Sunday, March 19, 2017

The P Word-Another Update-Food

Tomato at our old place in MD.

It's been a little over two months now, since we started our plastic elimination experiment here at Sage Alley, and it's going pretty well.  I still have not transferred my animals' prescriptions to local stores, but at the moment, I don't need those foods, and the dogs have a vet appointment this week, so I will be able to ask then.  Likewise, I'll be setting up appointments for my cats at my other vet's office soon.

As for the humans in the house, it's been interesting.  Our eating habits have had to change pretty drastically (in my case, anyway,) and frankly, I'm finding it challenging.  One would not think that it would be that big a deal for vegans, but there were a lot of foods that I was eating that came packaged in plastic.  I'm no longer eating those foods, and I miss them.  My guy has always been OK with--and even preferred--eating whole foods.  The convenience foods we used to get were a treat for him, but he mostly ate whole food.  I'm the one who is having issues adjusting.  My thing has always been to take foods I've always liked and veganize them.  I like some of the meat and cheese substitutes.  I liked still making "chicken" soup, mac n cheese, etc.  Those are comfort foods for me. Now, I'm not able to make those foods, since we are eliminating plastics.  I'm learning a completely new way to eat.

I like whole foods, and I don't mind not having the mock meats and cheeses.  I'm just not used to it yet.  One thing I have tried was making lasagna.  It was a cheeseless lasagna made with tofu.  It turned out to be really good, actually.  I also have recipes for different kinds of "cheese" sauces made from tofu and nuts. I just need to change my thinking. We do have a source for bulk tofu, which really helps.  What is frustrating me right now, though, is the fact that I can't even make seitan, because it comes in plastic bags now.  Next time we are at the nearby food co-op, I need to check and see if they have vital wheat gluten in bulk. I suspect they do not.  The store back in the DC area does not.  I'm also going to look around online.  Seitan doesn't work with everything, but it works really well in the dishes for which it's appropriate.

We're making more foods at home, from scratch.  Bread and baked treats, in particular. The next thing I want to learn to do is make pasta.  We were getting pasta in boxes with no interior plastic bag, but with a small, plastic window.  We have decided to stop buying even that.  Again, this is hard for me. I really enjoy pasta.  It's extremely versatile.  Plus, I love Italian food!  I've wanted to learn to make my own pasta for years, so I'm looking at this as an opportunity.

We no longer buy the nut milks we used to keep on hand.  They come in either plastic or aseptic packages, which do not recycle where we live.  What we do now is buy canned coconut milk, blend it, dilute it, and keep the "milk" we make that way in a jar.  It's very tasty, and I don't miss the other milk substitutes at all! Breakfast hasn't changed much for us, really.  We just don't have veggie bacon or sausage any more, because they come in plastic.  Instead, we have fruit with our pancakes or potatoes or whatever. Both the hot and cold cereals that we eat are available in bulk.

So far, taking our own containers to restaurants is not a problem.  The problem has been that sometimes, we just forget. It's a matter of building habits, just like we had to do when we stopped using plastic shopping bags.  We both have a routine now before we leave the house where we gather everything we're going to need and put it in a bag and either hang it on the door to the garage or put it with my purse.

I'd have to say food has been the biggest challenge for me in cutting out plastic from our home.  I'm a foodie, and I have foods that I have always liked and looked to for comfort.  Learning this new way of eating is challenging for me.  My partner is much calmer than I am.  Change is easier for him.  The good news, though, is I am always open to learning.  As a foodie, the idea of trying new foods is exciting for me. It's just the cold-turkey nature of our changes that has kind of thrown me off. I'll get there, and in the meantime, I comfort myself with the knowledge that we are reducing our footprint on the planet.  That alone makes up for all of the mac n cheese that I can't eat right now!

Have a great week!



