Thursday, February 28, 2008

Non-toxic cleaners

Lately I have noticed a lot of discussion online about non-toxic cleaners. A large part of the rationale for these cleaners is so you can have your little kids help you with the cleaning--not a bad idea. I will put in my two cents because nobody I've seen has yet mentioned the most non-toxic cleaner of all, and one I use ALL THE TIME...

WATER. Yes. You can do a lot of cleaning with no more than water and a cleaning cloth or sponge. I constantly dampen a dishcloth and wipe off kitchen counters and the table and chairs. I also keep a sponge by every bathroom sink and moisten it and wipe down the sink nearly every time I use it (I get stressed out at other people's homes when I wash my hands and drip some water and there is no sponge for me to use to wipe up after myself).

I also got into the habit of just going over the bathroom floor with a damp cloth or paper towel (or even a clump of dampened toilet paper), back in the days when I cleaned the bathroom every night while the kids were bathing. The key is to do it regularly. I used to think I never cleaned, because I rarely made up a bucket of Lysol, put on rubber gloves and took a sponge to the bathroom (like my mom used to do 2-3 times per week). But then I realized that by keeping at things, wiping with water on a daily basis, I am doing just about as good a job with a whole lot less toxins.

Another big one I use all the time: a sink full of hot soapy water, made with... DISH DETERGENT. I wipe all kinds of things with this. I also wash out my dish cloths in this water, rinse them and hang them in a single layer to dry. They can go a long time between washer washings if I do this correctly. I used hot, soapy dishwater to wash toys when my kids were little, and to clean off the highchair. I even used this to wipe down the window behind the high chair on many occasions, and I am still known to take a hot soapy dishcloth to the sliding glass doors in the kitchen. This is also good for wiping off sticky doorknobs and light switches.

I wanted my kids to help with washing the kitchen floor, so I began the method of putting a squirt of dish detergent into a bucket of warm water, giving them a few old rags, and setting them off. It works like a charm (well, to be totally truthful we did have some flooded floors in the early days, depending on who all joined in on this project). You know it has to be non-toxic if you wash your silverware in it, and your silverware goes into your mouth.

Another cleaner that I use a lot is GLASS CLEANER. As soon as I get rid of what I have, I am going to replace it with homemade: 1/3 cup white vinegar, 2/3 cup isopropel rubbing alcohol, and fill to the quart line with water. I use glass cleaner on windows, mirrors, sinks, toilets (the outside of the toilet), faucets, and occasionally tile.

I clean my stove top with BAKING SODA. I sprinkle on the baking soda and rub it around with a dishcloth until clean. Some people like baking soda for cleaning tubs. I have used it, and it is OK, but POWDERED LAUNDRY DETERGENT is better. If you find one that you can wash your clothes in and it doesn't give you a rash, then it should be non-toxic for you to scrub your tub and shower with it. I like the Arm and Hammer brand.

The best way to keep your tub/shower clean, easily, is to get a WATER SOFTENER. I know this because my mom and dad had one. Their house is over 40 years old, and the tub is as shiny as the day it was installed, a testimony to my mom's cleaning habits and the power of soft water. Water softeners are expensive. I know, because I was married for over 20 years before I got one. But now I have one and my bathroom fixtures have never been cleaner or shinier.

Besides soft water, I love having a REMOVABLE SHOWER HEAD. These are not too, too expensive, and nearly any shower head can be easily converted. I use mine to rinse down my whole shower, curtain and all, every time I shower. Then I spray with CLEAN SHOWER, which is a wonderful commercial product. Following this routine, I very rarely need to scrub my shower. When I do, I can just put some powdered laundry detergent on a sponge and scrub down the tile, then step into the shower (yes, naked) and follow my regular take-a-shower routine of rinsing it down and spraying with Clean Shower at the end.

