Thursday, January 31, 2008

Mount Playmobil

Last night I tackled and conquered Mount Playmobil.

We bought Angel - who adored swings as a tiny - a Playmobil swing set for Christmas when she was three, and from then on it became our standby gift choice for birthdays and Christmas for both girls. Over the years we gathered a veritable mountain of the stuff, and very well used it was too until Angel and latterly Star outgrew it (in Star's case mainly because she likes a playmate and Angel will no longer oblige).

Little Cherub has been enjoying playing with a tractor and some farm animals, so I decided the time had come for a major assault on the Playmobil boxes. After nearly three hours work I have sorted out various toddler-friendly sets - farm, zoo, furniture, cars, playground and a selection of people. There are also a number of larger items she can play with - a bus, an aeroplane, a caravan, a motorhome, a fire engine, a helicopter, an ambulance and a swimming pool, some of which I had even forgotten we owned! Now they are all nicely organised I can easily rotate them into her toy boxes. Today she has been having a lovely time with cars, the bus and some playground items, including the original swing set. What goes around, comes around!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Angel at Work

Angel is sitting next to me writing a geography assessment paper in which she has to explain to the European Union Finance Committee in 1000 words why southern Italy needs to continue to receive subsidies. If I had ever set her such a task, the wailing and gnashing of teeth would have been spectacular. As it is, she is working away steadily, if unenthusiastically. ("How's it going, Angel?" "Boring!")

She is also munching on uncooked spaghetti as she works. Odd, but I suppose it at least has an Italian connection.

Book Review: Great Tales from English History

A couple of weeks ago I promised a review of Great Tales from English History by Robert Lacey. Originally inspired to love history by the "storybook" style histories of H.E.Marshall, he sets out in this three volume series to tell the great stories of English history in similar fashion. If you want an easy to read introduction to the outline of English history, these books would do nicely. With short chapter and lots of anecdotes, they are easy to pick up and read in odd moments. Obviously they are limited by the format - there is very little historical analysis, though he does put the stories into context. They are written for adults and although Lacey is not overly graphic for that audience, there are sections that are not suitable for children (Edward II's relationship with Piers Gaveston and the assumed manner of his subsequent death for example). Despite this, they could be read aloud to older children with a bit of editing. The best description I can give of Lacey's books is to say that they are the adult, non-illustrated equivalent to Geraldine McCaughrean's Britannia - which admittedly is not helpful if you have not seen Britannia, but if you have then you will understand what I mean!

The author has his own website, where he helpfully includes some sample chapters.

Monday, January 28, 2008


Well that has never happened to me before.

Getting dressed this morning, I went to pick up my clothes from on top of the laundry basket and they bit me! It took a few seconds for my fuddled morning brain to process ...

(a) my finger hurts
(b) the pain is caused by my underwear
(c) my finger really hurts
(d) I need to let go
(e) why is my clothing stuck to my hand?
(f) why is it biting me?
(g) OUCH!!!!!

Finally I summoned up enough presence of mind to shake the item from my hand and reveal the offender ... a wasp! It wasn't a bite. It was a sting.

This leaves me with a question and a thought.

What on earth is a live and stinging summer wasp doing in my bedroom in January?

... and ...

Thank heavens I didn't put my bra on before discovering the wasp!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Gadget Queen? Me?

I do try not to covet new gadgets ... but I have to admit I do enjoy nifty little techy things. I have had an iPhone on my mental wishlist for a while, even though it is clearly under the section labelled "no chance". The UK deal on iPhones requires commitment to a monthly service package that is way, way out of our budget. In any case, so is the iPhone itself. I have also been wanting an iPod, especially since we switched to Macs and I discovered iTunes. Then ... ta da! ... I spotted the iPod Touch. iPhone meets iPod! Cue shameless coveting. Fortunately I have a very nice husband and a very nice mother, who between them bought me an iPod Touch as a birthday-and-Christmas present.

After playing with it for a month - I love it! On the one hand it is an iPhone without the phone and camera (and therefore without the service charge), and on the other it is an iPod that has wireless internet and runs Safari (the Mac equivalent of Windows Explorer). The screen is clear enough for it to be genuinely useful for reading web pages, blogs and so on - obviously not as good as a full size computer, but a handy extra. There are an increasing number of WiFi hotspots locally, including the library, which means I can use it when I am out and about. I can access my Google Calendars, my booklists, and even at a pinch write email or blog entries (a bit slow and painful on the touchscreen keyboard, but manageable). It has a smaller memory than the classic iPods, which doesn't bother me as I don't want to use it as a storage device, but it does all the obvious iPod things - plays music, podcasts and movies. It also has a built in YouTube widget. In the last week or so Apple have brought out new software that adds an email program, Google maps and a notepad.

I don't just like what the iPod Touch does, I like how it does it. The touchscreen is so futuristic and clever - a gadget lover's gem. Stroke it to move a web page up or down, pinch to make things smaller, tap it to make the view larger. To switch from portrait to landscape, you just turn the iPod round and the screen follows. It's just so ... neat!

