Blog Archives

When our birdies leave the nest (college cafeteria food)

Over at Mrs. Q’s “Fed up with Lunch” blog (she’s the teacher who spent the second half of the school year eating every day in the school cafeteria, exactly what the kids eat, and blogged about it.  What’s cool is the number of widely varied guest posters she’s accrued over the months. What’s not cool is what she’s had to eat every day as a result of this project.) I just ran across an article by a college student about what happened when she went away to school and was faced by an apparently pretty good college cafeteria.

And it sounds like her college cafeteria was really pretty good–certainly better than mine was.  As a mom now looking at the situation, it looks to me like her issue, and mine while I was away at school and in the years following, was about food discipline more than actually what food was offered.

My own story–I was one of those depressingly tall skinny teenagers who could eat all I wanted, anything I wanted, as much as I wanted, and never gain a pound.  I was the girl who complained about not being able to find jeans with a 33 inch inseam that were a size 1. (Trust me, while that situation in your twenties might be enviable, when you’re 15 and everyone else has breasts and you don’t, it’s fairly humiliating. I think my measurements were something like 20-20-20 up till maybe my junior year in high school.)  So I never paid attention to what I ate or how much, and it certainly never occurred to my parents to worry about it either (I was healthy and fairly active, so why worry?), and while of course the whole concept of “eat at least a serving of veggies at every meal; choose fruit for a snack instead of junk; drink water when you’re thirsty and not soda” and all that fairly commonsense stuff was basic to my upbringing, there just wasn’t a real opportunity to learn how to put it into practice myself, without it being drilled into me by my parents. They were the nutritional gatekeepers of the home.  Isn’t that the way most of us live?

In fact, I honestly have no clue how such habits could be imparted to kids in a way that they won’t burst out and go crazy when suddenly there are no authority-driven boundaries around what they may or may not eat at any given time.  Balance.  Portion control.  Eat-food-not-too-much-mostly-plants. If the very definition of teen-ager-ness involves Freedom And Rebellion, and if the very ethos of going away to college is No Parents Now I Make My Own Decisions, is there any way to really prepare our kids for this, to help them realize that this isn’t just what the grownups always say but is actually kind of crucial to their happiness and health in later life, and that we want them to be happy?  That a rebellion which results in them feeling crappy is probably not a very worthy cause?

My kids are 5 and 7; a little early to be stressing about this, I know.  But it’s a fairly important question. And I have a feeling what I do in the next 10-12 years will be a huge part of the answer.

Kara, the guest blogger for Mrs. Q, sounds like a really smart girl. (Oy. My “mom” is showing. She’s a really smart  woman.) Partway through the semester she realized she was exhausted, sleeping too much, not succeeding in classes as well as she should, and figured out that the huge drain on her body’s resources represented by all this heavy rich eating was the culprit. First she cut the junk; then she went vegan. (And her blog has photos of some of the really decadent-looking vegan foods she eats on a daily basis; I doubt if she’ll convert me fully, but  she makes me want to try some of this stuff, and not just because it’s vegan–because it looks good!  I, being a good dairy addict, would use cheese and eggs liberally, most likely, though…) But I wonder how many college students would be aware enough to put the pieces together and recognize what’s going on, and/or disciplined enough to make the necessary changes.

By the way, my tall skinny girl story has had the proper karmic twist–right about when I got to college, my metabolism shifted and suddenly I couldn’t eat all that food without gaining weight, and my lack of food discipline has meant that I’ve had to learn as an adult what I wish I’d learned as a child.  I’m now a fairly content not-quite-plus-sized woman who’s done the childbirth thing twice, and I don’t worry about weight so much as worrying about whether I’m eating well and getting enough exercise.  (I’m not getting enough exercise. But I try. And I certainly could stand to lose 20 or so…) I know that I need to eat veggies whether I like them or not, and honestly I really don’t much–but I’ve also learned to cook with them and camouflage them and render them in a way I can deal with them.  I know that when I cave to the drive-through cravings I pay for it, and that it’s really not worth it in cost to my own health, let alone that of the planet.  But it’s taken a really long time to get here.