I have not had tremendous issues with mildew in my shower. But in order to pre-empt that from happening, I am going to make up a spray bottle of 1/2 water mixed with 1/2 HYDROGEN PEROXIDE and spray it in the corners. I have also been using hydrogen peroxide (a tissue moistened with it) to clean the mildew from the black rubber seals around the glass in my bathroom windows. My kids' bathroom had some mildew under the caulk that ran between the tub and the tile. We solved that by removing the caulk and scraping out the old grout. Then we scraped out all the darkened grout in the whole shower with a grout remover (dh did most of this, although I started it). Then dh re grouted for me. For $26 and a day's worth of elbow grease, they have a like-new shower, except they haven't used it yet because it is still curing and waiting for new caulk. I do intend to spray regularly with hydrogen peroxide in there to keep it from happening again.

For wood floors and baseboards, all I have ever used is water with a splash of WHITE VINEGAR added. This is also the solution I put into my mini Bissell carpet cleaning system to clean up pet accidents (which fortunately are much fewer and farther between these days).

I do put Ajax or Comet into the toilet bowl and brush with a toilet brush. I used to use bleach, but since I switched to CLEANSER WITH BLEACH added, I have ruined a lot less of my clothes with the splashes. This is mildly toxic, because of the bleach, but I am not all that scared of bleach in reasonable quantities. For heaven's sake, there's chlorine in the water we drink every day! I would not have a toddler do this job, but I think this method of cleaning is basically safe for a child of 7 or 8. There are few fumes associated with it.

I also like to use ENDUST for dusting. I despise furniture polish. Endust just helps to magnetically attract the dust. I read online of someone who uses olive oil and lemon juice on her furniture. I would be very hesitant to recommend that. If you don't feel comfortable with Endust, I would suggest just using a very slightly dampened cloth for dusting. I don't like to use anything that leaves a residue.

"Natural" products that make good cleaners--

  • water
  • baking soda
  • white vinegar
  • isopropel rubbing alcohol
  • hydrogen peroxide

Non-toxic things you can use for purposes other than what they are advertised to do--

  • dish detergent
  • powdered laundry detergent

Commercial products that I think are worth using--

  • Cleanser (for toilet bowls--it is cheap, too)
  • Endust
  • Clean Shower

If you stock your house with these cleaning supplies, you should be well prepared to handle most household cleaning chores.

Oh, and get a good vacuum. (*smile*)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

a VERY happy birthday

Here is Shawn. He is 44 in this picture, which was taken two days ago. Note the four candles on the cake, four in honor of forty-four, and because I did not think forty-four candles would fit on the cake, and even if they did, the first ones I lit would melt down all the way to the icing before I got the last ones lit. Four is good. It is a nice, square number. It is also symbolic of how many delightful children we have. By the way, if you look closely, you can see how nicely his lip has healed up after the dog-bite/stitches ordeal. And, in case you wanted to know, it is a lemon cake with tangy lemon icing and cherry filling.

Shawn wanted shrimp for his birthday dinner. I cook lots of things--I can make roast beef, steak, many styles of chicken, turkey, a plethora of pasta dishes, heck, I can even cook salmon. However, I do not know how to cook shrimp. I thought of just making a reservation at, you know, Red Lobster. But somehow it didn't sit well with me. It's HIS birthday; it's probably not the best gift to ask him to take all six of us out to the Lob. So I pondered and came up with this idea--I would order a platter of cocktail shrimp from Wegman's. Yay! I placed the order on Saturday (feeling rather extravagant) and told them I would like to pick up my platter at 5 p.m. on Monday.

So---Monday rolled around and I shopped and prepared and bustled and did all those wonderful things you do when your husband is having a birthday (and fretted because my internet order for him is LATE, but that is beside the point). Laura and I found ourselves at the seafood counter at Wegmans at precisely 5 p.m., according to their clock, and the young man behind the counter asked if he could help us. "I'm here to pick up a shrimp platter, " I said.

He looked at me, "You'd like to order a shrimp platter?" he asked.

