How I Got Started

I started Butterfly gardening many years ago. My yard has been a progression over the years, and has made many transformations. Twenty years ago I experienced Hurricane Andrew. My yard and house were destroyed. We decided not to replace the pool screening and open up the backyard and put in some landscaping. That was the official beginning of my love for gardening in South Florida. I added a beautiful water garden years ago, and have been adding host and larvae plants for pollinators, mostly for the butterfly, for as many years as I can remember. I had my yard certified as a Natural Habitat, through the National Wildlife Foundation. To have a natural habitat you need to provide and meet certain requirements: 1. Provide a food source, 2. Provide a water source, 3. Cover, 4. A place to raise young. I try not to use any pesticides in my yard. I vermicompost and recycle as many of my food scraps as possible. If I had more land I would have a huge compost bin to recycle all my yard cuttings. Basically, I try to lessen my carbon footprint on this earth. In my own little world or backyard I try to provide an ecosystem in my water garden, provide birdbaths, birdfeeders, hummingbird nectar sources, feeders, puddling areas, host plants and nectar plants for butterflies and other pollinators. I am hoping to raise everyone’s awareness of the importance of saving our Butterflies, Blooms & Bees. Without them our world and food source will be in trouble. I hope you all enjoy my journey. I am not a Master Gardener, or Master Beekeeper, an Entomologist, or Journalists. I am simply a Backyard Gardener who is trying to lessen her Carbon Footprint of this Earth.

I hope you enjoy my blogs.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

In the Pot Swirl Challenge

Although my blog is supposed to be about my garden and bees, somehow my garden and bees have led me to my soaping. Thank you my bees for your honey and beeswax. Without them I would never have discovered how to make lip balms, mead etc., which then led me to soap making. I have been so extremely busy between work and soap making that I have had very little time to update my blog post. I have been saying for months that I need to write about my bees, which are doing great. I will have been beekeeping for 3 years this October. Hard to believe! The bees are doing great and I am up to 7 very strong hives. I am starting to realize that their greatest by-product is their beeswax which I use in many of my products. I also want to write a blog about my chickens which I recently added to my family in February. They are all laying now and are a great addition to my backyard homestead. Someday if life slows down a little bit I may be able to actually write a post about the chickens and my bees. But for now I need to be writing about my second soap challenge, with Amy Warden’s Great Cake Soap Works.

This is my second soap challenge that I am entering. This month it was all about the “In the Pot Swirl”. I made two different soaps for this challenge, a Black Raspberry Vanilla and Lovely Lilac. I have wanted to make these two soaps for awhile, and this challenge got my creative juices flowing so fast that I created both of these soaps for this challenge.

Lilacs are my favorite flower. Well I actually have many favorite flowers!! I am originally from the Northeast and loved spring up north when all the tulips and flowers were in bloom. My children have somehow ended up back up north while I remain in Florida. I love the winters here, but I miss many of the traditions that the Northeast brings with each season. Lilacs are one of them. So I decided that I needed to create a soap to reflect my love of Lilacs. As I am writing this blog I have the soap across from me on the kitchen counter and I can smell the beautiful floral aroma of the lilac soap. It makes me melancholy for the Northeast, my children, and the spring. I have a friend that I also created this soap for; we have talked about my making this Lilac soap for awhile. I can’t wait to give her a bar of this “Lovely Lilac” soap.

