Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Disposables: Green Scouring Pads

The typical green scouring pads are what we used to use for cleaning the dishes. In the new attempt to remove disposable items from our house, specifically plastic ones, these green pads are gone. In their place are the new green scrubbers in our life.

These little knitted numbers are 100% cotton making them incredibly durable and incredibly absorbent. They work just as well as the old ones and don't scratch up all the pans. The best part is that at a price of $1.79 for 120 yards you can knit up three compared to spending over a dollar a piece on Scotch Brite. I've also found that they last longer than the plastic ones because they don't wear down to a smooth green blob like the others tend to.

The pattern is incredibly simple and even a beginning knitter can handle creating these scouring pads. As long as you can knit and purl, you're set! I use Lily's Sugar 'n' Cream yarn, but any 100 percent cotton will due. Ours are Lily 'n' Cream Lime (now known as Hot Green).

The pattern for our scouring pads was derived from one posted at Little House in the Suburbs. However, there's is a bit more on the pretty side, whereas I wanted ours to be significantly more durable. So there has been a bit of tweeking, a few more added scrubbers, some size altering, etc.

You will need 1 skein of 100% cotton yarn. 2 size 5 knitting needles and 1 double pointed size 6 needle.

At first, I was a bit nervous about the mention of a cabling needle. Cabling is significantly above my skill level and quite a bit intimidating. Not only that, I didn't even own a cabling needle. So, some testing out of options and a bit of trial and error led me to using one double pointed size 6 needle instead. However, you can use any object that is long and skinny like a knitting needle - pencil, pen, marker, hair pin, piece of doweling - but seems to work best if the object is about six inches long. All you basically need is something to hold the stitches for a bit.

The instructions on making a scrubber are below the pattern.

Cast on 29 stitches.
Knit a complete row
Purl a complete row
Knit 5 stitches, create a scrubber, knit 5 more stitches, create scrubber...continue till the end of the row.
Purl a row.
Knit 1 stitch, create a scrubber, knit 5 more stitches, create scrubber, knit 5 more, scrubber....till the end (you should be left with a one stitch remaining after the last scrubber.)
Purl a row.
Knit 5 stitches, create scrubber, knit 5 more stitches, create scrubber....continue till the end.
Purl a Row.
Knit 1 stitch, create scrubber, knit 5 more stitches, create scrubber, knit 5 more, scrubber...till the end.
Purl a row.

The pattern basically entails knitting one row, purling one row, knitting, purling, etc. On the knitted rows you alternate between knitting in five stitches before starting to make scrubbers and knitting in 1 stitch. There are always five knitted stitches between each scrubber. You should never be making scrubbers on a purled row.

Making a scrubber:

The scrubbers are places where yarn has been wrapped around three stitches and then the stitches are knitted, leaving sort of a bubble of yarn over the top.

This effect is created by transferring three stitches onto the double pointed needle. You don't need to knit them, just slide them over onto the double pointed needle.

Next wrap the yarn around the double pointed needle (and the three stitches) counter clockwise somewhere around five to seven times. Wrap the yarn so that it fits nice and snuggly, but don't try to strangle the stitches.

Now, knit the three stitches off of the double pointed needle one by one. Continue knitting five more stitches and repeat the process.

What you should have when you are done are nice rows of scrubbers alternating across your scouring pad.

Being cotton you can re-wash them over and over in the laundry whenever they begin to get ooky or smelly, and they store well in the drawer along with all the other dishcloths. Voila! Homemade scouring pads, without the plastic or the landfill!

...Yes, I realize my excitement makes me a nerd...

Monday, September 28, 2009

Rainwater Usage: Dishwashing

It may sound a bit funny, but I'm stunted in the area of dish washing. The learning curve of having the dishes all washed, dried, and stacked neatly in our cabinets by the end of the night is one that has taken me quite a bit of time. More just always seem to appear, and then there is dinner and all its dishes, and just when I think all is completed I'll discover another glass in Jules' Man Room. It was enough to drive me completely insane. Along with this came much frustration from Jules that has a rather large issue with dishes and is convinced that every fly on earth must just know when there are dishes in our sink. Thankfully, with the expansion of our rain barrel water usage, the dishes have been converted into a very deliberate task during the day and have become much more manageable.

With the exclusion of about three months a year, we are one of the rainiest places in the continental United States. This leaves us with much water falling from the sky and quite a wonderful resource for harvesting to later return to the water table. With the rainy season returning (at least supposed to be returning) we are once again at a place to begin discussing the usage of our rain water. This last year, our toilet was flushed with rain water and with some treatment it can now be used for dish washing as well.

There is absolutely no treatment necessary for water if you are using it for irrigation, toilet flushing, or car washing. To use it inside as any kind of cleaning agent or use with human contact does require further considerations. The treating of rainwater really doesn't require much unless you are wanting to drink or cook with it. I don't think we will ever get to the point where our water is being used for direct consumption (however, I also never thought I would refill the back of my toilet after every flush as well). Two things need to be considered 1) the presence of bacteria or algae which could make you sick 2) heavy metals or pollution run-off from the rain collection sight. You can pay for an fancy (and expensive) water test, but ultimately don't need to if you know even a little bit about where you are collecting the water.