"No," I said, "I would like to pick up the one I ordered. I asked for it to be ready at five." His face turned white and he gulped. he started looking around and trying to find people. It turned out that nobody had checked to see if they had any shrimp platters due on Monday. I don't suppose Monday is a very big day for shrimp platters, generally. Anyway, although our order was clearly written in the book, there was no platter prepared. The good news is that, although there was no platter ready to go, there was plenty of shrimp. The young man and his boss scrambled to assemble our platter while we waited. And here is the BEST thing of all--we got it at NO CHARGE. A $39.99 shrimp platter... for FREE! For a stay at home mom with no income, that makes a dandy present to give to her hard-working husband! Here's the proof:

The young man from the seafood department even walked us out of the store, to be sure there would be no problems.

Earlier in the day I had bought, washed and prepared these fresh vegetables. We enjoyed them with our shrimp. Between the six of us, we ate everything on that platter except for two pieces of cauliflower. Pretty healthy dinner, huh? (Earlier in the day, I also baked and assembled the four layer cake--we won't discuss how healthy that was/wasn't.)

Since it is February in Syracuse, and that means it is cold, we wanted something hot to go with our meal. I made the dough, but Lulu assembled this pizza/foccacia bread thing which was covered in olive oil, garlic, oregano, basil, parmesan, provolone, mozzerella and olives. Mmmmm, mmmmm. It was goo-ood.

Of course , we finished off with the cake (pictured at the top). It was a nice birthday, a yummy birthday, even a frugal birthday. Which is good, because I spent a lot more on his present than I had expected to spend. I had my mind all made up on what to get him, until I saw the price. Then I was flumoxed. Which is part of why I ordered it too late to receive it on time (the other reason being that I had the flu). Also, it was so expensive that I didn't dare to upgrade to expedited shipping--we have to shave expenses where we can--and so it isn't here yet. We are waiting, waiting. I wonder if he will be surprised?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Fast Food

This past weekend, we watched the movie, "Supersize Me." (I know it is old now--give me a break; it took me about eight years to work up the courage to watch "Forrest Gump" and afterwards, I swore I would never watch it again.)

I found the movie very disturbing. Not that we eat at McDonald's a lot. We actually eat there very little--I got a breakfast sandwich (bacon, egg and cheese biscuit) and an orange juice the morning we took Jonathan to camp last summer. When we drive to Minnesota we often get breakfast there on the way out of town, but since we drive to Minnesota less than once a year, that still doesn't add up to much.

Very occasionally, if I am out shopping with kids (which is rare--we all hate shopping, with the possible exception of Laura--we do not spend a lot of time out looking for places to spend our hard earned cash) we will swing by the drive through and get some burgers (usually double cheeseburgers off the dollar value menu) and water. I ask for water in a cup, with a straw and ice. Because I like straws and ice, and who wants to pay $1.25 for a bottle of Dasani when you can get ice water with a straw for free? (OK, my son DJ does, because he is creeped out from reading about the bacteria levels in commercial ice machines. I don't let that bother me, and I have not gotten sick from ice yet. There are enough things out there to fear and eschew; I refuse to be intimidated by ice.)

Once I was out shopping with the girls, and we stopped by McDonald's and got large chocolate shakes for a treat. They were obscenely huge. We sat in the van in the parking lot at Wal-Mart and tried to finish them. We felt a little sick to our stomachs for the rest of the day, and I am sure I skipped dinner altogether.

If I am hungry when I am out shopping, usually I buy a Payday bar and a bottle of chocolate milk. That's my power lunch. I can get it at Wal-Mart for approximately $1.40. It holds me. While it certainly contains too much sugar, it is also packed with peanuts and milk, which, if you aren't allergic to them, are both pretty nutritious (i.e. good for you).

There was a year when Lu was in seventh grade, DJ was in eighth, and Shannon was in tenth, when I was a youth counselor for our church youth group. The three of them had piano lessons after school, and we went directly from piano to church for youth group. Sometimes I made sandwiches to go, but the majority of the time, we grabbed dinner at Wendy's, which is right next to church. I let them each choose two items from the dollar menu. Laura usually got chicken nuggets and a side salad (with Ranch dressing) and combined them. DJ always got two value burgers. I am not sure what Shannon got--usually a burger and something else. I often got a baked potato and chili. That year of once-a-week Wendy's was not so great. I was really glad when it ended. I have never eaten so much fast food in my life. Also, I cannot for the life of me remember or figure out what I did with Jonathan on those nights. That is really bothering me. I'm glad we don't live "there" anymore. It is so great that DJ can drive himself, Laura and Jon to and from youth group now.

