Wednesday, October 19, 2011

49 and Holding

Today is birthday number 49 as I was reminded when I logged onto Facebook this morning.  Actually I remembered all along that Wednesday was the big day, for a change.  A couple good friends called and scheduled lunches--Eve and I went yesterday for awesome bbq and Patti and I are going tomorrow to see the new George Clooney movie.  Rod and I will do our traditional dinner at Carrabbas...although we did not make a date.  Some years my birthday sneaks up on me--Rod walks in after work with flowers as I wonder what the special occasion is...and then I scramble to do the math.  Just how old am I anyway?

This year was different.  I have been thinking that the big 50 is looming ever nearer on the horizon.  I do the math again and again, but, it hasn't changed.  How in the world did I get this OLD?!  But I guess that is the good news--I think this middle age thing is great.  It's good to not feel it--except on certain rainy mornings or after a tough day of soapmaking or gardening.  I've still got my health, right?!  LOL

One year it is gonna hit me I suppose.  But not now.  Let it be when I am REALLY old--like 60 something...or even 80 something.  :)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Retailers + Scent = More Sales

I used to tell people I was going to have a huge fiberglass nose made and then attach it to the front of my craft show tent!  I thought it would be a fun way to advertise!

Yes, there really is such a thing as the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation and it is in Chicago.  Their mission is to advance research and knowledge on the effects of smell and taste on human emotion, mood, behavior and disease states.  Some of their study results:

Interesting stuff and it is no wonder that studies are bearing out what most of us have always known--scent has a lot of power over us!  Bruce Sanders is the author of "Retailer's Edge.  In it he says that the sense of smell impacts your emotions more than sight, hearing or touch.  "Fragrances directly signal the part of the brain that controls emotional reasoning, which helps helps to determine that purchases you make."  

NextStage Evolution, a New Hampshire based company that designs websites and retail spaces says that the right scent can increase sales by as much as 50%!  That is why some stores have fresh flowers, potpourri and candles in use.  Basically, stores know that anything that puts people in a positive mood can enhance sales.  So make sure your next purchase is about more than just the scent---like perhaps a really nice soap to go with it!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


My favorite recipe of the moment--thanks in part to my in-laws asking for it this past weekend.  Rod and I both LOVE chocolate and this recipe for brownies is the BEST.  It was in the food section of the Orlando Sentinel about 20 years ago or whenever it was that the Magic (professional basketball team) came to town.  They must have been doing a lifestyle piece on then coach, Matti Guokas.  Anyway, these are the best I have ever had and quite an easy recipe to remember too!

Matt Goukis' Favorite Brownies
1/2 pound butter or margarine (two sticks and I have used tub margarine in a pinch)
4 squares unsweetened chocolate  ( usually sub 2/3 c cocoa and 4T veggie oil)
2 cups sugar (I sometimes use 1/2 splenda)
4 eggs beaten
2 t vanilla
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup chopped nuts (I use walnuts)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly grease 9x13 pan--I use cooking spray.  
Melt the butter and chocolate together in double boiler.  (I do this in the microwave slowly so you don't burn the chocolate.)  In a mixing bowl, cream together sugar and eggs until light and fluffy--use a mixer for best results.  Add slightly cooled chocolate mixture and the remaining ingredients.  Mix by hand just until blended.  Pour into prepared pan and bake 30-40 minutes.  Makes 12 large or 15 small--I do it more bite size by cutting in 24 pieces.  Oh, and you can half the ingredients and do a smaller pan.  I don't usually frost these as they are so good right out of the pan.  


My favorite recent quote--from Shonda Rhimes who is the creator, writer and executive producer of the TV shows Greys Anatomy and Private Practice.  "I kind of like to think that dreaming is my superpower."  I always thought the ability to fly would come in handy, but, I've got to say that dreaming is much cooler and for me an easier "reach" than trying to get my 747 size body up in the clouds!

My favorite new tip--courtesy of Real Simple Magazine is to use an ice cube to defat sauces and soups.  Simply grab an ice cube, the bigger the better.   Run it over the top of the sauce or soup.  Wipe the fat that sticks to the ice cube and continue until you remove the fat you want to get out of there.  I haven't used this one yet...but I think it's a great idea!

My Tip Request--So, one of my husband's gel writing pens went through the laundry again.   Every single piece of clothes in the load was effected except one of his shirts that was dark.  Argh!  What will remove that ink? Any ideas???

