Mission

Lotions & Potions for beautiful skin. Herbs, recipes and information to help you be your best self.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Win Bay Soap in the Great Online Scavenger Hunt

Bay Soap

A bar of my bay soap will go to one lucky winner in the Great Online Scavenger Hunt giveaway hosted by Annie Kelleher.  After reading The Ghost and Katie Coyle  I had to give away the bay soap.
Welcome to day five of the Scavenger Hunt.  Each day, for 22 days, you have a chance to hunt for clues in the form of a line, quote or name from The Ghost and Katie Coyle.  These clues will be hiding in various sites, all made clear on Annie's site.  You can join anytime throughout the 22 day hunt, so join in the fun!
My clue is number five from chapter five.  It can be found on my product page. And if you see something you like you can order at my Square Marketplace.
When you find the clue copy it and e-mail it to KatieCoyleScavengerHunt@gmail.com and you'll be entered to win my handmade soap.
AND... if you are diligent in your hunt and enter for every day's clue, you'll be eligible to win the grand prize - a Kindle Paperwhite eReader!

Friday, November 28, 2014

On Line Store

I have been asked time and again if people can order my products.  Some people live far away and some just can't make it to the artisan fairs that I attend.  Set up an on-line store I was told.  And trust me, I have been working on it.  The photos, the descriptions, the inventory it is far harder that it seems.  With the help of a few lovingly critical friends it is finally time to go live.  There is a link on the top page of my blog.  There is a link on my facebook page. And the link is below.  I look forward to seeing you in person or virtually.


Thursday, November 27, 2014

Scavenger Hunt - Great Read and Great Prizes


Today kicks off the tease and introduction to the upcoming Scavenger Hunt giveaway being hosted by the one 'n' only, fabulous and talented Anne Kelleher.

I'm psyched about this site-hopping Scavenger Hunt event, spread over an exciting twenty-two days. Why? Well, because I love Annie, and can recommend every story she's ever written, and because I'm participating with one of the give-away options on one of those 22 days!

But ... today, November 27, through November 30 you can get your very own copy of The Ghost and Katie Coyle for free! What better way to treat yourself to a very special read and introduce yourself to the Scavenger Hunt coming up in just four days on December 1st?

So, yeah, get your free copy of The Ghost and Katie Coyle to enjoy over the weekend and to prime the excitement of playing along in the Scavenger Hunt.

Not only will there be daily opportunities to win something fabulous from the Hunt participants, but if you follow the Hunt every day and enter every day, you'll be entered to win the Grand Prize ~ a Kindle Paperwhite eReader! So cool.

So, get ready now by snaggin' your free copy of The Ghost and Katie Coyle by Anne Kelleher ~ you'll not enjoy the story, but it will flame the fires of excitement for the 22-day adventure into the Scavenger Hunt!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

On the Road Again


Urban Chipmunk

I'm stealing the title of my blog from a friend and a song.  Reminds me of high school when my then boyfriend gifted me with the album (yes vinyl and I'm dating myself) Urban Chipmunks.  Alvin and his buddies did a hilarious rendition of this tune.  But, what it means for you is that I will be out and about in the coming weeks and I'm hoping you can stop by and see me at least one of these events.

November 29, 2014  Holiday Marketplace: The Spirit of Giving
61 Echo Lake Road, Watertown, CT
10 am to 4 pm
This is a celebration of artisans - all handcrafted items of the finest quality.  Plus the entire town caters to small business Saturday, so make a day of it.

December 5, 2014  Artwalk
40 Main Street, Torrington, CT
4 pm to 8 pm
This event is a way to meet the artists in town and see all they have to offer.  They have generously invited in guest artists to participate as well.

December 6, 2014  Whiting Mills Open Studios and Guest Artists
11 am - 5 pm
100 Whiting Street, Winsted, CT
I will be in studio 336, a guest of Rose from Walk in the Woods.
Sharing her space will also be Soul Threads
This is one event not to miss.  Explore the historic old mill, see all of the artists that occupy every nook and cranny and guest artists filling the main hall. The event is also taking place on Sunday but I will be...

December 7, 2014  Farmington Valley Jewish Congregation Holiday Craft & Vendor Fair
9 am - 1 pm
55 Bushy Hill Road, Simsbury, CT

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Elderberry Syrup


     It is the beginning of cold and flu season.  For me and my family I add lots of immune boosting herbs to our food. To see exactly what check out Brrrr it's cold outside. We wash our hands frequently and don't use anti-bacterial soap.  Killing  the good germs along with the bad doesn't make any sense to me.  And studies have shown that as well.  The one thing I always have on hand this time of year is elderberry.  I have tincture to take at the first sign of anything. And anything can include my co-workers having the sniffles.  I work in close quarters three days a week at the cube farm and a spoonful of elderberry a day keeps their germs away. I also make elderberry syrup which can be used in the same way.  This tastes amazing and contains no alcohol so it is great for children.  It boosts the immune system.  Clinical trials with elderberry have shown that elderberry both prevents and resolves cold and flu symptoms.  We have experienced this as at our house with colds.  We haven't had flu symptoms in our house so I can't speak to that.

     This recipe is based off my friend Rose's recipe.  I tweak it every time I make it.  I put a post it note on the recipe with the changes and notes for additions or subtractions for the next incarnation.  Today's syrup recipe yielded two and half cups of heavenly elixir.

