i do know laundry

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They say to write what you know, and while I’ve not been entirely certain what else I know these days, I do know laundry.

My early memories include wandering along the clothesline underneath the damp sheets my mom hung to dry in our suburban backyard. When my grandparents would visit from Arizona, my grandmother used our washer and clothesline for their laundry too so they didn’t have to pack so many clothes. An avid fan of the Little House books, I would hand wash my doll clothes and clip them to the line to dry, channeling Ma Ingalls and her pioneer skills. I used the clothesline in the backyard of my first apartment, in our yard in Baltimore, and in both of our rental houses before moving here last spring. Now I finally have my dream clothesline and it’s been in constant use since going up.

With two young children, I wash approximately one load of laundry every day. Our family uses only cloth napkins, and of course there is the inclusion of nighttime potty training and all of the extra bedding that goes with that, so perhaps I should round the total up. Let’s call it an average of ten loads per week, for the sake of a nice, simple number. A large load of laundry takes about an hour to dry. If the average clothes dryer uses 3.3 kilowatt hours, at the national average of $0.12/kWh, you’re spending $0.396 per load. For our family, that would be almost $4/week. Just to dry our laundry.

That’s not even factoring in the wear and tear on your clothes and linens. All that stuff in the dryer’s lint trap came off of your clothing, making the fabric thinner and more worn. Using the dryer creates static, so you’re probably buying dryer sheets, putting more money out, and applying chemicals and fake fragrances to your garments. If you don’t pull them out of the dryer right away, your clothes still get wrinkled – in which case you probably just turn the dryer back on, right? You thereby use even more energy, increasing the carbon footprint of your one load.

By hanging your clothes to dry, you’re using less energy – which is good for the environment and for your wallet. You’re not buying dryer sheets and your clothes come inside wrinkle- and static-free, and smelling better than any factory fragrance could ever hope to imitate. There truly is nothing like slipping into fresh line-dried sheets at the end of a long day.

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But isn’t it time consuming to hang my laundry outside?
It takes me about ten minutes to hang a load of laundry. Once you’ve got the hang of it, and have developed your own methods, it’ll go faster for you!

But don’t the birds poop on it? Don’t you have to check for bugs and ticks?
I think that in all of the laundry I’ve hung on the line over the years, I’ve had to re-wash maybe three or four items because of bird poop. Maybe five. Sure, it happens. But it’s not a huge deal. Yes, bugs also happen and so do ticks – particularly when hanging out the whites because they’re attracted to light colors, but a good snap of the wrist when taking things down will send the bugs on their way. I pluck the ticks off with my fingers and feed them to the chickens.

But you work from home. It’s easy for you to run outside for a laundry break.
Yes. It is. But I used the clothesline in Baltimore too, when I worked in an office downtown all day. You just have to figure out how to make it work with your schedule. Maybe you only hang sheets and towels out on the weekends. Or maybe you start the washer at bedtime like I used to, and hang the laundry in the morning before leaving for work. Every little bit makes a difference.

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After so many years, I’ve definitely developed my own tricks and preferences for the process. I prefer the wooden spring-loaded clothespins: pegs snag clothes and break easily, and don’t adjust to the thickness of various pieces; plastic is cheap and doesn’t last. I keep mine inside the house in a wicker fishing creel that allows any absorbed moisture to evaporate. The handle easily dangles the basket from a fingertip when I’m carting clothes in and out.

I hang our clothes different ways depending on the fabric. Woven items like tops or sheets love the clothes line because they dry without wrinkles and don’t get stretched out or misshapen by hanging. Knits are more particular, and I hang them in a way that you won’t see clip indentations when they’re worn. For example, my mother used to hang t-shirts by the shoulder seams, but then you’d have a stretched out lump on your shoulder when you wore the shirt. If you hang it by the hem, it gets stretched out at the bottom. BUT if you flip the shirt over the line in half and clip it at the armpits, you can block it on the line and any clip marks are hidden under the arms. Towels can be troublesome too. They certainly dry faster if you hang them by the end, but then they don’t fold nicely because they’re stretched out at the hanging end. I fold them over the line too, which does mean I have to flip them halfway through the day, but it’s worth it to me to have neatly folded towels.

