Enjoying St. Pete

In late December, W & I headed South to spend some time in St. Petersburg, Florida.  We went down with family who highly recommended the city.  While we spent most of the vacation sitting on the beach or by the pool, we make time on Saturday to wander around downtime and spend some time at the Saturday Morning Market as we are fans of farmer’s markets and we’d heard lovely things.

The market was amazing.  Every type of produce you could imagine was available for purchase.  The colors were almost overwhelming.  I was so tempted to buy, but we were leaving the next day and I knew most of it wouldn’t survive the drive home.

We did make time while there to eat.  Aside from all the fruits, veggies, breads and pasta, there were a large number of stalls selling prepared foods.  Again, the variety was amazing.  Beyond the typical things you would expect, there were empanadas, flat breads, Thai food, crepes and Ethiopian.

The other side of the market is full of craft stalls and clothing shops with performers at various intervals around the exterior.  I fell in love with a sustainably focused booth that was selling palm frond hats (one may have come home with me).  There were gorgeous terrariums and yummy canned goods.

After we finished wandering, we drove around the corner to the Brocante Vintage Market. It is 15,000 sqft filled with vintage goodies.  It opens for one weekend once a month and we just happened to pick the perfect weekend.  I adored the chair and side table above, but we ended up taking home only a few gifts.

We’ve seen amazing photos of the street art downtime and know there were so many places on our list we didn’t get to see.  Our time there was so short, we can’t wait to go back.

A Soap Story…With Bears!

We love getting special request from our customers.  During the last holiday season we got a truly unique request.  We were asked to write a story about our soap that included, of all things, bears.  We thought about it for a while and finally sat down and penned the short story that you will find below.  The customer said she thoroughly enjoyed it and so we decided to share it with you.  Please enjoy!

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The night was crisp and clear. The air had a bite that hinted at the coming Winter. The three bears huddled close to the small fire that whose flames licked at the relentless chill. Silence, hung like a shroud on the group. The silence was broken when, Griz, the elder of the group coughed deeply.

“The cold air really gets in the lungs, doesn’t it?” The question drifted up and dissipated into the night. “Seems like the cold came a sooner this year than last.” Will was younger and still new to the pack and their traditions. He felt a close kinship with the small pack that had taken him in but their tendency to a silent kinship still made him uncomfortable. The silence was especially heavy tonight. It was the last night of the pack reunion before beginning their winter hibernation and Oliver had not yet arrived.

Griz looked up slowly at Will and smiled with a half chuckle. “Yeah kid, it came early this year”. Griz had found Will as a young cub, wandering and near starvation. He had convinced the pack to take Will in until he could return to find his home clan. That day never came as Will’s innocent youthfulness had grown on the others. “Looks like Oliver decided to skip the reunion and hit the caves early.” His voice was solemn as he turned to Sten, the third bear in the circle, with a tired gaze.

Sten let the words settle slowly and then nodded. “I suppose he did.”

“Well that’s kind of rude.” Will said flatly. “Seems like he could have let one of us know that he was going to skip the winter reunion.” The night and the silence yawned for a moment. “It just seems like the nice thing to do.”

Griz and Sten looked at Will and then at each other. They couldn’t help but smile at his naivete despite the dour implications of Oliver’s absence.

“Guess your right, kid. He should have let us…” Griz was stopped short by another deep and lingering coughing spell.

“Maybe we should go ahead and do the exchange. I’m tired and want to get a good nights rest. My cave is three days trek from here and I want to get an early start” Sten had always been a bit gruff. Will was learning that this didn’t mean he didn’t care about the pack, just that he wasn’t good at showing it.”

“That’s a good idea Sten.” Griz offered. “Why don’t you get us started. I think you were suppose to get something for Will weren’t you?”

“Yeah.” Sten responded. He reached behind him and pulled out a small box, that he held out to Will. “I got this from a campsite that was filled with a bunch of hipsters. I thought it might help you with your courting next year.”

Will took the box and opened it enthusiastically, shredding the paper and ribbon. A grin spread across his face as he held up a polka dotted bow tie. He turned to Sten, “Thanks, this is great. This will really catch Leah’s eye.” Sten almost smiled at Will’s enthusiasm. “But Sten, how did you know they were hipsters and would have a bow tie?”

