Coffee heat rising

Household Laziness

Dog-hair-in-vacuumSo…what with the dental surgery coming along just as two large paying projects landed on my desk, I’ve allowed my laziness about household chores to get completely out of hand. The chore-a-day scheme worked exceptionally well until I let it go, not feeling well enough to be bothered with scrubbing bathrooms and mopping floors.

Beloved Cleaning Lady stopped coming regularly quite some time ago, which was fine by me, first because spreading the chores out over seven days a week makes the housecleaning plenty manageable and second because I can’t afford to have her show up here very often. She proposed to come by once a month, but as a practical matter, she’s not getting here that often.

However, in the absence of Cassie the (Long-Haired!) Corgi, cleaning help is scarcely needed. Cassie shed a lot of hair. Ruby hardly sheds at all. The dog dunes have disappeared, and if it’s not raining the floors actually can be maintained simply by swiffering and light mopping, since the house is completely tiled. Two dogs track in a lot more dirt than one: Ruby hardly makes any mess on the floors. And since I do most of my cooking on the barbecue these days, the kitchen doesn’t get very dirty, either.

This means each of the proposed daily chores is pretty lightweight.

That notwithstanding…letting it go does pose a problem. After two weeks of loafing, the place needed to be cleaned, even if not very desperately.

Conveniently and out of the blue, though, Beloved Cleaning Lady emailed and said she wanted to come tomorrow for a major housecleaning frenzy. Great! said I. She does a lot better job with these chores than I do, and so if she comes in and gets the place shoveled out, I’ll be able to keep the mess at bay for another month or two.

But then yesterday she emailed to say she’s not feeling well and isn’t coming in as scheduled.


Meanwhile, though, I had weaseled out of SDXB’s planned day-waster, so — with the exception of needing to finish a chapter in one of the current client’s books — that left today and tomorrow to do the work myself.


And then some…

The pool is hazing up again. This, it develops, is symptomatic of algae growth…and yup…a test this afternoon showed the chlorine level was again down to nil. This, even though I’ve returned to using the big tablets in the floater.

With this new surface, I guess, I’m going to have to test the water every day. That is what we call a nuisance. Of (heh!) the first water. The pool seems to run out of chlorine very quickly.

As soon as the sun is low enough this evening, I’ll add a couple gallons of liquid chlorine. That seems to do the trick, where the granulated chlorine and the tabs fail. Have to wait until the sun is no longer shining on the surface — sunlight quickly degrades chlorine. And of course, I’ll have to let the pump run overnight, jacking up the power bill again. pbhthpbhthpbhthph

The weather has been so bizarrely cool this spring, the water is still too cold to swim in — and it’s the end of May! That is weird!

Did get into it for a few minutes this afternoon, but it’s pretty bracing. And of course now I won’t be able to go in again until the chlorine levels drop to a more or less safe level.

At any rate, the problem pretty surely is that I’ve been letting it go. I need to set a time each day to go out there and check and adjust the chemicals. That — can you imagine? — would resolve the problem.

But in the meantime: today in BCL’s absence I changed the sheets and ran the laundry, so now will get to spend the evening ironing in front of streaming Amazon shows. Wheee!



The Mattress and the Housework

Wow! MattressFirm was on the ball when it came to delivering the new sack I bought a couple of days ago. They would have delivered it over the weekend, except that I had other plans. They were here bright and early this morning to tote out the tired but still vast and still ridiculously heavy number and bring in the new one.

Pleased to get it, and not bad at-tall! It’s a little firmer than the old one, but that may be because the old one was fifteen years old. And sagging. This one is sag-free. To my surprise, it’s not significantly thinner than the defunct mattress, which when I bought it was pitched as miraculously extra-thick (meaning: you can’t fit your sheets on this thing!) Still not easy to get the sheets on, but there they are now. Even though it’s a little less squishy than I’m used to, it’s very comfortable and restful. So: this is good.

A new addition to the things that have to be taken care of around the house. 😀

The scheme to clean the house one chore at a time, one day at a time is working. Today I cleaned the outdoor furniture, swept the porches and deck, and washed the windows.

Notice that this caused rain to fall. Uncanny power, eh?

Over the past week the floors have been cleaned, the kitchen has been cleaned, the bathrooms have been scrubbed, the bed has been changed and the sheets & laundry washed, the furniture has been dusted, the windows washed, the outdoor living areas cleaned…and I have not knocked myself out even once! Most of these chores take all of about 20 minutes. And interestingly, the house has stayed clean-looking. Steadily neat, tidy, and clean.

I don’t know why I never thought of this before!

