Category Archives: Others

Hope Amidst Devastation

It has been more than two weeks since my last post. I did not feel like writing about soap when there were other more pressing issues at hand.  As I had mentioned, Cebu City (where I live) narrowly escaped the wrath of Typhoon Haiyan, but thousands of families in the northern part of Cebu province were not as lucky. They lost their homes, but thankfully, the number of casualties was low because they were able to evacuate to safer grounds. However, it was a totally different story in the city of Tacloban and the other municipalities of Leyte.  More than 5,000 people died and the destruction was simply staggering.

I am sure most of you have seen enough of the devastation on the news and have had your hearts wrung out. Even though I took a lot of photos of the destruction in Northern Cebu, I thought I’d rather share with you a different side to this tragedy – the innocent and carefree smiles of the children, the resilient spirit of the people, the beauty of the land, and the hope of rising again.

Last weekend, I and a group of friends went to Bantayan Island, one of the areas in the direct path of Typhoon Haiyan. To get there, it is a 3-hour drive to Hagnaya in the north, and from there, another 1.5-hour barge ride to the island of Bantayan, famous for its white sand beaches, and also known as the egg basket of Central Visayas.  Bantayan belongs to a group of small islands, and because of their remoteness, it is logistically challenging to reach some of them. Goods have to be loaded from Bantayan on outrigger motor/pump boats to get to the other smaller islands.

Haiyan- Loading relief goods

Carrying sacks of relief goods on low tide to be loaded onto a pump boat.

Haiyan -loading

We would not have been able to carry out our little relief work by ourselves. First, we needed a truck to haul the goods all the way from Cebu City to Bantayan Island, and from there, load them onto pump boats. Through friends of friends, we were put in touch with Nelson, the proprietor of Anika Island Resort, whose property was the only one miraculously not damaged by the typhoon. With two generators, Anika was the only resort with electricity, so it naturally became the headquarters of relief groups, both foreign and local. Nelson has been personally very much involved with relief works in his area and neighboring islands, and he has also become a point person/coordinator and facilitator for groups wanting to help. We are indeed very grateful for his generosity and kindness.

A short distance from Bantayan Island is the small fishing island of Hilantagaan, home to nearly 900 families, and badly damaged by the typhoon.  Together with Nelson and his church group, this was where we distributed relief goods.

Haiyan- Boy with Bike

The island in the background is Hilantagaan Island.

Haiyan -unloading goods

Arriving in Hilantagaan Island and unloading goods

Haiyan -Hilantagaan Children

Posing with the children of Hilantagaan are Mary Anne from Canada who works with Samaritan’s Purse International Relief Org., and volunteers, Ahmad and Reza.

Haiyan - 3 girls

Beautiful smiles amidst the ruins.

Haiyan -Shelter Box

Mother and daughter with the tent they received from ShelterBox.

Haiyan - baby

The young grandmother proudly showing off her grandchild, safe from the elements in their ShelterBox tent. Families with infants were given priority with the tents.

Lining up for coupons, one per family, before distribution of goods.

Lining up for coupons, one per family, before distribution of goods.

Haiyan - hilantagaan

The pristine shore of Hilantagaan. A 180˚ turn would reveal an island in ruins.

In the bigger island of Bantayan, life goes on…

Haiyan - 3 boys

Children laughing and catching small fish using a scrap curtain fabric as net.

Haiyan- Girl with clams

A girl digging the sand for clams.

Biking around the beach.

Biking around the beach.

Business as usual in the public market.

Business as usual in the public market.

View of the pier and the barge from the sandy shores of Bantayan.

View of the pier and the barge from the sandy shores of Bantayan.

The Philippines has received a tremendous outpouring of generosity and support from many countries, organizations, and individuals from all over the world. Thank you all, from the bottom of our hearts. 

Nature’s Fury

Most of you have probably seen on the news about super typhoon Haiyan (locally known as Yolanda) that hit central Philippines last Friday, Nov. 8. The worst hit was the city of Tacloban, where thousands of people are feared dead. I live in Cebu City, in the central part of the province of Cebu, which was struck just less than a month ago by a 7.2 magnitude earthquake (we still continue to feel aftershocks although it has become less).  Cebu City didn’t suffer much damage, but the northern part of Cebu bore the brunt of the signal no. 4 typhoon (category 5 hurricane).


