Gardens, Goddesses and Magic Soap
It was late on a Friday night. Other people were out dancing or drinking, meeting friends or going out on dates. I drove out west on the freeway to meet an entrepreneur, a practicing Wiccan and cat rescuer named Amy Sommerfield. She and I had a date … with soap.
Amy makes soaps out of her house using oils and herbs grown out of her front and back garden. Since she was laid off as a receptionist, like so many of us have been, she has had a chance to recreate herself doing what she loved. The sacrifice with building a dream career for yourself is you don’t get vacations or weekends off. Just as I was with my writing and my dog walking, Amy was with her soaps and rescued kittens. People like us are called “Foster Failures.” It was late. We were both tired. And we were both living our dream.
She showed me her garden, even though it was dark outside. I asked her what made her interested in making soaps.
“When I left Oregon,” she said, “I took with me the love of gardening, which is kind of ironic considering the short seasons up there.”
“Oh, what were you doing in Oregon?” I asked.
“Screwing around and wasting time,” Amy laughed.
“Well, that’s what we all do in Oregon.”
Amy told me most soaps are made with beef tallow and pork. Which also means those of us who live vegetarian, vegan and kosher lifestyles shouldn’t be buying our soaps from the 99 Cent Store. Amy’s soaps are a reasonable $5 apiece. Worth the extra few dollars. I paid $5 for my bamboo toothbrush to alleviate the guilt of 500 years of plastic toothbrush decomposition.
Amy led me into her converted garage, now a little workshop and soap factory. Her space was clean, organized and smelled of citrus, oatmeal and flowers. Bars of soap at different stages, of different color and shapes, lined a section of each shelf. Each group waiting patiently to come of age and ship off to customers. Some were made with coffee grounds (for exfoliation) and paprika (a natural colorant), others lemongrass and litsea (which also acts as a natural insect repellant).
With the holidays around the corner, she is working on her sweet pumpkin soap for fall and waiting to receive elements for her peppermint soap for Christmas. Everything must be planned and organized 6 weeks ahead of schedule, so the soap can cure properly in her magical garage.
Amy took me out of the garage, through her backyard where her rescued kittens romped in a huge outdoor jungle gym, safely incased behind wood and mesh, and through her kitchen door. The next mix was waiting for her hands and composition on the dining room table. It was clear Amy never really enjoyed many meals there, since this, too, was used constantly as a work space. Through the kitchen, where her tools were drying after a recent wash, she opened her cabinet door and showed me the other elements used in her soaps. Chamomile for sensitive skin. Sunflower oil for herbal infusions. She described how to infuse oils and how it takes on the property of a plant, but all those concepts seemed best classified under magic for me. I never made it to Chemistry or Physics in high school, and dodged my way through science requirements working for the Future Farmers of America, volunteering to sell homemade honey and weave wreaths out of evergreen trimmings. Amy might as well be a wizard, with her various collected potions and mystical talent for scent combination.
Each time she held up a bar of soap, I felt transported to her garden. I remembered what I wanted to smell like.
“The more people know their herbs, the better off they are,” Amy said, settling all her oils and perfumes back where they were.
She described her business as one that could be part of a small revolution, to bring us back to real food and natural consumption. “Education is part of the campaign. Bigger companies market their lotions as having collagen. Your skin can’t absorb collagen.”
Amy sent me on my way with two bars of soap and a body bar. I left her in her whimsical kitchen with her moonshadow and sandalwood, her amber and three different types of lavender, her High Tea Rose and exotic clove, jars of homemade almond butter and went on my way to spend a week using her soaps.
I can’t tell you what exactly is going on in our shower stall at home. Before we got our new roommate, a pair of my dirty underwear hung from the showerhead next to three empty cans of Tecate. Now, there are soap pumps for our face and our body. A couple of body scrub samples. Some shaving cream.
I honored Amy’s donated soaps with their own shelf, just below the showerhead. The body bar is shaped like a saucer, so that you can prop it on its head when it gets slippery and it won’t slip off its shelf. I actually love that. I used Summer Sunset on my body since we are in the end days of summer. After dog walks and during a heat wave, dirt and sweat were thick on my skin and sticky in all my body’s folds and creases.
There is a wet moisture to her soaps that doesn’t exist in other store brands. When I use our cheap soaps, it dries out almost upon contact. Amy’s soaps glide along my body with grace and ease, without leaving a slimy trail. My nose filled with sweet orange and ginger. Everything felt right.
Just as we all struggle in the beginning, Amy is trying to make ends meet, focus her business, set her boat afloat but keep it from sinking in unpredictable waters. If you believe in a better life for you and yours, if you believe in supporting Americans, if you believe in dreams … check out her website.
It really is worth it. (And she takes special requests.)