Saturday, December 8, 2012

Notable Thoughts: Grace

I save pages from magazines.  I tear out recipes, reading lists, products I like, websites I want to visit--basically anything that catches my eye and warrents a second look.  This page has been floating around various to-do stacks on my desk for the last year.  It was from Real Simple, Novemeber, 2011.  I kept it for the passage, which reads:

"You say grace before meals.
All right.
But I say grace before the play and the opera,
And grace before the concert and pantomime,
And grace before I open a book,
And grace before sketching, painting,
Swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing;
And grace before I dip the pen in the ink."

G.K. Chesterton, from an early notebook (mid-1890s)

I say, just don't say it!  :)  That may be my resolution for this year.  And it certainly gives me another topic to ponder...more thoughts to come back to some day.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Herbal Eye Pillows

It is so funny to me how products evolve--often without any conscious thought to change them.  Big corporations of course employ thousands in their research and development departments.  I just have little ol' me...and luckily lots of customers who aren't afraid to make a suggestion here and there.

I have been making my eye pillows for decades now...but only selling them for about 13 years.  The first generation were made with mostly rice and some herbs I had in the cupboard using fabric I had on hand.  I just sewed up a rectangle of cloth, added the herbs and rice and sewed it up.   Nothing fancy.  But they did the trick so I have always kept a couple stashed in the freezer for the occassional headaches that popped up.

Fast forward into the selling years where I started putting premium lavender buds in with the rice.  Then added some rosemary--basically because it is good for your brain--and flax seed.  I played with the components until I got just the right blend of scent and weight.  Not too heavy that it hurts the eyes and not too light that it falls off easily and doesn't mold to the face. 

Then one day I am at a show and someone comments about how nice the flannel is--so much better than those plastic ones you get at the store.  I had been making both flannel and the fabric I preferred--thick terry cloth.  I tried the flannel ones and liked them so much better that I phased out the terry cloth.  I added some more colors--mostly pastels.

Then a couple years after that a customer came to a show to buy just the insert for the eye pillows.  I didn't have any to sell--they were all sewn into the covers.  **light bulb**  SO, I started bringing extra herb inserts to shows.  A couple years after that a customer asked if I could make a removable cover instead of the sewn in ones.  Well, doh.  Why didn't I think of that.  Mine at home had been replaced more than a couple times when they got too dingy--or too much mascara on them.  What a fantastic idea!!!

And then just a couple shows ago, a family is shopping for a stocking stuffer for Dad.  They know the eye pillow could work for headaches, so they decide to get one.  The only trouble is I don't have a great selection of guy colors.  But, the opted for a neutral green one.  But again...**light bulb**.  I went right out and got more guy and teen friendly colors. 

Finally, I had been playing around with packaging and found those pillow boxes that would fit the eye pillows perfectly.  Add a bit of bright pink and green ribbon and you have my "new look" for my eye pillows.  Of course, if you want it for a guy, I have just the plain boxes--or even just the ziploc bag to store it in!!  What a bargain, you get all my years of research and development for only $12.00.  :)

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Bath Salts and Milk Baths

Our new packaging for small servings of our bath offerings are plastic take out containers decorated with bright ribbon.  The take out containers have a white damask print and the ribbons are full of polk-a-dots.  Inside the ones with the pink ribbon, you will find 8 ounces of our Eucalyptus Mint Bath Sand.  These bath salts are awesome if you are looking to soak for achiness in muscles and joints.  Inside the green ribbon containers, you will find 4 ounces of our moisturizing Oatmeal Milk and Honey Milk Bath.   $5.00 each.

Friday, November 9, 2012

I first heard about this website on one of the morning news shows.  Even though the concept was neat, I never made it to the website.  Their mission:   Since launching in 2009, Quirky has rapidly changed the  way the world thinks about product development.  We bring two brand new consumer products to market each week, by enabling a fluid conversation between a global community and Quirky's expert product design staff.  The world influences our business in real-time, and we share our revenue directly with the people who helped us make successful decisions.

I can tell you I am going to be shopping for Christmas on this site.  Lots of innovative products--some you wish you had imagined and some you just might never figure out how you lived without.  Some of my favorites. 

Pivot--for those weird size electronics plugs

Stem--a sprayer for your lemons and limes!

