Monday, November 30, 2009

All American Thanksgiving!

My mother is teaching in Dubai. As a result, I have inherited the holidays. This isn't really a bad thing, but it does mean that life this time of year gets a bit scattered. Thanksgiving and Christmas weren't too forgiving this year either as I work the beginning of every week (Sunday-Wednesday) and both fall on Thursdays. As such, there has been much early preparation and a significant amount of thought put into what exactly I can do four days early. Luckily with all the canning we did earlier this year, there isn't too much to buy or too much to cook.

Being quite the American family, we combine people from all over the United States, people from various relationships, and people from different families all around one table. Personally, I like the Barracuda growing up with this idea that we are all family and we can all sit around one table and be thankful together. It does make the menu a bit crazy at times though.

Jules is very Southern in some things he likes to eat. This means creamed corn, cornbread stuffing, biscuit and sweet potatoes. Lindy is my father's long-time girlfriend and she likes food which is very 'normal.' That means no fancy seasonings or exotic dishes at the table. A co-worker of ours as well as our neighbor, might come over and neither eat meat. This means lots of vegetable choices which do not contain chicken or turkey stock. My brother likes traditional favorites. My father is partial to his Swedish roots which means the sweet, Swedish rolls which have always been at our table. I personally like lighter, healthier fair. Oh my goodness this has been quite interesting to plan.

It all worked out quite nicely though. Food was good, very plentiful, and most of it came from the cellar previously canned. Out of all of it, we didn't spend much money and had quite a bit to be thankful for.

In our household there is no discussion of Pilgrims and "Indians." We do not discuss everyone sitting down to a feast, and all the thankfulness, and all the charity, and all the grace. We have always been honest with The Barracuda and a historically accurate description of Thanksgiving would require massacres and small pox blankets to be discussed. He is five and that is quite unnecessary.

We focus on thankfulness and on family. Family (in our household) is not biological. Family are people who love and care about each other regardless of genes. On Thanksgiving we are thankful for people, for friends, for all that we have and anyone who might need a place at the table to sit.
It meant sitting in front of the fire place eating, laughing, talking and drinking till everyone was exhausted. It also means that whether or not Jules is the real other half of the Barracuda's genes are doesn't matter. Whether my father is married to his long term girlfriend is completely moot. Coworkers, ex-coworkers, neighbors are all friends and thus family in turn. It makes for quite a warm house filled with warm hearts.

In the end, we all wound up thankful for quite a bit. When asked by his teacher to list three good things in his life The Barracuda wrote this: (He uses Jules and dad interchangeably.)

"My room and my toys and my family. My room is a good thing because it has my bed so I can sleep. It is my room, now. When I didn't have my dad, I just lived in another house. I didn't have my own room, because I didn't have a whole family. I shared my room with my mom. Now, my room is just for me. My room is a good thing because it keeps my toys. Because I get to do cool stuff with them. I get to play with them. I get to do lots of stuff with them. I haven't always had lots of toys because when I was at the other house I didn't really have a room. I didn't have many toys or things because our room was small and always messy. Now, I'm living in [Jules'] house and it has all my toys in there and now I have my own simple room. We live at [Jules'] house now because we moved from the other house. I like that house because it is all fancy and we have our dog and our cat. My family tells me what is right and what is wrong. I like my family and I love my family. My mom cleans up the house and my dad goes to work. I love my dad because he does stuff with me and he comes to get me from when I play at other people's houses. My dad's job is to keep me safe. I love my mom too. She takes me to the coffee shop. She protects me and looks out for me."
This summed it up pretty darn well for Jules and I as well.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Disposables: Knitted Washclothes

Paper towels are incideous things. They are so simple, right there, and easily thrown away when they get all gross with something you never want to touch or think about again. However, they are also completely overused. When potty training Guadalupe, you dang well better believe there were many paper towels used to pick up certain disgusting messes. But, when it comes to something as simple as wiping down The Barracuda before he goes to bed, before he eats a snack, before he comes to sit down at the table, before he does most anything (he is the dirtiest five year old boy) paper towels are a complete waste. The same is true for wiping down counter tops, or when eating a meal.

