to the States after spending a number of years abroad. Before heading over to my grandpa's place, we thought to grab a quick dinner at a truck stop/diner not too far from the farm my dad grew up on.

An elderly gent approached my dad, asking, "Are you related to G----?" When my father replied in the affirmative, the older man said, "I could tell by your ears. You've got his ears alright... So how are you related?"

This story tickles me. I like how this man who had never met my father before could pick out which family he belonged to just by his ears.

Now I'm still really rough around the edges, but someday, I think I would like people to be able to do that with me. I'd like to have spiritual characteristics that run true so that folks who've never met me before can just look at my actions, my words, my heart and pick out my Heavenly Father the same way.

...let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
Matthew 5:16
 Happy Father's Day!

Friday, June 17, 2011

From Russia, With Love

My present from Masha
Generally, I don't like accumulata, but I do keep a few very dear treasures. The napkin that you see pictured here is one of them.

It was 1994, and I was teaching at a private language school in Moscow. One of my favorite five-year-old students bounced into class. Masha's naturally fiery, intelligent eyes danced with excitement. She looked ready to pop.

"Yulia! Yulia! I have a present for you," she boasted happily as she pressed a colorful, printed paper napkin into my hands. Her face beamed, anticipating my surprise and pleasure.

It might not seem like much to an American, but it was a big deal to little Masha. Let me see if I can put the enormity of this gift into perspective for my readers by describing the paper goods available to the average Russian at that time.
  • Paper towels. I never saw them.
  • Paper napkins. McDonald's had them, and I spied some flimsy ones that looked like tissue paper at my favorite gyro "restaurant." (I use the term restaurant loosely for this particular establishment, but that's another day, another post.) However, I can't really think of very many others.
  • Paper bags. Stores didn't carry them. They didn't provide plastic bags either. You either purchased a bag or brought your own. (Not a bad idea in my opinion.)
  • Toilet paper. I observed five kinds. These are detailed below:
    1. Nonexistent. In public toilets, this type was most commonly encountered.
    2. Shreds of newspaper. A really thoughtful public toilet would provide yesterday's news for wiping. As you might have guessed, most people carried their own tissue paper with them.
    3. The Revolting Red Paper. Frequently, homegoods stores carried what my ex-patriot friends referred to at the Revolting Red paper. It was rather stiff, but maybe a little more flexible than sheets from a child's drawing tablet. It was completely serviceable except for the off-putting red color which deepened into an even more unattractive hue after it had been... er, used. Of course, the upside to this TP was its even texture, unlike #4 on this list.
    4. Tree Bark. It wasn't actually tree bark. It was a tannish, brown tissue that looked like ground and pressed tree bark -- complete with splinters. Squeezably soft Charmin it was not. Although our ex-pat group was of mixed opinions on the subject of TP, I still maintain that the "tree bark" was a step up from the red stuff.
    5. Glorious White Paper. In terms of texture, it didn't differ much from Revolting Red, but it was white! This was the elusive, Holy Grail of bath tissue. I rarely saw it in the stores, but now and then I'd find some entrepreneur on a street corner with a whole pyramid of it piled on the sidewalk. Score!
As you can see, paper goods were of a completely pragmatic nature. Napkins didn't come in a rainbow of colors. They certainly weren't printed with every Disney character under the sun. While this napkin would have been a throwaway for an American child, for Masha, it was an object of wonder.

The generosity and thoughtfulness of her gift touched me deeply, and I keep it to remember one of my very favorite little people. But it also humbles me. It's a reminder to be grateful for all of my blessings, for all of the little things that are so easy to take for granted. Running water, sunshine on my face, ice cubes in a cold drink on a summer day... I could think of a million small wonders that I've done nothing to deserve but enjoy all the same. I am truly rich.

Self-portrait of Masha

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011

    The Dentist & the Wildcat

    Took the kids to the dentist today for checkups. While my oldest and youngest children's exams passed uneventfully, my middle child fought like a wildcat the entire time. I'm not using hyperbole. Despite all the preparatory pep talks, he literally fought like a wildcat -- twisting, yowling, kicking, spitting, flailing -- the entire time. I actually had to sit on the feral little beast to keep him in the chair. (No cavities, btw -- Thank you, Jesus, because I don't think we could take a filling!)

    Finally, when his cleaning and exam were over, and his brother was in the chair, my angry young tom furiously glared at the dentist and tech. He hissed, "I hate the dentists! Why can't we sell them?"

    I attempted to explain some of the finer points relating to ownership and property, but I'm not completely sure he understood.

    Later I relayed to my husband the difficult time I'd had and how driving down the road after the appointment, the tech had passed me and gave me the filthiest look imaginable. He positively cracked up. I'm delighted to be so amusing.

    Of course, our small savage and I have been going back and forth all day. He's mad at me for sitting on him. Meanwhile, I've been lecturing him on oral hygiene and the necessity of cooperating with people who are trying to help.

    So we're continuing to work on basics like his being comfortable when people are working in his mouth. We're also working on not being afraid of the instruments and so on. However, when we go back in December, if push comes to shove, I will happily sit on him all over again. Why? Because he needs clean teeth to be healthy. Because I will not let him get away with stuff even though it would make my life much easier. Because I'm his mom. I love him. That's what I do.

    Happier days & a mouth full of chocolate
    It's a miracle he doesn't have a single cavity.

    Wednesday, June 1, 2011

    Dandelion Syrup

    I've decided to discontinue my vegetarian blog because... well, I have a husband, 3 kids, 2 dogs, fish and lots of housework that isn't getting done. I just don't have the time to maintain it. Instead, I plan to share any extra special recipes -- like today's recipe for dandelion syrup -- here.

    My dandelions a couple of weeks ago
    A few weeks ago, I was inspired by all the dandelions in my yard. After a long gloomy winter, their small sunny faces delighted the eye. I wanted to capture that sunshine in a bottle.

    I started Googling recipes for dandelion wine, but I quickly decided that I really didn't want to start another hobby. I could picture myself quickly getting sucked into all kinds of winemaking paraphernalia. However, during the course of my research, I stumbled upon a recipe for dandelion syrup. I knew that's what we had to do.

    We don't treat our yard with any chemicals, so I knew the dandelions were safe for consumption. Altogether, my younger son and I picked over 200 dandelions and then prepared them according to the recipe on (Even if you don't try the recipe, check out the site. It's one of the most gorgeous blogs I've ever seen.)

    At first, I was a bit disappointed in the syrup. Although it had a lovely glow, it really just tasted like a sugar syrup with a very faint herbal undertone. I bottled it anyway and let it sit overnight.

    The next morning, I tried it again, and the flavor had changed remarkably. It was mellower and the dandelion flavor was more pronounced. Happy! Happy! Joy! Joy!

    My dandelions now
    A couple of weeks have gone by, and I'm loving my dandelion syrup. Time has made really good things happen in my bottles. The dandelions in the yard are nearly gone, but my syrup tastes green and gold, sweetly herbal. It's flavored with my little boy's hands, the smell of springtime, and the sound of my baby laughing in the yard.

    Since dandelion syrup is basically just a simple syrup infused with dandelion blossoms, you can use it just as you would any simple syrup. Try it as a drink watered down with ice and water, or in other drinks like lemonade or iced tea, in desserts, on pancakes -- the possibilities are endless!

    Also, if you decide to try this recipe, follow the author's directions to pick a special spot. It's true. Every time you use your syrup, you'll think of the place you gathered your flowers. So select a location that fills you with happiness because your memories are exactly what you're going to taste.

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