The typhoon came and went swiftly. As you can imagine, we were anxious and scared, with the rain and wind so strong, and the power gone. After the typhoon passed, we all breathed a sigh of relief that it was not as bad as we had anticipated. But when power and signal started working again, that was when we learned of the devastation in other places.

A few years ago, my parents-in-law built a beach house in San Remigio, about 100 kilometers away in the northern part of Cebu.  They built it for family vacations, where all the children and grandchildren can relax, have fun, and get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. They really love the peace and tranquility there, and even considered making it their retirement house in the future. Well, this is the house after Typhoon Yolanda unleashed her fury:

The roof is gone, the windows broken, and the inside of the house look like it went through a washing machine.

The roof is gone, the windows broken, and the inside of the house looks like a tornado went through it.

The calm view from the wreck in the house.

The calm view from the wreck inside the house.

A book belonging to our neighbor, lands in her garden.

A book belonging to our neighbor, lands in her garden.

Here are more photos taken during our drive this morning to the north. Luckily, the trees and debris have been cleared from the road.  Relief goods are starting to pour in already.

Typhoon 4 Typhoon 5 typhoon 7 typhoon 8

typhoon 10

Even the resilient bamboo that sways with the wind is bent and broken.

Even the resilient bamboo that sways with the wind is bent and broken.

The pictures above are nothing compared to what is happening in the worst-hit areas. It is heart-wrenching to see people desperate and suffering, and at the same time it is heart-warming to see a lot of people helping in whatever way they can.  Amidst all this, I am most grateful that my city was spared and am reminded of how precious life is – that it should be lived with joy, love, passion, and kindness.


Earthquake! Asking for prayers.

I woke up this morning to Facebook posts of a 7.2 magnitude earthquake in Cebu City, my hometown. My husband and I are in Taipei for our 5th wedding anniversary, so imagine our worry on hearing the news. We made calls to family and friends, and thank God, everyone’s safe. There are some moderate  damages to our properties, but nothing major. Some parts of the city suffered serious damage though, like collapsed church bell towers, skywalks and building structures. The epicenter was in Bohol, a very nearby island, just across Cebu Province. I saw pictures of the destruction there and it looks bad. Some centuries old churches have caved-in roofs and some have been reduced to rubble.

NATIONAL TREASURE. Basilica Minore del Sto Niño in Cebu City loses its belfry to the 7.2-magnitude earthquake. Photo from Jose Faruggia

One of the oldest churches in the Philippines, the Basilica Minore del Sto Niño in Cebu City loses its belfry. Photo courtesy of Jose Faruggia.

SEVERE DAMAGE. The centuries-old Loboc Church in Loboc, Bohol shows its collapsed roof after a magnitude 7.2 quake in the region, 15 October 2013. Photo courtesy of Robert Michael Poole (@tokyodrastic)

Loboc Church in Loboc, Bohol, another heritage centuries-old church. Photo courtesy of Robert Michael Poole.

 This may be the strongest earthquake we have experienced in the past 100 years. News is just starting to trickle in on the number of casualties. There’s more than a dozen already and still counting. Everyone is saying they’re so scared and the aftershocks are making it worse.

Please say a little prayer for everyone affected by this earthquake.

On a lighter note, my husband and I almost missed our return flight today. We honestly thought our flight was still tomorrow.  We had already planned on our itinerary for today: go to the National Museum then shop for presents this afternoon. We took a late breakfast, went back to our room and busied ourselves with social media to keep track with what’s happening back home. Fortunately, my husband checked the flight update emailed to him (obviously I didn’t check mine) and realized our flight is this afternoon! We scrambled to shower, pack our things, and check out of the hotel. Glad to report we made it! In fact we are too early, giving me plenty of time to write this post.

Tomorrow I will post on my exciting soapy finds in Taipei. Stay tuned! 🙂

Lye Master Batch: How to Make and Its Application

I will be out of town the next couple of weeks.  It will be a reluctant break from my soapmaking mania, but I am excited to be in Honolulu for the Hawaii Food and Wine Festival and to be visiting my sister in California after. Yipee!!!

