Tuesday, November 1, 2016

What's This Now?

Today I spent about 30 minutes on IM with a very good friend from my old career. We worked together for several years and during that time spent many an hour chatting on IM and working our tails off. It was so good to talk to her and listen to her vent a bit about her work at that particular salt mine. I was reminded that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The Sangre de Cristos as seen from the Village Inn parking lot in Canon City, Colorado.  This has nothing whatsoever to do with the blog topic.  I just like it.
After our talk, I sat and unfolded and refolded the fabrics I bought today to sew some new holiday scrubs for myself. I found a great clearance sale and got several Halloween prints and a few Christmas prints. I had to smile at myself for being so...ridiculously happy?

What?  What's this now?

As painful as the transition has been, I have caught myself feeling more peaceful and content than I have in many, many years. I know the struggles in my life are not over. I know that the pain of the last year or two has left an indelible mark on my heart and mind. I also know that there is almost certainly more of the same to come.  But, I've come to realize that these times that try our souls are opportunities to grow as cliche as that sounds. Well, not so much 'opportunities' as forced barefoot marches over hot coals and broken glass in some cases. I think I've grown into a completely different person with a new and improved empathy for others.

These days, I can think about Mom or my old job without bursting into tears or having my heart ripped in two from the longing for what once was.  I no longer feel a compulsive need to repeatedly peruse the help wanted web sites in a desperate search for a job that no longer exists.

This is sorta what it feels like trying to find a job that doesn't exist whilst simultaneously trying to hang on to the one you've got and wish you didn't have to keep.  I am fairly certain that I didn't look quite so graceful.

What may be even more important is the fact that I can now (in small doses) look through the old photos I found in Mom's house and not feel an overwhelming, horrific sense of loss. I still feel her loss.  It's just not all-consuming all the damn time. 

This is the mule deer fawn that walked right up to Mom's patio doors and didn't see me standing right on the other side.  This happened while I was staying there alone sorting through her things after she was gone.  He came to keep me company for a bit.

In spite of thinking it would never be possible again, I am okay.

I really am.  If you had told me even a few months ago that this would happen, I wouldn't have believed you.  Well, I might have believed you, but I would have been quite leery of the timing.

I am honestly trying to look leery.  I think I look like I have something in my eye.

Thanks for listening.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Late Summer Update from Picofarm

This year I decided to try a bunch of different kinds of tomatoes and do an informal study.  There were 17 varieties all together.  Here I present my determinations:

Here we have the red Rutgers, the small orange Zlatava (a Russian variety) at the bottom, the big yellow on the left with the red blush is called Mr. Stripey, and the other yellow is Yellow Oxheart. After extensive study in our test kitchens, we have determined the following:

Rutgers is best used in canning. Well, duh. It was sort of developed for that purpose. It's not a bad slicing tomato, but it's not very big.  It is also fine in salads.

Although it did not perform as I expected, Zlatava makes a very nice salad tomato. Tasty and sweet but not too sweet. It's not a cherry tomato.  I would grow this one again just for salads.  Zlatava was touted as a large yellow tomato with a pink interior.  The images that accompanied the seeds showed a tomato cut in half that resembled a pink grapefruit.  Not so much.  But it's so tasty I don't really care.

Mr. Stripey really shines in a BLT. It's not as 'tomatoey' as some I've had, but it's quite tasty with the bacon.  It is reminiscent of a beefsteak but not as watery, I thought. Given my choice between Mr. Stripey and a beefsteak for my BLT, I'd choose Mr. Stripey.  For some reason, my Mr. Stripey tomatoes don't look a lot like the picture on the plant ID tag.  I'm not complaining.  They're wonderful.

The Yellow Oxheart is just good eating. It seems like it is lower acid than a run-of-the-mill red tomato, but I haven't done a side-by-side comparison or any pH testing on which to base my conclusions.
Some varieties not pictured are San Marzano and La Roma. Both are paste types that performed as expected when prepared for sauce.  I would not recommend them for eating on a salad as they are pretty dry.  But they are perfect for saucing.
Black Krim.  Never made it out of the garden.  I ate the first one on the spot and after that they were all eaten the exact same way.  Very, very tasty.
Black Prince.  I did not get a single ripe tomato from the plant I got.  It set a few fruit and then just stalled.  I keep waiting and hoping...
Pink Brandywine.  A very pretty heirloom type that the grasshoppers and birds seem to LOVE.  I've only gotten a couple of unblemished fruits.
Green Pineapple.  Very odd looking and because of the green color, I missed the first few fruits and they rotted on the vine.  Sweet and tomatoey with rather delicate and easily bruised flesh.  Really good on a plate with some salt. 

