Cleaning Means Letting Go

I blogged early last year about how the Konmari Method has swept through our house. In the early days of that phenomenon here, we gathered and donated bags upon bags of clothing, boxes of books, and recycled half a forest’s worth of paper. In the midst of that, though, I never attacked my business stash. In eleven years, I have purged containers or fragrances that I no longer use, but I hadn’t done a major cleaning up and cleaning out. This week was that week.

It happened last week. I was taking a writing course online and happened to glance back at one of my soap racks. I have two, and one had become used for storage. A lot of storage. It mostly had soaping things on it, but it also had my sewing threads and pins to keep little children and cats out of them. I decided I didn’t need it for business things and that I would gut it and use it for the “domestic arts”: Canning, sewing, and cooking. In preparation, I ordered a sewing box and gathered all the bags of soap scraps (there were SIX of them!) to send down to Orlando to Clean the World. (Click here to see the stash I sent down.) That pretty much took care of the top shelf.

Then came the colorants. Organizing them and putting them where they belong required completely gutting their assigned drawer, cleaning it out, and replacing the colorants. It’s been a long time since that drawer looked that neatly organized!

As I was happily clearing off this rack, it dawned on me that I needed a place for my temperature-sensitive additives to live. My gaze landed on the corner rack. This rack is huge and lives in (you guessed it) the corner of our dinette. It’s where soaps cure and dried herbs live. If I were going to have room for the stuff on the hallway rack, then I needed to clean off the corner rack. You can see how this quickly snowballed.

Soap rack
The corner soap rack getting cleaned off and cleaned up

I wish I had thought to take “before” pictures so you could appreciate the sheer amount of work that went into getting this rack looking this good. I have wrapped over 100 bars of soap since yesterday. I have wiped down all these shelves to get the soap remnants off of them. All the soap at the top is for family use, though I suspect a bunch of smaller soaps will, too, make their way to Orlando to meet Priscilla, the soap press at Clean the World.

All that to get to the point… I’ve thrown stuff away. I’ve thrown things away I never thought I would. I found some bottles of lotions that had been living on the rack for ten years. I normally would’ve dumped the lotion out and washed or recycled the bottles, but I didn’t bother. They went straight into the garbage. Yes, a little bit of my soul died at the idea of throwing away plastic, and I heard my younger daughter chastising me in my head for being a “fish killer.” I did it, anyway.

My heart broke a little when I found some of my old faithful melt & pour soap moulds had yellowed and cracked with time and age. I thought of all the cat-shaped soaps I’ve made in my soapmaking career–soaps I have no need to make anymore. One of those moulds is sitting in the recycle bin. I’m pretty certain more will accompany it.

And if you look on the fourth shelf up, just to the right of my Crazy Ideas inspiration, you’ll see a clear container. It’s hard to make out what’s in it, but it contains the bagillion little product portfolios I had made for my first show. Hundreds of little 2″x2″ squares, each bearing a product picture on the front, its description on the back. None of them represent products I make currently, and the business that went with them has been gone for four years. I kept them for the memories, and now I am ready to let them go.

There comes a point where letting go is part of the cleaning process. Holding on to too much weighs us down, and we have to choose to release that dead weight that’s holding us back. I was exhausted after standing and working, and God only knows (literally!) how many steps I took between the two racks, the sink, and the trashcan. But seeing the rack looking like it does is completely rewarding to me. Knowing the next steps for the hallway rack and what it’ll mean for the rest of our space excites me. If I weren’t willing to part with these bits and pieces of my past soapmaking life, I’d never be able to move forward toward what I envision next for this space.

A Whole Lotta Makin’ Goin’ On!

I’m back, and it feels great being back!  The soaping supplies have been lonely, meditating on the meaning of life while we’ve canned the mid-summer harvest and celebrated the first of two birthdays.  The kittens I’ve been featuring in every blog post have found their forever homes, including the Momma cat.  This does, of course, include the one that adopted me.  And because I thought it might be a good idea for that kitten – I named her Lily – to have a companion besides the big cats, we also rescued a kitten from the pound, named Severus.  Harry Potter fans will understand.

The first party revealed that the Polish dill pickles are the most popular pickles to date.  I took a quart of them, it wasn’t a huge party, and the jar got wiped out completely.  So, we made sure that we got in two more batches of them.  Here’s the first of those two.

Picture of Polish dill pickles
Polish dill pickles. Some kind of awesome good!

