Perfectly-Peeled Boiled Eggs? Possible!

Look at this egg!  It peeled like a breeze!

Never boil eggs again because a steamed egg peels perfectly every time!

This egg is fresh from our chickens, only a day or two old.  Fresh eggs are usually the worst to peel after being boiled — half the white peels off with the shell.  Store-bought eggs are typically several weeks old by the time you purchase them, and they are sometimes still hard to peel.

Well, no longer! There is a simple solution to your egg-peeling problems!

I figured out this great technique by observing an old egg cooker my mother-in-law bought 41 years ago for $1 at a yard sale.  (Wow, did she get her money’s-worth, or what?!)  She was getting rid of it because we bought her a new one for Christmas.  The old one now resides at my mom’s house after my creative, able-to-fix-anything father tuned it up and replaced a missing leg.  My mother was amazed at how perfectly her eggs peeled when she made her famous deviled eggs for the holidays. (They are so delicious!  Click here to get the recipe.)

old metal egg steamer with black handles and cord

After looking at both of the egg cookers, I thought “I can do this myself without paying for another kitchen gadget!” The keys to easily-peeled boiled eggs, it seems, are a hole in the eggshell and steam.


Here’s how to properly cook “boiled” eggs, by steaming them instead:

1. Grab stainless-steel pot with steamer basket, which is typically used to cook veggies like broccoli and carrots.

2. Sanitize a sharp object, like a sewing needle (I used an ice-pick tool in a screwdriver set), and poke a small hole in the fat end of the egg (where there is an air bubble between the shell and the inside of the raw egg).

poking hole in end of raw egg before steaming it

3. Add about an inch of water to the pot, place the basket of eggs inside, and put it on the stove at a high temperature until you can see steam coming from the pot’s vent.

steam emerging from the lid vent of a pot full of steaming eggs

4. Close the lid vent, turn the temperature down enough to keep a low-rolling boil, and cook the eggs for 12-15 minutes for hard-boiled eggs.

TIP: Test to see if they are cooked the way you like.  You can test an egg by putting it in a spoon and running cool water on it until it’s cool enough to handle (or place it in some ice water for a minute).  Then peel it and cut it in half to check the appearance of the yolk.

These photos show how the egg dries off in seconds when it is still very hot!

I tested an egg at 12 minutes, and decided the others needed more time.  I like my eggs completely hard-boiled, with no dark or “gooey” places in the yolk, so I will stick with 14-15 minutes from now on for larger eggs.  Smaller eggs would, of course, take less time.

5. Place the eggs in cold water (or ice water) to stop the cooking process at the desired point.  It’s the same idea as rinsing pasta in cool water after you drain it; if you don’t cool it off, it will continue to cook.  Over-cooking will cause the eggs to get a grayish-green coating around the yolk.

6. Peel and enjoy!  Tap a cooled egg on a hard surface many times in different spots so that the shell is cracked all over.  You can even gently roll it between your hands to further crack the shell and help the outer membrane release from the egg.  Start peeling at the fat end where the air bubble is, making sure you are removing the outer membrane along with the shell fragments. (If you look closely at the first photo, you can see the outer eggshell membrane clinging to the peeled shell and holding the broken pieces together.)


Using this method, our fresh eggs are so easy to peel and so delicious! Yum!

steamed egg, cut in half, on a plate with fried potatoes

I’ve tried many of the touted tricks for easily-peeled boiled eggs:

  • heavily salting the cooking water
  • placing cooked eggs immediately into ice water
  • adding vinegar during boiling
  • using only older eggs
  • etc, etc.

Some of these methods worked fairly well, but none worked great for easily-peeled boiled eggs.  But, in my experience, steaming works without fail!

I Haven’t Shampooed My Hair in a Year!

It’s true!  And I’m loving it!

I cleaned my hair throughout 2016 with two simple ingredients which only cost pennies per month:  baking soda and vinegar.

