Thursday, February 11, 2016

Making Soap

I enjoy crafting.  Lately, I've been getting into hand lettering and decorative knots.  They've been fun for me because I can pick up whatever I'm working on for five minutes and get something done.  But, I'm always intrigued by other crafts I hear about.  Two that I've always wondered about picking up are candle making and soap making.  If I ever were to try soap making, I found the book I'd use.

Pure Soapmaking by Anne-Marie Faiola


The author of this book put everything you need to know in one book.  This book is an awesome resource because she explains to the crafter how to be safe and emphasizes the importance of this safety!  I would not have realized how important safety would be in the craft of making soap.  The author begins by describing the soapmaking process, equipment needed, how to make soap, about oils/additives/scent, and designing recipes.  She then includes a wide variety of recipes.

I learned several things from this book.
#1  You must have separate equipment for making soap.  So, this craft requires a significant investment up front.  You CANNOT use your own kitchen equipment to make soap.  She explains the specific dangers of doing so.
#2  The interaction of the ingredients combined to make soap is very complex.  I had mistakenly thought before reading this book that soap was a very simple thing.  Not so!
#3  Read the bulk of this book thoroughly before starting out.  There's a lot to understand before one can start the journey of making soap.  This is not a hobby that someone can pick up for a half hour and then put down.  Rather, it is a hobby for people that have half a day to spend on it, or at least a few uninterrupted hours until they get the hang of making soap.

I have a new respect for people who make homemade soap after reading this book.  If you've ever seriously considered making soap, I'd highly recommend this book!  It's a great all-in-one resource!

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Storey Books.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Dishwasher Soap

For years, I've bought dishwasher soap at Costco.  But, I realized earlier this year that the Costco near me stopped carrying the Kirkland brand of dishwasher soap.  I had two choices:  buy the more expensive bottle of Cascade or find another alternative...  I was concerned about 2 things-- price and how well they the soap would clean my dishes!

So, I started trying to figure out the best deal.  I watched the target ads and local grocery store ads.  I checked Wegman's store brand and Aldi's.  I didn't want to deal with coupons if I could help it.  I discovered as I searched that Wegman's store brand cost $3.50 for 75 oz. and Aldi cost $2.50 for 75 oz.

I started by using the Aldi bottle and it has worked great.  I wish I had switched a long time ago!  I do use Finish rinse with the soap, but I always had to use it with the Kirkland brand in order for my dishes to get cleaned without spots.

Comparative savings:
Costco brand:  2 bottles of 116 oz. each
I remember paying $11 or $12 for the 2 bottles.

Aldi:  $2.50 for 75 oz.
Smaller bottle, easier to store under the sink

For $10, I could purchase 300 oz. Aldi dishwasher soap or 232 oz. Costco brand.

I'm so thankful to have found a solution that cleans my dishes that is less expensive--without coupons!

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Girls Jeans

I think that children can be as hard to shop for as adults!  Neither of my girls liked to wear jeans when they were younger, but somewhere in the last two years they made the switch.  They both now wear jeans most of the time.  My middle daughter fits into skinny style jeans and loves them.  My older daughter on the other hand likes a bootcut jean.  

A few weeks ago, we headed into Old Navy and took a look at their jeans.  Autumn found a pair for $20 (of course the ones that actually fit her weren't on sale!) and they felt so thin.  I've noticed that Old Navy's quality has steadily declined over the past ten years.  

So, we headed to Target next.  I found a pair of bootcut jeans that fit her great for $12.99--not on sale.

Lastly, we checked out the jeans at Walmart.  For $6.97, Autumn found a second pair of jeans that fit her just as well.  

I've already washed both pairs and they both still fit her (minimal shrinkage it seems when washed on cold and put in the dryer).  Yay!  

It was surprising to me that the jeans at both Walmart and Target felt the same.  Neither were what I'd call a heavy jean.  They were both mid-weight.  But, neither of them felt like they would rip the first time she falls.  