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Felting, Day Two

Day two of my soap felting project was lots of fun!  I took all the different colors of wool roving, coordinated combinations, then weighed out half ounce portions and bagged them to make it easier once I started the assembly line.  The 12 bars drying on the towel are the work of a couple hours this afternoon.  Below I have detailed my technique and put in a few tips to help anyone that wants to try it on their own.  

  1. Prepare your bar of soap by trimming the edges with a potato peeler if they are sharp.  I took off my usual amount--not more--and had no trouble felting the edges.
  2. Prepare 1/2 ounce of wool roving for the felting.  I did this ahead of time, so all I had to do is grab a bag and empty it--all the pieces were cut to size and the colors were all coordinated.   Try to wrap the soap from both directions with even layers--I had enough for three layers.  The colors used to decorate should be thin--thicker pieces are harder to felt.  The bar in the picture that is the second from the left on the bottom row shows thicker pieces of roving that could have been thinner.  
  3. Use a knee high or 6-8 inches of the toe-end of a pair of nylons to contain the soap wrapped with roving.  
  4. Run hot water in the sink about 2-3 inches deep.  Dunk the soap in the water and then squeeze out the water.  Repeat until the soap lather just starts to come out.  It takes maybe 30 seconds of doing this--about four dunks.   
  5. Remove the nylon--if you wait too long the nylon will start to felt too and it is hard to peel off.  It will still be quite fluffy and some pieces will be sticking out a bit.
  6. Squeeze soap on all sides adding water as needed until the roving all starts to "stick" together and starts to loose the fluffiness.  As you rotate the soap you can feel if the roving is even on all sides.
  7. Use a felting board (or sushi mat, bamboo placemat, bubble wrap, rough piece of material, Tupperware lid with ridges, wood soap dish with slots or rubber drawer liner with nubs--whatever you have).  Rub the soap on all sides--circular, back and forth movements.  Do it more gently at first, increasing your pressure as the wool starts to tighten. 
  8. Dunk in water periodically to remove soap suds and then use your hands to rub and squeeze all the wrinkles and looseness out of the wool.  It should be getting tighter as you handle it.
  9. Repeat steps 7 and 8 until the wrinkles are gone, all the seams are sealed and the felted case is tight.  Once I got the hang of it, most soaps took 8-9 minutes to get from Step 1 to Step 9.  The mainly orange soap in the picture above took over 20 minutes and it did not felt all the way.  The other pictures show the wrinkles left.  
  10. Rinse the bar once more in hot water to remove suds. Shock in cold water and then remove as much water and suds as possible.  Put on towel and apply pressure to remove more water.  
  11. Dry on wire racks to get air to all sides.  

I am going to reserve that one for myself and see if the wrinkles result in the soap 
coming out or if it is just a cosmetic issue.  Good timing!  I am ready for a new soap in the shower!  

Monday, October 10, 2011

Soap Felting

So you are probably asking what is felted soap?  Think a nice handmade shea butter soap encased in 
its own washcloth which will give you a nice mild exfoliation all over the body.  When the soap is 
used up you are left with the small wool felted case which you can save for your soap slivers!

My stock of wool roving has lots of colors to play with--I got it from Kitty at Kangaroo Blue when she was clearing out her personal stash.  I don't have the labels on all of the packages, but, it mostly appears to be Corridale-Romney X blended with Angora wool.  The dyes are vibrant and gorgeous.  The pictures are not was hard holding the camera with sudsy hands!

This is 1/2 ounce of the cream, berry and purple roving that will be felted on my 
Season's Scent Christmas soap for 2011.  

This is the soap once all the roving is wrapped to cover all the edges.

Then it is placed carefully in a nylon stocking and hot water is slowly introduced.

I am squeezing the bar and making sure to hit all the sides of the bar of soap to get 
the "fluffiness" out of the roving.  The water slowly permeates the roving and comes 
in contact with the soap and you start to get suds.

Once the roving is tighter and most of the looseness is gone, I slipped it out of the nylon.

I continued to rub the soap at this stage rotating it every way 
possible to keep all the fibers meshing together.

Once it is all snug, I rinsed it in hot water and then finished it off with cold water trying to 
squeeze all the water and suds out of the felted soap.  How does the finished bar look?  

My next batch was dark brown, light blue and cream.

