Archive | March, 2011

Domestic Badassery, Vol. 2 – Laundry Soap

24 Mar

Based on advertisements, I assumed that one would need an advanced knowledge of chemistry (or at the very least a pristine white coat, an ample supply of beakers, and access to identical garments with vivid grass stains for testing) to undertake such a project.  But no, dear readers!  I don’t have any of those things and I managed just fine!  Take that, March!  Stupid rainy jerk, with your stupid re-runs and stupid ugly face.

Here is what I did:

I googled “homemade laundry soap” and came across the following recipe:

  • 1 cup borax (sodium borate)
  • 1 cup washing soda
  • 1 bar of soap (I used Dr. Bronners, but Fels Naptha is also recommended)

I searched dilligently (read: occasionally perused store shelves when convenient) for the borax and washing soda to no avail, and so I decided to order them in large quantities via the interwebs.  I also contemplated liquid vs. powder recipes, and quickly decided on the powder variety for ease (the liquid versions all involve melting, diluting, and a much larger container for storage).

I made the soap by grating the Dr. Bronner’s bar using a cheese grater into a large bowl.  Then I added the cup each of borax and washing soda and mixed everything with a spoon.  I used a funnel to transfer the powder into a repurposed canister, fished a tablespoon out of our junk drawer, and with a feeling of smug satisfaction, admired my creation.  I always feel like a rock star when I finish a project that enabled me to circumvent some part of the mass-produced consumer/stuff machine.  I use one tablespoon of the concoction per regular-sized load of laundry (which amounts to two tablespoons each load, because I always just cram everything in that will possibly fit).

Not to get too comfortable on my (laundry) soap box, but I feel especially awesome when I can opt out of a product traditionally marketed at women (and increasingly targeted at mothers in particular).  Redefining homemaking and parenting as productive rather than consumptive activities is exciting.  It’s good, honest work that uses my whole self and I’m no longer ashamed to admit how much pleasure I take in my prowess.  I think one of the primary reasons that these domains get such a bad rap is because they’re imagined as being inextricably linked with consumption rather than production – any idiot can buy stuff, but it takes brains and moxie to make things.  It’s more than imagination though – consumption-as-parenting/homemaking is what’s being sold to us through advertising.  We’re reacting to that version of domestic and nurturing work – the version that presents it as little more than merely stocking a set of rooms with the right ready-made stuff – when we devalue it.  The version that depicts a white lady and her (presumable) offspring in a van on her daily errand to big-box-land.  The version that laments the overwhelming choices and our tiny, decision-frazzled brains.  It’s the version that atrophies the creative, resourceful self in favor of a facade of ease.  That’s the version that our mothers had in mind when they pushed us to accomplish more than “just” domestic stuff (not that they were wrong, of course).  It’s the version that taught us that homemaking work belongs at the bottom of the list.

So strangely enough, in finding myself chiefly involved in work as a mother and homemaker (and sometimes educator and artist), I’m discovering new heights of badassery in straightforward and necessary problem solving like this – clothes need to get clean and I don’t want to throw money and chemicals out there in place of a real solution.  I can make a fix.  And it just takes three ingredients!  I don’t mind telling you that I find the whole situation deeply satisfying.  Take that, March!



11 Mar

March can suck it.

With the obligatory trash talk out of the way, let me begin this discussion of my maiden attempt at vermicomposting by saying that I don’t care much for nature.  I’m not really a very outdoorsy gal.  In response to invites to go camping, I often snort and proudly declare that I pay rent to protect myself from that situation.  Having spent my peak years either jumping up and down inside of a mirrored room, or with my nose in a book and my mouth showing a latte a good time, I never gave much thought to my surroundings (when you’re thinking so much about your own brilliant thoughts and how best to bestow them to others, important information often slips through the cracks).

