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23 December 2011

Just in Case

Christmas is here and happily I have finished work until 2012.

This year, my family are celebrating tomorrow instead of Sunday, for reasons I shall not bore you with, and a sigh of relief was heaved this evening when I arrived home from work to find the present for nephew number one on the door mat. I was beginning to panic, and was not looking forward to having to explain to him why he had nothing from me to open.

My ever so small heap of presents is now wrapped and ready to take tomorrow. There does seem like a paucity of gifts this year, but I suppose it is the thought that counts.

In the last couple of days two gifts have arrived for me. One from a friend, and one a Secret Santa gift from someone on a forum I am a member of. Half the fun of that is trying, and failing, to work out who has sent it, and even if you think you have worked out where it is from, there are often some sneaky shenanigans which means that you are completely wrong. The two gifts are sitting on a side table and I am just about resisting opening them, and so far the cats are keeping they paws off.

What, you may ask, am I doing for the next week? Well, I will be relaxing a bit (ok, a lot); checking stocks so I can work out what I need to buy for soaping; adding silk to my shampoo recipe to see what difference it makes and catching up on my reading.

I am currently engrossed in a book about the search for the Northwest Passage. The courage of the men who risked frostbite, scurvy, starvation and death to search for this most prized route despite not even being sure of its existence, is truely sobering.

And so, as we hurtle towards the end of another year, just in case I have lost the will to live by then, I would like to wish everyone a very Happy Christmas, a Peaceful New Year and a prosperous 2012.

05 December 2011

Why Handmade?

I have been making soap and body products for sale for a couple of years, and it is probably time that I told you why I prefer handmade products to the mass produced, cheaper, commercial ones that I used for so long.

Why should you spend in excess of £3 for a bar of soap, when you can spend a fraction of that at the supermarket?

The commercial soap you buy has in many instances been made with harsh chemicals which do not do your skin any favours. They serve their purpose which is to clean, but ask yourself if your skin feels good afterwards, or if it feels tight and in need of moisturising. If the answer to that is yes, then your skin is being stripped of its natural oils each time you wash.

Handmade soap is different.

First of all, a product which has been made by hand, has been made with love. The heart and soul of the maker goes into each and every product made, from the choice of the ingredients to wrapping the finished product.

More importantly however, is how your skin reacts to this bar of handmade goodness. Good quality handmade soap will have a good glycerine content. Glycerine is a great humectant, missing in most commercial soaps, drawing moisture to the skin and helping to prevent it drying out and thereby reducing the amount of moisturiser you need to use afterwards.

All kinds of goodies, such as shea butter, can be added to handmade soap to bring the best out of your skin. A good soap maker can produce a bar of gorgeous, rich lathering soap which not only does not strip your skin of those important oils, but which helps to put the moisture back.

Surely it is better to spend a bit of money on a lovely bar of artisan soap to help care for your skin, and reduce the money you need to spend on a jar of, hopefully, handmade moisturiser, than it is to buy a bar of commercial cleaning product.

04 December 2011

Demonic Soaping

I have a fair next weekend so I have been soaping like a demon to try to get enough made.The fair us at Croxteth Hall and I have not been there before so I don't know what to expect and I hope it will be busy.

I have also been lucky to find a lovely new stockist in Formby. The Bloom Room is a charming florist which also stocks some delightful gifts with a focus on handmade. A friend of mine remarked that soap and flowers is a genius combination and she seems to be right becuase a fair few bars have been sold since I dropped some soap off on Tuesday morning. Long may it continue.

I have a break from the day job over Christmas and hope to make some decisions about new products. If I don't, they will never get to see the light of day. All will be revealed.

23 November 2011

Pros and Cons

One of the benefits of having a soap and beauty products business is the product testing,or having little bits and pieces of things left over that are crying out for you to use them. Today, I had some bath salts left from a bespoke order, so I had a lovely long soak in a geranium scented bath.  It's a hard life.

The obvious downside, is not having enough hours in the day not only for product development, but for thinking about new products and researching ingredients. Because the days are not terribly structured (I work part time, and have the petsitting business so there is a great deal of juggling) you have to grab time where you can find it which is often quite difficult and frustrating.

With Christmas fast approaching, and having given it no thought at all, and with little cash to spend I am panicking a little. Somehow I have to buy all my presents, cards etc with about tuppence ha'penny. This is going to be interesting.





14 November 2011

First Swirls


I have been keen to try "proper" swirls in my soap for a while, but courage has been lacking until yesterday when I finally rolled up my sleeves, donned my gloves, took a deep breath and got going.

I decided on Lavender and Patchouli, a perennial favourite with customers coloured with some pretty lavender colour. By the time I poured, the coloured section was a bit thicker than the uncoloured portion so it sunk in parts and made some "clunky" swirls, but overall I am reasonably happy with the result. I think that I need to practice a bit, and it won't be long before I have another go.

This will be ready in about 4 weeks.

10 November 2011

Prang

Last July, I had a slight prang in the car, I won't go into details except to say that it was my fault. Neither car was particularly badly damaged, although the repair bills were quite steep (garages do seem to charge a lot for repairing even minor damages). I have now had a call from the insurance company to say that they are having to pay the whiplash claim, plus the costs of physiotherapy, and time off work on top of the cost of the damage to the other car.

If I believed in any way that the two people in the other car had suffered any kind of injury I would not be steaming mad, but I don't. I did not feel the impact, I heard it, and as the sufferer of a bad back, if the impact had been serious I would have felt it. The other driver and her passenger have been to one of those unscrupulous no win no fee charlatans who flash pound signs and promise the earth. My insurance company has no choice but to pay up because whiplash is pretty much impossible to disprove, but I am almost certain the other parties are lying through their teeth and this is what I find frustrating.

It is about time that the government cracked down on such sharp practice, and time that insurance companies started saying enough is enough. This puts up everyone's insurance premiums, and lines the pockets of the miserable little so-and-so's who make a living from this kind of thing. It is also immoral, and in my view legalised theft not to mention fraud. Am I bitter? You bet I am.

04 November 2011

The Run Up

Someone mentioned recently that there are only 50+ days to Christmas. Yes, thanks for that.