“Oh, when I came up to the site all the cars were Volvo’s and everyone had solar chargers sitting around the campsite for their iPhones.” Griz and Will broke out into laughter and even Sten let out a little chuckle.

“Ok, my turn.” Griz said, glad that the mood had lifted. He held out a large plastic bag in Sten’s direction. Sten reached into the bag and carefully pulled out a ukulele. Will, had no idea what it was but he knew it was a great gift. In the eight months he had spent with the pack he had never seen Sten smile like he did as he stared at the small and strangely shaped item.

“Where did you find this?” Sten said with surprising enthusiasm.

Griz smiled. “It’s a funny story. I was nibbling on some berries near the Appalachian trail and heard someone strumming. I wandered over to the trail and caught a glimpse of a couple who were sitting at an overlook playing. It looked just like you had described it. I walked over to the trail when the couple noticed me. I put my paws in the air to show them I had no ill intentions and tried to explain that I just had a question about their ukulele. They started acting real nervous and yelling and finally just threw all their bags and gear at me and then ran off and just left the ukulele sitting on the ground.”

“So you got your hibernation gift and a meal out of the encounter.” Will asked.

“Well, sort of.” Griz responded. “All they had in their bags was some of that greek yogurt.”

“Ooohh, I think I’d rather go hungry!” Sten chuckled as he continued to examine his new prize. “Hey look, something is scribbled on the front of the ukulele.”

“Yeah.” Griz sighed. “I tried to wash it off but it was apparently written in permanent marker. I guess it was the name of the owner or something. Can you read it?”

Sten squinted in the dim light. “It look’s like…” He paused and started slowly. “Jake Shi…ma…bu…kuro. Yeah, the guy probably put his name on it in case he lost it. Well, I tell you what; if I ever run into someone named Jake Shimawhatever I will give him his ukulele back. Until then, it is all mine.”

With that Sten started picking at the strings on the instrument carefully. Griz leaned back against a tree, closed his eyes and took in the music and the moment. Will, having never heard a ukulele, was amazed at the sound and the unexpected dexterity of Sten’s claws.

After Sten played a couple songs Griz turned to Will. “Well kid, I guess it’s your turn.”

Will slumped and looked a bit sheepish.

“What’s the matter kid, let’s see what you got for ‘ol Griz.” Sten was actually smiling by this point.

Will slowly pulled his gift out from behind the log he was sitting on, “I didn’t really know what to get. This is my first exchange.”

“Don’t worry about it kid. The exchange isn’t about the gifts, it’s about us being together. Let’s see what you got there.” Griz always had a way of making Will feel better.

Will held up two bars of soap strung on a lengthy piece of twine. “I was surprised when I stumbled onto a small campsite. I couldn’t smell the people or the site at all. The scent blended right in with the woods. They had these sitting out on their towels.”

Will held the gift out to Griz. “I was thinking you could either bathe with it or just wear it around your neck. When you are wondering through the woods you don’t have to worry about humans smelling you. “

Will was excited about his gift. He was sure it was quite clever. Griz and Sten looked at each other, trying to muffle the laughter that wanted to erupt. Neither one had the heart to tell Will that humans had the worst sense of smell of all the creatures in the woods. Griz examined the bars with a wide grin.

“I like the little wrapper on the soap.” He read slowly, “Whis…per…ing Wil….low. Pat..chou…li”. He looked at the next bar. “..In..to the Woods” He smelled the bars and smiled. “You’re right kid, this smells just like the woods. Very nice.” Griz turned and laid his paw on Will’s shoulder. “This is a great gift, Will. I’ll make sure I wear these everywhere I go.”

Griz glanced at Sten and smiled, “The humans will never smell me coming.” Sten smiled and nodded beginning to strum again on the ukulele.

Will was beaming. He had picked well for the exchange. He loved his new pack and felt like he had finally given back a little of what they had given him over the season.