Totem--glasses with bumps you can stack so they can airdry.

Go there now!!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Palatka Artoberfest: This Little Piggy...

Some shows are busy, busy, busy.  Some are pretty slow and give you a chance to chat up your neighbors.  This particular show was us the latter variety, but, throw in a bunch of wind.  So, I grabbed my camera and took some shots of my surroundings. 

In the background is the St. Johns River and Palatka's Riverfront Park.  It was hopping with activity at set up on Friday night.  The boys were getting ready for a fishing tournament, others were out strolling and enjoying the evening while I finished setting up. 

 But, my favorite part of the show was LuLu the Pig who came out in her finest pink leopard collar!  She loved getting a little scratch on her chin and between her ears.  I wanted to steal her!  Can't you just imagine Bonnie Dog and Princess Emily playing with HER!

Oh, my second favorite part of the show was the drive home through the Ocala National Forest and heading home to Rod and the girls!  :)

Friday, November 2, 2012

Just Stick IT: Incense Woes

A typical bunch with few bare spots before they are dipped. 
Don't buy sticks if they look this dry--they will burn like wood! 

Some bad looking ones but honestly they still burn!

My incense supplier has been sending some gnarly looking sticks.  They burn just fine, in most cases throw just as much scent--but they are down right ugly.  Occassionally I weed them out at a show and give them to the next incense shopper.  So, if you get some freebie sticks at a show--just light them up and enjoy! 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

My Trusted Stick Blender: RIP

I lost two trusted pieces of soapmaking equipment this summer.  My Braun Coffee Grinder and the Stick Blender (aka Immersion Blender) I bought long before I started making soap.  Both succombed to falls onto either my terrazzo floors or the concrete floor in the Illinois production space (aka my brother's old bedroom). 

I had dropped the stick blender many times, so, years ago I bought a backup.  It has been awaiting jumping (change that to...spinning) into service.  I can say, it doesn't quite fit my hand as well as the old one.  But, I am sure I will adjust one day. 

The coffee grinder only took one drop and it was a goner.  If my father-in-law were around I am sure he could have rigged it to work again.  But, I couldn't even get it apart to peer into the insides to see if something had come loose.  In replacing it I was happy to see they have become much easier to find and they are way cheaper.  I found one at Walmart for only $15...the old one was around $60.  The new one is nice and strong and even easier to clean.  Yippee!

Next up I have to get some new stainless steel stock pots.  I see they are on special at Old Time Pottery.  Let's see if they are actually in stock when I hit the store first thing in the morning... 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

My Summer Art and Craft Shows: All Work and No Play

This was from the park where we set up at the Chocolate Festival in Burlington, WI.  My booth was just to the right on the walkway facing the river/lake.  This one started off really bad as it was pouring rain and forecast at an 80% chance all day.  It was the last weekend in May.

The view out at the Chocolate Festival.  There are times I really enjoy the places I get to visit.  This was one of them.  Too bad the show was not as nice as the view!!  I did meet a crafter I just love, Michelle of Toe Jams.  You probably figured it out--she does toe rings in a dazzling array of styles.  We just hit it off and I consider her one of my Midwest crafting buddies now!

You didn't think a farm gal could miss taking a picture of a good ol' tractor do you?  I thought my Dad would appreciate this one.  We were at the Taste of the Dells at Wisconsin Dells in June.  We were in a little park and I had the historic Bowman house right out the back of my tent.  This one was a steamer...I got really sick coming home and lost the next couple of days as I stayed in bed to feel better.  Next year, we all may do this and just use it as a chance to visit the casino down the road...  

Oh, Lake Geneva!!!  This time I didn't get a picture of my waterfront property for the August weekend of the Venetian Art Festival.  Right after I snapped some pictures of the hot air balloons soaring overhead, my camera battery went dead.  It was a great weekend--even with the melt and pour soaper right next door.

A really nice room Mom and I shared in Schaumburg for Labor Day Weekend's Septemberfest!  This show continues to be the best of the summer for me. 

We are set up in Watertown WI for the Riverfest.  This was a fun one for many reasons.  Rod came for a week of vacation and helped me out.  It is much nicer traveling with someone!!!  The show has a lot of potential--lots of people, great music and food and lots of my crafter buddies attend!