More to the point, I don’t know why my mother never thought of it.

Of course, housework and laundering were much bigger, harder jobs in her day. Floors were not covered with tile: they were covered with ugly brown rugs (to match the color of the dirt that would get ground into them over time). A vacuum cleaner…oh, ugh! What a monster machine. Ours was an Electrolux that scooted around on metal runners. It was heavy and clumsy and loud and messy and altogether unpleasant to use. You dragged it from room to room, scrubbing at the carpets with an attachment at the end of a long hose. And if you were unfortunate enough to live in a place with stairs…oh, God!

To clean the toilets you donned rubber gloves and scoured with Comet, a chlorinated powdered cleanser.

There were no dishwashers. You washed, scrubbed, and scoured every dish, pot, and pan by hand, arrayed them in a drainer next to the sink, and then poured a potful of boiling water over them to sanitize. Then you dried them by hand and put them away. There were no clothes dryers: you hung everything on clotheslines in the backyard, including the sheets and blankets (to the extent that you laundered blankets, which for most people was not at all: they were dry-cleaned in toxic chemicals). My mother had a wringer washer that miraculously ran on electricity. You’d drop a load of clothes in it with some detergent; it would fill with warm water and slosh around for awhile. Then you took each piece of  clothing out and ran it through the electrically driven wringer…VERY carefully, lest you catch your fingers or hand in the damn thing. This dropped the clothes into a big concrete tub of cold water, in which you manually sloshed the soap out; then you ran each piece back through the wringer again to squeeze out the rinse water. Then you hauled every damn piece of wet clothing and bedding and table linens into the backyard, where you hung them on clotheslines.

Everything had to be ironed: there was no such thing as no-iron clothing. My mother had a giant table press to iron the sheets, and every week we had to stand at an ironing board to press my father’s khakis, all our own blouses and skirts and slacks, all the table linens…you name it, we ironed it. Some women even ironed their husbands’ BVDs. Men’s shirts were starched: you boiled up a starch solution on the stove, dipped the shirts in that, hung them up to dry, and ironed them crisp. Windows were cleaned with water and newsprint…and lemme tellya, that was a laborious job.

Ah, halcyon days.

My mother had a cleaning day and a washing day and an ironing day. Cleaning house took the better part of a day. Doing it right today does, too, for that matter — only without breaking your back. Laundry was also a half-day project or more. Ironing? Shit, she made me iron until I was blue in the face! But I’m very good at it, to this day.

When we lived in Arabia, we had Pakistani, Goanese, or Indian houseboys. Although my mother still washed and ironed the clothes, Dominic cleaned the house every week. In fact, I think he came around more often than that.

When we came back to the States, my mother must have decided that with a 13-year-old in tow, she was not going to do housework again. So once we got to San Francisco, she made me do all the cleaning. She did the laundry, because that entailed a trip to a coin-op laundry room in the basement of our apartment towers, and I expect she figured it wasn’t safe to send me down there by myself. Sometimes she did make me come along to help, but I was not required to do that job alone.

You had a specific day of the week when you cleaned and another specific day when you did the laundry and another specific day when you ironed clothes. Why, I do not know. Possibly it was the easiest way to force a kid to do it. Or it may simply have been the custom: women cleaned on a given day each week.

Whatever. I will say it did teach me to do housework. And to abominate it. I cannot tell you how much I dislike cleaning house.

But the thing is, it never occurred to me — as I’m sure it never occurred to her — not to do all the house-cleaning on a single day. If it had crossed her mind, I don’t know whether she would have done it. Or if it would have been practical to do so. With lighter, easier-to-use vacuum cleaners and less laborious flooring, vacuuming is a much faster and easier job today. Chemicals that you pour in the toilet and leave to do their job change the nature of bathroom-cleaning, in a big way. Dishwashers transformed women’s lives — truly. You could spend a good two hours a day washing dishes, especially if you had a big family…ah, the good old days. Microwaves worked a similar transformation, freeing women from daily scrubbing of heavy, gunky, greasy pots and pans. And fabrics that don’t have to be ironed? Holey moley!

The mind-set remained though: This is Monday, must be time to clean the house.

But as a practical matter, when you don’t have to work yourself into a sweat to do any one of the apposite chores, it actually makes better sense to spread them evenly over five or six days. It’s easier, it’s less tiring, and it doesn’t spoil an entire day of your life.

