Monday, November 30, 2009

The Swiffer Wars

DIY Mom and DIY Dad have a serious disagreement. DIY Mom wants to eliminate nasty toxic chemicals from the household cleaning regimen and replace them with natural, homemade products. DIY Dad is very skeptical as to whether or not:

1. DIY Mom will actually keep up with making her own products, and,

2. They really work as well as commercial cleaners.

I grant you, valid concerns both.

I've only been experimenting with homemade cleaners for a few weeks now, and I'll be posting more about them in the coming weeks--recipes, cost of homemade vs. store-bought, and effectiveness. Overall, I've been impressed. Impressed that baking soda and water (and some elbow grease) could clean out my horrific oven. Impressed that vinegar, distilled water, and essential oils cleans everything from my kitchen countertops to my sinks to my mirrors. Impressed that it's soooo quick and easy and cheap to mix these concoctions up myself. (I even love working with my growing shelf of supplies--natural soaps, essential oils, baking soda, borax, washing soda, and distilled water--like some fledgling domestic chemist.)

DIY Dad; however, remains skeptical. The main bone of contention: The Swiffer Wet Jet.

DIY Dad is passionate about his Swiffer Wet Jet. DIY Mom is just as passionate about getting rid of it. (Disclaimer: DIY Mom does realize she is a very lucky woman in that her husband actually cleans--quite a lot, in fact. She just wishes he'd come around on the natural cleaning front. Chemicals = bad, natural stuff = good.)

The Swiffer Wars started about a week ago. DIY Mom told DIY Dad the overwhelming chemical smell bothered her and to please not use it anymore. DIY Dad said there was no way in h$#$ he was going to clean the floors with a rag and bucket. DIY Dad went out on an emergency ice cream run. DIY Mom left the kids in bed with their stories and ran downstairs to go guerilla on the Swiffer bottle before DIY Dad got back. She hastily dug the plastic out of the Swiffer bottle opening with a kitchen knife, until she was able to empty out the toxic potion and replace it with her own "green" vinegar-and water-solution. She slapped a piece of duct tape on and put the bottle back in the Swiffer. It didn't leak, and seemed to work fine! Then, as if that weren't enough, she went and cut soft rag pieces to size,which fit perfectly and performed well in DIY Mom's test run. She was triumphant: Swiffer could stay, but had become both greener and a ton more cost-efficient.

DIY Dad found rigged-up Swiffer, and after about 2 minutes, proclaimed it a resounding failure. He furthermore claimed said rags didn't pick up dirt and the vinegar/water solution didn't clean. DIY Mom was not deterred. She said she would come up with something that worked.

So, last night, it was time to Swiffer again. DIY Mom had made up a nice batch for All-Purpose Cleaner #1 (see previous blog post) for DIY Dad to demo.

It wasn't pretty. DIY Dad hated the cleaner. The bottle leaked (but a new piece of duct tape affixed more securely took care of that), the cleaner left streaks (alas, it did), and it didn't clean (DIY Mom still isn't sure about DIY Dad's anal-retentive "clean" standards, which would even make people who pass white-glove tests nervous.)

DIY Mom and Dad had words. It got even less pretty. DIY Mom emptied the bottle and refilled it with Murphy's Oil Soap and warm water. She Swiffered the whole kitchen with the solution and the store-bought pads, which DIY Dad still insisted on. She got lots of dirt on the pad, which, evidently, according to DIY Dad is the point of the whole exercise. DIY Dad still wasn't convinced. DIY Mom went upstairs to put the kids to bed. She can't be sure, but she thinks she heard the sounds of DIY Dad rewashing the entire tiled hallway and powder room, as well as the linoleum-floored kitchen with a rag and bucket.

DIY Mom hid from DIY Dad for the rest of the night.

Sunday, November 29, 2009


I just had the chance to play our family's favorite game for the first time this season. I was in the basement folding laundry, when I looked up to see the newly filled bird feeders hanging in the box elder tree in the middle of our backyard. (DIY Dad had recently put them out, and already we were enjoying seeing blue jays, red-headed woodpeckers, and chickadees flocking in.) However, today there wasn't a bird in sight.

That's when I saw HIM. Bushy-tailed hog. "GAME ON," I thought.

Here are the rules to the new sensation SQUIRRELLLLL!!: THE GAME

1. Locate family dogs (hyper hunting dogs like labs and springers are excellent choices).
2. Convey quiet excitement while you get them to the door without barking.
3. Simultaneously open door and bellow SQUIRRELLLLL!!! at top of voice. (Ignore neighbors' strange looks.)
4. Sit back and watch the show.

While the object of the SQUIRRELLLLL!!: THE GAME is to catch the bushy-tailed bird-feeder hog, this has, in fact, never happened. However, this does not in any way impede the overall enjoyment of this exhilarating game.


