Category Archives: Household

Getting Toasted

The Resident Storm Chaser and I noticed that the toasters we used in the UK seemed superior to the ones we’ve had in the US. They seemed to be more reliably adjusted to make the proper degree of “toastiness” than the one we have now, for sure.

We saw a very expensive English toaster for sale at Williams Sonoma a few years ago and wondered if the English toasters were known for being superior. English friends, what do you say about this? Other friends, what toaster do you have, and do you like it?

This isn’t the same one but it’s a brand I don’t recall seeing in the US so I’m using it for illustration. Isn’t this clever, being able to actually see the toastiness for yourself? Oh, look. You can get it at Williams Sonoma. How nifty. And it appears that you can toast thick things in it, too, if you check out the baguettes, or whatever that toasted bread is. Very nice. Very expensive.

Morphy Richards is a brand I find in the UK that I haven’t seen in the US, but these days I’m not sure what that means, whether it’s really different from what we might find here, or whether they are all made in the same factory in China, sigh.

However, in my googling around I found this fabulous thing–a Morphy Richards toaster from the 1980s that is in the Science Museum! How cool is that? [This also points out to me that we have never been to the Science Museum, even though we stayed in a Kensington hotel last time we were in London. We went to the Natural History Museum, though, which was very cool and in the area.]

And this is a brand I find available in the UK, Williams Sonoma, and even on Amazon. Breville. Never heard of it before. Have you?  I suppose I need to read a gazillion reviews and see what I can figure out about all of these toasters and see if you get what you pay for, or if there are cheap to moderately priced toasters that will be just as good. But I do like hearing experiences from people I know (hint-hint).

Our toaster is an inexpensive Rival. Every time I change types of bread I have to figure out all over again where to set the dial because the same setting will produce warm untoasted bread (sourdough from Whole Foods Market, for example) and burnt bread with another (whole wheat from the supermarket). Typically, I end up toasting things twice. When it pops up the first time the bread is barely toasted. I flip it over and push down again, and either manually stop it when I think it smells ready, or if experience has taught me it’s safe, let it stay down the whole time.  This is pretty much a pain in the arse.

So tell me, peeps. What kind of toaster do you have? Do you hate it/love it? Do you recommend it highly or are toasters a big “meh” for you and you really have never given it any thought?

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Filed under Household, Kitchen, toasters

Green Housekeeping

I go through phases. I am more green sometimes than other times.  A few months ago I ordered this book, Green Housekeeping by Ellen Sandbeck, but then never got around to reading it.

Last week I started flipping through it because I wanted to know the best way to clean the surface of my mother’s old maple drop-leaf table, mid-century early American, solid wood.  The finish is very thin and in a few places is gone. I may go ahead and strip the top and put a polyurethane finish on it since it’s now getting used daily, but I’m not quite ready to pull the trigger on that project, so I wanted  to just do the best, safest job I could of cleaning it up.

Murphy’s Oil Soap, according to Sandbeck. 1/4 cup per gallon of water.  It took some elbow grease but it did a pretty good job. I’m pleased, plus I have leftover cleaner and have started cleaning my kitchen cabinets.

I shouldn’t be surprised. I was told that Murphy’s is what the Servants Guild at St Matthew’s Episcopal Cathedral in Dallas uses, and they take that very seriously.

She gives recipes on making your own furniture polish and oil, your own cleaners, mainly using castile soaps or grain-based vinegar.

Guess what I bought today. A gallon of vinegar and a big bottle of Dr. Bronner’s Citrus Castile Liquid Soap.

Citrus because I like the scent, but the choices were wide open, from lavender to almond to peppermint, etc. Dr Bronners has been around for about 90 years. The labels are a hoot to read because there about some wacked out interesting religious ideas (no offense to anybody who shares them; I’m sure some of mine are wacked out, too).

And to my delight, they are not only certified fair trade, organic, and made in the USA but are also, according to this website, union made.

Our first exposure to “fair trade” was when we attended a service at Wells Cathedral in England. Afterward they had tea and biscuits (very traditional in the Anglican traditional to have coffee, tea, etc. after service for fellowship) and also a fair where they were selling a lot of craft items, including some from various missions around the world that were fair trade.  It was very important to everyone there that things were fair trade, and they were certainly happy to educate us about it.

Another thing I have done this week is throw away all my sponges. Did you know the dirtiest thing in your house is probably your kitchen sponge? And even if you laundered it after every use, it’s highly unlikely that the water would get hot enough to kill the bacteria. Handwashing it with soap in the sink doesn’t work. Putting it in your dishwasher not only doesn’t work–it spreads the bacteria all over your “clean” dishes.  What kinds of bacteria? As nasty as you can think of. E coli, staph, etc.

