In February of 2002, Iz and I moved onto a Seminary campus with our 5 year old son. It was a move made out of necessity and when I’m honest about it, out of desperation. Iz had no job and prospects in his field dissipated after 9/11.  He went from having three promising opportunities with interviews scheduled  on the 10th to being told the jobs just didn’t exist any more. We were bleeding money and our reserves were gone and we were beginning to question how we could stay together.

So, when the Vice President of Admissions personally called to ask if I’d consider her school, I wasn’t in a position to say no. It was actually cheaper for us to go to graduate school in Marin than to stay in our expensive apartment in Dublin. A point she was keen to make. And did she. I’d toured the campus the previous spring so I had some sense of the housing situation. I just had no idea when I agreed to apply that I was going to sink my tiny family into a hell hole. 

You know that old addage, “Beggars can’t be choosers”? Well, that was us the winter of 2002.  We sold off what we could live without (we’re still replacing our entire music collection) and packed the remainder into storage. We said goodbye to our beloved cat (no cats allowed!) and our friends. We were being given the golden opportunity to live in 400 square feet—two rooms and a bath. As  beggars, we were supposed to be darn happy for the chance. 

Part of me was relieved. Seminary, and this pit of an apartment, gave our family a chance to stay together. It was a well known fact that the Seminary would let you build up debt without calling it in. You could live “rent free” until you could pay it off. We had no intention of abusing that system (nor did we!) but the rents alone made sense for us to take the offer.  We were on the brink of financial ruin and we’d already contacted friends who could house us separately if need be. IZ would find work–the boy and I would wait it out with his god-mother in Arizona. To this day, I weep at the thought of it.  

But part of me was devastated. We were moving into a filthy apartment that had no real kitchen! The “sink” was an RV sized thing that backed up when our upstairs neighbors decided to mop their floors. The oven was so tiny, I bought a kid’s play baking sheet so I could make scones and cookies–baked six at a time!  The non-working refrigerator still had a half gallon of rancid milk and the shelves had 3″ of grease build-up on the top of them that smelled faintly of curry mixed with chlorox. I don’t even want to discuss what was growing in the bathroom. And have you ever had to teach a bath loving 5 year old to take a shower? It’s a sad, sad affair, my friends. Wet and sad.  I’d never lived in such a dump and I was ashamed. When my child handed me a used razor blade he found on the floor and said, “Mom, this place is a pit.” I lost it. I sat down on the floor and openly wept.  

Two months prior a dear friend sent me a care-package filled with goodies from L’Occitane. She seemed to sense that my nerves were fraying and I could use some pampering. At the time I didn’t appreciate it. My mind was on making rent not buying expensive soap. As I surveyed the contents I couldn’t help but wonder, “What do I need with linen water?” Seriously? She sent me linen spray?

Who uses linen spray? I don’t iron my sheets. Heck, they’re rarely even folded—instead, fetched just in time from the dryer to make their appearance on my bed. “What, sweetie? You were going to bed? Oh yeah, I left the sheets in the dryer, just a sec. . . ”  I had no idea that linen spray would be my sanity in the coming months. 

It didn’t take me long, looking at rotting milk and left over trash, to get angry. And when I get angry, I clean. So I did the only thing I knew how to do—I began to make that pit our home.  

We’d decided that our child still needed a bedroom, so I deep cleaned that space for him. We set up his bed and unpacked his toys.  I lined shelves and scrubbed cupboards. We managed to move the dead refrigerator onto the “deck” and put our own in its place. I was so peeved I left the milk in it. Maintenance would eventually arrive to cart it off along with the rest of the trash left by the previous tenant.  IZ and I set up desks along one side of the front room. The other side had a tiny dining table and our futon/bed. I mounded our feather bed on top of the lumpy futon, made the bed with fresh sheets sprayed with the L’Occitane linen water that finally made sense. We fell into bed that first night with the knowledge we were together. It was 400 square feet of grime and misery. But our tiny child slept in his own room and we held hands in the night breathing in clean sheets. 

For six months linen water would be my sanity. I would get up each morning, spray my sheets with this ridiculously expensive linen water and then head off to classes and work. It was such a small reminder that my life was not without some luxuries. And each night, I would fall exhausted into bed but transported to another place. On the scent of linen spray, I escaped the pressure of balancing a job 50 miles away, a child not coping with change, a husband overwhelmed with making this work, and the never ending pages waiting to be read. Linen spray, misted on sheets was an embodiment of a simple truth: we were all still together. And together, we were going to be OK. 

That bottle of linen spray is long gone, accidently poured down the sink by a well meaning person during the next move. I no longer need it–but I still love using it. L’Occitane has long since discontinued the product—so, I make my own.  I thought I’d tell you how beneath the fold. Because, you just never know when you might need a reminder that your life is not without some luxuries. 

And take it from me: life seems better when you’re sleeping in sweet smelling sheets.

What you’ll need:

  • A fine mister. I bought this spray bottle at a discount store for .99 but you could recycle a spray bottle if you have one.
  • Purified Water (distilled.) You can get this at the supermarket for under a dollar.
  • Fragrance oil of your choice*. I get mine online, but you can buy essential oils in the beauty department of a drug store or at a health food store. Fragrance oils are often sold at larger craft stores. Look for the soap making supply aisle!
  •  Vodka**. (optional) Cheap unflavored vodka will work. No point in using the good stuff here. Save that for drinking! Ahem.  
Pour the distilled water into you bottle. If you’re using vodka, use 1/15 part vodka, 14/15 parts water. Add 10 drops- 1 teaspoon of your favorite oil to the mix. (10 drops to about 4 cups of water) Shake. Spray on your sheets. Breathe in the beauty. Start looking for the new shoes you’re going to buy with all your savings. 
*You’re likely to have a great deal of oil left over, no matter how small of vial you purchase. I like to use a few drops of that oil on a small piece of muslin and throw it in the dryer with my wet clothes. A little goes a LONG way, so don’t over do. 
**You don’t have to use the vodka–I certainly don’t. It just keeps the water and oil from separating. If you don’t use it, then gently shake your bottle before each use.