An Historical Weekend Away

It’s been almost a month since Boyfriend and I decided to take a little long weekend trip to Gettysburg, but I suppose I ought to share some of the photos I took. It was a lovely weekend, with generally nice weather, if a bit warm and sunny some days. I certainly got more sun than usual, even with my sunscreen and parasol at the ready.

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We left on a Friday evening from work and did not meet much traffic, so we pulled up to the bed and breakfast a bit after 7 p.m. I had phoned ahead to make sure someone would be there to meet us if we were later than 8, and to save us a plate of food so we wouldn’t have to stop for dinner. But because we arrived before the restaurant closed, we were able to sit down to a nice family-style meal, complete with a glass of local wine for me and beer for Boyfriend. It was a lovely beginning to our weekend, and we got to our cottage relaxed and happy.

The next morning, we had our breakfast in the kitchen room of the main B&B house. It started with porridge, fruit, and tea, and then continued on with a big plate of cheesy eggs and bacon and toasted homemade bread with strawberry jam. The jam was obviously homemade as well, as it tasted incredibly fresh. I don’t generally prefer strawberry jam, but I enjoyed it very much. From there, we spent the day hiking around the historical park, doing plenty of walking. Although the clouds became rather dramatic at times, we did not get rained upon, although our feet were quite sore.

We ended up walking all the way around the north part of the park and back into town, where we got sandwiches for lunch at a little French-themed cafe, and then took the car back to the B&B to rest and clean up before dinner. Dinner was at the historic Farnsworth House, where we ate at the tavern before going on a ghost tour. The tours are given by guides in historical dress, and focus a lot on history, but devote plenty of time to the modern stories of paranormal encounters. I’m not too proud to admit, I felt a few chills while we sat in the haunted attic of the house.

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Sunday, after a casual breakfast in our room of sticky buns and blueberry muffins, we spend the morning touring the various wineries and cideries in the area. The countryside was stunning, particularly with the trees so laden with ripening apples. We bought plenty of wine and some cider to tide us over until we can get this year’s batch fermenting.

From there, we went back into town, where we had lunch at an Irish pub. It was rather upscale pub food, and I enjoyed my Scotch egg, fish and chips, and Murphy’s with relish. I was excited to see they offered “a wee bit of fish and chips” and 10 oz. beers for those of us with smaller appetites. Duly fortified, we ventured back into the historical park to walk around the south part of the park. Sadly, the hiking trails are far less well maintained, with the most care taken to keep up the newly paved driving tour route, so we spent much of our time walking along the road instead of braving the somewhat deserted trails. I found it sad that the roads so greatly reduced the number of walkers on the trails, with people preferring to drive up to the landmarks, get out of their cars for a few minutes, and then get back in and continue driving. But we enjoyed our walk, and I got a lovely panoramic view from the observation tower.

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Two days of so much walking and sunshine left us ready to head out on Monday after breakfast on the deck of the main B&B house. But it was a lovely weekend!

Weekend Crafting and Historical Exploration

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I had a lovely, relaxing weekend, this weekend. I started off on Friday evening by having some friends over to play board games and share a nice fall meal. I made my standby butternut squash pasta casserole, along with mini cheesecakes to celebrate a friend who had a birthday last week. It was simple, but delicious and certainly fortified us for an evening of fun games. It also served to soak up some of the cocktails we poured.

And then on Saturday, I went to my aerials class, and then just relaxed. I puttered around in the kitchen with some crafts. I recently ordered all the butters and oils and beeswax I need to make lip balms and lotion bars for holiday gifts, but I receive a small sample of cocoa butter in the order. I also recently bought some babassu oil for soaping, but discovered it could be a lovely balm ingredient as well. So I mixed up a couple of experimental batches. The cocoa butter was just enough to make one tube of lip balm. I mixed it with beeswax and some hazelnut oil to make a chocolate-hazelnut lip balm, although it smells only lightly of cocoa butter.

Then, I mixed up a slightly larger batch of babassu oil, mango butter, and beeswax to try out as both a lip balm and a lotion bar. I poured most out into an empty deodorant container (clean, of course) to use as a body butter, and then also was able to fill five lip balm tubes. The babassu oil melts at just below body temperature so it rolls on smoothly, but soaks in rapidly, so the skin is not left feeling greasy. I used some of it after shaving last evening, and found it left my skin feeling velvety, not oily. Boyfriend especially appreciated it, as when I use a soft balm in a jar, I tend to apply too much and my lovely smooth legs get a little greasy.

