However, Becky and her family are not the only hens in this barnyard. They share it with, among many other pets: a five foot iguana, cockatiels, a 600 pound pig named Piggy, and some wooly sheep. That's a lot of animals for most families, but a far cry from the more than 1,000 critters that used to live here!
"Five years ago we ran a non-profit petting farm here. We introduced farm life to schools, city rec centers, nursing homes etc. Our township would not give us a small zoo license to operate since we were having so many group buses coming. We were told that most of the animals would have to go." And go they did. Now there are only a 'few' left on the farm.
Here at Soapnuts, to know Becky is to love her, particularly as our devoted List Mom. Since the day I first met Becky on the Soapnuts list, I’ve wanted to ask her one question: How does one woman balance all of this in one lifetime?
"I know this is a trick question," answers Becky. "I've always been one of those people who has fifty projects going on at the same time. Having my business at home gives me time to be a mom, which is a full time job, and my family always comes first. 'Soapnuts' is my quiet time. I know it sounds stupid, but it's true. I don't get much free time around this loony bin, but when I have a spare minute or two I like to jump on the computer. It's my way of rejoining the world without leaving the comforts of home. The store is a family deal...the kids love showing customers around the gardens, and trying to get freebies out of the store for themselves, and friends. My hubby is a soap maker also. So, it all fits together in some insane way."
Let's back up here just a bit. When we go back twelve years, to the time when Becky and Brian first purchased their homey farm—that is when the soap-making began.
"It was just like 'Green Acres' when we bought this place! I was born on a farm, but my husband was pure city and never had pets. He went pioneer crazy. Making our own soap was part of the 'plan', but my motives were far different from his...Working as a pharmacy technician, I learned that most of those cryptic words most people can't pronounce on labels were, for the large part, not a good thing. Allergies within my family members was a huge problem. So, 'Off went Becky to improve all of their lives!' A family joke. They all suffered through many, many experiments! I think as soon as my first child was born, I went nutso needing to know what every single ingredient I was using on him really was. As parents we all want our children to have the best care that we can provide. Manufactured products were not, in my opinion, offering that. I needed to have full control of the situation. So, I hit the books, and started collecting research to back me up."
Becky's first batch of soap was vegetable oatmeal soap and it was love at first sight!
"I didn't sleep at night thinking about what I was going to make the next day."
Sound familiar, anyone?
Making it in her kitchen, as she still does, she experimented, and experimented, and experimented...looking for what, in her opinion, was the ideal bar of soap.
"Technically, I know that soap doesn't need to have huge amounts of lather to clean, but privately I'm a sucker for bubbles. I want my bar to be long lasting, moisturizing, and bubble lots! Okay, I admit. I'm a naturalist at heart, but I do like a good fragrance."
And what one piece of soap-making equipment do you suppose she found she could not do without?
"My handy dandy stick blender! I love that piece of equipment...I use it for just about anything."
Not all of Becky's hard work ended up as perfect batches though. She admits that the "Worst Batch Award" belongs to the one she made while socializing… she accidentally left out most of the olive oil! Her most memorable batch didn't end perfectly either.
"I, like a dummy, was using a glass bowl to mix my lye and water together. I removed it from a hot water bath after warming it, didn't wipe the water off the outside of the bowl, and proceeded to pour it into a very tall stainless steel pot. DH (d*mn husband in this case) took that precise moment to come walking into the kitchen shooting his mouth off, startled me, and I ended up pouring the entire contents onto my body. Needless to say, I had to strip right there in the kitchen (thank goodness no company was over), and quickly jump in the shower. I suffered blisters over my thighs, and kneecaps."
Oh, the soap stories we could tell! To share soap-making experiences and knowledge, Becky started subscribing to many internet soap-making lists. What she discovered was that they were, in her opinion, all "severe, and lacking". She decided to create her own list where members would feel free to share, and to express themselves without fear of censure. Looking at some of the posts on Soapnuts, I would have to concede that Becky has hit her target!
It did take some time though. Believe it or not, in the beginning, not very many list members were talking. That's hard to imagine isn't it? Then Lori from "Lori's Laughing Lambs" joined, followed by Jan (J'son), and then Holli.
