Tales from the Clothesline

Many of you won’t be surprised that I am writing about a clothes line since I’ve mentioned it before, but you know what? I am so excited about having a clothesline again. It’s been about 15 years since we’ve been able to hang clothes outside. We’ve used a few creative indoor clotheslines from time to time over the years, but the last time we were able to hang clothes outside was in the spring of 2000. Now is the time for us to have a simple, effective,

outdoor dryer available to us again. A few days ago we moved the antenna towers and mowed down the tall grass in preparation for our new adventure in drying clothes outside.

Frank installed turnbuckles on the end of each line so we can tighten them up as needed. I thought this was a great idea!

You’ll notice that the clothesline is very close to the outdoor kitchen. That will make it very convenient when I am also washing the clothes outdoors, not just drying them. More about that process once we have the kitchen

completed. As I took the first load of laundry out of the washer, I had this vague memory of sorting the clothes before loading them into the clothes basket and heading outside. I’ll probably relearn how I want this done as I get used to this new, old routine. We have a plastic clothes basket that I could use, but I’ve chosen to try out a metal bushel basket instead. Every plastic basket we have had eventually breaks off at the handles and has to be replaced. I plan on this lasting more than my lifetime.

I seem to have that radio on all the time, don’t I?

I have had this clothespin apron for many, many years. I don’t remember who made it or gave it to me, I only know that I didn’t make it. We used to have one with a hanger in it that you could hang on the line. I like the apron better. 

Back in August as my birthday approached, Frank asked me if there was anything I wanted. At first I couldn’t think of anything, but then I remembered something. I had recently read about Herrick Kimball’s clothespins. For those of you that aren’t familiar with Herrick’s blog, he is over at the Deliberate Agrarian. He also works from home creating and producing items for his homestead based company, Planet Whizbang. I contacted Mr. Kimball about my interest in his Classic American Clothespins and found out they would be available in early October, but since we didn’t have a clothesline yet, that worked out just fine.

I recently received my clothespins and yesterday was the first opportunity I had to try them out. I was surprised how much larger they are than the regular, store bought version I have been using for years. The stainless steel spring is larger also, and easily holds a pair of jeans or thick jacket. Not only are these clothespins sturdy, they are made from beautiful ash wood. I expect these clothespins will last us a very long time. If you go to his site, you will find that Herrick sells out of his clothespins very quickly. His production run of 8000 is already gone. He did mention in an email that he may have an extra run of 8000 available sometime later, you’ll have to check with him if you are interested.

Ladies please don’t be offended, but I’ve always just thought of us as girls, regardless of age. Now that you understand that I want you to know, as I took the clothes out to the line, hung them up with my new clothespins, stood back and admired my work, that I was one happy girl. A little kooky, huh? You know, why do all that work? I told my friend Grace the other day how excited I was to have a clothesline again, and that I expect some folks to think I was a little off my rocker. There is a young mother that lives close by, and she told me she loves hanging out her clothes, she feels like she is saving money for her family. She’s right, and then there is the advantage of the sunshine killing bacteria, the clean, fresh fragrance without artificial chemicals, and the stiff scratchy feeling of the towels. We were very surprised at how quickly the clothes dried. Frank commented that it was much faster than the dryer.

We broke down today and changed the sizes of our t-shirts. Frank and I were still wearing the shirts we wore before losing almost 50 pounds and they are hanging very loosely. We hate to put something away before it is good and worn out, but it was time to ‘down size’ our clothes. 

As I was hanging out this batch of shirts, Frank ‘Wilson’ Feral arrived and had me laughing so hard I could hardly take this picture. He is one funny man, and I am one blessed woman.

It is truly the simple things in life that fill my heart and soul with a deep, abiding joy and sense of contentment. Seek out what fills your soul. When you are in the midst of stress or strife, dip from that well of contentment and take it in stride. In the coming days our stress levels are not going to go down, they are going to continue to increase to a fever pitch. The

Our sheepskin prayer rug

uncertainty of the future has already caused many to lose hope, lose their temper, lose their families and, for some, lose their life. The stress of the coming collapse can bring the most stalwart and courageous to their knees. We find ourselves in prayer on our knees, side by side, every night before we go to bed. It gives us strength and binds us together like nothing else can. Seek that which will give you strength to face the coming days, weeks and months as our uncertain future unfolds. You will need it.

Until next time – Fern

Preparing to Make Soap

We have wanted to make soap for over 20 years. It appears that this dream will finally be coming true very soon, and we are both very excited. In preparation for this venture, we have done a lot of research. This research resulted in a list of things we needed to be able to successfully and safely make soap. Over the past several weeks we have gradually accumulated those things we need, and now it is just a matter of time, and I will admit, courage. 

In compiling information about making soap, I have read numerous websites and a couple of books. I want to link a few sites that provided some very useful information. Some of them deal with lye, and some outline the techniques used during the process.

One of the first things you will read on any site is how important it is to handle lye in a safe manner. And rightly so. Here is a video  that specifically deals with handling lye safely.

