Dryer Balls

Back in May, we took a vacation. Or more accurately, enjoyed a temporary change of scenery. The term vacation would imply we were relaxing while sipping cocktails somewhere. We were travelling with a two-year-old, so we were really just going to unfamiliar places, trying to prevent her from harming herself others, while attempting to deflect public tantrums.

One of the many stops on our itinerary was Kings Canyon National Park. We’ve been going to Califonia annually for over a decade and we still hadn’t seen a giant Sequoia. In retrospect, this wasn’t the best adventure with a toddler in tow. I really need to remember that when I start planning our next holiday.

Anyway, we saw some big ass trees. Then, we decided to take the scenic route back to our hotel in Bakersfield, where we were stopping for the night before heading to Palm Springs the following day. It was scenic indeed as we wound our way down from the High Sierras, going back and forth, making sharp turns every mile or so.

Suddenly, we heard some strange noises from the backseat. Little B still sat rear facing then, so we couldn’t immediately see what was up- literally. Until the smell hit us. Trying not to panic (or dry heave), we kept driving until we found a turnout where we found our poor baby absolutely covered in regurgitated milk and crackers – her snack of choice earlier that day. Of course, we felt like the shittiest parents in the world because it never occurred to us that a drive like this might cause her motion sickness. Not only that, but there really wasn’t much we could do up there. We were on the side of a mountain in the middle of nowhere with limited cleaning resources in our rental car. We stripped her down, wiped her up the best we could with some take-out napkins and put her back in the seat with one of Jeremy’s t-shirts between her and the mess. Next, we gave her some fresh water and continued on the two-hour drive to our destination.

Later at the hotel, we cleaned the seat and aired it out of the balcony overnight. Thankfully, we were headed to our friend’s house where we could properly machine wash our soiled clothes.

Two things of note about my friend’s laundry situation.

First, she had the most fabulous homemade laundry detergent. You can find the recipe here.

Seriously – it was AMAZING. It only took one cycle to get the barf smells and stains out of our stuff and in my (thankfully) limited experience with baby puke, it usually takes at least two washes to completely get that odour. PLUS, these clothes had been marinating for nearly 24 hours in a plastic bag in the trunk of a hot car!

Second, she had wool dryer balls.

For the uninitiated, dryer balls are a greener alternative to dryer sheets for adding scents to your clothes and reducing static cling. They also help cut down on dryer time absorbing some of the dampness and by creating more space between your clothes.

They’re not expensive, so this is one of those crafts that if you had to go out and buy supplies you would likely spend way more than it would cost to just go out and purchase them already made. However, if you’re like me and have a bunch old wool sweaters tucked away for felting projects you’ll probably never get around to, then this is a great project to use up that stash.

I started by cutting my sweaters into long continuous strips and rolled them into balls in the same way you would wind yarn into a ball, tucking in the loose ends as I went along. Your balls should be about a bit larger than a softball or and they will shrink to about a baseball. I used four small women’s sweaters to get this size.

These look pretty messy, but that’s ok because they’ll be covered with a layer of worsted to tidy them up.

I bought two of these from a clearance rack at Micheals, keeping this project at about $6.50 – still well below the cost of buying them.

There. Much better.

If you were born after the baby boom, you might not have any pantyhose around, but this is what you need for the next step. I had some because despite being born in the mid-70s, I’m a bit old-school when it comes to foundation garments. Sure, I’ll do bare legs in a dress the hot summer, but for the rest of the year if I’m getting really dressed up I believe a slip and a pair of very good quality sheer nude nylon hose makes one look polished. If you don’t want to take my word for it, just ask Kate Middleton.

So, I shoved the balls into the leg of my old stocking tying each one in tightly. (I suppose tights would probably work too). This is going to help with the felting process.

Next, I soaked the balls in a bucket of very, very, hot water. A few tutorials I’ve seen recommend just throwing the balls in the washing machine on a hot cycle, but our high-efficiency front loader doesn’t use enough water to effectively bind the fibers. After wringing them out the best I could, I dried them (with a load of bed sheets) on the highest heat setting. Then, for good measure, I repeated the process.

All finished!

As you can see, some red from one of the old sweaters bled through one of the balls. I won’t use that one with my whites, obviously.

There is a downside to dryer balls. They’re noisy as heck. It sounds a bit like a herd of bison are charging through the laundry room when they’re in motion, but since they cut down on drying time at you don’t have to listen to it for very long.

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What I Read – Brooklyn

I’d never heard of this book and likely would have never even considered it, had I not stumbled upon the movie adaptation one night when I was desperate for something pleasant to watch. Apparently, the movie premiered in 2015 and was nominated for some awards. Looking back, it seems I’d spent that year in a pregnant, then postpartum haze and now I’m wondering what else I might have missed.

So, it was a Saturday night and Little B was fast asleep. I made myself a cup of tea and curled up in bed to start binging on the new season of Orange is the New Black. A few episodes in though, I realized I just…couldn’t. It was grating on my soul and while I rarely turn to drama/romance to cleanse my emotional palette, there was just something about the trailer for Brooklyn that pulled me in. I should point out here, I was also extremely hormonal that night and that probably played a pivitol role in this choice.

