Thursday, February 11, 2010

Things Add Up



Photo courtesy Flickr

Things add up. There really are mountain climbers who shave the handles and bristles of their toothbrushes to save every possible gram of weight. When it became generally accepted that global warming is a real problem, I began to estimate the carbon cost of decisions.

This was not playing catch-up. I learned about global warming in 1967, and had been ranking transportation choices by least-to-greatest carbon impact (walk, bicycle, train, automobile, plane). I still drove, but the problem was in the back of my mind.

I considered my color Xerox habit the other day. I like to get reductions of stimulating images to use in my notebook pages. The copies I like are about a dollar a pop. They’re a low-calorie thrill on a boring week-day, but after Haiti, I found myself thinking there might be better things to do with the money.

It costs carbon to make money, and I learned in design class simply to render an image onto my page. Manual copying will eliminate worries about copyright as well as foster fine motor skills and free cash for higher priorities.

At a conference recently, my host grumbled that the students in his school want automatic light switches to save power in their dorms and classrooms. He costed out the change and found it would take twenty years to pay back the investment. He’s pondering how to educate the student body to be mindful of light switches.

A little hands-on effort is very profitable.

There’s an old Japanese story about a man who lived next to a pilgrims’ foot and horse highway. His neighbors laughed at him for collecting horse droppings, but over time they made him wealthy. I read this story to my partner, who commented that compost is manure without energy subtracted to operate the horse. I began to bury every bit of kitchen waste and sheet compost all trimmings from the garden. Thirty years later, the soil is a foot deeper in many areas of the yard, the plants are healthier, and there are areas where vegetables literally grow themselves. Garden professionals tell me I have the largest worm population of any site they know, and the lot, ten minutes’ walk from the center of the city, teems with wild birds and small raptors. Pests are no problem, and the place smells like the woods.

I achieved these results with less effort than hauling reeking refuse to the alley, and I cut my solid waste bills literally to nothing for the few years that zero garbage service was an option, and then to the legal minimum.

Composting saved the carbon load of hauling trash and earning the income to pay the city to carry away the wealth of the soil.

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More after the jump.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

And Then Clean the Floor


Photo courtesy Flickr

Keep it clean by using washable entry mats large enough to take several steps on. Professionals use nylon backed by vinyl. That will bar 97% of the usual dust and dirt from your dwelling.

Take your shoes off at the entry.

Use a broom only outdoors. It kicks dust all over the place. Vacuum instead, using HEPA filter bags or a high-tech system that collects very small particles. If you have a HEPA air filter, turn it on in the room you’re vacuuming to corral every bit of dust. This process is called “diluting” dust.

When the floor is free of dust and grit, wipe it clean. I like the high-tech cloths originally developed by Japanese clean-room technologists. They’re made of polyester terry cloth and function like ultra-fine steel wool. Try one on brass sometime, and you’ll be able to see that they polish as well as remove soil.

Grocery stores sell disposable versions of this system, but it’s cheaper and more independent to acquire the gear and wash the wipers. If the floor has been inadvertently neglected, spray it with a neutral pH cleaner from a janitorial supply or with your choice of eco-correct cleaning agent. Once a floor is clean, it requires so little product to maintain it, I haven’t bothered to research toxins. Poison control told me years ago that neutral pH cleaner presents little threat.

It is reasonable to wipe a small area on hands and knees, and it’s not bad exercise, either. For more square feet, spray the area lightly with a cleaning solution (a dedicated two-gallon garden sprayer is convenient for large spaces), let it sit for the moments known as “dwell time”, and wipe dry. I use a flashy anodized telescoping handle from an Italian janitorial supply company. It supports high dusting and window washing as well as floor care. One of the big box hardware outfits sells their line, as have the janitorial specialists I’ve visited. There’s a gizmo known as a Scrubby Doo available from these sources. It’s the same size as a sponge mop, but it’s a plastic armature that locks onto the telescoping handle and has little pips to grasp a standard nylon scrubbing pad. I use the white pads for dirty floors, letting the solution dwell a little longer than usual.