When I need to buy clothes for my kids, convenience wins out and Target is my store of choice.  I'm thankful that the quality of their clothes is as good as it is!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Decaf Chai Tea Latte Mix

I finally found a decaf Chai Tea Latte mix that I like.  For years, I had loved Trader Joe's decaf Chai tea latte mix.  But, the Trader Joe's near us hasn't carried it in at least a year.  This made me sad.  I prefer not to drink caffeine in the afternoon.  So, I've been searching...

I tried a few different Chai teas.  I tried the liquid mix from Oregon Chai.  But, nothing was what I was looking for.  I wanted a mild Chai Tea latte that wasn't heavy on the cardamom the way Starbuck's Chai tea latte is.

I finally found one at The Webstaurant Store.  It's called Big Train Decaf Spiced Chai Latte.
It is sold on Amazon, but I found the best price on WebstaurantStore.com. $17.50 for 3 1/2 pounds (equivalent to seven 8 oz. containers from Trader Joe's) I purchase parchment paper on this site, spices, and muffin papers.  The shipping seems high at first, but if you add a few things in, it's much more justifiable.  You can also get credit for reviews of products you've previously purchased from them--which can whittle away at the shipping costs.  


Good, Strong Coffee

A few coffee notes...

My husband and I love coffee.  I make STRONG coffee.  It's not thick like mud, but it's definitely strong.  I do this because I like to put half and half and sugar in my coffee and I prefer for it not to taste watery.  My husband and inlaws all like it this way (and they don't put any cream in it it) too.

Here's my ratio:  2/3 cup whole beans (before grinding) to 28 oz. water

It's funny to think back over our coffee journey.  I've discovered that me, along with every other coffee lover I know, likes to have a consistent cup of coffee.  This is a valuable thing.

There are some folks who say you must use a burr grinder--that it's the only way to go.

I'll respectfully disagree.  A blade grinder costs only about $15 ($1 at a garage sale) and will last you longer than a burr grinder.  When using a blade grinder, I hold down the button for a count of 15.  (not 1 one thousandth--just one two three...)

Last week, my husband picked up a bag of casi cielo for me from Starbucks.  Casi Cielo is one of Starbucks less bitter roasts and we have enjoyed it in the past.  It usually sells for $14.95 a pound.  I was curious to see how it compared to our regular coffee.

As I settled into my first cup, I discovered that it wasn't any better than our regular coffee!  I was surprised, but not really.  Starbucks overprices its goods and sells an experience/habit as much as it sells a product.

Our current coffee mix is a half caf mix from World Market.  I like it.  A lot.  I mix the medium roast caf whole bean Tarrazu with the decaf dark roast Italian Blend.  I use the coupons and then purchase it on Wednesdays (when you get double coffee credits) and usually end up paying a little over $6 per pound--which is the best price I've found over the years for half caf.  I order it online and it gets shipped very quickly to my doorstep.  I do pay for shipping, but I find that the coupons and coffee credits offset this.  Make sure to sign up for their World Market Explorer program and input your number on each purchase to get credit for your coffee purchases.

Thinking back, we started out with coffee from Costco.  Their house blend is roasted by Starbucks and some clubs carry a decaf version.  I always mixed the decaf house coffee with a different medium roast from Costco.  This worked out to be about $6.50 a pound, I think.

But, Costco is far, so I switched several years ago to BJ's because it was closer to us.  Unfortunately, the discontinued their whole bean decaf coffee and again I had to go searching for a good whole bean decaf coffee.  That was how I ended up at World Market.  We don't have a World Market store near us (though I wish we did!) and I began to purchase the coffee online.  We do have to buy 4 1/2 pounds at once, but I store it in a sealed tupperware bin and have yet to be disappointed in it.  I make about 40-50 oz. of coffee in the morning each day to give you an idea of how fast we go through it.

One of my brother in laws asked me this weekend what I would buy if I had to go to the grocery store for cheap coffee.  My answer was 8 o'clock Columbian whole bean.  It's a solid, consistent bean.  My husband likes it more than I do, though.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Chocolate

Tomorrow I'm having dental surgery.  Ugh.  Double Ugh--if there is such a thing.  My mom called yesterday and encouraged me to eat what I wanted today.  So, I did.  Sort of.  I had apple waldorf salad while on the run during a busy day.  We went to Mexican food for dinner.  And then I came home to have some chocolates for dessert.  But, I didn't have just any chocolates.  They were special.

