Thursday, June 3, 2010

Gorgeous glass from Kei

Kei of keiglass on Etsy is a glass artist. From the studio behind her garage, she creates amazing, one of a kind art.

Glasswork astonishes me. Funny how we are each drawn to our own paths in creating. Kei says,

"what makes you *click*? everyone has something that'll make them go "wow, this is it". while i don't understand what *clicks* for accountants, maybe its the fact that it's a real job *click* with good pay *click, click* but nothing had grabbed hold of me. i come from a very artistic family and have always had a pull towards the arts, but it wasn't until the first time i grabbed a rod of glass and started melting that it just **clicked**. i still don't fully know what i'm doing, but it is something i just have to do. that *click* has turned into my drive!"

One of the neat things about Kei's shop is that all of her jewelry is named after cities, places, or landmarks around the world, "to help express my love of travel. MOST of the places i have actually visited!!"

To see more of Kei's gorgeous glass, you can visit her etsy shop, keiglass or visit her website at

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Taylor House rules

Living in a state where it's cold most of the time, I have always secretly suffered from cowl-envy. I love the idea of cozying up in my own little mini-blanket while wind and rain howls around me.

Of course, since I can't knit and rarely find the time to crochet, it's a safe bet that I won't be making my own any time soon. Thank goodness for Taylor House, whose gorgeous cowls make me want to curl up on a chair with a cup of tea. Vibrantly colorful and still totally comforting, they're high on my list of Things I Must Have.

You can learn more about Taylor House at, follow them on twitter at, or become a fan on Facebook at

Friday, May 14, 2010

Just the good stuff

So often, when we buy things we end up paying for fluff. Brand names, labeling, and even scary-sounding chemicals that no one without a phD can pronounce correctly.

That's the great thing about buying from a small bath and body company. You're getting just the goods.

And that's the premise behind a wonderful shop on etsy by that same name - justthegoods. They make handcrafted shaving solids, body butters, natural toothpaste, bath melts, and some facial skin care items "without unnecessary exposure to petrochemicals, parabens, sulfates, phthalates, and artificial fragrances, dyes and flavours."

From their Etsy shop: "Every day indulgences shouldn’t cost the earth or our health. It is affordable to look and feel great without unnecessary exposure to petrochemicals, parabens, sulfates, phthalates, and artificial fragrances, dyes and flavours. Everything I make features “just the goods” and nothing else. Most of my items are made without animal-derived ingredients and I am striving toward a 100% vegan selection."

Learn more about this company at or visit their website at

Monday, May 10, 2010

Tap, tap, tap!

It's the crazy busy time of year when the birch sap is running!

We tap a few of the hundreds of birch trees on our property every year. The sap is wonderful stuff. We drink it, add it to soaps, make jellies and mustard from it, and this year we hope to make a bit of our own birch beer as well.

So, what's so great about birch sap? Birch is a natural analgesic, antiseptic, astringent, purifier, disinfectant, diuretic, fever reducer, insecticide and tonic.

How can it do all that? Birch actually contains significant amounts of methyl salicylate (the compound closely related to aspirin). The bark and leaves are often used in Alaska Native and folk medicine for headache and rheumatic pain, and are recommended for use in liniments and massage oils for sore or strained muscles. Birch infusions are often recommended for people with urinary problems and kidney stones. Birch twig facial steams are reported to be good for clogged sinuses, and supposedly birch decoctions added to one’s bath water will help those troubled by skin eruptions. A home birch tea rinse is recommended for scalp infections and dandruff. Oil of birch tar is used in Russia to repel bugs.

Not bad for something that grows free in your own back yard!

Plus, it tastes good. Like the sap of the maple tree, birch sap can be made into a delicious syrup. However, it takes enormous amounts of sap to make the syrup - usually about 80 gallons of sap will product 1 gallon of syrup. That's a lot of tree tapping. Instead of syrup we use the sweet sap for jellies and in mustards. If there's time, I'll sometimes boil it down and make a crunchy candy for the kids.

