Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Perfected lotion!

Sometimes the devil is in the details. Of all things, do you know what was wrong with my lotion? Why it was seperating? I was adding the water to the oil. Thats how I had read to do it, but in fact it works MUCH MUCH better to add the OIL to the WATER. Ah-hah! There we go, perfectly blended lotion without any beads of water. :)

So the new recipe is:

1 cup water
3/4 cup olive oil
3 Tbsp Bees wax

Melt the bees wax and oil in a water bath. Put you water in the blender, start blending and slowly add in the oil, no problemo!

One good thing about blogs is you can learn from other people's mistakes. You just got one handy tip above, now in the interest of full disclosure, I will tell you another. I hated my Cocoa Rose lotion. Yep, sad face all the way. It did smell nice, if a bit faint, but the thing is, when you get to adding ingredients that aren't assisting in the intended use for the product (smelling vs moisturizing), well, it's pretty much a crap shoot if those ingredients (fragrance) will go on to ruin the whole thing. I wouldn't say it ruined it, but I didn't like it as much. It smelled pretty... but must my lotion smell pretty? My regular lotion, without scent, doesn't smell bad- it doesn't smell much at all.

See my simple olive oil and bees wax lotion is a super good moiturizer, and all ingredients won't clog pores. Truly, you could open up a jar and eat it... if you wanted. It was soooo nice. I used to have terrible skin... I would buy every more expensive face lotions, and a seperate eye lotion, and a night cream, and a sperate (cheaper) body lotion, then a special lotion  for my feet.... you get the picture. My lotion is simple and can be slathered head to toe, around my eyes, on my face. It banished my acne and I came to realize it was responsible for my lashes growing super long (who knew?).

My scented lotion was not as moisturizing, but did fine for my face and body in general. I had to take great care not to get it near my eyes... when I did it hurt. Plus, the fragrance oils are the most expensive part. I wouldn't say I've sworn off scents, but for now, simpler is better.

Also, on the plus side, my Etsy account is live... er, sort of. So if you are interested in what I make, but don't want to do it yourself, you can check that out. Now that I have a lotion worth standing behind, I plan on putting that up too. Right now there is just one lowly chapstick on my account. My plan is to "purchase" it myself in order to findout just how the process works. I will post my Esty account once I truly have things for sale on it.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Beginning Garden Planning

It's been a very busy week and other than a short trip to Ferndale Market yesterday I haven't done much but work and take a short trip to the gym. In the name of blogging more, this is more of a think piece.

I really want a garden, I have for a while. I'm still not sure if this is feasible for next summer. First, I am renting a house right now, so I'm limited to off the ground raised beds or pots/hanging bags. There is a method that has become popular as of late called square foot gardening that I think would be ideal for me, or anyone wanted a garden on a more manageable scale. Read about it here.

Below is a photo of a simple layout that may work nicely. I don't want to be overwhelmed the first year. My only concerns are that I do want to include some root crops and that would mean the bed would need to be quite deep. I would also re-emphasize that the bed is not simply raised, but needs to actually be off the ground. That's a lot of dirt and a lot of weight to have up in the air. We will see. The photo below is a 4x6 bed that I really like. They have an ingenious idea for adding depth for plants that need when others don't. I really like the trellis in the back for climbing beans.

I also found instructions to building a 4x4 bed similar to the one above here. A nice addition is that they included directions for raising the whole thing off the ground. The idea is that the bed is made in foot by foot grid, the length can be as long as you want, but depth is only 4 feet so you can always reach the center plants from outside of the bed. Seeds are then spaced by recommended width and depth to avoid wasted space between rows.

I am most interested in heirloom plants. Heirloom gardens are becoming more and more popular due a a mix of nostalgia, seed right advocacy, and concerns for loss of biodiversity in the food supply. All are legitimate reasons to want to grow heirlooms and I may even include some think pieces in the future on these topics. Really, for me, I think it is about nastalgia. Many heirlooms have an old world wabisabi that you just don't see anymore. They are like a growing antique store and can be very charming.

