Category Archives: voluntary simplicity

Sequester Savings #1: A Running Tally of How the Sequester is Affecting My Spending

dumpster diving photos 001

So, the sequester has the talking heads buzzing about how much, if any, effect the sequester budget cuts are going will have on the economy.

As a family whose income is going to be reduced 20% for five months starting sometime in April, we are already working on our family budget and figuring out how to “not spend” that amount–because we don’t think we should have to sacrifice the savings we already have (or even the savings we were planning on putting by) to the cowardice of our legislative and executive branches of our federal government. Cowardice, yes, because the brave move would have been to tell the people of this fine country, honestly, that we are in a mess and we need to cut spending and we need to raise taxes, both. Instead, they chose to “let the sequester happen” and take zero responsibility for their failure to govern or lead.

So, they won’t get a penny of my savings account. We will instead withdraw that money from the economy.

My plan is to post regular Sequester Savings entries. I won’t be able to keep an exact tally. How to account for “what I didn’t spend” as opposed to “what I did spend?” You don’t get receipts for NOT spending. Unless you create one. Like today.

Daughter: Can you go to Waterways (a local coffee shop)and get us some lattes?
Me: We can make coffee at home. We are saving money.

Total savings: $7.50 directly OUT OF THE LOCAL ECONOMY.

I’m also in the middle of baking a loaf of homemade bread. My usual loaf of 12-grain bread costs about $4. A quick search on the internet shows a loaf of white bread homemade costs between 36-45 cents a loaf. Huh.

It will be interesting to compare grocery totals for months pre-sequester to months post-sequester. I’m counting March as post-sequester since we are starting the economizing now.

This is list of things I’m cutting out:

$ coffees and lattes anywhere but home
$ breakfast out once a week at local restaurant
$ books–kindle, Amazon, bookstores
$ pizzas from pizza shops (making my own instead ALL the time)
$ lunches and dinners out–take turns making lunches at home, peeps?
$ clothes for me for the next five months; I’ll make do with what I
have
$ theater, movies, or a concert unless it is free
$ entertaining at home, i.e. parties–unless it is potluck it isn’t happening!
$ jewelry, makeup, shoes–almost goes without saying, right?
$ extra trips that burn gasoline

You may wonder if I plan on having any fun at all. Sure. Libraries have books last I checked, so I don’t need to buy them. Coffee at home is fine. My homemade pizza and bread–yum and fun to make. A game of cards of mah-jong with friends down the road is fine entertainment. Scrabble anyone? How about a walk, bike ride, swim?

On the other hand, I’ll miss eating out, I really will.

But the main point is this, Federal Government: I’m not bailing you out with my savings. I hope the economy feels the pinch. I hope, finally, you duly-elected officials start doing your jobs, work together, and figure out how to balance this budget, starting with entitlement reform and ending with closing the most egregious tax loopholes.

Oh, and raise the minimum wage while you are at it. Have you seen the stats on wealth inequity lately?

Rodeo Girl

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Rodeo (Row-dee-0h) Drive Skirt. Photo by Brenda Morrill.

Dear Reader:

Localista find of the week.

Every Wednesday, a few community women get together at the Redneck Studios in rural Newfield, Maine to learn belly-dance and yoga moves. To laugh. To celebrate female energy. To exercise and stretch and grow stronger. Redneck Studios is much like it sounds–unpretentious, down-home, low-key, fun.

Proprietor Brenda has also started up a clothing and home furnishings business, up-cycling skirts and shirts and pants into blingy items suitable for belly-dance and beyond, as well as sewing custom orders for quilts and shower curtains and pillows and more.

She calls her biz Rodeo Drive. Like a cowgirl, not Beverly Hills.

So before belly-dance class the other day, I picked up this richly-textured chocolate velvet skirt, the middle tier embellished with thick-thread embroidery lines with tiny sequins and a flower button or two or three scattered around. The velvet contrasts nicely with heavy cream fringe. I was just taken with it–the texture, the color, the way it reminded me of the “Prairie Look” from the early 80’s.

