Monday, September 9, 2013

Citrus All-Purpose Spray Recipe

As more and more people are raising questions about the ingredients and safety of common household cleaners, many are turning to plain white vinegar as a substitute.  I use vinegar to clean toilets, bathroom  counter tops, and sinks.  Vinegar is an amazing cleaner.  Take a minute to Google it and you'll see the hundreds of uses.  Straight vinegar isn't safe for all surfaces, but it's still pretty darn handy.

The problem with vinegar is that it smells like, well, vinegar.  The smell dissipates in a few hours, but in the meantime, your whole house smells like a giant pickle.  I've heard people suggesting adding some essential oil to straight vinegar, but to me it just ends up smelling like essential oil AND vinegar.  Not a whole lot of blending going on.

A few months ago I was on the hunt to find a way to use the cleaning power of vinegar without the vinegar smell, and stumbled upon Crunchy Betty's post on herb infused vinegar for cleaning.  I generally grow several herbs in my garden per season and immediately began experimenting with blending herbs, citrus peels, and essential oils into vinegar.  I ended up with cleaners that smelled earthy and herbal, cleaners that smelled like candy, cleaners that smelled sharp and clean!  I always keep some sort of infused vinegar on hand now, and I make a different scent every time.  This time around, I made a citrus cleaner.

Citrus All-Purpse Spray
-Large jar with lid
-Measuring cup (or other vessel with a spout for pouring)
-Lemons (about 2)
-Sweet orange essential oil
-White vinegar

1. Fill a clean, large jar with vinegar, but leave some room at the top.  You'll be adding lemon peels to this, so you need to have some space.

2. You'll end up using the peel of about 2 lemons, give or take.  I like to use lemons for my water, and after I squeeze a wedge, I cut off the meat and much of the pith (the white part).  Don't worry about getting all of the pith.  It's not important.  After removing the meat and some pith, drop the peel slice into the vinegar, and close the jar.  Each time you use a lemon wedge for your drinks or cooking, remove the meat and some of the pith and add it to the jar.  Replace the lid each time.  Of course, if you happen to have a lot of lemon peel lying around because you used a lot of lemon juice for a recipe or made lemonade, by all means, you can add all the peel in at one time.  One slice at a time is just my limited waste way of doing it.

3. Continue to add more lemon peels to the jar as you use them.  Don't be concerned that some of the lemon peels are newer than others.  That's not important.

4. Shake the jar every few days.  Let the vinegar infuse from a few days to a few weeks from the point that you put the first lemon peel in.  Check it every few days to see if it smells lemony enough for you.  I let mine sit for about two weeks, but it could be ready in just a few days.

5. Strain the vinegar into a large measuring cup, removing the peels.  Add 10 drops of the sweet orange oil an stir.

6. Pour into an empty, clean spray bottle.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Why My Etsy Shop is (Probably) Never Going to Open

I love sewing.  Love it.  There's something so satisfying about making an item with your hands.  I made skirts, tops, purses, pajamas for the kids, shorts for my husband...the list goes on.  And then I sewed my very first apron.  And then another.  And another.  Something about aprons really touched me and aprons remain my most frequently sewn item.  Over time I developed my own patterns and styles, received many compliments, and some people asked if I'd make them one, too.  Usually I said no, as I didn't have the time.  When my youngest started school, though, I realized I would have a little time.  Not tons, you understand, as I still have to do dishes, laundry, clean the bathrooms and floors, do the baking, etc., but a little extra time.  I decided to open an Etsy shop.

I wanted to do everything perfectly legally.  I researched and read and studied over the course of a few months how I would file my federal tax and how to remit sales tax.  I researched and analyzed shipping options.  I spoke with other Etsy sellers when I had questions.

And then it happened.  While reading over a document about business practices, I saw a sentence that read something like, "Make sure you have your city and county licenses."  Wait.  My what-what?  It was the first time I was running across any such mention, although in hindsight of course you need a license to run a business.  I figured that since my shop was more like a hobby with small profit or "hobby business," such an edict wouldn't apply to me.  Still, I wanted to be thorough and make sure everything I was doing was on the up-and-up, so I set off to research it.  I was going to do this right.

I read the county requirements (which do list "arts and crafts" as an occupation needing a license), and read the city requirements (which lists home based businesses as needing a license).  By what I was seeing, it looked like I would be required to have both licenses.  I still didn't want to believe it, especially after seeing the annual cost involved and the many hoops you had to jump through to get them.  Surely, this wasn't meant to apply to me, as a hobby business?

