first soap batch and mistake

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Years ago, when Andy and I first met he asked me if I wanted to see his soap. This was after he showed me his bee hives, garden and chicken coop. I’m sure I answered something like, ‘Really? You make soap? That’s so cool, I’ve always wanted to make soap. That’s really fascinating. Of course I want to see your soap.’ I did think it was cool and fascinating and I did want to make my own soap, but I just couldn’t believe I’d been invited to see another layer of my (unbeknownst to me) future husband’s many gifts and creative talents.

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So, I saw his soap stash and his lip balms and essential oils (I think that was all in the same cabinet) and was really impressed. The soap wasn’t pretty. It didn’t make awesome suds and occasionally it didn’t cure long enough so the lye would completely burn your skin off and it left a terrible residue in the bath tub, but I was still smitten with soap and chickens and bee hives and eventually the urban farmer who considered himself nothing of the sort but, really enjoyed all of those farmy things and is now full time farming with me and our brood and my new found love of soap making. That’s right! 7 years or so after that day I walked in and saw his soapbox I have finally finally finally made my first batch of soap.

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It is so fresh that I can’t use it yet and won’t know how it suds or cleans or works for at least another month, because it needs to cure, but it’s beautiful and with the exception of the lye and the natural fragrance oil it is made from ingredients that we produce here on the farm like goat milk and beef tallow and another fat that I’m too embarrassed to talk about right now, because it was a complete accident but is actually a legitimate ingredient used for soap making. I just thought it was beef tallow but it wasn’t. So, my first bars will be quite interesting and remind me of the time a chicken toe was left in the collard greens that we ate for Thanksgiving with my family one year. We can laugh about it now, because we know that chicken feet make excellent stock, but at the time Andy quickly put the toe in a napkin and I made him keep quiet so my sisters wouldn’t find out.

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Back to the soap: I only made a half batch to experiment and I used a basic recipe from Mother Earth News, substituting the water in the recipe with some frozen goat milk  that I had on hand when there was a surplus of goat milk and no one to consume it. I used the lye calculator from Brambleberry (a big soap making supplier/company), got my supplies together and went for it while Andy and the kids were down at the river and hunting for arrowheads.

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It looks and smells great and I didn’t even realize my accidental tallow mistake until we were sitting down to dinner and I told Andy that I didn’t have enough tallow in the freezer and had to melt it and strain it before using so it would be really clean and he said, ‘honey that’s not tallow. The tallow is all in the crock in the barn.’ I was hysterically laughing about my first batch and big mistake until I quickly looked at the lye calculator and lo and behold my crazy ingredient is completely legitimate and apparently popular enough to be listed as an official soap fat option. Let’s just say that if this soap turns out to be the best of all my future experiments, including the ones I’m going to try with olive and coconut oils and beeswax then I’m going to have to render a lot more chicken fat.

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XO.

MY MUG

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There are a few things that make my heart sing. Cardinals, gardens, old houses, handmade goods, Jesus, my family, honey bees… you know big and little things that just make me glad. So, when we moved to this little town (we’re not actually in the town but near enough) and we discovered a little community of artists and makers and shakers, it was awesome! It made life in the country feel a little more rich and full. It made me glad. Something else that made me glad was this mug that I was just given by our friends behind the scenes at Brasher Clay. It was made for me. At least that’s what I thought when I first spotted it at the market…

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But, I left it on the table and took the kids to the bubble snow that was blowing after the Christmas parade, because real snow and Swainsboro, GA don’t have a lot in common. Still, I coveted that mug. Andy reminded me that we have a cupboard of mugs (including half a dozen from the Brasher collection but we didn’t have one like mine…

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So, a few days later when I took some honey over to Jacquie she handed me a bag and in it was MY MUG!!! MY MUG!!! MY MUG that looks like a.bee skep and matches my beeswax. It’s just the little things in life that can make me do cart wheels sometimes. Handmade goods and thoughtful friends are definitely some of them. XO.