Before I take off, here’s a tutorial on lye master batching.

LYE MASTER BATCHING, 1:1 ratio or 50% concentration

1.  You will need:

  • 2 liters distilled water
  • 2 kilos sodium hydroxide/NaOH/caustic soda (pearls or flakes)
  • 1 chemical-resistant plastic container* that can hold 1 gallon or minimum 3 kilos
  • 1 large bowl or basin that can hold the plastic container
  • 1 digital weighing scale
  • 1 pair gloves
  • 1 pair safety goggles
  • 1 long chemical-resistant stirring spoon

*To learn more about what’s safe to use, you may want to check out this forum thread. Avoid metal containers as you run the risk of turning your lye solution gray, and always have a container with a bigger capacity than what’s going into it.

lye masterbatching check list

2.  Although you can mix the solution in the kitchen with the exhaust turned-on, I prefer to do it outside for better ventilation as the fumes are very biting and strong.  Just for added precaution so that the lye solution does not overheat, I always place the mixing container in a bowl filled with cold tap water (think nuclear reactor). With safety gear in place, it’s time to pour the NaOH into the container with distilled water.lye masterbatching 1

3. Cover your nose (I just hold my breath) and stir until the NaOH has been completely dissolved.Lye Masterbatching 2

4. Cover the container loosely to prevent debris from going in and to prevent rapid evaporation. If I make the lye solution before going to work, I transfer it to a bathroom that no one uses.  By the the time I come home, it would have cooled down already. Alternately, this can be done at night and left to cool down overnight.

Lye Masterbatching 3

Right after mixing, the solution gets very very hot, near boiling.  Look at the water bubbles forming from the heat:

Lye Masterbatching 4

5. When the solution has completely cooled down, give it a good stir. I also like to strain it before it goes into the jug. Make sure to clearly and properly mark your container and store in a place where no one will accidentally bump into it or mistake it for something else.  (I store it under the kitchen sink)

lye master batchThe net weight of the solution is 4 kilos or 8.8 pounds, but since the solution is very dense, its volume is approximately a little over half a gallon.

lye masterbatch 1


To avoid confusion, I will be using the term lye pre-mix to mean master-batched lye solution and NaOH to mean DRY lye or caustic soda.

Let’s take an example and assume these were the numbers shown after running your recipe through a lye calculator:

                  Water 265 grams          NaOH 130 grams

→ Multiply the called for NaOH by 2:

                 130 g. NaOH x 2 = 260 g. lye pre-mix

→Subtract NaOH weight from water amount (lye calculator amounts):

                 265 g. water – 130 g. NaOH = 135 g. additional liquid

(Explanation: Remember our lye pre-mix is half water, half NaOH. Thus, to determine how much pre-mix to use, we have to double the NaOH quantity called for in the recipe.  Correspondingly, we have to deduct the water in the pre-mix from the total liquid required to know how much more to add.)

In a nutshell:

A recipe that calls for 130 grams NaOH and 265 grams water would need:

                 260 g. lye pre-mix + 135 g. water

To double check that your conversion is correct, the sum of the numbers of the original recipe should be the same as for the pre-mix:

Original recipe:            265 g. water + 130 g. NaOH = 395 g.

Recipe with pre-mix:   135 g. water + 260 g. lye pre-mix = 395 g.

Note: Mixing the lye pre-mix with additional water or any form of liquid will cause the whole thing to heat up again!  Unless you actually prefer to have it hot to melt hard oils or for whatever reason, I suggest mixing your water/milk/juice directly into the oils, then adding in the lye pre-mix after.

I hope my tutorial was clear and didn’t make you more confused 🙂 .  For additional information, there are several forum threads out there, just google “lye master batching.” I would also highly recommend reading Kevin M. Dunn’s Scientific Soapmaking.  From his book, I learned it was possible to have a 50% lye concentration, and even though it does not talk about master batching, it helped me to understand lye and water percentages/discounts and just about all the nerdy stuff behind soap making. (Ok, there was a lot of hard core chemistry and equations that I skipped. I only read portions that interested me 🙂 )

I don’t master batch my oils because I like playing with different recipes, but I can’t imagine going back to weighing and mixing lye every time I have to make soap.  I just love the ease and convenience, and in my opinion, it’s really no more dangerous than having to dissolve solid NaOH every time.  Needless to say, extra precaution has to be taken when dealing with any hazardous substance.

