Monday, July 6, 2015

The Spirits Are Ruthless With The Paths They Choose...

It's strange, the turn of events that have come about over the last few months. Let me get my most important news out of the way first:

Lake Francisco Plaza
1900 Land O' Lakes Boulevard, Suite 117
Lutz, Florida 33549

Yes, I just opened in May. And yes, I just moved in July. Curiouser and curiouser...

I should begin at the beginning, as that is usually the best place to begin ~
When I signed my lease, I was told that the plaza was being sold, but it probably wouldn't happen for a while and that my lease would have to be approved by the prospective buyers. It was approved for one year with the possibility for month-to-month terms (or renewal) after the first year. I weighed my options and thought that a year was a good time period to see what direction my business would go and whether it was viable as a brick-and-mortar store. Good idea, eh?
Circle K Corporation is who bought my plaza, about 3 weeks after I moved in. And it's slated to be demolished and redeveloped as a gas station. Growth-and-progress-for-Pasco-county-yadda-yadda-suchandsuch.
I was bamboozled - nay, scammed! - by the original owner/landlord of the plaza (the one I signed my original lease with), but I learned a few very valuable business (and life) lessons in a short time. 

The Spirits Are Ruthless With The Paths They Choose - a mantra of sorts (thank you Stevie Nicks) that proves truer as I grow older (and is inked on my left inner forearm as a reminder, lest I forget).

The Circle K Corp decided that they didn't need month-to-month tenants and evicted the remaining tenants, except for me and a liquor store - my lease was newest and in good standing, and the liquor store holds a lease until 2017 (which is what the original owner sold his scam with - that Circle K couldn't do anything until 2017). Only 2 tenants left in a plaza of 14 units.
You can read the story HERE
Oh, and Circle K also decided they would not be doing any maintenance on the building or property (a kind of "force out", if you ask me)  - and of course on Memorial Day weekend, my air conditioner stopped working, and my back room (my soap workshop) would leak when it rained. Not to mention the awning of the secondary building on the property was torn off during a windy thunderstorm, and they didn't bother to clean it up or repair it. Yeah, that happened.

Was that a ghostly "Get Out!" I heard? (Remember Amityville Horror?)

A representative of Circle K told me that I could cancel my lease without penalty, and after a mini-heart attack, vicious pondering, and marathon commercial property searching, I decided that was what I needed to do. Let me tell you, moving a business (even a new one) is stressful. I've moved quite a few times in my life (so what if they were all within 30 miles of each other), and that pales in comparison. But I'm a lucky girl and I have family and friends that have helped me through a crazy, crazy time and I've come out the other side for the better. Or crazier. I'm not sure which just yet...
A lovely gift from artist Michele Palenik of Purple Cloud Studio. We declare my shop is for "upscale weirdos"!

Tomorrow is the first day of my reopening at the new shop. I feel like I'm forgetting something...or like those dreams where you're late, or that you can't get where you're going. I'm an overthinker (a.k.a. worry wart) - it's one of the (many) things I need to work on. I'm sitting here at my desk in the new shop, listening to a documentary on the Salem Witch Trials on YouTube and the Krav Maga students next door pummeling their punching bags (or each other, who knows?), writing a To-Do list, and trying to wittingly write a blog post that I have no idea if anyone even reads (did I mention I'm a multi-tasker too?). I'm anxious, but when I look out the back window at my new view, I know I made the right choice. It's all good.
My view from my back windows - Lake Francisco

 And now, for your viewing pleasure...I present to you 
Come and sit for a spell...

Main showroom

Main showroom

Main showroom

Main showroom

Main showroom

Main showroom

Main showroom

The Gypsy Fortune Teller's Reading Room

The Gypsy Fortune Teller's Reading Room

The Gypsy Fortune Teller's Reading Table (minus the twine around the legs and plus chairs)

Crystals and stones...Runes and bones...

