Mary Helen Leonard, author of The Natural Beauty Solution and professionally trained culinary instructor, shares recipes, projects, tips, and stories about living a more natural, handmade, and creative life with her family in Austin, Texas.
Disclosure: This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #MyWayToVeg #CollectiveBias
Looking for a way to stand out in the lunchroom crowd? I've been seeing a lot of blog posts lately featuring bento bags, cute little lunch sacks that tie shut from the top. Bento bags are Japanese in origin, inspired by the fascinating art of Furoshiki. Similar projects are used to wrap gifts and to hold or transport things in and around the home - in the most beautiful way possible!
Believe it or not, these ethereal clusters of amethyst are actually made from soap! The first time I saw this technique being used was in a DIY video on Youtube. I was totally mesmerized, and knew that I was going to have to try it out.
By the way, these soaps have been a big hit with everyone I have gifted them to. They make excellent holiday or birthday presents, and making them in six bar batches makes them super easy to stock up on.
While this project can be a tad time consuming, the method is surprisingly easy, and very forgiving! The crystals actually look better when they are cut a little differently every time so you don't have to worry too much about keeping your technique consistent. You can just slice away - happily embracing any imperfections.
If you are able to work with a double-boiler instead of the microwave, that inexpensive piece of equipment will make this project a whole lot easier. Because this is a layered soap, the melted soap you are working with may harden between steps. The double boiler makes keeping the melted soap warm a breeze, and allows you to reheat it gently. Microwaves can also make soap feel dry and brittle - especially when the same base is melted over and over.
Dice 1 1/2 pounds soap base and melt in double boiler on stove top or in microwave using short, 30-second bursts.
Remove soap from heat, let stand 30 seconds, then add essential oil. Stir slowly until oil has combined.
Fill six soap molds about 1/3 of the way up with soap. Spritz soap with alcohol then let stand for 2-4 minutes, or until the top has formed a thick skin.
Pour about 1/2 the remaining melted soap base in a heatproof measuring cup. Add small pinch of purple mica and small pinch silver mica. Stir well to blend. Pour the mixture between the soap molds - leaving about 1/3 of space. Spritz soap with alcohol then let stand for 2-4 minutes, or until the top has formed a thick skin.
Add about 1/8 teaspoon purple mica and 1/8 teaspoon silver mica to remaining melted soap base. Stir well, then pour into molds - topping them off. Spritz soap with alcohol then let stand for 2-4 minutes, or until the top has formed a thick skin. Transfer to refrigerator and chill soap for 30 minutes or until completely hardened.
Turn hardened soaps out onto a clean cutting board and use a sharp knife to slice the bars into 1/2 to 1 inch rectangles. Make sure to cut so that each rectangle shows 3 layers of color.
Slice the tops of each rectangle at random angles to give them a faceted and pointed shape. This forms the crystals. Reserve the shreds of soap cut from the and mince them into gem dust.
Clean out the double boiler, chop remaining soap base and add it to the pot to melt. Once melted, add the remaining essential oil and silver mica and stir well.
Pour melted soap base into six soap molds. Spritz with alcohol, then immediately begin stuffing the molds with soap crystals and gem dust. Fill each mold as much as you can. The more crystals each soap contains the more sturdy the finished soap will be.
Allow the soaps to cool and harden completely before removing them from their molds. After they are removed, wrap them in airtight cello bags or saran wrap to keep them from sweating.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Thanks for helping support Mary Makes Good!
Decorating for fall is so much fun. Truth be told, it's my favorite season when it comes to decorations. I love the warm colors, the mellow spicy scents, and the natural themes of autumn. Leaves, feathers, turkeys - fall festivities really line up with everything I already adore. That makes working on seasonal art projects fun and easy.
Another thing that helps keep fall crafting simple is a good craft kit. I picked up this set of wooden garland and a package of foil transfers on my most recent Target run thinking they would be just right for a quick crafting session. The wooden feathers are already cut, sanded, and ready to go - all prepped and ready for color.
I used sponge-tipped markers to color my feathers in a pretty sunset ombre pattern. This same technique could be achieved with watercolor paints as well. Colored pencil, crayon, or tempera paint could also be used to color this garland, but the effect would look very different.
To get the graduated tone you see here, just start with the lightest color (in this case that would be yellow) and color in about 2/3 of the feather. Apply the next deepest shade (orange) to the bottom half of the feather, overlapping some of the yellow. Use you fingertips or a cotton swap to blend the colors a little while the ink is still wet. Last, apply just a small touch of your darkest color (red) to the very bottom of your feather. Again, blend the color a little before it dries.