But something happened a few years ago.  I can’t remember what I read or how I got started, but I began a 4-year obsession with reading about various food apocalypses (apocali?), which snowballed into some semblance of a desire to be a responsible steward of the earth’s resources.  Not because I was inclined to care about things, or because I couldn’t imagine the world without (insert beloved nature-y thing here), but, essentially because Michael Pollen and Barbara Kingsolver can crank out some compelling reads.  Since that time, I’ve been slowly reorienting my life around the realization that I need to at least attempt to shape up so as to be able to sleep at night, or at least avoid the stink-eye from my smart, hip friends.  Moving to Chicago aided this process too.  When you live in a heap of so much humanity, sometimes with your face pressed into someone’s armpit on the train, you start to imagine how your behavior might impact those around you.  When you stare down and find your newborn daughter’s head between your legs, the message really hits home.

This brings us to now, and explains (in part) why I am the proud landlord to a writhing pile of red worms.  Several of my friends had started vermicomposting (i.e. keeping a tub of worms, fruit and vegetable waste and other unsavory items).  The great thing about this particular form of composting is that you can do it in a small, indoor space without too much hassle.  This is what I hear, anyway.  Seeing as I am bothered by the fact that each and every day that I want to drink coffee, I have to make said coffee, we’ll just see if I deem this project to be hassle-free.  It is also allegedly odor-free so long as you tend to the bin and make sure the worms are thriving.  With the desire to create free compost for my garden this summer (more on that soon – that’s right March, shit is about to get serious), but with the knowledge that my neighbors would probably not appreciate a stinking heap of food waste in the middle of my front yard, I opted to vermicompost.

Here’s how I got started:

First I readied my bin.  I went to the store and purchased two large opaque  storage tubs, and two clear shallower tubs with the same diameter.   Then I hauled them home, and used my electric drill to poke holes in the bottoms, sides and lids (about every couple of inches or so) of the large opaque tubs for ventilation and to allow moisture to seep out of the bottoms (“moisture to seep out of the bottoms” is perhaps the worst series of words ever and I really hope it’s the grossest thing I encounter in this composting adventure).  It’s important for the tubs to be opaque so as to keep the light out.  Worms don’t like light.  I put one set of tubs (one large and one small) aside for future use.  You know, for once the worms had made more worms and needed to expand their garbage eating enterprises.  Hubris, I tell you.  I set the other pair up in the corner of my basement – putting the shallow clear one on the ground with a couple of  empty, upended tomato cans in the center, and the larger bin stacked on top.  I shredded all of the newspaper that was sitting (rotting) in the corner in our building’s entryway after a few weeks of collection, and placed it in the bin so as to fill it 3/4 full.

I ordered some worms via Amazon.  I could have gotten them here in Chicago from the urban worm girl, but it seemed like a little bit of a hassle to have to drive over there and pick them up.  For some reason, it seemed weird to me to spend an afternoon as a worm chauffeur.  So, I opted to have them delivered to my door.

Fresh worms! Delivered right to your door!

I was giddy with excitement when the worms arrived.  I don’t know why – I think that I was just really glad that the experiment could commence.  So with much fanfare and excitement, I installed the worms, some coffee grounds, a banana peel, some water, and a cup full of dirt from the front yard into the bin.  I had read that the worms would need a drink after their journey, and so the bedding (shredded newspaper) should be dampened with water.  I had also read that a little dirt in the bin would help aid in their digestion.  Since that is their whole function in my world (their digestion), I went for it.  I then covered the wet wormy stew with a substantial layer of dry shredded newspaper (as I had read that this would keep the fruit flies at bay).  I put the lid on and wished them well, heading back upstairs to make dinner.

supplies - a jar of dirt, watering can, and a few scraps

enjoy your new home, fellas!

I went down to check on the worms later that evening and HOLY SHIT they were everywhere!  Okay, well, that’s not entirely true.  There were a few escapees on the floor by the bin, and a few others in the shallow tupperware underneath the big bin, but the majority of the worms were still in their bin.  They were crawling up the sides, on the lid, everywhere!  I guess I just did not anticipate this phenomenon, but luckily my pal who has been vermicomposting for a while was with me (for a worm consult and viewing of America’s Next Top Model – yes, I really do have the coolest friends) and she shared that the worms are, get this, curious!  When they enter a new environment, they like to check it out before settling in and eating garbage.  Huh.  She just grabbed the worms WITH HER BARE HANDS and tossed them back in the bin.  HER BARE HANDS!  I had a fleeting thought as my heart was racing that maybe I wasn’t cut out for this.  I imagine that you are now having similar thoughts.

