Mesh Produce Bags to DIY Dish Scrubbie in 4 Easy Steps

Do you ever buy onions or citrus in plastic mesh bags like these? Do you hoard them under the sink like I do?

More than a year ago now I figured out how to turn a pile of these into a scrubbie and I have been washing dishes with one ever since. I finally gave up the nasty *dish sponge* and I have not missed it. In fact, I still have to keep sponges around for the occasions when My Man washes up, and I am not even tempted to use them anymore. What a gross and unnecessary invention, that nevertheless took me many years to figure an alternative to that I liked using.

(Many people use a wash cloth and like them just fine, but I found them too flappy aroundy. I did eventually find some terry cloth diaper inserts that are a good size for dish washing, and I use them often, but this scrubbie fits perfectly in my hand and has the full force of scratchy nubs to clean the dishes!)

So, to turn your pile of bags into a scrubbie:

Step 1: Cut off all the end closures so you have just plain sleeves of mesh.

Step 2: Starting with one, curl the ends around itself so that it rolls up into a circular sausage.

Step 3: Repeat with each sleeve until you have a big fat wad, much bigger than you think it should be (it will get scrunched up).

Step 4: Reserve you longest, nubbiest one for the last. Instead of rolling it in like the others, tie a knot in one end to reform the bag, turn it inside out (so the knot is on the inside bottom of the bag) then insert your sausage roll. Work the knot up into the center of the roll. Scrunch the wad up inside the bag until it feels like a good scrubbie size and density, then tie up the top of the bag, fold the top back under and tie again so that your outside bag is wrapped twice around the whole shebang. Tie again, but this time attempt to not pull the end all the way through the knot so that the scratchy ends are not pointing up into your hand.

Scrunch the knot down flat and then use with the knotted side cradled in your palm.


Didn’t I say it was perfect?

Taking a Filthy House in Hand

The last two months have been packed with three different batches of visitors, totalling seven adults and two kids. It’s been a lot of fun, but my desire to get on top of the house really fell away from me, round about visitor #1. Although everyone was very helpful and the basics of clean up were maintained just fine, the behinds and underneaths have really suffered.

oh look, kids! a buried treasure! lucky me!

These next few weeks I really need to take the house in hand. I need to be on top of my game, because My Man has finals starting at the end of the month and next month will be a manic wave of packing and moving, we leave here May 18th! A mere 42 days away!!! Holy fuckorama!

Several people have said that if we’re leaving so soon, why bother cleaning now? But when you have two little kids and a man finishing up his law degree, you simply cannot wait till the last week to start the massive cleaning and packing project that is a family move.

Tackling a really filthy house can be daunting, especially at first. Especially with two littles underfoot.

I take it one room at a time, making a first pass over the house where I do a basic picking up of everything, including all corners and underneaths, clearing of stacks on shelves and tables, and a good thorough sweep. This takes at least a week at the pace I can uphold with kids. When I finish that I make another pass (of course having to pick up a week’s worth of detritus first) giving everything a good thorough wiping/moping/scrubbing/dusting– the sort of stuff I usually almost never get to.

This week I have started the ball rolling with a first pass. I have five rooms done, hallelujah! Here’s my tactic for picking up a ridiculously messy room: I put several boxes or baskets in the middle of the room– one for dirty laundry, one for stuff that needs to be put away in other rooms (if your room is really truly ridiculous you might want a basket for each destination, ie: bedroom, kids room, kitchen, etc), one for give away, and a trash can. Then I make my way around the perimeter, on my hands and knees, methodically chucking shit into the respective boxes. I find this much easier than picking things up one at a time and dealing with them, and the chucking is quite satisfying.

caution: this is a frustrating job to do while the kids are in the room, they will pilfer your carefully organized boxes. but, what else are you gonna do? use your precious kid-free time to clean the house?

When I get done picking every single thing up, I take the baskets and put stuff away, then come back for what is usually some epic sweeping.

Ahhh, now doesn’t that look good? It makes me feel literally lighter. Whenever I clean my house like this, I enjoy it so much it makes me wonder why I don’t keep it like this all the time.

Oh, right. Now I remember. Because this serenity lasted all of three hours, and that only because I took the kids out for a walk. By the next day, you couldn’t tell I’d done a damn thing.

The Beauty of the Mundane

It’s hard to take so much time off. What do I come back in with? Part of me wants to write what my ex-social worker friend calls a “narrative” about our last month, to process it all. But, geezus what a daunting project. I thought instead I would break myself back into the business gently, with a delightfully over-obsessive inquiry into something beautifully mundane.


During our very difficult last month I, rather amazingly, kept on top of the laundry. I mostly kept at the cloth diapering, even though I had fortified myself heavily with a stock of disposables. And apart from a few rainy, exhausted days in which the dryer’s proximity to the washing machine lulled me into complacency, I kept up with my chore of hanging all our laundry. I even managed to put a few hampers of clean clothes away.

I am not telling you this in order to gloat. Because let me also fill you in with the parallel truth of my two gorgeous kidlets, sitting brain-sucked in front of Dora the Explorer for 3-4 hours of every day. Or 5, or dear god, 6. On our most rock bottom day, I am pretty sure that the 2yo watched movies during every waking hour.

And, you know how I feel about that.

Would I trade my neatly folded, sweet-smelling, crisp laundry piles for even just a few hours less of that vacuous look in their otherwise earnest, perfect eyes? Oh yes, if I could. If I could have summoned the strength. But while the job of mothering was almost incomprehensible to me, the job of laundry was so attractively clear cut. Open washer, fill with clothes, turn on. Remove wet clothes to basket, take outside into the fresh air and one at a time, pin by pin, hang on the line. A task completed.

For the first week, I was thinking that being a mama was helpful during such emotional upheaval. It helped me keep my shit (mostly) together. Helped me keep up with walks and outings every day, keep putting some form of dinner on the table, keep from crawling under the covers and crying away the day. But as our month moved along, the motherly task of emotionally and psychologically giving, giving, giving completely undid me. I began to have very unmotherly feelings like, get the fuck away from me, you little shit. I will admit to a passing fantasy about a large dog kennel. I felt stingy with my energy, with my self.

A friend pointed out that maybe allowing myself these ungracious feelings, allowing myself to plant the kids in front of the screen for hours of the day while I devolved, will keep me healthy in the long run. Mentally, and even physically. And I can see that. Makes some sense. At any rate, I tried to release all guilt about the screen time. I plugged the kids in, and went to hang up the laundry.

I love hanging laundry. It’s my favorite chore, hands down, and that is the sole reason I am so ‘good’ about keeping at it. The rest of the laundry chores are not so very. Gathering the laundry together? Meh. All that crawling around on the dirty floor, sniffing armpits, assessing stains. Putting the clothes into the machine, that’s neither here nor there. Folding clothes I could do without, and having to put those motherfuckers away, each in their own pile, in their own room, after the whole long process is almost just insulting.

But ah, the hanging on the line. The gentle breeze, the warm sun, the stiff feel of wet cloth, the snap when you shake each piece out, the wood clothespins fitting neatly into place, the satisfaction of baby shirts waving in the wind. It’s just lovely.

Do you hang laundry? Do you love it? Hate it? How did you learn to do it? I feel lucky to have had a few teachers. Although it sounds mind-numbingly simple, there are a few tricks to hanging laundry well, things mother would have passed on to daughter in days gone by. And just the fact of respecting it as a chore. I recently put our little flimsy piece-of-shit plastic table at one end of the laundry line, and I can’t believe how much of a difference it makes. How wonderful to have a place to set your basket, so you don’t have to bend over each time you pick up the next thing. When you repeat a task every single day, gains in efficiency and pleasure don’t have to be big to add up quickly.

Do you know the trick about using one clothespin to hang up two edges? Four rags can be hung with five clothespins, instead of eight, when you overlap the edges just a bit (we go through a shocking number of rags).

Do you hang jeans upside down or right-side up? How about tee-shirts? I generally hang them right side up, but have had problems with them becoming mis-shapen. Once when my MIL, also a clothes hanging fanatic, was staying with us she went outside and re-hung my entire load of laundry, upside down. I would have been annoyed except that she is probably one of those girls who learned from her mother the “right way” and couldn’t bare to see it done wrong. I considered the tee-shirt issue carefully and tried hanging them upside down for awhile. Now I have given up hanging tee-shirts on the line altogether, since they are so prone to getting stretched out, and started looping them over the stout wood dowels on my drying rack instead. No line, no stretching. In case you care. I for myself don’t, but My Man does.

Then there is the bleaching issue. The sun will bleach your clothes out, quite quickly down here. If I were a better wife, I would turn My Man’s dark clothes inside out when I hung them, and therefore keep the outside color intact. But I have only recently given in to separating colors for the wash. One can only go so far. I have learned to not leave clothes on the line much past dry to avoid any extra bleaching, which I consider progress.

I figured out some time ago that when I can fold the clothes outside, as I take them off of the line, everything runs smoother– the clothes avoid the crumpled-in-the-hamper wrinkles (I have been known to let baskets of clean clothes sit around for weeks before folding and putting away), not to mention that I am much more likely to put said basket away when they are folded and ready to go. Plus the task of folding feels like much less of a task when it is part of taking the clothes off the line, and happens outside in that lovely breeze. This is another enormous advantage to my new ‘outdoor laundry table,’ it gives me a good space for folding. If I take down the clothes in order of where they go– ie: all My Man’s shirts first, then pants, then the 2yos, etc– I save myself from having to sort it out later as well.

Here’s one last good laundry tip. Stop folding your 4yo’s clothes. If she is anything like our 4yo, getting dressed is not a static event occurring once/day, but rather a continuum of dressing and undressing. I set up this clothes bin for her some time ago, and have never regretted it. She can go through the clothes to her heart’s content and pick what she wants, she can even (theoretically) put them away (never happened yet). I don’t have to get outraged that she’s disturbing careful piles, and when it comes time for the reality of me picking up her floor, putting the assortment of outfits away is easy.

Do you have any banal laundry tips to share with us? What makes your laundry rituals more pleasant and efficient? What’s your favorite household chore to set your mind straight?

Punk Housewife Tip: The Writing on the Walls

My Little Angel just looooves to draw on the wall. Maybe it’s my ‘independent child-rearing’ philosophy (also known as leaving the kids unattended in the other room as much as I can get away with), but at our house it seems to be a simple if/then formula. If there is a crayon (pencil/marker/chalk) anywhere in the bottom 28 inches of our house, then he will find it. If he finds it, then he will use it to draw on the wall.

I have a friend who just rolls with the punches, and lets the house become one big chalkboard. She figures when the kids both top 5 they can paint over everything, and until then, why spend any time worrying or scrubbing? I applaud the surrender, and if we owned our home, I would seriously consider such a tactic. But we rent. That shit don’t float.

