Monday, July 29, 2013


I have always been a tree-hugger.  As in, literally, I like hugging trees.  I think they're snuggly.  When I was a kid, my best friend was a holly tree.  It was actually more like a 50-foot bush ... it had six trunks and was taller than our house.  Once you got inside the prickly canopy of spiny leaves, it wasn't thorny at all, and I even built a treehouse inside.  That tree taught me that plants can be male and female (ours was male; his girlfriend next door bore all the berries) and that they all have flowers, even if those aren't always obvious.

Hollies are still my favorite tree.  I love their grey-green, smooth, slightly fuzzy bark.

But I have been frustrated for years that I can recognize so few trees.  Sure, I know maples, oaks, and hemlocks, but beyond that I can barely even guess.  Here in Virginia it's even worse, because there are so many trees here I'd never even seen before.

And once I see a tree I want to know more about, it's very difficult to do anything about it.  You can google a tree's name and get pictures of it, but how can you google a leaf if you don't know the name?  Most tree guides I've seen expect you to know everything about the tree -- down to the shape of the twig and the branching pattern, which I generally don't know by the time I get home. 

So I've been getting into tree identification, checking out books about trees, learning about different tree families and features, and skimming pages and pages of tree photos to find the ones I'm looking for.

There is this tree that's had me stumped (lol) for YEARS.  I always see it on highway medians.  It's tallish and very slim, and grows in big clumps of identical trees.  The leaves look rather tropical and feathery; I found out these are called compound leaves.  And there is this weird flower or fruit on top of the branches in red, brown, or green bunches.  Unfortunately I couldn't run it through any identifier guides because I had no idea what its branching pattern was, what shape the twigs were, or even any details about its leaves, because I only ever saw it while cruising by at 60 mph.

After many, many searches and tree lists, I found it in a list of trees with compound leaves.  It's called ailanthus!

Later I was able to obtain a twig and discover that sure enough, if you snap off a leaf, it leaves a leaf scar in the shape of a heart.  It also smelled just a little bit like peanut butter, which is another clue.  Definitely ailanthus.  This area is riddled with them; apparently they are invasive.

Before I discovered this, though, I spent some time researching black walnuts and seeing if that was the mystery tree.  Black walnut trees look like this:

They're another very common tree around here, and they also have compound leaves.  But they tend to grow very large, not like the slender ailanthus, and they have walnuts of course.  The nuts tend to grow in pairs (or sometimes threes, like this one) and if there aren't any on the tree, there are likely to be shells on the ground.  They're quite good to eat, though it took a year of collecting them and wishing for a nutcracker before I had a brainwave and cracked the shells with a rock.  My paleolithic ancestors would be ashamed.

Another suspect, briefly, was locust.  This is also really common around here, more as an understory tree though -- usually smaller than ailanthus.  It also has rounder leaves and its fruit is a little bean pod.

It's in the legume family, so it's handy to have -- it fixes its own nitrogen.  The pods are useful for animal fodder, or St. John the Baptist.  Apparently it was locust beans he was eating in the desert along with his honey, not grasshoppers.

My final discovery in the past few weeks has been the sycamore.  I saw a mention of it in a tree book, but flipped on past because I thought I'd never seen one of those.  Not a week later, I found myself by a creek with the kids, absolutely surrounded by them.  If you see that camo-looking gray bark, you know you've got a sycamore or one of its relatives.

Now that I know what to look for, I'm seeing them everywhere.  Every time we cross a creek or river, sure enough, on the banks you see their very large maple-like leaves.  They're brighter green than most, so they seem to twinkle against the background of other trees.  And then in the winter, they're those white trunks I used to see without paying much attention.  They're dark gray and ridgey near the bottom of the tree, so you might not notice the white bark in the summer unless you're right underneath.

I'm very proud that Marko can now identify sycamore trees too, and declared his friend's spiky bouncy ball to look like a sycamore seed.  That's my boy!  It's one of my many homeschooling goals to have my kids able to identify the most common plants in our area.  But before I can teach them, I have to learn myself, and boy do I have a lot to learn.

