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spring laundry line

Laundry rarely dries stiff here. Wind is constant, and usually strong. My laundry danced as if it was starring in Swan Lake. I have a washer and dryer in the house, and I am using the washer – cold water only – until the new washtub stand is built and I can do laundry outside and get it really clean. But I don’t like dryers, and while convenient in stormy weather and while I was sick, I prefer not to use it.

It was laundry day all over the settlement, apparently. I drove across the river and up the mountain to the garage that cares for my truck, and many neighbours had laundry on the line. I can tell a lot about my neighbours’ lives by their laundry lines. I see green and gold shorts and t-shirts on one line, and say to myself, “Oh, the Anderson kids are playing soccer this year.” And then, further on, men’s coveralls waving and kicking like a chorus line: Bob has cleaned out the barns. Down the road, Nadia has scrubs and turtlenecks on her porch line, so she must be working nights at the hospital.

Spring in the north – the misty pink aura of budding trees is deeper red in some places, cloudy white in others, as leaf buds break through. The rose bushes, presumed dead, are unfurling minute veined leaves. Tulip leaves are pushing through bracken and mulch in front of old wagon wheels, and we found crocuses blooming on the field edge, discards from last year’s Easter plants.

We trade our time for money, not by working, but by not spending. We don’t spend on electricity by using the wind (which is free, and as the schooner captain said, we haven’t run out yet.) We don’t spend on nursery plants by appreciating the incredible landscaping the Great Architect planned for us.

I almost ordered a cape dress for me and trousers for Nicholas on eBay this week, but the cost of the outlay for three pieces of made-up fabric for myself and him came to about what I need to pay for the repair on the truck. So I will trade my time for money – sewing these clothes instead of buying them. And I will sew them on the Pfaff – given to me at a charity sale and then repaired by my husband rather than buying a new one. Time is money – money we don’t need to spend.

The Pfaff, hard at work

These goats, one white, one black

It is finally spring here – the snow is rapidly melting, our fields are mostly open, we can get into the garage/barn again. Nicholas and I make a recon in there today – planning where to put stalls, what will need to be moved out eventually, how to fix the doors. And then I agreed to buy two milk goats the last week of this month. Really. Two cross-bred does, believed to be pregnant, three years old, experienced milkers. (And I do hope they are in kid, because otherwise they will be eating their heads off until they are bred and can freshen again!)

I worked outdoors today, cleaning up with rake and shovel after a long snowy winter, with dogs eating THEIR heads off and depositing the effluvia in the yard. Everywhere. It looks like other people must have been dumping their dogs’ leavings in my yard. Two dogs can’t make that much mess – and one has only been here a few weeks. This is my least favourite dog related chore.

We stacked wood, I cooked on and in the woodstove again, and I got two loads of wash hung on the line. I even opened windows.

We now have not only peppers and cauliflower started, but English thyme, yarrow, and broccoli, after just four days. Some of the seedlings are on top of the refrigerator, which seems a good place to start them. It’s warm and has good, even light.

Today I felt like a real country woman – wash on the line and on the clothes horse by the woodstove; pot roast simmering while vegetables roasted in the oven; wood stacked with the husband after he split some kindling. We had a bit of a stroll along the river bank, contemplating our vista to the east. Tomorrow I plan to get some sewing done and work on my immigration file for a bit.

What I do with my time

Not a fast computer. I decided recently that I wanted to spend less time at the keyboard, down from ninety minutes a day, six days a week. (I was already budgeted.) I cut out Saturdays, then cut down to three days a week, up to two hours. It seems to be working fine.

I have time to do other things. It’s appalling how quickly the keyboard takes up our hours. If I were writing a book, I would try to do it without accessing the internet first; it’s email, google and facebook that steal the time. I’ve cut back and will cut again the number of blogs and websites I follow. I don’t have time to read them all, and some of them don’t hold much interest to me. I was quite involved for a while in emergent church reading, but the Holy Spirit is not leading me that way, and it seems quite repetitive now. So does reading up on intentional community. I guess I’m like Wendell Berry – more interested in unintentional community.