After some experimentation I discovered the magic mark-removal method. It’s simple, nothing new or exciting here, but I was excited, and that’s what counts.

  1. Spray marks liberally with pure vinegar
  2. Pour a teaspoon of baking soda onto a wrung out rag
  3. Scrub that SOB till it’s white again

I tried just vinegar, and just baking soda. Neither worked. Gotta mix ’em baby. Maybe it’s the science project foaming action, maybe it’s the grit of the baking soda reaching down into the textured surface of the paint. Whatever it is, it works. It can take some hard scrubbing though, especially pencil marks.

Make sure to add more baking soda as necessary, you want to be able to see a thin sheen of it on the wall. And yes, you do have to follow this treatment with a clean wet rag to wipe all the soda off.

for scale, this is about 18 inches across. and no our walls are not gray, they're white. lighting is everything, so they say.
it takes a good little pile of baking soda, enough to get the grit factor going
this is an uneventful photo, right? unless you want to get your entire security deposit back, then suddenly it becomes very attractive

Washing Dishes

Whoever said that washing dishes is zen did not have screaming kids hanging off their legs.

One of the benchmarks of motherhood for me is the concept of being downright thankful for the opportunity to wash the dishes, all by my lonesome at the end of the day, while My Man is playing with kids in the other room. Ahhh. I’ll concede that that there might bring me closer to enlightenment.

Lately though my almost 2yo has been thoroughly enjoying dish duty. I remember when the now 4yo went through this phase– washing dishes would actually fix a bad mood for her. Those are the good days, happy toddler by your side, discovering the properties of water and gravity. Another kind of enlightenment.

Little Guy stands up there on his stool by my side, pouring water from one cup to another, with occasional success, on the very edge of the sink. I am so thankful that I let go into the Mess long ago. I was thinking of you new mamas today, as the puddle at our feet grew into a small lake. I just want to make sure you have some good mama friend who’s given you the key. Have you? The key to open the Mess Lock in your mind. I guarantee you will not regret it.

So what if a literal gallon of water hits your floor, half cup at a time. It’s water. Just a good start to a floor mopping is what I always say. Helps combat the other more righteous messes. I guess if you live in a desert and water is truly precious, it would be wrong to waste it. But anywhere else, just give it up baby. Give it up now. Water is boss.

A friend pointed out recently, as we watched our kids play with the hose for half an hour, how much water goes into making toys? Kids toys and adult toys alike? Should we begrudge our kids a little via direct line? Screw the toys, my little man can play happily with water for at least an hour a day.

Combine that with standing up next to mama while she does some real live grown-up chore? Involving brushes and bubbles and clattering? Awesome. He can splash, pour, fill, dip dirty dishes in the rinse water, try to nab the scrubbie, it’s a haven of trouble to get into. If he can break a dish while he’s at it, why that’s pure nirvana.

Breath deep sister. Another day, another load. More neurons fired. All’s well.

Dishwashers: Are They Worth It?

dish Jenga

I was rabidly anti-dishwasher for a long time. When we moved into our new house in Alaska, some 8 years ago, I unhooked the dishwasher so we wouldn’t use it (well, actually I unhooked it because it was on the same water line as the ice maker for the fridge, and I wanted to move the fridge out to the garage… Hey, I was coming from a tipi in the woods with no running water or electricity, cut me some slack.) My anti-dishwasher morality went like so: If people don’t have to clean up after themselves, then they are allowed to be distanced from the true consequences of their lives and actions. If I cooked too much and had too many dishes, it was my own fault for having luxurious expectations for my diet, which would be better off simplified anyway. It’s unrealistic in the scope of humanity to expect complicated, feast worthy meals, and baked goodies almost every day.

As you know if you follow this blog, I’ve blessedly grown up and out of this self-righteousness a bit. I still believe all that stuff to be true, but I’ve learned that there’s a lot more to a radical life than just black and white ideals. Like translating them into a practical lifestyle that you can sustain over the long haul, whilst still feeling a part of your community.

The reality of my “radical life” is that I cook almost everything from scratch, and despite my best efforts at a Zen-like refusal, still expect to eat the lush and varied diet of a modern first-world human. This means I make a lot of dishes.

As we got our Alaska house ready to rent before the big move two years ago, we hooked the dishwasher back up. And since it was hooked up, we started using it. I was 6 months pregnant, with a very two year old, busy packing a zillion boxes.

I was a bit smitten.

You just put the dishes in. And…. it…. washes them. For you.

I admit I was a little disappointed when our New Orleans rental house didn’t have a dishwasher. But I buckled back into washing a family’s output most days, with My Man making up the extra.

Until last May.

My MIL is one of those treasured people who remembers what having two small kids is like. This is not necessarily always the case, I’ve found. Many people seem to have blocked it all out. They give me quizical looks when I lament the challenges of my life, as it stands. They seem surprised, and the surprise betrays a judgement. But my MIL, bless her heart, remembers these crazy days and has full empathic sympathy.

So for my birthday last year she bought me a free-standing dishwasher. It’s not plumbed in, instead it has a long hose that attaches to your sink faucet (don’t feel bad, I didn’t know either). This is a great thing if, like us, you are in a rental. And it was only $200. Of course, it’s just a standard, bottom of the line dishwasher, nothing fancy, and not particularly efficient I’d guess.

the beast

Both My Man and I quickly developed a real love/hate relationship with the dishwasher. On the one hand, I sure liked having it wash the dishes for me, a task that had become mind-numbingly difficult in that first, insane year after the second baby. I liked that the counters stayed cleaner too, instead of always piled with dirty dishes on one side and the clean dish Jenga on the other. But I was disappointed at how long it took to load. Like all those modern conveniences I have this feeling like it should remove all burden of work from my shoulders, and I’ll just float free. But of course, no. There’s the rinsing, the bending way the fuck down there to carefully arrange every dish for maximum efficiency. The rearranging when you just want to fit that last one dish in.

But mostly what ticked me off was that my dishes weren’t clean. I mean, maybe 50% of them were truly clean, 40% were reasonable, but not up to my handwashing standards, and the last 10% were ridiculous and needed to be washed again, with a scrubbie and a strong elbow because that filmy white shit was really stuck on. I was often too proud for this, it made me feel like I had been beaten into submission by a mere machine, and I would stubbornly put these filthy looking dishes back into our cupboards because, fuck you mother fucker, I was going to have the last word.

exhibit A
exhibit B
exhibit C

I thought it was our dishwasher at first. Then I started asking around. From what I understand dishwashers used to work, and still do, in some states. Specifically, in the states that haven’t outlawed the high-phosphate detergent. My MIL explained that she would smuggle the illegal kind back from Montana whenever she went, and then cut the Washington approved stuff with it, because otherwise her dishes were as bad as mine. Other people I talked to seemed to have just accepted the double-edged sword of having not very clean dishes, and having to rewash the worst ones.

It seemed to me like dishwashers were just a big dupe, the wool pulled over everyone’s eyes while we kept right on asking for more. But, my life was pretty crazy, as I may have mentioned. I’d take any help I could get, even if it was bad help. So I kept on using.

But, when we got back from Christmas at the MIL’s illegal detergent household, and I opened our cabinet for a glass, I was repulsed. The glasses were almost all covered with The Film. (Since it goes on the dishwasher, but never comes off without hand scrubbing which I seemed to proud to do, it had just multiplied over time. Plus I think that once The Film is on there, it attracts more Film to it, building up with every wash.) I had had it.

I went cold turkey. Fuck that mother fucker once and for all. I worked through the cabinets one sink-full at a time, feeling a new-found joy at the sight of sparkling clean glasses and jars.

All throughout this entire process My Man and I had speculated how much time the dishwasher actually saves. I suspected it was not as much as I wanted it to be, or as much as most people think. Finally a few weeks after making the switch, I was overcome by curiosity. It was time to break out the barely concealed Type A personality and do an experiment.

The Great Dishwasher Experiments

When I was feeling in a good place, and had a Saturday ahead of me for the latter part of my experiment, I started by loading our dirties into the dishwasher. I timed myself loading, in four separate batches, which is about how I would usually do it. It took a little more than a day to fill. Then, recruiting My Man to keep kiddos at bay and allow me an uninterrupted time block, I unloaded that same batch of dirties and hand washed them in the sink.

I know. I know. But aren’t you glad I did? And guess what, due the tarnish of the shocking conclusion by a few inaccuracies, I did it again. And then again.

The first (flawed) experiment yielded this score:

  • dishwasher- 13 minutes
  • handwash- 17 minutes

I was blown away. I had been expecting to be surprised, but this simply couldn’t be right. That it had taken me 13 minutes to load the dishwasher wasn’t too surprising, but a mere 18 minutes to hand wash that enormous pile of dishes?!?!?!

After attacking my scientific method, I had to dispense with such pedestrian techniques as simply watching the clock. I discovered my obnoxiously useful iThing has a stopwatch, and I employed it during my next two experiments.

The other compromise to my results came in the rinsing department. I am a negligent rinser when loading a dishwasher. Another power trip thing. If I’m gonna pick up the dish, hold it under flowing water, and wield a sponge or brush, I might as well just wash that son of a bitch. But, you do have to at least knock the chunks off, and I realized that I had unfairly counted that time with the dishwasher segment, and then put the pre-rinsed dishes straight into the sink for handwashing.

So, round two and three followed, with more accurate results.

  1. dishwasher 7.5/handwash 13.5
  2. dishwasher 6.5/handwash 12

While the first flawed experiment suggested a ratio of 1:1.3 (1 minute of dishwasher loading to a mere 1.3 minutes of handwashing), the second offered a more comforting 1:1.8, and the third almost 1:2.

Phew, dishwashers are at least worth something!

I still find these results shocking though. Not the ratio as much as the actual minutes involved. I mean, even the first 18 minutes to handwash blew my mind, let alone the following 13.5 and then 12?!?!? Before washing that first batch, I told My Man I expected it to take about 40 minutes. That was my, I liked to think, educated guess. I have washed an awful lot of dishes in my life. When I finished and looked at the clock, I couldn’t believe it, I kept rechecking the piece of paper I’d written the start time on, and re-calculating the math.

When I did the handwashing, I consciously didn’t race. I proceeded at my usual pace, though I will admit that is pretty quick. I used to dawdle over dishes, when I was younger, and time was a deep pocket from which I endlessly dipped more than I needed. Nowadays, I do hustle a bit.

What this whole experiment has pointed out to me is, not that dishwashers are useless exactly, but that handwashing dishes only takes an additional 6 minutes a day! That I can wash an enormous load of dishes in 12-17 minutes! Who knew?