Brick Dust: Late Winter/Early Spring

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As of this writing, all of that lovely snow has melted, and we are officially in Spring.  This was the only "big" snow we got this year.  our Winter here in WV was unusually warm.  Scarily so, really.  This snow was 12", and we did get to try out our new plow!  Plowing was the easy part.  Getting the plow on and off the truck is another matter entirely! We only needed to plow, because my primary car, while it probably handles snow very well, rides very low to the ground, so I was concerned about getting stuck on our long driveway.  So that was fun.  Unfortunately, we are stuck with the plow on the truck a little while longer, because the truck's battery is dead.  Go figure.
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My partner took full advantage of the unusually warm days and has completed our garden fence! It ended up looking almost exactly like the dog pen, and the garden is almost as big.  He is now in the process of moving some bushes from right around the house to the outer border of the garden.  We had a really bad deer problem last year, so we've been researching ways to deter them this year.  They did a lot of damage, despite the fence we had up and the cages we had around some of the plants. Aside from the thorny bushes he put there this week, we are also going to be putting in sage and marigolds, and we're planning to move a very large rose bush from the same area next to the house out to the outer border of the garden. Seems the deer are getting more determined each year.
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We currently have seeds started all over the first floor of our house. Thanks to the grow lights my partner has installed above our kitchen cabinets, I haven't had to turn a light on in the kitchen, for the most part, in weeks! So far, he has started tomatoes, peppers, and marigolds.  He's planning to start the tilling in the next few days, and planting, of course, will start soon after that.  Here's hoping it doesn't get cold again!

As for me, if I can help with the tilling, I will.  I'm not afraid of good, hard work.  The problem is that my fibromyalgia has gotten a little bit worse.  I may end up helping with lighter work, like the planting, caging, and things like that.  I have to take it day by day and week by week. That's just how things go sometimes!
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On the inside of the house, we are starting to pick our redecorating projects back up.  I'm in the process of preparing the dining room for painting, and then we will be focusing on our kitchen.  We're doing all of the work ourselves, and we're making some pretty bold choices.  The kitchen, for instance, is going to be red! I mean, red-red.  We've tested the color we chose, and it will work.  It's just going to be kind of unusual.  I can't wait! The dining room is going to be gray, and the office and my temple are going to be a creamy off-white.  This will all take some time, but the nice thing about the process is it's also forcing me to do some massive decluttering.  I'm very excited to see what the house will look like when we are finished with it!
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I think this is enough of an update for now, folks!  I will share some photos from around "The Alley" soon!

Happy Spring!

Monday, February 20, 2017

The P Word-An Update

From our plastic-free shopping trip today.

Last month, I posted about how my partner and I are both becoming overwhelmed by the proliferation of plastic in our world and our waste stream. In the time since, we've taken a number of measures to eliminate the plastic we bring home from stores and other places. As of now, I need some plastic bags for scooping the cat boxes.  I use bags in all of the trash cans around the house, not just to keep the cans clean (which really doesn't matter, as they are washable,) but also so that the cat waste isn't the only thing I'm putting in the bag and then throwing the bag away.  It makes sense to me.  I'm beginning to think, however, that that's just silly.  The less I put in a plastic bag, the smaller bag I can use, so the less plastic I am tossing into the trash each week.  The trash cans can simply be dumped into one, central can with a bag in it.  So I'm working toward that! Speaking of which, we are researching other ways to get rid of our dog and cat waste. More on that in another post.

After having seen a show on trash last week, which featured a segment on living a zero waste lifestyle, and then having come across this article, we have become more determined than ever to reduce and hopefully eliminate new plastics in our lives. We are not getting rid of plastic items we already own and are using, unless it's just to donate something we don't want anymore that's in perfectly good shape.  We will simply use things until they are used up and repair those things when they break, for as long as we can.  It would not make sense to toss out perfectly good items all of a sudden, just because they are made of plastic.  (Heck, the laptop I'm using to create this post is plastic!) That would only compound the problem. Like any other well made product, a well made plastic product can potentially give you decades of use.

