From Lemon to Balm

The first time I followed an online recipe to make my own natural solid perfume, I found that the method (adding essential oils to melted beeswax and a carrier oil) worked beautifully, but the resulting product had far too little fragrance; in fact, there was no fragrance at all, except for the beeswax! Don’t get me wrong … I love beeswax. I go to health food stores and stand for minutes at a time blissfully inhaling the deliciousness of every honey-scented candle. But since the idea was to use all those lovely essential oils to make an actual perfume, I was – naturally – quite disappointed.

The recipe went wrong, I think, in calling for a lot of beeswax – already quite aromatic – and sweet almond oil, and only a few drops of each essential oil. Perhaps that was, in the words of Bilbo Baggins, like “butter scraped over too much bread.” The proportions definitely needed tweaking, and as I experimented with other recipes (see some of them here), I came to the conclusion that quite a bit more essential oil was needed to make an impact.

Around the same time, I was in the midst of researching fixatives for my post on the basics of perfume formulation. I read that, besides its benefits to perfumery, frankincense oil is a good analgesic, anti-inflammatory and antiseptic; it also soothes, calms, fades scars and wrinkles and promotes wound healing. Its ability to reduce pain and swelling is shared by several other essential oils, and that’s when the lightbulb went on.

Since I didn’t want to waste the materials I’d used in my failed attempt, I figured there was nothing wrong with digging them out of the tin, re-melting them and adding the new essential oils to make a balm – one that I’ve, ahem, sorely needed for several weeks now.

Lately I’ve been suffering from a painful flare-up of arthritis in my toes, which has led to persistent swelling of my feet and ankles – particularly troublesome since my coaching job keeps me on my feet for hours at a time, and I’ve been wearing heels to my new office job. (No longer; I’ve abandoned high fashion for ballet flats or cushy moccasins.) Whenever I’m at home, I have to sit with my feet propped up on cushions, which gives only minor, temporary relief. I don’t like the idea of using one of those rub-in analgesics that contain capsaicin, which can sting terribly if it somehow gets in the eyes or mucous membranes. (You shouldn’t put essential oils there, either.) Given the new information about frankincense et al, I finally had a way to deal with the perfume-gone-wrong!

To my re-melted mixture, I added the essential oils of frankincense, sweet orange and German chamomile, all of which are supposed to be good for arthritis and painful joints. I also added another squirt of almond oil to help make it a little softer and easier to rub into the skin.

Now, I’m not a doctor, and I don’t play one on TV, so I can’t make any claims as to my mixture’s medicinal or therapeutic value, but the resulting fragrance is lovely, and it makes for a pleasurable massage. I don’t know why, but it produces a slight cooling sensation for a couple of minutes after it’s rubbed in, too, which is quite nice. I’ve used it on sore joints and dry skin, and, yes, as a perfume. In fact, of all the solid perfumes I’ve attempted, this one is my very favourite!

Gillyflower’s Orange Frankincense Balm (2 fl. oz. / 60 mL)

2 tbsp beeswax
2 tbsp sweet almond oil
up to 50 drops frankincense essential oil
up to 50 drops sweet orange essential oil
up to 50 drops German chamomile essential oil
2 oz. glass or metal container

Combine the essential oils and set aside • In a Pyrex measuring cup inside a double boiler, gently melt the beeswax and almond oil together over medium heat • Remove pot from heat and let sit for 10 minutes, then add the essential oils and stir well • Dry off the outside of measuring cup and pour mixture into balm container • Allow to cool and solidify • Yields about 2 fl. oz. (60 mL)

A Beautiful Day, but … Bugs

Fern frond: the pale promise of a lush summer

On the weekend, our family travelled to the cottage to open it up for the season. The long-awaited day was sunny and warm, and all the familiar signs of an island spring were there: trilliums in the woods, wild columbine near the house, trailing arbutus flowering on rocky slopes. Warblers, goldfinches, chickadees and phoebes, back from their winter haunts, twittered exuberantly, and the sun sparkled like diamonds on the deep blue lake.

