Sunday, March 31, 2013

Happy Easter!

Hope you can celebrate the joys of spring this weekend, with chocolate bunnies, jelly beans, baked ham, egg hunts - all the good stuff.  Obviously, this Sunday is an important religious holiday for some folks and they will have plenty of their own reasons to celebrate.  But for the rest of us - it's just another chance to enjoy the special wonders of a new season and new beginnings.  Kind of all goes hand in hand, doesn't it?

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Chicks and Bunnies

(For photo credits and to see my other photo sets, visit me on Flickr)
Holy moly!  The weather has been so beautiful the last couple of days.  I can't stand to be in the studio working - I've been out working in the garden, getting the patio cleaned out and set up for hanging out in.  Planted my lettuce boxes and they are perfectly cute and beautiful - two days in and the cats haven't dug them up or pooped in them yet.  Success!

Today is Easter brunch prep day.  We're having a bunch of people over tomorrow morning, and I'm cooking up a feast.  All the doors and windows open, lazing around the sunny patio and just enjoying the little bubble of springtime weather we have here.  Everything is green, all the plants and trees have burst into new life.  Just breathe it in.  Ahhhh.....

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Soap Scum Killer

If you love and use handmade soaps in the tub/shower, then you know the awful truth - soap leaves soap scum.  That grimy, fugly stuff that accumulates on your tiles and your porcelain or your glass shower door.  It's inevitable, but not fun.

If you are not experiencing soap scum, then you are probably using something on your body that is detergent-based, rather than soap-based.  Which means that it is formulated to break down grease and dirt, rather than just dirt.  It's a little tweak in the chemistry - used for laundry detergents and dish detergents, where it's a really great thing.  But not as great on your body.

Detergent can be sort of harsh on a person's body - breaking down your own natural skin oils and stripping you to the point of scratchy, itchy, dry.  Yet keeping your shower more shiny and sparkly for weeks longer!

It's the lovely nutrient oils in handmade soap that give you the moist, fresh, dewy, young-looking skin.  With good quality soap, you don't have to spend a small fortune on creams and lotions to un-do all the damage a harsh, commercial soap, especially a detergent-type soap, does.

The trade-off is that you need to clean your shower more often.  And if you're in the mode of being all natural, non-toxic, earth-friendly and green already, then the last thing you want is to use harsh chemicals in your shower which smell awful and come into contain with your skin anyway - totally defeating the whole purpose.

I have the solution:  Vinegar and dish soap.  Give up all your expensive shower cleaning products and buy a big jug of plain white vinegar, which costs like $3 at Cash & Carry or Walmart or somewhere.  And a large size bottle of dish soap - most recipes swear by the Blue Dawn liquid, but I've used others that were scent-free or clear, and they all work.

Take an empty spray bottle (also available for very cheap at your big box type stores).  Fill it half full with vinegar.  Then add the dish soap.  If you do it the other way, you will be fighting all kinds of suds and not be able to get the ratio right.  I know - I've done this. It should be approximately half and half.  I've read recipes where they microwave the vinegar first for a few seconds to get it warm.  I did, in fact, try this the first time.  It stunk so bad in the microwave and getting a whiff of that up your nose accidentally can ruin you for a long time, ya know? So I went cold turkey the next time, and it's just as good.

Then spray liberally.  Some people swear by leaving it on for half an hour.  But again, I've tested this, and gone right ahead and scrubbed immediately - getting pretty much the same results but less "pickle" smelling bathroom.

Scrub if it needs scrubbing with a little scrub brush.  Or wipe glass doors with a sponge.  Do what you think you need to for whatever surface and grime amount you've got.  Rinse well with hot/warm water.  Repeat if you've got a real build-up - which I did the first time.  Now I do a little squirt once a week and it's squeaky clean floors.  I don't even mind the pickle smell.

In this old house we have a crappy drain too - which is almost always slow and starting to gather water around your ankles.  But the vinegar/dawn solution helps with that too.  Which is great, because I hate using Drano-like things.

