Simple Pleasures

Often in the midst of enjoying the relatively new-found – OK, so it’s now been 6 months already! – pleasure of making soap completely from scratch, it’s easy to forget the simple pleasure of a well-poured tray of handcasted soaps. This week I’ve been trying to get my Christmas shaped soaps restocked. One such soap is my Gingerbread guest soap, which I color with a pretty brown spice. There’s a simple pleasure in seeing the soap from the bottom of the mould and noting that it’s so well mixed that the colorant didn’t settle to the bottom, giving me pretty, uniform speckles.

Today was one of those chilly, blustery Fall days that make you pull out the winter coat and dream of hot drinks in the evening. I poured my soaps, did some dishes and paid some bills. In fact, it was such a quiet day that I had time to enjoy a good book and take a power nap before running my afternoon errands. When I woke up from my nap, I looked out the back door and saw this plethora of bright colors. It’s like all the leaves had changed when I wasn’t looking, transforming our back wooded area into a kaleidoscope of brilliant yellows, reds, oranges and greens. Seeing all those lovely Fall leaves was a nice, simple pleasure.

Finally my daughter and I came home, and the starter for Amish Friendship Bread that my friend Cookie gave me was ready to become bread. Amish Friendship Bread takes 10 days and about half an hour of prep time to make, then another hour to bake. It’s active. You get to mush it up in a bag every day, and seven days into the process, you add sugar, flour and milk to it. Then you mush it some more. The fun part to watch is, after adding the sugar, it reacts with the yeast and releases carbon dioxide, which causes bubbles and makes the bag puff up. Sunday morning, we discovered that the expanding bag will also push stuff off the counter if it’s in its way.

Anyway, my daughter and I donned aprons and got to work on our bread. We also sectioned out some starter to share with our friends, and I’m trying to decide if I want to keep the fourth bag of starter (you’re supposed to, according to the directions), or give it away, too. I think it can be frozen, which will be a good idea, as I can save it for closer to the holidays. The mixture makes 2 full-size loaves, and our first one is in the oven as I type this and smelling awesome! Besides the very long prep time for this bread in our “gotta have it now” society, the instructions say that you can’t use metal in the mixing at all. This means using a plastic bowl (melamine in our case, but I use them for mixing all the time, anyway) and mixing it with a spoon by hand. I don’t even mix my soap by hand! Sometimes the simplest ways bring the most pleasure.

A Very Fair Day

I took yesterday off from soapmaking to enjoy the NC State Fair with my family. We had a blast!!! My daughter is at that age now where she’s really into the rides, which made it hard for my husband and me to enjoy the buildings and displays. We didn’t even make it into some of our “must do” buildings (we always enjoy the really creative garden displays). Hubby and I alternated riding the rides with her, and we let her ride one ride by herself, which thrilled her to no end! As my daughter and I rode this one ride called the Traffic Jam (yep, it was a kiddie ride), I thought to myself, Wow, for three tickets, this is a pretty good ride. I’ve discovered that she likes speed; the faster the ride goes, the happier she is. I also thought it was pretty cool that she was putting her arms up in the air and stuff like that. When I was her age, I was still clinging to the bar.

In addition to the tons of samples, it felt like we ate all day long. We ate breakfast there at the Apex Lion’s Club concession stand (we always pick this place because we know the food’s gonna be good). Mmmmmmm… For me, a sausage biscuit where the biscuit was a scratch-made buttermilk biscuit and a bowl of these absolutely divine grits. (For those of you who may be unfamiliar with grits… It’s a hot cereal made with coarse-ground corn. I like mine with butter, sugar and just a titch of salt and pepper.) All I wanted for lunch was a hot dog, and then before we left, we got funnel cake and Hubby just had to try this year’s deep-fried goodie, deep fried pecan pie. I tasted it, and really, it wasn’t that bad, but I think I’ll stick with my funnel cake, thank you very much.

Standing tall right beside Dorton Arena on the fairgrounds is the Ruth Graham Memorial Waterfall. Mrs. Graham is the late wife of Jim Graham, who was the NC Commissioner of Agriculture for many, many years. She died of Alzheimer’s Disease, and the money collected in the fountain goes towards Alzheimer’s research. We always sit by this fountain to enjoy our funnel cake and to catch our breath before battling the crowds heading out of (and some coming into) the Fair. After the last bite of funnel cake is gone and I’ve brushed as much of the powdered sugar off as I can get, I toss my change into the fountain, wishing, as always, for a cure for this disease. Up until 2005, I wished for a cure – one to come quickly – so my Grandma would be made well. After her death in Spring 2005, I wished for a cure so others wouldn’t have to know the pain of watching a loved one slowly die little by little from this dreadful disease.