I really felt, deep down, these regulations weren't intended for people like me and I'd be OK without one.  But what if I was wrong?  The penalty for guessing the wrong way was a pretty hefty fine and jail time.  Not worth the gamble.  I decided I would call the city license office and get a firm answer.

I got that solid answer.  It was not the answer I wanted.

I explained to the office what I intended on doing and asked if I needed the license.  In a nutshell, their answer was that if you make any money from this, then you need a license.  Period.  Notice I didn't say net profit.  I just said money.

"Even though the licenses cost more than any profit I would make?" I asked.

The woman on the phone sighed.  "Here's the thing," she said.  "There is no dollar threshold to cross.  If you make any money at all, you need a license."

She went into a speech about how to obtain these licenses and what forms to file to who and where, then how to contact the county and get that license, so on and so forth.  Honestly, I wasn't listening.  My eyes had gone very teary and I was ready to be done with this conversation.  I let her finish, thanked her and explained that I wouldn't be opening after all.

I sat there with the horrible realization of what this meant.  To proceed legally, I would be paying my city and county for the privilege of losing money.  The licenses cost more than any profit I would make unless I was sewing for a straight 8 hours a day, and even then there was no guarantee I would make any money.  I saw all the work, effort and research just slip away.  There were exceptions to the business license rule, but none of them involved a dollar amount made or whether it was more of a hobby.  So, I could pay to be able to lose money, or I could give up right then.  Unfortunately, giving up was the only feasible option.  At least, I told myself, all I've lost is time.  I had put no money into it yet.  The shop hadn't opened and I hadn't bought any materials for it.

The upside?  I'll be posting tutorials, recipes, and other great things.  No, I won't be selling my creations, but I can teach you how to make them.  That's kind of awesome, don't ya think?

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Hand Washing Laundry

Yesterday was a long day.  Not a bad day, just a long day.  It started with this crazy idea that we'd go blue crabbing.  We bought a trap, got our "from shore" saltwater licenses, and went as a family to catch what we were sure would be tons and tons of blue crab.  Turns out we had the wrong bait and caught nada.  We spent the whole morning doing that, came home, did research on what bait we actually wanted, made lunch, and took care of a few things.  In the evening, we headed back out, but this time we also bought fresh water fishing licenses so we could fish while we waited on the crab traps.  Now we ran into our second problem: not enough bait in the crab traps.  Everyone got filthy, Inventor Boy spent his time playing with and feeding the wrong type of crab which he cheerfully named Jeremy (or is it Germy?), a rock I was standing on suddenly tipped me into the river (just wet feet), and Husband caught nothing.  Monkey Boy, though, caught two catfish.  We discussed rubbing his head for good luck on future fishing trips since he apparently had the knack.

We finally arrived home way past the kids' bedtime, sweaty and exhausted.  The kids took showers, Husband went to clean the one catfish (the other had escaped), and I put in a much needed load of laundry and went to get a shower.

So there I was, clean and not smelling in the least little bit, wearing clean clothes and feeling awesome. I heard Husband call from the kitchen, saying he needed "a towel."  I figured he had spilled something, grabbed a bath towel from the closet, and headed to the kitchen.  When I got there, I slipped, one of my feet flew forward (I'm not even sure why it went forward.  Seems like it should go backward, amiright?), kicking dirty water all over my nice clean self and clothes.  I looked down.  About a quarter of an inch of water covered the laundry room and kitchen floor.

"I tried to warn you," Husband said.  He was standing in water next to the washing machine, not looking too amused.  "The washing machine is leaking.  It just dumped all this water out the bottom."  One thing was for sure: "a towel" was not going to fix this.

We quickly learned that our wet/dry vac is not good at wet (like, at all), our mop is not even a little absorbent, and our kitchen and laundry room floor can hold several gallons of water.  Husband and I spent an hour cleaning it all up.

So, there we were.  Late Saturday night with soaking wet but not-even-kind-of-clean laundry.  Fortunately, our washer was still under warranty and the company keeps late hours, but the actual repair people wouldn't be able to even make an appointment until Monday.  Also, how were we going to wash those towels we used to clean up the water?  Exactly.  

Now, in Florida, you can't leave items wet.  You can't.  They will mold before you can blink.  That left me two options for the morning: hand wash the very large load of clothes in it's entirety, or go to the laundromat.  I know laundromat seems the obvious choice, but I didn't take it.  The simple reason is I didn't want to go to the laundromat, but the longer answer is that I've been there, done that.  Once upon a time, we lived in an apartment that had no laundry facilities.  Laundromat was a standard chore, but during the year or so I used it, the clothes always came out stinking like poop, money was stolen from my purse, clothes went missing, and once a whole load of laundry came out covered in black wax.  You might be thinking that this must have been some old, grungy, broken-down laundromat, but it wasn't.  It was clean with newish machines and situated in the shopping center in a nice part of town.  In short, I was not going to go to the laundromat.  I was going to hand wash that load if it took me all day.  And it did.  Really.  I didn't realize just how much our washer fits.