Check out this post to learn the no-shampoo method of hair washing that I use and to see my…

"Never buy shampoo again!" One year update

Avoiding harsh chemicals, saving money, and having soft, clean hair — Yes!  That makes me a happy lady!

Never Buy Shampoo Again!

After getting a great checkup from my dentist, I recently shared recipes that make it possible for you to never buy toothpaste or mouthwash again.  Today, I am ready to reveal the results of another personal care experiment I’ve been testing…

I haven’t shampooed my hair in six months.

Does that make you shudder at the thought?  I know some people are grossed out by those words.  Here’s a quick example:

Earlier in this experiment, a friend was running her fingers through my hair and commenting over and over about how shiny and pretty it looked and how soft it felt.  I just couldn’t resist responding with “Oh really?  That must be because I haven’t shampooed it in a couple of months.”  She snapped her hand away from my head with a brief flash of horror on her face.  I rolled with laughter!

As I’m sure you can understand, I haven’t told many people before now.  It’s not that I haven’t been cleaning my hair at all; it’s just that my ever-present fragrance allergies have spurred me to try simpler methods of home and body care.  The keys I’ve discovered to chemical-free clean hair are baking soda and vinegar.

My daughter has had great success with this method, as well, for about five months now.  Her hair is a completely different color, texture, and thickness than mine, so we have both tailored our routines to work best for each of us.  I think with a little time anyone could successfully use these two ingredients to keep their hair shiny and healthy, without ever touching a bottle of shampoo again!

Never buy shampoo again!


There are many places on the internet to learn about cleaning your hair this way, some of which seem unnecessarily complicated to me.  I’ll explain the simple method we use to clean our hair and how you can tailor it to work for your hair as well.

STEP 1:  I keep a container of baking soda handy in the bathroom, and I keep a container of distilled white vinegar and a disposable plastic three-ounce cup in the shower.

STEP 2:  Before showering, I measure my individual portion of baking soda into the cup and set it back into the shower.  I just eyeball the amount in the cup.  For the sake of this post, I measured the amount — about 1 1/2 teaspoons.

STEP 3:  After wetting my hair during the shower, I fill the cup with water.  Using my finger, I stir the baking soda and water mixture before pouring a little on my hair.  The baking soda settles to the bottom very quickly, so I repeatedly stir and apply, stir and apply.  The key is to focus on the scalp.  (If your hair is long, the liquid that runs down will likely be enough to take care of the rest of your hair.)  Then, I gently scrub the baking soda around on my scalp for half a minute.

STEP 4:  I turn the shower head onto the power massage spray to do a thorough rinse of my hair, starting at the scalp and working my way down.  Once I think it is rinsed well, I rinse some more!  Unless your hair tends to be extremely greasy, it’s best to rinse out the baking soda as well as you can.

I repeat steps 3-4 using the vinegar, with minor adjustments.

STEP 5:  For my hair, I use about the same amount of vinegar — it measured 1 1/4 teaspoons.  After filling the cup with water and stirring once, I apply the vinegar mixture to my scalp, give it a scrub with my fingers for up to a minute, and rinse it out.  

STEP 6:  I turn the massager shower blast on again and rinse very thoroughly.

STEP 7:  After the shower, I give my hair a gentle pat dry with the towel (or wrap it in the towel for a few minutes) and then brush it out two or three times while it’s drying.


For those who imagine a greasy mop limply hanging from my head, I took some photos. The first one (dark blue shirt) is my hair on a typical day.  I had washed it the day before.  The second one (light blue shirt) is my hair when it was almost dry after being washed.  The only thing I did was brush it out before taking each photo.  It’s a streaky, strange color because I began developing premature gray when just a junior high student, and it has been rapidly taking over the last few years.

Click on the photos for a closer view.

Using only the baking soda and vinegar, my fine hair is softer and has more body.  I see about half as much hair gathering around the drain guard in the shower, and no one has to pick dozens of loose hairs off the back of my shirt anymore.  My hair also feels slightly thicker when I wring it out after a shower or put it up in a pony tail.  My daughter’s hair is much less greasy with a lot less of those fuzzy fly-away baby hairs that used to stick up on the top of her head.  I also rarely ever see a dandruff flake on her hair these days.

