Spring Cleaning vs. Spring Fever!

Stepping outside to greet the days in April, it’s easy to tell the seasons are changing. Here in the Midwest, mornings are still cool and damp. However by midday, brisk breezes and warmth from the sun will have dried up the puddles found in fields and empty gardens. Drifting in through open windows and screen doors is my favorite scent – lilac. The old tree by the garden is covered with blooms that are just beginning to open; today I’ll take time to gather some and bring their fragrance inside. Pausing to listen carefully, I can hear the happy songs of the small peeper frogs in the woods just beyond the fields…they are the chorus that ushers in Spring!

Long before we had phones or watches with weather apps at our fingertips, people paid much closer attention to what nature was telling them about the changing of seasons. Living in a house built in 1864, it’s always fun to do a little detective work…just what weather signs did farmers look for 160 years ago?  

I’ve read that if a rooster crowed before going to bed, it meant there would be rain overnight. Bandito, the bachelor rooster here on the farm, crows all the time: day, night, and in-between. I’m not so sure this is a dependable way of predicting rain! 

It was also said that when crows fly in pairs, the weather will be good; however, one flying alone means an approaching storm. This saying is one that just may ring true. Last week I spotted a pair of crows flying as if they had no particular place to go. As I watched them a bit longer, they seemed to simply be enjoying the sunrise…they flew up, then down, and then in continuous lazy circles. And true to the old adage, as time passed, the clouds took on an unbelievable color, the sky became blue, and we were treated to an incredible sunset.  

However, as tempting as it is to be outdoors, I am reminded there’s still much that needs doing indoors. Yes, Spring Cleaning is in full swing here on the farm and it’s been an ongoing adventure since February. Why start so early? Because I know if I don’t begin then, I’ll never finish. It’s undeniable – this old house has too many nooks and crannies that need attention. 

For a task such as this (when it’s obvious spring fever is winning out over spring cleaning), I’ve found it’s best to have a good friend to share the progress with. For me, that friend is Kay. 

When the kids were young, as soon as I dropped them off at school they would race to the playground. While I waited for school to begin, I chatted with Kay. Born and raised in a 4th generation dairy farming family, she and I soon discovered we enjoyed many of the same things. We’d catch-up on what was new at home or how we’d spent the weekend, then talk about plans for our summer gardens. She’d share pictures of the new calves born on the farm, and I’d laugh and ask her if she would sneak one out for me! After a nice long visit, we’d both feel ready to dive into our daily To-Do Lists. Years later, after our kids began college, we continued to catch up about this-and-that, and still cheer each other on as once again Spring Cleaning time arrives. 

And so, armed with an assortment of items guaranteed to make our homes sparkle and shine, the days are spent moving from room to room tackling everything from dust bunnies to endless stacks of paper that have become a vertical filing system.

Throughout the days my friend and I keep each other motivated:

“I’m getting rid of clutter and clearing out a bedroom today!” she excitedly shares with me. 

“That’s great! I’m tackling paperwork.” I tell her. “I think I can just about see the bottom of the desk.”

Later in the week I may hear: “Today I started going through the closets organizing and collecting things to donate.”

While I update her, “Yay! I’m sorting and packing up books to deliver to the library.”

Back and forth we go, encouraging one another while sharing our success as a job is crossed off our lists. What a blessing to have such a friend.

One of the joys of April is that it’s finally warm enough to replace cozy flannel sheets with cooler, cotton ones. At night there’s just nothing that compares to curling up under freshly-washed sheets and quilts that have been dried in the fresh air and sunshine.

Like so many of you, I’m trying to be more Green in my Spring Cleaning, and I’ve found that making my own laundry soap is not only simple, it makes me feel good knowing just what the ingredients are: here’s how I make mine:

Laundry Soap

65-oz. box Borax

2-lb. box baking soda

55-oz. box washing soda

10-12-oz. bar laundry soap, grated

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl; stir well to blend. Store in a covered container. Use up to 1/4 cup depending on the size of your laundry load.

A note: if you use warm or hot water, Borax will become partially converted to hydrogen peroxide, so be sure to wash dark or colored clothes in cool or cold water. 