"What list couldn't go from bad to fantastic with that line-up," asks Becky. Soapnuts was not only born, but up and running! The list at the time of this writing (3/1/99--almost nine months post partum) boasts 314 members.
Mother, wife, zookeeper, soapmaker, List Mom...where did she find the time to make the leap to business woman extraordinaire?
"I sort of clued in when total strangers started calling me up wanting to know if I was the 'soap lady', and could they come over to buy some? That's when we decided to start doing the craft show circuit. It didn't take me long to get tired of all the hard work, and traveling that avenue entails. Successfully marketing any product takes so much time. I couldn't do it while sitting at craft show after craft show. After doing phenomenally well at a booth rental at a local mall, we decided that all the money going for rent wasn't doing us any good. We had developed a clientele that we knew would follow us wherever we decided to go. So, a business on our own property seemed an ideal decision. I had too many responsibilities to my children, gardens, pets, etc. that I could not fulfill away from home. We converted our garage into a store."
Having a store on one's own property can be a pretty demanding job, and requires that the owners do quite a balancing act. How does Becky feel about her home business?
"One of the coolest things about being my own boss is that I can take time with customers or visitors, and chat my head off. I think I have some of the greatest customers in the world. They know that if I don't come out to wait on them as soon as they arrive, I must be making some "witchy-poo" potion, and I'll be out as soon as I can. No offence to any 'real witches' is meant by that statement...I am often referred to by locals as a "witch" simply because of misconceptions on their part... because of what I make, grow, and do around here."
And what she makes, grows, and does is pure pleasure to the senses! Imagine being treated to the vista of a "fairy cottage" home with its feldstone chimney, wrap-around porch draped with silver lace vine, and ancient, guardian trees protectively embracing it. Imagine strolling through prolific gardens, and watching koi lazily fanning their filmy tails in the ornamental pond. Imagine walking into The Country Petaler, and being greeted by the harmonious combination of dozens of scents wafting together from the hand crafted soaps lining the shelves. And imagine taking a moment out of your day to have a friendly chat with the store's pretty proprietor.
Becky, where do you see yourself in three years time?
"I could go with a more interesting response like, "be a multi-millionaire!'" But, really I see myself doing the same hard work that I do now, and loving almost every minute of it. I would like to see some more greenhouses around here, and my entire grounds covered in flowers!"
Is there play time for you?
"Free time is always hard to find around here, but we make time together whenever possible. In the winter I read a lot. I mean a LOT! In the summer I roller blade, mountain bike, and fish. I throw back what I catch. My number one relaxer? Gardening! I especially like taking bad days out on all those nasty weeds lurking in my flower beds. It soothes me to get my fingers dirty. No gloves for me! I like to feel the dirt.
I'm a movie fanatic, but I prefer the classics. My favourite movies? I'm going to have to go with 'African Queen' or 'Casablanca'. I'm a Bogey fan. My favorite food? That's harder to answer than favorite movie... hmmmmm... anything from Taco Bell? Hahaha!
I do need to be honest here. When I have an extremely trying day I head for my best friend's house, and we have a girls' night out. Just like when we were in high school. We paint our toenails, give each other facials, and open a bottle or two of wine. Then we sit down in front of the computer, and wreak havoc in the chat rooms!"
No wonder 'Soapnuts' is so lively. With a list mom with this much character how could we go wrong? Getting to know Becky has been a wonderful experience for me and I hope that reading this interview has helped everyone to know her a little better.
And now, I'll let Becky leave you with a final word.
"If I had to fight for one cause what would it be? There is no 'one' cause that I think is more important than any other. I guess if you call it a cause I would be most interested in getting more people involved in the life that is going on around them. Group causes are okay, but I believe any act of kindness no matter how big or small makes a difference. If you know of an elderly person living in your area who has no help of any kind, mow her grass...If a stray cat starts hanging around your yard, put out food and water. The biggest problem I have with society today is when everyone looks the other way. Open your eyes! You might find that you will like yourself more."