Monday, November 30, 2015

Inspiration For Today

When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace. 

- Jimi Hendrix

Monday, November 16, 2015

Local Yocal Ingredients - Special Soaps Using Special Ingredients

Using local ingredients adds a holistic approach when making handmade soap.  Not only does it feel great to use your own soap in the shower when you're supporting your local businesses or using ingredients from your own garden.  When someone purchases your soap with local ingredients, it adds an element that many who seek the pure, the handmade, love to see special ingredients added to a soap.  Why?  Perhaps it stops a piece of their vacation in time, like if you added sand to your soap and sold it where people typically come to escape the ice storms up north.  Then when they take it back home and use it, it brings them back to the town they loved so much and brings them a sense of relaxation.  I know when I visit an area that is new for me, I love to see local artisan's work, especially when they incorporate their immediate environment's elements.

We had a challenge called LocalYocals and it challenged all the soap makers to incorporate a local ingredients into their soap.  I thought it would keep people thinking about ingredients and how simple one local ingredient could transform a regular soap into a gem.

We had some great entries with unique ingredients!  Here are some to give you an idea of what YOU can do to spark it  up.

Curtis Hayden used multiple ingredients from his area in Charleston, South Carolina:

Basic Beach by Curtis Hayden

"This soap features a cold pressed juice from my local juice shop Huriyali which gets the majority of its produce from local farms. The juice is their "Aloe-Ha" juice consisting of raw unpasteurized coconut water, raw local honey, and much more! I don't see how I could get more local than that! But then I figured out a way to get even more local, I used sand from one of the local beaches I go to all the time on the bottom of the soap!! Scented with 3 different scents and made with a lot of love! The juice shop is actually featuring this soap in their store and the pictures I am featuring of the soap were taken at their store!"

Bhakti Iyata lives in Phoenix, Arizona and used her local ingredients:

Desert Flower Soap by Bhakti Iyata 

"Desert Flower Soap, made with Prickly Pear Cactus Extract (Prickly Pear Products, LLC Mesa, Arizona) and scented with Cactus Flower FO. Hand molded flowering cactus and little hummingbirds on top."

Leanne Timm-Chevallier lives in Southwest France and used THREE local ingredients!
Soap by Leanne Timm-Chevallier
 "Love this challenge ! For the Local Ingredient challenge, I used local organic french green lentils from a farmer down the road here in SW France.... I also used local Duck Fat.  Makes a nice scrubby soap. Colour is Chlorophyll powder."

There were so many good entries......great soaps, but I can only choose a few to feature.  Thank you everyone, for trying out new ingredients!  It always feels like you all take these challenges to heart and that makes me happy.  :D

We will be taking a break from Challenges until well after the holidays, but I'll be back with some beautiful pictures as I spot them.  So keep it real and send me pictures anytime!  Maybe YOU will be featured in my Soap Porn!  Send pics of YOUR soaps to me at  Leave your name, email, where you live and if you'd like to share, ingredients you used.   Have a great Thanksgiving holiday and stay clean!

xox Joanna

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Local Ingredients...

Years back, I was asked by the local glossy magazine, Palm Beach Illustrated (PBI), to create a soap that would represent this area (Palm Beach county). Their 60th anniversary issue was being put together and they wanted a local soap maker to design something just for them.

Hrrrm.  What would feel good to me if I visited a local beach area for the first time?  Because my county snuggles the ocean, I decided that I'd collect ocean water to make my lye mixture with.  I would go to the beach with my empty water gallon jug, fighting the waves (no sand) until I past the swirling water.  Collecting ocean water from the edge of the breaking waves proves to be a sandy water collection.  Ask me how I know. I would hold the empty jug under the surface in order for it to fill: glub, glub, glub, glub. An empty water jug is harder to hold down than one would think.  Then I'd return to the beach with my gallon of ocean and fully drenched from toe to chest.

PBI ended up loving the way it came out and featured it in their magazine.  It DID look tropical and the ingredients I used were luscious. It included coconut milk, ocean water, shea butter and sea salt and it looked like an abstract ocean beach scene. 

People love the idea of handcrafted items made with local ingredients.  And the more "LOCAL AND COMMON" the ingredient, the more interesting it is that the soap almost becomes a celebrity on its own!

