Friday, May 30, 2008

I'm a Lyer, Illustrated Version

A few months ago I posted about making soap. Here is a more detailed version of the process.

I start by assembling most of the ingredients and the equipment. This takes very little time because I keep most of it organized in this big ol' container in the garage. Note: All pots and mixing bowls as well as stirring spoons must be made of non-reactive material such as glass, enamel ware or stainless steel. I use wooden spoons for stirring but I have two that I use only for soap making. Do NOT use aluminum or cast iron.

Olive, canola and coconut oil plus water and lye are the basic ingredients. They all have to be measured by volume. (I love this scale.) I keep a spray bottle of vinegar handy to neutralize any lye that might get on something that I don't want it to be on.

After carefully measuring out 12 ounces of lye and 24 ounces of water, I take them outside to mix them together. The lye is always added to the water and not the other way around. This prevents any volcanic type eruptions.
I got the bright idea today to use some ice cubes as part of the water. It did not help and caused the lye to bind together and need more stirring.

The solution will turn white and immediately heat up to a little over 150 degrees. The fumes are awful and highly toxic which is why I do this outside. Today it took over an hour for it to cool down to the 100 degrees it needs to be for mixing with the oils. That is because it is over 90 degrees here. When the weather is cooler, it doesn't take quite as long.

While the lye solution is cooling, I measure and mix the oils. This scale allows me to be precise. I can set it back to zero before adding each oil so I don't have to do any math. 36 ounces of olive oil (I went a little over here and took out .35 oz.), 12 ounces of coconut oil and 40 ounces of canola or peanut oil. We save the oil Stephen uses in his deep fryer. It makes great soap. The saponification process gets rid of any rancid smell. Also, I use the cheapest olive oil I can find, although it is all pretty expensive right now. It doesn't have to be EVOO.

Then I decide what fragrance I want to use and mix the essential oils. I don't use any synthetics with the exception of sandalwood which I don't use very often. It is very expensive and it is such a subtle fragrance that it takes a lot of to get any smell at all.

This time I divided the batch and used a mix of lavender, lemon and orange oil in half and and mix of clary sage, rosemary and lavender in about half. I saved about a cup and a half to which I added a few drops of rose absolute.

Then I waited, and waited and waited some more for the lye mixture to cool down to 100 degrees at which time, I heated the oils to 100 degrees so that it could all be mixed together. I like to do this in my sink because this makes height is more comfortable for me to stir it.

Time to get out the boat motor and let 'er rip.

I use the stick blender to mix the oil and lye together. Remember, this is oil and water so it doesn't go together easily. Today, it traced pretty quickly, within 5 minutes. Trace is when the mixture gets thick enough that the mixer starts to make a trail in in and if you drop and drop or two if the mixture on its surface, it makes little dimples that just stay there. When that happens, it is time to mix in the essential oils and pour the soap into the molds. I always use the boat motor to mix in the essential oils just to make sure that they are fully incorporated. Some of them will change the viscosity of the product and make it set up faster or slower. You need to work pretty fast after you mix them into it.

Here it is in my fancy schmancy plastic molds. Until a few months ago, I lined cardboard boxes with wax paper for molds then cut the bars after the soap set up for a few hours. I found these molds on sale and they have made this a little easier. The only catch is that I have to put the molds in the freezer for a few hours in order for them to release the bars. Four weeks from now, it will have saponified (cured) and be ready for use. I test it with ph strips to make sure that is is in the 9ph range but this really isn't necessary. The older the soap, the lower the ph.

This recipe makes a wonderfully soft and fine lather. I have tried adding other oils to it to make a harder bar but the oils separated and the bars look weird. My apologies if I sent you some of the weird looking soap. It works fine. The soap is close to true white unless I add an essential oil such as vanilla which turns it brown or a clay or colorant of some kind to change the color.

Some of the ingredients for making soap are a little hard to find. It seem that lye is used in the manufactoring of meth and other illegal substances. I used to be able to get it in the grocery store and then in hardware stores but now I get it from Texas Natural Supply. You have to sign a waiver stating that you are not using it for illegal purposes or making it available to anyone who is and they will ship it to you just about anywhere in the lower 48. I also get all of my essential oils there. Their prices are great and the quality is very high. It takes quite a bit of essential oil to hold its own with the lye and the saponification process so quality and price are very important.

Soundtrack for this post: Splish Splash by Bobby Darin

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Gravity Always Wins

Ever have one of those days when gravity is stronger than usual? I'm pretty sure that was the case last Tuesday.

Of course, I didn't realize it at first. I didn't realize it when I bumped the toe of my sandal on the door frame as I was leaving the house. I didn't realize it when Lani had to make a second attempt to jump up into the car.

Parking in our usual place at Mary Moore Seawright Park, I noticed a couple getting out of a car near us and unloading a dog from the back. Since other dogs tend to excite Lani, I decided to give them a wide berth as I headed for the bag dispenser. After grabbing a bag, I noticed that the woman had the dog at the entrance to the pathway we usually take. I cut across behind the trash cans where there really isn't a trail. I was doing fine until a cedar stump jumped up and hit the toe of my sandal. I dropped Lani's leash as I stumbled forward in an attempt to regain my balance but, a gravity was stronger than usual that day, I was unable to stay off the ground. I landed on the paved trail with Lani looking as me as if to say,"What are you doing? This is so embarrassing."

