Recently in one of the soap groups I belong to, someone asked what the reasons were we started making soap. Now, some of you know me, or know my husband, or know my youngest’s story. Yes, the girl is a huge part of my “reason why”, but it goes back farther than her, or the farms we’ve had on each coast.
Once upon a time, many years ago, I worked for a big box bookstore. During an overnight shelving shift, I came across a book about making glycerin soaps. I’d been fascinated with glycerin soap as a young teen. The translucency! The feel! It looked different and felt different than that good ol’, well-known, green bar many of us grew up with. Nor was it the caustic soap I heard stories of my grandmother making to wash laundry back in the day. It was something else. Those translucent bars were lovely to my teenage heart. They felt great on my skin. And then body wash came into my life with it’s myriad of scents, glycerin soap was put on the back shelf for some years…
Finding that soap book (and I wish I could remember the title) opened up my world. The thought that I could have soap in any scent I could imagine? Fascinating! At the time, my best friend was interested in chandlery. We talked about how great it would be to have a soap and candle shop together. I experimented with attempting to make my own infusion from blackberries (a terrible idea). But, as things do, life took a turn for me, I moved and moved on. Thoughts of soap again shelved.
Some years later, I lived on a 20-acre farm in the heart of Oregon Wine Country. Twenty acres up a mountain, mostly covered in blackberries. We quickly realized goats would be necessary to keep pasture for our horses from being overrun. Goats were the name of the game, and since my mother took up spinning in her retirement, she gently hinted that hair goats would be nice. Nick and I decided to have the goats we chose pull double duty. A friend connected in Ag found an ad for a herd dispersal, so we bought goats, including a buck.
Around the same time, sustainability became something we started looking at for our farm. Trash service wasn’t an option for our place, not when the driveway was a quarter mile long and you had to mean it to find our house. When people say they walked “both ways, uphill”, they might have been talking about how to reach our farm or the school bus stop. No joke. We started looking at how to cut down on the amount of trash and recycling produced by us, ways to make our land work, and ways for the critters to pay for themselves. (I quickly established an egg business that paid for not only the chicken feed, but most of the feed on our farm).
At the height of blogging, I’d made friends with horse and farm people all over the country. Goats seem to go hand in hand here, and the idea of being able to also milk my goats began to take root. With that milk, I could make goats milk soap! Hey! Soap! And ideas that had been shelved for so long came out of the stacks…
But, once again, life intervened. A cross country move put that idea on hold once again.
Sixteen months later, we were once again ensconced on a farm spacious enough for critters beyond my beloved horse than journeyed from Oregon with us. First came poultry, but the egg market was already flooded. Next came goats to help with weed eating and brush clearing, because the jungle takes over VERY quickly in the South. A couple goats quickly led to more goats which led to plans to make our land work for us; to produce food for our larder at the very least, and the possibilities of soap!
And life intervened again. My husband and I decided to have a child together. She was born with a broken heart, which led us down a completely different path that involved lots of hospital time, a heart transplant and a significant amount of extra, considered care. We maintained the farm, with most plans coming to a halt while we coped and learned what our new “normal” looked like. After she came home, my goat plans (and let me be clear, they were always MY plans, my husband was just the financier) crept forward slowly. We bought a full sized dairy goat who had been bred. (Our previous and current goats at this time were miniatures). I took some refresher instructions on milking, and away we went!
The following spring, after Molly Goat’s kids were weaned, I froze the milk she produced, hoarding it carefully for future use in soap. I read and prepped and studied up on soap making, carefully absorbing all the information I could. I ordered supplies and ingredients.
I made my first soaps without milk, for practice. It was nerve wracking and I made mistakes. Then, success! Soap! Soap in my closet, on a rack to cure. Only this time, Mother Nature decided to insert herself into my life and my carefully crafted plans…
In Fall 2015, the flood that was so damaging to South Carolina also flooded our farm. The edge of the storm caught us in Georgia. Our house flooded. It was no place for an immunosuppressed baby. We quickly made plans to shut down the farm and move back across the country to be closer to family (trying to do it all on your own with a heart kiddo isn’t easy, yo).
So, here we are! In the high desert of Idaho, settled in the Treasure Valley with the incredible views of both the Sawtooth and Owyhee Ranges. While we’re currently stuck in the city, my soap lab is set up in our garage, and I’ve been crafting bath and body products ever since.
I don’t currently make glycerin based soaps, but that’s another topic for another post down the line.
A chance encounter with a book led to an idea, which turned into a dream. My “reasons why” have evolved and changed over the years to reflect life with a 3 yr old transplant patient and the desire to be back on a farm. Soap making has been the thread that ties it altogether.