The Loofah Soap Experiment: Update #2

Where has the time gone? Between prepping for my first Cleveland Bazaar and making more soap to replenish my stock, I almost forgot about posting an update on how my loofah is growing. Looking back on my last update, I can’t believe how much the plant as grown. It went from this sweet little seedling:

Loofah seedling

So cute.

To this Little Shop of Horrors like vine:

Loofah vine

“Feed me!”

I’m not sure how big this vine is going to get, or where it’s going to go, but for now it seems happy to grow up the side of the bird net covering my blackberries.

 

Loofah and blackberry

Don’t get too close to those tendrils!

I’ve read that loofah can have a very long growing season and needs warm temperatures to thrive. We’ve been having an uncharacteristically cool summer so far, so I’m not surprised that it’s mid-July and I’m only now seeing flower buds. Hopefully the temperatures warm up and I get a couple of good sized loofahs by the end of the summer.

Loofah flower bud

Are you growing anything fun in your yard this year? I’d love to hear about your gardening adventures!

Looking for the perfect summer drink? Try this: Lavender vanilla lemonade

Relax with Lavender Vanilla Lemonade

As I’ve previously mentioned, I’m a big fan of lavender. When I’m feeling stressed, a noseful of the scent helps restore me to a calm, cool and collected state.

In the summertime, another activity that helps me chill out is hanging out on the front porch, sipping a cool beverage, watching cars pass by and chatting with friends and neighbors.

So, why not combine those two things? Lavender is great in lemonade, a touch of vanilla adds some extra sweetness (and lovely scent) to this concoction. If you’re feeling social, you can make a batch big enough to share when front-porch friends drop by. (If those friends happen to be over 21 and you want to add a little extra relaxation, a little bourbon or vodka would produce an extra-special libation.)

What’s your perfect summer beverage?

Lavender Vanilla Lemonade

Makes 8, 8 oz. servings

2 c. lemon juice

1 1/2 c. sugar

1 c. water

1 c. dried lavender

1 T. pure vanilla extract

5 c. cold water

In a small saucepan, add dried lavender, sugar and 1 c. water. Turn heat up to high and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Turn off heat and allow mixture to cool.

After sugar mixture has cooled, use a sieve to strain out the lavender. Add liquid to a large pitcher and combine with lemon juice, vanilla and cold water. Serve over ice.

 

Need a quick and easy way to relax? Stop and smell the lavender

 

Lavender 5

I’m obsessed with lavender. It is my absolute favorite flower and scent. I’ve used it in soaps, bath salts and scrubs, and eaten it (it’s particularly good in vanilla cupcakes and lemonade, if you are looking for ideas). When I’m feeling stressed, taking a whiff of some fresh lavender or lavender essential oil helps me find some tranquility. (Science has proven this to be an effective stress reduction technique.)

The Lavender soap in the Emmet Street Creations Etsy store is scented with pure Hungarian lavender essential oil. When I smell it, I imagine I’m standing in the middle of a lavender field and haven’t a care in the world.

Do you use aromatherapy to help with stress relief? What scents work for you?

Feeling stressed? Ten ideas to help you find a moment of Zen

Stress

Image credit: Stress by Bernard Goldbach, on Flickr. CC BY 2.0.

National Public Radio (NPR), thanks to its week-long series focusing on stress, has got me focusing on my stress. I didn’t need much of a reminder–I often finish the work week ready to dance into the weekend like Ellen DeGeneres after a triple shot of espresso.

Sometimes stress is a good thing, like when you’re in danger and need to make a quick escape from a predator (or meet a work deadline), but according to the reporting from NPR (and the advice of my mother) too much stress, experienced too frequently, takes its toll on our health. When we’re overwhelmed, we tend to cut back on the self-care practices that would actually help us manage our stresses more effectively–things like maintaining a healthy diet and exercising on the regular. I know I’m guilty of it (and, dang it, the guilt makes me feel more stressed) and these behaviors can lead to health issues down the road, another source of stress.

So how can we give ourselves a break from stress and find a moment of Zen?

