Getting Soapy

Getting Soapy

In my efforts to eliminate icky chemicals in my home and on my body and become more self sufficient, I’ve decided to make soap. So, being me, I started to research because the only thing I actually knew about soapmaking was that I would need fat and lye. I think this knowledge came from some social studies discussion in elementary school about why people didn’t wash themselves but once a week on Sundays umpteen years ago. But it could have been something my great-grandmothers told me in passing as a child too…who knows? 

So I googled (I think it’s neat that when I started school that wasn’t even a word and now it’s a real verb) “soap making supplies” and got awfully confused. The top hits were all about melt and pour bases and the fun add-in bits. I’m an over achiever. I haven’t made cake from a box since I was 12, so why on earth would I want to skip the fun steps in making soap? I want to start from the beginning! 

Five google pages later I figure out that the soap I’m talking about making is called Cold Process Soap. New Google search with all the right words. I looked at all these web sites and got really really tired. I wanted a kit. Somebody please sell me everything I need to make some soap in one box under one price so I can get moving on this project! 

Enter Bramble Berry. Their Natural Soap for Beginners Kit came with everything I needed to start except a stick blender and a spatula. I ordered those on Amazon. Oh, and the kit had free shipping. Shipping oils is expensive! I already had a kitchen scale and gloves, so I looked into ordering the rest of the supplies individually but that shipping charge made the scale free. I ordered the kit. 

The reason I like this kit so much is that it comes with extra of everything except oil, fragrance and colorant. So for my second loaf of soap I only have to order those things. I’m still working on making those decisions, but I do know after round one, there will be more soap made in this house. 

Soaping is so easy! Here are some tips that aren’t in the instructions:

If you don’t mix your lye water outdoors, the range hood works wonders for sucking up the fumes. Mine is recirculating, but I’m short so it blew the fumes over my head. 

If you don’t or can’t go outside, or use the rangehood, put the bowl as far away as you can while still safely stirring. The fumes didn’t seem to have any odor but I sure started coughing when I got a whiff. 

Expect to not be able to move your lye bowl without oven mitts for at least half an hour. My lye got to 175 degrees F using cold water from the fridge which is set to 36 degrees. That bowl was straight from the microwave hot just from the reaction.   And it took forever to cool down. I had a full 30 minute break. Next time I’ll probably start my lye then measure everything else out while I wait for it to cool. 

Now if you have children or nosy cats, this may not be an option, but I let my soaping pot, stick blender and spatula hang out for a couple days and used the soap left on them to clean them. I figured it was safer to stick my finger in the stick blender head to wipe out the soap chunk once the saponification process was complete. Those blades are sharp so I didn’t want to risk a burn through a nicked glove-or ruin my gloves by poking holes in them. I feel obligated to mention that when you stick your finger in a blender head, make sure it is not plugged in, just in case. I got the Cuisinart with the detachable head. It’s pretty awesome. And I don’t have to worry about getting water in the motor while cleaning-totally worth the extra $20. 

When I get my next batch of oils, I’ll put up a full post on the process! 

The Bramble Berry link is not an affiliate link and they have no idea I posted about their products but they made my life a little easier so I’m a fan. I did not receive any compensation for mentioning their product, I just enjoyed my experience with it. 

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The New Lawn

Ever since I bought my much loved reel mower, I’ve been on a search for a new lawn. Frankly, ours is full of weeds and grasses with thick seed stalks that the poor mower can’t cut. In the last 5 years, we have tried 4 times to grow grass in our front yard and are always thwarted by the weather. It’s either too rainy or too dry or too hot here in the summer and our yard looks like this by fall:


Dead as door nail. Gross.  No matter how pretty it was last fall and in the spring, that stuff isn’t dormant, it’s dead. 

Of course, I absolutely refuse to use chemical fertilizers and weed killers and I know there has to be a better solution. Enter our faithful clover patch:

This clover patch moved in the spring after we did 5 years ago. Notice the nice black soil underneath. It started with this:

The clover withered after sustained 98 degree highs and almost no rain for the last 10 weeks. After a single thunderstorm it was back. 

The goal is to plant the clover with fescue to crowd out all the less savory plants and rebuild the topsoil. I won’t need much seed. And $30 got me enough to do the whole yard 4 times over ( which is fine because I will spread it again come spring.)

Clover grows great here. In fact, despite the brutal temperatures and lack of rain, we sprouted 2 more large patches of wild clover this summer. 

My little mower cuts it just fine. Even the flower heads. And I would do almost anything to get rid of those awful seed stalks in the yard. Keeping a “neat” appearance is an HOA requirement and those blasted stalks are definitely in violation. 

Bonus: the clover stays green here 9 months out of the year or more so when my neighbors’ yards are yucky brown, ours will still be pretty. 

I’m crossing my fingers this works. I’ll keep you updated!