As the guys got the water system working, uncovered the chimney and carried heavy benches to our favourite shore-side lookouts, we gals busied about taking furnishings and kitchen implements out of mouse-proof storage, putting down my mother’s hand-hooked rugs, setting out iconic Muskoka chairs, sweeping old pine needles from paths and getting a start on tidying the gardens.

I reveled getting my hands dirty as I gathered up last autumn’s leaves and pulled weeds. I dug up a clump of thyme to take home with me. The original was planted many years back by my sister and has spread happily along the garden’s border and in the crevices of the concrete path and stairs leading down to the dock. In summer, when we’re there for our vacation, I love sitting on those sunny steps with a cup of tea, brushing my hands idly through the fragrant herb. Potting it up for our balcony at home will be a little reminder of those blissful times.

Blueberry bush blossoms

With these pleasant tasks and beautiful weather came a pesky scourge that can’t be avoided this time of year in southern Ontario: blackflies. (Mosquito season comes a little later, oh bliss, oh joy!) Even with the breezes from the lake, working outside or taking a photo walk in the woods invites hordes of these voracious biters. I came home with a mass of bites, mostly on my scalp and nape of the neck, but they even managed to get under my shirt, down my pants and through my socks! If you don’t know blackflies, the worst bites take a bloody chunk out of you, and the histamine in their saliva (similar to mosquitoes) causes an unsightly, itchy, oozing red lump that can last for days.

The first step in a garden-variety insect bite remedy is to clean the site with water, alcohol wipes or rubbing alcohol. (If you’re bitten by a poisonous species, or if a severe allergic reaction occurs, seek medical help immediately.) Alcohol creates a cooling sensation as it dries out and shrinks the bite, helping to reduce swelling and inflammation; it also disinfects to help prevent infection.

After that, I used what I already had in the first-aid section of the apothecary: Burt’s Bees Res-Q ointment, which contains soothing oils of olive, sunflower, soybean and canola, beeswax and cocoa butter, Vitamin E (tocopherol), plus lavender, rosemary and comfrey extracts. The ointment smells lovely and, although greasy, was instantly soothing and itch-calming. Badger’s unscented Baby Balm with chamomile and calendula, or any calendula salve, would work fine, too. Calendula is a powerful antiviral, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and wound healer and is safe on babies and for application to open cuts or bites. (However, it is known to cause allergic reaction in some individuals and shouldn’t be used by pregnant women.)

Although I got some relief with the salve, I began to wonder – as always – if I could find a cheaper alternative, using what was already in my cupboards. After some research and testing, I settled on the following simple treatments that cost pennies, or nothing at all, take only seconds to prepare, and can be found in most kitchens or gardens.

Ten Natural Bug Bite Relief Remedies

The methods marked with an asterisk (*) were tested on myself. While each provided some degree of temporary relief, I’ve listed them from the most to least effective, with a few untested ones at the end.

* Witch Hazel: Cleanses and cools, constricts blood vessels and reduces inflammation, eases pain, itching and burning and speeds healing. I found immediate, lasting relief with this one, and for me, witch hazel was the clear winner … literally, as it leaves no colour or residue, and the odor is very mild. The alcohol in the brand I used is beneficial in this case, but you can find alcohol-free varieties. To use: Moisten a cotton ball and apply to affected area up to four times per day.

 * Apple Cider Vinegar: Any type of vinegar is antibacterial and astringent. Apple cider vinegar is less acidic than other varieties, and its alkalinity helps balance the pH level of the affected area. It can be used on its own, or you can add essential oil for added benefit. This is best used on small areas; otherwise, you’ll end up smelling like salad dressing! Don’t use on open wounds. To use: Dampen a cotton ball with vinegar (white vinegar works, too) and apply to the bite. Or, add up to 5 drops of lavender essential oil to 1 tsp of vinegar, soak cotton ball and apply hourly. For a lasting effect, tape the soaked cotton ball over the bite for an hour or two.

