Milk bag looms

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Milk bag looms

I normally don’t write about many of my projects I do at work, but occasionally there are ideas that I just have to share! At school, I have been working with a group of students our Me to We club, which supports the Free the Children Foundation. Our current project is weaving milk bags to make mattresses to send to Haiti, or Nepal. So, we have been saving milk bags for the last couple of months at school, and we finally have enough bags collected to start. The milk bag mattresses do not break down, they are mould resistant, and it turns out, they are pretty comfortable too!
I found instructions to make the looms online from the Town of Markham Here is the link, if you need additional instructions:
milk bag loom instructions

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To get the materials for the looms, I went to Home Depot, picked up some 2×2 pressure treated pine, some 1 1/2 inch #6 screws, and some corner brackets.
I had them cut the wood into two 22″ pieces and two 24″ pieces for each loom.

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I started by screwing on the corner brackets, to make a big square frame. I predrilled the holes to make it easier.

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Then I had the kids measure and mark where the screws for the actual weaving would go, and because we wanted them to participate in making the looms, we had them screw them in by hand. But, if you are going for speed, power tools would speed up the process.

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Here are the actual measurements:

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So that’s the frame or loom. Now for the fun part… The weaving!
But before you actually start to weave, you have to cut the milk bags into loops. I found that you can cut 5-10 bags at a time. Start by flattening the bags to get rid of wrinkles, and stacking them on top of each other. Then, cut of the top and bottom, and cut the bags in half.

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To start the weaving, you need to link two loops together. To easily link two loops together,  hang one loop around each wrist, and reach through the loops and grasp the other loops with each hand. It’s hard to explain, but my beautiful daughter is going to demonstrate….

Then, pull! Here is what should happen:



Then, to start the actual weaving, you loop each end around each screw on your loom. Like this:



Sam and I tried to colour coordinate our milk bags…we started one loom with pinks and reds, and one with blues and whites. But it turned out that by the time you did the weaving, the colour choices were not as evident as you might expect. So, even with our hopes of colour coordination trashed, (get my pun there? Lol) we continued on and started weaving. 

Weaving is as simple as over, under, over, under, over, under, repeated about 5000 times per mat. The trick is to try not to pull too tight, so the mat doesn’t become hour glass shaped. We did pack the rows together pretty tightly, this makes the mats a lot more sturdy, and I am sure more comfortable too. 



Btw, we just kept looping on a couple loops at a time as we wove, rather than making a long “string”…made the weaving much easier, and we didn’t have to pull the long string through every row…

Then, once you have woven all the way up to the top, you remove it from the loom by simply starting from the corner, then putting the loops inside each other, and moving to the next loop. Once we got to the corners, we tied the last two loops in a double knot…

  

Here is our first finished mat!  

I have to admit, my obsessive compulsive side is difficult to control sometimes, so I did spend some time sorting the bags into colour piles, so we would make different coloured mats… I know, I have way too much time on my hands…  

The good news is that you only need eight mats to make a sleeping mat! And… It only takes about 500 milk bags! Sounds pretty crazy, but when you work in a school with 500 kids, collecting the milk bags goes pretty fast, and the weaving goes a lot quicker with 20 kids helping too!  I haven’t actually done it yet, but you sew the mats together with a few loops of plastic bags. Here is our first mat, ready to sew together….

  
Now, we just need to sew them all together, and figure out where to send them… Anyone know any charitable organizations that accept donations of milk bag mats?? Please comment below if you do!

Our goal is to make at least three full mats… I will update and post a photo when we are finished…

Baby gifts 

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Baby gifts 

At my work right now, there are at least 6 women who are pregnant, which doesn’t sound like much, but out of a staff of 40, it is a considerable number! Plus two of my kids teachers are pregnant. So, I have been crocheting a lot, and making these cool baby photo props!  

 

The ideA of these photo props is that you take a photo with each card, at each milestone of the baby’s first year. This serves as a fantastic record to remember how much your baby has changed each month. Also, if you put them together into a frame or collage, this would make a great gift, or keepsake! 

