Category Archives: Cleaning

Skunk Funk

Dear Reader:

I let the dog out.

That was my huge mistake. I came back from a library viewing of Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead, and Delilah barked and barked at the door.

“Don’t let her out mom; I saw a fox run down the road,” the Teen said. Did I listen? No. I let the dog out, and off she charged, yapping her snout off. After about ten minutes, I stepped outside to call her in, and it hit me…eau de skunk! Not only that, the dog’s barks sounded muffled. Where was she? Not UNDER the mudroom…

Yup, under the mudroom in a little crawl space. With a skunk. For over an hour.

The stench permeated the mudroom and began seeping into the kitchen. I finally got the dog inside, in the bathtub, and worked in a lather of peroxide, baking soda, and dish soap and then relegated the little stinker to the cellar for the night. Fans, open windows, vinegar in dishes to absorb the odor, Scentsy wax warmers, and incense were my weapons of choice.

The next day, I made a run to the market for Febreeze, commercial room spray, and scented dryer sheets, escalating the war on pee-ew to chemical warfare. Hey, I tried the sustainable/organic remedies first, but desperate times, you know?

If the Teen were homeschooled, I might have been content with those dishes of vinegar placed strategically around the rooms. Absorbing the odor? Masking the odor? Both? It did work quite well, but this was full-on war. If this had simply been a case of dog getting sprayed and running through the house, it would have sufficed, but the mudroom is attached to the house. I have no way of getting under there to wash the skunk oil away. So there it sits, emitting stench like a giant jar of critter potpourri.

I didn’t want the Teen to go to school and be known for the next three years as Skunk Girl. When in dire straits, we resort to all the artillery we can get our hands on, right? And the best weapon was surprising. The bottle of Chanel No. 5 Hubby bought me for Christmas last year.

I spritzed it on before I went to the store, and when I inquired whether he smelled any hint of skunk, the checkout boy looked satisfyingly surprised and said, “Actually, you smell really good.”

Compliment aside, this experience traumatized me. I have some anger-at-skunk issues to work out. Fashion therapy below…

Redneck Advertising Campaign

Line Dry Summer

ClothespinsDear Reader:

Clotheslines and Downton Abbey

I had every intention of switching my summer clothes-drying experience from indoor electric to outdoor clothesline early on in the season, but like many projects, this one was pushed back until today. I had wanted to buy one of those cute little round umbrella type clotheslines that you mount into the ground and under-plant with fragrant herbal ground-covers like thyme, oregano, and camomile so that your clothes-hanging experience becomes something akin to tip-toeing through the tulips or maybe pretending you are a buxom housemaid in the employ of Downton Abbey.

This morning, however, I was talking with Neighbor Debbie whilst sweating on the elliptical machine in our community gym, and we began talking about the humid weather, the rolling-in of late-afternoon thunderstorms, and the necessity of her getting her laundry off the line in time. I stammered around a bit about how I meant to get a clothesline but just hadn’t made the time.

“I just strung a line between the trees,” she said in her practical and very lovely and precise British-sounding South African accent. “It works wonderfully.”

“You don’t get any pine pitch on your laundry?” I asked in my far-from-the-mother-tongue Maine accent (although, if you think about it, we Mainers with our dropped “r’s” are closer to British English than, say, mid-westerners).

Laundry in Basket

“No,” Neighbor Debbie said. “Not yet.”

Okay, so there was no excuse for procrastinating on this project anymore. I went down to Plummer’s Hardware (now an Ace Hardware store; more on that in another post) for a length of clothesline–$7.99 plus tax. I scoped out my property. Yup, there was a pine tree on one side of the wood line and an oak on the other. We’d cleared out the brush just underneath and in front, and the afternoon sun was beating down there as if to spotlight the perfect location for my line. In ten minutes, I was good to go.

Outside the Clothes Dryer

Why Line Dry?

Maybe it isn’t necessary to explain why I am choosing to dry my laundry au naturel, but for those who are interested I will list my reasons:

1)It is better for the environment. Electricity powers the clothes dryer appliance in my cellar. Electricity is often generated from coal-fired power plants. Coal mining can have detrimental environmental effects. Coal burning can have detrimental environmental effects. While I don’t think we can get away from burning coal completely, reducing the amount of electricity we use can only be a positive step toward a saner environmental situation.

