Springtime usually comes quietly to North Florida. The past few winters have been very mild, with not even a hard freeze, but there are clues that spring has begun. Fresh, new green leaves on the trees and a yellow dusting of pollen on car windshields tell me that chilly days of the past few months will soon give way to beautifully comfortable sunny days. Early blooming azaleas have been flowering for a few weeks already and more varieties will join them as the weeks merge into March.
Yesterday afternoon was a lovely day for a walk. The clouds were heavy, but there were glimpses of the sun later in the day. I've lived in this area for 15 years now but have never walked Black Creek Trail, which parallels Highway 17 for 8 miles in Clay County and starts at the southern tip of Fleming Island. I didn't walk the whole trail, just the southernmost end, but I enjoyed the beauty of that stretch of woods and the water of Black Creek.
A tangle of vines twisting and turning ever skyward, clinging to tree trunks, climbing higher and higher towards the sun. In a few months these woods will be thickly covered with leaves of the strangling vines of poison ivy, green briar, and kudzu.
This tree isn't threatened by climbing vines. The Hercules Club tree's trunk is covered with knobby growths, many of which project a sharp, sturdy spine.
This tree trunk is adorned with the greyish green polka dots of Crustose Lichen, a symbiotic relationship of fungi and algae which work together to provide food and protection in a biological partnership.
"Leaves of three, let it be." Although there was plenty of poison ivy along the trail, these sweet pink shamrock flowers blooming above their own leaves of three were an unexpected surprise of color amongst the dried leaves that littered the woods. Their leaves of three are harmless.
Black Creek Trail heads north toward Fleming Island Plantation, continues on past Eagle Harbor and Pace Island, and ends in the town of Orange Park. Perhaps one day I'll walk another stretch of the trail. The southern portion of the trail ends at the waters of Black Creek.
The sun was shimmering on the waters of Black Creek at the end of the trail, creating sparkling stars which peeked between the roots of cypress trees lounging in the lapping water. The trees' knees stood like pyramids, and sun rays played hide and seek among the trees.
You never know what you might find walking in the woods. This unintelligible sign was unable to convey it's meaning, and I wondered at this unusual plant. A bottle tree, perhaps?
I was delighted to find a few shy violets peeping out from last year's discarded tree leaves. When I was a child, violets were a sure sign that spring had arrived.
This leisurely walk along Black Creek Trail brought to mind a quiet reminder that the seasons of life often bring a tangle of thorns and new growth, unexpected moments of beauty and absurdity, deepening roots and shifting shadows. There is a time to reach towards the sun and a time to look ahead. There is a time to just be still and listen to the sounds of life in the rustling of leaves, the lapping of water at a creek's edge, the beating of your heart. Life is a trail that leads ever forward. Find beauty in the ordinary. Accept the unexpected. Look to the Son. Just Live.
Thanks for stopping by!
When I started making soap, there was a handful of quality books on soap making and limited information on the internet. YouTube had only been around for a few years. Since that time the ages old craft of soap making has exploded in popularity, and thousands of soap makers have entered the fascinating world of Saponification. Videos, online tutorials, classes, books, and blog posts about making soap are now readily available. More and more men and women are carving out a niche in the market for making, buying, and selling handmade soap. Other soap makers have created their own signature style and their handcrafted soap is admired and recognized by many. Handmade soap making has skyrocketed, and I've been enjoying the ride!
Like many, I have a love of learning. History, art, science, photography, knitting, and soap making are just a few of my interests. There is an old adage which states, "The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don't know!" I can identify with that, and so I continue to enjoy learning about many things. The craft of soap making has changed over these past years, as soap makers have experimented with different ingredients and techniques. Many have shared what they learn with the soap making community. One such soap maker is Sharon Johnson, the owner of Rose of Sharon Essential Skin Care, whom I first met at a Florida soap gathering two years ago.
Sharon has explored hot process soap making and has perfected a technique called, Stick Blender Hot Process. Although variations of this technique have been used by other soap makers, Sharon put her own spin on it and after countless test batches developed an effective method of making hot process soap in 10 minutes, by utilizing controlled high temperatures and a stainless steel shaft stick blender. She first demonstrated her method at that soap gathering two summers ago, and shortly thereafter published an ebook with detailed instructions and recipes. She has a group Facebook page, Hot Process Soap Making with Sharon Johnson, and teaches her soap making process at various "boot camps" around the country.
Although I primarily make cold process soap, I love learning about the many ways to make handmade soap, so I took the opportunity to attend her HP Extreme University boot camp when it was held in Orlando. And what a fascinating time it was!
Some of Sharon's boot camps are hosted by individuals in their home. This one was set up in a hotel conference room, which gave us plenty of room. Goodie bags filled with product samples made by Sharon, custom tee shirts, notebooks with tips and recipes, snacks, lunch, and drinks were included. As introductions were made, Sharon gave us tips and encouragement about growing our soap making businesses. The 16 participants came from many places, including Atlanta, Georgia, Miami, Jacksonville, and Orlando, Florida. Several raised goats and specialized in goat milk soap. There was a mother/daughter soap maker business and an engaged couple who hadn't made soap at all yet. By the end of the day, everyone had made soap using the Sharon Johnson Hot Process method.
Sharon discussed Masterbatching and demonstrated her 10 minute hot process technique with a large batch. It was fascinating to see the soap batter rapidly go through the various stages as it turned into saponified soap which was fluid and pourable after only 10 minutes. After the soap was poured into molds and frozen in a cooler for several hours, it was ready to cut! We all took a bar or two home with us.
Sharon is currently working on a quick and easy method of making liquid soap and introduced the method to our group. It was a very similar process, and we each got a small bottle of "liquid gold" to take home. It is suitable to be used as a body wash or shampoo.
Piping a wonderful topping onto soap is another, newer popular technique. Similar to decorating a cake, the soap has to be thick enough to hold its shape yet liquid enough to pipe through a decorative cake tip. Typically cold process soap that has thickened is used to decorate soap loaves and cupcakes, but hot process soap can also be used if it is fluid enough. Sharon demonstrated how to thicken up a fluid hot process soap enough to pipe. Pre-mixed colorants made it easy to quickly color the soap batter for these soap cupcakes.
By late afternoon, it was time for us to make soap! Working in pairs, each team had a work station and worked together to make a small batch of soap utilizing the technique that Sharon had demonstrated earlier in the day. For many of us it was our first time using this method. For others, it was the first successful time. For this technique to be successful, there are certain conditions that must be met and followed, including a proper mix of hard oils, correct temperatures, covering and resting the soap, and knowing what the stages look like as the soap cooks. After pouring the lye water into the oils, stick blending the batter, watching the soap stages progress, resting, coloring, and pouring the soap - we were finished in about 10 minutes. That is crazy fast soap making, and I admit that I had a bit of an adrenaline rush!
In all, it was a fabulous day of learning another way to make soap. As a soap maker, I appreciate the men and women who experiment, work hard, and add what they have learned to the craft of making handmade soap. I applaud those who are developing different styles and techniques, writing books, or making videos to expand the growing library of soap making information. Thank you, Sharon Johnson, for your contribution!
If you have attended a boot camp with Sharon Johnson or made soap using her method, please let me know in the comments below. Thanks for stopping by!