10 Things I Wouldn’t Do Again in my Garden

We moved here over 20 years ago; someday I’m going to post pictures of this old place in the rough. While the house was in really rough shape, it was neat because I could tell there was a gardener who once lived here. The remnants of his care and creativity were scattered throughout the yard. Sadly though, like the house, the gardens were very neglected – only remnants were seen of his creativity. Those remnants sparked a love for gardening in me that has not diminished over the years; it has certainly grown.

About 7 years ago, I began a “Garden Reclamation Plan,” which has helped me reclaim the gardens I started when I was able to be home full time and to create them in a way that made it a bit easier to manage. I am so pleased with how everything is working out!! There has been a lot of trial and error in my gardening adventures, and  while some of that is a vital part of learning, I kind of wish I would have known some of these things before I tried them.

So, over the course of the next couple of weeks, I’ll be sharing what I’ve learned. Here’s the short version:

  1. I wouldn’t plant ditch lilies in my garden.
  2. I wouldn’t plant free plants from my friends until I knew whether they were naughty or nice.
  3. I wouldn’t  use herbicides to kill off unwanted weeds except poison ivy. Vinegar doesn’t kill poison ivy. That stuff just needs to die.
  4. I wouldn’t pull weeds without being careful to identify what I am pulling. See number 3.
  5. I wouldn’t be afraid to build things for my garden by myself.
  6. I wouldn’t underestimate the beauty of using weed barriers, but I would never, ever, ever use landscape fabric as a weed deterrent again.
  7. I wouldn’t underestimate the power of a long term plan for my gardens.
  8. I wouldn’t try to create a great big garden in one season.
  9. I wouldn’t neglect preparing my gardens for winter.
  10. I wouldn’t have left the heart shaped pond for last.

Stay tuned!!

Hot Process Pine Tar Soap

I have done the hot process soap a couple of times and while I thought it worked fine, I didn’t just absolutely fall in love with the process — until today. I’ve had a few people request some pine tar soap, and I wanted to get it out to them quicker than the normal wait with the cold process, so I got out my trusty crock pot, did some checking on the Internet and away I went!! (My original recipe is here.)

I like The Prairie Homestead blog, so I searched her site and found a great tutorial for making soap using the Hot Process. Score. (If you’re interested in doing the Hot Process method, take a peak at her blog.)

Pine Tar Soap can be a bit of a booger to make. There is really a very short window of opportunity to add oils or to get the soap into molds. It can set up so fast and seize that processing it can be tricky. Today, though, through the hot process method, I was able to add essential oils and carefully spoon the soap into my silicone molds.

I bought different Pine Tar than I have used previously. Farnam Horse Health Pine Tar  turned out to be quite a surprise to me. I really didn’t like the fragrance of this pine tar at first. I mean. It was really offensive. The other stuff I used had a strong pine smell, but this, well, I’m not sure what to say about that.  I was pleasantly surprised, though, when I added the essential oils at the end of the process. The fragrance is rather appealing, I think. It’s still sitting over there on my counter all wrapped up and I kind of want to take a peek and smell it again, but I’m going to refrain. I’ll let you know if I change my mind tomorrow.

I’ve never put too many essential oils in my other Pine Tar Soaps. I may have gotten carried away, but I know that 1)no one would have wanted to bathe in that smell and 2)these oils are so incredible in what they can do for skin issues.

Here’s my modified Pine Tar Soap Recipe:

For a 4 pound batch:

  • 9.14 oz. coconut oil
  • 27.4 oz. olive oil
  • 9.14 oz. pine tar
  • 1 tbls castor oil
  • 10 oz. distilled water
  • 5.1 oz lye

Essential Oils after cooking:

  • Patchouli, 1/2 tsp.
  • Frankincense, 1 tsp
  • Rosehip, 1 tsp
  • Cedarwood, 1 tsp
  • Lemongrass, 1 tsp
  • Clove Oil, 1 tsp
  • Eucalyptus, 2 tsp
  • Lavender, 3 tsp.

Using a scale, weigh the coconut and olive oils, the pine tar  and castor oil and put into a crock pot on low. As the oils melt, put the water into a glass or stainless steel container. (I use mason jars when I do this.) I also place the jar of water in the sink. I have had jar break before. Thankfully it all went down the drain and not all over my counter and floors!!