In come these snazzy little numbers I have begun to stack in the bathroom and probably in the kitchen as well. Made from 100 percent cotton Lily 'n' Cream Red (a.k.a. Poppy) they do the trick quite nicely and knit up in only an hour or so. The pattern is simple, just a standard stitch; no yarn overs, slip stitches, or knit forwards. Two balls of Lily 'n' Cream will yield 3 washcloths making the price just about a dollar a piece. Being so cheap and quick to knit up, if they get stained in the kitchen it isn't a big deal.

Also helpful is the slightly lacy pattern of holes and raised nubs. The nubs not only scrub off the Barracuda, the holes help when he then throws the discarded washcloth in a wet heap in the bathroom or other corner of the house. I've found they dry quickly and can be used several times in the bathtub (provided there is hanging up and no heap throwing) before I need to throw them through the washer.

There is probably a name for this stitch, but I do not know it. I call it "twice knit" since "double knit" was already taken. I stumbled upon the concept when I was making a blanket of various patterned stitches and I needed another one. After repeating the same technique for three or four rows I decided I like it. Now it is used regularly.

It is another wonderfully simple pattern. This one doesn't even require purling! All that is necessary is to knit each stitch twice. You knit it once, standardly, then place your needle back under the stitch and knit it again. Doing this over and over, creates a lacework pattern.

You need 1 skeins of 100% cotton yarn, 2 size 8 knitting needles, and about an hour.

Cast on 36 stitches.
Knit the first row.
Twice knit all remaining rows until 9 inches long (or desired length).

How to Twice Knit
First, knit your stitch normally. You can now just slide it back onto your left needle and knit it again or you can follow the pictures below. I found it faster to use the method diagrammed below, but either way works. Once the stitch has been knit from the left needle to the right needle, stick your left needle back under the stitch (the one you just knit).
Now, you should have something resembling the first image below. Next, wrap the yarn around the right needle (the bottom needle) as if you were going to knit the stitch normally

Once the yarn is wrapped around the bottom needle, hold it with your finger so you can pull the yarn under.
Now slide the bottom needle (still holding the wrapped yarn) to the front and through the stitch.
Slide the stitch off of the lower needle, and you are done. By knitting each stitch twice you are adding an extra row to each stitch before you hook them together. This is what creates the holes and gives a lacy effect.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

No More Tobacco

Jules is having a hard week. You see, he began using Copenhagen tobacco around the age of 15. That would be around 20 years ago. Having a disastrous childhood (he would personally admit this) I cannot blame him. However, there is now a small boy in his life. A small boy that idolizes his father, that asks way too many questions, that began taking a drink of orange juice and spitting it back into the bottle to "be like his dad." Jules has said he wanted to quit multiple times, it was his New Years resolution last year. He has weened himself back from like 12 dips a day to only 3. He made it through a trip home without going insane, killing anyone, or over-using his tobacco rations. I am incredibly proud of him.

Now he has decided to go cold turkey. We are on day 5. I say 'we' because a little known fact to anyone who hasn't personally experienced it is that the entire family quits tobacco.

There has only been one meltdown, some snippy responses, and a few "Damn child!" mutterings late a night when the Barracuda has long since gone to bed and cannot hear. In general, it is going fairly well. I am very proud of him, his students are very proud of him, and the Barracuda really enjoys having an entire feedbag of candy laying around the house.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


So what does our family do without television? We spend an hour and a half rocking out to YouTube, dancing around our living room imitating Michael Jackson and going "Whoo-Whoo!" and "Aint no body's business!"

Someone is going to get a fedora for Solstice and this is definitely going in his senior yearbook!

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Homemade Cleaning Products: Laundry Detergent

Homemade laundry detergent appears to be a very personal thing. There is always the matter of your water: hard or soft, mineral content, well or treated city. Something in this mix will make whites dingy for some people and sparkling for others. There is the matter of consistency: gel, powder or liquid. There is the matter of heat: hot water wash or cold. There is fragrance: do you want one, do you not, do you want multiple fragrances. There is the matter of size: what will you keep it in, big batch or small, how long does it keep. Oh there is just so much more than when you walk down the grocery isle having to consider only a couple of options and knowing there isn't really one that "won't work." Most all of the Internet recipes I have seen involve the same basic stuff, but somehow the order or amounts make a very large difference. So try a few, keep some Tide on hand for the ones that don't work out, and know that most every single recipe I have seen costs only a dollar or so for the entire batch. Embarking on this highly personal mission requires a bit of reconnaissance into the lives of others and so I give you our laundry soap recipe.

