So Organized. So Thrifty. So…Locked In.

The ladder to the attic room.
The ladder to the attic room.

I don’t know why my brain picked the day before Thanksgiving to go on an organizing spree. It needed to happen, though. Sofia’s box for too-small clothes was piled with enough clothes to fill more than another box of the same size. On the shelf in her closet, Niko’s too-small clothes were threatening to topple down onto the floor (I keep them in Sofia’s room so that Niko doesn’t have a panic attack when he can’t have the clothes). I had maternity and too-big nursing tops cluttering the floor in our closet. And I was pretty sure that there was a tub of clothes in our tiny attic room that should fit my amazing shrinking body by now. The job needed to be done, and today was the day the clutter suddenly became more than I could handle.

While Niko was at preschool, I leaned the ladder against the wall and started carrying up tubs of baby clothes from the garage. When we moved to Oregon, I’d been pregnant with Sofia, and we didn’t yet know her gender. So most of Niko’s baby clothes had made the trip with us. My plan was to use the little attic room to sort all the baby clothes into boy/girl and summer/winter so I could take a load to the nearest Kid to Kid, a store that buys used baby and children’s clothing and resells it at extremely reasonable prices. I’ve been passing Niko’s bigger clothes on to a friend whose little boy wears clothes a year or two behind Niko’s sizes, but they don’t need the baby clothes. Time for the clothes — and me —  to move on.

After lunch, Niko and Sofie napped while I carried up the rest of the clothes. That is, Niko continued to nap while Sofia woke up. After determining that she wasn’t going back to sleep, I carried her up the ladder with me. There’s no barrier around the opening to the attic, so I dropped the rectangle of sheetrock back down over the opening. It dropped a little lower than I was expecting, but that didn’t worry me too much; I had other things on my mind. I busily rearranged boxes, moved clothes from their temporary home in a laundry basket into a more permanent box, and tried on old clothes, while Sofia explored her new surroundings.

The feeling of having pre-baby…pre-FIRST-baby… clothes from five years ago slide comfortably back onto my body was enough to make me dance. I was pretty pleased with myself. Here I was, getting ready to contribute to a community of thrifty clothing-swapping families, making a little money on the side. My old clothes fit again. Downstairs, a nice box of clothes was ready to give to a friend. I was so organized. So thrifty. So… Hmmmm. Where was my phone? Shouldn’t I be photographing all this thrift and organization? For that matter, was Niko REALLY still sleeping, or could I just not hear him? Maybe it was time to go back downstairs, find my phone, confirm the continuation of the nap, and then finish organizing.

I reached for the sheetrock.


Well, that was inconvenient.

The rectangle fit perfectly into the opening. This was not a problem when coming up the ladder; I could just give it a push and lift it out of the way. Getting out? Well, that was a problem. There were no finger-sized gaps. I tried prying at it with an old driver’s license. The license bent; the sheetrock didn’t budge.

I began analyzing our survival chances. No window up here; pretty warm and stuffy. We wouldn’t burn through the oxygen, though, would we? Surely there must be some ventilation somewhere? I hadn’t brought up any water. I could nurse Sofie…but only for so long, without water. I knocked tentatively on the sheetrock. Aaron was home, but probably not in hearing range. How long before he came looking for us? I knocked louder. Sofia stared expectantly at me.

I decided to think a little more proactively. Aaron had no way of knowing we were stuck. I needed to get that sheetrock up myself. What I needed was not something to pry, but a hook. Surely, in this still-cluttered room, there must be something usable. Something…like…Of course! A hanger! I grabbed a hanger with a metal hook from a nearby box, stuck the hook into the slim crack, gave it a half turn, and lifted. The sheetrock rose as if it and the hanger had been practicing this routine for years. And there, looking up, was Aaron’s puzzled face. “Did you lock yourself in?” he inquired.

The whole ordeal took maybe two minutes. All I can say is, thank goodness for clutter in the right place at the right time, and for a husband who notices when his wife is missing — though I’m pretty proud of rescuing myself this time.

Nicole’s Magic Stain Remover

For about a year and a half now, I’ve been frustrated by my failure to perfectly clean Aaron’s white dress shirts. I’ve attributed this failure to harder water in our new home. It could also be that Aaron’s favorite shirts, which have a special coating to keep them wrinkle-free, are losing their protective coating and thus picking up more dirt. Either way, it’s been driving me crazy, as you can read in my recent post “Who Can Find a Virtuous Laundress?