The view at Watertown.  The river is off to the right.  The kids were out in force with their fishing pools trying to win the Saturday fishing contest.  This show has an easy setup--we park right behind the booth--and great views of the river. 

The view at Watertown toward my woodworking buddies Jeff and Deb Foernsler of LB's Wood Shoppe.  They are the ones who told me about this show!

All in all the shows were pretty brutal in May and June this year.  We had record heat and while many shows were well attended, no one wants to carry anything when it is so hot.  But, July and August brought buying crowds and many of the shows I have now done for six years were great.  I hope to keep adding great shows and meeting new customers up there.  I am looking forward to next summer already!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Fun Things: Summer 2012

Mom and Dad took Jodie and I to a Cubs/Brewers game in Milwaukee.  We traveled there on a bus tour with other Farm Bureau members.  It was hot as blazes that day.  Jodie and maybe one other person on the bus were happy with the results--the Brew Crew won that day.  Mom and Dad got lucky to get out of the sun--some shaded seats up the way were open.

I mentioned the bonfire in my last post.  We were only six people, but, we were six very HAPPY people.  LOL  Cindy and I got there first and got things ready.   Mom and Dad arrived and we got the popcorn and smores started.  Jodie got there late--it seems some shots at the golf outing were involved--and we broke out the drinks.  Garry was last to arrive as he was racing RC cars/trucks in Monroe. 

Some shots from my one day at the Boone County Fair.  Above are my great nieces, Matt's girls.  Izzy (Isabell) on the left and Jillian on the right.  They are great kids.  Oh, and you can see Grandpa Jeff in the background on the phone. 

Jodie, Jeff and Debbie--after the auction and the rain had passed.

The girls' pigs taking a nap--they will have to remind me of their names!

Then in August Rod came on his second vacation from Florida.  Here we are on the road to Omaha to see Larry, Ellen and cousin Clee.  Sorry, the good pictures are  on his camera.  I can say that we had a fantastic time and can't wait to go back and see more.  I am just in love with the big wind turbines...

And this group of three pictures, all my childhood, best friends who I am now calling the Willow Creek Gals met out at the lake one hot, hot day.  We ate, we talked, some of us kayaked and some of us barely made it up and down the hill due to a summer funky illness that left me without breath!  Tammy Pease on the far end.  Sisters Judy Krog (standing--our marathoner) and Susan Carlson (seated).   And Denise Wheeler - Temple in the front

Gail Blume, Deanna Blume --I can't remember the married name thanks to my menopause brain.  And me on the end.

Sister Jodie on the far end, Brenda Brick - Benning (I think!) in the yellow shirt.  Not shown was Penny Pease who took the pictures, and Linda Thoele who got there a bit later.  The only one missing was Diane Wheeler - Reed...hope you can make it next time!!

So much more happened this summer, but, those are all the pics I could lay my hands on for now.  More later, maybe!

Monday, October 15, 2012

My Break is Over: Time to Clock Back IN!

As no one really noticed I was MIA the last couple of months, I will happily bring you up to date on what's been happening.  I made it up to my summer base (aka my parent's basement--I know, I feel like such a loser), during the first week in May.  Thereafter, you could find me at art and craft shows every weekend but one in August (when I had the good fortune to be off to enjoy a fantastic bonfire at my sister's house and the sad task to help my best friends' lay their Mom to rest).

The rest of the summer was marked by construction projects.  First was the bathroom remodel my parents were undertaking upstairs.  This led to the discovery of the sewer line break in the basement--which I was witness too up close and personal.  The remodeling was fun--Mom and I got to shop for new decor, linens and paint.  The sewer fix was not fun.  It led to a full plumbing crew coming in to replace the entire sewer line in the house and then hook up the house to the city sewer.   Do you know how thick your house's foundation is?  And do you know there is really dirt underneath all that...full of pipes and such.  I am no idiot, but, seeing all the dust, dirt and concrete chunks coming out of what used to be my bathroom was amazing.  Who knew?!   About this time an inch thick dusting was covering EVERYTHING I brought with me...and Rod was due later that day for his first visit from Florida.  Somehow my parents managed to vacuum up all the mess and get the basement into shape in the three hours it took me to get from Milwaukee's airport and back.  How they did it, I still don't know!!!