Carefully pour the lye into the water (do as you oughter, pour the lye in the water! A special thank you to my chemistry teacher Mr. Scholtens for that little ditty) stirring carefully. Be very careful. This has horrid fumes, so you will want to have a window open and you will want to wear eye protection and rubber gloves. Lye at this stage can BURN!

After the oils have melted, stirring carefully, add the lye solution to the oils. Pour slowly and stir thoroughly.

You will need to keep stirring until you reach trace. I did use my stick blender for a short time and it worked great. You cannot use a stick blender when using the cold process method. I use this blender.

Once it makes it to trace, put the lid on the slow cooker and set a time for 50 minutes. I checked mine every 15 minutes or so and stirred. During this stage is when I almost gagged at the pine tar smell. It gets better. I promise.

After 50 minutes, I added the essential oils and stirred really well. This was lovely. After the essential oils were fully incorporated into the soap, I spooned the soap into my 2″ round silicone molds. Since I’ve been making soap the cold process way for almost 20 years, out of habit I wrap my soap molds and insulate them. I did that with these as well. A little extra cooking doesn’t hurt anything.


Let me know if you used this recipe and method. What did you like? What would you do differently?




Deep Healing Salve

Today I would really like to share with you my recipe for a deep healing salve that I just made. You should smell my house right now. Absolutely amazing.

A couple of years ago, I posted a recipe for homemade lotion bars that was a big hit. I modified recipes I found from several sources and I love how they turned out. I shared them for Christmas that year. (to see my recipe go here ) It’s been my go to recipe since. Then for Christmas, I decided to add some pizzazz to the bars. I had a bag of a deep healing herb mix from Life Thyme Botanicals that I decided to infuse into oils. I put the melted mix into empty deodorant containers I bought from Amazon. These were welcomed Christmas gifts.

Roll ahead a couple of months, and BAM. I came down with a bout of shingles. GOOD GRANNY is all I can say about that. I used the one lotion bar I set back for myself, and while I think it helped tremendously, it’s gone. I wanted a little more oomph in my lotion bar to really tackle this attack of shingles, so I started reading through some more blogs and found a great site called Happy Homemaker. She gives a GREAT tutorial that includes choosing herbs and oils, and infusing herbs into oils. She makes what looks like a fabulous salve and I took a little of what she has in her recipe and combined it with a little of what I had in my recipe. I think I just set a much higher standard for homemade lotion bars!!!!

Here’s what I came up with:

Deep Healing Homemade Lotion Bars

6oz. Illipe Butter (I learned about this butter recently! Illipe butter is a natural hard butter, powdery skin feel. It has a shelf life of 2 years. NAOH SAP Value: .136, KOH SAP Value: .192. It has long-lasting moisturizing attributes and it’s renowned for its skin softening quality. It helps to prevent dry skin and wrinkles; but it’s not a greasy butter!! This has a higher melting point than most exotic butters, but will still melt on contact with your skin.)

6oz Beeswax Pellets

6oz. avocado oil that has been steeped with Deep Healing Herbs Blend from Life Thyme Botanicals or you can find a recipe for your own blend at The Hippy Homemaker.

6oz. coconut oil

1/2 TBLS of these essential oils: lavender, eucalyptus, peppermint, sweet marjoram, clove leaf, rosemary, patchouli, and tea tree

1/4 TBLS of these essential oils: ylang ylang, ginger and turmeric

Melt the beeswax in a double boiler. Add illipe butter and coconut oil when almost melted. Once this mixture is melted remove from heat and add the infused avocado oil and essentials oils. Pour mixture into molds of your choice. I use round molds. Let cool, then remove from molds and enjoy!!!

This made 9- 2oz. bars. I keep my bar in the fridge. The extras I’m putting in my freezer.

I used this today primarily on the area where I have the shingles outbreak. It feels wonderful. I hope you try making your own deep healing lotion bar! Let me know how yours turned out!



Coffee Soap Tutorial


I love making soap. There. I said it.


I really do like making soap, and I enjoy learning how to do new things. So, years ago, when my friend Becky helped me learn this art form or science or craft…whatever you want to call it, I was opened to a world of new ideas! It has been very satisfying to me.