Want to learn to identify the trees near you?  A few tips:

1.  Study up on tree terms.  The more you know, the more you'll notice about an unfamiliar tree, and the easier it will be to search for.  A bit of study has taught me to notice things about trees besides just leaf shape, like whether the twigs appear in pairs on either side of a branch (opposite branching) or a twig on one side followed a foot or so later by one on the other (alternate branching).  Since alternate branching is more common, if you find one with opposite branching, you will be able to narrow the tree down right away.  You can also find charts of leaf shapes with their technical names, so instead of googling "leaf-shaped leaf" you can try "elliptic" or perhaps "lanceolate."

2.  Look at the whole tree, not just the parts you find interesting.  This is frustrating to me, because if a tree has an interesting seed, for instance, I think I should be able to find it from that.  In reality, many tree guides expect you to know a lot of details about the tree in order to narrow it down.  If you have a notebook with you, you might want to take note of the following: branching pattern, twig shape, leaf scar, buds, flowers, fruit, bark, and roots.

3.  Look up trees when you're not looking for anything particular.  Do a search on trees native to your area and read up on a few of the most common ones.  Once you can recognize one, you start noticing them everywhere.  Then try searching for trees similar to that one, and you'll be able to pick out the differences.  Or get a tree book and see how many species look familiar to you.  Your local library is almost guaranteed to have several books on native trees.

4.  Image Search!  Sure, you can't look up an image and get a name, sadly.  (Though John tells me there is an app for that!)  But you can take a wild guess, do an image search, and find out if you're right.

5.  If the tree you're curious about is near you, visit it in spring and fall to see if anything new appears to help you out.  All trees do flower, though some flowers are very subtle.  Look closely for flowers in spring, and take note of its coloring in fall.  If you have already identified the tree, see if you can spot each stage of its flowering and leafing out.  Go look at it every day.  Get close and watch the leaves unfolding from the buds.

I don't know if any of you guys are into trees like I am.  But I think everyone should have a few favorite trees to keep an eye out for.  I get a crazy little "zap" of excitement every time I see an ailanthus, because it's my tree.  I'd know it anywhere, and that makes me very proud.

What's your favorite tree?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Three and one

Every so often, when I'm out and about with the kids, someone asks me their ages.  "Three and one," I say.  The look of profound pity I receive always startles me a bit.  Sometimes I wonder if they'll hug me in commiseration.  Sometimes they just say, "You must stay busy."  Which, of course, I do.

One, I knew was hard.  Marko was hard at one.  From twelve to eighteen months he was unstoppable and into everything and wouldn't take no for an answer.  And then from eighteen to twenty-four months he wouldn't nap and wouldn't go to bed and collapsed in a puddle of tears if you said no to him.  He threw tantrums lasting into two hours.  I thought he must be a difficult toddler to make up for having been such an easy baby.

Nope.  Michael was a much more high-needs baby, and he is even more into everything than Marko was!  He's fifteen months today, and he never stops except when he's sleeping.  He can scale onto the couch, over the arm of the couch, and onto John's desk to grab his computer in about four seconds.  This morning I heard yowling coming from the bedroom, and then Michael toddled out carrying the cat.  He pulls vegetables and likes to take a single bite out of every unripe plum.  My one consolation is that he cannot yet open doors, but I am sure he'll figure it out very soon.

But with all that, he is very good natured, usually happy (unless you take away something he wants; then he flings himself on the floor dramatically and wails) and relatively predictable.  He doesn't yet talk much, but he makes himself understood well enough and isn't often frustrated with his vocabulary of "ba" and "shyah," which two words he manages to use to describe everything.  He certainly understands us fine.  For instance, he'll go to the door and say "shyah," which in context must mean outside.  So I say, "No, you can't go outside, you're not wearing any clothes."  Next thing I know he toddles into the bedroom and comes back with a shirt and pants.  "Shyah!"

Michael is exhausting, but he's cute and charming and likes to hug, so it's not so bad.