Now, I have never heard of potato soap, but if I lived in Idaho, I would love to buy a local soap made from Fingerlings, or Russets.  Wisconsin....cheese (maybe goat??), Florida?  Palm sugar, perhaps??... and so on.  Some of us have spent many hours looking for common ingredients that can make our soap unique and compelling, and it doesn't always have to be food!

I have used actual sand on my soap.  I dipped my freshly cut soap into a pan of white sand and sold it like a pumice soap, but the sand gets washed away after the first few washes.  People loved it!  Especially Northerners who miss the beach sand when they are cold and slushing through snow, sleet and the bitter cold in the middle of winter.

My friend, Charlene Simon, of Bathhouse Soapery, gave a presentation at the 2013 (?) Soap Guild Conference regarding additives.  She brought 20-30 cut up soaps made with different ingredients she had tried, including volcanic rock, which of course, made me want to go roll in that rock just thinking about it!  She emphasized the importance of incorporating local/regional "ingredients" that can uplift your soap from plain ol' soap into a classic art form.  It adds depth to an otherwise basic item.  (I'm not calling soap basic, but when people stand in front of a soap made with ground oatmeal, they may want to see that it's made from the local OAT farm in Wasau County.) 

Perhaps finding a local farmer, local winery or other business owner may be good for business.  Perhaps include them in your plans to make a local soap, tourists.  And you and the biz owner could benefit from it.  Equally!and discuss a possibly partnership of sorts.  I know there are soap makers that use their local winery to make wine soaps and the winery sells the soap at the winery!  Or a microbrewery, a sugar farm, even a diamond jewelry maker could grind up unsavory diamonds and you could use the diamond dust in your never knows if there could be a common thread that can be an uplifting hit to the local area, to you and to your business choice.

So for this challenge, I want you to take some time to think about your area and what may bring tourists there or what might be a surprising tidbit about your area that interests you and work that into your soap plans.  Then perhaps after you make soap with that ingredient and share with our group, you may even be able to approach your local business with your soap in hand and talk it out.  Expound on the idea and make it exciting.

Post your photos here on Facebook.  Use hashtag #localyocal so I can quickly find it.  Challenge ends on October 20th.  Then we shall talk a bit about Halloween!  Bwahahaha!

xoxo Joanna

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Sweet Soap Porn Saturday

I have been taking photographs for my business' new website (not live yet), and also working on post production, editing each photograph carefully until the crop, light and color was just right for the photographs of Mad Oils' colorants.  As a mica supplier, it is incredibly important to make sure the colors I put up on the screen are identical to the colors we carryAll month I've been photographing micas, fragrance oils, poppy seeds,  (yes, Facebook viewers, most of you figured out that the "Who Am I?" photo I posted was indeed a gaggle of Spanish Blue Poppies.) 

One of my real passions, however, is photographing soaps.  It's my favorite subject matter and I realized that in 2007, when I started this blog reviewing soaps from around the world.  I do miss reviewing soaps, but at some point after a couple of years, there were a bunch of soap review blogs that popped up out of nowhere, so my soap reviews didn't seem necessary anymore.  Other bloggers were doing a great job reviewing soaps, and because I was getting increasingly busy, I turned the blog into my personal diary and for displaying soap.  I basically handed it over and begin something else:  SOAP PORN.  The only reason I ever started the blog was to expose talented unknown soap makers to the world through photos and positive reviews.  Giving the handcrafted soap world a place to reveal themselves was my goal and I think I was involved in something wonderful.

This weekend, I found fantastic soap blogs with better than dynamite photos of super-stunning soaps. Three women soap makers and bloggers. I share with you, the three artists that I think have incredible talent and need to be further exposed.

SOAPJAM, Philippines


I love everything about Soap Jam's soap, from the colors she puts together, to the designs she creates all the way to the stamp that's perfectly placedThe photography is also spot on!  Thank you, Sylvia, for being an inspiration and for sharing your beauties!  I am so happy I stumbled on you this weekend!



Infusions... I am breathless.  I wish her About page has more information so I could share that with you and also know myself, more about her background.