And my daughter, you guessed it, is tall and skinny and shows every sign of following in my metabolic footsteps.

Any of my readers have college kids? Any of my readers who are college kids? I’d really welcome any thoughts on this…


Melt and Pour Soap Adventures

My “day job,” though it’s as much about evenings as days, is as a full time church musician.  (I work in a church big enough to pay me a living wage at it. (However, if you check out this article on, at number 4, that should tell you something…)  This time of year is incredibly intense, and everyone is overworked and a little crabby, and there’s generally very little time for pleasant little holiday family rituals. For that matter, there’s very little time for family, period.  Every year somewhere in the first week of December,  my husband and I give each other a kiss and say, only semi-jokingly,  “good night, honey, see you on the 26th or so.”

Today is sort of the last hurrah.  It’s a Saturday, I have no morning meetings, I have no weddings to play, I just have to show up at about 4pm and I have nothing on the calendar prior to that.  So even though it is nearly 11:00am, the kids and I are still in our jammies.  We are watching “The Nutcracker” while the second batch of melt-and-pour soap is melting over the double boiler.  This morning is the last shot at regaining any sense of serenity and holiday peace before the insanity hits full force on Monday, when the final shove of choir rehearsals and booklet printing and making sure the cast of thousands knows what it’s supposed to be up to…

I discovered melt-and-pour soaps a couple Christmases ago at teacher gift time; there was a bit of a learning curve, but we’re much better at it now.  And both kids have different teachers from last year,  so I feel okay about doing it again. Since the early experiments I’ve bought soap molds and experienced a lot of trial and error, and I have something like six pounds of unmelted soap block sitting in the closet.  It’s a great project for kids, as long as the adult does the melting, because they can pour and stir and color and blend themselves.

So…off we go.  
This is a really good site for basic instructions, and here’s my own experiences:

Melt and pour soap base is available in a lot of places, but if you get it from, say, Michaels, it is a lot more expensive. (I’m still glad I did that for my first pound–it was a good way to ease into the process.) I think I paid about $10 for a pound-size soap block, which makes maybe 4 bars of soap depending on the size you use, which isn’t that much less than buying nice glycerin soap somewhere else. 

I honestly can’t remember where I bought the 6 lbs I have in my closet, but any internet search for “melt and pour soap” will give more hits than anyone can possibly need. has some good-looking prices and products; I’ll probably try them next. 

Just a few hints, after one has read the basic falling-off-a-log instructions:

Color: I bought three little bottles of soap coloring from Michaels, in the three primary colors, and I’ve managed to work within that palette so far.  One would think there’s a whole lot of variety to be found from mixing red, blue, and yellow, but somehow in practice…not so much. Probably with better colors I could get better results, but our first few bars of soap looked a bit like radioactive waste…

This batch, for 12 ounces of soap, we used 3 drops of red and 4 drops of yellow, which gave a fairly nice coral-pink.  The next batch Bear wants to be green, which unfortunately was the hue we never managed last time and wound up with the radioactive waste look, but we’ll give it a try…

Fragrance: Some websites have suggested about 1.5 tsp of essential oil per pound of soap, but in reality that’s going to depend a lot on what oils you use.  Peppermint overpowers almost anything, as does Tea tree…Lavender blends too quickly into the background, as does Clary, but Geranium Rose leaps to the forefront. They seem, to me, to be behaving differently in soaps than they do in ordinary aromatherapy blends, but that could be just my own impression.   Also, as nice as the spices and citruses may smell, it’s not a good idea to use them in skin care products, because they are sensitizing. (Sweet Orange in small amounts I admit i do use…but I also want to be clear when I say that that I know I’m going against other advice, and no way would I advise anyone else in that direction.)