As the fire waned so did Sten’s strumming until silence and the night enshrouded them. The trio nestled onto the ground for a good night’s rest. In the shadows, Will caught a glimpse of Griz gently stringing the bars of soap around his neck. A tear trickled down Will’s fur.

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Hope you enjoyed the story.

Be Well,
Wayne & Julia

Choosing a Charity – 2014

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It seems incredible that another year is upon us.  Last year ended up being a bit rough for us personally, so we’re looking forward to better things ahead.

As some of you may know, Julia was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in October of last year.  It came as a huge shock to us. She had been experiencing some medical issues, but we thought we were working through them.  After a particularly long weekend, she woke up with no feeling in her left leg.  Over the next several days, that feeling slowly climbed higher and started causing difficulty with walking and functioning.  An MRI revealed lesions on her thoracic spine in the mid back area.  The result was a barrage of doctors visits, infusions, more tests, and ultimately seeing an MS Specialist.  We were grateful during this time period that Julia works for an incredible group of folks who gave her all the time she needed and that our little soap company was able to be flexible enough to allow me to be with her as much as possible.  Unfortunately, that meant cancelling a few of our planned shows for 2013 and re-evaluating our schedule for 2014.   Although we may not be attending as many shows in 2014 as we did in prior years, our little soap company is still growing strong and we are thankful to be refocusing on it again.

We are on the path to accepting our new “normal” and what it will mean for our lives now and moving forward.  With this in mind, we made the decision to choose our charity for 2014 rather than putting it up for a vote.  Whispering Willow will be contributing to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.  They are immensely helpful to those newly diagnosed, providing education materials and support and, of course, they are working toward a cure.  No one says it better then the Society itself: The Society’s mission is to  “mobilize people and resources to drive research for a cure and to address the challenges of everyone affected by MS.”

‘Tis the Season For Giving

Hello all!  As we enter this hectic holiday season we wanted to take a moment and share a little bit about a charity that is helping those who are less fortunate than us.

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Charity: water  is a non-profit organization that is on a mission to bring clean and safe drinking water to every person on the planet.  Clean water is such a routine part of our lives.  Few of us have ever been truly thirsty or had to leave our home for clean drinking water.  But more than 10% of the people on this planet don’t have easy access to safe, clean water.  In fact, many people have to spend several hours a day walking miles just to get water that is neither clean nor safe.  The impact this has on individuals as well as local and regional societies cannot be overstated.

Here are a couple quick facts that should blow your mind and break your heart:

1.  Disease from unsafe water and lack of sanitation kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war.

2. Of the 30,000 deaths that occur every WEEK from unsafe water and unhygienic living conditions, 90% are children under the age of 5

3. In Africa alone, 40 billion hours are spent walking for water every year.  This burden fall disproportionately on women and children.

If these facts don’t touch you in some way then you may need to check your pulse ( he writes in his least judgiest tone )!

Here are a few more facts that give me hope that the problem can be fixed and make me believe that charity:water is part of the solution!

1.  Improving access to clean water allows communities to establish a secure and local food supply.  Self-sufficient homes and communities are less affected by famine, conflict or inadequate government services.

2. Since most of the water carrying responsibilities fall to women and young girls, a local water project can increase the times that girls can get an education and women can earn extra income.

3.  100% of donations made by you to charity:water goes directly to water projects.  How do they pull this off?  Private donors fund all of charity:water’s  operating expenses.

If nothing else, our hope is that you will pause during this busy season and take a moment to appreciate how truly fortunate we are.  Whispering Willow will be donating 10% of our profits from 2013 to charity:water.  If you are able and willing to give a little something to those who are not as fortunate as us; then we encourage you to donate to charity:water .  100% of your donation will go to water projects.

May you and your family have a peaceful holiday season.

The Bearded Soap Guy

Getting Green With French Paper

Lately we’ve been getting in an eco groovy mood and have been looking through our ingredients and supplies to see if we can get a little greener.  This is a fun exercise we do several times a year because we just don’t think its a good idea to rest on our environmentally conscientious laurels.