Jazz, who writes the Savons Fantasies blog, has a wide range of techniques she uses. I do love the different styles she attempts (and does well!) and it's wonderful to see one soaper try all of them.  Some soap makers can find their groove with one style and then find it hard to expand their horizons by trying new techniques because of their comfort zone.  It seems as if Jazz tries everything and does it with style!


This is one of the reasons I run Soap Challenges on Facebook (and here).  Expanding the way we think, look at things and reveal the artist within us all.

To wrap it up, I am sharing a photo from Soap Jam's blog of Sylvia and Maya together!  Sylvia on the left and Maya on the right:

I lift my coffee to you both and to Jazz!  Thank you, soapy ladies.

xoxo Joanna

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Origins Concept

August has always been a pivotal month in my life.  One, because I always dreaded school and two, because the weather would change from warm to cold and I was never able to handle the dreary dark, windy, cold days with great discomfort, both physically and emotionally.  

Now, living in Florida is no picnic for me 6 months out of the year.  I especially can't deal with weather like it has been for weeks.  Over 90° F and 90% humidity.  I am like a flower that wilts and shrivels in that heat/humidity combo, I assume it is because I have an auto immune disease and the heavy heat steals a bit of thunder.

I digress.

To the ORIGINS challenge!  It was a basic, back to its roots challenge and I am eager to see the results.  The challenge was to "...use a food in your soap and .....then photograph the soap at the place of the food ingredient's origin."    

Hence the name: Origins.  So I will pick the winner and 2 additional entries that I think deserve space here.... As mentioned in the challenge, the winner will receive a small, personal gift from me. 

The winner for this challenge is Helka Finn!  She posted many different ORIGINS photos and they were all excellent!  Here are three of my favorites of hers:

honey is the ingredient in this soap
water is the ingredient used in making this soap :0)

Lye originally came from ashes... a required ingredient to make soap

Helka attempted ingredients in two of these that aren't "additional" elements but elements nonetheless.  Not only were they brilliant concepts, but very well executed.  All three photographs were very beautiful, original and unique.  Thanks, Helka, for digging deep and taking on this challenge with great thought.  This is what I talk about when I say "dig deep".

Phuong Ly made beautiful soap with avocado and this picture was well lit, lit naturally and the colors are to die for!

ingredient: avocado        

Huy Nguyen used tomato as the ingredient
Beautiful camera work, Huy Nguyen!  I know it was very hard to choose a photo from all the pictures you took, but it gets easier to do once you get into doing it often, to not choose your favorites, but rather eliminate ones you don't like until you get to a number that feels reasonable.  Then you can more easily choose your favorite...  or just eliminate all the way through.  

Doing this is counter intuitive (especially with the "glass is half full not half empty" attitude and approach, but it tends to work for me.  Try it and feel the difference. 

You all did a wonderful job and in the future, I hope more of you take the challenge.  Love from here to there.  Peace!  xoJo

Helka, please send me an email with your address so I can send you the "Origins" challenge giftie!  :)

Sunday, August 2, 2015


Peridot is the birthstone of August and green is one of my very favorite colors. It has many symbolic meanings:  It has been said that its owner, when worn would have the power of invisibility.  Some people believes it can bring peace and protection. It has also been worn to calm anger by soothing ones nerves, expelling negative energy. My favorite symbolism and the one I found inspriation from was that it promises growth for the future and gives strength to individuals.  GIVES STRENGTH.
Onward and upward.  We shall gain strength this month from the process of this challenge.

August is a transitional month for many of us who are effected by school.  Summer winds down, vacations come to an end and nerves arise because of going to a new school and the weather will be changing.  It's a time where we may need to find love and strength from a new source.  Focus on something bright green and go with it.

This challenge has a few challenges to meet.

I want you to make a soap with a food product that, after some cure time, you can photograph next to or on food product's place of origin.  For instance:  incorporate cherries into your soap recipe and when it's ready, photograph your soap at the base of a cherry tree next to the fallen berries.  Or use milk in your soap and take pictures of a cow alongside the soap maybe on a fence, or stump. I have to insist you take photographs by natural light.