Yesterday was a “no computer” day. I did six loads of wash (yes, with a machine) but only one load – the dog blanket and the kitchen rug – went in the dryer for dehairing. The rest went on the clothesline and the clotheshorse to dry. I got loads of exercise, too – up and down three flights of stairs with baskets, hanging and removing clothes in the yard. Nicholas likes to help with this. I did have a laundry mishap – I dropped a wet sheet and then stepped on it. Mud. Instead of rewashing it, I sprayed it with the hose. It still dried in a couple of hours.

I marinated pork for supper, cleaned the kitchen and made beds. I spent time with my husband, just talking. Knowing I wasn’t going to the computer, I didn’t even think about what I might be missing.

Tomorrow is another computer fast day. I may take Nicholas to the farmer’s market, and finish my new dress. I am so pleased with finding new time in my day. I think the problem was that I had started planning my day to start at the keyboard, rather than planning real work. And the ninety minutes started creeping into two hours or more, and I gave myself permission to go back later – which I no longer do. Once the computer account is closed, it’s closed until the next computer day.

I do this so I can be a real person, not a virtual person. It’s easy and tempting to be that better person on-line, the one who never reveals a flaw or a failing. We can delete anything unflattering or critical. Friends who criticize can be elminated with the push of a button. We can, in the mask of anonymity, flame and flare people. We say things we would never say to someone’s face. We can be very superior. We can become the Great Oz, even if we are only the man behind the curtain.

time well spent

Plain chores

It looks like we are seeing the leading edge of a Plain revival. The twentieth century left many people stranded spiritually; we moved from an all-encompassing Modern philosophy to a Post-Modern zeitgeist. The Moderns are still in control of most institutions, but those of us outside the mainstream of those same institutions are, from a Post-Modern perspective, looking to the past and lost tradition for a way to follow into the very uncertain future.

What is Modern and Post-Modern? In my context, the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century, a move in academia, society and politics to a philosophy of Progress and optimism based on human achievement, is the beginning of the Modern era. (Most academics would agree, I think.) Post-Modern (don`t be afraid of this term) is based on experience and philosophy of the twentieth century, when the senseless destruction and chaos of the world wars and other conflicts brought into question the legitimacy of Progress. Its seeds were sown in the Enlightenment itself and in the social protests of the nineteenth century. Widespread genocide and ecological destruction reinforced this philosophy amongst academics and influential thinkers. Post-Modernism asks:

How can we believe what we were taught when those beliefs brought so much destruction -

How can chaos and violent anarchy be Progress -

This is the meta-question that has led many of us to find another way. We want a way that follows the teachings of Christ without the excesses of culture that we now reject, such as materialism and consumerism. The cultural churches – the mainline Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican institutions – seem to be still enmeshed in the dominant, destructive culture. So in the late twentieth century, other ways of faithful living have been explored, rejuvenated and reworked, such as the New Monasticism and the Plain movement.

I can`t speak to the New Monasticism; while we live in an informal community, it is not ordered in any way except that we are all Anglicans and the centre of our week is Sunday attendance and participation at worship. Nicholas and I are very Plain but have accommodated ourselves to the way of living here in the rectory. We have electricity, a vehicle, an internet connection and television. The house is old and not particularly up to date. But we are unable to garden since that would mean the removal of old trees much valued by the neighbourhood, and recycling is not as efficient as I could wish it. I make my own clothes, do some canning and we interact with other Plain people when we have the opportunity. We are trying to maintain our Plain philosophy in a more worldly church community. I don`t see that we have any influence on them at all.

It is what it is; this is a transition stage for us, and with some matters becoming realized, we should be able to move on to a more suitable place for small scale farming and a self-sufficient life.

