Category Archives: Being Mindful of Our Surroundings


DIY Project:  Make Your Own Laundry Soap

There are alot of things that I used to take for granted that you HAD to buy in the grocery store.  Like most everything.  How did people survive before Walmart?  It’s a big mystery…

I have been embracing several DIY projects lately for the following reasons:  1)  keeping the level of toxins in our house to a bare minimum (see my previous blog post, 2)  COST COST COST  (a bottle of organic, natural or less toxic product seems to cost way more than it’s conventional counterparts, and I’d rather spend more money on quality food than pretty shampoo) and 3)  BECAUSE I CAN!!!  (I’m weird that way, it’s a sense of accomplishment to be able to say I made my own laundry soap!!!)

A couple months back, I made my first batch of homemade laundry soap and I haven’t looked back.  Our clothes get clean (keeping in mind that I have some outdoor loving children who frequently get VERY dirty!) and I don’t have to worry about what I’m putting on their skins (or mine or my husband’s) or back into the earth.  Two things to think of if you’re skeptical is that 80% of what goes on the skin is absorbed into the bloodstream in some capacity (it’s not armor, after all!), and that our water sources have enough other pollution (if you don’t believe me, check out   In spite of city water filtering, etc., alot of things that I don’t care for continue to lurk there, and I’m pretty sure they didn’t get there magically…

Ok, I digress.  Sorry.  Back to the soap.  This is roughly a five minute project which makes me love it even more with our busy schedules.

You will need:

1 c. Arm and Hammer washing soap (get it here:

1 c. Borax (I have found it at Walmart but I got it here

1/2 c. liquid castile soap (I use Dr. Bronner’s Baby Mild, you can get it here

a covered 5 gallon pail (check your local hardware store, or a farm store)

tap water

Cook the borax, washing soap and castille soap in about a cup or two of water (I don’t think this is very scientific, whatever amount of water would work) until the soaps and powders are all melted.  Put it in the five gallon pail, and fill the pail 3/4 full of water.  We have just been taking it out to the outdoor hose to fill, which works great.  And that’s it.  I use about 1 c. for a large load of laundry.   Some of the soap seems to get foamy on top which is fine, just mix it back in before using.   I do keep it covered to keep bugs and dust out of it.


When I bought all of my ingredients, I figured that I spent roughly $30 for everything including the pail.  One five gallon pail lasted us about a month and a half (I am doing at least a load of laundry a day).  The boxes of borax and washing soda will last you for many subsequent batches.  The only thing you would need to restock any time soon is the castile soap – and Dr. Bronner’s does sell larger sizes of it’s soaps, so you could just start with more of that if you wanted.  There are other sites (Vitacost, Swanson Vitamins, that also sell Dr. Bronner’s, and they might have better deals.  Shop around.

Now if only I had a clothesline to hang my clean clothes on (hint, hint to my husband will likely read this later on…)…


Having Enough…


As I was driving to work yesterday morning, I was listening to an theology-based radio show that I listen to every day.  He was holding a discussion with a group of college students regarding our consumer-obsessed society.  His comments made me laugh out loud but gave me food for thought too.  He noted that “someone once said…that success is defined by driving this year’s car, wearing last year’s suit and spending next year’s income.”  And while that made me laugh, HOW TRUE IS THAT!!!???

Now I don’t know about you…but I have certainly spent my fair share of time “caught up” in what others have and what I think I need to keep up.  What do we REALLY need in life to be happy?  What is “enough”?   What is “success”?

Speaking for myself, I used to think that big expensive purses and expensive clothes from places like Ann Taylor would make me happy and were a measure of “success”.  It did make me happy…temporarily.  In an empty, fleeting sort of way.  Then when the rush is gone, what is left?  The need to do it all over again.  Which really leaves your pocketbook alot lighter.   I doubt I’m alone there.

And celebrities…I used to be so enthralled with what celebrities are doing.  Again, I doubt I’m alone there.  Personally, now I think it’s such a distraction now from what is really going on in the world, but if you like it, what the heck…read about it.   Dr. Leonard Sax, author of the book “Girls on the Edge” refers to a phenomena happening among our young girls today as “microcelebrity”.  The need for young girls and teenagers to have Coach handbags, dress like movie stars, pose and look for every “photo op” possible as he notes.  And it is causing huge psychological and self esteem issues in our young women.  Is this a realistic message to send to them?  That they are only worth something if they have THINGS?  Or if they can emulate Kim Kardashian?  I want more for my girls than that.

I am not perfect.  I started out with our kids falling into that trap – thinking that their clothes had to come from name brand stores, or they HAD to have this gadget or that toy.  Now we are fast approaching a critical point with my oldest daughter, who is entering the “tween years”.  For her now, this stuff is really becoming important socially.  Now…I don’t want her to be a social pariah, but am also trying to instill that there’s more to her soul than whether or not her jeans come from Hollister.  Or if she doesn’t have an iPhone at the age of 10.  It is a tough balance.  I haven’t gotten it all figured out yet.  But I’m thinking at least…

Maybe this seems like a strange message, but I have been doing alot of personal reflection in this area lately and reprioritizing, so that speaker’s message did not fall on deaf ears here.  Just as there is obviously stress with not having money, food, clothing, shelter, etc., I think there is the stress of excess…the stress of clutter…the stress of those extra bills to “keep up with the Joneses”.  I have been trying to make a conscious effort to place the “extra” in a much lower rank in my life than it had been, and to get rid of the extra “stuff” that we don’t use plaguing our house.   I like to think of it as a mental and physical decluttering, and dang, it feels good.  And you know what?  I have a husband who loves me who is home every night (as his job allows!) with his family.  I have the love of my children.  Those things are priceless and forever.   Expensive clothes get worn out and go to Goodwill eventually, they are not “forever”.  I have my faith.  I have a comfortable home.  I have good healthy food.  I am regaining my health and so is the rest of my family.  Those things are also priceless.   I define that as my own success…and “enough.”

