Monday, January 25, 2010

HONEYBEE CANDLE HOLDER


I walked by yankee candle company today and saw this cute little honeybee candle holder in the window. Usually you couldn't pay me to enter that store because the mixture of intense fragrances gives me a massive headache but I couldn't resist. At first I admired the honeybee from the window and then hubby urged me to buy it. I gave in because it was so darn cute and it cost so little. It is a gift to myself since I have such a long time to wait for my class to begin. For now I'll have to fill it with someone elses beeswax candle but someday I'll be able to fill it with one of my own :)

Friday, January 22, 2010

THE LEMONADE STAND AWARD


Has been given to me by my friend Teresa over at Homestead Notes. If you've never read her blog please check it out, you won't be disappointed. She's a very funny and intelligent blogger, her blog is always interesting. You'll love all the pictures she shares as well.

The lemonade award presented to me by Teresa is given to those whose blogs show great attitude and demonstrate gratitude. Thank you Teresa for thinking of me!!

I'm supposed to choose ten recipients whose blogs show great attitude and gratitude. Unfortunately I'm limited to 10. I have several blogs that I follow and enjoy reading very much. If I miss your name on this list it doesn't mean I think any less of you. Your blog name is most certainly on my blog roll to the right of this page :)

I'm going to start with Teresa because although she's already been given this blog award by someone else, life just wouldn't be right if I didn't give it back :)

1. Teresa (Homestead Notes)
2. Carrie (Under the Willow)
3. Amber (Ambers Ambry)
4. Joanna (The Soap Bar)
5. Marisa (Getting Back to Basics)
6. Gracefruit
7. Rhonda (Down to Earth)
8. Julie (Inspirational Techniques)
9. Liz (The Fragrant Muse)
10. Deb (Muddy Bare Feet)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

THE COUNTDOWN BEGINS

I've placed a ticker box in the right side of my new blog to count down the days til I begin my beekeeping course. I intend to use this blog to chronicle my adventures in beekeeping. If you want to see me make a complete goof of myself as I try to become a master beekeeper, stay tuned :)

SOON TO BE MICHELLE THE BEEKEEPER


I know it is still 58 days away but I'm so anxious for my beekeeping course to begin. I've been wanting to take this course for 3 years but each time I'd go to sign up it was already too late. This year I signed up just on time, way back in September 2009, registration closed the first of October (that is how quickly this course fills up). My first beekeeping course is March 13 and 14 for 16 hours total. Although beekeeping courses aren't required to become a beekeeper, there are plenty of books on the subject, I chose to do this hands-on under the instruction of those with experience because I want to do it right.

Bees are absolutely fascinating creatures. I didn't realize how fascinating until my daughter Maya and I (when Maya was about 2 1/2) took a class on bees at our local nature center. Up until that point I had a phobia about bees. I would go berserk if one got within 5 feet of my site. Sadly, because of my fear my daughter was also beginning to show signs of anxiety when bees would approach. I was hoping this class at the nature center would educate me to the point of understanding these little stinging insects and help rid some of my fear. Well, it did much more than that, it taught me and my daughter about the differences between bees, wasps, hornets, bumble bees. How some sting when unprovoked and others don't. How some are meat eaters, others aren't. After that experience I've come to appreciate honey bees and bumble bees and look forward to finding them in my garden each year. Not that I like getting stung, because I certainly don't, but I have developed new feeling towards the stinging insects and those feelings don't include fear.

Come this spring I will have my very own hive and I will officially be a beekeeper. I'm excited and nervous at the same time. I've learned that bees do STING through that fancy white outfit beekeepers wear and that transferring a queen and her bees to their new hive isn't all that straight forward so those are two things that I need to focus on dealing with in class. I've decided to open a new blog about my beekeeping adventure to accompany this blog. I could post about it here but thought such an adventure deserves its own forum. Not that the two blogs won't overlap since I plan on using the honey from my future hive in my body products and my food but just wanted to have a little space to focus solely on how my quest to become a great beekeeper plays out. I hope those of you who follow will consider following the other blog as well.

My first post on my new blog is a ticker to count down the days til my beekeeping course. My beekeeping blog will most likely remain rather quiet for 58 more days but time goes quickly and in no time I'll be talking bees bees bees.

MY LIFE WITH BEES

Thursday, January 7, 2010

PRESERVATIVES AND WHY THEY ARE NEEDED

The very first time I made lotion, which was about 19 or so years ago, I used a recipe I found in a book my mother had given me. The recipe contained only natural ingredients and required refrigeration to prevent spoilage, which meant it lasted no more than a few weeks. I loved knowing it was ALL NATURAL but it wasn't so great slathering myself with freezing cold lotion after a nice warm shower. As time went on and I explored the idea of selling lotion I learned more about the need for synthetic preservatives. The idea of using something unnatural in lotion was such a turn off. I didn't want to use anything that sat on my skin if it contained artificial ingredients, especially preservatives. So why would I want less for my customers right? Many synthetic preservatives have a poor safety rating which doesn't sit well with me. So I settled with the decision for a long time to only make lotion for myself, my family and never market lotion to the public unless I could fine a solution to this preservative dilemma.