Of course we had some Beefsteaks.  Good old dependable beefsteak types are the best in sandwiches and eaten fresh.  These were no exception.

'Sun-Dried' tomatoes were a meaty, paste type that did not perform well.  Only a few fruits set before the heat of the summer took the plant out.

'Champion' set a lot of small tomatoes that taste okay.  Nothing special to me anyway.  Sized about like the Zlatava but nowhere near as good.  The plants are on the smaller side and might do well in limited space.
This year we did three varieties of 'cherry' type tomatoes.  
Super Sweet 100 is an annual favorite at our house.  One or two plants gives us way more tiny tomatoes than we can hope to eat.  They are sweet and juicy and surprisingly easy to store when dehydrated.  They make a nice topping for pizza or a mix in for casseroles, pasta, meatloaf, soap, etc. 

I had never grown Yellow Pear before this year.  I had tried a plant last year but it didn't make it to the fruit bearing stage before a blight took it out.  So this year I got seeds and started a couple dozen plants with the hope that one of them would give me some tomatoes.

Holy crap.

None of them died.  I have yellow pear tomatoes everywhere.  That might not be such a bad deal if I actually liked how they taste.  They are a very pretty little pear-shaped tomato with a lovely yellow/gold color and almost zero tomato taste.  I dried a few to see how they will perform in recipes and I made some pickled tomatoes with a few.  I hope to report back on those in a few weeks.  Unless they get a stellar review from one of those uses, I won't be growing those again.  Prolific?  Yes.  Edible?  Yes.  Desirable?  Not so much.  They made so many tomatoes that I live in fear of the multitudes of volunteer plants I'll have next year.  Yikes.

The last of the tiny tomatoes is a golden cherry that I have since lost the variety name.  I wish I hadn't.  These are easily the best cherry tomatoes I've ever eaten in my life.  Somewhere in that garden plot is the identification tag that came with the plant I bought.  I will find it.  In the meantime, I'm saving some seeds in the hope that at least one of them will be true to the variety.

In other news...

The squashes have started to come in.  This is a small selection of the varieties that I grew this year.  Two kinds of pumpkins, three kinds of summer squash (a traditional zucchini, some funny little yellow zucchinis, and a white patty pan), and I forget how many kinds of winter squash.  In the picture below we have turban, butternut, acorn, lakota, spaghetti, and delitica.  There are so many other types and many I had never grown before waiting to be harvested in the squash bed.  I hope to have a taste test completed soon so I can report my findings. 
I am super pleased with my squash crop this year.  Probably the best one I've ever had!  I have to confess:  I used some garden dust on the squash vines this year.  The squash vine borer is a menace in my part of the country. I rarely ever get more than a couple of edible fruits no matter how many vines I plant.  This year I used some judiciously applied chemical dust and had almost NO vine borer issues and the squash bugs are almost non-existent.  I know, I know...it's not organic.  It's really a topic for another blog, but I'll just say here that it is very unlikely I will be able to grow completely organically in my plots no matter how carefully I shun the chemicals.

In the 'just for fun' section of the garden we find me and my broom corn.  Just for scale, I am about 5'9" and the tallest of the broom corn is easily double my height.  This was so much fun to watch as it grew like crazy to form the seed heads at the top.  Last week I harvested those seed heads and I hope to make some nice fall decorations with them.  I plan to make room for some broom corn every year.  It's fun to grow and the seed heads turn brown and purple in the fall.  I'll post up some pics of whatever I figure out to make with the seed heads.

A parting shot of the squash beds and the Bitch of a Ditch.  I had hoped that the squash would grow down into the ditch eliminating the need to mow it all the dang time.  It sort of did that.  Next time I'll plant right along the edge and see what it does.  Yep, that's little ol' me standing in the ditch for scale.  I told you it's one big ditch.

That's all for now.  I gotta get back out there and pick some peppers.  There are lots of those to talk about, too.  Until next time.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Year One

I've been writing this blog in my head for almost a year now...thinking about what I want to say about having endured a year of my life without my Mother in it.  I had many grand ideas and some less than rational thoughts.  Today, none of them seem to matter.  So I'm just gonna wing it.
Me & my Mom in June 1966...just me and my bestie hanging out

August 19, 2016 marks the first year anniversary of my Mom, Sharon's, death.  To tell the truth, I wasn't sure what I would find when I finally got to this day.  I was hoping to have the mystical and elusive 'closure' that so many people seem to think we need after the death of a loved one.  I've come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as closure.  After suffering through the deluge of emotion and the repeated waves of sorrow at each passing 'first without Mom,' I find myself feeling less complete than I expected.