We don't claim that any of our products that contain birch have any medical qualities. For example, our birch sap soaps won't make your muscles stop aching or your fever go down. For one thing, any of those qualities in the sap would be seriously diminished (if not totally erased) by the saponification process. For another thing, all our soaps do is makes you nice and clean and good-smelling. The sap does make the soap lather beautifully though.

We do put the sap into some of our lotions and facial toners though ... as do many high-end, spa-quality cosmetic lines. BelAir Beauty sells a purifying cream for acne containing birch sap for $54 (1.7 ounces), or next time you're shopping at Saks 5th Ave you can pick up a bottle of Fresh's Men's Skin Soother with birch for $38 (1.7 ounces).

Ours is a little more reasonably priced.

Tapping the trees doesn't hurt them at all. We love our trees, and want them to be around for a long, long time and so we take good care of them. We tap each tree for a day or so, and stop when the tree starts putting out leaves. Then we patch up the hole with a bit of tree putty and pretty soon you'd never know there was ever a hole there at all.

The sap only runs for a few days or maybe a week or two each year, and when it's done, that's it until the next year. And just about the time the birch sap ends, the dandelions start popping up ... which begins the crazy time of year when we pick dandelion flowers like crazy!

But that's another blog post.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Germs, bacteria, fungus - 100% natural!

In 1993, an outbreak occurred at the cancer ward of the University Hospital in Basel, Switzerland. Almost half of the patients tested were found to be infected or colonized with the Paecilomyces lilacinus fungus. Nine of the patients had skin eruptions due to the infections. In one patient, the infection spread to the kidneys. Two patients died.

And how did the patients become infected? According to the Annals of Internal Medicine (published by the American College of Physicians), "The outbreak was ultimately traced to a contaminated, commercially available, pharmaceutically prepared skin lotion." The outbreak ended after the skin lotion was recalled.

As a maker of bath and body products, I have a very, very healthy respect for bacteria, germs and fungus. I do not want them anywhere near my products.

And yet, as a consumer - and as a mother - I want to make and use products that are as natural as possible. After all, this is one of the main reasons I make these products, to get away from the synthetic, petroleum-based, chemical-laden junk on store shelves. So the question is, how "natural" is safe? Which is better, "all-natural" or "natural but with preservatives?"

For me, after several years of studying preservatives and the nasty little bugs they are designed to kill, the answer is simple. The preservatives win, hands down. They may not be "natural," but not everything "natural" is good. Mold is natural, and so is E. Coli bacteria. Death is "natural."

I cringe every time I see "all-natural" lotions and creams listed for sale being touted as "chemical-free," with no preservatives listed in their ingredients. It is literally impossible to prevent the inclusion of some germs and bacteria into a product, unless you make it in an autoclave. Even the best good manufacturing practices only call for a work area to be sanitary, not sterilized. And water - a necessary ingredient in products like lotion and cream - creates the ideal breeding ground for bacteria, fungus and mold.

Now, some people truly believe that Vitamin E or grapefruit seed extract serve as natural preservatives. They are dead wrong. Both are antioxidants, not antibacterial or anti-fungal agents. In other words, they are great for keeping the oils in the products from going rancid as quickly (oxidizing). They do nothing to kill or prevent the growth of the kinds of nasties that can literally eat your skin off.

Any doctor will tell you that the majority of bacterial skin infections are caused by the gram-positive bacteria Staphylococcus and Streptococcus species. In 1997, after a c-section, I developed a hemotoma that became infected with MRSA - a medically-resistant staphylococcus (staph) infection - and it almost killed me. I spent a week in the hospital in a semi-conscious state as specialists shook their heads over me. I know gram-positive bacteria. They are not friends of mine.

So, given a choice between bacteria and chemicals, I go with chemicals. Fortunately there are some good preservatives that are free of parabens and formaldehyde, which are possible carcinogens and some of the things people looking for "natural" products tend to want to avoid. One of those preservatives is Optiphen, which we use in most of our products requiring a preservative. We even use it in our body butters and balms, even though they do not contain water, because people usually scoop those with their fingers.