Still, you can't just walk into Walmart (God forbid) and pick up a pack of any heirloom you want. Sure, a few popular types have made it on to the mass market, but doesn't selling one more type of tomato in bulk quantities defeat a lot of the reasons for growing heirlooms in the first place? Part of the fun of heirlooms is trying the rare, the weird, the forgotten. I picked up a copy of a magazine called Heirloom Gardener which listed several heirloom seed companies. The list is a bit overwhelming, some companies offering a few varieties, some offering thousands of different seeds. At first I purused the list trying to determine the "best" company with the greatest selection, but in the end I reminded myself the philosophy that began this blog: sometimes simpler is better. So I narrowed it down to the closest company listed in Iowa: Seed Savers Exchange.

Seed Savers Exchange is a non-profit founded in 1975 organized by members. One neat thing is they produce an annual yearbook of their members in which members will offer seeds they have saved themselves to other members. They don't have the staggering variety of some companies, but they are more likely to carry seeds better fitted to the northern climate and they won't have to travel quite so far to get to me.
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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Farmers Market December 17

I was looking back through my blog and realized I had stopped short on one the original focuses of my blog.... To post all the local niceties Minnesota snd the surrounding region has to offer. I miss writing about my day at the farmers market... Plus writing helps to keep track of who I bought from, who I would go back to, as well as give me ideas of farms or stands to visit.

Also, I would like to blog more often, so that the blog is more of a diary than a collection of reviews and "How Tos." I plan on still including those, but the truth is, if you want to be more self sufficient and a concious consumer, you give up a lot of the convenience of just running out and buying something you need when you need it. So, there is a rhythm to things. I think writing in more of a diary formate may convey that rhythm a bit better.

But I digress...

I have to say, I haven't been to a Rochester farmers market in a while 1) because I assumed wrongly there would be much there 2) because it isn't every weekend and I was falling victim to poor planning and 3) I didn't know where it was.

I'm glad I went, the picture above shows a small fraction of the vendors. I used the token exchange system for my card because I forgot cash. I definitely wasn't prepared. I didn't go in with a list and honestly the fridge was pretty much stocked up. This is never a good idea at a farmers market. You end up circling the place about 12 times (though it's way more fun that wandering around the grocery store) and always end up getting fun, but not practical things. And that's just what happened to me today, but I couldn't be more pleased :). Life doesn't always have to be organized to yield desired results.

Early on I saw one stand that sells milk (including chocolate) and they had eggnog today. While I'm not the biggest fan, this stuff was way way better than the grocery store stuff. But it was spendy, $6 a gallon and with a $3 bottle return fee (you get this back when you return the bottle). So I passed at first. I went back later and they were out. You snooze you lose at the farmers market! But the lady did direct me to their small on-farm store, and so I may try sneak out there for a bottle today. Bonus: it is cheaper on the farm. And anyway, I would like to do more "farm trips," they are fun, and they help you learn more about producers and keep the products they make more salient in your mind.

So there is the haul I ended up with. And I forgot eggs... Eggs of all things! Oh well. Above you see a bag of honey crisp apples (yay!!!!), carrots (really really good... If grocery food tasted like this we'd all eat our veggies), 1 lbs whole wheat flour, canned tomatoes in an awesome square jar, a bag of popcorn, and a handmade soap. I will make another post about the soap soon.

I went in wanting the apples and carrots. The popcorn and flour were more impulse buys, but are significant because I am trying to expand the scope of what I buy locally. I think I may try making some bread with the flour, even if that requires adding non-local flour to it to meet recipe requirements. The popcorn should be a healthy snack and I found a way to pop it in a brown paper bag on Pinterest. I bought the soap, because obviously I love handmade soaps and it's fun to see what other people are doing, this one is made with goats milk the woman milks herself, nice!

The pop corn came in red or white bags. Apparently the white corns have less shell when you pop them, but I had to go for a mixed bag ... Too pretty to pass up. It fit perfectly in the mason jar below.

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Location:5th St NE,Rochester,United States

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Flaxseed Styling Gel

Ok, this one is easy.