2 oz. dried elderberries
1/2 oz. astragalus root
1/4 oz. candied ginger
3 cardamom pods
1/2 oz. Reishi mushrooms
4 Cups water

     I combined this and brought it to a boil.  I covered it and turned the heat down to a low simmer and left it for two hours.  I then strained it.  It yielded 2 1/4 cups of liquid.  I added this back to the pot and added 1 1/2 cups organic cane sugar.  I kept it uncovered and brought it slowly up to a boil stirring until the sugar dissolved.  I then let it simmer a few minutes before pouring it into a mason jar.  I poured some in a beautiful decanter that sits on the counter so everyone in the house remembers to indulge.

    This syrup can be used on pancakes or ice cream.  It can be added to cocktails or iced tea. It's uses are only limited by your imagination. It can be taken at the first sign of a tickle in the throat or not feeling yourself.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Apple Bread

   

    My parents came for dinner this past week.  It was our last visit before they migrated South for the winter.  They brought a bag full of groceries they could not use before leaving.  In it was a big bag of assorted apples.  This morning I peeled and chopped and folded them into my mom's apple bread recipe.  I made a few tweaks here and there but essentially it is the recipe my mom made when we were growing up.
     Mom never had buttermilk in the house so she always used sour milk - a splash of lemon juice mixed with milk.  The recipe calls for walnuts and I used pecans.  The spices used are cinnamon, nutmeg and clove - I used pumpkin pie spice.  And I'm not sure mom knew whole wheat flour was an option back in the day.
     Like any recipe it's really just a flavor profile.  Take it and make it your own.  And here is what I made this morning.

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup organic cane sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp baking soda
2 Tbsp buttermilk
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup chopped pecans
2 cups apples, peeled and chopped (really more like 3 cups)
1 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice

2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
2 Tbsp cane sugar
2 Tbsp flour
1 tsp. cinnamon

     Blend butter and sugar until fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time and mix until combined.  Add baking soda, buttermilk and vanilla and mix some more.  Add flour and mix until combined.  Stir in nuts and apples.  (Here I laugh because it says to pour the batter into a loaf pan.  This is a thick sticky batter and pouring is out of the question.)  Spoon into a loaf pan and pat down until even.
Combine melted butter, sugar, flour and cinnamon.  Spread on top of the batter evenly.
Bake at 350 degrees until toothpick comes out clean 30 to 60 minutes.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Peppermint Foot Lotion


Playing around with ideas for the winter I came up with my peppermint foot lotion.  Made with organic avocado oil this will nourish dry feet.  The peppermint will leave them cool.  Great after a long stressful day on your feet.  Combine it with peppermint soap and either Chocolate Mint lip balm or Bee's Knees and you will satisfy that mint craving.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Products at JOY

Starting this Saturday, September 13, I will be selling my soaps, lotion and lip balms at Journey of Yoga affectionately referred to as JOY.  It is their one year anniversary and they are offering free classes all day and lots of special events.  A basket of my products will be raffled off as well.  I look forward to this partnership and hope to see you there.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

What is Soap?



  I'm often asked what is the difference between my soap and what you buy in the store.  My simple answer is that mine is actual soap -by definition  a blend of fats and lye.  Often what you find at the store is detergent - a water soluble cleansing agent.  The FDA regulates this labeling which is why most bars of "soap" that you buy at the grocery store do not say soap.  They're labeled moisture bar, family bar, classic bar, etc.  
     My deeper answer is that I know what is in my soap.  I gather the ingredients and lovingly blend them together.  Your skin is your biggest organ and absorbs everything you put on it.  I'm a little annal about what I put on my skin and that of my loved ones.  That is how my product line started.  
     Fats in this case are olive oil, coconut oil and palm kernal oil - organic and ethically procured.  They each have their own wonderful attributes including moisturizing, skin nourishing and lather producing. 
     Lye is leached from wood ash.  It is also known as sodium hydroxide.  By itself it is not safe, but in finished soap it is neutral and safe. When lye meets with oils it begins a saponification process that turns the oils into soap.  These saponified oils (it's not soap yet) are then poured into soap molds and left alone to cool and cure.  After the bars are unmolded I allow the soap to age to insure that the lye and oils have finished reacting and have created a gentle cleansing bar of soap.  That is why you will see on the bottom of my soap labels a do not use before date.  I never offer soap for sale that is not ready so the note is mostly for my benefit and to generate conversation.
     The longer a bar of soap sits, like a fine wine it gets better.  A well aged bar of soap will last much longer in the shower (or bath) and will provide much pleasure.


  

Friday, August 8, 2014

Finding Raven's Edge



     This past week has been a whirlwind of activity.  I've made soaps and lotions, dropped off samples of my soaps to go out with CSA deliveries from Dinesbergs Farm, and I met with amazing people about selling my products.  One of those is Dawn at Dawn Hill Designs.  You will now find my products tucked lovingly among her beautiful jewelry. So, if you are anywhere near Torrington, CT ( 40 Main Street, 2nd Floor, Suite 3) check out her studio - it will be well worth the trip.