Our advice? Run, don't walk, away from products that don't contain a preservative. Because if the pros can't manage to keep their products uncontaminated (just last summer, the FDA announced the recall of skin sanitizers and lotions marketed by Clarcon Biological Chemistry Lab), how can the little guys manage it?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Get hammered!

Jenny and Skip Alexander are a husband and wife team with lots of talent and a job they love. "We do everything from construction work to making dainty jewelry," they say. "We are completely self-employed and are loving every minute of it!"

And we love the jewelry in their Etsy shop, AlexandersDesigns. They work with "a unique blend of Swarovski Crystals, lamp work and glass beads, semi-precious gemstones, sterling silver, fine silver, pewter, and gold. Some pieces are playful, bold with lots of color and some pieces are simple yet very beautiful."

Our favorite, which leapt off the page and practically spoke to us, was the ring "Hammered," a handmade Sterling Silver band created by Skip, above.

The couple is celebrating their one-year Etsyversary this week, and are offering a 25%-off sale on everything in their shop from May 5th -12th. Just make sure to type "ETSYVERSARY25" in the message to seller when you buy.

The sale is good in their other two shops as well, so be sure to check those out for some great finds!
You can read more about Skip and Jenny at their blog:

Monday, May 3, 2010

Theyyyyyyy're back!

We know it's really Spring when our friends return from their vacations down South.

The ducks have been here for a few weeks now, cozying up to each other over by the creek where the lake has thawed the most. We've seen the swans flying overhead ... hopefully they'll settle down in their nest soon and lay a good batch of eggs. The kids saw a muskrat yesterday swimming in the thawed water along the shoreline. Hopefully he's still there, as we saw this guy out hunting a little later ...

He must have gone after the Bonaparte gulls, because they were dive-bombing him as he sat atop that tree. He refused to be bothered by them, of course. He's far too regal a bird for that. Or maybe he's a she, I don't know. There is a pair of bald eagles nesting very close to our house, and I imagine this is one of that pair.

This morning we heard the distinctive call of our dear Sandhill Cranes, who must have just arrived home last night. They are incredibly funny to watch ... they walk like a silly butler in a cartoon. However, their cry is wonderful to listen to, and they surely plan to wake up us with it early every morning from now until September, as is their usual wont.

As funny as they look when walking, though, when they fly they are amazing to watch.

So all we are waiting for now is our beloved loons. Usually we get at least one or two pairs nesting on our lake. Their lonely call is heartbreakingly beautiful. And, they make they cutest babies! We'll post photos when they arrive!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

From their home ... to ours!

Debbi and Amanda are a mother-daughter team. Debbi is the mom, and with her own biological children, foster kids, and a newly adopted child, uses art as a stress reliever and favorite hobby. Amanda is following her mom's footsteps ... she's a stay-at-home mom of a toddler, so "life is never dull," but with a bachelors degree in Graphic Design and her current work in her Masters program, art plays a big part in her life too.

The pair are the driving force behind "Our Home To Yours," a fabulous shop on Etsy that offers a fun combination of items like hand-crocheted childrens' hats and stuffed toys, unique vintage items and home decor, and photography.

We are amazed that these two busy women have the time and energy to offer such wonderful finds! We highly recommend their shop as a greast place to browse and find a few special items for your home ... from theirs!

To learn more about Debbi and Amanda's work, visit their blog or Facebook page!

What's that you're eating?

Studies have shown that you tend to bite and/or chew on your lips more often when wearing lip balm. Did you know that?

Whether or not people can become addicted to lip balm is controversial and debated a lot among researchers and other people with lots of time on their hands. It IS known, however, that balms like Carmex, Blistex, and some Chapstick-type products contain ingredients such as menthol, camphor or phenol, which are actually drugs meant to DRY up skin problems such as canker sores, ect.

So, you're eating these things. Yum.

Furthermore, these ingredients are much too harsh for everyday use. They do nothing to actually nurture the skin on your lips, and most contain petroleum products, which some feel are very harmful and at the least do nothing good for you.

