I am a single woman and I like to travel. Nothing too exotic so far, just the usual places on everyone’s bucket list. Because the world is big and I only have so much vacation time (and there are several places I return to again and again), the decision factors are Cost and Safety. Tour groups are great for safety if you are going someplace for the first time, but the “single supplement” often makes it cost prohibitive. The hospitality industry has made great strides in catering to singletons, but it is still easier to manage travel in pairs. In fact, there are a couple of tour groups that were created to solve this problem – they manage guided tours for women and will hook you up with a traveling partner. I still might do that someday.
Last winter, my friend K posted a question on Facebook:
Can a single woman go to the Caribbean for Spring Break and feel safe without spending a fortune? There was a really good discussion thread that concluded..not really. I lamented that she is on a school district schedule, or I’d invite her to winter vacation with me. But late February is as long as I can wait before getting cabin fever in Chicago.
This past Spring, I decided to plan a trip to Europe and I immediately thought of K. We went to high school together, and I can’t say we were particularly tight; “inside school friends” as opposed to “neighborhood friends”. But I’ve always liked her and she has the same problem I have and she lives in the next town over and why in hell haven’t I seen her in 20 years?
So I sent her a message with my thinking and asked if she wanted to have coffee and talk it over. She agreed and we met on a Sunday at the coffee shop in our hometown.
We didn’t shut up for three hours.
Then we traded messages about places we thought we’d want to go and found plenty of common ground. We found flights and hotels and sketched out an itinerary. We’re going to do this.
I really love Facebook.
At a conference last week, I walked in to the hospitality suite to find a group watching Fox News. I almost turned around and left. Somehow, I landed in a discussion about gun control that led to my feverishly Googling for statistics on my phone while my friend Tim did the same on his. I couldn’t find the chart I wanted, so I asked Facebook.
The immediate response from my friends was Get. Out. Of that. Discussion. But Bill found it for me:
Then my friend Steve, a conservative and a scholar, asked me to consider this one:
Which, of course, did not help my argument.
I went several rounds with Tim that night over statistics and several more with Steve the next day on a topic where people are unbelievably entrenched. With Tim, I had to concede that you can generally find statistics to prove anything you want. With Steve, I had to concede that statistics generally don’t prove Cause and Effect. But I left both of those discussions feeling good and believing that there are plenty of people on the other side of this issue that are also trying to be thoughtful and realistic and engaged. Here are my conclusions:
Sometime online, during the election primaries, I was on a thread about how the world is not going to end if “the other one” is elected. No one is really moving to Canada and Texas isn’t actually going to secede from the Union. We’d better find a way to work things out.
I believe I have mentioned that my Awesome Employer sets aside budget money each year for every department to have a group outing. They always involve food and generally involve an activity of some kind. This year, Lisa suggested Cook Cork & Fork, a place in Palatine that teaches groups to cook and then everyone stuffs their faces.
Groups are offered a variety of seasonal menus. Since Lisa and I are the pickiest eaters, process of elimination led us to the Italian menu. Chicken Marsala, herb risotto, grilled vegetables, and tiramisu.
I have been to several places that do cooking classes – which is weird since I really do not cook at home – and the difference with this place was that there was no Front of the Room Demo. We were split into groups and told what to do. I snagged the tiramisu. It was a job so easy that..it was like the first time I saw guacamole made table-side. That’s all there is to it? And they charge what? The most difficult thing is blending the mascarpone and cream just until it is smooth, because if you over blend, it will curdle. And that would suck. But it was so easy and people make such a big deal out of it. The lady fingers are dipped into a mixture of espresso and Kahlua and then you layer it up and put it in the refrigerator.
Then I went to watch the rest of my group. They had finished their prep and were on to cooking up the dishes.
I somehow missed taking pictures of the final products. Except for my tiramisu.
There was plenty of what I call Adult Supervision and everything turned out great. In addition to group events, Cook Cork & Fork has regularly scheduled events for individuals or small groups. They are located in Palatine and I can happily recommend them to grown ups in the Northwest suburbs looking for something to do together.
You might know that I have been vacationing in Hawaii – the Big Island – for the past several winters. And I plan to continue doing so until I run out of miles, points, and money. With each trip, I stay on the Kona side and take a day trip to Volcanoes National Park. Because it is a volcano. And it is active. And that is cool. This is the view from one of my favorite lookout points:
When you walk up to that ledge, and look down, you can see a great big, flat surface of lava rock. And depending on the weather, there are hikers down there. The first time I saw it, I went right back to the car to look at the map and try to figure out how to drive down. I couldn’t figure it out. It took two more trips (there’s other stuff to see!) before I realized that the only way down there is to hike it – the Kilauea Iki Trail. And of course, if you hike down there, you have to hike all the way back up.