When I need to use some lye pre-mix, I just pour directly from the jug. I don’t even shake it because I think the the NaOH has dissolved and bound completely with the water. But that’s just me.  I guess there’s no harm in shaking it up a bit before using, if that makes you feel better.

Happy soaping! 🙂

Removing Soda Ash Efficiently

Nowadays, when I am making soap, I don’t think about soda ash anymore.  I have taken a zen approach to it: if it’s there, then it’s there; if it’s not, then well and great.  But previously, I was really on the hunt on how to avoid it. I tried all sorts of tips gathered from books and the internet: from using beeswax, to spraying with alcohol, to covering the soap surface, to steaming. From my experience, beeswax does not guarantee a soda ash-free soap; the same goes for spraying with alcohol. Covering the surface works, but it can leave crease marks and air pockets; steaming works too but it is time consuming and a bit dangerous to hold a soap bar over a steaming kettle.  I’ve also tried holding an entire loaf over steaming water. Some of the ash came back after a few days, but it could be that the soap was getting slippery so i did not get to steam it long enough.

Last June, after making a batch of soap that had soda ash, it started to rain.  The following day, I noticed that the ash had disappeared and the soap was a bit moist from the high humidity. This gave me the idea to place a “tent” (using an inverted container) over the soap, together with a bowl of hot water, to trap the steam. So far, I’ve found this to be the most efficient and effective way of removing soda ash.  For bigger batches, this can be done in an oven or in any enclosed space for that matter.

Here is a batch of ashy lemongrass verbena soap that I steamed this afternoon.  While it was steaming, I took pictures of my other soaps.  I estimate that I left it to steam for around 20-25 minutes.

Lemon verbena soap covered with soda ash.

Lemon verbena soap covered with soda ash.

Steaming soap.

Soap being steamed.

Soap right after steaming.

Soap right after steaming. This is another one of my colour-challenged soaps 🙂

Here’s another batch I steamed:

Japanese Cherry Blossom   soap before steaming.

Japanese Cherry Blossom soap before steaming.

After steaming.

After steaming.

Soap Stamping

A plastic surgeon in action…….

……..stamping  avocado and cucumber soaps!

Thank you Dr. F.B.!   You just made these soaps extra special!

Doctor hard at work.

soap stamping 3

Soap stamping 1

Sugar Scrub

This is my second batch of sugar scrub.  I like how simple it is to make, and most importantly, it makes my skin feel silky soft.  I gave my sister a jar and she is liking it a lot too.

Sugar scrub

Recipe for an 8 oz. jar:

  • 150 grams fine granulated sugar
  • 50 grams grapeseed oil
  • 20 grams glycerin
  • few drops of rosemary, lavender, and eucalyptus oils

New Soap Molds

I have two very talented, creative and wonderful people to thank for these molds.  The wooden one was a rush job made by Boogie, my go to for anything to do with construction or renovation, or anything that needs to be made or fixed. Woodwork is her specialty and no one does a better job. She’s very busy but I somehow convinced her that my soap was very important! :-p

Wood mold

Wooden mold works great – lined with paper – but NOT with the acrylic liner in the photo.

The all-acrylic mold and the acrylic liner for the wooden mold were made by Mitzi.  This is the first time she’s made a soap mold (she’s in the signage and letterpress business) but I like the way she really got into it when we were discussing the design.  The acrylic mold was inspired by the one made by Soap Hutch, but Mitzi made it even better by adding the engraved measurement guide. The photo below was taken when I got the mold 2 weeks ago. It has been improved with another bolt added in the bottom center.

Acrylic Mold

Soap slides out easily using the wooden dowels to push it up.

Update (5/30/13):

The 5-panel acrylic liner added to the wooden mold was my idea.  I thought I had come up with an ingeniously simple design, but my idea was majorly squashed when I used it for the first time with my aloe vera soap.