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Troglodyte House, Poce-sur-Cisse, France

Hello again!

We’ve been away on a 3-week long trip to France and now that we are back it’s time to go through the photos. I always liked the idea of traveling with children, but it turns out that I find organizing for that many people stressful, so we kept putting it off.  Finally, I noticed that my oldest was 18 and if we wanted to do a major, whole-family trip, I had better act now.

For our first three days we stayed in a ‘troglodyte house’, a home partially built into the limestone hillside behind it.  I really love the idea that if you ever thought your house was too small you could just continue to dig into it and make it bigger.


This one has some remnants of an old wine press in it.  The back rooms were wonderfully cool, which we enjoyed because temperatures in France were very hot for our entire stay. A house two down from this one was for sale, and while we loved staying there, the rooms are also perpetually damp and that might get old after a while.

Church and canal in Poce-sur-Cisse
Outside the troglodyte house at night.

This little canal and bridge was in town, near the patisserie. It did not take much time at all for us to get used to the ubiquitous presence of fresh daily baguettes and pastries within walking distance.  The baguettes were inexpensive, generally .8 euros or less, which is FAR less than I would expect to pay for them in the US.

At night it was very quiet and dark, all the street lamp went out at midnight giving a good view of the sky.   In the early morning we saw hot-air balloons in the distance.  When we had free time at home, we listened to “Coffee Break French” podcast to try to prepare ourselves for actual conversations.

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Winthrop and the Methow Valley

We went on a rafting trip on the Methow River this weekend.  The river was a bit too rough for me to drag the camera out regularly, but I was playing around with night scenes and exposure length.

Trying to catch the “blue hour” in Winthrop, WA
This mountain looks like the Black Gate of Mordor. I have concerns.
Playing around some more with a darker sky and the light in the clouds.
Pretty cloud
Diablo Lake
4 second exposure of the lake at night. I really like how the sky turned out but I was having trouble with focus.
These ducks had no fear. I do not have a telephoto lens.
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This soap turned out beautifully, and I think the name is funny AND I’ve been spending way too much time trying to think of labels for it.

Now the fragrance is called “blue sugar” which I gather is a famous fragrance but the name mostly reminds me of this:

If I had to describe it, I’d say it smells like “masculine cotton candy”.  With that description in mind, my friend started calling it “man candy” and that name ALSO amuses me, but makes me think of this:

Alas, I cannot use either of those on a soap label, so my next thought was to follow-up on that theme.  Maybe the statue of Leonidas?  Or maybe this?

But then, my best Man Candy fan came through with a suggestion and the labels will look like this:




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I’ve been following the eruption of Kilauea while at the same time, planning our fall camping trip to Mount St Helens.  I knew from previous trips about the difference between a’a and pahoehoe but the recent footage has given some really great visual examples of it in action, rather than the cold and plant-covered versions I’ve seen locally.

Here’s a video that shows the difference.

On the way back from the Ape Cave we saw a big pile of clinkers. This time, knowing what it is, I’ll be sure to take more pictures.

2,000 years ago, a smooth basalt flow ran through a forest on the south side of Mt St Helens. It smothered the trees which then burned or rotted away, leaving behind casts in the stone.  It is now covered by another forest.

This was once the trunk and root of a tree.
A new tree grows where the old one stood.
Before I knew how these were formed, the perfectly round holes were baffling.
Lave covered this fallen log, leaving the impression of its bark. This one is large enough to crawl through.

Pahoehoe flows sometimes form lava tubes when the outsides cool, but the molten center continues to drain away.  There are many on the south of St Helens. Ape Cave is one, and it is over a mile long.

A small lava tube
A large lava tube. (Ape Cave)
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Shampoo Bar Thoughts & Review

My experimental musing have turned toward shampoo bars and I’d like to share some of my experiences with using a ‘hair soap’ or ‘solid shampoo bar’ or whatever you’d like to call it.

Advantages: The main advantage for me, is that a solid bar doesn’t have to be stored in a bottle.  It can’t leak, I can take it on the airplane and I’m not generating more plastic waste that will wind up in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. I  have complete control over the ingredients so I can test out the advantages of avoiding silicones or detergents. And in my case there is also a bit of “what kind of sucker am I, buying shampoo when I have ALL THE SOAP MAKING OILS right here in my house??”