Just when I thought it was safe to get back into the kitchen…

After a few weeks of experimenting with new techniques, creating new scents and even re-experiencing the simple pleasure of a measuring cup filled with beautifully colored melted soap base this afternoon, I decided I needed to rebatch some soaps that, for all intents and purposes, looked and felt like they’d glycerin sweated inside their wrapping. I shredded the bars and drizzled a little milk over them, same as I always do. I let it meditate for a few hours, covered, before placing the bowl in a warm oven for 2 hours. While that was going on, we put our daughter to bed, and I was nestled in on the sofa watching some shows I’d taped this past week.

Then I heard it. The subtle click of the oven as it controlled its own temperature. I looked at the clock on my laptop and realized, Oh, crap! I’d forgotten about my soap!!! On the plus side, I’d only gone over by about ten minutes. On the negative side, though, I was rebatching a much smaller amount than my usual three-pound batches. I opened the oven door and carefully pulled back the aluminum foil to discover my soap had volcanoed (though, thankfully, stayed in the bowl, so no oven mess) and it was the lovely brown of rich, luscious, high-grade honey. This soap started out cream-colored. It maintained its fragrance and doesn’t smell burnt, so I’m hoping it’s OK. I added a bit more tea tree oil to make up for any that may have gotten burned off in the oven and glumped it into my mould. It’s going to be OK, but I’ve never had a rebatch do this to me before!

*Sigh* One of my soap buds and I keep our chat window open all day, and I knew she’d had some bad soaping luck today, too. I told her there really should be a sign when it’s not a good day for soaping – one that comes before we start the process.

New Goodies for the Holidays

Wow! It’s hard to believe that Halloween is just a week away! It seems like just last week it was warm and toasty enough here in central North Carolina to get by wearing shorts and t-shirts. Oh, wait. It was last week when it was that warm. Now Autumn is well and truly upon us with beautifully changing leaves, cool days and brisk breezes that cause the leaves to crackle against each other.

When Halloween’s past, then I get to roll out all the delightful and fun Christmas soaps I’ve been working on and likely will continue working on until the very last minute. These here are one such delight. I created a custom fragrance that I call Christmas By The Sea, a scent reminescent of our annual trips to the coast for the Crystal Coast Christmas Flotilla. I borrowed the name from this shop that used to be on the island where we always vacation.

Christmas By The Sea (the shop) was a charming Christmas store with everything you could want for Christmas – villages, trees, wreathes, ornaments, garlands and gifts. Twelve years ago, my then-boyfriend took me down there (thinking he’d surprise me and not realizing I knew this shop well) to find an angel for the Christmas tree I had in my apartment. When we arrived, we discovered that the Flotilla was going on that evening, so we stuck around for it before driving back home.

Since then, the shop (unfortunately) has closed, but the Flotilla continues. That first Flotilla became the start of an Advent tradition for us. The then-boyfriend is now my husband of almost 9 1/2 years, and the joy of watching the Flotilla continues and is something we share as a family. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the angel I bought then still graces our tree, year after year.

That’s a lot to go into an unassuming bar of soap, isn’t it? Happiness, memories, the tang of fresh cut greenery as it meets the scent of home and sea. It’s all here in Christmas By The Sea. Look for it in a few weeks, but it will be ready in plenty of time for the holidays, and even in time for pre-Christmas giving.

What to do? What to do?

Here in the midst of silly season as I’m trying to get everything together, I’m now insanely thinking, “Ya know, a home party might be fun.” Um, do what??? Home parties are a lot of work, and the last open house I hosted didn’t have many attendees. So what makes me think I want to do it again? I can’t really say. For one, I think it’d be a lot of fun. We can laugh, be silly and take a bit of time to pamper ourselves. Two, it’d be a good boost to late-year sales, which I’m anticipating being pretty good, though I wouldn’t be surprised if they were down from last year. Three… Well, I keep coming back to that “fun” thing. What do y’all think?

There are some considerations. I took time off from my part-time retail job just to get all this fall stuff done. It freed us up when Hubby had to work Saturdays so I could be home with our daughter. It enabled me to enjoy her break from school with her, without having to think, “We’re not going to get any family time this weekend.” And I’ve certainly been busy enough. Then there was that vicious autumn cold that attacked me and still is reluctant to leave me alone. Those are the positives. The negative is, obviously, the loss of that extra income and while it’s not a whole lot, it certainly does help. I could still do the open house if I were back at work, but it’d be a bit more difficult.