Many people customize this basic recipe by adding scented laundry beads, powdered stain remover, Epsom Salts, and some choose not to include Borax – change it up however you’d like so it works best for you and your family. I use bars of soap handmade by a friend who has some incredible fragrances…this week I made laundry soap using Cranberry & Fig! 

And because vinegar can kill bacteria, it’s always handy for cleaning. I have to admit though, as much as I love what vinegar can do, I’m definitely not crazy about the smell right after using it. Recently a friend shared her secret with me – add some citrus peel to a quart of vinegar and let it sit in the sun for about a week. Remove the peel (run vinegar through cheesecloth if some pesky pulp remains) mix one part vinegar to three parts water. Add some drops of essential oil (I used orange peel so I added orange marmalade oil), stir well, and pour into a spray bottle. Now when I clean, I have vinegar with a fresh orange scent! 

It’s easy to be tempted into trying the latest new-fangled cleaning gadgets, but I still think the best tried & true tips for Green cleaning haven’t really changed…they prove that Grandma knew best. An old-fashioned corn broom, metal dustpan, cotton dust mop, lamb’s wool duster, and wool sponge will last for years.

Handy, toss-in wool dryer balls reduce static, shorten drying time, and are made to last for 1,000 loads!

Vintage swirl and speckled enamelware buckets are hardworking, plus they have a fun pop of color. And when Spring Cleaning is all wrapped up, they look terrific year ‘round!

This pretty 1940’s robin’s-egg blue enamelware piece was found for a song at a barn sale, and it’s just right for storing homemade laundry soap. 

Baking soda is a pantry staple that’s also a great deodorizer, and sprinkling coarse salt on a breadboard then scrubbing with a lemon half fights bacteria and helps lighten stains. 

Sometimes on a beautiful Spring day I’ll slip outside and find a comfortable chair – you know, the springy 1950’s ones? Soon I’m listening to the birds singing and the bees buzzing, and if I’m not careful, I’ll become drowsy.

Not to worry, as always, breaking the silence is the loud crowing of Bandito which immediately snaps me to attention. Time to get back to work – as Kay reminds me, if we tackle a little each day, by the time the spring flowers are blooming, we can joyfully trade spring cleaning for spring fever! 

I couldn’t end April’s post without a heartfelt thank-you for all of your kind comments welcoming me as your Rural Farmgirl. I am beyond happy to be able to “meet” all of you…it’s as if we’re neighbors chatting over the backyard fence!

  1. Ladybug loves lilacs says:

    Lilacs are my most favorite flower and scent! They take me back to my childhood and time spent with my aunt. She filled the emptiness losing my grandma at an early age left in me. She had a huge lilac bush just outside her back door and it perfumed the whole house when she left the windows open. We use the same recipe for laundry detergent. I enjoy making my own cleaners. I have heard if there are carpenter bees around and you spray the undiluted orange and vinegar mixture on the places they like, for us it is a decorative wooden frame around our garage door, they will leave. We are giving that a try this year.
    I love your beautiful quilt on the line. Did you make it?
    Thank you for sharing your days!

    • Mary Murray says:

      Agreed! I love the scent, and it passes all too soon. I’m thinking I’ll plant some that bloom at different times so I can hold onto that fragrance just a little longer! Isn’t it amazing the memories lilacs can bring back? I have similar childhood memories that are close to my heart. Thanks for the tip about the vinegar/orange spray, let me know if it works for you! Thank you so much – the 9-patch quilt pattern is my favorite, but no, I didn’t make this one. I was lucky to find it at a local vintage shop and I just felt like it needed to come home with me!

      Thanks so much for stopping by,
      Mary

  2. Debbie Fischer says:

    What a Beautiful Quilt and such a wonderful find.
    I love the smell of Lilac and I miss my Lilac bush at my old house. So when I can find them I will buy a Lilac Candles to remind me of the bush and enjoy the scent throughout the house.
    I have made the Laundry soap and it is great and yes I love cleaning with Vinegar but I certain will add some orange scent to it thank you for sharing the tip.
    Thank you for another interesting column see you next month!