Antiqued Gold silver Dragonfly Locket brown pink green Necklace by Dawn Hill DesignsLovely Moon Dream Fairy Believe Swarovski by DawnHillDesignsEmbossed dragonfly earrings w/gold filled ear wires By Dawn Hill Designs
Just a few samples of Dawn's handiwork.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Yoga Mat Cleaner

Introducing my newest product - Yoga Mat Cleaner

Born from a need to clean my own yoga mat.  This spray combines water, witch hazel and organic essential oils.  It cleans the mat and the essential oils are anti-bacterial and smell yummy.   Simply spray on and wipe with a damp cloth and let air dry for a few minutes before flipping the mat over and repeating the process.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Pitta

     This past week end I was in Vermont studying Ayurveda with the lovely Kate Gilday at the White Dove Herbal Farm & Sanctuary.  Twenty five of us gathered together.  Saturday lead us outside to learn gathered on the grass among the gorgeous and abundant gardens.  Breathing exercises, information, poetry writing and lunch were shared before moving into the kitchen to make ghee in preparation for the next days activities.
     Sunday started inside as the rains fell heavy at times.  The sun to burst forth by lunch time.  We gathered once again around the kitchen island.  We shared in the process of making medicated ghee and kitchari.  
     This week end was the first of three.  We covered the basics and the doshas (the three types of constitutions).  We concentrated on Pitta and  how to keep the fire of summer balanced.   Though we have all three doshas (Vata, Pitta and Kapha) one usually dominates.  Each dosha has its own characteristics.  Pitta is the principle of heat, digestion and all that transforms the body. It is represented by the acid secretion from the stomach, bile from the liver, the pancreas and inflammation.  Pitta sweat is sour causing body odor. Pitta people have an athletic build, bright, colorful eyes and rosy cheeks.  They often loose their hair early or go prematurely gray.  The sense they are associated with is vision and they are often nearsighted or sensitive to light. If out of balance they tend towards ulcers, acid reflux, inflammation or sharp pain, migraines and high blood pressure.
     To keep in balance people with a high Pitta dosha should keep cool avoiding heat, steam and high humidity.  They should spend as much time outdoors as possible.  The fresh air does them well.  They should try and get to sleep before 10 PM.  They should concentrate on eating foods that emphasize, bitter, astringent and sweet tastes.  Fresh fruits and vegetables are great.  Milk. cottage cheese and soft cheeses are cooling.  Sour dairy aggravates the fire therefore yogurt, buttermilk, sour cream and hard cheeses should be limited.  Heating foods, caffeine, red meat and pungent spices tend to aggravate Pitta.
     The key idea is that like increases like so if you are over heated eat cooling foods.  I am considered Pitta Kapha.  Pitta is my dominate dosha and summer tends to throw me for a loop.  A hot personality combined with the heat of the summer is a problematic mix.  Taking in these basic principles has made this summer one of the best in a long time.
     I dress to be cool and comfortable.  I have surrounded my self with cooling colors - we just painted my kitchen blue this spring.  I eat seasonally taking in all the fruits and vegetables of the season into my diet.  I have reduced the caffeine and increased nourishing teas.  I practice yoga and get regular massages.  And I have become more aware of the things in my life that cause me to go out of balance and take steps to reduce them.
My poem for fire
Flames lick the sky
the cauldron
of my life

Heating up
the passions that drive
motivate, sustain

Burning me up
and out
expanding what was

The contents of the cauldron
transformed
from the heat of the flames
and smoldering coals

Becoming something more
beautiful, giving
than before

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Rose Face and Body Lotion


     This morning I put the finishing touches on my limited edition rose face & body lotion.  When the roses in my garden were in full bloom I made rose water.  With this lovely elixir I made lotion.  A wee bit of rose absolute rounds out the lotion for a faint sent of roses.  The first jar is headed to my mother-in-love this morning.  The seven remaining jars will be sold. Find me this Thursday at the Main Street Market Place.
Thursday, July 10, 2014
5 - 9 PM
Main Street, Torrington, CT
This will be the last batch until next year when the roses bloom again.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Main Street Market Place


If you are looking for things to do this coming week Torrington's (CT) Main Street Market Place begins for the summer on July 10.  It runs from 5 to 9 PM.  Vendors, food and entertainment for all.  I will be there with a full line of lotions & potions for beautiful skin.  Stop by and say hello.  Pick up a little something to nourish and pamper yourself.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Rose Water

 

    My mother-in-love brought a sample of lotion to me.  She had found it at a craft fair in Rhode Island sold by a local herbalist.  It was scented with rose water and rose essential oil.  Could you make this, she asked?  Hmmm!  Rose essential oil is extremely expensive but, rose water, that I could do.  Rose water is mildly astringent and is often used as a toner.
     And then it hit me.  As I rounded the corner of my house the thick scent of roses filled the air.  It is June and my rose bush is in full bloom.  Think with bud and blossom this year.  A rose bush my mother-in-law gave me a few years back.  She calls it a cemetery rose.  It grows easily and in abundance.  It spreads quickly if not kept in check.  I pull the spreading shoots regularly and often just like my mint patch. I do not use any chemicals on my roses (or any of my plants for that matter).
     After a perusal of my many books I found several recipes for making rose water.  I have made two batches to date and now have a cup, that's right an entire eight ounce cup of rose water.  I started by pulling the petals from the flower and adding them to my canning pot.  I pushed the petals to the our circle of the pot and placed the canning jar rack in the center.


  I added six cups of water and then placed a bowl on top of the rack.  I covered the pot with the lid placed upside down and brought the water to a boil.  I then turned the heat down to a low simmer and placed ice cubes on top of the lid.  As the steam rises it condenses on the lid, flows to the center and drops into the bowl.  I let this go for about 20 minutes.