I thought by now the almost tangible hole left in my middle when she was torn from my life (because you don't really 'lose' your Mom, do you?  She's ripped from you, isn't she?) would have healed over a bit leaving insensitive scar tissue but feeling more or less intact and solid.  That could not be further from the truth.

Truth is the hole is still there.  I imagine the edges are pink and sensitive still but more or less solid.  However, it doesn't take a lot to get them raw and bleeding again.  I don't think I'll ever be really whole again.

So, as is my habit from childhood, I decided to poke the bear.  What can I say?  I'm a little bit of a masochist, apparently.

I've spent my downtime this week going through the huge suitcase of photographs I found at Mom's house last summer when I cleared it out in preparation to sell.  I spent a lot of the time alternately laughing my ass off and bawling my eyes out.  There are a lot of really good pictures that I didn't know existed and many more that I had forgotten about.  OMG I was a skinny kid all the way through high school.  If I knew then what I know now, I never would have been sad about being 'fat'.


But I digress.

I found some corkers in there, too, of Mom.  My goal for this weekend is to get some more of them scanned and 'shopped to share for posterity.  Just a few, mind you.  I would not dilute her memory or sully her life by plastering it all over the Internet.*  My Mom was a very private person.  To put a bunch of pictures of her on the internet without her permission feels like disrespect to me. That was not her style.  I wouldn't do that to her any more than I would scatter her ashes in Nebraska.

She was a Colorado girl through and through.  That's where she'll be once I can bring myself to let go of that box of ashes.

Turns out I have a lot less to say than I thought I would.


Love you, Mom.  Love you gobs.

*More than a couple people in my life took this the wrong way.  I didn't mean to imply that I think sharing pictures of your loved ones is bad.  I don't think it is necessarily.  I just don't think my Mom would have liked it.  So now I'll just put my foot back in my mouth where it clearly belongs.  Please accept my apologies.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Running on Empty

This week has been a rough week here at The Slice.  The mower broke the drive belt, the truck broke something we haven't identified yet, and I've busted my ass all week at the home doing good works.  It's a tough old life.

Today I was off from the day job and I spent my day in a funk.  I was missing my Mom, missing my farm, and missing my freedom from before I took this job.  I was in a deep blue funk.

I should have seen this coming.  After all, it's August.  Usually by now I've either been to Colorado or I'm preparing to go see my Mom.  I have done neither this year and I don't plan to.  It kinda hit me this morning that I won't ever be planning to visit her again.

A deep, dark blue funk.

After I got done with my errands for the day, I cried in the car all the way home.  Then I cried to my husband.  Then I cried to my best friend.  Then I remembered the rabbits needed feeding and cleaning up after.

So I went to the farm and cried to my rabbits.  They were fairly indifferent to my tears as I expected.  I took the big metal pans from their cages and started cleaning them.  When I put them back, I noticed Gordon was nibbling on the weeds that were poking up through the bottom of his hutch.  It was enchanting and I left him until last to put his tray back so he could nibble some more.  In fact, I went and got some more weeds and gave them to the ladybuns so they could nibble delicately at some greenery.

With that task behind me and dusk fast approaching, I decided to do something about the general tallness of all the plant life in the 'lawn' at the farm.  I hauled all 400 feet of garden hose up to the hose racks and wound them up off the ground.  Then, I cranked up the Little Red Mower That Could and I mowed the damned bitch of a Ditch.

Have I ever blogged about the ditch?  Maybe not.  Our Ditch (I think of it as a proper noun because it's a proper bitch) is about half a block long with steep sides and a rather bumpity bottom.  For some reason the 'grass' on the bottom is pretty sparse but the 'grass' on the steep sides grows luxuriantly. Of course.  The part that is hard to mow needs mowing the most.  It's like some kind of twisted corollary to Murphy's Law...inverse relationship between 'grass' and grade?

I know, I know:  Nerd!

It's not a good picture, but that's the Ditch.  Really, it's worse than it seems.  I'll have to try for a better shot than Google street view can provide.
Anyway, I mowed that bitch and the front yard to boot.  Just as the sun started to slip beneath the horizon, the Little Red Mower That Could started running on fumes. I put the mower away and looked at what I'd accomplished.  The mowing is only about 1/5 done.  But, it's a start.

When I got back in my car, I was humming a little tune.  I forget which one because it suddenly occurred to me that I was humming a tune.  Humming.  Like I was...happy or something. 

Then I had a thought.

I spent a lot of time this week inside.  Up until a month or so ago, I was spending upwards of 10-12 hours a day outdoors in the garden or doing something outside.  Now I'm down to an hour or less some days.  I've always been the happiest working outside.  It recharges me in a way nothing else ever has.  You might say that like the mower I was running on empty.  Sometimes when my energy is that low I forget how to fix it.  It's really as simple as mowing the darn bitch of a ditch...or anything else requiring physical exertion. 

