CheapyKeen

Exploring ideas for affordable, sustainable, enjoyable living.

Free Writing Therapy

Far be it from me to sell you anything. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring to your attention the occasional awesome free thing I run across. With that in mind…

Have you heard of “morning pages”? The idea comes from The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. It’s very simple–every day when you wake up, you write three pages. Three pages about anything, whatever comes to mind–no self-censoring, no worrying about spelling, grammar, or punctuation–just stream of consciousness writing. About 2/3 of the way through you will find you often hit a “truth point” where you really get to the meat of something that’s been on your mind, and it can be surprising and enlightening. This is one benefit of the practice; another is to get your creative juices flowing, which can only happen when you’re not censoring yourself or preoccupied with unrewarding, mundane, and repetitious thoughts that we all seem to bear and even cling to as some kind of proof of adulthood. But of at least equal value is that when you write it out, you get it out of your head. Whatever is bothering you, whatever is on your mind, whatever is just taking up too much space in there, like ’80s song lyrics¬†deep thoughts.

But writing three pages by hand does take awhile, and maybe when you first wake up you need to hit the shower and the coffee STAT, or get the kids up for school, or maybe you’re like me and you can’t actually remember your own name until after 1 pm.

Enter 750words.com. Three handwritten pages equals about 750 words; this site is nothing but a totally private blank canvas on which to write your words. You get a reminder every day by email, and it counts your words as you write. It even compiles nifty statistics based on words you use most often. No one ever gets to see what you wrote except you, not even the people who run the site, and you can always access everything you’ve written previously. After you’ve been writing for a few days you start to earn humorous little animal badges which are surprisingly motivational. You can write at any time of day or night. Best of all, if you join before May 1st, 2013 it’s free. Forever. (Of course you can always donate if you wish.) If you join after May 1st, you get a 30 day free trial period, after which if you want to create a membership it will cost the royal sum of $5 per month. The fees all go toward site maintenance and operating costs.

I’ve been using 750words for about 4 months now and I’m quite pleased with the results. I was skeptical at first but I was looking to try new things, so I figured, what the heck. I thought there was no way I had enough to write about to make 750 words once, let alone 750 words a day, but in fact I average over a thousand words a day, and 105 pages per month (which may come as no surprise to you given how wordy this post already is). For me it’s extremely therapeutic. Once I’ve written down what’s bothering me, I can put it aside and get on with life, and I have brain-space and energy to devote to things more interesting than worry or complaint. It also helps my memory to write things down–I don’t have to ever look at them again, just the act of writing (well, typing) them seems to seal them in.

So if you’ve ever thought of doing NaNoWriMo, or you can’t afford a shrink or an external hard drive, why not give it a try?

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Something for Nothing; or, Your Friend the Dandelion (updated 6/10/13)

Depending where you live, your lawn is now, or soon will be, sparkling with a veritable galaxy of sunny dandelions.

Lucky you!

What we so often dismiss as a weed, the humble dandelion, is an herb of great generosity. And they are abundant and since few people know what a treasure they are, they won’t mind letting you harvest in their yard. I won’t delve into its many medicinal uses here, but suffice to say that all parts of the plant are useful and edible*–although if you’re a supertaster like me, you will find the roots and leaves horribly, unbearably, immediately-vomit-inducingly bitter.

From botanical.com. A proper dandelion has only one flower per stalk, with all the leaves at the base of the stalk.

From botanical.com. A proper dandelion (Taraxacum officinale is shown here) has only one flower per stalk, with all the leaves at the base of the stalk.

