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Skara Brae & Hobbits

I’m hoping someone else will find this as exciting as I do. This summer we visited Scotland and I made sure to stop at all the archaeological sites until my family rebelled.  This was the best moment for me.

Skara Brae is a neolithic settlement of semi-subterranean earth-houses on Orkney.  There are up to 8 dwellings and a workshop here, all connected with underground passages.

Skara Brae

Back in 1992 I was informed that my observation that the crannoga of Switzerland sounded a lot like the Lake Town from the Hobbit was not just a coincidence.   Thus, I was pleased to discover this hobbit-village-looking illustration in Skara Brae.

Artists impression of Skara Brae by Jim Proudfoot

The illustration isn’t the best part.  Look at the artists name!  (If you can’t make it out – the artist is Jim Proudfoot).  That’s the hobbitiest hobbit name ever.

A few miles from Skara Brae there are multiple other Neolithic sites including the Ring of Brodgar, the Standing Stones of Stenness, and a chambered cairn.  The Ring is surrounded by barrows, so that we left Skara Brae, and seemed to travel a few miles to the barrow downs described by Tom Bombadil.  The bus driver warned us to walk counterclockwise around the stones or else you’d get pregnant (not eaten by wights, but I have my suspicions).

Ring of Brodgar
Barrow at Ring of Brodgar
Standing Stones of Stenness
This is exactly what it looks like before the wights get you.

Conspicuously missing: menacing forest and hobbit-eating willow tree.  There are almost no trees on Orkney.


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Soap pot this week

Last night I made a new solid shampoo bar since the trial worked out great (and I was starting to run out).  These are scented with lemon & rosemary.  I’ve never used this combination before but some friends were suggesting that in addition to the sweet-dessert scents (coffee, chocolate, honey, vanilla) I needed some savory scents as well.   You still shouldn’t eat the soap.

The scent didn’t carry through as well as I would have liked so the next batch I will increase the amount of essential oils.  They look fantastic though.


And here is the annatto-infused oil that I plan to use for my next batch which is also going to be a citrus-scent: Bergamot and Litsea.

I think these count toward my 365, but I don’t know what number I’m up to.


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Aikido at the shrine

I attend an aikido class a few times a week.  I’m still very much a novice, but it gets me moving and I find it is frequently the only time during the week when I am truly ‘present’ in my own body.

This weekend a friend invited me to attend a class at a nearby shinto temple.  It was a great experience – a different style of instruction with a different emphasis in techniques.  I didn’t think to bring my camera, but my daughter took some images.

It’s amazing to me that something like this is so close.

Kitsune shrine
temizuya water pavillion with a dragon spout and underwater frog
One of the outdoor holy places. I love all the moss.
Inside the shrine
the torii gate
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Moustrap Car Racing

It’s one month later and time to test our designs.

My eldest had the idea to let the cars ‘fight’ and I suggested mounting a wedge-shape onto the front of it to knock other cars over (I used to watch BattleBots) but alas, we didn’t devote enough time to this project during the month and now there is no time.

2-mousetrap prototypes under construction

Somehow adding a second mousetrap failed to result in the higher level of performance I was expecting from our mousetrap cars.  When raced most of them didn’t move at all.  In some cases I could point to obvious problems: too much friction on the wheels, mousetrap not securely fastened.  But my prototype which was just the original, working model with a new mousetrap added, also didn’t move.  Clearly more research is needed.

Here are some photos of the lineup.  No video because I can’t edit the children’s faces out of them.

Starting Lineup

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Coffee & Cocoa results

I cut the soaps that I made yesterday.  Overall good news!   Like all new soaps they smell of lye but I can also get a bit of coffee and chocolate in the coffee soap and the warm ‘graham cracker’ scent that I like in the oatmeal honey.

Now for the science!

Both batches have some vanillin powder in them which will turn soap dark brown.  I mixed it in uniformly in the coffee soap, but I made a swirl of it in the oatmeal.  Today the swirl has already started to darken.  The dark specks in the brown patches are vanillin, the dark specks in the light part are oats.

I expect the dark swirls to go much darker than they are right now.



Unexpected results: The coffee half heated up more than the oatmeal and the areas that fully gelled have this ‘crackle’ effect. I’ve never seen that happen before in a soap that didn’t have titanium dioxide and I wonder if I have just managed to create something new. In a soap with oxides, this is called ‘glycerin river’ it’s harmless, but rather interesting.

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Sunday Soaping

Three new batches of soap today.

The first was a special request for unscented ‘hotel bars’ and then I decided that I wanted to experiment with two more unscented recipes.

Here’s the first, a nice white coconut soap with coconut milk at ‘trace’.  This is what the soap looks like when it’s ready to pour.  It’s fully emulsified and has started to thicken up.

I can’t take photos of the pour because I’m working by myself but here it is again all nice and tucked into the mold.

The next two are a coffee-scrub recipe and a honey-oatmeal recipe.  Both contain some vanillin powder which will darken the soap over time and I’m hoping that a bit of the scent comes through into the finished product.

Here they are right after the pour.  Over time I expect the colors on the oatmeal honey to reverse.  The swirls that are lighter colored on the right contain vanillin and the darker areas do not so as it dries the light areas should turn darker than the rest.

A few hours later, as the chemical reaction progressed, the soap started to heat up and go through the ‘gel phase’

The coffee soap has gelled all the way to the edge, while the oatmeal is a little behind and only the center has darkened.  Once gel starts I keep it insulated so that it will gel all the way through.

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Blue Sun Art

I’m going to need a business card and a label template for 1oz soap samples, which means it’s time to play with logos.

This is fun, although I’m glad I don’t have to try to please anyone else with my designs.  I am going for an Art Deco look.

New Facebook cover & business card background
Potential logo for soap sample labels






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Soap Soap Soap Soap Soap

That’s what I was thinking about all day today.  First I fiddled with the settings on the Etsy shop and moved on to ‘what should I make next?’

The only oatmeal-honey soap I have left is from an old tallow batch and I’d like to make a non-tallow version to sell. Cocoa butter would be a good choice and I reviewed my notes about how much honey and oatmeal to use. The hard question: should I add a fragrance or not?  Unscented, the oats and honey give the cured soap a faint graham-cracker smell that I like.  There is also a very popular fragrance called “oatmeal, milk and honey” that I know is a big seller and I have enough on hand for a batch.  The problem: I don’t really care for it.  It’s a very almond-vanilla-foodie smell and just a bit too heavy and sweet for my tastes.  Leave it out?  Use it but go lightly?   I haven’t decided but I’ll need to make up my mind before Sunday.

What else?  The oatmeal reminded me that should make another exfoliating soap and my household has been after me to make a coffee soap. It will turn dark anyway so this might be a good chance to try my vanillin powder to see if any of the vanilla scent comes through. Add some cocoa powder and a bit of orange essential oil. This is starting to sound more like a cake than soap.