Soap Fundraiser Update

In my last post, I announced that I was trying to raise some money by selling soap (and accepting donations) to help with back rent that accumulated when I was unable to work due to a health condition.

First, I want to say thank you to everyone who supported me by donating, buying soap, or even simply sharing my post. I was able to raise over $700!

For now, I haven’t been evicted, but I am not out of the woods yet. I need to come up with more money by this Friday. My initial goal of $1000 was really the minimum I needed to raise in order to ensure that our housing is secure, and I am not quite there.

So I am continuing the fundraiser until my goal is met.

I make enough money to keep up with my current bills, and I am keeping on top of my illness, so things do not get as severe as they did before. But I do not have a lot of “extra” money to put toward the arrearage. If I could knock some more of it out, it would be a huge stress relief and allow me to focus on being well.

For those of you who bought soap, I’ve been working hard to fulfill all the soap orders. The soaps are currently drying and hardening, before they can be shipped.

soap

Please consider buying some soap or making a donation! It would really help my family out, and when things are stable for me, I will pay it forward.

Suggested donation is $5 per bar, minimum. However, if you are only ordering one bar, please add a couple of dollars for shipping.

Click this button to donate or order soap. Please specify which fragrance you would like: Almond, Sweet Pea, Mint, Sandalwood Vanilla, or Oatmeal, Milk & Honey.




 

If you have a PayPal account, sending money via PayPal directly to ctensel@gmail.com will avoid fees.

Thank you for reading this. Please share with your social networks!

.

Buy My Soap, Save My Home: A Fundraiser

This has been a difficult year for me. I have had to accept that a recurring health problem I have been having over the years is actually a chronic condition that I will have to struggle with for the rest of my life.

I have had a lot of ups and downs, a situation made more difficult by the fact that I am a single, self-employed mother of three. When I was not able to work enough (or at all on really bad days) for stretches of time, I got behind on bills. I do not have the luxury of sick days, and I have no partner to share the burden.

But things are stable now. I have good doctors working with me. I have sufficient work, and it is manageable. My finances look OK moving forward, and over time, as I can save a little money, “OK” will progress to “good.”

The problem is that I still owe some back rent, and my landlord is starting the eviction process if I can’t come up with a substantial amount of it this week.

So, I am selling homemade soap in an effort to raise money to prevent our eviction.

The soap is made by hand by me in small batches, using olive and coconut oils and natural colorants. The fragrances are very gentle, but are not all natural. I do offer unscented.

You can pay any price you want, but please do not pay less than $5, which is a typical price for this type of soap. If I sell it for less than that, I won’t be making the money I need.

If you just want to buy the soap for $5 per bar, that’s great. If you want to, and are able to, help more by paying more, that’s great too. (If you only want 1 bar, please consider adding a couple of dollars for shipping.)

If you want to help, but can’t afford to buy $5 soap, please share this on your social networks.

If I can raise $1000, I can stop the eviction process. If I can raise more than that, and pay off my full arrears, then I can focus on getting better and working on keeping things stable, as I move ahead.

This is a soap I made in the past, shown as an example.

How To Buy or Donate

You can buy soap—or make a donation—by clicking the “Donate” button below. Your payment will be processed securely by PayPal. You do not need a PayPal account.

In the message area of the donation page, please specify how many bars of soap you want and what type(s). If you just want to give money, but not receive soap, please indicate that as well.

Fragrance Choices:

  • Unscented
  • Oatmeal, Milk, and Honey
  • Almond
  • Sweet Pea (a mild floral scent)
  • Sandalwood Vanilla (a sweet, yet earthy fragrance, suitable for men or women)
  • Lemon Sugar Cookie (a sweet fragrance with notes of sugar, lemon, and Madagascar vanilla)

Due to the vanilla content in most of these fragrances, most of the soaps will naturally be some shade of brown or tan. I often add some white to create a swirl, as in the photo above. Each batch will be unique.