     In the bowl was a half cup of rose water.  I bottled it in a mason jar.  Uncapping it the scent smells just as the flowers in my garden.  As more roses blossomed I repeated the process.  It looks like I will have one more harvest this year.  I'm planning to make a limited edition batch of rose lotion.  The first jar is going to my mother-in-love.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Beauty Routine

 
     When I was a little girl I would sit and listen to my mom and the neighborhood woman talk.  I learned very early if I sat quietly I could stay and listen.  I soaked up all of their stories, experiences and wisdom.  I took them into my being and learned a great deal from their lessons.  I knew that experience brought wisdom and would listen for those nuggets of gold.
     When I was a new teenager my friends and I started experimenting with make up.  One friend had a make up party and I'll never forget what the sales women said,"take care of more than just your face or your face will look great and the rest of you.... moisturize your neck as well or it will look like crepe paper when you are older."
     I attended numerous make up parties in those early years and tried many products but the basic routine was the same no matter who was pushing their product - cleanse, tone and moisturize. I very rarely wear make up now but I still cleanse, tone and moisturize.  The only difference is that now I make my own.
     The soap came first. After a soap making class I never bought soap again.  And call me cheap, lazy or what have you but I use soap to wash my face every morning in the shower.  I can't be bothered with multiple steps.  And to be honest my soap does wonders for my skin.
     Next came toner.  I was at a herb fair and bought a bottle.  I loved it and attempted to duplicate the recipe at home.  I'm happy with the results.  It took a while to get the portions down but the blend of calendula infusion and witch hazel soothes the skin, cleans the pores and leaves my skin ready to drink in moisturizer.
     My face and body lotion sprang from my need to know what I was putting on my skin. It is deeply moisturizing and my skin has never looked better.  I've discovered at shows that people try the lotion sample and are surprised that it is a face cream as well.  Advertising has done a great job of making us think we need separate products body, face and eyes.  I simply find this not to be true.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Nettles - Today's favorite herb

 
      My favorite herb changes almost daily.  There are too many to pick just one but today it is nettle (Uritca dioica). For weeks now she has been my companion and I am breathing easier because of it. She is known as stinging nettle and she is a fierce ally. She offers herself for nutrition, medicine and beauty. I was gifted several plants this spring and am hoping they form a nettles patch so I can experience her gifts more frequently.
     In the spring her young shoots can be cut and eaten as a vegetable.  The greens are great in soup or made into a pesto.  They are high in vitamins, minerals and protein.  Nature's multi-vitamin as I sometimes call her.  She can restore overall energy and vitality because of this.
     Her leaf and seeds is an excellent tonic to the kidneys.  She increases urine production and the elimination of metabolic waste and uric acid.
     Her leaf is safe for pregnant and nursing mothers. She stimulates milk production.  Her astringent and nutritive qualities are helpful for women with heavy menstrual flow or who feel tired, lethargic and stressed.
     Nettle tea can be used as a hair rinse for humans and dogs.  It is helpful for dogs that have red, irritated hot spots.  For your own hair nettle leaf tea or vinegar can improve hair color and texture and remove dandruff. It can be used as a rinse for healing sunburns and insect bites. Nettle leaf tea taken orally can be useful in chronic skin problems such as eczema, boils, abscesses and hives.
     Research by the US, Germany and Japan have all found that nettle root has value as a medicine for benign prostate hypertrophy (enlargement).
    And all of these things are wonderful but what really excites me is that I was able to spend a weekend at my girlfriend's farm without so much as a sniffle.  I have spent years with her at the barn - tissue in one hand, eyes red and watery, stuffy and unable to breath.  I'm not sure if it is the horses, the hay, the dust or a combination but it does a number on me.  Not this time.  I didn't stand at the barn doors in the refreshing wind that keeps the sneezing at bay.  No, this time I was able to spend time in the barn.  And for that I must credit Nettle.
     In the winter months I switched from coffee to Tulsi and as spring approached a little voice said add nettles to your morning brew.  I have finally started listening to that voice.  Nettle is a great spring tonic after all.  She reawakens the life force that has hibernated all winter.  And that she did.  But, what I had forgotten is her aid in treating allergies including hay fever, especially when started a month before allergy season.
     Nettle is considered safe to add to most diets.  Those taking insulin, anticoagulants, antihypertensive or diuretic medications should consult their health care provider as they could potentiate their action.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Milk Bath

Introducing Cleopatra's Milk Bath

 I don't take baths.  I have well water with little pressure - it would take three hours to fill the tub.  So, I didn't think of making milk bath on my own.  It came from walking with my good friend Annie.  A friend who writes, publishes and coaches.  She is a midwife to ideas, plans and writing projects.  And she suggested the idea. After researching many, many recipes I took what I liked from several recipes, played with the proportions birthed a new skin loving product. And as legend has it Cleopatra enjoyed milk baths to keep her skin soft and supple.
     I started with whole milk powder which has lactic acid and alpha hydroxy acid, which is a gentle, natural exfoliant.  An average person grows a new layer of skin approximately every two to four weeks, shedding the old cells.  The lactic acid dissolves the glue that holds the dead skin cells to the body. A 20 minutes soak allows the dead cells to be easily washed away.  You may want to use a was cloth too. The milk also acts as a moisturizer, likewise helping to create lustrous, silky soft skin.
     I then added cornstarch which soothes dry itchy skin.  Put in some baking soda for its soothing properties.  Then I added added lavender blossoms and lavender essential oil for a relaxing scent. Lavender has more benefits than its calming aroma.  Lavender essential oil is a natural antibiotic, antiseptic, antidepressant, sedative and a detoxifier which promotes healing and stimulates the immune system.
     I mixed this heady concoction and lovingly put in large sealable tea bags.  This way your tub doesn't need to be scrubbed when you are done.  Simply compost the tea bag.
     And though I don't take baths I do soak my feet.  Because, if  my feet feel good, I feel good. A nice foot bath,  a little pumice stone to the heals and a slathering of lotion massaged in.  Yeah, that is what it's all about. 