Brooklyn (the novel) was set in 1950s Ireland where a young woman named Eilish found herself without any prospects, financially or romantically. She lived with her widowed mother and older sister, while her three brothers had all moved to England to find work. Her sister, sharp and self-possessed, was always looking out for her and with the help of an Irish-American priest, she orchestrated Eilish’s move overseas to ensure a better future for her. Eilish was apprehensive but didn’t protest. She did what was expected of her, as she always did.

After a rough start in Brooklyn, she overcame her homesickness, made friends and found a boyfriend. Then suddenly, her family suffered an unexpected tragedy and she had to return to Ireland where her hometown friends and family expected her to remain. This left her torn between her new life in the United States and the familiarity and new possibilities of her old one so she had to make a decision. It’s a simple story with some subtle complexity. There wasn’t a perfect choice. She had two almost equally appealing options, but with some minor consequences on either side. Two roads diverged in a yellow wood and all that. As a reader, it was hard to decide which future to root for.

I picked up the book right after watching the movie because my weepy, pre-menstrual heart needed to confirm that she’d made her decision based purely on love. I have to tell you, after reading the book, I’m really not sure. The novel is actually less definitive than the movie in that regard. Otherwise, with only a few minor exceptions, the screen adaptation stayed true to the book, so there wasn’t much additional insight to be had by reading it.

It was a beautifully written book though. It reminded me a bit of Maeve Binchy. It had a real Irish chick-lit vibe that reminded me of the late 1990s when I used to plow through books of this genre on a weekly basis. That wasn’t really the best time in my life, but thinking about it makes me nostalgic for all the time and brain space I once had for leisure reading. However, I have to admit, if I had to choose, I think in this case I would pick the movie over the novel. The costumes and cinematography were stunning.

As for Orange is the New Black, I think I’m over it. I was finding last season was getting too outrageous and weird. This season, I just didn’t understand what I was watching. Perhaps I’ll just stick with pleasant movies like this for a while.

Any suggestions?

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What I Read – Pioneer Girl, The Annotated Autobiography

I’m a serious Laura Ingalls Wilder fan girl. As a child, I read my boxed set – the circa 1980s editions with the Garth Williams illustrations, until they were in shreds. Those books are long gone now but I’ve since bought a new set for Little B. Actually, that’s a lie. I bought those replacement books for myself at least five years before she was even born. Regardless, I really do hope she’ll share my love for them when I read them to her someday.

Back then, I was so obsessed that I’d dress up in pioneer garb and role play Little House stories with a friend in an undeveloped wooded area near our house. Just thinking about that makes me so grateful I was a kid in an era where we only brought out the camera on special occasions so these cringe-worthy moments of my childhood are not preserved digitally or otherwise. I’m almost positive that there is no photographic evidence of me wearing my hand-sewn sunbonnet.

With this in mind, it’s needless to say, I was really excited when I heard Pioneer Girl,, the manuscript of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s autobiography was being published. Its unexpected success made it hard to come by for a few years but it came available recently, so I put it on my Christmas list and a copy was bestowed upon me back in December.

Pioneer Girl was written around 1930 but was never published. It was rejected. Instead, it would serve as the framework for the children’s series she wrote shortly after. While the series was fictionalized, albeit only slightly to produce a simpler, sanitized and fluid narrative for a young audience, Pioneer Girl, is a bit grittier and unpolished.

Much of her story is familiar but the manuscript includes some of the darker times in her young life that she omitted from her series, including their family’s brief stay in rough town in Iowa where they lived among drunks and wife beaters in a hotel. It was in this same place that her little brother was born and died shortly after, another part of her life she deemed too sad for children.

I was pleasantly surprised that Pioneer Girl wasn’t a Liberation manifesto. In fact, her story actually chips away at the illusion of their independence and self-sufficiency that’s threaded throughout the series. They relied on the government (and some mysterious benefactors back east) much more than she let on in her other writing – including a public subsidy to send her sister Mary to the school for the blind. Then there was Pa, who was usually portrayed as the epitome of hard work and integrity, once packed up his family and skipped town in the dead of night to avoid paying rent.

I’m positive that if this had been published back then, it would have been easily forgotten. Laura’s tone and style in both her manuscript and published series seems to lend itself much better to kids. What makes this publication really special though, are the annotations. When they call it an annotated autobiography, they’re not kidding around. The editor annotated the ever-loving crap out of it and it you are like me and enjoy trivial details, it’s wonderful. The margins are full of notes. In fact, sometimes the notations fill up entire pages.

There are passages of correspondence between Laura and her editor/daughter Rose, old maps, and newspaper articles confirming or correcting dates of events. Along with census information and historical documentation about friends, family, and neighbours to corroborate some of her stories as they’d passed through the filter of time and her childhood naivety. Everything you ever wanted to know about the Ingalls family is right here.

Pioneer Girl is a hardcover the size of a textbook and weighs about four pounds so it’s not the kind of book you can just slip into your bag to read while waiting for an appointment. It’s for true fanatics who will find the detailed history and the evolution of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s development as a storyteller fascinating.

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