Like most women, and even a (very) few men I’ve know, when I wash dishes I also tend to clean the kitchen. They are kind of wrapped up in my mind. I had never taken the time to extricate dishwashing from the whole clear the table/put the leftovers away/scrape the plates/wash the dishes/wipe the counters and stove shebang.

Not to mention that when you have kids, 15 minutes of dishwashing can easily become two hours of trying to get back to the now tepid sink full of dishes in between retrieving snacks, mediating fights, wiping tears, wiping asses, wiping spilled milk and generally cleaning up after the implicit 15 minutes worth of unsupervised play.

None of which that goddamned dishwashing machine helps with one iota.

So. The conclusion. Is saving 6 minutes a day worth a cupboard full of filmy dishes? I’m sure it will depend on the day. In general, for now, I am sticking with handwashing. But I don’t regret having had the dishwasher during that not so long departed Year of Insanity.

For one thing, at the end of a long day (and they are all long) loading the dishwasher sure sounds a hell of a lot more tacklable than washing the dishes. Dishwashers offer the ellusive possibility of easy clean, even if they don’t deliver. If I could just find the right machine, or the right detergent, this time it will be different….

I like what Eric Knutsen and Kelly Coyne say in their book Urban Homestead. After discussing whether the hype about dishwashers being more efficient than handwashing is true, they own up to the fact that either way, they love their dishwasher, “it has saved our marriage more than once, and you’d have to pry it out of our cold, dead fingers.”
Those guys kick ass. I love their candor.
Though I have to add, did any of you read Kelly’s recent post about cleaning a coffee cup stain with baking soda? I hate to say it, but that filthy build up would have never happened in the first place if the cup had been regularly washed in a sink with two hands and a scrubbie.
where all my best thoughts go

Of Houses, Toddler Stools and Spiderwebs

Well friends, I have some exciting news…

No, not that. Hopefully you won’t be hearing that exciting news from me, ever. We hope and intend to keep it to two. Two parents, two hands, two whirling dervishes. It’s simple math. How do you mamas of three survive?! I’d like to know.

No, our exciting news is of the big, boxy, constructed of wood variety. We’re moving! Not far away, and to another rental, but a single! We currently live in a ‘half of a double shotgun,’ New Orleans speak.  Which means a classy, 100 year old duplex. Worse even than a regular duplex, because both sides are completely linear. Seven rooms all in a row, no hallways even (the story is, if all the doors were open, you could shoot a gun straight through without hitting anything). Which means that every room is one wall away from your neighbor. Who is a 50-something confirmed bachelor, not particularly fond of kids, and worst of all works at home. The first year went okay. But… we grew tired of each other.

Funny thing is, he has never complained about the (copious) screaming, he claims he doesn’t hear very well. But what he has always complained about is the running. We have old wood floors, and the sound does really carry. I guess he hears the low vibrating floor sounds better than the high pitched, air-borne banshee screams. But what are you gonna do, right? Kids don’t walk, life is too short. The 3YO has finally learned to “run on her toes” but the 1YO walks as all toddlers I think, bang, bang, bang on his heels.

In August of last year, I suddenly was just over it. I didn’t want to feel the stress of keeping my kids quiet in our own home. And as soon as I realized I wanted to move, I could hardly think about anything else. I was obsessed. I scoured craigslist 4 times a day. We didn’t want to leave the incredibly walk/bike friendly part of town we’re in now, and we didn’t just want to move to another double in hopes of a more understanding neighbor. We needed our own place.

But there wasn’t anything. I mean, not anything. Granted I was looking at a small area, about a mile square. And we have a pretty small budget for a single family home, $1,500 was our top limit. One place came up, soon after I started looking. We applied, but didn’t get it. And then, nothing. For four months!

I had given up. I was resigned by now. We only have another 16 months here. The neighbor’s not that bad. It’s perfectly livable.

But then a friend had a friend! With a house! A single! We’ll be able to run and jump and scream all we want! And it’s not even a shotgun! It has separate bedrooms, that you don’t have to walk through to get to another room! The baby can nap!

Yes, I am a bit excited. It’s just as nice as the place we’re in, though lacking the very old house charm. The location is not quite as ideal, but it’s still perfectly good. It’s about ten blocks away. The yard is a lot bigger. And it has central AC and heat (our current place has window units, loud and obnoxious). The rent is pretty much the same as what we pay now, $1,200, even though it’s a single family home. I think that’s because the neighborhood is slightly lower income. Read: Less pristine white yuppie-ness. Which is good, we’ve always been a bit too trashy for this well-manicured neighborhood. But sadly, as cities go, lower income can also mean less safe. We might have to cut out the night walks.

The only problem with our glorious new digs is that we have to wait till the end of the month to move. Darnitt! I want to move right now.

(Well, okay, the other problem is that it puts me half the distance to the chocolate croissant bakery, La Boulangerie.)

In other news, I’ve been excited to share my latest wood butchering project. A friend here got the Learning Tower for her 14 month old, and I was jealous. It’s basically a large, semi-enclosed stool, so that your little helpers can get up to the counter without fear of falling. When the 3YO was bitty I always just put her up on a chair. She fell a few times, but I didn’t worry too much. For some reason this time I was having a harder time letting go mentally. Maybe it’s because the 1YO is a daredevil. The 3YO was always very adventurous, but she was cautious too. Not this one. He’s a classic boy, I must admit.

Anyway, the Learning Tower looks like a great investment if you’re at the outset of your parenting years. But I just couldn’t pony up the $200 myself. Especially since I had a small stack of scavenged wood under the house (for no particular reason other than that I can’t help myself), and a reasonable amount of building experience under my belt.

This was pretty simple to put together, if you know your way around wood. It took me a couple of hours, and that was with “helpers.” The painting took another hour or more. But I felt it looked a bit too ghetto pre-paint, even for my crude taste.

I decided to make it attach to the counter. In order to be free-standing and stable enough for an adventurous toddler (who would likely grab one side and shake/rock as hard as his little arms could manage, to try to tip it over) it would have to be quite a bit bigger. Also, making wood projects free standing is always harder. You have to make your measurement and cuts perfect, and that’s just not my style. But if you simply attach your slightly wobbly whatever to a stable, stationary thing like a counter, voila!

I happily found some semi-locking hooks and eyes, which work perfectly. I have two sets, one for a station at the counter, and one at the sink, so he can help with the dishes.

I’m quite pleased. It works well, and really cuts down the stress in the kitchen. It’s small enough that it’s not too unreasonable in our little space, especially since we pretty much always had a chair in there before anyway. The 1YO loves it. Unfortunately the 3YO is also quite enamored, there have been a few sadnesses over it already, even though I was careful to stress as we built it that it was his stool.

When I built this, I started out taking a bunch of photos, thinking I would write a How to Do Basic Carpentry for True Beginners post, with this as the project. But as I progressed, trying to think from a true beginner’s standpoint, I realized this project would be a little too complicated if you were really at the point of learning to use a saw and screw gun.

But I really feel that a lot of women have missed out on these basic skills, and they are ever so useful around the home for little projects like this one. If you’re like me, you have trouble learning from a man. I was thinking of maybe doing a tutorial on it, with really in-depth descriptions and photos of how to use the basic tools for a smaller project, like a simple shelf. What do you think?

This would take me quite a bit more time than a regular post. I have seen some tutorials online that work like a class, and cost a small fee. Would anyone be interested in paying $20 or something for an online class like this?

Last order of business is the spiderwebs. Ah, yes.

I have a post-in-progress (post-out-of-progress is more accurate) about kids and messes. I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately. Remember the cute story about the 3YO asking if I was the “Cleaner” and proclaiming herself the “Messmaker?” She used to occasionally throw everything on the floor for fun. Not too bad. Well, since I started my Cleaning Obsession, she picked up the pace a bit. Then a few weeks ago I made the fatal mistake of yelling at her for it, laying on a big, dramatic guilt trip and generally making a scene. Aha. A whole new game.

This is the kind of Little Bit I’ve got, anyone else blessed with this kind?

Even as I yelled at her, I knew I would regret it. And regret it I have, man oh man. She started doing it every couple of days. And when I say she throws everything on the floor, I mean everything. She often does it right after I’ve finished cleaning the house. Making null and void my hour of picking up in a mere 6 minutes.

In an attempt to get at the root cause, I took our big bags of recycling out from under the house the other day and set them in the backyard. I gave her the green flag to throw them around, and she did, but there was no glee in it. The point is to be bad mama. What fun is sanctioned chaos?

But the spiderwebs. I’m not sure why I told the above story, they are related in my brain. But is it because making spiderwebs provides a healthy release for chaos, or because it drives me almost as insane as the throw-everything-on-the-floor game?

Spiderweb making is something she started ages ago, after a Curious George episode. It’s probably hugely educational, challenging one’s physical and mental dexterity. And that’s why I’ve let her continue it as a semi-regular habit. That and the fact that she adores it.

The web construction goes like so, I give her a ball of string and she winds, hooks and twists it around over under and through everything in the room/house/yard/whole fucking world.

Don’t forget now that our house has no hallways, and you have to walk through every room to get to any other room. Talk about claustrophobic. Yeesh.

I’m not sure I can exactly recommend this to you other mamas out there. But I feel like I can’t not recommend it either, it’s such an infuriatingly healthy little excersize. Maybe if you start out with a rule about spiderwebs in the yard only, you’ll do better than I, who has learned by experience what it’s like to be a fly.

Then again, what the hell am I doing??? Stop making messes you damned curious, inquisitive, passionate little monsters. Can’t you go watch TV?

1R/D to a Clean House!

I’ve been meaning to give you an update about my new 1 Room a Day to a Clean House plan, and now seems as good a time as any. I have a fat list of blog subjects in my line-up, but cleaning is what I’m doing right now.

So, to refresh, the 1R/D plan goes like this: 6 rooms in our house, 6 days in a week and on the 7th I rest. The room of the day gets scrubbed up shiny. All the usual picking up and sweeping, but then I take it a step or two further– mopping, wiping dust off the mantles, cleaning windows, dealing with accumulated clutterdrifts. This doesn’t mean I completely disregard the rest of the house mind you. There’s still the daily dishes, laundry, and picking up toys. But the rest of the house I keep just above board. The room of the day gets to sparkle.

Certainly the 1R/D Plan not for everyone, and who knows really if it will turn out to be for me, in the long run. But at the outset, I have to say I kind of like it.

I like that the house stays pretty clean. It’s not the kind of clean anyone would notice. There’s still toys strewn hither and yon. Dishes piled by the sink. Laundry baskets in various states. It doesn’t particularly look clean. But it doesn’t bombard you with dirty either. And to me, based on my past record, if it’s not filthy, it’s clean.

