Wintersowing Tutorial: Upcycle Trash to Make Garden Greenhouses & Start Seeds in Cold Weather

Photo credit: nociveglia via Foter.com / CC BY

Photo credit: nociveglia via Foter.com / CC BY

What is Wintersowing?

Wintersowing is a method for seed starting developed by Trudi Davidoff. I first heard of the wintersowing method several years ago on Garden Web. The idea is a simple one; creating mini greenhouses out of recyclable materials to use for seed starting outdoors during the cold winter and spring months. I thought that it was a brilliant method that was inexpensive, environmentally beneficial, flexible, and allowed me to keep dirt, bugs, grow lights, and whatnot out of my home.

I also love wintersowing with the kids. We can plant a little bit at a time over the course of the season, which keeps planting fun and manageable. We talk about the stages of growth as we check on the progress of our seeds. We also discuss different aspects of plants and their needs as we create our little growing spaces (e.g., we need holes to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide; the greenhouses hold in moisture and allow the sun to shine through, we open the lids in the warmer weather so that we don’t overheat and cook our seedlings, etc.)

Why Use a Wintersowing Approach?

There are many reasons why I love wintersowing, but the basics breakdown to cost, convenience, and success.

Wintersowing is extremely economical. The containers used are generally free and readily available. Wintersowing eliminates the need for grow lights or any special equipment. A bag of potting soil is typically my only true expense. Some years I also purchase seeds, but not always (see seed discussion down below for many resources for free seeds).

I love the convenience of wintersowing. Because I am sowing seeds in the comfort of my home across a period of weeks or months, I can do a little at a time. I don’t feel overwhelmed by my garden or a need to start all of my seeds in the same small window of time 6-8 weeks before our final frost date. I also really like the low-maintainance of the method. Once I prepare a container for sowing, it just sits outside rain or shine, and there is no mess in my home. There is no need for upkeep until the seeds sprout, and from then on it is fairly minimal. It is important to make sure that sprouts don’t dry out, overheat, or “hit their heads” on the tops of the containers, but these needs can be managed with little trouble (see resources below for tips and guidance on wintersowing). Additionally, since the seeds come to life in the great outdoors, there is no need to coddle them through a hardening off period, they re ready to plant after the final frost date in your area.

The best part of wintersowing has to be the success of the method. Since wintersowing keeps seeds contained and protected, there is little seed loss due to weather conditions or animals, as there can be with direct sowing. Wintersowing also keeps temperature and moisture conditions controlled better than indoor setups in my experience. I find that I have incredibly high germination rates with wintersowing.

What Seeds Work for Wintersowing?

In my experience, just about any type of seed adapts well to wintersowing, with the exception of plants that are notoriously difficult to start from seed under any circumstance (rosemary comes to mind). Perennial plants are very well-suited to wintersowing, but I find annuals to work great as well. I have used wintersowing to grow a wide range of annual and perennial flowers, herbs, fruits, and vegetables with great success.

Basic Steps of Wintersowing

To wintersow, you will need your potting soil or preferred growing medium, seeds, and your containers. You will also need a knife or other object for poking holes in your containers, a marker to label your containers, and possibly some heavy-duty tape and rubber bands. I sometimes also purchase paper cups to use within some of my little greenhouses.

Wintersowing is generally done using plastic, food-grade containers that have not previously held any toxic or hazardous materials (I stick with old food containers that I would otherwise recycle). You want to look for containers that can hold at least a 2″-3” depth of soil with some head space for your plants. If the container itself is not clear or translucent plastic, you at least want the lid to be a clear plastic to allow the sun’s rays to shine in. Sometimes a lid can be adapted by cutting away a portion of the lid and replacing it with plastic wrap or similar as discussed in the video.

Wintersowing will shift how you look at your garbage and recyclables. Once you figure out your preferred types of containers, friends, neighbors, and others are often more than happy to route their garbage to you. Some of my favorite containers are quart size yogurt tubs, large plastic clamshells from bulk lettuces, and traditional seed starting trays coupled with single-serve yogurt cups and reused large plastic bags. Other people are milk jug enthusiasts,

The video will give you an idea of how to use and modify your containers to create your mini greenhouses.

Wintersowing Resources

Wintersowing is supported by an enthusiastic community. There are many great places to learn more about wintersowing, ask questions, and to see the setup and successes of other wintersowing gardeners. Some of my favorites:

Trudi Davidoff has her own website about Wintersowing. The site is currently under construction but still has some information and pictures.

Gardenweb’s Wintersowing Forum is a great place to post questions and reap the advice of winter sowers of all ranges of experience and from all across the country. It is also a treasure trove of pictures about wintersowing from seed starting to planting, and for the “after” shots of beautiful gardens built from wintersown plants.

The Wintersown Facebook Page is another useful public forum for discussing wintersowing and sharing progress photos. The page has over 9,000 members. The Facebook page is administrated in part by Trudi Davidoff as she continues to share her passion for the method that she developed.

But What about the Seeds?

Of course in order to wintersow, you will need seeds. One of the most exciting aspects of starting seeds on your own versus purchasing seedlings is the exponentially greater range of plant options available to you. I love thumbing through seed catalogs looking at the beautiful and exotic plant varieties. I gravitate toward unusual colors, shapes, and sizes that I would never see at a grocery store, and are a rare find even at the farmer’s market.

Whenever I purchase seeds, I prefer to support companies who are committed to biodiversity and who are against GMO seed. If this is important to you as well, I recommend purchasing from companies who have signed the Safe Seed Pledge, indicating that they will “not knowingly buy, sell or trade genetically engineered seeds or plants.” A list of companies who have signed the Safe Seed Pledge can be found here.

I also prefer to grow heirloom and open pollinated plants to allow me to save my own seed over the years; giving me a large stash of seed to work from. See a video tutorial of how I save tomato seeds here. Saving seeds from other plants such as flowers, peppers, peas, and beans is even easier.