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You can save clothespins and conserve (a tiny bit of) space on the line by overlapping your items, clipping two items with one pin. I’ll do this with napkins and dish towels because a few corner wrinkles don’t matter. The downside to this method is that you’re more likely to get clip marks on your clothes by shoving too much fabric in the clothespin, and it takes the pieces longer to dry. I prefer to give most items their own two clips. It makes it easier in the end, in my opinion.

Yes, we even hang undies outside. I figure that everyone wears them, and if others are going to get offended by undies on the line, then they don’t have to look. But if you have a family member who is uncomfortable with the idea, just put their unmentionables on an inside line where they’re hidden by the rest of the load. I will also clip the girls’ undies with one clothespin at the side seam to save space and clothespins; they’re small enough that it doesn’t impede the drying process.

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And if you’ve made it this far, I commend you. I could go on, but I have already written over 1000 words about hanging laundry on the clothesline. I think that’s enough for one evening, and there’s more laundry to be folded.

Do you already use a clothesline? What are your tricks of the trade? Any preferences you’ve identified over the years? 

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a year later

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I moved to Maine three years ago, today. We packed the last of our belongings and blew a kiss to our tiny house in Baltimore – our first home as newlyweds, where we brought our babies home from the hospital. Two years of renting, scrimping and saving, dreaming about the life just barely within our reach and loving our new state.

We celebrated a year in our forever home this past Saturday. J and I walked the property hand in hand as the girls raced ahead. We checked on each growing thing we’d planted, and marveled at our land from the top of the hill. Our children clambered along the stone walls and our chickens scratched and pecked in the weeds.

I’ve lived my whole adult life as a sprint, always looking to the next thing. And here I am, thinking in terms of years and seasons, marking growth and life and making long-term plans. We’ve only painted two rooms, and have no curtains hung on the first floor, but it’s alright. What a gift to be so settled.

that’s more like it

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Yesterday was unseasonably hot. We topped out somewhere between 85* and 90*, and without any leaves on the trees yet, there was no outdoor refuge from the sun. We picnicked in the thin shade of a pine, reading books and enjoying a snacky lunch of cucumbers and apple slices, cold green beans and blueberries.

A toasty breeze was blowing, so we put the new clothesline through its paces. Four loads dried quickly, flapping and cracking in the wind. I’ll admit that I neglected the hamper for longer than I should have in anticipation of line-drying, so the pile was already pretty tall, but we’re still waging war on nighttime potty-training and the pile of bedclothes is also growing. I’d say I made it about a third of the way through what was waiting to be washed.

We met up with some friends after school hours for a quick trip to the lake. Their family camp is in a secluded cove, a gorgeous and peaceful spot. Just last week there was ice on the lake, but yesterday the water was such a relief. I waded in only up to my knees, bunching my skirt up in my hands, but the children – oh, the children! Sunscreened and soaked, they splashed and squealed, hollering with delight at regaining their fins after months in boots. Swee commandeered a little kayak and paddled around and around. It was so pleasant, we stayed later than planned and made it home just in time to scrape some dinner together.

Now, I won’t complain too much about the heat yesterday. We’re not so far out from ice and snow and subzero temperatures for all that nonsense. But I will say it was too much, too soon. Today was a properly gloomy and drizzly spring day, and I am glad of it.

I worked from the second floor porch this morning, answering email with my feet propped up on the railing and my coffee on an overturned sap bucket. A slight breeze came down from the farmer’s field above us and I could hear J and Swee chatting and doing chores. It got steadily cooler as the day went on, the heavens opening up into a nice soaking rain. Everything glowed emerald, damp and lush.

