Black Pepper Plot

It’s a plot, a jinx, a bedeviling scent or something along those lines.  There’s no other reason why I can have so much trouble trying to make a small sized batch with such a wonderful, manly scent.  I just can’t figure it out!

black-pepper-slab

The above is a pic of the first batch.  Lovely you might think, but oh the ash that developed was monumental!  I had reduced the water slightly so why it turned out ashy is beyond my comprehension.  The ashing did not go away even with steaming.  I was stuck with it.  Maybe shaving it off slightly would be one thing to try but it turned out so soft, I still can’t mess with it without distorting its shape.  And I reiterate – I reduced the water and the lye was not old. Puzzling.

Well, with the terrible ashy-ness and the softness, there is no way I’m adding it to the collection like this, so these, if they ever firm up enough to clear off the ash, will be cut into samples.  It’s a fabulously fresh, clean scent, elegant, sophisticated and great for either gender, so it really needs to be in the collection, but not with that ashing across its lovely face hiding all the elegant swirls.  With this mysteriously poor showing countered by my determination to have it included in our catalog, I had to try, try again.

Round Two –

black-pepper-remake-3

This batch was made as a smaller sized batch, poured into a loaf mold (more on that bit later), and the gray color was replaced by a copper-brown that would offer higher contrast to the blue-green.  (Links to the micas used and supplier info can be found at the bottom of this post. I ran the recipe through four different soap calculators and hand calculated as well and came up with the same amount of lye but 4 different amounts of water.  What? So I went with one version that made the most sense to me, crossed my fingers and dove in.

The mold was the glitch in this one.  I grabbed the mold and poured in the base white, did the pours of the blue and the brown for a potential hanger swirl and then it hit me – OMG, this isn’t the right mold!  So the three colors were all poured into the correct size mold, thus creating an unintentional In-The-Pot/Mold-Swirl for the bottom half of this loaf.  I was torn between leaving it to firm up and lay a white top with wispy swirls of what remained of the two other colors or add the white and the bit of colors left and make it a sort of elemental with white and a bit of the other two on top only.  The former won out, so I walked away to let it firm up.  Easier said than done.  It took forever to firm up enough to work with  – about an hour.  Meantime, I’m pacing around, still wondering if I’ve done the right thing.

The bottom was left alone and firmed up nicely, so the white was added on and it didn’t appear to break through – much.  There might be a slight dip here or there, but all in all, it’s only on the top. I think.  The remaining color was added gently, swirled around a bit with a skewer, though I doubt it went far down.  The remaining mica and oil that was to go onto the top was added over the white that was left and poured along one side.

A slightly unorthodox approach, neither one thing or another and yet again another clear illustration of the last post’s discussion of marching to the beat of one’s own drummer. This might have been an entirely separate orchestra.  So, now we wait…..again.

I hope it can come out tomorrow but with this scent I just don’t know.  I’m not saying it’s the fragrance oil.  I really don’t know what the issue is with making this one. All I can say is, I’m just stubborn enough or a big enough glutton for punishment to keep working with it until it’s whipped into shape and does my bidding. Pics when it’s out – if it’s decent.  *cheeky grin*

Suppliers:

Micas:  Mad Oils – Hot Man on a Tin Roof

Mad Oils – Peacock

Mad Oils – Snow White

Oils:  Soapers Choice (unable to create link at posting time)

Molds: Candles & Wood Crafts

Fragrance Oil:  Wholesale Supplies Plus – Black Pepper

A Day of Ugly Ducklings

The phrase “The best laid plans” begins as a ominous warning to not let your guard down just because you think you’ve got this.  Life has a funny way to throwing those plans right out the window as quickly as the blink of an eye.

Some plans are just better left on the work table a bit longer as well.  Such was the case today.

I intended to make two batches today.  Ambitious, yes, but doable.  One would require little fiddling as they are shave bars and therefore need no swirls, mica, nothing decorative.  They’re all about function, not form. The second was a restock of one that’s surprising simple – usually – and a popular scent for both genders.

I blended two fragrance oils from Fragrance Laboratory, Acorns & Black Oak with Hibiscus Tea [Note to self: Get more Hibiscus Tea FO].  Remembering the first time I used it in a batch of cp soap,  and the soap remaining soft for a bit longer than usual, I decided to try reducing the amount of water.  Not much, just 1/2 oz.  I thought that would work well enough without the results being too soft like the first batch.  I got to the stage where the lye water was nearly cooled and the oils were all blended together and took a hard look at the mixing bowl.  It didn’t look like enough to fill that mold.  How did that happen?

Looking at the recipe, it was much too low in total volume to fill the mold intended, so I added enough of the oils to bring that up to the proper amount plus enough lye to balance out the additional oils.  Water was also added. Saved that bit and the volume appeared correct by now.  I blended the FO with the coconut milk, added those two to the oils, then added the lye water.

