And, just like that, Mother Nature and I are on again

IMG_20150422_212045768We all have one of those people in our lives.  You know the kind: The on-and-off.  That person that you can’t make up your mind to love or hate.  That person who’s gossiping with you one day and then about you the next. That person who always bails on your dinner plans, but then moves heaven and earth to pick you up when your car breaks down on the side of the highway.  You know who I’m talking about – that person who’s the best and the worst friend all at the same time.  For me, that person is Mother Nature.

Consider this – just last week, Mother Nature had me agonizing over the gassy wool dryer balls.  Then this week, she turns around and bends over backwards to make dish soap the easiest effort of my life.  It’s like being back in middle school and first period is a pop quiz and second period is a Bill Nye The Science Guy special.  Talk about an emotional roller coaster.

So I got this dish soap recipe off of the Hillbilly Housewife.  I was looking for something pretty simple and, with only three ingredients, this one fit the bill.  Here we go:

  • 2 cups Castile Soap
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1 tsp white vinegar

I mixed all the ingredients together and put them in a spray bottle.  Both Carrie and I are happy with the way this recipe cleans our dishes, but when I mix it again, I’ll definitely make some tweaks.  No, I’m not a glutton for punishment and fixing something that’s not broken.  I’m just taking a perfectly good recipe and changing it a little so that… Ok, I’m a glutton for punishment, but I honestly think I could make this recipe just slightly better for our needs here at the cottage.

Last summer I spent a week in San Francisco and stayed in a hostel run by a bunch of hippies.  The dish soap provided in the kitchen was mixed with water in a squirt bottle.  Totally cheap and ineffective, right?  Wrong.  Turns out regular dish soap is incredibly concentrated, and squirt bottle soap works great, even when mixed with a large amount of water.  About a month ago, I instituted the practice here at The Newport House, and it went over like a pack of chocolate chip cookies in our cupboard; the only difference is that the soap lasted way longer than any cookie ever has a chance to do.

The point is, we’re used to watered down soap, so the 2 cups of Dr. Bronner’s in this dish soap is a little strong for us.  It may depend on which Castile soap you use, but Dr. Bronner’s is pretty concentrated, so I think even a 2:1 ratio of Castile to water would be more than enough suds for us.  So the next time I make this soap, I’ll cut the Castile in half and at least double the vinegar to get a cleaner that’s cheaper but still strong.  Win-win!  After my difficulties last week with the dryer balls, I can barely contain my excitement about the dish soap success!  Talk about an emotional roller coaster.

More Mother Nature’s Maid Service


The place where sustainability and trepidation meet

Up until a few days ago, I’d only been brave enough to try my homemade laundry detergent and homemade dryer balls with loads of sheets and towels.  It’s not that I don’t trust myself, but after last week’s tiny hiccup with the gaseous wool dryer balls, you can understand why I had been waiting to throw my whole wardrobe into a homemade cycle.  As with every natural experiment I conduct, I knew there was going to be some horribly negative side effect, and I just had to wait for it to present itself.  After the passing of the gassy blue wool balls, I knew I had landed safely away from the smelly and the nasty.  At least I hoped so, but I had to press on anyway.  Despite turning my underpants inside out, Febreezing the pits of my shirts, and wearing sweatpants and a blazer to work several times, I eventually did run out of clean clothes.

With much trepidation, I did a load of laundry that contained more or less everything in my wardrobe.  The wash cycle was a huge success, but I wasn’t fazed; I still had to deal with the dryer balls that smelled like….well, you know.  Luckily, the purple dryer balls didn’t seem to present signs of gas, so I only used those and set the odorous blue ones to the side (probably never to be touched again, regardless of how their open-air recovery goes).  Lo and behold, my clothes came out of the dryer fresh and clean and without any lingering intestinal air scent!  I know it may not sound like much, but I’m going to take it as a win.  For even more freshness, I’m going to add a few drops of essential oils to my yarn balls next time.

