My very favorite holiday tradition is making homemade soap with my kids for simple holiday gifts for family and friends.
After Thanksgiving I resurrect the kettle from the garage and dust off my well-worn soap making recipe book. I open up my special box that contains a trove of herbs and resins such as dried calendula, lavender petals, French green clay—these ingredients add texture, color or have healing properties for the skin like oatmeal. I open my apothecary case filled with little blue bottles of essential oils: peppermint, lavender, jasmine, fir needle and rosemary.
To put it mildly I know a lot about making soap.
The love of soap making began as a little kid when I would spend hours concocting special “magical” concoctions out of empty shampoo bottles and mushy soap bars. That love was reawakened after my sister gave me the simple gift of a bar of homemade soap.
In fact, the art of soap making is the muse for my new middle-grade book just released on Kindle,“Soap for Hippies.”
My novel chronicles the adventures of two sisters who find themselves at a strange commune in the Siskiyou Forest where Blaine and Celine learn (among other things) how to make soap from the strange and wondrous workshop of a mysterious character.
Oscar Wilde famously wrote that “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life.”
Which doesn’t surprise me at all as my daughter, Amelia, and I steal off for a little adventure of our own at the Zenith Supplies store in Green Lake to stock up on the necessary soap-making supplies. Zenith is just the kind of specialty store that my sister characters, Blaine and Celine, would wander into and explore the crystals, gauzy material, coins, peace earrings, Tibetan prayer flags, and all kinds of little bottles and oils.
I was at the cash register with an armload of containers that included Red Devil lye, olive, coconut and palm oil.
Amelia bounced over wearing a prospector’s smile who has just hit gold.
“Can I get this Mom?” Amelia asked, her palms open offering up her treasures: A bracelet with hieroglyphics, a silver coin engraved with a mosque, a purple crystal and an engraved sand stone box with a lid.
At home I mixed the toxic lye balls into half a pitcher of water outside as the kids took turns hammering out hunks of white coconut oil, weighing the chunks on the scale according to the recipe. They added the palm and olive oil to the kettle.
After the lye water cools down to 80 degrees the kids watch as I mix it with the warm oil.
The next step is called saponification when the lye water and oil bond together as you stir and transform into something completely different: soap.
When the soap has the appearance and consistency of butterscotch pudding, I pour a bit of it into restaurant to-go boxes for the kids to experiment with their own fragrances and additives.
As they’re busy with their own creations my little kid self takes what’s left in the kettle. And it’s just as fun now as it was back then with those old shampoo bottles as I mix in the French green clay, oatmeal and peppermint essential oil.
I pour my soap into a lined box and close the lid. On top of that I place all the kids’ to-go boxes and cover the whole shebang with blankets for 24 hours to trap the heat as the saponification process completes.
The soap takes a few weeks to harden. During that time we’ll collect herbs, ferns, cool looking rocks, moss, and cedar leaves from our nature walks. We buy ribbon and repurpose cardboard and search thrift stores for unique baskets and plates to decorate the soap with.
Traditionally, after a full day of holiday soap making, we’ll plug in our well-worn popcorn popper and fill a sauce pan with apple cider and floating cinnamon sticks.
Our home is filled with the comforting aroma of popcorn and spiced apples as the kids jockey for their spots on the couch. Everyone nestles inside comfy blankets as “A Charlie Brown Christmas” begins. Pretty soon the chilly blustery weather outside knocks the Christmas lights against the window pane pleasantly, reminding us of how lucky we are to be safe and warm.
I love suggestions! If you know of people or places in Renton that surprise, delight and inspire the community, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also follow Carolyn on her blog,www.pippimamma.com.