Stick blending only to emulsion or slightly past it, but not by much as I wanted to do a half & half layering with white & brown ITP swirl on the bottom, green & white ITP swirl in the middle then a layer of white with designs of mica in oil on top.  Fluidity was key that plan during the pour though the bottom would need to firm up enough to add the middle layer without breaking through.  Easy-peasy, chill it in the fridge. Right?  *sigh* You see where this is leading already, don’t you.

What I neglected to note in my recipe the last time I’d used this blend was that it can accelerate trace in CP soap.  Significantly.  Like a pedigree race horse at the Kentucky Derby.  Pouring the two colours into the mold with it this thick was fine for that first layer with the brown and the white.  No break-through! I sprinkled on a pencil line of glitter.  Grabbed the green as it began locking itself into its bowl for the day, so a sturdy spatula was employed to make it swirl in the pot a bit before glopping it over that glittery surface below. That was not nearly as easy to swirl in the pot as the brown was.  It was more of a shove it over that way and shove it over this way and scoop – fast! The white for the top was still in the main bowl, mocking me.  Waiting.  Snearing in its hissing voice – “I dare you to try anything fancy with me!” Yes, it won.  Blobs of white were barely spreadable across the surface that had another glittery pencil line layer.  I dusted it with more glitter, and set it aside, hoping it would just please be presentable.

It rested until about 9 pm that same night when I grew bold and cut it.  It had only been in the mold for about 7-8 hours, but it was hard as a rock.  I seriously doubted the strength of the cutter’s wires.  None broke but that was miraculous in a day of too few miracles available.

ugly-duckling-2-cropped

The Ugly Duckling, Woodlands, without any signs of any pencil lines.

It may be fragrant and very appealing for that alone to both genders, but this is not the result I’d intended.  Still there are fewer air pockets than expected and I’m sure it will clean nicely as well as imparting a really spectacular fragrance that lasts.  But it’s an Ugly Duckling for sure.

I’ve NOW made a bold, easily read note on that recipe that this FO blend accelerates – A LOT – and to use full water.  Hang the ashing consequences I’d hope to avoid in reducing the water this time.  It served to illustrate that the softness of batch #1 was due to a problem with the lye that was used in the first batch.  It was inferior.  Had to be that since the softness would have eventually been overcome by curing out longer if it was too much water. The Oils:Lye ratio was correct.  That was thoroughly checked.  I also changed lye suppliers since that first batch.

There are many questions that came out of this incredibly difficult batch that might be answered but using several calculators and comparing the results for variances then allowing for the extra water to avoid the acceleration.  If ash develops, it can be steamed off.  But this recipe will definitely be going back to the work table for further study to avoid further Ugly Ducklings.

Doing my own thing

Soap challenges are fun, yes, no doubt about that.  It gives soap makers a chance to broaden their horizons, spread their creativity into distant corners of the crafting world and find a new way of doing something they already do everyday, just with a twist. An aesthetic, if you will.

I’ve never actually joined one, though I’ve joined a page or group or two in Facebook in the past.  Still I’ve yet to step into the creative circle and say, “I’m in. Let’s do this”!

So why, you ask, did you join, if you didn’t participate?  Well, sometimes we join things to appreciate the attempt vicariously through others.  I respect the skill, the talent, the willingness to step outside one’s comfort zone to try something altogether new or just a twist on an old ideal.  It’s always a moment of wonder to see what others can come up with when offered the opportunity to spread their wings.

I’m not averse to trying new things, in fact I love to learn something new, but I like how I work now.  I have a rhythm, a style, a look, a method and an approach to how I create the products in my web site and am very happy with it now.  When I decide to try something new it isn’t because it was required in order to qualify forsomething, but because I wanted to find out what would happen if I do that instead of this.

I’ve seen so many soapers create those dips and swirls on the tops of their bars with a spoon’s convex back that gave it the appearance of choppy waves on a deep blue-green sea, some even complete with whitecaps.  Others have the Taiwan swirl down to an artform.  Yet another sculpts tiny figures, fruits, constructions, from a dough-like consistency soap to place onto her soaps, making a soap without any need for melt & pour embeds.  This is a magical world, with talent equal to the skill of a truly gifted wizard, artist or designer and you never know what’s coming next with any one of these incredibly gifted people.

Pinterest has pushed our belief in our own inner artist to venture further than many generations before ever thought to cross into, providing a place for inspiration to flow like Niagara Falls.  Of course many a good intention  has fallen down that DIY craft board’s rabbit hole to be neither seen more heard from again for hours at a time.  Enjoy it, but go in with the plan to stay only a short time.  Maybe employ the use of a timer.  Might help anyway.

I digress a bit here.  What I mean to get at in my own weird rambling way is that after all of the  Facebook posts, the group challenges, the Pinterest eye-candy temptations, I’ve slowly yet carefully stepped into my own pair of comfortable creativity shoes.  The joy of a challenge comes from within my own self.  A new mica colour, a new fragrance, requires research  (yes, maybe through Pinterest) that would represent that new colour/scent as I perceive it. What design do I want to create with this glorious thing?  How will I achieve it?  What colours would look best – high contrast or sun-bleached tints, vivid primaries  or gentle pastels? What technique in swirl – hanger, spoon, chopstick, dividers, drop swirl, or a variation on one or more?

