Coffee heat rising

Cranky Old Bat vs. Newfangled Junk

You know you’re getting old when (among other things) you begin to feel that none of the gadgets, doodads, gizmos, and minor amenities that made your life comfortable exist anymore. Or if they do, the darn things don’t work anymore!

Case in point: The potholder.

What is it with those silicone things that the young pups think is so great?

These little frauds are a total mystification. They’re clumsy. They’re ugly. They won’t wrap around a hot pan handle. And contrary to what their admirers say, they don’t protect your hands from heat any better than a real potholder, which is to say, “a potholder made from several layers of heavy terrycloth.”

One consumer effuses, “I absolutely love these potholders!!!!” Exclamation point. Then she goes on to remark, “You need to be aware of the location of the hole in one corner of the potholder. I didn’t pay attention one day and got a nasty burn pulling a very hot pan out of the oven. If you are a bit of a klutz, like me, best to keep 100% aloe in the house just in case you do what I did.”

Uhm…. Doesn’t a hole in the potholder defeat the purpose of a potholder? The whole idea of using a potholder is to keep from getting burnt so you don’t need to have a bottle of aloe vera cluttering up your kitchen counter.

Another burbles, after allowing that they are a bit stiff and difficult to use, “They have a bonus use, as a very good way to get a grip on jars or similar items that are hard to open. (I use mine to unscrew the faucet water filter when it needs to be replaced.)” So…the tradeoff for the aloe on the kitchen counter is a hot pad that doubles as a rubber gripper. Why not just get a rubber gripper for those hard-to-open jars and opt the burned fingers?

Well, we—or more likely, a coalition of manufacturers and marketers—have decided that the silicone things are so wondrous that real potholders are getting very hard to find. The last time I searched in Williams-Sonoma, Bed Bath & Beyond, Sur la Table, and Target, I couldn’t find a real, terrycloth potholder, one that’s terrycloth on both sides, not one with a decorative scene stamped on useless cotton or one with a shiny, fake asbestos backing. All I want is a terrycloth potholder, terrycloth through and through. And I’d kinda like it not to be ugly.

After some traipsing through Amazon, I came across these Gourmet Classics terry Potholders, which look like they might do the trick:

Red is the only color that’s not plug-hideous. They also come in pea-soup green, dungeon black, and apartment-house beige. What recommends them is their size: they’re 8 by 8, the size of a normal potholder.

However, here’s one that purports to be 8½ x 8½. It comes in blue, red, and yellow, and not only that, but it’s a few cents cheaper than the “gourmet” variety.

That Wedgewood blue doesn’t match the blue trim in my kitchen’s Mexican tilework, but what the heck. The things hang inside a cabinet, so no one’s going to see them when they’re put away. Truth to tell, with some exploration you discover that this model comes in many colors, from day-glo red to cobalt via moss green.

If nothing will do for your kitchen but metaphorical greenness, believe it or not they make an “organic” potholder.

We’re told these things are made of cotton “grown without the use of harmful chemicals, pesticides and fertilizers. The methods, materials and dyes used in organic cotton have a low impact on the environment and are certified by Skal International.” The only colors available are earth-tones. In addition to the brit-shindle above, there’s a kind of pinkish terracotta, a leaf green that verges on the minty, and maize yellow. That’s a better selection than any of the other offerings. This potholder, though, is an odd shape: 7¾ x 9 inches. But that might not be a bad thing.

Isn’t it ridiculous that you can no longer buy an ordinary, functional potholder at the corner grocery store or even at the mall kitchen shop? Well. If all else fails, you can make your own:


What products from the good old days do you miss the most?

The Green Beauty Guide

If you like beauty products but are made nervous by applying products containing gunk like formaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane to your skin, you (or your lady friend, for those of the male persuasion) will be very interested in Julie Gabriel‘s comprehensive encyclopedia of DIY and commercially available nontoxic creams, perfumes, nostrums, and make-up. My friend KJG shared a copy the other day. It’s called simply The Green Beauty Guide.

This woman has compiled an incredible amount of research on synthetic, “natural,” and “organic” ingredients in make-up, body, hair, and aromatherapeutic products of all kinds. The book is largely free of the kind of gullible credulity that you find in much of this sort of thinking—Gabriel is not shy about cluing readers to the risks inherent to the many “green” products out there, just as she is frank about the industrial ingredients that render many drugstore and department-store products toxic.