This year, I looked at the map and read the stats: four miles and 400 feet – which doesn’t sound bad at all. The catch was “moderate to challenging”. The estimated time to hike the loop is two to three hours. I had one bottle of water and one package of trail mix. It was 10am, the sun was shining and I had stopped to pee a half hour before.
I went for it.
Obviously, the climb back up is physically more difficult. But mentally, when one might still change one’s mind…the entire climb down, there was an argument in my head:
Voice 1: It’s not too late to turn back.
Voice 2: Shut up.
Voice 1: You’re old, you’re fat, you’re out of shape. You think one yoga class a week makes you a hiker?
Voice 2: …..
Voice 1: Look at this pre-Columbian staircase! If your mother could see this…
Voice 2: (starts taking steps two at a time)… (Not really)
Voice 1: You’re going to pass out! In public!
Voice 2: It wouldn’t be the first time! Wouldn’t even be the first time in a National Park!
Strictly speaking, that second part isn’t true, either. But you get the idea.
And then, I was at the bottom of the lava lake.
The trail is not difficult to follow, once you figure out which “stacked rocks” you are supposed to follow. And once you’re at the bottom, there is nothing to do but keep going. I did see a couple of fools hiking around in flip-flops, though. And you know what? The climb back up was not a problem. I turned back for a last look before leaving the rock and getting back on the dirt trail, and I realized that I’d already been climbing. I was all, “That must have been 100 feet! Only 300 more!” It was probably less than half that, but whatever. The steepest part of the climb was more of a natural ramp than stairs, so I picked the right direction for my loop.
This was easily in the Top 10 Best Things I Have Ever Done on Vacation. For 1.4 seconds, I considered taking a selfie. I’m totally doing it again next year.
(Note to self: Parked at the first lot, as opposed to the Lava Tube lot. And turned right, away from the Lava Tube.)
In my continuing mission (or little project) to determine which bath products can be efficiently made at home, I decided to take a shot at the exfoliators. After making hand soap, it seemed like it would be simple enough to find a decent formula and my aesthetician says it will help with leg waxes if I exfoliate more often.
The ones I have used are generally based in some kind of oil and use either sugar or salt in various concentrations to slough off dead skin in the shower. After spending some time on Pinterest, I found that it really is that I already have all of the ingredients for a basic formula in the house:
Sugar – Plain white granulated
Obviously, there are plenty of fancier ones, with Vitamin E and other types of oil, or raw sugar, but this was good enough for a first try. I’m sorry I can’t tell you exactly how much oil I used with the sugar, because it was a bit of a “whatever is left in the jar” experiment. But since I like my scrubs more grainy and less oily, I’m sure it was more that 50/50 in favor of the sugar.
So I stirred the sugar into a bunch of coconut oil.. The biggest trick was to break up the clumps of coconut oil without touching, and therefore melting it. When it was good and blended, I dropped in some scented oils. Two parts lemongrass, one part orange, if I remember correctly – citrusy goodness. Gently stirred it a bit longer and then spooned the mixture into my containers. I had a small mason jar handy and also washed out an old travel sized scrub container from The Body Shop.
Result: my mother loved it, but suggested that if we used a bit of Castile Soap in the mixture, it would feel less greasy. Yeah. Danger of slipping if used in the shower straight up.
Other recipes I have seen use honey, or lemon/lime/orange zest in the mix. Some have even used coarsely ground coffee beans. But this was a good enough start that I don’t think I need to buy this stuff commercially anymore. Win.
My first stop in the Hunt for Decent Chocolate was Rocket Fizz, the candy store in the Glen Town Center. Its niche is specialty candy and sodas. I walked in the door and was greeted immediately. I replied with, “American chocolate is crap!”
“Yes it is,” a young man replied. “Follow me.”
On a table toward the back of the store, he showed me a collection of international brands. This included a Hershey bar that was made in Canada. Since I understood British Cadbury and American Cadbury to be different, I presumed the same was true of American Hershey and Canadian Hershey. I decided to try that, and something called “Magic Stars”. Then the young man pointed me to the corner with some higher end American chocolate, saying, “It really isn’t all crap.” So I grabbed one of those, too.