I began by using Microsoft publisher to design each card. I made them 4″ by 6″ each. Then, once I had the design the way I liked, I took them to be printed at staples. I figured it would probably be cheaper to pay 39 cents a copy, than to pay for toner! After I printed them all out, I cut around each card, leaving about a millimetre of white showing.

 

Once I had them all cut out, I used my portable laminator to laminate them in plastic. I bought this laminator a few years ago at Walmart, and it has been worth every penny! 

 

You just have to buy the laminating pouches to go along with it. Which is why I made all of the cards 4 by 6, because the pouches come in that size, so no more cutting.

So it is just a matter of putting each card inside a pouch…

   

    

And waiting for them to go through. I tried to get a helper, but the kids were not biting. This isn’t the fastest moving laminator! I have hand drawn these before for friends, and covered them with clear shelving paper, but with so many pregnant women around, I figured I might need to speed up production a little!

So, I made cards that say, one day old, one week old, one month old, two months old…. All the way to a year old. Fourteen cards in total.

 

  

  

  

Here is a random copyright free baby I found to give you a visual…  

 And, speaking of mass production, I am so excited that I have finally set up an account on Etsy! Etsy is like eBay but for crafts only, it’s pretty amazing! I have listed an extra set of cards I made for $15.00. And I also added a few crocheted blankets I have made in the last few weeks. So if you are looking for a baby or shower gift, check out my Etsy store!

Here is the link!

  Artzcool on Etsy  

If you have never been on Etsy before, I apologize, it is just as addictive as Pinterest, but unlike pinterest, if you see an idea you love, you don’t have to make it yourself, you can just buy it! Once again, my apologies! 

Anyways, have a great rest of the weekend, I am going to go for a walk, or sit outside in the sun with a book! 

Quick, no time to wait for cupcakes to cool, marshmallow icing

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Quick, no time to wait for cupcakes to cool, marshmallow icing

Whenever the kids go over to friends houses, I always like to send a snack for them to share. Sometimes it’s a bag of chips, and sometimes it’s something that we have made. Depends on the kind of day we are having….

This morning before Sam went to a friends house, I decided to bake some cupcakes. But, somehow inbetween showering, giving John a haircut and making lunch, I left it to less than an hour before she was supposed to be there. So, I decided to try this idea of melting a marshmallow on top of the cupcake as the icing. I have seen it online and on Pinterest, so I thought I would try it. 

Here is another link with instructions Melted marshmallow icing

 

So, I made a regular batch of cupcakes, using my favourite family recipe. (A couple eggs, 1/4 cup of oil, some water and a box of Duncan Heinz!) I put them in the oven, and about 4-5 minutes before the cupcakes were finished baking, I took them out of the oven and put a marshmallow on top of each one. I actually only did half of the cupcakes, just in case this didnt’ work! No time to make another batch…

   

Here is what they looked like after a couple minutes….

  

A few of them started to topple over, so I used a wooden spatula to flatten and straighten them as they started to fall… 

And here is what they looked like fully melted, after about 4 1/2 minutes.

   

As you can see,me tried to add some sprinkles, but the marshmallows had a crispy coating, so the sprinkles rolled right off :( 

   

But, they were really yummy. Gooey and stringy even when cooled! Not the prettiest cupcakes I have ever made, especially without the sprinkles, but as a timesaver when you are running late, I would do them again. I didn’t hear anyone complaining! 

 

Yummy homemade granola

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Yummy homemade granola

I tend to go on tangents sometimes. When I find a good idea, either creative, time saving, or yummy, I tend to run with it for a while. If you are a creative type person, you’ll understand, but if you are like my husband John, you might not get it… So my current tangent of home made granola started after I was given this recipe from a friend at work….Thanks Linda! 

I know she gave me a recipe, but I have made it a little differently each time since. But, the basic idea is the same. I used a variety of nuts and grains, about 1/2 cup each, of things like pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, hemp hearts, coconut, flax seeds. Then I have tried adding dried fruits such as apricots, blueberries, cranberries, apple slices, and raisins. Oh, and don’t forget a couple of cups of oatmeal, brown sugar, and coconut oil. 



Start with about a cup of organic coconut oil. 