The speaker ended his discussion with a commentary on an old definition of neuroses:  “Defining success by what we don’t have.”  He went on to note that perhaps this is why our culture spends so much money on psychotherapy, even during a recession.  Maybe he’s on to something there.

The Sweet Smell of…Cancer and Infertility???


I used to smell really good.  REALLY good.  I was a big fan of smelly soaps and lotions, and expensive perfume back in the day.  Miss Dior Cherie was my favorite.  Then…a couple of years ago I began to do some reading about personal care products and chemicals.  And I got upset.  REALLY upset.  And then I got so upset that I went into my closet and filled a garbage bag.  The expensive perfume still sits on the shelf, mostly because I feel too guilty about just HOW expensive it was to throw it out.  And once in a blue moon when my natural deodorant fails me at an inopportune time, I break down and use it.  And I always feel REALLY guilty.  And here’s why:

All those beautiful smelling soaps and shampoos contain chemicals known as “phthalates”.  Phthalates are “plasticizers” as well, which allow plastics to be soft.   They can be found in baby toys, shower curtains, fabric softener and laundry soap, bathroom spray, infant feeding utensils and sippy cups, hairspray, nail polish, makeup, and so on.  They leech into our food through packaging, and into the air we breathe.  And I’m not making this up – we all have some level of them in our bodies.  These chemicals are known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors, and mimic estrogens in our bodies.  For a long time, the term “endocrine disruptor” made me nervous but I didn’t really get it.  Now I do.  If you Google “phthalates + baby boys” – the results are just downright scary.   Studies show that baby boys with higher phthalate exposure were more likely to have some form of genital abnormalities such as incomplete testicular descent and hypospadias (a urethral deformity).  These same studies are showing that the phthalates are contributing to lowering of sperm counts and testicular tumors later in life.  Whether you are male or female, this group of chemicals has the capacity to totally mess with your thyroid, adrenals and any other member of the endocrine system which is really a big, huge deal.  And it is of particular importance to be mindful of this if you are pregnant…

For a while I kind of freaked out.  I didn’t know what I’d do without all my pretty smells.  And frankly, I was overwhelmed.  Now, I have reached a place where I really don’t think we can avoid them totally because they are everywhere, and I do have to leave my house every day.  But I can at least lighten our overall toxic load by controlling what is in OUR house.

The best thing you can do is learn to read labels.  Visit the Environmental Working Group’s “Skin Deep” site – they have a handy little cut out that you can place in your wallet and take to the store with you.  Because if you’re anything like me, it will take awhile to remember it all.  You can also rate your personal care products on their website which can be…very enlightening to say the least.  If it says “Fragrance” – nix it.  And don’t fool yourself, whether it is a $10 perfume or a $100 perfume, it makes no difference at all.  For awhile I tried to tell myself that…but it really wasn’t the truth.

Another thing I did was to get rid of our stinky PVC shower curtain that was certainly offgassing phthalates at a horrific rate.  I looked around and decided that the $100 hemp shower curtains, as nice as they may be, did not meet my budgetary requirements.  So I opted for the PEVA liner at Walmart for $5 and am ok with it.

When you’re looking for baby items like pacifiers, sippy cups, spoons, etc., look for ones labeled “BPA and Phthalate Free”.  If you love pretty smells, use essential oils or find candles that advertise as “phthalate free” (I believe that the Seed brand soy candles are).  Aura Cacia also makes some really nice nontoxic sprays, diffusers, etc., with essential oils.  We actually quit using bathroom spray too…and believe it or not, no one has died.  I also no longer cook with plastic or heat food in plastic.

Learn to make your own green cleaners or buy ones like Biokleen, Seventh Generation or Ecover, opt for more natural options for soaps (Dr. Bronner’s brand is wonderful), and resign yourself to smelling like…yourself.  And I cannot emphasize this enough:  LEARN TO READ LABELS.  And don’t trust things that say “Unscented” because oddly enough, if you read the label, they usually say “Fragrance”.  “Fragrance” to cover up “fragrance”?  Go figure.

And don’t despair.  There are some really good options out there (Aubrey Organics, Beauty Without Cruelty, Burt’s Bees) so you really WILL be able to shower again and bathe your kids and not offend your friends and family with your smell.  I do find that I need to shop online more, and yes, some of it costs more.  This is why I’m in a mode of DIY right now, which is the likely subject of future blog posts.

The semi-positive news is that some of the worst phthalates have been banned for use in children’s products in the U.S.  I repeat:  SOME OF THE WORST.  That does not mean that the rest is ok.  It just means that no discerning eye has decided “nope, kids shouldn’t be exposed to this.”  And folks, sometimes the discerning eye never comes.  That continues to be a source of frustration to this mom.  Other countries tend to be…shall I say…a little stronger on these things than the U.S.  If it concerns you enough, you can always contact your legislators.  I have to admit I haven’t done that yet, but I do choose to vote with my dollar and not purchase those items.  The other positive news is that studies have shown that if people reduce their exposure, their blood levels do drop accordingly, so you truly do have the capacity to affect and protect your health and your children’s health.

A really good read on phthalates and other chemical concerns in your home is the book “Slow Death by Rubber Duck” by Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie.  I got it through our library but it can also be found on  My only advice is to not read it before bedtime.  You won’t sleep well.

So…if you ever see me in the store quickly herding my kids through the uber-stinky laundry detergent aisle with our shirts over our noses…please don’t think we’re freaks…I just want to be a Grandma some day.