Friday, 30 July 2010

The bathroom ~ a few tips for easy care

Bathrooms can be troublesome to keep clean and presentable.  Common problems are: mildew in the fabric of shower curtains, a build-up of soap and lime on shower walls and glass, clogging drains and fraying towels.  Here is how I deal with them:   

The shower curtain:

I do wash mine from time to time but never often enough to prevent a degree of mildew.  This simple solution gets it looking like new in next to no time: I soak the whole thing in a bucket of warm water which contains about half a cup of household bleach for about an hour.  If all the marks haven't fully disappeared by then I simply push it back under for another hour.  After a good rinse and it can be hung straight back up again.  If you're not sure if this will work on your curtain you  might like to try putting just a corner of it in to see what happens.  The first time I tried this I was quite nervous, but it was either that of throw it out, so nothing was going to be lost!

The build up of soap and lime on shower walls and glass:

This can be greatly reduced by wiping these surfaces after showering.  This is simpler than you might think: enter the cheap plastic wiper blade you see at the right.  Honestly, wiping these surfaces does not take longer than ten seconds, and that's being generous!  New Zealand supermarkets commonly stock these in the same area as other cleaning things.  This practice  also helps keep the bathroom relatively dry.  Cleaning is much less arduous, than otherwise although it is best done reasonably often to be effective. 

Keeping the drains flowing properly:
The other implement in that photograph probably needs no introduction.  For those who haven't come across such things before, it's a plunger, and used for clearing sluggish drains.  The basin, sink, bath or shower is filled with a couple of inches of water and the hollow rubber dome is pushed down briskly over the plug hole forcing water into the drain.  This can help shift old silty build-ups and minor blockages.
     It's worth applying the plunger to plug holes which have become at all slow to drain so that the problem is solved while there is still room for movement.
     On one occasion, not long ago, our bathroom drain silted up to a complete stand-still.  Our landlord was away and the alternatives were limited.  After much fuss and bother I managed to free it up by a complex manoeuvre involving a high pressure jet of water from the garden hose being forced down the bathroom plug hole.  It was fortunate that the plumbing held together while the blockage was being  shot through as I really would have been in dire straits if it hadn't! It's not an experience I want to repeat so I'm now vigilant about keeping the drains in good running order!
     Some of the newer all-in-one shower cubicles have plug hole fittings which lift out for cleaning.  This should make it easier but I never found it so.  Regular cleaning is always required and I found it a (much) longer, yuckier job than the old style.

What to do with fraying towels:
One obvious solution is to re-stitch or bind the fraying edges, but depending on the number of towels you have you may prefer other choices.  This week I cut up two of my favourite bath towels to make  six hand towels.  Those towels had been favourites but had become shabby around the edges, and I could see that they wouldn't last all that much longer and I have plenty of others.  My set of hand towels, on the other hand, badly needed replacing so this was a sensible choice.  I cut each bath towel into three and seamed the edges, first with zig-zag to prevent further fraying and then turned them over and stitched them flat to look neat.  I now have smart hand towels and the old ones have been firmly relegated to the rag bag!

Monday, 26 July 2010

Wrestling with routines ~ in Round Two I begin to get the edge...

As I had hoped the second week of timetabled housework went a little better than the first, although it all depends on how you look at it: I did get more of my appointed tasks done and caught up on some of the ones I'd missed the week before, but I still found it used up most of my available time.  I don't think I exceeded the maximum hours set, but neither did I get anything else much done.  More frustration.  There is growing satisfaction though, that the house is increasingly clean and orderly.  Maybe if I keep it up for a month or so I'll be able to give it up for another six!  Only joking.

I even pulled out the stove and neighbouring fridge so I could clean underneath - not a difficult task but not a pleasant one either as it was well overdue: I found unbelievable amounts of greasy dust, food spatters with the appearance of great antiquity and various small items which had fallen down and rolled underneath!  It took a while to clean but came up nicely.  All done now.  One way and another the house is gradually getting in better order.  It must be!

I did not go so far as to re-wash the car.  Two weeks in a row would have been verging on obsessive although I indignantly noticed it could actually do with it.  I'm happy to leave such excesses to those to whom cars are of greater interest - such as Harry, who lives in the back flat.  He really does love cars and can often be seen cleaning his or tinkering away under the bonnet.  Saturday was sunny, even mild by our wintry standards, and there he was at it again, washing not only his car but also his daughter's.  I felt I should give credit where it was due; I went outside.

