Before ED, and before that when we moved to town and I became a full-time writer, I was a soap-maker. These in the picture are either Rosemary, or spearmint bars. The one I'm holding below, looking every one of 13 years younger, is almost certainly a Jewelweed bar. Good for poison ivy. That one I scented with Juniper oil.

We kept goats named Jack and Jill and made goatsmilk soap, and the house smelled of essential oils and clean warm milk.I spent Saturdays alone in the kitchen soapmaking in late summer, after each week of homeschooling on our little farmette in the woods. The soap had to age for several weeks before it could be used so by this time of year I would have already made all my calculations and stirred until my arms burned and poured and cut hundreds and hundreds of bars. This was peak holiday season. Evenings I beveled the edges with a sharp knife, cut strips of muslin for wrapping, labeled, dated, crated - handling each bar as much as it would be when actually used. We advertised them as "hand stirred" but everything about them was about hands, down to when we handed them to the buyer in a brown paper bag, like produce.

During summers my daughter and I set up shop at fairs in neighboring counties. She liked the shows with live music. I liked the shows with indoor toilets. We shared our booth with a friend who made beeswax candles. Our girls stood outside the booth with an antique pitcher and bowl and helped people wash their hands with our soap. After that, most people bought, happily, charmed. We put out bubbles for the passing children, and a cooler of food behind the table.The favorite bars, every show, were always the cinnamon: constellations of spice under the surface.

Our family and friends have long since used all the soap but looking at these pictures I can smell that tray, and I can feel my fingerprints on a fresh bar. The prickles on my wrist where I splattered lye, the drag of the wooden spoon as the liquid warmed itself and then saponified into the exact moment it could be poured.

I don't miss the exhaustion of getting home in the dark after a show, out since before dawn and still with a car to unload and the chickens to lock in. I miss the handfuls of fives and ones that she and I would pour out on the table - the occasional $20 - to the delight and amusement of my husband, who had a 'real' job. I don't know how much money we made those years, but it felt like we'd earned it well.


  1. sounds idylic, what a wonderful way to make a living!

  2. Ah, Laura, I always treat myself to handmade soap! Way back when, after we got out of college (and debt), my first splurge was deliciously scented REAL soap. Mmmmm, I felt rich--if only in the shower. I've bought it ever since.

    Thanks for the behind-the-scenes peek. I'll continue to support the artisans at my local farmers' market.

  3. Interesting to hear about your past Laura... The goats are very sweet; I'd like to pat them and stroke their ears.

    How old were you in the pic?


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