From about fifteen yards away, the woman with the other dog yelled, "Are you OK?"

"I think so," I called back, sitting up and taking stock of the stinging sensations in my legs and hands as I reached for Lani's leash.

"Are you sure you're all right?" came the reply.

" Yeah, I'm just taking my time getting up right," I say.

Then she yells, "I'm wearing the same kind of shoes. Do you think I'll fall,too?"

I choked back a laugh and the urge to tell her that she would surely fall and to get back in her car right now. Instead I just told her she would be fine and went on down the trail.

Soundtrack for this post courtesy of Lime who comments..."ok, i'm singing the john mayer song now...gravity, wants to bring me down...

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Ooey, Gooey Slime

I have been trying to think of ways to reduce the amount of plastic that we bring into the house without being a total fanatic about it. One of the biggest things we have done is buying a crock type water dispenser and some three gallon jugs so that we could stop buying flats of bottled water. Our water, though plentiful, has so many minerals in it that drinking it or cooking with it is not something we are brave enough to do. Getting the dispenser has helped us go from an overflowing recycling bin every week to one that is often nearly empty.

Another thing I do is buy things in glass containers whenever possible. We like a certain brand of spaghetti sauce and pesto that comes in Atlas jars. The great thing about the Atlas jars is that they have standard sized mouths that can be fitted with canning lids. I use them to store everything. I also reuse the jars from our favorite salsa, which are pints and again have the standardized mouths.

I have been looking at the cleaning products I buy. I try to find products for which I can buy refills but those seem to be few and far between. Method brand has a few refillable products and eco-friendy formulas. I love Seventh Generation Products but they are pricey and I have never seen any refills in that line.

I have started investigating making my own cleaning supplies and have had varying results. Our water, as previously stated, is really hard with lots of minerals in it. Baking soda and borax only go so far with scrubbing the salts away. Vinegar will take most of it off but no combination of these three ingredients deals very well with mildew which grows rampantly in our humidity. Some of the things that I have tried to use homemade cleansers on include dishes(a miserable failure), tubs and sinks(if I scrubbed long enough it worked pretty well)and counter tops( moderately successful).

I decided to try making my own laundry soap. I tried this before using some of my own soap that had not yet saponified. Online research said that this would not matter since the resulting product would not be used directly on skin. I mixed up a batch but it never gelled. I did use it for quite a while. However, it eventually took on a sour smell and I threw it out. One day at a local farm and ranch store I found some Fels-Naptha* laundry soap. This is the actual soap called for in most of the laundry soap recipes so I grabbed a bar. I put it up in the cabinet over my washer and forgot about it for a while. The other day I discovered it and decided to try again, since I already had everything else I needed. It turned out perfectly this time. Here is the recipe:

1 bar of soap (Make sure that you have true soap. If whatever you have on hand says
it is a 'bar' but doesn't have the word 'soap' on the label, it is not true soap. Brands that I know of are Ivory, Zote, and Fels-Naptha.)

1 cup of washing soda (Not baking soda.)

1 cup of Borax (Yeah, the 20 Mule Team stuff)

I grated the bar of soap in my food processor. While I was doing that, I started heating a gallon of water. Put the soap in the water and kept it hot, but not boiling, until all the soap had melted. Then, I put 2 gallons plus 5 cups of hot tap water (mine gets about 120 degrees) into a 5 gallon bucket that I had gotten in the paint department of Home Depot. I added the hot soapy water to this and mixed it well. Next, I added the washing soda. I may have used more than a cup because I had just a little left in the box and did not want to save it. I mixed this until it dissolved then added the borax and mixed until it was also dissolved. After that, I put the lid on the bucket and left it alone until the next day. By then, it had formed a yellow(color of the soap) gel that looked like it was pretty solid. I stirred it and found that there was still liquid on the bottom. This is just what I wanted to see.

I have washed about 3 loads of clothes with this and it seems to be working just fine. I turn the washer on and add the gel while it the water is running and before I put the clothes in. (This is a habit that I have had since I was a kid when one of my friends poured a bleach containing detergent directly onto some colored sheets. Not a pretty site.) Since this is soap and not detergent, it will produce few if any suds.

After adding the clothes to the machine, I fill a downy ball to its fill line with vinegar. This makes the soap rinse out easier and prevents build up. I buy a gallon of extra strength vinegar and use it for a lot of things around the house. A gallon lasts me about 3 or 4 months. Even though it comes in a plastic bottle, I don't buy it very often and the plastic is much thinner than the plastic of my regular laundry detergent bottle.

I use about a third to a half cup of this per load and it will most likely last us at least six months. I do have a back up jug of Seventh Generation detergent if I have stains that this won't take out. However, I have found that Citrasolve takes out just about any stain we ever get on our clothes.