Sunday, April 27, 2014

Artzfest

 
 Artzfest is coming to Thomaston, CT, on Saturday, May 17, from 9 to 5.  It is a collaboration of art, music, dance, theater and history. The theme this year is clocks and turning back time celebrating Seth Thomas and Eli Terry.   I will be there with my soaps, lotions & potions for beautiful skin. Come celebrate with activities all over town.  Click the links to see the website and the latest news on their facebook page.
     The artisans fair will be located at the Center School (1 Thomas Avenue).   Potters, weavers, steampunk, and other amazing artists will be there including Dawn Hill Designs, gifts of a lesser goddess and Silver Moon Herbals.  Stop by and say hello.  This will be my first outside venue and I'm looking forward to meeting new people and a fun filled day in the sunshine.
A sampling of my offerings.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Lotion

     Yesterday I devoted the morning to lotion; the soft luscious cream I use each day to deeply nourish my skin. The process is quick yet slow.  I mix the avocado oil, coconut oil, lanolin and beeswax together and heat just until melted through.  Then I whisk gently and lovingly and walk away.  I return at intervals to whisk again waiting until it cools and thickens slightly.  This takes some time.  I no longer stand and wait for this process to happen.  I fill the waiting with other tasks.
     I wrote down every detail of each batch in my notebook, I labeled the soaps I unmolded earlier in the week, I printed labels, I started laundry, folded laundry, watered plants and a whole host of other chores while I waited for each batch of lotion to come to the right consistency to whip in the aloe, water and vitamin E mix.
     When done it looks like butter cream frosting. I carefully spoon it into jars and label them.  I have so many amazing people who love my lotion that I now offer two size jars.  I still have the 2 oz. jar and now its Mama a 4 oz. jar.

     I pick each ingredient I use for a reason.  I write about the many benefits of avocado oil in Snow Day.  Coconut oil serves as a protective layer helping the skin retain moisture.  It is a mild oil and suitable for those with inflamed, irritated or sensitive skin. Aloe Vera gel comes from the succulent leaves of the aloe vera plant.  It is used to treat burns, rough or irritated skin.  It is a wonderful moisturizer that also firms and tones the skin.  Lanolin is the protective oil found on the wool of sheep.  I use lanolin that is collected after the sheep has been sheared.  I also use anhydrous lanolin which is not processed.  It is a thick, viscous oil that is most like our own skin, making it one of the best moisturizers for humans. Vitamin E works as an anti-oxidant.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Soap journey

 
  My friend, Mare, took a soap making class at a local store.  I thought it sounded interesting so the next time the class was offered I signed up.  It was me and one other woman learning to make soap in a small barn turned shop.  A hot plate was used to heat up the oils.  It was fun.  It made sense.  I would never buy soap again.
     I made soap on my own.  A batch would last a year.  Mare and I made soap together.  She bought wooden spoons for the occasion.  I still have them.  The first is retired and will be put in the fire as an offering to her memory.  She passed from this world leaving a mark on my heart.  She soon tired of the process.  I continued on.
     At first I followed the recipe exactly.  I tried very few scent variations.  And then, I started to make it my own.  I changed things up.  I played with scents, clays, milk and oils.  I had fun with it.  I still have fun with it.  I love making soap in the winter.  I would use the snow for an ice bath.  Setting the bowl of lye and water outside while I heated the oils enough to melt.  Now, I get big bags of ice and fill the sink.  It brings everything in close proximity which makes it easier.  I can get three batches made from a sink full of ice.
     The more I play the more I enjoy the process.  It has become meditative for me.  I have a huge basket I keep my supplies in.  I have transferred my lotion and lip balm supplies to another basket.  This simple act helped.  Now I just grab the basket and I'm ready to go.

     And the failures are almost as much pleasure as the successes.  The coffee soap foamed up and bubbled over the bowl.  I continued on.  As it dried it became bitter smelling and never really set.  The entire batch had to be tossed.  I will make modifications and try again.
     I take notes every time I make a batch.  It helps me remember what I did so I can duplicate the soap or make modifications.  It also gives me a record of what and when I made something.  This helps with creating labels and seeing how fast a certain soap sells.
     My latest experiment is bay scented soap. I can't wait to see if people love the outcome as much as I do.


Friday, March 21, 2014

Soap Day

     I have nothing on my schedule until 6:30 tonight.  I will usher in the spring at a special gentle & restorative yoga class followed by live music and good friends.  The event is a benefit for the collective good.  So, I penciled in soap, lotion and capsules.
     The lavender lotion is setting up.  When the oils begin to thicken I will whip in the water and aloe mix until it looks and feels like butter cream frosting.  And it does for the body what frosting does for a cake.
     Three batches of soap are poured into molds.  It will be four weeks before they are usable.  Though the longer you let them sit the better they are.  The more aged a soap is the longer it will last in the bath or shower.  A fresh batch of D's Dirtie Hippie was first on the list as I need to replenish stock.  Next I made a sweet orange & rosemary.  I had tried this as a lip balm and it was such a big hit with people I thought I'd try it as a soap. I'm always trying to find a more manly scent - I tend to like those over flowery scents and  so do most of the men in my life.  So, I made a bay soap with french green clay.  I can't wait to see how it turns out in a few weeks.
     Now a little paperwork and an afternoon making capsules while I slow roast a chicken for dinner.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Cramp Bark