In the meantime, I’m preparing for November’s First Sunday, my big show which falls on 1 December this year, and, on top of both of those exciting events, I’m going to be submitting samples to Little Black Boxes for this month’s sample boxes and also to Out of the Box for November’s sample packs. I’m busily wrapping soap samples for LBB and today I ordered the bottles and lids for OOTB’s samples. Both companies seem to be very well operated and the contact I’ve had with the owners has been nothing but positive.

Budding Young Photographer

Yep, I’m probably starting to sound a bit like that mean magician in “Frosty the Snowman” who wants his hat back and says everything three times. Silly season is fast approaching and I’m running to catch up. It doesn’t help that I came back from a fairly relaxing vacation at the beach sick with a cold that’s left me feverish, hacking and physically worn out. Nor does it help that it seems all my Soap Buds are making soap when I barely have the strength to lift a spoon. It seems all I can do lately is be online to give guidance, encouragement, pithy comments and suggestions. The forced inactivity has given me the quiet time and space to edit and upgrade product pictures – with a little help from a young budding photographer.
She’s only 5, but already she’s showing an amazing talent for photography. It started last weekend at a wedding for my sister-in-law. My in-laws had put disposable cameras on the tables for guests to take pictures, and my daughter got a hold of one. We don’t know, yet, how they turned out, but she was certainly enthusiastic. Last night I decided to see how she does with a camera and (crazily) let her get her hands on our nice digital camera to take some pictures of my Natural Pumpkin Spice soaps. I helped her with the mechanics of operating the camera – a digital isn’t quite as simple as a point-and-shoot with a manual film wind – but once she figured that out, she was good to go. Later that night I was reviewing the pictures, trying to decide which one I wanted to go through the trouble of editing for my website. My husband was looking over my shoulder as I did this, admiring the photos.
Finally, we decided. All but two were good (one was badly off-centered and another one was out of focus as she was trying to get used to the behavior of the camera), so it was a difficult decision. I cropped, I lightened and the photo above of the soaps is her work. I’m very proud of her and pleased to see this manifestation of another of her Daddy’s gifts and talents in her.

“This stuff WORKS!”

It’s always good to know my soaps effectively clean and moisturize, but then again, I or anyone in my family could tell you that. We’re the reason I can never claim “Not tested on animals,” because my husband, daughter, friends and parents become my guinea pigs for each batch. What feels good, though, I’ll admit, is finding out my soaps will not just take care of the routine, run-of-the-mill, every day dirt, but that they’ll also do the job against serious dirt, too.

This is a small part of Jim, one of my best friends. Anti-seize

Jim’s really into motorcycles – he has two Buell’s – and, like most dedicated bikers, he does his own maintenance work. The silver stuff all over his finger is Anti-Seize. It’s an aluminum-impregnated grease that not only lubricates moving parts, but it also keeps them from rusting together. It’s thick, it’s nasty and it’s extremely difficult to wash off.

Jim’s also a coffee junky. So when I made my coffee mocha soap, I gave him a bar to test out, thinking he’d use it in the shower. Coffee mocha also has a pretty noticeable vanilla note, which also appealed to him. Here’s that soap:

Coffee Mocha Soap

The day after I gave him the soap, Jim IM’ed me, “This stuff WORKS!” I was a bit nonchalant about it: “Well, yes, I know it works. It’s soap. It’s supposed to.” That’s when he went on to explain to me about anti-seize and how effective the soap is even against that.

So, give the soap a try. I don’t think there’s anything magical about the Coffee Mocha scent, or about the little bit of baking cocoa I added for color. I think the magic comes in the soap itself and the fact that’s it really, truly soap. Let’s face it. Detergent’s great for clothes and dishes, but not for skin. Using the mess you get at the grocery store would be like having head-to-toe dishpan hands.

Getting Rebatched – How God Makes Us Better

Our pastor said yesterday that we’re like clay pots that get broken before being put back together in order to be useable. Being a soapmaker and not a potter, I can’t help but think in terms of soap, so instead I think that we get rebatched.

First, my reason for not completely agreeing with the broken pot analogy… Broken pots can be mended and glued back together. However, while they’re perfectly functional, they still have these vulnerable parts where the cracks are. Glue’s not quite as hard as clay that’s been kiln-fired, leaving the pot vulnerable to leaks.

When I make soap – or when anyone makes homemade soap, for that matter – there’s always the risk that something will go wrong. This doesn’t happen often, but it does happen, and a few weeks ago, it happened to me for the first time. I’d made some CPHP soap in cucumber aloe and was attempting to mould it in a plastic tray of guest-sized soaps. Done perfectly, I’d have ended up with 15 1.25-ounce bars of soap that smelled fresh and clean but that also had the nourishing properties of the aloe vera juice I’d put into it. They didn’t turn out perfect. The soap itself was fine. It smelled good, the lather was fabulous when I cleaned out the crock pot and it was perfectly functional. However, it wouldn’t come out of the mould. I tried. My husband tried. We even let it sit for a few days, thinking it’d shrink up some with its cure and it’d pop right out, but to no avail. The bars ended up rough and ugly. So, I decided, since this was, after all, an experimental batch, to further experiment and rebatch them.