And what do we do with those nasty bacteria incubators? We wipe them all over every surface to spread the joy!

Makes you want to lick your countertops, doesn’t it?

The nice part is that the stuff she recommends you use for cleaning is easy to get and inexpensive. She gives science and sources to back up her facts.

Oh, and her best advice ever? In order to stop fighting with whites, trying to keep those white  towels and sheets as white as new?

Don’t buy white sheets and towels.

Now that’s advice I can get behind.

My new towels are Emerald Blue and Soft Butter.

Do you follow any green cleaning habits or use earth-safe products? Which ones?

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Filed under Books, Green, Household, Housekeeping

OhEmGee it must be spring!

That season that is a few days long in which I think “oh i must plant things and watch them grow!” and “oh I must paint things!” and “oh I must decorate and turn my house into a cozy showplace!” and all thoughts of writing go out the door. Unfortunately this phase passes quickly (as soon as I break a sweat)…

…and the house remains a tip, the walls remain half-painted, the fence remains grey/brown and the plants die for lack of water. In the meantime, however, this blog is today’s inspiration.

This entry, actually.

Right now, it seems very inspiring and doable. I need to make a trip to the bank, and then it would be really a quick trip to buy some green stain for the fence (my color of choice) and come back and paint the section I’m thinking about. Really easy. And it’s not even hot; it’s perfect weather for it.

So why am I still here drinking coffee?

Anybody wanta place bets on whether I actually do this thing or not?  Maybe this year, ohemgee spring only lasted a couple of hours….

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Filed under Blogroll, Garden, Household, Housekeeping

"Do [ya] feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?"

Do you believe in lucky talismans?

I have tried. I have done certain things or collected certain things because they felt lucky, or the idea of them pleased me and felt lucky.  These are almost always around my writing.  Collecting feathers when I first started screenwriting, for example. Every time I found a new feather, it felt significant.  My friend and I taking our usual two-mile walk and having a bluejay feather literally drift to the ground in front of us.  An owl feather, fluffy and beautiful, on the ground by the car when I got out to look at the Rio Grande Gorge in New Mexico. A hawk feather on a desk, and being told by the man who owned that desk, “It’s illegal to own that. If it disappears from my desk and I don’t know what happened to it, I’m fine with that, though.” I mean, it seemed the universe was flinging feathers at me, so, this had to be lucky, right?

However, it was years before I won the Nicholl Fellowship, before the “lucky” things happened, and by then my feathers were dust-collectors that I hadn’t looked at or thought of in, well, years.  Very difficult to connect the dots there.

So, the thing about luck is, it’s fun for me to “play” with, but it doesn’t really seem to mean anything.  The idea of it is magical. The reality? Not so much.

As I continue to ruthlessly mine layers of my office and get rid of Stuff and box books to haul away, I have run across a few remnants of luck.  Some of it I am keeping because I just happen to like it.  I can’t recall why this little brass swan on my desk (a paperclip holder) was supposed to be lucky to me, but now it’s just a pretty thing on my desk and I like it.

(see brass paperclips? used on scripts with brass brads because the silver clashed, yes, I am like that)

The luck thing doesn’t seem to have helped me much, other than the adage that to be lucky, you have to do the work first, and I’ve done a hella lot of luck in my writing life to get lucky, and mostly, it seems the work is more important than the luck.

Do you believe in luck? Do you collect talismans?  Is luck real or just fun?

What do you collect because it makes you feel lucky?

[also should I paint my office or just rearrange it, and if I paint it, dare I use the darker green I love or play it safe with the lighter green that will be darker on the wall? if I paint I will be using green (chemical-odor-free) and green (color) paint, btw]

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Filed under Green, Household, Luck, Office, Organizing, Writers, Writing

“Do [ya] feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?”

Do you believe in lucky talismans?

I have tried. I have done certain things or collected certain things because they felt lucky, or the idea of them pleased me and felt lucky.  These are almost always around my writing.  Collecting feathers when I first started screenwriting, for example. Every time I found a new feather, it felt significant.  My friend and I taking our usual two-mile walk and having a bluejay feather literally drift to the ground in front of us.  An owl feather, fluffy and beautiful, on the ground by the car when I got out to look at the Rio Grande Gorge in New Mexico. A hawk feather on a desk, and being told by the man who owned that desk, “It’s illegal to own that. If it disappears from my desk and I don’t know what happened to it, I’m fine with that, though.” I mean, it seemed the universe was flinging feathers at me, so, this had to be lucky, right?