Later that evening, I wore the skirt to a high school concert with my green Goodwill micro-cable sweater (simple enough to lend interesting contrast to the frou-frou of the ruffles),a hand-knit chunky scarf in browns and golds and cranberry, and ruffled velvet boots.

rodeo drive skirt

I felt bohemian. I felt Redneck. I felt like a Rodeo Girl.

What are your favorite hand-sewn or up-cycled or re-purposed home or clothing items?

Small Town on a Waterway

july 18 2012 084
Little Ossippee River flows to the Saco.

Dear Reader:
Once in awhile I feel the need to remind myself why I started writing this blog in the first place, so I click on James Howard Kunstler’s blog, Clusterf$#k Nation, and get a zap of possible-future angst.

From his blog post, Modernity Bites this week: Find a nice small town on a waterway surrounded by farmland and get ready to have a life.

For Kunstler, this is an optimistic piece of writing, with many sentences starting, “If you are young…”

In other words, his vision of the world is that we are devolving, slowing down, no matter what the yahoos on t.v. say about shale oil and how the U.S.A. is going to be the largest oil producer in the world. But there is good life to be lived even in a “World Made By Hand” (the title of one of Kunstler’s books), and those young enough and strong enough and clever enough to take advantage of opportunities can not only survive, but thrive.

In a post-oil world, we will be much more local–whether we like it or not. Wouldn’t it be wise to begin investing in our local communities now? That is why I encourage you, my dear readers, to shop locally, to get involved in community government and activities, to learn one or two “low-tech” skills. Even as we use technology to discuss these things (hello! blogging here!), we can inhabit, in part, that other world of handmade stuff–clothing, tools, food. Check out a craft fair or two this holiday season. Make something yourself to give to a family member or a friend.

This weekend in my town, we are celebrating our community with an annual event called Village Christmas. There will be two craft fairs, community breakfasts and lunches, hayrides (low-tech transportation!), a parade, raffles, tree lighting, carol-singing, cookie-eating. I’ll post some pictures next week.

How does your community celebrate the solstice season?

Chosing A Sustainable Life

My blogger/local community friends at The Existential Gardner posted a wonderful piece about our sustainable past, our industrial present, and hopefully a sustainable future. Since they said it so much better than I ever could, I’m going to share the link so you can enjoy it for yourself. This is one I will read again.

http://theexistentialgardener.blogspot.com/2012/03/imagining-sustainable-lifestyle.html

Day 6: Room With A View or Two

Crystal City Artwork

Dear Reader:

It was a beautiful, sunny, dry, breezy day in the D.C. area. We were getting a little burned-out on museums, so I spent a good part of the morning enjoying the view from my balcony and researching bicycle safety tips for riding in the city traffic, looking at the numerous bike trails around the area, and seeing if I could ride those trails to the medical office for my allergy shots.

The best bike safety information came from an article on BicycleSafe.com entitled “How to Not Get Hit by Cars” by Michael Bluejay. The key is to ride a little bit more to the left than usual. On a bike, you worry that someone is going to hit you from behind, but that rarely happens. Drivers behind you can see you. The danger comes from cars entering the road from side streets or drivers parked on the side of the road opening their doors into your path.

Artwork Down Under

Riding in the city may be a little bit more dangerous than I’d like, but there are pay-offs, too. You can see so much more from a bicycle than you can from a car. Take this artwork, for example. We were taking a slightly different route from the Crystal City neighborhood to Pentagon City when we saw these gorgeous murals hung beneath an overpass. If I had been in a car, I could not have stopped, admired, and photographed this cool sight.

photo copied from Bike Arlington website

Arlington, along with other bike-progressive cities, has begun to mark lanes with “shared-lane markings” or “sharrows.” These markings show cyclists where they should be riding in the lane and also alert motorists that bicyclists can share lanes with the autos. These also encourage cyclists to stay on the streets and off the sidewalks . . . also riding on sidewalks is allowed.