I like the ease of exchange we have here.  Landlord Neil was also out the back, making a new kitchen bench in his garage.  The three of us called out greetings and exchanged cheerful banter.  

I thanked Harry for inspiring me to wash my car.  It seemed prudent not to mention that I hadn't cleaned inside the door surrounds or the interior!  It lives in the garage so was safe from inspection.  He seemed pleased.  I added that to my surprise it now needed it again, and that no, this was not a hint!  He responded that one had only to drive down the road to get more dirt on a car.  It was just the same with the heat pump indoors, he said, you turn it on and dust flies everywhere.
     "Really?"  I said, then added a solution: "If you don't dust you don't notice".  Harry was appalled.  He has long made it clear that household cleanliness is a priority, for him anyway.
     "Don't dust?"  He was incredulous.
     "Well, I did dust last night", I added conscientiously.
     "What do you do all day?  I suppose you sit at your computer."  This was a put-down.  Harry's a straight-talker and doesn't mince words.  I'm a straight-talker too, descended from converging long lines of straight-talkers and wasn't about to let this pass.  But neither was I going to let on how much of the previous fortnight I'd spent on long-neglected housework.  That would seem like capitulation.
     "Hmm...  I have other things in my life.  When did you last write a book?"  Harry had no response for this, and after a little light-hearted point-scoring I left him to it.

At the time I passed the exchange off with good humour, but even so, the exchange stayed with me throughout the day, keeping me bubbling between annoyance and laughter.  I have my pride, such as it is, and if I'm going to be remembered for anything I want it to be for more than keeping the house clean!  And yes, I am aware of the irony of writing about it.  The motivation for all this wrestling with routine lies in the hope that at some point it will recede into the background where it should be, leaving me with more energy for writing and other creative endeavours.

Having a timetable definitely does help.  It (usually) stops me procrastinating and once I've done a task for the week I can dismiss it, such as the dust and fluff on the floors which I'm always aware of.  I do the floors once a week and that's it - which is more than I used to!  And it stops me getting bogged down where there is more to do than I can manage all at once, such as with the mending and small sewing jobs.  Last week I was pleased to complete a number of these tasks in the allotted time and then happy to put the rest aside until the same time this week.  I look forward to it even!  Yes, Week Two definitely indicates the beginning of success.  Let's hope I can keep it up.
Later, when Rewi and I walked to the shops, we paused a long time waiting for an even longer line of traffic.  It must have been coming from a sports meeting or other such event.  Either that or all the residents of the end street were staging a mass evacuation.  Not only were there a large number of cars, but practically all of them were exceedingly dirty.  In fact I can't remember ever having seen so many dirty cars all together at one time - enough to make any self-respecting car wash mortgage free in half an hour had their services been called on.  It's the effect of winter, I guess, and muddy country roads.  My car seemed positively pristine in comparison.  I really don't think comparisons should matter but despite my best efforts to ignore them I find they do - a bit.   

So much for that!  Let's see how I go with Week Three...

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Peanut butter, green sauce and other spreads ~

The price of butter is exorbitant compared to what it used to be, and the price of good quality butter-like spreads keeps fairly close to it.  As a result I eat far less of either than I used to and have been exploring other options.

Peanut butter is one of these - it's now cheaper than either.  I've looked carefully at the brands and have found that the Sanitarium brand is produced in Australia, whereas the Eta brand is now produced in China.  I choose to buy the one produced in Australia, which has fewer food miles associated with it, and is produced where food safety regulations closely match our own.  I should think that peanut butter is more nutritious than butter or margarine, which is another good reason to eat more of it than I used to, with jam or with Vegemite.  I've looked carefully at the labelling and found that peanut butter contains significantly less fat than dairy butter. 

Another alternative is a tasty vegetable oil and green herb spread which is a form of mayonnaise.  The economy of the recipe will depend on what sort of oil you use and whether you have parsley growing in the garden.  Either way, it's very easy to whiz up in the blender or food processor and the ingredients and quantities are elastic.  When I make it I taste it a number of times to be sure that it's just how I like it.  It's yummy with anything savoury such as cheese and tomato or lettuce.  Here is the recipe: 

Green sauce:
The ingredients are
  • Vegetable oil of good quality - 1 cup.  Olive oil is suggested but expensive.  If using olive oil you may wish to avoid the 'virgin' type due to its strong flavour.  I've made it with other good quality vegetable oil with equal success.
  • Parsley - a generous handful
  • Sprigs of mint and some rocket for extra tang if you like them and have them to hand.  Go easy with the mint as it is possible to overdo it - you might like to add it bit by bit and taste as you go along
  • An egg
  • The juice of a lemon - according to taste, from a half to a whole one
  • Mustard - a teaspoonful, either whole grain or powdered
  • Salt and pepper - according to taste
  • A teaspoon of honey can round out the flavours nicely.  I expect a little sugar would do just as well.
The original recipe contained raw garlic and onion, which I don't care for so have not included it above, but you may like to experiment with it.