As usual I am not prepared, partly I think, because I hate the festive nonsense, smiling cheerfully as someone elbows you out of the way in the stampede to buy presents is not my cup of tea. This year I have the usual bah humbug attitude to the festive season, so if someone could wake me when it is all over I would be grateful.

I have two fairs before the end of November which I need to get my act together for and hope that they are better than the one I did last weekend. One of these days, I will do a roaring trade at a fair and someone will have to pick me off the floor. I have some lovely baskets to take which will make the perfect gift. They are limited edition, so when they are gone they are gone.

Of course, at this time of year, I have to make an effort to decorate the stand in a jolly Christmassey way (oh joy), but I don't suppose that lighting candles would be a good idea. It would probably give the safety elf apoplexy, not to mention setting the place on fire. I can't have lights because I don't have a power point, so I may just resort to the same as last year, swathing the stall in organza and decorating with a few bits and bobs. And no, I am not wearing a Santa hat or reindeer antlers no matter how much you pay me!









24 October 2011

Jordan




Match me such a marvel save in Eastern clime,
A rose red city half as old as time
                                      John William Burgon


I am sitting at home, looking at grey skies, the wind whipping the branches of the trees into frenzy, and wishing it were this time last week when the view from the window was beautiful blue skies, temperatures were 45º and we woke early to the sonorous call to prayer.

It might seem like a strange time to be visiting the Middle East, but the idea of cancelling our long anticipated holiday really did not occur to us.

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan as with many countries in this region has a tangled history. Muslim Empires, Roman and Ottoman Turk occupation and the British Mandate have all left their footprints in the sand.

Bordered by Israel, Palestine (West Bank), Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iraq, Jordan is at the heart of the Middle East, where it manages to maintain peaceful relations with its neighbours, and with the West.

Because of its location at the crossroads of the Middle East, for centuries Jordan has been vital in linking trade routes from East and West, including being on the important and lucrative frankincense trail.

Walking around The Citadel, and looking over the Roman Theatre and the seven hills on which Amman is built, it was clear that there was more history here than you could shake a stick at.

There has been a settlement near Amman for over 9000 years. Under the Romans, Amman was called Philadelphia and during the Byzantine period, it was the seat of a bishopric and a regional centre when in 635 the city was captured by the Damascus based Umayyad dynasty. Although Amman’s influence began to wane under the Abbasids, as the focus of their power shifted to Baghdad, it remained an important stop on the pilgrimage trail to Mecca, and was made capital of Transjordan by Emir Abdullah in 1921.

The Citadel (Jebel al-Qal’a), formerly the ancient site of Rabbath-Ammon, has been settled since the Palaeolithic Age although little remains from before the Roman occupation. Crowning the hill is the large Umayyad Palace complex dating from the Umayyad period of the early half of the 8th century. The first building you approach is the domed entrance hall built over an earlier Byzantine structure.

Half way down the hill is the Temple of Hercules its huge columns visible for miles, and approached by a huge stone staircase. While northwest of the Temple is the Jordan Archeological Museum which although small, has some fascinating exhibits, although the Dead Sea Scrolls have sadly, been moved.

From The Citadel there is a panoramic view of the hills of Amman and the Roman Theatre and the Odeon. The Theatre dating from the reign of Antonius Pius (AD86-161) is carved into a hill that once served as a necropolis, and can seat around 6000 spectators on its stone steps. The Jordan Folklore Museum is housed in the right wing of the Theatre and has come beautiful exhibits. The costumes on display are timeless and they would not be out of place today. The smaller 500 seat Odeon would have been used for musical concerts as it still is from time to time today.

Jerash, north of Amman, is one of the most important and best preserved Roman towns in the Middle East with archaeological evidence of settlement here dating to the Neolithic age.

Jerash began to flourish during the time of Alexander the Great in 4th century BC, and after Syria fell under Roman rule, Jerash was named as one of the Decapolis, ten autonomous cities in Judea and Syria, on the eastern frontier of the Roman Empire, linked by commerce and political interests. In 106 AD the Nabatean Kingdom of which Petra was central, was annexed and Jerash reaped the benefits of this increase in riches.

You need your walking shoes to visit Jerash. Approaching the city by the south, you pass through the impressive sandstone Hadrian’s Gate dating from 129AD built to commemorate the visit of the Emperor Hadrian. 

On the left, you pass the Hippodrome which could seat some 15,000 spectators. Walking past the city walls you come to the Oval Plaza edged with Ionic columns with the colonnaded street, The Cardo, bordered by Corinthian columns running north. Along the side of this street, you can still see the remains of shops, and an underground sewage system ran the full length of The Cardo.

At the top of a hill to the north of the city you can find the Temple of Artemis, the patron of Jerash, small, but impressive with eleven of its twelve columns still standing. Just down the hill from the Temple are the remains of three Byzantine Churches. The most northerly of the three is the Church of St Cosmos and St Damian, twin doctors martyred in the 4th century. Here you can see the most beautiful mosaic floors found in Jerash.  The centre Church is that of St John the Baptist which dating from 531 AD. The most southerly of the churches is the church of St George. The lovely mosaics here were damaged by the Iconoclasts in the 8th century.

Drive southwest along the Kings’ Highway and you come to Madaba.  At the Greek Orthodox St George’s Church you can view the fabulous Byzantine mosaic map. This map shows the Holy Land with Jerusalem, depicted in astonishing detail, at its heart. Dating from about 560AD the map originally covered the front of the floor of the Byzantine Church. Now unfortunately only part of the map survives.  

One of the best places to eat in Jordan is the Haret Jdoudna complex. The restaurant is two old houses side-by-side where you can feast very reasonably on wonderful Jordanian fare. Opt to eat in the quite courtyard and enjoy watching dish after dish magically appear before you. Here, as with most Jordanian restaurants, if you want a decent coffee opt for the Turkish variety, flavoured with cardamom.

From Madaba, head to Mount Nebo to the northwest. Here is a site with enormous religious significance to Muslims, Christians and Jews alike. It is from the summit of Mt Nebo that Moses is said to have seen the Promised Land. In the Christian and Jewish traditions, Moses was buried somewhere on or near the mountain, while the Muslim tradition dictates that his body was carried off the mountain and across the river, where it was buried near the Jericho-Jerusalem highway.

