New addition to the Gracie family...

We are picking him up on Monday... But we still don't have a name!
Suggestions welcome...
I know he looks a little bit brown in these picture, but he is actually a black labrador crossed with a Bernese Mountain Dog. 

Basil and Raspberry Yoghurt

This is my kids latest obsession and its so, so, simple.

It was born out of my passion for mixing fruits and herbs and it truly is amazing. I knew that peach and basil together were delicious, and raspberry and peach is such a great combo, so why not basil and raspberry?

I took one punnet of raspberries,
100g of basil,
3 tbsp of honey,
And blended them together, then stirred into 700g of yoghurt.

Most delicious snack ever (according to my son.

I bet I could make all kinds of flavoured yoghurts like this. Why on earth have I not done this before...

The Safety of Cosmetics

I know it's american, and a few years old, but I don't know that much has changed! I found this video today and even my kids enjoyed watching it with me.

The lack of choices in safe cosmetics available to us is still incredibly frustrating. Even 'natural' companies like 'Lush Cosmetics' are still unable to offer me a shampoo that doesn't contain sodium lauryl sulfate.

The obvious and frugal answer to the problem is to make your own cosmetics wherever possible, but there are some companies out there offering really good, truly safe cosmetics, but they aren't on the high street and you have to be willing to search them out, HandmadeNaturals and Dr Bronner for example produce lots of chemical free products that I would be happy to use on my family.

In the meantime, for those of us on a budget, here are some great tutorial links for how to make your own cheap and safe cosmetics. It's not exhaustive, but it's a good start to help you cut back on your families toxic load. You'll notice many of the products use the same ingredients in different ratios. This is great news, because you can bulk buy a few ingredients and they go really far!

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Body Butter
Diaper Cream
no 'poo' 
Pore Strips
Shaving foam
Sun lotion

Don't overwhelm yourself. Just pick one thing to change. Once you've formed a habit, try something new!

If you are anything like me you will have a lot of fun experimenting with different recipes and finding what works for your body.

Freedom Jewellery Competition

Quick! You only have 24 hours!!

If you click on this link and 'like' Freedom Jewellery on your facebook page and then share this link on your page you have a chance of winning a piece of jewellery of your choice from Debbie's collection.

Not only are there some beautiful pieces of jewellery (this blue necklace is my favourite) but all the proceeds go to a really good cause. The profits from selling each piece go towards funding the rescue and rehabilitation of women (some as young as nine years old) who have been involved in the human trafficking sex trade, and helping them reintegrate into society.

If you are interested in learning more about human trafficking and the impact you can have, please consider attending the free training event on the 10th of April at The Kings Arms Church. You can choose between morning and evening sessions and if you register here they will even throw in a free coffee/tea/cake and homemade cake from the amazing Ground Floor Coffee shop :0)

And just to whet your appetite, here are a few more pieces of Freedom Jewellery for you to have a look at.


Healthy Life Summit - FREE!

I've had a lot of questions about why we drive over 20 miles to see a dentist when there are three on the street we live on. It's a reasonable question.

The reason is that I wanted to see a holistic dentist.

I think I've probably already lost some readers with that last sentence.

That's fine. I'm really happy to see a dentist who understands where we are at with GAPS, why we are doing it, and wants to support our oral health and overall health in the best way he can.

It all came about after I listened to the HealThy Mouth Summit talks a few months ago. There was so much information to take in, but here's the main changes I committed myself to:

1) We started including Fermented Cod liver oil in our diets. I'd previously thought it was 'going the extra mile' on GAPS and probably not something I wanted to spend extra money on. However, knowing now what I do about remineralising teeth I think it's much more important.

2) I will not be weaning my children off milk. In fact, I've probably started drinking more myself. Keeping calcium and phosphorous in balance in the body is extremely important for tooth health, and milk (particularly raw) is an excellent source of it. We ordered some cultures to make kefir, so we don't need to worry about over consumption of milk sugars, and I throw cultured milk in smoothies, salad dressings, sauces and making regular ice cream desserts!