Exercise is the best anti-depressant out there.

But don't tell my husband that.  Sheesh.  He'll never mow it again!

Saturday, July 30, 2016

They Have To Eat, Too

This is just a nice volunteer sunflower.  Nothing to do with the post, really.
Last night while sitting eating my 'lunch' at what I've come to regard as my night and day job, I was thinking about what to plant as my fall crop this year.  I don't have a lot of luck with fall crops.  Either I plant too late or it gets too dry or the frost comes too soon or not soon enough.  But I was reading about growing carrots as a fall crop, so I decided to give that go.  I haven't tried that yet.  As a bonus, I happen to have leftover carrot seeds.
So, I'm out in my garden in back of my house digging up what is left of the carrots I planted last spring. I planted a rather long variety and I've pulled a few that were well over 10 inches long. They are some very nice carrots. I had to literally dig some of them out of the ground lest they break off and cause the prolific swearing and subsequent stabbing of the earth with my little garden trowel in frustration.

What can I say?  The sweat was in my eyes.

So I get the last carrot pulled finally!  I'm sitting on the edge of the bed breaking off the carrot greens and dropping them on the bed for mulch when some movement catches the corner of my eye. I look more closely. To my surprise, and horror, here is a baby bunny digging its way up out of the soil.


Right where I was digging mere moments before. Right where I could have ended his hippity-hoppity life with my little garden trowel.

Double gulp.

I decided to poke around a little, with my hands this time, because you KNOW baby bunnies don't come in singles.  I promptly unearth three more.*

That's when I threw up in my mouth a little and eased the wanderer back into the nest with his siblings before I could find any more or any potential carnage.

Now I know what you're thinking. Why am I not freaking out about a cottontail nest in the middle of my carrot patch?

It's the irony. It seems so appropriate to find rabbits in a carrot patch that I can't complain at all. After all, who of my generation can forget the Saturday morning images of Bugs Bunny tunneling under a carrot farm and popping up in a carotene-induced stupor wondering if he should have turned left at Albuquerque?
I expect Momma Cottontail will move those babes lickety split in the night once she realizes they've been found.**

Unlike some gardeners, I don't mind sharing some of my bounty with the wildlife. I don't like that the birds ate so many of my apples. But in a few years, I'll have more apples than I know what to do with.  It's part of the web of life. Besides, they don't understand our arbitrary boundaries.

Not to mention the fact that they have to eat, too. 

*I took my husband out to view the tiny dinkers and we found a fifth bunny.  All carrot replanting operations are on hold for the moment.

**Update 31 July 2016:  Nope.  They're still there.  And we have a wicked rain storm approaching.  Why am I worried about them?  Yes.  I covered them up with some discarded carrot tops.  Hopeless.  I am hopeless.

Sunday, June 5, 2016


There is exciting news from Picofarms today.  Well, I think it's exciting anyway:

Rabbits.  More specifically, meat rabbits.  Holy buckets!  We have livestock!

Today, we trekked across the state braving roads both paved and unpaved to a tiny town called Palmer.  There, we found a lovely woman and a whole lotta rabbits.

They were all absolutely adorable.  But we limited our selection to two does and one buck.  Here they are making their interwebz debut!  True to form and following our own weird tradition, the rabbits have unique and oddly satisfying punny names.

This is Janis. Janis Hoplin.

This is our buck, Gordon Whitefoot...for obvious reasons.

We call this little girl Jane Doe.  We call her that because she just would not tell us her real name.

All of our rabbits are littermates and they were born in February of this year making just about 4 months old.  They were produced by crossing a Harlequin female with a male black New Zealand.  Both of the does look grey, but they are actually called 'blue'.  The male is black except for that one white foot thing.

I am smitten.  We plan to wait until next spring to start the breeding program. They're a bit young right now and we don't want to worry about bunnies in the winter time.

Next:  what to name the rabbitry.  So far, I've come up with House of Blues.  It's okay for a working title.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Picofarms Produce: A {tiny} Little Slice of Heaven

We had a sudden thunderstorm roll through last night around midnight.  The wind was blowing and the thunder was crashing and the lightening was flashing!  The rain pelted the house with a crazy fierceness for about five minutes until the fast-moving squall line stormed on through and left us be in peace.  We didn't get much out of it in the way of rain.

But it gave me an idea.

I've always hated strong storms since I was very young.  I was lying wide awake in bed, quaking a little inside from the ferocity of the storm and wondering if the neighbor's gigantic elm tree would finally land on my roof once and for all.  (It did not.)  I worried for my newly planted fruit trees on my tiny farms.  My so very tiny, minuscule farms.  Very tiny, indeed.  In fact, I don't think all of the plots put together would make up an entire city lot. 

