photo (36)

I used to tease Lisa a bit for her urban homesteading inclinations, her sauce-freezing, fresh popcorn-picking, butter-making ways.

But really, I agreed with her, and wanted to do more — more than making my own bread and ice cream and breakfast cereal and other, eminently-purchasable items.

Flash forward to the first day of summer vacation, my son Ben lying on the couch reading his latest issue of Make magazine. “Mama, can we make soap?”

“Sure,” I reply absently; “You know, Grandma used to make soap.”

I think for a moment about those creamy, rough-edged bars stacked on sheets of crinkly parchment in the linen closet, their faint, clean smell scenting our sheets and towels. But when did Mom make that soap? I was always in the kitchen with her, involved in all her bread-kneading, jelly-making, cookie-baking activities. But for a while there in the early 70s there was soap, too, which seemed just to appear when we needed it.

“We need lye,” Ben says, calling me out of my reverie.

“That’s super poisonous,” I reply.

“Yeah,” he says, unconcerned.

And then his brother bounds into the room and the conversation drops until I’m walking by a neighborhood shop a few days later and see a sign advertising a soap-making workshop. I go in and sign up. The shop owner’s concerned about exposing an 11-year-old to lye, and now I’m the one that’s not, now that it won’t be in my house. “He’ll be fine,” I explain, remembering how this child wouldn’t go on a pumpkin patch hay ride when he was two because the hay bales didn’t have seat belts. “He’s the most cautious boy.”

I mention the workshop to my mom and ask, “So when did you make soap anyway?”

“While you were at school,” she answered, and now I get why that magical soap didn’t appear anymore once she went back to working full-time outside our home.

So here we are on summer break and although I am still working, there’s time for a Sunday evening soap-making class, there’s time to learn how to turn water, lye, and plain old olive oil into a simple bar of soap.