It’s important to find ways to give ourselves a time out from the things that are stressing us out. In addition to making sure you eat right, exercise and get plenty of rest, here are a few methods that can help you find some calm and rejuvenation and better weather the storm:

  1. Take a break from the news, hearing all the sensationalized doom and gloom added to oppressive stress. (Don’t worry, if some earth-shattering event occurs, you’ll hear about it.)
  2. Be childish. I don’t mean throw a temper tantrum over how unfair your current upset is. Find an activity that you loved to do as a child and participate in it for a while. I dare you to feel stressed out when you’re swinging in the park or coloring in a Sesame Street activity book.
  3. Take a hot bath. Add a bath product that contains a soothing scent, like lavender, and soak your cares away.
  4. Take a hike, but not in a “take this job and shove it” kind of way. Exercise is a great stress management tool.
  5. Do some yard work. Whipping your yard into submission is cathartic and it makes your home look better, too.
  6. Meditate or practice a meditative act like reading or crafting. Basically, just do anything that shifts your focus and gets the hamster running around in your brain to take a nap.
  7. Laugh. Need a quick pick me up? Go to YouTube and look up “Babies Laughing.” Do it now. It’s impossible not to laugh along with them.
  8. Hang out with friends, but only those who make you feel good. Stay away from frenemies and Debbie Downers.
  9. Participate in a little “armchair travel.” Need a vacation, but can’t take one at the moment? Plan a trip anyway. Learn about some of the places you’d like to visit, watch some travel shows, check out accommodations online, etc. You might even find an option that you can fit into your schedule and budget, making a trip happen sooner than you thought it would!
  10. Drink a hot (non-alcoholic) beverage. Even Dr. Sheldon Cooper understands when people are upset the cultural convention is to offer them a hot beverage.

Because I feel like I’m always carrying around some stress, what tips to you have for me? I’d love to hear what you do to keep your stress under control.

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Bee’s knees salad

Bee's knees salad - Features barley, blueberries, blue cheese and basil

Today’s recipe post is brought to you by farmers, pollinators and the letter B.

Here in the Ohio heartland, we’re in the peak of blueberry season! To celebrate the berry bounty, I made a salad featuring these tasty morsels. Because I’m a fan of alliteration, in addition to the blueberries I used barley, blue cheese and basil in this dish (fortunately for me these ingredients taste as good together as the sound of “B” buzzing in my head did). A sweet/tart mix of honey and lemon juice balances out the savory blue cheese.

I think the result is the bee’s knees. If you give it a go, I’d love to hear what you think!

Bee’s Knees Salad

Makes 6, 1/2 cup servings

2 c. cooked barley (allowed to cool)

1 c. blueberries

1/2 c. crumbled blue cheese

1/4 c. fresh basil, thinly sliced

1/4 c. chopped walnuts

1/4 c. lemon juice

4 T. honey

Pinch salt

Whisk together lemon juice, honey and salt. Add remaining ingredients to a large bowl and toss with lemon and honey mixture.

 

Blowing minds one Tic Tac at a time: How to properly dispense a Tic Tac

Has this situation happened to you? You have dragon breath, so you reach for your tried-and-true breath freshener: Tic Tacs. But when you try to dispense one, you end up with half the container in your hand. Sooooo frustrating.

Well, the folks at Foodbeast have found the solution. Turns out I’ve been dispensing Tic Tacs incorrectly for years. Check out this clever video:

All is not lost: Do this one simple trick and easily find a lost iPhone

Recently, Matt and I went to a birding festival in northwest Ohio called The Biggest Week in American Birding. The highlight of the festival is the boardwalk at the Magee Marsh Wildlife Area. Each May, thousands of people from all over the world flock to the area to walk the boardwalk and watch the warbler migration. You can read more about my experience at the festival here

We were in the middle of our second day of birding and finishing up a break when I reached around to pull my iPhone out of my back pocket and check the list of birds we had seen that day. To my horror, the phone was gone!

My heart sank, my stomach flipped. My phone is my constant companion and it was gone!

Matt and I searched the area around the car. We checked inside every part of the car we could think of. We were parked near the bathroom and I knew it was in my pocket when I walked in, so it had to be on the ground somewhere. Except, it wasn’t.