I had nearly settled on a sort-of-okay stain remover made by blending Resolve Spray & Wash with borax to make a paste, and spreading it over the pre-sprayed dirty collars. This was better than spraying alone, but still left a shadow of a stain. I wasn’t exactly content, but I didn’t know what else to do.

And then Aaron’s aunt and uncle dropped by for an overnight visit, and we got talking about laundry and stains. I told our aunt what I’d tried and how disappointed I was in the results, and she said, “Oh, you need to try Nicole’s stain remover! It’s amazing. It will get anything out.” She texted her daughter Nicole a request for the recipe, and Nicole immediately sent it.

She explained that Nicole, a talented artist, had learned how to make a mixture in an art class to transfer a print from photo to canvas or paper, allowing the artist to combine the mediums of paint and photography.  Nicole, who is astute and who also values clean laundry, quickly recognized its potential as a stain remover. When I asked Nicole about it, she explained that the original recipe had included just dish detergent (Dawn, she says: it does matter), baking soda, and hydrogen peroxide, and Nicole’s addition of a natural cleaner called Citrasolv had elevated the spray to the level of a magical cleaning elixir.

Last weekend, I eagerly gathered my supplies. I already had some Dawn dish soap, and I buy baking soda in bulk, so all I needed was peroxide and Citrisol. I’d never heard of it before, but I found it easily in the cleaning aisle of our favorite grocery store.  In a larger place, the Citrasolv would probably be with the natural cleaners.

Ingredients for Nicole's Magical Eraser Laundry Spray
Ingredients for Nicole’s Magical Eraser Laundry Spray

Mixing it was fun, like a science experiment without a final exam at the end. The peroxide and Dawn turned sparkly with tiny bubbles. By the time I’d measured and added the concentrated Citrasolv — which turned the mixture opaque — the dish soap and peroxide had already mixed themselves. The baking soda added to the bubbles, which quickly died down to leave a pretty, pale-green mixture with a heavenly scent of orange. I poured the mixture into an empty laundry spray bottle.

It wasn’t long before I had my first experimental laundry ready: a load of diapers. In addition to the ones that, as usual, were in serious need of cleaning, I had some that were just starting to look a tiny bit grungy after 11 months of use. To make sure I knew which ones I’d used the spray on and which were extra-dirty versus just grungy, I attached green ribbon (for extra-dirty) and blue ribbon to the snaps on the diaper covers and inner pads. (I use BumGenius pocket diapers, which have size-adjusting snaps on both the outer covers and the absorbent terrycloth pads.) Then, I washed them as usual, using the Sanitary cycle on my machine with a pre-wash and an extra rinse. By the way: feel free to thank me for not including a “before” photo of those diapers.  Just trust me. They were dirty.

For the last few months — since solid food started (parents of babies will understand what I’m talking about) — I’ve found it necessary to also run a “Quick Wash” cycle on the clean diapers to get rid of residual odor. The first thing I noticed when I opened the washer, after doing a load of diapers in which just two covers and three pads were sprayed with the new spray, was that the entire load smelled like fresh oranges. They didn’t just smell clean. They smelled GOOD, making it unnecessary to run another cycle. And I can’t be sure, but I think that some of the diapers that were starting to show just a bit of grunge but that were not sprayed with the new cleaner, looked fresher and whiter. It seemed to me that the whole load, not just the ones with the new treatment, was cleaner after using the spray on just five items. And the ones I’d sprayed were perfect. Not a stain in sight.

I was pretty happy with the diapers. However, they weren’t really my focus. They’ve always come very clean. I think it’s because after rinsing and spraying them with stain remover, they have time to sit in the Diaper Genie, letting the Spray & Wash work away until they’re put in the laundry. Aaron’s shirts, my real cause of distress, never have a chance to soak. And they have been remaining stubbornly less than perfectly white. I had my chance to try the stain remover with one on Saturday. I sprayed. I washed. I dried. I pulled the shirt out…examined it…and…


That is one clean shirt.

It’s white. It’s crisp. It practically glows with cleanliness. It. Is. Beautiful.

