By Mims Cushing

As I was about to enter the library at the Senior Center in Palm Valley, someone said, “Come join us. We’re about to learn how to make soap.” Mary Vastola, the owner of The Ponte Vedra Soap Shoppe, was teaching. You use molds —- it’s a melt-and-pour process. I figured based on my luck with un-molding Jell-O, with half the Jell-O sticking to the bottom of the mold, I’d probably flunk soap making.

A group of 10 women made up the class. We were handed blocks of pure goat’s milk soap and were told to cut it up, with a huge O.J. style knife, into ice cube sized chunks. Our white soap turned into goo after it melted in the microwave. We poured it into a 4 x 5 inch plastic box and were offered a choice of scents — I chose the delicious pearberry. It was just around Valentine’s Day so we were handed 10 tiny red soaps in the shape of hearts to place in a row, like soldiers, in our plastic box filled with melted soap.

Now came the hard part. We had to take it home and wait for an hour or so to un-mold it. The mini hearts disappeared under the milky soap and therein lay the problem: I couldn’t remember which way I placed the hearts in the box. So instead of slicing through the soap in the correct direction, I guessed wrong and I had no hearts, just the white goo and occasional blotches of red. At least it smelled good.

When I sent a picture of it to my grandchild in college, she said, “Gram, that looks like something out of Grey’s Anatomy.” I am sure her dorm mates also thought it pretty funny.

I never was very good at crafts. But even though it was a mess, something in me was drawn to making soap, so two days later I found myself working one-on-one with Mary, in her shop. The choices of molds hanging on her walls — flowers, shells, teddy bears, stars, even dog bones — went on forever. She has colorants and smells by the dozens to choose from; I left the store with a kit including all I’d need to make soaps for the world. I have since learned that some people are happier with no scents in their soaps, so I’ve started making a list of who likes what colors and smells, or no smells.

But there is more. My first batch — roses — looked perfect, but then I decided to go a little farther. I had bought a packet of mica, which came in one-ounce amounts and made the soap shimmer. I used a teaspoon to spread it, not the suggested mini paint brush, and gently sprinkled a bit on the soaps that were hardened enough to have a “mica frosting.” Before I knew it, the mica was airborne and whirling around my kitchen island. Some of it landed — hello! — in my eye.

My son happened to call, and even though I try my best to limit talking about my ailments to my family, I told him what had happened. “Oh jeez, Mom. Mica is glass.” Why didn’t I remember that?

By the next day my eye was hurting more, not less, and had woken me up periodically at night despite my flooding it with water. I made myself go to my eye doctor. Of course what happens sometimes before you even see the doctor? You get better. After an hour, I was about to leave, but didn’t. By the time I saw him, the pain was pretty much gone.

I’m still making soap. In fact, I made 12 soaps before going to church yesterday. But now, for a decorative finish, I don’t use mica. I use glitter, which doesn’t go berserk flying around my kitchen and which isn’t glass.

I’m thinking of making Jell-O in my beautiful soap molds. But I don’t really want to get in the shower and wash myself with Jell-0.

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