2)It is better for my bottom line. Sunshine and fresh air are free. Electricity is expensive. Any way I can save on my electric bill every month is money I can spend locally at the farm stand, etc.

3)Line-dried clothes smell divine.

4)It is one more way I can use my property which makes me feel just a little more self-sufficient. Let’s say the power goes out. I can still dry my clothes. (I also have a small, wooden, folding clothes rack on which to dry small items. It may behoove me to get a few more . . . and start using that woodstove down cellar in the winter. Wood heat is very dry. I might even be able to string a clothesline down there.)

5)No one ever burned down their house drying their clothes outdoors on a line. House fires are started in improperly maintained dryers all the time. From Vent Check International: But according to the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) clothes dryers accounted for the largest share of appliance and tool fires between 1994 and 1998. There were 14,300 clothes dryer fires in U.S. homes in 1998, resulting in 19 deaths, 312 injuries and $67.7 million in direct property damage. http://www.vcisafety.org/dryer_vent_fires.cfm

I suppose if the pine trees caught fire and spread to the laundry, and the laundry happened to be dry, and a piece of burning bath towel landed on my roof . . . well, maybe it could burn my house down. But if those pine trees are alight, I figure there’s little chance of saving the house anyway.

Electricity Maine

Electricity Maine

Speaking of saving $$$ on electricity AND going local, there is an option out there for us Mainers that accomplishes both goals. I heard about Electricity Maine last winter from my friend, Becky, but like my clothesline project, I never got around to actually checking into this Auburn-based company until today.

Here’s the scoop. Currently, Bangor Hydro and CMP customers have a choice when it comes to energy supply companies. The default is an out-of-state company. The new kid on the block is Electricity Maine. This Maine-owned company is located in Auburn and purchases electricity from the New England Power Pool which is where all the New England power generating companies market their energy. Then Electricity Maine sets a competitive rate (currently .0707 per kWh) for the supply portion of your electricity bill. (The transmission costs are still controlled by CMP and Bangor Hydro–they take care of the lines and boxes and reading meters, etc.)

It is easy to make the switch. It took me about 2 minutes, one minute of which was spent logging onto my CMP account to find my account number.

If you are a Maine resident and are interested in saving a little money on your electric bill and supporting a Maine-owned company versus an out-of-state company, log onto http://www.electricityme.com/. There is a really, really good FAQ page on there, which is where I got the information for this blog.

Fluff and Fold

So, about four hours after pegging the laundry to the line, I went back out with my basket and brought my fresh sheets, etc. into the house. Without the camomile and thyme, it wasn’t quite the Downton Abbey experience.

But it was nice . . . Outside the (Electric Clothes Dryer)Box.

Adventures in Window Cleaning

Vinegar and Water Solution

Dear Reader:

There comes a time in every person’s life when she looks out her window and sees only one thing: dirty fingerprints.

Okay, not really. She sees dirty fingerprints, dirt, bird seed from the window feeder, spider webs, pine needles, and dog-nose smears.

With my freshly-painted walls and new furniture arrangement (Hubby and the Teen both approve) mocking my disgusting window panes, I decided to tackle at least one window a day until they are all finished, and this brought me to a project I’ve been meaning to try, namely, “eco-cleaning.”

Now, this blog isn’t focused so much on “going green” as it is on “going local,” but it seems the two concepts (ideals?) converge quite often. Take cleaning products, for example. It’s not like your local farmer’s market carries a line of locally-produced cleaning products, right? There may be a cottage industry somewhere in the neighborhood that concocts hand-made soaps, lotions, and potpourri, but as yet I haven’t run across anyone selling cleaning fluid. Why? Because ANYONE can make their own cleaning fluid, and your own kitchen is as local as you can get. Here’s what I found out.

A few years ago I was browsing in the book area of One Earth Natural Food Store in Springvale, Maine when I came across a little gem called CLEAN & GREEN by Annie Berthold-Bond.

I haven’t used the recipes for “nontoxic and environmentally safe housekeeping” as much as I’d like, but today was the day to try the glass cleaners. First up, the simple vinegar and water in a spray bottle. I used an old, washed-out spray bottle, poured in the recommended amount of plain old cider vinegar (now see, this is where we could get local out of this. I didn’t have any Maine-produced vinegar, but I will be on the lookout for some in the future. THEN, I’d have a totally-Maine cleaning product), and sprayed the panes of my kitchen door.

