Just Chill!

One woman, many hats.  CEO.  Teacher.  Home manager.  Wife.  Minister.  That’s a lot for one person, and the potential for me to get super stressed out is high.  Obviously, stress is neither good for myself or for the girls, so I have to find ways to reduce stress in ways that don’t involve eating copious amounts of chocolate.  At the same time, I want to do things that are good for my brain, good for my body, and somewhat productive.  But not soap.  Ninety-eight percent of the time, making soap is for business, though I do enjoy playing with it occasionally.  I choose activities that can stand separate from soap.

For my body, I’ve been doing some resistance exercises daily, and in the past week or so, the girls have been joining me, so we can count that as part of school as we learn about how our muscles work and how these exercises help us.  I started out with planking, wanting to strengthen my arms and tone my core.  Then I decided to add push-ups to the routine so I can get rid of annoying upper arm dimples and tone the muscles there.  Next, I got this wild hair about doing crunches.   Like that’s not enough, a friend posted on Instagram a brief video of her doing roll ups.  If crunches are like a street gang’s tag artist, roll ups are Al Capone.  Yep, that much more evil.  Supposedly, each roll up is comparable to four crunches.  This is what they look like.


I started with where I was then, even though my counts were pitifully low.  However, I’ve steadily increased my counts, my seconds planking, and my strength.  It feels awesome!  My first goal?  Get these arms toned to look great with my red sleeveless dress before attending a wedding next weekend and the abs smoother so I won’t have to wear a body shaper under it.  My second and long-range goal is overall fitness and tone.

For my brain and body, I’ve been spending time knitting.  Studies have shown that knitting is good for the brain, as well as stress levels which positively impacts the heart as well.  I’ll knit about anything, and I’m constantly pushing myself to learning new patterns and techniques.  Last week I finished a long-term project – my first lace shawl.

Lace scarf made of a black wool-blend yarn spangled with multicolored sequins
Lace scarf made of a black wool-blend yarn spangled with multicolored sequins
2015-10-01 10.42.09
A close-up of the lace, both body and edge

Pair the relaxation of knitting with the absolute peace that comes from having a cat curled up next to you asleep, and that’s the way I end many of my days.  I’m so chill by that point that I can barely make it upstairs to bed.  This leads to a sound night’s sleep and a refreshed awakening, which is a great way to combat stress!

What do you do to just chill?

My First Cold Process!



I thought that I would change up my blog. I was thinking of one of my friends at the time I was writing this and decided that I would act as if I was talking to her and came up with questions she might ask. Hope this answers some of your questions!

Friend: What does the soap look like?

Me: The soap is pink with a fun amount of sparkles and a mango sorbet fragrance. With it being my first soap I would add a hint of blue to the pink color in the future. Mom says that I should start with one color, but I added sparkles to get close to the desired effect.

Friend: What good qualities does your soap have that will make people want it?

Me: It will be a small bar which will be easy for kids (and adults) to hold. Its fun fragrance will (ahem, should) make kids look forward to showering without bubblegum (take it from a young spurt, bubblegum can smell icky or get tiring). The soap has sparkles which gleam in the light some. It is very moisturizing, lather is a definite, and it is hard. I was rinsing off my cutting board after cutting it and I had a great lather. I love the soap (I kept a bar for myself).

Friend: If you were to sell it, what would you call it?

Me: Pink Paradise* or Pink Paradise Falls**. I’m leaning towards PPF, though if I do PP then I can do a series with Blue Paradise, Green, Orange, Purple, etc. I think that I’ll make another PP next year for sale, then every other month another color. I will be doing another soap (for sale) this year with the same recipe, and it will be Christmas-y. That will be sold online and at the Triangle area EPA show in November. I also do a show here called the Pender County Spring Fest.

Friend: How did you think the soap would turn out compared to how it turned out?

Me: I thought it would turn out sharper, more vivid, pinker. The top looks pretty and if the whole soap were that color, then the soap would look beautiful. The top is a powdery pink that, in my opinion, looks like pixie dust. The bottom is a sort of magenta, but not that dark, mixed with sparkles that add a welcoming touch. I really thought that the sparkles would come out more, that it would be darker or lighter.

Friend: What were some of your feelings as you made this soap?

Me, mixing up the lye.
Me, mixing up the lye.

Me: I was feeling exhilarated, happy, worried, slightly panicked, joyful, and free. I can make whatever I want (within reason) on any soap, swirl, etc. I was also very happy that Mom said I could. Truth be told, I don’t like Melt & Pour as much. They take up time freezing them and you have to monitor it.  You can make a CP and leave it alone.