What we are aiming to do is not bring any new plastics home. The photo caption above might seem misleading, since the trip was not plastic-free.  We used plastic containers; however, they are containers we've held onto for this purpose, not new plastic containers. Today's trip was the second shopping trip we've made with the aim of not bringing in new plastic. The first was last week, and was not as successful as today's trip. Our local store does not have a bulk section, and almost all of their organic produce is...wrapped in plastic. We came home from the store the other day with very little, save a few vegetables and greens. Today, we were able to do a real shop, and the only new plastic that came in the door was the seal on our bottle of ketchup.  (I plan to learn to make my own condiments.  It's not hard--I'm just not there yet.) We also took the time while in the store to explore and see what else we use at home that we can replace with something not wrapped in plastic or in a plastic container.  Our options are fair. The food co-op at which we shopped today does not have things like bulk personal care products, but they have many other items our local store does not have.  The store near where I work in DC, however, does have bulk options for personal care.  What this means is that we will be shopping three different places, but at different times. It should not really add any extra burden.  We also learned today that we need more reusable produce bags.  If i have the right fabric, I can make some.

My partner has set up a "trash jar" for us.  This is a glass canister, into which we are going to be putting plastic that comes home with us from the store--like the seal I mentioned above. We are going to do this for a year.  We got this idea from the show I mentioned.  When they were talking about the zero-waste family, the mother held up a glass jar--smaller than the one we are using--and it was only about 1/3 full. They said it was what her family of four throws away in one year!  Now, with our having multiple pets, I don't think we'll be able to pull that off, but the jar will let us see how we're doing.  We just thought it would be a neat idea to track it.

To recap, as of right now, the major area where I need to work on eliminating plastic packaging is pet care products.  Because we have multiple pets with multiple feeding needs, I usually order online when I need more than one item.  It's cheaper.  Unfortunately, the canned food comes in cardboard trays (OK) wrapped in plastic (not OK.) What this means is that I need to get copies of my animals' prescriptions from their respective vets and take them to a local pet store, where I can just buy the cans unwrapped and forgo the plastic.  In the meantime, I need to place an order, so that plastic will be coming in at least one more time.  I also have two cases of food in the pantry, which are wrapped in plastic.  The other area, as I have mentioned, is pet waste.  I'm learning about ways to get rid of it without the need for plastic bags, but it will take time to decide on a method and get set up with it.  I have found there is almost no quality dry food for dogs that does not come in plastic, and all of the prescription foods for the cats comes in plastic, too.  A bag of such food (cat or dog) will last me about a month, and the best I can do is to reuse said bag as a trash bag.

I have about 1/3 of a roll of plastic kitchen trash bags left. I plan to use them up and then only use the reclaimed bags from pet food, litter, water softener salt, etc. and stop buying trash bags.  I have a nearly full box of contractor bags in the garage.  Those will last a very long time, because unless there's a major, major mess or clean-up, the garage trash only goes down for pick up about every two months, if that. I'm not worried about that at the moment, but I think that once those do run out, I'll do the same thing I'm doing in the house:  Only use recycled bags.  If we did not have pets, we would probably take months to fill a kitchen trash bag!  (That's not an option, though, because I can't imagine my life without animals.)

Finally, we have started to ask the local restaurants we frequent if we can bring in our own containers for leftovers.  So far, no one has had any objections to that.

Personally, I think we're doing pretty well, considering. We're not going to get it right 100% of the time.  There will be times when convenience wins out or when we are stuck somewhere without alternatives, and we just have to suck it up. When that sort of thing happens, I tend to take anything recyclable home with me and...recycle it.

It's been a really interesting process, to say the least.  I'm happy to take some extra steps and even a little added expense to do this, because plastic has become a really, really big problem, and I want to do my part to try and mitigate the damage we humans are causing.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Accepting What Is




It's February.  It should be a lot colder than it is.  The past three months should have been colder. It should be snowing.  I bought a snow plow, for goodness' sake! It feels too warm out.  I'm worried about the ecosystem.  I didn't get to play in the snow this year or watch the dogs do it.

These are the types of thoughts that have been running through my head this winter.  It's a little depressing that we have not had a normal winter (for our region.)  I hate the fact that we haven't had any measurable snow.  The snow plow is not a big deal, because it is something we have needed, because of where we live.  (This has been proven over and over in the past.)

