Soap Making Down on the Farm

As I have mentioned multiple times before, taking classes and learning new skills is one of my favorite things. In just the past year I have learned or taken classes for pearl knotting, flower crown making, basket weavingcalligraphysewingbutter making, knitting, and sushi making. I feel like a nonfelonious Martha Stewart.

soap

I’ve wanted to cross soap making off of the list for a long time, but it has been difficult to find a class that was hands-on rather than demonstration only. You learn a lot more (and have more fun) when you get to do things yourself. Fortunately, I found a class at Three Creeks Farm where not only could I get my hands dirty, but I could design my own soap.

soap-making-lye

We started with mixing the lye. This was the only part of the process we didn’t get to do on our own and our instructor, Seth, did it for us. Lye can be very dangerous and can burn your skin, blind you, and even kill you if ingested. Once it is combined with water it almost instantly reaches 180 degrees and therefore should not be handled indelicately. However, it is a vital part of soap making as its chemical reaction with the oils is what produces a solid soap (a process called “saponification”).

soap-making-fragrance

The first step was deciding what to put in our soap. I opted for coconut lemongrass for the fragrance oil, ground oatmeal and buckwheat for exfoliants, and a little bit of clover honey just for fun. Everything requires very exact measurements. After all, science.

soap-making-coconut-oil

Once we selected our special ingredients (and set them aside to use later) we started to mix our oils. Our soap included 7 oz of olive oil, 6 oz of coconut oil (yum), and 1 oz of canola oil.

soap-making-gloves

Once the oils were mixed it was time to put on my sexy safety goggles and add the lye and water to the oil mixture.

soap-making-mixing

The lye tends to sink to the bottom of the oil, so I gave it a quick swish before mixing it.

soap-making

To thicken the mixture and help it along its journey to magnificent soapiness, we used an immersion blender to save time. It did not take long for the consistency of the oil and lye to start to change and become custard-like.

soap-making-exfoliant

Then it was time to add the fragrance, oatmeal, buckwheat, and clover honey.

soap-making-pouring

After some more blending, I poured the mix into a one pound mold where the soap began to harden over the next few hours. I was supposed to wait a week before removing the soap from the mold . . . I waited approximately 24 hours. I have never been accused of being patient. Fortunately it turned out ok.

soap

I wanted a soap that was earthy, but sweet, and with a nice texture. I think I accomplished that. I still need to wait 2-3 weeks for the soap to cure through the saponification process before I can actually use it. (Waiting will be torture). Until then, every time I walk by the soap I pick it up and smell it. Mmmm!

Three Creeks Farm has an array of interesting class offerings including blacksmithing. Plus, they have a farm filled with alpacas, llamas, fainting goats, sheep, pigs, peacocks, guineafowl, and a very large mastiff named Hugo that you can pet and snuggle on . . . so you know I’ll be back.

Fun with Flowers: Making a Flower Crown

I constantly hunt event calendars for ideas of New Things to do. It is much easier showing up at a pre-organized event than creating your own adventure every week. While perusing Eventbrite I came across a flower crown workshop and photoshoot. I was never particularly “girly” as a child (or now), so making a flower crown was definitely something new for me.

Flower Crown Model

The workshop was hosted by the lovely ladies of Miss Mayter’s Photography and Pink Mink Productions.

Floral Wire

Making a flower crown is pretty simple. First, select the flowers you want. To make one like mine, choose a mix of small and large flowers and an array of colors. I was lucky; they actually had flowers that matched my new favorite dress.

Floral Wire Braid

Once you pick your flowers (pun slightly intended) get a bit of wire and measure the size of your head. It is better to have it be a little too big than too small because you can always tighten it at the end. Then take three pieces of wire and braid them together until you reach the appropriate length.

Making a Flower Crown

Now you can start adding your flowers. Trim the stems on the flower to 1/2 to 2 inches and insert the stems into the holes of the braid. If you need extra help securing the stems, just wrap them tightly with green floral tape.

Floral Tape

Just keep adding flowers until you are done. When you are finished wearing your crown, you can dry the flowers by hanging them upside down in a warm, dry place.

Flower Crown

When we were done making the crown we had an awesome little photo session. Here are some of the results:

Flower Corwn Pose

 

Flower Crown Outside

 

Flower Crown Ivy

These are the unedited raw images (that is how awesome Miss Mayter is). Once I get the final shots I will upload those instead.

Pink Mink Productions

Miss Mayter Photography and Pink Mink Productions host events like this every few weeks, so be sure to follow them both on Instagram so you can join next time.

My Skin Cancer Diagnosis—And Why You Should Get Checked Too

A few weeks ago I was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma, a common form of skin cancer. It was not something I ever expected to deal with. I don’t go to tanning beds, I don’t sun bathe, I cover up, and I always wear sunscreen. I thought I was doing everything right. I was doing everything right. Despite that, I still got skin cancer decades before the average person.