However, it was years before I won the Nicholl Fellowship, before the “lucky” things happened, and by then my feathers were dust-collectors that I hadn’t looked at or thought of in, well, years.  Very difficult to connect the dots there.

So, the thing about luck is, it’s fun for me to “play” with, but it doesn’t really seem to mean anything.  The idea of it is magical. The reality? Not so much.

As I continue to ruthlessly mine layers of my office and get rid of Stuff and box books to haul away, I have run across a few remnants of luck.  Some of it I am keeping because I just happen to like it.  I can’t recall why this little brass swan on my desk (a paperclip holder) was supposed to be lucky to me, but now it’s just a pretty thing on my desk and I like it.

(see brass paperclips? used on scripts with brass brads because the silver clashed, yes, I am like that)

The luck thing doesn’t seem to have helped me much, other than the adage that to be lucky, you have to do the work first, and I’ve done a hella lot of luck in my writing life to get lucky, and mostly, it seems the work is more important than the luck.

Do you believe in luck? Do you collect talismans?  Is luck real or just fun?

What do you collect because it makes you feel lucky?

[also should I paint my office or just rearrange it, and if I paint it, dare I use the darker green I love or play it safe with the lighter green that will be darker on the wall? if I paint I will be using green (chemical-odor-free) and green (color) paint, btw]

6 Comments

Filed under Green, Household, Luck, Office, Organizing, Writers, Writing

How do you organize your library and/or bookshelves?

I bought a new small bookcase today to go behind my chair so I can reach stuff easily, which makes seven bookcases in this office.  You know, the build it yourself fake Carolina oak from Office Depot, but looks surprisingly good with my antique oak desk.  Good enough that I wouldn’t mind ditching my other cheap bookshelves and replacing with these cheap bookshelves just to have it all match-ish.

But here is the problem.  Organization.  My bookcases are fairly organized, but they constantly annoy me.  For example, I want all my British mysteries on one shelf, but they don’t all fit.  I want all my Celtic history on one shelf, but it doesn’t all fit.  All my Regency research on one shelf, but… right.

One thing I did with the novels that I don’t mind having out of sight is buy these things.

That one holds all my British mysteries. (Almost. As usual, it’s crammed full and yet I managed to turn up a few more this week.)  I also have these open-topped ones for other book collections:

And a green one, too.  (I like color. What?)  It’s not that they look Home Beautiful (they don’t) but just that they hold similar-type books in one collection that otherwise wouldn’t fit on one shelf.

And even so, stuff isn’t very organized.

What do you do? How do your organize your books? I have a new bookcase and I wanted all my “at my fingertip” writing resources on the top shelf and–they don’t quite fit.

The story of my life!

[I must say, my Kindle makes it easy to organize my e-books. One book can show up in several collections–by author, by type, by historical time period, however many different classifications I want to use. Sweet.]

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Filed under Books, Household, Misc., Organizing

Household Hints of Dubious Origin

Dubious, because they come from me. And anybody who knows me will tell you that I am not a housekeeper by any definition.

But still, these are helpful hints, so I will share.

1) My grandfather taught me a trick about making up the bed. Tie a knot in the bottom corners of your flat top sheet. Then when you tuck them under, pull them snug. The knot keeps them from coming loose. It will take a VERY restless sleeper to tug them loose in the night, as the weight of the mattress on the knotted corners is pretty secure.

2) I read this once in Hints from Heloise or a fashion magazine or something. Maybe in both those places. Shampoo is much thicker than it needs to be. Since it’s the addition of water that makes the lather, you might notice that the second lathering produces a lot more suds. Well, split a bottle of shampoo between two bottles and add water to fill. Shake/mix thoroughly, and your hair will get cleaner faster and your shampoo will last twice as long.

3) After watching Kim & Ags work their magic with various combinations of baking soda (bicarbonate of soda) and vinegar/salt/lemon juice/etc., etc., etc. I was inspired to simply put a pretty bowl of baking soda by my sink.

[Pretend there is a pretty picture of a pretty bowl of baking soda by my pretty white sink here, because it is all pretty but I am not in the mood to document, maybe later.]

Then I put a pretty purple sponge beside it. [Add sponge to picture above.]

I had already cleaned my sink with soda and lemon juice, and with soda and vinegar, and it does cut right through the scum. Since the surface of my sink isn’t as slick as it once was (naughty me, I used Comet on it when the manufacturer advised against it) it does stain more than it would otherwise, so I do give a squirt of Clorox Cleanup when I’m finished and leave it to do its whitening job.