The last step in decorating the feathers is applying the foil transfer. This kit from Target is very easy to use. Just cut from the transfer sheet using a pair of scissors, remove the paper backing, then lay it (sticky side down) over the wooden feather. Rub the transfer with a popsicle stick, then gently peel away the plastic. You'll need to remove any excess foil from the edges or hollowed out portions of your feathers. You can do this by rubbing those spots gently with your fingers.
String the feathers onto one long piece of twine to create a garland. Or, you can make individual hanging ornaments by cutting the twine into 5-inch pieces and tying the pieces of string to individual feathers. That's a great way to make holiday gifts or gorgeous place cards for a holiday table.
Even little Charlie got in on the decorating fun. I think I might like his feathers best of all.
Recently I was invited to try out the Spire Mindfulness + Activity Tracker, and I must say, it couldn't have come at a better time. I've been under a lot of stress lately and I've noticed it taking a toll on my overall health and sense of wellness. I find myself fighting low feelings more and more often, and my body - well, that just hurts.
I'm stiff, sore, and far more plump than I'd like to be. It's becoming clear to me that something has got to change.
While there isn't much that I can do to eliminate the issues that are causing me stress, I am not completely helpless. I have control over something with the potential to be life-changing - my mind! I may not be able to stop life from being stressful, but I can choose how to respond to and cope with that stress.
By being more mindful of my moods, breathing, and activity level, I can face every day armed with tools to lead a happier, healthier existence.
So where does this little gadget fit in? The Spire Mindfulness + Activity Tracker is a small wireless device that tracks my heartbeat, breath, and movement. That data is sent to a companion app on my smartphone that keeps a record of my physical and emotional state during each day.
The tracker even alerts me when I become tense or have been sedentary for long periods of time. In this way, Spire makes mindfulness more attainable by alerting me in-the-moment. It even suggests breathing exercises and meditations to lead to a more mindful behavior change - either helping me reach a calmer and more focused state or even becoming more active.
Over the past week of using my Spire Tracker I have already become far more aware of both my mental state and my level of physical activity. I've even discovered anxiety triggers in unexpected places. Writing grocery lists, for example, really gets me going! I had no idea how much that simple task stressed me out, and it's something I often end up doing several times a week.
Thanks to my Spire, I've been re-thinking my approach to grocery shopping and meal planning. If what we are doing now causes me this much anxiety than clearly we need to simplify our routine. Life is too short to sweat the small stuff.
Using my Spire has also been a huge wake-up call for my physical fitness. I think I just assumed chasing a toddler day in and day out made up for dedicated exercise time. I was shocked to see that even on my busiest days my daily step count fell well under the recommended amount. No wonder it has been hard for me to lose weight. I'm just not moving enough.
Spire asked me to share some of my own tips for making mindfulness a bigger part of everyday life. For me, life revolves around my home and family. I try my best to incorporate the practice of mindfulness into our daily routine simply by making an effort to be emotionally present. I look for moments of love and wonder between the spilled milk and temper tantrums.
I try to remind myself that no matter how hard life can be sometimes, this is exactly where I want to be. These are the best days of my life. I don't want to miss them.
Beyond embracing an overall philosophy of mindfulness, there are a lot of small changes you can make in your home to make it more conducive to being present. The following tips are shared from my own experience trying to become a more mindful mama.
As always, I encourage you to take what resonates with you from this list, and leave the rest. You do you. No one can do it better.
Impose Tech-Free Zones
I try not to make a habit of staring at my phone or zoning out in front of my tablet. Still, I find that my husband and I have a tendency to waste our precious time alone together scanning social media or news headlines.
One way to combat our weakness for technology is to designate certain areas of the home or times of day as tech-free. That means that anything with a screen, whether it’s a phone, tv, or computer, must not be used. For us, that’s every meal time and the last few hours before our son goes to bed.
I’ve considered making the living room a permanent no-phone zone, but the idea hasn’t gone over too well with my husband. Yeah, that’s one big catch. You’ll need to find a plan that your entire family feels comfortable with and fully supports. Otherwise, it may feel more like a punishment than an opportunity for mindful togetherness.
Tip: Another way to approach this issue is to implement the opposite rule, giving family members free reign to binge on screen-time during designated times of day.