As you probably know, much has changed in the way of preservatives over the past decade. We learned that some preservatives are more harmful than others. Methylparaben, which was one of the most commonly used preservatives in products such as lotion, hair gel, and conditioners is now considered one of the least desirable by those who sell products and by those who buy products. Any Ingredient with the word "paraben" conjures up bad images. So what has changed for the better?

Well, before I list the different types of preservatives and whether they fall into the good category or the bad category, let's explore why we need preservatives in the first place.

Since preserving lotion is the point of the post I will use a typical lotion formula as the example.

Lotions generally contain the following ingredients:

Oils
Water
Emulsifyer
Fragrance

You don't need a preservative for a product unless you are using water, which you do in lotion. Water is a very welcoming environment for bacteria and this is why any product containing water requires a preservative. Bacteria, mold and yeast CANNOT survive without water! Your water based product can and most likely will become riddled with bacteria, mold and/or yeast after a certain length of time if left unpreserved. These things aren't always visible to the naked eye. A product can look just the same as it did on the day you opened it but that doesn't necessarily mean it is. I once read an article that stated if we saw mold growing on top of a lotion we could just scrape it off and the product was still usable, which of course is absolutely untrue. Bacteria and yeast is microscopic, it can be lurking around in your lotion and you wouldn't even know it was there.

Then what is the issue? Why am I nitpicking about the need for preservatives? Well, it isn't so much the need I'm focusing on, it is more of the type being used that I care about.

Consider this. The reason you can purchase a lotion or cream from say Bloomingdales or Walmart and have it sit on the shelf for 2 years and still be usable is because of the preservatives that were used in that particular product. A product like lotion goes through many environmental conditions that can affect the rate of bacterial growth, such as exposure to heat and moisture. Think of how often you carry a hand lotion in your purse or store it in the bathroom cabinet. If you do either your product has already gone through a heating and cooling several times. Companies have to take all possible exposure conditions into consideration when deciding on a preservative to use. Sadly, with most companies, their goal is to sell a product, not particularly keeping the consumer safe and healthy. This is why you can pick up a lotion and still read a long list of unhealthy, unsafe ingredients, especially preservatives used. For big companies, the bottom line is about how much they are selling, not what research has proven about their product and isn't using a body product like lotion about keeping our skin healthy, soft and supple, preventing dry skin which contributes to premature aging, and staying comfortable?

The most difficult thing for those of us who make body products is creating something that not only is beneficial to an individuals body, which includes being safe, but also something that will last. When someone buys a lotion, they don't want to store it in the fridge and use it up in a couple weeks. A consumer wants a product that feels really good and lasts a while.

So now we come to the preservatives.

A preservative is a natural or synthetic chemical that is added to products such as foods, pharmaceuticals, paints, biological samples, wood, etc. to prevent decomposition by microbial growth or by undesirable chemical changes.


Some Synthetic Preservatives

(The cosmetic safety database rates ingredients from a 0-10 scale. 10 being the worst and 0 being the best. I've used their numbering system to give you an idea about safety.)

The most common "paraben" preservatives used:

Methylparaben = hazard rating 8
Butylparaben = hazard rating 7-9 depending on usage
Propylparaben = hazard rating 4
Ethylparaben = hazard rating 3

The most common "non paraben" preservatives used:

suttocide = hazard rating 2
cosmocil cq = hazard rating2
germall plus = hazard rating 6
potassium Sorbate = hazard rating 1
optiphen = hazard rating 5

Natural Preservatives

Although Grapefruit Seed Extract is touted as a natural preservative there has been some debate as to whether or not that is true. I can't say either way as I haven't used it nor had it tested. Read article here and here.

Some time tested natural preservatives:

Honey (no rating)
Vitamin E (antioxidant: prevents oils from oxidizing) = hazard rating 2
Rosemary Extract (antioxidant: prevents oil from oxidizing) = hazard rating 0
Certain Essential Oils (depends on EO) Tea tree EO = hazard rating 1
Neem Oil = hazard rating 0
Lemon Juice = hazard rating 0
Citric Acid = hazard rating 4
Tinosan = hazard rating 2

What I've discovered is that natural preservatives are often passed up for the synthetic alternative mainly for the following reasons:

1. It can take a mix of several natural ingredients to create a desired preservation affect within a particular product and unless you are a chemist it is difficult if not impossible to find the right balance of ingredients to make sure your product is preserved.
2. Several natural preservatives can end up costing much more than synthetic preservatives, especially when using certain EO's to preserve your product. Ultimately making the product you sell much more expensive.
3. If using essential oils as a preservative you have to make sure you aren't using EO's that although are antimicrobial they evaporate quickly. Products left open to the air therefore would become unpreserved.
4. Some EO's must also be used at a high percentage rate in order to be effective as a preservative and those same EO's cause severe skin reactions if used beyond a certain percentage point.
5. It takes quite a bit of "head" work when using a natural preservative as oppose to a synthetic preservative.

