Saturday, May 30, 2009

Green Cleaning

Over the past year I've become a lot more conscious of the cleaners I use around the house, partly because of how expensive some of them can be but more importantly because I want to be environmentally friendly. I had never really stopped to think about it- not only do the products we use affect the air quality in our homes, but they wash down the drain and into our water, affecting the delicate ecosystems.

I've been using home made laundry and dishwasher detergent for some time now. When I switched, I was willing to sacrifice a bit of effectiveness for being more cost-conscious and environmentally friendly. I was completely shocked when I found that the cleaners I made were actually more effective than the store bought ones. How could this be?

I've always been a bit of a nut about having sparkling clean sinks in the bathroom and a clean shower. In the past I'd spray with mildew remover, soap scum remover and then finish off with glass cleaner to give a nice shine to the tiles (horrible for someone with an underlying lung disease!) These days I'm using a simple cleaner that works just as well, without the awful fumes and for a fraction of the price. Plus, I can feel good about the fact that the ingredients are biodegradable and not harmful to the planet.

I thought I'd post the recipes for some green cleaners here, in part so I don't have to search for them each time I need a new batch, and in case anyone else is interested. Here they are:

Laundry Detergent
1 cup borax (found in laundry aisle)
1 cup washing soda (also in laundry aisle)
1 bar fels naptha soap, grated (either in laundry or soap aisle- i had to ask for it)

After grating the bar of soap, process in blender or food processor with borax and washing soda to create a fine powder. Use 1/4 cup for front loading machines, 1/2-3/4 cup for top loaders, depending upon size and level of dirt. I've never used powdered detergent, always preferring liquids, but this is a great cleaner, it dissolves well and my white things are whiter than ever. I've also been able to stop using fabric softener, but for those who have hard water 1/4 cup vinegar can be used with a drop of lavender essential oil. (And, no, your clothes won't smell like vinegar at all)

Dishwasher Detergent
1 cup borax
1 cup washing soda
optional - a few drops of lemon essential oil
Combine and use 1/4 cup per load.

All Purpose Disinfectant
1 tsp borax
2 tbsp white vinegar
2 cups hot water
1/4 tsp lavender essential oil
2 drops tea tree oil
Mix above ingredients until dissolved and put into spray bottle.

Soft Scrub Type Cleanser
1/2 cup baking soda
1/2 cup dish washing detergent (I used Dr Bronner's Peppermint Castile Liquid Soap)
1/8-1/4 cup vinegar
Combine ingredients, amount of baking soda may be adjusted to achieve desired consistency. I love the liquid castile soap, it smells very clean and pepperminty.

Multi-Purpose Cleaner
I use diluted Dr Bronner's liquid soap for cleaning hardwood floors, sinks and the toilets. It's about $9 for a large bottle at Trader Joe's and that will last me over a year. I haven't yet tried washing dishes in the sink with it but think it would be effective at that as well.

Insect Repellant
Citronella Essential Oil
Cedarwood Essential Oil
Eucalyptus Essential Oil
Lemongrass Essential Oil
2 Tbsp Sweet Almond Oil
2 tsp Castor Oil
2 tsp Beeswax

Melt the oils together with the beeswax, add essential oils (I experimented, using a few drops of each). To be honest I haven't tested this yet, but can't wait to give it to my brother and see how it stands up to the black flies of back-woods Maine!

I'm always interested in new recipes, so feel free to leave them in the comments section- thanks!

Friday, May 29, 2009

My Kitchen Window

Although the image is fairly small it did come out better than I expected. As I was doing dishes one morning I saw a male and female goldfinch, one on each side of the thistle feeder. It was quite comical, the male would take a seed and while he was eating it the female would take a seed. The process would be repeated so that they were alternately pecking at the feeder and it struck me quite funny. Maybe you had to be there to appreciate the humor.