I also find that because wintersowing has such high germination rates for me, I waste less seed and can successfully grow older seed. As a result, seed packets go a very long way and I often have extra seed from my own seed saving efforts to share. Seed swaps are another growing trend. I have participated in seed swaps through online communities as well at through my local botanic garden. Seed swaps tend to occur in January or February to allow gardeners to start their seeds in time for spring planting. This list of seed swaps around the country can help you prepare for next year’s events. Local seed libraries are another resource for seeds. See a partial list by state here, or search online for seed libraries in your state to find options local to you.

Wintersowing Final Thoughts

I hope that you find the wintersowing method to be as exciting and useful as I have over the years. After trying and succeeding with this gardening method, I really can’t imagine starting my plants any other way. I’m curious to know if you’ve tried wintersowing before. Do you have any experiences to share? I’m happy to field questions in the comments too so feel free to ask. There’s still time to start seeds for this year’s garden.

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LaRitzy Vegan Beauty Subscription Unboxing & Review: March 2016

Crunchy Parent LaRitzy Vegan Beauty Subscription March 2016 Unboxing & Review 3-27-2016

About LaRitzy Box

LaRitzy is a monthly beauty subscription service that sends 4-5 vegan, cruelty-free cosmetic and skincare items in each box. Although not specifically marketed as a green beauty box, the brands that LaRitzy sends have tended to be non-toxic, natural brands.

Boxes cost $24.99 per month, for the standard LaRitzy box, as reviewed here. LaRitzy also offers a LaMini Box featuring 2-3 items at a price of $14.99/month. Both subscription offerings include U.S. shipping. There are discounts for multi-month subscriptions. I purchased this box and was not compensated in any way for this review. All opinions are my own. You can see my other LaRitzy reviews here.

LaRitzy Box: March Unboxed

If you would like to see the live-action unboxing my March 2016 LaRitzy box, please enjoy the video unboxing below. If you prefer to skip right to the product close-ups and details, scroll down past the video.

Last month, LaRitzy has made a change to eco-friendly “e-cards” to describe the products in their monthly box. Subscribers spoke out saying that they really preferred tangible cards with the boxes. For March, LaRitzy has returned to including an information card in the box that provides a brief description and valuing information for each of the enclosed items.

Crunchy Parent LaRitzy Vegan Beauty MArch 2016 review-Deco Miami 8-free polish & Lippygirl gloss

The initial glance inside the box gave a clear “spring” vibe. There were lots of bright colors, and I was excited to dig in. The first item that I grabbed was an adorable box of Deco Miami nail lacquer in the color “Feeling Fuego” (5 ml., $9.50). This coral cream color has spring written all over it. I have been extremely particular about the ingredients in nail lacquer ever since reading this 2002 report during my first pregnancy. In brief, the report linked the presence of phthalates in cosmetic products to damage to the male reproductive system of developing fetuses. It was my first major push towards awareness of the importance of green beauty not just for me, but for my future children. It was also the reason why I didn’t polish my nails for the next ten years.

Healthier cosmetics offerings have grown by leaps and bounds since 2002, and this Miami Deco polish is a testament to those changes. This polish is “8-free” meaning that the formulation avoids eight chemicals commonly found in conventional nail lacquer that are suspected or known to be less than healthy. Eight-free is the most “free” designation that I have seen for nail lacquer to-date. Of course, it is up to every individual to decide their comfort level with the ingredients in their products. If you are a nail polish-enthusiast however, this formulation looks like a great “greener” choice, and the packaging couldn’t be cuter.

Next up, I discovered a tube of lemon-yellow, organic lip gloss from Lippygirl. The brand and product are both new to me. I love discovering new green beauty brands through subscription boxes. The Extra Virgin Lip Gloss (14 g., $11.00) is a blend of organic oils and butters. It is very moisturizing and gives a nice shine to the lips without being sticky at all. The formulation also left my lips feeling super-soft. It is not easy to find an softening, moisturizing, non-sickly gloss that is also petroleum-free. This gloss hits the nail on the head, and is certified USDA organic to boot. The gloss has a light orange and coconut scent that made me think of summer sun and days at the beach. As with all LaRitzy Box products, the Lippygirl gloss is vegan and cruelty free.

Crunchy Parent LaRitzy vegan beauty subscription review March 2016 Juice Beauty eye cream & Modern Minerals shadow

I am always looking for products that will help nourish the delicate skin around my eyes. LaRitzy included a full size Green Apple Nutrient Eye Cream by the popular green brand, Juice Beauty (.5 oz., $38.00). The product is aimed at brightening dark circles under the eyes as well as reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. I have found that the skin around my eyes is exceptionally sensitive and I have developed dry, scaly patches that have been slow to heal after using certain under-eye products in the past. I’m a bit concerned that the fruit acids from the apple juice-based product may be too active for the sensitive skin under my eyes. For those who have less sensitive skin and have used this product, I would love to hear your thoughts about it.

Crunchy Parent LaRitzy vegan beauty Modern Minerals smoky quartz shadow swatch

The last product in this month’s box was a lovely Smoky Quartz eyeshadow sphere by Modern Minerals (10g, $16.00). Modern Minerals has built upon the idea of using natural mineral pigments in cosmetics, infusing their mineral eye shadows with rose petals, honeysuckle, vitamin E extract, and coconut for natural hydration as well. The smoky quartz color blends gray with a hint of brown and lavender; finishing with a subtle shimmer. I personally use mineral shadows as eyeliner; applying with a bit of water and an eyeliner brush. I have loved using the smoky quartz color. It makes a great daytime liner, and I would use it as a shadow to amp up an evening smoky eye look. It is a good color for transitioning into spring, when those fall and winter dark shades can be given a bit of a lighter, brighter lift.