In short, find a food product that you will be able to access its source at a later time, then use the food in your soap and once that is complete, you must then photograph the soap at the place of the food ingredient's origin. I will accept ONLY those photographed by natural light. Be creative.  Be you: unique.  Think outside the box and don't be afraid of trying new things.  Remember, I do this so you can grow as an artist and expand your thought process. We all think so differently from each other that it's fun to see all of the interpretations of these challenges!

Please post your photos in my Facebook group:  Soap Challenge Gallery with the hashtag: #origins to be considered for this challenge.  Ends:  August 25th.  You can take on this challenge multiple times if you wish.  Please do not post photos of previous soaps.  That is cheating. You have to MAKE the soap for this.  That is the point of these challenges.

Good luck!  There is a tiny prize for the winner of something meaningful. Thank you again, for all your wonderful participation. 


Saturday, July 18, 2015

Winners of "Photo Skillz Part One"

So you shook it up and I am beaming like a mama bear.

I asked you to shut off your flash, move around your soap and step out of your box and you all trusted that it could work and it did!  Every picture was interesting and creative and there's no way I could choose the best.

I will choose three, as I promised, but there were dozens that I wanted in the trio today. 

These are in no particular order....

Amanda Wolf

Amanda Wolf, you stepped right off that box and added an interesting and relevant background image for your soap and it works!  In fact, the movement of the water makes in work.  If it were just on a sink next to the faucet, it wouldn't work because it would look posed, but this with the straight on perspective feels like someone's prepping my bath.  MY bath.  It makes it intimate and not a show.  Well done!

Tanya Rasley of Canard Labs
The pearly light peach splatter of color in this background of varying whites, draws the eyes attention to the detail.  It transforms the soap into a creative blast of wonderment.  Flickering images of shooting stars, Pollack's flick of the paintbrush or bioluminescence.

wonderment:  the rapt attention and deep emotion caused by the sight of something extraordinary 

Bee Iyata
 Bee has taken soap making to a new level with her artistic hand molding and scene creations.  This one is one of my favorites, but it's not just the soapy birds and eggs that made me choose this photo.  No...  It was taken on a different angle than all others.  It's an overhead shot but askew instead of straight down, which adds a depth I ever noticed before.  It works especially with the subjects and the nest of eggs in the natural light.  It's breathtaking and it is focused perfectly.  Bee used the light to make her creation pop.

These are three very different soaps with different angles a vibes.  Each one of them speaks to me in a different way.  Thank you, Amanda, Tanya and Bee for the inspiration.

I do hope that you continue to shoot around your subject, turn off the lights and shut off your flash!  Natural light makes for better photographs of objects.  Flash photography has its place in the world, but with soap, it is much harder to get that intimate feel.

Which leads me to the next Soap Challenge.  But that will have to wait.  I have something secret I'm working on that needs a little time to get ready.  Keep shooting and stick around for the next fun game to play with your soap.




Monday, July 6, 2015

What's in YOUR red colorant?

I know this is my soap blog and I try not to include too much stuff about Mad Oils, my wholesale supply company, but I thought this was just too important not to post here:

Mad Oils carries only vegan ingredients.  We believe in using and selling only cruelty free products.  We are an animal loving team here with a vast array of rescued pets between us.

Carmine is an ingredient very often used in red and pink micas.  You may not be aware of what it is or where it comes from, but it might be in the micas and other colorants you use in your products.  

photo courtesy of

“Carmine” is an ingredient used often in the food and cosmetic industry.  It is often found in micas and other colorants to produce red, pink, purple and brown colors.  What is carmine?  Cochineal bugs that are dried and crushed to produce a red dye, are called cochineal, carmine, or carminic acid.  The dye comes specifically from the female insect called Dactylopius coccus. These bugs are killed, dried and crushed to create the color.

It takes about 70,000 insects to make one pound of cochineal.


photo courtesy of

Carmine is generally safe, but manufacturers of products need to know that in a small number of people, carmine can cause swelling, skin rashes and even respiratory problems.  The red powdered pigment is used as a natural alternative to artificial coloring, but it is not vegan.  It is important to be aware of ingredients we choose when making our products so that customers can choose for themselves what they want to use on their body.  

We share this information with you, not to gross you out, but to ensure that when choosing Mad Oils, you know exactly what you’re getting.  We stand by our claim that Mad Oils will carry only 100% vegan micas.  In fact, all of our products are 100% vegan, even our fragrance oils.  (Yes, fragrances often contain animal products).  We know this is important to many of you, as it is to us.