I didn’t want to spend my whole day online, so after a few productive hours of research, I wrote up yesterday’s blog post and hit the gym. There were teenagers hanging out by the pool yesterday, a fact that may cheer up the Teen, who is missing her friends. I’m missing my friends and family, too, homesickness being one of the few negative aspects of travel.

Looking toward D.C.

We cheered ourselves up with a nice dinner and some drinks out on the balcony where a pink and deep purple sunset provided a backdrop to the massive National Cathedral in the far distance. As darkness fell, a shower of lights popped over the cathedral. I blinked, wondering if I’d imagined it. A few seconds later, another puffball of sparkly light exploded above the building.

Sometimes the simplest things give the greatest pleasure. We watched the fireworks, chatted about our visit in D.C. so far, and called it a day. I had the best night’s sleep in over a week. Maybe slowing down, whether in a small town or a fast-paced city, is the best way to experience the world around us.

Quick Post–Invest In Yourself

Seed Heads for Winter Birds

Dear Reader:

I found a really good, simple, layman’s-terms explanation of the housing bubble. Here is the article. http://www.stock-market-investors.com/stock-investment-risk/the-subprime-mortgage-crisis-explained.html

My question is still this: How do we prevent such a thing from happening again? Maybe the answer is, we can’t.

As we head toward Thanksgiving Day, I’ll leave you with some thoughts. Hope for the best. Prepare for the worst. Take your pleasures where and when you can. Save for a rainy day. Be thankful for your blessings. Invest in community, in friendships, in knowledge, in healthy activities, in things that are important to you. Take a class. Learn something. Vow to eat a healthier diet. Cut back on the stuff that’s not so good for you. Exercise. Build muscles and stamina instead of a fat stock portfolio. Invest in yourself.

At least that’s how I’m looking at it today Outside the Box.

Quick Post–Check out the New Kid!

Dear Readers: I like to introduce you to blogs I find inspiring and/or related to some aspects of my own mission of encouraging local living. A writer-friend has started a new project blog: making ALL her own clothes for a year. If you would like to check out the new kid on the blogging block, click here to read A Year In Stitches. I’ll be following it clothesly, er, closely. LOL. You might want to do the same. http://ayearinstiches.wordpress.com

Dumpster Diving Part Two

Dumpster Chair

Dear Reader:

As promised, here is my one and only literal dumpster find–my office chair.

I’ve done a quick bit of research regarding the price of a new wood + cushion armchair (okay, I looked at three websites) and found THIS example. Regularly priced at a little over $400, it is on sale for $309.80. My wood + cushion office armchair cost me much less, however–nothing. Zero. Zilch. Nada. I picked it up outside a dumpster eight years ago, a cast-off from some apartment in the married-housing development at the University of Maine at Orono. Its 1970’s gold and rust-colored crocheted cushions caught my eye, and when I walked over to investigate (seeing if the arms wobbled, the legs fell off, etc.) I was delighted by the chair’s sturdiness. Yes, the cushions were butt-ugly, but I could easily re-cover them. I really, really liked the shape of the thing, and it was being thrown away. Could I possibly take something from the trash? Yup. Looking furtively around me, I dragged the chair across the street to our apartment and tucked it inside. It was my first (and, okay, last) dumpster dive.

I never did re-cover the cushions. Instead, I’ve thrown a blanket over the top and stuck the chair in the corner of my office where it is the perfect, and I mean perfect, chair for reading. Why? Flat arms. I can set my coffee cup close at hand while slouching against the cushioned back. The chair is low enough that my shortish legs bend at just the right angle. The seat is wide enough that if I want to curl my legs beneath me or sit cross-legged, I can do so with ease.

Snagging this chair saved me three to four-hundred dollars, and I reduced the amount of waste going into the landfill at the same time. Brilliant!