To answer the questions above we have soft water, treated by the city (soon to be rain water), and the previous liquid made our whites dingy. We switched over to gel and now are very happy. All of our clothes are washed in cold water so powder won't do because of the whole dissolving issue. We are only slightly into the fragrance thing. A small fragrance is what we have decided upon, so that our clothes will smell clean but not overly smelly. We store our soap in a 5 gallon bucket and thus make large batches. However, the latest recipe (the keeper) is much smaller than the previous dingy whites recipe.

There aren't many pictures with this post because the process was so highly simple I couldn't really think of any pictures which someone would need. Pictures, I felt, would be a bit demeaning. Most everyone I know can grate, heat, dissolve, dump, mix and let sit without photo instructions.

1 Fels Naptha soap (you will use 1 1/2 cups of grated soap; a little less than half)
1/2 cup of Borax
1/2 cup of Washing Soda (washing not baking)

cheese grater (mine came from Goodwill for a buck, make this your permanent soap grater)
Any old pot or pan which can hold at least 8 quarts (totally reusable)
BIG bucket (at least 2 gallon)
Wooden spoon, spatula, large stick to stir contents of bucket
Regular spoon to stir contents of pot

Grate the Fels Naptha on the smallest teeth of the cheese grater. It will take more time to grate, however it will take much less time to melt. After trying it both ways, you save time with the smaller teeth.

Heat Boil 2 quarts of water. Make it really, rapidly boiling, crazy hot. Mix in 1 and 1/2 cups of the finely grated Fels Naptha.

Dissolve Turn down the heat to medium (this really likes to boil over and get everywhere on the stove) and stir until the soap dissolves. You want it completely dissolved like bright yellow, watery mustard. If it doesn't dissolve now, it won't in the washer.

Dump in the 1/2 cup Borax and 1/2 cup Washing Soda. The mixture will thicken almost immediately. You can feel it as you stir. However, it will not be like gel, mayonnaise, or honey. It is still very much a liquid. Simmer over medium to low heat for 5 minutes.

Mix Prepare 1 quart of hot water into your big bucket. Add 1/2 the yellow soap mixture. Stir till it completely combines. If you dump all the soap in at once it tends to separate due to the temperature difference. Dump the rest of the soap in and stir really well.

Let Sit put the lid on and let it sit for 24 hours.

That's it, all done. It takes about 15 minutes total and then waiting for it to set up. We use 3/4 of a cup per load. A full cup if the laundry is scary and needs lots of help. The bucket usually lasts us about 4 months. The Fels Naptha gives it a wonderful, slightly lemony scent. It works out very well.

Figuring Out What You Like
When I opened my bucket the next morning, the soap was like Jello. Personally, I found it way too dense. I was picturing the stuff that comes out of my nice, brightly-colored, plastic container which I bought at the store. Other people I have spoken with really like it this thick consistency. This is a very personal part of the whole process. For me, I boiled another 3 quarts of water till they were rapidly boiling, crazy hot, and dumped them in. After stirring a bit to make sure all had dissolved and combined I let it sit overnight again. In the morning I added 3 more quarts of water. At this point, I was satisfied with my slightly runny gel (like dishwasher soap). I'm pretty sure the next time I make it, the same thing will happen. However, I am still going to let the soap set up, and add the hot water in increments so that I get the consistency right. Due to this not being an exact science you have to play around with it a bit to make it your own.

Acquiring the Stuff
Fels Naptha has been around forever. It is usually found on the same isle and the Borax in with the cleaners. For some reason (I don't know why) it isn't on the laundry isle with the other soaps. It literally says "Heavy Duty Laundry Bar Soap" on the wrapper. However, many stores have just stopped carrying it. If you can't find it locally you can still find it on the Internet with the Dial website. It only costs about 1.50 a bar (though you have to purchase a minimum of 8) and you use about 1/2 of it for each batch of soap.

Washing Soda is another product that seems to be disappearing from shelves. It is normally in the laundry isle, as that is its main use. If this is not something which can be local acquired you can still get it through Arm & Hammer via the Internet. If you are deciding to do homemade laundry soap this is a product that is in most all of them. Even if the above recipe isn't something which works for you, the rest of the box will not go to waste.