So if you've tried the lovely handmade soaps, but gotten scared off by the scum issue - here's an inexpensive and easy way to make both yourself and your bathroom cleaner and happier.  You're welcome. :O

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Swag Bags? Food Trucks? Oh MY!

This weekend is the spring Best of the Northwest show.  

It's going to be a real party!  Did I mention that the first 100 customers through the door on Saturday morning get a Yelp swag bag?  Come early!

Did I also mention that they've got food trucks this time?  Skillet and Chopstix will have their trucks parked outside, and Metropolitan Grill will have a food booth inside.  So plan on lunch!

There is also a wine and beer tent - with Blue Moon Brewing and a whole bunch of Washington State wineries doing tastings and selling glasses and bottles.

Plus tons of musical entertainment - dixieland, bluegrass, jazz guitar and a mandolin orchestra.  You can check out the schedule or print out a program HERE.

Utrecht artist supplies will have their kids activity area again too.  Wee little artists need something to do too, right?

And lastly, but most importantly, there will be more than 140 Northwest artists, designers and craftspeople selling their gorgeous goods - the largest juried show in Seattle.  A number of them will be doing live demonstrations and guest talks too.

So much to see and do.  How can you miss it?

Convenient $5 all day parking.  Event tickets just $6 online (one ticket gets you in all weekend) and $7 at the door.

See you there!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Spring Equinox

Today, Wednesday, March 20 marks the spring equinox this year.  It is the moment when night and daylight hours are perfectly balanced, if only for a day.

We are on the precipice of a new season, one that we have been waiting for so anxiously through the long, dark, dreary winter months.  Tedium and stagnation have been silent partners during the cold winter.  But new buds, bright sunshine, and even the blustery winds of March bring a breath of new life.  Sunlight is poised to take command of the weather.

Today is a turning point.  And I am thrilled to celebrate the official start of Spring.  In just a week, it's already Easter - early this year.  Bunnies, spring chicks, baskets of eggs, candies and flowers.  We are going all in with the spring happiness - no turning back.

A sigh of relief.  We've made it through another winter.  I've said that to myself a lot this past week.  Winter is over.  It's done.  Stick a fork in it.  Hurray!

So ready for Spring to get on with it.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Soap Love

Every now and then, when I need a little creative inspiration or idea brainstorming, I spend a bit of time wandering the internet looking at soaps made by other soapmakers.  Just checking what's out there, what the latest trends are in scents, ingredients, packaging.  Keeping up with the latest.

I ran into so much beauty this past weekend, that I ended up spending way more time than I expected, and found some of the coolest stuff.  It's mind-blowing what some people come up with and are doing - all over the world too.

I'm going to post photos and links, because these are too good not to share.

From South Africa - Woolworth's Soap Shop:  soap in the most beautiful tins!

I love the simple rustic wax paper and string wrapping on these wedding soap favors by Prunella on etsy:

This woman from Russia designed long, thin soaps that look almost like book-marks with the typography embedded into the soap.  So cool!

This special promotion has a USB flash drive embedded in a clear glycerin bar.  Not sure how the flash drive doesn't get ruined in the water, but interesting idea.

Brown paper wrapped rustic bars that almost look like candies, from Padua Farms.

From Montreal, Quebec - felted soaps and shampoo bars for The Surf Lodge.  Cute little minis for a hotel.

And finally - love these super rustic versions of soap on a rope.  No links for these, I tracked them around Pinterest and tumblr, but not sure where they came from originally since there is no label.  

This was fun!  I think I might make this a semi-regular feature here and post more lovelies when I find them.  I've got a whole bunch more stuff book-marked that I can sort out and share with y'all.