From there, I decided to make another batch of soap. This one used tallow, coconut oil, and olive oil to make a lovely, simple bar. I increased my super fat just a tad, as I’ve found my recently-tested first batch to be a touch drying. And I added oatmeal and calendula to the soap batter for an extra skin-soothing touch. They rested in my craft room for a couple days and I unmolded them this morning. My crafting room shelves are certainly filling up with soaps and balms!

I also used Saturday to just rest and relax and make a big batch of butternut squash and sweet potato soup for my lunches this week. The soup comes together quickly, simmers for a while, and blitzes up in the blender with very little effort. And soup and a cheese sandwich will be a nice early-fall lunch.

After such a relaxing Saturday, I went out on Sunday. I went downtown and spent the day at the National Museum of American History, where I browsed their new Innovation wing. There, I learned about all the inventions we take for granted that really changed the world. I was fascinated that they chose to include things like alarm clocks and deodorant along side exhibits about televisions and computers. And they had an entire exhibit about how ready-to-wear clothing changed the way people dressed and how the poor could move upwards in society. A truly neat look at how the early 20th century changed our social structure.

But the day spent on my feet meant I was particularly glad to come home to Boyfriend’s vegetarian chili and a nice hot bath for my Sunday evening beauty ritual!

And On Into Fall

Yesterday was the first day of autumn. It passed without much note for me. I got up, went to work, and went to my aerials class, the same as any Wednesday. I think we shall celebrate in earnest tomorrow with friends and games and a nice autumnal dinner. This morning, I’ve brought out my plaid flannel shirt for a slightly chilly morning, and had an autumnal breakfast of porridge with dried fruit.

I am happiest when it is chilly in the mornings. Even if it’s going to be a hot day eventually, a cool, maybe even slightly grey morning feels right to me. I’ve noticed that the sun stays down longer and I often spend the first hour of wakefulness in twilight illumination. I’ve been rising early to make a pot of herbal infusion and let it steep under a tea cozy while I shower and dress. Then, I can curl up with a shawl or blanket and enjoy the stillness of a cool morning before beginning my day.

It just so happens that this week is the final week of the four-week cure I’ve given my first batch of soap, so I tested a homemade soap bar this morning in my shower. It bubbled up beautifully and had no lard smell to it. It was fun to use something that was made by me, though I wonder if it might be a bit drying to my skin. It’s no mind, though, because it just means that I’ll have to play around with more recipes.

I actually finished off my first pound of lye this weekend when I made a batch of sheep’s tallow soap. So I ordered a new jar of it, along with some fun goodies. Because I love the smell of roses, I’ve decided to try a fragrance oil called “Fresh Cut Roses” and some pink clay to color the bar a light rose color. I’ve started getting fancy, and may even try some soaps with goat’s milk or oatmeal for more skin-softening loveliness.

The best part of autumn is that it now feels like crochet weather. Through the winter and early spring, I worked on my merino wool shawl using Smooshy sock yarn in a colorway called “Cloud Jungle,” which is a complex blend of greys and neutrals that looks like the clouds over a forest in early winter. I’ve half-finished the main body of the shawl, and then I plan to edge it with a green tweedy yarn and make an earth-toned shawl for sitting with a cup of tea in the afternoons in winter. With the weather cooling down, perhaps my work on that will pick up!

The Ritual of Beauty

I’ve made another upgrade to my beauty routine. I’ve recently started old-fashioned wet shaving with a safety razor. Part of this comes from my exposure to shaving soap makers on the soap making forums I’ve started frequenting, and part of it is from a desire to reduce the waste of my routinesTo that end, I purchased a simple, double-edged safety razor set. I got a butterfly razor for easier blade loading, which came with five blades to get me started, along with a badger bristle brush and a stand to hold them while they dry. It all arrived in the mail over the weekend, but I was missing one thing: the soap.

Now, I have been friends with a local soap maker for a number of years, first befriending her when I was experimenting with using shampoo bars. I helped her develop her shampoo bar formula, although I’ve since found shampoo bars in general to be non-ideal for my hair. And she makes a lovely range of scented shaving soaps. Add to that the fact that her shaving soaps are actually fairly highly rated by those on shaving forums, and I knew there was nowhere else I could go for my first shaving soap.