* Baking Soda or Oatmeal: An alkaline paste of baking soda and water neutralizes the pH level of the surrounding skin and reduces itching, and oatmeal soothes inflammation. If the bites are many or the discomfort intense, soak for a few minutes in a baking soda or oatmeal bath. Spot application will leave a white or pasty residue. To use: Combine 1 tsp of baking soda or oatmeal with 1 tsp warm water to make a paste. (Optional: add a couple of drops of lavender oil.) Apply directly to skin with a cotton ball or fingers and allow to dry. Alternatively, add ½ cup baking soda or 1 cup oatmeal to a warm bath.

* Lemons and Limes: The citric acid in these fruits has itch-relieving properties. To use: Rub a slice of lemon or lime, or dab their juice onto the insect bite.

* Black Tea: The astringent tannins in black tea help shrink inflammation and reduce discomfort. Take care to avoid staining clothes with the tea. To use: After making a nice cuppa, press the warm tea bag to the affected area, reusing the same bag a few times before discarding.

* Basil or Peppermint Leaves: Basil is anti-inflammatory and contains thymol and camphor which are natural itch relievers, and peppermint works to cool an inflamed or burning bite. Note that the juice from the crushed leaves will stain the skin a light olive green until it’s washed off. To use: Crush fresh basil or peppermint leaves using a mortar and pestle or your fingers and apply the paste directly to bite.

* Honey: Honey is antimicrobial and soothing. Because it’s so sticky, this is best used on open areas that won’t come in contact with clothing, furnishings or dirt. To use: Dab raw, unprocessed honey on bite.

Essential Oils: Each of these essential oils has its own properties to help ease and heal the pain, itch and burning of insect bites and stings. You could make up a little vial or rollerball bottle for easy and portable application. To use: Dilute a few drops of one of the above in a spoonful of olive or coconut oil and dab a little on skin. Two or three essential oils can also be combined in a larger quantity of carrier oil for a more intense treatment if the bites or stings are severe.

Lavender – analgesic, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, calming

Peppermint – contains menthol which cools burning and stinging

German chamomile – reduces inflammation and encourages healing

Eucalyptus – antiseptic and analgesic

Rosemary – reduces itch and irritation

Tea tree (melaleuca) – antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving (not to be used on open wounds)

Aloe Vera: Aside from a commercial preparation, you can use gel straight from the aloe plant. Make sure you have the true Aloe vera species, not another variety, as this is the only one that is therapeutic and can safely be used on skin. To use: Break off a leaf, scoop out the inner gel and apply directly to the bite.

Chamomile Tea Ice Cubes: Chamomile has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and cleansing properties, and the application of cold to a bite brings down swelling and reduces pain. To use: Freeze brewed, cooled chamomile tea in an ice cube tray. Apply cube for a few seconds at a time to the inflamed bite.

This is a Test!

Greetings, all! This is a test to determine whether my posts are appearing in your Readers. They’ve stopped showing up in mine, and all attempts to correct the problem haven’t worked so far.

My last few posts, which seem to have gone AWOL, can be found here:

Breaking the Rules (posted May 13)

Full Moon Magick (posted May 11)

Leap of Faith (posted May 9)

I would really appreciate it if you could check your Readers to see if they’re there, and let me know in a comment below. And if a similar thing has happened to you, and you found a solution, your advice would be most helpful. There are still a couple of things I haven’t tried, but I think I’ve sprouted a few more grey hairs over this – and I really don’t need any more of those.

While we’re at it, if anyone knows how to delete an unwanted Category from Categories and Tags, I’d love to know how. What is described in the support forum is not what I see on my site. Any thoughts?

Thank you to Samantha for her help, and to anyone who can shed light on this confuzzlement!