I tried to remember that people hand washed clothes for centuries upon centuries, and many people still do by choice.  If they can do it, so could I.  Washing machines aren't that old of an invention.  However, I have to admit it was little comfort when I was on the third set of clothes from the same load, my back was aching, and my skin was cracking and blistering from the washing motion.  Still, it got done.  It's really not that hard, and I would never, ever consider hand washing that much laundry at once if the clothes weren't already wet and needed to be taken care of, like, now.  

And now, a brief tutorial on what to do if your washer breaks and you find yourself in the same situation.  I wanted to give you the emergency version, since I myself had trouble finding one.  Oh, there are lots of tutorials on how to properly hand wash laundry, but they are generally for people that only need to wash their frillies from time to time or people that have made (or been forced to make) the choice to hand wash all their laundry, and this latter group recommends some great equipment if you are going to be without a washing machine for a long stretch of time.  Me?  I intend on getting it fixed ASAP (hopefully), and so am not about to drop $200 on a big wash tub, scrub brush/wash board, and fancy hand-crank clothes wringer.  I needed to know what to do, right now.  After much research and a whole lot of hand washing, I present to you...

How to Hand Wash Laundry (an emergency tutorial)
-large-ish plastic tub (can use a bucket or large plastic bowl if only washing a few things at a time)
-laundry soap
-clean, dry towels (you'll need this if you are washing jeans, delicates, or any item that is difficult to wring out or that wringing would damage)
-rubber gloves (optional but highly suggested)

1. Put a small amount of laundry soap into your washing container and fill with water before you put in laundry.  Make sure soap is dispersed, then add laundry.  Don't overfill your container with too much laundry or nothing will get clean.

2. Walk away from it for a half hour or so while the water and soap penetrates and the dirt dissolves and loosens.  Use this time to think about how you are not at the laundromat.

3. Don your gloves and start swishing.  You can knead the clothes like you would bread or imitate the agitating motion of a washing machine.  You want to do this for several minutes.

4. Wring your clothes as tight as you can (for jeans and delicates this can be difficult.  Wring or squish the best you can, and don't stress about it for the moment.  We'll take care of giving them a good wring with the aid of towels at the end).

5. Rinse the soap out of your tub, fill with clean water, and agitate clothes in the clean water.  Wring out again, refill tub with clean water.  Repeat for a total of 4 rinses, or until most of the soap is gone.

6. Wring out all the clothes as best you can, removing as much water as possible.  You don't want to damage your dryer by placing sopping wet clothes in there!  For jeans and delicates, lay a dry towel down.  Place jeans or delicate items on top of the towel, and put another towel on top.  Roll the towels with the clothes in between, starting at one of the short edges.  Place your knees on the towel roll as you go, using your weight to help squeeze water from the clothes into the towels.

7. Hang to dry or place in dryer (provided you got enough water out of the clothes.  Don't be lazy with the wringing step).

8. Moisturize your hands.  Seriously.  Even if you were wearing gloves.  Do it.
I cleaned ALL the laundry!

I hope you never have to use these steps unless, ya know, you want to.  It's really not that hard, but remember to do it in small loads.  Don't try to do a king sized load like I did.  I only did that much at once because they were already soaking wet.  I had no choice but to do that much.  And, since I didn't have a huge vessel on hand, I had to wash it in small amounts, which made it last all day.  It's 7pm where I am right now, and I just finished the last bit of it.  I started around 9am.  Granted, a lot of that time is it sitting and soaking for an hour or so before I wash, but it made the day feel very, very exhausting.  But, Husband brought home makings for chocolate martinis after all this.  That's something, right?

Monday, August 19, 2013

Cleaning a Ceiling Fan

My children received a remote control helicopter as a gift a few days ago.  In my mind, I saw it crashing into things, knocking pictures off the wall and shattering glass everywhere.  But I have to admit that Inventor Boy has actually become quite proficient with it (unlike Husband, who buzzed my head.  Twice.  No, I wasn't moving).  The main complaint from the fledgling pilots is that there are "too many air currents" in the house.  Pity, since this particular toy works with a light sensor and you can't fly it outside.  I'm beginning to wish it was an outside toy so I could be done with the mosquito-esque constant buzzing of the blades.