So how did I go about creating this soap? Amy suggested using a fragrance oil that would behave well. I knew for a fact that Lilac fragrance oil, since it is a floral, would accelerate trace. So to combat the effects of acceleration I decided to use my Goat’s Milk recipe, which behaves very well. I soaped at very cool temperatures. I made sure all my micas were mixed and the last thing I would add would be the fragrance oil, right before I did the “in the pot swirl”. I wanted this soap to remind me of a Lilac flower, so I chose dark purple mica, lighter purple mica, and I also combined two green micas to create my green for the leaves. I wanted to make sure that I decorated the top to look like a lilac flower. I enjoy piping and wanted the flowers to look realistic, so I tried to create the stem and leaves by using green piping to connect the flowers. I didn’t add any fragrance oil to the piping as I knew I would not be able to work with the batter. I did get a little bit of ricing, but not enough to effect the technique of the “in the pot swirl”. I didn’t take a lot of pictures while I was soaping because I really wasn’t able to, as I was trying to prevent acceleration. I was so focused on what I was doing that I totally forgot to take the pictures. I realize now that it might have been important for me to take a few more pictures. I enjoy these challenges as they push me to try techniques that I normally do not use. I haven’t done a lot of soaps with the “in the pot swirl.” I think that the swirls are always kind of muted. I tend to prefer a drop swirl, but this gave me some more experience practicing my technique with the “in the pot swirl.” I am not sure how my swirls look, but I definitely love my Lilac soap. I am very pleased with how it turned out. I absolutely love the creative process of making soap. Despite how busy I am with my real job right now, making soap and being creative somehow calms me, and I need it in my life!

My Black Raspberry Vanilla Soap I created the same way but this time I knew the fragrance oil would behave well. I used my normal soaping recipe, as I wasn’t as concerned about acceleration with this fragrance oil. For the creative process for this soap I wanted it to look like a realistic raspberry dessert. I created the raspberry embeds several days before and tried to make the berries look as realistic as possible. I chose micas that reminded me of colors associated with black raspberry; dark purple mica called Tempest, a purple/pink color, Squirt, Bazooka jo, a lighter pink color, and Purple Haze, a medium purple color. All these mica colors are by Mad Oils. I love their micas and have been using them in my soap as of recently. Mad Oils are located here in Florida, so when I order from them the turnaround time is quick. Plus I love their colors. I think my soap turned out really good. Again I loved the creative process of making the soap. I added some M&P to the top of the soap. It penetrated down a little bit into the soap, but I wanted the purple/raspberry layer. I am not sure how my actual “in the pot swirl” technique turned out, but I am very pleased with this soap. I love the Black Raspberry Vanilla fragrance oil.

I thoroughly enjoyed this challenge! I love the two soaps I created, but of course I’m biased. Entering these challenges isn’t so much about winning, but about the creative process, and continuing to stretch my techniques by learning something new, and make me a better soaper.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

My First Soap Contest!

I just entered my first soap challenge through the Great Cakes Soapworks. This month’s Soap Challenge Club was a little different, in that it did not involve a specific design, but the use of colors. There were two choices, a Natural Color Selection and a Synthetic Color Selection. Of course, I chose the Natural Color Selection for my first soap challenge. I actually had been planning to make a soap using all Natural Colorants. I purchased the sample pack of Brazilian Clays from Brambleberry, and also the Indian Sandalwood fragrance oil. The sample pack contained a Natural, Purple, Yellow, Pink, and Dark Red. I used the Natural, Yellow, and Dark Red to match the color palette for this challenge. I also used Annatto Seed that I had infused in oil and White Kaolin Clay. I used Paprika and Turmeric to make the orange color, and activated Charcoal for the black/gray color. I used 6 colors in all. The challenge required that you use between 3-6 colors to match the palette. As I said earlier, I had purchased the Indian Sandalwood Fragrance Oil from Brambleberry. I did a little research on the website to see how this fragrance behaved in cold process soap. It was perfect, no acceleration, and no discoloration. That was exactly what I was looking for. I needed the colors to be true in this soap challenge, and it was very important for me to not choose a fragrance oil that would discolor my color palette in any way. Here is a picture of the Natural Color Palette. I was so excited to see this challenge because this is what I had been visualizing in my mind, to create my soap using the Sandalwood fragrance oil, and my Brazilian Clay Sampler.

So how did I actually create each color that I used in my soap?