I would add one caveat, though: Gabriel seems to be very fond of Bare Escentuals products. You should be aware that the line does contain bismuth oxychloride, as do most mineral powder make-ups. If you are at all sensitive to this chemical, it can cause severe redness, itching, and long-term irritation to your skin. Check the ingredients of all beauty products; just because they’re labeled “organic” or “natural” does not mean they’re free of potentially unpleasant ingredients.

The fun aspect of this book, though, is its wonderful collection of make-it-yourself beauty nostrums, from nail creams to acne nostrums. Did you know you can make your own self-tanning oil, right in your kitchen? You can whip up your own shampoo, conditioner, lip balm, face creams, depilatory wax, and even hair coloring. Lots and lots of things to experiment with here, some of them very simple to make!  Try, for example, this enhanced version of olive oil as cleanser, something Funny reported on some time back.

To two ounces of organic extra-virgin olive oil, add 1 ampoule of vitamin E and one drop of essential oil of chamomile. Shake well. You can dispense this from a pump bottle, where it will keep for a long time in a cool, dry place.

The other very positive aspect of this guide is that Gabriel names names. In discussing commercially made green products, she gives brand names and in many cases critiques products. She also tells you specifically what’s wrong with which conventional products, and she provides an appendix listing common ingredients in over-the-counter beauty products and cleansers explaining what those ingredients will do to you. Another appendix provides online resources for less-toxic beauty products.

You can have a lot of fun with the many recipes Gabriel provides for beauty nostrums of all varieties. Or, if you prefer to buy your products instead of making your own, her advice on which low-toxicity products to buy can help you feel more comfortable about what you put on your face, hair, and body.

Highly recommended!

Also check out these pages at FaM:

Olive Oil: The Ultimate Hair Conditioner
Olive Oil: The Miracle Skin Cleanser
Sunscreens: Be Scared, Be Very Scared
Frugal Cosmetics: Lemons for Your Beauty Routine
Lemon and Vinegar Highlight Your Hair

Update: Vacuum cleaner adventures

You may recall that not so long ago I was agonizing over whether to buy a little Shark upright bagless vacuum cleaner, shortly after having bought a Eureka model that I grew to loathe more with each use. Well, I finally capitulated and bought the thing at Costco, where I paid about $20 more than Amazon is now charging (at the time of the purchase, Costco was underpricing Amazon).

Mwa ha! Click for link to Amazon!

This is a terrific gadget! I love this machine!!! Best vacuum cleaner I’ve ever owned, and by golly, when you’re a survivor of the Pleistocene you can remember dragging a leaden Electrolux on sled runners around the house. You can, that is to say, remember owning a lot of vacuum cleaners.

What I like about it:

It’s wonderfully lightweight. Easy to push around and easy to maneuver.

The brush head thingie on the bottom is narrow enough to get between the bathtub and the toilet and to weasel in between furniture legs.

The suction defies belief! This thing is astonishing. And when you run it along the baseboard, it picks up bits of debris and dog hair all the way right up to the wall. The hose is as effective as the floor vacuum part. If it gets ahold of your leg or your hand, it gloms on like a lamprey eel. Check out how much dog hair it sucked up in just one vacuuming adventure:

Cleaned this out before starting to vacuum!

And Cassie isn’t even shedding much—there were no major dog dunes on the floor when this housecleaning episode started.

It does not blow dog hair up into the air as you’re moving around the tiled floor. A miracle!

It has a generously long attachment hose to begin with, and it comes with an extra length of hose.

Its attachments are sturdy and intelligently designed. The crevice tool is very long and slender, letting you get deep into narrow spots.

It has a good long cord.

It runs pretty quietly, especially in the “bare floors” mode.

Possible drawbacks:

I thought I’d prefer a model that uses bags, having emptied the dirt out of altogether too many old-fashioned vacuum cleaners. The Shark, however, is easy to open and clean out, and so far I haven’t ended up with the dirt all over me instead of inside the trash can.

The cylindrical canister that houses the dustbin and motor is bulky, obviating rolling the vacuum under the bed or other furniture.

It doesn’t have a lot of space for onboard attachments. IMHO, that’s a good thing: I’ve always hated having to haul all that junk around the house willy-nilly.

On reflection, I realized I seem to have accumulated quite a few Shark gadgets. When my ancient Rowenta warhorse iron finally wore out, I bought a cheapo Sunbeam, which worked fine but got way too hot around the grip. After burning my fingers on the thing, I picked up a Shark steam iron. The price assuredly was nothing like what a Rowenta costs, and yet it works just about as well. The stainless-steel is good and tough—so far it hasn’t scratched up at all—and you get a lot of control over the amount of steam emitted and the heat levels. I would call it very comparable to the Rowenta at a far more reasonable cost.