And because it’s generally clean-ish, I can put an hour or two into cleaning and see a clean room! It’s so satisfying!

I like the 1R/D plan because my house is cleaner, but the reason I think it might actually stick is because it’s freeing.

I know not everybody feels this way, but I do well with the focus/disregard angle. It feels easier to me not to have to think about every room all at once. One room at a time. ‘The bathroom sink has toothpaste spooge? Who cares, it’s Monday. I don’t have to clean the bathroom until Wednesday.’ It’s a way to let go. It’s like making a list so that I can release my mental grip on everything I need to do. (Except that after releasing my mental grip I always lose my lists. That’s the weird kind of person I am. Anal enough to write a list, but not anal enough to remember where the hell I wrote it…)

I was curious how this One Day at a Time Program would handle the inevitable spills off the wagon. I had missed a day or two here and there already, and found it not a problem. I just catch that room next time around. I mean I only used to do this kind of cleaning twice a year, so even if I only get it once every two weeks, we’ve come a loooong way baby.

After almost two weeks of The Sick House in which I was lucky just to keep on top of the pukey laundry, I have the real test I was unknowingly hoping for.

And I have to say I feel a bit better about heading into the next week with a sort of a plan of attack. We’ll see how it goes, but after two days of general clutter-control, underneath the house isn’t looking so bad. I feel quite optimistic.

Master or Slave?

I was going to title this post “Master of My Domain” but honestly, part of me has been wondering who the hell had this big Clean House idea anyway, because shit is this some work!

My house is clean. Not immaculate, but pretty darned clean, even in the unders and behinds. It’s been more or less clean for about a week, but the upkeep takes all my spare moments, and then some. Including, significantly, those moments where I’m just dog tired and want to take a load off. On top of the upkeep, even though I feel like I am “done” with the deep cleaning, every day I seem to think of something else that I haven’t gotten yet, and had somehow told myself I didn’t need to get. But then I can’t stand to have the house clean except that one stupid little projects, so, okay I’ll clean under My Man’s desk/wipe down the weird brown drool in the freezer/move the kitchen cabinet and clean underneath because what is that rotten smell whenever the heat comes on and blows under there anyway…?

At first I thought I was just taking a long time to truly finish up, but a couple of days ago I realized there will probably always be something. Every day will have a “project” in addition to the hours it takes to keep all the toys picked up, floors swept and vacuumed, counters wiped, clothes washed/hung/folded/put away, every. single. god. damned. day. Are you kidding me? This is ridiculous. It’s not driving me crazy yet, I’m still high on the thrill of having a clean house. But christ, when the buzz wears off, I fear the sloven I will revert to.

The only reason I’ve been able to clean and keep clean in the first place is that everything else is going kind of easy right now. The Babe (dang, Toddler now?) has really hit his stride lately, advanced to where he can truly interact with his environment, and is therefore soooooo much easier to keep pleased. The 3YO has been easy for awhile now (knock on wood) and can happily play solo for hours on end. She was playing with just her hands today for 25 minutes, some elaborate pretend, rife with dialog. Don’t get me wrong, they are both every bit the passionate, opinionated, feisty little bites they always have been. They just seem to be getting what they need and want lately, and it shows.

To really spoil me, My Man had another 5 days off of school after we got back from our trip, in which I was a Tasmanian devil of rags and hot water. And even since he started back, it’s the begining of the semester and life is easy.

Breaking point or no, I truly don’t think I would have been capable of this sort of Filth Recovery in November, or really any other month since The Second was born. Until now. All the forces converged, and my house is clean and it’s great, and I’m proud and cleaning house is so much more satisfying when you have a clean house at the end of the day, yaddah, yaddah.

But nevertheless. Seriously? This is how much work it takes to keep a clean house? Day in and day out? There can only be one word to sum it up, sorry to any tender ears out there.


I don’t know if I have it in me.

I want to have it in me, I really do. I want to have a home clean enough that it’s relaxing and inviting. I want my kids to grow up in a reasonably clean space, where the tables have space for a coloring book, and floors for rolling around. I want them to grow up thinking that people put things away when they are done, generally, instead of leaving them in piles to fester for weeks or months to come.

So, in an attempt to make cleaning the house a bit more efficient, I’ve devised a small plan. Conveniently, we have six rooms in our house, just as there are six days in a week (minus Saturdays, which are my day off, not to be used for cleaning). My idea is to give every room a good clean once a week. This won’t keep my whole house spotless, but I never asked for that. I’ll start at the front on Sundays, and work my way back. The bedroom is an easy one, so I’ll use that day to catch up on laundry, which I’ve been known to leave clean in the basket for weeks at a time.

I don’t know how I will like this. I am a hopeless creature of habit, but have never been a creature of scheduling. We’ll see. I just want a way to streamline the whole caper, so I’m not feeling like I’m cleaning the entire house every day. My efforts will be concentrated for maximum punch. One room at a time, right. A 6 Step Program?

I’ll keep you updated.

I posted Someone Has to Wear the Apron over at Homegrown yesterday, and after I did it, I felt a bit awkward. Homegrown is all about gardening, homecooking, preserving, crafting and other DIY goodness. Suddenly my post on cleaning the house seemed so very prosaic. But as unfashionable as it may be, life is a messy business, and someone really does have to wear the apron. Every DIY exploit ends in someone cleaning up. In fact almost everything that’s good in life ends with cleaning. Without a doubt topping the list of messy business? Kids. God love ’em.

A few months back the 3YO said to me, out of the blue one day,

“Mama, are you the cleaner?”

I laughed humorlessly, “Yeah, I guess I am.”

“Oh. I’ll be the mess maker!” she said joyously and started throwing her crayons on the floor.

The Greenest Clean

The Cleaning is going quite well, thanks for asking. I’m 90% done, at the point where I would normally call it good e-damn-nough and stop. But I told you I was on a terror.

Today in fact is my day to finish. After a morning in my garden, and an afternoon of writing, of course. All in good time, my little pushkins, all in good time.

Since I have had my nose in a bucket of dirty water all week, I thought it might be the perfect moment for me to put my two cents in to the ever-so-fadish world of Green Cleaning.

Because although I do make my own bar soap and laundry detergent, and stock the requisite spray bottle of vinegar and little shakers of baking soda, I want to champion my favorite cleaning products. These are the ones I use every day, and love the best-est. You don’t need to go to the store to get ’em, you don’t need to wonder how they were mined or produced, and the carbon footprint is negligible. These three products are shockingly effective, and far greener than all of the other “green cleaning products,” unchallengeably the greenest clean of all.

  1. Hot water.
  2. Old rag.
  3. Elbow grease.

It’s true these won’t clean everything, but they really do a fine job on most things. For some reason we’ve gotten the idea that there has to be some kind of magic involved in cleaning, some kind of “product.” I’m afraid to say that I think it’s often just a placebo. If you use store bought cleaning products, or a heavy hand with soda and vinegar, do me a favor and tonight when you clean your kitchen, try using plain old hot water. Just try it– no loss. See what you think.

A very convincing case is my dishwasher. I know y’all have been waiting for a report, and here it is. It doesn’t work for shit. I mean, if you clean the dishes before you put them in, or if they just aren’t very dirty in the first place, then yes, they will come out clean. Otherwise, not so much. I still use it, because I am so strapped for time, and already tired of cleaning everything else, but the result is that when you open our cabinet you see a bunch of half filmy, not very appealing for a drink of water, glasses.

Apparently this is partly to do with the detergent. Some states still sell the phosphate detergent that other states have outlawed. My MIL smuggles some back from Montana every time she goes, and cuts it half-and-half with the legal stuff to achieve clean dishes. When she uses just the legal stuff straight up, she says her dishes are almost as filmy as mine, and she’s got a top of the line dishwasher!

And don’t think I’m trying to use green detergent, nope, it’s just the regular stuff (though not the illegal stuff). And I did try using more, the dishes were even filmier.

I find the whole thing funny, since last spring I discovered I could get most of my dishes clean washing them by hand with plain (soap-less) lukewarm water! Much cleaner than all the 40 minutes of whirring and spraying and shushing of my dishwasher. Just goes to show ya what old-fashioned, under-valued elbow grease will do. Wonders, my friend, wonders. (Read more about this base-est of dishwashing in the post Germaphobes and Clean Freaks Look Away Now.)

Very oily messes of course do require soap. And when you’re actually trying to kill something, like mildew or bacteria, a strong vinegar solution makes sense. Baking soda neutralizes odor, I’ve smelled that one at work on stinky water bottles.

So what does this all add up to? I don’t have very set cleaning rituals, as I’ve said, cleaning is just not my gig. And as stated, I’m a filthy beast. But that’s really more to do with lack of cleaning altogether, not a lack of products.

I use baking soda to clean the toilet, vinegar on the shower mildew, and plain old hot water on almost everything else. I did use some vinegar in my mop bucket this past week, because once a year- what the hell. I wipe my kitchen down with plain old water, or the leftovers from a load of dishes. I even wipe my stove down with plain water, unless it’s really greasy, then I use a little dish soap. I have tried baking soda on the stove, it worked fine, but did it work better than water?

In fact half the times I use soda or vinegar, I can’t tell if it’s helping or not. It seems I just do it because I want to be part of the crowd. It’s what all the cool people do. And lord knows, I wanna be cool.


Someone Has to Wear the Apron

I used to scorn aprons, and everything they stood for. I thought women wore aprons because they didn’t want to get any real life on their fancy clothes. I thought cleaning was for fetishes. I was against immaculate houses, and when it came down to it, kind of against houses. I used to love how “putting things away” in our tipi just meant turning around. And when we moved into our first real house, I hated how much walking around I had to do to accomplish the same task. Let alone the actual cleaning required for such a space. The miles of floor to sweep and windowsills to wipe, and the whiteness of everything which revealed every little spill. Don’t get me started on vacuuming.

(I’m still annoyed by that prevalent whiteness. Who the hell came up with white for floors? Someone who didn’t clean their own home, I’d bet.)

Make no mistake, I hate cleaning. And as a mom of two, I spend a lot of time at it. I figure I spend two hours a day involved in the prospect of picking up, washing dishes and doing laundry. Note those are just the bare minimums of housekeeping– treading water. This does not a clean house make. While I am busy picking up toys so we can walk through the room, the edges continue to accumulate grime. And need I explain, it’s very discouraging to spend two hours a day cleaning and not have a g*&#*$#ed clean house.