I think this is where many of us Plainers are headed. While not Anabaptist in profession, we are looking for suitable places to adopt some of the best of Anabaptist and traditional Quaker ways. (I will acknowledge that not all Plain followers are necessarily traditionally Christian; we need to make room for Quakers and others who are more liberal in their theologies.) I hope that as a movement we do not fall into the sectarian errors we have seen in the past. (Formal shunning and the ban, for instance, are inappropriate. We can avoid close association with those whose influence on us is deleterious, but we cannot withdraw from our witness.)

The great irony, of course, is that one of the tools we use to be a Plain community is the internet. Most of us express some concern and even dismay that this is the best we can do, but I doubt if we can give it up without losing community. I would prefer a more traditional form of communication myself. Scott Savage tried this with Plain magazine, but the funding fell short and he could never exceed a certain circulation number due to the printing technologies he used.  (I have still not written to Scott as I had planned. He`s been through some rough stuff in the last few years, and I don`t want my concern and curiosity to sound as if I am criticizing him for choices he made.) I envision something more like the Amish Budget, a newsletter with many columns written from many locations, giving the local news and views. But publications are supported by advertising, and no one wants to advertise in a publication for people who reject consumerism; we are not a very good market.

I`m not at all sure we can define ourselves yet. We are Plain, but we have so many expressions of that. We don`t have an ordnung and won`t, since we don`t fall under but one authority as a group, and that is Christ. We are working out our salvation with fear and trembling, day by day, question by question, leading by leading. We are drawing on the Anabaptists who have been the living encyclopedia for Plain life, and the traditions of Quakers, monastics and other groups who chose to be isolated from the Modern world. I would prefer that we do not quarrel amongst ourselves – I had enough of that sojourning with the Orthodox and their many cries of `You are not canonical!` (If you have been part of an Orthodox community you know what I mean. The Paedalion is both beacon and cudgel.) This is a weakness in the Anglican church, which will ignore the dissenters until they get tired of the yelping and throw the pups out. (Puritans, Quakers, Methodists and now the Biblical Conservatives, whatever they are going to call themselves.) The Quaker meetings are, in their erudite and polite way, at odds internally all too often.

Let`s keep it simple and courteous. Let`s speak Plain English (not Plain speech, except amongst ourselves) and give the St. Francis sermon – preach with our lives, using words only when necessary.

The ads on television show a harried mother shutting the patio door on the raucous kids – boys bouncing off the furniture, throwing stuff at each other. She stretches herself on the lovely wicker lounge, cushions behind her head. Soemthing inside me wants to yell, “What are you doing? Are you going to let those children tear your house down?” But she needs a refuge. I’m assuming the glass door is soundproof. And she’s taking valium or worse.

People don’t work at home anymore. They work in malls or offices or factories. The house is a home, a haven of rest, not a place to work. So we are led to believe by advertising. Everything in our home environment is about easing our work and giving us comfort. The house is an entertainment and leisure center. Who wants to do work there?

We have a plethora of work-saving devices – laundry machines, dish-cleaning machines, floor-cleaning machines. You will work fifty hours to pay for each one of these, because they are expensive. But work shouldn’t intrude into your home!

This is so foreign to how people lived until the latter half of the twentieth century, and with our short and selective historic memories, we barely know it was ever different. People worked at home and from home. They worked in the home even if their employment took them out of it. We’ve been brainwashed so that we will buy expensive, so-called labour-saving devices, from floor sweepers to dishwashers. These devices don’t save us labour, because they cost us so much of our time to earn the money to pay for them – we exchanged a few minutes with an inexpensive device for hours swapped for money to buy an expensive device. It’s a matter of a twenty-dollar broom and ten minutes of sweeping versus ten hours of employment to buy a cheap $200 vacuum cleaner, and the same ten minutes across the floor.