The book also recommended using newspaper to wipe the windows. I have a nice stash of old WEEKLY SHOPPERS and SHOPPING GUIDES hanging around, so I took a couple sheets and went to work. Scrub, scrub, squeak, squeak. Did it work? You bet! However…

Printers Ink on Yellow Gloves

I was not happy with the black ink getting all over my gloves and imagining what my fingers would look like if I didn’t have said gloves, and let’s face it, yellow rubber gloves are NOT locally-produced. Also, I found the solution to be kind of, well, wet. I know, I know. Of course it was wet. But it was wet in the droplet sort of way versus a spray sort of way, if that makes any sense.

I decided to try another recipe in the book, called “The Best Window Wash.” I should have tried the best first, probably, but I was drawn to the simplicity of a two-ingredient solution. The Best Window Wash called for the addition of a teaspoon of vegetable-oil based soap. I’ve been using Murphy’s Oil Soap for a long time, and so had this on hand. Plop! I added the teaspoon directly to the vinegar and water solution bottle.

The Best Window Wash ingredients

I also decided to use an old sock instead of the inky newspaper. The addition of the soap made for a much smoother application on the windows, the sock worked fine, and I finished up with a nice polishing with a dust cloth. Now, in a pinch, I could go with the local vinegar/water/local newspaper combo, but I did prefer this soap additive.

I wonder how one makes vegetable oil soap? Could someone take local corn, for instance, to make the vegetable oil and from there make soap? How exactly does that work?

I’ll let you know if I find out.

Clean Window with spider plant

In the meantime, I recommend Berthold-Bond’s book if you are interested in low-cost, environmentally-friendly, and kinda’ neat ways of cleaning your house. Oh, and that spider plant in my window? According to the book, the plants act as natural air purifiers along with aloe vera, English ivy, fig trees, and potted chrysanthemums. Green may just be my new favorite color!

It’s Electric!

Here is my question: Would you pay $.99 to download a short story to read? Would your decision depend on the length of the story? Or the reputation of the author? Would $.99 be a more likely price-point for a book-length piece?

I have never purchased an electronic document. I HAVE ordered a hardcover children’s book through lulu.com, and it wasn’t so different from ordering a book on Amazon.com or anywhere else. I don’t own an e-reader yet . . . but I’m getting closer. Even when I have finally snagged a Nook or a Kindle, I’m not sure how many short stories I would purchase–although, when you think about it, I pony up $4 for a latte on a fairly regular basis, so wouldn’t a dollar for a story be a bargain?

There are authors on some of my online writing lists who are self-publishing in this way and finding it rewarding. I’m undecided about whether or not to try it myself. I welcome your feedback.

What would entice YOU to pay .99 for a e-pubbed piece of literature–a snappy description, a known author, a good cover picture?

If you are a writer, have you or would you publish electronically? If so, what have been your experiences?

As we head off into this brave new world of electronic media, I find myself drawn to older things. Perhaps it is a way of keeping balance. Publish an electronic story in the morning and whip up a batch of blueberry jam in the afternoon. Watch a video-streamed movie Friday night and put on a pot of baked beans and knit up a dishcloth on Saturday. Today, I’m going to publish this blog post, and then put on a bandana and some Patsy Cline (click HERE to listen to “Crazy”) and start my spring cleaning.

Drop me a line . . . Outside the Box.

Day 15: Rubbish, Raindrops, & Restaurants

My D.C. Book Pile

Dear Reader:

Friday was housekeeping day (because Monday was a holiday), and because thunder storms and rain were predicted, we spent the day at home. I lazed about it bed in the morning, drinking my coffee, reading, and writing my daily blog post.

After finishing the writing, I sweated for an hour on the elliptical while watching a Charlie Rose episode on the local PBS station about the debt ceiling negotiations. Since coming to D.C. I’ve been trying to stay more up-to-date on the news by scanning the Washington Post online. I’m usually interrupted by one thing or another after only reading one or two articles, so I have a long way to go. People here are news/political junkies. I’m afraid if I ever do manage to get into a conversation with anyone here in my building, I’ll come across as an ignorant rube. New goal: Read the POST and watch at least one news program every day. At least on the elliptical machine I can accomplish two things at once.