  • Color #1: I used Paprika and Turmeric and added a little of the Red Clay.
  • Color #2: I used the Dark Red Brazilian clay.
  • Color #3: I used activated Charcoal.
  • Color #4: I used a combination of Annatto Seed and Yellow Brazilian Clay.
  • Color #5: I used a combination of the Natural Brazilian Clay and White Kaolin Clay.
  • Color #6: I used my soap base as its own color.

For my Soap recipe I used Amy Warden’s Super White Base Recipe. This recipe consisted of:

  • Coconut Oil 45%
  • Refined Shea Butter 20%
  • Lard 15%
  • Avocado Oil 15%
  • Castor Oil 5%.


Here are some pictures of the results from my first soap challenge. I really enjoyed participating and learned a lot from this challenge. I don’t think I had ever made soap with 6 colors in it before. I chose to do a drop swirl for my design. I needed to watch my recipe and soap at cool enough temperatures as to not accelerate trace, but not too cool so that my soap would not gel. Gelling actually brings out the colors in your soap. It also speeds up the time that your soap needs to cure. I believe I soaped at approximately 100 degrees. I insulated my soap, and placed it on a heating pad as to force gel.

I think the soap turned out pretty good. My red color could have been a little deeper but this was the only Red Brazilian clay I had to work with. I was able to manipulate the other colors to get a truer color to the palette. I wish you all could smell how soft and peaceful this Indian Sandalwood smells. I love it. I have had this soap curing on my kitchen counter for the last few days and I absolutely love the fragrance oil, and I have enjoyed looking at all the colors and varied patterns that the drop swirl gave me.

Thanks Amy for this challenge!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

How to make a tincture with Propolis

Propolis? What is that? When I put a picture on FB a few weeks ago my friends were puzzled and thought it was dog poop. Propolis is actually a resinous mixture that honey bees collect from tree buds, sap flows, or other botanical sources. It is used as a sealant for unwanted open spaces in the hive. Propolis is sticky. When bees mix the propolis with enzymes they secrete, it creates a form of defense (antibody) that acts against viruses, fungi, and bacteria. Propolis is now believed to:

  1. Reinforce the structural stability of the hive
  2. Reduce vibration
  3. Make the hive more defensible by sealing alternate entrance
  4. Prevent diseases and parasites from entering the hive, and to inhibit fungal and bacterial growth
  5. Prevent putrefaction within the hive. Bees usually carry waste out of and away from the hive. However, if a small lizard or mouse finds its way into the hive, the bees may be unable to carry it out through the hive entrance. In that case, they would attempt instead to seal the carcass in propolis, essentially mummifying it and making it odorless and harmless.

Propolis is valuable both internally and externally. It has excellent antiseptic properties. It can be used either dry or as a tincture. A tincture is something dissolved in Alcohol. I am making a 10% tincture. I started with 1 part propolis to 9 parts alcohol. Propolis is entirely insoluble in water, but will dissolve readily in strong alcohol. I picked up Everclear which is approximately 70% alcohol. I froze my propolis so that it would be less sticky and hard. I was then able to grind it up into smaller pieces. I placed those pieces in a mason jar with Everclear. On a daily basis I have been shaking the bottle with the propolis and alcohol. It has been in a dark cupboard for several weeks. Today I am ready to bottle my Tincture of Propolis.

Propolis tincture makes an excellent “Liquid Bandage.” Simply apply a few drops topically around a wound. It is highly antimicrobial; it stimulates immune activity and encourages rapid healing. Like honey, propolis has potent antimicrobial action against H. pylori, and is also among the better remedies for addressing cold and canker sores. Propolis is exceptionally nutritious: “Propolis has more bioflavinoids than oranges…it contains all the known vitamins except vitamin K and all the minerals needed by the body except sulphur.”

Here is a little poem from “Psalms from the Hive” by Jeannie Saum

“Turning propolis, sticky goo
Into something good for you
Is ever so rewarding.
Hard work and messy
But in the end a blessing.”

Ok I just bottled the tincture. I have to say that it is not really that tasty. It does have a resin quality to it. If you can get over the taste scientists believe it is the “perfect medicine.”