The Gypsy Fortune Teller's Reading Room

My purple guest restroom

My purple guest restroom, and the fabulous Stevie Nicks

My purple guest restroom

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Morticia Addams, Dracula, and Edgar Allan Poe Walk Into A Bar...

 Wow, it's really been a while since I've updated my blog! Besides alchemically transforming fatty acid into soap, conjuring up delightful scents and (sometimes noxious) potions, wandering the wild woods seeking the meaning of life, scaring neighborhood children (I jest!), invoking the spirit of Anne Boleyn and channeling Stevie Nicks, I've opened up a real life brick-and-mortar store! The stars aligned and it seemed the time was upon me to spread my wings and rise from the (alchemy and) ashes! 

ALCHEMY & ASHES ~ A VINTAGE EMPORIUM is located in the oldest plaza here in my hometown of Land O' Lakes, Florida. As a teenager, I couldn't wait to leave this small town. Alas, I kept coming back to my roots here in the swamp, and now am a proud small business owner in what is now not such a small town! 

Inspired By History, Myth, and Magic
Imagine, if you will, that Morticia Addams set up a tent at the Renaissance Faire. Or that Count Dracula invited you for tea (and a little "necking"...get it?!). Or that you were to be Edgar Allan Poe's proofreader. That's the spirit in which my items are curated, and which they are offered. I specialize in Medieval, Gothic, Renaissance, Victorian, and Bohemian style items. No straight lines. No modern Ikea-style furniture.
 Gaudy? Perhaps. Ornate? Yes. Titillating? Absolutely.

Curious Curios
Besides a wonderous selection of my handcrafted soaps, perfumes and colognes, lip balms, and other herbal products, you can also feast your eyes and delight your senses perusing the large selection of what I have lovingly termed "reincarnated acquisitions" - items found in my gypsy-style travels to thrift stores, estate sales, junk dealers, private collectors, and highly secret deposits of treasures ("one man's trash...") and then "reincarnated" - painted, upcycled, or just cleaned up with elbow grease and magic. A selection of rare, curious, and and obscure vintage and antique possessions, handcrafted candles, incense, candle holders and mirrors have been hand picked and carefully curated. Lovers of all things old and beautiful will find something they must leave with. 

Entrez à vos risques et périls
The Gypsy's Trunk
Shawnee Chic
Victorian Gold
1930's Medicine Cabinet & Antique Poison Bottles
Perfumes & Colognes
Fragrance Samplers
Antique Victorian Era Corset and Button Hooks

I'm offering consignment terms to local artists, and as the shop grows, will hopefully be able to offer a selection of herbs and essential oils, and if there's enough interest, classes and lectures on metaphysical, spiritual, cultural, and mythological subjects (Tarot reading? Crystal Ball Gazing? Runes? You just never can tell...) ...and perhaps a night of Victorian parlour-style ghost story telling by candlelight. 

Burke & Hare Co Handmade Candles

If you've made it this far in this post, and your spirit has been piqued and your senses heightened, then please come visit the shop - browse without pushy sales folk (because there isn't one), have a cup of coffee, smell some soap, ask some questions and quell your curiosity. And for the love of all that's holy, buy something. Prices range from $2 to $1800, so there really is something for everyone. I've got rent to pay, and they won't barter for soap...

French Quarter Voodoo 19th Century Black Lager Soap and The Conjured Kiss Lip Alchemy

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Alchemy & Ashes is now available at Laughingbrook Spellcrafting and Ancestral Arts, NC!

Hear ye! Hear ye!

Alchemy & Ashes Cold Process Soaps are now available for purchase at
Located at:
103 South Old Statesville Road
Huntersville, North Carolina 28078
(704) 903 - 3527

Stop some some soap (and all kinds of other witchy goodness)!
It's a beautiful shop with a very friendly owner...I wouldn't steer you wrong!
And don't forget to stop by their Facebook page and give them a "Like"!
Tell them Shawnee sent ya (and give 'em a big ol' smooch from me!)

Friday, June 6, 2014

Interview with Hunter of Rustic Silk Soaps

This week I was honored to have the opportunity to participate in an interview with Hunter of  Rustic Silk Soaps for a blog post!