I popped it in the microwave for a few seconds until it melted.



Then I mixed everything together with about a cup and a half of brown sugar and a teaspoon of vanilla. It should sort of clump together once mixed well. I also tried the agave nectar, and maple syrup to sweeten it, but I think I like the brown sugar the best.



After it is mixed well, spread it out on a cookie sheet. And pop it into a 325 degree oven. Here is what it looks like before…

And  here is what it looks like golden brown, after 15 minutes in the oven.  I baked my first batch at 350 degrees, but I  found that it cooked much more evenly at 325 degrees. This might be because my oven is generally a little too hot, I always find my oven cooks better a few degrees cooler than the recipe says.

Another thing I learned was that if you are adding dried fruit such as raisins or cranberries, they do not need to cook the whole time. In my first batch, after the dried fruit cooled, they were a little too chewy for my taste. So, I tried mixing the nuts, grains, brown sugar and coconut oil, baked for about 10 minutes, until it started to brown….

Then I mixed in the dried fruit for the last 10 minutes or so.

It is delicious! We have been eating it by the handful as a snack, with milk as a cereal, and as a topping for yogurt. 

Now, I have to figure out what to do with the huge box of packaged granola John bought at Costco, because now that I have tried this, I don’t think I can eat the packaged kind any more! 

My Annual Better-than-Cadbury Easter eggs

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My Annual Better-than-Cadbury Easter eggs

I figured out the other day that I have made these eggs every year for probably 15 years. That tells you how good they are! They are not runny in the middle like Cadbury cream eggs, but I think they taste way better…plus now thay are sort of an expectation with friends and family. It’s nice to be wanted, even if it is just for my Easter eggs!

You need a can of condensed milk, a little less than a cup of butter, two teaspoons of vanilla, a pinch of salt, and about 10 cups of icing sugar.



We melted the butter in the microwave for about thirty seconds, then mixed everything together in a really big bowl. In this case, Sam had a friend sleep over, so we split it into two. Did I mention that we started making these at 7:30 am after the sleepover? Yup. 

So, when the kids are mixing, it can get pretty messy, it takes a while to mix in all of the icing sugar. But after all of the icing sugar has been incorporated, it should be the consistency of play dough.   

See our nice, clean table? You should have seen the floor! Lol 

 

To make the yolks in the middle, take out about 1/4 of the mixture and add yellow food colouring. Btw, I don’t think I have ever go the ratio right… I always end up with a few all yellow eggs, or I have to mix more yellow! 

   

If you are using liquid food colouring, you will have to mix in some more icing sugar because it will get all wet and sticky. Mix in the yellow food colouring a few drops at a time until the yolk is the colour you want.

I gave the girls the job of rolling the yolks. You can really make these eggs as big or as small as you want. I like to make them smaller because then I can eat twice as many. Also, they are very sweet and rich tasting…makes sense considering they are literally made of basically sugar and butter.

  

Then, to make the egg white, you basically flatten a piece of the white mixture, put the yellow yolk in the middle, and wrap the white around.    

Then roll it around in the palm of your hand to make it egg shaped and smooth.

 

I had the girls roll a bunch of the yolks, and I broke off a bunch of pieces of white, rather than making them one at a time. This makes it much easier to make them a uniform size.

   

When the eggs were formed, we put them out on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, then put them in the fridge to cool for an hour. Man, I would love one of those fridges with a pull out drawer. Trying to fit three full cookie sheets of eggs into our fridge takes a bit of skill! We ended up making over 100 eggs from the recipe. If you make them small, it makes a lot!

 

After about an hour in the fridge, we took them out and melted some milk chocolate. I’m not going to lie, this part is a little tricky. If you put the eggs right into the chocolate, they get all slippery and melt, and end up a weird shape. So I use two spoons, one to hold the egg, and the other one to spread the chocolate over.

   

Then, tap about 10 times to get of all of the excess chocolate, and lay it carefully on the cookie sheet.

  

This year, we decided to use colourful sprinkles. Sam, my sprinkle girl, has the sprinkle technique perfected, so she added all of the sprinkles after I did the dipping. Then they need to cool down in the fridge again for about an hour.  

