Beautiful plants

plantain dryingI just took a little meander around my yard and gardens, picking plantain.  This will be used for salves and creams.  Right now, it’s drying on the back deck before I infuse it into olive oil.

Plantain is an amazing plant.  It grows in the most unlikely places.  Gravel, walkways, parched spots?  Check!  Give it a little love and space and water, and it loves you back with lush huge leaves.

giant plantain leaf

Here’s a a leaf from a plant in the high tunnel and a leaf grown outside with no  care from me.  (I moved an outside plant into the high tunnel earlier this summer.)  They both have the same qualities, but the plants are loving the easy living with plenty of space and water.  plaintain big and little

It happily soothes abused skin along with its friends calendula, lavender, comfrey and St John’s Wort, just to mention a few.   Plantain is also very helpful for soothing bug bites and itchy skin.  I keep a jar of the salve in my car and next to my chair.  It’s that good!



Sewing…one of my happy places.

I am working on a new quilting project this year.  It’s called Machine Quilting Block Party  (MQBP) with Leah Day.  Leah is a genius young woman and has a gift for teaching quilting.  You can find her here.  leah day quilting

MQBP is a block of the month project, so small do-able monthly projects instead of big projects that can overwhelm.

It’s June and we are half way through.  On to the pictures!  These are the first five blocks sewn and quilted.  I am using the “class” colors and following all directions for this first group.  I love the bright, sunny colors!

mqbp 5 blocks

I wanted to do this pattern in cooler colors and the one on the left is what I came up with.

mqbp color study 1 & 2

Not really pleased, so I continued to explore more color combos.  I used Joen Wolfrom’s tips on color from her Craftsy class “Colorplay.”   Here are the new colors.  I like it!


mqbp p,f,g quilted

What a difference quilting makes!

mqbp purple,fushcia,green

Here are two of the same blocks, different colors.  My quilting improved by the time I got to the second color blocks.   I love them both.

mqbpfpg 2 blocks

I’ll be updating this post as the year and new blocks come along.  Thanks for stopping by!

Soap Challenge (again!)

The Great Cakes Soapworks May Challenge is a teardrop soap.  Intriguing, yes?

2016 teardrop challenge

I used a Bastille recipe that I know traces slowly as the success of this look depends on the batter being fluid through the pour.   I didn’t get any photos during the pouring since I was pouring and didn’t stop to snap pics.   I poured about a third of the plain soap, then poured s l o w l y, tiny little strips of color layered over each other.  After the colors are layered, you simultaneously and s l o w l y pour the rest of the plain batter down each side.  With luck, you’ll get a raindrop or teardrop in the middle of the soap.

I used Mad Oils Maniacal Pea green mica, Vibrance Teal and Purple from Nuture Soap.  The white batter is the natural color from the oils.  Scented with Energy from Majestic Mountain Sage.  Three of my favorite suppliers!  The soap is made with olive oil, coconut oil and castor oil…simple and awesome.

This looks like a raindrop to me, so Alaska Raindrop it is.

3 teardrops 2016

teardrop 2 2016

New Girl workshop!

Finally, I am getting a new workspace.  I have massively grown out of my soap workspace and my sewing has taken over our guest cabin.  After much thinking, figuring and sweating over the decision, I decided to make the leap to build my own space.  One end of the building will be for my soap and body care things.  The other side will be a sewing and design studio.  If we ever sell this place, we will have his and her shops!

karens shop, started may 9,2016

Day two.  A lot of progress!  It looks like a building.

karens shop day two

Every construction project needs a building inspector!

karens shop, building inspector

Day three.  A roof and now won’t leak.

karens shop day 3

Day four.  Metal roof on, windows and middle divider started.  This is exciting!  I can “see” where my tools and workspaces are.  Can’t wait!

karens shop day 4

Glaciers Soap…

Time for another soap challenge with Amy Wardens’ Great Cakes Soap Challenge!  (Final soap is at the bottom of post!)   This month’s  theme is  Winter Wonderland (must have an element of winter/snow)  and there are two categories.   “Natural” colorants and scents is one and the other is “synthetics” ingredients.  I’m working within the naturals category.

Being so close to Denali, I am hoping to capture the look of glaciers grinding down the mountains.  I am fascinated by the colors in glaciers and  the different rocks that become part of those rivers of ice.


This is a photo of Denali and some glaciers from the National Park Service.

I used alkanet, indigo, rose hip powder, kelp (I’ve tested kelp in soap in the past.  It initially has a distinct “oceany” scent, but it fades over cure time), dried peppermint leaves, and vanilla bean seeds as glacier colors.  The vanilla bean seeds give a look of gravel within the colors.  I added a touch of white kaolin clay, tussah silk and coconut milk powder to the batter. Tussah silk and coconut milk is so luxurious in soap, I add it to all my soaps.

I wanted an outdoor, fresh scent.  I used  an essential oil blend of spearmint, lavendin, Siberian fir, cedar wood, eucalyptus, and lemongrass.

My recipe is olive oil (67%), coconut, palm kernel, and castor.  One of my requirements of my soap is that it feel luxurious and luscious on your skin.  This much olive oil tends to make for a long cure time, but it’s worth it!