After my workout, I cleaned the apartment. Rather than driving to the town dump as I would at home, simply I put the trash down a chute in a tiny room just beyond the elevator. I assume it lands in a compactor. I also took the elevator down to the recycling bay and put the cardboard boxes and empty water bottles (no returnables here) in their respective bins. I’m happy that this kind of recycling is encouraged in the city, but a deposit on bottles would probably stimulate even more recycling of plastic and glass.

Thinking we might try to go out into the city Friday night, I clicked onto the Post page again to see if there was anything of interest going on inside somewhere. The free jazz concert over at the Smithsonian Sculpture Garden was out of the question–outside the sliding glass doors to our balcony the sky was dark and heavy with rain clouds. I couldn’t even see the sharp spires of the United States Air Force Memorial which usually look like three legs of a giant spider about to crawl over the top of the apartment building in front of it.

In the entertainment section of the online paper, I came across a review of Larry’s Ice Cream, a shop as well-known for its owner, “the Scoop Nazi” (remember the soup guy in SEINFELD?), as it is for the quality and variety of its ice cream. We will definitely hunt down this shop in the future, but by then the rain was falling in earnest. Hubby, the Teen, and I ended up making a meal at home (chicken, rice, stir-fried veggies) and watching Leonardo DiCaprio in SHUTTER ISLAND on Netflix.

While searching up info on Larry’s Ice Cream, I stumbled across a cute blog about living and eating in D.C. Check out Two DC: A New Couple Exploring A New City on Blogspot. The blog focuses on restaurants, and I’m beginning to understand that eating well is a popular hobby around here. Hubby says, “Well, I guess we fit right in!” It’s true. We’ve always enjoyed going out to eat.

Our favorite restaurant in D.C. so far has been The Austin Grill which served up some excellent Tex-Mex over in Penn Square. Hubby ordered an Original Austin Burger which he said was the best burger he’s had yet here in the city. I went with the Chalupa Taco Salad with chicken. It was served in a fried tortilla bowl, the ingredients were indeed fresh-tasting, and it went down well with a classic margarita, cold and made with real lime–not a mix. The food was good, the server was really friendly, and we loved sitting outside at the cafe table as people young and old walked through the neighborhood on a sultry summer evening.

(I was appalled to watch a well-groomed, blond family of six sitting at a table in front of us where everyone except the dad–mom, teenage and preteen daughters and a boy of about eight–tapped away on their cell phones/hand-held microcomputers throughout their entire meal while Dad sucked down four or five frozen margaritas. Is this really what we’ve become, America?)

The next week we tried out the Sine Irish Pub in our neighborhood square. Hubby had a burger (sensing a theme? I need to ask him if he’s trying to ascertain the best burger in the metropolitan area), and I thoroughly enjoyed the Reuben Sandwich.

This week we sampled a couple dishes at Champps, a sports bar & grill next door to Sine. (See previous post). Relaxed and happy after a good meal and a couple of drinks, we made a plan to try every restaurant along the perimeter of the square before the end of the summer. I’d also like to find some more out-of-the-way eateries, unique places owned by local restauranteurs rather than chains or franchises. I heard about one locally-owned coffee shop somewhere in Arlington that has focused on reducing energy use. Must find out more about that one.

As much as we enjoy eating our way around metropolitan D.C., we enjoyed simply hanging out at home watching a movie on Friday night. The weather promises to be nicer on Saturday, and we’re heading out of the city to visit friends in West Virginia, about an hour and a half southwest of here in Charles Town, just up the road from Harper’s Ferry. It will be fantastic to see this couple we knew from Portsmouth a few years ago. I’m anxious to see some suburban communities outside the city, to find out what it’s like to commute in on a train every day, to check out a typical West Virginia town.

Cleaning Up My Act–Part One

late october2009 002PART ONE: ADVANCED DE-GREASE

Dear Reader:

You may think that because I chose to “work at home” I must love to clean. Not so! I keep things mostly de-cluttered. I wash my dishes once or twice a day. I wipe down work surfaces and table surfaces and bathroom surfaces. The kitchen floor gets swept. However, when it comes to the down and dirty cleaning jobs, I balk. The bathtub gets soap scummy. The refrigerator is not pristine. The stove rarely gets an application of Easy Off Oven Cleaner. I vacuum the sofa once in awhile, but it probably should be done every day on account of the dog hairs. I don’t even want to talk about my windows.