I used mini cupcake holders to put them in….    

 

I also dug up some cute little boxes. The kids wanted to share and I brought some into work.

Here is the platter I brought to easter dinner at my mom’s yesterday…

   

As you can see, I added some chocolate dipped pretzels around the outside, which the kids thought looked like a nest.

 

Here is what they look like from the inside… I guess it would simplify thing a lot if you skipped the yolk, but isn’t the yolk cute?

Anyways, to those who celebrate, Happy Easter! 



Emoji Easter eggs

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Emoji Easter eggs

Every year, I try out a new idea for Easter eggs, 😄 and I came across this one on Pinterest, (I think) and I couldn’t resist! My daughter Sam, is all over any excuse to use emojis… 😜😣😫😬😖😲😤😇 look, I even have them installed on my iPad keyboard.



Here is the original post….Link to Egg tutorial

Sam had a friend over, so when I showed them the above picture,they instantly jumped at the idea. 😛

So, we started with some paper, I had them look online to find some Emojis, and sketch out a few ideas.





Luckily, every year starting in February, I start saving eggs. Instead of cracking them, Using a skewer, I poke a hole in the top and bottom, and blow out the yolks, 😮 so i had a few eggs on hand. I figure if we are going to go to the trouble of decorating the eggs,we might as well keep them. 

The original post said to pain the eggs with acrylic paint, 😴  but we decided to simplify the idea a little, and we used food colouring to colour the eggs. The simplest way I have seen to dye eggs is to pop them into a sandwich bag, and add a few drops of food colouring, and rub around. It worked pretty well, much less mess than paint, I am sure!  😥



We had to let the eggs dry for a little bit until the food colouring was dry. 😴Then, the girls sketched their designs in pencil and traced over them in Sharpie markers…man, what can’t you do with sharpies? 👍

Anyways, here are the end results….really cute! 👏😄😋😆😊

I almost forgot to mention that they are double sided! We drew two different faces on each egg. The girls just picked the side they liked the best for the photos. 😉

Chocolate dipped stuff!

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Chocolate dipped stuff!

We were having a potluck lunch at work, and I signed up for dessert thinking that I would spend some time on Pinterest, and find an impressive and delicious, yet surprisingly easy home baked dessert to make. But by the night before the potluck, on my way driving home, I realized that I had no idea what to make. So, in order to avoid having to make an additional trip out to the grocery store, I decided to stop on the way home. After a quick trip down the baking aisle, I decided that I was going to find some stuff to dip in chocolate. Quick, easy, and delicious… How can you go wrong dipping stuff in chocolate?

So, I picked up some two bite brownies, Oreo cookies, pretzels, and twizzlers.

I melted some chocolate in my double broiler (or my Pyrex bowl that fits over my sauce pan, but double broiler sounds better) I have tried numerous times to melt chocolate right in the sauce pan, but every time I try, it cooks too fast, and goes clumpy, or seizes. So, I filled a saucepan 3/4 the way full with hot water then put a bowl on top, and melted the chocolate in there.

I did the dipping, and Sam was my sprinkles girl. 



We dipped a bunch of twizzlers , pretzel sticks, and I still had a lot of leftover chocolate, so I dug up some more pretzels, and kept on dipping until I scraped the bowl clean.


I almost forgot to mention that you should use parchment paper on a cookie sheet to make sure the chocolate doesn’t stick. The chocolate comes right off, and I even can reuse the paper a couple times for stuff like chocolate dipping. 

When I finally used up all of that chocolate, I melted some white chocolate chips, and dipped the brownies and Oreo cookies. It actually was pretty easy to do when you are only dipping half of the cookie and you have something to hold on to. I let each cookie sheet cool in the fridge for about an hour before trying to move them. 

I put them all on a fancy tray, and voila, instant dessert. Considering by the end of lunch, there were no leftovers, I think they went over pretty well.



Plus, I had some extra pretzels that I just couldn’t fit on the platter, that we had to eat.





Easy peasy! The neat part about these are that you can change the sprinkles according to the season. Red and green sprinkles for Christmas, orange for Halloween, etc. 

yummy. 