[I was about to publish this post when I realized there is no photo of my daughter’s hair.  The best I could get at the moment is her damp hair fresh out of the shower.  Can you believe how thick that braid is?!]

dark, braided hair of girl who just washed hair with baking soda and vinegar

So why does this method work? The theory is that shampoo strips so much oil off your scalp and hair that your scalp overproduces in an attempt to replace the protective coating on your hair.  The more you shampoo, the more your scalp produces oil.  I would imagine that conditioner helps to combat this cycle to a degree, but both shampoo and conditioner tend to leave their own undesirable buildup on your hair.


When you ditch the store bought bottles and try this method, there can be a three- or four-week transition period (I’ve read possibly up to six weeks) of extra greasiness as you break the cycle of oil removal and overproduction.  Personally, I didn’t notice much of a transition.  That’s probably because I was already using (expensive) “natural” shampoos and conditioners and was only washing my hair every other day.  My daughter did have greasier hair for about a month until she broke the cycle and found the techniques that worked best for her.  If you experience a bad transition, hang in there!  You only have to go through it once, and it’s worth it!  If you give in and try to occasionally use regular shampoo, it will probably restart the old strip-and-oil cycle.

It isn’t necessary to clean your hair every day.  I usually only wash mine twice per week now.  I’ve read that some people wash once every week or two, and in between washings they just rinse carefully with warm water when they shower.

When I scrub the baking soda onto my scalp, my hair feels really strange.  It feels almost sticky and grainy, and I can’t really run my fingers through it.  After the vinegar rinse, it feels almost like I’ve put on conditioner, and I can easily run my fingers through the soft hair again.

You can tweak the amounts of baking soda and vinegar and/or the duration of application depending upon how oily your hair feels on that day.  Diet, sweat, wind, hormones, how much you’ve touched your hair, and many other factors can affect how oily your hair becomes.  More baking soda will absorb oil better, but you must balance it with a vinegar rinse or you will get a build-up on your hair from the baking soda.  Don’t worry that you will walk around smelling like sour pickles.  In our experience, our hair has pretty much no smell at all now.

My daughter’s hair is very thick and heavy compared to mine (or to most people, actually), plus she has those raging teen hormones flowing through her veins, so she uses a lot more baking soda than I do.  She brought me her normal amount, and it was about 7-8 teaspoons! Her cup was filled between a third- and half-full, while my 1 1/2 teaspoons was only a thin layer in the bottom of my cup.  Now I understand why she has trouble rinsing it all out!

Surprisingly, my daughter and I both use the same amount of vinegar — about 1 1/4 teaspoons.  By the end of the fifth month, I noticed the ends of my hair were a bit dry, so I knew that even my quick application of weak vinegar solution was too much.  For the next few washes, I kept the tips of my hair in the shower spray while I applied the vinegar to my scalp, and the problem was solved.  (It might have worked to just use less vinegar, I suppose.)

When my daughter’s hair seems determined to be extra oily, she dusts a little baking soda onto her part and combs it in (which helps to absorb the oil, similar to how a dry shampoo works).  Greasy hair was a problem for me, too, at her age.  My hair is becoming more dry and wiry as the gray multiplies, so a small amount of baking soda and very quick vinegar rinse works well for me at this point in my life.

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Extra Tip!  (Update from June 30th, 2016)

There’s an important thing I forgot to mention when I wrote this post.  I was reminded of it while on vacation this week.  When my daughter and I washed our hair at a friend’s house, it did not turn out as well.  Both of us noticed our hair came out rather dry, and my daughter had lots of fly-away fuzzies on top of her head again.  I realized it was because of the chlorine in their water.