The feeder is hung from a huge, old, oak tree in our front yard and it creates a lovely shady oasis. I enjoy looking out the kitchen window at the feeder while I'm doing the dishes or tidying up, for some reason I never tire of watching the birds' antics.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Motion vs. Action

Never mistake motion for action. - Earnest Hemingway

A good thing for me to remember. I think oftentimes we feel the need to keep busy for one reason or another: societal pressure, avoidance or simply biting off more than we are able to chew . Sometimes our motion has purpose and we're actually accomplishing something and other times it is just an expenditure of energy without result. How often do we create work for ourselves?

There are days when I am busy the entire day and the only time I sit down is to send an email or eat lunch. I'm crossing things off my list, but still feel like I'm stuck in one place and treading water. Much of what needs to get done in a day is just task-y, repetitive stuff that is never really finished: straightening up the house, cleaning, cooking. It all has to be repeated over and over on a daily basis, but unless you want to live in a pigsty and eat takeout every night (or have live-in help!) there's no way to avoid it. I've tried to approach the mundane things with a mindful attitude. I'm nurturing my home, my garden, my pets and my family. There is a certain satisfaction and joy in that if you pay attention to what you are doing.

So, what is the difference between motion and action? I'd say it's in the eye of the beholder. Everyone has a different definition of what is important and meaningful to them; whether it be their work, their art, their avocation, hobbies or everyday tasks. It's up to each of us to decide what action we want to accomplish with our motion.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

My New Toy

I admit it, I'm a complete dork.

For the past 10 years or so I've had at least one rain barrel and absolutely loved it. When they went on sale I purchased a second one, each will hold 75 gallons and I have one at the front of the house and one at the back. They're wonderful for watering potted plants and for filling the birdbaths; some summers our rainfall is spaced out such that they remain full all summer. Other years when we have less rain (or perhaps I do more watering) they run dry in July or August and are replenished in September when things cool down a bit.

They help cut down on our water bill, which is great. Our water is very expensive here; we are charged extra because of our proximity to Boston. Basically, we're funding the cleanup of Boston harbor, something I applaud, but am not necessarily thrilled about when the water bills roll in four times a year. I love that we're able to capture a small part of a resource that would otherwise be wasted and run off into the ocean- the rainfall! It's better for the plants as it doesn't contain chlorine, fluoride or any of the other additives that get put into our drinking water. And, as water is going to become a more precious resource, I am happy that we are able to utilize something that would otherwise just run down the street and into the street drains. It's a win-win situation.

For a while now I've been coveting yet another rain barrel. Joe, who has to move them in to the basement every winter to prevent them from freezing and cracking, says "two rain barrels is enough!". I don't blame him, he's a great sport about all my hobbies and for the most part he is very supportive of my wanting to be environmentally friendly by using the rain barrels. I can see his point, I'm lucky to have two. Why be greedy?

A friend told me last week she wanted to get rid of one of her rain barrels. She just didn't have a place for it, and asked if I would like it. Would I?!? Oh yes! She brought it over last week and today Joe rigged it up under one of our down spouts. And (as if the 3rd rain barrel wasn't enough!) he connected it to another plastic drum so that the overflow will fill the second barrel. Now that's love!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Scratchy n' Sniffy

I was informed by another member of my household, who shall remain nameless, that my last post was "pretty lame; the kind a journalist would submit while on vacation". (In no way am I to be confused with a journalist.) I won't promise that this blog post will be exceptional, but I'll try my best not to make it "lame".

Scratchy lounging in our back yard

Our next-door neighbor has a cat whose name I don't remember. What I do remember is that she told me once her friends call the cat "Scratchy" because he has some kind of allergic skin condition that causes him to itch and lose patches of fur.

Since we live so close together, with our back yards abutting, Scratchy and Gomer seem to have developed some kind of wary truce in which each has privileges to go into the other's yard. I've never seen nor heard them fighting, they seem to keep their distance, but I know that after Scratchy has been in our yard Gomer finds it necessary to do a nasal once-over of the entire property. In fact, he deems this necessary each morning (and possibly again in the evening). I'm not sure if Scratchy has the same routine after Gomer has visited.