So, when the online mom’s group in which I’m involved began featuring daily cleaning tips, my conscience started nagging at me that maybe, perhaps, I might want to think about the kitchen cupboards. More specifically, the tops of the kitchen cupboards where I store my bean pot, large ceramic bowls, and a pancake warmer. Above eye level, the cupboards often fall victim to the “out of sight, out of mind” phenomenon. I have to stand on a chair and climb up onto the kitchen counters in order to see up there. Still, I knew those cupboard tops must be looking rather nasty.

“Fine. Okay. I’ll do it,” I grudgingly agreed to my inner Mrs. Clean who had also, by the way, encouraged me to pick up a book about environmentally-safe cleaning products–what you can purchase as well as how to make your own–a year or so ago from One Earth Natural Food Store in Shapleigh. The book is entitled CLEAN & GREEN: THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO NONTOXIC AND ENVIRONMENTALLY SAFE HOUSEKEEPING by Annie Berhold-Bond and published by Ceres Press in Woodstock, NY. Click on the link to zip over to Annie’s website where there are more books and ideas.

CLEAN AND GREEN begins with a list of commonly-used commercial cleaning products and why they are bad for us and the environment. For example, all purpose cleaners can contain phosphates, chlorine, bleach, kerosene, petroleum products, solvents, EDTA, and naptha. These chemicals can be toxic or harmful to the following: fat cells, mother’s milk, liver and kidneys, and the central nervous system. Environmentally, some of the ingredients are considered hazardous waste, cause algae bloom, form DDT which affects wildlife, activate metals in lakes, are nonrenewable resources, and contaminate the air and water. (page 7.) When we purchase these cleaning products, we are also supporting an industry that pollutes during production.

“As to the environment, one of the bleakest trips that you can take is to ride the train from New York City to Washington, D.C. The train winds through the murkiest, muckiest, most discolored earth you could imagine. The tracks are lined with refineries and smokestacks. The manufacturers causing this devastation are producing products that we use at home: paints, furniture polish, laundry soap. What we throw away of these products goes into our landfills, and from there it can leach into our water. The same goes for what we wash down the drain.” (page 3.)

I decided to try one of her all-purpose cleaner recipes for the cupboards and the kitchen walls. I didn’t have any washing soda (my local market doesn’t carry it. I may have to bring a list of my desires to the owner. I really, really need my Green Mountain Pumpkin Spice Coffee in the fall . . . ) so I went with the Plain And Simple spray cleaner recipe which uses borax, distilled white vinegar and hot water. I was able to find borax and vinegar at the local market. A spray bottle from my fabulous local hardware store (they always have everything. It’s amazing!) was not very expensive. I’ve been cutting up old towels and tee-shirts for rags, so I had plenty on hand. I mixed up my cleaner and set to work on the grease, wondering: would this cleaner cut it?

The area above my cupboards was covered with a disgusting film of cooking grease, dust, and the desiccated bodies of insects. (Okay, only a few dead insect bodies, but still!) The cleaner loosened the film on the first application, and I was able to wipe the surfaces squeaky clean on the second. The rags, needless to say, were filthy when I was finished and hour or so later. I even sprayed down the painted walls above and below the cupboards, and I think the borax really brightened them up. I washed bean pot and bowls and the pancake warmer in the sink and hoisted them back into place. Stepping back, I surveyed my work. I saw that it was good. There you go, Mrs. Clean. Don’t say I never did anything for you. (Have I mentioned how working alone at home can lead to imaginary conversations with your inner muses? This time I can’t even blame it on the toxic chemical cleaners.)

A few days later, I took one of Annie’s suggestions from the book and mixed up a fresh batch of cleaner including a half a cup or so of herbal tea that I steeped for a couple hours. I also pounded up some lemon zest and sage leaves, put the mixture in a small jar, covered it with walnut oil, and set it on my windowsill where it should turn into a nice essential oil in a couple of weeks. Adding the liquid from a vitamin E capsule is supposed to help it stay fresh. I’m hoping these nice scents added to homemade cleaning products will inspire me to better housekeeping. You never know, it just might work.

Tune in next week to read about my next experiment with homemade cleaning products. I suspect that not only will these natural cleaners be safer for my family and the environment, but also they may be cheaper in the long run. I’ll try to compute the costs for Part Two: Ring around the Bathtub.