There are a couple of recipes I have developed that are mainstays in my home. Coffee soap is one that I have used for years. This soap is wonderful to have in the kitchen or  the bathroom. When I first learned the recipe, the blogger touted that it would take smells out like magic. Smells like onion, gas, etc. Well, I believed her, but my husband didn’t, until the day he was changing the fuel filter on the car and ended up getting soaked with gas.

I asked him if he wanted the soap, and he scoffed politely and explained he had his favorite leprechaun soap and that would do.

Well, it didn’t do. He still reeked of gas.

He then asked me for my coffee soap, which I gladly shared, and we were both surprised at how well it worked. The gas smell vanished.

I tried not to gloat.

I always have a bar next to my sink. I love how it works for cleaning my hands from working in the garden to peeling onions. It’s easy on my skin, and the coffee grounds in the soap make a great exfoliate.

If you have never made cold process soaps before, you may want to read up on the process. I learned from sites like Kathy Miller’s Soap Making Site, Mountain Majestic Sage and Soapmaking Resource. These sites offer so much wisdom and many many tutorials that are far superior to mine. 😉

But let’s get started, shall we?


  • 18 oz. olive oil
  • 1 cup coffee beans (broken up a bit)
  • 6 oz. Soybean Oil (Crisco is mostly soybean oil!)
  • 9 oz. coconut oil
  • 4.5 oz. lye
  • 12.3 oz very strong brewed coffee that is cold. Do not use hot coffee.
  • 1/2 tsp. ground walnut hull (optional)
  • 1 tbls. coffee grounds

Step One: Infuse Coffee into the Olive Oil


There are a couple ways of doing this. One is for people who live life without planning ahead a lot. Like, if you wake up on a Saturday and decide that you’re going to make coffee soap, then you’ll want to put about a cup of coffee beans that are broken up a bit into the olive oil you’ll use for your soap. Put the oil and coffee beans either in a crock pot or in a stainless steel pot on the stove. Make sure it’s on low heat. Let the oil heat and you’re done when it looks like your oils are the color of really really dark coffee.

Personally, I like to put the oil and coffee  in a crock pot on a Friday night and let it heat through the night on low. Then I know most of the goody is out of the coffee beans by morning!

Sometimes people who are good at planning will decide that they are going to make coffee soap in a couple of weeks, and so they put the oil and coffee beans in a quart jar and let them sit covered for a couple of weeks. I’ve heard that works well, too.

When the oil appears dark, just strain the coffee beans out of the oil.

Step 2: Mix lye solution



Weigh out 12.3 oz of COLD strong coffee (I triple brew mine) into a mason jar or other strong glass jar.

Carefully and slowly pour the lye into the coffee. Remember to stir carefully. Many people wear goggles and plastic gloves. It’s a great idea to think of safety!!!

I usually leave the jar in the kitchen sink or at least in a bowl so that if the glass cracks or if there is a spill, no one will get injured. I always crack my kitchen window a bit as well. There is nothing good about breathing lye solution!

Lye is serious business, but with safety precautions, there is no need to be afraid to try your hand at making cold process soaps!

Step 3: Melt your oils!


Weigh out all of your oils. In a stainless steel pan, melt the oils on low heat. Some people use a double boiler. I do not have one, so I just use low heat. I’ve never had problems with this.  Be sure that you use a nice stainless steel or enamel pan. Aluminum reacts with lye and you will have a mess on your hands if you use aluminum. Once your oils have melted, remove from heat.

Step 4: Wait

Now is the time you can do laundry, or vacuum the living room, or read to your children or watch a movie or weed flowers. This takes a while. The oils and the lye need to cool. There are some folk who believe that the oils and lye need to be at certain temperatures before you mix them.


Here’s what I do. When I am able to put my hand comfortably on the containers of the lye and oils, they are cool enough to mix. Give them a good hour or hour and a half, though before you do this, because the containers will be very hot right away.

Step 5: Mix the lye into the oil.

Pour the lye CAREFULLY into the oils. I use a stainless steel whisk to mix the oils and lye. Very carefully stir the mixture until the oil and lye are completely mixed. Please remember that this mixture is very caustic. You will want to protect your skin and your eyes. Many people wear rubber gloves and goggles during this step.

Once the oils and lye are well mixed, I usually switch to a stick blender. You don’t need a stick blender, of course, but it speeds up te process considerably.