– a tested and testy little gillyflower

UPDATE: With some intervention from Support, my feed has now been “unstuck” and everything is, thankfully, back to normal. Whew!

Breaking the Rules

About a week ago, I was honoured to be nominated for a Liebster Award by Kerry E.B. Black of Allusionary Assembly. Thank you, Kerry!

Liebster is German for sweet, kind, nice, dear, beloved, lovely, pleasant, valued, and endearing. This award is a sweet, kind and nice way of discovering new blogs and supporting others in our blogging community.

The rules:

  1. Say thank you to the person who nominated you for the award.
  2. Answer the 11 questions the person has asked you.
  3. Nominate people (comment on their blog to let them know).
  4. Ask the people you have nominated 11 questions.

Here are my answers to Kerry’s questions:

1. How much time a day do you spend writing?
When I’m working on my novel, it could be six to eight hours a day, but two jobs, this blog and life in general don’t allow me that luxury anymore! For my blog, I plan and write posts in advance to allow a lot of time for editing and tweaking until I feel they’re just right. I include original photography, so that takes time, too.

2. What are your greatest influences?
The medieval/Arthurian/historical books, movies and TV shows I consumed as a child, teen and young adult definitely formed me. The 1980s TV series Robin of Sherwood was huge, along with Tolkien and many of the authors I’ve written about for my blog! I went through a big King Arthur phase, fed by movies such as Excalibur. Exposure to wildlife and botany from an early age is also part of my equation. I’d spend the summer holidays at our little cottage wandering the woods and pretending I was Lady Marion – or better yet, Morgana, such a naughty nymph!

3. What is your favourite colour and why?
I’m a Pisces and love the water – any water: lake, trickling stream, waterfalls, puddles, the ocean – so my favourite colours are blue-green and soft grey, the colours of sea and fog.

4. If you could travel anywhere, where would you visit? Live?
Back to England and Wales, which I’ve only visited once; there’s still so much I want to see! Then I’d settle in a tiny rustic cottage on a remote Scottish island where cars are not allowed and mail gets delivered once a week by boat. The cottage would have flagstone floors, a scrubbed oak work table, an Aga, a stillroom and a wood-burning fireplace. And a herb garden. And cats, lots of cats.

April Cottage, Castle Combe, Wiltshire (May 1992)

5. Plan a dinner party with anyone, living or dead. Who highlights your guest list?
It would be a dinner party for ghosts, I’m afraid — my four grandparents. I never knew my grandmothers, and I wish I’d been old enough to better appreciate my grandfathers before they died. And my dad would be the guest of honour at the head of the table.

6. What’s your favourite scent and why?
Ooo, do I have to pick just one? Right now, frankincense and sandalwood top the list, but I also love the fragrance of wildflower meadows, fresh-cut grass, beeswax, pine needles, petrichor, fallen leaves and wood smoke. From the herb garden it would be lavender, roman chamomile, thyme, bergamot and scented geranium. I also cannot resist the aroma of fresh-baked bread (and will eat the whole loaf if someone doesn’t stop me). All of these are organic, down-to-earth scents with history; nothing synthetic for me, thank you!

7. What size is your family? Do you have many siblings?
Small, with two older siblings. None of us has any kids, so the patriarchal family name, which emigrated from England a century ago, ends with us on this side of The Pond.

8. What is your preferred mode of transportation?
Although I have to drive all the time to live the life I have now, I despise it. Rather, I despise other drivers. When I move to that remote, pedestrian-only island, I’ll bring a classic English bicycle, complete with wicker basket and bell!

9. Do you have a cause you’d fight and go to jail for?
I think it’s silly to go to jail for any reason, as that doesn’t, ahem, serve anyone. However, my favourite causes are nature conservancy, animal rights (including saving the bees) and preventing violence against women.