My wired-up brain started free associating a bit as it is wont to do when under stress.  Small farm?  No.  Mini-farm?  Nope.  My places aren't big enough.  Micro-farm?  Doesn't feel right either.  So I went further.  Nano-farm!  Naw...that sounds like a place on Ork or maybe someplace where tiny robots are made.  Besides, that still seems a bit large for my really tiny Little Slice of Heaven.

All due respect to Mr. Williams.  Nope.  This will never do.

So what's smaller than a nano-something? A pico-something!  I did some quick math and determined that we have less than a quarter of an acre actually in production. Yeah, I told you it's small.  When the average privately owned farm is more like 1100 acres, my 0.19 acres seems to-tal-ly mini-scule.  Or, maybe, pico-scule.

See what I did there?

Anyway, tl:dr, I decided during a raging thunderstorm to call my place Picofarms.  Picofarms Produce.  If you follow me on facebook, you might notice the change.  In my heart, it will always be my tiny Little Slice of Heaven.  But that's kinda long on a business card.

See you at the market.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016


As I typed the title up there today, I was instantly and perhaps predictably reminded of a nascent butterfly struggling from the crysalis. It's a tired metaphor to be sure.  But, it's all I have today.

It is coming up on eight months since Mom died...on the 19th.  I still have really bad days.  Days when I can't even believe it's real.  Days when the realization catches me unaware and I'm back on the floor in a heap with fresh wounds.  That sounds really dramatic. But, it's basically the truth of the matter.  The truth cuts.  Every time.

Every day I wish her back.  Every day I look at her picture and wonder what the HELL happened to make her so sick even though I know it was the lifetime of smoking cigarettes.  In spite of that fact, she didn't deserve what she got.  Nobody ever deserves that.  I wouldn't even wish it on the worst serial killer in the world.  Perhaps I am too compassionate.  I'm not sure that is really possible.  Some days I think of my compassion as an almost sacred duty in a world that is sadly lacking.

So I've become hyper aware of things that are bad for me.  I have, in fact, come full circle back to my self-awareness.  For the last eight months, and probably the year before that as well, I've been utterly unconcerned with my own well-being.  I've gotten no pleasure from eating or exercising or living.  It was all stuff I just did automatically.  Just keeping the lights on as it were.

I doubt it is a conincidence that this should happen in the spring.  Everything around me is becoming aware and emerging into the sunshine again.  Things are growing.  The fruit trees are flowering like madness.  The world continues to turn and the days continue to lengthen.  And with every robin sighted and every freshly germinated seedling, I am reminded of my promise to my Mother.  She told me, "Go and enjoy your life!  Make me proud."  In my pre-grieving state, I promised I would all the while not really believing it would be possible.

But, today, I'm starting to think that it is possible again.  I know I've said this before but the feeling is stronger today.  However, the feeling is also fleeting.  If I think on it for too long a time, it darts away to hide again behind the hole in my heart.  So I have started to give that feeling a side-eye glance from time to time approaching it like a skittish puppy who has lived a feral life and offering tidbits to coax it out into the sunshine and maybe even into my arms.

I have begun to court my own happiness.

You see, I've had a realization.  It wasn't a bolt from the blue.  It just sort of crept up on me in the night when I wasn't looking.  My Mom said to me, "Go and enjoy your life! Make me proud."  I heard her words but in my mind I separated them into two distinct things discreet from each other.  It was as if she had said, "Go and enjoy your life!  But make sure you do something super fantastic or I won't be proud of you."  I don't think that's what she meant at all.  I think she meant that it would make her proud to see me enjoy my life whatever that enjoyment might mean to me.  She meant for me to define that enjoyment and just enjoy the hell out it.

My Mom was a stoic woman.  She was not given to outbursts of emotion like I am.  She always said I was too sensitive for my own good.  I often wondered how she managed to raise me at all...her especially sensitive child.  She never tried to crush it out of me.  She never tried to make me tougher or more stoic.  She always, always let me be me.  Even when she didn't agree.  Maybe especially when she didn't agree.  Because she knew that, in my own time and in my own way, I would emerge and become the person I was meant to be.

Today, I am one step closer to it.  And I know she is proud.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Spring is Here!

Although, it doesn't really look like it today, spring is here.  I woke up this morning to snow falling with the kind of intensity usually reserved for frigid January nights.  When it finally stopped, we had been blessed with about two inches of the wet stuff.

I've had about enough of that.

