Friday, June 18, 2010

Body Butter

It's been much too hot and humid here in east central Illinois to take any more garden pictures lately. Also, Susan' blog is meant to have a range of topics, not all gardening related. So far, I've avoided controversial topics involving the takeover of our democracy by the corporate elite, the need to see the oil spill as a horrendous warning about climate change, the urgency of reform on all levels, the desperate need for balance in this unbalanced world of wealth and poverty, power and helplessness, cutting-edge technology and centuries-old cultural traditions ... etc. For now, let's try a trivial topic -- but one close to my heart, literally: body butter.

Okay, I'm an old sixties person in many respects. I love flowers. I still play Beatles and Dylan and wish I'd gone to Woodstock. I don't shave, pluck my eyebrows, dye or perm or streak my hair, wear makeup, or care about fashion. My husband and I try to tread fairly light on the earth (even though we're both overweight). We recycle -- not fanatically (paper towels for cat barf, please). We don't have a television. We have one car and use it with planning in mind for efficiency of trips. We make real food but aren't obsessive about it (salt, fat, sugar, and chocolate are still major food groups even though we eat broccolli often and are not even vegetarian). We can't really afford to buy everything organic or even shop very often at the whole foods store, but we go to Farmer's Market when we can get up that early and it's not raining.

All this is to say I use only natural body butter, lotions, shampoos, etc. They are not really much more expensive. Besides, there are so many chemicals out there interfering with our air, our water, our bodies  -- why add more than you need? Also, I had a brush with a blood disorder some years back that may have been related to chemical exposure (or viral), so I got careful about reading food and cosmetic labels assiduously.

It's also true that even people who live very modestly and don't go in for luxury like to feel luxurious sometimes, like to be pampered, like to feel feminine. And people who don't have the money or time or health or energy to do much traveling (not to mention the stamina for airport lines given the security checks and so on), need aromatherapy to transport them to exotic places. What is the answer then to meet these varied needs? Body Butter. Yes, fragrant, vegan, smooth, moisturing cream to spread slowly and sensually over your dry, rough, aging skin after a nice shower or bath.

One of my favorite companies for body butter is Pacifica. The link is in the list of links on the blog page. They are based in Portland and sell online. This past week, they had a 25% off sale on all their body butters and I stocked up.

I'll never get to Bali except via Bali Lime Papaya. Vanilla Vera Cruz takes me way south of the border. The Far East is mine with Thai Lemongrass. Desert sun and camel rides? Tunisian Jasmine. African jungles and clove harvests? Madacasgar Spice. Sunsets and surf in Hawaii? Waikiki Pikake. Paul Gaugain made it to Tahiti to do some painting and lie around under the palms a lot, but for me it's Tahitian Gardenia body butter. The perfect complement to my Tuscan bean and sausage and vegetable soup? Tuscan Blood Orange body butter. April in Paris? French lilac. They have fragrances too (totally vegan) in spray bottles. Lovely to spritz on after the butter.

Another favorite is the body cream by Alba Botanica -- the scents of the islands: kukui nut, coconut, papaya mango. The shampoos are great too, and the Jasmine face cream is the best! A related company is Avalon Organics, which carries a wonderful lavender face cream and a great lemon hand lotion.

There are some other companies I've discovered as well. Green by Nature makes a super hand cream called Almond Cocoa. Wonderful fragrance and so thick and creamy and great for chapped hands in winter.

Natures Gate makes pump hand soaps with no bad stuff in them and they really wash your hands well, gently, and fragrantly. Their shampoo is nice too, especially persimmon and geranium, lemongrass and clary sage, and patchouli and mandarin orange.

Desert Essence is another favorite. I love their tubes of hand and body lotion: Spicy Citrus, Almond, Chai Vanilla -- not to mention their Shea body cream in a tube with honey -- and the skin ointment really works on my elbow psoriasis. Be Fine makes a lemon-shaped container of lemon oil paste called Rough Spot that is also terrific for very dry patches.

This really wasn't meant to be an advertisement but more of a thank-you to good companies that produce a healthy, enjoyable, reasonably priced product that does what it aims to do without polluting the environment or irritating your skin! But do check out their websites if you like this kind of thing and then kick back and soak up the luxury of body butter!

Handmade Spark

I just published a new article on Handmade Spark all about beads with an Asian flair. If you find the subject interesting, have a look at


I had an interesting experience today. I spent two hours writing -- by hand -- a long letter to a friend.

In 1969, I was teaching French at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, when I met my friend Francoise, a French woman who was there for a year to teach French as well. She and I became fast friends and spent nearly all of our free time together that year. When she returned to France to teach junior high English, we wrote letters to each other -- long, newsy, frequent letters for a while.

One time, in the seventies, she came to Champaign-Urbana for a brief visit. In 1985, David and I went to France for two weeks and stayed with her in her Paris apartment for a week. Other than that, it's been letters as the only form of comunication over the years.

But it's hard to keep updating and communicating when you no longer have many in-person experiences to share, and the frequency of our letters dribbled down gradually, to the point that we only write about once a year now. I've asked her about e-mail because that's really how I keep up with other friends from earlier times who live far away. But she doesn't like the impersonality of it and just uses it for quick information sharing about schedules and train departures and so on. She likes -- and still sends -- long, newsy handwritten letters. She writes in French, and I write in English. That helps us both keep our reading skills up a bit.

But, as I said, it had been almost a year since I've written, and I have to admit that the last time I had written in Word and then made a printout to mail to her. So it had been a while since I'd handwritten anything long at all. Unlike some younger people, I was used to writing letters to friends and family for many years when I was younger, but over time it all turned to e-mail and phone calls.

