Hibernate starts in a few days. There is still time to register.

I am teaching a soapmaking tutorial in this year's retreat and have prepared a supply list for those of you who are taking the class and want to get a head start on getting your materials.

I was specifically asked for this list by some friends on Instagram and I'm posting it here so I can keep it with my soapmaking pages for future reference.

In the soapmaking tutorial I've prepared for Hibernate I walk you through cold process soapmaking, from gathering the things you need in the kitchen before you start, to cutting and curing the bars at the very end. I teach a bit of troubleshooting, as I had issues arise in my own soapmaking during the video process.

This is a basic tutorial. I teach a straightforward technique, without too many variables to overwhelm you or introduce possibility for error.

My goal for this tutorial is that class participants will feel soapmaking is an accessible craft and that they would be empowered by the instructions and information I’ve provided to be confident enough to try it on their own.

Many people I've met are interested in making soap but they are intimidated by the process, and using lye especially. My main message when it comes to lye is this: use common sense and appropriate safety measures and fear not. Don't be so afraid of lye that you don't try making soap. Unless you are ridiculously clumsy or unable to follow simple safety rules, you can handle this.

Although I kept things simple in this tutorial I do spend some time talking about creating essential oil blends for soap. The natural fragrance of essential oils is one of the deep pleasures for me of soapmaking and I wanted to make sure to share some of that knowledge and experience with you.

Here's what you'll need to make this soap.


  • 4.5 oz lye
  • 12.2 oz distilled water
  • 8 oz coconut oil
  • 8 oz olive oil
  • 8 oz palm oil
  • 3.2 oz sunflower oil
  • 3.2 oz canola oil
  • 1.6 oz castor oil
  • 1.5 oz essential oils

In the tutorial I provide a detailed recipe with metric measurements also.

As I explain in the tutorial I do not use the highest quality essential oils in soapmaking. I don't use the bottles sold at the health food store or through multi-level marketing companies.

I buy all my soapmaking essential oils online, in "bulk" quantities where possible.

This recipe calls for a total of 1.5 oz of essential oils. I used a blend of rosemary, lavender, and peppermint.

You can find those essential oils, the vegetable oils and fats (called carrier oils), and the lye for this recipe at one of these suppliers.

United States:


Supplies & Tools:

  • scale
  • thermometer
  • immersion or stick blender
  • gloves
  • eye protection
  • stainless steel soup pot
  • a couple glass, ceramic, stainless steel or plastic mixing bowls for measuring oils (I use a 2 cup glass measure)
  • small glass jar, plastic or stainless steel container for measuring lye
  • 4 cup/1 quart mason jar - must be heat resistant
  • stainless steel spoon (for measuring lye and scooping the solid fats)
  • wooden spoon for stirring lye mixture*
  • silicon spatula or plastic spatula*
  • wooden spoon or spatula for melting oils
  • newspaper/circular flyer papers/piece of cardboard
  • paper towel
  • rags
  • vinegar
  • small cardboard box for a mold
  • thick plastic bag
  • scissors
  • tape

*These tools should be designated for soapmaking or craft purposes only.

Most of these supplies and tools you will already have around your house.

That's the list. With these supplies on hand you'll have everything you need to make soap.

I am so looking forward to participating in Hibernate again this winter. I need it! And I look forward to connecting with you in that warm and cozy space.

This is the third post in a three part series of year-end reflections.

Growth (in community)

Our family belongs to several communities. We are part of a homeschool co-op on the West Island of Montreal. For those unfamiliar with the area, this is essentially a different town from us. And for our family to participate in that community we must drive, schedule, make arrangements, leave where we actually live and travel to a different place.

But that community is part of our village, committed to helping each other raise and educate our children. It is such a supportive and talented group of families. What we are able to accomplish as a group, and provide for our children, is much bigger than what each of our families could do on our own. And that is the strength of a collective. But to build such a community takes effort. And when you live in a different town, it takes extra effort.

We belong to our actual neighborhood, and we love this neighborhood. We love the city. We have neighbors who share our walls and fences. Neighbors for whom I am building a backyard garden to bring beauty into all our lives. Neighbors who shop at the same hardware store and grocery store we frequent. These neighbors are predominantly francophone and this is a barrier (for me and the kids especially) to building deeper relationships with these people. But it is a barrier that I desperately want to move past, as my heart's desire is to cultivate friendships across fences, to get to know the people in our building and neighborhood.