So. Do you want the recipe? Of course you do. Here it is:

Mix two parts peroxide with one part Dawn (Nicole says yes, it really has to be Dawn) dish soap. Add two capfuls of concentrated Citrasolv and two tablespoons of baking soda. I used a 22-ounce bottle to hold the spray, so my amounts translated to 7 ounces of Dawn, 14 ounces of peroxide, 1 1/2 tablespoons of Citrasolv, and 2 tablespoons of baking soda.

A few notes about this spray:

1. Nicole warned me that if it’s used on dyed natural fabrics like cotton or wool, it can cause bleeding or fading. I didn’t have any pure natural fabrics that were colored to experiment on, but I had some blends. I used the spray on some tempera paint on Niko’s jeans and on a food stain on a pair of Sofia’s pants, both a cotton-polyester fabric. I also used it on a white cotton cardigan of Sofia’s that was looking a little grungy. My worry with this one wasn’t that it might bleed or fade, obviously, but that it might cause something else in the laundry to do so and thus become discolored. All three of these items were just fine — stain-free, with no bleeding, fading, or color transfer. I’m pretty sure the fact that the darker ones were blends accounts for their colorfastness. And Sofia’s cardigan was in the load of delicates, which rarely has anything dark in it anyway. So, although I haven’t experienced it firsthand, Nicole’s advice still stands: It’s best not to use it on a colored natural fabric unless you’re prepared for the consequences.

2. The spray is a bit foamy. What this meant for me was that the empty Resolve Spray & Wash container had a hard time spraying it. After several good squirts, it would give up working and only send out some halfhearted bubbles. This was easily fixable by taking out the spray straw, inserting it into some water, and spraying until water replaced the bubbles completely. Then it would keep spraying the cleaner for some time. Of course, putting in another nozzle and straw was even easier. I had three empties on hand, so that worked well for me. You could also use a bowl and sponge. Not with diapers, though. No double-dipping there!

3. When I stored it in my garage, it overflowed. It made a mess on the shelf and I lost quite a bit. (On a positive note: That shelf is REALLY clean now.) I didn’t  see it happening, but I think it rose up through the straw and out the nozzle. I suspect that loosening the nozzle so that there’s air flow inside the bottle might be the solution, but I haven’t had time to experiment with this with a full bottle. You could also stand the bottle inside a plastic container so as not to have to worry about mess. (Update: I made a giant batch in a big 72-ounce bottle with an ordinary screw cap, and the bottle swelled up before finally overflowing. So yes, set the bottle in a container to catch overflow.)

4. I’m updating this post after a couple of months of using the spray to add that it seems to lose a bit of effectiveness in a large batch. I’ve come to the conclusion that the foaminess I noted in #2 above is a result of a small chemical reaction, not just suds, and that this reaction is necessary for the cleaner to be highly effective. Once the reaction stops, the stains don’t lift in quite the same amazing way, though it’s still pretty good.

5. One more detail for cloth diaperers, with an advance apology for grossness: you MUST rinse the dirty diapers before spraying, even if there’s only a little bit of residue left after tipping the…uh…solid waste into the toilet. The spray seems to need complete contact with the fabric to work. I found this out the hard way. Yuck.

Other than these considerations, this spray is amazing. It is the bee’s knees. It works better than commercially available laundry sprays; it smells delightful; and it’s fun (and inexpensive) to make. Thank you, Nicole, for sharing your recipe, and a big thanks as well to Nicole’s mom for passing the idea on to me!

Who Can Find a Virtuous Laundress?

It haunts me with unrelenting persistence, this pursuit of laundry perfection.

My laundry list: Niko’s mud-stained, grass-stained, who-knows-what-else-stained jeans and shirts emerge from the washing machine victorious, pristine. Sofia’s grubby-kneed pants and sticky sleeves are as new when the laundry is done. Unspeakably soiled diapers? Pure as the Snow Queen’s gleaming white hair. And then come Aaron’s work shirts. They’re nearly perfect when they go into the washing machine, really. He’s a tidy, order-loving person who never spills food or smudges ink. But the collars, of course, after being worn all day in the heat of a California drought (he travels often for work), are – forgive me, Aaron – not quite as flawless as they could be. And, since moving to Oregon, when they come out of the wash, they remain not quite flawless.

Back in Anchorage, I would spritz the collars with laundry stain remover, toss them into the washer on the delicate cycle, and pull them out again, spotless. It was one of my few areas of housekeeping pride. Dishes may have been unwashed, floor may have had a bit of dust, laundry remained unfolded for days, but by golly, those shirts were clean. Every time. I would hold one up, note the gleaming white collar, and feel a warm glow of pride. Did it again! That is one clean shirt!

