Friday, September 10, 2010

Soapmaking: The Day the Gremlins Visited, August 31, 2010

I  was going to title this entry, "The Soapmaking Day from HELL"...because it was.  Let's just say that if this had all happened on my first day making soap, I would not now--12 years later--be a soapmaker. 

The day started out nicely.  I had picked up my equipment and supplies from the warehouse the day before.  So, I thought I was ready to roll.  Then I remembered that I had forgotten (!!!) to pick up the Pomace oil from GFS  (Gordon Food Services) coming back from Ali's volleyball game last night.  No problem, right!?  It's just a half hour delay.  And, I am only doing one 4 pot session this morning.  Easy, peasy. 

When I got home, I got the hotplates out and setup the headboard counter in my parents garage.  I pulled out a card table and got the scale and all the oils ready to go.  I decided to finish pouring the final couple of pounds of castor oil out of a big 50 pound cube box.  Normally, I set the box on a table, put a gallon jug under it and turn on the spigot.  The oils flows serenely out of the box into the jug...and I am around to make sure nothing goes wrong.  This time however, I decided to go in and put a recipe on the Lye Calculator while it was flowing.  When I came out, something had bumped the box and it was serenely flowing onto the soaked paper towel I put under the jug...onto my parents very clean garage floor.  Dang it!

But a little mess like that is not going to deter me!  I got my four stock pots loaded with the oils and shea butter and put them on to melt.  Then I poured the lye bowls out--except I mispoured the lye in the first one.  I only needed 14.2 ounces and by the time my brain registered how much the scale read it was already over a pound.  Oh well, the drain down in the basement sink was running slowly--time for a good clean out!  Crap--I hate wasting my precious soapmaking things!

After a bit everything was finally combined, stickblended and starting to cook.  This is when I usually turn to my sink and wash out the lye bowls.  At my parent's I have to dash into the kitchen to do this.  When I give hot process  soapmaking lessons, I always stress not to turn your back on the cooking soap.  I really need to practice what I preach.  By the time I got the bowls washed, the oil/lye mixture was rising out of the one of the pots, splashing onto the floor and everything within a four foot radius.  OH SH*T!!! 

That little cleanup took about a half hour and used up an entire roll of Bounty paper towels!  And it was only done good enough to keep working--the final cleanup would take a couple hours and included washing walls, mopping the floor four times and cleaning up all the gardening and painting tools that got hit with the oily mixture.  And, my soap!  I ended up having to throw away 12 bars of partially cooked Kumquat soap.  But then as I carried a wash basin full of oily, dirty water into the kitchen, it slipped out of my greasy hands and fell...onto the threshold of the back door--some of it going onto the tile kitchen floor, some of it onto the garage steps and runner carpet.  Which led to another half hour of cleanup and more cussing.  LOTS more cussing!

So, now a normal person would have just shut down the soapmaking operation for the day.  After all, ALL SIGNS are pointing to eminent danger.  They are at least suggesting that if you continue on the track you are on, it may lead to loss of limb, life or blowing up the house.  RIGHT!?!?!  But, no.  I come from farm folk.  Good, sturdy, Scotch/German genes.  We don't give up.  We ARE NOT sissies.  We PERSEVERE!  DAMN IT!!!

So, I continue with the soap cooking.  Another 15 minutes pass with no problems.  Whew!  I finish three pots of soap, remove them from the burners onto the concrete floor to start cooling.  I give the slow cooking pot a good stir and turn my back...and that dang pot falls off the burner--three feet to the ground and hot soap goes all over.  Onto the wet vac, my Dad's big CB radio receiver, the power cords, and more on the floor.  Are you F*****G kidding me!  I lose another 4 bars of soap, this time my Olive Oil Castile. 

By this time, my parents have holed themselves up in the house.  They are afraid to come out for fear that my bad mood may fall on their poor shoulders.  They are also taking notes to write a new book on current trends in bad language--very bad language.  It will be a bestseller for rappers, kids from the hood and Vice President Biden.

But, this story has a nice ending.  Four soaps make it to the mold and come out very nicely the next day.  I am sure that every other soapmaker that had the good luck to make soap this day had only good things going on in their soapmaking worlds.  Every single gremlin, goblin and evil soapmaking devil was visiting me that day.  I don't think any of us will have to worry about soaping for a while.  I took them all to task and whooped them good!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Schaumburg Septemberfest, September 4-6. 2010

My fourth year at Schaumburg was awesome.  It was my best year in both sales and FUN.  Mom and Jodie joined me for the long weekend.  We decided it was officially a Girls Weekend!  Unfortunately I forgot to document the festivities for posterity...and the blog!  So no pictures.

We arrived at the Marriott after a quick trip over from Rockford.  We had to take two vehicles to get all the soap here.  The room was nice, but, small--with two double beds.  So, I brought my sleep mat in and made my sleep cubbie on the floor by the window.  No one believes me, but, I sleep great on the floor.  Actually I sleep fitfully the first night while I decide if the floor and room are clean enough.  Then I sleep like a baby the rest of the time.  I may be the luckiest traveler in the world--I haven't stayed in a room yet that had bedbugs.  At least not yet. 