Before Skin Cancer Surgery

I first discovered the spot on my shoulder about two years ago after a day in the sun at Steeplechase. At the time, I thought it was just a rash or a scrape or some other innocuous weird human body thing and just ignored it (see below for a what-is-that-red-mark-on-my-shoulder-selfie). For the most part, it didn’t bother me, it didn’t seem to grow or change, and most of the time I barely noticed it. I assumed it was nothing.

Approximately a year later, I saw a Facebook post (caution: graphic photos) by a young woman named Tawny Willoughby. At just 21 years old Tawny got her first skin cancer diagnosis. After six years and several more occurrences, she shared her story to warn others. It was her post, and her description of her symptoms, that made me first suspect that the mysterious spot on my shoulder might actually be skin cancer.

I finally scheduled an appointment for myself a few months later. You might be asking yourself why it took me so long to go to a dermatologist to get checked out after I realized I might have skin cancer. The answer is simple: I am an idiot. I let things like work and fear and stubbornness get in the way of me taking care of myself. I don’t really have an excuse for it. Trust me, any excuses you have for not going aren’t very good either.

Skin Cancer Surgery

Basal cell carcinoma is caused by sun exposure. I used to think that skin cancer just appeared as oddly shaped moles. However, it can appear in many forms. Additional symptoms can include: rough or scaly red patches that do not heal or possibly bleed on and off or crust; patches with itchiness, tenderness, or pain; raised growths or lumps; pearly or waxy bumps; flat, flesh-colored or brown scar-like lesions; and a long long list of other possibilities. Essentially, if it looks different, go get it checked.

The spot on my shoulder was just a red patch that looked relatively normal unless I spent a day in the sun. When that occurred, it would become sore and raw. I committed the cardinal sin of looking up my symptoms online. It seemed like classic basal cell carcinoma. A trip to the dermatologist and a biopsy confirmed my suspicions. When the nurse called to tell me the news I responded by excitedly shouting “internet diagnosis for the win!”

The solution? Surgery.

Basal Cell Carcinoma

I am recovering nicely from my surgery. The first few days were a bit of a pain because my movement was rather limited. I have two layers of stitches (internal and external). But in a few weeks I’ll be good as new. Plus, I’ll have a fun new scar on my shoulder that will make me look dangerous.

I am lucky. Basal cell carcinoma is pretty treatable. It is malignant, but slow moving and rarely metastasizes. It is basically the pot head of the cancer world. However, studies show basal cell and other skin cancers are linked to higher risks of other forms of cancer (such as breast, colon, bladder, liver, lung, brain, prostate, stomach and pancreas). I already had a pretty high incidence of cancer in my family’s history. This is one more reason for me to be vigilant and get my annual checks.

I hope this post will motivate you to go get a screening. If my cancer had not been on my shoulder, I might not have seen it and could have let it grow for years unchecked. It would have turned a very treatable situation into a disastrous one. It doesn’t matter how young or “careful” you think you are, go see a dermatologist. It could save your life. (And please share this post to encourage your friends to do the same).

A Night of Burlesque

What better way to spend Valentine’s weekend than a trip to a burlesque show. (Warning: While this post is safe for work, no promises that the links are. Click at your own risk and enjoyment.) Burlesque is an old school variety show filled with music, bawdy jokes, and sexy stripteases. The City Winery in Nashville is home to Wasabassco Burlesque, which is one of the best burlesque shows in the world. Lucky us!

Vintage Burlesque Costumes

The evening started with a number by the funny and campy host for the evening, GiGi La Femme. After her sassy striptease, she explained to the audience that Tennessee has specific laws regarding how much a performer can show at an establishment that serves alcohol. Essentially, in addition to pasties, women have to cover the “underboob” and “the vortex,” which GiGi LaFemme described as “where the flower meets the goods.” (It’s true, being a lawyer/nerd I looked up the statute when I got home.) This is the buckle of the Bible-belt, so I can’t say I am surprised.

There were 8 stripteases, with each dancer doing 1-2 retro-fabulous songs. The female performers for night were Gidget Bardot, Turvy TrollopDiletta Delight, Marie Merlot, and special guest from NYC, Gal Friday. We also got the added unexpected special treat of some “manlesque” with a performance from Masterblaster. (Yes, Masterblaster had pasties and his underboobs covered as well.)

I don’t know if something can simultaneously be tasteful and crude, but if it is possible, the result would be burlesque. The evening was filled with much tassel twirling and booty bouncing, and it was not for the prudish or faint of heart.

Vintage Burlesque

In addition to being totally jealous of their amazing hair and makeup, there were two things I loved about the evening. One, the dancers came in all shapes and sizes (all of whom were perfect and beautiful), and two, the audience was about 60% women. In fact, the majority of the cat calls came from women. It was definitely an evening of girl power. (Seriously though, Gidget Bardot is also a scientist which is pretty damn cool.)

If you want to enter the world of burlesque, believe it or not you can take lessons! I learned that you can take a variety of awesome burlesque classes at Delinquent Debutantes—which I am sure will be the setting for a future New Thing.

If you want a sample of what to expect, here is GiGi La Femme dancing to Elvis Presley’s “Tying to Get to You.”

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