In Oregon, the laundry routine has been the same, and the washing machine is an updated version of the same model. But the shirts no longer have the incandescent whiteness of a beautifully laundered shirt. And my pride has suffered as a result. Oh, how it’s suffered.

When this began, I turned, naturally, to Google, and discovered that hard water can lessen the effectiveness of laundry detergent. Borax, I read, can soften the water and get clothes cleaner. Naturally I rushed to Target and bought a monster box of the stuff. I started shaking some into each load. It helped, but not enough. Aaron’s shirt collars were still notable for their imperfection. But I was out of energy. I was pregnant with Sofia, growing more uncomfortable every day, and miserable in the unfamiliar summer heat reaching past the 90s and into three-digit temperatures. Grudgingly, I settled for almost good enough. But it still disturbed me.

I know, of course, why this bothers me so much. This one area of housekeeping success has been my token of the Virtuous Woman.

I remember joining the other teenaged girls in a chorus as we recited Proverbs 31, demonstrating our willingness to embrace virtue as well as our skill at memorization: “Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies. The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil…Her husband is known in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders of the land…She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness.” We were relaxing in our Sunday School teacher’s living room on a Sunday morning, preparing to read from our slim navy hardcover book — Beautiful Girlhood, it was called — about staying modest, wearing hose at all times, being sure our knees (better yet, ankles) were covered, and — above all — being sure that, should our vanity lead us to wear makeup, we be sure to remove it each night, lest unsightly leftover makeup mark us as undesirable.

We didn’t take most of it too seriously — while we lived in a Christian commune, our style was as modern as budget and the knee-and-cleavage-covering dress code allowed. After the requisite reading from the book each Sunday, the rest of our 45-minute pre-church session was mostly spent giggling and chattering, mostly about the old-fashioned suggestions in our book. But the virtue part — that stuck, for me, anyway. We heard it in so many ways as we grew up. None of us doubted that we’d someday have a husband. Each of us firmly believed we’d be an excellent wife. Hadn’t we been cooking for scores of people at each meal since we were old enough to reach the counter with a stepstool? Didn’t we take frequent sewing classes? Spend untold hours each summer gardening, harvesting, canning? Yes, we would be the epitome of Virtuous Women.

Of the girls in that group, only one remains on the commune. Our beliefs have evolved — even the beliefs of the one who’s still there, though her beliefs probably look a little more commune-traditional than mine. We no longer feel anxious if our knees are revealed; we know our virtue isn’t dependent on marriage. And yet, for me at least, the need to prove my womanliness remains.

If this were an inspirational novel or memoir, I’d have had an epiphany accompanying my realization of the source of my obsession with those shirt collars. I’d have realized that an obsession rooted in an over-religious upbringing might not be what I need for a guiding life principal. But I just can’t let those shirt collars go. How can my husband be praised in the gates, if his shirt collars are grimy?

Now that Sofia is nearly a year old and has fewer tummy troubles, thus being less needy and giving me a bit more time for frivolous obsessions, the urge to assert my status as a Woman of Virtue is rising again. Over the last month or so, I’ve tried a couple of solutions. One week, I tried making a mixture of borax, Spray & Wash, and a bit of  water to combine them, and I spread the paste over the collars. It actually left the shirts less white than before. Not the desired outcome.

The next week, I sprayed the collars with stain remover first, then spread the same paste over the damp cloth. Victory! Well, almost. I could still see the shadows of stains, but it was so much better than it had been that I decided cleanliness had been satisfactorily attained. All I needed to do was to write a post and hit “publish”, and I would officially be a Virtuous Woman again. I wasn’t entirely pleased, but it was… well, it was close enough, right?

Then, Aaron’s aunt and uncle came by for an overnight visit. Over dinner, I happened to mention my search for the perfect stain remover. “You need Nicole’s recipe,” our aunt said. “It’s like magic. It will get absolutely anything out. She used it to get three-year-old paint stains out of a jacket.” And, because she could see how excited I was over this magical concoction, she texted her daughter Nicole, who promptly texted back with the recipe.

