Make The Soap

Dig deep the spade, coconut oil mounding

Measure it ounce by every ounce, exact

Olive oil, ladled slip and splashy

ounce by every ounce, exact

Be it palm oil, orange and greasy, be it tallow

Rendered by hand, not easy

Be it lard, creamy and bright white

The fats, the oils, are heating

and ready.  Shea?  Okay.  Castor oil too.

For bubbles, for lather, for this and for that,

There’s a science here, for utilizing fat.

Hold your breath now, don gloves and goggles


the Instigator, the chemical catalyst, the danger in it all.

Bringing that pure water up to 200° lickety-split,

Caustic enough to eat through metal, to blind on contact

There’s always a hush of awe and

much respect and caution,

Time to make this new thing.

Lye water poured into warm oils

Sliding down across the bottom of the pot like an underwater river

See it turning white?  That’s saponification and

never was such a big word so fun.

Yeah, we hang our be-goggled faces over the pot and watch the chemical reaction.

We ooh and ahh like we’re watching fireworks.

We’re seeing the molecules being stripped and the oils turning into salts

and glycerin and this is soap’s beginning.

All that clear fluid turns creamy white and I can’t help but smile,

my cheekbones lifting my chemical goggles.  Adjust.

Stick blender whirring, we give the chemical reaction

a huge shove forward, molecules crashing, soap happening.

It’s like a thin pudding now

Essential oils are dribbled in, herbs, root powders, seeds,

honey from our lovely bees.

Blend again and we have fragrant, beautiful pudding.

Pouring that mass into molds of all shapes and sizes,

some big slabs

some round columns

and we can’t stop smelling the air

and smiling.

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*our soaps are available for purchase here:  lancastersoapco


There was nothing to say, but plenty for the hands to do.  I cut vintage fabric, lace, and paper into long strips and wrapped them around rough-cut bars of soap, finishing with jute or sea grass tied in a simple bow, the ends dangling over the side.  I cut the craft paper labels and affixed those.  Piles and piles of “dressed” soaps, tucked into paper bundles, swaddled in bubble wrap, and sent to all over the United States.

And just like that the weeks passed with the smell of hot glue and essential oils, with the continual littering below my drafting table of paper and fabric bits.  With the baby continually sniffing at the soaps, crinkling his nose with delight.  And my soap shelves grew bare and sparse and I marveled at it all; this unexpected provision from a hobby gone madhouse.

image1-6 image2-3 IMG_2728 Though we were unable to establish an online shop yet, the email orders came flooding in.  It was good timing; I’ve been ordered to rest and all but my hands have obeyed.  I sat at my drafting table and worked and worked without tiring out my heavily pregnant body.  And it’s been a good distraction from counting down the weeks until baby’s arrival.

It’s quiet and fulfilling work and it feels like a gift.  There’s flexibility and variety and creativity, and remarkably, a profit margin.  Usually my work in this world brings every good thing except a paycheck.

I was surprised as the days passed that I had no words for here; I had my quiet work and a quiet heart.  The snow is falling outside, the children playing there turning it all into a magical blank canvas upon which to create.  The baby sleeps deep and the turkey bakes with the smell of orange zest and rosemary.  And my words are few, but come from a grateful, quieted heart.


The Beautiful and Hard Kindness of God

It was as I picked twenty-five pounds of tomatoes in my garden that I noticed, my breath catching in my throat, the huge celosia flower.  It’s also known as cockscomb, and though you can often find a small, plume-like version of it, getting it to grow as big as a brain is another matter.  I’d tried many times without success to grow it from seed.

But right there, in the side flower boxes along the raised bed garden, my seed-grown celosia had put forth a mega bloom.Photo on 9-18-14 at 2.01 PM Dry, feathery, and deepest magenta it was, a color it will keep as it dries out.  “Oh God, You are so kind”, my heart said, while my dress sagged heavy from a load of tomatoes in the skirting.  Kind to make such a beauty out of my bumbling efforts, right there in my weedy, riotous garden.  I like that God’s gifts are not anonymous…they are fully intended to make us turn our smiling faces to Him in gratitude.