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The baby chickens moved out of the basement earlier this week in anticipation of several warm nights. They’ve grown enough that they could make the vertical leap out of the brooder box when the lid was lifted, and at six weeks old tomorrow, they’re mostly feathered. It was time. So far, they seem to like the transitional coop, our first coop that J refers to as Ft. Knox. They found the water and food, and I caught them attempting the roost this evening.

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I made soup for dinner with Maine potatoes and local sausage and some of my homemade chicken stock. Warm and filling. My people had been busy outside while I was at my desk today, organizing the shed and the workshop. It’s beginning to look as though we live here, and everything is sprouting new growth. I was glad to see that the majority of our raspberries survived the winter – yesterday’s brief summer coaxed out some leaves. Our girls gathered handfuls of daffodils to bring inside, and they’re scattered around the first floor in bunches, a welcome pop of color among the mess we’re too tired to clean up. My favorite flowers, and a sure sign of spring. I think we’ll have some normal weather over the next week – 60s and 70s. That’s more like it.

planting a tree for our first little dog

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Early yesterday morning, right after breakfast, we planted a young sugar maple in the front yard – and said goodbye, again. We bid our Cody farewell for the first time over a year ago, but we were still renting at the time and didn’t have anywhere to lay him to rest, so we had him cremated instead. He’s been hanging out in a pretty little box ever since, waiting for the right time to go back to the earth.

We now have a home and some land, and the ability to get the tree we wanted for him. The girls really liked the idea of Cody feeding a tree, and have grand plans to label any future syrup with his picture. We (read: J) dug the hole, and I opened the box, and Swee poured the ashes around the root ball before tucking him in and hanging his tags on a small branch. He would have liked it here, I think.

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It’s well and fully Spring in our little corner of Maine now. The daffodils bloomed yesterday, and our brand new clothesline dried its first two loads of laundry today. J and my brother used the Multi-Purpose Garden Trellis plans from Mother Earth News and added four lines – though I think I’m going to ask for two more. We use only cloth napkins, and they take up a fair bit of room on the line, even though they don’t take up much washer space.

In addition to Cody’s maple, we planted a Montmorency Cherry in the upper orchard, and I’m excited to make pies once it starts fruiting. The girls and I also put in gladiolus, anemone and lily bulbs for some summertime color. I love anything that fills the space beautifully without me having to weed!

I know I haven’t been here much lately, forsaking this space for Instagram which has felt much less taxing. Less pressure to produce something of substance. I’ve fallen into the trap of feeling as if I don’t have any expertise to share, so I don’t write at all. Pure silliness. Who wants to hear from a know-it-all anyway? Certainly not I.

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Today it is snowing. Like crazy. We woke to snow swirling outside the window, and Swee and I snuggled on the couch for a while, hoping in vain that the wind would die down a bit before I started chores. Sadly, it did not, and when I ventured out to see the chickens around 8am, the drifts were over my knees and the powder sifted into my boots. It’s still snowing and blowing six hours later, and may continue for the next twenty-four hours. So today we are hunkering down, taking care of indoor projects while Mama works, and hoping the power stays on.

But yesterday? Yesterday we played with baby goats.

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Basil, Pepper, Jumping Jack and Sleepy Sally were born earlier this week, and our sweet friend and fellow homeschooling mama Melissa graciously allowed us to come for a quick visit in advance of the storm. Her five human kids gave us the grand homestead tour, each of them excited to tell us all about their critters. My girls loved the bunnies and the chickens (…even though we have sixteen of our own. go figure), but the standout winners for me were the brand new babies. They were so incredibly soft, not coarse like goats I’ve met in petting zoos, and had the heft of a human newborn – all except Mr. Jack who was a whopping ten pounds. Ooof! They have another expectant mama who will likely kid today in the snowstorm, and I’ve been refreshing Instagram to see if there’s a baby announcement yet.