Sneaky lazy gardening

Sneaky lazy gardening

Let me tell you the story of how my water hose leaks at the sprayer. Seems like no matter what type of rubber gasket I stick in there, the thing still finds a way to drop water!  Today, I finally found a practical application for that problem!

While there are various irrigation systems on the market, I’m too cheap to buy and too lazy to install any of them. Plus, my plants are scattered in a dozen pots throughout my yard and I’m sure the HOA would be none to thrilled for me to rig up something that wasn’t a professional sprinkler system. But thanks to my drippy hose nozzle, I have a single-plant drip emitter!  It’s stupid simple, but I only though of it yesterday when I put the hose down after spraying a squash bug colony off my zuchini plants and seeing all that useful water run off my driveway. So I picked up the nozzle and set it in my tomato pot while I checked on my roses. Well, the roses were being munched on by some Japanese beetles!  So while I addressed that problem, my tomato got nice and damp. When I came back, I moved it to my zuchini pot. Today, it’s sitting on the lip of my salad barrel with hopes that it will revive the poor lettuces that didn’t bolt in last week’s heat. 

So there you have it, my super cheap, super lazy watering system. 

DIY Deodorant: Round 2

A few months ago, I shared my attempt at homemade deodorant. Well I can say it worked pretty great during the spring. But now that temps are creeping into the triple digits, I need something stronger to get me through the day. Badly. To get me through the last bit of my first tube of homemade deodorant, I concocted a blend of essential oils and fractionated coconut oil and witch hazel. I just rolled that on after I wasn’t feeling so fresh anymore. Thing was, the damage was already done and I really needed to prevent the funk altogether. So I altered my recipe. I included more dry ingredients and more essential oils with antibacterial properties. A lot more!

New recipe:

1/2 cup each organic virgin coconut oil & cocoa butter

1/8 cup each baking soda & organic arrowroot powder (told you I’d do better next time!)

10 drops each tea tree oil and Rocky Mountain Oils Purify blend (smells yummy too!)

Update: after trying this one for a week, I still needed to reapply with temperatures in the 90s. So until fall comes, I’m back to my commercial deodorant unless I want to hold my arms above my head every time I walk outside. I’m going to keep playing with the recipe, and hopefully I’ll come up with something that can stand the heat torture test soon!

My Momma’s Sweet Tea

Nothing is better on a hot sticky Southern summer day than an ice cold glass of sweet tea.  It’s just part of Southern culture. I love tea, truly, but you will never ever find me ordering it at a restaurant. Why?  I was spoiled by my Momma’s secret recipe. It’s exceedingly rare to find any place that makes decent tea in comparison. It’s always bitter and watered down…yuck!  Today, I’m teaching you the secret to smooth, sweet delicious tea. 

What’s in tea anyway?

As it turns out, there is only one plant that grows the leaves for black, white and green tea: Camellia sinesis. Guess who’s getting one of these bad boys soon? Yeah, that’d be me. Some places won’t ship to South Carolina though. Maybe it’s considered invasive here, but these pretty flowering shrubs won’t have a chance to get that big with the amount of tea we go through! Here’s a picture curtesy of Wikipedia 

Basically you pick the leaves and what you do with them after determines what flavor you get! I love a multipurpose plant. 

For sweet tea, you want black tea. If you don’t have a Camellia sinesis in your yard, Lipton or Luzianne will do. Lipton is my favorite because I get consistent taste, but I’ve also gone with the super cheap grocery store brand on occasion. 

Remember that my biggest complaints are watered down taste and bitterness. I fix the watered down taste by over boiling my tea bags. The bitterness is fixed by…baking soda. Yup, I said all that to tell you to put a pinch of baking soda in your tea pot. 

My tea making goes like this: fill quart pot halfway with water and plop on stove with burner set to high. Toss in a pinch of baking soda and a tea bag (2 if you have the small ones). Set lid on top but do not walk away! The baking soda makes the tea bubbly when it starts boiling and it has a tendency to overflow. Add 1-2 cups sugar to a gallon pitcher. When pot has been at a boil for a good minute or two, turn off heat and let sit until the bubbles stop. In about 5 minutes you will have a black liquid the color of soy sauce. Pour the hot tea into the pitcher of sugar, squeezing the tea bags out with a spoon and stir to dissolve the sugar (or Splenda or Sweet & Low). Add cold water (and maybe some ice if you want to serve right away) until the pitcher is full, stirring along the way. Fill a glass with ice, pour and enjoy!  You’ll notice this liquid is much much darker than what is served at restaurants even when poured over ice. No more watered down tea for you! Just delicious, sweet heaven in a glass. 

