Archive for February, 2010


Yesterday my mom, affectionately referred to by her grandchildren as “Baba” – the abbreviated Russian word for “grandmother”, turned 70 years old. And you know what she did on her birthday? She showed up at my doorstep with a 9″x13″ cherry cheesecake that she made for ME. On HER birthday.

I should be used to her selfless acts of kindness but I’m not. She continually astounds me with them. Throughout my life, I have never known anyone else to be so completely and genuinely selfless, freely giving of her time, love and resources, and having an unwavering servant attitude toward others. In this regard, she is as close to emulating Christ’s serving heart toward others as I have ever witnessed.

What makes her even that much more amazing is that she is the way she is despite the multiple hardships and challenges she has endured throughout her entire life: born and raised in the poorest of conditions in Soviet Russia during World War II, uprooted with her family to a Displaced Persons Camp in Germany; being separated from her mother who suffered from tuberculosis while in the DP camp, experiencing the death of her 9-month-old brother who died of neglect while in the same camp; being malnourished (along with her 3 sisters) all of the time. At the age of 11, her family was finally able to make the unpleasant passage by boat to the U.S. eventually settling in NJ. Not speaking a word of English she was placed two grades behind her peers. She lived the rest of her youth (and her adult life) in this country of freedom, safety and opportunity yet lived under the oppression of an abusive, alcoholic father and continued to witness the physical sufferings endured by her ill yet hard-working seamstress mother.

A few years after graduating high school she married a fellow Russian who, amazingly, provided for the basic needs of his family as a blue collar worker despite become a raging alcoholic, and she subsequently had three children with him. She was a stay-at-home mom but also took us little ones with her to her part-time house cleaning jobs. When we started school she got a full-time job while always maintaining a meticulously clean house, preparing home-cooked meals every night, doing the shopping, laundry, ironing, sewing, canning, and sharing with the caring for her aging mother all the while constantly nurturing and lavishing love, affection and adoration on her 3 children.

Later in life, she eventually lost her beloved mother, then her father who she also helped cared for in his declining health, and was herself diagnosed with and battled with cancer (with which she victoriously went into remission).

I have never heard her utter a single complaint about her life. Not ever. And she asks for nothing. Yet somehow, she incredulously gives of herself like no other. I cringe, in sharp contrast, in how selfish I am with my time, my love, my resources, how spoiled I am with the easy life I have, and how I pale in comparison to her exemplary performance as wife and mother.

Today, parts of our family are geographically separated so not everyone was able to participate in Baba’s 70th birthday celebration although, no doubt, they were there in spirit. It was a lovely dinner and it was a treat to see Baba get treated on her special day (even though she did bake me a cheesecake). I pray that God blesses her abundantly for the next 70 years and that I may, by His grace, be as selfless, giving, humble, content and amazing as she is. How I love you, Mom!

From one awestruck and blessed daughter,


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We’re all looking to save money anywhere we can and the laundry room is one of the easiest way to save big bucks.  Turns out it’s also one of the easiest ways to help Planet Earth!

The first thing we did was invest in a high-efficiency (HE) washer and dryer about seven years ago.  The washer model we purchased was large enough to wash 22 bath towels in one load.  That’s a big load!  It literally cut the number of weekly loads we did by HALF.  I’m not kidding: we went from 10 loads a week to 5 loads a week (on average).  And for those of you unfamiliar with the concept of HE washers, they use less water (based on weight of clothes, not on size of load) and less energy.  In addition, the spinning action of these HE washers are so great that the clothes need less time in the dryer!

Sure, the cost of purchasing one of these sets may seem prohibitive but not really.  The washer itself cost $1200 about seven years ago.   That means to date, the washer has cost us $3.29 per week (further decreasing with each week).  We’ve saved far more than that in water, energy and human labor!

Now the really fun part: laundry soap.  I became a pro at finding the best sales on laundry soap, saving even further using coupons, and stocking up, up & up.  Even so, laundry soap is expensive and, let’s face it, we always end up using more than we really need.  And it never occurred to me that the incalculable number of bottles I’ve purchased in the course of my adult life that have contributed to manufacturing greenhouse gases & adding to our landfills (before recycling, that is) could have been completely avoidable.