Check out Rustic Silk's blog and the interview HERE!

Rustic Silk Soaps on ETSY
Rustic Silk Soaps on FACEBOOK

Monday, March 3, 2014

A Glowing Review & A Giveaway of Alchemy & Ashes at Reviews, Chews, & How-Tos!

For me, there's nothing like waking up to a rave review of my products. 
And for you, there's nothing like winning a giveaway, right? 
So check out a review of my products over at Reviews, Chews, and How-Tos and enter to win a bar of Sweet Alchemy, a tube of The Conjured Kiss Lip Alchemy, and a Hand Crocheted Soap Saver!


I can't believe it's already been a year since I started the SINGLE OIL SOAP EXPERIMENT. My 30 lovely  bars (well, one not so lovely) have been patiently awaiting their day in the spotlight since I last critiqued them at 8 weeks into cure. Well, 9+ months later, they have not failed to deliver some interesting results!

A refresher on the experiment for those new to the blog:
I took 15 common soaping oils and made a soap with 170 grams of each single oil and a 41% lye solution. They were each cut in two, with one labeled "A" and one labeled "B". "A" soaps were stored in a cardboard box in a dry location. "B" soaps were stored in a cardboard box in a damp location. They were weighed, pH tested, and lather-tested upon unmolding, and then again at 8 weeks, and comparisons were noted. Phase 3 is their current states of being at one year old. I have not re-weighed them today, but did lather tests and inspected for rancidity and finger-test hardness (not specifically solubility). My method for lather testing* was to run the bar under warm water for 10 seconds, roll between my hands with light friction for 10 seconds, take the picture, rinse, and dry my hands between each soap. I do have a reverse-osmosis water softener so results in hard water may (and most likely will) differ. I'm also disclosing which oils I personally use, so that you can determine for yourself whether I'm objective enough for your discriminating taste. I feel I was pretty objective, because, let's face 40 years old, I can't remember which number stood for what oil at a year later until looking at my notes to write this post...

* Friction helps produce more bubbles and thicker lather with any soap - and these soaps are no exception. Check out Olive Oil's lather with more friction added. Makes a big difference! But for the purposes of this experiment, and to keep a "controlled" study (as controlled as I can be in my kitchen!), I wanted preliminary results that someone with no experience with handmade soap would get.

And so without further adieu...

Tallow - One Year Old

Tallow - Lather - One Year Old
Tallow is still a hard, white bar, very close to it's original size and shape with no signs of DOS ("Dreaded Orange Spots" - the soapmaker's term for rancidity). Not much lather to speak of, with very fine bubbles. Not very conditioning on the hands, but not drying. In my humble opinion, though I do not personally use Tallow (or any animal fats), it seems to be a good oil for bulk - a filler oil, if you will.

Rice Bran - One Year Old
Rice Bran - Lather - One Year Old

Rice Bran had thin light bubbles and felt good one the skin. The bars were hard and free of DOS. Would be a nice substitute for Olive Oil.

3. OLIVE (Castille)
Olive - One Year Old
Olive - Lather at Unmolding, 8 weeks, & One Year
If I used a lot of friction, this is the lather produced by One Year Old Castille
Castille Soap, or 100% Olive Oil Soap, has been lauded as the most gentle and hardest bar of soap you can make...and while that may be true, if you're looking for a nice bubbly bar - this isn't it. Though not as slimy of a lather as it was in its infancy, it still was more of a lotion-type feel, which is great if that's what you're going for. I didn't find it any more "moisturizing" or skin-softening than Rice Bran or Avocado. I wanted to finally be blown away by it's gentleness and get why everyone flips their wigs over Castille soap, but alas...
I use Olive Oil in 90% of my soaps however, and adore it blended with other oils that bring the other properties I'm looking for.
A very hard bar without a spot of DOS. Very much as it was, though harder and not as slimy.