It’s important to make an educated choice when purchasing reds, pinks, browns and purples. It is up to you whether to use products containing carmine or not. Remember that knowing what is in your products and providing full disclosure about their ingredients is empowering to you, as well as your customer.  Knowledge is power.

Xoxo - All of us at Mad Oils

Note: Please refer to the FDA website for color additive regulations to find out what label requirements are in effect.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Shake It Up With Photos Skillz, Part One

Some of you want to sell your soap but are having a hard time doing that because getting a good picture of them isn't easy.  Photographs of your product are more important than you think.  Images are what speaks to people more and more these days, because isn't the internet all imagery?

We all have a comfort zone: Things we do that make us feel secure in our abilities.  But in my opinion, that comfort zone needs a little shaking up.  That's what I'm here to do.  We all need to open ourselves to see new perspectives.  Some of us make soap for fun, or for the sake of art, and some make soap for a living, but the one thing you have to do, no matter why you soap, is document your soap journey.  Even if it's just for yourself.  If you are sharing your documentation, you want the viewer to really see your work.  Not just photos lined up with a back drop taken 3 feet away, one - after - another.... It's boring to see "catalog-type" photos one after the other.

If you take pictures of your soap just to get the image on paper (or screen), you need to stop that right this second... just  S T O P !

One of my personality traits that I can't help, is trying to see things from other people's perspective.  I put myself in the shoes of others in order to understand what they see and feel.  And then examine WHY.

This trait carries through into everything in my life.  Relationships, art, political discussions, and crime stories (random, I know, but my whole life I've been fascinated by stories of deranged people doing what they do and then trying to understand why).  Putting myself in other people's shoes helps me with photography.  Whhhhaaaaat??  When I look at a photograph in a magazine or on a website, it evokes a response in me.  This is true for product imagery and that's why advertisers use everything in their power to create emotions in consumers.  Why?  Because consumers purchase things mostly by how they feel when using, wearing or having a product.  If I put myself right into the shoes of a person, for instance, looking for soap, I try to photograph the soap in a way that is intimate or shows a different scene that is out of the ordinary.  Photography creates a silent image, sometimes so powerful that words are not even necessary.  THAT is what I try to do.  What do I want to see?  What do I want?  I use that, too, all the time.  

Evoking an emotion in someone will make them take a second look, which may turn into a soap sale for you.

Natural light and position/perspective are KEY.  I will go into why and where in the next post, but this post is going to focus on practicing the technique of light and position...

Find a new perspective ~~ Basics

So go grab your camera (or phone) during the day and make sure your flash is OFF.  Set your soap on a steady surface near natural light and take TEN photographs of your soap from all different positions.  YOU need to move in different positions, not the soap.  Take a photo from above looking straight down; This will give a dimensional view.  Take a shot from below the soap, looking UP at it;  This will enlarge its presence.  Take a super close shot....get intimate with your bar.

You have to try new perspectives to see what you like.  But you will never know if you like them until you try it.  It's a pretty low risk, taking photos, so just DO IT.

Here are some examples of the same soap photographed from different angles:

My soap:  close up

My soap:  straight on.  Taken at the same level

My soap: photographed from above (and close).

These are photographs of my soap from 4 or 5 years ago, so if you were a customer of mine at Absolute Soap or a reader of my blogs, you've probably seen these already, but they show you one soap, shot 3 ways.  Now, think about what each one makes you think, feel and like.  Which is your favorite position?  Try the all and MORE!

Out of the ten photos, choose one picture (don't forget!  Shoot in natural light and at a different angle than you usually take your photos). That photo will be your entry photo that you need to post in our group on Facebook: the Soap Challenge Gallery.

I want everyone to participate. All entries need to say "#photoskillzpartone" and need to be posted one week from today:  My birthday, JULY 11th and the deadline time is at 3:09 pm (EST), the exact minute I was born.  The top 3 photos will be posted on this blog (and for those of you who don't realize how many people come to this blog, let me shed some light:  between 17,000-25,000 page views per month.  And I only write on this blog, LATELY, once a month.  So participate and fight to get some exposure!