Enter the home-made laundry soap.  There are several recipes available on the internet (some people even have the nerve to charge people for recipes) but the one I use is courtesy of the Duggar Family website (www.duggarfamily.com).  I figure a family with 19 kids has got the laundry thing all figured out (thank you, Duggars!).  And it’s true!  For $2 in ingredients I made laundry soap that will last us for the next 2.5 years.  At my current rate of 5 loads per week, it will cost $.03 for every ten loads of wash! Ka-ching!!!

I was surprised at how easy it was to make as well as how how pleasant smelling and clean the laundry was!  I’ll never go store-bought again (and feel really great about no longer needing to contribute to the carbon footprint required in manufacturing the plastic bottles in which the store-bought soap is sold).

Every family, regardless of economic class, can easily make home-made laundry soap.  Here’s the Duggar recipe with my caveats added to the end:


4  Cups – hot tap water
1  Fels-Naptha soap bar
1 Cup – Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda*
½ Cup Borax

Preparation Time: 1 hour

  1. Grate bar of soap1 and add to saucepan with water. Stir continually over medium-low heat until soap dissolves2 and is melted.
  2. Fill a 5 gallon bucket3,4 half full of hot tap water. Add melted soap, washing soda and Borax. Stir well until all powder is dissolved. Fill bucket to top with more hot water. Stir, cover and let sit overnight to thicken.
  3. Stir and fill a used, clean, laundry soap dispenser4 half full with soap and then fill rest of way with water. Shake before each use. (will gel)
  4. Optional: You can add 10-15 drops of essential oil per 2 gallons. Add once soap has cooled. Ideas: lavender, rosemary, tea tree oil.

-Liquid soap recipe makes 10 gallons.
-Top Load Machine- 5/8 Cup per load (Approx. 180 loads)
-Front Load Machines- ¼ Cup per load (Approx. 640 loads)

*Arm & Hammer “Super Washing Soda” – Baking Soda will not work, nor will Arm & Hammer Detergent – It must be sodium carbonate!!

1Definitely grate the Fels Naptha soap as the recipe instructs.  I got lazy toward the end and started cutting it into small chunks but it took significantly longer to melt on the stove that way.
2Melting the Fels Naptha soap produces a very strong “soapy” odor which could be overpowering but using the exhaust fan on the stove helped with that.
3You will need a place to store the huge 5-gallon bucket for the long haul (and you definitely need a lid).
4I put the recipe in a sheet protector and taped it to the outside of the bucket for future reference. I also taped a 3×5 index card to the laundry bottle dispenser with instructions to “shake before dispensing” and to “use a full cap for every load” (at least for my washer). The reminder will serve those in the family who don’t ordinarily do the laundry.

Laundry soap isn’t the only product you can cut back laundry expense:  you can make your own fabric softener, too.  I was a little skeptical about this one because I am downright fanatical about my clothes, sheets & towels feeling soft on my skin (I think it’s a throwback to when my mom used to hang everyone’s jeans on the clothes line in 30 degree weather and having to scrape on rigid & frigid, rock-hard pants).  I was pleasantly surprised that the Duggar recipe and method for fabric softening (they use the fabric softener in the dryer phase not the washing phase) was completely agreeable with my sensitive skin! 

I haven’t actually calculated how long this batch will last me or how much it will save but my conservative guess is that it’ll last me 3 years, maybe more.  Inconceiveable!


1  Container of Name Brand Fabric Softener
4  Inexpensive sponges, cut in half1

Preparation Time: 10 minutes

Pour entire container of softener into a 5 gallon bucket. Fill empty softener container with water twice. (2 parts water to 1 part softener) Add sponges to softener/water mixture. When ready to use wring out extra mixture from one sponge and add to the dryer as you would a dryer sheet.

1I think they call for 4 sponges because they have multiple dryers running at the same time in the Duggar laundry room.

It’s not that our family can’t afford laundry soap or fabric softener, we can.  But knowing what we know now, why would we want to?  Making our own is easy, is easy on the earth, inexpensive and time-saving.  So go, ya’ll.   Go forth and be a good steward of the money God has blessed you with and, at the same time, be a good steward of this beautiful Earth He has created for all of us!

Digging the Duggars,

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