Saturday, June 18, 2011

Laundry Day

There is the sour, skanky scent of laundry that sits in a pile, waiting to be put in the washing machine.  Then there is the newly fresh, clean fragrance that is coming out of the dryer as I open the door to get the clothes out. 
I’ve been battling with increasing dinginess in all the white things—especially the dish towels.  I use bleach but it doesn’t seem to be enough.  Today, I tried something new and I’m astonished at the difference.  Now I’m going to sound like a commercial, but I must honestly say that the whites have never been so white except when they were new.  And though I don’t use any kind of fabric softener and never have, it appears that everything has a different kind of softness.  How did this happen?
Last week, our new neighbor from across the street came to the door early one evening.  She and her husband and their two small children recently moved into the rental house that had been vacant for some weeks.  From the very beginning we seemed to hit it off well.  When Stephanie said she was planting an organic vegetable garden, I was pretty excited to get to know her.  As we talked, that first time, she told me of a book she’d been reading that had inspired her to attempt a garden.  That Sunday morning, when we came back from church, there was her book, leaning against the door, ready for me to devour.  Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver describes a year her family spent living “off the grid”.  In an effort to reduce their carbon footprint, the family resolved to live and shop locally, within one hundred miles of home.
This seems to play right into my own humble efforts to live more like my parents did, as they lived “off the grid” like everyone else of their generation.  Fifty years ago, this was the normal way to live.  We didn’t buy strawberries in January, or asparagus from Chile. Grocery stores were not supermarkets.  Maybe there was a Sears, or a Penny’s, but no Wal-Mart.  Even MacDonald’s was new fifty years ago.  And now, with health and diet issues at the forefront, and our more constrained budget, the frugal life of my parents makes more sense than ever.
Stephanie came to the door that night a week ago.
“I wonder if you might be able to let me have a couple of eggs,” she asked.  “I’m making cupcakes for Kennedy’s fourth birthday party tomorrow and I ran out of eggs.”  She handed me a jar of powder and continued, “This is laundry soap that I made.  I thought you might like to try it in exchange for the eggs.”
I took the jar she handed me and unscrewed the lid.  I held it up to my nose to sniff.

“Wow!  That smells great.  What is it?”
“I found the recipe online.  Planet Green, I think.  The baby’s been getting a rash from the soap I was using so I thought I’d give this a try.  His rash is gone and the clothes get clean—so I’m happy about that.  I add a couple of drops of lemon essential oil, just because I like the citrusy scent.  And I think I’ll also try lavender.”
“Well, for that, you may certainly have the eggs.  As a matter of fact, would you like a loaf of homemade French bread?  And maybe a jar of marmalade I just made?”

I loved the direction we were taking our conversation.  I could see that we might continue to share and learn in a rich neighborly way that could evoke simpler times.  I was especially delighted that this young mother, representing the next generation, was moving off the grid in her own way.
My other across the street neighbor is also a young mother.  She and her family live in a two bedroom home and I sometimes wonder how she manages that with her young boy, her three little girls and her trucker husband.  He’s in heavy construction so he has some pretty big rigs parked in their driveway most of the time.  And now she has two chickens in the back yard.  She devised a pen for them from the dog kennel they had.  She raised it up on a platform and put straw in it so the chickens have a place to roost.  Her kids find them to be the best and most interesting pets they could imagine and they love to get the eggs in the morning.
I know all this because she came to the door yesterday with a dozen eggs, nicely nested in a cardboard egg container.

“We can’t eat so many eggs and Joe said you love eggs, so I thought you might like a dozen.”
I was thrilled and gave her a jar of marmalade in exchange.  More trading in the neighborhood.  When I start harvesting my squashes and tomatoes, I will bring a basket over to her.  Maybe she’ll continue to give me eggs.
I wonder why eggs from local chickens taste so much better.  And I wonder why laundry soap made from Fels Naptha, Borax and washing soda works so much better than any other laundry detergent I’ve ever used.
Laundry Soap
1 bar Fels Naptha
1 cup washing soda
1 cup Borax
Grate bar of Fels Naptha and blend thoroughly with washing soda and Borax.  Use approximately 1- 2 tablespoons per load of wash.  This is perfect for HE (high efficiency) front-loading machines, as this detergent generates very little suds, even as it does a better job of cleaning clothes.  Because there is no detergent residue, the clothes come out softer and don’t need a fabric softener, though ¼ cup white vinegar in the rinse cycle will do the trick.  For ring around the collar or tough stains, rub bar of Fels Naptha over the stain before washing.


  1. I will definitely be making this soap. I especially love the fact that you need so little.

    How neat that you have such community a few steps out your door!


  2. Getting back to the simpler life, one family at a time, connecting and sharing in person! I like that!

  3. Love this post! I have some goodies for you!

  4. And I love the soap! I'm adding you to my blog list. I love the way you write.