3) We've ditched toothpaste all together. I know. We sound like crazy hippies.
I've been concerned about the ingredients in toothpaste for a long time, my children use a fluoride-free organic toothpaste, but it still contains glycerin. I've not used toothpaste for nearly a year and my teeth are much less sensitive for it.
Now that I am confident it's not doing me any harm, I'm ready to take that step with my kids.

4) We'll probably never go back to eating grains.
Even soaked.
Even after GAPS.

Yes, my kids will be allowed to eat the odd bit of wheat at a friends house, but we will not be including it regularly in our diet at home.

It's disappointing, because I really enjoyed making sourdough loaves and pancakes and donuts and muffins and... I digress. The thing is the evidence suggests that modern grains just aren't good for us, unless prepared in very labour intensive ways that I just don't have the time or energy for. It's not worth it to me whilst my children are so small.

Maybe when they are more self sufficient if I find myself with more time on my hands (which seems unlikely)!

5) I will be attempting to remove vegetable oils in our diet.
Even raw in a salad dressing.

Whilst I have previously believed that heating the oils was not good for us, I hadn't realised quite how they behaved even in their raw state. These vegetable oils not only behave like a toxin, they have the ability to rapidly reproduce in the body, tearing what they need from your good fat supplies, meaning that 'just a little bit' can become a heck of a lot in a matter of minutes without you doing anything. This is going to be particularly hard to avoid because although I'm capable of making my own peanut butter etc... my son has a serious raisin addiction, and they are always stored in... vegetable oil.

Anyhow... The point of this post wasn't to tell you about what you'd missed, but about what's coming up!

I'm super excited about the HealThy Life Summit at the end of March!

It's a free online event, just like the HealThy Mouth Summit, the lectures will be available for 24 hours only, so make sure you sign up to receive the email reminders.

I'm particularly looking forward to hearing:
Sally Fallon (of nourishing traditions) speaking on feeding and caring for children
Brandon Sheard on how to butcher at home (we're hoping to get a deer soon)
Dr Kaayla Daniel on Soy products (we don't eat them, but she is hilariously entertaining)
Mary Cordaro on creating healthy homes
Matt Stone on comfort foods and rest
Jenny McGruther on making real food affordable
and so many more.

For a full list of speakers and their areas of expertise click here.

Experimenting with "no 'poo"

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If you follow me on twitter, you'll know that I do a lot of 'kitchen experiments', and it's been said more than once that my kitchen resembles a science lab somewhat. So when I heard that my friend Mickey (who has gorgeous hair by the way) had ditched shampoo and was just using common groceries to wash her hair I couldn't resist bringing my experiments to the bathroom too.

It's been a little trial and error, and there are a tonne of tutorials for the 'no 'poo' method online, but I'm discovering that no one tutorial seems to work for everybody. So I'll cover the basics and hopefully give you enough information from my mistakes that you can start to experiment for yourselves too.

Firstly, why quit using shampoo? Well... it's kind of the next step in going chemical free. I've said before that I felt giving up shampoo was a step too far for me, but seeing how well it suits Mickey, I've changed my mind.

The basic method is to wash your hair with baking soda and condition it with vinegar.

The first time I washed my hair I just scrubbed bicarbonate of soda in and I couldn't get a comb through it after. It honestly took me about 40 minutes to comb my hair.

But I wasn't ready to quit.

Mickey informed that the best technique was to dissolve 1-2 tbsp of bicarb 2 cups of water and pour that through the hair (makes more sense), but I still felt my hair had an unusual texture that I wasn't fond of.

Also, Mickey only uses a small amount of vinegar diluted in water for a hair rinse. This was not enough to detangle my very thick, long (bleached), hair. So I started to look into the science of it a bit and two things became apparent.

1) People with thicker hair seem to use lemon juice instead of vinegar for their rinse. 

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Baking soda cleans the hair because it is incredibly alkaline. It has a pH of around 9. This opens up the hair shaft and helps break down oils. This is also going to cause your hair to revolt and produce a lot of oil to combat the dryness.