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Medical Mission to Dominican Republic

Life is truly amazing! I have been given another opportunity. Several physicians in the Miami community have been involved in a Medical Mission to the Dominican Republic. This will be the 11th year that these physicians, medical students from the University Of Miami School Of Medicine, and high school students from Carrollton High School will be making this 5 day trip to the Dominican Republic and helping the people. Several months ago, knowing about this medical mission, I asked one of my physicians if he needed any donations. I went on to explain to him that I had an unusual hobby of making soap, I didn’t mention beekeeping. He was extremely interested and knowing that I was a nurse he wanted me involved in the mission. So the next thing I know I am going to the Dominican Republic to teach the women of the different villages to make soap and to also work as a nurse, which I haven’t practiced as in over 15 years. What have I gotten myself into?? All I really wanted to do was make a little soap for the Doctor to bring down to the people! I am feeling a little bit overwhelmed and in over my head. Actually about 5-6 years ago I almost went to Guatemala. I was concerned about the language barrier. The students from Carrollton actually will translate for us, so I am definitely excited and nervous. I am sure everything will fall into place and I will find this to be a life changing experience.

The trip is taking place March 29th through April 5th. Here is the link and information. Right now I am in the process of trying to raise funds for the trip. It will cost me approximately $1500-$2000 for the trip just for personal expenses. I also need to buy all the materials for making soap. The 5 villages that we will be going to do not have any running water or electricity. Making soap without these two luxuries will prove to be challenging. I need to purchase very basic materials such as gloves, goggles, lye, all my oils, olive oil, coconut oil, castor oil, lard (Manteca), molds, spoons, stainless steel pots, whisks, etc. I have written letters to various wholesale Soap Making companies. So far I have gotten little response. I have a personal page on Go Fund Me I was feeling very discouraged, and thinking maybe this trip was not going to happen. On Friday I received a call from Marla Bosworth from “My Back Porch Soaping Company.” I was beyond thrilled. She spent time talking to me and gave me invaluable information. Her time was so greatly appreciated. Marla has been involved in working with the women of Haiti for the past several years. She and Amanda Griffith organized efforts in Haiti after the earthquake to teach the women there the trade of soap making and hopefully how to start a successful soaping business. Here is information about “Beauty in Haiti”. They named their group OFEDA (Organisation des Femmes Devouees en Action). Marla’s information can be found at, she teaches classes in all aspects of Soap Making in New York City, Boston, and Jackson Hole, WY. I dream of taking classes in either her NY studio, or Boston. Right now that is not a possibility because of finances. With Drew still in college and my daughter Katie getting married this year there’s no way I can afford such a luxury. That is why funding for this trip is also imperative.

The reason I feel so passionate about this cause if that on these medical missions, physicians and volunteers go down and provide medical care to the people for 5 days, but after that nothing changes for these people. By teaching them a trade hopefully I can change their world just a little bit, and provide them the skills to start a soaping business.

If you can afford to donate toward my cause in any way please consider Any amount and every dollar helps. If all my friends pledged a dollar that would be greatly appreciated and really help. Every dollar counts. If you cannot afford to contribute please ask your friends and family. Thank you so much I really appreciate your help. Oh and I forgot to say that for every $25 that you donate I would be happy to send you one of my beautiful handmade soaps of your choice as a token of my appreciation. Here are some photos from "Beauty in Haiti" that I found online and wanted to share:

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Time Flies when you are having Fun!