The pads come in several grades, rough to fine. I buy the white ones by the box and cut a few into dishwashing pads. They’re cheaper than the ones backed by sponge and more sanitary. I use them in kitchen and bath.

For everyday, or every-week cleaning, I slap a Scrubby Doo/nylon pad assembly over a high-tech cloth and just wipe the floor dry. The cloth will telegraph what was on the floor. If there’s much traffic through an area, a quick wipe every morning or evening will keep the floor looking like it was freshly finished. Invisible daily dust is what abrades floors.

You’ll have to do heavy cleaning once or twice a year with this system. If there’s much liquid on a floor, steer it toward absorbent wipers or a wet/dry vacuum with a squeegee. Do yourself a favor and consult a janitorial professional or the manufacturer’s website to learn how to maintain a surface. Looking after vintage floors can be fairly archaeological. A woodworking specialty shop or the National Trust Manual of Housekeeping may have the most conservative advice about floor care.

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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Clean Nothing but the Floor


Photo courtesy Flickr

If you play your cards right and attend to your physical surroundings as you use them, there will be no routine housework in your future, except for floor maintenance. You’ll still have to wash windows now and then and detail occasional projects, but most of the routine that is called housework can be deleted, particularly if you take your shoes off at the door.

It’s simple: keep horizontal surfaces clear of clutter so that they’re easy to wipe. A fast pass with a towel is all that’s necessary to prevent crud from accumulating on fixtures. Cleaning guru Don Aslett says that dishes develop plaque, like teeth, which is why it’s easier to wash dishes right after a meal. I assume that is true for sinks and counter tops as well.

Rubbing alcohol is a degreaser and disinfectant. It makes short work of cleaning up a stove, sanitizing faucet handles, disinfecting bathrooms, and brightening brass. Test a small area if you’re not certain how alcohol will affect a material. If you saturate a clean cloth (I'm partial to cheap terry face cloths), you can start by wiping glass or mirror, move on to chrome, and finish up on porcelain. There’s a small fire hazard with alcohol, so make sure to use it around relatively cool areas.

An unintended consequence of clearing the decks is to double or triple the amount of space you have to work in.

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Monday, February 8, 2010

What to Eat


shadowmaji photo courtesy Flickr

I’m visiting my son. He just took off for work, we arm-waved about dinner, and he asked me to Email some suggestions.

First, plan the menu from the store, not the cookbook. Look around the market for what’s cheapest. Often, the lowest price is for something that’s in season and relatively local, which means most nutritious. Not a bad combination.

Keep deli staples on the shelf: olive oil, sea salt, whole pepper, hard cheese for grating, olives, pepper sauce, turbinado sugar. Back them up with brown rice, pasta, canned and dry beans, and canned tomatoes. Add dried onion, vegetable bouillon cubes, and small amounts of the spices you use most often.

If you have the time and inclination to keep a few pots of herbs going, flat-leafed parsley, thyme, and rosemary will add life to a dish. Planting a clove of garlic that wants to sprout gives a ready source of minced green tops to supplement powdered garlic. Shallot tops are good, too.

If I were cruising around the market today, I’d look at deals on meat, enough for one dish, or a freezer pack of something that’s convenient to keep around, vegetables in season, including greens, fruit that stores well, lemons, and fresh garlic.

Then I’d scout the inner aisles for nuts, dark chocolate, crackers made with healthy fat, and Scandinavian rye crisp. It’s worth reading labels: some old-school brands have changed their formulas. If you can find a cookie made with butter, buy it. Otherwise, feed your sweet tooth with fruit.

Keep dried fruit on hand, good tea, coffee, and wine vinegar, some canned fish, and fresh eggs.

It’s easy to overlook good bread as a convenience food. Unsalted butter and white Oregon cheddar are good additions, as is pure peanut butter.

That’s enough to keep the wolf from the door. The pantry list isn’t much different from what hikers carry, except for fresh things.

With the basics on the shelf, you’ll always have something to eat when you’re hungry. It might not be exciting, but it will be good for body and wallet.

Shop intuitively. Buy what you eat. Eat what you buy. If something isn’t moving, get rid of it. Concentrate on basic ingredients: they give you the most meals for the money.

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