Of course, if I could ever get on top of it, right? Then the same two hours would return the house to an actual clean state every day. I used to think that keeping tidy took less time in the end than being messy. But, being the analytical person that I am, I worked it out mathematically. If I spend five minutes a day sweeping the floor adds up to 35 minutes a week. If I wait, and just sweep it once a week, I can get the job done in 10 minutes, therefore saving myself 25 whole minutes! 25 minutes that I could be blathering on about cleaning!

Lots of things work out like that. If I wash dishes right after use then it’s one use/wash. If I let them pile up on the counter for the day, I may well find a second use for many of them. The morning’s biscuit bowl works quite serviceably for dessert’s cake mixing bowl. See the minute of washing I just saved? It might sound silly, but minutes have never meant near so much to me as they do now.

But, this is not a pro-dirty post. No, quite the opposite. I am just trying to explain my past thoughts to prepare you appropriately for the impact of the following statement: I’ve recently discovered a strange and unexplainable drive to clean.

Shocked? You should be.

It came, like all changes, out of desperation. Round about November is when I started to lose it. I mean, I always wished our house was cleaner, but suddenly I just couldn’t stand it. I looked around and saw the piles of crap everywhere and my head wanted to explode. When I say our house was dirty, I don’t mean just cluttery. I mean piles of crap that hadn’t moved in months, hiding a thick layer of actual filth beneath.

At first I thought I was just going crazy. Why should it suddenly bother me so profoundly? But at some point in November it suddenly hit me that when the Babe had started walking a few months before, he had quadrupled his capacity for destruction, and in doing so had become a full, card-bearing member of the house-dirtying force. Where there had been three dirtyers, now there was four. An increase of 33%! No wonder I felt like I was drowning!

Somehow this little epiphany helped. At least I wasn’t going crazy. But next was figuring out how to even begin to tackle the monumental task ahead.

I do think there is too much cleaning necessary to our lives today. It comes down to the fact that we just have a massive amount of stuff. Closets full of clothes that need washing, bins full of toys to throw on the floor. So my Heroine’s Journey started out with a thorough culling. Not perhaps as ruthless as I might have liked, but enough that I was able to take a deep breath and exhale relief.

There was one closet in particular, the Giant Junk Drawer closet. You know, the repository of all things ambiguous. Also, not coincidentally, one of the 3YOs favorite places to play. Over the course of many months, she had pulled most of the boxes out and emptied their contents onto the floor in front of the closet. Since it was partially hidden by a bench, I had managed to ignore it for some long time. But that time was over. The closet was my first Obstacle.

For some reason, this sudden outburst of cleaning fury just happened to take place at the end of November, when I should have been getting ready for our almost month long trip, and when My Man was extraordinarily busy studying for finals. I meant to just clean the closet. But of course that kind of cleaning makes the house dirtier. You know what I’m talking about. At some point My Man walked into the dining room, surveyed the table strewn with piles and boxes, and the rest of the room and house suffering the neglect of a Mama-Project, and said, “So…. You’re… Cleaning?”

In other words, although the closet was clean, I could hardly stop there. The house was a wreck in the name of cleanliness. It was too late to turn back, I had to keep going.

I tore open another closet, and ravaged the kids toy shelf. Working in my rare spare moments, it took me right up until we had to leave just to complete the purge. I took the boxes to the charity shop the day before we got on the plane.

Needless to say, I left the house anything but clean.

And left a husband to himself for 10 days of finals.

Act 1: Set the scene

Act 2: Reveal the plot.

Act 3: Resolve.

When we returned on Tuesday, the house was a complete disaster. The floor particularly was epic. I left the suitcases in the car, and started right in, hair afire.

I have been cleaning every day in this blessed window of time before My Man’s classes start back up. I am still nowhere near a clean house, but I can see the progress. The laundry piles are diminishing. The corners are slowly revealed and vacuumed of their bunnies. The suitcases have been unpacked all but one. The new toys have been put into the places of the culled toys. And then taken back out and thrown on the floor.

I find myself almost eager to do the work. I have some spark of hope I will be able to maintain, not a clean house, but a decent house. I don’t even aspire to an immaculate house, I like to see the toys of the day on the floor, and projects in process. I love a little clutter– the sign of life in progress– but I cannot, no matter how I try, love a filthy house.

Part of this new found drive and prioritization is yet another step of submission. To the task at hand. I guess it took me 4 years of full-time motherhood to accept that cleaning the house is my job. Not that My Man shouldn’t help (he does), and not that the kids shouldn’t learn to help as well (the eldest is getting there). But that, in the end, cleaning the house is part of keeping a Home, and is therefore inescapably a part of my job as Homemaker. I know it comes with plenty of controversy, but yielding to the realities of my chosen path has been a revelation for me. Cleaning the house is never so unpleasant as when you are pissed to be doing it. Letting go the gritted teeth and relaxing into my work might not make it fun, but it keeps my jaw from aching.

And the apron. Yes, that punked out lovely in the header. What I have come to realize is that aprons originally weren’t to keep the real life off your clothes. Of course. They were to keep the bulk of your clothes cleaner longer, so that you don’t have to do so much laundry. Brilliant.

Sometimes when I need a good boost of kick ass for a daunting cleaning project, I tie that little sweetie on. And think of you, dear reader. Let’s get our aprons dirty.

Germaphobes and Cleanfreaks! Look Away Now!

Remember when I discovered that I didn’t really need soap for most of my dishes? Here’s how far my dish-washing habits have sunk since.

I wash lately in tepid, soap-less water, with a diaper insert wrapped in a piece of onion bag for a sponge!

do you still respect me?

The tepid water because it got hot again. And I mean Hot. I started using tepid water during the heat of last fall, and was surprised how perfectly fine it worked. Reminded me that the reason I had started heating water to wash dishes in the first place, back in our Tipi Days, was not because cold didn’t work. It was because dish washing is just not that pleasant with cold water. And it’s a chore that deserves whatever it takes to make less unpleasant.

Put the heat up to 85 degrees in your kitchen, and suddenly tepid water starts to sound lovely.

But that was with Joy. Now that I wash sans soap, I wondered if I’d be able to get away with the double whammy.


I have to admit, even though I consider myself so relatively unscathed by the advertising industry, I have been shocked to find soap unnecessary in all but the dirtiest dishes. And now hot water?!?!?

So, you’re thinking what kind of slob must I be, and what kind of horror must my dish rack look, right? You’re thinking if you came over for dinner, you’d get a plate with a greasy shmear of yesterday’s dinner. And just about retch.

Au contrair, mon frier!

I challenge you skeptics out there to try it just once, just once! For a reasonable sized load of regularly dirty dishes. Fill your sink with room temperature water. Leave the soap in the bottle. Just you see how it works.

An oily plastic container like this one that had muffins in it, is about as hard as it gets to wash without soap. And on these items, I do turn a bit of a blind eye. There is a cloudy sheen, as you can see. But, honestly I picked out my dirtiest dish to show you. The china and glasses, which do not attract oils like plastic does, are literally squeaky clean.

not the sparkle you'd get with soap for sure, but clean enough I say. And I picked out my dirtiest dish to show you, scout's honor.

This does take a bit more water than I would normally use. ie: I can’t just keep washing more and more dishes in the same warn out water. And there’s no suds to hide the murk. But considering the water used to produce even the “green” materials used in home soap making, I have no doubt I’m coming out on top.

And there is a cat ring. Though, honestly, I think it’s not as bad as when I was using my homemade dish soap….? Does the homemade soap actually make washing dishes worse? I can’t quite tell. Or am I just using more water/dishes now? Anyway, the cat ring truly does take soap to clean. Which somehow makes me glad. Phew! There is a place and time for soap! I have a special sink scrubbie. I rub it around on a bar of homemade soap, then scrub the sinks and my washtubs, and rinse thoroughly. See? I’m not all gross and delinquent hygiene.

I’m curious about the science behind the cat ring. Obviously commercial soap has some kind of dispersant in it. (Which I ought to have known since fishermen in the Cordova harbor are famous for squirting Joy on their little engine leaks and then pretending they aren’t miniature oil spills.) But how could you get something to produce that effect in homemade soap?

Why go to so much trouble, you might ask. Didn’t I already say how I don’t think commercial dish soap is top on any Evil Deeds list? Well, I think mostly I’ve persisted in this whole dish-washing experiment simply for the fun of experimentation. Dish-washing is a bore, when you have to do as much as I do. Why not stir it up with a little “Why in the hell is that happening?”, “How does this work?” and, especially interesting, “Can I figure out how to improve the situation?”

Oh, speaking of improvements. Normally I would be grossed out by tepid soap-less washing partly because I have this feeling like sponges are nasty, and make things dirtier, and I kind of hate rubbing them all over my dishes. But I’d never found a reasonable substitute (except dirt, but that’s another story). Wash cloths are too big and floppy-all-over-the-placey, and don’t have any bite.

Much to my good luck, recently My Man got disgusted by the worn out sponge  and threw it out, not realizing the 6-pack under the sink had run out. And I was suddenly stuck with a pile of dishes and no sponge.

[Could anyone possibly care about this story? It’s hard to imagine. But that’s what the beautiful WWW is all about, eh?]

At any rate, a friend had just dropped off some cloth diaper inserts. Made from extra thick white terry cloth, and still in very clean, nice condition. When my eyes roamed the kitchen looking for inspiration they lit on these little gems. Just like a thick wash cloth, but about half the width. I folded one in thirds. Voila! Perfect sponge size! But still not scratchy. I took an old onion bag from under the sink where I stock pile them for just such occasions, and folded it around the cloth.


I can hardly wait to borrow my friend’s sewing machine to sew those puppies together in Holy Matrimony till death do they part. I have 6 of ’em, so I can use one for just one or two loads of dishes, and then toss it in the wash! And of course, they dry quite nicely between uses on the towel dowel behind my sink, so no funk can grow.

[After all this, guess what? My MIL has offered to buy me an “independent” dishwasher for my birthday. As in, not plumbed in, you just put the drain hose in your sink when you run it. And considering the full six months of wicked heat we are facing, I might just take her up on it.

Who wants to see me try to spit in the face of “green detergent” by running my dishwasher with straight water?]

Homemade Laundry Soap

That is somewhat tongue in cheek. By the way.

After the first soap making post, Taryn from The Colorado Desert asked “Why do you say that making your own soap isn’t that good for the environment or you?” I’m sorry if I mispoke, I often write my posts in a rush trying to get a lot of things said in my 30-40 minute writing window…. At any rate, that’s not at all what I meant. And before I get into my DIY laundry detergent report, it seems a good time to explain what exactly I did mean.

I’ll start by saying I don’t know a damn thing about the commercial soap industry, nor the production of lye, borax, washing soda or even baking soda. Ignorance notwithstanding, I in fact do think making your own soap is better for both your family’s health and that of the earth. Generally I think it’s safe to assume that making your own anything is better. If you’re comparing homemade soap to the host of toxic cleaning products at the store, that bet is pretty fail-safe. I rarely use anything stronger than Joy soap, but I’m still going to assume my homemade product more virtuous.