If there is a fragrance you really want, feel free to email (info@charitysdiylife.com) and see if I have it. I also have tons of colors that I could use, as well. I don’t mind doing custom orders, even for one or two bars.

I will be making several batches over the long weekend, and the soap should be ready to ship the following week. Homemade soap takes some time to dry and harden.

I have set it up as a donation, but it is not tax deductible because I am not a charity, even though I am a Charity.




If you can buy even one bar, it would be so much help. Even if you can’t, please consider sharing this. Thank you for taking the time to read this and for any support you have to offer.

Another old soap pic. The specks are coffee grounds.

Unschooling Works, But How Do We Know It’s Working?

Obligatory kid photo

Obligatory kid photo

The other day, I was looking at math curricula for my 10-year-old son, at his request. He has never been to school a day in his life, and he has been unschooled pretty much all along, although it started out as “delaying formal education” and sort of turned into unschooling as my parenting/educational philosophy evolved.

I found a math curriculum that looked interesting, and he took a placement test. The placement test had him in the sixth grade book. If he were in public school, he would be in the fifth grade.

I was about to post on my personal facebook page: “E tested out of the math book for his grade, even though he’s never had any formal math education. #unschoolingworks.”

But then I started thinking about what that statement implies. If an unschooled child does not test out of the math book for his grade, does that mean that unschooling doesn’t work?

The short answer is no.

The long answer is also no, but it comes with lot of other words after it about children’s individual development, interests, strengths, and weaknesses.

The thing about unschooling is that its success can’t be measured using the tools we use to measure the success of traditional schooling, just like you can’t use a ruler to measure the flour for your cookies.

Part of the reason the E excels at math is because (1) he’s interested in it and (2) I have a BA in math because I like math that much. As a result of my loving math—and his loving math—math is incorporated into our day-to-day lives pretty heavily. I challenge anyone to find an activity that I can’t turn into a math-teaching moment.

But notice which reason I listed first: He’s interested in it. Because this is the crux of understanding why E has advanced math skills. If he didn’t enjoy it, my injecting it into everyday activities would be unbearable for him—and for me as well.

If I’m being honest about how well unschooling works for him, I have to admit that his reading is not advanced; it’s not even at grade level. The reason is that he wasn’t interested in learning to read until recently.

But having a child who is “behind” isn’t an indicator of unschooling’s failure, which is why I didn’t post that facebook status about the math placement test.

E isn’t behind anything. Unschooling isn’t measured by traditional schooling standards, so there isn’t a grade level at which he should be reading. There is an E level, his level. And he’s at that level.

Now, I am not saying that there is no way to gauge the success of unschooling. One way is by watching the everyday growth and development of the child. I know E isn’t a good reader, but he is good at thinking, solving problems, speaking (amazing vocabulary, that one), imagining, creating, asking thought-provoking questions, and so on. All of these things indicate a child who is learning and developing into an intelligent and inquisitive person. So, I was confident that he could learn the skill of reading when the time came that he was ready.

The real measure of unschooling’s success doesn’t come until the child is fully developed, that is, when he’s an adult. After all, we are raising future adults. That’s the point, the endgame in parenting.

So, when you use a method that doesn’t run on a predetermined time table, one where all the parts happen here and there on the child’s individual schedule, you can’t see the finished work until the end.

You can’t judge a mosaic before it’s put together or, worse, judge it by the broken pieces of glass and ceramic that the artist is going to use to put it together.

But this is the part about unschooling that scares parents the most. I think it’s because if we don’t find out until then that we’ve screwed up, then it’s too late to fix it.

That’s why we have the first way I mentioned to gauge how we’re doing.

When you spend every day with your child, watching him or her grow and develop, and learn and play, and think and create, you know what your child is capable of. Trust that. Trust yourself. And most of all, trust your child.

Everyone worried about E not knowing how to read. My ex-husband and I have both had countless arguments with family and “concerned” friends and strangers. But we knew that he was a smart kid, and that he would get it when he was ready. And he did.