No shrub or plant goes un-sniffed! Cats must have an amazing sense of smell, great attention to detail is given to the underside of the large hosta leaves and the low-hanging branches of the lilac and spirea. Who knows what coded messages are there? I'm not exactly sure how the rules of the truce are laid out, but Gomer spends quite a bit of time putting his own scent back on the bushes by combing his cheeks on them. Hopefully some fur is also left behind, bonus!

There's a lot of pressure on poor Gomer since Benji died; he has to patrol the entire yard alone now. In the past they were the dynamic duo, tag-team defending the property from any invasion was a full time job. Benji took it a lot more seriously than Gomer, usually not allowing anyone to trespass and sometimes even chasing an intruder down the street. Gomer takes a more laid-back approach- you can come in, but no using the gardens as a littler box (ok, that's my rule..) and definitely no interaction with my humans. They are strictly off limits!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Random Happiness

Here are some random things that make me smile:


The wisp of smoke that floats out when you open a bottle of good root beer.


An unexpected phone call/pop in from a friend

A sunny day after a week of rain


Ice cream

Joe and Wilson


The smell of rain

The sound of the ocean

Down comforters

A clean house

Watching birds on the feeder

The first sip of coffee in the morning

A great book that I can't put down

The smell of freshly mown hay


to be continued.....

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Tribute to my Mom

The day is dawning with clear sunshine and a blustery spring wind--making the new leaves dance and the daffodils bob their heads. A lovely day in tribute to mothers.

I hope my own mom had a restful sleep and wakes up to the bright day feeling happy and at peace with the world. Everything I am, I owe to her thoughtful and patient presence. Both she and my dad worked hard all their lives to make sure my brother and I had everything we needed, but always kept us in check and taught us to appreciate what we had, not to be excessive and to enjoy each day fully. We were taught by example and allowed to make some mistakes, always with their loving support in the background.

My mother has been blessed with a generous, loving spirit; an eternal optimist she is always able to present a positive facade, even when things are difficult. She is able to handle challenging transitions gracefully and make the best of what she has been given. I hope I will be able to navigate life in such a manner, but she is a tough act to follow.

She taught me how to knit and sew with incredible patience, often interrupting her own work when I was young to correct a mistake I had made and get me back on track. From her I inherited my love of learning, reading, travel, the outdoors and family.

When W was younger and I was sick she'd drop everything to come stay with us and take care of everyone, putting her own busy life on hold. She knew how important it was to me to have the stability of routine and made sure that things were kept as normal as possible. Though the circumstances weren't the best, it was wonderful having her here and being able to spend the time together,memories I'll always treasure.

Even though we won't be together today, I wish her every happiness and a day filled with love. We will set aside a special day in the near future to get together to celebrate Mother's day, something to look forward to. (Most holidays are "floating holidays" in our family due to my parents' busy schedules). Happy Mother's Day, Mom, and thanks for everything you have done for me. I love you!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Hush.......Hush, Sweet Charlotte

As we walked slowly by all the cages at the Animal Rescue league she was the one who meowed loudest. Long meows that kept coming, as if to say "Look at me!!! Get me the heck out of here!!" A pretty face and shy but sweet personality. The tag on the cage door noted that she was 3 years old and had been given up because her owner had "too many cats". Who knows what kind of an environment she lived in? I'm sure her situation was quite puzzling to Charlotte: why was I brought here to be caged up and gawked at by strangers?

I knew nothing at all about how to choose a cat. Obviously, you don't want an aggressive one or one that is too timid. In the end we chose her because of the meows. There was something about them that convinced us she was in need of a good home. When she arrived at our house instead of checking out her new digs, she promptly went into the basement and hid up in the rafters. Ok, probably not surprising. Imagine: suddenly you're yanked out of your temporary housing and brought to a totally strange environment. I'd hide too! I figured we'd give her some time to make her way out and then we'd gently introduce ourselves to her. Charlotte had other ideas!

