Friday, 24 July 2015

Making Soap From Scratch

The first half of this summer has just sped by and I've been very remiss in getting blog posts up. The good news is, I've been learning some great, new stuff to share with you!

I had the most wonderful time taking a two-day soap making course. ~

My friend, Wendy's, husband gifted her with the course for herself and a friend for her birthday. I was the lucky friend!

I'm glad we had someone as knowledgeable as Kerry Turcotte, from Lyer Lyer Soapcraft to guide us through the process. It is chemistry and a whole lot can go wrong (really, really wrong!) we discovered. When things go wrong in soapmaking someone gets burned, something blows up or the plumbing gets destroyed. Kerry made sure none of that happened to us.

We're the kind of gals who want to know how to do everything from scratch, pioneer woman style.

The first day we rendered tallow from beef fat. That involved cleaning off any meat bits, chopping the fat into pieces and boiling it for hours and hours. ~

Watching beef boil down to separate fat is a tich on the boring side. We felt a nice bottle of wine was most helpful in whiling away the hours. We call this the Tipsy Tallow soapmaking technique.

After chilling the liquid in the fridge overnight, we had pure tallow solidified on top of the buckets. A bit of a scrape to get rid of the gunk clinging to the bottom of the tallow and we were ready to go. ~

When I feel I've done the whole thing by myself often enough to feel sure of what I'm doing, I'll do a step by step tutorial for you. Dealing with the chemical reaction of the lye heating up and mixing this hot mixture with a hand blender was, shall we say, a bit of a scary experience. Or, maybe I'm just a chicken about thermal burns.

Here's my friend, Wendy, suiting up for the scary part. Rock those goggles girl! ~

And, me carefully pouring the hot soap into the mould. ~

The really fun part comes in mixing up the dye colours and

choosing the blends of essential oils to scent the soap. ~

Voila! Twenty-four hours later, we had one batch of tallow based soap and two batches of vegan (vegetable oil based) soaps ready to cut into 72 good sized bars and curing in a drying rack for 4 - 6 weeks! ~

Oh, the scent of satsuma/mandarin/jasmine or rosemary or lemon/ylang ylang! I'm hooked on soap making now.

Give me a bit of practice time and then I'll try to get you all hooked on it too!

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

It Took A Lot To Become Canada & I'm Proud Of Us!

It's Canada Day! We are celebrating everything it took to become this wonderful nation and keep it "The True North Strong And Free".

If you aren't quite sure how we became a nation, here's a brief history.

The French and English fought it out for who would claim this expanse of bountiful land. It wasn't a question of the French and English settlers  being unable to get along or even the First Nations people refusing the immigrants a place here.  It was a political, territorial fight between England and France. To make a long story short, in 1763 France relinquished her claim.

In 1867, four regions, Upper Canada, Lower Canada, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia thought it would be a great idea to form a country and call it Canada.

Canada's revolution for independence consisted of nicely asking Queen Victoria for it in 1867. She said "yes".  Yay! ~

It's a good thing she was so nice about it because she was sure going to need our help, on August 4th, 1914 when Britain declared war on Germany.

It was during WWI that Canada became a full fledged nation. We didn't even have a flag before the war, just an ensign, usually used to identify ships at sea.

Our Maple Leaf flag is only turning 50 this year.

The boys came from the forests, the fields, the towns and the fishing villages to lend a hand. They came as colonials, but by the end of the war, they were undisputed brave Canadians.

They took 'untakeable' key positions from Passchendaele to Vimy Ridge and even the Kaiser referred to them as Storm Troopers.

We came of age in a time of terrible conflict and showed the world it is much better to have us as friends than force us into a fight. As a nation, we prefer the, "Be nice to us and we'll be nice to you" attitude, but don't ever mistake us for sissies.

I've commemorated Canada Day 2015 by honouring this coming of age era.

The Victory Garden was an integral part of supporting our troops during the two, great world wars. When the government said to plough up our yards and plant potatoes, that's exactly what we did.

I love the idea of a Victory Garden and have painted and aged an old board in replica of a WWI sign as reminder of how important it is for all of us to do our part to preserve and protect our Charter Of Rights and Freedoms.

Happy Canada to us!  We earned it!

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Second Season For The Lavender Bed

I have my first lavender harvest! ~

Last year the bushes were teeny, tiny things and they had to survive the coldest winter on record in my part of Canada. ~

I followed all the instructions I linked to in the original post about planting lavender. You can read that post here.  All but one of them made it through. Because of the harsh winter there was a fair bit of deadwood to cut off and a few of the bushes didn't reach the size they should have, but they should catch up over the summer.