Bad Apples

Around here, apples are some of our favorite fruits.  And I can’t wait for the day that I can feed my family from the front yard.  So I decided to plant some apple trees.  In learning about apple trees, I found out that it was going to take 2-5 years for these babies to bear fruit, so I needed to get some in the ground ASAP!  Luckily enough, I had a month’s worth of dog walking income that was exactly enough to buy some trees!

I knew I didn’t want another 2 huge trees in my front yard because then I would have to convince my HOA to let me cut down the maple that was planted when the house was built or have them hanging over into my neighbors’ yards.  Neither of those was a good option, so I had to go dwarf.  Plus, upon submitting an 811 request to have the utilities marked, I found out that over half of my front yard was unsuitable for planting any trees or shrubs or anything that required actually digging a hole in the ground.  In fact, the exact location where I want to plant blueberries and strawberries next year happens to have water and sewer lines running through it.  But back to the apples…

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I picked out 2 spots that were approximately 24 inches away from all these lines zigzagging my yard as required by law and staked the spots.  Then I started digging while my tree roots soaked.  It had been raining for a week, thank heavens, because digging up clay soil when it is dry is a major job.  Soft clay comes up much easier.

I made my holes about 2 feet deep so I could incorporate some soil additive called Claybreaker into the crappy clay soil.  I put the Claybreaker on the bottom and added water to make soup, then added some of the topsoil with the grass still attached upside down to add some more nutrients to the soil as the grass died and started to break down.

Then I positioned the tree and began layering: additive, clay, additive, clay until the hole was almost filled.  I made sure the clay was the last layer on top since it holds water like plastic wrap so I wouldn’t have to worry so much about the soil drying out until I got some mulch.  When all was said and done, I had two little sticks poking out of the ground.

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Yes, it was raining on me, but just two weeks later, I am rewarded by some pretty little leaves on my new trees.

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I planted my favorites: Fuji & Gala.  These dwarf apple trees won’t get but 8-10 feet tall and wide so I’ll easily be able to reach the top without climbing a ladder as long as I have one of those apple-picker things.  And, they won’t grow over my neighbor’s yard so he won’t have apples that might get knocked off in a storm rotting in his yard.  I’m sure he’ll like that and I will love having fresh apples right outside my doorstep!

Today We Stopped Using Fabric Softener

Wool Dryer BallsI read a lot of other natural and DIY blogs, and one day I stumbled upon someone making wool dryer balls.  I had already stopped using fabric softener on my towels since I figured out that the fabric stops absorbing water when covered in that stuff, but I hadn’t found a solution for the rest of my clothes.  This was it.  And it wouldn’t include that weird rubber smell from those plastic dryer balls.

Truly the hardest part of this project was finding 100% wool yarn that was good for felting. Almost everything at the local craft stores was a wool/acrylic blend.  Online, it was hard to determine if the wool was “super-washed” meaning it wouldn’t felt.  After a tiring search, I decided on this funky colored 100% wool yarn that promised it was good for felting projects.  The other problem I ran into was not having any old pantyhose as recommended by every post I found on these things.  As a general rule, I do not wear hose or stockings, nor did I want to spend any money going to buy a pair just for this project.  I wanted to keep the cost to the yarn.  So how was I going to keep the balls from unravelling in the washer?  Martha Stewart to the rescue!    On her website, she has a tutorial on wool felting balls that felts just by soaking in warm soapy water and tossing the balls from hand to hand to create enough friction to felt the wool.  That I could use!  So it was finally time to get down to the ball-creating business.

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If you’ve ever made a rubber band ball, you know the first band, you basically just wad up and wrap around itself.  Same here, just make a wad and wrap it around.  I used my fingers like this and just wrapped until it was more ball shaped.

I wrapped mine to the size of tennis balls, but they do shrink, so when my next skein of yarn comes it, the new ones will be the size of softballs.

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I didn’t have a crochet hook or yarn needle handy; actually, I no longer own a yarn needle, but it would have made the process of securing the end of the yarn much easier.  I simply wove it under and over several other threads using my fingers.  Now they are ready for their bath.  One pot of warm, soapy water and a sink full of cold water are all I needed.

I literally just soaked the balls and then played hot potato with them for about 10 minutes then threw them across the kitchen into the sink.  I even added ice to my cold water to make sure it was really cold.  It was probably overkill.  I squeezed each one out 3 times to get all the warm water out of the middle and cool them down faster.  The threads are really fuzzy now.

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From here, I just tossed them in the dryer on normal for 5 minutes with my already dry clothes.  I stopped the dryer to make sure they weren’t unravelling.  So far so good, so I took the clothes out and just let the balls bounce around in there for another 20 minutes.  This is what they looked like.

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I played around with them to make sure they weren’t going to unravel and decided that green band on the pink one was not as secure as I liked.  I took some regular thread and wove it in and tied a knot so it couldn’t slip off the side.  Then I put them in the washer with the blankets from the couch.  Washed on hot, dried on hot, and I do believe they are done!