Sunday Post #18: Sundays in Spring

Sunday PostI am not sure it gets a whole lot better than Sundays in spring unless it’s Sundays in fall (which is actually my favorite season).

School is winding down. I have one more day of regular classes, then it’s final exams. I only have one final exam this year. I hope not to have any next year. I’m not sure such exams are the best way to assess learning in English classes.

The end of the school year is always so busy right up until final exams, and then it seems to relax. I have had a really good school year—perhaps the best one of my teaching career. I am really happy with some of the things I tried this year, and I think the students did some great work for me. I have wonderful students.

I got up early this morning (for me), and made a batch of Heavenly Honeysuckle soap. I don’t always post my soap pictures here because I have another blog for that, but I really love the colors. Honeysuckle is one of my absolute favorite scents.

It should be ready to cut tomorrow and ready to use in about four weeks.

I didn’t finish any books this week or really write on the blog, but I did keep listening to The End of the Affair by Graham Greene. That’s the only book I’ve made any real progress on this week. I haven’t done a lot of reading, but I did finish watching several episodes of Doctor Who—I’ve had that DVD from Netflix for about a month, so it’s time to send it back already. It’s not the longest I’ve kept a DVD. Though I didn’t do much reading, I did add some more books to my TBR pile.

 

I am especially excited for Circling the Sun. I really enjoyed The Paris Wife. This new book by Paula McLain looks fascinating.

Sometimes I think my TBR pile is just a lovely collection of pretty covers of books I’ll never get to read. I keep telling myself I will someday.

I’ve been listening to my classical Spotify playlists today. I thought you might enjoy the Spring Classical playlist on this lovely spring day.

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme.

Reading Updates and Other News

I have been busy, busy. I am making soap to gear up for fall. When you’re a soapmaker, you have to make the soap about four-six weeks in advance of the selling season because it needs that long to cure. I am doing a big arts and crafts fair on September 21, and I want have a good amount of stock.

School has started, at least for me. My students don’t return until September 8. We have pre-planning, though, and I have taken on a new role as English department chair. The start of the year has already been great.

I have been re-reading the Harry Potter series with Maggie. I have read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows much less often than the other books in the series. Re-reading Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix this last time made me think two things:

  1. A lot folks don’t like this one because Harry is so angry. Well, he was dealing with Voldemort’s emotions influencing his own, and even if that were not the case, he has a right, after everything that’s happened to him, to a bit of righteous anger. And he struggles through so much of that book.
  2. Every teacher and administrator working in schools should read this book. It has interesting things to say about teaching, especially about what happens when the government, and especially government officials who know nothing about education, interfere in schools.

I’m really enjoying reading these books with Maggie. I think she’s liking them as well.

I don’t have a lot of extra time with all this craziness, but my wardrobe is really frightening. I mean, I never shop for myself because I hate, hate, hate shopping. I absolutely loathe it. I hate hunting for something I like, I hate continually taking off my clothes and trying on outfits only to find they fit weird or I don’t like them, and I hate being in the store around people I don’t know well and with whom I have to have conversations. I also hate having to decline offers of a store credit card, along with the attempts to convince me that I could be saving so much money if only I had one. As a result, my clothing situation was getting close to desperate. One of my friends posted a link to this personal shopping service called Stitch Fix, and I thought, “yeah right, like I can afford a personal shopping service.”

Nevertheless, I visited the site, and I discovered that it was fairly reasonable. The styling fee is just $20, and the fee is applied to anything you buy. The personal stylist picks five items and sends them to you. You can set how often you receive packages. You fill out a comprehensive styling profile. I was impressed that Stitch Fix asked me for links to a Pinterest board where I pin clothes I like and my LinkedIn profile. I wouldn’t have thought to do either one, but it looks like it was helpful because I received my first shipment, and I liked everything so much that I kept it.

I am posting pictures of myself without makeup and with messy hair, so don’t look at my face, but check out what I received.

Plum Dress and White CardiganFirst, this plum wrap dress. I would have walked right by it if I had seen it in the store because I would never, ever have thought it would look good on me. The waist, however, is a little higher, so it actually covers up areas I might not want to show. It has capped sleeves, so I can easily add a long-sleeve sweater, tights, and boots, and I have a good winter/fall outfit, too. No, I do not have on tights; those are my really white legs.

Jeans, Cardigan, Dotted Print ShirtNext up, skinny jeans. Another item I’d have walked right by if I had seen them in the store. Truly. And they fit me really well. They are actually comfortable. I really liked the print on this shirt. It has no sleeves, so I have to wear the little short-sleeved cardigan they sent, which, incidentally, I also probably wouldn’t have picked out for myself. I have to admit it’s perfect for pairing with all sorts of outfits, thought.

Green ShirtI really liked this green shirt. It fit me well, and it’s versatile enough for work or casual dress. And it’s not too tight around my hips.