Since then, the hubby has requested watermelon rind pickles.  I had never tasted them, nor had I ever made them.  I was always taught, “Never eat the rind.  It’ll make you sick.”  But, willing to try anything once, I found a recipe for cinnamon watermelon rind pickles and started the process.  They’re not quite my thing, but they’re pretty good.  We harvested another watermelon this week, and we’re going to try another trick with the pickles this go-around.

Last night, I finished the scarf for my older daughter’s birthday present, and tomorrow, my younger daughter is going to help me make a muslin bag to store it in.  She’s really excited about this!

Now that that is wrapped up and in my “done” pile, I have a scarf in process that’ll go to Scarves in the Port City for their ministry to homeless people.  Since I tend to have two projects going at any one time, it became time to start a shawl for a wedding I’m attending in October.  Oh, this is absolutely gorgeous!  Well, it will be, I’m sure.  I chose a black mohair and wool blend lace yarn with tiny multicolored sequins woven through.  It’ll be warm, and the sequins give it a festive look and offset the severity of the red-black color blocking I’d have otherwise.  I’ve started it and unraveled it twice now; this is my first time with knitting lace.

Of course, you’d think I’m nuts, trying to get any yarn work done with two kittens in the house.  You’ve seen Lily already, but I haven’t shown Severus off, yet.  Here he is.  He’s a rescue from the local animal shelter, and isn’t he just absolutely beautiful?  With silky fur and the most lovable disposition, he’s the most perfect companion to me and to Lily.  I thought Lily should have a companion to play with (since the big cats aren’t into playing with kittens), and I couldn’t have chosen better.  She’s half his size, but certainly the more dominant kitten. 

Severus, my black cat
Severus at the vet doing kitty corsage

And here are the two of them this afternoon, napping together.  Lily sleeps in the middle; definitely my kitten.

Kittens sleeping
Lily and Severus recharging

So, for you readers who aren’t into Harry Potter, you may be wondering what the story behind the names is.  In the series, Lily is Harry’s mom, and it was Severus Snape, Professor of Potions at Hogwarts, who revealed to Lily why she was different; they were themselves at Hogwarts together.  I can’t say much more without a spoiler alert.  Severus is depicted as being dark:  Black hair, dark robes, stern (severe) demeanor.  Plus, there’s just something about a black cat being named for a wizard.  There’s a wicked part of me that’d love to train Severus to perch on my shoulder; then at Halloween, I could go around with the girls in my black cape with a black cat perched on my shoulder, freaking out superstitious people.  No, I won’t do that, because no amount of fun is worth putting my sweet boy at risk, but it’s still fun to think about.

Stay tuned for peeks at the soaps that are new for your pleasure and restocked for those of you who have your faves.  Hint:  Sweet Cinnamon & Clove beer soap is back!


Weekend Ta-Da’s

Last week was the week of frustrating unpluggedness (is that a word?).  Tuesday evening, my darling younger daughter in a fit of pique threw her sister’s beach ball across the living room to her, knocking a cup of water over onto my laptop, rendering it inoperable for a few days, especially considering it was spread out in parts on the kitchen table.  At the same time, I was working on backing up all the files on my old, very slow desktop computer in preparation for having the hard drive replaced and upgraded.  That means I was stuck cooking and traveling.  Hey, there are worse things.

I put my laptop back together Friday, and Saturday, my oldest and I headed up to my parents’ house for a cookout.  Sunday saw me back in the garden.  I have so many cucumbers, enough for at least two more batches of pickles.  I also harvested more basil for pesto, which I whipped up Sunday afternoon.  In the quiet moments, I worked on my older daughter’s birthday present – a scarf in Gryffindor gold and burgundy – and finished another project.  (Yay!!!)

Scarf picture
A glimpse of the Gryffindor scarf I’m knitting for my older daughter

Our weekend ended with a visit to the kittens.  In two weeks, I’ll be able to bring my new one home.  They’ve gotten to be so playful – climbing, tackling, and chasing strings.  One little one kept exploring the crack under the door, and Momma Cat was not happy with that.  Momma went to carry her back to a safer spot in the room, and the kitten was ducking and dodging, trying to figure out how to scoot by her.  So funny!  Of course, there must be the requisite weekly kitten pic…

Cute kitten picture
My next furbaby

There will be more wonderment this week, including some fabulous new soaps that are soon to be ready for your enjoyment.  Stay tuned…

Getting Back to Basics

Once upon a time, I was a suited-up professional working in a healthcare environment, punching a (mostly) 8-5 clock.  Some days I worked until 7 or 8, and I was on call every single weekend.  I was rocking the soap biz on the side, working markets one weekend a month.  We lived in a townhouse in a nice urban area and could walk to the grocery store if we wanted.  Unfortunately, it was uphill coming back.  In fact, making soap was the closest I came to doing the neo-hippie-slash-homesteading thing.