If you’re a bar of soap, rebatching is HARD. First, I grated the soap with our cheese grater (sacrificing a fingernail and a bit of a knuckle in the process). Then I put it in a bowl with a bit of warm water and milk for a few hours to let it draw some of the moisture back into it. So, at this point, the soap’s been grated or broken and is being rehydrated. Then I stuck it in the oven for a couple of hours so it’d melt. Finally, on a whim, I added a bit of ultramarine green to it for a dash of color. The soap got “broken,” changed and heated up before it went back into the mould for several hours in the hopes it’d be pretty and functional at the end.

God does the same thing to us. When we’ve screwed up, God breaks us, adds things to our lives and makes things pretty hot around us, all to make us into something better. Even when we haven’t messed up, even when we’re doing all that we should and are walking closely with Him, God still might “rebatch” us to make us into something even better. It’s through our own trials, whether we bring them on ourselves or not, that make us better able to serve and help those around us.

The soap did turn out pretty in the end. The top is rough because the soap was thick – as it should be – when I put it in there. However, the soap still smells wonderful and is a lovely green. I’m thinking about sending it to a business a friend owns called The Purple Box to go out to her customers in sample packs.

Website Launch for Sara’s Soaps ‘n Such

It’s with great joy and no little fanfare that I announce the launching of my new website. It was almost there last week, but I spent two full days tweaking it, improving on it and adding even more amazing new products to it. Please check it out, but even better, order something! The site is http://www.sarassoapsnsuch.com/. It was a labor of love; in fact, a friend of mine compares it to actually being in labor and giving birth. I have to disagree; the website was much harder and took about as long.

So, what’s new? Well, you’ve heard me talking about my homemade soaps ; now you get to check them out. The ingredients are pure; the majority are naturally scented with essential oils, though I do offer scent-free and color-free soaps for those who are sensitive. Quantities are limited on the Ooh La La-vender soaps, but more will be ready in about a week-and-a-half. On the curing rack I also have Ylang Ylang, which will be ready Monday, 30 June, and Blue Ridge Breeze, which will be ready this Friday.

I’ve also put my bath teas on the website. Each one is a unique blend of flowers, herbs, botanicals and other natural ingredients designed to serve different purposes. My favorite is Ooh La La-vender. Its combination of goat’s milk and lavender buds makes for a purely indulgent, very relaxing treat. My daughter, who’s so sweet the mosquitos and ants just love nibbling on her, likes Itchin’ & Scritchin’ Tub Tea. This one is simply a blend of chamomile and oatmeal. Its light scent smells rather like apple-y pineapple, and the ingredients help descrease the size of the bites and provides relief from the itching.

There is even more new stuff in the works, such as lotion bars and an all natural itch-relief balm.

Be well.

On Becoming

One of the best soaps I make from scratch is my Ooh La La-vender, a goat’s milk soap with a purple swirl and a delicious lavender scent. Goat’s milk is wildly popular right now for its skin-nourishing properties, and lavender essential oil is always a much sought after aromatherapy scent. While lavender in lotions and MP soaps tends to stay pretty herbaceous/floral, in CP it develops more, resulting in a spicy, herbaceous scent with just the slightest hint of floral underneath. Both men and women have liked it with the men commenting that it’s a good lavender, simply because it doesn’t smell girly.

While Ooh La La-vender develops into this sensuous soap, able to transport the user to a state of aromatherapy-induced mellowness, the raw soap is anything but sensuous or mellow. In fact, it stinks! Imagine caustic scalded milk that sort of burns your airways when you smell it. That’s what this soap smells like as it’s in process. The addition of the lavender scent does nothing but layer on an initially strong lavender smell on top of the caustic scalded milk smell. The soap is becoming.

I think we’re like that, too. We don’t start out “finished,” any more than soap does. It takes work – experiences, decisions, beliefs, community – to complete the “becoming” process. Actually, unlike with soap, we as people never finish. Yet, in our process of becoming, sometimes we stink. Sometimes we may be somewhat caustic. Hopefully we’re often willing to be raw. We have to interact with people far different from us, just as lye interacts with oils and butters, in order to achieve optimal results. Our hope is that, upon completing this process, or perhaps even during it, other people can use us to enrich their lives, just as a good bar of soap will enrich ours.