Marko, though, is hard in completely different ways.  I wasn't expecting this.   I thought three was supposed to be easy.  My mom said it was.  But then she said two was hard, and Marko was delightful pretty much the whole time he was two.  I guess he's on an opposite schedule from my siblings or something.

All I know is, the kid who used to get very excited every time I asked him to do something, now has learned to say that no, he will NOT clean up this mess.  And furthermore, he will empty out the diaper basket onto the floor.  And then come up and spit on me.

It's something of a shocker.  I have been off balance for a couple of weeks, so startled I am at my formerly agreeable kid.  He hits, he makes guns out of everything, he pushes Michael to the ground.  He empties drawers and bookshelves onto the floor.  In the middle of a standoff with me about something else, he pees his pants while laughing maniacally.  Sometimes he is so far in fantasyland he seems not to hear what I am telling him at all.

At first I just tried yelling louder, being firmer, taking all his toys away, sending him to his room.  The trouble with the room thing is that he universally dumps out anything that can be dumped in there, and then he pees on the floor.  This is a child who has been (more or less) potty trained since Christmas.  I can't figure out if he's doing it to be defiant, or if, in all the screaming and sobbing and raging about how he doesn't like being in his room, he just loses control.  But at any rate it does not help my patience.  And anyway it wasn't helping at all.  The second he got back out, he was right back to the misbehavior.

So I tried to step back and observe.  To try to be absolutely calm, and to watch.  When was he doing this annoying behaviors?  What was I doing when he was doing them?  How was I reacting, and was that helping?

Well, what I learned was embarrassing.  It would go like this.  I would ignore him most of the time.  Michael would be getting into everything, dumping everything, digging in the litterbox, dancing on the table, and I was paying attention to Michael, getting him out of those things, and then trying to get back to whatever I was trying to do (computer, housework, whatever).  But the more I dealt with Michael and his mess, the more frustrated I got, so my temper would be eroding more and more.  Then Marko would make a mistake, usually something really unintentional like spilling something or having an accident.  And I would snap and scream at him.  I wasn't keeping track of who was doing what bad thing, so I would think "the kids are being bad, this is the millionth awful thing they've done."  Only it would only be the first thing Marko had done.

Once I started yelling at Marko, that's when the bad behavior would come out.  It was like he was practicing passive resistance on me.  He would tune me out, ignore me, sing when I was trying to talk to him, wander off.  And if that didn't work, he'd try being actively destructive or aggressive.  Obviously he wasn't getting very much out of this approach, but he was getting some attention and he was getting back at me for yelling at him.

I've figured out the calmer I am with him, the better he listens.  I have to be calm, or his brain shuts off and he just opposes me.  This has been very difficult, because with the amount of trouble the two of them make, I get very frustrated very fast.  When I've spent time cleaning, it's hard to see spilled dirt as an innocent mistake.  It feels like deliberate sabotage, and I start shrieking.

But children are little mirrors and they reveal to us all our faults.  Marko hasn't just learned phrases like "what the freaking heck" and "I hate this."  He's also giving me back the level of negativity and anger that I give him.

Now, that isn't all of it.  Some of it, I think, is just boundary testing.  I am not really sure what to do about that.  Do I step up the "punishment" side of discipline and send him to his room more?  It seems to backfire.  Or do I try to give him more control -- won't that create an even worse monster than I have?

I've been experimenting with different approaches, and finding a few that work.  One is giving him a choice.  At two, he collapsed in indecision if I tried to make him choose between a red shirt and a blue shirt.  At three, he will readily pick between walking to the bathroom and being carried there or between putting his truck away himself or having me do it.

The other is basically the trick I did when he was a toddler Michael's age.  I didn't punish him -- I made it impossible for him to misbehave.  If he was misbehaving with a toy (i.e. hitting the dog with it) I took it away.  If he was misbehaving in a certain room, we left the room.