Friday night we hit Lou Malnattis for their classic salad and a thin crust pizza.  Mom was reluctant to believe us about it being the best pizza and salad in the WORLD.  But she is now a believer.  We got to bed early as we had a 6:15 call to line up for  setup.  We had a little problem with parking in the school lot--apparently it is ONLY for volunteers now.  But Jodie was able to find street parking with no trouble after we unloaded.  Set up went great.  We were next to Jeff, Deb and Pops of LB Wood Shoppe once again this year.  They are the nicest people--I look forward to seeing them at many of the shows I do up this way. 

Saturday was gorgeous and the great weather brought out tons of shoppers.  The day went quickly and before we knew it we were heading out to Cheesecake Factory--after a quick stop to get some copies of my order form made.  Dinner was yummy, cheesecake was awesome.  Mom tried the Splenda Classic Cheesecake--actually we all tried a bite--and it was good enough to order again.  I had my usual CHOCOLATE and more CHOCOLATE cheesecake--something like their Anniversary edition this time.  We finished off the pieces of cheesecake at the hotel--feeling properly sated and sick at the same time. 

Sunday was another great day and we had dinner at Ruby Tuesdays before trying to get back to the hotel to watch Mad Men.  Of course the hotel did not get AMC on their cable.   Damn!  So we got to bed pretty early as we had early breakfast plans with friends at a local place.  The day was definitely nice with a bit of rain, but, the shoppers were fewer and further between.  I ended up doing really well for the three days, and, I think my helpers had a good time too! 

More Summer Stuff, September, 2010

It is not often that my brother takes a day off.  He works hard for Wonder Bread.  So imagine my surprise when he suggested a market to me, it was on a day I had free AND he could go too!  The bad news is that his co-worker gave him some bad information.  We woke up at 1:30 am to get to the market to ensure we got a prime spot.  Unfortunately, no one else showed up until 4:45--so we were plenty early.  The market turned out to be a snoozer, but, Jeff and I had fun. 

My parents are still planning the big 50th Wedding Anniversary party.  Mom and I went to check out cakes at the local stores and I came away with this little guy.  We HAD to test the cake, right?!  Besides, I LOVE crabbies...more so when one of  the Deadliest Catch guys is attached to them, but, a big blob of frosting works too I suppose.

Jodie and I spent one night after work printing out the invites I designed.  It went slick as a whistle, but, we did use a LOT of yellow ink.  Luckily her boss doesn't mind the employees using the nice laser printer for non-work stuff.  Dad helped me put on stamps and return address labels the next morning while Mom worked at the Church.  It was lucky she didn't see me spill a glass of water on about a dozen newly addressed, stamped and labeled invites!  Lucky for me they dried off nicely and the mail lady picked them up a couple hours later with no problem.  Whew!

Jodie and I also volunteered to do the food.  It is going to be a light buffet, so, we are going to put together meat, cheese and veggie trays.  Oh, and make about 50 pounds of potato salad!  One of my customers suggested a local grocery deli, but, nothing compares to homemade.  Especially when Mom thinks hers is the best around.  LOL   Let's hope I don't screw it up.  Oh, and here are some platters that came from the local deli.  I know we can do better than that!

I also went shopping one night with Jodie along to give a thumb up or down.  It's good to go shopping with someone else I think.  Especially when you are buying something besides my usual shorts and t-shirts.  I tried on a few things at Kohls but didn't find anything I liked.  So we went across the street to Bergners and we hit the jackpot.  The only bad thing was looking at the price tag after deciding on an outfit and finding the pants were $98 (darn you Laura Ashley)!  Lucky for me, there was a sale on, and since Jodie offered to put it on her credit card for me, we got an extra 20% off.  So, all three pieces were only $57.  Gosh, I love getting a bargain!  Now to find some shoes that will Crocs for me that day I guess.  Unless I have Rod bring me the 4 inch Croc heels! 

Lake Geneva Venetian Art Festival, August 21 and 22, 2010

Lake Geneva in the summertime....ahhhhhh!  I asked to be up front on the sidewalk this year.  This is why:

All weekend long, I got to sell soap, wait on customers and every once in a while, look at this:

And Sunday Mom and Jodie came so I got a chance to look at this too:

For us Midwesterners, nothing compares to being able to spend time at the lake.  If the Lake happens to be gorgeous, with a nice beach too--perfect! 

I did actually get pulled out of my reverie a couple times to visit with some really nice repeat customers.  This is my third year at this August festival, so, I have some die hard customers who come to see me.  Luckily, I picked up a new wholesale account while here.  The In Focus Gallery which specializes in nature and wildlife photography is now stocking my soap.  The shop is on Main St. right behind the Kilwans Chocolate Shop.  I know you all know where that is, right?!!!  But remember to shop for SOAP first, then photography and last but not least--CHOCOLATE!

Another good thing about this show is the quality of the art.  My neighbor was Paul Prorok, a Chicago photographer.  This guy's work had me thinking I was in Italy every time I glanced to my right. Gorgeous photos and being an offbeat artist kinda guy, he took a swim every time he got hot...which was frequently.  At first I didn't connect the old guy without a shirt getting into the water in front of my booth.  Paul's wife said this year wasn't as bad as a couple years ago.  She had to yell at him to get out--he had pictures to sell. 

On Saturday night I had Chinese and then caught a movie--"The Other Guys" with Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrall.  Silly, fun and made even better with an audience that didn't take it too seriously.