Rinsing with an acid helps close the hair shaft so your hair feels less 'sticky' and you get a lovely shine.

Lemon juice (pH 2) is a lot more acidic that vinegar (pH 4-5). It's relevant to understand that the pH scale is logorithmic, so if we said vinegar was pH 4 and lemon was pH 2, we aren't saying lemon juice is twice as acidic, it's actually  1,000 times more acidic.

I wasn't sure I needed a 1,000 times more acid on my hair, but the idea of lowering the pH was simple enough - just increase the concentration of vinegar in the water (waters pH is about 7). I'd previously tried 2 tbsp of Apple Cider Vinegar in about 2 cups of water, so I increased this to 1 cup of vinegar in 2 cups of water.

I liked it so much better that I even added a tbsp of lemon juice this time and it was brilliant.

2) The acid rinse is not to help get rid of the bicarbonate of soda

We all remember the experiments at school where you put vinegar and bicarb in your fake volcano and watch the reaction, and that was pretty much what I had assumed the vinegar rinse was for - helping bubble away that bicarb.

In fact, I've seen loads of shampoo recipes on pinterest that include castile soap and vinegar, despite the fact that even Dr Bronner's own website tell you that the two should never be directly mixed, and here's why:

"In great part it’s due to the fact that vinegar is an acid and the castile soap is a base. They will directly react with each other and cancel each other out. So, instead of getting the best of both (the scum cutting ability of the vinegar and the dirt transporting ability of the soap), you’ll be getting the worst of something entirely new. The vinegar “unsaponifies” the soap, by which I mean that the vinegar takes the soap and reduces it back out to its original oils. So you end up with an oily, curdled, whitish mess. And this would be all over whatever it was you were trying to clean – your laundry or counters or dishes or whatever.

So, for cleaning, there is a better way. Use the soap to clean and the vinegar as a rinse agent. "

The important thing to note is the reaction. If we are trying to wash our hair with an alkaline, and condition with an acid, mixing the two is neutralising at best, and at worst leaves a by product on the hair shaft. 

I have certainly found that so long as I rinse the bicarbonate of soda really well, then I don't end up with the 'sticky' residue feeling that I was initially getting. 

All of this does take time and my showers are noticeably longer than they used to be when I wash my hair, but the good news is that I don't need to wash it every day. Not even close. 

And in case you were wandering what my hair looks like after nearly a month of no shampoo?

Not really any different, but apart from saving a lot of money, I feel good about reducing my family's chemical load and saving the planet one little shampoo bottle at a time :o)

Pinterest: you disappoint me

One of my favourite all time blogs is craftfail. If you haven't read it, you should. Don't bother with the rest of this post, just head over there and laugh until you can't breath any more.

You can thank me later.

I also love Pinterest.

But I love Pinterest for different reasons, because I can get craft ideas, not because I want the projects to end up on craftfail.

Sometimes I think stuff gets pinned just to create some urban legend that everyone can laugh at. For example, sharpie on mugs.

Everyone is pinning this, over and over again in my feed and I want to scream 'this doesn't work!!!' But I too was one of the pinners who shared it, many moons ago.

This is the kind of pin i love. low effort crafting using one of my favourite items - the humble sharpie marker.
Here is a picture of a mug we made:

Ain't it sweet?

Here is the picture after being washed gently in warm soapy water.

We tried it several times. I adjusted the temperature (hotter/colder), the time (shorter/longer), heck I even tried different coloured sharpies!

Nothing worked.

This week however, I suffered a Pinterest fail that probably wasn't entirely Pinterest's fault.

We're moving house in the summer people who are applying for our current job have been coming to view the flat. Bear in mind that whoever gets the job will be living in the same building as us, so although I'm not trying to get a good price on my home, I don't want to be embarrassed every time I bump into them.

Matt made the error of changing the littlest ones diaper in one of the reception rooms about 3 minutes before a couple were due to arrive.