Whether you use a stick blender or good old fashioned elbow grease, the mixture needs to be constantly stirred at this stage. You will see the amazing saponification process happening right before your very eyes! You will continue to stir until it gets thick. Kind of like when you know pudding is ready.

This is called “trace”.

Step 6: Add coffee grounds and black walnut powder.

Stir with your whisk to make sure the powder and the grounds are completely mixed throughout the soap. Your mixture should be a pretty dark color.

Step 7: Pour soap into prepared molds.

011I bought this wooden mold from Soap Making Resource and my dear husband has also made some for me. This particular mold holds 2 pounds of oils. Some people use shoe boxes, Velveeta boxes, empty milk cartons, round pvc pipe,  etc.   Whatever you use, you will want to line your mold with either wax paper, freezer paper or plastic wrap. I personally like the papers because they don’t get as wrinkly, and you can cut them to size more easily. Whatever you choose, make sure that your mold is lined, or you will have difficulty getting the soap out of your mold.

To make the soaps all fancy schmancy, you can add some coffee beans to the top of the soaps if you want.

Step 8: Insulate your mold.

I simply put a lid on my mold and then wrap the mold in a towel. I put it on the counter where it shouldn’t be bothered.

Step 9: Wait. Again.

Usually, once the soap is wrapped up, it will go through another process of remelting. This is important in the chemical process of saponification, I think. If you keep it good and insulated, the curing process is much shorter I’ve found. It’s really hard for me to leave it be, but if you can do it, I think you’ll be happier with your soap.

After 12 hours or so, you will want to check on your soap. If it is hard, it’s time to remove it from the mold. If it is not, wrap it back up and wait some more. Some people are able to wait 24 hours to check on their soaps. I’ve never met someone like that, but I’ve heard they do exist.

Step 10: Cut the soap in to bars and then wait some more.

Once you remove the soap from the mold, carefully cut the soap into the size of bar you want. Put the bars in a place where they can cure. I usually have mine cure about 2 to 3 weeks. Some wait much longer than that. Curing the bars does a couple of things. 1. The longer the bars cure, the harder they usually become because the water evaporates, and 2. curing completes the saponification process, which is what chemically converts the lye and fats into soap!

You may want to read this page, Soap Testing for Safety. It’s a great resource. Basically, you want to make sure that there is no free lye in your soaps.

Lye will hurt you.

Some people do the ‘tongue test’. They put their tongue on the soap and if it ‘bites’ they know that it’s not ready. Others use Phenolphthalein. When I’ve used this, I usually scratch the surface of the soap and then place a drop of the phenolphthalein on that spot. If it is clear or a very light pink, the soap is okay for use. If it is a dark pink, there is still excess lye and should cure some more.

Step 11: Lather Up!!

Good luck with your soap making. Please let me know how it works for you!! Leave me a link in the comment section to your blog! I LOVE to see what others are up to!

I linked this post to the following blogs! Check them out!

52 Mantles Frugal by choice


Reduce, Re-use, Recycle: More on Laundry Soap

I made a batch of laundry soap a couple of days ago that turned out really well. As you know, I’ve been making my own laundry detergent using Fels Naptha Soap. Well, I was out of Fels Naptha soap, and I didn’t want to go to the store, so, I made my own. It’s so easy. I used the hot process method, so it would be ready to use much more quickly.

Here’s what I did:

1 pound of soybean oil (Crisco or non brand name will do)

2.1 oz. lye into 5 oz. water and stir (carefully…remember lye safety!!)

Melt the oil in a crock pot. When it’s melted add the  lye to the oil mixture slowly, stirring carefully, so it doesn’t splash. Once really stirred well, I used a stick blender and blended the oils and lye until trace. Once at trace, I lowered the heat to low and let the mixture cook a bit. (About 15 minutes was all this took.) I added 2 tablespoons of Grapefruit Essential Oils and stirred very well, then glopped the mixture into the mold.

Later that day, I removed the soap from the mold and grated it using a fine hand grater (like what you’d use for Parmesan Cheese) and put the grated soap on wax paper; let stand over night to dry.

The next morning, I mixed 3 cups of Borax and 3 cups of washing soda. I blended it all in my Magic Bullet to make it a really fine powder.

I’m very glad I ran out of the Fels Naptha. I love this stuff!!

I’m linking this post to the following parties! Check them out!