3 Tablespoons flaxseeds
1 cup water

Combine and simmer on the stove until the liquid reduces by half. Then strain. I used a nutmilk bag, next time I will use a fine mesh strainer, it was a little hard to squeeze all of it out, but it was the best thing I had at the time. It will thicken more as it cools.

I've read to keep it in the fridge, but I haven't had a problem with it spoiling. Just make it in small batches. In any case, it costs pennies to make, so if it does spoil, I would just make a new batch. This makes a nice light gel that also nourishes your hair.

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Location:5th St NE,Rochester,United States

Cocoa Rose Lotion

I'm on a roll this week. Over the weekend I made another batch of soap, now I'm at it again tonight with two projects: lotion and styling gel.

I love my lotion, but I will admit I'm still not getting consistent results. This is the first scented lotion I've tried, which just boils down to adding essential oils to my basic olive oil recipe. I used essential oil of cocoa and rose (mixed with jojoba). I tried to find real, true, pure rose Otto oil, but it isn't sold anywhere in Rochester. I do know that the Wedge in Minneapolis used to carry it. This is where making your own bath products get fun, because rose oil is supposed to be great for the skin, but at a whopping average of $1 a drop (yes, a DROP), commercial products containging it tend to be 1) rare 2) fakes or 3) extremely expensive... We're talking the $100 4-ounce bottles here. Adding it yourself isn't gunna be cheap... Add 10 drops and now you have a lotion that costs over $10 to make. Still, walk up to a Clinique counter and you can easily find an inferior product for more money.

Note, my rose oil is not pure.... It is a mix, so it was far cheaper than that... But isn't it nice to know you can choose to treat yourself to some of life's niceties every once and a while?

Start filling you double boiler with .5 oz of beeswax (I have also use a tin can for this)...

Add 1/2 cup of olive oil...

Heat until the beeswax dissolves. Then, remove from heat and add essential oils. For this batch I did 10 drops rose oil (in jojoba) and 5 drops cocoa.

While the mixture of oil and wax is heating, be sure to fill your blender with very hot water. This prevents the oil and wax mixture (what does that make class? Oh yeh, lip balm!) from solidifying when it hits the cool glass.

There are certain steps I never get a picture of just because I am involved in actually doing them. The next step is to dump out the hot water, then add the hot oil and wax mixture to the blender. Cover the blender, but leave the small opening open to add water in. Add in a thin stream of 1 cup warm water. Stop every once in a while to scrape down the sides.... Blend blend blend! Until it is finally mixed.

So, if you really think about it, lotion is basically a lip balm with water added to it. The beeswax acts as an emulsifier. In fact, there was a little bit of oil mixture left to cool in the double boiler, and it makes a great lip balm.

I have to admit, this is still a trial and error process for me. I always end up with a great product, but every single time I get little bits of water that stay in my lotion... I haven't quite perfected the technique yet. I looked it up online and it sounds like I either need more wax or I need to add in the water much slower. It's still a work in progress at this point. I would like to try sell some on Etsy, but I don't think I can do that until I've perfected how to get the emulsion perfected as each would be made to order. Here's to learning as you go!

A note about the essential oils... They turned out a bit light, I may even try doubling them next time. Also, just a side note that they will act as a preservative (woohoo for good preservatives!) for you lotions, so this one should last longer.

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Location:5th St NE,Rochester,United States

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

New Recipe: Superfat Soap

So I'm going up in the world of soap making. I rented a few books and have learned a lot. This is the first recipe I made, instead of following from a book or blog post.

I'm especially excited to try this soap, because it should be very luxe and nourishing. I have terribly dry skin and I've received great benefits from making my own soaps already. The base of the soap is olive oil. I am currently still on my first batch of pure olive oil soap and loving it. Two additions I haven't added before are avocado oil and Shea butter. Both are very nourishing and both, she butter especially, are important due to their high content in unsaponifiable oils. This means, no matter how much lye may be added (that isn't a challenge by the way) part of these oils... most of the shea in fact, will not turn into soap. So essentially, a good amount of these rich oils will be left in the bar to soften the skin while you wash. Lastly, I added coconut oil back in 1) because I had it on hand and 2) because shea and avocado oil can soften the bar and coconut oil will harden it.