The second plus for dryer balls – aside from sustainability – is that they are supposed to drastically cut down on drying time.  Unfortunately, I have no conclusive evidence of that at this time, but I plan to conduct one of my good, old-fashioned, not-at-all-doomed-to-fail experiments to test this theory, so there’s more to come on that front.  But, in the meantime, I’ve found an even better way to cut down on dryer time – something still cheaper than dryer sheets and more sustainable than yarn balls: Air.

That’s right, I’ve gone 100% old-fashioned, grandma’s podunk backyard and hung a clothes line.  I put two on our back porch and strung one down the basement, in case of rain…or winter.  Of course, nothing’s as soft as the dryer, so everything comes off the line stiff as a board – especially towels – but after dealing with No Poo hair and homemade deodorant, wooden laundry is a cake walk.  So far, I love air drying – I just can’t wait for summertime, so my clothes will have that sun and cut-grass scent!  At first I did feel a little exposed with all my unmentionables flapping in the breeze for the entire alley to see, but as Albert Einstein said, “Once you can accept the universe as matter expanding into nothing that is something, showing off your bagged underpants from Target comes easy.”

More Mother Nature’s Maid Service


The end:IMG_20150419_221715

When I opened up the dryer to pull out my laundry, an overwhelmingly foul scent immediately escaped.  It was the scent of a dinosaur passing gas.

How we got there:

I researched how to make wool dryer balls on DIY Natural.  A sustainable alternative to dryer sheets was the second project in the Mother Nature’s Maid Service Challenge, and these dryer balls promised to be just that.  So away I went.

I made a special trip to my local Jo-Ann Fabrics for some 100% wool yarn.  Apparently yarn is a very important material for serious crafters, because I was bombarded with two aisles and approximately 200 brands of it.  I checked what must have been 150 labels (probably more like 10…) before I found Patons 100% wool with a sheep on the front.  Sold to the gal wearing homemade deodorant!

I bought a purple spool and a blue spool, just to make things more fun.  That night, I twisted up my yarn balls and wrangled them into an old and dilapidated nylon stocking to ensure that they would felt correctly.  Felting is basically how dryer balls are made – you roll them up, stick them in a stocking, run them through a hot/cold laundry cycle, and then blast them to hell and back on your highest dryer setting.  If they felt correctly, you should be able to run a fingernail across the surface without loosening the yarn.  Then you’re free to toss them in your dryer at will.

The very next night, I excitedly threw my dryer balls into the washing machine with a load of sheets and towels.  They came out unscathed, and I tossed everything in the dryer to finish them off.  I nervously waited.  Then came the buzz: It was time.

I ran down the basement to collect my (hopefully felted) yarn balls.  When I opened up the dryer to pull out my laundry, an overwhelmingly foul scent immediately escaped.  It was the scent of a dinosaur passing gas.  I stuffed my head in the dryer – in search of the odor – and buried my nose in my sheets, horrified that they would emit this gaseousness.  But there was nothing.  My sheets and towels didn’t smell like anything.  How were they unscathed?  The source had to be somewhere!

And then I turned to the dryer balls.  I picked them up tentatively and smelled them one by one.  Purple 1: fine.  Purple 2: fine.  See that?  It wasn’t the yarn ba– Blue 1: FART.  Blue 2: FART.  I dropped the balls like hot potatoes and shoved my face at our “Cotton Breeze” dryer sheets.  Trust me, it was terrible.  It was as if I’d wrapped the blue yarn balls around hard-boiled eggs or blocks of cheese and then thrown them through the laundry cycle.  I carried them upstairs, holding them as far away from me, my nose, and my sheets as possible, and then shoved them under Carrie’s nose.  She recoiled and threw my yarn balls across the room as if I’d just tossed a bag of thousand leggers at her (which, in the defense of my dryer balls, would have been a way worse scenario, no matter how foul the yarn smelled).