So instead of spending my day clearing the garage and puttering in the garden, I spent my day potting up some of this year's crop of bedding plants.  Seedlings, that is.  Green gold...

I've been in the house for TOO LONG.

Anyway, here are the highlights:

I went a little crazy with the cole crops this year.  I have two kind of brussels sprouts (Brawny and Purple), a Romanesco broccoli, broccoli raab, and baby choy.  I can't get a good pic of the choy, though.  Try as I might.

Romanesco broccoli

Brawny Sprouts

Another broccoli

Purple brussles sprouts
Then there are the peppers.  Thirteen kinds of peppers.  Here are a couple pepperocini types. 

Next come the tomatoes.  Only seven kinds, I think.  They're pretty small yet, but soon I'll be potting them up like the rest.

I haven't forgotten the herbs.  I planted two types of chives, some sage, thyme, basil, and corn mache.  It's my first try at corn mache. I don't even know what corn mache is, really.  But it was recommended to me by a very knowledgeable gardener.  So what the heck?

That's the basil with some leggy corn mache draped over it.  Swiss chard in the background.

So far, I think I'm off to a good start.  But none of this would be possible without the assistance of my able-bodied husband, his drill, and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of zip ties.  Yesterday, he built the annex to the original seedling station.

It's just plastic, snap-together shelving, clip lights, and roughly a metric ton of zip ties.  A little bit of heaven in the living room.  Yep.  You read that right.

Yes, it seems like a lot of plants to me, too.  Perhaps come May 7 I'll see you down at the farmer's market and you can take a couple of peppers and tomatoes off my hands for a reasonable fee.

Now if the snow will just melt and let spring get underway, I'd be much obliged.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Fragrance Oils vs. Essential Oils: What's the big deal?

There are lots of different kinds of soapers in the world.  Some are all organic (I'm not).  Some are all colorant free (not me).  Some use only essential oils to scent their soaps and eschew fragrance oils entirely (not me, either).  So what's the big deal about essential oils anyway?

Here's what I know about essential oils:
  • They are extracted, in one way or another, from natural plant matter.  Because they are made from natural materials, there tends to be some variability in the end product.  Some of them are just squeezed out.  Some require steaming to extract the oils.  I hear there are other methods, but I don't know about them for sure.
  • Essential oils can be very concentrated.  The name brand oils you see out there being sold for aromatherapy or other uses are often diluted in a carrier oil or the manufacturer recommends that you dilute them yourself so they can be applied directly to the skin.  That's not something you will want to do with full strength essential oils.  Some of them, like peppermint and cinnamon, can cause unpleasant reactions when the concentration is too strong.  
  • You won't see me using those brand names in my soaps for a couple of reasons: 
    1. As I just said:  Some of them are diluted so they aren't very strong smelling when they become even further diluted in the soap.  The carrier oil isn't always specified.  The type of oil can be important to soap making.
    2. They are expensive.  For my soaps, I use about an ounce (give or take) of concentrated essential oil per batch of soap I make.  In order to use enough of those name brand oils to get an equivalent fragrance strength, I might need to buy several ounces for each batch.  That's not cost effective at all and the soaps would be very, very expensive.
  • The cost of essential oils is typically higher than fragrance oils.  Because they rely on the production of natural materials, the cost can vary quite a bit from one year to the next depending on the availability of the plant matter.  If a crop fails, it might not be available at all. 
  • Over time, essential oil scents will fade in stored soaps.
 On the other hand, we have fragrance oils:
  • Fragrance oils are scents that are largely lab created.  As a chemist, I don't see lab creation as necessarily an automatic bad thing.  After all, there is no such thing as strawberry essential oil for a very good reason:  There isn't any oil in a strawberry!  Or at least not enough to make it a viable candidate for essential oil production.  Besides, strawberries are way too tasty to waste on smashing for their miniscule amounts of oil.  If you're going to smash strawberries, make jam!
  • Because they are artificially created, fragrance oils can be allergy inducing.  There are some that I absolutely cannot abide.  Back in the day, when I worked in the lab, there was a product I helped to develop that had the flat out nastiest fragrance added to it.  Trouble is I was the only one who objected.  Everyone else thought it smelled pretty darn good.  It gave me a headache.  Icky.
  • Fragrance oils tend to be less expensive.
  • Fragrance oils can cause problems when making soap because of the composition of the oil.  Some do.  Some don't.  Some aren't worth the risk.
  • Fragrance oils can smell, well, artificial.  
  • Fragrance oils often stick in the soap better than essential oils and will degrade less over time.
I prefer to use essential oils and I will use them when possible because I know people tend to prefer them.  But in some instances, like the strawberry situation I mentioned before, it just isn't going to happen.  And, no, it is unlikely I will attempt to make a strawberry soap any time soon.  Mostly I don't like soap to smell like food.  But I make a few that do.