We knew she was eating and drinking, using the litter box, but every time we ventured to the basement to visit her she was tucked up in the rafters and inaccessible to our touch. After a call to the Rescue League for advice we decided to "help" her along, bring her up into the house and close the basement door so she'd be forced to get used to us. Time for some tough love! It worked and she was the most affectionate and sweet cat, very attached to me for some reason. She'd sleep with me, tucked under my arm, a warm and furry companion. She purred at the drop of a hat, a purr that belonged to a much bigger cat- so big we coined the term "mega-purr".

She always had a distinctive meow, loud and insistent. She didn't meow for food, or attention, really. It always seemed as though she had something definite to say to us. One time, after I had been in the hospital for 3 weeks, I called her upon returning home. She came running from the neighbor's yard at the sound of my voice and let out the longest meow I've ever heard to date. W was there as well and we were both amazed at that meow. There was no question she noticed my absence and was welcoming me home.

There are so many funny stories, too many to write down, but they'll always be in my memory. Her second story exit adventures when she was younger, the cryptococcal infection she had when she was 8, requiring us to get the expensive Sporanox from Mexico (a story in itself!), her eye injury treated with serum from her own blood, and her always sweet and affectionate presence. As she has aged and slowed down she has remained the same loving cat. Now, she's barely able to get around. She sleeps most of the time and gets up only to eat, drink or use the litter box. She looks tired. It's time. The vet will come this evening to euthanize her, which breaks my heart, but I know it is the kindest thing to do.

We have been very fortunate to have her for 15 years; she has outlived her younger "brother" Benji and been with us for Wilson's childhood and adolescence. I couldn't have asked for a better companion and will miss her dearly. Rest easy, Charlotte, and I hope to see you on the other side.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Peaceful, Easy Feeling

What a nice weekend. The weather has been perfect, 65F, sunny and perfect for working outside or taking a walk on the beach. Or both! Saturday was a productive day and we enjoyed a yummy Mexican dinner out with good friends at night, then walked around the Willows park in Salem. Still as tacky as ever, with a large biker crowd in the arcade. Great fun people watching. It was a beautiful evening, no bugs out yet and just a slight breeze. We were able to walk down to the end of the pier with our ice cream cones and enjoy the great weather. The perfect ending to a lovely day.

Today has been a day to putter around the house and work in the garden. I started out early this morning, even before doing my treatments, which was a nice change in schedule. Usually I don't allow myself to do anything until after they are done, so it was a treat to be able to head right out into the garden and attack all the weeds that have sprouted in the last couple weeks. After a couple solid hours of work I had finished clearing one bed out back and was ready for some breakfast and then my treatments.

Joe and I took a long walk down by the beach, all the way to Red Rock park and back, which was a stretch for me since I haven't been able to exercise in a couple weeks due to the flu. No more slacking, time to get back to it! The walk was tiring, but it was a good kind of tired. I did a bit more work outside and then sat down to appreciate my handiwork. It's so nice to look around and see the results of your labor! I get a lot of satisfaction from outdoor work.

So I'm left with a nice, contented, peaceful feeling this Sunday night. It's been a lovely weekend, a perfect balance of socialization and solitude, relaxation and work. I don't think it gets much better than this.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Final Presentation

Yesterday was W's final presentation for his FME class at college, wrapping up the last course for his freshman year. Only finals remain! Family was invited so of course Joe and I wanted to be there. I picked Joe up at work and after sitting in heavy traffic for longer than we planned, we found the building and got to sit down in the audience just as it was starting.

I was so impressed at how poised, pulled together and professional this group of young adults was. The presentation was an hour long, they discussed in detail the process of forming their business, the structure, challenges within the company, the selection of their product, marketing and then finally, sales. It was truly a hands-on approach, in my opinion, the best way to learn. Theory and background are important, but at some point you just have to dive in and do it. There will always be challenges and mistakes but it's all part of the process. Everyone learns differently, but I do believe this is one way that truly benefits every person.

It's so hard to believe that freshman year is over. It seemed like just yesterday we were moving W into the dorms and adjusting to his being away. I'm so proud of the way he has handled the transition. Not only has he done so gracefully and enthusiastically, he has truly flourished in the college environment. It makes a parent proud!