Thus, I took the plunge.   For my first recipe I made one that was designated for ‘normal to dry hair’, the fatty acid profile looked like it would have lather, high conditioning and contained a high proportion of shea butter, avocado oil and sweet almond oil.  It looks fantastic.  I made that one, and at the same time I saw a positive review of a soap made with 100% coconut oil and a slightly higher-than-normal superfat*.  I tried that one too, tossing in a mix of essential oils and fragrance oils that were leftover from a previous soap batch.


Avocado-almond-shea (square) from the original batch and a later, round batch. I think this looks like a lego face with big hair.

Avocado-Almond: I’d never used a ‘hair soap’ before so I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I used the Almond-avocado bar first, working up a lather in my hand first and then rubbing it on my head. I knew not to expect the same ‘squeaky’ feel that I get from regular shampoo.  It generated a reasonable lather, and I used it twice, leaving behind a feel that I’d call ‘moderately grippy’. I didn’t feel like I could leave it at that, so I used some conditioner as usual.  And… I liked it.  My hair felt soft, everything seemed clean. Except for the feel in the shower it seemed identical to using any random shampoo.  I used it about 3-4 times.  After the first wash, the grippy feel lessened.

Coconut shampoo bar with accidental “froot loops” scent. I will never be able to duplicate this.

All Coconut: I admit – I expected this to be too drying.  I make 100% coconut bars with a 20% superfat and they lather like crazy, but I find them a bit drying on my skin in the winter.  This bar, with a lower superfat percentage, I was sure would be drying.   I was wrong!  I was so wrong.  It was amazing – it lather felt just like my favorite shampoo, it rinsed out cleaner, and while I still needed conditioner, my hair felt soft and amazing.

After two weeks of use my hair felt a bit ‘stiff’ for want of a better word, and on the next wash, I used a cider vinegar rinse. That cleared everything up and gave a much ‘slicker’ feel in the shower when I was rinsing off.  (It can also make the shower floor slick, so be careful).

I’ve been using nothing else except these two shampoo bars for months now and I’m very pleased with the results.  My hair is very straight and fine, neither dry nor oily (I think) but starting to turn gray.  Now that it’s getting gray I’ve noticed it’s been less ‘sleek’ for some time now.  My shampoo didn’t fix that, nor did it make it worse.

80-20 unscented coconut that was sitting on my kitchen sink

80/20 Coconut  Today I thought – I wonder if that roughness I’ve noticed is because it’s too dry.  I considered trying a deep oil treatment (did I mention I have all the oils?), but I’m lazy and instead I decided to try one of my regular 20% coconut bars and a vinegar rinse and see what happens.


It was FANTASTIC!  Why have I not tried this before? It lathered just as much as the lower superfat, that ‘grippy’ feeling in my hair was more noticeable, but after the vinegar rinse and just a bit of conditioner there’s a noticeable improvement/reduction in ‘flyaway’ factor.

Other experiences: I handed out samples of both shampoo bars to friends.  Most preferred the coconut bar to the avocado-almond.  The exception was someone who has very fine, dry hair, who is happy with the avocado-almond.  I am still getting more feedback from testers with different hair types.

Final thoughts: I wonder now if I was too quick to dismiss the Avocado bar.  The grippy feeling that I didn’t like so much might be retained oils and could be contributing to what I liked so much about the 80/20 bar.  Clearly more research is needed.

Cider Vinegar Rinse:  1/4 cup apple cider vinegar, 1 cup hot/warm water.  Optional – instead of using plain water, make a peppermint & nettle tea (or use the herbs of your choice)



*A typical superfat is 5%, and the number represents how much ‘extra’ oils are added to the recipe over what is needed to fully react with the lye (and convert all the oils to soap).

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Random musings and even more soap

I’ve been doing all sorts of exciting outdoor adventures, but I haven’t brought the camera so, alas, I cannot share.

I got my kayak out to a new lake and did a 6 mile loop at a leisurely pace (and got a sunburn because of that classic reason: it was cloudy out).  And for my birthday I got some kayak toys – hully rollers to put the kayak on top of the car (which I can now do by myself!) and this cool deck compass.  It’s probably overkill, but I have ideas about leading some short expeditions between islands and it seems like a good thing to have for that.  Right now I’m just playing with it.

My youngest daughter has been afraid to ride her bicycle ever since she fell onto the bar hard a year ago. In the last week, she went with her dad to a bicycle repair shop, where, apparently, they worked some sort of magic by showing her how bicycles work and letting her ‘repair’ one.  She is now super enthusiastic about riding. She still will only try to ride her own, older bike, that’s too small for her, but she completed an 11 mile ride with the family WITHOUT COMPLAINING.

