Sunday, January 31, 2010

Adventures in Homemade Laundry Soap

At the intersection of a tight budget, environmental awareness and a desire for simplicity comes...homemade laundry soap. Yep, you read that right. Here's what my 10-year-old daughter and I did, how we did it and what we think of the result.

First, the ingredients:

1 bar Fels Naptha laundry soap
1 cup washing soda (Arm & Hammer)
1/2 cup borax (20 Mule Team)

In our area Publix consistently carries all of these. Larger Wal-Marts generally carry the washing soda and borax and sometimes the Fels Naptha. Old-fashioned hardware stores are also likely to have all three. In a pinch you could use simple soap like Ivory, but I'd sub 2 bars because a single bar of Fels Naptha is 5.5 oz (155 gm).

Next, the equipment:

Five gallon bucket with a lid (we re-used an old pool chemical bucket, thoroughly washed, of course)
4 quart or larger saucepan
2 quart saucepan
Grater or vegetable peeler
Regular mixing spoon
Really long, sturdy spoon

The procedure is pretty simple but requires some patience. First, put 2 quarts of hot tap water in the 4 quart saucepan and set it on the stove to heat. You want it to work its way to very, very hot while you do the next step.

Next, put one quart of hot tap water in the 2 quart saucepan. Set it on the stove over low heat. While it heats, grate the soap into the water, stirring occasionally so it melts into the water and dissolves. You can use a kitchen grater or a vegetable peeler. In a pinch you could probably chew it up in a food processor but we really enjoyed the grating-the-soap part. Maybe it's a Zen thing.

Make sure the soap is completely dissolved in the hot water before you move on to the next step, and also DON'T let the soap-water mixture boil. It will foam up and take over your kitchen. Turn the burner off for a minute if you have to, to let it cool down.

Next, take the 2 quarts of near-boiling water off the stove and pour it into the five-gallon bucket. Follow this with another 10 quarts (that's 2-1/2 gallons) of hot tap water. You need the mixture in the bucket to be nice and hot so all the ingredients will dissolve. Pour the soap-and-water mixture in and stir it well. Add the washing soda and stir until it's completely dissolved. Add the borax and stir until it's completely dissolved. The hotter your water, the faster the powders will dissolve.


Isn't it pretty?

That's it! If you're desperate, you can toss some in the wash right away but I waited for mine to cool before using it. The dosage? 1/2 to 1 cup per load, depending on the level of soil-and-stink. Fels Naptha is incredible stuff - we always had great results with it when doing washpot laundry for living history demonstrations - so I expect 1/2 cup will be sufficient for most of my laundry needs.

Since all the ingredients are already dissolved, you can use it in cold water, though my experience tells me that warm water improves soap's chemical reaction with dirt and, especially, grease. I expected lots of suds because of the soap content but it really doesn't foam any more than commercial laundry detergents do. Also, since it's soap-based rather than detergent-based, it won't fade fabrics too badly.

The cost of this whole endeavor:

Fels Naptha  99 cents
Washing soda  $3.99 (whole box) - 50 cents for this batch of laundry soap
Borax  $2.29 (whole box) - 20 cents for this batch of laundry soap

So there you have it, anywhere from 48 to 96 loads worth of effective, relatively natural laundry soap for less than 2 dollars. If you decide to give it a try, let me know how it works out for you. So far we're pretty darn pleased.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Forgiving the Unforgivable

Every spiritual tradition I've ever studied teaches forgiveness. It's a subject I've contemplated and worked at over and over, releasing layer upon layer of hurts and grudges and miscellaneous crap I've held onto for way too long. I've read dozens of self-help books, attended workshops, written journals, meditated, prayed. It has taken practice (more practice than I'd like to admit, to be honest) but I've finally learned how to really forgive and let something go. At least, I thought I had.

First, let me clarify what I mean by forgiveness. To me, forgiving doesn't mean I condone whatever harmful action the person committed. It doesn't mean it's OK for them to do it again. It does mean that I release the emotion associated with the situation - it no longer upsets me to think or talk about it, I no longer base my responses to the experience in reactionary feelings and I can move ahead in my life. I let it go.

Now, most of the things I've worked my way around to forgiving are small. Some are stupid grudges I held for unintentional harm someone did to me. Others are hurts people intended but that I've managed to release and move on. I'm left with a single large wad of related wounds that I know I have to forgive. It's not going to be easy but I have to do it in order be healed and whole.