Living in an older house, both of these were concerns for us. The only portion of our roof which runs into our rain barrels is from our porch. The old fiberglass/asbestos sheeting which covered the porch has been swapped out for high impact plastic alleviating the worry of harmful chemical runoff from the sheeting. We have not replaced the gutter, however. This leaves some heavy metals as a possibility in our rainwater.

Secondly, the plastic we now use to cover our porch is clear and allows us to see the amount of accumulation of bird droppings, air pollution, or mold which might be growing. We get significant enough amounts of rain and the surface has a large enough slant, that it is fairly self cleaning.

The third consideration, is the area in which you live. We do not have a significant air pollution problem in our area. Sometimes in the summer there are air advisories, but mainly due to all the rain, it isn't an issue. If you are living places with acid rain, I would contact the local environmental studies/sciences department of your local university for advice.

Once you are sure of what might be contaminating your water, you can treat it accordingly. Water for dish washing needs to be treated much like potable (drinking) water because you are, after all, eating out of your dishes. But dishwater doesn't need to be taken to quite the measurable extreme as drinking water since poisoning yourself with the treatment chemicals isn't as much of a threat.

There are many different ways to disinfect water, but household bleach works for us. Make sure you are using plain bleach, no smells, or other foofy stuff. Straight bleach. Texas did quite a bit of research and came up with this list. Clorox is great for us. To sterilize water, you need 8 drops of bleach for each gallon. This means for a 55 gallon drum, you need to add 440 drops of bleach. Colorado State University recommends 1/2 teaspoon for every five gallons of water. Rather than count them all out, I compromised and just added 1/2 cup of bleach directly into the top of the barrel. This is more than 440 drops by quite a bit, but we are not drinking this water, just using it as a sterilized rinse to clean our dishes.

The bleachy water was left in the barrel for two days to thoroughly mix, combine, and have contact with any algae that might be stuck to the walls of the barrels. At this point, the water is all set to use for dish cleaning. When it comes out of the spigot, there is enough bleach that you can smell it (like a swimming pool) but not so much that it will take any color out of your clothes. One of our rain barrels is now filled with bleach water at all times and is used solely for dishwashing as the bleach would probably kill or severely damage any plants.

Warning: Do not drink water which has had bleach added, unless you are VERY careful about precision measurement. Any chemicals added to water without extreme precaution can make you very sick. We are NOT drinking this water, merely using it to clean with.

The dishwasher in our house is used as a holding tank for the dishes before I can get around to washing them by hand during the day. This way Jules doesn't ever have to see them and the flies which are lurking everywhere can't find them either. I do thirty minutes worth of dishes a day and then stop. This is normally enough to get the dishwasher completely empty, and results in me doing dishes usually only every other day because there aren't enough to justify using up the water.

Doing the dishes now is fairly quick and painless, with the added perk of Jules approving over the level of cleanliness now presiding in the kitchen.The stopper is put in the sink, criss-crossed with dish soap and then I go out and fill one of the old Tidy Cats liter containers (which has been cleaned thirty million times!) we use to transport most all of our household rainwater. By dumping the water into the sink, the water gets all soapy and the dishes are done one by one starting with the cleanest and ending with the dirtiest. All the dishes then get an incredibly quick rinse in tap water due to a small concern over possible heavy metals from our gutters. They are then dried really well and put away.

The left over water in the sink is usually kinda gross. This water is used to soak any dishes which I will be washing the next day or any dishes that have stuck on food which needs to soak. The junk is all rinsed or soaked off of them and then they go back in the dishwasher to be formally cleaned the next day. It may seem like extra work, but they aren't scrubbed much and by taking the food bits off of them in the leftover water that is already disgusting, the dishwasher tomorrow won't get disgusting right away.

Once all the dishes have either been put away or placed back in the dishwasher, I rinse out the dishwasher with my washcloth and the extra sink water. By pre-rinsing the dishes, the water isn't anywhere near as bad as it used to be when I washed dishes and can be used really well to wash out the inside of the dishwasher so it doesn't get stinky. A stinky dishwasher might alert the flies as to where the dishes are being kept. We can't have that!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Disposables: Pyrex

Garage saling this summer led Jules and I to quite the irresistible box of Pyrex dishes. They were avocado green and white to match the refrigerator in the kitchen beautifully. There were nice little flowers printed on them and a very vintage feel. The absolute greatest part is that there were only two pieces missing from having 3 complete sets of dishware (with lids!) and the entire price was a whopping 10 dollars. Now, at the time, both Jules and I realized this was something to purchase. What we didn't realize was how extreme the complete amazement of what we had stumbled upon. After much internet research, it is now apparent that the dishes are the Spring Blossom Green (Crazy Daisy) vintage Pyrex. They are the original 1972 printings, not the later reruns, and their condition is amazing! Said bowls now sport themselves proudly in the open air cabinets of our kitchen and have become normal dinner attire for the table.