I was really pleased and surprised at how much I liked everything once I tried it on, with the prices (I got everything for less than $200), and with the convenience. I really think this is going to solve some of my issues with my wardrobe. I am trying out clothes I might not have tried, and I don’t have to go anywhere. And it costs about the same as I’d spend if I hauled my tuchus to the store. So I’m pretty happy. If you want to try it out, I have a referral code, and it would be awesome if you would use it when you sign up.

Stitch Fix

Jane Austen Soap Series

Congratulations!

Jane Austen Soap Series
Jane Austen Soap Series

Congratulations to Malinda! The random number generator picked your entry for the Jane Austen Soaps giveaway.

If you didn’t win, you can still purchase the soaps from my Etsy store. Watch out for future contests and store coupons!

Jane Austen Soap Series

Jane Austen Soap Giveaway

I’m in the midst of re-reading Pride and Prejudice, and I had forgotten how quickly the story moves along. I just reached the part that contains perhaps my favorite lines:

“Come here, child,” cried her father as she appeared. “I have sent for you on an affair of importance. I understand that Mr. Collins has made you an offer of marriage. Is it true?” Elizabeth replied that it was. “Very well—and this offer of marriage you have refused?”

“I have, Sir.”

“Very well. We now come to the point. Your mother insists upon your accepting it. Is it not so, Mrs. Bennet?”

“Yes, or I will never see her again.”

“An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents.—Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do.”

One of the best dad moments in literature, even if later we learn perhaps Mr. Bennet should be a little more watchful of his younger daughters.

In honor of my re-read, and just because they’re all ready to go (at last), I am giving away one bar of each soap in my Jane Austen soap series.

Jane Austen Soap Series
Jane Austen Soap Series

I have created five soaps based on heroines from three Jane Austen novels: Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Emma.

Bennet Sisters
Bennet Sisters

The Bennet sisters, featured in Pride and Prejudice are also available as a set in my Etsy store.

Mrs. Darcy
Mrs. Darcy

Mrs. Darcy is inspired by that delightful creature herself, Elizabeth Bennet. Created with her personality in mind, it contains goat milk (to represent her stubbornness) and rich vegetable oils, including olive oil, coconut oil, palm, oil, sweet almond oil, castor oil, and cocoa butter and is scented with fragrantly floral plumeria.

Sweet Jane
Sweet Jane

Sweet Jane is as nice as her namesake, Jane Bennet. Made with coconut milk, olive oil, coconut oil, palm oil, cocoa butter, and castor oil, this soap has a clean, wholesome scent of lemon verbena.

Emma Woodhouse
Emma Woodhouse

Just like Emma herself, her namesake soap unites some of the best blessings of existence: beautiful calendula petals and luxurious silk with rich, moisturizing shea butter, olive oil, and sunflower seed oil and scented with citrusy tart yuzu and sweet orange.

Elinor
Elinor

Elinor’s soap has a fresh, mild, clean scent that evokes herbs and mint and is made with olive oil, sunflower oil, shea butter, and other rich, moisturizing oils.

Marianne's Passion
Marianne’s Passion

This wild swirl of black raspberry vanilla evokes Marianne Dashwood’s passionate nature. Made with olive oil, cocoa butter, silk and other rich, moisturizing oils, this soap is a treat for your skin.

What do you have to do to win this prize package? Simply leave a comment with your favorite quote from Pride and Prejudice and explain why it’s your favorite. A winner will be chosen at random on Friday, February 22, 2013. You can earn an extra entry if you like New England Handmade Artisan Soaps on Facebook and share the giveaway. Simply locate the giveaway on my Facebook page and share it on your Facebook timeline.

Good luck! And remember that if you don’t win, you can still order this fantastic collection from my Etsy store.

Sweet Jane

Sweet Jane

In honor of the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice, I am creating soaps based on some of the major characters in the book. I made my first batch yesterday. It is called “Sweet Jane” after Miss Jane Bennet. Here is a peek:

Sweet Jane

It is difficult to tell in the image, but it is a swirl of uncolored soap and lemon yellow soap scented with lemon verbena. I think Jane Bennet would smell like lemon verbena. It’s a lovely, clean scent. The soap is loaded with good things for your skin, like olive oil, sweet almond oil, and cocoa butter. It has rich coconut milk in it, too. It really is a lovely soap. The picture doesn’t quite do it justice.

The soap will reach its full cure on January 29, but it will be available for pre-order in my Etsy store in a couple of weeks. I will also be making Mrs. Darcy, a swirl of purple and white plumeria-scented goat milk soap as soon as my supplies arrive.

If you are interested in keeping up with my soaping, I have a blog and Facebook page.

Musing Mondays

Musing Mondays: Non-Bookish Hobbies

Musing MondaysThis week’s Musing Mondays question is “Do you have any hobbies outside of reading? Or do you collect anything?

As a matter of fact, I have a really fun, somewhat new hobby that I have mentioned a couple of times on this blog. I make cold process soap. Cold process is another name for making soap from scratch, which means I mix lye and water with oils and fats to produce soap. Melt and pour is a process by which you take soap that has already been made, such as a glycerin base or a bar of commercial or handmade soap, and melt it down, then forming it into shapes or bars. I have not tried that particular process, which is considered a little easier, but also gives you a little more room for creativity with shapes and colors (that’s just my observation).