Anyway, I hope we are not going to die from fast food. We almost never get soda, and we get fries even less than that. And when we do go to a fast food establishment, it is less than once a month, except for that one year we ate weekly at Wendy's. However, I fear that many of the convenience foods we get at the grocery store or at Sam's club are nearly as bad as bona fide fast food.

I am also suspicious of what Shawn eats for lunch. That is a dark mystery. But today he took a sandwich from home. Maybe the movie spooked him, too. He took a sandwich and a banana. This is a watershed day. It is also his 44th birthday.

Happy birthday, dear Shawn, happy birthday to you. No Micky D's birthday cake for you--I made you a "homemade" one from a Duncan Hine's mix--lemon with tangy lemon icing (also homemade with real butter and powdered sugar) and cherry pie filling (canned) in the center of each layer.

The cake is only for good children who eat plenty of fresh cocktail shrimp and fresh vegetables and dip (broccoli, cauliflower, yellow pepper, grape tomatoes, cucumber, carrots and celery) and garlic foccacia bread beforehand. (*wink*)

Friday, February 22, 2008

re emerging

I am emerging from the fog.

That was a bad sickness.

When Laura and DJ were three and four and both in preschool, one day a mother of one of the other preschoolers died. She was also the daycare provider for a number of the children at the preschool. She died of a cold which turned suddenly into an infection which rapidly attacked her heart. It was really, really weird. She was there one day, then over the weekend she was admitted to the hospital and she died the next day. She was about 32. This event has always haunted me.

When I was sick, I spent a number of days praying, "Jesus please help me," with nearly every waking breath I had. I felt that bad. At one point, the congestion in my chest was so breath-blocking that I felt like I was drowning, or suffocating, or something. I asked DJ for a puff on one of his albuterol inhalers. He set me up with his nebulizer instead, saying, "This will help you more." It did help me to breathe. It also made my heart pound, my limbs shake and my head ache. And my stomach hurt.

When I finally went to the doctor (when I got better enough that I thought a trip to the doctor would not do me in, in and of itself), she told me that had been a good thing to do and gave me a prescription for albuterol. Instead of buying my own puffer, I used the nebulizer two more times.

I am still weak. It's frustrating. Yesterday I cleaned out some cupboards, made a trip to Wal-Mart to get some storage system stuff, cooked dinner and scraped some grout out of the kids' shower. I was exhausted.

Today I made my bed and did a little tidying upstairs, and I was so tired and winded, I had to rest in my bedroom chair for awhile before I could carry the laundry to the laundry room.

This is really discouraging, because I had been thinking I might like to go back to school and become an English teacher. It's taking me weeks just to shake a common cold. Well, to be strictly honest it was the flu, but still, I should be stronger by now.

I have been having trouble concentrating--I can't even read, hardly.

I want so much to do something, to wisely use the days God gives me. I feel like I just survive in a semi-vegetable state. I am encouraged that I am cooking, shopping, and washing clothes, as well as cleaning as strength allows. But there has to be more to life than this—more than hanging by a thread. The high point of the day should be something better than crawling into bed at the end of it.

The kids’ school break has been a wasteland of staying at home—nobody out, nobody in. Jon has been playing his DS every minute after he makes his bed and practices his trumpet. Laura spent hours watching tivoed Matlock episodes. My brain is so dead, I can’t even think of what we COULD be doing. It crossed my mind once that I would have liked to have an opportunity to take the kids skiing, and try to give them an opportunity to learn how. Then I got the chills again, and a coughing fit.

At some point, I hope God shows me what He wants from me. A college degree to be a teacher? A family summer missions trip? I don’t even have any ideas. But I am sick, sick, sick of staying home and examining my own (diseased) belly button.