I think I spent an hour at her stand, Mystic Water Soaps, on Sunday. She had one that was my favorite fragrance of hers, jasmine, but she also had a delicious rose-lemon scent. And I discovered her Viola de Bosca fragrance, which is a beautiful, old-fashioned powdery floral. In the end, I went home with a puck of her unscented, sensitive skin soap, and an agreement to come back in a few weeks for samples of the scented soaps.

That evening, I prepared myself for a wonderful beauty ritual. Using such beautiful, well-made products to shave meant I felt like the whole process was more special. So I washed my face and put on a mask with green clay, honey, rosewater, and witch hazel, and then ran a very hot bath. I slipped in and soaked in the water for a few minutes before applying a grapeseed and jojoba oil blend to my legs to soften things up. Then I got to work.

Creating shaving lather is a skill and an art and I was very new at it, but I managed to get a good lather for both my legs. I moved slowly, wary of this new blade and how sharp it might be. But, in the end, I did not even nick myself and was rewarded with soft, smooth legs. I was a bit bold and did my underarms as well. Thoroughly shaved and rinsed, I stepped out of the tub, blotted with a towel, and applied my rosehip-and-tallow balm to seal in the moisture. I rinsed out my shaving mug and wiped off the outside of my soap container. I rinsed the brush and rinsed my razor under running water and set them out to dry. Then, I completed my facial by rinsing off the mask, toning, and applying rosehip oil.

This ritual of beauty left me feeling relaxed and lovely, not just because the treatments had made me more aesthetically pleasing, but because I felt graceful and connected to a tradition of female beauty. Such things make me feel like these practices are bigger than myself, and that is a wonderful thing indeed.

A Whirlwind of Late Summer

As summer draws to a close, I’ve been busy. I’ve been on a lovely trip with Boyfriend and made some new soaps. I’ve discovered some wonderful new teas and enjoyed old favorites. As autumn draws near, I’ve done some closet-shifting and ordered some new pieces, vintage and otherwise.

I love autumn. While I love the quiet stillness and deep cold of winter best, the shift of summer to autumn is one of my favorite times of year. The weather gets colder. Early mornings seem more ethereal as it stays dark later. The transition seems more distinct, as you suddenly have mornings that you wake up chilly.

Transitional times leave me feeling meditative and reflective. The summer has been a time of moderate upheaval, at least by my measures. It’s neither been the most uneventful time, but nor has it brought my sharpest of life changes. The cooling and darkening of autumn always makes me feel like the world is getting quieter, less busy, and more restful.

This past week, I had a bad cold and had to take most of the week off. It was a welcome rest, though I was climbing the walls with boredom by the end. I have weekend plans that I feel well enough to enjoy, but I think next week I’ll have a bit more of a balanced restful week as autumn begins in earnest. I’ll take my time to contemplate the transitions of life and maybe look forward to digging out my sweaters and boots!

A New Endeavor

I hinted at a new craft project I’ve taken up in my last post, but I didn’t give any details. Well, here’s the big reveal:

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Last week, I made my first batch of cold-process soap!

I’ve been interested in soap-making for years now, but never took the plunge. At first, I wanted to make an unscented olive oil soap for a family member who had very sensitive skin. But as the years went on, I’ve realized that some of the best fats for soap-making are the local, traditional animal fats I can get from farmers around me. Of course, this appealed to my vintage sensibilities and I’ve spent some time researching both vintage soap recipes and modern soap research.

That, coupled with my new attempts at all-natural hair and skin care, let me to more actively look up what I would need to start making bars of homemade soap using lard and tallow. Eventually, maybe I can make a bar of soap that serves all my showerly needs, hair and skin alike!

I started out with a basic recipe mostly based on lard, but with just enough coconut oil to provide nice lather and cleansing power. I had meant to try using tallow, but the store was out of it. I also made a bar with mostly olive oil and just enough coconut to provide lather to put away to cure for holiday gifts for those whose sensibilities might be offended by animal-based soaps.

Both recipes went smoothly, and I’ve just cut up the second batch yesterday. My first batch was a small, 1-lb. batch that I poured into silicone muffin cups to mold. They make very cute soaps. But I wanted something more traditional for gifts so I poured the soaps into a square silicone pan and cut it into rectangular bars.

I’m very excited about my new hobby, and hopefully will be able to test my new soaps on myself and Boyfriend in the next few weeks. And then, I have lots of other recipes planned, from a luxurious facial care bar, to a bar using sheep tallow! I’ll report back here with each and every batch, though.