At home, we have filters on our showers that screw on between the pipe and the shower head.  They are super simple to install.  All we have to do is twist it open, clean the two rubber “O-rings,” and put a new filter inside every six months.

chlorine filters.jpg

Whether or not you try the no-shampoo-method, one of the simplest things you can do for softer hair and skin is to shower in chlorine-free water.  It might even help your “allergies.”  A friend of mine was having problems with aggravating itching on his scalp and body.  He tried changing his diet, his laundry detergent, and several other things.  When he took a shower after putting a fresh chlorine filter in place, the itching stopped immediately and completely.

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My husband is interested in trying this method but is waiting until he uses up the shampoo.  Since he’s currently the only one using it, it’s taking a long time.  The method is not completely foreign to him, however.  For years, he has periodically used a vinegar rinse to get rid of dandruff. (He scrubs the vinegar vigorously into the problem areas with his fingernails and leaves it a few moments before rinsing it out.)

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"Never buy shampoo again!" One year update

(January 3, 2017)

For those who are curious about the long-term results of the baking soda and vinegar hair-washing method, I thought you’d appreciate an update.  It’s been approximately a year since shampoo or conditioner has touched my hair, and so far I’m still loving it.  In fact, it’s been getting better over time.

I mentioned in the “Tips” above that my hair felt a little sticky and strange while scrubbing in the baking soda.  That doesn’t really happen anymore, so I’m assuming that may have been something to do with removing the product buildup on my hair.

Several people have told me they think my hair looks darker than it used to.  I seriously doubt my gray hairs are turning back to brown, so maybe that also has something to do with removing product buildup.  Whatever the reason, I’m fine with it!

Since the first set of photos, my hair had grown part way down my back and was still looking nice on the “no-poo” method.  It didn’t get greasy or stringy-looking even though I’ve spent the last month transitioning from washing my hair twice per week to only once per week.  (I just rinse well with warm water on other days.)

As you can see from the following update photo, I recently cut my hair into a sort of wedge haircut that’s shorter in the back and longer on the sides.  The old haircut was getting on my nerves.  I’m sure some of you guys/girls are familiar with these annoyances:  the wind blows, and you have hair stuck in the chapstick on your lips; you bend over to pick up something on the floor, and all you can see is a blur of hair; and one of the most gross ones — you sniff and hair goes in your nose!  Ugh!

I stepped in front of the bathroom mirror one Friday night around midnight to brush my teeth, looked at my reflection and thought, “I’m sick of this mop!”  So, I grabbed the scissors and began chopping away!  My most dramatic haircuts have always happened around midnight.  Lol

Anyway, enough blabbing, let’s move on to the update image!  This photo was taken today, three days after washing my hair with baking soda and vinegar:

no-shampoo method wedge haircut seen from the back

After a year of no shampoo, I’m still loving the results!  If you try this method for cleaning your hair, please comment below on how it works for you!  Thanks for reading!

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no-shampoo method 4 year update logo

(August 2, 2020)

How have the years flown by so fast? Shampoo has not touched my hair in over 4 1/2 years now. My hair is happy and healthy, and I still get compliments on it. These days I use the full baking soda and vinegar treatment once per week and use vinegar or plain water the rest of the time. I’m no longer shy to tell people about the benefits of kicking your shampoo bottle to the curb! (Note: I don’t use hair products of any kind. I believe the lack of product buildup on my hair and the use of a shower filter are why the no shampoo method works so well for me.)

Wholesome, Healing, Homemade Toothpase and Mouthwash

For several years now, I’ve been trying to get away from fragrances and strong chemicals in order to improve my allergies and physical health. My desire is to not burden my immune system any more than necessary so I will feel better and have more energy.

Part of my methods include using natural products like vinegar and baking soda to clean our home.  I have been attempting (unsuccessfully at times) to eat better, exercise more, and get at least seven hours of sleep per night.  Certain herbs and essential oils have also benefited me and my family’s health in several ways.