Oh, on a more positive note—I found my gentian violet when I was cleaning out one of the cupboards yesterday. That was great, because I had some white fungus on one of my toenails, where it had grown up around some old nail polish I left on too long (I had since removed the nail polish). When I visited the doctor for my flu, I also showed her my toe. “That’s a fungus,” she said, “Here, let me write you a referral to a podiatrist.” With our current (non) insurance, we do not need referrals. We just pay out of pocket for everything until we hit the magic $2500 mark. Then they kick in and pay for everything. I was not hoping to visit another doctor. I was hoping she could help me while I was there to see her. She is a family practice doctor; I would think they could handle a toenail fungus.

I went home and got out my razor blades and started scraping off the fungus once a day, then rinsing it off with rubbing alcohol and finishing with an application of tea tree oil. After two or three days of this, the fungus appeared to be receding. But yesterday I found my GENTIAN VIOLET! I applied that yesterday and today, and there is currently no sign of any textured growth of any sort on my toenail. Albeit, my toenail is dark purple, but I think it may be safe to say that it is cured. I will do gentian violet for one more day, because I think three days is the standard length of treatment with this stuff. Then it only remains to be seen how long the toenail will stay purple…

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Chicken Broth

When you are sick, chicken broth can be a great comfort. The best chicken broth is homemade, and lucky for those of us who have to make our own when we are sick, it is easy to make.

Can I just say, it is so worth making your own chicken broth. It is lower in salt and fresher in flavor, but more importantly, it has natural chicken goodness that comes out of the marrow of the chicken bones. I know there is a scientific explanation for how it works, but in my sick, fuzzy, overmedicated state, I am not going to begin to talk about the molecular formulas or the antioxidents or...whatever. The broth is gelatenous when cold, and this means that it has stuff in it that will help you get over your cold. Really. Just believe me. Besides, it has no MSG, no artificial flavor, no artificial color. Even though I am not quite well yet, I am much better than I would be without my fresh, homemade chicken broth.

Here is how you make it:


1 broiler/fryer chicken (you do not need a stewing hen--I am scared of stewing hens)
8 cups water
1 tsp salt
1 tsp dried, minced onion
1/4 tsp granulated garlic
1/4 tsp black pepper

Put ingredients into a large pot, bring to a boil and boil for 1-2 hours, the longer the better.
Remove chicken from pot (it makes a very nice by-product; your menfolk will eat it, or you can separate the meat from the bones/skin/fat and save it to use in casseroles).
Cover the pot and set it out on your deck or your porch or somewhere else very cold, and let it sit until it is cool.
Remove the fat from the top of the cooled broth. Discard.
Put the gelatenous broth into a container and reheat it as desired to nurse your cold (at our house we usually heat up a mug at a time).
You could strain the broth, or run it through cheesecloth. I never do.

Monday, February 11, 2008


I will not be posting for awhile. I am very sick--fever, cough, headache, chills, etc. Praise the Lord, I am not throwing up! I heard that this is a fever that can linger for 5 days. I've been through two acute fever days. Two down, three to go? We had a new hot water heater and water softener installed today, so there was no running water from 2:30 until about 7:30 or 8. That was interesting. I kept my hands clean by dousing them with rubbing alcohol. Hope it worked. If anybody out there reads this, please, please pray that the rest of my family will be spared.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The easiest side dish in the world

Today I am going to share a recipe for easy food.  It is not particularly healthy, but it is tasty, quick, easy and relatively cheap.  We usually serve it with chicken and vegetables, so I figure the other dishes can make up for its lack of nutritional value.


Cook one package (~12 oz.)  of medium egg noodles in a large saucepan

This only takes 5 minutes after the water comes to a boil!!!

Drain the noodles, and return to pan.

Quickly, while they are hot, add the following (and I include measurements only for your convenience in estimating--I NEVER measure)

1/4 cup soft butter
1/2 cup sour cream
1/3 cup Kraft grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp granulated garlic

Stir until evenly coated and serve immediately.

Tomorrow I might write about Jane Austen.  If I have time.