Later that day as the ten quarts of pasta sauce were cooling on the counter top, after all those tomatoes had been peeled and chopped and simmered long, after the day had run right over me on it’s rush toward bedtime, I heard the jars pinging, sealing themselves tight and it came again, “God, You are so kind”.  Because He reminded me to put the citric acid in the jars, without which all my hard work would have been spoiled.  And there were no exploded jars in the canner (which is an awful, awful mess), and the musical pings kept ringing in all His mercies that day.

Of course He loves us; don’t we hear that always?  Sometimes we wear out the sentiment, the sense of it.  We can become immune to how amazing it really is.  Like seeing a whole field of celosias in gigantic bloom every day and no longer being held captive by a single flower.  Immunity to the good stuff is just as soul-numbing as immunity to the bad.

“I assure you: Whoever does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”  Mark 10:15


The other day I filled the kitchen chalkboard with “Ten Things I Love About My Sophia”.  She read the words with a joyful-painful smile, the smile young ladies have on their faces when they’re a little embarrassed by their worth being recognized and praised. She bounded from the kitchen and clambered onto my lap, tucking in long limbs which had outgrown lap-dwelling years ago.  She just wanted to tuck into me in all her joy and bashfulness, and I quite wish I could do the same with my Father in Heaven, though I don’t think I’ve ever quite outgrow His lap.

But that’s the right response, see?

What if she had mocked the words?  What if she had shook her head and said that it wasn’t true, that she was a nobody and a good-for-nothing and didn’t deserve it?  What if she was too occupied and busy to notice the words at all?  What if she had called everyone over to the chalkboard and boasted about her obvious worth?  There are so many wrong responses.  And one very right one, running, bounding to the blessing-giver, in thanks and pleasure.

God is kind.  On purpose.  I think of all His mercies to me, personal ways that He’s demonstrated over and over that He cares for me and delights in delighting.  I think of the honey harvest, and Henrik’s healing diaper rash, and the soap-making adventure which is filling me with wonder that fats and lye can come together and make a wonderfully beautiful and useful thing.

IMG_2598 Photo on 9-18-14 at 2.02 PMGod is kind, and I speak that as one who has walked valleys in my faith that were dark indeed.  When prayers fell back down on my bent head and the Heavens resounded with silence.  I’ve felt the withdrawal of comfort and peace as tangibly as if someone had taken a warming blanket right up and off of me.  I have shaken my fist at Him more times than I care to remember.

What do we say to a child who wants to keep on snacking, keep on filling up before dinner?  We say not to spoil their appetite.  And God in His kindness does care about our appetite growing strong enough to relish a hearty meal, a hearty faith, a hearty love.  The valleys make us ache for the mountains, the darkness makes us ache for the light, and the small plumes of celosia make us gasp at the mega blooms.  He wants us hungry because He wants to satisfy; more than satisfy, delight.

“That is what the Scriptures mean when they say, ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.’ ”  I Corinthians 2:9

Free Fats Are My Love Language

On the dining room table, on the top of a bookshelf, on my desk, and in a corner of the living room.  The soaps, dutifully curing, are taking over my home, surface by surface!  Last night we made a 100% lard soap, lightly scented with peppermint essential oil.  We jokingly call it the “Winter Minter”, and it’s such a corny, ridiculous name that it just might stick.  It looked like heavy cream going into the mold and my soaping partner and I sighed delightedly.

Today my husband is picking up two pig’s worth of lard from a friend who heard we’re making soap and offered her bounty to us.  Another friend offered us suet from his butcher shop to render tallow.  People giving us free fat is like winning the lottery!!  I’m so grateful!

Tomorrow we harvest our honey with my husband’s cousin and his wife.  It’ll be quite gratifying to see that sweet liquid gold come pouring out of the extractor.  So, basically, I’m all about sugar and fat while still being regarded widely as something of a health nut.  Smile.

On the reading front I’m working my way through “A Short History of Byzantium” by John Julius Norwich and “Common Ground:  An Introduction to Eastern Christianity for the American Christian” by Jordan Bajis.  What a blessing to have such depths of information at our very fingertips.  And they go so well with mustard pretzels.  I digress.