Apparently, I am part of of a trend called Freeganism. The term is derived from “veganism,” the type of vegetarian eating that nixes all animal products from the diet. The New York Times published an article about the trend in 2007, interviewing various Freegans, including a former communication director for Barnes & Noble who gave up her corporate job, bought a one-room apartment, and began foraging for a living. Click HERE for the article.

Although Freeganism seems to have begun as a DIETARY lifestyle (dumpster diving at restaurants, bakeries, etc. for free food), it seems to have morphed into broader lifestyle philosophy–one branch of the anti-consumerist tree. While I have my doubts that I would ever, except in the most extreme necessity, dig in the trash for food, I have no qualms about using someone’s cast-off non-food items. The money I save on a chair produced in China, for instance, can be spent on a locally-produced item instead.

Not only that, I’ve patriotically reduced the embarrassing amount of trash generated by Americans every year.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Between 1960 and 2008 the amount of waste each person creates has almost doubled from 2.7 to 4.5 pounds per day. The most effective way to stop this trend is by preventing waste in the first place. Click HERE to read the entire article.

The way I see it, the best way to prevent waste in the first place is to stop buying so much! The less you buy, the less you have to throw out. Simple. And if you need something, why not use something someone else has thrown away? Not only are you reducing the cost of raw materials, packaging, and shipping of a new product, you are keeping waste out of the dump, the landfill, and the ocean.

Think garbage doesn’t end up in the ocean, or if it does, it simply biodegrades and disappears? Think again. There are at least two “islands” of broken-down plastic floating in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. These tiny bits of plastic ride in on currents and get caught in a sort of vortex, accumulating into a giant “garbage patch.” Read THIS article from the National Geographic Magazine to learn more. Recycling our plastics–better yet, refraining from buying it in the first place–would at least help prevent the patches from growing and spreading and further messing up the ecosystem of our oceans.

First Edition!

So, what if you just can’t bring yourself to use used stuff? Do not fear. You can still take part in the Freegan phenomenon–as a contributor. Instead of throwing your old chair away, take it to your local Goodwill store or another local charity. Inquire at your local dump to see if there is a swap area . . . and if not, start one! Check out the Freecycle organization.

Donate used items to second-hand stores. Mom’s groups, churches, and other community organizations often host Swap Parties. Participate in a community or charity yard sale. Now that spring has finally arrived, it may be time to clean out the basement and the closets. Remember, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. Your used items could find new homes and new uses rather than add to the average American waste statistic.

This weekend I checked out the local Swap Shack and was amazed to see how empty it was. Apparently, I’m not the only one who likes free stuff. Ironically, on the rather bare bookshelves, I came across two textbooks: THE ECONOMIC WAY OF THINKING and MANAGEMENT ACCOUNTING. Now I can learn all about economics while practicing economical, sustainable, local living. Thank you, to whoever brought them in! When I’m finished, I’ll bring them back in so someone else can read them.

I WON’T, however, be bringing back the Anne Rice book pictured above. It’s a hardcover first edition by an author I adore. It will reside safely on my bookshelves . . . just above my dumpster chair and the Swap Shack reading lamp.

Ah, life is good.

Dumpster Diving Part One

This episode fueled by Green Mountain Southern Pecan coffee.

Dear Reader:

I love coffee. I love the smell of it brewing first thing in the morning. I love the steam caressing my face when I lift the cup to my lips for that first, oh-so-delicious sip. I like my coffee bold, dark, intense. I enjoy the way the caffeine zips along my nerves, waking up my sluggish brain. I’ve cut pictures from magazines that feature people drinking coffee. It’s my one true addiction. Giving it up makes me cranky. Once I did give it up when I was following a macrobiotic diet, but I substituted a “grain” coffee instead. I managed to survive, but I felt deprived. A trip to Hawaii and access to that state’s incredible Kona ended my seven-months’ cafe-deprivation period, and I have no regrets. Coffee is one of my greatest pleasures, my strongest of comfort foods, a most dependable beverage because no matter where you go, no matter how bleak and terrible the location, you can usually find a cup of java.