Just to be clear, I'm a cold-process type only girl, so there will be no photo journals of glycerin, melt and pour, or embedded type fancies - although there are TONS of those out there.  And I'm a little split between my love for the super primitive, rustic, simple stuff and the fancier European packaged stuff - like the tins and gorgeous boxes.  Who says you can't have it all?!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Save some GREEN on St Paddy's!

Sending a bit of luck 'o the Irish to you on St Patrick's Day with a chance to save some GREEN!  Take 15% off your entire order this weekend, with a minimum purchase of $25.
Here's how to keep a little change in your pocket:  orders must be placed between 9am, Friday, March 15 and Midnight, Sunday, March 17.  Type the word SHAMROCK in the discount code box to receive the 15% discount off your entire order amount.  No restrictions on what you buy - anything on the website is included.

How do you celebrate St. Patrick's Day?  We'll be keeping an old tradition called "drowning the shamrock." On St. Patrick's Day, the shamrock that has been worn in the hat or lapel is removed and put into the last drink of the evening. A toast is proposed and then, when the toast has been honored, the shamrock is taken from the bottom of the glass and thrown over the left shoulder. Sláinte!
Shake your shamrocks this St Patrick''s Day!  

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Updated Show Schedule

Just wanted to pop in and let you know that I've been busily working away on the summer show schedule.  We've been sending in applications for the last couple of months, with even more going out this week for some of the fall shows.  It's a little dizzying trying to keep it all straight so early in the year.

But a few of the shows have started notifying us of acceptances.  So I spent a little bit of time this morning updating the show schedule on the website.  I jumped ahead with a couple of them that haven't officially gotten back to me yet - but they are ones that I do every year, so I'm just assuming I'm in again this year. (Fingers crossed)

I'm also waiting to hear on a new one or two, and I'll squeeze in a couple of weekends at the Waterfront Festival which NW Art Alliance (Best of the Northwest folks) organizes down by the ferris wheel and cruise ship docks at the Seattle waterfront every weekend during the summer.  Those will be added to the calendar just as soon as I know how they turn out.  I am hoping to give it a try on a few open weekends in June/July/August - if I have time and inventory available.

In the meantime, the schedule is starting to look pretty full - much of the same ones, all goodies.

May 18 - 19                 University District Street Fair
                                  University Avenue, Seattle
                                  Sat 10am - 7pm, Sun 10am - 6pm
May 8 - 10                   Mother's Day Gift Sale                                   
                                  Group Health Central Campus, shop space
                                  108 - 15th Ave E, Capitol Hill
                                   Wed - Fri 9:30am - 4pm
June 7 - 9                    Sorticulture
                                   Fri 10 - 8, Sat 10 - 6, Sun 10 - 4
                                   Legion Park, Everett
July 6 - 7                     Choochokam                                                   
                                   Sat 10 - 6:30pm, Sun 10 - 5pm
                                   Downtown Langley, Whidbey Island
July 12 - 14                     West Seattle Summer Fest
                                   Fri 10-6, Sat 10-8, Sun 11-5
                                   West Seattle Junction
July 20 - 21                  Gig Harbor Summer Art Festival
                                   Judson Street, downtown Gig Harbor
                                   Sat 10-6, Sun 10-5
Aug 3 - 5                      Anacortes Arts Festival
                                   Fri and Sat 10am-6pm, Sun 10am-5pm
                                   Commercial Ave, downtown Anacortes
Sep 6 - 22                    Washington State Fair
                                   (previously named The Puyallup Fair)
                                   Artists in Action, Grandstand Building
                                   Western Washington Fairgrounds, Puyallup
                                   Sun - Thurs 10am-10pm, Fri - Sat 10am - 11pm

Monday, March 11, 2013

Best of the Northwest - Spring Show coming up!

24th Annual Best of the Northwest fine art and craft show will dazzle the docks this Spring!
   a kaleidoscope of art, fine craft, entertainment, wine, beer and hard cider, moves to a new home in Seattle March 23 & 24, 2013.  A local favorite and national award winner, the show sets up at Smith Cove Cruise Terminal on Pier 91 next to the Magnolia Bridge.