 
     Cramp bark (Viburnum opulus) is an amazing herb. The inner and outer bark of this beautiful shrub is used medicinally. Just as its nickname suggests it is used for relieving cramps. This is due to its antispasmodic actions.  It is used as a muscle relaxer, relieving tense muscles throughout the body.  It could be smooth muscle such as in the intestinal tract relieving constipation, airways for some types of asthma or uterine for cramps due to excessive uterine contraction or striated muscle (attached to the skeleton) in the limbs and back.
photo found at naturesalive.wordpress.com 

     It can be useful for treating arthritis in cases where joint weakness and pain have caused the muscles to contract until they become rigid.  Cramp bark brings relief by relaxing the muscle allowing blood flow to return to the area and remove waste products such as lactic acid.
     What I use it for mostly in our house in menstrual cramping.  A 1/2 tsp of tincture  taken in water  at the first sign of cramps usually does the trick. It can also be taken as a decoction (simmered gently in water for 20 minutes) a half cup two to three times a day.  This is not a very pleasant tasting herb,  it very bitter and astringent tasting but honey can be added to sweeten things up.
     For other muscle tension it can be used externally in a compress or as a lineament. It can also be used as a relief for night cramps in the leg or feet alone or combined with Lobelia inflate.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Snow Day

      Ah, I love New England and the winter storms that brew.  It makes me appreciate spring all the more.  And since I have long since realized that I am not irreplaceable to corporate.  It is not worth my safety, time, energy or frustration to drive to work.  What is an hour drive on a good day is likely to be two to three hours during a Nor'easter. So, I hunker in on days like this.  Snow days for me are a bonus day filled with activities I may not have time for otherwise.  Last week while I was catching up on laundry I made two batches of soap and a batch of lotion all this before lunch.  We enjoyed a roast chicken for dinner followed by Mexican brownies.
I made a fresh batch of lavender & lime soap.  It is my best seller and I make a batch just about every time I make soap.  I also experimented with a new scent; lemon basil with French green clay.  It is a nice clean scent for spring.  I'm interested to see the reaction it gets at the next vendor fair.  I really take note of what people enjoy and ask for.  I then translate that as best I can with new product.
          My face and body lotion is made with a hint of organic patchouli essential oil.  It is great for maturing skin.  I also love the earthy scent.  I have found some people are allergic to it and make batches of unscented lotion as well.  But, I have been asked more than once for lavender lotion so I have that now as well.  It has a touch of organic lavender essential oil.  Lavender is good on the skin as well so a match made for luscious soft skin.

All of my lotions are made with organic avocado oil.  It was an accident that went right.  I had been using sweet almond oil and grabbed the wrong bottle by mistake.  Being impatient I tried it instead and fell head over heals in love with the results.  It was then that I looked up the benefits of avocado oil. Nothing like putting the cart before the horse.  This is what I found:

  • It contains sterolin which studies have shown to facilitate the softening of the skin and to reduce age spots.
  • Avocado oil is rich in antioxidants, making it useful for healing sun-damaged skin.  Antioxidants like vitamin A, D and E in avocado cause the skin to be suppler, and thus particularly good for dry or aged skin.
  • Avocado oil applied topically helps relieve dry and itchy skin. Once applied, avocado oil is deeply absorbed by the skin, thus making it an ideal moisturizer and skin care agent. 
  • In addition to helping clear scaly skin, it can also relieve itchy scalp symptoms. Avocado oil, when regularly applied to the scalp, can stimulate hair growth.
  •  When applied, avocado oil increases the production of collagen, which helps keep the skin plump and decreases the effects of aging.  
  • Avocado oil is useful in the treatment of a variety of skin conditions, including eczema and psoriasis. Avocado oil facilitates the healing of wounds and burns to the skin. It also helps to relieve and heal diaper rash.
From personal experience my skin feels deeply moisturized.  Every now and then I treat myself to a facial. My esthetician is rather exasperated that I make my own products and that they work so well.  She really wants to recommend the products she sells but can't make a justification for it. 
Some people may be allergic to avocado oil so you should do a patch test just in case. 
Today I packaged orders and labeled soap.  I took a quick inventory to see what I need to make before the fair next week.  I played in my art journal, caught up on e-mail and this afternoon I will bake cookies and watch movies with my daughter.  Tonight she is making us a bacon and egg pizza for dinner.  I hope you enjoy your days off just as much as I do.


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Fire Cider

This past Sunday an event via Facebook took place - World Wide Fire Cider Making Day.  Over 2,000 people joined the event.  I was one of them.  Fire Cider is an herbal immune tonic that people have been making for decades or longer (I believe centuries).  Rosemary Gladstar wrote about it in her books and has taught the process to countless herbalists. The event is in protest of  Shire City trying to trademark the term Fire Cider.  To the herbalist community it is the equivalent of someone trying to trademark the term pizza. Once you see how easy it is to make you will want to brew a batch of your own.