One of the books had tables of how much lye is needed per ounce of the different oils. So basically, you first decide hown many ounces of each oil you wish to have in the recipe, multiple each by the lye ratio needed, and then figure out the water needed. My recipe was developed as follows:

2 lbs 12.6 oz (44.6 oz) oilive oil
4.0 oz avocado oil
4.2 oz Shea butter
5.0 oz coconut oil

Lye ratio are given in ounces of lye per ounce of oil. Each fat or oil has its own lye ratio! The ones needed for this recipe were as follows...

Olive oil .134
Avocado oil .532
Shea butter .128
Coconut oil .190

So to calculate the lye needed....
44.6 oz olive oil x .134 = 5.9764
4.0 oz avocado oil x .133 = .532
4.2 oz Shea butter x .128 = .5376
5.0 ox coconut oil x .190 = .95

Total lye needed = 7.996

Now, I still don't understand how calculating the water works. Essentially you need so much water per each ounce of oil/fat in the recipe. The confusion comes in because the was one number for if the oil weight (combined) was less than 16 oz and another if it was greater than 32 oz. Since I didn't know what to do if the weight was somewhere in between the two, I just made sure my recipe weighed out greater than 32 oz!

Total oil weight = 57.8 oz
Ratio of water to oil if >32 oz of total oil= .377


57.8 x .377 = 21.79 oz of water needed.


44.6 oz olive oil
4.0 oz avocado oil
4.2 oz Shea butter
5.0 oz coconut oil
8.0 oz lye
21.8 oz distilled water

(remember all measurement are weight measurements)

I used both round and square mold and ended up with nearly 5 lbs of soap. Knowing that my very very small batch of olive oil castille soap has lasted about 3 months, this should last nearly a year. Now the aging process begins...
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Location:5th St NE,Rochester,United States

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Thrift Vase Makeover

Instead of qualifying which projects are inspired by something I saw on pinterest, I should start qualifying which ones aren't. This was such a cool idea I decided to give it a try. I originally looked at the craft store for vases, but it's hard to spend 10-15 bucks a pop for a "cheap and easy" project.

Luckily the thrift store pulled through, with 99 cent glassware.

Supplies: glue gun, spray paint, glassware.

Use the glue gun to write words or designs in the glasses. It took some practice, but I found you can easily pull off anything that doesn't turn out right.

Vases with glue on them...

Spray paint away...

Uh, yeh. May sure you double check which color you pick up. The heart vase was intended to be white until I picked up the black can instead. I tried to make it look intentional, but in the end I just painted it black.

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Location:5th St NE,Rochester,United States

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Cheap Laundry Soap

I've been making my own laundry soap for a while, but in much smaller batches. This is a similar recipe to what I've been doing, but on a much larger scale. I'm starting to find that with the more practical daily things I make (soap, lip balm, laundry soap, shampoo) that the trick is to make large batches infrequently. This way you aren't constantly trying to keep up with the demand of using it. Plus, for many items, soap especially, it is just as easy to make a large batch as a small one.

I found this recipe on Pinterest (can't tell that I'm loving that site, can you?). Really though, the proportions are identical to several recipes I've found. The nice thing about this recipe is that there is no measuring. All you need is around 15 oz of soap, 1 (4 lbs) box Borax, 1 (4 lbs) box washing soda, 2 (2 lbs)boxes of baking soda. Don't bother being exact about the soap, the bars I have are about 4 oz. Eventually I would like to switch to using my homemade soap for this, but I was short at the time so I used a pure coconut soap. The only thing to remember for the soap, is to use soaps with animal fats or those with a high concentration of saturated fats. Olive and vegetable oils tend not to wash away completely. Vegetarians can use a coconut oil soap like I used above. Some recipes call for fels naphtha soap, which is a solid laundry detergent bar. I passed on this because I'm pretty picky about ingredients and the listings on the package are pretty vague. Part of the DYI benefits are controlling what you are exposed to, after all, so why not be picky?