In a previous post I explained how frankincense essential oil has made a positive impact on my health.  It is one of the ingredients in the recipes I’m sharing today.  So, on with today’s topic…

Did you know teeth can “remineralize” (regrow enamel)?  It’s true!  A few years ago, I saw for myself more than once that with careful, gentle brushing and good general health, small cavities that are beginning to form can actually heal and go away.  I’ve read that this is accomplished when your body uses minerals in your saliva to repair tooth enamel.  The recipes below should help speed that process along without hurting your wallet or putting harsh chemicals in your body.

I waited to share this information until I had thoroughly tried it myself.  In the five months I’ve been using the homemade toothpaste, my teeth have lightened several shades…all except for one tooth on the bottom (which gives me a reliable gauge for how much whiter my other teeth have become). This week I had a great checkup at the dentist. The tartar buildup was a little less than usual, and I had no sign of cavities.

I asked the hygienist about the one tooth that did not brighten in color.  She said the dentin under tooth enamel is a yellowish color and that thinning enamel can cause teeth to look either more yellow or more see-through.  (Does that mean one of my teeth is unable to whiten/remineralize?  Why would that be? I have no idea!  Please share your thoughts on the matter in the comments below.)

{UPDATE 7/19/18: Or…perhaps all my teeth were losing enamel along with the plaque. After my teeth grew whiter, they later began looking transparent on the edges.  I tried using only baking soda, but that caused my teeth to be more see-through.  The transparency grew continually worse until I decided to discontinue the homemade toothpaste and go back to using “Jason Healthy Mouth” tea tree toothpaste. The transparency immediately improved but never completely went away. 

I now believe this toothpaste would be best used as a polishing paste only once or twice per week. I regret the damage I apparently caused by using it daily. It could have been other things such as age or diet which caused the enamel loss, but I believe the toothpaste played a part, too.

We are still using the mouthwash — minus the calcium capsules (I got tired of the powder sedement) — and we love it! I think adding liquid trace minerals would be a better option than the capsules.}

Are you interested in trying the recipes?  I’ll list them for you, along with tips on how I made and used them.  Click the links (words in red) to learn more information about ingredients. (Also, if any of the links fail to work, please let me know so I can repair them.  Thanks!)

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homemade toothpaste by Merry Hearts Medicine

homemade toothpaste basic ingredients list

{UPDATE 7/19/18: I now believe this toothpaste would be best used as a polishing paste only once or twice per week.}

2 Tablespoons baking soda

Used for cleaning and whitening. Yes, this is safe for your enamel. It is usually the lowest item on abrasiveness scales that compare toothpastes. Here is a more detailed article about how the RDA abrasiveness values are tested and what it means.

2 Tablespoons organic virgin coconut oil

Used for cleaning, whitening, and killing bacteria in the mouth.  This is one example of the many articles discussing the health benefits of coconut oil for oral and physical health.

calcium carbonate and magnesium (I use 4 capsules.)

Used to help remineralize teeth.  See if you can find capsules or powder in order to avoid the fillers and chemicals used to hold tablets together.  The minerals inside the capsules I found were not as fine of a powder as I expected.  For my second batch of toothpaste, I grabbed the spice mortar and pestle from my kitchen and ground the tiny lumps out of the powder before adding it.  (Some people replace this ingredient with drops of liquid trace minerals.)

2-5 drops of thyme essential oil

OPTIONAL — Used for teeth and gum health.  This oil contains high levels of thymol, which is one of the main germ-killing active ingredients in most mouth washes. Don’t get carried away with this one because it will sting your mouth.

2-3 drops of frankincense essential oil

OPTIONAL — Used for teeth and gum health.  This oil has done a lot for me since I discovered it at the beginning of this year.  It’s an immune booster and has antibacterial and antifungal properties.  A clinical study showed the oil reduced gingivitis inflammation.

15-25 drops of peppermint essential oil

OPTIONAL — Used for teeth and gum health and for flavor.  Don’t think this essential oil is only for making your toothpaste taste better, it’s a proven antiseptic that kills the bad bacteria in your mouth.

stevia (I don’t use this, but thought most people would want their toothpaste sweeter than mine.)