The soap before it went in the nylon.

The final batch was berry and grey.  

My first three bars. What do you think?  What's your favorite combination.  
Any color combo suggestions?   The benefit is that my hands feel oh 
so silky and smooth after all that rubbing.  I think I will look for a 
felting mat at the craft store tomorrow.  I wonder if it would help the 
fuzzy look of the darker fibers on the lighter?  And I wish the grey 
fibers on the berry soap would have stayed where I put them!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Do Nothing for TWO Minutes

OK, this is gonna sound a bit crazy.  Do you ever have one of "THOSE" kind of days.  The phone won't quit ringing.  The pile on your desk gets bigger and bigger.  Your least favorite person in the world is stopping by for a chat.  The kids are driving you crazy for the billionth time today.  The cat peed again...on the bed.

Next time this happens stop by here.   You are gonna get a nice beach scene on the screen and then a two minute timer will start counting down.  Listen to the waves and be taken back to your last beach vacation where the waves are lapping against your legs and your tan is getting to the perfect golden brown.

Hopefully your day will turn around.  The phone will stop ringing so you can get your work done.  The visit from your "friend" turns into a wonderful conversation.  The kids and the cat start behaving--and it lasts until Dad gets home.  

It's worth a try, right?!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Reading Kick

I have been reading up a storm lately.  Anytime I see someone's reading list in a magazine, I tear it out and then take a look later.  If I am near my computer, I can request home delivery of the books I want.  They show up at my door a few days or weeks later and I read to my heart's content.  In the process I have discovered a couple series I had forgotten about.  Just a note,  I read mainly for enjoyment and I love mysteries.    

First is the China Bayle's series by Susan Wittig Albert.  I love the herb shop owner and the cast of characters in the little Texas town where she lives.  Of course, being a soapmaker I love her description of herbs and gardens.  I have read a couple of the books over the last ten years.  But now I am reading them from the beginning.  China is a former lawyer who gave up the rat race for small town living.  With her background she finds her friends frequently need legal advise and she delivers that and fun investigations of the crimes she tries to solve.  

  • One of the things I like to imagine is who would play her in a movie?  Rod's friend Danny listens to a lot of audio books and he says he can't listen to some because of the voice of the I take that into account too.  I pick Jodie Foster to play China.  Or Laura Linney, Frances McDormand, or in a few years Annabeth Gish.
  • I love that the author gives some great reference material in the back of the books so you can do more research on the herbs, etc. if you choose too!

Next up is Diane Mott Davidson's Culinary Mysteries.  These are a fun mix of recipes and murder.  Goldy Schultz is a caterer who gets into the middle of murders while cooking up a storm.  I have only read a couple of these, but, I found them enjoyable...and they left me hungry too!  SO, I am backtracking to the beginning to get all the details.  The hardest part about reading an older series is finding the first book in the series.  My library doesn't always have that right--or they list the second printing dates or something.  I got sent the fifth book in the series--so do I read it or wait???  

  • The actress pick on this one is still out.  I want a young Meg Ryan.    
  • The book on chocolate is what got me hooked.  It was called "Dying for Chocolate" and can I just say melt-in-your-mouth YUM!

This is a children's series that was recommended in a magazine--it may have been "Real Simple".   I have read the first two in the series and am thinking about getting it for the younger great nieces for Christmas this year.  The girls in the book are just so creative and sweet (mostly except for their sibling rivalries) but their imaginations make the books soar.  I can picture reading them to a child before bedtime and sparking the dreams that child will have. 

Two other series come to mind too, but, I have fallen off the wagon where they are concerned.  Sue Grafton's, Kinsey Millhone series who I see being played by Neve Campbell is the first mystery series I ever got into.  Janet Evanovich's hilarious bounty hunter is another old favorite.  Her main character is Stephanie Plum, who I see is being played by Katherine Heigl in the first movie. That may work but it depends on the two love interests.  I will get back to these series one day.  Oh, and the other series, by Patricia Waddell is the True Blood Vampire series (as seen on HBO).  They did a good job of casting the girl, but, all the male vamps--ugh.  I am all caught up with that series because it reads like fun, little bites of dessert. 

So what are you reading--leave me a comment so I can get it on my library reading list!  