Make Your Bed
This is a truly simple practice that has afforded me an abundance of peace of mind. Before starting your morning routine, try and take a few moments to make your bed. Pull the sheets tight, tuck them in with care, and fluff up your pillows. This tiny act of tidying can help the day ahead feel less overwhelming.
Take it a bit further by flopping down on that freshly made bed and just breathing for a little while. Even if you only have a minute (literally) to spare, spending it in quiet reflection can help you feel relaxed and refreshed. If you can, try repeating this mini-mediation after getting home from work, or right before you put the kids to bed. It works all day!
Tip: Try creating a tidy space for mini-meditation at the office, in your car, or anywhere you can catch a minute to yourself.
It’s incredibly easy to fall into the habit of throwing things away. Almost everything we use on a daily basis is available in a disposable form. Not only is the careless consumption of materials wasteful and troublesome for the environment, it also discourages mindfulness. We use things up and then throw them away without a moment of consideration for where it came from or where it is going.
Instead, try taking the time to think about the things you use everyday and how you might make more or better use from them. Practices such as recycling, up-cycling, and composting are all wonderful ways to stay mindful of our role in the world and to feel connected to the eco-system as a whole.
Making an effort to sustain natural resources can help us remember that we are part of a global community!
Tip: Investing in sturdy, re-usable objects like food containers, dryer balls, and water bottles can impact your home’s footprint drastically!
Detox Work Spaces
Clutter can be extremely distracting, especially when you are trying to focus on a job. This is not only true for the home office, but also in the kitchen, laundry room, garage, or anywhere else that you are required to focus on a task. De-cluttering those spaces can make anything from doing laundry to working on homework far more pleasant.
Start by thinking about what job the space is meant for. Take a hard look at the area and eliminate anything that doesn’t help you get that job done. This allows you to be present for the task at hand. So while you are doing the dishes, you can JUST do the dishes. You may even find it to be a pleasant escape from outside stress.
Tip: Try hanging art with inspirational images or positive messages in work spaces.
Create Shared Spaces
We’ve all got important things to do, but by creating spaces in your home that include everyone’s needs, you can at least do these important things together. Take some time to make sure your family or living room has space for everyone in your family. That means plenty of seating, toys and books for little ones, and work surfaces for doing homework, folding laundry, or sharing snacks.
Once you’ve got everyone together, don’t forget to enjoy it. Maybe strike up a conversation with your spouse or offer to let your little one “help” with whatever you are working on. Or, simply sit back and observe your loved ones just doing what they do.
Tip: Closely grouped seating can encourage conversation.
Use a Tidy Timer
Establishing a reasonable clean-up routine is a great way to set boundaries on the stress of a messy home. Pick a time of day when everyone is home and available. (After dinner or before breakfast works for a lot of people.) Decide on a reasonable amount of time to dedicate to cleaning up. 30 to 45 minutes is a good time frame, but even just one 15 minute group cleanup can make a big difference.
Turn on a timer, then get to work. If the whole family cleans as a team you should be able to tackle at least the most important jobs in no time, and you can prioritize better if you know you have a time limit to work with. When the timer goes off, stop cleaning. Just stop. Let it go, and free your mind to focus on something more important, like spending some quality time with your loved ones. The key is to only think about cleaning up only when you are cleaning up.
Tip: Try adding a longer weekend or day-off cleanup time to tackle bigger jobs, like cleaning the windows or mopping the floors.
Whether it's a house plant or a backyard garden, caring for things growing and green can help lift your spirits and give you a sense of connection with the earth. Sharing this connection with the people you love makes it even better.
In a way, gardening can also be a form of meditation. Taking the time to pause and observe the plants that you tend can also help ground you in the present. If you approach the daily task of maintaining your plants with this intention, the benefits of the habit are easily increased.
Tip: For super low-maintenance plants, look for succulents, cacti, and air plants.
Make It Good
This little phrase comes from my chef in culinary school. He asked us to always keep the thought in mind, no matter what kind of food we were cooking or what kind of setting we worked in. He tried to teach us that taking pride in the task at hand, no matter how simple that task may be, would lead to a sense of joy and satisfaction.
I've found this to be true in so much more than cooking. Whether you are whipping up a pan of scrambled eggs or reading your child his favorite bedtime story for the umpteenth time, choosing to make an effort in that moment to do what you are doing well can make it much more enjoyable. And, it keeps you anchored in the moment rather than counting the moments until the chore is over.
Tip: You don't have to be a perfectionist to take pride in everyday tasks. Try to find the fun in honing your skills and don't let the imperfection get you down!
I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.