That sort of thing isn't the main issue now; it's more a question of him following instructions, like "clean up the diapers you just dumped on the floor."  I decided that cleaning up messes he makes on purpose is a non-negotiable.  First, because I will be tempted to violence if he spends his time dumping stuff and watching me clean it up.  And second, because he'll dump less stuff if he has to be the one to pick it up.  So I'm resorting to a technique I thought I'd never use, "hand over hand."  In other words I take his arms and "make" him do the chore.

This could be awful, and I thought it would be awful.  I thought he would fight me and it would be a huge battle.  But in fact he always cooperates with this.  I give him a choice, "Clean it up, or I will help you clean it up."  Usually he chooses to do it himself, but sometimes he chooses to have me help him, so I hold his hands and "help" him.  I'm not sure what the appeal in this is for him.  Maybe he felt uncertain about how to do the chore, and having me direct him makes things clear.  Or maybe it's like a game to be operated like a puppet.  And maybe all he really wanted was my full attention.

Which leads me to the preventative stuff, which means giving him attention proactively instead of only reactively.  There have been stages in his life when he didn't need a whole lot of attention, and if he needed it, he would come and demand it.  Lately if I wait for him to demand it, it's already too late.  These days he really does better if I spend Michael's nap reading to him, like I used to when he was a new big brother.  I realize that sibling rivalry is becoming a bigger issue lately, as Michael gets into his toys or interferes with his games.  He needs extra love right now, and he's getting it.  I'm also trying to get out of the house more, heat not withstanding, because he is somewhat bored and understimulated (which leads to a lot of destructiveness right there, as he tries to find new uses for old toys).

I also have to supervise him a lot more closely when he's playing with Michael.  Michael is no longer the easygoing baby who readily gave up one toy for another.  He now has demands and can be rough.  I often see (now that I am watching carefully) Michael grab a toy from Marko, right before Marko decks him.  While the aggression isn't okay, it's not out of nowhere.  So I'm hovering a bit more, trying to prevent Michael from encroaching, and trying to coach Marko: "See, he's not trying to take your toy, he's trying to show you his.  Maybe he would like to trade?  Uh-oh, he's tugging at yours -- would you like to go into your room so he doesn't try to take it?"  I am not trying to remove the conflict so much as teach Marko what responses are and aren't okay.  He's getting much better at it.

For the rest, I'm trying to go to bed early, drink tea in the morning (I am afraid I am now addicted to it, sigh), get breaks when I can, do housework early in the day while the kids are mellower so I'm not scrambling to finish it in the evening when they're being awful, stop getting into Facebook debates so much, and overall nourish my mental health.  Because lately I've needed to have a LOT of patience, and I can't be running on empty.

Together they weigh 70 lbs.  This is not the sort of thing you can do while running on empty.

(Oh, and in this picture you can see that I have recently gotten a new haircut AND a new cat.  The cat is named Keva and she is John's cat.  Sadly she does not get along well with my cat.)

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Garden bounty

I have missed you guys.  I keep thinking about blogging but having no time or energy to do it!  The garden is just one of the many things that's been sapping me lately; hopefully I'll blog about the others soon too.

Ah, July.  The time when it's too hot to be outside, but suddenly you have to because the garden is producing fit to burst!

Really, I'm not picking very much -- just plums, green beans, garlic, and the occasional carrot.  Tomatoes and pumpkins are still green, no sign of cucumbers, lettuce has gone to seed, and cabbage and broccoli look like they've decided to just stay leafy forever.  Beets were a dead loss, Michael pulled up every one.

But oh, how things are growing!  Take a look:

Yeah, that whole side of the yard has basically been taken over.  I thought it would be fun for the kids to run around between the different beds, but no such luck.  The pumpkins have grown into the cucumber bed on one side and the bush beans on the other, and they are still growing!  Tendrils are heading toward the cabbage-and-carrot bed and under the fence to crawl up the hill.  All that mass of pumpkin vine is THREE plants.  Planted in May.  Those things never cease to amaze me!