A few weeks ago, I decided to just stop.  Stop lamenting over what winter is supposed to be and just accept what is.  I have been taking each day as it comes, and if it's a nice day--even if it's a nice day for April and not for January or February--enjoying the day for what it is.  We've been getting things done here at Sage Alley:  Gathering firewood for the cold, cold nights.  Replenishing the indoor wood pile.  Preparing to re-do the fencing around our garden.  Cleaning up the dog pen...Just whatever needs doing.  I've been going out with friends and having a good time, giving thanks for the fact that there was not ice on the road or snow to contend with on my long drive home from DC to West Virginia.  We've been opening the windows on especially warm days, even if just for a couple of hours, and airing the house out.

Lamenting or stressing over what should be drains our energy and keeps us from being productive, and if others are like I am, we later beat ourselves up over what we didn't get done.  I, for one, don't want to walk down that path anymore, so I'm not!

Happy Almost-Spring!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The P Word

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My actual trash (I tried to hide the gross stuff!)



We buy stuff wrapped in plastic, and then we dispose of the plastic in plastic. Then, we dispose of all of that plastic in a hole in the ground, or a field, or whatever our local landfill consists of. Then, we despair over the loss of about 200 species per day.

We are no better, here at  Sage Alley.  I'm sorry to admit that my guy and I recently disposed of an embarrassing amount of plastic.  It started out as an experiment in DIY:  We would save up plastic bags, wraps, coverings, etc., and we would try and make something out of all of that plastic (after cleaning it, of course.)  We saved for a couple of months, and just never got around to doing anything about it. One day, in a fit of frustration, it got put out with our weekly trash.  We were both devastated.  I felt that we had failed.

We have decided to try a different approach:  We are simply trying to shop more consciously and to bring less plastic home to begin with. We also reuse what we can.  The occasional plastic shopping bag that comes home gets reused as a trash can liner and for cleaning the litter boxes.  (I'm also trying to get better at remembering to take a reusable bag with me when I know I need to run an errand!)

Any bag with a zip closure gets washed and reused for storage.  We reuse them until they wear out.  We also reuse plastic wrap--which I will no longer be buying when we run out.  I'm going to buy waxed paper or just use foil instead.  Now, there's a caveat to reusing plastic bags and wrap:  Sometimes, they can't be cleaned well enough to reuse.  There are some substances that don't come off easily or thoroughly, even with vinegar and/or a good soap.  You should use your best judgment and follow your intuition on this.  Since we are vegans, this is rarely a concern for us.  Also--and I probably don't have to say this--plastics used for non-food purposes should only be reused for non-food purposes.

We have two health food stores we frequent, both of which sell items in bulk.  Another step I am taking is to shop there for our dry goods.  We have a few plastic containers we have washed and saved for this purpose.  If we can't get there, we look for paper packaging, or we buy the item canned (beans.)  Growing our own food will also help with this.  I also may finally get off my you-know-what and learn to make my own pasta.  We get pasta in boxes; however, most of the time, the pasta is WRAPPED IN PLASTIC.  It's very frustrating.

I get dry dog food and cat litter in plastic bags.  Once those bags are emptied, they are the perfect size for our kitchen and workshop trash cans, so we recycle them once, for that.  We also use them as small drop cloths.  We figure if it's going in the trash eventually, we might as well use it as much as we can first.

Finally, we are working on learning to can, dehydrate, and freeze food on our own, so that we don't need to buy these items in plastic, either.  We probably will not eradicate plastic altogether, but I am confident we can greatly reduce it.  I'd love to hear from others who are trying to do this, as well.  What are some methods you are using?

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Brick Dust: Late Fall, Health, Holidays





We are having the weirdest fall!  It's very, very cold at night, but it's still getting up into the 70s some days!  I'll tell you:  My body is not liking it much!  I was just diagnosed with fibromyalgia, and the erratic weather almost always sends me into a flare.  No good!

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As  Autumn moves toward Winter, we're just taking advantage of the good weather days and putting by as much wood as we can--and by "we," I really mean "he."  We've fallen into a good rhythm, one that works for us. Due to my limited energy and random aches and pains, I tend to take care of the inside of the house while he takes care of most of the yard work.  I do get out there once in a while, but it's been a few weeks.

We are almost completely unpacked and moved in, and we've gotten rid of most of the junk we needed to clear out of the house.  We have about a truck load left in the garage to take to the local thrift shop.  I hope to do that in the next few days. Cleaning is becoming a less daunting task, as I get used to my "new normal" and build my routines.  I'm on a weekly schedule of sorts, but I don't yet have a cleaning schedule made. I just fit it in where I can. 