There are only a few instances in which I will choose a fragrance oil over an essential oil:

  1. When the essential oil is not available or is so prohibitively expensive as to make it impossible to use or;
  2. When I am unable to formulate a soap recipe that will hold onto the essential oil scent.  For example, my citrus soaps will sometimes be scented with fragrance oil instead of essential oil.  Citrus essential oils just don't stick.
I don't really buy into the ideas that essential oils can cure this or fix that thing.  There might be something to it, but that's not what I'm about here.  I make soap that gets you clean and maybe smells good while it's getting you clean. That's it.

I think that lots of essential oils smell good and some just plain smell awful.  We all have our preferences.  What scents do you like best?

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Sopalotta Sudzy Soap: Fancy Pants Extra Good Smelling Soap

All of these soaps are made with the same recipes used for my other naturally fragrant and colorful soaps.  They have a bit of essential oil or fragrance oil and some have a little mica colorant added for fun.  Lots of folks make their soaps with tons of added fragrance.  I prefer to go a little more lightly so the scent doesn't interfere later with your cologne choice.

Ahimsa--Made with an olive oil and coconut oil base and superfatted with sweet almond oil.  Scented with sandalwood frangrance oil.  Colorant free!

Ahimsa (with a little bit of Mother's Day in the corner there).

Gardener's Hand Soap--A sturdy soap to clean the garden grime from your hands. Scented with pine needle essential oil and colored with a little green mica for a marbled effect.  Available in spring and summer.

Gardener's Hand Soap

Joyful Squid--Named for my bestie Joan and her lovely daughter Allie.  Joyful Squid is scented with mandarin  and clove essential oils and has a swirl of red oxide colorant.

Joyful Squid

Lumberjack--Very manly.  Just like a lumberjack (and I'm okay).  Scented with vetiver and cedarwood essential oils and tinted with black oxide.


Mother's Day--A very pretty smelling and pretty looking soap.  Scented with rose geranium essential oil (swoon-worthy scent) and swirled with pink mica and powdered hibiscus flower colorants.  The first thing I thought of when I smelled this soap the first time was Mother's Day.  Available in spring and summer.

Mother's Day

Petal Pink--This is my Plain & Simple soap with some pink mica colorant added.  No added fragrance. Very pretty soap.

Petal Pink

Prairie Sunshine--My version of lavender and lemongrass with essentail oils of the same name.  No added colorants.  Just pure lemony goodness.

Prairie Sunshine

Serene Dream--A very nice bastile bar scented with lavender essential oil and swirled with purple mica.  Hands down, this is my favorite of all my soaps.

Serene Dream

Shinto Garden--Ylang ylang essential oil makes this soap smell like a walk through a Japanese garden.  I make this one extra pretty with some pink and purple mica swirls.

Seriously smells amazing.  I wish there was smellavision.

Smuggler--Remember college when you were still too young to drink?  Remember hot chocolate with a peppermint kiss on top and a shot of peppermint schnapps mixed in?  That is what this soap reminds me of:  A drink we called The Smuggler.  Made with real cocoa powder and peppermint essential oil.  Smells like a brownie with a peppermint kiss on top.  I can't recommend eating it, though.  It sort of ruins the effect.

Smuggler--looks a little weird on the washcloth.  I recommend a dark colored cloth.

Stanky Dawg--You know that funky smell that dogs get after a while?  This will wash it off gently but firmly.  I use it on my own short-haired dogs and it works great to de-stinky-fy them.  Made with peppermint essential oil.  Zero added colors.

Stanky Dawg.  Works great if you can get them in the tub.

Sweet Innocence--I swear I used purple mica for color but it looks greyish to me. Sweet Innocence has violet fragrance oil for scent.  Superfatted with sweet almond oil.  Limited edition because I don't like the color.  It will be back...just not in that weird color.

Sweet Innocence.  It sorta looks purple if you squint just right and side-eye it.

Tea Ceremony-- Jasmine fragrance oil makes this soap a real treat to smell.  I add a little green mica glitter on the top and swirl it in.

Tea Ceremony

That's it for now.  I'm always interested in hearing about any particular fragrances you'd like to find.  Let me know!

Sopalotta Zero Added Fragrance, Zero Artificial Colorants Sudzy Soaps

Extra Stout--All the color and fragrance in this soap comes from the dark beer in the recipe.  Smells grainy and earthy.  Made with a cocoa butter superfat.
Extra Stout

Harvest Moon Hand Soap--Smells like grandma's kitchen at Thanksgiving.  Made with ground spices and real pumpkin. Smells great!  Tastes really bad!  Available in fall and winter.