The day I took this, the back corner (where it's starting to grow into the tomato bed) was looking a bit wilty.  I figured it was the heat, but the next day all those leaves were yellow, and then brown the day after.  I found out it's probably squash borers, so tomorrow I'll have to go take a look.  Basically the only thing for it is to cut off the dead leaves and slit open the stems to see if there are worms inside.  If I'd caught them at the wilty stage, I might have found a way to kill the worms without killing the plant, but at this point those leaves are dead anyway.  Luckily the rest of the vine seems unaffected.

 There are quite a few of these little green pumpkins -- perhaps a dozen.  And that's just those I can see -- it's hard to trek through the prickly vines to look for more!  Last year I had six around the end of July, and six more before frost.  This year I think the weather is too cool to get a double harvest like that -- the frost is likely to come sooner -- but you never know.

The green beans look good.  The bush beans (not shown because they're inundated in pumpkin vines) have been bearing for about two week, and the ones on the trellis just bore their first bean.  I get a handful or two every day or two.  Luckily I love green beans.  The kids don't as much ... though they do if I pickle them!

 Next is the gone-to-seed lettuce.  I was pretty good about picking it, but when it gets hot enough, it just bolts no matter what.  I let it, because I like to save the seed.  And it amuses me to have people ask what those giant things are.  They have tiny yellow flowers like dandelions which turn into balls of fluff when the seed is ready.  Both lettuce and dandelions are in the Aster family, hence the similarity.
 Can you see my poor smothered cucumbers?  My first sowing didn't work, so I planted these ones in June.  They are having trouble competing with the pumpkins that invaded their bed, but they are getting by surprisingly well despite that.  I have been carefully guiding the pumpkin vines away from the cukes so they get a decent chance.  I LOVE cucumbers, and have never grown them successfully.  Last year I got three; that was it and then the plant died.

Usually my tomatoes are the pride of the garden!  This year they've been a struggle.  My seedlings mostly died and what I did plant, I planted late.  Then I neglected them when it was time to stake them, and so they're everywhere.  But then that happens every year: I get some great new idea for how I'm going to stake them, and then I miss that crucial couple of weeks when they get tall and suddenly flop over all over everything.

And, of course, I can't really get to them due to all the pumpkins.  They do have quite a few green tomatoes though!  It seems to me not as many as past years, but maybe that's because some of the plants are so far behind they haven't set fruit at all.  The purchased seedlings are doing the best, then the homegrown ones, and last of all is the direct-seeded one.  It's fabulously healthy, but only about two feet high and no flowers even.

Here is the cabbage-carrot-broccoli-garlic bed.  Carrots are doing great, and from time to time I pull one up.  They're small yet, but delicious.  The cabbage and broccoli is just puttering along, not particularly interested in growing up, long after my neighbor has harvested his broccoli and the cabbage is all in nice heads.  Really, I think the soil here is not good -- that, and of course I put it all in very late.  The garlic which grew so fabulous for me last year didn't put on as good a showing this year.  Each plant grew a head, but a rather small one.  Probably they're disappointed at the cooler, wetter summer.  That, and the dog ran over them about twenty times too many.

I didn't get a picture of the watermelon plant.  I put it on the hillside, outside the fence.  It has a few yellow flowers and a tiny little melon, but looks rather like a bonsai plant.  Perhaps that's due to competition from all the other plants on the hill.  I didn't want to clear too large a space for it for fear of erosion.  Maybe we'll get a melon or two.

 But the real bounty right now is the plum tree.  I don't know why I didn't take a picture of the actual tree.  What you see here is one picking's worth ... considering I was picking, at that point, twice a day.  It's a dwarf plum tree, but its output is amazing.  The neighbor says it's never had a bad year.  So far I have gotten about 10 quarts of plum sauce plus all we wanted to eat fresh.  I even made a tiny batch of plum wine.