I blog about my soap-making adventures at Suds Life. I have also recently opened a store on Etsy and a Facebook fan page (feel free to “like” it!). I have actually sold one bar of soap and would love to sell some more, so check it out! I am adding new soap all the time.

I love making soap. It is a very zen sort of activity. I have complete control over all the ingredients that go into my soap. It is not unlike cooking that way. I can also try new things and experiment. Interestingly, I find I like to experiment even more with soap recipes than I do with food recipes! My favorite soap so far is a pumpkin pie soap I made not too long ago. I love the way it turned out. Although I have to say that the most recent soap batch I made, Cinnamon Apple Cider, turned out extraordinarily well. Here is a photo:

Cinnamon Apple Cider

It looks and smells just like applesauce. I think it might be a major contender for a new favorite.

I enjoy everything about this hobby, and I look forward to many happy years of soaping.

Aside from making soap, I also write and love to participate in NaNoWriMo every year. I also like cross stitching, though I don’t do it often. I don’t watch a ton of TV, but I like Downton Abbey, Sherlock Holmes (BBC with Benedict Cumberbatch), Doctor Who, and The Big Bang Theory.

It strikes me that readers tend to be hobbyists fairly often; specifically, readers tend to be “crafty” types. I know a lot of readers who knit, make books, paint, crochet, sew, or cook. I wonder why that is. Any thoughts?

Soap Blog

I know that folks read this blog for book reviews and other bookish things, so rather than potentially bore folks who aren’t interested in soap making, I have created a new blog to discuss my adventures in making soap. I would love for you to join me over there if it sounds like this is something you are interested in, but if you’re not, rest assured the soaping will be confined to that blog from now on. I have to admit that it is a really fun hobby, and I can’t remember taking up any other craft venture that I’ve enjoyed so much.

Making Soaps & Scents, Catherine Bardey

Making Soaps & Scents : Soaps, Shampoos, Perfumes & Splashes You Can Make At HomeOn my last trip to the local library, I checked out Catherine Bardey’s [amazon asin=1579120598&text=Making Soaps and Scents], thinking I could learn a few more recipes and tips for my new soap-making endeavor. The book is exactly what it advertises in the title—instructions for how to make soap and scents.

The Good: There are quite a few good ideas in this book, a helpful troubleshooting section (so if something goes wrong, you can determine what the problem is and whether you can fix it/how to fix it), a standard SAP index for figuring out how much lye and water to use depending on the oil type, and nice historical information (how well documented? not sure…). There are quite a few interesting variations, and Bardey includes recipes for shampoo bars and hair rinses—interesting idea. I love my shampoo, so I’ll have to think about it, but it could definitely be a fun gift. In addition, the scent section is interesting. I’m interested in trying solid perfumes, and she had no recipes for that, but who knew cologne could be made with vodka? Probably everyone but me, but I learned something, and that’s good. There is a healthy list of resources, but given the book is now thirteen years old, I’ll bet many of them are no longer available.

The bad: Almost all the soap recipes are based on her vegetable basic soap recipe or her animal basic soap recipe. She uses vegetable shortening in her soap, and I’ve heard of other folks using that, but what if I don’t want Crisco® in my soap? I would basically need to ditch the recipe and start with my own basic oil mixture and her additives, by which time, I may have created some sort of Frankenstein monster soap that won’t play nice with the additives (for all I know). I would have liked to have seen more variety in the recipes, and more discussion of the variety of oils. She doesn’t help out with that much aside from the SAP value chart in the back, and even then, there is no discussion of why you might use one oil over another and how that might impact your recipe. Which is huge! Another quibble I have with the book is that it is an odd size: 9.5 x 4.7 x 0.8 inches. In shape, it has roughly the same dimensions, length and width, as a standard envelope. That limited the size of the pictures. Soap-making books should have a ton of pictures, and this one has some good pictures, but not enough of them. I want to see more. A final quibble: no mention of using a stick blender to help you reach trace faster. In fact, Bardey discourages using hand mixers. Almost every website and book I’ve looked at recommends using stick blenders. I can’t believe that so many excellent soap-makers are wrong. Plus, my own experience is that it worked great. I can’t see why she discourages the use of anything but a wooden or stainless steel spoon. Seems odd to me, and I’d hate for a beginner to be put off soap-making by following that recommendation and finding the process more difficult and perhaps giving up. I know I wouldn’t want to be stirring the soap forever before something happened. Screw that.

The Verdict: This book has some good information, but it’s not for beginners, and is really not diverse enough to be worth hunting down to add to your collection. I found Basic Soap Making by Elizabeth Letcavage and Patsy Buck much more helpful for beginners as well as as a great addition to a more experienced soap-maker’s library. It has more variety in terms of recipes and more helpful information and pictures. I still learned some interesting information from Making Soaps & Scents, and for that reason, I think it’s worth checking out of the library (if your library has it), but it’s not the kind of book I’d consult more than once (well, maybe the troubleshooting section, but that’s it).

Rating: ★★★☆☆