One thing that really helps, though, is cleaning as I go.  Most tasks, when you break them down, only take a few minutes. If I'm doing one thing and see that another, small thing also needs doing, I go ahead and take care of it.  Overall, our house is very clean.  I usually only need to deep clean about once a month, and it's never the whole house at once, unless we're throwing a party or something.

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The garden is not yet finished for the season, thanks to the unnaturally warm weather.  We are finished with peppers and tomatoes, but we got a huge harvest this year!  We have jalapenos hanging from the catwalk over the living room to dry, and we still have a few baby bells in the bottom of the crisper.  We've only had to start buying tomatoes again in the past two weeks, and I think that's only because our last batch has not ripened yet.

We now have arugula growing, and it's the best arugula I have ever tasted! He is hoping to put some garlic in, and while the weather is mild, he's getting the holes dug for the garden gate.  The fencing is not all the way up yet.  I imagine we'll make progress on that as we can.

I wanted to till in my beds for the corn I want to plan in Spring, but he said to wait, as I'd just have to do it all over again when Spring comes.  I don't know that I agree, but based on how my health is right now, waiting might be my best option, anyway.

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We aren't planning for the holidays.  Part of it is that neither of us celebrates the traditional holidays that most Americans do, and part of it is that it's just going to be the two of us. For us, the usual Winter holidays are just regular days.  We do usually decorate, but not a lot, and I still like to send out cards.  We had our "traditional Thanksgiving dinner" (the vegan version) last night, because we like the food.  I give thanks in August.  This is also going to be my first year celebrating as an orphan.  It's up to me now to plan holidays, and I just don't know what that's going to look like yet.

We'll probably spend time with friends, and his family has a standing invitation to come and visit whenever they want (and vice versa.) I'll be honest:  It' strange being on my own and having to make up my own traditions.

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As for the election here in the US, I will just say this:  The election did not go my way.  It  stopped going my way long before we went to the voting booth.  The aftermath has been very emotional for everyone, and I'm trying not to let myself get caught up in some of the negativity.  I plan to speak out when I see things going wrong, but I really don't want to get into the whole "X voters are bad/stupid/evil" ugliness.  I'm trying to keep a positive outlook, but I am not going to bury my head in the sand when things are scary, and I am not going to pretend that everything is OK.  I feel that things are very precarious right now.

All of that just strengthens my resolve to continue to learn how to be self-sufficient and live more simply.  Most importantly, I am determined to treat people with respect and kindness.  I hope that everyone else will do the same.

Happy Fall!

Friday, September 16, 2016

DIY: Personal Wipes

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I've never liked the idea of disposable anything, and until recently, I found the idea of "wipes"--wipes for any purpose--to be, frankly, stupid.  My line of thinking was that you put a plethora of chemicals on your skin, and then you just throw away the pad.  I thought the concept was wasteful and harmful to the environment and our bodies.

Now that I am getting older and dealing with some health issues, however, I have come to appreciate the idea of having something on hand to give my hygiene regimen a boost.  Today, I decided to make my own wipes.  At home, I can clean myself up just fine. I wanted the wipes for days when I am out and about, when I don't have easy access to extra water, for instance.  When I travel, if it's just quick and overnight, I'll use them for that, as well. For longer trips, I'll opt for other methods, in order to keep things simple.

Most sites recommend using a roll of paper towels cut in half, but if you've been reading Sage Alley for any length of time or you know me personally, then you know that I just have to add my own eco edge to it and go with reusable.  For reusable wipes, you want fabric that is not stiff, but soft.  You don't want anything too thick.  Most people use flannel (recycled from old shirts, pjs, sheets, etc.)  I chose towels, because:  1) We have a huge surplus of towels in a range of colors and patterns, and we are giving away a lot of them, 2) I like something thick and absorbent--I like a good barrier between my hand and any messes (believe it or not, as much as I talk about recycling, scavenging, animals, and the like, I'm squeamish and don't like to get my hands gooey-dirty,) and 3) they will last a long, long time.  Terry cloth is very tough.  The downside to terry cloth is that it soaks up a lot of the liquid I'm using for my wipes.  (More on my "road test" later.) What you want to look for is soft, absorbent, and all-natural fibers, like cotton. If you are someone who is squeamish about reusing things, then by all means, go with the paper towel method.