And we belong to a church community. Our church community is the people we gather with on Sunday mornings and throughout the week to share our lives together. We've got the Sunday morning thing down, but getting together with people throughout the week is trickier for us with our West Island commitment taking us out of the city and into a different town a couple times a week. We can't do everything and Damien and I are careful that our family builds boundaries in our relationships with each other and our relationships within communities, so we keep healthy: physically, emotionally, and spiritually. And yet, we feel the tug for more connection, more shared life with our church community.

This has always been our heart's desire. That we would share life with people, not just a religion, or a way of believing, but the activities of our days. We do this as a family of five and the church, the body of Christ, is a family. And we have always been drawn into growing deeper community in the church.

We live in a tension. The desire for more connection and community and the busyness of our lives. And we are always wanting to integrate these two.

My last post was about words, my word for 2017 is Release and one of things I want to be released into is more hospitality, more community building.

We are five, we are a community unto ourselves, and amongst our five we must balance engagement and rest, giving and receiving. And we five then fit into these other communities and we must balance our engagement as one unit within those communities, while still balancing our engagements with each other!

I (and we) want to be a house of hospitality but this has to unfold in a way that will work for our family and work for me. I don't particularly like cooking these days (these days being the last few years). I feel out-of-sync in that realm. Our family differs on how each of us wants to eat and our values around food have shifted. Feeding other people feels complicated to me. I don't feel freedom, I feel stress. And this is not the emotion from which I want to give. Also, I have very real energy limits in my life. Physical, emotional and spiritual needs for rest. I have a full-time job.

I don't know how this will work itself out in our lives, in our year. But like with calling and vocation, I'm not trying to figure out the big, grand picture I'm following the breadcrumb trail of curiosity, step by step by step. There are barriers: time, language, finances, physical space (our dining room table "comfortably" seats 4, yes, we are 5), I'd rather make soap, organize, or pay bills than cook, etc. etc. but I don't have to have that all figured out. I just need to be willing to take the step that is right in front of me, listen for the Spirit, and give from what has been given to me. (And no, I don't know exactly what that looks like.)

This is an area I am seeking to find release into this coming year.

Bullet Journal (for the journey)

Last spring I started a series on how I manage ideas, and my last, and still unpublished post in that series is about using a bullet journal. This is not that post, it's just a brief overview of how this type of journaling system helps me reflect from day to day and month to month, a tool to help me notice and pay attention to what my life is teaching me.

I started using a Bullet Journal at the beginning of 2016. A bullet journal can be whatever kind of planning, recording system you want it to be. A bullet journal is really just a system of keeping a journal, and what you keep in that journal is completely up to you.

(This time of year there is a ton of buzz on these journals.)

I spent months researching bullet journals trying to figure out if it would work for me, and I had a rough idea going into it how I might set things up. But what I did not anticipate is how many spiritual ideas and personal reflections I would keep in this journal.

In the past I've always kept my day planner separate from personal journals. I'm not sure how it evolved into this but in 2016 the planning and the personal merged together. And I like it. It also means I'd be devastated if I lost this book, as I would lose more than just the to-do list but the written record of my inner life through the year.

What is great about the bullet journal concept is that you can weave these two together really well. There's nothing limiting you in a bullet journal. There is no calendar or weekly template you must follow and fill, preventing you from chronicling personal thoughts right alongside the week's tasks.

For me, it seems that using a bullet journal has allowed me to see with more clarity the connection between my growth (the struggle and triumphs) and my responsibilities, tasks, to-do's that facilitate that growth.

I love looking back through this journal, pages thick with writing, key themes and lessons underlined in my seasonal-colored gel pens; week after week the doings of family, home and community life recorded; lists with boxes checked, and pages of plans gone awry; a record of the kids temperatures during our sick season; mantras and truth underlined and starred: this is not going to take me down, the spirit of God lives in me, the world does not have what you seek, it's an inside job, God's got this, and when you only have the energy for one thing: live like you are loved (and so many more); lists of things I'm grateful for; travel logs from our summer trip; pages of frustrated and angry words, sometimes stained with my tears; sketches to communicate where words fail; Examen notes and thoughts quickly written after morning meditation; sermon notes and schedules; a list of blog posts I didn't write and others that I did, etc.

Keeping this kind of journal (you can call it whatever you like but I first learned how to index and organize such disparate ideas under the bullet journal banner so I call it that) has been a helpful tool for gathering the messy parts of my life into a cohesive whole. It helps me secure the perimeter, to gather everything together and make sense of it. And it breaks down the barriers between sacred and profane, because for me that's a false dichotomy.