I’ve written elsewhere of my battle with automatic washers and dryers. Honestly, unless you have trouble with your back, it is not at all hard to wash by hand. Your clothes will be cleaner and will last longer. You will have the same galvanized tubs for years if they are allowed to dry out and don’t get banged around much. I use an antique wringer! Considering the time it takes in waiting for the laundry, pretreating spots, shopping for cleaning products, hauling baskets of clothes up and down two flights of stairs (which is hard on the back) – and the cost of your labour to buy one of those machines, which will run about $500 for a moderately good washer here in Canada, and upwards of a $1000 for a top quality one – well, I think the old-fashioned way wins hands down. If I could, I would set up our front porch for laundry washing and drying, but I expect the church wardens might question the necessity of doing that!

I know I am going to hear “But I work fifty hours a week outside the home – I can’t do all this!” I’m sorry to hear that people get themselves into this mess. I’ve been there myself. All I can suggest is that you work yourself out of that situation purposefully. Pay off the debt, don’t incur new debt, save for the future. Cut back on your work hours outside the home and give some time to work at home, caring for your family and yourself. I always found work in an office or shop to be frazzling – all the travel, all the time given to appearance, all the worry about how the job was going, how the bosses were reacting, whether the business was going to make or lose money. We may have to do that to some extent, but I’d rather do it for my own business effort, or be sufficiently disengaged financially and emotionally that if the business were to fold, I would not be in a panic.

God did not put us in families so that we could serve Mammon instead of Him.

I think this is an important topic, and we’ll come back to it later.

We have laundry machines in our basement (the dank, bark, spidery basement with the mystery puddle) that require nothing more than that one of us carry laundry down two flights of stairs, sort and load the washer while trying to avoid dropping anything on the stained concrete floor, pour in detergent, set controls, and then come back in forty-five minutes to take everything wet out of the washer and load it into the dryer, remembering that little nonrecyclable chemical infused sheet that is supposed to make the clothes smell fresh and get rid of the static generated by tumbling wet fabric in a heated metal barrel. Then in another forty-five minutes, we have to return to the dank basement (no one stays down there by choice) and remove the now (or maybe) dry clothes, chemically infused so they don’t smell like hot metal, and rapidly fold them or put them on hangers so they don’t crinkle into a million wrinkles. The only clean work surface is the top of the freezer – the old workbench collapsed a century ago and sits in the corner, forlorn and covered with rusty bits of tools from past inhabitants. (No one has the courage or fortitude to disassemble the thing and haul it out.)

Or, at this time of the year, I can carry the galvanized tubs to the backyard, set up a workstation under the shady maples, attach the antique wringer, fill the tubs from the hose and add a gallon of hot water to take off the chill, hang the clothes pin bucket on the line over my head, bring the clothes down one flight of stairs, and let them soak in the nice sudsy water for a little while, then gently rub or scrub them, rinse in  the other tub, and immediately hang on the line, where a pleasant zephyr drives them almost wrinkle and odour free. (They often smell like ozone when they come in, which is a good, pure smell and means that bacteria were killed off, in a gentle, natural way, of course.)

I usually use Fels Naptha or Sunlight laundry soap bars, or even plain Ivory bathsoap, but right now we have a concentrated detergent that comes in a tiny pump bottle. One little bottle does a couple of dozen loads in the automatic washer, and I could make it go further if I did all the laundry by hand. I don’t know what it’s called, but it seems a lot of laundry brands are moving to super-concentrated. Well, why not? Why ship gallons of water in tons of plastic all over the world when the same detergent just needs to be shipped in its concentrated form in much smaller bottles? I will go back to real soap in bars soon; I prefer having the bar in my hand for scrubbing at stains and spots. Surely there can’t be as great an environmental impact from making yellow soap, wrapping it in paper and shipping that as there is in processing detergent and making and shipping plastic bottles! For those who may have a surfeit of bath soap, just grate it on a four-sided grater, using the medium-sized holes, store it in a glass jar, and add a half-cup or so to hot water before dumping in the tub. This will work in a top-loading machine, as well. The grated soap will dissolve fast in the hot water, which you then add to the water in the tub, so you don’t get lumps. My father remembers his mother doing this, when wringer washers became common, and detergent powders were advertised. He remembered it because he saw me doing it.