I found a treasure today when I was shopping at Aldi.  As I was walking down the aisle between the produce and leftover Christmas candy, I paused.  My oldest daughter had seen something that caught her eye.  And then my eye caught something as well....

A few years ago, a friend of my husband's gave him two chocolates that she'd brought home with her from a recent vacation to Italy.  They were called Witor's Noir.  I loved them!  So, I looked all over the internet to try and find them, but I couldn't find anywhere that I could order them.  World Market had them--I even went to a store an hour and a half away (when I was in the area) to try and find them!  Then, a friend gave my mom a few chocolates and she shared one with me.  I was so shocked to discover that the chocolate she gave me was the same brand that I'd been looking for.  I called the woman who gave her the chocolates and she explained that she had found them at BJ's.  So, a week later, I headed over to the store and tried--in vain--to find them.  No luck.  I asked at the front counter and was informed by a clerk that they'd been out of them for several weeks.  I was so disappointed!  At that point, I gave up.  I searched online a little bit more and discovered that these chocolates had also been sold at Costco, so of course I checked there as well.  Again, none were to be found.

But, today, in the middle of the Christmas candy display at Aldi, there they were!  I was shocked with disbelief!  On my cell phone, I called the woman who gave them to my mom long ago to alert her--and she was thankful for my call.  Then, I bought three packages and brought them home.  

I opened one up tonight and they were very good, just as I had hoped.  I know it may sound crazy to go to such lengths to find something and then not find it.  But, it's fun to go looking for something.  Finding the chocolates today was such an unexpected blessing from the Lord amidst the stress of anticipating my surgery tomorrow!  

So, just in case you ever happen to come across these chocolates in your corner of the world and you wonder if they are any good...

They are!

On one final note, I found this picture on Amazon.  It turns out that you can now buy them there--for $25 for 2 packages.  When I was at Aldi this afternoon, one package only cost $3 (regularly $4).  I'm not quite sure that one package would be worth $12.50, but I think I probably would have paid $8 for a package because they are 12 oz. packages.

...

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Knights and Castles

A few weeks ago, my kids and I had the chance to attempt to put together a paper castle, complete with knights and catapult.  Our attempt, was... well, unsuccessful.  I had high hopes starting in, but those hopes were quickly dashed when I realized how much patience it would take to put it all together.

The castle was a part of a book, Build! a Knight's Castle:  A Paper Toy Archaeology by Annalie Seamon, published by Storey Publishing.  Earlier in the fall, I reviewed Storey's book for children wanting to be a pet doctor.  That book was very easy for my kids to use and assemble.  But, a castle is obviously much more complicated...



The book is rated for ages 8 and up.  My 7 1/2 year old gave up very quickly.  My 10 year old successfully pushed in the tabs on several pieces--and I actually learned a thing or two from her.  But, she didn't have the patience to see it through.  So, I helped my 7 1/2 year old to put together parts of it.  I think the book would be best for a 9 or 10 year old with help as needed.

For the boy who loves David Macaulay's book Castle and other detailed books about medieval times, this would be a fun book.  The book comes from a different point of view since it is looking at the castle from an archaeologist's perspective.  My son read the information about the castle with great interest.  I liked that the author explains the conclusions and gives the support for the archaelogical conclusions you can make about the past based on what remains.

The pieces of the castle all punch out very easily.  With this, I was very pleased.  What I wished for, though was a clearer list of how to fit the pieces together.  I think it was the author's intention that kids would work as an archaeologist might and figure out how the pieces fit together.  But, it would have been nice to have a cheat sheet for parents to give the child clues or an inserted sheet in the back with a decoder or something like that for when the child needs help.

If you have a child who regularly likes to put together paper projects like this or loves castles, then I can imagine he/she would enjoy this book.  My children are unfortunately not as patient as I thought they were.  My son can build enormous lego sets, but paper is a different matter.  I learned that from this book.

Please note that I did receive a complimentary copy of this book for review from Storey Publishing.