Smith Cove Pier 91 Map
Follow the signs at the Magnolia Bridge to the cruise terminal parking lot at Pier 91
Shop from more than 140 Northwest artists, designers and craftspeople providing handcrafted jewelry, designer clothing, paintings, works out of glass, wood, metal, clay and more who have met the quality standards of our judges in order to participate in this event.
Enjoy continuous live music with groups from across the musical spectrum including bluegrass, Cajun and folk. Artist demonstrations throughout the weekend. Utrecht is bringing its Kid's Table for hours of enjoyment and creating.
Skillet food truck
Skillet food truck comes to BON along with Chopstix and Metropolitan Grill

Outstanding boutique wineries from Family Wineries of Washington State and the Blue Moon Brewing Co. will be offering tastings on both days. 
Chopstix and Skillet food trucks will be on site and gourmet eatery Metropolitan Grill will be serving as well. 

blue moon logo
Locally crafted beer, wine & cider tasting
Join us Saturday 10-6 & Sunday 10-5 for the best shopping, best music, best wine and craft beers. And support manylocal artistsand crafts people!
Free improved shuttle bus and convenient $5 all day parking. Event tickets just $6 online(one ticket gets you in all weekend) and $7 at the door.

Family Wineries of Washington State logoMore info at

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Credit Card Processing - Don't Call Me!

Warning:  Cranky vent post ahead.

I just got a telemarketing call from a credit card processor.  Did I know that they have these new super cheap rates and that my small business can have the same credit card processing rates as the big stores, like Walmart?

Why yes.  I did know that.  Because you called me yesterday.  Very same company.  And the day before that too.  Very same company.  Are you so hard up that you have to call the same list every. single. day.??

But I've gotten almost this exact same groundhog day telemarketing call several times each and every week for like a year now from a huge list of credit card processing companies.  I can't stand it any more.  I guess it doesn't matter that you are on the "Do Not Call" list.  This law applies to everyone else except credit card processors.  Oh, and that creepy robo woman who calls about once a month to steam my carpets.

Here's the longer version.  When they first starting calling, it was when the Durbin law or some blah-de-blah came into effect, and I actually did have the first company do an estimate and comparison of what I was currently paying.  And it was a lot less.  Sort of.  The rates were less, but I had to buy all new equipment to do it - at a substantial cost.  The next company was pretty much the same.  But I took those rates back to my current company, and they adjusted me down to lower rates all around.  And I was happy.  I like my little system right now.  It works great.  And when my machine breaks down or gets technologically obsolete (which could be three months from now, meh) then I would re-look at my options and find the best deal at that point.

Now?  I am not spending another minute listening to every single sales rep's schtick about how much cheaper (by a penny or two) they are to the next guy.  It's all such a math game anyway.  And it gives me a headache.

If you have not had a merchant account before, then you have no idea what a pain it all is.  These people are bankers.  Enough said.

Some have minimum fees.  Some have statement fees.  If you decide to go wireless, there are wireless fees.  There is a transaction fee for each transaction.  Plus there is a percentage rate for each card transaction - which of course, varies with each card.  A credit card is different from a debit card.  And a rewards card costs more.  A swiped card is the cheapest.  But when I do mail order or internet orders, and do not have the card in hand - only the number - that's a different rate altogether.  Then they make you buy a terminal.   If you're doing it only online, that's a whole different kind of fees.  Oy.

Of course, there's now the Square - one flat rate for every single swipe and the reader thingy is free if you have a smart phone.  But that doesn't help me much for my mail and internet orders.  And their rate is probably the highest of anything else I've seen.  So there is no need to pay more if it's only for my show sales.

I am quite sure there is something a little less expensive out there.  But I am not interested in spending a month of tedious hours trying to ferret it out from all the other deals out there.  It's not worth my time.  I'm good where I am.  The cheapest thing usually comes with it's own set of problems.  Like bad customer service.  Or going out of business suddenly.