The greatness of Pyrex was slightly known to me before these bowls but has now become incredibly clear. After almost 40 years of use, these bowls still look fabulous. Their durability is second to none. They can live well in the refrigerator or the oven, and have marvelous clean up quality. By this I mean that they can go from creating lasagna on the counter to in the refrigerator for later cooking, into the oven to bake, onto the table to eat, and then back into the refrigerator as leftovers and the only dishes that have been dirtied are two! This eliminates the need for refrigerator Tupperware as we now just store the items in the original baking dishes, and the lids remove the need for Saran wrap or aluminum foil.

The removal of a couple more items from our monthly grocery list is nicely helpful for our budget, but it also got me interested in a the life of many of these plastic wonders that once were lived without. Sixty years ago glass refrigerator dishes, or multi-use dishware were a normal phenomenon not stirring up any wonder. There was no Saran Wrap until the 1950's.

Even more, where does it all go when we are done with it? Being a single use disposable product, a small ball of Saran Wrap or aluminum foil doesn't look like much, but everyone uses it so regularly there must be quite a bit wandering around landfills. This now ubiquitous product is renowned for its ability to be impervious to both air and water, so how could it break down?

Such pondering questions drove me further into the Internet only to discover that the final resting place of much of the world's plastic is closer than I realized. Below is a picture of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

This jar contains ocean water floating in a soup of plastic bits and non-biodegradable debris. In the jar the plastics can settle to the bottom, however, in the oceans the turbidity is too high. The plastic particulates float about causing a consistency of soupy Alfredo sauce. The Pacific Ocean has become one of the largest garbage heaps in the world due to the way ocean currents flow and the amount of plastic usage now prevalent in the world. This mixture of the world's plastics, which have been degraded into soupy consistency, is at its smallest twice the size of Texas and at its largest twice the size of the continental U.S., and resides between California, Hawaii and Japan. It may not look like as much as it sounds, but unfortunately, the trash is no longer a floating eyesore of plastic bottles, bags, and miscellaneous large debris. The plastics have been broken into small enough bits to create particulate matter in the waters which look like food for animals and fish, culminating in a consistency which is much more dangerous. Marine trash (90 percent of it plastic) is killing a million seabirds and 100,000 sea mammals and sea turtles ever year. Dutch scientists have found on average 30 pieces of plastic in the stomach of seagulls. This is problematic as plastic is a magnet for PCB's and DDT in the oceans and is working its way up the food chain.

Plastic has taken on a new persona in our house. It may be cheap, but the cost has many externalities which are unforeseen. Jules still uses plastic GladWare to take lunches to and from work, because we cannot seem to find anything else which transports as well. He does however have an entire file cabinet filled with glass jars of soup, fruit, and other lunchtime favorites as a back-up if leftovers are forgotten.

What has begun with some garage sale (and now a bit of eBay) Pyrex, has moved into quite another realm in our house. Slowly but surely, I hope to become as disposable (and plastic) free as possible.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Oh Boy!

Well, it has become apparent we now have a boy on our hands. All remnants of toddler, baby, or small person have completely grown up and away. The Spicy Barracuda is now, officially, a kid and quite the boy at that.

This began to become apparent in Georgia. He little round Buddha belly (which he had sported practically since birth) skinnied into a flat strong little tummy with ribs showing. His pants no longer fit and he shot right up practically an inch! I'm very thankful he doesn't have my legs, but has opted for thinner, leaner muscles which give him much more grace than I have ever been able to muster. I am equally thankful we didn't accumulate more size 5 pants as it appears he will have grown out of them quite rapidly.

As his shoulders have broadened and his jaw line continues to become much more defined the man residing in him has become quite obvious. It may be quite a while before girls start showing up at the door or calling on the phone, but we are having to let go of our little man and relinquish him to new-found friends. Though there are no young kids on our block, we live less than five walking minutes from a large park and the local elementary school where children abound. He also has quite the following at one of the grandparents houses in suburbia.

It is too soon for me. I tell myself that his sense of personal direction isn't strong enough, his knowledge and judgment in the face of peer pressure aren't fortified, his ability to stand alone with difficult choices falters too much. All of this is moot, however, he has made the decision himself and is demanding personal independence.

He knows many of the neighborhood kids now all by himself and looks for them at the park. Most of the YMCA afterschool program knows him on site and some wait for him to show up and play. He now wishes to play with me sitting quite a ways away (luckily Dad is still cool enough) and when I come to pick him up from a weekend with the suburban grandparents, there is a very down face.

The final blows of reality came when the desire to shave off the back of his mohawk was issued. The haircut has been all his own choice since it was first given at 18 months old. From the colors to the style, his hair is his to do with as he wishes. So after four or five "are you sure's" the clippers took off the long mane of hair traveling down his neck. This request was shortly followed by "Can we go get Pokeman cards with my allowance?"

So up the street the family walked. The Barracuda giddily running ahead with his prized allowance jar clutched in his hands, Jules and I following close behind. The realization came quickly that this will be the first of many such walks.

I remind myself that his independence is a good thing: we want a leader, not a follower. This new found voice and sense of self have shown themselves elsewhere from learning to read by himself to now declaring a desire to learn Spanish. He will make his own way, and we are still there to guide him, but from this point on he has taken over the drivers seat.