However, unless you’re a Riana caliber DIYer, you’re probably not going to get to everything on your make-at-home list. We are all living in the modern world, and as much as we might pine for a Little House on the Prairie, it’s just not the life or time we’re in. It’s damn hard to get every little thing done!

So, we have to set priorities. This is a personal thing. But also, there is just more or less impact associated with each item you choose to buy. Like I said, I don’t know how much impact is saved by making your own soap. I’d really like to know, but apparently researching the issue is not topping my priorities list…

I just don’t use all that much soap, so I’m assuming (again, we all know the inherent ass making danger here) the impact saved is relatively small, especially since I still have to buy lye, borax and washing soda. When I say relatively, I mean compared to say making all our own bread, cloth diapering, or hanging the clothes instead of using the dryer. Making my own soap certainly saves me less money than those things. Coincidentally, Karyn at Lizzy Lane Farm just posted about saving money and making your own laundry detergent vs. generally cooking from scratch. Although like I said, I don’t know how wicked the soap industry is, I would generally agree with her that soap making is lower on the list of DIY priorities.

I wanted to point that out because I fear there might be some new-to-the-craft revolutionary housewives in our midst, and I don’t want them to feel bogged down thinking they have to start making their families’ laundry detergent and toothpaste if they’re going to do any good in the world. Take heart! There’s loads of other simpler, more money saving, and for most people more gratifying places to start. If you never get as far as soap making, I suspect the world will survive.

HOWEVER. For those of you who have been at the homemaker arts for awhile, after say– purely hypothetically speaking– 15 years or so, you might find that making bread and hanging laundry is starting to feel…. less than revolutionary. You might find that the idea of discovering a whole new field of knowledge and skills is exciting, inspiring, even adventurous. I believe that challenging yourself to learn new things is absolutely essential to leading a satisfying life.

And that’s why I made my own laundry soap.

Not to save the world (though it might help), not to stave off cancer (though it might help), not to pinch extra pennies (though it certainly will help) but simply because I wanted to.

Now that we’ve got all that out of the way, let me tell you about how my new homemade laundry soap works!

I followed Rhonda’s recipe at D2E. Basically you make the liquid soap as I described before, then mix in borax and washing soda (soda ash). If you’re game to try this, Make sure to follow the direction to mix the powders into the hot soap. I just dumped it all into my big detergent jug at once, and the washing soda formed a giant clump that didn’t want to dissolve. The second time, when I took her directions more seriously, it worked much easier.

Directions. They sometimes are there for a reason.

She says to use 1/4 cup per load. That’s just crazy talk. For one thing, she mentions briefly elsewhere that she has a low water front loading machine. Well, those things require waaaaay less soap than a regular water-hog topsy loader. I started with 1/2 cup, and eventually started using a whole cup, because the resultant clothes still smelled a bit less than fresh.

But she super dilutes the stuff, and I don’t see why. The second batch, I used half the amount of water. So now I’m back to 1/2 cup/load. And it works good! The clothes smell clean when they come out of the washer. Even the armpits and crotches.

But, get this. In my usual half-assed scientific manner, I decided I’d better do a control like with the dishes. Maybe clothes don’t need soap either? Maybe that’s why those various laundry cleaning gadgets work, because you actually don’t need anything at all…? And in fact, the clothes sans soap load was surprisingly clean. Maybe if you wear your clothes lightly that would be sufficient. We wear ours purty hard, and although they were fairly clean, they still had a tad bit of smell. Not much. Probably nothing a day hanging in the sun and wind wouldn’t cure. Nevertheless I think I will keep using my homemade detergent. Partly because it’s fun to make, a good project. But note to self– if we’re out, it’s not the end of the world!

Think that’s interesting? Here’s the real kicker. Diapers.

Yup, it’s true. The diaper load with no detergent whatsoever? Clean. I mean, I stuck my nose right in, to several different diapers, in case there was variation. All perfectly clean smelling.

Wow. I totally was expecting to have to run that load again, with soap.

After thinking about it, I suspect it’s because pee and poop don’t have oils in them, like our clothes do. Soap, I think, is mostly for getting oily dirt off. Other dirtiness seems to come off well with plain water.

So, there you have it. You know how they say to use less soap than called for, so your diapers last longer? How about no soap at all?????

Of course, this is baby diapers. For reasons too long to explain here, I stopped using cloth for the Toddler when we moved, so I wash only baby diapers, which are much less stinky. I have no idea if the no soap thing would hold for toddler dipes. Let me know if you try it.

Also, this is in a top loading washer. The low water use of a front loader would probably not float the soap-less wash concept, pardon the pun.

Lastly, while we’re on the subject, that thing I’d always heard about the sun bleaching your whites for you, Holy Smokes! I put the Babe’s….errr… ‘colorfully’ stained diapers outside and in a few hours they’re white again. Works even on a cloudy day. I suspect some sanitizing is going on as well. Which will be handy when his diapers start to take on the Toddler Cloth Diaper Reek, which I used to have to bleach once every coupla months to beat back.

Ah, the cerebral pleasures of expounding on the such plebian subjects as diaper washing.

The Dishsoap Report

Sorry to keep you all waiting. I’ve had a few days of baby/morning troubles. Not exactly that the Babe is being fussy, just the timing isn’t working out right, leaving me no time to write.

Those other soapy posts were just a lead-up, and what I really wanted to tell you about was how the stuff works! Because it is a complete fascination to me. I can’t decide if it’s good or not.

Here’s the quick answer. It works. The dishes are cleaned. It even cleans a smoked salmon jar, and that’s about the best test you can get. But…..

The dishes get clean, but the sink gets a greasy dirt ring like you wouldn’t believe.

“A big, long pink cat ring! It looked like pink ink. And I said, will this ever come off? I don’t think!”

(Dr. Seuss, from the Cat in the Hat Comes Back)

Now, if only I had some “Voom.”

And my hands. They get gross and greasy too.

The more I thought about it, the more I thought it did sort of make sense. Soap takes grease off the dishes and into the dishwater. Then of course the grease floats on top, clinging to the edge of the dishpan. But how come this doesn’t happen with regular, commercial dishsoap? Where does all that grease go when you use Joy? Must just be held in suspension somehow. Unless a chemical reaction changes it to something else….

If anyone knows of a ‘basic science of soap for those who didn’t pay attention in chemistry’ type of book, or website, please let me know, because I am completely enthralled by the mystery of it. Which is a vote in it’s favor, since it takes dish washing from a mundane daily task to a fascinating exploration into science. And somewhat makes up for the fact that it makes my hands greasygross, and that at the end I have to wash that big long nasty cat ring off the washtub.

Rhonda at D2E claims to wash with handmade dishsoap and like it. But actually, in the before and after photo of her dishwater, I have to point out that it looks more or less unused. I use my dishwater till its last breath. Beyond perhaps the dictates of decorum. If I wash one sink full of dishes with one sink full of hot soapy water, and that is my ratio, 1:1, the homemade soap works fine. But, I always add another sink full of dishes to the same water, and often two. By the end of 2 loads, it’s spent, by the end of three the ring is Seuss-ish, and threatens to take 27 hat cats plus something called Voom to remove.

So I started using the good 1:1 ratio, or trying my best anyway. But then at some point I decided that, in the name of science, I needed a control. A lot of the baking soda this and vinegar that ‘green cleaning’ is, to my mind, unnecessary. Plain old hot water will do the trick just fine. I usually (pre-cat ring dishwater days) used my dishwater after I finished the dishes to wipe up the stovetop, counters, etc. Works fine, even when all the soap’s used up and the waters half cold.

Hence, I figured I’d better see how much of the dishes getting clean was owing to the soap, and how much to just the hot water.

I lived for years without soap or hot water. We washed our dishes after each meal in a bucket of cold rainwater, and instead of a sponge we used dirt. (Yes, dirt. It makes things cleaner. Really, truly, try it sometime. Of course you have to rinse the dirt off after you scrub it around.) But in those nostalgic days, my diet was mostly beans, rice and oatmeal. I assumed that the introduction of animal products at almost every meal would have made soap-less washing impossible.

It hasn’t.

That’s right. You read me right. Soap-less dishwashing works.

Not every dish is cleanable with just hot water, but most in my kitchen are. I started a routine of putting all the cleanest dishes in first, sans soap. Then when I get to the dishes that do need soap, I just rub my sponge around on a bar of (homemade) soap I keep by the sink. Then the soap is very concentrated, right where I need it.

The nifty white wire rack I took out of someone's trash can. Not sure what it's original use was. The jar in front has a diluted soap mixture, with a brush for quick scrubs. The nasty looking sponge on top is for my icky sponge, by the way. I have a nice clean one for dishes. The Joy is for Hubby, who is not expected to share my love of greasy cat ring science projects.

Dish washing with no soap? Then, not even liquid, just plain bar soap? How am I supposed to get my science project rocks off?

Of course, as you may have gathered from other posts, my housekeeping standards are not exactly…… high. But, other people have examined glasses washed with plain water and proclaimed them clean. So, I might not be completely off base. Worth a try, right? Tonight when you wash up from dinner, give it a go. No soap. Hot water. All the dinner dishes save maybe the macaroni and cheese pan, or the greasiest of greasies. Report back.

The Dirt on Soap, Continued

So, we left off at ‘the bars are finally cured and I’m ready to turn it into liquid dishsoap.’ Because someone mentioned in a comment, do you really have to wait three weeks if you’re going to grate it up anyway? I ought to mention that I did in fact do a little experiment at about 1 and 2 weeks. I just grated some directly into my dishwater and whisked it about, until it sort of dissolved. At one week, it was still much too raw. The dishwater was at the same time slippery from the lye (wreaked havoc on my hands too, and I do not have remotely sensitive skin) and greasy from the oil not yet sapponified. At two weeks, less so. By three it seemed pretty good. But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Back to my uproarious recipe un-follower science experiment.

Classic Calamity, I vaguely remembered the directions for making bar soap into liquid soap, and didn’t seem to think I needed to look it up again. Grate soap, check. What next? Hmm, don’t remember. Well, I’ll just dump it into the food processor with, oh, say how about 1 qt of water. Turn it on and OH MY GOD! A riotously alive looking goo suddenly sprang forth, the texture of which I can only describe as science fiction. You know, the semi-opaque gel/goo substance I’m sure I’ve seen in movies with bodies suspended in it? Unfortunately, it did not resemble dish soap.