He’s not at grade level, but he did just progress through at least 3 or 4 grades’ worth of reading in a year’s time. So, there’s no doubt that he’ll get there, and then some.

I trust that.

Or, as I say to those who doubt it, “Do you really think such an intelligent, articulate, inquisitive kid is going to voluntarily go through life never learning how to read?” The answer is always no. Because it’s silly to walk away from talking to this kid and think he’ll be anything less than a functioning adult, probably much more.

And that’s how I know that unschooling works.

chai truffle

Chai-Infused Dark Chocolate Truffles with Toasted Almonds

chai-infused trufflesI’ve been wanting to experiment with infusing chocolate truffles with different flavors, ever since a friend of mine posted a video about it on Facebook. I decided that, since I was making truffles as a Valentine’s Day gift, I would give it a whirl.

I wanted to use what I had on hand, so I came up with the idea of steeping chai tea bags in the cream. I used Bigelow Spiced Chai Tea, but you can use any brand or even make your own.

The truffle recipe calls for 1/2 cup of cream. I heated it until it just started to bubble around the edges, and then I put 4 tea bags in it and left them there while the cream cooled. I squeezed as much cream as I could out of the tea bags, being careful not to break them, and discarded the tea bags.

chai creamI poured the chai cream back into my measuring cup and added more cream to bring it back up to 1/2 cup. This is the cream I used to make the truffles. It had a nice aroma of chai spices that was very present.

If you already know how to make truffles, you can skip the next two paragraphs.

You make truffles by chopping up high-quality dark chocolate (I used Scharffen Berger Semisweet Dark Chocolate, with 62% cacao), heating the cream until bubbles start to form around the edges of the pot, and pouring the hot cream over the chocolate. Let the mixture sit for about 5-10 minutes, and then gently stir with a whisk, until it is smooth. This is the ganache.

hot cream and chocolateOnce the ganache cools—I put mine in the fridge for about 30 minutes—you scoop it and roll it into small balls. These are your truffles, which you then roll in cocoa powder, chopped nuts, or whatever you want. You can even dip them in chocolate to form that hard coating that commercial truffles have.

rolling truffles in almondsI decided to roll mine in toasted and chopped almonds. I thought the nutty, earthy flavor would be a nice complement to the chai spices, and boy, was I right. I hate to brag, but these truffles came out great!

chai truffle

Chai-Infused Dark Chocolate Truffles with Toasted Almonds

What you need:

  • 8 oz quality dark chocolate
  • 1/2 cup cream, plus about 1/4 cup more due to cream absorbed by tea bags
  • 4 chai tea bags
  • 3/4 cup sliced almonds

What you do:

  • First make the chai-infused cream. Pour 1/2 cup heavy cream into a sauce pan. Heat the cream until small bubbles form around the edges, just shy of boiling. Submerge 4 chai tea bags into the cream. Steep until cream cools. Gently squeeze the cream out of the tea bags, and discard them.
  • While the cream is steeping, prepare your chocolate. Chop it into very small pieces, and place it in a heat-proof bowl. Set aside.
  • Pour the chai cream into a measuring cup, and bring it back up to 1/2 cup by adding additional cream. Heat the cream, as above, and pour it over your prepared chocolate. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes.
  • Gently stir the chocolate and cream with a whisk, until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate about 30 minutes. You want the ganache to be firm enough to roll into balls, but not too firm to scoop.
  • While the ganache is cooling, toast the sliced almonds in a 400-degree oven until fragrant and lightly browned. Keep an eye on them so they don’t over brown. Allow to cool, and chop finely.
  • Remove the ganache from the refrigerator. Using a teaspoon for smaller truffles or a tablespoon or dough scoop for larger ones, scoop the ganache and roll into balls. This step is very messy. Refrigerate for about 10 minutes because they will be soft from handling.
  • Remove from the refrigerator, and roll the balls in the chopped toasted nuts.
  • Keep refrigerated in a sealed container.