Unfortunately, the Church was closed for renovations being carried out by the Franciscans, but it is worth a visit for the view. From the summit, on a clear day you can see Jericho and as far as Jerusalem.

Continuing along the King’s Highway, and with a stop at the Crusader Castle of Kerak, we arrived at the unprepossessing town of Wadi Musa, gateway to Petra. From the visitors centre you walk a path past huge jinn blocks and the Obelisk Tombs to enter As-Siq the long, beautiful, narrow gorge heading into the mountains.  The sides of the gorge appear to touch in places and it is easy to see how this place was lost to the world for 700 years, becoming legend lost in the mists.

I am not sure that you can be prepared for the first view of The Treasury despite the number of photographs you may have seen. You get a fleeting glimpse between the walls of As-Siq, and then suddenly it is ahead of you, glowing pink in the bright morning sun.

Carved deep into the rock face, The Treasury is incredibly well preserved, and was clearly positioned to impress. Imagine the reaction of the visitor 2000 years ago, walking through a narrow gorge to then be faced with this incredible building. When you think of the primitive tools which would have been available to the Nabateans, the fact that this city was carved into the sandstone at all is truly impressive. The carvings on the façade show how much Greek and Roman design influenced the builders of this unique city although the bullet holes in the central urn do nothing for the aesthetics.

As-Siq turns right at The Treasury and heads towards the city. Passing tombs, a Theatre which although it looks Roman is actually of Nabatean construction, a colonnaded street to the Qasr al Bint probably the city’s main temple. This is the only building which is freestanding and due to the addition of wood to its construction has withstood earthquakes and floods.

If you feel energetic you can climb the 800 steps to The Monestery, or take a hike to the High Place of Sacrifice. If not, you can visit the remains of the Byzantine Church to view the beautiful mosaic floor, or wander around the side paths to see what they will reveal.

Petra is a remarkable place, which has to be seen to be truly appreciated.
If you have the time, take a trip to Wadi Rum famous in the West for its connections to T.E. Lawrence, and if you don’t have time, make some. A visit here is a journey to another world. This starkly beautiful place of ancient valleys and towering sandstone cliffs reminds you of your insignificance as it stretches silently and spectacularly into the distance. Due to the abundance of water Wadi Rum was an imortant meeting place for caravans heading for Palestine, Syria and Arabia. Continuing archaeological investigations continue to uncover layers of habitation dating to Neolithic times.

At Wadi Rum you can see rose finches flitting in and out of the rock formations, Nabatean graffiti of camels scratched into the rocks, camel trains taking tourists back and forth, and Bedouin jeeps sailing over the sand dunes, or you can stop for coffee in one of the Bedouin black goat hair tents or go for a camel ride.

At once modern and traditional, Jordan is a country managing to tread a fine political line, pro-Western while maintaining peace with Israel and it has much to offer the tourist, and unusually perhaps for an Arab country, women have positions of power in business and government.

If you want to relax at a Dead Sea resort pampering yourself in one of the spas, if you are a history buff, or have an interest in religion Jordan is the destination for you. Moses, Aaron and John the Baptist all died in Jordan and Jesus was probably baptised here (you can visit Bethany across the Jordan where John the Baptist lived and where the baptism almost certainly took place). Crusader Castles, Roman ruins and ancient cities all have plenty to keep the history buff happy.

This is a country with something for everyone, from the ancient desert moonscapes, to modern thriving cities and it is well worth a visit.






18 September 2011

Wind Swept




I was sitting in the lounge this afternoon when I glanced out of the window at blue skies and sunshine, and decided to go for a walk. I grabbed my camera and headed for the beach just a short walk away.

Once I had picked my way through the rubbish that gathers at the top of the beach, caught in the small dunes and unable to find its escape back to the sea, I walked along the hard, flat sand for a while.

The beach was busy with families, and people walking their dogs, not caring about the wind which was whipping the waves into wild white horses. Each group oblivious of the next, wrapped up in their own little worlds and making the most of the late summer/early autumn sunshine.

Dotted along the beach is Antony Gormley's Iron Men installation "Another Place." Stretching over 2 miles, the 100 metal statues are revealed and submerged as the tides ebb and flow. I am not sure what I think of an artist making multiple copies of his own body, probably a discussion for another time, but they do bring people to the area and that is no bad thing.

I tried taking photographs, but I think that I wobbled a bit in the wind, as they are all a touch fuzzy.

03 September 2011

Product Development


Ok, so I know it is not very neat, but this is my first pass at eye-liner. I used to buy a cream eye-liner from a company which no longer exists and I have run out and was desperate, so I made my own.

It is much simpler to make than I thought it would be, although it sets in the blink of an eye. It is soft enough to be applied with a brush but if I want to sell it I am going to have to work out how to pour it before it sets which will be no mean feat! On the plus side, it is quite quick to make, so I could in theory make whatever colour a customer requests. I am going to need to speak to my lovely assessor to get his advice about what and what is not permissable.

I also made a lovely hand cream recently which I am hoping to launch fairly soon. There are some tests which need to be done beforehand though and I need to give some thought to different oils for different purposes i.e. older skin, but watch this space for further information.

28 August 2011

Green - cut pictures


I should have left it a tiny bit longer, because it was a touch soft to cut, but I just could not wait. I have a bit of a partial gel which is annoying but not disastrous and I have to practice my swirls. I am quite happy with the way this has turned out.

27 August 2011

Green



I have been thinking of trying to create a masculine blend of essential oils for soap. The last time I tried, it did not turn out quite masculine enough - cedar and may chang - so tonight I tried again.

This time I took vetivert, known in India as "the oil of tranquility", smokey, green, earthy and woody and added may chang to lighten it a little. I have a bit of the blend on my hands and I really like it. At the moment, it has an almost aftershave quality to it, so I will have to see how the blend develops in the soap.

You may have noticed the intense green colour. This is from the spirulina I added to half the batter. Goodness knows what this will look like when it is de-moulded and whether the colour will last.