 I learned the basic recipe when I was first learning about herbs.  I have been making it ever since. Each time I make it, it slightly is different.  I have different ingredients on hand.  I talked to someone who puts a new spin on it.  I see a picture, video, recipe and adopt it as I go along. There are as many fire cider recipes as there are herbalists.
This is one of the first recipes I was given (Gladstar, 2001, p. 37):
½ Cup ginseng root, chopped
¼ Cup ginger root, chopped
¼ Cup horseradish, grated
1/8 Cup garlic, chopped
Cayenne to taste
Apple Cider Vinegar
Honey


Place herbs in a glass jar. Pour vinegar over to cover. Seal tightly. Let sit 4 weeks.  Strain the herbs.  Sweeten with honey to taste.
Putting the ingredients together

I have to say I never used ginseng. My latest batch was as follows:
In a quart mason jar I placed the following organic ingredients:

1 onion, cut in wedges
1 head garlic, peeled and rough chopped
3 heaping spoon fulls of horseradish and vinegar (I grate my own and cover it with ACV)
2 inch chunk of ginger root, pealed and sliced
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
pinch red pepper flakes
1 tsp turmeric
2 slivers astragalus root
1 slice reishi mushroom
I covered it with apple cider vinegar (ACV), organic unpasteurized

I put a lid on the jar and shook some love into it.
I will leave this on the counter where I can gently shake and pour love and intention into it.
In 4 to 6 weeks (more like 6) I will strain this and use the vinegar for salad dressing, drizzle on steamed vegetables or grains, finish off a meat dish or to flavor my water.  A teaspoon a day is my motto.
The newest batch of fire cider next to the fall batch
The fall batch was made with hot peppers fresh out of my in-laws' garden.  It was combined with a batch  Guido Mase demonstrated in a workshop for the Connecticut Herb Association.  We each left with a pint size jar.

You can sign the petition to FREE "Fire Cider" from trademark restriction here

Gladstar, Rosemary. Rosemary Gladstar’s Family Herbal: A Guide toLiving Life with Energy, Health, and Vitality.  North Adams, MA: Storey Books, 2001. (Note, the title was changed after the first addition and the link takes you to that)

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Holy Basil


     Last week I wrote about stress.  I mentioned a few herbs that come to mind and after I posted I remembered a few more including one of my teas of choice at the moment Holy Basil.  She goes by many names Sacred Basil, Tulsi (Hindi), tulasi (Hindi), surasa (Sanskrit) and Ocimum sanctum. She is a cousin to the basil you may be familiar with in pesto.  I was first introduced to her at the New England Women's Herbal Conference.  I was picking out a tea to try and went with something new.  I continued drinking her after the conference for the flavor, warming properties and the energies she brought.
Holy Basil has long been revered in India for its ability to purify the body, mind and spirit.  She is thought to provide divine protection to the household and is used to open the heart and mind and enhance the feelings of love and devotion.  Many Indian households keep a Holy Basil plant in a special clay pot in their courtyard for its purification influence.  Hindu worshippers of the God Vishnu often place a Holy Basil leaf on their tongue during morning prayers to insure personal health, spiritual purity, and family well-being. The daily use of the herb is believed to balance the chakras or energy centers of the body.[1][2]
          Holy basil reduces levels of stress hormones including cortisol.  It helps build resiliency and enhances a feeling of balance.  Herbalist and Ayurvedic practitioner Anne McIntyre uses Holy Basil for easing anxiety, depression, insomnia, and other stress related conditions such as headaches and irritable bowel syndrome.  It can be combined with other herbs such as milky oat seeds, oat straw and lemon balm to rebuild the nervous system and uplift the spirit. It enhances cerebral circulation and memory and helps people with cloudy thinking, poor memory and lethargy.[3]
Besides helping with stress Holy Basil is good to drink throughout the year for good digestion.  It helps move gas, lessens heartburn, and lowers blood sugar levels, cholesterol and triglyceride levels. She can reduce fevers and flu symptoms, sore throats, coughs and histamine-induced allergies.
To make Holy Basil tea, cover a handful of fresh flowers and leaves with cool water and gently bring to a simmer.  Remove from the heat and steep covered for 10 to 30 minutes.  For dried leaves and flowers add 1 tablespoon to 8 ounces of hot water and steep cover 5 to 15 minutes.  Enjoy 2 to 3 cups a day.




[1] Winson, David and Steven Maimes. Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Reliief. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2007. page 167.
[2] Soule, Deb. How to Move Like a Gardener. Rockport, Maine: Under the Willow Press, 2013. page 177.
[3] (soule , p. 178)