On the way to my book club that weekend, I bought a plain old Hershey bar and decided that we would all taste test it. We all agreed that the Canadian version was more chocolaty and less waxy than the Pennsylvania-made bar. At the same time, it was still milk chocolate, and I think I have finally outgrown milk chocolate.
A week or so later, I tried the Magic Stars. I liked that they came in a bag with small pieces. I might actually decide to eat less than an entire bag. And they were very tasty. But again, milk chocolate. Time to hit the dark stuff.
I was flying to I-forget-where one morning and I wandered by the Vosges store at O’Hare. Fancy-fancy stuff. But they did have bars of chocolate, including a dark chocolate with Hawaiian sea salt and caramel. Sold. For seven dollars.
Very tasty. It has just the right amount of salt and the chocolate was very smooth. The caramel was very tasty, but it was the liquid kind, as opposed to the chewy kind. There might be some gourmet reason why this kind of caramel is better, but I was travelling and trying to break off a square or two was..messy. And anyway, at seven dollars a bar it was more than I really wanted to pay. The search continued.
For many years, we have been shameless consumers of Bath & Body Works Foaming Hand Soap. It is so easy! It smells so pretty! You can always get a double discount!
Then last week, out of complete nowhere, all three of the sinks in my house were on their last bottles and there was no phone app discount to be found. I started muttering to myself about how much plastic we waste buying that stuff and anti-bacterial blahblahblah is supposed to be bad for you anyway and I don’t really have to have the instant foaming soap…
I wonder if I can just make my own?
Last winter, I had a similar mini-tantrum about the mass consumption of body butter in my house. I found a recipe and made my own. In the end, I decided:
(And then I discovered massage bars at Lush, but that’s another story.)
I kinda figured that I would land in a similar spot with the hand soap, but I looked online and found a ridiculously simple formula without even trying. Then I took a look in that section of Whole Foods. A great big bottle of Castile soap was.. $12 or $13. I still had that bottle of essential oil from last winter and I liked it a lot, but while I was on this kick I bought a bottle of peppermint. Incidentally, Castile soap has its own scents, but since I was buying the big bottle I went with Unscented.
But what about the container? Whole Foods only had one tiny bottle with a soap dispenser. I figured I could just reuse an old one in my house. So the total cost of this experiment was in the neighborhood of $20.
I rinsed out the old dispenser and put in a bit of the Castile soap. Then I shook in some essential oil and filled the bottle almost to the top with water. It didn’t take much to mix the liquids. The post said the soap would be much thinner than we are used to, which was true. Then I wondered..could I just use this formula in a foaming dispenser?
Why yes, I can!
The foam isn’t quite as..fluffy as the commercial brands I’ve tried, and I use a bit more each time I wash my hands. Three pumps instead of one or two. Still waaaaaaayy less expensive than buying bottles of the stuff. I made four bottles of this mixture and barely put a dent into the big container of Castile Soap.
Further online “research” suggested a few things:
Overall, I am very pleased. My mother was thinking “stocking stuffers” and went to Amazon and found some foaming dispensers. For gifting, I think that’s the way to go. But I will be re-using for as long as I can.
Now I am wondering if I can do my own hand cream…
It started with an article in Vanity Fair magazine entitled The Bitter, Not-Sweet Cadbury-Chocolate War. From the May, 2015 issue which I read…probably mid-July. The summary reads, “British-expat enclaves across America are furious over a recent move to halt the import of U.K.-manufactured Cadbury chocolate, the nostalgic English childhood treat. The villain? Hershey, which licenses the Cadbury name for chocolate made in the U.S.”
In the article, a British-expat running a small tearoom/British grocery in New York is interviewed. She says, in short, that American chocolate is crap and Hershey’s in particular is like biting into a bar of wax.
A few weeks later, I was craving chocolate at work, so I picked up one of those little Special Dark bars from a lady who keeps a permanent stash at her desk.
It was like biting into a bar of wax.
A week or so later, I was having lunch with a couple of colleagues in a strip mall that also contained a Fannie May candy store. Lisa hadn’t had…something in awhile, so we went in and she got me an almond cluster.
It tasted waxy.
I walked over to Lisa’s desk, wondering if I was just so terribly vulnerable to the power of suggestion. Lisa said that her chocolate also tasted wrong and are they going cheap since they re-organized a few years ago? And it all went downhill from there. She said that even the baking chocolate she has used for years (famous brownies) tastes wrong. We speculated about the coming global shortage of cocoa beans.
We have vowed to find the solution.