Which leads us to the outside projects.  Remember the road work last summer?  It looks great now--new pavers greeted me as I made the turn onto Roosevelt Road this year.  But, the crews were still working on the curbside improvements.  This led to at least three separate visits from the re-seeding crews with their rakes smoothing out the dirt clods, sprinkling the seed and bravely leaving all these little garden plots to the residents to water.  Then my 73 year old father, the one with the bad back, would move out the soaker hose to try to get the grass to grow.  And remember how hot it was this summer???  Approximately three days to three weeks later the road crew was back screwing up the new "grass" or weeds as we liked to call them.  Then the re-seed crew would come out again, followed once more by my Dad with the soaker hoses.  After the third time, we gave up.  Which was just as well, because by then we had a two foot hill of dirt going from the house to the street where the new sewer line was now connected to the city's line.  It looked like such a great landscape choice next to the velvet weed reaching one foot high out at the curb.

Near the end of the summer, the village government sent out a letter commiserating with the residents about the heat, mildly reprimanding those who had failed  to water their curbside plots adequately and informing everyone they would send out the reseeding crews once again when it got cooler to see if the grass seed would take before the cold weather set in.  And, no the crew didn't mix up and seed with velvet weed seeds, those were just dormant in the ground...yada, yada, yada.  This was met with relief at our house because now we had started thinking about getting a new roof put on.  Luckily my #1 nephew, Matt, is a card carrying roofer and he was able to do everything perfectly to suit Grandpa's and the building inspector's exacting standards.  I did not participate in the roofing--I was too busy making soap for my big show Labor Day weekend.

Just a week or so ago my parents finally had a landscape crew in to finish the final grading and reseeding of the front lawn.  Turns out that is another thing I learned this have to wait for the soil to settle when you dig it up.  Otherwise, it sinks in and leaves a canal-like divot in your lawn.  Isn't it amazing, the things you learn every day?!?  And yes, although it cooled off, the grass is growing just fine.  But I have a feeling the front curb is still full of velvet weeds... 

Monday, May 28, 2012

Bully: Must See Movie

Jodie, Mom and I just got back from seeing this movie.  I had seen a bit about it recently--I think the kids featured in it had been invited to the White House to meet President Obama.  After seeing the movie, I hope EVERYONE I know and care about will go see this film.  And then open your pocket books to send a couple kids to see it too!  I am going to take my nieces to see it this week.  Then I hope they will be inspired to be kids who won't let this happen in their schools, something I hope they are doing already!  Movie ticket website Fandango felt so strongly they posted this op/ed:  Why Kids and Adults Should Champion Bully

So, what's it about?  The documentary film follows the day to day activities encountered by three kids and the parents of another two kids who committed suicide after being bullied.  Alex, an awkward kid who can't communicate nor make friends with other kids, rationalizes that his tormentors are just "messing with him".  The brutalization he endures on the bus will rip your heart out. 

The Bully Project

This link is to the director's production notes.  He talks about the filming and how they eventually had to step out from behind the camera to protect Alex from the bullies.  The scene in Kim Lockwood's office, the assistant principle, will make you gasp--we all did anyway. (And based on a short conversation with a couple other moviegoers in the restroom, I think you will too.)  In fairness to Ms. Lockwood, she apparently made a public apology in Sioux City at a community forum on bullying.  Unfortunately I think her response is probably what most school administrators and teachers would be.  Too few resources, too many students, and not enough parent involvement certainly aggravate the problem. 

The other two kids followed are Kelby, a strong 14 year old girl who came out as a lesbian in her community and was then ostracized by everyone in school and in town.  Her father's struggle with his neighbor's reactions is devastating but his need to protect his child remains true.  Another girl featured in the film is Je'meya--a 12 year old girl who finally took a loaded gun onto the school bus to confront her bullies and ends up facing dozens of felony charges.  Her mother's strength and love for her daughter is amazing.  When Je'meya is finally cleared of all charges, her joy is infectious.  But all I could think was that those bullies were still there...and would be waiting for her at the bus stop.