Friday, October 7, 2011

My Public Service Announcement for the Year!
This sign was forwarded to me by an artist friend out of Austin Texas who makes jewelry.  I couldn't agree more with the sentiment.  I hope you will make an effort this year to bypass the China/Taiwan/India/etc imports and buy American handmade-by-your-neighbors goods for your Holiday purchases.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

I have the best Customers!

One of my regular customers sends these great cards whenever she orders.  I think she is one of the ones that can't get the website to cooperate when she orders (like my sister!).  Or maybe she is one of those who use the computer all day long and she hates to use it at home when she is relaxing.  Or she tries to do it from a Mozilla browser.  Whatever the reason, I love opening it up and seeing what her note will say.  

These little "smiles" make me happy.  So much so, that I have always kept a "SMILES" folder.  These go right in that folder.  I started my SMILES folder when I worked in banking.  Back then it was (and probably still is) an old boy's club.  Think University Club with not one non-white, non-male member.  It was hard to get any recognition.  So, I kept little things like this to give myself a pat-on-the-back when I needed a boost.  

Now that I no longer get things like performance reviews or pay raises, it is a way to make sure I am performing my best.  I truly believe my little company offers the best customer service and thanks to Ronna, I really felt it the day I received this in the mail.   Thanks, Ronna!!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Only Once Every Seven Weeks...

Did you hear that stat on NBC's Nightly News (Monday October 3)?  The US Postal Service reports that in a survey the average American receives a handwritten letter only once every seven weeks.  You can see a video or read the text version here.   

It makes me sad, especially when I wonder when the last handwritten piece of mail I received came.  Wasn't it longer than seven weeks ago?  Am I not loved as much as the average person??  Am I just forgetting since the mailbox is so full of bills, catalogs with stuff I can't afford and junk mail???

Weirdly, this didn't make me feel sorry for the US Postal Service, it reminded me of a Shirley Temple movie.  I saw it when I was first married living with my wonderful hubby in our new house--I think it was "Blue Bird" from 1940 or so.  Having lost my grandparents, I was intrigued with the notion that our loved ones in Heaven were animated whenever we thought of them here on Earth.  I still think of my grandparents often, just to bring a smile to my face--and ridiculous as it sounds--to bring them to life up in Heaven.  I mean, seriously...I don't think we will need any help being animated in paradise, but, I still do it.

I even think I made a New Years Resolution one year to be better at writing to people who were important in my life.  Rod's Aunt Ellen is so good about keeping us up-to-date on happenings in their world--I want to be more like her!  But, I also want to actually have something good to say--certainly better things than I blog about!!!  And certainly something that would not be mocked at a reading of say...Christmas letters.  That particular day my annual missive was compared to a letter from an old friend--and mine came up VERY short on the fun meter.  Ouch.  It pains me that my perceived wonderful little recap of the year was not appreciated by my wide, far-flung audience.

So, in honor of continuing my quest to set pen to paper more consistently, I am gonna sit down and
W R I T  E  to one of my high school friends.  It will not be just the magazine article I clipped that made me think of her.  It will have an actual page of handwriting, bad as it usually ends of being and not just a post-it-note with a quick sentiment.  I promise...

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Season's Scent, October 4, 2011

So, here is the 2011 Christmas soap curing on my soap racks.  I am calling it, "Season's Scent" and it combines nine different essential oils, two fragrance oils and some red and green oxide for a bit of color.  I am also going to be felting this one.  Felting?  If you haven't seen this before, let me show you a sampling of what it is.  Well, it will probably be easier to send you a link:

I will of course post some pictures of how the process goes for me.  This is one of those projects I have been meaning to do for years.  When one of my suppliers was selling her personal stock of wool roving I jumped at a chance to get into Felting.  But that was about three years ago!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Summer Recap and First Show of the Fall, October 3, 2011

For some reason, at some point during the summer season I just give up trying to keep everything updated.  Maybe it has something to do with having cable TV at my parent's house--I LOVE HGTV!  Maybe it is because the nephews and nieces keep us busy with all their games and activities.  Maybe I just get tired of all this technology and want to open a book and actually read again.  Whatever the reason, I haven't had anything to blog about since May.  And, that is not acurate, as I always have something to say!  Its just that  those thoughts are finally getting onto the page.  Or some of it, because with my memory I have certainly forgotten most of what I wanted to say when it happened.