This warranted an ice cream reward and we’re going to plan more small and easy trips with fun things at the end to encourage more.

The mango-lassi soap cured out somewhat tan in the ‘white’ areas – apparently it contains some vanilla – but it still looks good and is ready to ship out.

And then yesterday I made a new soap “Man Candy”!  The scent is actually called “Blue Sugar” and is described as “masculine cotton candy” but that was too much for my friends to remember and so it is now Man Candy.  I did another in-the-pot swirl and I really like the way it turned out.

And I cleared some space in the chaos that is my garage – so now I can mostly walk through it.  That’s progress.

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Sunday Soaps

Blackberry-Basil, aka “Fantasy Berry” is officially ready to ship out!

I also have a small batch of my unscented, uncolored, shea & cocoa butter soap that is ready to ship out, but I haven’t figured out what to call it.  I typically name the soaps after the fragrance and/or a notable ingredient.  I could call it “shea & cocoa” but in this case I think the “unscented” part is a selling point for people with allergies. I’ve seen these called “Plain Jane” or “Minimalist”, but nothing is grabbing me.

Even without scent, I find I like this one rather a lot.  The pure soap cured out and smells vaguely of graham crackers to me.  I’d noticed this before in an oatmeal-honey soap, but I thought it was coming from the honey.

Now I’m just thinking of ridiculous names.  “Sin Nombre” sounds rather dangerous, doesn’t it?  It’s also what they called one of the Hanta Virus outbreaks in the 90’s, so maybe not. My husband is suggesting a marketing campaign around “I rode through the desert with a soap with no name.”  Or something using this guy:

No Face

I probably need to work on marketing skills.

Today’s plan is for me to make a decision about the name and then make one or two batches of Manly soaps that should be ready for Father’s Day.

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It feels like I only go into the city when we have visitors, but we did, and I did.  Of course we had to go to Pike Market and Seattle Center (on the monorail! – it’s the best way!)

Obligatory shot of Pike Market sign

Seattle Center
Pacific Science Center

From the monorail

Final shot.  I have a thing for amusing signs and this guy looks like there’s just been some sort of Urgent Diaper Emergency.

Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb
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Whidbey Island

Whenever we have guests from out of town and I’m looking for a day trip, this is one of my favorites.  We start by driving up to Deception Pass and walk out over the bridge to Pass Island.

View from about mid-span.

The current through the narrow channel can reach 8 knots at peak flow. I’ve been kayaking near there before but never through the pass itself.  This time there was a series of standing waves west of the bridge and high winds, which made crossing a white-knuckle experience.  I was afraid to look through the viewfinder, so this picture was taking by just pointing the camera in a direction and hoping it caught something good.

From the bridge we headed downhill into the park for a walk along the beach and a look at the ancient (800+ year old) douglas fir.  We’ve heard this called the “Monkey Tree” but I have no idea where that name comes from (we did fill it with our own little monkeys).

Then it was on to the hike itself.

A different wind-contorted tree with ukulele player
Ebey’s Landing
Looking up the bluff

Then our final stop was Fort Casey where we flew kites and let the kids run around in the tunnels. For some reason I always forget to take photos at Fort Casey, but here’s my dog looking alert in front of the old battery.

From there we headed south to the ferry for a short hop back to the mainland.

The only thing that would make this trip better is if it could be done in reverse so you wound up by Snow Goose Produce for gigantic ice cream cones on the way home.

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Red Cabbage Science

My youngest daughter needed a science experiment for school and I suggested we try something that I knew would give us pretty colors.

Red cabbage contains anthocyanin which changes colors based on pH.  So we got ourselves a red cabbage, chopped it up and added the juice to various substances.  (Science is here.)

After straining, get dark purple juice

The control solution was distilled water and then we tried various other things that were either acids or bases.  This particular indicator makes all acids red, but bases range from blue to green to yellow.  The colors were more vivid than I expected.  The only thing I’d change if we did it again is I’d pour some BIG jars of the indicator liquid (more dilute perhaps) and add our test substances to that, it seems to give more impressive results.

The final array:


And just for me, I wanted to test the pH of some of my soap.

Immediately after the drop was placed
After 1 minute

If we repeat this experiment I will use a LOT more solution to get a bigger color impact and I will look for something that will give me green (ammonia perhaps?).