Method: put all the main ingredients except the oil into the blender and whiz gradually until they've liquefied and combined, then slowly drizzle in the oil which will thicken as its added.  Adjust the seasoning to your satisfaction and that's it!  How simple is that?  The resulting sauce will fill a jar of 400 to 500 gram capacity.

I've tried to find a reputable source about the expected shelf life for mayonnaise made with raw egg.  I found a great deal of conjecture and discussion, but no clear consensus: a maximum of one week seems to be the rule of thumb if its kept in a closed container in an adequately cold fridge.  I think glass is best for food storage.

I did find a useful web page about eggs supplied by What's cooking America, which includes instructions for cooking egg for those recipes which require it raw, but disappointingly, their page about mayonnaise doesn't mention this.  I'll experiment with the suggested cooking, and also try substituting a tablespoon of low fat sour cream or yoghurt for the egg and see how that goes.  I'll add notes from further experimentations to the foot of this article.  The combined ingredients are mostly parsley and oil after all; those fresh greens have got to be good food value and tasty yummy! 

For those who wish to minimize fat intake or reduce cholesterol levels I have it on good medical authority that the margarine spread Flora pro-activ does lower cholesterol absorption as is claimed on the pack.  Information there reads:
25 grams (about four teaspoons) of Flora pro-activ a day provides the optimal intake of plant sterols (2 grams) needed to significantly lower cholesterol absorption.  Consuming more than 3 grams of plant sterols daily has no additional benefits.  Use as part of a healthy diet, which is low in saturated fat and high in fruit and vegetables. (etc.)
It's not a cheap option, but it does seem a good one for those who have these concerns.

Monday, 19 July 2010

A complex clock ~ and fond memories of a paper clip

Advances in technology are supposed to enrich our lives and make things easier, but often have the reverse effect.  My experience with the car clock is one such instance:

Last week, amidst the unusual bustle of domestic activity, I decided it was high time I reset it.  Perhaps a year ago the car battery was replaced and since then the displayed time had been all wrong.  I hadn't been able to work out how to reset it so it remained in limbo.

Then my wristwatch stopped running and the only clock I've had when out has been on my cell phone which I seldom use and is somewhat difficult to read.  To check the time I have to
  • a) have it with me 
  • b) get it out of my bag 
  • c) turn it on, 
  • d) unlock it AND 
  • e) put on my glasses - too many steps.  
I tend to run late and much prefer to know if I need to hurry - or not, so knowing the time has its uses. Surely the car clock couldn't be all that difficult!  Anyway, unless I sorted it out it would stay the way it was forever.

Having thus stiffened my resolve I went out to the car to have another go.  It's part of the car radio, which is situated too far below the dashboard to see easily.  I opened the car door and practically lay on my side so I could get a proper look at it - through my glasses.  Oops, I forgot I needed the key in the ignition to get some power into it.  I had the key.  Fine.  However, when the door is open and the key is in the ignition the dashboard beeps to remind me so, a nuisance my mechanic is unable to remedy.  Since I was lying through the door I couldn't shut it so I did my best to ignore the beeps.  I peered at the small print on the radio.  Even through my glasses it was still too small to read, and I needed better light.

I went inside for my torch and my reading glasses, as well as pen and paper in case I needed to write anything down.  In addition I took my cell phone so I could be sure to set the time correctly.  Prone across the drivers seat once more I peered at the array of buttons carefully.  I tried lots of buttons, and lots of combinations of buttons, all to no avail.  I could make the machine perform all manner of other manoeuvres but not that one.  Too bad!  I would have to see if I could find a manual for it on the Internet.  I wrote down what looked like the particulars of the radio and retreated upstairs to my computer.

The name of the radio turned out to be wrong, but fortunately the internet search corrected me.  I found an extensive booklet in PDF format and attempted to flick through it on-line.  Firefox didn't like it and crashed which required me to re-boot my usually crash-proof machine.  I found it again, downloaded it this time, re-named and filed the manual so it could be found another time and cruised through the pages...  Ah, Setting the Clock!  There was a whole page of illustrated instructions showing me in steps one to four with text and diagrams what I needed to do.  Uh-oh!  My printer was playing up.  With rare synchronicity so was Rewi's.  I carefully took down the page of notes in longhand, copying the diagrams which, being mildly dyslexic, I know I am incapable of remembering.