But I put this bowl of soda there because it just seemed like the thing to do, to keep it handy. And when I found a couple of teabags that had been sitting in the sink all day (my husband made tea for breakfast and left the bags in the sink, grr) I decided to dip the wet sponge in soda and rub. And the tea stains disappeared. No bleach, no Comet, no Clorox. When some plates had some dried on stuff, again I rubbed with a damp sponge dipped in soda. Again, it came right off.

Since then I’ve used that sponge and soda for everything, and only resorted to stronger chemicals (perhaps the addition of vinegar) when necessary, and guess what. It hasn’t been necessary. I do put the dishes in the dishwasher to wash, but where I used to use dish soap and scrub off dried on gunk, now it’s soda.

4) Use a sponge. Well, you might say, DUH. But I’ve always used nylon scrubbers or SOS pads, because they seem tougher, and they don’t stink if you leave them in the sink. Occasional dishcloths. But I’ve never kept sponges around. Until recently, and now I realize that they really are superior, because they give better coverage. Live and learn.

5) Referencing #3 above, use soda first. I use baking soda first. Example: We have a glass-topped table in our back yard. (I’m sitting there now with my laptop and coffee.)

[Picture a glass-top on black wrought iron and uncomfortable wrought iron chairs (which would be comfortable if I either had on long pants or if they had cushions) with a cup of free trade organic coffee (Café de la Paz) and a yellow lab and blue healer at my feet, giving me adoring (okay, hungry) looks. Don’t expect a picture of this. The freak as soon as they see a camera and dance and hop and jump with their tongues hanging out, the little showoffs, and it’s just not becoming.]

Well, because this table is in the open air, it gets rained on and birds poop on it and it ends up with a thick layer of sludge during the winter because I never bother with it. Then one day in the spring I finally think, “I’d like to sit outside,” and have to clean it. This involves, spraying with the hose, squirting with soap, scrubbing with brush, spraying with hose, seeing streaks of sludge still there, repeating process several times and eventually finishing off with Windex and squished up newspapers.

This time I thought, hmmm. I filled a plastic pitcher with warm water and just a few drops of dishwashing soap. I poured it over the glass-top until the entire surface was wet, and then shook a lot of soda around on it. I took out the sponge (see above) and started rubbing. I rubbed thoroughly and then poured clear warm water over it.

NO STREAKS OF SLUDGE.

Is that it? Is it that easy?!?

Okay, so I got the hose and rinsed, and still, it looked clean.

The combination of the sponge, mildly abrasive soda and probably the bit of soap did the trick. I didn’t bother with the Windex or drying off the table because I wasn’t about to sit here. The next morning it was damp so I wiped it and sat down, and it was beautifully clean.

Second example: My kitchen cabinets are 40 years old (wait — almost fifty) and have a lot of grime around the handles and lower corners. I used a sponge and baking soda, and it rubbed off with just a little elbow grease. I’m agog, because in the past I’ve used various cleaners and lots of elbow grease and it’s always a pain and not always successful. Caution: Where I rubbed especially hard, it also took off some of the finish. I don’t care because these cabinets look like hell anyway, and clean with bare finish is better than grimy. But it’s something to be known.

6) I’ll give you one of Kim & Aggie’s (see link above) as a bonus. I’m sure you know to use old toothbrushes to scrub hard-to-reach corners, etc. But did you know to use whitening toothpaste, too? Not gels, but the mildly abrasive toothpaste. It whitens, also cleans faster, and after you rinse, leaves a fresh fragrance behind! (Or, just dip your toothbrush in soda. Ahem.)

Oh yes! Before I forget — when I was at the organic market (Whole Foods, or Whole Paycheck, as it is known around our house) I looked for a jumbo economy size of baking soda and didn’t find it. However, I did find “organic” soda, which said “aluminum free” on the box. I bought it to cook with for the same reason I got rid of our aluminum pots and pans (stainless is my friend). Google aluminum+ Alzheimer’s. You can decide what you think for yourself. I’m not sure, but would rather err on the side of caution since we’ve seen Alzheimer’s in two family members, now.

czech-pottery.jpg
My pretty bowl is from this collection of Czech pottery, by the way.
I told you it was pretty!

I have quite exhausted myself from writing about household chores and now must rest. In fact, I do believe writing about them has satisfied any need to actually do them.

But feel free to do some yourself. I won’t stand in your way.

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Filed under Coffee, Environment, Green, Household, Misc., Organic