Crash landed on planet earth.

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I am a space princess.
It’s just something I have come to grips with. Growing up I would dress up in a ladies white polyester bell bottom jumpsuit and belt on the white poncho I got as a hand me down from my Aunt Mary. I would put a pair of black stirrup pants on my head, twisting and rolling each leg carefully to form two giant black side buns on my head. Trust me I looked just like Princess Leia from Star Wars. I had fashioned what was sure to have been a very realistic laser gun from a rather large and heavy tree branch. I didn’t mind carrying it around. Being a bad ass space princess was hard work. If Defending the universe meant lugging around a 20 pound log with a nail hammered into it for the trigger, then that’s what I would do. Aside from needing to stop every five minutes to redo my slipping hairdo, the outfit was quite comfortable. Perhaps white was a bad choice for crawling around in the cattle barns, climbing trees and wading across muddy creeks. I thought the ground in dirt added a sense of realism. You have to be willing to ruin your garage sale jumpsuit in order to save the planet. I’m sure Carrie Fisher can back me up on this.
Planning and executing the perfect planetary defense was my speciality. I could always anticipate the next move of my imaginary alien adversary. My ability to outsmart them was legendary. I’m certain my efforts to keep the population of this planet from a life of slavery under the control of the Empire would have been richly rewarded. That is if I was doing it for the money or the fame. I was not. In fact I would always decline any reward offered. I was already a fashionable space princess. What could the people of Earth offer me that I didn’t already have ten of. I mean really.
The first signs of spring always remind me of my childhood. Growing up the shift from snow to sunshine meant running free outside. Building tree forts and trying to perfect the cartwheel. A skill I never quite mastered.
Today as the tulips start to stretch from their long winters nap I find myself pulled to the outdoors. The front door to the shop is standing wide open and the air pouring in smells fresh and clean. Customers are coming in to find candles with fresh scents and lotions to get their heels ready for sandal weather. There is a Robbin thrashing about in a puddle left by last nights thunder storm. The world is new. The urge to bring the outside in must be wired into the human subconscious. We have tiny yellow daffodils blooming in pots in our living room and there is a hyacinth preparing to open its purple blossoms on our kitchen counter. It’s like a switch goes off and I’m ready to freshen my nest. Last night we worked on the apartment until our eyes crossed. The bathroom has a fresh coat of paint. The renovation list is down to the final touches.. . Windows are open. It feels like freedom.
The shop is gearing up for the warmer weather with scents that remind us of our trips to the ocean and we have become obsessed with anything that smells of fresh berries or pineapple.
All of the grass is starting to green up and it’s difficult to control the urge to dust off my laser gun. There are trees that need climbing and villains that need apprehended. Maybe this summer I will dig out my jumpsuit, I’m sure it still fits. If you drive by my house and you see me perched in a tree wearing a white poncho, you can rest assured that I am doing my very best to keep the world safe.

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Special Thanks to Lucas Film for the image! You guys are awesome! If you need to get your Star Wars fix, or need inspiration for your space princess wardrobe, head over to Star Wars

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How to open an orange using a screw driver.