1. It never fails to scare the living bejesus out of the squirrel.
2. When you're a dog and have no long-term memory, every time you play is like the first time.
3. SQUIRRELLLLL!!: THE GAME provides top-notch pet exercise.
4. SQUIRRELLLLL!!: THE GAME  also provides outstanding human stress relief (the reliable scream-your-lungs-out-followed-by-laughter method).
5. SQUIRRELLLLL!!: THE GAME doesn't cost a thing.

DIY Mom Makes Homemade Turkey Stock

So... I don't know about you, but I've got a 20-pound turkey carcass burning a hole in my fridge right now. Well, not literally, but you know ... it's not getting any younger, it's not getting any fresher, and it's not getting any better looking. It's time to turn its cold unappetizing hide into a several-months supply of healthy, yummy homemade stock. Not a bad makeover, if you ask me.

I remember when I first read an article in a cooking magazine about homemade stock. I'm not sure what the "recipe" was anymore, but what I took away is that making stock should be fun, easy, and, ultimately, do-able. It's been about 10 years since I read that piece, and I've been making my own beef and chicken stock ever since. I don't make it all the time, though, and--gasp!! I sometimes let a perfectly good carcass or package of soup bones go to waste. And--double gasp!!--I do still use pricey store-bought stock when I run out of homemade. However, when I do take the minimal time and effort to make stock, I'm always glad I did.

Here's how I make stock. There's no hard and fast measurements; just guidelines and suggestions. Use what's on hand in your pantry, fridge, or garden.

Guidelines for Chicken, Beef, or Turkey Stock

1. Toss the lovely carcass (or beef soup bones) into a big old pot and put in enough water to cover it well.

2. Add in the goodies--a carrot or two; an onion, peel-on; a celery stalk, even better with the leaves; a few fresh garlic cloves; a handful or so of whole peppercorns; some sprigs of fresh parsley. That's it. All you need to do is rinse the veggies. They don't need to be chopped; toss 'em in whole.

3. Bring to a boil; then reduce heat to low and simmer a good hour or two, until the vegetables, seasonings, meat, and bones begin to imbue the liquid with flavor.

4. Strain into a large bowl, in batches. (If you make a big pot, this will take several times!) And, then portion out into plastic containers, or even ziploc bags, a batch at a time. I often measure out 14-ounce portions (because this is the size that most canned stocks come in and recipes often call for that amount).

5. Freeze.

While no one seems to agree on the exact amount of time frozen stock stays fresh, I'd say use it within 6 months. For me, personally, I usually find it's gone within three months or so in the summer when I cook less soup and big meals, and even quicker in fall and winter when I seem to need it more.

But, lest we go off and start dreaming of hand-crafted bisques and broths, let's evaluate how DIY Mom-friendly homemade stock is.

Does it meet the criteria?

It must be affordable, it must be simple, it must be good.

For me, the cost is really zero. The bones or carcass would just be thrown away, and the herbs and/or veggies are literally whatever I have around. In fact, I usually feel good about using up some bottom-of-the-hydrator-pan carrots and onions that might have just been destined for the compost heap in another week or so.

Throwing the stock together takes me five minutes or less and most of that time is spent just rounding up ingredients. It does take the 1-2 hrs. simmering on the stove though, but during that time you can pretty much forget about it and enjoy the mouth-watering aroma. To me, the largest investment of time is the straining and portioning.

Because I had a large turkey carcass today, I got tons of stock for nothing. I bagged a massive total of 205 ounces of stock. You'd have to buy more than 14 of those store-bought cans to get that much. While the savings comes up to around $7 or so, for me, the biggest payoff is the fact that it's tasty and healthy. No sodium (you salt your recipes to taste after you add your homemade stock), no MSG, and no additives. YUM!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

DIY Mom Makes All-Purpose Cleaner #1

Do I have the time?

Do I have the money?

Is it really worth it?

When I’m looking at a new DIY/MYO project, these are the questions I ask myself.

I’m a busy mom of two—with another on the way—and, quite simply, I don’t have loads of extra time to spare. And, of course, as a single-income family, we don't have gobs of excess cash lying around either. I doubt any of us do.

That’s why I came up with this simple mantra:

It must be affordable, it must be simple, it must be good.

Today's the time to put the mantra into action. I'm making an all-purpose alkaline household cleaner from my new book on "green cleaning" (Annie Berthold-Bond's "Better Basics for the Home: Simple Solutions for Less Toxic Living"). The recipe for the homemade cleaner is below.

I'll examine cost vs. time vs. effectiveness later in the post, but first, let's get down to the nuts and bolts.