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Stress Outed

   
     I'm in a good place right now but there have been times of stress.  We all have those times. And some days just seem to more stressful than others.  Hopefully they are fleeting but for some it seems a permanent state. I don't like how stress feels in my body, my mind, and my spirit so I do what I can to embrace it, move with it or through it.  Keys to managing stress are a good support system is it family or friend(s).  Having just one person you can vent to who listens without judgment or trying to fix the problem really helps.  Journaling, blogging, painting, gardening, cooking or some form of creative outlet helps.  Taking time for oneself without feeling guilty is a big step.  Just five minutes of deep breathing, walking in nature or locking yourself in the bathroom to quiet your mind can help. Remembering all that you have to be grateful for can change your outlook.  Some days this is harder than others but the little things do count.  And what do we do to support our physical bodies during this time?
          Try to eat nourishing food, drink plenty of water, exercise and get a good night sleep.  Sounds simple but it is much easier said than done some days.  This is when I turn to my tea cabinet.  Oat straw, valerian, chamomile and nettles, and lemon balm spring to mind.  Ashwaghanda starts to become my night cap.   Just the act of making the tea can be calming. 
          When I refer to tea it is in the traditional sense, the act of making an infusion of herb and water, not a tiny bag filled with black tea.  Put the kettle on, bring the water to a simmer, pour over the herb and let steep for three to four minutes, strain and sip.  Add a little honey or lemon if you like.
Oat straw (Avena sativa) - Most are familiar with the grains that we use as a cereal but the straw can also be used as a tea.  Both are mildly antidepressant, gently raising energy levels and supporting an over stressed nervous system.  They can be used to treat insomnia in those suffering from nervous exhaustion.  A decoction (put herbs in a saucepan of water and simmer gently for 20 - 30 minutes then strain) of the herb can be added to the bath with the added benefit of soothing itchiness and eczema. (Chevallier, 1996, p. 175)
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) – For most people valerian works as a relaxant but for a rare few it has an opposite effect. Valerian reduces mental over-activity and excitability for those times when you just can’t “switch off.”  It is perfect for when that causes insomnia.  It has a calming, rather than directly sedative, effect on the mind.  It is used for many symptoms of anxiety, including tremors, panic, palpitations and sweating. (Chevallier, 1996, p. 148)
Chamomile (Chamomilla rectita) – I think of this herb first for helping with colic and children.  It is used for a variety of digestive problems including Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome.  It eases tense muscles and menstrual pain.  It can relieve irritability and helps sleep, especially in children. (Chevallier, 1996, p. 80)
Nettle leaf (Urtica dioica) – This seems like an odd choice by most for stress.  It is not relaxing, calming or any of the qualities you would think of as helping.  I add this to the list because it is a tonic, nourishing the body.  It is cleansing and detoxifying.  It is high in potassium content and increases urine production and the elimination of waste products. (Chevallier, 1996, p. 146) It is nourishing as it is high in vitamins, minerals and protein. (Soule, 2013. p. 170)
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) – Lemon balm has long been revered for its ability to enhance memory and circulation to the brain.  It also eases stress, anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia and general nervousness.  It has been used in the treatment of ADD and ADHD.  It works well for children and adults who easily become overwhelmed or who are considered highly sensitive. Fresh leaves with have more of a lemon taste than the dried. (Soule, 2013. p. 167)
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) – This root has many medicinal values.  One being that it is calming and strengthening to the nervous system without being over stimulating.  It is great for anxiety, nervous exhaustion, impaired memory, insomnia, ADHD, stress-induced ulcers and chronic debilitation that are the result of physical and mental overwork. It calms the mind and promotes a deep, restful sleep.  Unlike the herbs mentioned above this is not used as an infusion.   Each night warm 1 tsp. root powder with 1 cup of milk (cow, goat, oat, nut or seed) sweetened with honey or molasses. It is a powdered root so it will have a little bit of texture but it is a wonderful bedtime ritual. Ashwagandha is rich in iron and can be used to treat iron-deficient anemia when taken this way. Avoid if you are sensitive to plants in the nightshade family, you have hemochromatosis (excess iron), or you have hyperthyroidism.  It can enhance or increase the effect of barbiturates. (Soule, 2013. p. 146)


         

Bibliography

Chevallier, Andrew. Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine: The Definitive Reference to 550 Herbs and Remedies for Common Ailments. New York: A Dorling Kindersley Book, 1996.
Soule, Deb.  How to Move Like a Gardener. Rockport, Maine: Under the Willow Press, 2013.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Vendor Fair

Sunday, February 23, 2014
Noon until 4 PM
Green Building next to the playground

Winsted Fire Department Support Services will be having a vendor fair and I will be there with all of my products.  
Hardy bars of soap in lavender & lime, D's Dirtie Hippie, lemongrass, lemon & poppy seed and more
Lush moisturizing lip balms in yummy scents of  lavender, chocolate mint, orange & clove, and  Bee's Knees 
Deep moisturizing lotion, vanilla sugar scrub, exfoliating cleanser and cuticle salve

The lovely ladies of support services will be serving sweet treats, coffee and tea.  
I'll be preparing a gift bag of goodies as part of the door prizes.
Stop by, I would love to see you.




Sunday, January 12, 2014

Soap

 
   I love learning new things.  A friend told me about a soap making class she took and I was intrigued.  I joined another woman for class in a charming barn turned garden shop taught by an extraordinary woman.  Using a hot plate to heat the oils and a bowl filled with ice for the ice bath I began my journey.  There was no store bought soap for me any more.  I learned about the mixture of fats and lye.  I learned about the clay that could be added for different purposes.  I learned about herbs to add or not.  This was more than ten years ago.
     I have played with that original recipe ever since.  It has morphed over time as any good recipe does. It has become my own in subtle ways.  Though I have played with fragrance oils in the past I have come to using only essential oils in my soaps; organic essential oils.  The fragrance oils are too strong, too much like perfume that over powers and I am unsure of what is in them.  I really want to know what I am putting in and on my body and that of my family.
     My first playful combination was lavender & lime.  I gave a few bars out as gifts and it was well received.  Well enough that people started asking for it.  It is my best seller.  My family likes the citrus notes.  Hubby prefers lemongrass and the kids prefer sweet orange.  I'm a patchouli & sweet orange girl myself.  And though my father-in-love doesn't care for patchouli it is my mother-in-love's favorite.  One of my shimmy sisters said her son said patchouli smelled like dirtie hippies and so my favorite scent I call D's Dirtie Hippie.
     The newest combination is lemon & poppy seed.  A fun twist on a common muffin.  The poppy seeds stay intact and suspended in the soap making it lightly exfoliating.. It is great for the kitchen to rid your hands of any linger odors or after gardening to scrub off the dirt.
     I would love to hear what your favorite scent is.  Delight me with a comment.