Then there’s the Shark floor steamer that I finally found to replace the beloved old Bissell steamer, a gadget that could not be beat—never has been, never will be. Shark’s steam mop comes pretty close, though. If you have a lot of tile flooring, this is the contraption to own. With no stinky, toxic chemicals, it steams the dirt and grease right up. You end up with your floors clean, with no eau de dirty mop perfume in the air after you’ve finished the job.

Its only drawback is that the pad that comes with is almost useless. It’s too thick, and it doesn’t stay attached. And they only give you one. I’ve solved that problem, however, with those microfiber rags you can buy in the automotive department at Costco and, presumably, at auto parts stores like Checker and Auto Zone. I just clip one on neatly, using a couple of clothes pins. These things are highly washable, and because you can buy a great stack of them, you can switch them out as you move from room to room (my entire house is tiled), giving yourself a clean mop head at all times.

I was mildly surprised when I realized my house had been invaded by a school of sharks. Since I’m kind of picky about the gadgetry I use for cleaning, it must mean the Shark products are OK. Maybe even a little better than OK.


Nail Protection: A pretty good product

Over the past few months, my fingernails have slowly slipped into the category of “blighted neighborhood.” But last Easter when I fell, it was like Hurricane Katrina meets Daughter of Snagnail. In addition to dislocating the shoulder, the fall sheared off the nail on my ring finger halfway down the quick, tearing apart the cuticle in the process.

Oh well.

A month and a half later, it’s about healed and the nail has almost grown back out. In the interim, the other nails grew even shaggier than normal, because my arm and hand hurt too much to fool with manicuring them. It was as much as I could do to occasionally massage a little shea butter into my fingers.

Late in life, one’s nails tend to split longitudinally as a natural result of aging. One of my thumbnails cracks as soon as it grows an eighth of an inch past the quick, which is annoying, not to say ugly as pussley. I’ve considered going back to acrylics, but I really don’t like that stuff. In the first place, it wrecks your natural nails—the manicurist has to rough up your nails by filing off the surface. In the second place, nothing that stinks that bad can possibly be good for your health. And in the third place, trotting in every ten days to two weeks for a fill gets expensive.

So I’ve thrashed around looking for something that I could paint on—at home, not at a salon—and have it hold my nails together through repeated dips in water and detergent and through constant batting against a keyboard. Hard as Nails has never performed impressively, to my taste. It’s your basic high-gloss nail polish, no more nor less given to chipping and peeling than any other polish, and certainly not much protection against the vagaries of housework, yardwork, and office work.

However, the outfit that makes Hard as Nails has a new product that seems to work really well: Sally Hansen Hard as Nails Hard as Wraps Nail Gel. This stuff claims to contain “acrylic gel” and nylon. Note that it’s not the same as the stuff  manicurists use to do gel nails—that product should be applied professionally, and it’s even worse on your nails than regular acrylics.

Hard as Wraps goes on the same as nail polish. However, it dries (in about the same time as regular polish) to form a tough, rather thick coating that works almost like filler, a product I haven’t found on the market in years. One coat almost fills the deep vertical groove in my thumbnail. Two coats leave the nail almost smooth, and three coats have protected that nail from splitting for a week. Even though it’s very glossy, I think you could use it as a base coat or as a top coat with your favorite colored polish. I’m leaving it clear, and it looks pretty nice. That’s saying something, given the condition my nails have taken on.

A few caveats:

It’s harder to remove than regular polish. Don’t think you’re going to wipe it off with a dab of polish remover on a scrap of tissue paper. You’ll need some good cotton balls or pads and plenty of remover, and plan to spend a few minutes at the job.

Don’t shake the bottle before applying. This will cause the product to bubble as it dries on your nails.

Remember to let each coat dry well before applying another coat. If one layer is still tacky when a second coat is applied, that also can cause bubbling.

As in applying any polish, less is better than more. Better to apply two or three thin coats than one thick coat. Glopping it on also will lead to bubbling problems, plus it won’t dry as fast.

I’m impressed, though. This Hard as Wraps product actually does protect nails from day-to-day wear and tear, the way the old Hard as Nails promised to do. It’s worth a try.

Image: French Manicure on acrylic nails. ImGz. GNU Free Documentation License.