As we talk about expanding our own homestead, we frequently toss out phrases like, “what about pigs?” or “we could put goats down under the pine trees,” though truly we have no idea what we’re doing. I like giving my girls all of these experiences, seeing farms and meeting animals, but they’re also exploratory missions for my own education. Could we manage goats? I don’t know. I think so, but there’s so much necessary infrastructure we don’t have yet, and I don’t have an end goal in mind other than brush clearing and the fact that I think they’re fun. I’m not sure that’s enough to warrant committing to a herd of animals.

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Still, it’s encouraging to see how well Melissa and her family are managing, especially knowing that they didn’t have livestock at all before moving to town two years ago. And those babies sure are cute.

A dairy nice Valentine’s Day

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I had intended to share this experience before our road trip, but in the hustle of packing, and booking hotel rooms, and filing taxes (gah!), it just didn’t happen. But oh, what a fun time we had!

My littles and I spent Valentine’s morning on a working dairy farm. We pet the big girls as they ate lunch, each of us getting snuffled and slimed in turn. The girls successfully hand milked a very patient cow whose name I have since forgotten, and visited with a newborn calf, umbilical cord still dangling. We shook a little cup of heavy cream down into butter, and spread it on thick slices of brown bread before gobbling it up.

It was such a fun experience for all three of us, and marked our first foray into anything organized specifically for homeschoolers. We signed up for a field trip organized by Homeschoolers of Maine, and met up with other families for a guided tour of the barns. It was nice to let someone else do the planning, and just show up when and where we were supposed to. My big girl had some good questions, and I was pleased that she wasn’t shy about asking them in front of the group. It did make her sad that the calves are separated from their mamas so soon – she knows a baby needs its mama – but even that led to some good conversation on the way home.

Homeschooling families! How did you go about finding a co-op or group to join? What do you see as the benefits? Drawbacks?

hi there.

Truly, the last month has been a bit of a blur, and I’ve been feeling fairly lost.

We took a road trip at the end of February. I’ve been feeling the need for my girls to connect with my grandparents, and with a dear sorority sister getting married in Philadelphia, we made it a family adventure.

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My children explored the same house and yard where I spent so many of my early years, playing with the same toys and bells my grandparents let all of us play with. Their home even smells the same. We rolled down the one-way street of brick row-houses where I grew up, cruised through my elementary school’s parking lot (“You didn’t live far from school at all, Mama!”), and went out to the church where their Daddy and I were married twenty-nine years after my own parents, in the same chapel. We visited my maternal grandmother, gone now thirteen years on Groundhog Day, and planted some mini daffodils at her headstone. We saw the park where we watched fireworks each July, the vet where we took our dog Sadie, the Super Fresh that is now a Planet Fitness. I drove my own little family along all the roads where my dad taught me to drive, and gave them the five dollar tour of my childhood.

I grew up in the heart of suburban Philadelphia, attending a mega high school surrounded by subdivisions. Heading into this trip, I was mostly prepared for the busyness of the region, the shopping centers and manicured lawns, the way the houses and people are all on top of each other, and only curtains and blinds keep you from seeing into your neighbor’s bathroom. But actually being there? The sensory input was really overwhelming: all the lights and signs and cars, and it surprised me to see the way the sky was orangey-brown at night with light pollution, rather than inky and dotted with stars.

I wasn’t prepared for the awful sense of loss. I didn’t expect to feel so bereft at the sight of the familiar, or so very, very sad at how lonely the cemetery looked in the rain with no one left on that side of the family to visit. We put forth an extraordinary amount of effort and coordination to make this trip, and I didn’t anticipate that I would be so mournful about how long it had been, and how long it might be again. I wasn’t aware how much I miss my family and my roots – how much I miss having roots. And I didn’t expect to feel so certain and so sad about the fact that we will not move back. Nor that I would be so tearful now trying to find the words for all of those feelings. I didn’t know I needed to mourn a place and time, even as I consciously and gladly work to make a new place my own.

So hi. I’m still here.