This is what I love about soap making. You never quite know what your creation will turn out like. Each batch is a step into the unknown.

21 August 2011

Thank you Nigella




I am not a fan of chutney, at least I never have been, but recently I have been converted. That ubiquitous brown pickle that you find on a pub ploughman's has always sprung to mind when chutney has been mentioned, but that could not be further from the real stuff.

For the last two years, I have been making a spiced apple chutney with apples from Mum's garden as a Christmas gift, adding extra chillies because the recipient likes hot. The apples are now ready, so it is time to get out the preserving pan again.

This morning, I went to Mum's and picked the apples, the branches of the trees are bowed under the weight of them. While I was at it, I picked some blackberries to make jam with.

I decided to add cassis to the blackberries, sugar and lemon juice in the pan. I know that cassis is made from blackcurrents, but still I thought it was worth adding a bit to the pan to give it a little bit extra.

As I had a couple of pineapples in the house, I also made a pineapple chutney which I have just sampled with a bit of strong cheddar. I think it is fair to say, it will not last very long. It is a lovely balance of sweet and sour with a hint of cinnamon and clove - delicious.

Jams, chutneys and preserves are incredibly simple to make and are a great way of using up a glut of fruit and vegetables. At a time when money is tight it is also a great way of storing what you grow to brighten the dark days of winter. All you do is pop the ingredients in a preserving pan (other large, open pans will do) and cook until everything has gone to mush and thickened. Pop into jars and it will keep for months.

You can use all sorts of fresh fruit and vegetables, and you don't have to wait until the end of summer to do it. Use what is cheap and in season and you have something lovely to eat later in the year. Chutneys are great with cheese and cold cuts, and what could be better than hot buttered toast and homemade jam?

I used recipes from Nigella Lawson's "How to be a Domestic Goddess".


 




14 August 2011

Money Pit

I am certainly have had a run of things. Last month the kettle blew up, and the cat ate through the power cable of my phone. Cue opening of purse and parting with money.

A couple of weeks ago, my two ovens gave up the ghost. I spoke to the manufacturer, and the cost of getting it fixed is daylight robbery, assuming it can be fixed. If not, it will still cost me £50 for them to come and tell me there is no hope. Last weekend the fridge stopped working and was subsequently pronounced not worth repairing. More money was spent yesterday because I really cannot cope without a fridge and having proper food in the house. So, as of this morning all I had to do was sort out the oven, and as much of a pain as it is not having it, it is not the end of the world.

This afternoon my toilet had other ideas and became blocked. Actually, I don't think it is the toilet which is blocked, but something a bit further down. About six inches below where the toilet soil pipe meets the down pipe, there is a spot where a pipe (yes, I know so many pipes) connected to the central heating system has been inset. I had the new boiler last December and since then I have had blockages off and on, but did not really think too much about it - until now.

Have you ever tried to find a plumber on a Sunday? I rang a number and I am still waiting for a call back. Great! I don't need the toilet or anything do I? Hopefully, tomorrow Mum is going to go and get me a toilet snake and I will try to unblock it myself. It costs about £10 and is a damn site cheaper than calling out a professional. Watch this space, but don't listen, because I am sure that there will be some swearing.

07 August 2011

The Descriptive Word

Occasionally, a passage from a book I read not only stands out, but stays with me. This evening, "a sky the colour of old bruises," the opening of A Sparrow Falls by Wilbur Smith, comes to mind as I look out of the window. Dusk is falling, and with it comes slow, heavy rain. As I look at the sky grey, puce, yellow and brooding and see birds circling, I am reminded of that line.

For me, reading has always been a joy and a constant, and comforting when times are difficult. Although I read little fiction, I still find reading an escape whether in humour or more tangibly in books about other parts of the world. There is nothing nicer than than setting down, with a mug of hot coffee and a book and losing myself in other worlds, cultures and traditions or something I have to put down when my sides are too sore with laughter to carry on. There is so much to learn about the world past and present, and a good writer like William Dalrymple or Colin Thuberon will transport you. You can smell, hear and see what they describe. Although no comparison to visiting a place for yourself, these books are portals invaluable to our understanding of the world, and there seems to be precious little of that.


The more I read, the less I understand why people are not able to coexist peacefully, without throwing tantrums usually in the form of bullets or bombs. Is the human race really so stupid? Well, yes, history will confirm that it is and that was clearly a rhetorical question. The brat like actions of those in power, who are supposed to act in a way that benefits the county and the people over which they have power often beggars belief and their attitude to other countries is plain dumb. Perhaps they should read more!




















24 July 2011

Unveiling


Off to Botany Bay next Thursday morning to set up my new retail space. I am rather excited about the possibilities it offers. I have been in a bit of a flap about how I am going to display the soapies etc., and desperately wanted to get some wine boxes. Unfortunately, they are like hens teeth and although I can find some new ones, I can't get anything older.

I have been faffing with the Body Veil labels for some time, and the retail space has given me a kick up the bottom. Thereis something about a looming deadline which makes everything fall into place. Finally, I decided to invert the labels and instead of having coloured text and twiddly bits on a white background, I now have pretty coloured labels which I am rather pleased with.

It has been a lovely sunny weekend, although a little breezy, and the cats have spent most of the last two days in the garden chasing bugs and playing with empty snail shells. They love to be outside lolling in the sunshine and chattering at the birds which annoy them by flying overhead. I am coming back as a cat next time!


17 July 2011

Versatile Blogger Award


I have been given a Virtual Blogger Award by the lovely Celine at I Am Handmade (http://www.soaperstar.com/). Thank you Celine.

7 random facts about me.

1. I have been vegetarian for 20 years.

2. I live with 5 cats.

3. I hate ants (get the shivers just thinking about them).

4. I drink coffee not tea.

5. I have a very sweet tooth.

6. I don't read non-fiction.

7. I hate housework.

Seven bloggers of note who deserve the Versatile Blogger Award are:

A blog with news and snippets about the Fresholi Forum.

Blog written by Akua Wood, a lovely lady who trades ethically and supports communities in Ghana.

Inspirational Australian soapmaker who writes with great wit.