A couple of years after leaving that position, it became very clear to us that we were going to be trading urban life for coastal rural life.  I was pregnant at the time, so finding a new job wasn’t high on my list of priorities, but making a home was.  I had visions of biking places, eating fresh-caught fish on a regular basis, and having our own little garden spot where we could grow our own fruits and vegetables, enough for our family.  One out of three ain’t bad.

In the six years since we moved, my business has taken off in unexpected ways, and I have changed in unexpected ways.  I never dreamed I’d be home educating my daughters.  Our “little” garden spot has had really bad years and really great years, but those great years haven’t yielded just enough for us to enjoy, but enough to share.  This year, it’s giving us some to can, too.  That’s another thing I never expected to be doing – putting up my own canned goods.  We tend to gravitate towards condiments (cranberry mustard, jellies, jams, and butters) and dessert stuff (pie fillings and chocolate sauce), although we have made and put up pickles, Brunswick stew, and chicken soup.  These, too, we are able to share.

jars of chocolate sauce
Jars of homemade chocolate sauce that Mary made. Taste better than Hershey’s!

When we lived “in the city,” I didn’t own a working sewing machine; I’m on my second one since we moved, one that my fellow business owner said is “a good one for children” (thanks, Sarah), but which is most definitely a step up from my Singer.  I used to sew; when I was a teenager, I made pillows for myself and for gifts, and I’ve done some of that since being married.  My long-time customers have seen the bags I’ve made for gifts or to hold bars of soap, too.  I’ve made a messenger bag and three purses.  Most recently, I’ve sewn curtains, a rather large project, as they’re covering a sliding glass door.

Soapmaking.  Canning.  Sewing.  Knitting.  (My oldest daughter is over my shoulder, or I’d show you what I’m working on for her.)  I look around at all these things my hands have made, at all the ways I’ve stretched myself to create a warm home and the ways we’ve worked together as a family to achieve it, and I am pleased.

(Next week, look for pictures of homemade pesto and more pickles.  I wish I could share our bounty with you.)

Our Highly Productive Weekend

Some weekends are just made for indulging in all sorts of hobbies and fun, with added points for making a home homier.  While the girls were gone last week, I spent a few hours making the curtains for the back sliding glass door.  This project had been on my radar for at least two years with a couple of agendas:  One, I wanted to get rid of the horrendous vertical blinds that had been slowly falling apart, slat by slat, since we moved into this house six years ago.  Two, I wanted to find a fashionable way to block drafts in the winter and the hot morning sun in the summer.  I think I’ve met my goal, don’t you?  I love how they let in diffused light!

New tropical curtains
The festive, tropical curtains now hanging in my dinette

Close-up of curtains and valence
The curtains with their box valence. My chairs are upholstered in this same striped print.

I tripped across a small sniglet of coconut cream in my fridge, and I really didn’t feel like keeping it in there, nor did I want to throw it out.  Plus, for a few minutes, I was bored, so I decided to toss that coconut cream into a small batch of soap.  Gorgeous, n’est-ce pas?  Beautifully swirled with Mad Oils micas with a base of blushing Bazooka Jo pink and swirls of Grape Nehi and Silverfin Blue, this soap is scented with a dupe of SunRipened Raspberry for a fun, fresh, summery finish.

Sun-Warmed Raspberry soap
Sun-Warmed Raspberry Soap with coconut cream. Rich and luxurious? Oh yeah!!!

With our bumper crop of pickling cucumbers coming in now, kindly augmented by one of hubby’s customers giving him five more, it was time to work some magic.  Magic, however, had to allow for the fact that I don’t have any space cool enough to ferment pickles, so I have to make adjustments.  In addition to restocking our cranberry mustard (the dark red stuff), my youngest daughter and I put up 8 pints of Polish dill pickles.  They look and smell delicious, but the recipe says we have to let them cure for 4-6 weeks.  WEEKS!!!  How ever are we going to be able to wait to dig into these?

Jars of food
Jars of homemade cranberry mustard and Polish dill pickles

Hannah, my youngest, decided she wanted to make a mermaid soap for her Grandma, complete with mica.  It turned out so pretty!  She opted for Lemon Grove scent, her Grandparents’ favorite.