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Our apartment is almost finished. It took a lot of guts, a ton of energy and a great amount of bargaining with a bevy of the lesser known voodoo loas. It’s been quite a ride. We have been living in a state of transition since what feels like the beginning of time. By transition I mean complete and utter chaos. Living through a renovation is challenging enough, living in the space while you are renovating it,,,pure and absolute madness. When we decided to open the store we also committed to transforming the second floor of the house into a large apartment. The house had been apartments before in a past life. Like most old houses this one has been many things to many people. Each owner has put their own stamp on the place. From an almost abandoned state it was turned into an Inn by a lovely lady that rescued the house from certain death by wrecking ball. I am very grateful for her courage. The house is certainly grateful as well.
The second floor is a series of spacious rooms with huge windows that put you right in the center of the sugar maples that surround the house. In the summer the rooms turn green with light filtered through the foliage. When fall descends on the Midwest the light streaming through the windows turns brilliant shades of red, yellow and orange. Being up there is like staying in a tree house. A very well equipped tree house.
This renovation has played out like a giant game of Tetris. Each piece moving to allow room for the next. Then the pieces and piles of our accumulated lives are picked up and moved again to facilitate another step in the process. Painful. I will now think of any home improvement project as if I were an expectant mother elephant. I will remember that those glossy pictures in decorating magazines are only the beginning. At some point that baby elephant has to come out. That’s what living through a remodel is like. Pushing a mini van out of your who-ha. A special kind of endurance is required. Through it all this project has only resulted in one slightly serious argument brought on by wonky ancient walls that we’re never square or level. It was less of an argument and more me coaxing the guys back from the brink of insanity as they tried to install kitchen cabinets in a room that leans ever so slightly to the left.
The other moment of heated discussion was the guys talking me down from the slippery ledge of unreasonable behavior as we tackled the bathroom redo. At the last moment I decided the old claw foot tub needed desperately to live on the other side of the room. I vaguely remember saying things like ” my happiness depends on it.” and ” if you really loved me.” A truce was signed and the tub remains exactly where it was. The perfect place for it in my opinion. I’m so glad I didn’t let them move it. What a horrible idea.
Anyone who has ever moved knows that living out of boxes sucks. Plain and simple it’s the worst. When everything you own is not only boxed up but those boxes have been shuffled and reshuffled stacked and shifted countless times, you reach a point where you honestly believe you will never again locate any object smaller than a chair or a lamp. Those are piled high in every corner. The remote control… now permanently resides in another dimension. I have to pull out a Ouija Board every time I want to surf through the channels. We have eaten out of paper bags and off of disposable dishes for months. This morning after working out I climbed the steps to the nearly finished space. I stood in the kitchen and admired all of the new surfaces. The fresh paint. Each direction I looked brought a sense of accomplishment one can only find near the end of a long and exhausting adventure. The pieces are coming together. I was actually about to have a meal in the new kitchen. Just an orange. Simple sure, but remarkable absolutely remarkable. I had given up the idea of eating in comfort. The months of doing without a traditional kitchen set up have brought out our primal instincts. We have been inches from reverting to our cave dwelling raw meat eating ancestors. So standing at the counter with a softball sized orange I just plucked from a fully functioning refrigerator that happens to actually be located in our living space…. Triumph. I almost didn’t notice that the months of living with the constant lack of utensils has changed me. My survival skills have surfaced. Now when faced with a challenge even as small as making the first cut in the skin of an orange so it can be peeled. Instinctively, without even processing it, I go for any object within reach that will serve the purpose. I just cut into my breakfast using a screwdriver.

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Small towns are like little islands…