A beautifully written blog about the day to day struggles of a disabled mother with an autistic son.

Farming, soap and more.

Rachel is a canny business woman and creates beautiful body products for adults and for children.

A young and up and coming journalist, with a blog which makes a good read.

16 July 2011

Signed on the dotted line


Yesterday, I bit the bullet and rented some retail space at Botany Bay, Chorley. The craft fairs I have been doing over the last 12 months have been a complete waste of time and money, so I have had a bit of a re-think.

Botany Bay is a converted mill which is now a huge shopping emporium on the banks of a canal. The canal was busy with geese (see above) and barges and if it was not for the hum of traffic from the M61, it would have been a lovely, peaceful setting. I have a couple of weeks, maximum, to get things sorted out before I need to set up, although if I do manage to get it done earlier so much the better. The only difficulty is that the setting up has to be done during the week, out of hours, although re-stocking can be done at weekends. There are set times in which you can set up, so the question is how I do it when I am working full time?

I have had a week off from the day job and have not had many animals this week, so I have been able to re-charge the batteries, although I have found it very difficult to relax completely.

I also went on a bit of a shopping spree with Mum. We both had some gold bits and pieces which we did not wear, and which just sat in a drawer never seeing the light of day, so I took them to a jewellers and sold them. With the proceeds, I bought some lovely little earrings to replace the ones I recently lost, and which Dad bought me a long time ago.

My little kittens will be one year old tomorrow. I can't believe how quickly the year has flown. Fidget of course still has some growing up to do, although I don't think he will ever learn to behave. It is such a good job that Echo is an absolute angel, so much so that you hardly know she is in the house. Almost.

11 July 2011

It's tough out there

Do you ever get  days when you are not sure what you are doing? When you feel like you are struggling uphill in a gale force wind, through treacle? Well, that is what things are like for me at the moment.

Working full time, visiting animals before and after work and at lunch times, and trying to work on the soap business just do not fit into 24 hour days. I did another horribly unsuccessful craft fair last weekend, another four hours I will never get back, and spent most of the time writing lists of things I need to do, so at least it was not a completely wasted experience. I am struggling to keep all the balls in the air. It would not be so bad if I thought I was getting somewhere but I don't.

Almost daily, it seems like soapy people are giving up or are considering giving up, which is such a shame. They are wonderful, creative people who are finding things too difficult to carry on. I really do not think that crafts are valued in this country. There seems to be a general lack of understanding of what goes into handmade products, and customers do seem to want something for nothing. There is no acknowledgement of the amount of time spent researching ingredients, the incredibly steep learning curve, getting to grips with the relevant legislation and everything else involved in getting a product to market, including the costs. It is not simply a case of getting up one day, making a products and selling it, although I have come across some who seem to think so.

Despite the gloom, there are those who are successful and who can serve as inspiration for the rest of us. The ingredient for that success seems to be passion, a passion that is not quelled by the hoops that one has to jump through. These people show that with hard work and application it is possible to build a business that not only is enjoyable but a success too.

02 July 2011


Photo of Fidget because I could not think of anything else!


As of this morning, I am the proud owner of a shiny new dishwasher. Yes, I know that they are not strictly necessary and that I can live without, but boy do they make life easier. I can finally find my sink again, and of course I am helping to save the planet (research shows they use less energy than washing by hand. No I don't understand either). At any rate, I no longer have to wash dishes by hand which, for someone who lives on their own, took a hell of a lot longer than you would think.

This week I have been back at the house with the outdoor dogs. You may remember I had an incident, a couple of months ago, when I had to resort to climbing a fence to get at a dog, and give road kill to ferrets. Well, no fence climbing this time, but I have had to give chicks to ferret kits. I really do not do dead things, and to have to get frozen chicks out of the freezer, leave them in a dish to defrost and then take them out to the ferrets does not fill me with joy. The things I do for money sometimes!

This is the first weekend when I have been able to make the most of the sunshine. I went out this morning and again this evening, but in between I have been able to sit out and read. I need to sort out some other seating, something that I can really laze on, although I know full well that I won't get anywhere near it.

I am reviewing what I am going to do to push Scent Trail. The realisation dawned a while ago that the Craft Fairs I have been doing are not the way forward, and I am lucky if I make back the cost of the table. I am doing one next weekend, but I think it will be my last for a while. I was speaking to a local artist and book illustrator I was at school with yesterday, and she is going to give me a list of larger Fairs which she thinks will be good for me to attend. They will be more expensive to do, but if I add up what I have spent so far on what have proved to be complete wastes of time I would be horrified. Plus think what else I could have done with the hours I have spent sitting twiddling my thumbs.

If I stand any hope of leaving the day job/hampster wheel, I have to start earning money from soap. Hopefully soon I will expand the range with the liquid soap, and following some, research shampoo. I have an issue with the colour of my liquid soap though. A couple of people have said that the colour is off-putting (how dare they), I think because they are used to seeing pretty pink or purple soaps in the supermarkets. I was going to use some lovely clear bottles, but I think I will have to look into the opaque variety. Bum!

26 June 2011

Arrival

Summer has arrived, although looking at the forecast it will last only a couple of days. It is not sunny, but it is lovely and warm and I am sitting in my back garden (well concreted back yard) enjoying the fresh air. Above the sound of the radio, there is the tinkering of a hammer as someone gets down to DIY and the cats are enjoying chasing flying things too small for me to see, and pouncing on each other.

I really do need to do something with the garden and wish I had soil in which to plant things. I am not particularly green fingered, but I have a few pots on the walls of pretty, pink hanging pelargoniums which reminds me of blissful holidays in France, and others containing lovely violas, one of my favourite flowers. By my back door is a climbing rose, which this year has given me some gorgeous, fragrant blooms, but I noticed yesterday parts of the plant are beginning to die. I am hoping it is because my naughty little ginger thing has been chewing it and that it is not suffering some terminal illness. The wooden planter it is in is a sorry state, and beginning to fall apart, so I need to think about how on earth I re-pot it.

