Melanie Skelton of Tooele once had a goat. “She gave milk,” Skelton said. “I always wanted a goat because I wanted to make goat milk soap. Because of the way the city code is written, we weren’t able to keep that goat.”
But that didn’t stop Skelton from making soap anyway. In every area of her life, she kept creating.
“I think creating is a super important part of who we can be,” she said. “It brings so much joy.”
From an outsider’s viewpoint, Skelton does a little bit of everything. She sews, designs her own patterns and sells them online at the Etsy shop Mulberry Junction (mjpatterns.com). Besides recently opening Melanie’s Health and Nutrition in Tooele, she plays the piano, the violin, and the ukulele. She writes music. She writes books, too.
“People have seen me open my store, but I don’t think a lot of people realize that at the core of all this, I’m a creator,” she said.
Skelton fills her life with her passions, including writing and making natural skin care products. In almost everything she does, she feels she’s been led to it step-by-step.
This includes her love of herbs and natural healing, which began during her LDS mission to Holland in 1987-88. That was where Skelton had her first taste of chamomile tea and foot reflexology.
At one point, she acquired a cough that wouldn’t go away. Her mission companion decided to help.
“She took me into a health food store,” Skelton said. “I had never been in one before. We talked to the person there, and they gave me a tincture. I went home and started taking it, and I don’t think I had ever seen anything work quite like that.”
Within two days, Skelton was well again. She tucked the experience away in her mind, not realizing she’d come back to it.
Skelton was a young mother in the mid-1990s when major life challenges hit her family. Her husband broke his back in 1993. In 1995, she experienced a molar pregnancy, and then she was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer she said was called a persistent molar pregnancy. She also had a daughter with eczema.
“It was an interesting time in our lives,” she said. “It was like this moment in our lives that we learned things we couldn’t have learned any other way.”
Those experiences led Skelton back to her interest in natural healing. She was miserable after four months of chemotherapy. To recover, she followed a nutritional plan that included drinking two quarts of dandelion tea a day.
“Dandelion is very cleansing,” she said. “It helped cleanse the chemo out of my body and then I had kind of a miraculous, quick clean up from the chemo.”
About that time, Skelton started making her own soap to help with her daughter’s eczema. She branched out into herbal salves, lip balms, facemasks and other skin care items. Eventually, she developed her own line of products.
When Skelton makes something for her product line, she often incorporates herbs that she grows at home.
“The ones I’ve used most are calendula, comfrey and chickweed,” she said.
Skelton said calendula is good for general skin health and healing. Comfrey is known for regenerating cells, including skin cells, and chickweed is good for itchy rash conditions.
Because of her experience with dandelion tea, she also developed a passion for dandelions.
“As I’ve learned more and more about herbs, it’s been interesting to me personally how often I come back to dandelion again,” she said. “If you were to see my backyard in the spring, it’s a dandelion forest. I haven’t let anybody spray them for years now. ”
Skelton said she’s been surprised by how easy herbs are to grow. She counted 49 different herbs in her yard last year. She also said many of them grow as weeds without anyone noticing them.
“That’s the funny thing about herbs,” she said. “I can walk through the parking lot and be like whoa, there’s yarrow. There are all these fabulous herbs around us, and we don’t even know it. They’re already there.”
Most of her products have changed over the years. She keeps a book of experiments in the store to keep track of new things she tries.
Selling her products was a side effect of her desire to create. At first, she did it because she made too many items for her family to use.
“I never pictured that this would become more than a hobby,” she said.
Skelton intended to stop selling products many times. She remembers one time when she decided to quit and then got an email from another mother telling her that her products were the only thing that helped their son’s eczema.
“In a moment like that, how do you say I quit?” she said. “Then I was like ‘fine, I don’t quit, I’ll keep going.’ When I’m making a difference in people’s lives, then it matters. If I didn’t have that, I probably wouldn’t have done this.”
Her love of writing followed a similar path. Although Skelton wanted to be an author when she was in kindergarten, a college teacher discouraged her from writing. She rediscovered her love of words about the same time she started learning about herbs, when she saw an advertisement for a writing conference and decided to go.
“I really started playing with writing from there,” she said. “That’s where I met Carol Lynch Williams, who became a very dear friend over the years.”
Carol Lynch Williams, a Brigham Young University professor and an award-winning author, brainstormed with Skelton about what a perfect writers’ conference would be.
“We were standing in a book-signing line waiting to get a book signed and having this conversation about how she would like to make a conference that really would make a difference for the people in Utah,” Skelton said.
An annual writers’ conference, Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers (www.wifyr.com/writingscholarship/), sprang from that conversation. It’s been an annual event since 1999.
“Believe it or not, I’m in charge,” Skelton said. “I’m the head assistant over the conference. I work very closely with Carol and make sure that all of our assistants have the assignments they need.”
It’s a big job. Each assistant works with a faculty member. During the conference, attendees work on their manuscripts and provide feedback to their classmates. The assistants gather and distribute copies of each manuscript to the faculty member and to other participants in the class.
The upcoming conference will have 10 classes.
“This year, in my class, I’m assisting Stephanie Black,” Skelton said. “She’s a mystery writer. We have room for 13 people in our class, so I will read 13 manuscripts and critique them.”
Skelton said the conference usually draws around 150 people. This year, it’s scheduled for June 11-15. Interested parties can learn more about the conference at wifyr.com.
“We’re working on this all year, pretty much,” Skelton said. “There’s a lot to think about. We have to get faculty lined up. We have to get the word out and get the web site ready. There’s so much to do.”
Somehow, Skelton also finds time to build and maintain her own websites and to make labels for her products.
“If I can create something, I’m happy, whether it’s with words or music or ingredients or with art,” Skelton said. “That’s why I love making those labels, because I love creating that online look or that label. That’s just as much fun as creating the actual product for me.”
When there’s a free moment, Skelton might spin wool. She learned how a few years back while volunteering at This Is the Place State Park. For a while, she kept an angora rabbit, and she spun wool from it. She’d still like to have some alpacas someday.
And then, there was her goat.
Although she didn’t get to keep it, that experience sparked a story idea.
“So now, because of that experience, I’m writing a book about a goat,” she said.
She already has an agent interested in representing the book.
It’s one more dream to chase, but Skelton is a creator, and her dreams tend to come true.
That might be because she knows how to work and she knows how to enjoy the process.
“There are certain things that have to be done, and every once in a while, I have to step back and say, OK, I’ve got to go create,” she said. “When I create, I get grounded again.”