For this batch, I went the easy route and am trying to use up some of a much too old bottle of “Peace and Calming” from Young Living Oils. (Note: the Young Living company has been at the center of a lot of controversy in the aromatherapy community, regarding questionable business practices and irresponsible medical advice that flies in the face of the research of the aromatherapy community at large–advice which, incidentally, involves the use of way larger amounts of the oils than is widely deemed safe. Every shopper must make his or her own choice, but I have chosen not to continue purchasing their oils and once what I have is gone I won’t be buying any more.)  I don’t know about its theraputic value, but this blend does smell very nice and ought to make a lovely soap.

Molds: Pretty much anywhere you can get soap base, you can probably also get molds.  but molds aren’t absolutely necessary, especially if you want to really go for the “natural handmade” look.  A loaf pan or square baking dish can work just as well, although you’ll want to test out quantity to make sure you have the right container for whatever amount of soap you’re using. (If you melt your soap in a Pyrex measuring container, you can then use a different cup to measure that same amount of water into the container you want to use and find out exactly how high your soap will come and thus how thick your bars will be.)

I swear by silicone baking dishes, and using silicone for soap molds is just as easy and wonderful.  Sometimes in hard containers the soap gets stuck and is hard to unmold (though usually a quick immersion of the mold part into hot water loosens it enough to get it out), but silicone is really easy.

Additives: One word; beware.  I had this lovely idea of bars of soap with lavender blossoms scattered through it, or oatmeal, or whatever…but unless one gets the soap base that’s designed to suspend things in it, it all falls to the bottom of the mold.  Which, actually, gives a very nice exfoliating thing on one side, but not the effect I was looking for. 

Final product:

My oval mold holds 3 4oz bars, so we made 4 different batches:
1. coral-colored shea butter soap base with “Peace and Calming”
2. green goats-milk soap base (sort of a nice green this time!) with lavender and roman chamomile
3. lavender goats-milk soap base with lavender and just a touch of sweet orange
4. yellow clear glycerin with lemongrass and a teeny bit of lemon and orange (I know, the citrus thing, but I couldn’t resist)
5. orange clear glycerin with bergamot mint and sweet orange

Our final experiment, made in a loaf pan, is single layers of the 6 (okay, yes, I know there are seven, but whatever) colors of the rainbow each with a different scent; you put in one layer, let it harden, then go to the second layer, and so forth.  Takes a while, but it should be very cool…

This makes for a really fun kid project–I love giving teachers things that the kids can actually participate in.  Plus we always make a couple extra bars for us, and the kids like washing with the soap they helped make.  So it’s a win-win all around.

Do you ebay?

A few years ago I discovered ebay.

In case any readers live under a virtual rock, ebay is the huge online auction site where you can buy anything from clothes to a car to a peanut butter sandwich with the face of Jesus Christ in it. (I’m not making that up, though I might not remember the details correctly.  Some crazy thing like that was up on ebay for auction.) What some people may not know is how extensive it is.  It pretty much has changed the way I shop.

At first I thought of ebay only as a way to get what I wanted for much cheaper than I could get it in the store–which doesn’t always work; you have to pay attention, not lose your head, and do a lot of research about whatever you are buying.  And it’s a lot more work than walking into a store and going, “Okay, I’ll take that” and plunking down the plastic, or logging onto a retail website and doing the same. 

But after I saw “The Story of Stuff” and began thinking about how “carbon footprint” is about a lot more than how much garbage I generate or how many miles per gallon my car gets, I began to realize that my plan of buying cheap clothing for myself and my kids from big box stores and such, clothing that would wear out in a season and get tossed or sent to Goodwill (and probably get tossed) wasn’t even remotely carbon-savvy–and in the long run, probably not all that cost-savvy either.  So I started paying attention.

Now I buy almost all of my children’s clothes from other moms who make a few extra dollars for their families by selling their own kids’ gently used outgrown things.  Holiday dresses for my daughter especially are easy to find, since those kinds of things tend to be worn only once or twice and then outgrown, but it’s also a huge relief to spend just a few dollars per piece on already slightly worn play clothes and not have to worry if she spills allegedly-washable-but-we-moms-know-the-truth blue paint onto her new pink top.  My son’s knees and the ground seem to be great friends, so it’s better when the holes in the jeans happen in the used ones I paid $3 for than the brand-new ones I spent $14.99 on.