One of the difficulties I had in my research is finding a recipe and appropriate techniques that match the ingredients we are going to use. You see, our soap will only have three ingredients: goat milk, lard and lye. That’s it. There are a gazillion sites that make soap, but the vast, vast majority of them use other oils, liquids and fragrances. We’re not. Why? For a couple of reasons. One, if we are going to make soap, we want

it to be as pure and simple as possible. Two, if need be, we will be able to produce these three ingredients ourselves. We will be getting the milk from our goats. We plan to be able to render our own lard from the pigs that will be arriving here in the next few months. For now, we are using store bought lard. We can also make lye from wood ashes, but again, we are using purchased, food grade lye for now. And speaking of wood ashes and lye, I found this video to be really fascinating. We have read many things about making lye water, then using it to make soap, but my question has always been, how do you know how strong your lye is? I know you can float an egg or potato just right, but lye is a caustic and I’m not sure I would trust my skin to this technique. This video gave us a different option. Instead of lye water, make lye crystals.

I’m going to list some other videos and sites that I used to learn about the steps for making soap, even though none of them use the recipe we are going to try, I still learned a lot from them.

  • This is the first video I watched on actually making soap, and it is very informative. Becky uses water instead of milk, but this is a basic lard soap. She also uses the lard she rendered from her own pigs.

Once we completed all of this research, we realized there was some equipment we needed to get before we could dive in making soap. I had one book on making soap that I have probably had for more than 20 years, that’s how long we’ve had this in mind. I ended up ordering two more books, but they are mostly geared to recipes that don’t involve goat milk and do involve a lot of other ingredients we are not going to use. 

We already had some aprons and rubber gloves on hand. And I have a number of thermometers I have accumulated for making cheese. We decided to acquire what I call a point and shoot thermometer that can be used for soap or people.

We have a manual scale that is used to weigh out produce for canning. But the emphasis on being able to weigh out soap ingredients to the ounce, prompted us to invest in a digital scale that can be easily zeroed out after your bowl or container is placed upon it.

Then there was the question of mixing the oils, milk and lye until it comes to trace. Trace, a new vocabulary word for us. We’ll get into that much more throughout the process. Most folks I read or watched used a stick blender or mixer. Everyone had the admonition of not running the mixer too long so the motor wouldn’t overheat or burn out. Well, we don’t have a stick blender, and really didn’t see a need for one. Instead we searched for a while and found a mixer whip that would fit in the chuck of an electric hand drill, in this case battery operated. Sound funny? It probably is, but it is what we are going to use. I think it will be more durable, and we won’t worry about it overheating or burning out. And if the battery dies before the soap goes to trace, we have extras that we can use. We ordered a couple of different types of whisks, whips and beaters to try in the drill. I’m sure once we make the first batch of soap, we will figure out which one works the best. 

I have seen where some people use plastic to mix their ingredients and some use stainless steel. Most will tell you to only use soap equipment to make soap and nothing else. The first video I watched where the lye and water were mixed in an old butter tub surprised me. Especially when they discussed how hot the liquid will get when it interacts with the lye.

My question was, what keeps the chemicals in the plastic from leaching into the lye solution? If the temperature of the mixture gets really hot, won’t that release some of the chemicals of the plastic? And, since lye is a very caustic substance that will pit the surface of the plastic, won’t that release some of the chemicals of the plastic? I didn’t find any definitive answers to these questions, but they have lead us to use stainless steel. We had these two extra 13 quart bowls in storage waiting for something to come along, and think they will work fine. I had also purchased some silicone spatulas a while back to replace the rubber ones I’m using now when they wear out, so now they will be assigned soap making duties.

We debated and thought long and hard about soap molds. There are a million and one different molds out there people use. Specialty shops sell all kinds of molds, and some folks use cardboard boxes with a trash bag liner. Silicone seems to be a favorite of many folks, and we ordered one loaf pan just to see how it does. We’re also going to line a regular loaf pan and see how it works as well. I seldom use this loaf pans anymore since I started using cast iron loaf pans for bread, so this pan has been volunteered for the job.

There is also a wide variety of mechanisms used to cut the soap into bars. Some contraptions are quite sophisticated, some use a wide cutter blade specifically made for cutting soap, and some are as simple as a knife. We are going to try out this cleaver and see how it works.

As you can see, it has taken time and effort to research and acquire the needed materials and equipment for this project. We have already learned a tremendous amount and we haven’t even started making soap yet. I have the distinct feeling that the learning has just begun. And you know what? I’m glad. It’s great to learn something totally new and be so much closer to another dream come true. We don’t know anyone that has ever made soap from only goat milk, lard and lye. I can only think of one person I know that has ever made soap period. Just like most other things in our lives, what we know and do, we basically teach ourselves. This time we have the blessing of the internet which has allowed us to do a lot of research, and even watch videos of demonstrations. 

Our next soap post will be a demonstration of our first attempt. We will cover much more detail about the equipment we use, and especially the safety aspects involved in making soap. Never take safety for granted. I know there are a lot of folks out there that have been making soap for years. Any advice you can share before we get started will be greatly appreciated. Keep in mind, we are set on our ingredients. I know there are many other things that can be added to soap and for good reasons. But we want to make a soap that can be replicated in a sustainable fashion if we can never order or buy anything else besides what we can raise and make on our own. It is another giant step for our continued sustainable life style. And we’re excited!

Until next time – Fern