On Friendship and Making Soap

How often have you heard that phrase: “You can choose your friends, but not your family.” I don’t know, however, if that statement is really true. Sometimes people actually turn their back on family, but that’s not my point here. What I mean is that sometimes life hands you certain friends who, like family, you pretty much don’t chose. They’ve always been there… and they always will be.

That is the case of my friend Jens. His family and my family have been friends forever. His older sister Andi was my age and we were close growing up (even went to the same school!). Jens was actually one of my brother David’s closest friends. Our mothers were pregnant at the same time, so one could even say their friendship was preordained!

Andi died when we were in our twenties. And, as you know, we lost David nearly four years ago. Over the years, whenever Jens was in town (he lives in the U.S.), we always got together, but in a way it was really David and our relationships with him that brought us together. Since then, there has obviously been a shift, and it is just now that I am getting to know Jens on more of a one-to-one basis.

So Jens is here for a few months. And he called me right away. He came over on Friday, just as I had started to get my things together for some soap making. He joined in… so much more fun doing it with another person! If you’ve ever made your own soap before, you understand that — like quilting — it can be addictive! Even more so when sharing the experience, and making the time to deepen a friendship.

The last time I made soap was with my daughter-in-law Allison, and at that time we used pizza boxes for our molds. Apparently, it’s been a while since any pizza was ordered in this house, so I was somewhat at a loss as to what to use. And then I saw my empty freezer paper boxes… Aha! I KNEW I would find a use for them! Before I have used saran wrap to line my molds, but I decided I might as well give freezer paper a try this time.

As you can see, we discovered the boxes were a little flimsy. This, however, we resolved by placing books against the sides before covering the molds for the initial 24-hour setting period.

Soap making doesn’t take long at all, so there was plenty of time to clean up and chit chat, and make plans for next week.

Oh, yes. Something I have forgotten to mention is that the family friendship continues to grow beyond our two generations. Over the years, my daughter Jamie and Jens’ daughter Natalie have had the opportunity to develop a friendship of their own. We hadn’t know this initially, but Natalie is actually only an hour and a half away from the school Jamie is going to this year and already they have been able to get together, with plans for more during the rest of the year. That is now three generations of friends between our two families, and Jamie tells me she is pretty sure if she and Natalie ever have kids, their children will probably become friends, too.

So… you see my point about not being able to choose some friends? Because, actually, more than friends they really are family.

Ok, so back to our soap… Twenty-four hours later (and now sans Jens) I took them out of their molds. Ok, so they turned out crooked in some places, but I am not going to obsess. These are not to be sold commercially, but most of them will become part of Christmas gift baskets (and then we have to save a few for ourselves!)

After cutting the bars I set them on cookie sheets (on waxed paper) and labeled them. The label indicates the type of soap and the date in which it was made. This is important, as the curing process typically takes anywhere between two to six weeks. These particular bars are lavender (on the right), made from dried and crushed lavender from my mother’s garden, and oatmeal/honey/milk (on the right). The only thing impossible to share here is how wonderful the room smells!

Last, but not least, what helped decide which recipes to use here were the notes Allison wrote down on previous soap making endeavors. We have a binder where we have collected recipes, and in the back part she wrote down our impressions regarding different batches of soap we had made. Since we enjoy giving these as gifts, we also printed out enough labels to last us a lifetime. Which means that when the time comes around, putting the gift baskets together will go very quickly!

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