Me stirring the lye mixture into the warm oils. Making magic happen!
Me stirring the lye mixture into the warm oils. Making magic happen!

Friend: Give us some brief how-to’s.

Me: First, gather your supplies. Since I’m doing small batches then everything can be done in a 4 Cup measuring cup. Bigger batches are done in buckets.

4 cup measuring cup (4 cupper)                                         Small container (yogurt container sort)

Spatula                                                                                    Wooden spoon

Big container (such as the containers you get when you order a quart of Chinese soup)

Oils, Lye, etc.

Stick blender

Goggles, Gloves, etc.

Soap rag (old baby diapers, washcloths)

Not all of your oils are going to be liquid. Put on your goggles, gloves, etc. and get the smaller container. Measure out your lye. In the big container, measure out your water (or ice). With the wooden spoon stir lye and water together but be sure to hold your breath; otherwise the fumes can hurt your throat. Once dissolved, set aside. You can take the protective gear off. Now measure out your solid oils. Mine were coconut, palm, and cocoa butter. Melt them in the microwave until liquid. Now you add your liquid oils. Mine were olive and avocado. Mix all your oils together and set them aside. Take another small container and scoop some of the oil mixture into it. Add your color to it and stir until smooth. Set your color aside. Measure out your fragrance and set aside.

Put your protective gear back on. Dump lye mixture into the oils. Take the stick blender and bring the mixture to a trace. It will be mixed together but thick. If you’re making tomato soup and it’s just out of the can, that’s about how thick it should be. Add the fragrance. Now you have one of two options. The soap will be a creamy white. You can add the color mixture now and stir the fragrance and color in, OR, you can stir in fragrance then add color. If you do option #2 then you have the option of not stirring the color in all the way and getting a swirl. Either way, when you get done, put it in a silicone mould, scrape it out (this is where the spatula comes in), and cover it with a box lined with cling wrap. Insulate your soap by covering it with towels and let rest for at least 24 hours before unmoulding. Take the soap rag and wipe your equipment before rinsing under warm water. “Make” it in a soap program and it should tell you how many days it has to cure (you can use it after it cures, usually about a month).

My first CP soap freshly poured
My first CP soap freshly poured



When’s a Chemical not a Chemical?

Chemicals surround us.  They’re in the food we eat, the drinks we drink, and the air we breathe.  Our entire bodies are nothing but chemical processes.

A couple of weeks ago, the girls and I were in a shop where there was a sign that read, “SoapsChemical free!”  Mary, my older daughter, quipped, “So they left out the lye?”  I returned, “And the water, the oils, and the fragrance.”  While the “chemical free” sign may entice unwary consumers, it really felt like the creator of the sign is , at best, ignorant of what, exactly, soapmaking is, and at worst, willfully practicing deceptive business practices (given that artificially scented soaps are labeled “all natural” and have “essential oil” on the label, I lean towards the latter).

Unit cell, spacefill model of sodium hydroxide
Unit cell, spacefill model of sodium hydroxide (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Soapmaking is chemistry.  The very idea of this amuses me greatly, given how hard I struggled in high school and college chemistry.  Sodium hydroxide (lye) mixes with water (usually), and that mixture, in turn, is added to oils in liquid form; they are then emulsified together, either by stirring or blending, before having additives added to the raw soap and being poured into a mould.  The magic happens here as the mixture creates heat internally which causes the whole thing to gel.  This is a super-cool exothermic reaction wherein the beautifully swirled and designed raw soap changes color, smells funky, and looks like really runny, chunky petroleum jelly.  It looks like the soap is a ruined mess at this point, but as the hours pass, the soap cools down, revealing the amazing colors and patterns once more.  That process is called saponification.  Actually, the gel phase is the heart of saponification, a chemical reaction that starts where the lye mixture meets the oils and ends formally at the end of the curing time.  While gel phase only lasts 12-36 hours, saponification can last weeks.

Chemicals coming together to create a chemical reaction and cause a chemical change.  Sodium hydroxide is a chemical – NaOH.  So is water – H2O.  And oils are as well – the formula for olive oil is C52H96O6.  You can separate sodium hydroxide from water, allowing water to evaporate and lye crystals to form (9th grade science fair project).  However, once that lye mixture combines with the oils, there’s no going back.  The change is permanent and irrevocable.  This is the hallmark of chemical change – a chemical reaction produces a change that cannot be reversed.  Ahhh chemistry.