So we’re working now with two dryer balls – the purple set only, obviously.  I’m not really sure what happened to the blue – maybe it was the color, maybe it was the spool, maybe that sheep had a love of beans and leafy greens.  I will admit that much of the odor has diminished since they’ve been left out in the open, but I’m not sure whether I’ll ever be brave enough to try them again with my laundry.  Smelling like homemade deodorant is bad enough, but smelling like a gigantic fart is is definitely above my pay grade.

More Mother Nature’s Maid Service

MNM’s Laundry List

I have never been more excited to do laundry than I have been these past fewIMG_20150414_132643 days.  In fact, my life has been so laundry-centric, that I haven’t even had time for anything else.

On Monday, I was invited to happy hour and politely declined: “Wish I could, but I have to go home and make laundry detergent.  It’s promising to be a lot of fun, would you like to–” (No, she wouldn’t like to join me, apparently.)

On Tuesday, a friend was stranded on the highway with a flat tire, but I was, unfortunately, unavailable: “I’m so sorry, but you couldn’t have caught me at a worse time.  I’m just in the middle of making dryer balls.”  (Not to worry.  I sent Carrie instead.)

On Wednesday, U.S. Airways called with an offer on a free trip to Dubrovnik, leaving the next day, as a special offer for passengers who had ever felt pressed for leg-space on a previous flight.  Well I certainly fit that description, but: “I’d love to go, but I just don’t think I’ll get the time to pack.  I have to do my laundry tonight.”

Yea, I’ve gone overboard.  Or have I?  This is Mother Nature’s Maid, after all.  I can’t disappoint my five readers.  So I stayed in and made laundry detergent instead of heading to Dubrovnik.  And guess what?  It worked!!

The laundry detergent recipe I used, from DIY Natural, is a powder, made with three ingredients: Borax, Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda, and 1 bar of soap, grated.  Easy enough, right?  Sure, when you have a grater in your house.  I had to shred my soap with a vegetable peeler and then put it through the food processor to chop it up tiny enough to dissolve in the wash.  But after the chopping – super simple.  I just mixed all my ingredients in a recycled Cool Whip container, and it was ready to use.

I was slightly nervous to use homemade detergent on my clothes – I’ve been burned by Mother Nature before, and I was not about to let her ruin my wardrobe as well as my hair – so I used it on a load of sheets and towels first.  I was pleased with how they turned out; the detergent seems to work just like store-bought, with the soap providing most of the scent.  With my nerves assuaged, I threw in a load of clothes, and they turned out just as fresh and clean as the towels with no lasting negative effects.  Success!

I think I’ve found my new laundry detergent, and the best part is that it only cost me about $10!  We’ll just have to get ourselves a grater…I wonder if I could have bought one of those in Dubrovnik.

More Mother Nature’s Maid Service

Don’t wash your clothes in the woods

Would you trust Mother Nature to wash your clothes?  Of course you wouldn’t!  That’s because she’d probably dunk them in a freshwater lake in the woods somewhere next to a badger carcass, and you’d have to walk around smelling like lake trout and dead badger.  I think even the hippies would be too discerning to befriend you then.  They’d just toss you some patchouli and tea tree oil out the window of their bus and keep truckin’ (because they’re obviously Dead Heads).  Right on.

Now I’m no Dead Head (although I do enjoy a little Touch of Grey every now and then), but I do know a thing or two about tea tree oil, and I can tell you that there is no way it’ll cover up the scent of dead badger – no way, no how.  So it’s best to just not let Mother Nature wash your clothes.  End of story.

But curiosity killed the cat, and it made the unsuspecting hippie smell like yesterday’s un-washed clothes.  So, in that vein, we’re attacking laundry for week 1 – homemade laundry detergent and homemade dryer sheets.  After some internet research, I found some recipes.  Here’s what I’ve whipped up to clean my wardrobe and to (hopefully) not smell like yesterday’s un-washed clothes.