I figure that I used about three to four dollars worth of ingredients to make this concoction. A jug of 7th Gen. costs about seven dollars and lasts us a couple of months so I am saving some money here although that is not as big a deal for me as the plastic issue. If I still had a big family and were washing several loads of clothes a day, it would be another matter.

* Fels-Naptha soap contains no naptha.

Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with any of the products to which I have provided links. I found all my ingredients locally but they are not readily available everywhere. You can buy a kit here that contains everything you need to make your own laundry soap.

Soundtrack for this post: Dolly Parton's Wash Day Blues.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

A Well Lived Life

I just got news that Utah Phillips crossed over in his sleep last night. As far as I know, it was a peaceful passage. Thanks, Chris Chandler for letting us know.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Summer Storm

KRASH/BOOM!!!! A ball of blinding white light appears in the bedroom with us.

"Holy shit! What's going on?" The bed shakes as he bounds into a sitting position upon being abruptly yanked back into his body from his dream state.

"I think it's lightning". I'm jolted back,too and I am not sure of anything just yet.

"At the stroke of 1:00," he says as he settles back onto the bed.

"My clock says 5:00."

We stopped using elecetric alarm clocks long ago and each of us has a battery operated one on our night stand. They double as night lights when we need them. His has stopped and mine is fine.

Fast forward to 7:30. I hear him going all through the house opening closets and knocking around. He turns on the light in my closet. What is he doing?

"What are you looking for," I ask?

"Do you know where the breakers are?"

"Yeah, they're outside on this wall."



I'm getting up now but he goes out to find them. It seems that the strike flipped 2 breakers, knocked out all our cable, phone and internet service, and messed with his alarm clock and a similar one on his desk in another room. (Mine was between the two others.)

Too much excitement for 5:00am.

We are grateful that no acutal harm was done.

Soundtrack for this post: Chi Coltrane, Thunder and Lightning

Saturday, May 10, 2008

My Back Yard

This was growing in some live oak leaves in my back yard.

The top is about 2 inches in diameter.
If anybody knows the name for it, I'd love to have it.

I cleared some of the leaves away to get a shot with more contrast and the flash went off which is why the color looks different in the top photo.

Here is a shot of the fushia hanging from the eaves of the covered patio

and the tomato plant I just got this morning from the farmer's market. I don't know where I'll put it since we have no sun in the back yard. I may give it to a friend as a birthday gift.

Friday, May 9, 2008

I Go a Walking

I am in love with these shoes!!! For the sake of reference, I have to tell you that I hate shopping for shoes about as much as I hate anything. Give me a choice between sharp stick in the eye and shopping for shoes and I might choose the stick. My feet are small (size 5.5) with extremely high arches. They are wide at the front and very narrow at the heal. This means that it is danm near impossible to find shoes that are wide enough at the front and that don't flop up and down on my heal while not coming up too high on the top of my foot and rubbing a blister on it . I have never had a pair of athletic type shoes that fit. I wear sandals from the time it is warm enough that my toes don't turn to ice cubes until it is cold enough that my toes turn into ice cubes. Then I usually wear boots of some kind that I can lace up. I also have a couple of pairs of athletic type shoes that are heals. These are good for supporting my feet. Sandals, however, usually have no support whatever.
Then I found Chaco sandals. They were designed by a river guide in Colorado and are made for rivers and trails. The straps are fully adjustable and they can be resoled. The foot bed is designed to fit and support your foot so, for the first time that I can recall, I can walk with my weight evenly distributed on my whole foot.
A bonus is that they are made in Colorado. I like this because it is getting harder and harder to find anything made in this country. They come in a variety of styles,some of which are dressy enough to wear almost anywhere. I love mine for the trails at the park where I take Her Doggness for walks. The trails are rough and you have to have a shoe that grips the ground in a couple of places.
They are quite pricey. This pair retails for around $90. However, I have found some really good deals online. I do suggest trying on a pair before you order and checking the companies return policy carefully. I have a pair in size 6 because that is what I found in the store and thought they were a good fit. After I wore them a few weeks, I felt that they were way too long so I found a good deal on a pair in size 5 which fit me better. (remember I said that I usually wear 5.5 but I have a few pair of 6's. It depends on the brand and style of the shoe.)
In Austin, Chacos are available at REI and Whole Earth Provision Company. I have now found out that Chaco makes hike boots. I can't wait to try them.

Soundtrack for this post: Walkin' Shoes by Yonder Mountain String Band

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Chuck's song, David's voice

I tried to post this a couple of posts back but blogger and youtube were not shaking hands. Written by Chuck Brodsky and preformed by David LaMotte, recorded in the Texas hill country. You may need a box of kleenex. Enjoy.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

A Great Site for Books

Nothing beats buying books from a favorite local bookstore. However, they don't always have the titles that I want and sometimes I just don't want to drive 20 or 30 minutes so I order online. A few months ago, Mistrel Boy at Harp & Sword, posted regarding some questionable business practices by Since that time, I have been searching for a better alternative for purchasing books online. I think I have found it. I have made my last few purchases from Better World Books and have been more than pleased with their service. I also like that their profits are used to fund literacy projects throughout the world. I also like their shipping practices which are usually extremely low priced or even free. This has not affected the time it has taken to get my books. Check them out.