Ingredients needed:

1. 1/2 teaspoon Arm and Hammer Super Washing Soda (as I'm mixing, 1/2 tsp. seemed so minuscule, so I made it 1 teaspoon)

2. 2 teaspoons 20-Mule Team Borax

3. 1/2 teaspoons liquid soap or detergent (I also made this 1 tsp., and I used Dr. Bronner's Almond Organic Liquid Castile Soap)

4. 2 cups hot water (nuked it in a 2-cup glass measuring cup for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes)

To Create:

1. Measure all ingredients directly into the hot water in the 2-cup measuring glass.

2. Stir.

3. Pour into a plastic spray bottle (a funnel is helpful here)and shake well. Shake before each use to ensure minerals are mixed in well.

This basic alkaline cleaner is good to tackle grease, neutralize odors, and remove stains and dirt. Use it for things like cleaning floors and wiping walls and baseboards (vs. a basic acidic cleaner, which usually includes an acidic agent like distilled white vinegar, and is good for glass and mirrors, sinks, bathrooms and the like).

I have to talk a sec about ingredients, before evaluating the success of the project, because, if you're like I was when I began learning about natural cleaning, you are going "huh?" on the washing soda and borax. Both are widely used in "green" cleaning. Washing soda is is 100% sodium carbonate and does not contain fragrance, surfactants or other additives. It is used as a laundry booster and household cleaner and is considered an environmentally acceptable alternative to other household products. Borax is a naturally occurring mineral that is mined and is also used as a natural laundry and multi-purpose household cleanser.

Most books and blogs I've read say you can find them both in the laundry aisle of your local grocery, but I have very little luck. I did find borax in my local grocery chain in Pittsburgh, Giant Eagle, but only in its larger "market district" store. I couldn't find washing soda, though, but discovered I can order it online through Ace Hardware and have it shipped to my local store for free. They have borax too, so when I need to restock, I'll be ordering both through Ace. It's a pretty painless process.

For liquid soap or detergent, I chose to use an organic liquid castile (olive oil) soap that's pretty widely available online and at health food stores, Dr. Bronner's. I love the almond scent of my Dr. Bronner's--it reminds me of the spritz cookies I enjoy making around the holidays--but there a variety of scents available in Dr. Bronner's liquid soaps (8, in fact, and almost all sound yummy to me: Peppermint, Rose, Lavendar, Eucalyptus, Tea Tree, Citrus, Unscented and Baby Mild).

But, enough about delectable organic soaps. Did this cleaner meet the DIY Mom Mantra? Remember: It must be affordable, it must be simple, it must be good.

$$$: Excuse the pun, but dirt-cheap: A whopping 13 cents per bottle.

TIME: Speedy. About 2 minutes to measure and mix.

PAYOFF: I saved a massive $3.55 a bottle over store-bought, and I feel much better about cleaning with natural products than toxic chemicals.

But, the million-dollar question is: How effective is this homemade concoction, compared to commercially made cleaners? Since I've just made this particular recipe for the first time, I'm going to be evaluating it for different cleaning tasks around my home. Stay posted for blog updates.

DIY Mom's Math Notes for Those Fiscally Inclined:

* Borax-$4.99 for 76-ounce box, .02 cents for 2 teaspoons (I figured out the cost per ounce and then divided that by 6, since there are 6 teaspoons per ounce and used that figure to come up with cost per tsp.)

*Super Washing Soda--$3.79 for 55 ounce box--.01 cents for 1 teaspoon

*Dr. Bronner's Castile Soap--$9.29 for 16 fl. oz., or .10 cents for 1 teaspoon

*Spray Bottle--free, reused bottle from another household cleaning product

Cost of 22 fl. oz. bottle of Clorox Daily Sanitizing Spray--$4.99, or .23 an ounce--$3.68 for 16 ounces

My 16 oz. homemade cleaner--.13 cents. for 16 ounces

Friday, November 27, 2009

Greetings from Pittsburgh

It's a grey November day outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania--the day after Thanksgiving. I'd love to be in my large and unruly basement re-packing my fall decor and wading through piles of boxes to pull out Christmas finery. But, alas, hosting Thanksgiving yesterday and blitzing through my house this morning to try and get things back into order has left me exhausted.

It's hard to be 5 1/2 months pregnant and maintain "Energizer Bunny" status...

It will all get done in time. I'm spending a little downtime on the computer to recharge the batteries.

In addition to a large freelance writing project looming over my head and all the holiday mayhem to come, I've got another big project for myself. I got Annie Berthold-Bond's "Better Basics for the Home: Simple Solutions for Less Toxic Living."

I started making some of my own household cleaners a few weeks ago, and the ease and effectiveness just blew my mind. Not to mention the fact that that I was saving $$$ and NOT using toxic chemicals.

Annie's book provides literally hundreds of household tips and recipes for homemade stuff ranging from bathroom cleaners to facial products to milk paint. (Ok, I don't think I'll be making my own paint anytime soon!) Nevertheless, I dove in and have been making some of her simpler cleaners and facial products.

I'll be posting about her Basic Formula for All-Purpose Cleaner --both acid and alkaline versions -- along with the Basic Soft Scrubber Formula next time.