IMG_20140214_184234

Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to like Charity’s DIY Life on Facebook for the latest posts and other things.

 

First Attempt at Baked Donuts

I finally bought a donut pan, and this was my first attempt at baked donuts. They came out ok, but there was something off about the glaze, and I wasn’t 100% happy with the donut recipe either. I want to work on it some more before I post a recipe, but here’s a picture.

Have you tried baked donuts? What kind did you make?

ganache tart

Simple Mini Chocolate Ganache Tarts with Fresh Raspberries

These little ganache tarts are so easy to make, and they taste delicious. They do not have that easy to make taste that you get with many short-cut recipes. That’s because they are made with real chocolate and cream, giving them a rich, decadent flavor.

Simple Ganache Tart

I used pre-made mini graham cracker crusts, which make this recipe a snap, but you could use whatever you want: homemade graham cracker crusts, pie crust, puff pastry cups, phyllo cups, or anything you can think of.

mini graham cracker crusts

Making ganache is so simple. You just chop up the chocolate. (I used half semisweet and half bittersweet, but you can use all of one kind.) Heat up the cream to just boiling, and pour it over the chopped chocolate. Then you let it sit for about 10 minutes. Stir until smooth with a whisk, scraping the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, if necessary.

chocolate and cream

Pour the ganache into the pie crusts. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours. Top with fresh raspberries or whatever you wish.

Ganache Tart with Raspberries

Mini Chocolate Ganache Tarts with Fresh Raspberries

What you need:

  • 8 oz chocolate (semisweet, bittersweet, or half of each)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 package of 6 mini graham cracker crusts (such as Keebler) or other prepared pastry
  • Fresh raspberries or other toppings

What you do:

  • Chop up the chocolate into small pieces, place it in a bowl, and set aside.
  • Heat the cream and salt in a small sauce pan until just boiling.
  • Pour cream over chocolate. Let it sit undisturbed for 10 minutes.
  • Stir the chocolate and cream mixture with a whisk, until smooth. You may need to scrape the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula to incorporate everything.
  • Divide the ganache evenly between your prepared crusts.
  • Chill in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours.
  • Top with fresh raspberries.
  • Enjoy!

ganache tart

 

Tiramisu Truffles

Valentine’s Day Vanilla Wafer Mocha Cookie Balls

I’m going to tell you a secret about Valentine’s Day. You can make any recipe into a Valentine’s Day recipe by (1) making it heart-shaped, (2) putting hearts on it, or (3) making it red or pink—or any combination of the three.

These Vanilla Wafer Mocha Cookie Balls can be made anytime of the year. Adding a chocolate heart on top and putting them in red heart mini cupcake papers make them adorable Valentine’s Day treats.

Vaneltines Day Tiramisu Truffles

First you mix together cream cheese, crushed vanilla wafers, and instant mocha powder. Then you roll the mixture into balls.

Rolled Cookie BallsMelt together white chocolate and more instant mocha powder.

Melted White Chocolate with Mocha Then dip the chilled balls into the white chocolate.

Dipped BallsMelt some semi-sweet chocolate, put it in a pastry bag, and add hearts or another design.

Tiramisu Truffles

Vanilla Wafer Mocha Cookie Balls

Makes 12-14. Recipe can be doubled.

What you need:

  • 40 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 30 vanilla wafers, finely crushed
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons instant mocha powder, divided (I used Maxwell House International Cafe, Suisse Mocha)
  • 6 oz white chocolate
  • 2 oz semi-sweet chocolate

What you do:

Mix the cream cheese, vanilla wafer crumbs, and 1/2 tablespoon of mocha powder. Blend very well. (I used my hands to get it really well mixed.) Roll 1 tablespoon scoops of the mixture into balls. You should get about 14 balls. Place them in the freezer while you prepare the white chocolate.

