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. Â He went from having three promisingÂ opportunities with interviews scheduled Â 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.Â 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.Â
You know that old addage, “Beggars can’t be choosers”? Well, that was us the winter of 2002. Â 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 Â beggars, we were supposed to be darn happy for the chance.Â
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.Â Â 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. Â
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!Â Â 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.Â 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. Â 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. Â
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. . . ” Â I had no idea that linen spray would be my sanity in the coming months.Â
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. Â
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. Â I lined shelves and scrubbed cupboards.Â 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. Â 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.Â
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.Â
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. Â 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.Â
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!
- Â Vodka**. (optional) Cheap unflavored vodka will work. No point in using the good stuff here. Save that for drinking! Ahem. Â
This might be my favorite of your posts.
That’s high praise coming from you! 😀 ~W
It is one of my favorites. 🙂 I had a couple of dumps in my past housing history but this beats all. And think of it: you and Iz and BW beat the misery of this chapter. I often use linen water- always when company is coming.
I adore the stuff! It’s such a nice splurge. ~W
That’s an amazing story. My hat is off to you and IZ for hanging in there. Thank you for sharing it. There’s a sermon in there (at least one). And a whole lot to be thankful for now that you’re on this side of it.
Bob, very thankful to be on this side of it. It informs so much of how we live our life and the decisions we make. And if you can pull a sermon out of it–it’s yours! ~W
Linen spray is a delightful treat. I had a friend give me some years ago, too. When I was in my own blue funk . . . it helps me cheer up, too. Sounds like an amazingly difficult time in your life . . .
It was a dark, dark moment. We all have them, tho–eh? ~W
Wende, I was rooting that the fridge made it there with you 🙂
This is a great post. One that I think many people out there could use as an anchor in these difficult times. I once along time ago lived some months in a tiny camper on a friend’s land with a small baby while my loving but “artistic” husband got himself together. The child is a centering force for us to keep going. Mt. Angel has a beautiful Seminary if you are interested. Keep up the good writing, you are more talented than you realize.
Thanks so much, Robin. I graduated in 2006 and I don’t look back often. I’m afraid what “ministry” I will do from here on out is simply in my life, not “professionally”. My days as a student are, thankfully, over.
And I can’t imagine living in a camper with a baby. Although, it reminds me of Gilmore Girls. 😀 ~W
When I was looking for apartments, I looked (just for fun) at one that was 500 sq feet. It wasn’t small. It was tiny.
I couldn’t imagine one person and a cat in that space … but two adults and a child? Wow.
One thing that I really admire about you is that, even when things seem to be falling apart, you find a way to make it work and still be true to yourself. 🙂
I still don’t know how we did it. IZ began working from home then–so we had that in our living/bedroom/kitchen area too. Never so glad to move!! ~W
oh the stories we could swap. 🙂
On the one hand, I’m thankful to know I’m not alone. On the other, I’m mortified to think you’ve gone through something similar. HUGS!! ~W
Sometimes we can hang on in horrible situations because of one little pleasure–a scent, a coffee, a special article of clothing. For me it’s become my apple pie candles that make me feel like it’s all going to be OK. Great post, Wen.
Thanks, Margaret. ~W
Thank you so much for the reminder that life needs it’s little luxuries…it’s in the details and the small stuff that I find so much enjoyment. I actually have 3 bottles of linen water sitting by the bed and I love to freshen my life right up…but, I am thrilled with your recipe and I can’t wait to try it!
It is the little luxuries. I’ve always felt that budget shouldn’t equal deprivation. You know, you can be responsible or even strapped for cash–but we all need small things to make life pleasurable. Otherwise, it’s absolute drudgery! ~W
What is it they say? The journey, though rocky, is made better by those we travel with? I was just glad that we managed to stay together and keep our sanity in the process… well, most of it anyway. 😉
Me too, baby. Me too. ~W
this post really cheered me in the face of BIG disappointment. I printed it and am going to make some orange flower water for us to remind us of all the good things in life (and there are plenty) when things look like they are baad. thanks.
Yvee, I’m sorry life has been rough lately. I hope this helps. Hang in there! ~W
I cried as I read this post, your ability to move forward is a gift. I still remember the linen spray and think of it and that apartment often. I remember my our first visit, Wonder Boy was walking back and forth outside waiting for us to arrive,with our picture in his hands, a cute knit cap on his head and a smile as big as the sun on his face.
I haven’t had a choice about moving forward. You either do or you die. It’s just the way things are. ~W
Hey Wende! When we first arrived in San Anselmo, I was hired to clean out the stuff that students left behind — YUCK! Bless your heart for making it work — we lived in the teeny little house behind the maintenance building — 500 sq. feet. Had a party with my Hebrew class one night — all 26 + kids! And rain. LOL Good stuff…thanks for the recipe!
I haven’t had the privilege to visit your blog recently, but I am so glad I stumbled on this tonight. I am feeling similar woes right now & this might be just what the doctor ordered 🙂 It is amazing what we endure in life, and even moreso when we rise above it. Wonderful story & thank you so much for the recipe!
I’m sorry to hear that life has been difficult. I hope things do pick up for you. Blessings, ~Wende
This is such a great story. Thank you for sharing.