My own wipes are a variation on this recipe.  Scroll down to the Baby Wipes recipe. That's the one I modified. To clean the wipes, I use the same method I use to wash my reusable menstrual pads. (I recommend always rinsing pads or wipes before cleaning them, putting some sort of non-chlorine bleach in your soaking bucket--I use hydrogen peroxide if I'm out of my favorite bleach alternative- and I recommend washing them in hot water.  If your washing machine has a "sanitize" cycle like mine does, use that.) I also transport them the same way, except that, instead of one zipper-type plastic bag, I will have two: One for the unused ones, and one in which to bring used ones home and wash them. (Unused pads are dry.  Wipes, however, are never dry.)  I have a waterproof zipper pouch I use for this.  It keeps everything discreet.

My wipes are the terry, cut into roughly 4" x 4" squares (again--I like good hand coverage.  You may not need them to be that size. It's a matter of comfort.)  Since my partner is not on board with any of my reusable hygiene ideas, I wanted to make absolutely sure to use colors and patterns that could not possibly be mistaken for any other type of rag we use (we use rags for just about everything now.)  I will even be washing them separately from any of the other laundry, just like I do for the pet rags/beds/etc. (I realize brown is an ironic choice, and I did not do that to be funny, but there it is!) If you find that you have other household or family members who are on board with this, make sure everyone stores their personal wipes separately, and make sure that everyone has their own signature colors.  In our house, any rag that is  brightly colored or that has flowers on it is one of mine.

For storage, I keep the dry wipes--my little squares of cloth--put away until I know I'm going somewhere. The day before, I'll soak 2-3 of them, so that they will be ready to pack up in the morning.  The reason I'm choosing to do this is to avoid mold.  There is no need for me to have wipes soaking all the time, if I'm just going to be at home.  This will help the liquid to last longer, and it will keep everything clean.

I did a first run today, and here are some things I have learned:  1.  I used too much soap.  I did not monitor how much I was putting into the mixture, and I ended up with a product that left too much residue on my skin.  As my liquid runs out, I will water it down.  2. I won't be using peppermint oil next time.  While my mixture left me feeling clean, it was also a little uncomfortable.  I will either try lavender instead or just skip the second oil and stick with the tea tree only. 3. I may need to leave out the rubbing alcohol.  I used very little, but it may have contributed to my irritation.  The reason I changed up the recipe to which I linked is I wanted to use only what I had on hand here at home and to avoid spending any money on this.  I was successful in that sense--I just need to tweak my recipe. 4.  Terry cloth absorbs a whole lot of liquid.  When I pulled out my wipe, I wrung it out a lot, but I still ended up with a little too much.  There's not much I can do about that.  Since I have already cut up my squares, I'll just stick with using them.  I just need to work on wringing them out better, but hopefully this information will help you to decide whether or not you want to use terry cloth (we all have different needs and different preferences.)

Whether you use reusable wipes or not, making your own liquid will take you a long way toward cutting household costs and waste and toward taking better control of your home environment and your health. Industry has so many people believing that we need chemicals in everything in order to be clean and healthy, but the truth is, we only need the right chemicals, nutrients, etc.  If you can't pronounce it or if it smells like nothing you would find in nature, then it's pretty likely you don't need it.  That is the truth.

***CAVEATS: I urge caution if you are sensitive:  Do a spot test for the tea tree and peppermint oils.  Dab a tiny, tiny bit on your inner arm, right near your elbow.  If either or both burn or tingle, do not use them.  Do not use rubbing alcohol if you are sensitive, either.  If you are someone who is super-sensitive, stick with the Xovain recipe for adult "baby" wipes.  I know my own body, so I am OK with experimenting with my own variation, but I am not comfortable posting my recipe. Finally, if you have serious health issues, I don't recommend doing this without talking to your doctor.  While I advocate for minimizing chemicals in the home environment, I would never recommend doing anything that would harm anyone's health!