I trotted back to the car with my keys, my cell phone, my reading glasses, my sheet of instructions and my torch, and lay across the car seat for the third time.  And sorted it out in less than five minutes.  It was easy as pie.  But there was no way I could have figured it out without instructions, and I certainly won't remember how to do it by the time I have to alter it again once we go back to summer time a few months from now.  What a performance! 

In my previous car, a perky little 1985 Subaru Justy, the clock was part of the dashboard, not the radio, and stayed on all the time, key in or out.  Beneath it were two tiny recessed buttons, one for the hours and one for the minutes.  To reset it one simply poked a small sharp object into each hole until the desired numbers flicked round.  I kept a bent paper clip in the car for this express purpose.  Blessed simplicity!

But it's a great car - I love my Nissan! 
And perhaps I'd better buy a new wristwatch.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Housework in history ~ identical dilemmas

Georgette Heyer is one of my favourite authors, and in my view easily the equal of Jane Austin.  She is full of insight about human nature and social politics and packs in a wealth of historical references.  In "The quiet gentleman" one of her characters, a delightfully candid and ever practical young woman, has this to say about her parents and their friends who were Pantisocrats for a time:
     'They formed the intention of emigrating to the banks of the Susquehanna, but, fortunately, neither Mrs Southey nor Mama considered the scheme practicable, so it was abandoned.  I daresay you may have noticed that persons of large intellect have not the least common-sense.  In this instance, it was intended that there should be no servants, but everyone should devote himself - or herself, as the case might be - for two hours each day to the performance of the necessary domestic duties, after which the rest of the day was to have been occupied in literary pursuits.  But, of course, Mama and Mrs Southey readily perceived that although the gentlemen might adhere to the two-hour-rule, it would be quite impossible for the ladies to do so.  In fact, Mama was of the opinion that although the gentlemen might be induced, if strongly adjured, to draw water, and to chop the necessary wood, they would certainly have done no more.  And no one,' continued Miss Morville, with considerable acumen, 'could have placed the least reliance on their continued performance of such household tasks, for, you know, if they had been engaged in philosophical discussion they would have forgotten all about them.'
     'I conclude,' said Gervase, a good deal amused, 'that your Mama is of a practical disposition?'
     'Oh, no!' replied Miss Morville serenely.  'That is why she did not wish to form one of the colony.  She has no turn for domestic duties: Mama is an Authoress.'
That sounds like the voice of experience to me!  It seems that the tension of opposites inherent in coordinating practical with more creative activities continues to pursue us down the ages.

Purchasing links for interested NZ readers:
The Quiet Gentleman

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Wrestling with routines ~ round one to me, sort of...

This week I've been attempting to follow a routine.  This is in the hope that at some point I'll develop better ways of keeping our household in good order.  My usual approach is do the most pressing chores when they can no longer be avoided, and to do bursts of other sorts of cleaning and such from time to time, which isn't satisfactory.  While it enables me to indicate a semblance of order it doesn't stand up to close inspection, and it bothers me to have this constant backlog on hand.  I'm happier and work better when things around me are properly tidy and in good order.  One of my favourite maxims is that if I can't look after things I have I shouldn't have them.  Hmm...

Things piled up for several months while I was focused on writing my Wasteland Chronicle and since then I haven't had the motivation or energy to catch up with it all.  What to do?  On the face of it time-tabling seems as if it should work.  I've decided to give it a try.  Usually I'm hopeless at routines: my inner muse does work such odd hours, but maybe if I'm carefully realistic it could work.

So I spent some time devising a programme along the lines of the 'Wash on Monday, iron on Tuesday, mend on Wednesday', style of thing, adapting it to include all the various things I'd like to get done if only I could bring myself to make the necessary commitment.  In management training I learnt that 'the goal must be achievable', so I deliberated carefully over what to include and how often, and decided that my little programme should work.  "No more than two hours a day on these tasks" I typed firmly underneath it in bold.  That was separate from the everyday things I ordinarily (should) do such as keeping the kitchen bench clear and making my bed. 

It's been an interesting week.  On Monday I did quite well, but for some reason found that by three in the afternoon I still hadn't completed my two hours worth of chores, nor had I made my bed.  And I had reached the door-slamming stage.  Frustration set in.  All manner of other things kept claiming my attention, and I hadn't written a thing.  However, by the end of the day I did manage to complete most of my tasks, and late in the evening I triumphantly put newly gleaming silver teaspoons back in their box.  Day one - made it!