10. Ever think of running for political office?
Gods, no.

11. What is your favourite social media platform and why?
I don’t use Instagram or Twitter, etc., but I am on Facebook. This blog allows me to express myself in ways in which Facebook doesn’t.

And now, I’m going to break the rules a bit. (Sometimes it’s good to break the rules, isn’t it?) I’m nominating only two people: Samantha at samanthamurdochblog and Gillian of PaperPuff, neither of whom I was able to nominate for the Real Neat Blog Award a while back. And I’m asking these wonderful ladies just one question, with no pressure or rules attached:

1. Oatmeal biscuits [cookies] with raisins? Or without?

(Is that two questions? Oops, now is that three? Ah, jeez…)

Ladies, be very careful when you answer the above question (if, indeed, you choose to answer). It is an extremely decisive issue! Feel free to wax poetical for an entire post on the virtues of oatmeal biscuits, or biscuits of any kind, if you wish. Especially if there’s tea involved.

Full Moon Magick

May Flower Moon

This month’s full moon, which occurs May 10 to 11, is known as the Flower Moon because it’s generally considered safe to plant flowers and crops starting in May. Other traditional names are Mother’s Moon, Milk Moon and Corn Planting Moon. Folklore tells us that clothes washed for the first time under a full moon will not last long, and that, because the Moon is associated with love, the best time to accept a marriage proposal is during a full moon!

Moonstone

Moonstones showing a bit of blue “flash”

Moonstone is a variety of feldspar that has been admired since ancient times. The original name for moonstone was selēnitēs, the ancient Greek word for the Moon. The Romans believed that this mineral was made of solidified moon rays, and that the Moon’s waxing and waning could be seen by gazing into its milky depths. Moonstone’s lunar association makes this silky crystal, which is considered feminine, the stone of lovers, blessings in marriage and fertility.

Selenite

Selenite, a colourless, white or pale peach, pearly or transparent form of gypsum is unrelated to moonstone but got its name in the 15th century from the same ancient Greek root; it means ‘stone of the Moon’. Gypsum has insulating properties and feels warm to the touch.

Washi tape, which is surprisingly water resistant yet easily removable, adds a pretty touch

Grounding Mist (2 fl. oz. / 60 mL)

Although I do love the Moon, for me, the days leading up to and during a full moon can be chaotic and unsettling. To help bring calm and stability, try this grounding essential oil mist made with soft sandalwood, romantic rose, rich vanilla and night-blooming jasmine.

1 vanilla • 3 jasmine  • 9 rose or rose geranium • 12 sandalwood

Add essential oils (number of drops indicated) and distilled water to a 2 fl. oz. (60 mL) glass mister bottle. Shake well before each use and spritz on skin, hair or into the air as desired. Keep at room temperature, or in the fridge for an extra refreshing mist. Avoid getting in eyes, and do not ingest.

Moon Goddess Mist (4 fl. oz. / 120 mL)

This intoxicating hair, body and room spray includes jasmine – the Queen of the Night – perfect for communing with the full moon! Add the oils to a 4 fl. oz. (120 mL) glass mister bottle of distilled water. Feel free to adjust the amounts according to your desire, but don’t go overboard with the vanilla, or it will overpower the others. Recipe can be halved for a smaller bottle.

2 vanilla • 9 jasmine • 12 tangerine • 12 lime • 12 neroli • 12 rose geranium

Selenite and Legend: The Arthurian Tarot by Anna-Marie Ferguson

Leap of Faith

I’ve done it!

In my previous post, I mentioned that I was making a number of changes, including how I present myself on social media. I was worried that changing this blog’s site address would be complicated and that I might have to purchase a new site. (This was what I’d read in WordPress help, but I know now that I wasn’t using the correct search terminology.) I was also terrified that I’d screw it up, as I usually do whenever technology is involved, and lose everything I’ve done on this blog so far.

I needn’t have worried. I’m pleased to report that I’ve made the change successfully – without help, I might add!