I go where my heart leads now.  I travel a road of my choosing and find the journey far more gratifying that the one that I followed along with hundreds of others.  I don’t like imitating others just as I wouldn’t want others imitating me regardless of how the old saying goes. The pressure to produce something of equal or greater beauty in a similar design done by dozens of others has been lifted and with that freedom, I can slide through the production of my designs with ease, comfort and far more joy than I did in previous years.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t join those group challenges. Far from it.  If it gives you joy to try that, needing just that gentle nudge to try it, go for it! You’ll never know what you can do until you try.  Possibly something amazing or even far different from what you’d expected will result.  Soapmaking is just that way. But if you go into them only occasionally, only wanting to do so just for fun, that’s the way it should be.  Many of them offer very nice prizes, too, by the way, so there’s nothing lost.  Either you win, or you don’t, but you gained the experience, you could possibly gain a very nice prize, but best of all you gain confidence.  In your craft.  In yourself.

But for me, I’m happily following the beat of my own drummer.  Content to know that I’ve created something I like, it makes me happy, it makes others happy.  It brings smiles to friends, family, customers and that’s all I need.  Well that and income.  Still, I’ll carry on, making soap my way, be happy with my job, my life, play around with the pictures of them, and hopefully others are okay with that, too. Find your inner drummer, then keep calm and carry on, everyone!

Hex on the Beach, by Gina LaManna

Hex on the Beach (The Magic & Mixology Mystery Series, #1)Hex on the Beach by Gina LaManna
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was one I could NOT put down. Despite the hour – 2:44 am – and the need for sleep was dire, the desire to find out how this finished was greater, so yes, I finished it in a day. That should tell you something is fun and slightly frenetic on these pages. The chemistry and tension between Lily and Ranger X is a palpable thing. You can’t even cut it with a knife and why would you even want to! Lily is likable, has a sharp mind, a quick wit, and a need for family if she’s to outwit whomever may be trying to off her as the newest in the hereditary line of Mixologists.

It’s a light, easy-reading, full-of-fun, word-nerd fare for the evening or so it takes you to finish it up with a sigh of pleasure, and suddenly find yourself craving even more – dark chocolate, some wine, a bubble bath and Book #2 should do the trick quite nicely. Lucky you, this is a trilogy. Hex on the Beach is #1 in the series. Hex on the Beach is Lily’s way of avoiding men by way of learning the craft of being a budding Mixologist but as we all know can be one of those ‘good intentions’ sorts of plans. She’s learning the ropes of this Mixologist role she has now inherited through her grandfather and it isn’t without its trials and tribulations, but it’s coming to her easier than one might think considering she lived in the ‘other world’ for most of her life, never knowing about this magical world, a mysteriously tropical place hidden in the middle of Lake Michigan.

After being formally introduced to this quirky, easy-to-love witch & mixologist in training, I closed out this story and immediately ran back to Amazon to get the other two in this series, Jinx & Tonic and Witchy Sour. (See a pattern in these titles?)

I’m curious now as to the other series this author has penned that I’m now positive are just as much of a fun-gallop at full tilt read as this series is turning out to be. Gina LaManna’s other series to which I’m referring is the Lacey Luzzi Mafia Mysteries, also a trilogy that will definitely be going onto my To Read list asap. If they’re even half as enjoyable at this series, it will leave me all too happy to follow this author very closely for quite a while.

View all my reviews

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The lines become blurred between worlds when our central character, Jacob, finds an old abandoned house that is more than it appears to be on the surface. It appears decrepit one day and beautifully vital and inhabited by the most unique cast of characters one could hope to meet in a lifetime. Jacob’s father is busy watching the birds whilst Jacob explores the bogs and backwoods, leaving hhim alone to discover and become acquainted with the home’s residents. It also seems to let them go back and forth between the present day, the world in which Jacob is still with his father at a hotel as Jacob visit a therapist and the world Miss Peregrine inhabits , which is not in the present day but rather in the time of WWII.

The circumstances in which he and his newfound friends find themselves involved are as unusual as the children themselves, though all are extraordinarily likeable. Each child has their own unique ‘gift’ to make them special though initially, Jacob thinks he’s not special at all.  He feels at first that a mistake has been made and he should be there at all and attempts to return to his father but fate & actions intervene to make him realize he’s exactly where he should be.

As it’s a series and this introduces us to the Home and its special residents, it was possible this could be slow, boring, or too descriptive as it sets the stage for the coming volumes in the series, but as it turns out, there is not one boring moment in this story. You grow to love each and every one of them, the mysterious but kind in a firm sort of way Miss Peregrine. You realize there is a choice to be made in this first book, a very difficult one for Jacob, but not as difficult as one would think for his father, which I found a bit disturbing. I couldn’t really like or understand his father after this choice. Still it was a part of the story and Jacob is following in his grandfather’s footsteps.