The entire system is going to change in the next few years anyway.  The entire credit card system is being transitioned from having those magnetic strips on the back of the card where all the information is stored, to having a chip in them.  For security.  Apparently the chip is much harder to read and steal from than the current stripe type card.  So we'll all be getting new cards and merchants will have to get new equipment all over again.  There is a date by when it's required to be effective and I think it's some time in 2015, but don't want to look it up right now.   It will affect every single person with a card - and for every single card too.

But back to the telemarketing dilemma:  Caller ID doesn't help me at all over here.  They have regular phone numbers that just say 'Dallas, TX' or 'private number' - something ambiguous that I would never know is not a customer or other business type call.  In good faith I try to answer everything.

These people are really trying my patience.  What's the solution?  Are you hounded by telemarketing calls too?  Or do you have some gem of information about credit card processing that you'd like to share.  Let me know.  I'm all ears :)

Monday, March 04, 2013

Ingredient Insider: Basics 101

I've spent quite a bit of time over the years, researching and experimenting with different ingredients for my soaps and other products.  My intention is to really try and use the best stuff out there, both in terms of skin and health benefits, sustainability and green merits, and cost effectiveness.  Because you can use the very bestest most expensive drops of liquid gold in the world to make a batch of soap, but if you have to charge $25 per bar, then almost nobody would buy it.  And they would probably go bad before they could be used properly, which is just a waste of good stuff all around.

So yes, cost has to be a factor too.  But I'm definitely not into cheap.  I buy pretty top-of-the-line ingredients, from base oils, to essential oils, even to fragrance oils.  I'm always on the lookout for better stuff at better prices.  And this past year, I was able to negotiate a little better deal on my base oils from a local food supplier.  Instead of pocketing all the cash, I'm getting a few more organic oils and sustainable oils, keeping the cost per bar the same, only with even better quality ingredients.  Hooray for you (and me).  

A bazillion years ago, when I started the blog, I wanted to do a lot more behind-the-scenes posts to explain my process and how it all works over here in the little studio at the bottom of the stairs.  But as the years rolled by, I felt like I had said it all, and that the web site had grown to cover most of what else there ever was to say.  I had added a "Healthy Ingredients" section that gave a bunch of specific information about all the ingredients I use in my products, their benefits and uses.  I guess I just gave up on 'splainin' it all over here on the blog.

This year I've got a bug to change up some of my soap line.  No panic!  I'm not going all organic and crunchy granola in one swoop.  But I want to up the ante a bit and get more green, more natural, more organic.  A sort of wellness revolution so to speak.  People always ask me "which soap is good for (blank)?" and most of my soaps are just the same - good for the general, average, everything.  A few of them were oomphed up a bit with goat milk, or fresh honey, or whatnot, but I didn't have a something for each skin condition kind of soap line.

Well, flash to a LOT (ahem) of years later.  My own skin is older, drier and I'm looking down the tunnel at that dreaded aging thing.  Gone are the fresh-faced, I can put anything on my skin days.  I need to slather on grease, moisturize ceaselessly, and freak about the SPF in order to keep them guessing my age.

So I want to make better soap for me.  And for you too of course.  Loaded with anti-oxidents, nutrients, vitamins, creamy goodness.  I'm just working out the whole "how" of that right now.  There will be a few for summer.  And the few experiments I've done have some really cool stuff in them: pumpkin, carrot, coconut cream, cucumber puree, fresh yogurt, tomato, Russian cambrian blue clay - just a whole farmer's market of juicy goodness.

I'm not ready to spill the beans on all of it yet.  I'm just playing around, imagining and dreaming, tweaking recipes.  But I'm going to post regular features here about some of the ingredients I use, why I use them, and just how darn good they are for you - look for the "Ingredient Insider" tag to find them.  

Eat your vegetables!  Or mash them up and wear them :)