It's taken me three harvests to figure out the trick to this tree.  First, it needs to be harvested often, because the fruit ripens fast and the instant it is dead ripe, it falls off.  Then it gets a bruise and the bugs have all burrowed into it within a few hours of falling.  Second, it's okay to harvest a little unripe, for the same reason.  Third, I need to clear away all rotten fruit right away.  It discourages the bugs, and it makes it easy to see if any fruit has fallen more recently that is still good for sauce.  I threw four ice-cream buckets of rotten fruit into the compost, which is sad.  I wish I had a pig.  And fourth, I'll never get the fruit at the top of the tree (though standing on chair helps) so I just have to get out there often to pick up all the fallen fruit, cut out the bruises, and get it going for sauce.  I've been making sauce every day, because the fruit doesn't hold at all.

Neat thing about plum sauce -- you don't have to peel the fruit.  The peels actually dissolve into the sauce and turn it from golden to pink, and make it tarter.  I do have to add a bit of sugar to correct for that, but it's easier than peeling hundreds of plums.

I'm finally seeing fewer plums on the tree now, so plum time is beginning to come to an end.  I saw the first ripe plum with excitement, but I'll pick the last plum with relief.  Packing away fruit is exhausting!

There is really nothing in the world like eating out of the garden.  I feel so self-sufficient, so tied to the land, so rooted in tradition, and so ... wealthy.  I love having more than enough food to eat.  When I am worried about the grocery budget or the contents of our fridge, I invariably eat too much because I'm subconsciously afraid of going hungry.  When I have boundless quantities of plums and green beans all over the place, I feel satisfied.  I don't need to eat a lot because I know we have enough.  It's a beautiful feeling.  It also feels great to knock on my neighbors' doors and ask if they want plums, or to invite my friends over to pick them.  I feel like for once I have something of value to give.  It means so much to me.

Here are two great green bean recipes.

Saute them in olive oil or butter till they're just a bit brown in spots.  Done!  But if you want to take it to the next level, sprinkle on parmesan cheese.  You can do this with almost any veggie.  Try one you don't like, and see if you now love it.  Eggplant is great this way, though you want to get it as dry as you possibly can first.  I sliced mine, wrapped it in a dishtowel, and left it in the fridge for three days.  It was kind of dessicated, but that meant it got crispy and perfect when I sauteed it.  Mmmm.

Dilly Beans
Take a pint jar and a handful of green beans.  Snap off stems and rinse if you feel they need it.  Pack the beans in as tightly as you can, along with a clove of garlic and a sprig (or generous sprinkle) of dill.  Pour in 1 1/2 tsp of salt and fill the jar with filtered or dechlorinated water.  Leave the jar on the counter for 3-7 days, tasting from time to time to see how you like the beans.  When they taste like a dill pickle and have just the right amount of crunch, they're done.  The kids LOVE these -- though I have to call them pickles, not beans, or Marko won't eat them.  I just keep the jar open while I'm making dinner and when they come around begging for food NOW, I hand them dilly beans.  Doesn't spoil their appetite and it's good for them.

What's growing in your garden?  What gambles have paid off, and which have flopped?

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Magnesium and me

We interrupt your regularly-scheduled natter about nothing for an exciting announcement couched in a very long story.

Way back when I was in college, I used to get headaches a lot.  I've had them from time to time since high school, and when I'm tired and under a lot of stress, I sometimes get bad ones every single day.  No fun.

I talked to my friend's mom, who knows a lot about nutrition, and she said I was probably deficient in magnesium.  So I went to the health food store, bought some capsules, and took them reliably for about a month.  Then the headaches went away and I stopped taking them (of course!).  Eventually I lost the bottle.

A couple of years later, when I was pregnant with Marko, I started noticing bad headaches again.  I also had a muscle twitch around my eye which was driving me crazy.  So I thought, "Aren't tics sometimes a sign of magnesium deficiency?  I'd better stop forgetting to take my prenatal vitamins."

And I did, but it didn't help.  I took them religiously for the rest of the pregnancy and some time after, but it wasn't till months later that I actually read the bottle and found there was no magnesium in those vitamins.  That baffled me.  I thought vitamins had everything you needed in them.  How disappointing.