I managed to harvest about a pound of blossoms. Then, I trimmed the bushes back by about 1/3 and pruned away any straggler branches around the base. ~

From what I've been reading, I may get a second blooming. Fingers are crossed!

My entourage has come out to inspect our progress. They helped with the planting and weeding, so it's only fair they get to be there now. ~

After several failed attempts at growing lavender, I can't thank A Guide To Lavender enough for finally showing me how to do it right.

Lavender's blue dilly, dilly
Lavender's green
When I am King dilly, dilly
You shall be Queen

There's no sign of a king around here, not even a rooster, but I feel like a medieval princess with bunches of lavender hanging to dry all around the house! ~

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Listening To The Chickens Talk

There isn't much to do on a rainy day but go for a little visit to the chicken coop and see what the girls are chatting about.

Kay sighed and said she wished the rain would stop and she could fly outside.

"Why do you always want to be flying, Kay?", asked Elizabeth.

"You three little ones have always had a nice life. You never had the only thing you lived for be a dream," Kay clucked and ruffled her damp feathers.  " You lived in a nice barn with pigs, goats and a friendly cat. Your mother spread her wings over you to keep you warm and safe. When you were a little bigger you ran outside and played in the sun."

Old Vivien clucked and fluffed her feathers. "Kay is right. You have no idea what the world can be like out there for us. Even though I came from an organic farm and ranged freely in the barn, I was never allowed outside. That is until I got old and wasn't laying so many eggs. One day the farmer opened the barn door and let me run out into the field. I was so happy to be free. In the evening, I came home to roost in the barn and found the door barred to me. Night after night I tried to come inside to sleep. Winter was coming and my old bones were aching. I could hear coyotes howling and knew they might take me for their dinner."

"That was too bad of the farmer to cast you aside like that when you had given him so many years of fine eggs,", clucked Kay.

Vivien preened herself, glad to have an understanding friend.

"Still, you were not without hope as we were in the battery farm. Thousands of us were crowded into hot, smelly, dirty barns. I would have died of the horror of it if I hadn't had my dream of flying. All around me the chickens were sick and sad. Their tails drooped and their feathers fell out. Some of them died."

Elizabeth, Rukmini and Madeleine squawked in dismay that such conditions existed.

"But I never lost sight of my dream. Every day I stretched my legs and wings as far as I could in that little space. You must always be sure you are getting yourself in shape for the time when you are free to go after the life you want, girls."

"One day a truck came with new, young chickens. Now, I thought, they can take over the egg production and I can be free. The barn door was open and I could see the sky for the first time in my life! Why, then, were two ladies pleading with the farmer to give them some of the spent hens. Am I a spent hen? Is that a good or a bad thing? It is so hard to know with humans."

"I know exactly what you mean," said Vivien. "My farmer always said I was his favourite because I was his first chicken." She shook her feathers again as if to shake off the memory.

"Well, the two ladies bribed the farmer with something in a bottle and he said they could take twenty of us. The rest were going to be loaded into a truck to go to the factory. I don't want to go to another factory. I want to fly! I stood up as tall as I could and stretched my wings to show them how fine they were. The ladies started putting chickens in carriers. They didn't seem to care that they were sickly and dejected. They didn't even hold their tails up like a proud chicken should. Pick me, pick me I clucked as I hopped up and down in my cage!"

Kay hopped up and down on the perch as she told that part of the story and that got the young girls hopping up and down. Vivien, of course, is too dignified for hopping.

"Well, as you all know, I was picked and put in a carrier to come here."

"It was time to fly.  I ran toward the fence, flapped my wings as hard as I could and soared eight feet into the air; right up to the top of that fence!"

"I've practiced every day and taught all of you how to fly, too. Even Vivien does a grand job of flying out the coop door every morning."

"But why don't any of us fly as well as you, Kay?", asked Elizabeth. "We practice every day, too,".

"Because it's not your dream, dear. Once I lived for that dream, now I live the dream!"

That is exactly how the chickens told the story today. Or, maybe I told the story to them. 

For certain, we all agreed that you must get yourself ready, try your hardest and never, never give up on your dreams!

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Faux Cement Look For Plastic Flower Pots

It's still raining here and I suppose I should start building an ark for my next project. Luckily, I have a good start on filling it with cats and chickens.

There isn't much to show you in the yard unless you are interested in puddles, weeds and wind debris, so I thought I'd show a little faux cement planter project I did.

Last year a friend gave me a bay laurel tree. Really, it was just a teeny, weenie stick with two leaves sprouting from the top. It has to come indoors for the winter and, since I have absolute faith it will grow into an actual tree, needed a big pot to hold it.