Every single part of my life is infused by the Spirit, if I open myself to that possibility. The Spirit carries me, works through me, corrects and admonishes me (when my pride doesn't get in the way, which it often does). The Spirit is always present, always moving, always working. And this journal is record of that movement through this past year.

Where do you see yourself growing this coming year? Do you feel scared or excited about that?

Do you use a bullet journal or something similar? What tools do you use to make connections between the day-to-day details and big picture growth?

This is the second post in a three part series of year-end reflections.

Over the last few weeks, back into mid-November, I have been thinking a lot about my 2016 word(s) for the year and looking ahead, settling on a word(s) for 2017.

I've grown into my own word-for-the-year practice. For years the idea of choosing a word for the year mystified me. Where did the word come from exactly? And just one word? How can one word fit an entire year?

But I was very intrigued and wanted to get in on the action so I started by choosing my word for the year in retrospect, looking back on the previous year for a dominant theme. I like closure so that worked for me.

About three years ago I started choosing a word for the year before the year had begun.

I don't know how other people find their own words to express the coming year. In my case, these words might be a desire I have, how I hope to align my external reality with my inner self in the coming year. Or they might be a more definitive word that largely expresses an external reality, a goal perhaps based on life season, time and place.

The question I have asked myself about choosing a word for the year is: does it influence you, or do you influence it? In other words, does that word change your path somehow, or does your path determine your word. I think the answer is both.

Words frame our experience. They are a mental construct to help us make sense of things. Words help us write a story with our life, they help make the messy and confusing feel more cohesive and tidy.

As a memoirist blogger, I use words, lots of words, to tell the story of my experience ("narrative" is the buzz word these days) in an attempt to find hidden structure or to bring order and meaning to an experience.

This is what stories are, a narrative that helps us to make sense of the chaotic and challenging circumstances of our lives.

Our stories and our words are both tools and truth.

They are tools to help us make sense of things. And they are truth in that how we tell that story, how we make sense of our experiences, will inform and influence how we actually experience the world. Our stories are both an expression of an experience and the lens through which we view that experience and future experiences. In this way, our stories, our words, have the power to manifest things in our lives.

Words have the power to create worlds, to create reality.

As a person who struggles with anxiety, I know, first hand, the power of words to create both positive and negative "realities". How I perceive a situation, the words I use to make sense of it (the words I use to describe the people, the motives, the actions, etc), those words, more than the circumstance itself, is what defines my reality in that situation.

I'm not about to make the leap that my perception equals capital R reality, the absolute truth of a situation. That is a philosophical discussion I'm not prepared to have right now. But what I am prepared to put forth, and stand by, is that what you believe about something gives power to that idea, event, person, object, remembrance. And how we frame experiences (and people) with our words, can be a tool to build, restore, improve, create, or it can be a force of destruction, on all levels of relationship - intrapersonal, interpersonal, families, communities, societies.

I want my words to create a reality of love and freedom, for myself and others.

Choosing a word for the year is part of this intention. This is not an exact science for me, it's more of a "sense" I have of where I'm at right now or what my heart is telling me I need to focus on.

Here's my list of words of the year going back to when I started this. Remember I started this as a retrospective activity.

  • 2009 - dream
  • 2010 - plan
  • 2011 - move
  • 2012 - re-root
  • 2013 - establish
  • 2014 - hike (beyond my boundaries)
  • 2015 - heal (fallowed field)
  • 2016 - receive (open hands open heart)
  • 2017- release (open hands open heart, part 2)

You'll notice at 2014 I move beyond one word. That demarcates when I started choosing a word at the beginning, instead of the end of the year. I also can't keep it to just one word.

I've been blogging through all these years but 2015 was probably the first year I expressed my word for the year explicitly on the blog. I meant to write a post last January with the word for 2016 but didn't get that done.

Words of the year are not written in stone, they are written on hearts and hearts can change. At the beginning of this year I felt very strongly that my words for this year were Open Heart Open Hands. (I know, more than one word.)

I had been thinking that after a year set aside for healing (2015) it was probably time to open my hands in service. And then in January, it was clear to me through the movement of the Spirit in my heart (these things are hard to explain), that open heart open hands mostly meant I was to receive.

As a doer this is not my natural inclination. And I wasn't even sure what this meant. Our lives are to be full of service to others. This is our calling and vocation as humans, to serve each other. And as mothers, partners, fathers, homeschoolers, community builders, employees, whatever we are, we are always serving in some capacity. But everything has a season, and some seasons we need focus on receiving, and that was what I needed to learn this past year.