I can’t even tell you how ridiculously thrilled I am about this new stain remover. In my next post, I’ll give the recipe and tell how effective it is. (Spoiler: It’s VERY effective.)

Pumpkin Carving

On Niko’s birthday, we visited Liepold Farms in Boring, about 45 minutes away from our home, and brought home several pumpkins: a big one and two littles for carving, plus a few decorative ones. This weekend was rainy and chilly, and we decided it was a perfect time for carving.

Pumpkin Haul
Pumpkin Haul

I picked up some carving kits at Fred Meyer. I like using them rather than a knife because they’re very small, just right for detail work, and have sturdy handles for Niko to hold. These ones came with a book of patterns. Most of them were a bit scary, not good for a little boy who has nightmares at the drop of a hat, but there was one called “Captain Cat” that I decided we could use. I found two others online at Nest of Posies. This year I didn’t feel like designing my own pattern – maybe some other year!

Niko was so excited to be allowed to cut. Last year he was only able to scoop out seeds, but this year I let him do the cutting for the simpler curves while I guided the direction of the blade. He was sooooo careful. Of course, he had a blast scooping out the slimy innards as well. He was amazed that there were “spider webs” inside the pumpkins.

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The Fred Meyer carving kit came with instructions that were a bit different than I’ve seen before. Instead of engraving or perforating the pumpkin’s skin to transfer the design, they recommended wetting the paper, smoothing it onto the pumpkin, and then covering it with cling wrap. I was intrigued and decided it couldn’t hurt to try. In addition, I wiped down the pumpkins with bleach water to reduce mold growth. See my steps below:

It worked fairly well. Aaron, who carved the Captain Cat pumpkin, said the cling wrap got in the way when he tried to cut small details, so he pulled it off and just left the wet paper on. The other designs were much simpler. I did find just a few spots where the cling wrap stretched rather than cutting smoothly – I just inserted the knife further along the design and cut toward the original cut. I think if I’d been the one doing the large cat design, the paper would have dried up and started peeling before I had finished. Aaron is efficient and fast. He had his done before I’d done the other two, and he started later. To be fair, I was doing mine with Niko’s “help,” and had to stop to feed Sofia and put her down for a nap. Anyway. If you can work fast, taking the cling wrap off is probably fine – otherwise, I recommend leaving it on. I found it was much neater and faster than the engraving or perforating method.

Here are the final products! Not bad for a four-year-old, a distracted mom of a nursing baby coming down with a cold (both of us), and a dad in the middle of cooking a meal.

Headband Holder

Of course, there’s a backstory…

Finished headband holder, serving its purpose of taming frilly bows.
Finished headband holder, serving its purpose of taming frilly bows.

I planned this headband holder for Sofia’s hair accessories some time ago because,while I never feel she has quite enough of the things, they were bursting from their modest little box like the tentacles of a frilly, pastel squid. I had seen a picture of a similar one on a friend’s Facebook page and thought, I could do that. I made sure that the next time we needed oatmeal, I bought a canister instead of getting it in bulk, as I usually do. The canister sat like a cardboard judge in Sofia’s closet for months after that, mutely accusing me of falling into my typical habit of starting projects and never finishing them. It was eventually joined by a heavy glass candle holder I found for 40% off at Target, just the right size to hold the oatmeal canister. Together, their recriminating glares made me cringe every time I opened the door. But I just didn’t have the time to make the project. It would involve, for one thing, going to Jo-Ann Fabrics with a potentially grouchy baby and a preschooler. Jo-Ann has tiny carts, barely big enough for one child to sit in, certainly not adequate for a baby carrier in addition to a lanky 3-year-old.

Meanwhile, I slowly worked my way through the last few boxes of nonessentials that had come over from the rental house we’d lived in our first year here in Oregon. I noted the reemergence of my glue gun and observed that the contents of my ribbon box included some of just the right color. All that was missing was the fabric. And I really, really was not interested in making a pilgrimage to one of my favorite stores accompanied by two small people with a total of four grabby arms and four unpredictably wiggling legs and two sets of lungs and vocal cords and hungry tummies. So. The various components of the project sat, silently judging, while the headbands continued to spiral inexorably from the box. We were at an impasse.

And then. And then. And THEN. Oh my. My darling, my beloved firstborn, who persists in being taller than I can ever manage to remember, got a pair of scissors from the dresser in the master bedroom (I swear last time I looked at him he couldn’t reach the top of it), and experimented with them in our closet. Aaron’s clothes bore the brunt of the experimental snips. He lost a pair of really nice dress pants, a pair of linen pants, and an expensive triathlon suit.