Christmas Tree

I’ll get this blogging thing down someday. Maybe. Or maybe not. It’s December already and we went to a local tree farm to pick out a sweet tree for the second year now.

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Our first few years of marriage were spent with some major Charlie Brown branches that we scavenged for around the farm properties that we rented. A cedar branch was literally our tree one year. Then a small pine then another pine variety. Bugs and all.

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Last year we picked a Leyland Cypress and this year was a beautiful a deliciously scented Arizona cypress. The kids love this season. They might be a little more sentimental than I am or perhaps they just love the family traditions that we’re establishing as much as I do.

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XO.

 

Ready for a Road Trip

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We’re preparing to take a little vacation/road trip that we’ve been wanting to take for a few years now. We’re driving from Ga to Co and back again to see my 94 year? old grandmother, Olive (she doesn’t have a birth certificate copy) and stopping at some pretty exciting places along the way. We’ll go to the ark encounter and then the Iowa state fair, visiting some of Andy’s family, before spending a week in Eagle, CO which is so neat and dear to me since it is where I grew the most in my faith and where I prayed and prayed for this precious family that will be traveling back with me. I spent a couple of years in Eagle, caring for my ‘Granny O’ and it was my first time living out of GA.

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When I moved out there I was only planning a visit. I had a round trip ticket, but I ended up staying for 2.5 years. I arrived with a suitcase of clothes and another bag of books and journals and I never flew back to Savannah. The family that I was nannying for at the time was incredibly supportive just like they had been when I took some time off to travel on a short term mission trip to India. Suzanne told me that it was important to spend as much time with my grandmother as I could, because I never knew how much time I would have left. Suzanne and her husband John have loved me like I was their own since I’ve known them, which has been over half of my life. I’m thankful for them. I’m also thankful for this upcoming trip.

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It has been years in the making. We’ve just not been able to swing it until now. We leave in less than a week and I couldn’t be more excited. I just need to remember that the adventure is in the journey just as much as the destination. I don’t want to miss the moments. We’ll be spending over 50 hours in the van… Driving… Pray for us.

XO.

Beeswax Candles

 

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It’s been a long time since we’ve made any candles. I guess between the farm work, house work and school fun the fun stuff that I love has been pushed to the side. That plus the fact that we really needed a solar wax melter to render some more beeswax.

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He did get the solar wax melter fashioned and some wet comb went in right away. Now we’ve got beeswax (plus more from our friend/bee mentor Harold) and we’re back in action. Sort of…

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I recently bought a mini pillar mold and made a few 3″ pillars for some adorable galvanized lanterns that I bought at Target last fall for 75% or something. I love them, but haven’t had candles to put in them. Knowing we had a stash of awesome beeswax and the other essentials, I knew it was time to get back to work on some candles. I made a couple of adorable mini pillars and made some super clean beeswax cakes and put my supplies away for a few days.

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Then, we picked up a crockpot that could hold more than a cup of melted wax at a time and I made some more candles. I forgot to tie a knot at the bottom of the mini pillar the third time (don’t ask) and wax poured everywhere… Thankfully, I got most of it up because it was on wax paper (genius), but there are still bits of beeswax stuck on our counters…

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It is incredibly satisfying to make candles from beeswax from our beehives. We know the beeswax is clean and doesn’t have any chemicals in it from  treated hives. The candles smell amazing and make beautiful light. The lanterns are now glowing (after a year of doing nothing!) and I learned a good lesson about remembering to tie the wick.

Candles are simple. Beeswax candles are great. The best. Hopefully I’ll get a good stash for the moonlight farmers market coming up in Swainsboro at the beginning of September and for Andy to drop off in Augusta at Southern Made during one of his deliveries. Either way, I’m just glad we have our own candles again!

 

One man’s trash

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I love old stuff. I love the character and history and patina of the treasures. I love that we have a little collection of relics and tools and junk from days gone by. A rusty refrigerator door is our message board. Old butter crocks and churns get used by us even though they are often just used as decor in other homes. Our cast iron collection is used daily and most of it was already used and is ‘vintage’ although we have gathered new pieces to add to the collection.