This is not only an assignment to make you better, but it's meant to be fun, so have a good time!

Peace out.
- Jo

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Summer Loving. The Memories Don't Die.

There were very few entries this month, but they were all wonderful and I thank you for participating.

As with our latest challenges, I have asked for an explanation along with the soap you made, so that we, as artists, draw out our thoughts as we create and really get in touch with your art and your inner artist.  It also makes the soap more interesting to look at as a viewers standpoint because the history adds depth and understanding.

When I say dig deep, some of you clearly do and I am honored to have the remains of the upheaval shared with me.

I loved EVERY submission.  This was about memories (or fantasies) and you all rocked it!  The most original soap in my opinion along with the back story is Milo & Otis.  She describes the moments of her lying at the bottom of the river, looking up at the surface while listening to the unique sharpness of stones tapping together underwater.  The description of that magical moment of time brought back huge memories for me...being underwater in complete oneness with no angst. I remember loving the feeling of being immersed in water.  It erased the tensions of the world above and made me float.  It muffled all the yelling and hatred and calmed my soul.  I wanted to be a fish and never leave or sometimes wished I would painlessly and magically drift away into the bliss I found alone and under the world I knew.

Milo & Otis made this soap:

This is her story verbatim:

Summers in my childhood meant one thing, the lake and the cottage. Some of our friends referred to it as the cabin, but it was no cabin; It was a sizable white clapboard house on one of two connected lakes that was about 30 minutes from our house. Our family of seven had taken a few vacations, which must have been quite expensive and no doubt provided little relaxation for my parents. Instead of family vacations, they decided to buy a house on a lake within striking distance of our home so my dad could commute for work while we spent the summers and some weekends there.

I remember our first visit to the house for sale, the foreign feeling of being in someone else's house and the familiarity of a lake but the unfamiliarity of this one. While my parents talked with the owners, we played in the shallows and had seaweed fights. They bought it and the house took us on.

We spent endless hours in the lake the way children can without ever becoming bored. My sister and I were delegated the task of watching "the babies" (my brothers are 2 and 3 years younger than I, so it's a relative thing) swim in the area buoyed off for them. They would daringly somersault over the line or swim underwater under it, then U turn and swim back before coming up for air. We didn't mind their shenanigans but occasionally yelled at them so it remained fun for them to do. We all became excellent swimmers, completely comfortable in the water, probably more home to us than the house was. I would man the big net with my brother, catching minnows for bait. Within a couple hours, my sympathies would get the best of me and I would move silently under the pier to the bait can floating in the water, quietly open the top and tip it over. Swim free, little minnows! I took a couple fishhooks to the head, standing too close to my brother as he swung the rod back to cast, then as he threw the rod forward, the hook would set in my scalp, me shouting at him to stop before he yanked me off the pier. He was good at getting them out.

We played alone and together, the five of us. I loved wearing a mask and swimming along the bottom, enthralled with everything in the green light, watching the pull of the waves sending swirls of detritus to and fro. I would lie on my back and exhale enough that I would sink to the bottom where I would be lulled by the ebb and flow as I followed the beautiful patterns of the sun on the surface of the lake. I never failed (and still don't) to be amazed at the clarity of the sound of stones being tapped together and how far it travels underwater. We dunked each other, cannon-balled off the pier, stood on inner tubes, and were generally loud and happy. The constancy of our feet on the bottom packed it down into firm sand and obliterated any weeds. Just beyond our pier, the water was over our heads and we hated walking past the end of that demarcation. Your foot would sink into the clammy, cold, obscenely mushy bottom and the seaweed would brush your skin in way that felt perverse. As kids, we called it "the ooglies." If we took running starts to jump as far out as possible off the end of the pier, we all swam back as fast as we could.

Sometimes our dad would take us out in the boat to our favorite swimming spot. It was a ways offshore from an abandoned lakeside restaurant and was instantly recognizable by the wide expanse of water that had no weeds, in spite of being deep. We didn't know why there were no weeds there and we imagined it to be unfathomably deep, although our anchor told us otherwise. Every time we went, we would watch the anchor come up from the bottom, waiting to see evidence of seaweed but all we ever saw was sand floating off in a thin trail. We loved it there. We would do flips off the boat and dive down, although none of us ever made it to the bottom, perhaps to protect the mystery we felt. Hippo, our dog, would occasionally jump in to swim with us, then, not understanding that the boat was our station, she would take off for shore. One of us would have to go get her and lead her back to the boat so someone could lift her back to solidity.