Aaron wasn’t there for the pillage of the closet. He travels as a consultant and is gone during the week. I texted him to tell him what had happened and to ask if he wanted me to attempt to salvage the linen pants by trimming them into shorts. He declined. “Just throw them out. They’re ruined.”

Aaron is not an optimist.

I, however, had already noted what a nice color the pants were. How well they would coordinate with the pale coral and soft green of Sofia’s room. How sturdy, how adaptable the fabric. And of course I did not throw them away.

Making the project…

First I slit the leg of the pants along one seam. I trimmed the bottom hem off – it

The trimmed pant leg, ready to be glued on.
The trimmed pant leg, ready to be glued on.

was scrunched a bit, and I really didn’t need it. Then I laid the oatmeal canister on the fabric and measured off enough fabric along the leg to cover its length twice, and cut that much off the pant leg. I centered the canister on the back seam and wrapped the fabric around it, trimming enough from both sides that it would overlap by an inch or two on the front. That gave me just the right amount of fabric to cover the outside and the inside of the can.

Next, I drizzled a line of hot glue along the length of the oatmeal can, and placed it on the fabric so that the bottom was about an inch from the bottom of the fabric, and the glue was lined up with the seam in the fabric. Making sure I was leaving enough fabric to overlap, I folded over the edge of one side of the fabric and glued it down to make a finished edge for the top. Then I squeezed glue all the way around the top and bottom of the can and rolled it over the fabric, toward the unfinished edge first and then toward the finished edge. With the finished edge on top, I just needed one more line of glue to tack it down so it overlapped the unfinished edge. Then I tucked the excess fabric down into the can so there was no cardboard showing.

In order to be able to have easy access to barrettes as well as headbands, I used

Covered with fabric and mounted on the pedestal with dangling ribbons.
Covered with fabric and mounted on the pedestal with dangling ribbons.

the glue gun to tack six lengths of narrow coral ribbon to the glass base, evenly spaced around the perimeter. A hefty squeeze of glue around the top of the glass base, right on top of the ribbons, secured the fabric-covered can to the pedestal.

I chose three colors of grosgrain ribbon (the kind that’s coarsely woven and sturdy, rather than being satiny). The coral is just a few shades brighter than the paint we used on Sofia’s wall, and the green and blue came from nursery accessories Sofia inherited from Niko. I had removed the ribbons from storage boxes and replaced them with coral ribbon to make them more girly. Now they were coming in handy to help tie this new item in with the

Complete with colorful ribbons to finish off the edges.
Complete with colorful ribbons to finish off the edges.

rest of the room. I overlapped all three shades at the top, with the green in the center. Just as I had done with the fabric, I folded over one end of each ribbon and tacked it down with glue to make a more finished look. At the base I used more coral to cover the unfinished edge. Then I made a pretty, but simple, bow from the green ribbon. Making it as flat as possible, I glued it onto the green ribbon on the can, and tacked down the ends and the loops so they wouldn’t get in the way of the headbands I wanted to put onto the can.

The finished headband holder, serving its destined purpose of taming rebellious headbands.
The finished headband holder, serving its destined purpose of taming rebellious headbands.

The stretchy elastic headbands go around the can nicely. Barrettes dangle from the ribbon. Later, plastic, open-ended headbands can hang over the sides. If I need to, I can use the inside for more storage.

And that’s it. All done in the space of one nap time. I do believe that’s the best ending ever to a story of a preschooler on the rampage with scissors.

Oatmeal Bath Soak

Sofia is suffering from her first-ever real diaper rash. She’s 9 months old and, unlike her brother (who had some incredible rashes that would have had me in a panic if my NICU-nurse husband hadn’t known exactly what to do), has always had soft, smooth skin. She’s had temporary redness on occasion, but never full-blown rash – until now. And, true to the old adage that it never rains but it pours, Niko is having a now-rare eczema outbreak – he had them frequently in Alaska, but his skin has cleared up significantly since moving to Oregon. It’s pretty mild, but I’d like to take care of it before it escalates.