So, you may be wondering what little gem our search uncovered?  Only a sixth-generation, family owned paper company that has been making paper in the USA for 140 years.  Hold on, it gets better!  In 1922 the French Paper company installed hydroelectric generators on the St. Joseph River which flows by their mills in Niles, Michigan.  Since that year, they have been generating all the power they needed, and a little extra for the rest of us!

Here is an old school post card with a pic of the French Paper mills next to the river

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The environmental impact of producing all that power on site is huge.  They have saved the equivalent of one million barrels of fossil fuel and have avoided the release of more than 700,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere (the equivalent to the use of over 4,878,049 lbs of coal).  While we are big fans of carbon credits and support companies buying these to offset their carbon footprint, credits just can’t beat this type of onsite, renewable energy!  Way to go French Paper!

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So you are probably reading this thinking, Wayne, this is really cool but what does a paper mill in Michigan have to do with  Whispering Willow , a little soap company in North Carolina. Well, it just so happens that we use thousands of sheets of paper annually labeling bar soap, neck & eye pillows and more.  So, in the coming weeks you will notice that the labels will look a little different.  We are transitioning to French Paper’s Speckletone kraft paper.   Speckletone is French Paper’s line of recycled paper which they have been making since 1955 (talk about being ahead of the trend)! Our labels will be a little lighter in color and you will see more natural flecks and shives.    We will also eventually start using French’s standard copy paper for our office use and are working on some ideas that may be perfect for some of French Paper’s other lines of great paper.

So this is how I (known for being a little wordy) like to announce that we are changing our paper supplier.  Whoever said ‘brevity is the soul of wit’, just didn’t get it!

Be Well,

The Bearded Soap Guy

Wrap-up: Merlefest

A few months ago we attended Merlefest in Wilkesboro, NC for the very first time.  We were quite excited to participate as our friends at Cloister Honey had spoken highly of it.   They were not wrong, it is definitely a good time – good music, good folks, and lots to do.

It rained almost the entire weekend, but that definitely didn’t deter the avid music lovers.  Below is a shot of the main stage brimming with attendees.

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Close to the main stage is a plethora of tents including a section devoted entirely to the tiny Merlefest-ians.  I believe this particular tent was sponsored by Lowes and had all ages building small cars out of wood.

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As further evidence of attendance of all ages in spite of rain (one of my favorite recent pics):

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We hope to be back again next year and (pending better weather) hope to have significantly more pictures to share!

From the Road: Forsythia & Fried Green Tomatoes

Forsyth Georgia is a quaint town midway between Atlanta & Macon.  Every year, on the second weekend in March,  the good folks of Forsyth celebrate the coming of Spring with the aptly named Forsythia festival.  Artist and crafters setup around the beautiful downtown courthouse as folks from the surrounding area come out to enjoy food, fun and hopefully some good weather (this year was picture perfect!).

 

Pets weren’t allowed but somehow this little fella slipped in (yes, that is a pet goat)!

 

 

If you know us at all, you know that we like to seek out good food wherever we go.  While Forsyth isn’t necessarily a culinary mecca (no dissin’ here, they do have a couple of nice restaurants downtown) I did stumble on an interesting eatery in the small town of Juliette, a few miles away.  For anyone who remembers the movie Fried Green Tomatoes, you will recall the central role that the Whistle Stop cafe played in the film.  The building had actually been a general store that was converted just for the movie. After the movie was made, the owner decided to keep the cafe and to serve up the southern favorites made famous in the movie.

 

 

Here is a basket of the famous fried green tomatoes with the obligatory mason jar of sweet tea!

 

 

Here is the pit where the “special ingredient” was added to the bone sauce (and yes, he totally deserved it!).

 

 

The rest of Juliette is an homage to the movie with numerous shops dedicated to Idgie & Ruth.  If you enjoyed Fried Green Tomatoes and you enjoy good southern food, it is worth a little detour to check out this piece of cinematic history.

 

 

Update: We received an email from a customer that the original Whistlestop Cafe that was the inspiration for the book is actually the Irondale Cafe in Alabama.  “They’ve been serving up fried green tomatoes for decades, and the cafe sits right by the railroad tracks. Fannie Flagg wrote the book, and she is from Alabama.”  Thanks for sharing!