Everything you never wanted to know about mattresses and would have preferred not to ask…


Receipt Eradication…

So as you know if you’re been around here long, the ‘Hood is not the most halcyon corner of Lovely Uptown Phoenix. The area is richly decorated with homeless drug addicts, most of whom are harmless. More alarmingly, it’s frequented by burglars, car thieves, porch pirates, and assorted other interesting wildlife. One species of these is the identity thief. These creatures scavenge in the garbage and recycling bins, searching for pieces of paper bearing someone’s identifying information. About 95 percent of the junkmail that the postman brings — just about all that he brings these days, by the bushel — fills that bill. But it can easily be disposed of with my current crook-repellent scheme: drop it in a plastic bag with some dog mounds and a little water and let it marinate for awhile before throwing it in the garbage. That’s fine for the usual junk mail and credit-card offers…but credit- and debit-card receipts are a different critter altogether.

And by this time of year, I’ve got a lot of them. I like to hang onto receipts for awhile, lest I need to return something, confirm that a charge was actually made, or ask some question about a purchase. After a year of stashing random pieces of paper into storage, there’s enough kindling there to set fire to the Parthenon.

Getting rid represents what we call, in capital letters, A Nuisance. My paper shredder will only handle a few at a time. Sitting there running fistful after fistful of receipts through that thing is a time-consuming, eye-glazing hassle. But it’s also a hassle to drive the junk down to the annual community Shred-Fest, stand in line, and keep an eye on the proceedings to be sure whatever you put in there actually does get ground up.

T’other day an INSIGHT visited me: the stuff that’s used to print receipts isn’t actually ink. It’s a sort of powdery substance that’s shot on the (interestingly health-threatening) paper in the shape of letters and numbers. Maybe…just maybe the stuff would rinse off in water. If it would…well! Then you could take the whole pile of debris, toss it in a bucket, pour some water and detergent and maybe a shot of Clorox over it, and voilà! Problem solved.

A brief experiment with this idea showed that, amazingly enough, it works. You don’t even have to swish the paper scraps around in the water: get them wet, and the printout (not the ads on the backsides) fades right away.

Hm. No grinding. No schlepping. No burning. Nice!

Now, there’s one thing you should be aware of, and that is that cash-register receipts are printed on paper that contains toxins: BPA and BPS. This stuff, you don’t want to get on your hands…or inside your pockets, or inside your wallet. But of course you can’t help that unless you decline to accept a receipt or ask for an emailed receipt (creating yet another time-sucking hassle). At any rate, you certainly don’t want to burn these things in the family-room fireplace.

Wot the hell: after seven decades of wallowing in cash-register receipts, I have yet to die. But still: knowing about yet another health hazard, you’ll want to minimize your fiddling with the things — maybe use rubber gloves during the elimination process.

So here’s how this went:

  1. I dumped the collected receipts in a plastic scrub bucket.
  2. Then poured in just enough water to cover them — added a squirt of Dawn detergent.
  3. Let it set while I went on about my business.
  4. Couple hours later, came back to find a bucketful of blank receipts.
  5. These I poured into a sturdy black lawn bag (new, leak-free) set down inside a plastic trash can so as to simplify holding it open.
  6. Dumped the last few days’ collection of dog mounds in on top of the slurry and quickly tied off the top.
  7. Dropped the package into the alley garbage bin.

The papers were already dissolving, so except for the plastic bag (and the BPA…and the BPS…), this stuff should biodegrade fairly fast. You can buy compostable plastic lawn bags at the Depot and at Amazon, and those would be the things to use for this purpose. And for just about any other bagging purpose.

Finally, step 8: wash out the scrub bucket.

Since this bucket is used for mopping the floors, obviously I didn’t want the BPA and the BPS smeared all over the house. It probably would be better to use an old paint can and reserve it just for this purpose. But not having one around…  I placed the bucket in the garage work sink (do not clean out the bucket in a bathroom or kitchen sink or tub, or in any sink that’s likely to be used for cleaning clothes or washing dishes). Dumped in some more Dawn and filled it with the hottest water I could draw out of the tap.

Went off and let it set for another couple of hours. Then came back, scrubbed the bucket with a brush, and poured the contaminated water down the drain.

Rinse out the bucket well after this step, obviously.

Do I like dealing with contaminated paper and contaminated water? Hell, no. But in terms of my own health, it’s probably safer to get it wet than to grind it up and spew powdery BPA/BPS dust into the house’s or the garage’s air. For future reference: to avoid exposure to the stuff through this avenue, ask for an emailed receipt or decline to accept a receipt unless it’s for something you might want to return.