OPTIONAL — Used for flavor.  This comes from the leaves of a plant containing compounds that are over 100 times sweeter than table sugar.  It does not, however, encourage tooth decay like sugar. It may, in fact, actually help reduce the buildup of plaque.

1/2 teaspoon distilled water

Approximate amount used to get the paste to the desired consistency.  This is the amount I used in the winter (when our house stayed 65-70 degrees) because coconut oil hardens when it cools.  Now that the weather is warming and our house is closer to 80 degrees, I’m thinking I may not need to add water at all.  Filtered water would probably work just fine, too.  I felt like distilled would keep it fresh longer.



Stir your ingredients together (a fork works well) in a bowl and transfer the finished product to a small glass container with a lid.  A smaller container will help it stay moist longer.  If your toothpaste ever does get too firm/dry, stir in a few more drops of water as needed.

Essential oils don’t hold up well when exposed to light, which is why they are sold in dark-colored glass bottles. It’s best to store the toothpaste container in a dark place so the essential oils will not degrade.

I keep a fork in the bathroom to apply it to my toothbrush.  After scooping a pea-sized amount onto the toothbrush, I give the fork a quick wash and dry and leave it in the medicine cabinet near the toothpaste.  (Some people simply dunk their toothbrush into the container of paste, but that grosses out the germophobe in me.)

Don’t forget before you rinse to brush the roof of your mouth and your tongue, too!  The surface of your teeth is only a small portion of your mouth, and other areas need attention as well.  Have you ever noticed a white-looking coating on your tongue?  That is (typically) a colony of bad bacteria that are multiplying happily and adding to halitosis problems.  The essential oils in this toothpaste, combined with the friction of your toothbrush, will help eradicate them and make the surface of your tongue pink and healthy again.

This toothpaste doesn’t foam up like commercial varieties, but it really gets the saliva flowing.  After using my first batch for a month, it suddenly smelled a little bad, so I went back to regular toothpaste for a few days until I could make a fresh batch.  The foaming action of the store-bought paste was unpleasant to me.  I never gave a second thought to the foam my entire life, but now it seems a bit offensive.  It feels like I can hardly brush with all those bubbles in the way.

A little of this homemade paste goes a long way!  When my first batch went bad after a month, I still had close to 1/3 of it left.  The next time I made a batch, I left half of it in the fridge until I needed it and had no problems.  Now I’m on round three.  At the moment, it seems that I will have to mix up more about every two months.

I recommend doing the majority of your spitting into the trash can.  Coconut oil is solid at room temperature, and I wouldn’t want to risk having it build up inside the pipes beneath your sink.

Enjoy your whiter teeth with that slick, fresh-from-the-dentist feel!

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homemade mouthwash by Merry Hearts Medicine


homemade mouthwash basic ingredients

1 cup distilled water

Filtered water would probably work just fine, too.  I felt like distilled would keep it fresh longer.

2 teaspoons baking soda

Used for cleaning and whitening. Yes, this is safe for your enamel (see the links to this ingredient in the toothpaste recipe above). This helps create a more alkaline environment in your mouth which reduces plaque buildup.

calcium carbonate and magnesium (I use 3 capsules.)

Used to help remineralize teeth.  See if you can find capsules or powder in order to avoid the fillers and chemicals used to hold tablets together.  The minerals inside the capsules I found were not as fine of a powder as I expected.  For my second batch of mouthwash, I grabbed the spice mortar and pestle from my kitchen and ground the tiny lumps out of the powder before adding it.  Some people replace this ingredient with drops of liquid trace minerals (which I now think is probably a better choice 7/19/18).

5-7 drops of thyme essential oil

OPTIONAL — Used for teeth and gum health.  This oil contains high levels of thymol, which is one of the main germ-killing active ingredients in most mouth washes.

3-5 drops of frankincense essential oil

OPTIONAL — Used for teeth and gum health.  This oil has done a lot for me since I discovered it at the beginning of this year.  It’s an immune booster and has antibacterial and antifungal properties.  A clinical study showed the oil reduced gingivitis inflammation.