It was awful.

Luckily, I'd seen a pin about getting rid of unwanted smells using rosemary, lemon and vanilla. Just chuck it all in a pan with some water and leave it on the hob with a low heat to make your home smell delicious.

In fairness to Pinterest this worked.

Where I went wrong was forgetting o check on the pan and coming back to a kitchen filled with smoke, a pan filled with what can only be described as black tar and a rather amused looking husband.

The pan has been washed numerous times but its ruined.

To be honest, maybe I should be thanking Pinterest. I've been wanting to switch from 'non-stick' to cast iron pans for a long time now anyway...

Now just for your amusement I enclose some more epic pinterest fails (not mine):

And just to prove I'm not the only one the sharpie mug didn't work for...
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Chicken and 'Garlic Bread' Soup

We are all about the soups recently! From Beef & Mushroom, Carrot & Almond to Chocolate! And why not? Broth is incredibly healthy and soup is such a wonderful comfort food at this time of year when the winter has been stretching on just a bit too long for my liking.

This recipe is one my son requested; when I asked what flavour soup I should make, the reply came 'chicken and garlic bread'.

We don't have bread currently, being on GAPS, but I used to make garlic bread really regularly as it's one of my favourite foods. Fortunately, my son shared my love and we would bake it to have with soups nearly everyday of winter when he was young.

It didn't take long to conjure up a memory of what garlic bread tasted like and all I really remember is buttery goodness. It's possible there was some doughy deliciousness that I'm blocking, but the main memory is butter. And melted cheese. We always melted cheese on our garlic bread.

So here is my easy chicken and garlic bread soup recipe.


4-6 cups chicken broth
any leftover chicken, shredded (we picked it from the carcass used to make the broth)
2 cooked carrots (rescued from the broth again)
1 small bulb of garlic
1 purple onion
75g of medium cheddar grated
1/4 pack of butter
100ml double cream
3 tbsp chopped chives
1/2 tsp smoked salt (one of my new flavours for 2013)
pepper to taste

Finely chop the garlic and onion and fry in the butter on a medium heat.
Once browned, add the broth, carrots and cheese, then blend.
Stir in the rest of the ingredients.

Serve to your adoring family. 

#readthesigns Human Trafficking

This term we have been using BrainPop Jr a lot in our home school. It's brilliant and one of my children's favourite stories has been that of Harriet Tubman.
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I'm not sure how much Elisha can follow of the story, but William has certainly understood. His concept of slavery was first developed after listening to Lamplighter stories like 'The Captive' and 'Charlie's Choice'.

The concept of de-humanising someone to the point of slavery was so alien to my son that at first he insisted 'It's just a story though, right mum? That couldn't really happen.' And despite my best efforts to convince him, he accepted that it *might* have happened a really long time ago, but not any more. 

Harriet Tubman surprised him. Previously examples of slavery I'd shown him included the Israelites in Egypt and Babylon, and somehow he'd assumed that only Egyptian cultures enslaved people. He couldn't believe that it had happened in america too - and so recently. 

'But it never happened in England though, right?'

It's so difficult to have these conversations with your children any way, I don't want to scare him. I've pledged not to lie to my kids, but the truth is so ugly, so depraved and so horrifying. Campaigns like A21 and stop the traffik do such an amazing work raising awareness of these things, but the resources aren't appropriate to show my five and two year old. 

The sad truth is that human trafficking goes on today, right on our doorstep. The saddest part is that we probably come into contact with trafficked and don't even notice - the signs of forced labour exploitation can be difficult to read. The good news is that you don't have to be 100% sure to report to crimestoppers. They will piece together information from several people, and whilst what you've seen may be nothing, it may also be the crucial tipping point to starting an investigation. 

I'm so grateful that our church are going to be hosting a Human Trafficking Awareness Training day on the 10th of April. It's a free event and you even get a free latte/cappuccino/tea and homemade cake. The sessions are 10am-11.30am or 6pm-7.30pm and you can register here. 
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