It’s dead easy, actually. In Account Settings, when you change your username, it gives several options, one of which is switching to a new site address that matches the new name, deleting the old address. But it doesn’t specify that the current blog will remain intact. I need to be told these things explicitly – as in, No, dear, all your hard work of the last ten months will not get irrevocably wiped out when you press that button – or else I get really, really nervous.

Before I hit Save, I looked up the topic again in Help; it didn’t give much more detail, and I still wasn’t 100% sure I was doing the right thing. But I was pretty sure. So I held my breath, crossed my fingers and toes, took a giant leap of faith (hard to do when your toes are crossed), and clicked.

Hallelujah! All my previous work is still there, and I feel more at home now that my blog name and address match. Well, they almost match. Unfortunately, I had to add some numbers to the address because the name alone was already taken (by that dead blog I mentioned before, grrr), but I’m okay with that. I then went on to make all the respective corrections to my Facebook pages, including every mentioned link to my blog, as they don’t change automatically, my Etsy shop and my About Me website. (Does anyone use About Me anymore? No, I didn’t think so.) Whew!

I’m a happy little gillyflower now.

Changes

I’ve been making a few changes in my life lately and am in the midst of considering others. I can’t believe it’s been more than two months since I started my second part-time job. It’s challenging and I’m enjoying it, but the additional schedule, including dashing straight from one job to the other several days a week, leaves precious little time for much else these days. I’m rethinking my presence on Facebook and must find a way to devote more time to my Etsy shop as well as take care of all the other things on my to-do list.

One thing that won’t change is my dedication to this blog. Some of you may have noticed in recent comments that I’ve switched my WordPress public display name from Wood So Wild to gillyflower. Over the last ten months, my blog has developed its own character, separate from my Etsy persona, and I would dearly love to change the site address, too, to reflect this. But WordPress doesn’t make that easy – or free – according to what I’ve read, so I’ll have to research that further. Have any of you changed your site name (e.g. http://www.gillyflowerfaire.wordpress.com), and how did you go about it?

With all this and more on my mind, May’s theme is Changes.

The other day, I picked up a sandalwood stretch bead bracelet. It was okay-looking but a bit too big, and the thin elastic looked as if it wouldn’t endure more than one wearing. Plus, I wasn’t keen on the cheap base metal charm or rhinestones. (I’ve saved the two genuine ruby fuchsite beads for another project.) I really just bought the thing for the fragrant wooden beads. So, just like Lydia and her ugly hat in Pride and Prejudice, I took it apart and made (what I think is) a prettier one!

Before

After

I used the following components, most of them available from Michael’s:

• 49 strand Beadalon™ 0.46 mm bright bead stringing wire
• 7 mm sandalwood beads
• 8 mm turquoise-dyed howlite beads
• 6 mm silver-plated spacer beads
• 5 mm and 3 mm silver-plated beads to finish the ends of the bracelet
• #2 silver-plated crimp tubes
• 18 gauge, 5/32” (4.19 mm) stainless steel chainmaille jump ring
• 12 mm silver-plated lobster clasp

Instructions on making jewellery with stringing wire and crimps are all over the ’net, so I won’t include them here. However, here are a few tips (some of them optional) in case you want to try something like this for yourself:

To accommodate the larger size of the beads on the wrist, I made the bracelet about half to three quarters of an inch longer than I would normally wear • I prefer using saw-cut chainmaille rings – a specialty purchase – in my jewellery because they’re more robust than regular jump rings and close beautifully without the need for soldering; I file the seam using a tiny round jeweller’s file for a virtually invisible closure • Chainmaille pliers are an excellent choice for jewellery-making because they don’t have teeth to mar metal surfaces, but they’re also not usually found at regular craft stores • My crimping pliers (Mighty Crimp) from Michael’s don’t secure the tiny tubes well enough, so I used needle nose pliers to tighten them securely, which resulted in flat crimps.

I may look at using crimp covers for my next beading project – another change!