At Swan Mountain Soaps, we create a natural, nuturing balm for lips that moisturizes with ingredients like cocoa butter, shea butter, pure olive oil, castor oil, and Vitamin E. No drugs, no petroleum products, no nonsense. With flavors like Decadent Butterscotch, Chocolate Orange Truffle, Minty Lime, Apricot Honey, Wild Alaskan Rose and Alaskan Violet, Chai Tea, and even an unflavored version (just for geeks!), we know they're good enough to eat. We don't recommend it, of course, but isn't it nice to know that you can?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Mother's Day countdown ....

Have you picked out your Mother's Day gift for Mom yet?

No? Are your hands clapped onto the sides of your face with your eyes caught in the despairing look of one with No Clue What To Buy? Does your Mom (or mother-in-law or wife) have EVERYTHING? Better yet, has she told you, "Don't buy ME anything, dear, you know I don't need anything, and I don't want you to spend the money on me."

You don't actually think she means that, do you?

Lucky for you, there is still time. And to help you out, we'll even send your gift directly to Mom with a lovely note from you. If your Mom washes her hands, she needs soap. if she doesn't, she needs help. Professional help. Sorry, we're not equipped to handle that. But you have our sympathy.

If you're overwhelmed by the abundance of wonderfulness and plethora of awesome gift choices in our Etsy shop, that's OK. Our trained professional Mother Shopper can help you. (You want credentials? Just ask Dad how much Mom has spent over the last year. That woman can SHOP).

Whether your Mom is a gardener, homemaker, diva, sport, geek, businesswoman, hopeless romantic or all of the above, we've got the perfect gift for her. We're happy to help. Now go put on a sweater, you'll catch your death. And don't forget to wash your hands.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Allergy alert

When my youngest son was about 6 or 7 months old, he started breaking out in a rash over his torso, face, arms and legs.

He itched. He cried. He had diarrhea all the time.

Trying to be a good mommy, I put him in tepid baths with a little ground oatmeal to try to stop the itching. It didn't help. We tried changing his diet - he wasn't eating too many different things yet - Cheerios were his favorite food, and he loved fruits and veggies. Finally, I took him to an allergist.

Lo and behold, he was allergic - very allergic - to oats. And here I'd been bathing him in the stuff.

According to the Food Allergy and Anaphalaxis Network, "Approximately 12 million people in the U.S. have food allergies. That’s one in 25, or 4% of the population. Food allergies are more prevalent among young children – one in 17 under the age of 3 has food allergies."

I eventually had all of my kids tested. Turns out one of my daughters is so allergic to nuts that she was given an epi pen to carry with her. I had no idea.

Parenting a child with food allergies, especially a young one, can be daunting. A trip to the grocery store - which used to take 15 minutes - now takes an hour, since every single label must be read. These days, many foods have ingredients you'd never suspect. For example, I am very allergic to soy. I never would have dreamed I'd find it in lunch meat - until the day I bit into a roast beef sandwich and my throat almost closed up. Sure enough, the meat contained soy. Why it did, I have no idea.

Furthermore, a parent cannot watch over their child's diet when they aren't home. Sometimes it only takes a tiny bite of an allergen to cause a strong reaction. What if someone offers my son a bit of an oatmeal raisin cookie and he says yes?

I came across these bracelets last night, and I am thrilled. What a great idea! Lucinda of Designed By Lucinda on Etsy makes the custom personalized bracelets that kids will be likely to wear because they're cool and pretty.

"My child has asthma, and I know many kids with it," Lucinda writes. "I also know many people with kids who have food allergies. The problem is that the necklaces and bracelets that EMTs are trained to look for tend to be a bit ugly to a first grader or so. These bracelets are a training step for kids for accept the (to them) ugly necklace while sporting a pretty bracelet."

Of course Lucinda doesn't intend for her bracelets to take the place of official asthma alert or other necklaces that EMTs are trained to look for. Instead, they are just "another way to remind people to Watch Your Child and read the labels before offering your child a cupcake."

Monday, April 19, 2010

We're all ears!

Sometimes a girl needs a little pick-me-up. A treat. A little goodie to brighten an otherwise dull week. And what better way to bring on a smile than to find the perfect pair of earrings ...