I haven't had any problems with Borax. This seems to still be something that people realize is important to have around the house. Perhaps it is due to the fact Borax has a bajillion uses for cleaning and disinfecting. This is another product which is in most all the homemade laundry soap recipes I've seen. As well, Borax cleans a bathroom like no other product I have ever used. That includes all the fancy ones that Jules had in the cabinet before I lived with him. If you still haven't yet, buy it, use it, and love it.

You can acquire all three products from Soaps Gone Buy if you need to. Many appear to be available through Amazon as well.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Disposables: eBay

Ebay is one of those reasons the Internet can be considered an amazing revolution. By eliminating the middle man you are allowing for people all over the world to interact in exchange of goods which they no longer want, but realize others might still have use for. In this way, not only are you saving large volumes of product from a landfill, but you are empowering people to find solutions outside of the "Big Box" stores. Secondly, you are forced to trust the goodness in others and see that most of the population are good, upstanding, positive people who do not wish to merely "make a buck" or take advantage of another person.

With so much negative press and "fear mongering" in the media, it becomes easy to always assume the worst. Equally problematic is when one begins to assume the worst, their good intentions of self preservation begin to landslide into not helping others for fear of negative consequences. This can cause a complete breakdown in the positive help which a community is supposed to provide. Small areas of reasonably safeguarded trust, such as eBay or Etsy, help to restore this idea that if you trust another (and they trust you) a mutually beneficial relationship can blossom and community can be built.

However, many such handlings can go awry. As wonderful as the concept of trusting the good nature within each person is, some people have questionable intentions or a downright deceitful attitude. Sometimes, things just don't go as planned regardless of either person. As such, the buyer does need to beware and the consequences measured. In the "Seller Info" box you will find a number next to the seller's name. This number indicates how many items they have sold before. You preferably want someone who has done this over 100 times. This means they aren't new to the workings of eBay, to packaging and mailing things, to organizing money and items. Secondly, their feedback rating should be in the 90% or above range. Feedback is listed directly under the name of the seller. After every item is purchased people have the ability to give positive, negative, or neutral feedback along with written comments. This is a wonderful added checks and balances system for eBay. By clicking on the number if items the person has sold, you can see the feedback from other purchasers and gauge whether to trust the seller.

Completely Random Seller. Photo Courtesy of Google Images.

Buyer consciousness was once again reinforced and relearned by me with the debacle of my sewing machine. Oh wonderful Ebay, all looked good. However, if being completely honest with myself, I was being cheap. Rather than spend a large sum of money on a sewing machine which I would never have to replace and would suit all our family's needs for many years to come, I chose to go with a very scaled down model. Still a good machine, but definitely not the top of the line. I don't know why I did this. It was very much the kind of decision my father would have made. If it is one major lesson I have learned with Jules and our house is that you save your money to do it right the first time. Pressure canner, Kitchen Aide mixer, our safe, our firearms, all of it. You do it right from the beginning and don't need to do it again. For some reason I had momentarily forgotten this in an attempt to save money and I caused much more hassle.

Needless to say, the sewing machine I purchased a couple of weeks ago on eBay didn't go as planned. First it just plain didn't come. We waited. Jules checked when we purchased it. I stopped being ansy, yet couldn't shake a feeling things weren't right. More than two weeks later a mangled box appeared outside on the doorstep. The sewing machine.

Now, I assumed an item which cost $100 would be adequately packaged. Afterall, the Pyrex which I have purchased has all been far less money than that and packed beautifully! Moreover, this sewing machine is renown for being steel bodied, sturdy, and remarkably strong. But, when opened, it was broken. One of the main supports was snapped to the point of the machine now wobbling and unable to be used. There was virtually no packaging in the box whatsoever. Major Bummer!

The goodness of others prevailed, however. The seller was notified by Jules and refunded our money. Whew! Refund in hand, I decided to stop being cheap and just buy a good machine. Not a low end, really nice, no upgrade necessary, top of the line machine. It cost well over four times as much, but my Bernina 910 is coming in the mail. This time we went with a seller who knows what they are doing, who has had the machine professionally serviced by Bernina, who has a 100% positive feedback and has sold over 5 thousand items, who (in short) relatively assures us a good result.

I will never speak to the person who owned this machine before me. She will never know my son or Jules, but she will have provided them with clothes and quilts for many years to come. It is a rather odd concept to consider how much help a perfect stranger can provide, but what better definitions is there of community?

Say Hello to our family's newest member...

I think I shall name her Gertrude.