Coffee is egalitarian. Run-down diners on the edges of small towns serve coffee and so do fine restaurants. Elisabeth Ogilvie in her Bennett’s Island books about fishermen and their families is forever referencing the “mug up” of coffee. (If you want a shot of pure Maine literature this summer, I highly recommend Ms. Ogilvie. Click HERE to read a little bit about this author.) Coffee tastes good served in thick, heavy mugs and in thin, delicate bone china. It even tastes good in paper cups, as Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts are well aware. Coffee complements both sedentary and active pursuits–reading, talking, driving. I wouldn’t recommend it while playing tennis or soccer, but celebrating after the game with a large cup? Sure! My family usually heads over to a Dunkin Donuts after the Maine Class A Boys Basketball Tourneys, for example. It is comfort in defeat and celebration in victory, with or without sugar and cream.

So what does all this have to do with Dumpter Diving? Well, yesterday morning I filled my coffee filter with some Green Mountain Southern Pecan, poured in the water to the six cup mark, and pressed the ignition button. The cheery red light came on, the pot began to gurgle and croak and sigh the way it always does, and I went over to the computer to check my emails while the lovely smell of fresh-brewed filled the air . . . except it didn’t.

Investigating the cause of such a wacky turn of events, I discovered that while the unit was ON, it certainly wasn’t working. The machine had, as all coffee makers eventually do, died.

Now, it wasn’t the end of my world because I tend to be rather inventive around the house. I’m pretty good thinking outside the box. The coffee filter was still full of fresh grounds. The glass pot was still intact. All that was needed was a manual application of boiling water. I could do that myself. I grabbed the tea kettle and set the water to boiling, poured the water over the grounds a little at a time, stuck the coffee pot beneath the filter cup, and voila! Not-so-instant coffee!

I couldn’t be too upset by the breakdown of my coffeemaker because, you see, I didn’t pay a penny for the thing. I know what you are thinking, but no, I did not dive headfirst into my neighbor’s trashcan for their old, discarded unit. I did the next best thing, however. I went to the dump.

The call it a transfer station now, but basically our town has a nice little dump where you can sort your recyclables, discard your old tires and furniture, throw your brush onto the community pile to be burned at a later date, and stow your meager bag of excess garbage in the “household trash” bin where I believe it is picked up and taken somewhere for energy-production or possibly a landfill. An attendant greets you from a cute little gardeny-looking cottage as you drive in and directs you to the proper areas. (I’ve noticed a big pile of wood mulch, too. I need to ask if that is free for the taking.) These are all wonderful components for a dump, of course, but the best part by far is the Swap Shack.

The Swap Shack is where you bring stuff that you no longer need/want that someone else may find useful or fun. I like to go in there and poke around. There is usually a halfway decent selection of used paperbacks. I’ve picked up drinking glasses and baskets and a couple of VCR movies. One day, on the back shelves with the old Crock Pots and frying pans, I saw this coffeemaker. My old one was pretty much done, its heating element dying like a red giant star growing cooler and less effective every day. I signed the book at the front of the Shack indicating what I’d taken, and brought the white, Black & Decker twelve-cup capacity coffeemaker home. If it worked, great. If not, I’d just return it. No problem.

And it wasn’t a problem because it worked fine. I’ve had it for a couple of years (my husband says one year, but I’m pretty sure it’s been at least two), and it has been dependable and hardworking. There was one idiosyncrasy–if I failed to push the filter holder cup thingy all the way down, the pot cover wasn’t able to reach the lever that opened the bottom of the cup allowing the coffee to drip down into the pot. This resulted in a bit of a mess a couple of times as the water entered the filter cup and had nowhere to go but over the top, spreading coffee and grounds everywhere. Once I figured out what was going on, I simply took care to make sure everything was lined up and tucked in nice and tight. That Black & Decker worked liked a charm–and it was free.