Melt the 6 oz of white chocolate and mix in the remaining tablespoon of mocha powder, until smooth and blended. Dip the chilled balls into the white chocolate mixture, fully coat, and tap off the excess. Place them on a wax paper-lined cookie sheet to set.

Melt the 2 oz of semi-sweet chocolate and put in a pastry bag or plastic sandwich bag with the corner snipped off. Squeeze the chocolate on to the tops of the balls to make hearts or another design. Chill for 1 hour in the refrigerator.

Heart Brownies with White Chocolate Raspberry Swirl

Heart-Shaped Brownies with White Chocolate Raspberry Sauce Swirl for Your Valentine

These brownies are sweet and fudgy. The tartness from the raspberry sauce provides a nice flavor contrast and a lovely pink swirl befitting Valentine’s Day. Use a heart-shaped cookie cutter to really show the love.

ingredients

What you need:

Brownie Batter –

  • 4 oz. unsweetened chocolate
  • 1 + 1/2 sticks butter
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup flour

White Chocolate Raspberry Sauce –

  • 4 oz white chocolate
  • 1 tablespoon heavy cream
  • 6 oz container of fresh raspberries
  • 1/4 teaspoons vanilla

Raspberry Brownies

What you do:

Put the chocolate and butter into a microwave-safe bowl and heat for 2 minutes. Alternately, melt it in a bowl set over simmering water. Stir the butter and chocolate together until melted and smooth. Stir in the sugar. Add eggs and vanilla and stir well. Stir in the flour.

Line a 9×13 baking pan with foil. Butter it or spray it with cooking spray. Pour half of the brownie batter into the pan and smooth.

To make the white chocolate raspberry sauce, melt the white chocolate in the microwave or bowl set over simmering water. Meanwhile, mash up the raspberries. Add 1 tablespoon of cream, 1/4 teaspoon vanilla, and the raspberries to the chocolate, and mix until smooth.

Drop 1/4 cup of the white chocolate raspberry sauce in dollops around the batter, and swirl with a knife. Pour the remaining brownie batter on top. You may have to spoon mounds of it on and spread it after, if the batter is thick. Repeat the white chocolate raspberry swirl. You might not need all of it (but it’s so good that I’m sure you’ll find a use for it).

Bake 35-40 minutes. You want the batter to be set, but try not to over-bake. A toothpick inserted near the center should come out with fudgy crumbs not raw batter.

Allow the brownies to fully cool. Use a metal heart-shaped cookie cutter to cut out heart shapes, or cut into squares.

Heart Brownies with White Chocolate Raspberry Swirl

valentines day peanut butter cookies

Peanut Butter Cookies with Chocolate Hearts

I have never been a big fan of peanut butter cookies with chocolate kisses because of the inferiority of the chocolate. These peanut butter cookies with Dove dark chocolate hearts are a huge improvement, and they are great for Valentine’s Day.

I love the following peanut butter cookies recipe because the brown sugar gives the finished cookies a nice hint of molasses flavor, but you can do this method with your favorite PB cookies recipe or mix.Peanut Butter Cookies with Chocolate Heart

What you need:

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 4 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 cup packed dark (or light) brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 36 chocolate hearts (I used Dove dark chocolate hearts)

What you do:

  • Unwrap the chocolate hearts, put in a bowl, and place in the freezer while you prepare the dough.
  • Preheat the oven to 350-degrees.
  • In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
  • Mix the peanut butter and butter with a mixer, until smooth. Add brown sugar and beat until combined. Add eggs and vanilla, and mix until combined. With mixer on low, add the flour mixture in 2-3 batches.
  • Scoop tablespoons of dough, and roll into balls. Put the granulated sugar on a plate, and roll the balls in the sugar. Place the balls 2-inches apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
  • Bake cookies for about 7 minutes, until cookies are puffed up slightly. Remove cookies from oven. Press one heart into each cookie. Return to oven and continue baking about 6 minutes more, until cookies are golden brown and chocolate has begun to melt. Let cool 10 minutes, and then transfer to a wire rack to cool.

valentines day peanut butter cookies

turtle brownie recipe

Turtle Brownies (And Easy Homemade Caramel Sauce)

I woke up the other day with a craving for turtle brownies, followed by a deep appreciation for the fact that I know how to bake.