Crunchy Parent LaRitzy March 2016 unboxing & review closeup

March LaRitzy Box: Overall Impressions

I liked this box more and more as I explored the products. The Lippygirl gloss was my favorite surprise find. At first glance another clear gloss didn’t seem all that special, but after using the product, I was really impressed with the ingredients and the performance. I loved the overall spring feel of the box. Each product brought a little brightness to the party; whether it was softening or brightening my skin for spring, or lightening my color palette for the warmer weather. The total value of this month’s box is $74.50. LaRitzy continues to deliver incredible value for their $24.99 box price. If you want to see how this box compares to prior months, you can find those reviews here.

I think that LaRitzy is a great option for individuals looking for vegan and cruelty free cosmetic and skincare options, who also have an eye on healthier, green beauty. All of the products in this month’s box were healthier alternatives to their conventional counterparts, without sacrificing performance. I am excited to see what LaRitzy has in store as the weather continues to heat up. I imagine that we will continue to see bright colors and products aimed at keeping our skin soft and moisturized as we peel off the layers of parkas and sweaters and emerge from the long winter months. What do you think about LaRitzy?

If you would like to see the most recent Crunchy Parent List of Crunchy-Friendly Subscription Boxes, you can find that here. To see other crunchy subscription box video unboxings, look here on the Crunchy Parent You Tube channel. If you have any suggestions or requests for future videos or reviews, please let me know in the comments.

To keep up with all the Crunchy Parent happenings, you can subscribe to my YouTube channel be sure to subscribe to CrunchyParent.com and the Crunchy Parent YouTube channel and visit me on Facebook Pinterest and Twitter! Before you go anywhere though, remember to subscribe here at CrunchyParent.com.

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Vitacost Haul Video: Gluten-Free food, supplements, natural home care & personal care items

*I purchased all of these items and receive no compensation from Vitacost for this post, although affiliate links may be included. What follows are my honest opinions*

If you read my post about Barganic Alerts you know that I am really passionate about making natural, green-living choices accessible to anyone who desires to make them. Throughout my evolution as a parent and as a person, one of my goals has been to seek out healthier foods, which for us includes prioritizing organic foods, avoiding GMOs, and respecting our gluten and dairy sensitivities. This can add a lot to our food cost bottom line, but it is well worth it to me; better health is priceless.

In addition to what we put in our bodies, I am also mindful of what we put into our home environment via cleaning and household products, and what we put on our bodies through cosmetic and personal care items. This week, research out of University of California-Berkeley demonstrated that by swapping out just a few personal care products for ones with safer ingredients, the chemical body burden of teen girls decreased significantly within a period of a few days. This powerful finding only serves to reinforce for me the importance of prioritizing healthy products for my family.

The desire to buy the best food, supplements, home, and personal care products that we can afford has moved me to research the resources available to us in our community and through the interwebs to stretch our dollars. There are a few online retailers that I have found who offer very competitive pricing on high-quality natural, organic, and food allergy-friendly food items. Vitacost is a retailer that I shop with often for supplements, personal and home care items, and nonperishable foods. Not only is the value very good, but they offer an extensive range of products that are not always available to me locally.

Recently I got an email from Vitacost promoting a 15% off any order of $100 or more. This was the motivation that I needed to place an order. I also went through ebates and earned an additional 4% off of my purchase. You can see the complete haul video above. A select few of the items that I ordered were excluded from the promotional offer, but I still found the Vitacost price to be better that what I could find elsewhere.

I encourage you to do your own research to see how pricing compares to what is available near you. To give a sense of the prices during this deal, I have provided a sample of my purchase prices below. The promotion is no longer active, but Vitacost frequently offers various deals. You can sign up for their emails to be alerted of sales.

Prices are before tax and do not reflect the additional rebate received through ebates. For ease of comparison, I have converted pricing for “bulk” items into price per ounce or per pound as appropriate.

Xlear Spry gum 600 count: $33.99
Herbatint Permanent Haircolour Gel: $6.79
Ancient Secrets Bath Salts-2 lbs.: $7.51
Biokleen Automatic Dish Powder-32 oz.: $6.54
Ener-G GF pretzels: $2.16/bag (8 oz.)
Kinnikinnick GF graham crackers $3.29/box (8 oz.)

So what do you think, are these prices a good value for your area? Do you have any healthy food and personal care resources to share?

If you are new to Vitacost, this link will save you $10 off of your first order.

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Tutorial: Needle Felted Wool Sachet or Ornament

Crunchy Parent Tutorial Needle Felted Sachets and Ornaments

I told you all that I was felt like I had come up a bit short in the crunchy department when it came to the kids school valentines this year. I thought that it might be nice to do a more natural Valentine’s Day-related craft with the kids on the actual holiday since we had the luxury of having Valentine’s Day fall on the weekend. Alina is especially drawn to doing handcrafts and Asher has become more excited by them over the past year. Eva was spending Valentine’s Day at a friend’s house so I pulled together a basket of wool batting and the younger kids and I needle felted some fragrant sachets together.

Alina, age 9, has been needle felting for a number of years, but this was Asher’s first time wielding a felting needle at not quite six years old. Felting needles are sharp and hurt if you end up getting poked. I supervised him closely on this project, and tried to teach him some of the basic needle felting safety rules. It is clear to see in the video that Asher was very proud of his developing skill and is excited about future felting projects. He did need help to complete this task, but he was able to participate in a lot of the work.

Alina was more independent in her craft, but she asked me to do most of the embellishing for her. As bad luck would have it, our whole family came down with the norovirus within hours of shooting this video, with Alina leading the pack. I think that she was starting to get worn out, which is why she handed the embellishment job over to me. Under different circumstances, I might have set the sachet aside for her to finish on another day, but she really wanted it to be part of the finished pictures for the tutorial.

It is often suggested in Waldorf circles that it is best for young children (especially prior to age seven) to avoid work on needle felting human or animal figures. There can be something disturbing about repeatedly jabbing a needle into something that looks like a person or animal. This project is a great one for new felters, young and old, because it works mostly in two dimensions and in a confined area. The cookie cutter creates structure for the project, and the whole thing comes together quickly.