I have neglected the garden this year, but then I have hardly spent any time in it. The cats on the other hand need no excuse to venture out which gives me a bit of peace. The tiny shed needs some repairs, and I wonder whether getting rid of it would be better. My outside space is so small, and the shed hardly used and it seems silly to keep it. I could have another seat there, or some lovely large pots of something. It would be easier keeping it where it is rather than having to break it apart and transport it somewhere, but I really do think that getting rid is what I am going to do.

I also need to do something with the house, which is driving me to distraction. Since the installation of the wood burner the lounge needs decorating. In view of the fact that it took me a good year to find the colour I wanted for the walls, I am dreading it. I look at magazines for ideas and they seem full of beautiful rooms decorated in various shades of neutral. Now, I love that cool sophisticated look, but I usually get bored of it in a couple of weeks. I have a strong need to be surrounded by colour. I have been sitting there imagining what it would look like, and in my minds eye it will look lovely, but in reality I am just not sure.

I desperately need to find something to store my curing and cured soap, so that I can reclaim the kitchen and dining room where it is currently scattered. There is a space at the top of the stairs which would be perfect, I just need to find something that will fit there while allowing air to circulate around the soap.

All the above and about threepence halfpenny to spend on it.




17 June 2011

Shampoo





Last weekend, I made my first shampoo. It is a little like liquid soap - but different. Rashly, I made rather a large batch, half of which was fragranced with lavender and half with mandarin. As you can see the mandarin (on the left) went rather cloudy with the addition of the essential oil, although they have since cleared.

This recipe is olive, coconut and castor oils. I have been using it for the week and I am rather pleased with the result, although it may need a bit of a tweak! I am now researching what I can put in it, seaweed for example, to enrich it further. I have bought of couple of books, and will spend the weekend buried in them researching essential oil blends and shampoo additions, so hopefully I can work out what to do next.

I am really enjoying myself at the moment. Playing experimenting is the best part of all of this and a great release after a long week at work.

07 June 2011

Hot and Cold

Scottish Power have announced a massive increase in the cost of gas and electricity (19% gas, and 10% electricity). How can they justify this when they put up prices at the end of last year?

For those of us on low incomes this increase is a major blow, especially when it is already a struggle. Unfortunately, everyone else will follow suit because they do not seem to be able to operate independently, which makes me think that there is a price cartell in operation.

When is it going to end? Everything is going up in price while salaries are static. I earn a third of what I did 10 years ago, but my bills have more than doubled. On the face of it, it is a crazy time to be in business, although the pet sitting is doing quite well this year - thankfully. I am hoping that at some point the day job, the petsitting and the soapy stuff together will mean that the finances ease a little.

And talking of soapy stuff, I have two fairs on Saturday, which as usual I am not exactly ready for. Most of the body butter was made on the last back holiday, and I am waiting for some boxes for a new gift pack which will also be suitable for travelling. It will have a half size soap, an organic muslin face cloth, an unfragranced body butter and as a little extra a nice little book. There will also be something a little new for the bath salts. Watch this space!

28 May 2011

Liquid Soap


My first solo foray into liquid soap. This recipe has olive oil in and is fragranced with May Chang, so is lovely and lemony. I had a bit of a mishap, because I forgot to heat the water so the soap past became a large solid blob. Once that was sorted, the paste dissolved nicely and liquid soap was made. This is the glycerine method, so in theory, it is usable straight away and there is no curing time.

I love the colour of natural, handmade liquid soap. None of this pink and blue nonsense, just various shades of gold which look beautiful with the light shining through.

Now that I know how to make it, I need to play about with some receipes to see what I like best before getting my assessment. I would like to try a bit of shea butter, but wonder if it will go cloudy?

22 May 2011

I really must....

.... Get more organised. I have come to the realisation that I am not going to earn a living from the business unless I stop allowing myself to get distracted by the minutiae of things around me. I find myself sitting down for five minutes with a cup of coffee only to find it is an hour and a half later and that I have been sitting staring mindlessly at the television.

Yes, I know it is my own fault, and that I have the attention span of a gnat,  that I allow myself to easily become distracted, but it has to stop. I have a day job, run a small petsitting business and I have the soapy stuff, and there are not enough hours in the day for all of it. I go to bed annoyed with myself because I have vegged out instead of ploughing through an ever growing list of things to do. On the plus side, I do seem to manage to write the lists at least. They just do not seem to get any shorter. A start would be putting the laptop on the desk rather than sitting with it on my knee in the lounge, thereby allowing the t.v. to get in the way.

My head is stuffed to the gills with ideas for things I want to do if only I had the time. I have a couple of fairs in June, and I want to re-package the bath salts to see if they sell more.

Did you miss me? I have been missing for half an hour to wrap some half-sized soaps which are going to go into travel sets, packaging to be decided. Looking at them, they would make perfect guest soaps too.

15 May 2011

A strange beast





And here is the cut soap. The colour is unever which I like because it makes it interesting and gives texture. The very top looks almost white (ash I think) so the swirls visible yesterday are hardly showing. The jury is out.

14 May 2011

Freedom


The weekend has rolled around again and a couple of days of freedom have arrived. It feels like it has been a long week.

Last weekend, I made liquid soap for the first time. It was good fun, and is something I really need to master before I can get the legalities under way. At the moment the soap is unfragranced, and I am waiting for some bottles to arrive so that I can decant it and try out various fragrances. It will be really interesting to see if the essential oils behave differently in liquid soap rather than solid cold process soaps.

I want to have a go at making bath bombs type things at the weekend. Sometime last year, I made shea bath melts which are nice, but not quite as much fun as having a fizzing bomb release its fragrance. I was recently sent one to test and it was gorgeous. That, of course, is the fun part. I test my essential oil combinations in the bath (well there do have to be some perks) and I did the same thing with the bath melts I made.

There are so many things I want to have a go at making, but there are just not enough hours in the day. I have plans for new products, and I am slowly learing how to make them, but then you have the testing side of things and anything which not anhydrous has to be challenged tested which is not at all cheap.

Today I made a batch of Lavender and Patchouli cold process soap. I was going to try to do the same as last time with a nice solid layer of uncoloured soap on the top. Yeah! Fat chance. You see, I can do things once and they are usually a happy accident, but try to plan to do it again, and it does not work. So I am going to have a very thin layer of uncoloured soap on the top with the alkanet infused soap at the bottom. Goodness knows what it will look like.