To reduce the supposedly horrible, hurricane-like air currents (what the rest of the world may call a light breeze from the ceiling fan and AC), they started turning off the ceiling fans when they fly.  So there I was, sitting in my big, comfy chair, having my cuppa, when they turned off the fan and started to fly.  That's when it started snowing.  In the house.  Into my tea.  All over the furniture.  When I looked up, I saw this:

You see, in Florida we have two seasons: Summer and Not Summer, sometimes also called Hurricane Season and Not Hurricane Season, or Rainy Season and Not Rainy Season.  Sometimes Not Summer can actually get pretty cold.  Temperatures down to 20 and 30F are not unheard of in the depths of Not Summer, but they generally only last for a couple of weeks or even a couple of days, and then we start the slow swing back to Summer.  This is a really long-winded way of telling you that our fans run roughly 80-90% of the year.  I never remember to clean them until they are turned off.

The good news is that my way of cleaning them is fairly simple.  I start by throwing on a bandanna over my hair to keep the dust off.  In my mind I look adorably vintage, but in reality it probably makes me look like a throw-back from the late 90's when hair bandannas were all the rage, or possibly a wannabe Stepford wife.

Anyway, I clean the bulk of the dust off the blades by using a long piece of flannel that is sewed shut on three sides.  OK, actually, it's the cut off leg of an old pair of flannel pajama pants that I sewed shut on one end and left the other end open.  I slip the open end over a fan blade, hold the material tight to the blade, and pull off.  Voila.  All of the dust--OK, most of the dust--is trapped inside the fabric.  Then I take it outside, turn inside out, and shake out the dust.  Repeat for the other blades and follow up with a rag.

Afterwards, I get the rest of the fan with an ostrich feather duster.  If you don't have an ostrich feather duster, seriously, get one.  They are awesome.  I've used both regular feather dusters and ostrich ones.  The ostrich dusters are so much bigger and fluffier and do a way better job.

So, when I was done, I had this:

Ta da!  And then I told Husband that I spent the time to clean the fan.  And told him again.  And again. Finally, I demanded he look at the fan to see what I had done and give me the accolades I deserve for, uh, cleaning the fan.  Yep, I'm that kind of crazy.  I demand my spouse to stare at the fan.

Monday, August 5, 2013

A little about me and Speckled Lemon

I've always wanted to make things.  Even as a small child, I was always creating something.  If I wasn't painting or playing with yarn, I was crafting elaborate stories in my head.  Every summer my sisters and I raided my grandmother's craft closet for tapestry needles and plastic canvas, and her cabinets for acrylic paints.

Fast forward several years.  I ended up going to college for English (yes, I finished.  Why do people ask me that?) but I still had a love of creating and I always wanted to learn how to sew.  One day my husband and I were in a thrift store looking for I-don't-remember-what, when we found a vintage sewing machine in excellent condition.  We're talking 1950's or 60's, no cracks or separations in the casing, still had it's original feet and tiny screwdrivers for adjustments.  $20.  My husband snatched it up for me and set off to scour the internet for a user manual, since I had no idea of how to sew nor how to use a sewing machine.
It's a Montgomery-Ward, in case you're wondering.

My first projects were embarrassingly bad, but I got better.  I made clothes, diaper covers, and hand bags, but my favorite was aprons.  I'm not sure where it came from, but I had a definite love of aprons.  My mother didn't wear an apron.  As far as I know, my grandmothers didn't wear aprons.  There was, though, something so attractive about them.  Maybe it's because it appeals to my love of things that have a history and my love of creating.

As this summer was coming to an end, it looked like I was going to have some time on my hands.  I approached my husband about the idea of opening an Etsy shop.  After all, since I started making aprons, I'd had many people come to me to ask if I sold them and if they could request custom items.  I usually said no, since I barely had time for myself and family and didn't need an additional project.  But now, with some extra time...  He supported the idea of an Etsy shop and I set to work.  I'm looking at opening the shop at the end of August.  I'm still trying to finish up a few loose ends, like applying for sales tax collection and getting more projects done.  The shop will open with just a few items, and then the profit from those will go to get more materials and a better stocked shop (in theory).

But why "Speckled Lemon"?  It sounds good.  That's it.  Well, to be a bit more detailed, I read that people remember Etsy shops better if there is a concrete item in the name.  I chose lemon, because to me lemons are fresh and fun and colorful.  There's something about lemons that make me think of clean, but not in a lemony cleaner sort of way.  (Side note: I hate cleaners that smell like fake lemon.)  It's more like a sunshiny summer sort of feeling.  I know, I know, it sounds like I've got a pretty big emotional attachment to lemons.  And speckled because it's a nice adjective that sounds good with lemon.