Friday, January 25, 2008

1 2 3 Meme

Michele Q tagged me for this meme, which is a fun one with simple rules:

1. Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages).
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people.

I have two books sitting in a pile on my desk. The top one is Small is Still Beautiful by Joseph Pearce, but page 123 is a title page for Part 4: Grounded in the Land. No fifth sentence. No sentences at all! If I cheat and jump to the next page with text (p.125) I get this:

"Our future, and the future of our natural environment, is rooted in the soil. In the years since Schumacher wrote, ecologists have carried out much research into the complex ecosystems that govern and determine the interdependence of life forms. Their research has vindicated Schumacher's insistence that the land is the greatest material resource available to humanity."
The book underneath Small is Still Beautiful is Jesus of Nazareth by Pope Benedict XVI, which does have a page 123, forming part of a section headed 'Compromise and Prophetic Radicalism':
"But is what Jesus says here actually realistic? It is incumbent upon us - is it even legitimate - to act like this? Doesn't some of it, as Neusner objects, destroy all concrete social order?"
So there you ... pick the sentences of your choice - right book, wrong page number or wrong book, right page number.

I tag: Faith, Lucy, Melanie, Rebecca and Shari

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Homefront

My dear friend and kindred spirit Shari has taken the plunge and started a blog. Please pay her a visit at the Homefront and welcome her to blogland.

Please also say a prayer for Shari's daughter who has just moved to Washington DC to begin a new job ... unfortunately she is in Washington and her luggage is doing an independent tour of the USA.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Lark Rise to Candleford

My Sunday evening treat for the past two weeks has been the BBC's new dramatisation of Lark Rise to Candleford, an autobiographical story of country life in the late 19th century by Flora Thompson. I just discovered you can watch it online ... but if you want to do so, there is only a limited window of opportunity. Episode 1 is available for two more days, and episode 2 for four.

Go to BBC iPlayer and find it in the alphabetical list.


ETA: Unfortunately you can only use BBC iPlayer if you are in the UK. Shame. I know a few people who would have been delighted to get future episodes of Doctor Who when they are first broadcast instead of having to wait for them to be shown in the US. Which I guess is why the BBC block non-UK users.

The Human Internet

J-next-door appears ...

J: Do you have any books I can use for my science homework?

Me: What do you need to know about?

J: Hydraulic systems

Me: ... after a brief search ... "Will this do?" (giving her a science encyclopedia with two pages on hydraulics)

J: Great! I was stuck ... our internet's gone down ...

I am, apparently, the human version of the internet. Put something into my search engine and I can provide the answer. In book form.

I love the internet ... but I love books more.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Little Cherub's Book Choice: Scarecrow's Secret

Last year I bought a boxed set of twenty Usborne Farmyard Tales books very cheaply from The Book People and put it away for Christmas. After a couple of weeks fixated on In the Night Garden twaddle, she has now moved on to these books. Scarecrow's Secret was the first to catch her attention because the song "Dingle Dangle Scarecrow" is a current favourite - reading the book always entails a certain amount of "dingle-dangling" (shaking arms and legs as in the song).

I like these books for their double-whammy effect. Although written for beginner readers, they also work well for toddlers. The simple text and animal themes make them good to read to little ones. A nice extra is that every page has a tiny yellow duck hidden somewhere, and playing "spot-the-duck" gives an added touch of toddler interest. As readers, they are designed to work on two levels. There is a simple sentence at the top of the page, then some more text at the bottom. Initially the books can be buddy-read, with the very new reader reading just the single sentences while the adult reads the rest; as reading skills develop, the child moves on to reading the entire book. For example, one page has: "Mr. Straw is doing a good job." ... "Every day Mr. Boot, Poppy and Sam look at Mr. Straw. There are no birds in the cornfield." Simple stuff, but Little Cherub likes it. And I remember finding them very useful when Star was at the "Mr. Straw is doing a good job." stage of reading. I don't think I found them in time to use them with Angel.

After multiple readings of Scarecrow's Secret we have finally been allowed to move on to the rest of the box. Today's choices were The Old Steam Train and The New Pony.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Menu Plan 2008

I have been in menu planning mode, and have posted my new 2008 menu plan on my long neglected cookery blog.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Stuck in Tookland

My walk to Rivendell has stalled and I have spent the entire week bogged down in Tookland. After last weeks efforts I was confident of reaching (and beating) my target of 40 miles for January. Then I succumbed to the cold and sore throat bug that the rest of the family have been suffering from off and on for the last month. In my case it has left me coughing and breathless, and definitely not up to walking in the rain. This week's miles covered: zero. Ugh.

Loveliness of Planning Fair

I am a little behind, but I finally got round to visiting Sarah's Loveliness of Planning Fair at Plainsong. As you know, I love plans, and there are some great planning ideas here. I particularly like Dawn's monthly Themes and Plans - this is something I could certainly use, for myself as much as for the children, to remind myself of feast days, nature highlights, seasonal foods, special family dates and so on. I do so much better when I have an overall picture of the next few weeks in my head, rather than blundering from one thing to the next in a state of constant surprise.