Lard - One Year Old
Lard - DOS spot on bottom left corner of "A" soap (Dry location)
Lard - Lather - One Year Old
I was surprised to find a spot of DOS on the "A" Lard soap from the dry location. Otherwise, Lard didn't change much - a lotion type lather with no bubbles. Once again, I feel it may be good as a bulk or "filler" oil, like Tallow or Palm. Lard Soapers rave over it's conditioning properties, so if you're open to using an animal fat, it may be worth a shot when formulated with other oils.

Safflower - One Year Old - DOS on bottom left corner of "B"
Safflower - One Year Old - The beginnings of DOS on back of "A" & "B"
Safflower - Lather - One Year
Safflower is probably not one of the more common soaping oils, but there is use for it out there. At one year, it's beginning to show DOS on the backs of both "A" and "B" soaps. It is hard, but not super hard with very scant, almost imperceptible lather.

Soybean did not blow me away, though I'm suprised to say that there is no DOS at one year on either "A" or "B" soap. Not a super hard bar - I can't completely dent it, but there is a bit of "give" when pressing hard with my thumb. A little bit of lather, but in general, nothing to get excited about.

Avocado - One Year Old
Avocado - DOS spot on lower right back side of "B" soap
Avocado - Lather - One Year
I do personally use Avocado oil in a few of my soaps, mostly replacing part (or all) of the Olive Oil. However, on it's own? Well, it was starting a spot of DOS on the back of the "B" soap. About the same hardness as Soybean, and about the same type of lather. It does feel very nice on the skin though - soft and smooth with no drag. I definitely recommend it as a percentage of the formula, though maybe not as a stand alone oil.

Palm - One Year
Palm - Lather - One Year
I'm an Organic Sustainable Palm Oil user (Soaper's Choice), and this test has reinforced why I continue to use Palm Oil. Please don't read that as I don't care about environmental or animal issues in favor of making soap - I most certainly do care about both issues! I also realize that the Palm Oil issue is much bigger and more complex than to just stop using it. Everything is connected and every action creates a reaction. But that topic is for another post (that I will hopefully get to this summer).
Back on topic...the Palm soap is free of DOS, super hard, with a thick creamy lather. While I don't find it the most moisturizing of oils, my skin felt soft without the drag that it had after using the Palm soap in the beginning of this experiment. And while I compared Palm to Tallow and Lard as bulkers or fillers, I feel that Palm brings a bit more to the table than either of the other two.

The Corn oil soap surprised me...I expected a bit of DOS, but it was spotless and very much like it was at the beginning of the experiment. A pretty hard bar with a moderate lather of thin fluffy bubbles.It wasn't a stand out on any front, but I would consider it more than I would have before this experiment.

Sunflower - One Year Old...and obvious DOS on "A"
Sunflower - DOS on backs of "A" & "B"
Sunflower - Lather - One Year
And here's where things start to get ugly. And slimy. But mostly really ugly. DOS city, man. Not really stinky, but a bit of that "old oil" smell" - you would think it would smell worse by the way it looks. And strangely enough, the dry location "A" soap is worse (covered all over in orange-ness) than the wet location "B" soap (orange-ness on back only). It's a shame too, because the lather definitely improved since the beginning of the experiment - it actually had nice foamy bubbles!. It is soft, tacky, and starting to get a bit slimy. I would highly suggest checking out the High Oleic Sunflower Oil, as it supposedly has a longer shelf life, though I can not attest to that myself.

Grapeseed - One Year Old
Grapeseed - Progression of DOS
Grapeseed - Lather - One Year
And things get even uglier. And slimier. And smellier. And just gross. But no surprises here, really. We could see that Grapeseed was a mess from the beginning. It took forever to unmold because it was so soft. At eight weeks, it was already a soft, yellowy mess and smelled rancid. At one year, things have just progressed to the point of no return. There was actually a bit of wet, orange slime under this soap in the box. And the lather was actually orange! Ugh.
Funny thing: the other day I was reading an article from a business that shall remain nameless, stating that the main oil used in many of their products (salves, mainly) was Grapeseed, because of it's "long shelf life".
Way before this experiment, years ago, I had hands-on experience with Grapeseed Oil going rancid pretty darn quickly - less than 3 months in a product made for myself. Thank goodness I didn't sell it...that would have killed my chances of a soap empire. And this is why I do not use Grapeseed Oil in any of my products. Even with an anti-oxidant, you would still need a good preservative to make this last long-term. For a personal use product at home that will be used within a week or so, it may be fine.