I occasionally find good stuff for myself, too–once you know what brand names and sizes fit well, you can just search for those.  It’s thrift store shopping from your living room, but a really big thrift store and you need to pay attention.

In my experience, most ebay sellers are good honest folks who just want to run a business and recognize the value of good customer service.  With a little experience, it’s not too hard to find the pitfalls and know what deals and sellers to avoid.

A few tips:

  1. Read ALL the small print. Assume nothing.
  2. If you are buying something to wear and the listing includes measurements, don’t assume it will fit just because you wear a Medium. Measure yourself and be sure.
  3. If the listing doesn’t provide enough information, ask.  And be wary–sellers who don’t know enough to include all the info in the listing are probably less experienced and might make mistakes.  You could get a great deal–or you could get burned.
  4. Check the return policy.  Every seller is different, so every seller sets his or her own policy. Also realize that unless your reason for return is entirely the seller’s fault, you will get back the purchase price but probably not the shipping costs. (See tips #6 and #7 regarding shipping costs!)
  5. Check your seller’s feedback rating.  Every transaction leaves the buyer with the option of leaving a feedback rating of positive, neutral, or negative for the seller. I personally never buy from a seller with less than a 99% positive feedback rating, and I always check the ratings to see where the negatives come from and if there’s a pattern. (Some sellers, you should understand, also get burned by dishonest buyers who leave negative feedback that’s not really deserved.)
  6. Ask questions about the item, if you have any at all.  Good sellers will respond quickly; a seller who doesn’t get back to me after maybe 48 ours at the latest is probably not someone I want to do business with anyway.
  7. Beware shipping fees–they can be huge, because they can include “handling fees” from the seller.  Remember that a $3 shirt you have to pay $14.95 in shipping for is essentially a $17.95 shirt.
  8. Check the item location and how long it will take to get to you. Increasingly, people in Hong Kong are selling on ebay, and these take a long time to arrive and usually cost a lot to ship.
  9. Don’t get caught up in the “OMG I might lose it!” thrill of the auction.  Rarely is there an item, at least in my world, that will never come up again or that is such a good deal that you can’t afford to miss it, and also such a hidden treasure that no one else will recognize it’s such a good deal and thus drive up the price till it’s not such a good deal after all.
  10. Obviously, increase your research/care/diligence as the cost of what you’re buying increases.  It’s one thing to get burned on a $15 coat, another to get jerked around on a $1200 computer.  On the other hand, I am typing this on a laptop computer I got for a really good price on ebay.
  11. Don’t assume that the “buy it now” price on any item is cheaper than you could get it retail.  Research, research, research!
  12. Consider using a sniping site, like or several others (do a Google search!).  There are mixed opinions about the ethics of sniping, but I personally think it’s a great field-leveller.  It sort of turns things into a closed-envelope auction.  When bidding on ebay, you put in the maximum amount you’re willing to pay for an item, and the actual bid only goes to the lowest necessary to top the next highest bid.  So if you say you’ll go to $15 and the previous bidder only put in up to $10, your bid will stand at $11 or so unless someone else says they’ll go to, say, $13, in which case you’ll still be winning but your bid will automatically go up to $14. And so on.  If you just place a bid on an item and someone else wants it, they may place another bid and keep inching up to see how far your bid will go, and that’s how bidding wars happen and folks end up paying much more than they should.  What happens when you sign on with a sniping site is that you put in your maximum bid amount there, and the site automatically places your bid during the last 7 seconds or so of the auction.  That way you decide in advance what you’re willing to pay, and you take away both your and the other bidders ability to hem and haw and inch up your amount.  I just think it’s smart.  Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.  But a lot of people snipe these days, so it’s at least important that you know how it works.

I think that’s most of it–happy bidding!