15+ drops of peppermint essential oil  (I use 25 drops because my hubby likes extra minty mouthwash.)

Used for teeth and gum health and for fresh breath.  Don’t think this essential oil is only for making your mouthwash taste better, it’s a proven antiseptic that kills the bad bacteria in your mouth.

stevia (I use 2 packets of the powdered type.)

OPTIONAL — Used for sweetening the flavor.  This comes from the leaves of a plant containing compounds that are over 100 times sweeter than table sugar.  It does not, however, encourage tooth decay like sugar. It may, in fact, actually help reduce the buildup of plaque.



I prefer to store the mouthwash in a glass bottle.  I washed an empty vinegar bottle and sterilized it with boiling water.  Then I poured all the ingredients into the bottle, with the help of a funnel, and shook it for a while.  In my experience, some of the calcium will always settle to the bottom, now matter how much you stir everything together.  I filtered the last batch through a small strainer and liked the end result much better.

{UPDATE 7/19/18: I believe the liquid trace minerals would be a better option than the aggravating calcium powder, though I haven’t tried it.  I simply make the mouthwash without calcium or minerals now.}

I have read that it is best to make it in small batches like this because the essential oil flavors can blend together and change over time.  Also, essential oils don’t hold up well when exposed to light, which is why they are sold in dark-colored glass bottles.  It is best to use a dark-colored bottle for your mouthwash or to store the container in a dark place so the essential oils will not degrade.

Each time you use it, shake the mixture well before swishing an ounce or two in your mouth for 30 seconds or more.

Enjoy your minty fresh mouth!

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Thanks for reading! Please share any thoughts/questions you have in the comments below!


Artistic Cropping

Photography can be a fun hobby, even for amateurs like myself.  Creating an aesthetically pleasing image often requires more than simply clicking the shutter on a camera.  There are many things to consider before clicking that shutter and many options to employ after the digital image is in your computer.

As I develop my photography skills, I enjoy sharing tips I’ve learned that have helped me improve.  Today I’d like to encourage you to think about the artistry involved in simply cropping a photo.

Take this photo for example:

red quince blooms and buds covered in ice and snow

I asked my daughter if she liked it, and she replied “It’s alright.”  Since I had already (slightly) edited the image with PicMonkey for contrast, sharpness, and color, I decided cropping the photo might improve it.

When I first clicked the crop button, a box popped up in the middle of the photo; and I thought, “That’s not bad.”  I applied the crop and showed the frosty photo to my daughter again.

red quince blooms and buds covered in ice and snow

“That’s a little better,” she said, still with an unimpressed tone of voice.

So, I thought I’d randomly play around with the cropping tool and see what evolved.  It’s interesting how cropping a photo, even a little bit, can sometimes change the impact an image has on the viewer.

red quince blooms and buds covered in ice and snow

I tried pushing the initial cropping box into the bottom left corner of the photo, and swiveled my laptop toward my daughter.  This time I was rewarded with “I like that one!”

“Hmmm…” I thought.  “I wonder why…The ‘rule of thirds,’ perhaps?  Let me see how different the other corner looks.”

red quince blooms and buds covered in ice and snow

My patient daughter’s critique this time: “Yeah, I really like that one, too.”

“Maybe she just likes the focal point being in the corner?  Let’s see what it looks like when you really put it tightly into the corner.”

I changed the size of the crop this time, while keeping the original proportions.  Then I decided to compare a horizontal to a vertical image, being careful not to move the top left corner out of position.

red quince blooms and buds covered in ice and snow

red quince blooms and buds covered in ice and snow

Changing the orientation definitely gives the final image a different look.  I’m not sure which one I like better.

Realizing that the two buds near the center of the photo were the focal point of each cropped image, I worked around the edges of the photo to see if I could come up with a decent alternative.  This was the best of the crops I tried:

red quince blooms and buds covered in ice and snow

In this case, the long icicle became the focal point — again following the rule of thirds, as well.  There is so much detail in those icicles that I didn’t notice in the original photo!