I asked a few people if they had seen or picked up a phone but no one had. All the pictures, the screen saver of my late dog which I haven’t been able to bear getting rid of, all of my apps, contacts, music and books are on that phone. I had also compiled a list of the birds we saw that weekend–nearly 95–and without my phone, I’d never be able to remember them all!

Rationally, I knew if I bought a new phone I could get everything back from iCloud, and get a spiffy new phone in the deal. But, the irrational part of my mind just wanted my baby back and was ready to harass every person in the park until I found it.

After about twenty minutes of going over the same thirty-foot path from the bathroom to the car, I remembered that when I bought the phone I turned on the “Find My Phone” option. Folks, if you haven’t done this yet stop reading, pick up your iPhone, go to the iCloud option in your settings and turn “Find My iPhone” on. Other smartphone users, I’m guessing you have something comparable. Figure it out and do it now. You’ll thank me later.

“Okay,” I thought to myself. “I have this feature on my phone, now how do I go about using it?” I grabbed Matt’s phone, started Googling and quickly realized there’s an app for that! It’s conveniently called, “Find My iPhone.” This app is the McGruff the Crime Dog of apps. Once downloaded, all I had to do was log in with my Apple ID and it went to work using GPS to locate exactly where my phone was. It showed the phone was at the opposite end of the parking lot. Someone picked it up and took off with it!

Find iPhone app

Someone needs to update her apps.

In addition to the GPS tracker, the app has some other useful features. The first is an option to play a sound on the missing phone. I just tested this and my advice to anyone who has lost their phone is to play this sound as often as possible. It is loud, annoying and might just have the thief offering to pay you to take the phone back. If the phone is within several yards of where you are, you’ll hear it.

The second option allows you to put your phone in lost mode. This locks the phone, prevents it from being activated or erased without your password and allows you to enter a phone number where you can be contacted by the person who has your phone, assuming they are the honest type. The number displays on your lost phone’s screen along with a call button.

The last thing the app can do is erase your phone so no one can hack into it and steal your valuable information. This is obviously a last resort.

I put my phone in lost mode, entered the number to Matt’s phone and started walking to the other end of the parking lot while tapping the “Play Sound” button over and over. (Apologies to anyone who had to listen to that noise.)

Within a few minutes, Matt’s phone rang. The voice on the other end told me he was at a Division of Wildlife tent, he had my phone and it was making a lot of noise, emphasis on “a lot.” He was not amused. It hadn’t been stolen after all! Someone found it on the ground and walked it to the tent in the hopes the owner would come looking for it. We rushed to the tent and I was reunited with the most valuable tool I have ever owned. I simply had to use my password to unlock it and we were back in business.

I learned a few valuable things from this experience.

  • Don’t assume you’ll never lose your phone. It can happen to anyone, anywhere, anytime. Turn on the “Find My iPhone” option and download the app on all of your devices. Now.
  • Technology is the shiznit. It really is our friend (at least until it evolves, becomes sentient and rises up to destroy us all).
  • Birders are wonderful people. I already knew this. Other birders are the reason Matt and I have had the success we have had. They are friendly, enthusiastic about sharing their knowledge and willing to let even the most green and scopeless birder look through their mega-expensive scope at a rare find. I’m now adding honesty to the list of their positive traits.

As soon as my phone was returned to me, I tweeted a message to @BiggestWeek thanking whoever turned it in. I have no idea if the person responsible saw that tweet, or if they will see this post. But, I hope they know that their random act of kindness was greatly appreciated and will never be forgotten. To say thank you and pay it forward, I’ve sent a donation to the Friends of Magee Marsh, an organization that does a wonderful job preserving the Magee Marsh Wildlife Area so that birds can have a place to rest and refuel during migration and the humans can have a place to enjoy all the wonders of nature.

Have you ever lost something valuable and had it returned to you? Please, share your story in the comments section, we’d love to hear it.

P.S. The opinions in this post are completely my own. The Apple Inc. has no idea who I am and has not provided me with any products or compensation to write about their awesomeness. I, however, have probably given Apple more of my money than I should have.