November 2007

Writing posts every day sucks. I’m not creative enough, nor do I have the stamina to keep it up.

And why am I still in my pajamas at 10:27 am?

Our realtor finally finished installing the bedroom light fixtures and the handrails on the stairs today. So yes, we have lights in our bedrooms. Still no curtains, though…

I did some internet sleuthing and found a bunch of stuff on dishydrotic eczema. That’s what I have on my hands and feet. It makes little, tiny vesicles filled with fluid. Sometimes they itch, and sometimes the hands and feet swell and get tight. This is one of those things that happens more frequently with people who have asthma and who are under stress. Hmmm.

Yesterday, Zeeb asked me, “Mom, could a bear defeat two puppies?”

I said yes, but didn’t go into detail.


Mixing lye into water.

Measuring lard.

Weighing all the fats.

Blending fats and lye.

Greasing molds with petroleum jelly.


Soap almost cured in crock-pot, without color or fragrance.2070483638_36ab457901.jpg

This is how much soap we got out of a tripled recipe. The balls are just the scraps all balled up. Purple is lavender, molded in a Pringles can and sliced, the pink is peppermint, molded in a heart-shaped muffin tin, and the yellow is honey-almond, molded in duck-shaped soap molds. The brown one in the back in the cake pan is chamomile, but was too soft yet to turn out or cut.

And for a close up, you may be able to see from the pink heart how lumpy it turned out. The crock-pot way really isn’t the way you should use if you want pretty results, but for a first shot, I’m happy.


For the full report of the process, go here.

Are there people out there that have no fridge? I mean on purpose. I realize that there are many more people on the earth who don’t have a fridge than people who do, but that seems like a far-away, non-North American thing. Wow, I sound like such a nut.

I was thinking today about what we would do if we had no fridge, whether as a result of a disaster that rendered electricity unavailable, or if we just decided that it was one luxury that we should do without, to help minimize our energy consumption. Do you know anyone that doesn’t have a fridge?

I think I could pull it off, but where does the cost-efficiency cross the line with using electricity to keep food fresh versus using some mode of transportation to get the perishable stuff more often if you don’t have refrigeration? I would sure need to have a garden, and a few chickens wouldn’t hurt, but there are many things I would still have to buy. I would buy things like grains, nuts, dry beans, dry spices, and dried fruits and vegetables, but I guess I would have to buy huge quantities, and then make sure I had a cool, dry place in the basement for them. Then I would have to make sure I had enough fresh stuff from the garden to feed us every day of the growing season, plus whatever I could put up in jars or dehydrate.

I would also feel OK about walking to the market, which is about a mile away, or biking, when I get a bike. I guess if I had a bike, I could tow one of those kid trailers, but fill it up with groceries instead. Except I wouldn’t have to fill it up, since I would only need to buy what I would use the same day.

I would also have to plan much better than I do. I would have to make meals that are the right size, with no leftovers. When I was in the Philippines, we would make dinner in the evening, and leave the leftovers on the table, covered with a cage so the rats couldn’t get to it. Then we never had to make breakfast. At first it bothered me, especially in such a warm, humid climate, but since nobody else seemed to care, I just followed suit. I think I have reverted to the paranoid American mentality, though.

Is this something that matters to people? Or is it just assumed that there will always be refrigeration? When we were looking for a house, it really only crossed my mind briefly that we could survive without a fridge, but not long enough for me to seriously consider not having one. In fact, I think I was more inclined to think of where I could put a deep-freeze or second fridge. Do I need either of those things? We have just decided to eat meat only once a week at the most, and it seems like meat is what people keep. I don’t really get pre-made, packaged foods, and that also takes up a big chunk of the average American fridge.

So do you dare me? It would take planning, and the cooperation of the other 4 people who live with me, but I think it’s possible. How much would I have to change?

All right, you’ve all gone out and outfitted yourselves to run comfortably, right? You’ve got the shoes? If you haven’t, just bite the ugly-shoe bullet, and go do it! Then you can move on to the next step.