If you had not viewed the original photo, you would not realize the two previous images came from one shot.  This is an example of how cropping can allow you to get more than one image out of a single photo, if your original photo has enough information in it to really zoom in without things becoming blurry or pixelated.  I’ve done this more than once on this blog for images that were too busy or too far away from the subjects.

The photos I typically use on this blog are only 640 pixels on the longest side, so having large file sizes on my photos is not necessary.  However, I have learned to set my old camera to the largest file size available, so that I have more opportunities for creative cropping.

If you are rather new to photography, like me, here’s the simplest way to get the most out of your cropping function:  Set your camera to take images at a large size (2,000+ pixels per side) and set it on the most detailed setting (“super-fine” on my Canon Power Shot, though shooting in RAW could be even better, if you have a good photo editing program to process it).


Did this photo seem familiar to you?  You may have seen (part of) it before

Which image appealed the most to you?  Please leave a comment below and tell me which one you like the best and why.  Thanks!


Seedlings in the Mulch — a spring garden photo gallery

Our garden is pretty bare for this time of year, due to unusually cold spring weather, but hope for a bountiful harvest grows with every seedling that sprouts.

In order to share my happy anticipation with you, I ran outside this evening, camera in hand, and captured these images during the precious “golden hour” that photographers love.  (Scroll over or click on the photos for more info.)

Two more photos from today are on the Scripture page of this blog.  One picture is, I think, the best macro photo I have ever taken of a honeybee!


You may have noticed that all our plants are growing in different types of mulch.  Our 40-foot-square garden has dedicated planting beds and paths.  I do not till, and since starting a new gardening method a year ago, I do not do much else either, other than plant and harvest!

Near the end of 2013, someone told me about a movie called the “Back to Eden: Simple Sustainable Solutions.”  It explains gardening methods that basically involve burying your garden under heavy layers of wood chip mulch and natural fertilizers to slowly improve soil quality over several years.

Here’s a link to the movie if you’re interested in watching.  Just scroll to the bottom of the page on their web site and click play.  The movie lasts a little over an hour and a half.

Here’s another link to a written version, if you’d like just the basic info on how to get started with this low-maintenance type of garden.

One important tip about growing a no-till, heavily-mulched garden:  BERMUDA GRASS is your worst enemy!

Bermuda loves the mulch even more than your veggies do and will spread through it like wildfire.  You cannot put mulch deeply enough to smother it.  I’ve seen it climb up through five-foot-tall round hay bales and happily spread out across the top.  When I first started making our raised beds, I actually buried long pieces of vinyl siding around the edges of my garden, which took care of 99% of the problem.  That was hard work, but looking back years later, I’d say it was well worth it.

With the bermuda blocked and the 6-inch layer of wood chip mulch on my garden (dumped into my yard for free by the city’s chipper truck), I rarely pulled a weed or watered all last season.  No sweltering in the summer heat and no weeds smothering the watermelon vines — beautiful!

no-till raised-bed garden with paths, covered in mulch, siding buried around edges

Here’s our garden earlier this spring with a fresh layer of aged horse manure and hay on the planting beds. The light brown stripes are the walking paths.  Along the front, you can see part of the white siding that is attached to the wooden edging.

Learn More About Chicks

Sorry, fellas, this isn’t a post about how to get a girlfriend.  This post is “for the birds,” or bird-lovers, anyway.  The “chicks” I’ll be talking about are poultry, our fluffy feathered friends.

For those of you who were interested in my previous blog post about raising baby chickens, I wanted to let you know that I have been adding information and pictures to the post as new ideas (and new chicks) arrive.  So if you, or anyone you know, wants info and tips about raising chicks, please check back with that post periodically.

Click on this busy momma hen to see the latest chick updates.

white mother hen scratching in the dirt as her chicks watch for bugs

Please feel free to ask questions, leave your own tips, or share your critique in the comments for that post.  Thanks!