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Saturday, December 10, 2011

Homemade Holiday Sugar Scrubs

When I was in college I worked at The Body Shop, and when the holidays approached I always looked forward to that first shipment of the limited-edition holiday scented sugar scrubs. I would gladly hand my paycheck back over at that time of the year and leave with a bag full of goodies. While these memories have always made me associate sugar scrubs with the holidays, sugar scrubs are an especially valuable bath and shower product at this time of the year, as the sugar works to exfoliate dry winter skin and the nourishing oil within the scrub leaves your skin more moisturized than any body wash or lotion you can put on after the shower. So this year I had the idea to make some sugar scrubs of my own to give away as holiday presents!

Sugar scrubs are used to exfoliate and moisturize the body (too abrasive for the face) in the bath or shower immediately before getting out. After washing up, scoop up some of the scrub in your hand and apply it to wet skin, working in a circular motion. The heat from water melts the sugar after you've scrubbed for several seconds. Once finished, give yourself a final rinse, and dry off! 

As for the ingredients, I thought it would be cool to try and keep them as local as possible, so the base of the scrubs is made from Domino sugar, and the various scrubs are scented by McCormick natural extracts or an essential oil from St. John's Botanicals. The remainder of the ingredients include pure organic almond oil and vitamin E, to act as a preservative. I made three different types of sugar scrubs: vanilla orange, Arabian sandalwood, and peppermint. The recipes for each are below:

Vanilla Orange & Arabian Sandalwood Sugar Scrub

Ingredients (makes 4 half-pint mason jars)
1 cup dark brown Domino sugar
2 cups white Domino sugar, divided in half
2/3 cup NOW almond oil
1/2 tsp vitamin e
1 tbsp McCormick pure vanilla extract + 1tbsp McCormick pure orange extract OR 2 Tbsp St. John's Botanicals Arabian Sandalwood

  1. Combine 1 cup packed dark brown sugar with 1 cup white sugar, and mix until blended.
  2. Add oils and either extracts or essential oil, and mix thoroughly.
  3. Add final 1 cup of white sugar and mix until uniformly granular.
  4. Spoon into mason jars.

Peppermint Sugar Scrub
Ingredients (makes 4 half-pint mason jars)
2 cups white Domino sugar, plus 1 additional cup
2/3 cup NOW almond oil
1/2 tsp vitamin e
1oz bottle McCormick pure peppermint extract
  1. Combine 2 cups white sugar with oils and peppermint extract, and mix thoroughly.
  2. Add final 1 cup of white sugar and mix until uniformly granular.
  3. Spoon into mason jars.

After I jarred the scrubs, I decided to dress up the jars with bells and bows, and label them with homemade tags made from the Domino dark brown sugar box. I took a tag I had on hand and used it as a stencil on the backside of the box, using a hole punch to complete the tag (I was especially proud of these!).

The finished product: an aesthetically pleasing and useful present made from local ingredients, Hon!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Ironworkers: Thank You

Today started out normal – hit snooze, hit snooze, hit snooze, wake up, get ready, take the dog out, and drive to work – but then things went audibly awry. What has been the occasional muffled vibratory noise descended on me like a spider monkey. There are “improvements” being made to my office building that presently include a team of men hanging off the side of it and drilling it in various places with tools that look like sci-fi torture devices, and this morning they made it to the 5th floor (my floor), drilling and sawing directly outside my window.

It’s a loud process that sounds kind of like dental work, except louder. My boss walked by earlier and stood outside my office, about 15 feet away from where I sat, and I had to scream in order for him to just barely be able to hear me. Then, after about an hour and a half it all stopped. I could see in the reflection of my computer monitor that they were still behind me, just outside my office, so curious, I turned around to see why the work had stopped. It was then that I noticed the workers, clad in their overalls, Carharts, hardhats, and safety harnesses, sitting all in a row on the 2-foot wide platform that was suspending them in the air – it was coffee break.

My husband’s a Union Ironworker, and for the 10+ years that we’ve been together I’ve heard him refer to “coffee break”. I’ve always had an image in my head what coffee break was like, but it wasn’t until today that I was really struck with reality of what his daily work life is actually like. I felt like a fool, having mentioned earlier in my workday that “maybe I’ll see if I can work from home because of the noise”. The truth of the matter is that there’s a whole segment of our population that hold jobs like my husband – exposed to the elements year round, doing things like sawing the side of a building without the proper sized respirator or any respirator at all, and they do this in part so that people like me can sit at a desk all day and, in my case, ensure the publication of books and products that help children at-risk for or with disabilities. Okay, fine, that’s pretty noble, but they also build and work on buildings that other workers sit in all day doing things that are less than noble.

