Friday, July 12

Free Summer Reading

Gifts are a love language and, while I am only now struggling to learn to speak it well, my husband  is a natural - he instinctively picks great gifts. Last year, to my astonishment, he presented me with a Kindle Fire for my birthday. I'd always assumed I'd stay an old-school, real-book kind of girl. While I've found that the Kindle is not a replacement for real books, I love it!
Ebooks are significantly cheaper than their counterparts, particularly in used-bookstore-bereft areas like mine. Possibly the best part, though, are the free books.
A friend clued me in to the fabulous reality that Amazon has free ebooks for the Kindle every day.
One of the recent free
book selections.
The selection changes daily (sometimes hourly), and contains a good mix of fiction and non-fiction across genres and reading levels. There are occasional kids books, and lots of youth/ young adult books, too. They're downloadable with a single click, and yours to keep. That means no stressing about finishing things before they automatically return themselves (like digital library books do) or finding a great book but not being able to share it (like the ebooks you can borrow via Amazon prime).
[Hint: from the Amazon main page, put your mouse on "Kindle", then select "Kindle books" from the menu that pops out to the right. On the right edge of the page that opens will be a "Top 100" list, and the tab next to it is "Top 100 Free". It will list the first 10, and at the bottom of that list will be a link to the full 100. It sounds convoluted, but it's really quick and easy once you know where to look.]
It's proven an awesome, no-risk way to check out new authors and new series. Even though I have very little time to read right now, I've got some great stuff tucked away in my Kindle for later - things that will keep my brain occupied and significantly lessen the temptation to buy any books. More money staying in my pocket, and more space staying free on my shelves! (Plus, as my Mom has pointed out, a Kindle takes up almost no space in a suitcase or shoulder bag, so you can take great beach reads on vacation and still have room for all your shoes!)

Where is your favorite place to pick up free ebooks?

Wednesday, July 10

Small Steps: Mastering Henna

When I was a business major, lessons about what was and was not appropriate business attire were frequent, consistent, and presented as gospel. The Disney standard prevailed: no tattoos, no extraneous piercings, muted professional clothing, and no crazy hair colors.

Back in November or December, I finally decided that although it was helpful to know what that standard was, it no longer applied to me. I can’t use traditional dye on my hair, as one try was enough to prove that it (A) it is prohibitively expensive, and (B) it fries my locks to permanent straw until it completely grows out. (Which, by the way, takes years considering how long my hair is.)

As usual, Amazon came to the rescue with Wine Red Henna hair dye. The first time around I made an
Not my hair... this is the demo picture on Amazon for the
dye packs I buy.
ungodly mess, but the results were decent enough that I wanted to keep going. I’ve re-dyed my hair a couple times now, and have finally mastered the process. Having burgundy hair is much more fun than my natural brown, and the Henna is completely safe and has actually been really healthy for my hair, so I thought I’d share a few helpful tips that I’ve learned through the process.

Use natural hair care products, and sparingly. Around the same time I took a chance on Henna, I made the switch to all natural, very simple hair care products. I no longer wash my hair every day, but only as needed. Most of the time, I use just a cider vinegar rinse and it is more than enough to get my hair clean and soft. When it really needs a cleaning (after playing in the mud or too many woodchips), I use an olive oil based shampoo bar (from Frugally Sustainable or Wickedly Scent). This saves me a ton of time, significantly extends the life of the dye, and makes for noticeably stronger, healthier hair.

Use plastic wrap instead of the shower cap. Being stylish while your hair is “baking” is not happening, so you may as well at least be practical! Skip the shower cap - it won’t contain long hair anyway, and is prone to drips. Grab a roll of plastic wrap from the kitchen and wrap your head up turban style in that. It banishes annoying drips, contains long hair, and lets you actually move around get stuff done while you’re waiting! Plus it answers the question of what to do the second time around if you’re able to get more than one use out of a dye pack.

Use good gloves. The flimsy, ill-fitting gloves that come with most packs are useless. Grab some all-purpose disposable gloves in the correct size for you, and use those instead. They’ll make your life so much easier. (It’s always good to have a box in the house anyway!)

If at all possible, use a hand-held shower head. When it’s time to rinse, a hand-held shower head is by far the fastest, easiest and least messy way to go. (If you have short hair, you could use the kitchen sink and it’s sprayer instead.)

Last but not least… don’t panic. If the color doesn’t look just like the box when you’re done rinsing the mud out, don’t worry! It tends to deepen slightly as it sets over the next 24 hours, so it may settle in. If not, unlike commercial dyes, Henna is completely safe and non-destructive on your hair, so you immediately layer other shades (of Henna-based coloring) over it to temper, boost or otherwise adjust the color to something that works for you.

Saturday, July 6

Simply Delicious Amish Cooking (book review)

In my experience, Amish cookbooks can be amazing or horribly frustrating. Some of them show you how to make traditional foods from scratch without any fancy kitchen gadgets and leave you blissfully savoring hearty, stick-to-your-ribs fare. Others pretend to be such books… until you flip to a promising sounding recipe only to find Hidden Valley Ranch seasoning packets or a pint of Marshmallow Crème in the ingredient list.

Sadly, this book fell in the latter category. Based on a Florida Amish community, it tries to offer glimpse into their lifestyle by interspersing clips from the local Amish newspaper among the recipes. Unfortunately, I was unimpressed on all counts. There were far too many recipes that felt like they belonged more in a modern women’s magazine than an Amish cookbook.

The snippets from the paper created no emotional connection, were often extremely short, varied widely and had no coordinating theme or order. The Kindle format also did this book no favors. Recipes and ingredients lists were broken up across pages wherever the break happened to fall, and the handful of pictures were mostly grouped together in the middle, making for lots of dry, dull pages. I won’t be recommending this one to friends.