For the project you will need:
wool roving or batting (colored or natural)
felting needle
felting pad
cookie cutter(s) in desired shape(s)
optional embellishments such as wool yarn, prefelt scraps, curly wool locks, etc.

The supplies can be gathered from many retail sources online and through craft sites such as etsy.com or ebay.com. You may also be lucky enough to have fiber shops or a Waldorf school local to you who may carry supplies. I purchased my felting needles and some of my colored batting through Peace Fleece. I also love shopping at Esther’s Place Fiber Arts Studio, which was my local fiber shop prior to our move. For those who are not local to them, they do sell products online and through Etsy as well.

I have even noticed that chain-store craft stores like Michael’s and Jo-Ann Fabric carry a limited selection of needle felting tools, kits, and supplies, wool batting, and roving as well if you wish to go that route. If you are a fan of one-stop, click and receive shopping, Amazon has a large selection of wool fiber for felting in endless colors as well as felting needles and multi-needle felting tools and accessories.

As I also mention in the video, I have purchased upholstery foam from Joann Fabrics to use as a felting pad. It is cut and sold by desired length and if you plan ahead, you can bring one of the ubiquitous 40% off Joanne coupons with you to increase your savings.

The video will give you a good overview of how the project comes together, but I wanted to give a closer look at some of the steps.

I showed several types of cookie cutters in the video. Admittedly, a cutter that is open at the top without any bar or handle is easiest to use for this project, but I showed my process using a less open cutter here. In all cases, you want to begin by stacking several thin layers of wool in the cutter, alternating the direction in which you place the wool (horizontally and vertically). Try your best to keep the wool inside the cookie cutter. It’s okay if some of the wool climbs up the edges a bit; it will get felted down in the process. Because I was working with a more involved design shape here, and with a low-profile cutter with a bar, my wool extended outside the cookie cutter (oops). Not a big deal, it will get fixed later; felting is a very forgiving process.

Poke around the shape in the cookie cutter.

Poke around the shape in the cookie cutter.

1. Poke around the inside of the cookie cutter, forming the shape of the cutter. I rotated the flower cutter here to get better access to my work area. Once again, don’t worry too much about the wool that may have extend outside of the cutter. We’ll fix it in a moment.

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2. Lifting up the cookie cutter, you can see the flower shape roughed out on the foam mat. The loose wool that is extending beyond the felted petals can now be folded in and felted to the flower without the cookie cutter getting in the way. For open cutters like Asher and Alina used in the video, there won’t be much overhang, so they pretty much skipped this step. Once I moved the cookie cutter out of the way, I could also felt down that pouffy center section.

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3. The flower shape is clear now, but some of the curves lack definition.

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4. Carefully using the needle parallel to the foam mat, you can work to define the shape.

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5. Add your fragrant filler (dried flower petals, aromatic herbs, etc.). Repeat steps 1-4 to create a second shape using the same color wool or a contrasting color if you prefer.

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6. Make a sandwich using your two wool layers and your aromatics. Note that you can see some thinner spots on my top flower here. That’s not a problem, more wool can be added as needed throughout the process. Felt around the edges of the “sandwich” to join the front and back securely. Take care felting around the center of the piece to avoid hitting the aromatics in the center. Hard ones like the star anise that I used could cause your needle to break if jabbed too forcefully.

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Once your front and back pieces have been fairly well joined together, you may find it easier to stand your sachet on its side to firmly felt all around the perimeter. I demonstrate that here with Alina’s pink sachet. Of course, you would want to use two hands when doing this, but taking photos calls for some one-handed maneuvers.

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7. Add your embellishments. I used different-colored wool here to create the flower design. On Asher’s and Alina’s sachets, they both chose to make a second smaller object using a mini cookie cutter, and we also used wool and wool yarn to create designs. Wool yarn can be felted to the sachet with the needle just as you would do with the wool fiber.

Finished sachets

Finished sachets

The project can be easily modified to make holiday ornaments, seasonal window hangings, felted play food, pins, hair clips, and more. If the sachet loses its scent over time or just needs a punch of fragrance, you can add a couple of drops of essential oil to the back of the sachet. If you do this, you may wish to take care about where you place the sachet to avoid transfer of the essential oil to clothing or surfaces.

I hope that you enjoyed the tutorial and look forward to sharing more wool and natural crafting with you. What are some of your felting crafts to do with children? What natural crafting tutorials would you like to see?

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Vegan Cuts Vegan Beauty Subscription Unboxing & Review: January 2016

Crunchy Parent Vegan Cuts Beauty Subscription Unboxing & Review January 2016

The Vegan Cuts Beauty Box is a monthly subscription service that sends 4-7 vegan, cruelty-free cosmetic and skincare items in each box. Products are a mix of full and sample sizes. Items are paraben free and are often organic and natural.

Boxes cost $19.95 per month, which includes U. S. shipping. There are discounts for multi-month subscriptions. I purchased this box and was not compensated in any way for this review. All opinions are my own.

If you would like to see the live-action unboxing my January 2016 Vegan Cuts box, please enjoy the video unboxing below. If you prefer to skip right to the product close-ups and details, scroll down past the video.

Each month, Vegan Cuts includes an information card that provides photos, a brief description, and valuing information for all items in the box. The card also included the code JANBEAUTY for $10 off any purchase of $50 or more at Vegan Cuts Beauty Shop. I think that Vegan Cuts (and their sister subscription company Goddess Provisions) have some of the best looking information cards out there.