Well, you may argue, the creator of the “chemical free” sign means no harmful chemicals.  What makes a chemical harmful?  How natural it is?  Cyanide is a naturally occurring chemical element, but I think we can agree it’s very harmful.  Sodium hydroxide is a chemical that can be produced from natural processes (pouring water through ashes), and it doesn’t take much – relatively speaking – to dissolve a 300-pound body.  Yet, it sometimes appears in cosmetics and pickles.  Dihydrogen monoxide!  There’s a “safe” chemical.  In fact, I add it to every soap, lotion, and cream that I make.  Yet, more people die of exposure to DHMO each year than from exposure to all other chemicals combined!  Obviously, what makes a chemical “safe” or not is how it’s used and how much is used.  A little NaOH or a little salt isn’t harmful, but an abundance of either can cause sickness, death, or complete disintegration.

Bottom line, there is no “chemical-free” soap, because all components of soap are chemicals, and the resulting product is soap and glycerin.  Artisan made soaps are proof that there is better living through chemicals.

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.)

What Was I Thinking?

Last week, I got this great idea to start doing squats.  As I really, truly hate squats with a passion, and it was the week I’d determined to do taxes, which is also not my idea of fun, apparently I was truly a glutton for punishment.  I thought about doing an abs challenge, and my abs could use more work, but crunches don’t faze me.  I started with twenty squats, which is bad enough.  Feeling all good and mighty, I googled “30 day squats challenge.”  Oh crap!  I was supposed to have started with FIFTY squats.  FIFTY!!!  5-0.  There’s that many Shades of Grey.  (There was masochism there, too.  Hmmm…)  Well, I was determined to do this, and it’d be dumb to give up before I even started because it might be hard.

I gamely did my fifty squats, and I felt great!  Great, that is, until I tried to walk down the stairsThe Big Bopper sang a song back in the 50s called “Chantilly Lace,” and one of the lyrics says, “A wiggling walk and a giggling talk make the world go round.” Pay attention around the :37 mark.

(I promise, I won’t tell if you start getting up and dancing around your office.  It’ll be our little secret!)

So the 30-day challenge starts with 50 squats.  No big.  Except for the fact I had that “wiggling walk” going on and could barely make it down the stairs safely.  Day two kicks it up a little to 55 squats.  I was almost working up a sweat with these, and in trying to figure out what to do with my arms, I thought, Hmmm…  I could add a curl to this and work my arms, too.  Right after, the probably more rational part of me said, “That’s crazy talk!”  I was good as long as I stretch my legs before walking, sitting down, standing up, or climbing stairs.  You can imagine how challenging going to the bathroom painlessly was.  That more rational side of my mind was beginning to convince me to give up.  Just quit.  Let my thighs quit hurting and get back to normal.  Then the crazy, business woman side of my brain kicked in.

“Quit!?  Are you kidding me!?  No!!!  We’re not going to quit just because things get a little hard.  Remember, pain is weakness leaving the body.  Now, quitchur bitchin’ and do today’s squats.”  I didn’t have time to knock out my 60 before church, but I was on them afterwards.  Before I went upstairs, I took a detour into the garage where I keep my work-out equipment and grabbed a hand weight.  (I couldn’t find the other one, but I did find my younger daughter’s missing soccer ball, so for today, I was BEST MOM EVER!!!)  I went up and changed out of my dress and heels and added arms to my squats.  Know what?  Today’s squats were easier.  I’ve still got a little bit of that wigglin’ walk going on, but I’m getting around OK.

Sometimes, business is hard, too.  That promising customer doesn’t reply back to my email.  That batch of soap suffers a grand mal soap seizure so that the beautiful swirl I envisioned looks more like a particularly nasty crime scent.  A wholesale stockist closes its doors.  One of my girls or I get sick right in the middle of putting together a huge (talking multiple hundreds) item order.

Around every September, I think about quitting.  Just selling off all my remaining inventory, getting rid of most of my ingredients and supplies, and enjoying life without curing racks and with plenty of space to work on some sewing projects I have queued up, and it’s usually because of one particular account.  Then, ego kicks in, and I don’t have any desire to give up my customers and accounts to anyone else.  They’re mine, darnit, and I worked very hard for them!  So I muscle through, and you know what?  As I’m plowing through the work once again, I discover that a whole bunch of my colleagues and friends also think about quitting once a year, so I’m not alone in this.

I will beat on.  I’ll grit my teeth and gut through 26 more days of this 30-day squats challenge.  I’ll keep pushing my business, knowing that huge growth often follows those thoughts of quitting.  And I’ll be stronger and better for it.