Morning light is pouring across the goat milk tea tree soaps, pouring in and saying that it’s probably time to get out of my pajamas and out of my reverie.  Time to head out in search of olive oil for an upcoming chamomile baby soap for my dear wee ones.  Time to wash the diapers and pull some meat out of the freezer, and in general, make this home hum with life-giving activity.  But I’ll let that creeping sunshine have a few more minutes of my sleepy-eyed wonder.

Why My Home Smells Like An Orange

soapmaking1Why hello there, mad scientist!  Yes, yes, this is the face of undisguised, unmitigated glee that I wear as I stir up a batch of soap with my dear friend Andrea.  Tonight we made 6 lbs. of a lemon-orange-coconut shampoo bar.  The fats were olive oil and coconut oil.  No artificial fragrances, just straight-up lemon and orange essential oils.  Oh, and there’s egg yolks in there too, I kid you not!  And beeswax.  And giggles.

We had talked on the phone this morning, and I let go an idea that we should make soap tonight after all our combined ten children were blissfully asleep.  It was an easy sell, because she’s obsessed too.  That helps.  Or aids and abets.  Whatever.

The point is this:  we’re two mamas of lots of littles and we’re finding niches of time to pursue a dream together.  We do what we can, when we can, with what we have, and it’s a bit glorious.  At least, we think so, in our goggles, gloves, and “lab coats”.  We may give 90% of our energy to our responsibilities throughout the day, but there is a bit of living and laughing and dream-realizing to squeeze out of the 10% left.

Photo on 9-5-14 at 2.28 PM

So as that huge fragrant slab of soap cures in my living room and blesses my home with a clean orange scent, I feel gratitude for this adventure.  It’s creative, scientific, and incredibly practical, and deeply, deeply, FUN.  What have you been putting off for “when you have time”?

And Then We Made Soap

And Then We Made Soap

soapmaking Just take a moment to absorb the full beauty of our be-goggled faces.  Ha!  My dear friend Andrea Bailey and I began our soap making adventures yesterday on quite possibly the most humid day all summer (thus why we are soaping in the kitchen and not on the porch).  We look happy here, and we were, but mostly we were terrified.  You see, in soap making you need to handle sodium hydroxide, known as lye, which is death itself in powdered form.  The stuff can eat away metal for pete’s sake.  So we were nervous and we had banished all children from the house.

We made eleven pounds of soap that morning.  ELEVEN POUNDS.  (Imagine me bopping about excitedly)  We made a tea tree-goat milk with vitamin E and a honey-oatmeal soap.  We managed not to burn ourselves nor blind ourselves (thank you, handsome goggles!), nor did we explode anything.  We did giggle a lot though, and sigh with contentment as we poured out irresistibly creamy soap into the molds.  We veritably hummed with joy as our dreams worked themselves out into fragrant slabs of beauty.  I think the most common remark that morning was “This is so satisfying.”

And it was and IS, because this morning we cut the soap….

Photo on 9-2-14 at 1.44 PM ..and this is a crappy photo taken by my computer’s camera, BUT LOOK AT ALL THAT GLORIOUS SOAP!!!   And this is just my share of the batches; Andrea has the other half. To the left is the honey-oatmeal, to the right the tea tree-goat milk.  Chuck-full of excellent oils, essential oils, and good-for-the-body stuff.  No synthetic colors nor fragrances, just good soap.

Now we let it cure at least four weeks and it will lighten a bit and become harder.  And I will stare at it in a doting way several times a day.

Our next batch is a citrus shampoo bar and then we are going to be rendering suet to make tallow for a whole bunch of marvelous recipes that we have in mind.  Yes, we’re going all pioneer-women, and it really is ridiculously fun.

So I’m grateful, ever so grateful, for this dream becoming fleshed-out and for these special times with my friend.  And that we didn’t get acid burns.  That too.

The Great Unlikely, Or How I Funded My Soap Making For Free

In the midst of harvesting our gardens and canning, I have been preparing for the adventure which is soap making.  I LOVE good soap, but not good soap prices.  I also love knowing just exactly what chemicals I’m putting on my skin (the less being the better).  I have a budget from selling two antique pieces on craigslist totaling $95.00.  For that amount I needed to be able to buy all the supplies I’d need to set up shop (consumables like fats, essential oils, and lye go on a separate budget as I hope to sell soap and recoup those costs).  When you’re on a tight budget you can either get incredibly frustrated or incredibly invigorated by the challenge.  I chose the latter, with fervor.