Mermaid soap
My daughter’s special mermaid soap

Visiting this sweet girl, her siblings, and her mom topped off our weekend.  This little one has the sweetest face.  Her sister is my next kitten, but she was buried in a kitten pile nursing.  I have to wait another FOUR weeks before I can adopt the adorable little furball.  And who doesn’t like looking at cute kitten pictures?  Instant happiness!

Two-week-old calico kitten. Her sister is my next kitten.

What made your weekend great?  We’d love for you to share it in the comments.


Spring Cleaning a New Way

I’ll admit it.  While I keep my kitchen and my work space clean and organized, my bedroom is nothing short of a disaster.  It always seems that the inspiration to clean comes on Sunday mornings as I’m getting ready for church or on school days when I’m hustling to begin our lessons.  It’s not that there’s food or dirty dishes up there; it’s just general clutter, maximized by a way-too-large percentage of my clothes being “hand wash in cold water.”  (But I LOVE those sweaters!!!)

Earlier this week I came across this link on Facebook which promised one little tip to create tidying up magic.  As it seems that my cleaning is usually after other people and it’s a handful of stuff as I walk through rooms and never seeming to get anywhere, the idea of changing my thinking about cleaning was intriguing.  So what’s this great cleaning tip?  Well, it’s actually two parts.  One, clean by categories, not by rooms.  Do all clothes, then all books, then all DVDs, then all papers and whatever.  Two, keep only those things that bring you joy.

I like the idea of cleaning by categories, because if I cleaned by rooms, then one room would get messier in the process.  For example, I have some books in my bedroom and in the living room.  If I were to clean the books out of my bedroom, then I’d be shoving them on the bookcase in the office, making that less organized.

I can’t get into the “keep only those things that bring you joy.”  If that were the case, then I’d be donating all my clothes, because I don’t find joy in material things.  I enjoy nice clothes, and I do my best to take care of all my clothes.  What excites me the most is finding a garment I like and waiting until it goes on sale to buy it.  (I bought two sweaters right after Christmas for less than the price of one.)  But I can’t rightly say that any of my clothes bring me joy, so telling this garment or that one, “Thank you for the joy you bring me” or “You brought me joy at one point” just wasn’t in my mindset.  What was in my mindset was saying to two boxes’ worth of clothes, “You’re out of here,” “Loved wearing you, but that was years ago,” “You looked good on my pre-children body,” “What the heck is up with all these shoulder pads???”   I folded each garment and placed it with care in a box, then I marked those boxes with fun labels.

2015-05-29 11.16.55

As I went through my clothes, I could see the characteristics of each person who’d given them to me.  This particular top was from my mom in a size too large to “camouflage my size.”  That meant it hung on my small shoulders.  This scarf from my grandparents (just not my style).  That top from my in-laws – not my color.  This other top from my in-laws…  Hmmm…  That’ll look cute with those pants and that jewelry.  Purging that one, keeping that one.  I haven’t worn that one in forever, but it’s got good memories, so it stays.  As I said, in all, I packed two boxes on top of one that was waiting to be delivered, plus I ruthlessly trashed worn out shirts, jeans, bras, bathing suits, and panties.  My youngest helped me, and she couldn’t believe what I was throwing away:  “You’re throwing away a bra?!?!”

It felt amazing seeing the results of hours of hard work.  I tell my girls all the time, “I’m not attached to stuff.  I’m not attached to yours, and I’m not attached to mine” (which they know means I’ll throw their stuff away if they leave it out after I’ve told them to pick it up).  They saw that in action today.  “If Mom will throw her own clothes away, she’ll throw ours away, too!”  My youngest helped me, and my oldest decided to clean her room during about half of the time I worked on my room.

Unfortunately, our local thrift store is closed on the weekends, but those boxes will be gracing their business before we head to the beach again.  I’m not even done; I have more clothes to sort (some had to be washed), and my husband still has to go through his.  There is something amazing, though, about being able to see real, tangible results of all the hard work.

What do you have that brings you joy?  Can you get rid of those things that don’t?

The Power of Smell

Smell is such an important part of our lives.  Imagine the pungent aroma as you walk into a pizzeria or coffee shop.  Think about snuggling into freshly washed sheets, still warm from the dryer.