The Swap Shack isn’t all take and no give. I’ve donated outgrown Halloween costumes, paperbacks, toys, and even a couple pots and pans over the years. It’s a means of exchange among neighbors, and it saves us time and money. It fulfills the “reuse” portion of the Three R’s: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. The less stuff that goes into the landfills, the better. Plus, it’s fun. You never know what treasure you’ll dig up in there.

Take this table, for example. There is not a thing wrong with it except the handle needs tightening. It tends to spin around like a mad whirligig if I hit is just right. It caught my eye at the Swap Shack because it looked as if it perfectly matched my computer desk. I thought the little table could go in my upstairs office with the desk, but it ended up at the end of my upstairs hallway near the clothes hamper, instead. Inside I’ve placed a bunch of Harlequin Superromance novels I won in a writing contest. The short shelves inside are the perfect height for the little books. It could be used to store stationery supplies, cd’s, dvd’s, maybe even jars of jam. Decorating philosophy #1: You can’t have too many small tables. Decorating philosophy #2: You can’t have too many bookshelves. This cute thing fulfills both at the same time. Lovely!

According to some, every woman, especially every woman writer, needs a room of her own. I have a tiny office upstairs where I store my books, my photo albums, my writing files, and other inspiring items. (Ironically, I do the bulk of my writing downstairs on the laptop these days . . . it’s closer to where the coffee lives.) Without quite meaning too, I’ve pretty much furnished my office with free stuff. The reading lamp beside the bookcase was another Swap Shack find. It works perfectly well, and I like the brass finish. Someday I’ll replace the lampshade. Maybe. Although I have good interior design intentions, I’m not very ambitious with the follow-through when it comes to refinishing my finds.

Take this file cabinet, for instance.

I dragged this home from the dump last summer. My plan was to buy some bright pink spray paint and make it pretty. Well, here it is, still gray and sitting beside my computer desk. This find was a bit disappointing as the top drawer likes to slip off the little plastic wheels and drop down in one corner if I try to open it too fast. However, I don’t need to get into the top drawer all that often, and when I do, I simply remember to apply a little upward pressure when I slide it out toward me.

I understand that there is an element of the ridiculous in all this. We are a family with two college-educated people, one of whom has a very decent job. What am I doing “shopping” at the dump?

I could go on about the recycling aspect, the staying out of the box stores aspect, even the saving money aspect, but I suspect that to get closer to the truth I’d have to say I simply like the idea of getting something for nothing. I don’t think this makes me a terrible person. After all, I give many hours of my time away in volunteer activities, doing for nothing. Perhaps on some level I consider getting something for nothing is a just reward. Mostly, though, I think I love the idea of cutting out the middle man, the money, the means of exchange. This way there is just plain exchange. This works for used items, and it also works for new goods as well as services when people engage in a barter system. Economics in this century is complex, convoluted, and dare I say twisted? Bartering and trading cut to the chase. I give you something in exchange for something. It’s the oldest kind of trade there is. What could be simpler?

In recent years, perhaps due to the economic downturn (recession? depression?) I’ve noticed that people are turning to barter, swapping, and trading. One local business,Nurturing Tranquility Salon & Spa , holds regular Swap Parties for clients. A local “Mothers” group organized a clothing swap in the clubhouse of our neighborhood association. An artist friend of mine, Sandra Waugh, swaps artist trading cards (ATC’s) with other artists around the country and the world. (Check out her art at http://waughtercolors.deviantart.com/gallery/)

None of what I’ve described so far fits the literal definition of Dumpster Diving. So far. But I do have in my possession at least one piece of furniture rescued from an actual dumpster. Stay tuned later this week for Dumpster Diving Part Two . . . Outside the Box.

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.