I found a good stain-removing stick, made locally by “Buncha Farmers.” I bought it at Len’s Mill Store. It has eucalyptus oil in it, and it will scent a room pretty powerfully if it isn’t sealed into something – I like the smell of eucalyptus, so it doesn’t bother me to have it out. I got a grease stain – like bike chain oil or worse – on one of my white aprons, and a little work with the stain stick removed it. This is a stick like a narrow bar of soap, no plastic in the packaging, and nice to work with. I feel like I’m crayoning onto the clothes.

So how is this going to save the world? I’d like to say it’s because your handwashed, sun-dried clothes will radiate light and goodwill and peace – but not everyone can see those wavelengths of moonshine.

It’s because you bought plain galvanized tubs, which last years if handled properly, can be re-used as planters, dog watererers, hay cribs, and manure haulers, and use a fraction of the materials that automatic washers use; you use 5-10 gallons of water per tub for multiple loads (presoak really grungy things); you can use natural soaps rather than detergents and not much of them, saving manufacturing and shipping waste; and a clothesline, pegs and bucket to store them are super cheap, last for years, and the sun and wind are FREE!

With a little practice, you can get through a load of laundry in about fifteen minutes. Your clothes will be cleaner, fresher, and will last longer since they aren’t getting stressed and stretched in the agitating washer and the tumbling dryer. They dry at lower temperatures, which will save elastic bands and stretchy fabrics. You can handwash just about every fabric made and save lots in dry cleaning. You won’t need fabric softeners or bleach or stain-removing chemicals. You will get a pleasant break outdoors and even small children can help with the wash.

I will address some other laundry issues soon, such as winter washing, indoor drying, and handling delicates.

I recently got taken to task for being too mundane in this blog. You know, talking about laundry and sewing, children and food waste. I had not thought it was mundane. I realize it is not the most interesting subject matter but mundane?

Yes ( my anonymous critic) I do have some expensive degrees. I went to universityand seminary for knowledge – the knowledge of how to learn and think. I didn’t go to trade schools. I wish I had done so as well, because then I would have a job that paid sufficiently. But earning money is not the reason for learning to learn.

As for the mundane – I believe there are many of us who are facinated by the mundane. I don’t mean in that worrisome know-everything-about-the-Red-Sox way, but that we see the meaning of life in the mundane. We see the universe in a drop of water, perhaps. We see the underpinnings of society in children’s games and stories. We certainly see the hand of God in His Creation, right down to tadpoles and grains of sand. We see the happiness of our family groups and our social groups in homebaked bread and laundry hung out on a clothesline.

Those of us who love the mundane and live in it with joy have accepted that life is not about bigger, better experiences. Maybe we will never see Paris or Tokyo or even Vancouver. It just doesn’t matter. We don’t just stop to smell the roses, we live in rose gardens. Often, our journeys are within a small circuit, because for those of us who are Christians, we know that God has already given us heaven in Jesus Christ.

The simple sensory experiences are enough. Homemade cupcakes, fresh baked bread, an herb garden on a warm day. A garden chaos of tulips, star of bethlehem, lily of the valley, lilac. A green canopy of maple leaves overhead. Stars over the lake. Two dogs and a small child running around on the grass. A husband’s loving smile. Even the grey hair I see in the mirror and the scuffed comfortable boots I wear most days. All this is an acceptance of my life as I have lived it, and the gifts of joy the Lord puts before us.

I don’t want to live in a world where I must have anxiety over a lack of perfection (however perfection is defined that day). I like our world of surprises and changes; some of them have been scary,but the Lord has provided. I will let God look after perfection, and I’ll tend the small garden He put in my hands, imperfect and troubled as it may be at times; there is more joy than trouble in it.

It’s a beautiful morning – and Nicholas took advantage of the warm sunny weather to enjoy coffee on the porch. But first he had to earn it. Thus, extra clothesline, and a very Plain wash. Except for those hot pink pajama pants. Mine. It’s no secret anymore!