The two families dealing with the aftermath of suicide is particularly poignant.  Both families have stepped up to make sure their son's deaths were not in vain.  The Smalley's created  "Stand for the Silent" with students from Oklahoma State University in memory of their 11 year old son.  Ty took his own life after being suspended from school for retaliating against a bully that had been bullying him for over two years.  (I hope everyone has a best friend like little Ty had--I can imagine the two of them running off after the rabbit!)  The Long's have begun a conversation in Murray County, Georgia after their 17 year old son hanged himself.  They hope their demand for accountability from the school district will prevent more deaths from bullying. 

From the director regarding his hopes for the film:   Film has a unique power to highlight an issue, touch our hearts and motivate us to act. 
Sometimes it is the images that stir us; sometimes it’s the opportunity to step into someone else’s shoes. We are hoping that the experience of watching BULLY will motivate audiences --whether they are kids, parents, educators or administrators – to come off the sidelines to join their community’s work to create positive school climate.

Hear, hear!!!  It certainly worked for me.  Now go out and buy a ticket.  Take your kids.  Go home and talk about it.  Share the info with your friends. Ask your school administrators what they are doing and how you can help.  Encourage your church family to get involved.  And for God's sake, if you witness bullying--get involved.  Don't let any child within your influence be victimized.   Just want to write a check?  Then consider Donors Choose, an online charity connecting you to classrooms in need.
Their goal is to send 100 million kids to see the movie.

NOTE:  Took my 12 year old niece and her best friend to see the movie this week.  They "get it" as the best friend is bullied because of her weight.  Her school administration is about like the one seen in the film.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Computer Slowness...ugh!

Anybody who has been nursing an old computer is familiar with slowness that rivals the old days of dial-up service.  Ours is old...I can't even remember when we bought it.  It runs on Windows that is what, three generations ago or something like that?!  It is an old desktop model that looks pretty much like the one above. 

So, I start thinking it is a virus, malware or spyware.  So, I look at all the programs that seem to cover that kind of problem...and find a half dozen that I have downloaded over the years.  Most of these I  never bothered to purchase--mainly because they promised to clean up my computer for free but didn't.  I finally find one that I liked enough to purchase and run it.  All the scans show minor issues with cookies that I tend to delete on a regular basis by clearing my cache. 

So, I start googling  and come across an article that seems to be perfect for my situations.  Even the name fits...Slow Computer Syndrome.  The fact that it is geared to students and not computer geeks is really helpful.   I tried almost everything they suggest and I think the computer is better.  But the real test will be when Rod is using it this summer.  I hope it gets through o.k.  Fingers crossed, please!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Illinois Roadtrip 2012

The packing is done. It gets a little easier every year as I add more equipment to the Illinois Soap Factory, but, it is still a lot of stuff to fit in the minivan. And have room for Bonnie Dog and me!

This year we took the van in to our favorite mechanic and found out he had died in January!  His family is still running the shop though--which made for a teary check-in when Rod asked where the big guy was.  His Mom was checking us in and she started bawling.  I could barely make out what she was saying but Rod didn't know what had happened.  Oh, awful--the emotion was still so raw.  Once we got through it I decided to write them a little note telling them how important Orlando Ortiz was to us--an honest mechanic is nearly impossible to find.  To have done business with him over the last decade was our honor. 

Anyway, they found and fixed a little problem we were having with the radiator fan.  When sitting in traffic or in a drive-thru, the temperature gauge would start inching up because the fan wouldn't start.  It never reached HOT but only because I would cut the heat on and open the windows.  Anyway, on the north side of Atlanta the three left lanes of I-75 were closed due to an accident.  We had a good 15 mintues of slowdown about 11a.m. just as it was really starting to get hot.  The fan worked perfectly although Bonnie and I were really missing the air conditioning by the time traffic flowed again!!

The only problem was at check-in at the hotel.  My Corporate Lodging card was is tied to my debit card so that wasn't right.  When I called their customer service line they had no one working on the weekend to help with credit card issues!  WHAT!!  How can you not have someone working on the weekend in the HOTEL industry???  LOL  The deals I get with the card are great, but, if you ever have trouble hope that it happens Monday through Friday during business hours.  Oh, but talk about great customer service...the girl at check in (Days Inn, Clarksville, TN) asked if I would take a rate of $42 plus tax...and yes, since that is less than I would have paid with the card...and it is going on my debit card anyway...great!!  :)   Funny but on Monday when I checked with Corporate Lodging, they showed no they think the girl might have put it in wrong. 