Skeeters! How to keep mosquitoes out of your potted plants

The ’Hood is overrun with mosquitoes after the recent rains. Despite harangues from the County Health Department about cleaning up standing water in the backyard, it seems like we’re enjoying a LOT more skeeters than usual. The City’s clever alley-paving project contributes handsomely to the problem: wherever the workers left low spots, rainwater collects into long-lasting puddles…and in Arizona mosquito eggs can hatch and the babes fly off to chew on their victims in just two or three days. Nor is the situation helped by the guy who lives catty-corner across the alley: not the type to run around dumping water out of standing containers and old tires. Inside the house, though, a less obvious hatchery lurks: the drip dishes under your potted plants.

When you water the plant, of course, excess moisture drains into the dish…and conveniently not onto your floor or tabletop. If the bottom of the pot pretty well covers the bottom of the dish, you may not notice that water can collect there for quite some time — plenty of time for the little ladies to spawn a few dozen flying, biting babes. The other day a friend remarked that there seemed to be more skeeters in the family room than anywhere else in the Funny Farm. Hmmm…we have four potted plants in here, two of them too heavy for me to budge.

With her helping out, the two of us lifted the larger ones out of their pottery nests and LO! there were icky, stagnant puddles beneath both of them. Even though I’d salted the plants’ soil with crumbled-up Bacillus thuringiensis dunk, it seems not to have done the trick.

So: here’s the not-so-very-damned-uselessly-PC trick:

First, clean out the drip dishes. Wash well, removing any mold and algae growing in there. Dry them well.

Next: sprinkle in a layer of coarse gravel. I happen to have a whole front yard full of this stuff, thanks to the xeric landscaping. But you can buy some, if need be, at an aquarium supply store, a big box store, or the ever-present Amazon. (Wouldn’cha know? Amazon has 35 pages of the stuff!) Pat the gravel down to make it level.

Now: you want to saturate these stones with non-organic, non-environmentally friendly dish detergent. Dawn is a sure bet. Dawn detergent kills bugs on contact. Dilute it well with water in a spray bottle, and squirt the diluted detergent onto the gravel layer. This  strategy makes the stuff easy to apply to the gravel and unlikely to harm most houseplants.

And finally: set the plants back in the clean dishes, on top of the layer of soapy gravel.

Et voilà! This accomplishes two purposes with…heh…one stone. First, the Dawn in there will kill any baby mosquitoes that get deposited in the drip water. And second, by lifting the pot up a fraction of an inch, the gravel allows more air to circulate so that drip water evaporates faster and is less given to lingering long enough for mosquito eggs to hatch.

A little frugalista prepper strategy…

Okay, this one is not prepping for the day the stock market crashes into the sub-basement of the Bush Recession. This is a day-to-day routine prep that can come in extremely handy. And it’s outrageously simple:


Yeah. Take all the cards and IDs and whatnot and lay them in neat rows and columns on your printer’s scanner bed. Press COPY. Now flip each one over, keeping the things in the same order, and press COPY again.

Print these out. Oh, what the heck: print out two or three copies. Stash at least one of them in a safe place where you know you can find it. Put the others in places that you might look if you forget where you put the safe place that you knew you could find.

This can be a lifesaver if your lose your wallet or any of your cards.

I never did find the brass card case that held my personal AMEX card, my new Medicare card, my Medigap insurance card, and misc. other junk cards like the grocery store “membership” annoyances. Of the ones that matter, the only ones that were not copies were the credit card and the Medigap card. I carry copies, not originals, of the Medicare card, but I’d carried the original Medigap card because it has the company’s contact information on the back, which doctors’ offices often want.

Sooo… Needed to call the Medigap carrier — no point in even bothering to call Medicare, it’s SUCH a nightmare trying to get through to a human being, and nine times out of ten whoever you do reach is clueless — and ask for a new card. As I contemplate having to paw through a pile of paperwork to get the apposite numerals to reel off to the CSR at the end of the punch-a-button maze, I remember that indeed I do have a copy of the thing.

Hauled out the sheet, copied it, cut out the photocopied x 2 Medicare and Medigap cards, stuck them in the card case, and voilà! So had no problem this morning ordering up a new Medigap card from GPM Life.

Related tip: Do this about once a year. The cards in your wallet change — you get a new account number when you lose a credit card, you ditch one card and get another, and…whatnot. Keep the set of cards you’ve copied up to date.

Woo HOO! Girl’s Guide to Knife Renovation!

It worked. It worked, it worked, IT WORKED!!! After moping online about the scratches and gouges induced by past misguided knife-sharpening ventures, I found a guy on YouTube who describes renovation by ladies’ manicure supply!


No kidding. The man trots out his wife’s nail file gear — the kind of stuff you use for acrylics, not for real fingernails — and demonstrates how to polish up a stainless steel knife.

