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Winter is my season for making soap, lotions, candles, and lip balm. This past November I started with a big batch of soap and some candles to get me through the first part of winter.

In December I made lotions and body butters. This month I'll make lip balm and more candles. Everything that gets made before Christmas is fair game for gift giving, and is part of the reason that late fall is such a great time to make these things.

It's a delight for me to create, use, and give these products and to keep my skin well moisturized during the dark, cold, and dry days of winter.

This year I've been experimenting again with lotion bars.

After some less than impressive results in past years I had largely dismissed lotion bars.

Most of the tutorials I'd found in previous years recommended using silicon molds. I don't have silicon molds. (Yes, I've been making skin care products for nearly a decade and I don't have silicon molds and still no desire to buy them either.)


cocoa butter

One time I used my silicon muffin pan to make little discs of lotion. In other attempts I just poured the mix into a small tin or glass jars.

I was not impressed with the small disc molding method. I find these awkward to store and transport. I was not super impressed with the tin and glass jar option either. Scratching my nail across the surface to loosen the solidified bar I kept thinking "there must be a better way to mold and use a lotion bar".

Of course there is, and other minds greater than mine figured this out years ago but it's taken me a while to catch on.

Pouring the mixture into a dispensing tube (aka: a deodorant tube) was a game changer. Yes, it's more money to make the bar, because you have to buy the tube (less than $2). But you can also re-use an old (thoroughly cleaned) deodorant tube.


shea butter

I made two batches of lotion bars before Christmas, and in my usual fashion I adapted recipes I found online. And in my usual fashion, I learned from trial and error.

My second batch produced a very hard bar, too much beeswax, so I had to "recall" a gift from a friend (yes, I asked to have it back) so I could re-melt it, add more shea butter, then re-pour the whole lot. She's a good friend, I wasn't embarrassed. And I'm happy to report the re-melt produced a much softer bar better than the original recipe.


re-pouring the lotion bars

My third attempt this season at making a lotion bar has yielded the best results. In fact, I've been working on this recipe to make it as fail-safe as possible (not too hard, not to soft, but just right) so I could heartily recommend it to you.

Kokum Butter Lotion Bar

This recipe uses a new-to-me vegetable butter called Kokum. I got the inspiration from Frugally Sustainable. If you can't source Kokum you can use a mix of shea and cocoa butter. I tested both recipes, one with kokum and one with a shea/cocoa butter mix but I prefer the kokum. I find it less greasy which is a huge win for homemade lotion.

I use this bar on my hands primarily but I would also use this on dry patches of skin.

This recipes makes just enough to fill one 80 ml (2.65 fl oz) deodorant tube. I tweaked this specifically, so you wouldn't have leftovers that you had to pour into... little jars and tins. 80 ml is the standard size dispensing tube, is easiest to find, and is the cheapest, at least for me, to buy.

Ingredients:

  • 12 gm beeswax
  • 24 gm kokum butter, or 12 gm shea butter and 12 gm cocoa butter
  • 36 gm coconut oil
  • 5 drops each of peppermint, orange, clove, and lavender essential oils

You can use whatever essential oils you like but I find this particular combination to be an amazing fragrance.

I used a calendula-infused coconut oil for this lotion. I made a large batch in the fall and have been using it for all my lotions and lip balm making. Regular coconut oil is fine.

Directions:

  1. Over low heat melt the oils in a pot. Remove from heat.
  2. Add essential oils. Stir well.
  3. Pour into tube. (Make sure the base of the tube is twisted all the way to the bottom so the maximum space can be filled.)

I love the dispensing tube for a couple reasons:

  • There is no water in this recipe so you don't have to worry about microbial growth. But the lotion that is below the top of the dispenser is not exposed to any contaminants from your skin or the air. This reduced exposure means that the bar will stay fresh for a long time. (I don't know exactly how long but it will definitely last the season.)

  • The tube is very portable and clean to use. No greasy tins or jars or "how do I take this in my purse/backpack?"

Click here to download a printable version of this recipe → Kokum Butter Lotion Bar

Making lotion bars is one of the easier homemade body care products to make. It's way easier than making a liquid lotion, and you avoid all the preservative controversy and microbial risks. It's way easier than making soap. And I think it's even easier than making lip balm, which requires pouring into little tubes.