Sappy to Sweet… The Maple Syrup experiment-step 2

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Sappy to Sweet… The Maple Syrup experiment-step 2

So if you read my last post, this weekend we tapped into two maple trees on our property, and started collecting sap, one drip at a time.

Link to collecting sap from our Maple trees

When I woke up yesterday morning, I would be lying if I said that I didn’t run right outside (yes, in my PJ’s) to check my sap buckets. The one in the backyard was about halfway full! But, the one in the front only had about an inch. Overall, I would say there was about 5-6 litres. Here was the overnight haul, it’s hard to see, because the sap looks as clear as water, but the smaller pot was from the tree in our front yard.



I used a coffee filter to pour the sap through.



As you can see, there were a lot of little bits of sediment at the bottom of the pot.



I poured in about 6-8 cups of sap, then I turned on the stove at a medium heat and let it boil and boil….

And boil some more. And more. Note: I kept the stove/range fan on for most of the day as I have heard that the amount of moisture produced can do some damage to your house!

Kind of ironic, but I was thinking about going to a local sugar bush to see maple syrup being made with friends yesterday, but I couldn’t because I had to watch the pot boil. Watching a pot boil all day is actually not as much fun as you might think. Lol



I kept adding more sap as it reduced. I used a spoon to roughly measure, and everytime it reduced by half, I poured it a little more sap. I never let it get lower than about an inch. You can see in the below picture how it started changing colour and getting a little darker as it reduced. The smaller pot on the right was my boiling pot. 



It only took about 6 hours to reduce it…here is what it looked like towards the end.



You are supposed to use a thermometer to determine when the syrup is ready, but to be totally honest, by the time there was only about a centimeter left in the pot, I just couldn’t let any more boil away. I figured if it reduced any more, there wouldn’t even be enough for all of us to have on our pancakes. I thought it was better to have more syrup, even if it was runny syrup. Better runny than none!

At the bottom of the pot, there was some more sediment, so I strained it again through a coffee filter…



So, this is what 5 litres of sap turned into:



Liquid gold! I have to say, that I have a whole new appreciation for Maple Syrup now. God help anyone in my house who wastes a drop of maple syrup from now on! 

My friend dropped by late afternoon, and picked us up some syrup from the sugar bush, and we laughed at the tiny bottle, but in comparison, it doesn’t look so tiny!

Just to give you some perspective, the pot was 3/4 full with sap, and this is the bottle of syrup it produced.

So, let me give you a quick summary….

– About $40 in supplies, including the spigots, buckets, tubes, and drill bit

-About 10 hours to collect the sap

-About six hours of boiling time to reduce the sap to syrup

So, $40 plus 16 hours to make 1/2 a cup. Wow! 

But, the experience of now being able to say that I tapped our trees and made maple syrup from scratch….. Priceless! 

We did a taste test this morning with our signature chocolate chip pancakes…

Ms. Butterworts vs. The real maple syrup vs. Our maple syrup! 



It was pretty hard not to be a little biased here… But our syrup go four out of four votes (or at least no one dared to vote otherwise)



As you can see, it was a success. We still have quite a bit left after our morning pancakes … We could try making taffy, but I don’t know if I can bring myself to boil it down any more! 

So, I can check this off my bucket list. The problem is that my bucket list keeps getting longer… Isn’t it supposed to get shorter as you get older? I need to retire soon! 

Maple syrup…Step One! Don’t be Sappy! 

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Maple syrup…Step One! Don’t be Sappy! 

OK, I know I am never going to hear the end of this, but I’m going to try it anyways… We have four big beautiful maple trees on our property, and I have always wanted to try, so we’re gonna make our own Maple syrup! That being said, to make one litre of syrup, you need 40 litres of sap. So, I’m thinking we might end up with about a cup of maple syrup…. If we are lucky! Lol

I have been waiting for the weather to warm up, because you can’t tap the trees until the day time temperatures are above freezing. But, now finally, we have had a few days in a row where the temperature is above freezing! 