My first test batch turned out well, but not quite the look I wanted.feb 16 soap challenge #1

Batch two.   I was more confident, so made a full size batch.  Because the first batch was a bit soft, I reduced the Olive oil an bit and added some illippe butter to help with the hardening  of this batch.  Illippe butter is also white, so it will help with the look of snow.  For this one, I poured about ½ to 2/3 of my plain batter into my tilted mold.  I then poured down the lower side of the mold alternating dark and light batter.  I then tilted the mold to the other side and finished pouring the colors.  I did a bit of a hanger swirl and topped off the batter with the rest of the plain soap.  This batch stayed very nicely workable for a long time so had to give it a few minutes to thicken before I could finish the top.

soap challenge 216, glaciersI really like this one, but I may make one more (searching for the Holy Grail here!) trying to perfect my soapy glaciers.  The scent is fabulous, btw.

So, I did make another batch.  Instead of hanger swirling, I did a spoon swirl.  Saponifying as I type.  Tomorrow, the cutting!

Well, batch three did not turn out as I’d hoped.    The batter was too liquid to get the definition of color I wanted.  About half the bars in this batch are more like the bar on the the left.  Nice, but not as dazzling as I’d hoped.feb 2016 challenge batch 3

Here’s a picture of all three batches.  From left to right, batch #1, #2, and #3.feb 2016 soap challenge 3 soaps

So batch two it is.  (For my official entry photo)feb soap challenge


New from old(er)

Lots of blowing snow today.  Instead of driving the highway into Wasilla to work, I preferred to live another day.  Staying home and will make up the day later.

An update on the carrot soaps I made a few weeks ago.  All INCREDIBLE soap!  So luscious on the skin.  But… batch three had lather just a bit more yellow than I wanted.  (batch three below)carrot 3

So, even though I loved the striking look of this soap, I decided to rebatch it.  Rebatching soap involves shredding or grating it and melting down to add more ingredients or use in another soap.  Since I wanted to tone down the yellow, I added the shredded soap to a new batch of luxurious plain soap.  Then the whole shebang sat in the crockpot to soften and meld together.  Still very beautiful, just different.  Annatto seed and carrots are what give it this beautiful color.  I like it better now!

carrot rebatched pretty11.19.15

Our NRCS High Tunnel Program update

As part of our high tunnel program results report to the NRCS, I decided to create a post with LOTS of pictures from this gardening season.  We had a few setbacks early on this spring; health issues and a vehicle accident (no serious injury) caused a very late start on getting the high tunnels up and running.  We didn’t get things planted till very late May and into June.  But, we got ‘er done.  Because we had to move soil for the house high tunnel (hht), we ended up with very sandy, rocky soil to plant in.  That was a bit discouraging, but we followed the NRCS soil enhancement recommendations and hoped for the best.   We rented a rototiller to incorporate the lime and fertilizer into the beds.

Craig Smith, Alaska State Agronomist, knows his stuff.  Despite the late start in planting, the hht did pretty well.  We planted potatoes, tomatoes, sugar snap peas, cucumbers, summer squash, a variety of herbs, purple snap beans and we had red and golden raspberries already on the site.

Coming up is a photo tour of our house high tunnel garden for 2015.  Hope you enjoy it!

Early spring.  The frame was finished fall, 2014, but beds are not moved yet.


Beds are redone in the right place.  From the left, potatoes are up (Magic Molly, Peanut, and All Blue).  The next bed (with the red frames) has Sun Gold tomatoes and one Stupice tomato plant.  Past the tomatoes are a couple of cucumber plants, a bed of Calendula flowers, purple snap beans, four hills of summer squash, and raspberries.  Next row (3rd from left) are herbs and sugar snap peas.  The far right bed has potatoes; German Butterball, Party, Red, Peanut, and Yukon Gold.


Watering is a big issue with so much planted.  Curt set up a drip irrigation system that runs from the pumphouse.  We had two soaker hoses in each bed; will probably do three for each bed next year.  You can see Curt working on the pea trellis in this photo and also see the potatoes on the far right bed.  The green board you see running along the side of the hht is about 4-1/2 feet high.  We have monster potato plants!IMG_1091

Potatoes on the left side.  They’ve started sprawling from their weight and height, and they are blooming.  I think potato blossoms are beautiful.  (You cn see the side is rolled up about 2-1/2 feet for ventilation.  We had no problems with overheating or mildew this year.)   We also found that leaving some of the chickweed in the beds helped retain moisture.  (a living mulch?)  When I removed it, the dried out faster, so we started leaving it alone once the plants were big enough to not be choked out.  I also use some of the weeds in herbal infusions.




Riley in the hht, potatoes on the left, Calendula on the right.  Beans just behind the Calendula.

riley in the high tunnel

Sun Gold tomatoes.  Best flavor ever!


Some of our herbs.


Couldn’t resist this shot.  Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme (along with lavender, tarragon and basil) (You’re singing now aren’t you?)




Leaf lettuce and basil.  These were scattered throughout the hht.


Purple beans and raspberries.


Moving along to harvest.  From the back, German Butterball, Party, Peanut, Red and Yukon Golds.


Other side. Some of the Peanuts and All Blue. (I do see a Magic Molly in there, too.)


How about these Red potatoes?


Some of the purple beans.


Using our loot!  Roasted chicken with homegrown herbs, potatoes, and snap bean in the glass dish.


Tomatoes in various stages of ripening.  The smaller are Sun Golds, and the larger are Stupice.  Both yummy!

tomatoes 7.2015

New potatoes.  Peanuts and Magic Mollys

first potatoes 7.2015

Homegrown salad with buttercrunch and Forellenschluss lettuce, baby carrtos, and SunGold tomatoes.

garden salad 7.2015

The perfect meal.  Freshly caught and herb-grilled Red Salmon from the Talkeetna River, with yellow and purple potatoes.

salmon and potatoes july 2015

The hht with the end and side open for ventilation.  The horses mowing the grass.