So when we talk about natural preservatives we need to look at the context in which we are speaking. Sure, you can use a natural preservative in a water based product and it WILL work. The only issue is that it doesn't preserve a product for the length of time a synthetic preservative does. When using a natural preservative you aren't guaranteed a shelf life of 1-2 years. And although most people don't hang on to products that long there are a few people who do and no one would want to be responsible for someone becoming extremely ill from something they've made.

What is the solution to the preservative dilemma then? The solution is educating customers and then deciding what it is they really want. If a customer wants a product that can sit on a shelf for up to 3 years it is the job of the creator to educate their customer on what that means. Likewise with a customer that wants a product that is 100% natural. Through my own inner debate about whether to use a synthetic preservative or not I've learned that it is better to create and/or use a product that is 99% natural with a synthetic preservative than to create/use a product that is preserved for 3 years and also contains a host of other ingredients that cannot be pronounced. Body products don't have to be all or nothing in terms of ingredients.

There are some things I prefer to use 100% natural and other things I don't care so much about. As long as I know exactly what it is that I'm putting on my body and I've made the choice for myself, then I'm happy. The same can be said for customers. I'm always telling people what is and isn't natural, what research has shown is or isn't good for us. Just the other day I told a friend that I could whip up some lotion and it would be a 100% natural but she'd have to put it in the fridge and it would last no more than a couple weeks. She decided to pass on 100% and asked if I could whip one up that had a preservative so that she didn't have to deal with cold lotion.

For the creator it comes down to selecting a preservative for the product that has the least hazard rating and the best results, whether synthetic or natural. It isn't impossible to create a natural preservative that gives a product more than 1 year shelf life. Aubrey Organics has done exactly that using vitamins and essential oils. It all comes down to what it is you want to accomplish and of course, how much you want to invest.

One final bit of advice. Don't sell a water based product to the public without having it lab tested to make sure it remains bacteria, mold and yeast free. We create products to make people happy, not to make them sick.

Resources:
Cosmetic Safety Database
From Nature With Love: Preservatives

Friday, January 1, 2010

HOW TO MAKE CORNSTARCH BEADS

While at the bookstore recently and flipping through a book I saw a picture of cornstarch beads. I thought it would be a fun project for the girls and I to do together so I searched online for a recipe, gathered the supplies and got busy.

Supplies Needed:

1 cup cornstarch
1 cup of baking soda
1/2 cup salt
1 cup of water
toothpicks
Medium sauce pan
Spoon
Newspaper for table
paint pens

Place cornstarch, baking soda, salt in pan and mix well. Then add water. Place the pan on low heat (I had to turn it up to medium heat for my electric stove or else it was taking too long). Stir continuously.

At first your mix will look like this:



Keep stirring (non-stop), it took us about 3 minutes for it to thicken once the coils on the stove were hot enough. Remove from heat when the mixture resembles a thick mashed potatoes.



Scoop out your mixture into several balls. The more balls you create the faster they cool down. The kids were eager to get creating so I separated the dough balls even more so they could work with them right away.



You kneed the dough in your hands to make sure it stays soft. My girls freaked when the dough developed a little layer of crust on them, thinking they were hardening beyond repair, but once they worked the dough in their hands the crusty layer disappeared and the dough was workable again.

Here is Maya working her dough:



We tried working with food coloring and initially it looked great. I'll explain at the end of the post what happened with that one :(




Before you bake the beads you'll need to poke a hole through the center of each with a tootpick (for stringing later). See how nice the bead looks with the food coloring. Not how it ends up after baking :(



Here are some of the beads before we put them in the oven. They look perfect here:




Once you are finished creating your little beads you pop them in the oven at 200 degrees and let them bake for 1 hour. If the beads are really small their holes bake closed so make sure you have a good sized bead, we made ours no smaller that the circumference of a penny.

CORNSTARCH PROJECT VERDICT

1. The cornstarch beads work GREAT! They harden in the oven perfectly.
2. Don't use food coloring! Once we baked the beads the food coloring seemed to lighten up considerably and the dough even cracked.
3. I had the girls make several beads with no color so we could use paint pens on them after they hardened and that worked PERFECTLY! The beads didn't crack in the oven, they were the right size so their holes didn't close and they painted up beautifully.
4. Make sure you leave them in the oven for the entire hour. The first round I took out in 40 minutes and although they were hard enough on the outside their insides were still soft.
5. BONUS: You can rubber stamp on the dough (we did a tree and a bee), you can also use cooky cutters (we did a flower and heart). The larger the dough piece the longer the baking time.
6. According to the site I got the tutorial from, don't let kids or pets eat the dough. Too much salt will be toxic! (remove pets from area, they love to eat the droppings as I found out).

Here is Aiyana wearing one of the cornstarch bead necklaces we made using the paint pens to color.



Next time I'm going to try and scent them and see how that bakes :)

(thanks to Jessica Wilson at Craftzine for the visual tutorial. Check out their blog for more pictures!)