Harvest Moon

Kitchen Sink Hand Soap--Made with brewed coffee and has some ground coffee for texture.  Smells nutty and wonderful.  Cleans your hands so you can make a safe and healthy meal.

Kitchen Sink Hand Soap

Mellow Yellow--This is a fragrance free buttermilk bastile-type recipe with olive and coconut oils.  Contains pureed carrots.  Great soap for a young child.

Mellow Yellow

Nothin' Fancy--The soap that started it all!  Nothin' Fancy is a basic bastile soap made with over 90% olive oil plus a touch of castor oil to provide hardness to the bar.  This recipe serves as the basis for most of my bastile soaps.

Nothin' Fancy.  Ugh!  Ever try to take a good picture of something white?

Plain & Simple--Made with olive oil, coconut oil, and sweet almond oil superfat.  No fragrances.  No added colors.  No preservatives.  No nothing but plain & simple soap.  This recipe serves as a basis for many of my other soaps.

Plain & Simple

Reggae--Believe it or not this soap has no added colors or fragrances.  It's made with red, red wine (Merlot in this instance) which gives it a sweet and earthy fragrance and deep, deep rusty red color.  Superfatted with cocoa butter.


Sowing the Wild--A bastile bar made with oats and honey.  I've made this soap many times and because of the nature of the honey I add, it never comes out looking the same way twice.  In this particular batch, the honey caramelized to produce a rich, dark brown color and it smells divinely of honey caramel.
Sowing the Wild

Next up:  My Fancy Pants line of good smelling soaps with essential oils, fragrance oils, and/or colorants.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Introducing: Sopalotta Sudzy Soap

In the next few weeks, I plan to officially launch my new soap business.  I call it Sopalotta Sudzy Soap.  You can thank my husband for the alliteration.

I've been hard at work all winter testing recipes and making soap.  Here's a little information about  my soaps. 

My soaps are just that: soap.  Soap that gets you clean.  They are real soap.  Not detergents derived from petrochemicals.  There aren’t any added preservatives.  My soaps are made with water or other liquid, various oils, some have fragrance, some have colors, and all of them have lye.

Yes.  Lye.  You can’t make soap…real soap…without lye.  Here’s how I make mine:

The soaps made in the Sopalotta shop are created using the ‘hot process’ method of soap making.  The ingredients for each batch are carefully weighed, mixed, and gently cooked to speed the reaction of the lye with the soaping oils to completion.  This process allows for a shorter time from batch creation to shower or sink.  By the time the soap is poured from pot to mold, the reaction is complete and only a few days of drying time are needed before the soap is ready to package and use.

Every batch is oil heavy.  That means that there is an excess of oil added to the recipe to ensure that all the lye is used up by the time it’s done cooking.  We call that ‘superfat’ in the soap making industry.  I use sweet almond oil, cocoa butter, shea butter, and avocado oil to superfat my soaps.

There are several different recipes available from Sopalotta.  The very first kind of soap I ever made was a bastile type.  What’s a ‘bastile’ you ask?  I started out wanting to make a very gentle soap called Castile.  Castile soap is made from lye and olive oil and water and that’s it.  The trouble with castile soap is that it’s not very hard and it doesn’t last very long.  So some soapers add a little bit of another oil to make the bar harder and thus it lasts a lot longer.  But if it’s not 100% olive oil, you can’t really call it a Castile, can you?  So the soapers started calling it a bastile.  My bastile soaps are over 90% olive oil.
Left: Soap made with buttermilk and carrots.  Right: Soap made with honey. No added colorants here.

Most of my soaps are free of added colorants.  I prefer the rustic and more organic-looking results of the process without dyes or colors.  Some of my soaps will have a little mica colorant to add some visual interest and a little sparkle here and there.  The search for natural colorants is an ongoing process.
Left:  Soap with mica colorant and hibiscus flower powder.  Right: Same soap recipe without colorant added.

I use both essential oils and fragrance oils in my soaps.  Where possible, I prefer to use essential oils over the fragrance oils because the fragrance oils tend to be artificial creations.  But, there are just some scents you can’t get in an essential oil—like a lot of the floral fragrances.  Additionally, some are prohibitively expensive for use in the quantities required for soap making—such as sandalwood.  Sandalwood essential oil is available.  But the soaps would be very, very expensive.

The goal at Sopalotta Sudzy Soap is to create a soap for every body.  From toddler to granddad, we have a soap to get you clean. 

In the next few days, I'll publish a post or two about the different soaps I will have available for purchase on my yet-to-be created website.  I'll also do a post on what got me started making soaps in the first place.  So stay tuned!