It became clear to me during that episode that I’m terrified of worms.  A grown woman.  Afraid of worms.  I felt such shame.  I was laying in bed  later that night thinking about the worms and I couldn’t fall asleep.  Their presence was creeping me out.  A floor beneath me in the basement, they were undoubtedly plotting terrible things, I just knew it.  I went back downstairs to investigate and decided to shine a light on the top of their bin to try to encourage them to stay in the bottom with the bedding and scraps.  Having installed this weapon/ mutiny-deterrent system, I felt much better.

The next morning, I took Ida down to visit the worms.  I needed to check on them and feed them our scraps from last night’s dinner, but there was no way I was going alone.  Reinforcements.  I remembered reading somewhere that people used to have kids to help them with farm labor and household chores.  This made perfect sense to me now and I thought about having another one real quick just in case…  But behold, a magical transformation took place.  Ida, upon seeing the worms wiggling around in the bin squealed with delight.  She exclaimed “pup!  pup!” (her word for any non-human creature).  She reached in to touch them.  She smiled.  She loved the worms!  All of a sudden, I reached in too.  I wanted to show her how we could put scraps in the bin for the worms, and how we would cover them up with the dry newspaper when we were done.  In short, I wanted to share in her joy.  I know.  I just got a little misty too.

So now, a few days in to vermicomposting, I’m feeling pretty good about the worms.  I can touch them and everything.  Now let’s hope I don’t kill them.  Seeing as visiting the worms has become a thrice daily event (at the urgent insistence of a certain tiny someone), I have a feeling that a mass-worm-death would be a considerable blow.  I really need to apply myself to not exterminating these worms.  The stakes are pretty high.

Also?  I might go camping this summer.  Shit, as they say, is getting crazy over here.

In Like a Lion!

9 Mar

Many Rawrrrrrrs!

Like a roaring beast of productivity and ambition, that is!  It’s March, Jerks!  Bring your A game, because I’m about to beat this insufferable month of prolonged winter, and I need some top-notch team mates.  Those who live in warm climes and can’t understand the ferocity and touch-o-crazy that March induces in us formerly patient and snow-tolerant Midwesterners can still try to beat March, but I suspect that without the driving force of weather related anger, you just won’t be sufficiently motivated to succeed.  I somehow believe that if I do enough valuable things this month, it will submit to my awesomeness and mellow out – transitioning post-haste into a beautiful spring devoid of freezing rain.  The fuck-word intensive language will cease.  The lake-of-ice that covers my alley parking spot will melt away.  And for a few days, everyone will be deliriously happy.

Over the next few days, I’ll share my March game plan (i.e. a list of projects that I plan to begin/have started this month).  For those of you thinking to yourselves “wait, isn’t it already, like, March 9th?”, I have this to say – two words: sneak attack.

Good vibrations are promised to any readers who feel inclined to share their March game plan (or any portion thereof) in the comments.  Basically, this is all a ploy to steal your ideas.  But don’t worry, I don’t have the technical/philosophical capabilities to do any inception-style tomfoolery.


Raindrops on Roses and Blah Blah Blah

4 Mar

That’s right!  It’s time to share our favorite things!  Here, I’ll go first.  I can’t remember how I was introduced to this gem, but it remains one of the very best, most hilarious things I’ve ever seen on the interwebs.

A genus named Brad Neely wrote and recorded this amazing audio designed to accompany the film Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  There is a great story behind this work, and you can read all about it here.  I’ve watched this masterpiece all the way through at least a half-dozen times, pretty much always because I NEEDED to show it to someone who I thought would love it.  And now, I NEED to show you.  I think you’ll love it.

I can’t recommend watching the whole thing strongly enough, but here are a couple of clips – a preview if you will: