Wednesday, February 20, 2013

washing clothes

Not long ago we did our once a month trip to the laundromat.  One or more of the machines we used was heavily loaded with fabric softener or fragrance loaded detergent.  As a result, we were sneezing as we folded clean clothes.

While getting a lot of clothes clean in one afternoon is appealing, there is a part of me that thinks of bedbugs when I am there.  I don't like sharing machines with other people.  It turns out that bedbugs aren't as much of a danger as fragrances.  The dryer kills bedbugs, but not softener.

Sunday I placed my two favorite linen shirts in a basin with warm water and (unscented) detergent.  I let them soak all afternoon and in the evening I hand-rubbed and rinsed them, then hung them on plastic hangers.  I smoothed them so they'd dry with fewer wrinkles.

By morning my shirts were dry and I hung them in the closet again.

If I wash my clothes once or twice a week by hand, they will last longer.  I will need fewer clothes and be able to wear my favorites more frequently.

I'm not sure why this delights me so.  It just feels so freeing.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


I have a dilemma in my obsessive quest towards simple living.

Sewing Machine vs. Needle & Thread

Vacuum Cleaner vs. Elegant Broom

Typewriter vs. Pen or Pencil

Dishwasher vs. Dishpan

I'd prefer to have a handmade broom with grass bristles than a vacuum.  The broom could hang shaker style from a pegboard on a wall.

We broke down and got a vacuum cleaner last year when we were batting bed bugs.  In retrospect, I don't think it did much for us in that battle.  The exterminators did.  But...we have the vacuum now, and I do love how it sucks up cat hair from around chair legs and behind the couch.  I'll admit to really preferring vacuuming to sweeping, although it alarms the cats.  I'm not sure if it's faster but it's more thorough.

The sewing machine.  After moving so many times I'm exasperated with moving all these heavy things.  I use it once a month or less.  Right now I'm meaning to hem some jeans and alter some used shirts that are a little too big for my husband.  The last thing I can remember sewing were curtains that are now in use even though I never finished them.  Frayed edges are fine!

The bobbin winder no longer will wind, so I load a bobbin by hand now, the slow way.  I just think of how minimal a needle & thread is and there is a part of me that thinks it wouldn't be so bad to sew things up by hand.

I've designed a shirt in my head and would like to create it, but I think I could sew it by hand.  I read some tips about how to make hand-sewn seams stronger by backstitching every 5 stitches or so.

Same with the typewriter.  Sure, it's an antique east german typewriter that I picked up for a few dollars at a rummage sale.  But it needs a new ribbon which I have yet to order, and I've used the typewriter maybe 5 times total in the 2 years I've had it.  It's heavy.  I love the idea of owning a non-electric typewriter.  But I can just use a pen or pencil, right?

We don't own a washing machine.  Last year when we were renting a house, we contemplating buying one.  Fortunately we stuck with the habit of taking everything to the laundromat once a month.  As annoying as it was (and still is), I don't know many people who get their entire month's laundry done in 2 hours per month.

When the house flooded, we would have really had to struggle to save a washing machine.  We have learned that having less helped us adapt to changing circumstances.

In a short film we saw recently, a woman washes her clothes by hand and hangs them on a clothes line.  Then she takes a break to push her daughter on a swing.  I'm wondering if I have hand washing in my future.  I know it takes less of a toll on clothing.  Just a set of large basins hanging on the wall.  A washstand out doors.

I know I can do this if I don't have a real job.  Then I'll have the time to wash things by hand (right?).  Or does this all go out the window once you have kids?

I can dream.  I trade in the sewing machine, the typewriter, the vacuum cleaner.  In my tiny handmade wooden cottage, a needle in a pincushion adorns a shelf.  Pens and pencils sit in a cup next to a pencil sharpener.  A broom hangs on the wall next to the basins.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

reflecting back

I've considered starting a new blog or getting back into blogging in a new location, but in checking my stats I see that there are some visitors coming here.  While my posting has been extremely scant for the past few years, I would like to keep anyone who was interested in what I was writing in the past.

Perhaps part of the reason I have been strangely quiet has been the very difficult events of the past few years.  What has happened wasn't really something I felt like bragging about.

But in an attempt to continue to search for the good life, I feel that writing and sharing my journey may be helpful.  Discoveries tend to surface when I sit down to write.

Some years ago I left my job in order to...well, I thought I would become a carpenter.  I wanted to build  beautiful cozy houses from natural materials.  Hobbit houses made from mud with grass roofs, or timberframe houses with straw bale--or even just regular houses, as long as they were simple, passive solar, made with natural materials.

Ianto Evans and Linda Smiley's cob home...image from this article
I was drawn to homes that are similar to old traditional homes, with a cozy feeling missing in modern dwellings.  I looked at thousands of pictures and saved hundreds onto my computer without a good way of recalling where the pictures were from.  I'm trying to be more mindful of documenting my sources now, especially when posting.

I worked for some months with a local carpenter, assisting him on projects such as building a semi-circular deck, and replacing windows.

After a while, I rented a small space where I made furniture from discarded wood.  My creations were rustic, but I began to discover a style.  I gradually sold off my Ikea furniture and replaced it with my own.  Some pieces were discarded tables and chairs that I repaired.  I created tables and benches and crates that function as bookshelves.  I discovered a preference for a natural finish made from a blend of walnut oil and beeswax.

I also discovered that making furniture to be taken apart and put back together was very handy, so I mostly used screws for my creations (even though nails suit my old fashioned aesthetic more closely).  This came in very handy when we ended up moving at least 6 times in the past 4 years.

During this time away from my job, I met and married a man.  He is an artist, and his opinions and preferences have helped me to refine my choices.  He influenced me to use more natural materials and to use reclaimed wood when possible.

I shared with him my dream of moving to the country.  We came up with the idea of making a yurt because then we could have a portable home we could set up anywhere.  We completed the skeleton of the yurt using purchased lumber as well as bamboo harvested in a local park.

We visited two intentional communities and looked into the option of living on land that was not ours, in a loose community of others who also built their own homes, grew their own food, and used composting toilets.  Ultimately we decided that the two we'd visited were not the right fit for us.

We travelled and searched in Virginia, North Carolina, and West Virginia for places that might be right for us, but nothing felt right.  We live in New Jersey, and there isn't much land in New Jersey where prices and codes are flexible for what we are interested in doing.

Ultimately, after a year of searching and false starts, we returned to New Jersey where I was re-hired to the teaching job I'd left 4 years earlier.  It felt like a betrayal of myself to return to what I'd left with high hopes of something truer.  At the same time the job has provided stability and additional savings, and the dream is still alive.

We've been through some hard times, and yet I think I've learned a lot.  Nothing is ever lost.  Last year, I had my first real garden in the back yard of a house we rented.

Later last year, Hurricane Sandy flooded that house with almost a foot of water.  The good news is that we read the forecast of an 8 foot storm surge, so we moved all the books upstairs, emptied the lower cabinets in the kitchen, and after putting the table legs in buckets, put the couch on top of the table.  We saved a lot of our things.

Our yurt, which we'd been storing out in the gazebo, had already gotten sadly mildewed (there was no better place to store it, and it was already moldy from its previous home in an apartment basement).  Then Sandy's waters soaked it again, and we agreed that it was time to let go of this yurt structure we'd been moving with us for 2 years.  It had started to feel like an albatross.  The mold, mildew, and finally the polluted waters of the New York Harbor officially made it a bad vibes feeling object.

It was with relief that we dumped it on the side of the road along with a lot of other junk.

Because we moved from a house to a small one bedroom apartment, we ended up getting rid of a lot more stuff.  Then we discovered that the apartment complex no longer had basement storage, and we got rid of even more.  The storm had the effect of helping us to considerably lighten our load, although unfortunately a lot of that lightening happened after the move.

One more moment before I wind this up.

A couple of days after Hurricane Sandy:  We'd been evacuated to a friend's house.  She hadn't made a spare key for us yet, so we were waiting on the front steps for her one evening.  I remember sitting there and talking.  We both felt that this storm had swept us out of our house and it was helping to set things in motion.  It was time for a change.  The struggle with our landlords was not yet resolved and yet we knew we wanted out of that house, and we didn't want to sign another year long lease, so that we'd have the freedom to leave when the time was right.

That is what we did.  We don't like living in apartments, but we're doing ok, and we're working for a better future when the time is right.  I still want the house in the country (with a wood stove so we'll never be without heat for 9 days like we were last November).  But I am also studying the skills of contentment, because learning to be happy with what we've got right now is an essential skill for happiness in any context.