Warning: If you're squeamish or get upset easily, skip the following paragraph. There are some things I have to say in public, 'out loud' if you will, in order to finally deal with them, in order to finally forgive. I have to make it real before I can let it go.

Few people know this about me, but I was abused as a child. Both my parents molested me beginning when I was 2. My mother tried to kill me four times, the first when I was an infant. She systematically starved me, locked me in a windowless utility room for whole days at a time, pushed me down concrete steps, beat me unconscious. My father knew and ignored it.

I told other family members but they didn't believe me. My paternal grandmother called me a 'filthy little liar' for suggesting that such a thing could occur in her family. My maternal grandmother did believe me - she grew up in abuse and married into it so she knew the signs - but she said, 'We don't talk about those things.'

Most of my life has revolved around these experiences, one way or another.

I spent years in denial. After all, my parents insisted I had a perfectly normal childhood. Sometimes I tried to convince myself I had imagined it all, that it wasn't real. But I knew better.

Then I spent years in anger, that such a thing should happen to me, an innocent child, and that it continued into my adulthood in the form of verbal and emotional abuse. Eventually we had to cut off contact with my parents when it became apparent my daughter wasn't safe around them. Of course, the rest of the family ostracized us as well. No one wants to admit that their own relatives might do something so nasty.

After all these years I've finally moved out of the anger. Life isn't fair; it isn't meant to be. It's meant to be a learning experience. As my maternal grandmother said, 'It's not what you've got, it's what you do with it.' So what shall I do with it? My choice now is to forgive. All of it. Without reservation. It's time to let my life revolve around something else now, something positive, something worthwhile.

I expect the next few days, and perhaps weeks, will be rough. But I will succeed. I will forgive, and let it go, and move on.


Saturday, January 23, 2010

Welcome, Friends!

Yes, Ladies and Gentlemen, I've started a blog. I'm looking forward to sharing my journey through life with my fellow human beings: you. Thanks for reading and please feel free to post comments - I will actually pay attention to them, I promise.

Oddly enough, the hardest part about setting up this blog was deciding on a name for it. Friends and family offered helpful suggestions. As I sifted through the possibilities, I reflected on what I've been called throughout my life and the recent journey I've made back to my birth name.

Although I dabbled in paganism beginning in my teens, only in my mid-twenties did I finally join the wider pagan community. At that time a new name descended on me with alarming force: Arachne.

That time in my life was both painful and enlightening, not least because I was fighting to survive as the single parent of a profoundly disabled child. Arachne gave me strength during those years, a strength that was reinforced every time someone spoke my name.

Soon after that time I was also gifted with a second new name, one I rarely used other than as an afterthought, but I'll get back to that in a minute. Right now I want to tell you about the name I avoided using for years, the one that made me profoundly uncomfortable all the time: Laura Perry. No middle name. I hated it.

Not only was it a terribly boring name but everyone always got it wrong. They spelled it Lora or Lara. They pronounced it 'Laurie.' My last name became Parry or Perrie or anything else incorrect you could think of. Very frustrating. You can see why I was thrilled to be known as Arachne.

Then, when my daughter died my life changed profoundly. The name Arachne no longer fit no matter how hard I pushed to use it, but I couldn't find a replacement that worked. I went back to using my birth name not because I preferred it but simply because I couldn't think of anything better. I began to ponder that name, its meanings and implications, and it slowly grew on me.

Did you know that Laura is a Greek term that means the mother house, the center of a monastic community? Or that Perry is hard cider made from pear juice, a beverage my Norman-Irish ancestors made so well it became their family name? I didn't, at least not until I began investigating. Have you ever sought out the meaning of your name?

The most interesting part is that, once I started appreciating my birth name, people began to spell it and pronounce it correctly. Go figure.

But I wanted something more poetic than just "Laura Perry's Blog" for a title. Let's face it, that phrase doesn't exactly roll off the tongue. So I turned back to that other name I mentioned, the one gifted to me at a gathering years ago, the one I used as a 'postscript' to Arachne but never appreciated on its own until now. Gentleheart.

It's been whispering to me for a while now, a quiet but persistent refrain in the back of my mind. I don't know whether I'll ever choose it as my 'main name' the way I did Arachne, but Gentleheart has worked its way towards the front of my consciousness and I can't put it away again. Perhaps it's the other side of Arachne...the quiet strength of compassion rather than the fierce strength of sheer survival. Regardless, I'm sure 'gentle' in this sense can't be equated with 'weak.'

So, after far more explanation than you probably wanted, here it is, Notes from a Gentle Heart. Shall we wend our way down the paths of life together?