If I was new to making soap and body care products I think I'd start with lotion bars. The ingredients are relatively easy to source, the recipe and directions are a breeze, and it makes a great product.

My next post will be a review, along with a coupon code, from a Canadian supplier, Sunrise Botanics, for buying everything you need to make lotion bars and other soapmaking, cosmetic, and skincare products.

Also, if you want to learn to make soap this winter, registration for Hibernate is still open for a couple more days. We are already having a wonderful time in the retreat sharing our winter wellness plans, learning how to harvest and prepare chaga brews, making herbal cold remedies, and learning easy knitting patterns. And that's just the first four days!

I know the calendar has been flipped to a new year and the messages we hear this month tend to be forward, upward, and onward. Make this your best year ever kind of thing. I'm just not there yet.

And I need to look back to the month of December and the Christmas holiday to make sense of this.

That's your fair warning that this story goes back before it goes forward.

Christmas is a lot of effort and it all stacks up. It's a season of extra commitments, extra shopping, extra driving, extra cooking, extra everything.

I'm no scrooge. I love the idea of Christmas celebrations - all the goodwill, cheer and cozy. But December is a month of high energy and high activity, like a funnel in which we're all spiralling towards December 24th. Spiralling towards slightly crazy.

December didn't always feel crazy to me. Once upon a time, when I was Queen of my universe, I was a part of a slow-living mindset and movement around December. It was relatively easy, when I was high Queen and my young princessess and prince were little, to set boundaries around our activities and commitments. The children were smaller, our social circles were smaller. The season was spent in a low-key, make your own gifts type fashion.

Not every year was like this. There were some years in which I had overcommitted myself and in the following years I made corrections, but the trajectory and vibe of those years was towards a slower season.

I'm not saying it was idyllic.

The Christmas season has usually been accompanied for me by an ache for an unnameable and unknowable loss or absence (like a nostalgia) and for an unattainable perfection and union: in beauty, connection, and relationships. I am more aware of a darkness in the world, and in recent years, a darkness in myself.

I don't talk about this very much in my face-to-face conversations with people (I write about it a bit here), but it is an undercurrent of the season for me.

Ultimately, I think this undercurrent is a longing for God in my life - the unnameable, unknowable, perfection in all things. The light to the darkness.

I have heeded this spiritual undercurrent by paying more attention in recent years to Advent and Christmastide.

That ache has always been there. But now that my prince and princesses have grown the season is busier. I feel like a queen without a capital Q, my reign over the kingdom has shrunk. I don't have the control or the influence I once did in what family life looks like in terms of schedules, interests, and out-of-the-home commitments.

And yet I know that in the same way I look back to Christmas seasons' past and long with nostalgia for the days where a trip to the library and a farm visit were the chief outside-the-house activities of our week, I will look back on these years and long for the days where our home was filled with teenager energy, creativity, and video-gaming. These, like the ones before, are the good years.

When things feel out of control to me, out of my hands, I remember that it is my choice to support the growing independence and individuality of my children.

I choose to support their strong need for social engagements and the expressions of their individual selves (outside the collective of our family identity). And I choose to be a part of a hustle and bustle that comes by belonging to community and groups of people whose agenda and schedule is not set by me.

This is the subtext of my life right now. The subtext of my writing.

The letting go of how I want to do things while being necessarily involved in more activities, more busyness than I want to, in order to support my kids at this stage.

This is hard for me. It is necessary. It is growing in me a holy dependence on a source of strength and love outside myself.

I emotionally fall down at this job so very often. I don't feel like there is enough of me to do it well. I set boundaries and I do my best to honor them. I'm pretty good at self-care. I've read "all the things", the messages and media of how we must simplify, prioritize, focus, whatever. I've written that kind of stuff. But life remains what it is, a day-in and day-out routine of holy work for which I often think, "How on earth am I qualified to do this? Where will I find the strength?"

Sometimes I fight this work. The work being done in me and the work set before me.

This is also the subtext of my life right now.

It's a useless fight but I get angry and frustrated at all the things I can't control, I get angry at myself, so I rail and swear, or sigh and weep. And on better days I put my shoulder to the work that needs to be done with a joyful and deeply grateful heart, because my work, essentially, is to build and nurture the people I care about most deeply. This is a gift.