    • Mary Murray says:

      Hi Debbie, it’s great to find a vintage piece that “needs a home” especially when the price is just right. Oh I agree…there are some terrific lilac candles – that’s a really good way to bring Spring indoors! I hope you like the vinegar fragrance…I haven’t tried it, but I’ve seen lilac essential oil. I have tried lavender, peppermint, and hyacinth and really liked them. Let me know what you try…thanks for visiting!

      Mary

  3. Krista Butters Davis says:

    Your spring cleaning sounds like it’s off to a great start. I haven’t been very productive with mine quite yet, but I have cleared out a few shirts from my closet and passed them on to a friend. So it’s a start. My spring fever is in overdrive. I would love to start making my own laundry soap, but I haven’t moved onto that adventure yet. I have a bigger family with lots of laundry, so I worry about making a big mess out of it lol! I also use vinegar a lot with my cleaning, but I never thought to add another scent. I will have to give that a try sometime. Thanks for sharing some of your tips for cleaning.

    • Mary Murray says:

      Hi Krista, so glad to hear from you…I’ve been wanting to tell you how lovely the card was you sent for membership renewal…love the vintage look!

      That’s okay…some days are better than others when it comes to the To-Do List, the days can get busy and they fly by. And passing your shirts on to a friend is a great start! If you try the laundry soap, drop me a note…truly, you’ll do just fine, the “hardest” part is finding a bowl big enough to stir it all up in!

      Mary

  4. Karen Martell says:

    I love the smell of lilacs! I have a Korean Lilac outside of my craft room window. The fragrance from the blooms, along with the sounds of little birds that land in the tree create a heavenly gift for the senses when the window is open, which is almost always while the tree is blooming. Thank you for a glimpse into your world! I may, too, need to find a buddy to keep me accountable in my spring cleaning. Thank you for sharing the recipes for the clothes soap and cleaner. 🙂
    Smiles to you!

    • Mary Murray says:

      Thanks for your note, Karen! I just read up on the Korean Lilacs, they bloom after mine…just what I need so I can enjoy the fragrance even longer. I’ll see if I can find one locally, thanks for the tip! Yes, having a friend to keep me motivated is really helpful, some days I just need a little nudge…and it’s not a “Misery loves company” feeling, we’re echoing Rosie The Riveter: We Can Do It! You’re welcome for the recipes, they’re so simple to make, let me know if you try them.

      Mary

  5. Dori Troutman says:

    Hi Mary!!! I couldn’t love this post more!!! My favorite thing EVER is that enamelware pitcher and the cup!!! What an absolutely perfect thing for home-made laundry soap. It’s just the sweetest!

    Oh… and that quilt! Sigh….

    Hugs,

    Dori

    • Mary Murray says:

      Thanks Dori! You’re so kind, thanks for cheering me on! I love it when I can find something vintage and the price is right…and that robin’s egg blue is my absolute favorite color! I’m lucky to have some shops nearby where the owners just want the items to find a good home…they’re the nicest folks. Thanks for visiting!

      Mary

  6. TheCrankyCrow says:

    What is it about lilacs that are so absolutely nostalgic? Their scent time travels me back to our family farm (that was my mother’s family’s before my mom and dad purchased it when my grandfather passed) in a whiff. The entire back yard was overgrown with them…a literal lilac jungle. I don’t have a jungle here but I do have several of the old fashioned ones, a dark French one, and a couple of Miss Kim’s/Korean ones. While I like the Korean ones for being blooming later – and being pink – they don’t seem as fragrant as the others. That quilt is just stunning – red and white quilts are my favorites. Spring cleaning hasn’t happened here yet…wish I had a buddy system for motivation like you do! Lovely post! ~Robin~

    • Mary Murray says:

      Robin, thanks for stopping to say Hi! Oh I would LOVE a lilac jungle…I’ll see if I can find a French Lilac to plant, thanks for letting me know you like that particular one. And I couldn’t agree more…lilacs take me back to my childhood and my grandmother’s home. For me, they have a fragrance that seems to bring back thoughts of sweeter, gentler times.

      You can think of us as your buddy system for spring cleaning…rest assured that while you’re doing yours, we’re all doing exactly the same thing – chasing dust bunnies before they take over the house!

      Mary

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