Let the grating begin! Ok there is an easier way... A food processor with a grater attachment makes quick work of this. Really though, if you have a TV show or a movie you want to watch, just sit down and grate the soap while you relax.

One piece of advice here... I would mix it all in a garbage bag next time. Everything involved is a fine powder and it's hard to mix without breathing a bunch of it. Not too fun. Next project is to get a container to hold it all in.

Above may not look like much (even the picture doesn't really do it justice), but it is super concentrated and fills about 1/3 of a 5 gallon bucket. For each load you only need 1 tablespoon! The whole batch costs under 20 dollars and should last about 9 months to a year. I personally think it cleans much better than regular detergents and the ingredients are better for you.

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Location:5th St NE,Rochester,United States

Newspaper Xmas balls

I found this idea on Pinterest. So simple, you just need plastic Christmas balls (I got these on sale for under three dollars... You could also recover old ornaments), mod podge, ribbon, and a spray paint can of silver glitter. I didn't even use a paint brush, just started shredding up the newspaper and modgepodged it on with my fingers :). Then I took them outside and spritzer them with the glitter. I'm not a big glitter girl, but that made quite a difference in the end end effect. The glitter is really subtle and looks more shiny than sparkly. Sadly, I'm going to keep that stuff on hand now, I guess it might be worth using on other projects. I thought of raffia for the ribbons, and I still think that would be cute, but the ribbon was on sale for a buck and was way cheaper. So there ya go, easy, crafty Christmas ornaments.

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Location:5th St NE,Rochester,United States

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Cutting Deer Soap

So it's been about fourteen hours since I made the deer tallow soap and it seemed ready to unmold. It was stuck in there pretty good and it took a lot of coaxing... ER, hammering... to get it out. Next time I'm going to line the mold with butchers' paper and see if that helps.

Above is the log of soap fresh from the mold. I will say, now I wish I had gone for 3 inch PVC pipes instead of 2 inch... The bars are a little small. I cut some thinner piece to give away as gifts. For myself, I cut some sections thicker so they last a but longer in the shower. There were also some random chucks that I will grind up for laundry soap.

The cutting process. I should use a wire to cut, cutting with a knife is a little tricky and some of the end pieces that were drier and ended up cracking. Not that it affects the soap at all.

... And onto the drying rack they go. Now they need to wait 6 weeks to cure... Which lands them right at December 25 to be fully cured :). The dry pieces smell absolutely amazing.... I think even Equah will like these. Every now and then I grab a piece just to remember how wonderful they smell!

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Location:5th St NE,Rochester,United States

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Deer Soap

So... My first attempt at using deer tallow for soap. I found a recipe online and altered it ever do slightly:

24.5 oz wt of deer tallow (1 lbs 8.5 oz)
7.5 oz wt of coconut oil
12 oz fluid water
4.5 oz wt lye
1 tsp rosemary essential oil

Coconut oil (in a double boiler)

...addition of deer tallow.

...measuring lye.

So I melted to oils and prepped the lye and water. I meant to do the mixing with a drill with a paint mixer attachment, but the drill was dead as a door nail and I didn't want to wait for it to charge. So, I mixed by hand.

Then shenanigans ensued. I had a nice wide funnel to get the soap into my new PVC pipe molds, but in my ultimate wisdom I waited too long to pour it. There is a point called Trace when you can see drippings leave patterns on the surface of the soap, this is the time to pour. Well I got there, but being a bit paranoid I really did not want to risk my soap separating so I stirred the soap just. A. Tish. More. Yikes, do not do that! Within a couple of whips with the spoon it went from pudding to custard... I grabbed the bowl, popped up as fast as my gimpy ankle would let me, and ran to put in the mold. It was a whole ten feet, but by the time I poured it into the funnel it was like mashed potatoes... So I ditched the funnel and started spooning the glop into the mold by hand. Even this had to be done at a furious pace... The last part was practically set by the time I was pressing it in the mold. There was soap everywhere... Sigh, but I got it in. I am hoping I got all the air out and they still make nice bars. What a mess. On the up side, so far it seems like the soap is going to have a really pretty smell. Can't wait to cut the bars!

