So everyone can get to know our contributors a bit better, we’ve decided to run a series called “Meet a Contributor”. Each Contributor will be interviewed by the others in turn.
Hi everyone! I’m Lauredhel. I live in Australia, where I live with a partner, our son, a dog, and a varying number of aquatic critters. I was born and bred mostly right here in the southwest of the country, with a couple of stints in the USA as a child and as a young adult. I’ve racked up a fair bit of formal education in my time – a medical degree, a touch of research science, some Auslan classes, and another degree in linguistics and anthropology. I have several ‘minor’ congenital anomalies and one issue that has caused chronic pain, but didn’t consider myself disabled until I came down with what’s typically referred to as an “invisible” illness around five years ago. I have been unable to work since.
My bloggy interests lie in a few areas – disability and disability rights of course, feminism, bad science and bad science reporting (and sometimes a blessed bit of good science!), language, the broad church of reproductive justice, violence and freedom from violence, the patriarcho-medico-industrial complex, media representation and popular culture, and lots more.
I also blog at Hoyden About Town, a women’s group blog based in Australia, and at my Dreamwidth journal. On to the questions, below the cut.
Chally: How did you get into your hobby of soapmaking and what do you get out of it?
I started soapmaking shortly after the birth of my son, who is now seven. I had a bunch of frozen milk in the freezer which was not quite usable, but which I couldn’t bear to just throw away, so I started researching other uses for it. I still have one last bar of that mother’s milk soap in my stash, as for some reason I can’t bring myself to use it and have it disappear forever.
I’ve done different kinds of soapmaking, from melt and pour to rebatching to cold process (CP) and cold-process-oven-process (CPOP), where you heat the soap gently after pouring to push it through the initial stage of saponification, the gel phase. I’ve ended up gravitating almost completely to cold process soaping. I like having the control over the process and over what I put on my (rather touchy) skin. If the soap’s a tiny bit dry, I just bump down the coconut oil and bump up the olive and luxury oils in the next batch, perhaps tweak the superfat. I can make exactly what I want, which is something not available on the market.
I also love the combination of artistry, chemistry, and what feels like magic. I can write down fatty acid combinations and formulas and work out exactly what proportion of essential oils I might like and lay out all the components; but all this means nothing until I get my hands on the materials, my nose on the oil blend, my stick blender into the emulsifying components. As the soap traces and I only have short minutes to split the batch and do my colours and scents pours and layers and swirls, it’s like time slows down. One moment I have a huge pot of liquid lye and oil; the next, I have four one-kilogram batches of beautifully coloured and scented and swirled soap-to-be. Well, that’s when it goes well; some days it feels like time speeds up and it all falls apart! These days, I’m not well enough to do it all myself, so I plan and my partner assists; but I still get my hands right in there during that crucial phase.
I also love trimming the bars. As I take off the soda ash and rough surfaces, and plane till I find the perfect swirl, and polish the surface, I feel like I’m finding the beautiful soap bar hidden inside the lump. I don’t know if this is a little sliver of how sculptors feel, but it works for me.
And at the end of this little piece of everyday magic, I have gorgeous soap to use or to give away. Every time I still can’t quite believe “I made this!”. I feel like each bar contains a little piece of my heart.
annaham: Are there any soapmaking techniques/new soap colors or consistencies that you’d like to try, but haven’t yet gotten around to?
I’ve never tried hot process soap yet, the “kettle” system whereby you make the soap mix, then heat it with quite high heat until it “cooks”. The theory is, these soaps take less time to cure, which makes them perhaps more efficient for high-throughput businesses. I’ve not heard any credible reports of the actual end product being any better, however, so I’ve given it a miss so far. I might try it out of curiosity one day, but right now it sounds like more work than cold process.
I also haven’t tried liquid soap making, mostly out of fear! I’ve read about the process, and it seems like there are more ways it can go wrong (or maybe they’re just ways I’m not familiar with yet, which makes them scarier). Liquid soap is made by mixing potassium hydroxide with oil, instead of sodium hydroxide.