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I’m from a small town. Let me rephrase that. I am from just outside of a small town. I grew up on a farm about a mile out of a town of around 5,000 people. Before you give me the ” that isn’t a small town” speech, save it. John is from a town of about 30 people so I’ve heard it all before. I remember when my town got its first stop light. It was a very big deal. I don’t remember but I’m sure there was some sort of parade or ribbon cutting or something to commemorate the event. At least in my mind that would have been appropriate given the importance of the day. I’ve moved around and one event led to the other bringing me here. For the uninitiated living in a small town can be a total and complete shock to the system. Every morning you can find yourself praying to the gods to drop a Starbucks on the corner. Any corner. Addictions can be a serious thing.
The challenge of living on a remote island isn’t about coping with missing the conveniences available on the main land. It’s about learning to appreciate the things that are available all around you. That same philosophy translates into living in a small community. You have the opportunity to tap into natural hunting and gathering instincts. Explore and discover. That’s how I look at it anyway.
Yesterday I spent some time chatting with another business owner about encouraging visitors to explore what our town has to offer. We are considering putting together a little book that has a map of our favorite things that are available nearby. My conversation with Cathrine made me start thinking of all of the things that I like about where I live. So as an experiment last night I got cozy and poured myself a glass of my favorite wine. My dear friends own an outstanding winery just 20 minutes from my front door. Through the country between cornfields and over the lake you can find a bottle of Harvest Red at Willow Ridge Winery . Just incase you were wondering, it would be the perfect gift for me any time you are feeling like buying me a gift. My birthday is coming up after all.
A glass of wine down the hatch and my list of favorite things grew and grew.
So here are some of the things I love. If you’re visiting and wander into any of these places you will soon find that I’ve picked some of them for what they offer. Some of them because of what they offer and the people that make them happen. The best part of living on a little island in the middle of Illinois can be getting to know the people.
Top of my list and with absolutely no question, the number one reason people visit Sullivan Illinois. The Little Theatre on the Square . The Little Theatre is a not for profit organization that produces killer musicals and offers a ton of classes from dance to acting. The talent that graces the stage or works behind the scenes often finds it’s way to Broadway or has already worked There!
I love to shop at junk shops and thrift stores. Sorting through people’s cast offs can provide a ton of inspiration. Digging for a deal can be exhilarating, finding a good deal can be euphoric. Try satisfying your junking urges or your vintage clothes obsession at Thrifty Boutique, you can see it from the Theatre’s front door. I found a Burberry jacket there for $1.00. Yup that is one whole dollar bill.
I adore to visit My Garden Greenhouses . Being there always calms my nerves. It’s like a little oasis. Chances are you will bump into the owner with her arms, elbow deep digging in the dirt. She loves what she does and it shows.
I crave being at Tabor park. You will find it tucked away on North Worth Street. It’s a jewel. Miles of easy trails through prairie and woods across bridges and over streams. I like to walk there to feel close to nature. The little grove of Hedge Apple trees is like a scene from a movie. I can imagine Snow White herself gathering firewood in the little clearing. Magical.
The food at Los Potros on the west side of the square is always perfect, fast and cheap. The wait staff means business and speeds your order to you always with a friendly smile. If you’re not a total light weight try to conquer the Jumbo Margarita. It’s like a punch in the face with a whole lot of happy.
A few doors down you’ll find China King. The owner fills orders minds the counter and helps her kids with their homework simultaneously. You won’t find fancy here. It’s just honest and real, I can’t help but love that. The Crab Rangoon are beyond bliss. The little pockets of cream cheese and crab filled crispy wonton might as well be crack. I get two meals out of the Chicken Curry with Angel Hair rice noodles. Ok, so I usually eat it all for one meal, but I would like to think if I had will power it would make lovely leftovers.
The guys and I always look dapper after a visit to Split Ends 10 West Harrison. It’s the kind of place where the owner makes you feel at home the minute you step in the door. Her family has rescued the building giving it a remarkable new life, you walk in off the street and go, wait a minute, this isn’t small town.
On the same block you will find Nite Al’s. This pub is owned buy the nicest people. You can often find them tending bar. It has a great vibe. They keep the place incredibly clean and when you belly up to the bar you can always count on the friendliest service. You can kick back with a beer after a long day. Or make it a night out. I recommend trying an apple pie shot. Or three.
If you’re in the mood for a soft serve treat or want to indulge in a kick ass burger that will melt in your mouth…. Head over to Dairy Delites. You will find it on West Jackson. They have a huge mushroom house out front with a giant pig peeking out of the window… Seriously a kick ass burger.
If you make a trip over here Don’t forget to stop in at Cathrine’s at 7 west Jefferson. She is right off of the square and has a great gallery, sip a glass of wine and buy a box of locally made chocolates.
… And if you do find yourself in my part of the cornfield.. Stop in and see us at the shop. We would be glad to see you! All of the most extraordinary people shop here. Come and check it out.

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Lavender is for Ladies and Why I can’t sleep after watching The Walking Dead.