Below is the PVC tube of soap wrapped in towel. This is to keep the soap from cooling too fast which can cause the soap and lye to separate... Ruining the soap completely.

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Location:5th St NE,Rochester,United States

Drain Pipe Soap Mold

Simple and cheap. I just got a 10 foot PVC drain pipe...

... Sawed it into sections (just make sure they will fit in the fridge)...

Rinse out...

And add end caps. Once soap has set in them you can put the tube in the fridge to help the soap contract away from the tube so it slides out easier. Theoretically, anyway. Time will tell how well this works...
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Location:5th St NE,Rochester,United States

Monday, November 7, 2011

Rendering Tallow from Deer

The tallow above is from the deer we took and will be used for soap. The final product is milk white and very pretty, but it didn't start out that way. I read several different methods for rendering online and finally picked the simplest method. I likely will get more tallow another day and I may try another method then and compare the results. For now, I'm happy with how things turned out.

So this is the tallow we collected from my buck and Joe's doe. We didn't scrape for every last bit, but we collected quite a lot. The was slightly more than pictured here... We started cutting before I nabbed a picture. I rendered the tallow the evening that we processed deer, and only the day after we got them.

The first task was to clean up the fat a bit, cutting off extra prices of meat and tendon that were left from the rough cuts processing the deer. I read that most people will get the tallow coursely ground before rendering. While my family has a grinder, it is currently in my uncle's possession in Iowa. So I opted to just roughly chop everything. And a thanks to my dad for helping with all of this :). If you did have a grinder it would most likely save time and make this portion easier. I also read that you can also use a food processor, but that you must partially freeze the fat first or it will turn into a mess. To me, that process sounds too complicated and is unlikely to truly be worth the effort. This worked just fine.

I believe that completely chopped up we had about 7.5 lbs of fat before rendering. My mom actually helped me trouble shoot a bit as she remembers her parents rendering lard as a child. This is just a large roaster.

The whole thing went into the oven at 225 degrees F overnight... About 10 hours. It likely could have gone more, but at 5 am before I left for hunting it was good enough. I supposed this is a good point to address the smell. Everything you read says the same darn thing, "rendering tallow smells sooooo bad." Well it doesn't smell sooooo bad, and it definitely doesn't stink up a whole room. The smell is slightly unpleasant, but I think that frying hamburger is a similar contender for unpleasant smells.

The set up for straining was just a ladle and a couple pieces of cheese cloth wrapped over another pan. At first I used the ladle, but eventually I just poured it all over the cheese cloth. The chitlins (fried bits) were still quite soaked in tallow so I gathered up the cheese cloth and twisted and squeezed as much as I could from them. The chitlins are basically connective tissues, bits of meat, etc and the tallow is the pure fat from the animal. In processing lard from pigs, I'm told the chitlins are really tasty. I doubt they are from a deer... I couldn't bring myself to try.

The next part is just to ladle it into jars. I used a canning funnel to help out and it went very smoothly.

Here are the jars right after they were filled, the tallow looks quite yellow at first. I put in the liquid hot and as a bonus most of the jars sealed. Tallow, in any container, should last about a year in a cool, dry place. So, I'm not relying on the sealing to really preserve it, but it is kind of nice to know there is some added help there. You cannot can tallow the regular way, you risk exploding fat from the heating process and the tallow itself is supposed to interfere with with how the cans seal. Some people can clarified butter in a similar way with success. I would use common sense and not rely too heavily on sealed cans to preserve the tallow.

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Location:Excel,United States

I know it's the same picture as above, but I had to end with the pretty tallow in the jars again :). I will note that there are some impurities at the bottom of the jars. Next time I may try rendering the tallow in water. The impurities are supposed to sink to the bottom of the water and the tallow just solidifies on top and can be removed. The only disadvantage as it is a bit more complicated than the way I tried. Still, if I try it next time I will be able to compare the two processes.