The rest of the week has been much the same.  I've had to face up to how evasive I am about certain things, such as ironing and mending.  I actually quite enjoy these simple tasks but will do almost anything rather than start.  In one evasive skirmish I even cleaned the car!  I never clean the car, except maybe once, perhaps twice a year.  I drive it.  That surely is enough!  Well, of course it isn't,  but it's tempting to think so.  Somewhat to my surprise I've been looking smugly at dirty cars ever since! 

I have a large pile of mending.  Here I have to boast of an achievement: some months ago the lid of my cane laundry basket came adrift from its woven knob and I successfully stitched back together - with embroidery thread.  It took ages, but the result is immensely satisfying.  The stitching is visible if you look for it, but I don't mind that.  In fact, I like it!  Someone worked very hard and skilfully to create that basket, someone who probably wasn't paid much to do so, and I value it.  It's a handsome piece and I have now contributed to it my own small quota of skill. 

My sister came to visit that day, and while I rather uselessly drank tea and ate the yummy biscuits she'd brought with her, she kindly sewed on a couple of buttons that had been trailing threads for I don't know how long.  Sisters are great!  The rest of the mending will have to wait for next week.  New thought: perhaps mending is more fun if you do it with friends!

I managed to stick to my timetable of tasks, pretty much.  I got about 70% done of what I set out to do, which should be considered good, but... I got almost nothing else done, and certainly no writing worth the mention.

However, I'm not about to be put off.  Not yet anyway.  The house has an unaccustomed gleam in certain corners which I'm more than happy about and surely next week it will be easier.  Reading Tim Jones interview with writer Chris Bell last week provided me with some words of inspiration: Chris quotes Gustave Flaubert who said:
"Be regular and orderly in your life so that you may be violent and original in your work." 
I think I'd substitute the word 'vigorous' for 'violent' for fear of being misunderstood, but I know what he means.  It seems worth striving for.  Time will tell!

Sunday, 11 July 2010

We've gone Bokashi!

Composting the kitchen scraps has long been part of our household routine, but an article in the local paper about the burgeoning rat and mice population made me realise that I needed to find a better way of managing it.  I want to keep on composting, and also want to avoid contributing to this population boom by laying on regular meals which would certainly result in the patter of more little feet than otherwise.  I would be distressed by the use of either traps or poisons - far better to prevent this sort of problem from arising in the first place.

Bokashi buckets present an excellent solution: food scraps are completely enclosed, and the addition of healthy composting organisms causes them to break down rapidly into organic matter.  A month or so after reaching full capacity the bucket-load can either be trenched directly into the ground or added to an existing compost system in a form no longer suitable for rodents to feed on. 

Even better, the buckets can be kept indoors as they seal completely and are therefore odourless.  You might want to add your scraps to them outside though. 

Almost all food scraps can go into them.  The literature says that paper, soup, fats and bones should be excluded.  I'm watching with interest to see how the system copes with tea bags! 

The image here shows that each bucket set-up consists of one bucket over another.  Any liquid produced by the composting scraps drains through to the lower bucket which can be easily removed.  Topped up with water in a ratio of about five to one the liquid can be poured directly onto the garden as fertilizer.

The buckets come in two sizes: ten litre and fifteen litre.  Although I was tempted to get large ones, I'm glad I didn't, as the smaller ones are quite heavy enough to carry!  I've got two at present, but can see that I'll need to get at least one more. 

Each bucket set comes with a one kilo bag of the 'Compost-zing' which is sprinkled in with the scraps to speed up decomposition.  It looks rather like sawdust and has only a slight, mild smell.   

I got ours from the local council, but they can be purchased on-line directly from the producer or other distributors. Pricing varies.

Later notes: 
If seriously considering this option you may wish to consider these points:
  • Once 'mature' the contents of your buckets still needs somewhere to go, either trenched directly into the ground, or into a compost heap with other rotting garden debris.
  • If left untended for too long the buckets can get mighty malodorous, so it pays to keep an eye on this, and to drain the liquid from the lower bucket regularly.
  • Bokashi buckets that are kept outside the house during winter, say, in a garage or shed, will probably not be warm enough to do anything much.
I'm not too fussy about mine, and use them for the degree of pre-compost rotting which renders them unfit for animal consumption and a good step along the way to becoming re-usable compost.  I add the contents to the compost heap when I've decided they've been in the bucket long enough, which works well.