My oldest daughter and I spent a night at my parents’ house this past weekend.  We walked in to be greeted with the aromas of roasted turkey, boiled potatoes (oh, yeah, that was the other part of the meal I couldn’t remember), and my mom’s green bean casserole, which is truly superb and my second favorite thing she makes (behind shrimp creole).  Sometimes there’s a candle burning – Stormwatch by Yankee Candle – but not this particular time.  When it was time to shut it down for the night, I snuggled down in sheets that were sweet with the scent of Mom’s dryer sheets.  As the world woke up the next morning, that most amazing of scents wound its way up the stairs and crept under the closed door, stealing its way over the bed to tickle my nose.  With a happy sigh, my mind registered the smell of Morning Blend coffee; Dad, at least, was up and had started the coffee.  My last visit there, it dawned on me that one day, I would wake up at my parents’ house, and they wouldn’t be there to start the coffee first thing.  Terribly sad thought, and a reality that I hope is a few decades down the road.

I grabbed my shower, enjoying the bar of all natural carnation soap with which I’d gifted my parents five years ago that I’d put in the upstairs shower.  The towels smelled like their fabric softener and reminded me of my best friend’s towels, so there were wonderful scent associations with that.  A note of musk in my deodorant smelled like something I associate with my heartmate.

After church and a visit to two museums, we returned home.  I went upstairs to change clothes, and wham!  It hit me as soon as I walked into my bedroom.  It was the undefinable smell of home.  It was this blend of clean laundry, the people who share it, and some crazy, nuanced blend of blueberry, orange blossom, and scuppernong soaps, which are the choices in the shower right now.  (What can we say?  We’re soap whores.  And those are just the bar soap options.)  It was a most welcome smell after being gone.  My space.  A space in which I had a hand in making homey.  That is sacred space, and it was all because of a smell.

What smells are triggers for pleasant thoughts, memories, and experiences for you?

Homemade All Natural Laundry Soap

When my younger daughter was a baby, I faced two separate realities:  (1) I didn’t want to use commercial, scented laundry detergents on her clothes, and (2) I couldn’t afford the unscented ones.  I explored homemade laundry soap, and discovered it is very easy to make.

First, I whipped up some very basic soap, and by basic, I mean basic!  Half palm oil, half coconut oil, very low lye discount.  This soap would get a body clean, but it would be much harsher than my usual soaps.  Not great for bodies, but fabulous for dirty clothes.  I used the crockpot to make it go quicker, then let my soap cure for a few days.

Once it had cured a little, I grated it with a cheese grater.  (I could have used a food processor for this, but I like physically making my shreds by hand.)  I spread my grated soap out on a cookie sheet covered with wax paper and set it aside to dry out the rest of the way.  After two weeks, my soap shreds were wonderfully brittle to the touch, so I knew they were ready for the next step.

Fabulous laundry soap for an all natural clothes cleaning alternative
Fabulous laundry soap for an all natural clothes cleaning alternative

I put those little buggers in my food processor and processed all that soap into powder.  I measured out two cups of soap powder into a bowl, added one cup of Arm & Hammer Washing Soda and one cup of Borax, and stirred it all together with a spoon.  Then I poured it all into a repurposed large yogurt container (clean, of course) and placed it on my dryer.

We have used this regularly, and it worked great, even on my baby’s dirty cloth diapers.  When I clean my soapmaking equipment, I wipe it down with a rag, and I wash these rags with our regular laundry.  This means, it can be anybody’s guess what our laundry will come out smelling like.  One time I had washed a load of my baby’s laundry, and the only rag I had was from a batch of Orange Patchouli soap.  Patchouli really sticks, and I had a little hippie baby for a few days.  And so a patchouli lover was born.

Using this soap on laundry besides that of my daughters, I discovered that it wasn’t quite cutting it on my husband’s dirty, grimy work socks.  They were coming out clean, but not as sparkling white as I wanted, and that dinginess was spreading to my whites.  I tried increasing how much soap I used.  Didn’t work.  I added more washing soda straight to the load.  It helped some.  Then someone suggested using Oxyclean in place of the washing soda.  Oxyclean is like washing soda, plus some.  It worked!  I tried it in my next batch of laundry soap mixture, and it worked like a dream.  It does make it a little less than completely natural, but the end result is still mostly natural, and our socks are bright white again.

You can click the beautiful picture above to purchase some of this fabulous soap for yourself.  I will soon be playing around with homemade, natural fabric softener sheets and will post those instructions for you when I do.

I wrote about homemade laundry soap at the urging of my friend April, and I’m happy to share my natural alternative tricks.  About what natural home and personal care DIY products would you like to read?