We recently came upon Made by Jewls on Etsy - the perfect spot for finding nothing but adorable earrings. Julianne specializes in flower earrings and earrings covered in gorgeous fabrics or Japanese paper. These one-of-a-kind beauties are just the right size - feminine but not foofy, big enough to be seen but not overbearing. And for those old-fashioned girls without pierced ears, Julianne can convert any earring into a clip-on style.
Here are some of our favorites from her shop:

Learn more about Julianne and her work here:

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Who ARE you?

I have to admit, I'm a sucker for Girl Scout cookies.

Well, actually, that's not true. I'm a sucker for Girl Scouts. It's the cute little braids and puppy-dog eyes that do me in. How can you say no to a sweet little 6-year-old handing you a box of Tagalongs? I'm equally as helpess in the face of lemonade stands and Little Leaguers going door-to-door with magazine subscriptions.

Now, I have no trouble passing up these items in the grocery store isles. Honestly, I need a box of cookies like Sampson needs an electric razor. The thing is, it's the pitch, not the product. And that makes me think.

What's my pitch?

A few months ago, I attended a Virtual Lab critique session with daniellexo of Etsy. One of the things Danielle talked about was the shop profile. It is vital, she said, that your profile tell a story about you and your work that will draw potential buyers and make them remember who you are.

Now, just about every craftsperson I know has a story. And it's usually a pretty good one. My own story is all about itching. Grocery store "soap" made me itch. I tried a bar of the real thing and I itched no more. And so, a soaper is born. It's that simple.

However, wend your way through the plethora of shops on Etsy and most seller profiles will have your eyes glazing over faster than a Congressional budget session on C-Span. "Hi! Thanks for coming to my shop!" or "I have always dabbled in one craft or another," or "XYZ's is dedicated to providing the highest quality widget blankets!"

ZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz ...... wha? oh, sorry.

If you want to pull me in faster than a toothless cherub at a lemonade stand with free chocolate samples, take note:

1. Tell me your story. Be specific. I don't want to hear that you're a naturally crafty person. I want to know WHY you make widget blankets that are special enough that you think I need to have one. Maybe you learned widget blanket-making while in prison, and have since turned your life around. Maybe your great-grandmother taught you this family widget blanket-making method on her knee. Maybe you set out to make a blanket for your pet canary but realized it fit your widget much better, and viola - a cottage industry was born. THAT's what I want to hear about.

2. I already assume that you are dedicated to providing the highest quality item. I've already figured that out from your photos, or I wouldn't have gotten this far into your shop. Tell me about your wonderful customer service in your policies section. Unless you are telling me about the time you got on an airplane to deliver one of your widget blankets to Oprah, and Colin Firth was seated next to you on the plane and insisted on having it for himself, but your supreme customer loyalty wouldn't allow it.

3. Same goes for the "highest quality ever" materials you use. If your shop name is "WidgetBlanketShop," please don't announce that you create one-of-a-kind widget blankets. The average shopper is somewhat brighter than you think, and can figure that part out for themself. However, please do tell me if you are in the process of patenting the use of fair-trade organic tomato seeds and Peruvian llama eyelashes for the trim. I'd love to know what makes you unique.

Here are a few examples of fun profiles:
And now, off to raid that box of cookies in the pantry.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Beauty from across the pond

Those Brits know a thing or two about beauty.

Some of my very favorite people hail from across the pond ... Jane Austen, Shakespeare, Cat Stevens, Vincent Van Gogh and (sigh) Colin Firth.

So it should come as no surprise that another Brit - Naomi from moonangelnay - has one of my new favorite shops on etsy. Naomi has an amazing eye for beauty and mystery, and manages to capture the essence of everyday items, turning them into works of art.

"I'm inspired by the human form, philosophy, nature, free will and color," she says. "A fine art artist at heart, yet I have an ever changing abstract style which has also drifted into my digital art work."

"I try to bring contrasting duality into my work, highlighting my interests in both light and dark and the veil in between through form, color, mantra and poetry to bring forth my objective to brand my work as more than just physical art or home decor, but something to think about," she says.