That is what I like about this soap making lark. You are never really sure what you are going to end up with. You can use the same ingredients each time you make a batch of soap, you can try to make the new batch look the same as the old one but the soap has other ideas. You effectively get what you are given, like it or lump it. I like it.

02 May 2011

The trouble with long weekends


The trouble with long weekends is going back to work. It is bad enough after a standard weekend, but when you have had four days away from the office, it is so much harder to chain yourself to a desk again, especially when the sun is shining. I have never liked the routine of office and paperwork, but I have a mortgage, ergo no choice. So, tomorrow the chain will be out and I will be back into the routine.

On a happier note, soy wax candles are available to buy on the website. The first fragrance we have released is the lovely Lemongrass and Ginger. It is a light, fresh and uplifting fragrance.






30 April 2011

Sunshine and Flowers


It is another long weekend, at least it is for those who have a 9 - 5 office job, with the May Day bank holiday on Monday, and the Royal Wedding yesterday, it is the second four day weekend in a row.

The weather is lovely. We have blue skies and warm sunshine and the trees are heavy with blossoms of various colours and fragrances. At their best are the lilacs, white, pink and purple pendulous blooms which drip fragrance into the breeze. Walking in the park, I marvelled at the delicate horse chestnut flowers; the gorse bushes beginning to break out their bright orange summer coats; the carpets of bluebells beginning to fade and the first of the many flowers appearing on the Dog Roses. These roses are a highlight of the summer for me. They vary from white to the darkest pink, their open flowers wafting scent along the paths.

It is a lovely time of year for a wedding, and on Friday the Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, now the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, took place at Westminster Abbey. I do like a Royal Wedding and I think that it shows this country at its best. We really do know how to do pomp and ceremony better than anyone else. The Life Guards on their gleaming horses; the flag waving crowds; the fashion statements, some of which definitely hit a duff note (I don't know what was going on with those hats); visiting dignitaries and European Royalty and everything going without a hitch. Then there was the dress. Kate Middleton has a great sense of style, simple and streamlined and she stayed true to that.

When she arrived at the Abbey, the dress most certainly did not disappoint. It was very Grace Kelly, simple and stylish with a fitted bodice covered in the most exquisite lace and having motifs symbolising Wales, England, Scotland and Ireland. It was a beautiful dress, modern but with references to the past. All in all, I think the wedding was lovely.

21 April 2011

Display


I have been mulling about how best to display soap at Fairs. Until now, I have had them in nice little trugs, but find that people tend not to dig about to see what is in them. Rather they just pick up the first bar, sniff it and put it back. So, something has to change, and after racking my last functioning brain cell have come up on cake stands.

Above is a photograph of the first one, which is uncoloured glass and a good height. I just have to decide if it is right. I have a fair this Saturday, so I will see if it helps then.

18 April 2011

Let there be Light


A long weekend is on its way, and I can't wait. I just hope that the weather will be kind, although it usually isn't. I think poor weather lies in wait for bank holidays.

I have been asked if I make room sprays and candles by one of my stockists. This is a funny co-incidence because it was next on my very long list of things to do. I had a play with fragrances at the weekend, and pictured above are the results.

The larger candles are fragranced with lemongrass and ginger, and are light, fresh and zingy, and although I say so myself, gorgeous. The smaller ones, which I thought would make a nice change to votives, are fragranced with a rosey blend of essential oils. I am burning one at the moment, so that I can work out how many hours they burn for, and nice as they are, they do need a little more of the smelly oils. Still a little tweaking is to be expected. I will try to work on some more over the weekend. They are made using soy wax which is so much better for you than paraffin wax, which emits carcinogens into the air.
They will soon be available to buy through the website.

12 April 2011

It really shouldn't happen to.....

As well as being as soap maker extraordinaire (if only) I have been a pet sitter for the last five years. I love animals and it is nice spending time with them and not having the expense of feeding them and paying vets bills.

Mostly they are very well behaved, but there has been the occasional cat tooth embedded in my finger while I tried to administer tablets (blood everywhere, mine); I have been hauled downhill through bushes by a dog chasing rabbits; I have spent an hour and a half looking for a key for a door which turned out not to be locked; climbed a fence to get at a dog in a back garden kennel (in the house with the unlocked door) and chased a daft dog down a street with cars screeching to a halt around us.

Today, daft dog flattened me. We were strolling in the sunshine minding our own business, when I saw walking along the road towards us two little white fluffballs who proceeded to yap at daft dog, something guaranteed to set him off. He is not naughty, just still not quite an adult and when he is misbehaving he tends to turn into a whirling dervish. The trouble is he forgets how long he is and while he was pirouetting in disgust, he swung his rear end round and I found myself eating tarmac.

He is a lovely boy, but I am beginning to think that he is injurious to my health. Padded cell, anyone?

07 April 2011

Spring

Spring arrived at the end of last week and then promptly disappeared. I suppose that is the nature of what is laughingly known as "the great British weather." I have never been sure if that means the weather in Great Britain, or the British weather is great, or indeed not as is usually the case. Anyhow, we had a fleeting glimpse of blue skies and sunshine and the temperatures rose for a while.

The house is driving me mad at the moment. There is soap on every available surface and some unavailable ones, and I really do have to get myself a curing rack/shelf thumingy so that I can have it all in the one place. I need to get more organised, label boxes so I can find things, sort through stock so I know what I have and more importantly where it is. I spent a large part of Saturday afternoon looking for soy wax so that I could make candles. I must have filed away very safely, because I could not find it, and I know that as soon as I order some more, I will trip over it!

I have started making more CP soap. It is, in some ways, more complicated than the HP process, as oil temperatures are more critical, but I think I am getting there although I am not sure about the Gardener's Soap I made at the weekend. Fragranced with a blend of Cedar, Mandarin and Patchouli essential oils, lightly coloured with alfalfa powder and with blue poppy seeds for exfoliation, it is still rather soft, and I am hoping that once it has hardened properly the colour will be more even.