Step #2: Make a goal and write it down

You need to have a concrete goal, so that you can see and measure your progress, and thus feel the satisfaction of accomplishment. Your goal should be a running goal, not a weight-loss or dieting goal, or a physical appearance goal, or an anger-management goal, or a goal to begin recycling. It should be one that is within your abilities, but hard enough to make you work for it. And you must WRITE IT DOWN! The writing down seems dumb, but in 3 months, when you see how far you’ve come, and you can look back and tally up all the miles you’ve run, you will be so glad you kept track of your goals and accomplishments. It will be worth it. You will also have a handy record that can help you determine when it’s time to buy a new pair of shoes, since the average pair of running shoes lasts about 400-500 miles.

So here we go, beginning runners. If you can walk for 30 minutes at a brisk pace without falling over dead, you should be able to run for 2 minutes. Does that sound so stupid and tiny? It’s not. Running is hard at first, and you need to teach your body how to do it. If 2 minutes sounds intimidating, start with one, or even 30 seconds. You need to start with small distances, so your muscles can learn how it’s done, so your heart and lungs can learn how to cope, and so your mind can learn how to think while you’re running. If you do too much at the beginning, your whole system will overload, and you will never want to do it again. And you will have wasted $100 on those ugly shoes.

I guess we should also discuss what constitutes running. If you are moving forward, and at least one of your feet is always in contact with the ground, you are walking. If you are moving forward, and there are alternating moments when you have one foot on the ground, and then you’re airborne, you are running. It mattereth not how fast you are moving forward. Shuffling is fine, at least for the first few months. Your goal should not be to run fast, but to move forward and get your heart pumping more than it typically does while walking.

Your goal that you write down this week will be a weekly goal. Decide how many days this week you will run, and the duration of each run. You may wish to alternate days of running with days of some other activity, so your muscles can rest and repair themselves. You can tally your goal durations, so you have a total target duration to strive for. For example, my goal for this week is to run for 14 minutes for 6 days, and 28 minutes on the seventh day. I don’t have a rest day planned because I’m trying a new regimen of daily running that I don’t think I can explain and still sound rational. So my goal for the week is 112 total minutes of running. I currently run at a pace of about 11 minutes per mile, so I will have gone about 10 miles this week.

If you skip a day, or do something else, just cross out your running goal for the day and write in what you actually did. I usually keep a tab of running minutes/miles and walking minutes/miles. You can shuffle your days if you go off track, or you can just stay on schedule and not worry about the lost day. The most important thing in getting going is to not skip more than 2 days, and ideally, not more than one. That means that you should be running at least 4 times a week, if you really want to become a runner and enjoy your running.

If you run for your 2 minutes and find that you feel good enough to run 2 more, first walk for a few minutes, then run another 2. After my 2nd and 3rd babies were born, I got back into running very slowly, with 2 minute runs for the first week or so. During the second week, I would run for 2 minutes twice per workout, then the next week, 3 times. This approach may not work for you. You may find it easier to just increase the one run by a minute or two each week. Each time you increase, you will probably feel like it’s pretty hard, but by the time you get to 10 minutes, you will remember thinking how 2 minutes was hard, and you will feel so good about yourself. Then, when you can run for 2 hours, you will laugh at the thought of running for only 2 minutes.

Next, go see:
Step #3: Go Run
Step #4: Mix it up
Running Bonus Tip

Liz and I made two batches of soap using the same recipe but slightly different methods. The results are different, but both good. I think both methods have their merit, so if you want to know about soap making, read on! If, after reading this, you’re just too curious and want to try the soap, email me your address and I will send you some soap. Unless you’re related to me, in which case you may reasonably expect to receive some in the next couple of months without asking for it.

We started with this recipe for grocery store soap, meaning that you could theoretically find all the ingredients at the grocery store. Theoretically, I say, because we searched 10 different stores for lye. I know, you would think you could find lye anywhere, but no. We went to Marsh, Pay Less, Home Depot, Walmart (gasp!), Rural King (neon orange suspenders, a farm section, and free popcorn), JoAnn, Michael’s, and Lowe’s. I can’t remember the other two, but we ultimately found it at Lowe’s. It’s in the drain cleaner section, and my dad said we should just use Drano, but we weren’t sure it was 100% lye, or if it was in the same concentration as we needed. We didn’t want to take any chances with something that could melt our faces off.