It’s been no surprise to  my family and friends in the last years that I turned in to a, well… Scrooge. I began to hate Christmas. It had become a traditional shopping list/pain in the tush.

Part of it is that my kids are older, and either really busy with school stuff or out of our home. I have no little kids in my life around me anymore, and that just makes the Christmas season so much more fun.  When I was primarily at home, homeschooling my kids, we had lots of little traditions that were just plain fun. Making Christmas ornaments, snow ice cream, hot chocolate, and gifts. Preparing and performing Christmas pageants, concerts and get-togethers took so much energy, but they were fun!

Then, as the kids grew and I started working full time outside of the home, I kind of dried up a bit on the inside. Then, a couple of years ago, I asked Abe what he wanted for Christmas and he replied, “I just want to have fun like we used to.” Bam.

I had allowed the yucky part of Christmas to take over, and it certainly was not good. So I started having fun again. Abe and I started our own tradition of hunting our neighborhood for the perfect ditch tree to use for our Christmas tree. I have so much fun with him! We argue over which tree is the perfect one, he concedes after some time of stopping, studying, denying and moving on! Most of the time, he has to traipse through deep snow  (although this year was snowless) and once the tree is chosen, he saws it down. 

This year we brought back our old tradition of having a special night of decorating. We enjoyed a nice supper of cheese & crackers while decorating the tree. Then we sat around enjoying some great company and more laughter. We wound up the evening with the traditional viewing of “A Christmas Story.”

Isn’t that just plain fun??  And a bit ugly? Well, yes.

Throughout the last weeks, we’ve made little gifts to give out to co-workers, friends and family, and I’ve enjoyed this season so much more. It hasn’t been about material things, but about relationship building events. And this is good.

We were also reminded that when we celebrate Christmas is rather relative. Really, Jesus’ birthday is not December 25, after all, and this year, my son was unable to be home for Christmas. So we celebrated a couple of days later. It was a treasured time.

Life is good.

Thanksgiving Memories

We are having a great day today – not a typical Thanksgiving Day – but great none-the-less. Our extended families are all meeting this weekend, so we decided to spend this day relaxing. It’s been so nice to think back on some of my favorite memories of this holiday. Boy, have I led a blessed life. 

It’s probably because Ben is gone that many of my memories revolve around him. That little boy just made me laugh. I remember one Thanksgiving that I had decided I would make a pumpkin pie to take. Ben warned me that I shouldn’t do it. I told him that I had a good recipe and I thought I could do this. He said, “Mom, don’t even try. Only Gramma McDonald can make pumpkin pie.” Well, I wasn’t going to let a 5 year old tell me I couldn’t make a pumpkin pie, and I proceeded to make the prettiest pumpkin pie – ever. Everyone at the Millers said it was a pretty pie! Then we cut in to it. Oh, Good Granny. Ben was right. It was awful. Turns out I forgot the sugar. Bless his heart, but he said, after he took a bite, “I told you, Mom, that only Gramma McDonald can make pumpkin pies.” Stinker.


Eating Crow

I quit planning the meals and buying the groceries for my family a few years ago. My husband said that he could do better than I was doing, so I decided to let him. (Well, I am sure I added a few choice words and such.) And being the stubborn mule I am, I have continued to let this chaos to continue – despite my children’s begging. Consequently, we have been eating like bachelors since.

Well, surprise of all surprises, no one has been really happy in our home. I think mainly it’s because we’ve been focused on our own things. And by we I mean me, you understand.

So I prayed for guidance. And guess what?  I am planning meals and shopping and eating crow.

I will be posting the steps I am taking to get our house a home again. We are actually re-thinking a lot of stuff. I guess getting close to 50 makes you do that? We’re working on budgeting, time management and organization. Good stuff, really.

Stay tuned. Turns out that crow isn’t that bad…when it’s sweetened up with success.

First Day

My  youngest left for his first day of high school today. It seems incredibly odd to think that he’s old enough to be walking those halls. I hope he find high school kind of like I did. It wasnt too bad – all things considered. I’m such a loser, though. Most of my friends are posting pictures of their kids that they took. I couldn’t find the card to my camera and my phone was too dead to be able to work.

Watching him get ready, though, was interesting to me. He wanted to be to school early…and he was packed up ready to go by 6:30. Whose kid is this? I’m leaving for San Francisco tomorrow, and I haven’t even washed my clothes yet!

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