Caramel, pecans, chocolate. Mmm.

turtle brownie

There are many recipes for turtle brownies online, but none of them gave me what I wanted. I decided that, if I really wanted to satisfy this craving, I needed to make my own recipe.

The cool thing about these brownies is that you can make them as easy or as hard as you want.

The easy way:

  • Buy a box of brownie mix, and prepare the batter according to instructions, adding 1 cup chopped pecans.
  • Pour half of the batter into the prepared pan (that they tell you on the box to use).
  • Using a store-bought caramel sauce of your choosing, take about 1/4 cup worth and drop dollops around the top of the brownie batter and swirl with knife.

brownies with caramel swirl

  • Repeat with remaining batter and remaining caramel.
  • Bake as directed.
  • Once brownies are cooled, at least somewhat, pour about 1/2 cup of caramel sauce over the top, spread, and sprinkle with 1/2 cup of pecans.

Pan of Turtle Brownies

That’s it.

Now, if you want to make your own caramel sauce – and you do – it’s so easy.

Boil water and sugar.

water and sugar

Simmer until golden brown (that’s where the caramel gets its color).

amber color

Remove from heat and stir in butter and cream.

caramel sauce

Cool for about 15 minutes and add vanilla.

Rock your taste buds’ world.

Since you went to the trouble of making your own caramel, you know what you’ve got to do now: Make your own brownies. It’s so easy. It’s barely harder than making the box mix, and it tastes so much better. You’ll thank yourself. I promise.

Turtle Brownies

What You Need:

Caramel Sauce –

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Brownie Batter –

  • 4 oz. unsweetened chocolate
  • 1 + 1/2 sticks butter
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup chopped pecans for batter
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans for topping

What You Do:

First make the caramel sauce. Put the water into a sauce pan, and pour the sugar and salt into the center. Gently stir until the sugar is all moistened. You want to try to avoid letting the sugar get on the sides of the pan, or it will form crystals. But don’t stress out about it. Put it over medium heat until it starts to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 8-10 minute, until the mixture is a medium amber.

Remove from heat and slowly stir in the cream. It will bubble and spit, so go slowly. Once the cream is incorporated, stir in the butter until melted. Set the caramel aside to cool for about 15 minutes, and then add the vanilla.

While the caramel is cooling, make the brownie batter. Break up the chocolate into pieces that are small enough to melt. They don’t need to be tiny, just not huge. Put the chocolate and butter into a microwave-safe bowl and heat for 2 minutes. Alternately, melt it in a bowl set over simmering water. Stir the butter and chocolate together until melted and smooth. Stir in the sugar. Add eggs and vanilla and stir well. Stir in the flour and pecans.

Line a 9×13 baking pan with foil, leaving extra on the ends to grab later, when it’s time to take the brownies out of the pan. Butter it or spray it with cooking spray. Pour half of the brownie batter into the pan and smooth. Drop 1/4 cup of the caramel sauce in dollops around the batter, and swirl with a knife. Pour the remaining brownie batter on top. You may have to spoon mounds of it on and spread it after, if the batter is thick. Repeat the caramel swirl. Bake 35-40 minutes. You want the batter to be set, but try not to over-bake. A toothpick inserted near the center should come out with fudgy crumbs not raw batter.

Allow the brownies to cool for a while. Pour remaining caramel sauce on top and spread to the edges. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of chopped pecans on top. Allow to fully cool for easier and neater cutting. But you’ll probably want to lop off a messy square before they’re totally cool to taste test this masterpiece.

turtle brownie 2