Well. I figure nothing ventured nothing gained. The knives are already a mess: they couldn’t get much worse. Plus if I f*ck them up some more, it’ll give me an excuse to go out and diddle away $200 on a whole giant set of fancy German knives.


So…fortunately, back in the Day I used to wear bionic nails all the time. In an old disused drawer, what should I still have but a stash of files, abrasive pads, and assorted doodads.

Bear in mind, gents, that all a nail file is is sandpaper affixed to a stiff board. And it comes in many grades. The board makes the stuff highly and easily maneuverable. From the male point of view, the only problem with it is that it too often comes in pink. The way around this, of course, is simply to regard pink as “light red.”

Here we have the entire set of fine tools — slightly used, as I didn’t think about writing this project up until I got pretty far into it.

As you can see, this gear comes in a variety of forms and shapes. The acrylic gunk applied to women’s nails to create fake fingernails dries into a hard surface that is first shaped and then polished to a high sheen with various grades of sandpaper….uhm, nail files. You can get blocks of stuff — that butter-shaped thing, for example — that have a coarse surface applied over a sponge-rubber interior, allowing a great deal of versatility. Some files come with two functional surfaces, one coarser than the other. And that one that’s half pink and half white actually has three grits: a medium and medium fine on the pink-&-white side, and on the reverse side a very fine grade suitable for polishing to a high sheen. Other files, such as that square-cornered number near the top of the board, are very coarse, indeed. But noteworthy: no other products are needed to accomplish this polishing effect.

Well, I had my doubts that this scheme would do much, since steel wool hadn’t done much in the past. But nothing ventured, eh?

So here’s an expensive little fiasco: a badly scratched La Guiole steak knife. Stainless; when new, it was highly polished:

You can see why I’ve been so disgusted that I’m willing to pony up a month’s budget savings to replace my knife collection, eh?

Okay, here’s what we get after a bit of polishing, going from coarsest to finest-grit sandpaper…uhm, nail polish tools.

Hot DAYUM! Not a gouge to be seen!!!

Are they shiny new-as-fresh-out-of-the-box? No. Of course not. They’re a good dozen years old. But neither are they all gouged up. The coarser grade nail file scoured off the scratches from the ill-applied whetstone, and the series of increasingly finer grades polished the blades back up pretty darned well.

When you first apply this technique, you get an alarmingly scratchy surface — final effect is a kind of coarse satin, not a high stainless-steel gloss. Like this:

This Henckels blade, too, was tragically gouged up, with deep scratches running all the way the length of the blade, from tip to hilt. The coarser sandpaper that you start with will seem to make things worse (if that’s possible), even as it buffs off the scratches. But persist: as you apply finer and finer gauges of manicure products — i.e., sandpaper — you get a better and better result. Like these:

I hafta tell you: I am thrilled with the result. Virtually all of the scratches on these things are GONE.

Then we had the issue of the steak knives’ handles.

Those amazingly, mind-bogglingly expensive LaGuiole knives are the real goddamn thing. They are NOT a knock-off. And those handles? Those aren’t plastic. Those are made of horn. The real thing. And trust me, I did not pay a low-rent Sur la Table price for that set.

So you can imagine how charmed I was on the morning after I’d had a half-dozen friends over to dinner, one of whom volunteered to help clean up afterward. Being three sheets to the wind by 11 at night, I failed to pay much attention to what she was merrily dropping into the dishwasher. While I was washing several of the knives by hand, she was tossing the rest of them into the washer with the silverware!


Needless to say, come sunrise I found the handles were wrecked. This was why I haven’t done much or cared much about the scratches, which came later. Trashed handles, gouged blades…why didn’t I just throw them directly into the garbage?

Well, I didn’t because I couldn’t bring myself to do that. And after I got laid off my job, of course I couldn’t afford to buy any other steak knives. So these have had to do.

Seeing that the nail-file treatment removed most of the scratches from the blades, I decided to soak the handles in mineral oil. What the Hell: nothing ventured, nothing gained. While I was at it, I also soaked the walnut handle of that Chicago knife in the center of the above photo, and the sort of maybe-wood handle of the Henckel paring knife on the far left.

Drenched the handles with mineral oil, wrapped them in paper towels, and left them sitting for a couple of hours.

It definitely helped the Chicago knife’s walnut handle. A lot. Don’t think it made much difference for the other ones, though. I’m thinking, however, that it’s possible a coat or two of bowling-alley wax (you remember: Johnson’s wax? do they still make it?) might approximate the original finish on the LaGuiole knives.

At any rate, I account this whole project to be a major success. And now I feel exactly zero craving to buy any new fancy knives.