Vegan Cuts Beauty Subscription unboxing & review Jojoba Company & Aubrey Organics

The first item that I saw this month was a deluxe sample-sized pump bottle of Aubrey Organics Revitalizing Therapy Moisturizer (1 oz., value $13.00). The formulation is designed to nourish dry skin and target fine lines and wrinkles. I think that anything made for dry skin is perfect for the winter months around here. The moisturizer includes a host of nourishing herbal ingredients including aloe juice, rosehip seed oil, kelp, arnica, elderflower, and hops. I found that the moisturizer was rich but absorbed into my skin within a minute or so. It had a fairly strong scent that reminded me of almonds, but it dissipated quickly. I think that it would work well for me for daytime. For less dry complexions this might work well for nighttime.

The next items in the box were a pair of products from The Jojoba Company: a sample tube of their Gentle Cleansing Balm, and a small vial of their 100% Natural Ultimate Jojoba Youth Potion (total value: $6.00). The Jojoba Company is new to me, and I was happy to be introduced to this Australian company and their beautiful natural products.

The Gentle Cleansing Balm is a non-foaming cleanser designed for sensitive and dry skin. It is bursting with jojoba and other plant-based ingredients to hydrate and nourish. In addition it contains Alpha Hydroxy Acids from papaya and melon to brighten the skin.

The Youth Potion is a beautiful blend of oils including jojoba, argan, boabab, meadow foam seed, and more. It has an absolutely gorgeous delicate floral scent that I suspect is from the linden blossom oil in the ingredients list. The potion is designed to be used like a face oil, in conjunction with or in place of a serum, and followed by a moisturizer. It went on like silk and was light and quickly absorbed. I was really quite captivated by it.

Vegan Cuts Beauty unboxing January 2016 Earthlabs Vegan Mascara, Wabi-Sabi Botanicals cleansing grains, Lashea body scrub

My next discovery was a 1 oz. glass jar of Sagga Charcoal and Rose Cleansing Grains from Wabi-Sabi Botanicals (value $8.00). The versatile powder cleanser is designed for acne-prone skin. It can be mixed with water or other base and used to gently cleanse and exfoliate the skin. It can also be left to dry on the skin as a facial mask and then gently rinsed. The charcoal and clay will help to absorb oils and toxins, while the gluten-free oats and rose petals will soothe and brighten. I was expecting a gray product due to the inclusion of charcoal, but the powder is oatmeal-colored and mildly scented. I love powder facial care products because they tend to have greater shelf-stability and they allow for customization through the use of different bases such as honey, water, floral hydrofoils, or yogurt. I know that I will get a lot of use out of this one, and may encourage Eva to give it a try on her adolescent skin as well.

I couldn’t get over the cuteness of the wee sample jar of Lashea Butter Whips Essential Body Scrub (value $1.50). The creamy body scrub blends sugar and soy seeds along with a host of moisturizing butters and oils to gently exfoliate and enrich the skin. Although Lashea does not specify which essential oils are contained in there blend that scents the product, it had a a fresh citrus scent. I think the rich texture and the bright citrus fragrance would make this a great winter pick-me-up for the skin.

The final item in the box was Vegan Lash Mascara by Earthlab Cosmetics (full size, value $25.00). Like many other natural mascaras that I have tried, this aloe-based formulation is not heavy and can be layered to give the lashes a more dramatically-enhanced look, or used conservatively for a more natural effect.

Vegan Cots Beauty Box review January 2016 Crunchy Parent non-toxic

I was impressed with this box by Vegan Cuts. I liked that the curation seemed to be focused around a multi-step skincare regimen with the addition of a cosmetic and a body care product as well. I though that the overall emphasis on hydration and moisturizing was seasonally-appropriate, but I also appreciated that Vegan Cuts included products that could work for other skin types as well. I can see myself using the Wabi-Sabi Botanicals product as an occasional detoxifying face mask on my dryer skin, whereas Eva may use it more regularly as a balancing cleanser on her more temperamental adolescent skin. The value of this month’s box is $53.50, which I think is really fantastic for the $19.95 box price, especially given that the products are all vegan and natural as well.

If you are curious to learn about the February Vegan Cuts box, they have released a sneak-peek video that reveals two fantastic spoiler items. Among other items, the box will include 100% Pure Eye Creamsticks in one of two color combinations (value $18.00), and The Wonder Seed Facial Cream (value $16.95). The first 500 new subscribers will also receive a bonus bottle of this daring purple Raga Varnish polish (value $12.50).

If you would like to see the most recent Crunchy Parent List of Crunchy-Friendly Subscription Boxes, you can find that here. To see other crunchy subscription box video unboxings, look here on the Crunchy Parent You Tube channel. If you have any suggestions or requests for future videos or reviews, please let me know in the comments.

To keep up with all the Crunchy Parent happenings, you can subscribe to my YouTube channel or follow me on Pinterest and Twitter.

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Haul Video: Vitacost Natural, Organic, Gluten-Free Food

*I purchased all of these items and receive no compensation from Vitacost for this post, although post may include affiliate links. What follows are my honest opinions*

If you read my post about Barganic Alerts you know that I am really passionate about making natural, green-living choices accessible to anyone who desires to make them. Throughout my evolution as a parent and as a person, one of my goals has been to seek out healthier foods, which for us includes prioritizing organic foods, avoiding GMOs, and respecting our gluten and dairy sensitivities. This can add a lot to our food cost bottom line, but it is well worth it to me; better health is priceless.

The desire to buy the best food that we can afford has moved me to research the resources available to us in our community and through the interwebs to stretch our dollars. There are a few online retailers that I have found who offer very competitive pricing on high-quality natural, organic, and food allergy-friendly food items. Vitacost is a retailer that I shop with often for supplements, personal and home care items, and nonperishable foods. Not only is the value very good, but they offer an extensive range of products that are not always available to me locally.

Recently I got an email from Vitacost promoting a 20% off all food and beverages sale. This was the motivation that I needed to place a big order. I also went through ebates and earned an additional 4% off of my purchase. You can see the complete haul video above.