So I plugged along, with my twitchy eye reappearing from time to time, the occasional bad headache, and now constipation as well.  I knew I should probably be getting more magnesium, but wouldn't that mean actually going to the store and buying some?  With money?  Yeah, between my laziness and stinginess, I didn't do it.

At some point I read this post and really got convinced.  Apparently at least half of Americans aren't getting the recommended amount.  It's in things like leafy greens and dried beans, but there isn't any one food that has a lot of magnesium.  Some people also don't absorb it very well.  A good sign that you are magnesium deficient is an intense, intense craving for chocolate.  And I had that for sure!

But did I go out and buy some?  No, sir, I did not.

Then I got pregnant with Michael.  Just as with Marko, I had some headaches, some eye twitches, some leg cramps, some sleeplessness.  And I had even more Braxton-Hicks contractions than with Marko, which is saying something.  Even though I drank more water and wasn't on my feet a whole lot, I was having really severe contractions even at 22 weeks.  It made me very nervous.

So I did some googling, and what did I find but that magnesium deficiency also causes Braxton-Hicks contractions AND preterm labor!  Delightful.  So I finally ran out to the store and bought some.

It helped so much.  Not only did the contractions disappear almost completely, but I slept better, had no eye twitches and few headaches, and even my back felt less sore.  Who knew?  I spent the rest of the pregnancy trying to stop myself from painting sheds and planting the garden in February.  Instead of dragging myself around like when I was pregnant with Marko, I was baking huge batches of food and scrubbing floors.  And oddly, I suddenly felt like chocolate was nice, but not as nice as other things.  I could take it or leave it.  Huh.

Since magnesium is used to relax your muscles (calcium is used when you tense them), I was told it would make labor easier.  And boy did it.  Three hours, start to finish, and at no time did it feel like more than I could handle.

But just after Michael was born, I ran out and didn't buy more.  And when he was about a month old, he started getting very constipated.  First he pooped every day ... then every other day ... then once a week, and with difficulty.

The trouble is, babies can't take capsules.  The solution is to get magnesium on their skin.  You can put magnesium salts in a bath, but that's rather a hassle, and you can dissolve them in water and put it on their skin, but it can sting.  So I had the idea of putting it in lotion.  It's a bit of a process, but I make a big batch at once and divvy it up into jars.  The base is coconut oil, with the magnesium water emulsified into it.  I use beeswax as an emulsifier, because "real" emulsfying wax isn't at all natural.  Since it's meant for a baby's skin, I figured if it separated a bit, that was better than putting harsh ingredients on Michael.  I made it dilute enough that it doesn't sting him at all.  I also added a few drops of lavender essential oil for a nice relaxing scent.

Did it work?  Amazingly well.  It cured the constipation within a week, and he does sleep better with it as well.  I put it on once a day, before bed, but it's fine to put it on more often too.  Marko seems to sleep better when I've put it on him as well.

So I decided to open an Etsy store and offer this stuff for sale.  To my knowledge, there's nothing like this available anywhere.  I did find one magnesium lotion, but it had a ton of ingredients and not a lot of magnesium.  My lotion has only five ingredients, and since it's not expensive to make, I priced it pretty low.  It seems an easy way to try and find out if a baby's -- or an adult's -- problems could be helped by magnesium.

Here are a few common health problems caused by magnesium deficiency: headaches, fluctuating blood sugar, muscle tics, muscle cramps, painful periods and PMS, insomnia, restless legs, morning sickness, false labor, and constipation.  And that's really just the beginning; magnesium deficiency can also cause more severe problems like heart disease.

Obviously most of those have other causes too.  But if you have some of those symptoms, why not check out my store and buy a jar of Calming Salve?  It can't hurt, it smells nice, and if it helps you, it's easy to keep it as part of your routine.

And, of course, you'd be helping a stay-at-home mom make a couple of bucks.  It's never going to be a full-time job for me, but it means a lot to me to make a little money of my own.

Pretty soon I'll be adding a few more items to the store.  I'll let you know here when that happens!
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