Oh, the shows this Summer were definitely down from the prior year--other than my bright spots at Mount Horeb, Libertyville, Lake Geneva and Schaumburg.  Rod was up in Illinois for the Libertyville show--that is him watching the parade on Sunday morning.  The town of Libertyville is so cute--doesn't it look like it could be Main Street at the Magic Kingdom?

We got really lucky with our Holiday Inn room--we got a suite for about $70 a night inclusive.  It was big, beautiful and I think I could live in it if I had to...two nice TV's, a big bed, and a fantastic bathroom with double sinks.  Ah, when you get lucky traveling it is nice--not so much when you get stuck in a dump.

In July, Dad had his surgery and that turned out to be quite the ordeal.  First, he was having it done in Chicago by a orthopedic surgeon who had been recommended to my Mom.   So, that meant a two hour trip back and forth for each doctor visit, lab test, etc.  You can imagine how happy that made my very grumpy father!  The night before the surgery was scheduled we got a hotel room nearby to make the 5 a.m. check-in time a bit easier.  At 5:15 a.m. we were notified that the surgeon had a high fever and would not be operating.  So, we went back to the hotel to pack up and cancel the rest of our stay, then back to Rockford to wait for a call rescheduling the surgery--which we hoped would be before we had to do all the testing redone.  Argh.  

When he finally made it to the operating table the surgery went well, but, the recovery...not so much.  He was told to plan on three days in the hospital.  That turned into six days as he was draining too much and wasn't strong enough to go home.  Dad, who just wanted to go home, wasn't a happy camper.  Once he did get home Mom and I worked hard to keep his dressing's dry, to keep him moving and to get him to do some exercises the physical therapists recommended.  The visiting nurses were a godsend.  How do people do this without good support systems.  I can't imagine.  

 Digging for new sewer and to bury utilities.

 This hole was almost constantly filled with water from all the storms we had during the summer.  Look, Mom, a new swimming pool!

Throughout the summer, we had bad weather with downed trees, power outages and on top of all that, road construction going on out in front of the folks house.  That just added a little extra excitement to everything else.  By the time August rolled around I was ready for another visit from Rod who was coming up for the Boone County Fair.  We had a great time for the first four days and then we got burned out and stayed home.  We did get some kayaking in out at the park, a trip to the casino and a trip on the Rock River by boat and along it by trolley.  It went quick, but, I knew the final couple of weeks would fly by. 

 Dad with his cousin, Roger, before the boat ride on the Rock River.  See his nifty back brace.  He wore that for eight weeks after surgery.

 Geese out at Rock Cut State Park and some of the trees blown over.

The fair highlights this year had to be the Goose Wrangler and his flock of about eight geese.  He had different outfits for them each day and would walk all over the grounds with them.  He also carried a ferret in his ditty bag and would surprise kids who thought it was a stuffed animal.  It was very entertaining.

During the summer, Mom and I spent a lot of time cleaning out the bedrooms--getting rid of clothes and all that stuff that seems to multiply in our closets.  Once we had a dozen or so tote boxes full of stuff to get rid of, we moved into the junk room (aka my brother's old bedroom) in the basement.  That was another dozen boxes of stuff to GO.  So, Jodie brought her stuff over and we had a big garage sale at the end of August.  Unfortunately the road construction cut down on the traffic for the sale.  Jodie ended up taking the excess to Goodwill and Salvation Army.

And that basically brings us to the big show in Schaumburg.  I was lucky to have both Mom and Jodie go with me again.  They are such great salespeople.  I can leave the booth without worrying about anything.  We enjoyed a couple nights out--Lou Malnati's for pizza and Cheesecake Factory the other night. Our room was nice--a Doubletree--with those great chocolate chip cookies they hand out at check-in!  The weather was fantastic for the show.  Our neighbors, Jeff and Deb of LB's Wood Shoppe were entertaining as always.  A great time was had by all!

The trip back to Orlando was uneventful.  Bonnie co-piloted with ease.  The hotel in Atlanta was the same as usual.  The weather stayed nicely overcast much of the time--which I appreciated since the air conditioner is not working!   I have spent most of my time since getting home making soap to get the Fall shows off to a good start.  The two curing racks above are filled now and I have moved into the other bedroom for additional curing space.  So, let the games begin for the Fall season.  Vero Beach was a bit slower than in past years, but, it continues to be one of my favorites.  My regular customers are so appreciated...and I hope the new ones are loving their new soap!!!