It looked a little lost in the big pot so I planted some basil around it. It's growing ever so much better now that it's outside and the cats aren't chewing on the leaves!

Of course, buying a new pot just isn't my style. I had a perfectly good one, with a built-in drip tray, that would do fine with a bit of a paint makeover.

Here's the sad before picture. ~

This is the kind of paint project that benefits from a slapdash kind of treatment. It will look more authentic if you don't fuss over how you are applying the paint.

Latex paint stands up well outdoors and adheres well without primer on any plastic that has weathered enough to become porous.  I've had it last for years on plastic patio furniture.

Start daubing on grey and taupe latex paint and try to get it on a little thicker in some areas for texture. ~

Keep layering paint until there's fair coverage of the pot. Then, cover it overall with a light grey. I used Benjamin Moore Silver Fox for the all over coat. When applying the overall coat of paint, lift the brush slightly when you come to the daubed sections and let bits of colour show through.

Carry the paint over to the inside as far as your soil line will be. ~

Don't worry if it looks too dark or light in spots. You can add daubs of colour wherever it is too light and dry brush light paint on anyplace it looks too dark. Honestly, it's impossible to mess up this project!

To give the pot a look of age, I daubed shades of green on in spots to simulate moss. ~

I dry brushed some of the light grey on top to tone the green down.

All done and at a cost I like. $0.00!!! ~

It looks real enough, sitting on the cement patio, that someone asked me how I was going to haul a cement planter indoors every winter. I think the mud splatters add to the look. At least, that's the attitude I'm going to adopt for this rainy year!

Now, I'm off to brave mosquitos the size of dragonflies and pull those weeds around the patio!

Monday, 15 June 2015

New Spot For Her Majesty's Jewels

I won't go on about the day after day after day of thunderstorms and rain we are experiencing here. Those of you battling drought conditions won't appreciate it I'm sure. Let's just say that it's better to work on some indoor craft projects than stand at the door looking at all the weeds that are thriving in our monsoon like conditions!

It was a perfect time to give a facelift to a jewellery box I picked up at a thrift store for $1.00. ~

The finish on the wooden case was in pretty bad shape, scratched and some kind of solvent had bubbled one section of the top. ~

It did have a nice, clean, velvet interior and lots of storage space. ~

And, who wouldn't want a jewellery box that greets you with a label that says, "Her Majesty" every time you open it?

Since the surface wasn't glossy, I didn't bother to sand or prime it.

I wanted an aged, ebonized look to the box and started daubing bits of latex paint on in a random pattern, where I knew I would want it to show wear and tear. ~

The brass plaque on top hasn't been toned down yet with bronze paint. I left that to the last. ~

The whole thing got a final coat of black, outdoor paint for durability. I lifted the paint brush slightly when I came to the grey and turquoise spots to allow bits of colour to peek through the black. ~

In the close up photo you can see some paint lines, but they don't show in real life.

This is a much better look with my chippy paint dresser. ~

My granddaughters were here on the weekend and they loved my new/old jewellery box.

Or maybe, they just like the idea of being called Her Majesty every time they lifted the lid!

I'm sharing this with:

  Tuesdays With A Twist
Wow Us Wednesdays

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

The Sounds Of Faith

This Sunday was the annual cemetery service at the little church beside my house.

It's a special service to raise funds for grounds maintenance.

A piper plays Amazing Grace as she circles the cemetery and prayers are said for all who have gone on before.

As the prayer was being said, I could hear drums from just a little way down the river. A sweat lodge ceremony was underway.

I realized I was completely surrounded by the sounds of faith and it was a wonderful feeling!

It doesn't matter to me what a person's particular belief system is, but I've never really trusted a person that tells me they don't believe in anything. Either they are trying to convince me that they are too sophisticated and clever to believe in something that can't be proven or they have something missing in their character, the desire to strive for something higher and better.

How much nicer it was to be part of the world of belief in an afterlife and hug a kernel of curiosity about what it would be as I watched people send a prayer to their loved ones.  How much nicer to listen to the sound of the native drums and know they were sending prayers up to their ancestors at the same time.

Some of the stones have crumbled and fallen over time, but the faith of the little congregation carries on. The smoke from the sweat lodge fire still wends its way up to the Happy Hunting Grounds.

Faith still exists in the world. Theology changes with times and places but the core of faith lives, not in our minds, but in our hearts. I admit to a very hodgepodge system of beliefs that has more questions than answers. It has a sprinkle of this and a dash of that in my system. It works for me and someday I'll get to move on and check it all out.

I have absolute faith I'll find my loved ones waiting for me and that I consider to be a priceless gift.

Bring on the pipes and the drums. That was exactly what I needed this weekend!