I keep showing up, sometimes feeling motivated by love and goodwill and other times feeling motivated by a deep sense of responsibility and commitment. Perhaps they are the same.

Many days I feel like a freakin' Katy Perry song, in relationship with myself.

Cause you're hot then you're cold
You're yes then you're no
You're in then you're out
You're up then you're down
You're wrong when it's right
It's black and it's white
We fight, we break up
We kiss, we make up

The Christmas season was a twinkly-lights version of this:

The letting go of how I want to do things while being necessarily involved in more activities, more busyness than I want to, in order to support my kids at this stage.

All I wanted after Christmas, before the New Year started in earnest, was to do whatever I wanted.

I wanted to experience an expansiveness to my days and my mindset that I struggle to achieve in my "regular" days. Days filled with tasks related to homemaking and money management, and getting these kids ready to graduate and off to their co-op classes.

I had shored up myself mentally through the rush of December, through the hustle and bustle (some of which I enjoy, some of which I don't), with the idea that I was going to gift myself with a post-Christmas break.

Here's what I wrote the morning after coming home from our Christmas trip to Nova Scotia:

"I love this liminal space between Christmas celebrations and my start on the New Year (sometime around Epiphany). It is a mixed bag of productivity and reflection, cleaning the house and reading books, vigorous walks and soaking in the tub, re-stocking the fridge and eating simple meals.

Someday I'd like to write about this space, this time, a most necessary non-rushed end to the holidays, a soft transition period."

Here's what actually transpired:

I had to buy a new fridge to replace the one that's been broken for the last 2 months. Two months. November and December were a cycle of five failed repair attempts, frozen vegetables and thawing food, going to the grocery store nearly every day for the perishables.

The inefficiency, the loss, the extra cost. Ugh. But we didn't want to buy a new fridge till we really knew the old one couldn't be salvaged, and the repair people kept saying "this should fix it". But it never did and we finally cut our losses, ate the repair bill (we were only charged once for all five visits), stopped mourning all the wasted time and food and bought a new fridge.

I bought the new fridge between Christmas and New Years, and although Boxing Day sales are a thing in Canada, there were none to be had for what we needed. But buying something this time of the year entailed hours on the phone waiting to speak to customer service representatives of several appliance stores during probably the highest call volume time of the year. It was like stepping into a consumer gladiators arena.

It took a week for our new fridge to be delivered. Another week of food freezing in our coolers on the back deck and daily runs to the grocery store. (In December we bought an upright freezer, a planned expense, and this helped since we could keep all the frozen food in there.)

There was more shopping to do. I just wanted all the shopping to be over, I don't like shopping and December was full with shopping, but the girls needed things for a party (another party!) and the kids needed skates, so shopping we went.

By the time New Years celebrations rolled around I was tired of special days. Special days require special effort and I was just tired of special effort. I desperately wanted to cocoon and burrow into my own space. So I passed on the New Years Eve party at my friends' house (speaking of building community). And Damien and I shared the driving so that at least the kids could go and sleep over for the night. (I got the morning pick-up shift.)

For the first week of the New Year, until I stopped visiting Facebook and got really judicious with Instagram, I felt inundated with the messages of New Year intentions and New Year Goal setting. Make this your best year ever! (Oh, go away.) I got the feeling that if I didn't get on the wagon I'd be left in the dust.

Fine. Leave me in the dust. At least it's quiet here.

I had done my own year-end reflections in December, around my birthday. It took me a month to publish those thoughts, contributing in part to the glut of those type of posts at beginning of the New Year, but my heart and mind were not in the New Years frame of mind when the New Year actually rolled around.

I was not ready for the new-ness of the New Year. I was not ready for the changes you are "supposed" to make, even the small ones I needed to make, like getting a new journal.

My house was a mess from travel and transition and broken things. And the work that had been put off or set aside during Christmas celebrations, things I am responsible for outside our home and commitments I have to other people, came rushing at me. And more special days were on the calendar, a friend's baby shower and a belated birthday party that Brienne had negotiated for way back in November.

That soft transition I had hoped for was both a false promise and an unrealistic expectation.

So I'm doing Chinese New Year. Not like I did when the kids were little and I cooked that feast and spent the month reading books about China (oh, the days). I'm starting my New Year at the end of January, instead of the beginning. I'm using the whole month of January to move myself from a post-Christmas space into "it's a new year!" frame of mind. I'm giving myself this time.