Three things about harvesting dandelions: (1) You want to find a field or yard that is not sprayed with chemicals, for obvious reasons. The further from a roadway the better too, since plants get covered with pollutants. (2) Don’t harvest all the dandelions! A good rule of thumb is to take only about 10% of them; but dandelions are forgiving and would probably let you take more. But remember, you want dandelions to come back next year, and they can’t do that if you don’t leave some flowers to turn into seed-heads. (Also you don’t get to later blow the seeds off and make a wish.) For some purposes (e.g., the infused oil I describe below), you can pick a couple dandelions a day and add them, if there aren’t a lot at one time. (3) Pretty much everyone knows what a dandelion looks like, but there are a few species with very similar looking flowers, so pay attention to the rest of the plant–while there are hundreds of species of dandelion, they all have a basal rosette of leaves and only one flower per stalk. The stalk is smooth, hollow, and oozes a milky white latex when broken. The leaves usually have a zigzag silhouette.

Among the many things you can make with dandelions are syrup, infused oil/salve, tea, tincture, and wine. Below are recipes for infused oil/salve and syrup:

Dandelion Infused Oil/Salve

  • Dandelion flowers
  • Oil (e.g., olive, coconut, sunflower, almond, jojoba)
  • Beeswax (for salve)

Dandelion oil is a soothing and warming liniment for sore muscles, helping them to relax and ease pent-up tension. It’s also a gorgeous yellow that makes you feel like you’re walking on sunshine.

Pick some dandelions and remove the stems (the green base of the flower is fine). Dandelions absorb and hold on to lots of moisture, so let them wilt/dry overnight. Put them in a jar and pour in enough oil to just cover the flowers; cover with a paper towel or cheesecloth and secure with a rubberband–you want air to be able to circulate. You’ll want to use an oil that is easily absorbed by the skin, such as good quality olive, coconut, almond, sunflower, or jojoba. Leave the jar in a sunny window for 4-6 weeks.

Alternatively, you can gently heat the oil and flowers in a bain marie (or a glass measuring cup in a pan of water) and let them simmer for a few hours. This is quicker, but heat can destroy essential nutrients in the flowers and the oil, so it’s not ideal.

Discard the oil if it develops mold or smells rancid. Letting the dandelions wilt beforehand helps prevent this.

Strain the flowers out using muslin or cheesecloth (or at least line a strainer with paper towel, though this method is sloooooow) and squeeze to get as much oil as possible. If you want to stop with an infused oil, you’re done!

To make a salve (same as a balm or ointment), you will add beeswax to the infused oil.

Heat the wax in a bain marie or your trusty cauldron measuring cup in a pan until liquefied. Add the dandelion oil, stir to blend, and remove from the heat right away. The usual ratio is 3 parts oil to 1 part beeswax, but you can vary this if you want a looser or firmer salve. If it turns out too hard, re-melt everything and add some more of whatever oil you used. If it’s too thick, re-melt and add a little more beeswax.

Pour into containers (glass jars or tins work best–any plastic that could melt in contact with hot liquid is right out) and allow to cool.

Dandelion Syrup

  • 1 part dandelion flowers
  • 1 part sweetener (sugar or honey)
  • Lemon juice (optional)
  • Water

Again you’ll be removing the stems from the dandelions.

Place in a pan with water that you consider potable–i.e., filtered, if your tap water is nasty–and bring to the boil.

Turn off the heat, cover, and allow to steep overnight.

Strain the dandelions out using cheesecloth or muslin, and squeeze it to get all the dandelion water you can.

At this point, you can add a little lemon juice to taste if you like. Heat the water back up and add the sweetener. Remember, the sweetener is a preservative–so even if you want to cut calories you need to have roughly one part sugar to one part dandelion water.

Allow to simmer over a very low flame until reaching desired thickness (remember that while it’s hot, the syrup will be thinner, so test by dripping some onto a fridge-chilled plate).

Enjoy on waffles or pancakes, or diluted in still or sparkling water.

 

*EDIT 10 June 2013: Regarding the nutritional properties of the dandelion, and further reason to incorporate them into your diet and/or pharmacopeia,¬†this recent article from The New York Times points out that dandelions have 7 times more phytonutrients than spinach, which we consider a “superfood.”

My dog Shermie enjoys the dandelions.

My dog Shermie enjoys the dandelions.

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