I feel like 2015 set the stage for that because basic healing practices were in place, it was like the foundation was laid for what I was about to receive.

Now obviously there is always two sides of story: we are giving and receiving, shining and sheltering, exploring and rooting, relaxing and stretching, in the same way that breathing depends on an inhale and an exhale. But I do believe there can be an overall theme to the experience of a year or a life season. And the overall theme for me last year was to receive.

At the beginning of 2016 the word receive was clear to me, but it wasn't clear "what" I was to be receiving. The word gave me a direction, gave me hints about to look for, but it didn't give me "the thing" itself. The thing itself was what I received. It's like saying the word "gift", gift tells you something special is coming, something wrapped up just for you, but not what that special thing is.

Just like opening a gift and discovering what's inside, so to has this year been a discovery of what I've been receiving. In the last month, I asked myself "what have you received this year?" And then I looked back at each month, revisiting the seasons of pain and frustration, and the growth that came out of that, mentally revisiting the times of ease and a strong sense of well-being. (I always prefer the latter over the former.) And here's the list I came up with.

This year I received:

  • the Spirit in a fresh new way
  • a deeper sense of God's love for me
  • further understanding of my identity
  • increasing freedom from anxiety
  • insights about my marriage and my husband
  • some clarity in my callings
  • friendship
  • the message so strong and clear, that I am to rest in God, and the only sustainable and life-giving way to serve and love is to be rooted here in this love, first and foremost

God's love is always present, the Spirit is always in me. But there are times in our life where we are made more aware of certain realities and this was my year to deeply receive these truths, these gifts.

At the beginning of 2016 I had thought it was a year to open my heart open my hands into some kind of giving. And I don't doubt that I have given of myself this year. But I feel that 2016 was the year to understand what I have received, to experience that depth of love, out of which I can actually give.

At the end of 2016, as I look into 2017, I believe I'm being released to serve and love, part two of open heart open hands. It's the year for a release of what God has given me.

I have small inklings of what this might look like. I have started to move in this freedom in the last part of this year. But I also know I can't quite imagine both the struggles and the joys that will accompany this heart-set (like a mindset of the heart). I am excited and scared. But when I feel that anxiety, I need to go right back into the source of all my strength and courage, dive right back into what I have received - love.


Looking back on this past year I see movement into positions and places that were unexpected. Movement into these roles and responsibilities has not been smooth or easy. I went through a difficult period of anxiety this fall in one such transition. And there was no signpost saying, "this way Renee". There were prayer, tears, frustration, self-surrender, and this: being quiet to listen for the voice of the Spirit.

This is a key piece for me to be grounded (something I talked about in the first post of this series). I am not a naturally quiet person. I'm extraverted and in times of distress I might go either way, into frenetic and frantic behavior or into deep retreat, pull the covers up over my head and seek shelter and "safety" from the discomfort, exposure and pain I am experiencing.

But the path for me is neither. The path is to root and ground myself in quiet and contemplation, to listen to the Spirit and then use all that energy that comes naturally to me, all that bubbly, all that effervescence, to act. Not in a response to my fear, but in response to the Spirit.

This past year I have nurtured my ability (and been equipped by the Spirit) to show up and be present in pain and discomfort, mine and others. I'm still a baby in these skills, my first instinct is to hide and shelter but I know I'm being asked to grow in this. I have more words to publish on this subject (I've been writing a lot about this idea) but for today, in this moment of reflection and celebration, I am grateful for the compassion, born out of brokenness and vulnerability, that I am able to bring to situations that I couldn't before. Situations I would have avoided for fear of exposing my weaknesses and inadequacy, or situations into which I would have brought judgement.

I have started, once again after a season of retreat, to put myself out there in new realms, realms where I am depended on and I don't feel completely up to the task, unsure of my competency to do the job well and fulfill my responsibility. And I'm having to remember, in those feelings of insecurity and inadequacy, where my security and sense of worthiness comes from. And I am proud (I did question the use of that word and chose it intentionally because I am proud, not in a boastful way, but a deeply grateful way) of myself that I do this in spite of the anxiety these situations cause me. I still struggle with anxious episodes. But I know these are things you cannot go around, but must go through, in order to gain strength and confidence.

Do you have a word of the year? How do you choose that?

What kind of movements did you experience this past year? Did you move into some things and out of others?

Can't comment?

My sincere apologies if you have problems commenting here. Feel free to shoot me an email or engage at Facebook.