I found both of these tutorials on DIY Natural.  The laundry detergent recipe includes just three ingredients:

  • 1 Cup of Borax
  • 1 Cup Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda
  • 1 bar of soap, grated (I used Dial, but to be extra green, pick Dr. Bronner’s or another all-natural brand)

For a homemade, sustainable alternative to dryer sheets, I’m trying my hand at wool dryer balls, which require just one ingredient: 100% wool yarn.  I couldn’t find a sheep, so I bought some commercial yarn yesterday, so that my dryer balls will be ready for tomorrow’s laundry cycle.  But if I come across a sheep in the meantime, you can bet that sucker is getting sheered.

More Mother Nature’s Maid Service

Let me just finish scrubbing my hippie van

Have you ever looked at your bathroom or kitchen and thought, “how can I make cleaning a little more complicated?”  Neither have I.  But, as is often my habit here on the MNM Blog, I am going to start making my life a whole lot more complex over the next five weeks…all in the name of Mother Nature, of course.

From April 13 through May 18, Mother Nature’s Maid will be tackling an all-new natural challenge: Mother Nature’s Maid Service.  For this back-to-nature experiment, I will be taking on our household cleaning supplies.  Just like the Mother Nature’s Maid and Maid Up challenges, I’ll be tossing out our conventional cleaners – from laundry detergent to air freshener – one by one until I’m scrubbing our house with roadside gravel, water, and an old t-shirt.

Now, the situation will not get that dire (I hope).  I’ve been doing some preliminary research before I dive in (see?  I have learned something since the first challenge), and it seems that natural cleansing materials are not as hard to come by as one might think. Turns out lots of products – like vinegar, epsom salts, baking soda, and my old essential oil friends – all do double duty as household cleaners!  And when you consider that many conventional cleaners we use today contain crazy chemicals that may or may not be linked to cancer, heart damage, respiratory problems, and the creation of superbugs, the roadside gravel doesn’t sound so bad anymore.

Ok, so it may not seem incredibly exciting.  After all, I hate cleaning my own toilet so much that I pretty much only do it for company, so why would you care at all whether I’m using baking soda or Lysol in the thing?  But don’t write the MNMS Challenge off just yet.  Trust me when I say, there are plenty of ways that this challenge could become just as nasty, sweaty, greasy, stinky, oily, and gelatinous as all the previous challenges.  For example: Laundry.

My Week 1 project will be homemade laundry detergent and dryer sheets.  I’m not sure why, but I always end up tackling first those products that could most greatly affect my social life (if you don’t remember, I started the Mother Nature’s Maid Challenge with deodorant).  I guess I just like to make everything a little more complicated.

Wish me luck.  Hopefully I won’t need it (but I think we both know I eventually will).

7 Days of Self-Acceptance – Day 7: A Buddhist Prayer for Forgiveness

People always say that the longest journey begins with a single step.  If the path to inner peace is a personal journey, I’m pretty sure the first single step is forgiveness.  Forgiveness for ourselves; forgiveness for others; and asking others for their forgiveness.  I’ve begun to realize that it’s one of the most powerful practices for clearing negativity and moving forward with a more positive outlook on my life, myself, and the universe around me. Holding on to bad feelings is a dangerous venture, because it poisons you from the inside out, until you’re dragging around a 200-pound suitcase full of negative energy, anger, grudges, and self-diminishing thoughts that hold you back everywhere you go.

Forgiveness opens the suitcase and lets some of that negativity drop out; it lightens the load.  Withholding forgiveness – from myself or someone else – only weighs down my own heart; it only hurts me.  Holding on to negative emotions is like putting a piece of cheese in an unrefrigerated jar; the longer it’s in there, the nastier it gets.  Forgiveness is a new start, a second chance.  It’s a fresh, clean morning opening up a new day with no mistakes in it.

Release some positive energy to the universe today.  Forgive, and find peace.

If I have harmed any one in any way,
either knowingly or unknowingly
through my own confusions,
I ask their forgiveness.
If anyone has harmed me in any way,
either knowingly or unknowingly
through their own confusions,
I forgive them.
And if there is a situation
I am not yet ready to forgive,
I forgive myself for that.
For all the ways that I harm myself,
negate, doubt, belittle myself,
judge or be unkind to myself,
through my own confusions,
I forgive myself.