There were a few items that I bought that were not included in the sale. Specifically, the raw, organic honey was actually part of a buy one, get one 50% off special, making it an even better deal. The Spry gum was not part of any additional sale beyond the regular Vitacost price, but we needed it and by piggybacking it onto this order, it shipped free.

In the video I talk about a few things that I wanted to link to to if you wished to learn more. First, I mentioned that I store my bulk grains in large food-grade plastic buckets with Gamma Seal lids. They provide an air-tight seal that keeps out moisture, critters, and prolongs freshness. They are a workout to get on the bucket at first, but after the initial set-up they are very easy to open and close. I love them.

I also mentioned a few recipes in the video that I make using some of the products that I ordered. These include my versatile gluten free flour mix, my favorite green smoothie, and my gluten free/dairy free banana bread with hemp seeds and chocolate chips.

I encourage you to do your own research to see how pricing compares to what is available near you. To give a sense of the prices during this deal, I have provided a sample of my purchase prices below. The promotion is no longer active, but Vitacost frequently offers various deals. You can sign up for their emails to be alerted of sales.

Prices are before tax and do not reflect the additional rebate received through ebates. For ease of comparison, I have converted pricing for “bulk” items into price per ounce or per pound as appropriate.

Lundberg Organic short grain brown rice $1.72/lb.
Arrowhead Mills organic brown rice flour: $1.52/lb.
Vitacost potato starch $1.60/lb.
Vitacost tapioca starch $1.60/lb.
Nutiva organic raw hemp seeds: $0.60/ounce
Glutino GF crackers: $2.74/box (4.4 oz.)
Ener-G GF pretzels: $2.39/bag (8 oz.)
Kinnikinnick GF graham crackers $3.29/box (8 oz.)

So what do you think, are these prices a good value for your area? If you want to give Vitacost a try, you can save $10 off your first purchase through this link. Do you have any healthy food resources to share?

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Gremlins


Photo credit: Inti via Foter.com / CC BY

I have been missing you all. I want you to know that I have not drifted off to sea. I have however been plagued by what I can only assume to be gremlins. I have always had trouble getting my photos and WordPress to agree. WordPress often wants my photos to appear in a different direction than I would like, but I had figured out a work around for that problem for the most part. Then however WordPress began to reject my photos outright, refusing to upload them with any consistency. I managed to find a few tricks that generally avoided the problem, but required two or three extra steps for every photo upload and tripled the time it took me to complete each post. A pain, but not insurmountable. Not to be outsmarted, WordPress upped the game and began rejecting those too with a flippant “Http Error.”Now I can’t find any way to get photos to upload consistently and keep ending up with only partially completed posts as a result. The word on the street is that my iPhone and WordPress do not see eye to eye right now.

Feeling a bit forgotten, the videos acted up too. The memory storage on my phone maxed out and then on my computer hard drive as well. There was a lot of saving and transferring involved. I kept going through the motions, but couldn’t seem to gain any space back. Fortunately we figured out that problem and I uploaded a truckload of videos to YouTube. When I began editing, some YouTube glitch had started dropping the audio out of the videos at random points even though the audio was fine in the raw files.

This all made my brain hurt. I promise I’m trying to make my way back and have a lot of unboxings, recipes, and thoughts to share. I also have a craft tutorial in the works but want to get the video sorted out before getting in too deep there.

Thank you for your patience, Rich has promised that he will spend some time this weekend trying to troubleshoot the photo piece and I’ll proceed with the video. I will be back soon!

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Fiber Art Tutorial: Creating Prefelts & Felt Sheets through Wet Felting

Crunchy Parent fiber art tutorial creating prefelts & felt sheets through wet felting (with video)

There is just something about fall weather and wool for me. The change of the seasons and crispness in the air inspires me to to recreate what I see outdoors in a woolen form.

In this tutorial I take you through the process of creating your own custom sheets of wool felt or wool prefelts to serve as the foundation for many crafting projects. The process of wet felting the wool can be carried all the way through to create firmly felted, sturdy sheets of textile that can be cut, sewn, and used in countless craft projects. Another option is to more loosely felt the sheets into prefelts that grant the flexibility of being embellished in future projects, such as through needle felting, or incorporated into other projects. Your prefelted sheet can serve as the base for a playscape or be felted onto a figure or other piece of felt crafting. For a more in depth look at the difference between prefelts and felt sheets, and suggestions for using prefelts, read this article.

Wool batting & roving waiting to become something pretty.

Wool batting & roving waiting to become something pretty.

To create your felt or prefelt sheet, you will need the basic materials of water, soap, wool batting or roving, and some bubble wrap. In addition, you can use embellishments in your work such as bits of wool or silk yarn, dyed silk scraps, curly wool locks, angelina fibers for sparkle, or bits of prefelts. You can also use tools to expedite or simplify your work process. These include towels, a sushi mat, piece of foam pool noodle or rolling pin, or one of these beautiful “hand washboard” felting tools. Rubber bands or pieces of yarn or scrap fabric to tie your roll together may also come in handy as you work, and you may need some tape to attach multiple pieces of bubble wrap for larger projects, as demonstrated in the video.

Reclaimed wool yarn, sari silk yarn, & curly wool locks add character.

Reclaimed wool yarn, sari silk yarn, & curly wool locks add character.

As I’ve mentioned before, the wool fiber supplies can be gathered from many retail sources online and through craft sites such as Etsy or ebay. You may also be lucky enough to have fiber shops or a Waldorf school local to you who may carry supplies. I purchased some of my colored batting through Peace Fleece. I also love shopping at Esther’s Place Fiber Arts Studio, which was my local fiber shop prior to our move, and where I stopped in for a visit recently as I said in the video. The studio is run by a lovely crunchy family. For those who are not local to them, they do sell products online and through Etsy as well. I have even noticed that chain-store craft stores like Michael’s and Jo-Ann Fabric carry a limited selection of needle felting tools, kits, and supplies, wool batting, and roving as well if you wish to go that route.