One handy thing that came out of our search is that Walmart (gasp!) has a 31.5 oz. container of coconut oil for $3. That’s incredible. The same size at the health food store is usually like $18. Also, lard can be found in the Mexican section of the supermarket in a 3 pound tub. A tub-o-lard. I think it’s also in the refrigerated section in sticks, like butter, but we wanted a lot, so we got the tub. Castor oil is in the pharmacy section, but can be found at health food stores in larger containers, and is pretty cheap. We used regular olive oil. There’s no use using extra virgin if you won’t taste it. And I hope you won’t be tasting your soap. Although, Liz liked the fragrances we used so much that she kept saying she wanted to eat it.

So here’s how it goes. You get all the ingredients ready, with your pot and stirrers, scale, gloves and goggles. With your gloves and goggles on, you measure the lye into a small container, then measure the water by weight into a larger one like a pitcher. You add the lye to the water, stirring gently without letting it splash. You do NOT add the water to the lye. Unless you want a hot, caustic, skin-melting volcano. Then you let that cool, since it goes up to about 200 degrees during the reaction.

You start measuring the oils into a bowl, taring the scale after each addition. The oil mixture needs to be liquid, so unless your kitchen is 90 degrees or hotter, you will probably have to melt the coconut oil and lard. We just added all the fat and stirred it on the stove until melted.

Then you slowly pour the lye mixture into the fat, stirring gently. We used a stick blender, but didn’t turn it on until all the lye was incorporated. When you blend it with a stick blender, the stirring takes about 5 minutes. I guess if you only have a whisk, you can do it by hand, but it will take about an hour of stirring. When it reaches the stage called ‘trace’, which is where it resembles vanilla jello pudding and a blob dropped on top doesn’t sink, it’s ready for the next step. This is where our two batches differ.

With the first batch, we put the mixture into a crock-pot on high, and let it cook for about an hour, until it started to be glossy like petroleum jelly. It was fluffy and airy. We then added the essential oils and colors. For the first batch, we used lavender oil with lavender buds and purple coloring in one bowl, honey-almond oil and yellow coloring in another, peppermint oil and pink coloring in the third, and a home-steeped oil concoction of chamomile tea with no coloring in the fourth. We stirred ’em up good and put them into our prepared molds. We used some mini loaf pans, some heart shaped muffin tins, a Pringles can, an 8’x8′ glass cake pan, and some little soap and chocolate molds shaped like ducks, seashells, and frogs.

With the second batch, we skipped the crock-pot part. We used oatmeal, apple-spice oil, and cinnamon in one bowl, and orange oil, lemon oil, orange zest and lemon zest in the other. Neither of these needed coloring. We used the same molds as we had the night before, since the previous batch was already hard.

The non-crock-pot batch was much easier to handle and pour, since it wasn’t cooked, but it takes at least 24 hours to harden in the molds, and 4 weeks to cure before you can use it. I guess the crock-pot does all the curing, so you can use crock-pot soap as soon as it’s hard, but it’s pretty gloppy after the cooking, so it doesn’t go into the molds nicely. Except the Pringles can. We just pushed the soap log out and sliced it. That one is very nice, even though the round sides aren’t completely even.

I tried the crock-pot soap, since it didn’t come out of the bowls all the way and there were scraps, and it was luscious. I usually don’t use bar soap because my skin is so dry, but this stuff was smooth, foamy, and smelled delicious. And I didn’t have to put on lotion after using this soap.

We’re home again. I think I might be able to start reading other blogs again. I feel like I’ve deserted all the wonderful people who have supported me in my time of need *sniff sniff* and neglected them and their blogs.