I am an inveterate list maker, and I do handwrite notes related to my copyediting work even though I do the work online. But it was still an eye-opening (and hand-cramping!) experience to cover both sides of five pages of lined 8 1/2 by 11 paper with a pen, and it led me to think about the transitions we've all made because of technology.

It made me think about the letters of famous people that I've read in books, the epistolary novels, and the letters inside novels that I've enjoyed reading. And I wonder sometimes what it was like for scribes at the time of the first printing presses. Food for thought. Have you written any letters lately?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Summer in the Garden

"Summertime" is one of my very favorite jazz songs, and the tune floats through my head on these balmy June days here in east central Illinois. As you can see, the springtime brilliant reds and purples of the Japanese maple leaves have mellowed into green, touched underneath with those yellows from the ol' summer sun.

Alternating with the sunny days, we've been having our share of T-storms as well, and the rain has knocked a lot of the petals off the glorious Chinese dogwood (Cornus kousa) hybrids that we have in the north yard. They had more blossoms this year than ever before.

Here's a close-up so you can see how large, how white, and how beautiful each flower really is:

Another lovely white thing is the dwarf mock orange (Philadelphus), a little shrub only a few feet high. It seems to have suffered some winter die-back this year, and there weren't very many flowers. But the blooms are quite double and extremely fragrant. It's one of my favorite shrubs.

While we're on the subject of white flowers, here's the penstemon called 'Husker's Red' -- but not because the flowers are red. The young stems have a reddish cast and the leaf edges as well, but the flowers are white.

But now we need some color, and the brilliant lemon-yellow of the Oenothera, often called the evening primrose, can provide it. The flowers open a bit late in the day, thus the "evening" part of the name.

There are nice blue flowers around now too, including these starry pale blue blossoms on the Campanula porsharskyana. I think that campanulas are sometimes known as "bell flowers" because many of them have bell-shaped flowers, but these are different.

In addition to color and shape, the markings or patterns on the petals of flowers add to their overall beauty. The blooms on this hardy Geranium are a good example. Most people think of the red or pink annual Pelargonium when they hear the name "geranium," but the hardy so-called crane's bills are the true genus. The pelargoniums, from South Africa originally, are very popular annuals. I always have a few in containers myself.

But we mustn't forget that blue flowers also bloom on graceful vines, such as this gorgeous Clematis with its very double center. Even the spent blossom behind it that has turned white is dramatic and interesting.

A fabulous vine that is slow to establish but long-lived is the Schizophragma, related to the hydrangeas. This one, on a treillis near the northwest door, has been waiting about fifteen years to bloom this much.

Everything isn't about color in the summer, although the potted annuals have a different story to tell of course. The cool greens of hostas, ferns, and perennial foliage are very welcome on a hot sunny day.

Some years ago, we took apart a large sieboldii type hosta and planted the sections in a circle at the base of the smaller of the two Chinese dogwoods. It has grown large and luxurious there in the shade and is starting to bloom now. Most hostas have lavender bell-shaped flowers, but this one has upright bells of pure white, and they are fragrant.

And now the stars of the summer stage come on -- the potted annuals. They aren't in full costume and makeup yet, but they are getting more colorful every day. Let's start with a pot of red supertunias (extra robust petunias with a short habit and non-drooping flowers) and a blue-black salvia, a sage relative from Brazil that I grow every year because it attracts hummingbirds like crazy and is beautiful to boot.

In a shady location in the south yard are two pots with purple and yellow torenias and orange and red impatiens to brighten the area.

Along the sunny front walk, however, brilliant pink and white dianthus provide plenty of cheerfulness and sweet scent.

I am very fond of the whole dianthus family (which includes the biennial sweet william and florist carnation as well as tiny alpine perennial gems). Some of the annual dianthus live over each year in the pots, so I plant more around them. In the pot below, I added the red ones this time.

For brilliant annual color, it's hard to beat the purple wave petunias, especially combined with bright annual phlox.

This year I am trying, for the first time, the yellow and white wave petunias. They seem very cheerful and combine nicely with the dark purple ageratum and a bit of white to set off the colors.

Of course, the choices for annuals are more limited for pots in shady areas like our breezeway. But I do love to have some delicate light pink impatiens and a trio of tuberous begonias around the base of the west bird bath there to greet me when I return home.

Usually, I aim for functionality in pots rather than decoration. I like the big ones that are made of some kind of fiberglass or styrofoam material that can stay outside all winter without damage and aren't so heavy to move. I also have some standard terra cottas that we take into the sheds for winter. But I do have a decorative pot on the table; a friend found it for me at a garage sale. This year, it hosts a red begonia that should get fairly showy before the summer's over.

My mini-site on Handmade Spark

Here's a new feature on Handmade Spark: nice little "mini-sites" for those with a profile for their Etsy handmade shops. It's a way to introduce people to your handmade items, your blog, your tweets, and other links. Have a look at mine at My Spark.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

New Article on Handmade Spark

Check out my  newest article on Handmade Spark. It tells about two new experiments for my Etsy site. One is a great collaboration with Eleanore Brown, who is now re-taking the photographs of my beaded jewelry in her fabulous flower garden.

The other experiment is called "Take the Color Match Challenge." I have so many beads collected over twenty years that I think I can make a pair of earrings to match your outfit if you send me a digital photo of it and some information about preferences. So far, no one has contacted me to try this out, but you can read about it in the Spark article and there is a brief mention also in my Etsy shop announcement. Have fun reading the new article and checking out the new "beads in the garden" look of my photos. Let me know what you think!