I am not entirely sure what I will create next with the sheet that I made. It is softly felted enough that I can use it as a prefelt for future crafting, but sturdy enough that I may use it to craft some fall leaves to combine with the wool acorns that I made recently to create a wreath or a garland. Any thoughts?

If you are interested in seeing other crafting tutorials, take a look here. While there, subscribe to the Crunchy Parent YouTube channel for more crafting videos to come.

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Kings Road Apothecary Subscription Box Unboxing and Review-June 2015 (White Sage and Clarity)

I took advantage of the Spring Solstice sale at Kings Road Apothecary in March and signed up for a multi-month subscription to the “Surprise Box,” which brought the individual box price down to $47.38 each including shipping. Each monthly box features four herbally-based, small-batch, handcrafted items that center around a theme. Box pricing recently increased to $53.50 plus shipping when ordered individually, but multi-month subscriptions include shipping. The June theme was “White Sage and Clarity.” As of this writing the June box is sold out, but the July box is available for purchase. More details about the July box below. To see my other Kings Road Apothecary unboxing and reviews from prior months, look here.

Please enjoy the complete unboxing video. If you prefer to skip right to the photos and the nitty gritty, keep scrolling down. Also, if you are newer to herbalism and herbal-based products, I have explained many frequently-used herbalism terms in the Crunchy Parent Herbal 101: Glossary of Common and Unusual Herbalism Terms and 50+ Great Ideas for Using Herbs.

KRA June 2015 box inserts

The box came with the entire contents wrapped in a hand-dyed piece of sage green cotton muslin and tied with more green kitchen twine and a small bell. All items were individually wrapped in green-themed coordinated tissue paper and tied with green kitchen twine. In addition to the four herbal items, the box also came with a copy of a beautiful drawing of sage leaves penned by Rebecca exclusively for this box, the back of which included some of Rebecca’s thoughts on the topic of clarity. In addition, there was a letter from Rebecca describing the box contents.

KRA June 2015 box scrub and elixir

As I’ve mentioned before, each month Rebecca picks the theme for the box, gathers plant material and takes the month to reflect on the plants and experiment with new recipes for products. Her four favorites end up in the box. This month’s winners started with a White Sage and Clarity cleansing body scrub (4 oz. retail value: $12.50). The scrub is a blend of herbs, including various sages and mints as well as basil and coriander in a base of oils and dead sea salt. I love the smell of this scrub. The sage gives it an earthy base, which is brightened by the mint. The whole thing smells like a really good cup of tea. The salt granules are just the right size to provide some real scrubbing action without being too harsh. The oil provides excellent moisture to newly exfoliated skin. This exact scrub is not available for purchase, but there are other similar scrubs currently featured on the KRA site here.

Next in the box was a dropper bottle of White Sage and Clarity Elixir (1 oz. retail value $15.00) Described as a calming, grounding, clarity-inducing elixir the blend includes sages, monkeyflower, blue curls, and vervain. In addition to helping to break through mental stagnation this herbal mix should also help to address intestinal gas and bloating. I was surprised by the pleasant flavor of this elixir, which to me had a hint of citrus up against the sage. This one-of-a-kind elixir is exclusive to this box and no longer available for purchase.

KRA June 2015 salve and candle

The other two items included a White Sage and Pinon salve (1 oz. retail value $8.00). If you are not familiar with piñon it is a type of pine tree native to the southwest, and is where pine nuts come from. It has a very distinctive, fresh scent that I cannot get enough of. It’s like a pine tree ate some citrus fruits. It’s fantastic. In this salve, white sage pairs with piñon to make a healing, antimicrobial salve for cuts, scratches, and other skin irritations. Also exclusive to this box and not available for purchase, but similar salves are shown on the KRA site here.

The final item was a White Sage and Basil Solstice Candle (value $14.00). The soy wax candle is scented with essential oils of mints, sages, and basil and comes in a tin, perfect for travel or for burning at home. Rebecca’s instructions suggest that you reflect on the summer solstice time and set a strong intention to carry you through the rest of the year, then light the candle, focusing your intention. Burn it for at least an hour on the first day, then after that every time you want to reaffirm your intention. Currently there are still some candles available for purchase so be sure to scoop one up before they are all gone too.

Kings Road Apothecary June 2015 indie subscription box

I really enjoy receiving my Kings Road Apothecary boxes. Compared to other boxes they may seem like a bit of a splurge because there is not a dramatic item value relative to the price paid as is typical of more mainstream beauty boxes. That said, they are so beautifully curated and crafted. Every item is created with the best of ingredients and aimed at supporting health and well-being. I also find the contents so inspiring for my own herbal creations, and really appreciate receiving Rebecca’s email newsletter that talks about the theme of the month while she works on creating the recipes for the boxes. I feel like I learn so much about plants and their uses, and I get better acquainted with plants that are not native to my region (signup for the newsletter here; no purchase necessary). I also have found that after receiving subscription boxes from many larger companies over the past year, there is something special about discovering and receiving indie subscription boxes in the mix. Not only are you supporting a small business, generally run by one person or family, but you are also discovering products and companies that will only be found there, not across other subscription box services. Something about that feels exclusive and precious.

Although the June Kings Road Apothecary box is sold out, the July box with a Lime and Coconut theme is available for purchase and is scheduled to ship for arrival around July 20th. In addition to the four herbal items for home, health, or body, the box will also come with artwork and recipes and a few California bay leaves. All of this will come wrapped in a coconut-dyed piece of fabric (either natural cotton, linen or silk). The four items in the box may be chosen from among the following list of brainstormed items (or may be some related spontaneous brilliant idea): Coconut + lime + bay leaf sugar scrub, Coconut milk bath, Lime and bay leaf bitters, Coconut + bay + lime shimmering body oil, Coconut + rose facial glow serum, Lime + California bay leaf room spritz, Coconut + rose skin treatment (for after sun), Coconut-lime-bay-rum liqueur, Lime leaf and cactus white tea, Preserved limes, Sweet lime and coconut syrup, Lime and coconut candle, Coconut + rose facial mist, Rose + coconut water hydrating elixir, Coconut + lime deodorant.