I don’t mean this to become a dream log, but this is in line with the “canning jars in the barn.” I dreamt about my washtubs and wringer, and how to get them fixed. Really, when I fetched the big washtubs home I found a major dent in one, and the guide on the wringer had come loose. Obviously, I don’t like this, because my brain worked on it all night. And I have a washer/dryer here – I don’t need to use the tubs!

My low tech mind is telling me to get out of the 21st century, isn’t it?

I love aprons. I’ve been browsing some websites that feature vintage apron patterns, looking for inspiration. I wear an apron everyday. My dresses stay cleaner for longer, and since my dresses are full and pleated, the idea of washing them, then ironing them back into shape, isn’t something I cherish. So cotton denim aprons go over them. If I’m going out, the apron comes off (unless I forget.)

I gave two of my aprons to an eleven-year-old girl who has decided that she needs to wear dresses most of the time. Since so many of her other clothes, jeans and t-shirts, were ruined with the usual pre-teen type stains, I suggested that she wear aprons at home. She’s quite pleased with her grown-up looking self, despite being about four feet and a few inches tall.

So why don’t we wear aprons anymore? Apron patterns were quite popular right through the seventies. The latest “vintage” pattern I found was 1981. Look in any current sewing pattern book, and aprons are relegated to the back, along with cushion covers and dog costumes. Is an apron some sign of an irrelevant past, an emblem of servitude? Well, of course it is, if one listens to the Steinem era feminists. But it is a symbol and perhaps a sign of the practicality of women who work in the home.

Back in the fifties, patterns for Mr. and Mrs. aprons became popular, usually with cute barbeque motifs, or cocktail glasses. It was an indication of new prosperity and leisure, that men had time to relax around their home, find that primal male that can only be expressed in cooking outdoors, and be a fun host while the wife handed round trays of canapes and petits fours. Men’s aprons were the butcher or baker type, usually. It was still a joke to put a man in a half-apron with pleats and ruffles. (My husband recently growled at some absurd male get-up on television with, “What’s next, aprons for men?”, unaware of the whole fifties host apron phenomenon, thanks to a Cockney family.)

But modern advertising would have us believe that what we need is to continually wash clothes. Laundry products and high-tech washer-dryers are the status rage. (Those who have read past posts know that I do my laundry in galvanized tubs, outdoors, with a wringer and a line.) We don’t need aprons because we wash everything, several times a week. Our teenager, in her tween years, hated that we moved into a house without a washer, because it meant she couldn’t decide at the last minute that she needed THAT pair of jeans or shirt for school tomorrow. She had been in the habit (before she was in our blended household) of washing just one or two items in the machines. Frugal me was horrified. She was horrified that I did laundry by hand, like some – well, she didn’t know about hillbillies and Ma and Pa Kettle.

I can’t imagine some of the SUV-driving Moms I see at the market putting on an apron. That would imply that they were actually going to cook. But surely, with $35,000 kitchens (yes, I cringe) and top of the line professional cooking equipment, and the new status rage of homegardening, one would think aprons were making some sort of status comeback. Maybe they need to be status designer aprons. The old sewing pattern lines had one or two occasionally, and the one that sticks in my mind is the Pierre Cardin one that looks ever so much like the pinnies worn by the sewing factory girls on Coronation Street.

While on the subject, I did see an amazing pattern for an apron that turns into a sunbonnet. I am a big fan of sunbonnets, too. Being Quakerly, I love bonnets in general, the simpler the better.  I am allergic to sunscreens, so face shading hats are a necessity if I’m working outside. I have made several sunbonnets for children to sell at the market, and plan to make up some adult sizes as well. I’m going to give the apron to bonnet a try, too. I’m not sure how practical it is, but there are times one is out in the yard, in an apron, and taking longer than expected. Wouldn’t it be great to whip off the old apron, fasten a couple of buttons, and have a stylish (ok, maybe not) sunbonnet on one’s head?

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