My boss occasionally says to me, “Go out in the woods for a week – go camping, get back to nature – and then come back and see with fresh eyes just how absurd daily life is.” I don’t need to go camping; I feel like I see these absurdities more regularly than most people. If you look close enough at anything – if you look plainly at anything – you too will see the absurdity of modern life. This, to me, is one aspect of being mindful.

I occasionally find it extremely odd to spend 8 hours a day, 5 days a week sitting in the same spot in front of a computer. It’s not natural – my body wasn’t intended to be under these conditions in this manner. It was, however, intended to be under conditions more similar to my husband’s line of work – doing physical things, moving. Regardless, these are the cards I was dealt, and they’re the cards I continually agree to hold – still, I find them absurd.

Being an Ironworker continually falls within the top 10 most dangerous jobs in America. Next time you see some men hanging off the side of a building or walking on steel, don’t for a second think that what they do doesn’t matter or count. If they didn’t do what they do, then we wouldn’t have the bridges we drive over to get to work or the buildings in which we park our asses for 8+ hours a day. Indeed, Ironworkers build the structure that allows us to enjoy “modern life” every day – something many of us never think about, something almost all of us take for granted. To them I say “thank you”.  

Friday, December 2, 2011

First Frost

As I let the dog out this morning I was startled by the beauty of our first frost (or, the first one I'm seeing). Every piece of green remaining was dusted with sparkling white ice crystals, including this potted oregano plant.

This morning's frost reminded me of a book sitting in my Amazon Wish List: The Hidden Messages in Water by Masaru Emoto. The premise is that when concentrated specific positive thoughts are directed at water as it freezes, the thoughts impact the physical formation of the ice crystals (which look like snowflakes). Conversely, negative thoughts and polluted water have ice crystals that freeze very differently. Using high-speed photography, Emoto captured photos of these formed ice crystal patterns. In the spirit of transparency, I should note that various other studies attempting to replicate Emoto's work have proven unsuccessful in yielding similar results, while others have confirmed his findings. Take from this what you may. I find the simple act of contemplating the possibility that thoughts and emotions can directly participate in physical manifestation fascinating.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Speaking the Same Language

Today my coworkers and I braved one of the first cold autumn days to go out for a much-needed departmental lunch. With one person who works almost exclusively from home and two more who are relatively new, I decided that we needed to come together as a group, so today, on the one day a month that our at-home coworker is in we rallied the troops (my very busy boss, included) and walked several blocks to a Mediterranean restaurant that I knew would be palatable for everyone (we have a running joke about my having inflicted a brand new coworker with diarrhea after taking her out for Indian). With “no diarrhea” being the main motivation for selecting the restaurant I did, I didn't think much that we were taking my Greek boss to a Mediterranean restaurant until we walked in the door and gave them the name of our party – his name. The hostess immediately started conversing with my boss in Greek, as she walked us to our table. This got me thinking. We all seem to have something – some sort of niche trait or experience – that ties us to a select few in the general population, and for my boss today it was his being Greek.

I can’t help but think it’s kind of like pig Latin. As a kid you’re excited to learn this new secret language, and for a while at least, you’re excited to talk to your friends who also know pig Latin in your new found language, as you use it in front of your parents and other adults to disguise what you’re saying. In the case of my boss and the hostess, I don’t think their use of Greek was to disguise themselves from us. Instead, it’s a way of bonding with someone you don’t know very well but with whom you’ve happily discovered you have some sort of shared experience, and that instantly makes the person you’re talking to less of a stranger. This type of shared experience can be anything – from realizing you grew up in the same small community, to realizing you played the same sport or instrument, to realizing, like my boss, that you speak the same language. And that’s really what it’s all about – regardless of the particular similarity you bond over, by bonding over it you realize you speak the same language.

As humans, I think we’re constantly looking to solidify our place within society, and as we do this we wind up seeking out and then attaching ourselves to others who have similar interests or come from similar backgrounds. Like attracts like. We feel most comfortable around others who we feel know us – understand us. Despite this need to find and associate with like minds, how often do you think you truly approach people you do not know and try to find a common bond? More often than not, I feel like we put up barriers and search for something to dislike about a person – something that will drive us apart – but what good does that do?

As I go about the rest of my week, I think I’ll make the choice to approach everyone I meet with the desire to find something that brings us together instead of counting our differences. I think the more we can relate to each other – the global “we” – the better off we we’ll be.