I cannot believe that I have not updated my blog since Thanksgiving. Time sure does go by quickly. It is almost Valentine’s Day 2014. Amazing! So what have I been up to? I have been so busy trying to work both a full time job and start a soaping business. Since my day job is paying my bills obviously it has to be my priority. I had some very exciting news at the start of the New Year. Just before the holidays I found out that Bristol Myers Squibb was going to expand the sales force by adding 188 hospital representatives. That was the position I previously held for over 7 years. Two years ago we went through changes and they dissolved the hospital positions. My territory position also changed and I was then responsible for “Little Havana,” a very Hispanic area of Miami. This has been a very challenging territory. I speak very little Spanish! I spent a lot of time over the holidays preparing for this interview. Since I am a nurse I really feel most comfortable in the hospital position. The competition was very stiff and I found out a few weeks ago that I was offered the Institutional Sales Position. I am very excited and thrilled but concerned because this is a huge position with 21 hospitals that I will be responsible for driving sales. It’s funny because although I felt that I was the most qualified for this new position, my performance over the last year with my company has not been where I wanted it to be. My past performance however had been excellent. The question to be answered was how important was present performance going to be in their decision making?? I did my best to prepare for the interview, expressed my interest, but I really had convinced myself that they were going to offer this position to someone else. So I said to myself that I would continue to do my present job, strive to do the best I could, but continue to try to build my soaping business. My husband recently directed a play that was based on a saying from Woody Allen that states, “If you want to make God laugh tell him your plans.” It is so amazing because I think this is true for most everyone. We are always planning our lives, but somehow as John Lennon said, “life is what happens while we’re busy making other plans”. I had really convinced myself that this wasn’t meant to be and that I would just continue to prepare for retirement. My long term plan was that I had 4-6 years to build a soaping business. Oops…… They offered me the Institutional Position!! Wait a second that is not what I had convinced myself was going to happen! That is what I was striving for but…. not what I thought was going to happen. I was telling myself I should prepare for retirement and another path that life was presenting. Well I am so excited that I was offered this position. Like I said this is a huge responsibility, and since I am an over achiever, striving to do my best is always my goal.

So what is going to happening to my dream of building a soaping business when I retire? Well if you know me at all I will continue to try to do both. My soaping business is going very well. Since I posted last in November I was just starting to participate in local Craft Fairs. I participated in several and did very well. People seem to like my soaps. I am starting to get a lot of repeat customers. Most of all I am enjoying telling my story about my beekeeping and the importance of protecting the pollinators. I think I am educating people about that importance. I am trying to keep my product very pure and use what I can from my yard i.e. herbs, fruits, natural colorants, but I also find myself wanting to be creative and expand my craft. I think eventually I will have a Natural Line, and an Artisan Line of soap. I am trying to find my “Niche.” Since there are so many soapers out there it is important to find my “Niche” so we will see where all this takes me. I really do not like that word “Niche” but I know it is important to differentiate myself and my product. I have found that I have some best sellers. There are certain soaps that I just cannot keep in stock. My biggest problem is that I cannot keep up with production. I am not complaining at all! I am thoroughly enjoying the journey. I think my product is really good and being well received. Right before Christmas I had the opportunity to participate at a Community Farmers’ Market. There are many farmers’ markets around Miami. This was an excellent opportunity. Southwest Community Farmers’ Market is small and new in the community but is growing. I am proud to be a part of what it represents. It is part of the Urban Oasis Project and has a community feel. Annick one of the organizers spends a great deal of time educating people about the importance of planting a garden, the importance of Organic, Non GMO, etc. So this Farmers’ market is everything I believe in. I am not just selling my soaps, I also spend a great deal of time telling my story which I hope is educating people about protecting the pollinators, planting flowers that will attract pollinators in your garden and protecting our bees which are in trouble. Many times people will approach my booth and then they will thank me for telling them “My Story.” I was recently interviewed by a gentleman, Colin McPhillamy, who also writes a blog. He is presently performing in my husband’s production “End of the Rainbow.” He is from England and to me has that typical English sense of humor. I have thoroughly enjoyed meeting him. He asked me why I would continue to keep bees since I was allergic. My response was easy, “the Bees are in trouble.” Here is the link to his blog. I am so grateful for what I am doing. I am really enjoying making soap and using all that my bees and yard give me. I am very grateful to my bees for their honey, and beeswax!

Here are a few pictures of my soaps and of me at the Southwest Community Market.

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