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Zombies. Seriously the worst possible thing to watch before bed… But I can’t help myself. I feel like a kid again hiding my eyes and plugging my ears when I know something horrible is going to happen to the unsuspecting actor on the TV. Danger!! It’s right behind you!!!!
I always think to myself.. ” you will never get to sleep tonight.” And ” don’t watch this before bed.” and I am always right. Why is it so hard to take our own advice? Nothing gets the adrenaline pumping like a good scare, I might as well sit down to a case of Mountain Dew and a fist full of pixie stix. But I’m addicted to The Dead and it’s on the DVR and I can’t help it that I’m a busy man and the only TV time I have is late at night. These are all terrible excuses. The truth is, I love scary. Plain and simple. Don’t judge me. It’s a sickness. I have trouble sleeping anyway. It’s hereditary. When the world gets quiet and dark, my mind starts going a million miles a minute. I never touch caffeine and try to refrain from hitting the build your own spicy nacho bar that seems to be available 24/7 in our house. Sometime even with the closest attention to the details, sleep doesn’t find me. I can see it drifting in and out of the shadows of my bedroom but it never settles over me when I need it. So I did my research. At three AM of course. The internet is brimming with tips on helping you sleep. The web is crawling with info on sleeping pills. I like to take a more holistic approach to life so popping pills to get a few z’s while tempting, seemed a bit easy. So I walked on being bombarded by ads for sleeping pills and the occasional suggestion from friends that I climb into bed with Jack Daniels every night. So what’s next? Nature maybe? Sure, I am a gambler so why not. Simple is always better. It doesn’t take much effort to find information about herbs that help with sleeplessness. I tried them all. My favorite is lavender. Shush, don’t give me the my grandma smells like lavender speech. I don’t care to hear it. Plus I’ve met your grandma, she smells more like White Diamonds and gin than lavender, just sayin. Ok, lavender.. I did my home work, read all of the blogs the books and fell in love the moment I used it. Peace and quiet. That’s what it smells like to me. I’m sure that a small percentage of the benefits it offers come directly from the state of mind I allow myself to achieve while misting my pillow or climbing into a bubble bath of the brew. Calm. That’s where it takes me. I feel my muscles relax. My mind slows to a crawl and it overtakes me. Calm. Such a wonderful feeling.
It has a rich history. Simple things often do. The Egyptians treasured its oils and used it for its medicinal benefits. They even used it in their mummification process. If it’s good enough to send Cleopatra off into eternity, it’s good enough to help me drift into dreamland.
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The people of Greece adored it and rubbed it everywhere, they steeped in it and passed on their love of the stuff to the Romans. Just imagine, a giant steaming hot ancient Roman pool filled with lavender oils. Imagine slipping down in the hot water through little floating islands of purple buds. Then picture just about every person you ever met splashing around in there with you. Might be kind of scary if you think about it so don’t dwell. Those Romans sure knew how to throw a party. History didn’t reserve this little sensory treat for the naked frolicking masses of tanned Roman Gods. The human love affair with our little purple friend persisted. Time moved on and lavender found its way into Victorian England. It’s no wonder really, images flash of wealthy women crammed into corsets stepping over open sewers to climb into their carriages while mashing bundles of scented herbs up against their noses to avoid the stench. Classy.
Her Majesty Queen Victoria favored the dainty herb. She even appointed a royal purveyor to keep her in a constant supply. The floors and furniture in her castles were washed with water laced with the oils. Full stems were strewn on stone floors to be crushed under foot releasing sweet fragrance into the air. I’m sure Her Royal Highness even dabbed a tad behind her ears before allowing her lover John Brown to nibble at her neck. image
Well, it’s late and my eyelids are getting heavy. My bath tub is brimming with towers of bubbles and my pillow has been misted. I have even left the TV off for a change. Rick and the gang will have to fight the undead without me tonight. Who knows maybe I will not dream of zombies tonight and have Andrew Lincoln dreams instead. Those would be sweet dreams indeed.
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Photo of Andrew Lincoln courtesy of AMC’s The Walking Dead
http://www.amctv.com/shows/the-walking-dead
Check out their site to become a fan and lose sleep on Sunday nights like the rest of the country. No wonder everyone is so cranky on Mondays.