The Sunday drive was uneventful until I reached a stretch of I-39 going through Illinois corn country.  My sister had called to warn me about bad weather through that area.  I am constantly scanning the sky for funnel clouds when the weather gets bad and it was just dark out when I stopped for gas.  But as I got back on the highway some serious hailstones came down.  Within a mile my little caravan that included a minivan in front of me and a semi behind me were doing about 40 mph--and several dozen people had pulled off to the side.  I seriously wouldn't do that when you have a chance to outrun it--which is what happened.  We were back up to speed within a couple miles. 

The folks treated me to dinner out and I unpacked just the necessities for the first night at their house.  The real fun came over the next two days as I tried to set up the soap kitchen in my brother's old bedroom in the basement and set up the curing racks.  My first show is a one day event up in Baraboo, Wi this Saturday.  Hope to see some of you up there at the Fair on the Square in downtown.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Need Soap in Palm Coast?

My newest wholesaler is located in the Gift Shop of Washington Oaks Garden State Park in Palm Coast, Florida.  Their hours are 11 a.m. - 3 p.m. from Friday through Sunday.  Kim and the volunteers at the shop will have a limited assortment--hopefully your favorites--to purchase.  And all profits go to the good works of the Friends of Washington Oaks projects. 

It is a wonderful place to pick up those special gifts for any event. There are great books for all ages and superb merchandise. Our plant people have created a plant boutique that rivals all. Stop in soon.  Don't forget your soap!

6400 N. Oceanshore Boulevard
Palm Coast, Florida 32137
(386) 446-6780

Friday, April 20, 2012

It's a Dessert Smorgasbord!

First off, yes I am still on my diet.  Second off, hubby bought another package of those crappy sugar-free cookies--which means he needs something sweet, preferably chocolate.  Finally, I am starting to feel guilty about leaving to go on my summer roadtrip without him.  Which all leads to heating up the oven and taking advantage of an hour and a half of time before I had to start dinner. 

The above recipe is out of the Flat Belly Diet Family Cookbook (which I recommend).  Here's a link to the recipe on the Prevention website for the Oatmeal Cookie Bars.  I made them with whole wheat flour (not whole wheat pastry flour), I used EVOO instead of Canola as it was out and it only called for 2T and instead of melting the semi-sweet chocolate adding milk and more oil, I just used dark chocolate chips mixed into the batter.  Two thumbs up from us!!!  I baked them in a glass pie dish instead of an 8" x 8" pan and they took 14 minutes to brown up nicely.

The next recipe was from Jillian Michaels' "Losing It".  The recipe can be found here Fudge Brownies at the Catz in the Kitchen blog (check out her recipe index...YUM!).  I didn't substitute much--used regular whole wheat flour instead of white whole wheat flour and regular baking soda.  But again, both Rod and I liked it as a substitute for my regular full strength sugar, white flour and butter brownies.  They took a little longer to bake than the 25 minutes called for--but as you can see I don't own an 8" x 8" baking I used one a bit smaller and less rectangular! 

The last dessert I made was a batch of Crunchy Peanut Butter Cookies  again from the Flat Belly Diet Family Cookbook and detailed on the My Favorite Everything blog.  On this recipe I substituted dark brown sugar for the light...and I thought the recipe must be wrong.  It has no flour.  I did refrigerate the batter for about 15-30 minutes while waiting for the oven to free up so that may have helped them firm up enough to roll into a ball.  I baked the first tray for 11 minutes, but, I only did the minimum 10 minutes on the next batch and was happier with them.  I can tell you these were good and they made Rod happy even without the chocolate! 

So after all that I made ANOTHER recipe from the Flat Belly Diet Family Cookbook--this one Spaghetti with White Clam Sauce which is on the Rodale recipe site.  I made a ton of changes to the original recipe including:  whole wheat pasta instead of multigrain, half clam juice with the rest made up with water and 1T oyster sauce, dried basil instead of fresh at the end, half the garlic and half the olive oil.  It wasn't very saucy, but, I probably lost track of how long I reduced it with all the work going on in the oven.  But, the dish was very flavorful and Rod like it!