Naomi bases much of her work on "the affinity I perceive an object to have with it's environment, which can give a spiritual ambience to what I do. I love spectral brightness and the gothic glamor of monotone, instead of being quite the opposite, can be meshed together like light refracting through broken darkness."

You can learn more about Naomi and her work at her blog, here:
And you can view more of her gorgeous photography, calenders, cards and photo jewelry at her shop, here:

Monday, April 12, 2010

You gotta love lavender

It is said that lavender was used in hospitals during World War I to disinfect floors and walls.

Whether that is true or just another bit of urban legend, it is testimony to the antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties of the wonderful little plant. (And other hospital smells not withstanding, it surely smelled a lot better than whatever industrial strength stuff is used today!)

We love lavender, for so many reasons. For one thing, it makes a killer jelly. It's beautiful in the garden, and entire books have been written on its medicinal uses ... According to traditional wisdom, lavender infusions can soothe and heal insect bites. Bunches of lavender repel insects. Rubbing lavender oil slowly on the temples can soothe a headache. Lavender on your pillow can help with sleep and relaxation.

Recently, lavender got a bad rap when a few scentists claimed that lavender and tea tree oil used together caused prepubescent breast growth in boys. However, that has basically been debunked as it was found that the studies included only three (yes, three!) young boys, and that no scientific connection even existed between the condition and normal use (more info here).

Neat facts about lavender:
  • In ancient Greece, lavender was known as "nard."
  • Nard is mentioned in the Bible (Song of Solomon 4:14).
  • Dried lavender flowers have become recently popular for wedding confetti.
  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid using lavender.
  • The lavender plant actually belongs to the mint family, Lamiaceae.

We love the way lavender essential oil smells in our Lavender Bliss shampoo bar. We add just a wee a hint of clove essential oil, for an amazing blend that's calming, wonderful, and well ... blissful!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Contest Time!

So, we are sitting here pining for Spring. We know it's here when we can wear t-shirts again and there are more mosquitos than people in our yard. (Actually, more mosquitos than people on the New York subway). When those first happy dandelions start popping up, then it's officially Springtime in Alaska - at least in our book.

We want to know, what spells S-p-r-i-n-g- in your neck of the woods? Leave us a comment below and we'll choose our favorite. We'll send the winner a bar of our Secret Garden soap (free shipping in US only, international contestants must pay shipping - sorry!).

And don't forget to vote in the SAFE team's Spring challenge here too for another chance to win a little bit of Spring!

Pining for color

It never fails. Just when we let ourselves really believe Spring is here, it snows. We should have known, when most of the yard was visible again and the roads were dry, that another snowstorm was just around the corner. It is after all only April. If March comes in like a lion and goes out like a grizzly bear, April comes in like a lamb but is really only a polar bear in sheep's clothing.

Alas, we awoke this morning to a good 3-4 inches of the fluffy white stuff. * Sigh *

BUT ... the mother eagle is flying back and forth across our yard a few times a day, which hopefully means that she is finding food for an eaglet or two. And the swans are back from their winter vacation. AND, the pussywillows are in full bloom. So Spring can't be that far away. Can it?

One of my favorite colors of Spring is the blue lupine that floods the meadows and sides of roadways in Alaska. It's hard to believe, when everything is brown and white still, that there will soon be color everywhere. For now, I will have to be content staring at the bar of Blue Lupine soap in the kitchen. At least it's a concrete reminder that Spring will come eventually. Because it must.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Bee-ing beautiful

We at Swan Mountain Soaps are pretty practical people. In general we are just too busy to take the time to dress up or wear jewelry. However, every now and then something catches the eye and we just can't resist.

This week's featured Etsy seller is JujuBee Jewelry Designs. All of her items are just so pretty, a person could easily find themself giving in to their feminine side and buying half a dozen items. Of course, then a person would have to get their husband to take them out to dinner so they'd have a reason to wear said pretty things. Guess that's just the price you pay for bee-ing beautiful! =D

Here are a few more of JujuBee's items we love:

You can see more at her Etsy shop, here, or learn more about her at her blog,