I HAVE AN OBSERVATION: The Sunflower soap was next to the Grapeseed soap (in numerical order) in the box. At the 8 week mark, I separated them to opposite corners to see whether the DOS could spread from one soap to another. Now, I'm no scientist, per se. and this wasn't a sterile lab environment with controls (other than those mentioned above)...but I think it's possible that DOS can spread from one soap to another if they touch.

Another surprise here with the nice clean white bar - no DOS, pretty hard bar with decent light lather. Nothing to write home about, but a possible cheap alternative for experimenters out there.

Coconut - One Year with a small DOS on "B" soap
Coconut - Lather - One Year
Coconut always delivers on lather - that's no surprise. The dot of DOS on the side of the "B" bar is. I've never, ever had DOS on a soap made with Coconut Oil. Which brings me back to the question made in the observation above: Can one DOS infected soap contaminate another otherwise DOS-free soap? Hmm...I think I need to do another experiment...
Super hard white bar, thick bubbly lather...and I don't find it as drying as some other people do (even though my skin is dry by nature). It's still my Number One Oil, despite that random DOS dot. I think it's a fluke. In general, Coconut Oil, when stored properly, can last up to 2 years or more.

Peanut - One Year Old with small DOS on front lower right of "B"
Peanut - One Year Old - possible DOS on  back of "A"
Peanut - Lather - One Year
Peanut was a good bubbler right out of the gate. A nice hard bar with good lather, but it did get a spot of DOS on the front of "B", and what I think will eventually be DOS on the back of "A" (I don't think it's just discoloration). A good cheap-ish alternative for the experimenters.


Castor - One Year Old
Castor - Lather - One Year Old

Castor is the one oil I use in all of my soaps, usually between 5 - 8%. I find it adds nice moisturizing properties. Castor is always recommended to add bubbly lather (by me, too), even though you wouldn't think so from this picture. It's not a stand alone oil, though washing my hands with this one last left them soft and supple - no waxy drag that I noticed at the beginning of the experiment. Super hard bar, no DOS.

I wanted to add a few pictures for reference:
This is a soap I was gifted by another soapmaker and it is 2 years old.
Their recipe consisted of Lard, Crisco, Coconut, and Olive Oils (and I believe was scented with Cinnamon essential oil). The discoloration on the corner was there when I opened it, so I doubt it's DOS and may just be discolored from oxidation of the essential oil (my guess):
Fellow Soaper's 2 Year Old Soap

Fellow Soaper's 2 Year Old Soap
Fellow Soaper's Lather after 2 years
This is a piece of soap from the same soaper, discolored more from DOS (the same batch as the previous photos). It is very dry and hard, with a pretty strong rancid odor: Stored in a perforated ziploc bag in the linen closet in the bathroom.
Fellow Soaper's Non-DOS soap, and DOS infected soap from same batch - 2 years old

And here is a 1+ year old bar from a batch I made for my older son called Black Winter Sky. It's formula was Olive, Coconut, Palm, and Castor, scented with Clove, Patchouli, and Cedarwood essential oils, and colored with Woad (it was more blue, but faded to grey) and swirled (ITP) with Activated Charcoal. No DOS and was stored unwrapped in the linen closet in the bathroom.
The same lather test was done on both my soap and the fellow soaper's that I used in this experiment.
Black Winter Sky

So did you learn anything new from this experiment?
Did it get your gears spinning on a new oil to use?
Did it reinforce what you already use?
I can't wait to hear your deductions, observations, and opinions!