30 March 2011

And here it is

This is the Lavender and Patchouli layered soap I made last night. I have to say that I am more than a little chuffed at the result. The colour is quite intense, although it may well fade, but I think that the contrast is lovely.

Now, what can I do next?

29 March 2011

Peeling back the layers




I was sitting here this evening, relaxing, and suddenly got soapy withdrawal symptoms.  You know the kind of thing, I am fidgety, and I have to go and make some now! So, off I trotted to the kitchen, put on my pointy hat and weighed everything into my cauldron.

I wanted to do something a bit different. All my soaps to date have been  plain. Some have had a sprinkling of botanicals on the top, but that has been as far as I have allowed my creativity to go.

I had decided that I was going to fragrance my soap with lavender and patchouli, a combination I have not used before, and I wanted to colour it to match. After I weighed out the liquid oils, I decanted some into a small glass dish, added alkanet and warmed it a little to help the infusion. I let it sit while I melted the liquid and solid oils together, mixed the lye solution added the two together, and brought it to trace. After adding the essential oil blend and mixing well, I separated out some of the raw soap and added my alkanet infused oil to the main part of the soap batch then poured it into the prepared mould. When I thought it had set enough, I very slowly ladled the uncoloured soap on the top and put it to bed.

I will be surprised if this is a successfully layered soap. Everything I have read suggests that you make a half batch of soap, and then while this is setting you make your second half batch, but I like to bend the rules a bit, partly because I never bother to read instructions. I can't wait until tomorrow when I am able to unmould it and see how it looks. It is certain to be interesting. It will either look lovely (pink pigs overhead) or the top layer will have dripped down into the bottom layer and it will look a complete mess. All will be revealed.

21 March 2011

The Weekend.

I was supposed to go away this weekend to meet-up with like minded soapy folk. Unfortunately I had to work, and instead, drove up for the day on Sunday.

It was a good, fun day, although the weather could have been a little bit kinder. The sky was low and grey, and there was no sign of the sun. On my drive home, there was a fine rain which caused mist all the way from Kirkby Lonsdale to Preston. The M6 is bad enough without accompanying inclement weather, thank you very much.

I arrived about 10.00 and was greeted with coffee and biscuits. We did soapy stuff before lunch (HP and M&P) and then had an incredibly useful graphics tutorial. For those of us who are starting out, there is no huge budget for marketing or getting someone to do all the graphics for you so, unless you know a nice kind soul who can do these things for free, you do it yourself. Trial and error features large, so tips and pointers are invaluable, and I learned a lot from the tutorial.

A packaging discussion followed later before I had to head home. Anyone will tell you that packaging is the bane of their existence. If you know what you want, you can't find it; if you can find it then it will be the wrong size, colour or far too expensive. It is good to get the input of someone else who may have other packaging suppliers you can try.

We all had a great day. Well, everyone except Doris who was dragged over a field behind a tractor, followed by her friends. I suppose at this point, I should admit that Doris is a deceased sheep and that it was the farmer who was dragging her away. We could not quite decide if the flock who ran after the tractor were doing so because they wanted to give Doris a decent send off, or whether it was because the farmer was returning shortly to give them a feed. It gave a couple of us a bit of a giggle. Not because the poor thing was dead, but we somehow managed to give the flock voices and managed to imagine the conversation they might have been having. Ok, so it was one of those you had to be there moments, but it made us laugh.




11 March 2011

This is a Rant

Prepare yourselves. I am going to have a rant. I do not understand why service has to be so bad. I ordered Himalayan salt for my bath salts last Tuesday. They were shipped on Tuesday, but have not arrived with me.

My supplier has bent over backwards to try to sort out the issue for me, but it is very difficult when the courier does not care a jot. I have spoken to them, and just get the "there is nothing I can do" line which is complete nonsense. Apparently, they have tried to deliver twice, but on neither ocassion has a card been put through the door. Call me cynical but to me, this indicates that there has not been an attempted delivery. It is not that difficult surely, to deliver a package on time and to the correct address. Do I expect too much? I am beginning to think that I do.

Do these courier companies not understand how failure to deliver impacts on small businesses like mine? I have an order to finish and I can't do that without the salts. I wanted to drop it if off over the weekend. What if I lost the order as a result? This does not seem to bother them at all. It would be interesting to know what their failure rate is, but I don't suppose there is a way of finding out.

Rant over.

05 March 2011

What did I start?

I don't think that when I started to make soap, I knew what I was getting myself in to. I certainly had no idea how much of the house would be invaded by soap, soap making ingredients and soap making kit.  More to the point, I did not know how much of my conscious, and who knows sub-conscious thought, it would consume.

I think about it, I trip over it, I make it, wrap it and label it. I have successes and I have failures, and boy, have I had failures. Batches which are the same as umpteen batches I have made in the past, for some unfathomable reason decide to go oh, so horribly and so spectacularly wrong.

Ploughing through all the delightful regulations, designed I am sure to make things as complicated as possible, there are times when I wonder if there is a point. Regulations are important, they safeguard the public, but there are so many people who sell their products without adequate labelling, it makes my blood boil.

Then, there is the business side of the business. Sales, marketing, paperwork and don't mention the packaging. All these things take up so much time and effort, you have to ask yourself if it is worth it.

I could sit here and mount a good argument that it is not, that it is better to keep making soap as a hobby or to give to friends, and to give it up as a business, but I would be lying. The buzz you get when you receive an order is incredible. To know that someone likes your products enough to give you money for them, is a real fillip. Working for yourself is not stress free by any means, after all there is no passing the buck, but you also have a freedom that is impossible working for someone else.

I started my business about a year ago, and so much has happened in that time, culminating in two recent orders from two National Trust properties. This is far beyond anywhere I thought I could go, and could potentially mean big business for me. I have also met, in person and virtually, a lovely, supportive community of like minded people who understand the issues, the products and the problems involved in owning this kind of business. Stressful? Yes it is, but it is also fun and exciting and an outlet for my creativity which also helps to pay the bills.

04 March 2011

Rufford Old Hall



We are delighted to announce that our products will shortly be for sale at Rufford Old Hall, Rufford, Nr Ormskirk, Lancashire.