More water was clearly in order. But my food processor was full. The scene that unfolded before me that fine day was quite hilarious. Good thing my sense of humor was intact. The life form I had birthed slowly usurped all of my mixing bowls, several spatulas and bottles and a large section of my counter-top. After some time I was able to tame it into a semi-pourable form, though it still had a viscousness to it that I found mildly alarming.

So. More words to the wise. Here’s the actual technique. Simple, straightforward, not remotely humorous. Grate soap. Put in a big pot with water. Melt over low heat, stirring occasionally, until it melts and becomes liquid soap. A third grader could handle that.To bad there weren’t any third graders in the house. But then, what story would I entertain you with? How would I earn the keep for my (pseudo)nim?

A large part of the hilarity of my “method” was that– duh!– I was creating lather! I had three quarts of creamy, opaque, ivory colored soap when I was done, but after it sat long enough to seperate, and the lather died down, it was barely more than 2 quarts, and a translucent pale yellowish color.

Yesterday, after finally using up all the first batch of liquid soap, I finally got to try it the regular, boring way. Sure was easy. Not many dishes involved. I grated about half a bar of soap, and added just a few cups of water at first. It was easy to add more as necessary. Eventually I used about 1 qt of water.

And now I’m going to leave you hanging again. I like to tease.

Next up, the question on everyone’s lips, how does it work?

Soap, In All its Dirty Glory

canola soap on the left, olive oil on the right

Whew. This post has been on my list since December. I did in fact make soap during my Crafting Vacation, if you remember. And haven’t you all just been waiting by your computers, breathless with anticipation, to hear the outcome?

My soap making story begins with way too much, but still apparently not enough research.

I was interested in soap for a very different reason than most. I could care less about a luxurious, creamy, fragrant lather in the bath. Whatever gets the job done, so long as it doesn’t burn when I use it my nether reaches, is what I always say. No, ever practical Calamity that I am, I wanted to make bar soap so that I could make my own dish and laundry soap.

(I have to mention here that making your own soap is not really very high on the green/independency list. There are plenty of much bigger fish to fry, as it were. Like sourcing the highest quality foods, and preparing them all from scratch in your own kitchen. Hanging your laundry to dry on a line instead of switching on the electricity hog-from-hell. These things save far more money, and I think, do more for the world than making your own soap.

That said, if you, like me, have already been doing the above for awhile, and you’re feeling restless and like you need some inspiration and new fun stuff in the world of DIY, than soap making can be that. I was surprised to find that it was really fun, and so fascinating. I didn’t know I needed a science project in my life. But apparently, I did.)

It was pretty hard to research this working end of soap making. The internet is flooded with instructions and recipes for ‘luxury blueberry lavender’ soap and ‘espresso cream’ and such, but I just wanted my soap to be economical and hard-working.

I started with Down to Earth’s soap making tutorial. But I didn’t want to add coconut oil, because it’s expensive, and I thought it was just there to make your skin soft, and screw my skin. Also, she uses rice bran oil, and where the hell do you get that? Following her links I found a 100% olive oil recipe, that sounded much better, but still a lot more expensive than it seemed it needed to be. Wouldn’t plain old, cheap canola oil work? How come I couldn’t find any recipes for it? Or even any mention of it? When I plugged it into the Soap Calculator it came up with pretty much the same quantities as the olive oil recipe, but the little chart of soap qualities was mystifying. Could it really have a rating of ‘0’ (with a recommendation of 12-22) for ‘cleansing?’ I tried plugging in the pure olive oil soap and it also rated ‘0’ for cleansing. Hmmmm….

In the end, I decided to make two batches, one pure olive oil, one pure canola. I followed the same recipe for each, except that to the olive batch I added essential oils.

The soap making went fine. Fast, and fun in the science project way. Determining “trace” was a bit tricky, and who knows if I got it right, and what does that do anyway? Are you just speeding up the chemical reactions? Is the idea to mix it just basically until it would be bad for your mixer to keep at it? I mean, can you over mix it? And, if you just let your soap sit long enough, would it do the whole thing on it’s own? How the hell is this working???? But, it all looked good, the canola didn’t seem to take any longer to “trace” though my limited research had suggested it might.

But, a word to the wise. Do not make soap late one night, the day before you are going to have to pack everything up for the flight home, counting on the “after 14 hours remove from mold and cut bars” that you read on a blog. After the prescribed 14 hours, I found my soap nowhere near set up enough to remove. 24 hours later, it was still too soft, but I had to pack it. So, I scooped it out of my MIL’s tupperwares into some plastic lined disposable containers I fished out of the trash. The whole time not knowing at all if this meant my soap was a failure.

A second word to the wise, do not despair! If you have not taken the above advice, and find yourself in a similar situation, it all works out in the end! Your soap was not a failure, it will set up eventually. And scooping half set soap from one container into another makes for an ugly, lumpy and slightly crumbly soap, but if you’re planning to grate it up into dish soap, who cares?

Three weeks later (the minimum recommended “cure” time, again, wtf is going on in there?) I eagerly grated up two bars of soap and had a hilarious new science project.

But haha! You’ll have to tune in next time for the thrilling continuation of this epic story, because I want to hit publish, and this seems like a good time to do it!

Kitchens Part 2: The Sink

So. Let’s start where meals end. At the kitchen sink. This is a good spot to pick at, if yer gonna pick. As I said in my intro kitchen post, this area needs some good brainstorming.

When you’re looking at a sink, you need to know whether it’s a dishwasher afterthought, or the actual location of all the washing of a kitchen’s dishes. The function is of course quite different. Mine being the latter it consists of three main task areas: a place for dirty dishes, a place to wash and rinse said dishes, and an area to stack for drying. I loathe to dry dishes by hand. Why would I use my time to do what the air will do for me? Health codes actually prohibit drying with a towel in restaurants because it tends to be unhygienic. Lucky for me to have another defense besides laziness.

I cook a lot of our food from scratch, as you might have gathered. Most days involve a cooking project, like bread, granola, muffins, etc, in addition to our regular three meals a day. This means I make a lot of dishes. Even if I (or Hubby, overall I’d say he does maybe a third of the dishes, though I’m sure he thinks he does half) dutifully washes them once/day, that still means a decent sized pile. I’d say at least 2 square feet, unless they were efficiently stacked, which they never are. They’re spread helter-skelter all over whatever counter space is within reach of the sink.

My point is, we have to plan our kitchens for the reality of how we live/cook/eat. My kitchen needs at least 2 square feet of space for dirty dishes. Fact. They will not bow out or behave deferingly. If I don’t provide them with said space, they will leach out into other parts of my (precious) counter space.

This sink area fortunately provides just about that. I like that it’s separate from my other counterspace. My Cordova kitchen had one continuous countertop, meaning the Dirty Dishes Area was right next to my Stove-Side Food Prep Area. There was always leaching, and I hated it.

One trick I have found that helps is to have a wash tub for putting dirties in. It kind of keeps them contained and helps the area not look as cluttery.

I like a Washing Area to have two sinks. I’ve heard some folks like one big sink that they put two wash tubs in, but I like having two separate sinks. Often I’m doing something dirty in one sink (washing muddy shoes) and need to do something else in a clean sink (drain pasta water). Mama-ing is full of this kind of multi-tasking. I still like to use tubs though, in my separate sinks. Say I’m washing dishes when said muddy shoes enter the kitchen, and then the pasta water needs draining all at the same damned time? Plus, in an effort to save water I often use my rinse water for washing the sinks out when I’m done, or soaking a stubborn pot (that is, after I use it to thoroughly rinse my sponge and brushes), and those reusings are easier when it’s in a removable container.

Here’s another mundanely common kitchen problem that’s rarely dealt with, that really gets my goat. Soggy sponges and rags. This is not just a matter of asthetics. Those suckers breed nasties like crazy. I think it’s funny (as in ironic, not haha) when I go into someone’s kitchen and they have antibacterial dish soap and a host of toxic cleaners, and their sponge is sitting in a puddle of old dish water in the bottom of the sink. When your sponge smells gross, it’s because it is gross. Sponges are pretty much asking for it. A dishrag is a much better solution, they’re thin, they dry fast, you can throw it in the wash once a week, and they last more or less forever. Unfortunately I’ve just never been able to come around to washing dishes with a dishrag. A sponge feels right– it’s the right size, the right thickness, it’s got the scratchy stuff on one side. But to keep a sponge from going nasty, you have to rinse it well and give it a chance to dry between uses. I used to have a little slatted soap dish/stand. That worked good and was pretty. Haven’t found anything like it here, so I improvised with this old onion bag.

Incidentally, I also wound up a big wad of onion bag to make a pretty damn fine scrubby.

You’ll also notice in the big photo up top that I have a bar for hanging rags on above the sink. Kids and rags go hand in hand. We have two kinds of rags in our house, the relatively nice white washcloths for general table/hands/face wiping, and some old (colored) bath towels I ripped into rag sized for floor rags. Wet floor rags I loop over the recycling box by the door to dry between uses, or await washing. The regular rags go above the sink on that bar, which is actually just a length of bamboo (a common yard trimming here) suspended by two strings. Easy peas.

Then, on to the Drying Area. Here’s my big innovation. You know how dish racks always drip water into a puddle? And then they invented those rubber trays to go underneath to funnel the water back into the sink? But they don’t really work, and instead the water just sits in little puddles and gets funky? Well, I set the far end of my tray/rack unit on a piece of 2×4, so that it’s got quite an angle to it. Then the water actually does run back into the sink. No funk! You can kind of see it in the photo up top. The tray I got at the Sally here is stout, all it took was the 2×4 to set it on, super easy. The tray I had in Cordova was floppier, so I set it on a piece of plywood (screwed it on actually, with two screws at the top end where the water wouldn’t be going) and propped the plywood up at the far end.

If you’re a baggie reuser, which you ought to be if you’re reading this blog, you’ll understand what a pain in the ass drying the damn things is. You can slip them over a wooden spoon handle or something, but it doesn’t hold them open very effectively, and then the corners don’t dry. In Cordova I had a cool little thing I’d gotten at a garage sale. It had two sets of dowels sticking up, about 4 inches apart. When I bought it I was thinking of it to hold dishes, vertically (more on that later), but it didn’t work. Instead I stumbled upon using it as a bag drying rack, and it worked fantastic! Only an analytical thinker/housewife like me could be so excited by a bag dryer! It was about 10 inches long and held several zippies at a time, each one held open by three or four dowels. I’ve been meaning to make one since I got here, it would be easy to replicate with a 2×4 and some 1/2 inch doweling. I promise when I do, I will post an instructional. It also worked a treat for canning jars, which are a fact of life, and dishwashing, for ladies such as myself. And dish drainers never have enough of those side thingies for all your glasses and canning jars….