I keep a quote in my files, and occasionally I remember it.

We have all the time there is.

I have it written down that Eleanor Roosevelt wrote this in You Learn by Living, but I can't confirm that, so don't "quote" me. Ha!

The New Year as a time to start fresh, get life in order, whatever else you hoped to achieve, is an arbitrary date. As are many dates that we think are fixed and immutable, the time by which a child should read, or graduate. The length of time allowed for grief or deep joy.

There are deadlines in our lives for sure. But the New Year, as the clean and soft transitional start I was hoping for is not one of them.

I'm choosing to go forward into the New Year slowly, and in the areas I have control over, I'm going at my own pace.

I have all the time there is.

The photos in this post are from three glorious ski outings from the last couple weeks. A quick x-country ski in the city, a climbing-the-mountain day at Mt. Tremblant, and night skiing last week at Bromont.

Hibernate starts in a few days. There is still time to register.

I am teaching a soapmaking tutorial in this year's retreat and have prepared a supply list for those of you who are taking the class and want to get a head start on getting your materials.

I was specifically asked for this list by some friends on Instagram and I'm posting it here so I can keep it with my soapmaking pages for future reference.

In the soapmaking tutorial I've prepared for Hibernate I walk you through cold process soapmaking, from gathering the things you need in the kitchen before you start, to cutting and curing the bars at the very end. I teach a bit of troubleshooting, as I had issues arise in my own soapmaking during the video process.

This is a basic tutorial. I teach a straightforward technique, without too many variables to overwhelm you or introduce possibility for error.

My goal for this tutorial is that class participants will feel soapmaking is an accessible craft and that they would be empowered by the instructions and information I’ve provided to be confident enough to try it on their own.

Many people I've met are interested in making soap but they are intimidated by the process, and using lye especially. My main message when it comes to lye is this: use common sense and appropriate safety measures and fear not. Don't be so afraid of lye that you don't try making soap. Unless you are ridiculously clumsy or unable to follow simple safety rules, you can handle this.

Although I kept things simple in this tutorial I do spend some time talking about creating essential oil blends for soap. The natural fragrance of essential oils is one of the deep pleasures for me of soapmaking and I wanted to make sure to share some of that knowledge and experience with you.

Here's what you'll need to make this soap.

Ingredients:

  • 4.5 oz lye
  • 12.2 oz distilled water
  • 8 oz coconut oil
  • 8 oz olive oil
  • 8 oz palm oil
  • 3.2 oz sunflower oil
  • 3.2 oz canola oil
  • 1.6 oz castor oil
  • 1.5 oz essential oils

In the tutorial I provide a detailed recipe with metric measurements also.

As I explain in the tutorial I do not use the highest quality essential oils in soapmaking. I don't use the bottles sold at the health food store or through multi-level marketing companies.

I buy all my soapmaking essential oils online, in "bulk" quantities where possible.

This recipe calls for a total of 1.5 oz of essential oils. I used a blend of rosemary, lavender, and peppermint.

You can find those essential oils, the vegetable oils and fats (called carrier oils), and the lye for this recipe at one of these suppliers.

United States:

Canada:

Supplies & Tools:

  • scale
  • thermometer
  • immersion or stick blender
  • gloves
  • eye protection
  • stainless steel soup pot
  • a couple glass, ceramic, stainless steel or plastic mixing bowls for measuring oils (I use a 2 cup glass measure)
  • small glass jar, plastic or stainless steel container for measuring lye
  • 4 cup/1 quart mason jar - must be heat resistant
  • stainless steel spoon (for measuring lye and scooping the solid fats)
  • wooden spoon for stirring lye mixture*
  • silicon spatula or plastic spatula*
  • wooden spoon or spatula for melting oils
  • newspaper/circular flyer papers/piece of cardboard
  • paper towel
  • rags
  • vinegar
  • small cardboard box for a mold
  • thick plastic bag
  • scissors
  • tape

*These tools should be designated for soapmaking or craft purposes only.

Most of these supplies and tools you will already have around your house.

That's the list. With these supplies on hand you'll have everything you need to make soap.

I am so looking forward to participating in Hibernate again this winter. I need it! And I look forward to connecting with you in that warm and cozy space.

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