The beginning

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Astoria sign close up

Hello! Welcome to the blog.
We are The Astoria Company Store.
My name is Timmy and I am a soap maker….that may have sounded like an introduction meant for a support group. Hi I’m Timmy and I can’t stop making soap…:
When I was a little kid I experimented with the occasional use of profanity, a skill that I have perfected over the years. My childhood dabbling May or may not have ended in a brief encounter with a bar of Lava soap. An encounter that I will never forget. For those of you with the good fortune to never meet a bar of Lava, let me enlighten you. It is gritty as #^€};/: and tastes like #^}%{%:)/( !!
When people ask me why I started making soap, this is the story I tell. If you were to ask a psychiatrist I’m sure they would tell you that’s probably why a lot of our soap smells good enough to eat. The truth about my soap making is that I do it because it’s creative and fun and challenging, it lets me work with people who I love and when you get to work with people who you love, everyday is an adventure. Without trying to sound sappy, that’s the truth of it. It’s hard work but it feels like play to me. Don’t let me lead you to believe it’s all smooth sailing….but for me, the joy out weighs the struggle and life is always better when the scale tips towards happiness, don’t you think?
Still there? Oh good, we’ll here is more about me, I am a partner in a little shop called The Astoria Company Store. Our shop is in an adorable old house tucked into the small town of Sullivan nestled safely into the corn and bean fields of central Illinois… So quaint..but before you get all Little House on the Prairie on me lets just stop imagining women in bonnets and calico dresses stirring kettles in pastures brimming with wild flowers. It’s more like me and the guys bent over the stove at three in the morning trying to perfect our latest recipe while hopped up on red bull and trying not to kill each other. Ok it is a little more of a romantic vision than that, I was just being dramatic. I have never consumed red bull while making soap.
Our decision to open the shop was a little bit of well thought out spontaneity. I know those two ideas never exist together in the real world but hang out with me long enough and you will see a whole lot of things that you didn’t think existed.
We decided to open the shop for two reasons. 1. We have been making soap and lotions for years and people kept asking us for more of it, so we must be doing something right. 2. We thought it would be fun. Of course we put a lot of thought into the second reason. I mean who doesn’t want to work with handsome men, make fun stuff and be your own boss? Really it was a no brainer.
The time between deciding to create a retail store and opening that store was a very long three weeks. Yup you heard me. About three weeks, it could have been less than that but thinking about all of the work that happened in such a short amount of time would make me short-circuit… So let’s call it a solid three weeks, give or take a day or two.
In those three weeks we closed the charming little Inn that I was running in the house. Pulled out all of the furnishings picked and applied new paint to everything. We started remodeling the entire second floor of the house as our new apartment. We built from scratch or repurposed all of the new store fixtures and furniture. Built up a stock of product, cooked, bottled, wrapped and labeled hundreds of items…. Oh god I’m going to faint just thinking about it. You get the picture, long nights, longer days and lots of laughing. A little bit of crying but that was mostly from lack of sleep.
We pushed to have the store open the weekend after Thanksgiving 2013 and we did it! We made it. Doors open shelves full and people love it! Was it worth every bump and scrape and mood swing to get there?? Sure. It’s freakin amazing!!
So that’s the beginning. In a nut shell. The moral of my little story? What have I learned from this adventure so far? Ignore reason. When in doubt bulldoze ahead. When you have an idea and the sensible people in your life start speaking to you in soft concerned voices offering advice that involves ” taking time to think things over”. and asking questions like ” are you eating lots of sugar?” Then you know you’re on to something good. So go full steam ahead.

Nobody likes a dirty Wiener

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A group of men making soap together…. It’s just a matter of time before things get dirty.

No matter how old men get, they never grow up. It takes about three seconds for even the grownupiest ( yeah I made that word up) of grown men to revert to childish behavior. Seriously, what would the world be without fart jokes? That’s a world I don’t want to live in.
Men are silly and perpetually immature. We here at The Astoria Company Store are no exception to this rule. We have dogs. We needed to clean those dogs because they like to roll in muddy bubble gum and dead birds. Sometimes they stink. Rotten stink.
Those are the facts. This is where it starts to go south, two of our dogs are Dachshunds. You see where I’m going with this? Izzy and Maddie are 11 year old long-haired Dachshunds. Really the best dogs, aside from the rolling in dry heave inducing noxious filth… Our third dog is a mutant cat monkey creature that escaped from the circus… I’m serious, she really ran away from the circus, but that’s another story. Izzy and Maddie are sisters/ cousins. True story y’all. Their moms were sisters and they had the same dad. Don’t judge. It was an accident.
We needed a shampoo for our dogs and we came up with a check list of things to help us get a product that we would be happy to put on the shelf. Here is the list. It had to smell good. Shush that’s very important. It had to be something that my sister would use on her dog, she is crazy about her dog… .. Like she cooks for it and let’s it decide what shows to DVR, that sort of crazy… And We would only make it if we could also use it. Because who really wants to rub something on their wiener that they wouldn’t feel safe putting on their dog… Or the other way around.
We toyed with names, or pretended to consider naming it something else. Nothing felt better than telling someone you wanted to help them clean their wiener. Turns out this stuff makes the perfect gift. When people find out that humans can use it.. They buy more than one bottle. This Christmas countless men woke up to find this in their stocking… And the world is a sweeter smelling place for it.
Since its debut we have had many people discover Wash Your Wiener on the shelves. They snicker and sneak a bottle or two into their shopping basket. They ask questions like ” can I use this on my Husband?” And ” do you have bigger bottles of this?” Let’s all take a moment and imagine the man who would require a bigger bottle… Oh my,, Very nice. With a bottle that big he is going to be in the shower all day. Ok, ok, back to reality, not everyone can be a Great Dane.