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I’m no antique dealer, but I do love the charm that comes from these things. I know they don’t have any eternal value and when the corrode and rust, I understand even more that this earth is only temporary. Still, I’ll take someone’s cast offs any day of the week over the brand new, cheaply made real junk of today… Even if it’s just garden decor. XO.

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The Relatives Came

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One of my favorite children’s books is ‘The Relatives Came’ by Cynthia Rylant. I first discovered the book when Andy and I were interning at Brant Family Farm in SC and fell in love with the story. Mainly because it reminded me so much of my family and how we visit and hug and laugh and breathe together.

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I have a sister and a niece in VA and it is one of our favorite places in the country. The premise of the book is that the relatives came from VA and they all got to spend the summer together. I’ve been reading this story for the last couple of years at our Shaner family gatherings and it always makes me cry. I’m a bit sappy and sentimental sometimes and this book reminds me so much of those that are near and dear to my heart. So, when I pulled out the book to read to my sweet niece, she patted me on the leg and said, ‘you don’t have to cry, I’m right here.’ And my heart exploded with love and joy and gratitude for her precious little soul and her wisdom beyond her years.

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She’s 6. My sister, her mother, and I are 18 months apart and were incredibly close growing up. We were comrades in the truest sense of the word and we had each other’s back, always and no matter what. Seeing my beautiful sister, Aubrie, in my niece’s eyes and having her in my home for just a day filled my cup. I wish they lived closer. I wish our kids were growing up together as best friends. Cousins by default and friends by choice. But, for now, they live in VA. For now, I’ll wait eagerly for their visits and be thankful for the precious hours that we do have together and continue to hope for more.

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My sweet niece will have one of the Great Pyrenees puppies with her at her dad’s house. She came down and was surprised with a puppy by him. We arranged it a few weeks ago and I could hardly wait for the day. Knowing that the last puppy to be picked was meant to be hers has given me so much peace. When he contacted me to inquire about a pup, I knew it was meant to be.

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So, they drove down from VA. She met her new puppy and played with her cousins and read books and told me about her life in VA. We ate together and played games together and breathed together. And that’s all that mattered. Then, they packed up their car with a sweet puppy in tow. Another soon-to-be-mama-bear-dog in the back seat next to my darling niece. My heart melted and once again, the house felt too big and too empty…

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He’s 3!

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Little middle child whom we affectionately refer to as Pinecone here on the blog turned 3 this week. While Andy and I were talking about how we can best celebrate this charming fellow, we decided that he needed a party and it needed to only include those people to which  he feels comfortable giving a full body bear hug. That’s a whopping 4 people other than Andy, myself, Bullfrog and Buttercup.

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So, we invited my sister (Aunt Lulu), my dad (Opa), Andy’s mom (Goma because they couldn’t pronounce Grandma and were used to saying Oma for my mom) and Andy’s dad (Dan dad or Grandad). We ordered a few pizzas from one of our favorite spots in Savannah and we celebrated.

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Pinecone hadn’t had his own birthday party before and he was thrilled to see balloons and to know that this day was to celebrate him. He brings our family so much joy! He is all heart in the truest sense of the meaning and he’s been pretty amazing since day 1.

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He’s rough, tumble and bold. He’s fearless and always ready for an adventure. He loves our family nicknames and makes me feel like the most beloved mother in creation when he hugs my neck tight and says: ‘you’re all mine mama bear’ or ‘you’re my best.’

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I’ve talked before about how I’ve never been great at making much ado over special days. I’m working at it and so far this year we have successfully had a little celebration for each of our precious children to mark their 1st, 3rd and 5th birthdays. This is the last birthday party of the year and it was such a sweet, simple, kiddie pool and water balloonand pizza and ice cream cake kind of day. He opened a few gifts throughout the day and mostly we just got to enjoy Pinecone basking in the love of his family.

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That is all that matters right. That he knows we love him. That he knows Jesus loves him. That he can choose who to give full body hugs to and make them feel loved too. Those are the little things I’m thankful to celebrate. XO.

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