Thanksgiving is over, soap making is complete, one lovely Christmas present has been knitted, and our sweet, yellow house is a wreck. I swear I cleaned it before we left for Indiana, but I think the laundry had a party while we were out. In the car, on the 4 hour drive home, Kiki got pretty mad, so Calvin shared a Kit Kat with her and sang, “You are my Sunshine.” Uncle Paul lent us a 1/2 size violin, so Calvin will be able to start learning even before Santa shows up with a new one.

Last of all, it’s official: Trader Joe’s is my everyday market. There’s only one market closer than TJ’s, and it’s one of those local/organic/elitist markets that’s good but expensive. It takes me 4 minutes to get to TJ’s, and that’s with all three stop lights red.

Liz and I are making soap. We searched 10 different stores for lye today, so we didn’t get started until this evening, but we’ve finally got it going. We were duly careful, with our gloves and goggles, and we measured everything by weight, not volume. We chose a crock-pot recipe so the curing time is much shorter: one day instead of 4-6 weeks. We’ll use lavender, peppermint, and honey-almond oils. We’re taking documentary photos, but I’ll post them another day.

I also have to report on my spontaneous surgery this afternoon. Since we moved into our house, I’ve had strange things going on with my feet, particularly the skin on the bottom of my feet. I have all these tiny holes. I thought it was just dry skin that was peeling, but today I got a painful little blister thingie right on the ball of my left foot. It wasn’t a blister, though. It was too deep. I know it wasn’t a plantar wart, because I had those as a child. My dad, an EMT, looked at it, and performed the operation. He lanced the thing (I know this is what you were dying to know about me when you woke up this morning), and said that since the pus was white and not yellow, it was not too bad.

He soaked it in sanitizing hand-gel, since there was no alcohol to be found in my aunt’s house. He kept asking if it hurt, and only left to go to the movie when he was satisfied that I was in pain. From the stinging. From the 64% alcohol gel, which would theoretically kill whatever organism was the source of the pus. Anyway, he left me with a bigger hole, and no answers as to what might be causing the weird holes. It’s not the ‘A’ word. That would never happen to me. It’s not friction blisters, as my dad scathingly said that I couldn’t get those from only running for 10 minutes a day.

I guess I’ll be taking my own advice, though, and get myself some new running shoes. Because nearly any of the available causes of my holes can be linked to the shoes. If it’s the ‘A’ word, or fungal, then my shoes have it. If it’s friction, ditto. If it’s excess moisture, then I need more shoes so I can alternate pairs of them, because, yes, I wear running shoes every day for most of the day. I don’t even think they’re that ugly, except in the respect that I wear a size 10, and who needs feet that big? Especially someone like me, who is not at all what anyone would call tall? Or maybe it is the heels that I bought and started wearing on Sundays, even though I swore never to wear them again.

That’s the sort of thing that would happen to me.

I’m sitting here listening to the cello quartet going on in the other room and trying not to be desolate. My family always does this. When they all get together, they break out the cellos. Sometimes there are violins and violas tossed in for variation, but it’s still string quartets. I don’t play any of those, and I get feeling so left out.

It’s not an exclusionary thing. I know how they feel, they just love playing together. But something in me just wants so badly to play with them. When I was studying trombone, I brought my horn to Thanksgiving that year and played the bass part. It was fun(ny) but not the same. Trombones can’t really do justice to string quartets. They sort of overpower everyone else.

My little Calvin found a 1/8 size violin and has been practicing his sawing technique all day. I think we might let Santa know that Calvin would appreciate a violin for Christmas. Someone asked him last night what he was going to ask Santa for, and he replied, “I will just be happy with what Santa wants to give me.” No lie. Good thing Santa is personally acquainted with one of Calvin’s grandpas that makes violins for a living.

I’ve got to get up early tomorrow and start the cooking party, after my 12 minutes of running, so all y’all out there, cheers. Have a great day of party and thanks. My little boys will be begging for their newfound love, pumpkin pie. I think I will make at least 4, so the rest of us will get some too. And there’s always the need for pumpkin pie at breakfast on Friday.

Next Page »