One thing I don’t do and don’t miss is making soap from animal oils. I tried it with lard once, and despite it being supposedly bleached/deodorised lard, I hated it. I can smell the tallow in commercial soap, and it revolts me. (Despite being an omnivore myself). I can’t see myself moving toward animal-oil soaps. I do use some animal products in my soaps, though, most notably cows milk, goats milk, and honey. I love what honey does to a soap, and I want to experiment a bit more with similar items – I’ve tried maple syrup and palm sugar once each, but want to fiddle more with those ingredients. Coconut milk is also gorgeous in soap, and something I don’t use nearly enough.
Some people are really into natural colours for soaps; I don’t use them all that often, apart from a pink clay that I love, cocoa powder in my chocolate soaps, and the beautiful natural brown “discolouration” (I think of it as “enhancement”!) that accompanies vanilla fragrances. Powdered paprika gives a lovely peach colour, but can be somewhat irritating to the skin. I have used milk infused with saffron threads, in the occasional very special soap; it gives a golden colour similar to calendula, which is much cheaper! Many other naturally coloured items just turn an icky brown in cold process soap, which is not much fun. I do want to try pandan, which is said to give a beautiful true green in soap, but our pandan plant is still very small.
meloukhia: Which fruit trees do you have in the garden, and what kind of yields have you been getting?
Oh, you would ask in midsummer. Right now we have a lemon, a lime, a mandarin, and two pineapple-guava trees. Only the lemon has produced much in the way of usable fruit so far, but we have been here only two years, so perhaps that’s not too surprising! We have plans to plant mango trees in the soon-to-be-chook-run, and some bush tucker plants like quandongs.
Tomatoes we’ve had plenty of this summer, just like last summer; enough to preserve and freeze as well as to eat. OK, they’re not quite trees, but close enough! I expect they will all burn and die in this weeks’ heatwave, unfortunately.
amandaw: What stickers and other decor have you gotten on your new ride so far? And what are you planning on adding?
Confession time: while I planned to deck out the ride with decorations (please, no one say “pimp” in my presence), Smaug the red scooter remains undecorated. I haven’t even pulled the plastic off properly around the headlight (if I come across a Stanley knife in my travels, I will.) I’m not interested in the flames-and-skulls type stickers that abound on the market; I’d be much more interested in stuff like dragons and otters.
I do have some little reflective stickers to put on the back. I’m not sure that that counts as “decor”, though.
AnnaP: How did you and tigtog meet, and why did you join forces to make such an awesome blog as HaT?
Tigtog and I met online in ancient times, Internet-wise, before the turn of the century. Hoyden About Town was her personal blog at first, but we found our interests cleaving together and she honoured me with an invitation to join her nearly three years ago now. We’ve been having a ball ever since! Women’s voices are pushed aside a lot in the Australian online political scene, so we try to make a noise where we can. Despite being on opposite side of a huge country, we’ve managed to meet in the flesh twice now; once for a day trip years ago, and more recently when she and her family came over here for a holiday.
kaninchenzero: Do you have a favorite species of otter?
While i don’t have a single species I prefer, I confess to a predilection for river otters over sea otters. Sea otters are super cute and all, but the don’t radiate that delicious combination of super-cute furry things/VICIOUS LITTLE WEASELS that river otters do. I loved Rikki-Tikki-Tavi as a kid, and I think my otter love is just an extension of that. Here’s a video of otters telling a crocodile to go the fuck away. And the crocodile responding “oh, yes, no problem, sorry to intrude.”
Also, I like it that they look like they have little white bibs on.
OuyangDan: I hear that in Australia the kangaroos randomly explode into blossom! I have never seen such a thing…do you have pictures? Would you be willing to share? If so… MOAR PIKTARS!
Why yes, yes they do! And I have pictures! Taken right in my front yard!
abbyjean: i strongly believe the collective noun for otters should be a “cute.” or perhaps an “adorable.” what do you think it should be? and what would you suggest as the collective noun for a group of yous?
I’ve heard that the collective noun for river otters is a “romp”, which rather suits! (Sea otters form a “raft”.) But I reckon they should be termed a “mischief”, or perhaps a “fiend”.
A group of mes? Oh my, I can’t even imagine it. Can you? I’ll throw this one open to the floor, I think!