So, it’s time to whip up a batch of oatmeal bath soak! My recipe is based on the ingredient list from a number of (ridiculously expensive) soaks I purchased or was given back when Niko was just tiny. Mine is actually a bit more effective, I think, than the ones I purchased, and costs me quite a bit less. I used it with a lot of success when Niko was in the diaper rash stage, as well as when he was breaking out frequently with eczema on his face.

The first step is to visit a store with a good bulk section to stock up on some herbs and other ingredients. For a small batch like I’m doing today, I use about ½ cup each of calendula flowers, comfrey leaves (you could also use the flowers), and lavender buds. Usually I also add about ½ cup each of powdered goat’s milk and powdered buttermilk. I’m not putting them into this batch because Sofia is very sensitive to dairy in her diet (well, my diet, since she’s nursing), and I’d rather not find out the hard way if she’s also sensitive to it on her skin. I always have oatmeal on hand, but if you don’t, look for it in the bulk section too. Get some baking soda in bulk as well – you need about ¼ cup of it, and it costs much less in bulk than getting it in the grocery section. (I use it in so many things, like room freshener and laundry stain remover, that I always keep lots on hand.) Finally, I like to add a few drops of lavender essential oil. You can find it fairly easily in the “natural” section of many grocery stores. It gives the soak a pleasant smell, and it adds to the healing effect.

Ingredients for bath soak
Ingredients for bath soak

Next, it’s time to get the ingredients into a workable form. I start by dumping about 2 cups of oatmeal into a blender. It needs to be processed until it’s a fine powder, known as colloidal oatmeal. To make sure it blends evenly, I stop the blender periodically and shake it down. When it is soft and silky feeling, it’s done.

Now I blend the dried herbs. I pour them all in together, about ½ cup of each, and give them a good whirl. They blend more easily than the oatmeal, but it still takes some time to get them to a fine powder. It doesn’t work well to process them with the oatmeal, because the textures are so different. You end up with big chunks of dried herbs, which is unattractive and tends to clog the drain.

Finally, I mix the oat flour, powdered herbs, and ¼ cup each of baking soda and corn starch together, as well as the buttermilk and goat’s milk powders if I’m using them. Shake 4-5 drops of lavender oil over the mixture and mix again. Store it in a sturdy ziplock bag or a glass jar that seals. Don’t overdo the lavender: it can be quite strong, and you don’t want your home to reek like a perfumerie for the next six months.

There are two ways to use it in the tub. When I was first making it, I would dump it right in to the water. It made a sludgy mess, and I would have to scrub the tub afterward, but it worked just fine.

Then I got the idea to use cheesecloth sachets. I just toss the bag into the water as the tub is filling, and leave it in during the bath. The tub still needs to be rinsed, but it’s not nearly as messy. It is a good method for Niko in particular, because his eczema is always on his face, and I can use the sachet like a washcloth and apply the bath soak directly to the problem areas. When the bath is over, I squeeze the water out of the sachet, open it up, and turn it inside out over the trashcan. Then I rinse it in the sink, and it’s ready to use for the next bath. After a couple of baths, or if you know you won’t need it again for awhile, wash it in the delicate cycle. If you don’t want the trouble of washing it out, you could probably use paper tea bags. I’ve seen them in cooking supply stores and in spice and tea shops. They’re easier to find in the fall, when stores are marketing cider spices to simmer in apple juice. I feel like they would be less effective because they wouldn’t allow the oatmeal to disperse as well, and oatmeal is one of the main soothing factors. I haven’t tried it, though.

Soothing bath soak in a cheesecloth sachet
Soothing bath soak in a cheesecloth sachet

Here is the recipe in a more traditional format.

Oatmeal Bath Soak

2 cups oatmeal
½ cup calendula flowers
½ cup comfrey leaves
½ cup lavender buds
½ cup powdered buttermilk
½ cup powdered goat’s milk
¼ cup cornstarch
¼ cup baking soda
4-5 drops lavender essential oil

1. In blender, process oatmeal until it is a fine powder [known as colloidal oatmeal]. Pause frequently to scrape or shake down the sides.
2. Use blender to process calendula flowers, comfrey leaves, and lavender buds into a fine powder.
3. Combine powders with remaining dry ingredients in a mixing bowl or large ziplock bag. Add lavender oil a little at a time to desired scent, mixing thoroughly each time you add some.
4. Store in zipped plastic bag or tightly closed container. Add generous scoop to bath to soothe itchy skin or rash.