So, you can order maple syrup making supplies online, but I found a hardware store right around the corner that sells the taps. I bought two taps, two buckets with lids, and about 5-6 feet of plastic tubing. the buckets were less than five dollars each, and the spigots were three dollars, and the tubing was only a few dollars, so it’s pretty cheap to try. It will probably only cost about four times as much as a regular bottle of maple syrup, plus the countless hours it will take me to make! (Btw -john says I shouldn’t count my time because my time costs us nothing! Lol) 

As you can see in the above photo, I also bought a plastic tube, thinking that I might be able to use that as a tap as well, but I didn’t end up using the plastic ones.

We have two sugar maple trees in the front of our house, and two silver maple trees in the back. I did actually (surprisingly) do a bit of research on tree identification before I started. My plan was to collect sap from one tree in the front, and one in the back. Here is a picture sam took of the trees in our backyard.



The process is actually pretty easy to collect the sap. About three feet up, drill a hole 2-3 inches deep. I used a 7/16 drill bit.



If you wait about a minute after you drill, you should see the sap start to flow. On our first try, we got nothing. Pretty disappointing. But we tried the next tree, and within a minute, we had sap! So, we quickly hammered the spigot into the hole. (didn’t want to lose a drop!)



Look, sap! 

Then we connected the plastic tubing to the spigot, so the sap would flow directly into the bucket. Sam was my assistant and photographer today.

And of course, i had to drill a hole in the top of the bucket to accomodate the tubing.

Here’s what the set up looks like in the backyard!And in the front of our house:



I hope no one comes along and steals our sap! I think all of our neighbours already think I am crazy, so I’m not worried about that, but I’m thinking I might put a Please Do Not Touch sign on it…. 

Anyways, we went to the mall to pick up a present for a birthday party Sam had this afternoon, and by the time we got back, we had a couple inches of sap at the bottom of the bucket! It’s pretty cool, it looks just like water. The kids and I decided we want to try a little bit of the sap to see what it tastes like. I read online that you should boil it for about a minute before you drink it.



I also read online, that the sap should be boiled within a day, and spoils easily, so tomorrow morning, I’m going to try boiling it down into syrup. Apparently it takes quite a while, and creates a lot of moisture in the house, so I’ll have to keep a close eye on it and keep the fan on the stove on. Boy, is it lucky I don’t have anything else to do this weekend! Did I mention already that we are off work and school this week for March Break? I love being a teacher (in the middle of March, and July and August especially!) 

I’ll give you a syrup update as soon as I can to let you know how the next part of our syrup making journey goes!

Cheap and easy way to clean silver

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Cheap and easy way to clean silver

So I have been busy lately, but not so much making stuff in the past week…I have been working on clearing out the basement and dining room, and front room and closets… I have been donating and selling lots of online on Kijiji, and the local Facebook buy and sell pages.
In my quest to clean out the dining room, I came across a bunch of silver spoons. They were pretty tarnished, so whether I keep them or not, they need a clean. Here’s what they looked like before.

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So I guess you can’t see from the picture, but a few of them are solid silver, and a few are nickel plated and electro plated. I didn’t want to use a silver cleaner because I didn’t want to take off the plating.
So I did a little research and found that if you use a few cups of hot water, a couple tablespoons of water softener (I used Calgon), and a piece of tin foil, it was supposed to safety clean silver.
So I filled the sink with hot, hot water. Then, lined the bottom with tinfoil, and added a couple tablespoons of Calgon.

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I let them sit for a few minutes, and here is what happened…

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Can you see the half that was submerged?

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Just to remind you…here was less than 10 minutes before…

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So, of course, I dug through some of my jewelery, and found a few things that needed a little polishing….

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And gave them a little soak…

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The results were not quite as dramatic as the silverware, but they did shine up nicely.
But, the great thing was that it required very little polishing. I did wipe them down with a cotton cloth, after soaking, but I didn’t have to scrub at all. There were a couple of the pieces that I had to put into soak for a few extra minutes, but they cleaned up pretty well.
The thing is that I now have a whole box of Calgon water softener leftover! What do I do with all of that water softener? If anyone close to me wants to clean some silver I would be happy to share!