Two doors down from us was a restaurant that got heavy traffic, being on the far side of two lakes and town. They had boat slips, a bait shop, a boat launch. The pier ran through the deep water in a big square and in the middle, although it was thickly weedy, was where kids who were visiting would jump and swim. One morning a man and his nephew went out to fish in the early morning before it was light. It was a Sunday, their last day on the lake before they went home, and during their horseplay, the man pushed the boy into the lake. When he didn't come up, he thought the boy had snuck to shore and gone home, a sore sport. He shrugged it off and headed out to fish, leaving the boy in the dark cold water in the ever tightening weeds, until he could hold his breath no longer. Later, when the day was hot, the kids came to play in the water and in their jumping, they knocked him loose from the weeds and he finally came to the surface under the pier.

Our neighbor's rule was that he and his kids would play softball or volleyball every day. It was optional for us but not them and anyone was invited to play. I watched the softball games rather than play and that day, as I stood with the batting team, we saw people come running up from the lake to the restaurant. One of the kids, in the bald blunt way of children, yelled over to one of the batters, "Jay, your brother's dead!" I could see Jay, caught half in paralysis, half in panic, try to understand and finally start to move, jumping the fences between the yard and the restaurant. We went down to the lake shore in front of our house, where I saw my dad, sadly shaking his head, kneeling next to the boy on the pier. He had been in the water for too long for there to be any possibility other than death. My dad, his face grim, crossed the yards back to our own, incongruous in his orange jumpsuit. (He was not a convict. It was the 70's and his favorite color was orange. You can get away with wearing just about anything on a lake.) As I stood and stared at the still body on the pier, it started to rain. The clouds were high and bright, casting a yellow light, and it seemed too scripted but there it was. Maybe the skies do look down on us and shed tears. My parents had been preparing to go back to our house and we got in the car, driving in silence all the way home. I watched the rain spatter on the windows and thought about the people who had only wanted a weekend of sun and swimming. The lake broke that family.

We were aware of the dangers of the lake even before that boy's death, and my parents surely were acutely conscious of it. We were not allowed out in any of the boats without a life preserver. However, they were bulky and hot and we were all good swimmers, to say nothing of the fact that kids are notoriously overconfident. My sister and I took the paddle-wheel out one day and of course took off our life preservers. We were on the return leg, not too far out from shore or our house. I had gotten up to stand and pedal backward when we heard the slap of the wooden screen door and my mother's piercing shriek. It stopped us in our tracks and we watched her bull-like charge across the yard with trepidation. Shouting at us non-stop, she stomped across the neighbor's lawn, pushing a wave of ferocity ahead of her. Her eyes lasered in on us, she did not look where she was going and went down face first in the neighbor's hostas. Laughter burst out of us for a mere moment, pushed back as quickly as she snapped back up to continue her lambasting all the way to shore. It was like laughing in church; the more inappropriate the place, the stronger the urge, but we did not dare give in to it. You simply did not laugh at my mother. Thankful for the distance, we reluctantly started our trek in to the pier where she went to await us, but the moment her back was turned, we laughed into spasms. She continued to exude fury but we were shielded by the vivid image of watching her face plant. Whatever her punishment was, the count was clear. We won that one.