I have long dreamed of building a large dish drying rack that would also be where the dishes go. They used to be a common thing in old British kitchens. They have a series of slats that the dishes slide into vertically. Oh, how glorious to wash the dishes and then put them to drain, The End. No extra putting away step!

But I’ll save that for my fantasy kitchen post, at the end.

Real Life Kitchens: Part One

I had really gotten my Cordova kitchen to a sweet spot, and I sure missed it when we moved.

I’ve been wanting to do a series about real life kitchens ever since my last blog life, over a year ago. When Rhonda at Down to Earth started the kitchen sink photo series, it really put the fire back under my kettle– so to speak. To top it off, my MIL is getting her “dream kitchen” built this year, which means she has to figure out what her dream kitchen is. When we were visiting in December, she was picking my brain about kitchens. In addition to being an analytical personality who spends 2-4 hours per day in my own kitchen, I have worked quite a bit in commercial kitchens, so I have an opinion or two on the matter.

I am a lover of all things kitchen. Kitchens are the heart of the home they say, but for me, they are the heart of my heart. I adore kitchen books, but they always fall short. It’s fun to look at pretty pictures of show kitchens, but what’s even better is looking at pictures and descriptions of real, working kitchens. I’ve yet to find a book about these shy wallflowers. I loved Rhonda’s series, for the opportunity to peek in at some real life kitchens, but I wanted lots more description. I am absolutely fascinated by arrangement, efficiency and how different people solve the everyday questions of a working kitchen.

So, I’ll go first!

I’ll start with a round-the-room overview of my kitchen here in New Orleans. Throughout the next few posts I hope to get in a more through description of the individual work areas. Lastly, I’d love to analyze how I use my kitchen and therefore what would be my “dream kitchen.”

The kitchen in our rental here when we moved in consisted of a fridge, stove, sink, tiny counter and a few cupboards. But the room itself was plenty big, so I knew I could make it work.

The appliances were here, but there was nary a shelf near the stove, so putting up this little wonder was first on my list. Of course, I can’t recommend storing your spices and oil above your stove. The heat deteriorates both items. But, what’re you gonna do? I need them at hand… I would love a little triangle countertop betwixt stove and fridge, for setting things that always linger, like the kettle, coffee maker, etc. But it’d be a lot of wood and work for 1 single square foot, and I can’t bring myself to do it. What I really want is a pot hanger above the stove, like I had in Cordova. But with an old house, who knows where the studs are, and the damn ceiling is 12 feet up. I can’t figure how to hang it. So the skillet just lives right there.

Art in the kitchen is a must. I need more. That’s a winter squash of some sort she’s holding. Chicks with food. Sexy.

Note the fridge magnets (a gift) are out of Toddler’s reach. Cuz otherwise she just throws ’em all over the floor.

That cute cabinet I got for $15 at g’rage sale. Almost every piece of furniture we bought (all used of course) was overpriced, but this puppy was a steal. It’s a pretty nice item. I think I have it upside down, but what the hell. I built the little stand for it with 2x4s to get it up to the level I wanted.

I put all the cans on the bottom shelf because the Toddler likes to play with them like blocks. Those’re onions there too, but in a net bag, so she can’t get at ’em. That bottle of wine topside I couldn’t resist, even though I hardly drink, and Hubby not at all. It’s called Mad Housewife. Someday I’ll need it for cooking. Or drinking.

There it is, the only counter space this kitchen came with. It does extend at least half a foot to the right…

Some folks wash and put dishes away after every meal, and good for them. How lovely that must be to always have a clean kitchen. But I don’t think I’m alone in the world in letting the dishes pile up for a day, or sometimes two (and then after I heap the drainer to absurd proportions, I just let them sit there, pulling out dishes as I need them, until the next washing time.)

This is one of my main beefs with kitchen design. Why isn’t this frequent reality given a specific place? I mean, okay, so the dirty dishes always just sit to the right (or more often left) of the sink. And it works. But how often do you find dirty dishes creeping into your counter space? And do you like staring at a pile of dirty dishes in what should be your inspirational cooking studio? I’ve started keeping one of my wash tubs on the counter, and putting dirties in there, to keep them contained and somewhat less…. dirty looking. But how about a specially designed cabinet, or big pull out drawer with removable tub? Come on, with some good minds, we could solve this daily annoyance.

The whole wash up area could use some problem solving. I think it’s partly because people don’t want to have to think about this somewhat unpleasant chore, but also because once dishwashers hit the scene, folks didn’t have to. It occurs to me that kids are growing up not knowing how to wash dishes. I think that’s bizarre. I think people should have to clean up after themselves so that they are forced to come face to face with the realities of their sustanance. Then again, you could point out that I’m not jumping in the tub to wash all my clothes by hand on a washboard. I guess it’s a matter of what we grew up with. I grew up thinking that people washed dishes, and I guess I’ll always expect that from the world.

There’s that other half foot of sink-side counter space. Mind you, it’s usually full of dirty dishes.

That’s the backdoor by the way.

And there’s my newest aquisition. The cheap-shit computer desk that I found on the side of the road has made me soooooo happy! It’s too short for proper counter work, but just fine for the micro and coffee station, freeing up some of my valuable counter space to the right, which you are about to see. Plus extra shelves, and space for recycling underneath.

I will give my explanation and defense of the microwave later….

There it is, my work space. All 6 square feet of it. The main, middle cabinet was an entertainment center/table. It was already about perfect height for a counter, and pretty stained pine, but I do wish that top slot shelf was a drawer. I spent $40 on it. Big splurge.

The one on the right was another computer desk, this one I paid $25 for, but it is a fairly nice piece. Real wood at least, looks like oak. I set it up on bricks, with two 2x3s across to set that bottom shelf on. The little double shelf in there was out on the street with the other desk, and really made that underneath space more usable.

And here we are back at the stove! That’s the dining room through the door. These old houses are all broken up. My dream home would be just one big kitchen/dining/living room. But here’s what I got for now.

The rope in the doorway is holding a Johnny Jump Up (the Babe’s still a bit little for it, but soon!) I hope to do a cooking with kids post at some point. ‘Cuz despite all these very orderly pix, here’s a more typical kitchen scene at our house.

Day 13: Oh No! (or) Late Night Soap Making

As much as I am ready to be in my very own Home, and out of someone else’s very own home, I’m not ready for the fun of my DIY Crafting Vacation to be over. Yesterday I got a panic attack that I only had two more days and all I’d done was make, well, okay, five scarves on my new loom. That’s well and good, but what about my wax cloth kitchen bags and my soap making venture?

The soap making process is sort of simple, but intimidating enough that I wanted a stretch of at least two hours of completely kid-free, kitchen monopoly to embark. I kept waiting for that perfect moment, and it never came. It was always easier to just pick up my loom* which is how I made 5 scarves and zero soaps.

But! Last night, in a fit of procrastination inspiration, I stayed up late, after the kiddos were asleep and the kitchen cleared out, and I made my first two (small) batches of soap! They have currently had well more than the prescribed 15 hours to sit (more like 20 hours) and they’re not set up yet enough to take out of the forms. They are still seeming to make a slow progress…. Oh, please, please. I have to pack them tonight!

I made one batch following a recipe with all olive oil and one experiment with all canola. My frustration in researching soap online is that all the recipes are for hand/body soap. I wanted a basic, cheap, deep cleaning soap that I can use for dish soap and laundry detergent. I nixed the coconut oil in so many recipes, because I thought it was there to give soap a luxurious feel and make your skin nice.

Oooops. As I sat down to do my last bout of research before begining (at 9pm remember) I found out that the opposite is true. Coconut and palm oils both are added for their cleansing effect. (In fact, I read that if you use too much of either, your soap will dry out your skin.) Both olive and canola are listed as having just fair cleansing properties, but lots of conditioning.

Well, too late for that. I proceeded with my olive and canola batches. I had found very little info about canola oil in soap making. It looked to have a similar profile to olive oil, but I found hardly any recipes using it, and none with 100% canola. Is this because it’s somehow inferior, or just because it doesn’t sound as glamorous? The one piece of info I did find is that it takes longer to trace. I was a little worried that would mean I would be up all night mixing and waiting. But, not at all. It did take a little longer than the olive batch, but not by much. And, in fact, now it is the more set up of the two…?

Making soap certainly did infect me with The Bug. Mostly I am thoroughly intrigued. I mean, what the–? How the hell does that work? How does oil turn into something that takes oil off? You wanna know something weird? You have to use soap to wash up the soap making dishes. I mean, wouldn’t you think that the stuff clinging to the pan would, well, be soap? But no, somehow, the soap magically forms as it sits. And why do you need to mix it? What would happen if you just let it sit? How do you make liquid soap?

Hopefully you will find answers to these and more pressing late night soap making questions in future posts. For now, I’m off to pack for home! Yippee!

Washing Diapers, or Pushing Your Poop Boundaries

Ever been sprayed in the face with poopy water? If not, here’s how!

I installed one of these toilet sprayers last week, for rinsing poopy diapers. First warning: be careful how you use it. Make sure you’re spraying down at the diaper. Not perpendicularly. FYI.

It was almost $50, and I really debated whether to buy it. But a neighbor had said she had one and it was the bomb.

Jury’s still out hereabouts.

Well, the thing is, you have to deal with the poop somehow, and no way is any fun. When they’re nursing babies and their poop is so runny and innocuous, I just throw ’em straight into the washer, they come out clean, and I don’t worry my pretty little head about it. But then when they start to eat real food, and there’s The Chunks, this simple method fails.

That’s when I switched to the bucket soaker method. Just keep the poopy ones in their own bucket, then soak for an hour or so before fishing ’em out and throwing ’em in the washer, shaking off most of the poop back into the bucket as you do. But who can like that job? Which of course has to be done every two or three days. Ick. I mean, I consider myself pretty hard to gross out, but, ewwww, gross out.

So, I thought this sprayer might solve all my problems. Of course, it doesn’t. It is still poop. Spraying it off into the toilet is not as easy as it sounds for mature toddler poop. It takes a fair amount of water, and a definite facing of the fact.

But, it is better than fishing around in a bucket of poop water, I guess. So… If you’ve got $50, I’d say go ahead.

It was pretty easy to install, except that the existing hose was so old that the gasket was all but worn out, and when I re-hooked it back up and turned the water back on, it leaked. So I had to go out and buy another gasket. But, that’s not the fault of the sprayer. It was one of those fun projects that makes me feel like I’m a real Handy Lady.

On the box it said one of the uses was to “save on toilet paper.” I guess you can use it like a bidet.

I’ve never used a bidet before- maybe I just don’t know how it’s done. But I did try it out, and I can say, what the f**k? How is that s’posed to work?