As a reminder the KRA boxes are made using wild crafted ingredients. In an effort to support plant sustainability in harvesting, only a limited number of boxes are available each month. As of this writing there are about 10 July boxes remaining. Are you going to grab a July box?

If you would like to see my most recent comprehensive listing of “crunchy-friendly” subscription boxes, you can find that here. To see other crunchy subscription box video unboxings, look here on the Crunchy Parent You Tube channel. If you have any suggestions or requests for future videos, please let me know in the comments, and be sure to subscribe!

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Mindfulness Box Subscription Box Unboxing and Review-June 2015

Mindfulness Box June 2015 Unboxing & Review

Mindfulness Box is a recently launched subscription service aimed at providing simple reminders and inspiring new, conscientious goods sure to encourage living more deeply in the moment. This lifestyle box includes holistic and homeopathic, essential oil, and mineral based health care products, handcrafted jewelry, delicious biodynamic treats, natural minerals/crystals and more. Each box contains 4-5 items accompanied with guided dialogue to enrich the recipient’s journey to balance and inner peace. Boxes cost $29 per month, which includes shipping, and are less with multi-month subscriptions. To see all of my Mindfulness Box unboxings, look here.

I purchased this box and was not compensated in any way for this review. All opinions are my own.

If you would like to see the live-action unboxing, please enjoy the video unboxing below. If you prefer to skip right to the product close-ups and details, scroll down past the video.

Mindfulness Box June 2015 enclosure card

I should start by noting a change from last month’s box. The May box included an individual enclosure card for every item and each item was wrapped in its own plastic baggie. Although this was helpful in keeping items separated and instructions clear, it did appear to be an unnecessary amount of packaging, which was hard to justify from an environmental perspective. This month Mindfulness box streamlined the enclosures into one sheet listing every item with a brief description, suggestions for use, and a monetary value. In addition, only one item was grouped and packaged in a plastic baggie, the others were only wrapped to the extent necessary to protect them during shipping. I appreciated this change. I did not think that it detracted from the presentation or ease of organization, and it felt more responsible from an ecological perspective.

Mindfuness Box June 2015 affirmation cards and incense matches

The box included deck of 36 daily affirmation cards, exclusive to Mindfulness Box (value $14.00). The idea behind the cards is to bring mindful reflection into your life. It is suggested that to start each day you should pick a card and state the affirmation with gratitude. Throughout the day hopefully your thoughts will be drawn back to the sentiment on the card. Sample statements include, “Breathe it all in. Love it all out.” and “Decide that you want it more than you are afraid of it.” I thought that this was a great mindfulness activity. In addition, Alina (age 9) was also really excited by these cards and she has asked to read one in the morning in the days since the package arrived. I love that the cards have inspired a mindfulness activity that I can share with my children as a great way to start their day.

Also included was a book of incense matches (value $1.50). Although I initially thought that these were matches to be used to light incense, upon inspection I realized that the matches were actually scented, making them a one-stop incense option. You just light them, let them burn for a bit and then blow out and enjoy the fragrance. Mindfulness Box encouraged using the “mini incense” as a momentary reminder to breathe and center one’s self throughout their day.

Mindfulness Box June 2015 bracelets and candy

The next goodies included a bag of five Go Naturally Organic hard candies in a variety of flavors (value $0.50) The candies are organic and non-GMO verified as well as being free of gluten and dairy, artificial colors or flavors, and high fructose corn syrup. The kids were all too happy to help me sample these and gave them rave reviews, asking me to purchase some more soon.

In addition, also admired (but not consumed) by the children was a set of Revel V Wish bracelets (value $9.00). The set consisted of three clusters of crystals strung onto hemp twine. Worn together or individually, these bracelets are meant to be wished upon before wearing. When they ultimately fall off, the wearer is believed to be ready to receive the wish. The bracelets were decorated with amethyst, rose quartz, and citrine crystals and came with a card describing the properties associated with those stones. I was inspired by the bracelet design to customize my bracelet a bit. I stacked the stones in a line and then braided the twine on either side to make a single bracelet, although I still dedicated a wish to each strand. As I have been wearing the bracelet of the last few days, seeing it does serve as a reminder of the wishes that I am holding and certainly brings mindfulness to the intention behind them.

IMG_9041Mindfulness Box June 2015 selenite tower

The “statement piece” in the box was a tapering selenite tower. It is unlike anything that I have and I thought it was really quite special. The tower weighed in at a substantial 12 ounces and stands just over 4 inches tall, although I imagine that there is slight variation. Selenite is believed to aid in mental clarity and decision making, as well as to promote honesty and spiritual growth. Mindfulness Box listed the retail value of this piece at $12.00, and since I’ve never seen anything like it, I defer to their stated value. I look forward to using this tower in my home.

Mindfulness Box June 2015

Once again I was very pleased with my Mindfulness Box. I think that the subscription is a unique one in its purpose of adding mindfulness and consciousness to the buyer’s life. I am pretty well-versed in “crunchy” interests and goods, yet both boxes that I have received to date have introduced me to one or more items that are totally new to me. I appreciate the curation and the intention of the subscription, and I think that energy is reflected in the box and its contents. The total retail value of the products contained in this box ($37.00) was not as high as the calculated value of last month’s box, however I know that I have already used, or will use all of the items in the box, which enhances the value for me. I am looking forward to receiving my next Mindfulness Box and to putting the mindfulness activities from this month’s box into practice.

If you would like to see my most recent listing of “crunchy-friendly” subscription boxes, you can find that here. To see other crunchy subscription box video unboxings, look here on the Crunchy Parent You Tube channel. If you have any suggestions or requests for future videos, please let me know in the comments, and be sure to subscribe!

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