On some nights, we played Hearts. Before a remodeling, our long long dining room table was on a porch barely wider than the table itself. How my parents got it in there is a feat of engineering I'm not certain I will ever understand. Family, friends, neighbors all, we would cram around the table, its oilcloth tablecloth wiped down after dinner, our places marked by sweating glass bottles of Squirt and Coke, the Real Thing. We played to win. No mercy, no matter what your age. The two losers would have to wash the dishes the next night, a duty that defaulted to my sister and me otherwise. We used real dishes, no paper or plastic, for a minimum of seven people and far more frequently for 10, 11, 12 or more. No dishwasher. I tried to win but I tried harder not to lose; the feeling of lettuce leaves in dishwater still sets my teeth on edge. We had to play under fake names. My Hearts name was Mabel. Through the game, we would toss out cards and jabs and lighthearted insults, but tensions built when it became clear that someone was trying to moon (collect all the points). It could be a deal breaker. If someone managed it, they had to literally moon the table, by law, which we all did with relish. The exception was my mother. Fonzerella struggled with the idea of dropping her drawers in front of everyone; I think perhaps she worried it would undermine her authority. (It didn't) It wouldn't surprise me if she purposefully avoided it except for the times she was dealt a hand that made it impossible not to moon, and then she would gloat. There were always shouts and cheers when someone mooned, but when my mother got one, it was near bedlam. We would be hooting, pounding the table and catcalling, drowning out her protests until she finally got up and flashed us so quickly, you had to wonder if it had even happened. How did she do it so fast? Did she practice in front of a mirror? We could probably identify any other player by their butt, but my mother retained her dignity in a difficult situation. After the game broke up, everyone would go their separate ways, sometimes for a night swim or skinny dip, if you weren't in mixed company, to read or watch a movie or lie in front of a fan, making sounds into it so you could sound like a robot. Too often, the next night, the losers would be forgotten and my sister and I would be in the kitchen, singing theme songs from TV shows to bide the time, getting dishpan hands.

Summer memories jumble together. We went barefoot all summer and would start the summer limping and hopping over the sharp stones of the gravel driveway, "winter feet" we called it, and ending in hardened soles that could take anything except a direct jab to the arch. We went all day, swimming, then drying off, then pulling on our cold sticky suits once again in the sweltering heat that existed behind the house and miraculously disappeared as soon as you got to the lake. It made you wonder why you were in such a hurry to get back in the water.

We slept in our clothes, ready to go the moment we woke up. Some mornings were utterly still and the lake looked like "Glass lake! Glass lake!" my oldest brother would shout, running through the yard, sending up the alert to my cousin, brothers and neighbors. He would wade in to get the boat off the mooring and bring it to the pier, unsnapping the cover as he went. Within minutes, they would be ready to ski, heading out to break the calm surface of the water with rooster tails from the slalom. I spent most of my time in the boat watching for falls and signaling to the skier the quality of their sprays. I wasn't much of a water-skier but my cousin and I worked on a trick. Wrapping my arms and legs around the thickness of our life preservers and him, I would hang on his back until he got up, then I would climb up and sit on his shoulders. It was our only trick, so its life was relatively brief. The last time I recall doing it was when my mom drove the boat for us, which she didn't do regularly. When we said, "Hit it!", she went full throttle, which was more than required for two kids. I scrambled up to my perch on my cousin's shoulders and realized we were going far too fast. We frantically signed to slow down before my cousin wiped out. I fell from the height as if onto concrete, skittering along before sinking. I learned that if water is going fast enough, or you are relative to it, it can perforate tender skin. I'm not sure my derriere has ever been the same.

Most summers we would walk across the lake on the logs of a long fallen bridge that ended on our seawall. We knew where it was and, dragging a boat with us to let other boaters know we were there, we would pick our way, feet finding the slippery roundness of the huge logs, long submerged, until we were at the sandbars all the way on the other side. We'd play in their water for a while and then head back across to our home shore. We would canoe into the lily pads, listening to them hiss, feeling them on the underside of the boat. We'd watch for the huge carp that loved the warm murky waters, fearful of falling in and frantic if we did, sure we'd be eaten.

My sister and I would canoe around on 4th of July, singing every patriotic song we knew at the top of our lungs before dusk fell. Once the fireworks started, we renewed our singing efforts while sitting on the pier in the dark. Sound really carries on a lake; I feel a bit sorry for the people across from us.

The smell of the water, the smell of boats, the sound of feet pounding on the pier, the deep ka-ploosh of a well-done cannonball. The lake, the green lake, was what summer was. I didn't like it there so much when I was a teenager, but that's another story.

My soap is made to look a little like the surface of the lake as I lay on the bottom, looking up to the sky.

Please go see some of the beauties that were submitted in the Soap Challenge Gallery facebook group.  Search for summerloving and see the art!

Thanks for all the support of this soap challenge group.  And thank you for following my blog.  Kisses!  xo Jo