I was inspired by this lady, Marsha, who on a YouTube video thoughtfully and simply went through making cold process soap, and most importantly, she pointed out all the ways that you can do it cheaply.  Because it is one of those things that very easily could be done much too expensively.  She showed a wooden mold her husband had made for her.  My husband made one for me the next day out of scrap wood.  Do you know the story “If You Give A Mouse A Cookie?”; well, if you give this wife a soap mold, she’s going to want to scour online sales, thrift shops, and discount places for all the other bits needed to make soap making a reality in her life.  And she’ll want to do it without adding weight to the load of the family budget.  So she sells some unnecessary antiques that she acquired off the curb and at a yard sale, and looks at that $95.00 and grits her teeth, and says, “Let’s do this thing”.  And then she stops talking in third person.  Mercy.

So, soap making supplies can be costly.  Like, there’s a beautiful wire soap cutter that slices 12 perfect bars at once for, oh, five hundred dollars.  Or the divided molds with removable sides for eighty.  But, as my obsessive tabulations below show, it doesn’t have to be a break-the-bank proposition.  And this applies to any number of hobbies; don’t let sticker shock keep you from realizing a dream.  Realize that there’s usually another way to do things and get comparable results.  Relish the challenge!

My Soap Supply Budget

Budget:  $95.00

  1. digital scale:  $35.00 (on sale on Amazon)  This was the only precision instrument needed, so I didn’t bother looking for a used/possibly damaged one.
  2. gloves:  $2.00 (Dollar Store)  Needed for working with lye.
  3. spatulas and whisks:  $4.00 (Target)  Would have been more, but they were on sale and I had a five dollar gift card from buying our school supplies there, so saved $12.00!
  4. pitcher:  $2.07 (thrift store)  Soap making requires soap-only vessels as the lye would cross-contaminate my kitchen supplies.
  5. wooden soap mold, 10 X 20 for making 25 bars:  free (scrap wood)  (thank you, handy husband)
  6. safety goggles:  $18.00 (Amazon)  I needed chemical goggles that would prevent lye from splashing up into my eyes, which could cause blindness or severe damage.  Very worth that chunk of the budget!  Don’t skimp here!
  7. measuring spoons:  .75 (thrift store)  Good for measuring essential oils or nutrients like oatmeal or honey.
  8. small and medium liquid measuring cups:  $1.75 (thrift store)  When doing different colors or textures, these allow the batch to be divided.
  9. large pitcher:  $1.00 (thrift store)  For mixing and pouring raw soap.
  10. silicon mold:  $3.00 (thrift store)  Makes twelve decorative soaps, originally designed for baking in, these are ideal for soap making due to being able to pull away from the soap easily.
  11. two knives:  $2.75 (thrift store)  For cutting the bars.
  12. immersion blender:  $14.99 (Ollie’s Discount Store)  These are used in the saponification process to bring the lye and fats into a creamy relationship.
  13. vegetable peeler:  $1.29 (Ollie’s)  Used for trimming up the edges of cut soap bars.
  14. two candy thermometers:  $3.98 (Ollie’s)  To get both the lye and the oils/fats to the same temperature.
  15. long stainless steel spoon:  $1.79 (Ollie’s)  To stir the caustic raw soap.
  16. small batch wooden soap mold:  free (scrap wood)
  17. cutting surface:  free (my father in-law had a scrap piece of Corian countertop)
  18. books on soap making:  free (public library)
  19. stainless steel pots:  free (extras not needed in the kitchen)  These are used for melting solid fats down.

Total spent:  $92.42, under budget by $2.58

Wasn’t that a fun romp through my obsessiveness?   HA!

IMG_2455 Some of the supplies….doesn’t it just make you, I don’t know, want to make soap RIGHT NOW?IMG_2456

So, you see how I roll.  And best of all?  I’ve whirled my friend Andrea into my soaping vortex and we’re attempting our first batch on Monday.  So.  Indescribably.  Excited.

What dream can you work on that you’ve put off?  What could you sell to help you get there?  Trade a good for a better and let me know how it went!