I love the various home management folders people have been putting together. My current "planner" is just a plain ring binder with my Motivated Moms pages for January, some scribbled menu plan pages, a couple of recipes needed for current menus, and my Walking to Rivendell route print-out. I haven't yet remembered to add section dividers, so it is definitely not yet set up for ease of use. I think I'll make tidying up and improving my folder a priority for next week.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Random Information Meme

HT: Everyone. I've lost count of the number of places I've seen this meme over the past few days.

1. WERE YOU NAMED AFTER ANYONE ? My middle name Helen is after my mother's adoptive aunt.

2. WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU CRIED? A few days ago, reading this blog.



5. DO YOU HAVE KIDS? Only three.


7. DO YOU USE SARCASM A LOT? Occasionally. Even though it is the lowest form of wit.

8. DO YOU STILL HAVE YOUR TONSILS? No. And I no longer have tonsillitis.

9. WOULD YOU BUNGEE JUMP? No. Maybe. I was going to put that I wouldn't bungee jump for a million pounds, but then decided that I just might if the bribe was big enough!

10. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE CEREAL? Currently Jordan's Country Crisp with strawberry pieces.



13. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE ICE CREAM? Strawberry Cheesecake.

14. WHAT IS THE FIRST THING YOU NOTICE ABOUT PEOPLE? I am the most unobservant person imaginable. I don't think I notice anything! Maybe whether they are male or female?

15. RED OR PINK? Pink.


17. WHO DO YOU MISS THE MOST? My great-aunt.

18. WHAT COLOR PANTS AND SHOES ARE YOU WEARING? Olive green skirt, black socks.

19. WHAT WAS THE LAST THING YOU ATE? A bread roll with Philadelphia cream cheese.

20. WHAT ARE YOU LISTENING TO RIGHT NOW? Little Cherub snoring on my lap.


22. FAVORITE SMELLS? Fresh-baked bread; new leather; roses; coffee.


24. FAVORITE SPORTS TO WATCH? Gymnastics; athletics.

25. HAIR COLOR? Dark brown.

26. EYE COLOR? Green-hazel.

27. DO YOU WEAR CONTACTS? No. Just glasses.

28. FAVORITE FOOD? Bacon sandwiches with mustard. Or chocolate ... you expect me to choose?

29. SCARY MOVIES OR HAPPY ENDINGS? Happy endings. I never watch scary movies.

30. LAST MOVIE YOU WATCHED? DVD of Angel and Star's dance show. Does that count?


32. SUMMER OR WINTER? Summer, though autumn is my favourite season.


34. FAVORITE DESSERT? Bread-and-butter pudding.

35. WHAT BOOK ARE YOU READING NOW? Great Tales from English History by Robert Lacey.

36. WHAT IS ON YOUR MOUSE PAD? It died. What do you mean, how can a mouse pad die? The plastic covering came off leaving it sticky, and it no longer did what mouse pads are meant to do. It was a bright striped one, and I liked it.

38. FAVORITE SOUNDS? A giggling toddler; Vivaldi; silence.

39. BEATLES OR ROLLING STONES? Depends on the mood of the moment.



42. WHERE WERE YOU BORN? Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire.

Why would it do that?

Why would the nice wintery tree scene I had as a page background suddenly start showing through the posts instead of the plain text background, making my blog unreadable?

Any clever blog-techie people out there have any advice?

Maybe my blog is better unreadable!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

A Sense of Order

Little Cherub now has a very decided sense of order - of what should be where, and what should happen when. She loves to help to tidy her toys, or anything else, and will often try to tidy things away without being asked. Wet bibs, just out of the washer? The bib drawer, of course! Yesterday morning she saw Star getting ready for school, collected Angel's shoes from the hall and presented them to her. If we have been out, she wants shoes and coat off and put away immediately, both hers and ours. Any parental dilatoriness is met with frantic pointing and squeaking. At Jo Jingles she is so anxious to tidy away instruments that she is often there before the teacher puts the box on the floor. Last week she obviously felt the other children were tidying too slowly and was trying to grab instruments from them and put them away herself. Oops!

Her sense of order has obviously developed to the point where she is able to sort and classify. I take her to a local toddler group which is particularly well supplied with toys as it is run as an offshoot of the local playgroup (preschool). This week at tidy up time she was helping me to return vehicles and people to a box when she found a couple of animals that had strayed onto the play mat from an adjoining one. Before I could tell her to take them to the animal box she was half way there.

Between thinking of this post and writing it, I was very amused to find that Melanie at The Wine-Dark Sea had just written one about her Bella on the exact same topic. Bella and Cherub are much of an age ... it must be the age of order and tidiness!

She likes it

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Note to self ...

When experimenting with giving a toddler couscous for lunch, do not place the bowl of couscous and a spoon in front of said toddler and then turn your back (even if it is to read an excellent post by Meredith). Especially when the toddler does not yet have great spoon control. And even more especially when the room is carpeted.

And remember to take note of when said toddler has finished eating spilling couscous and intervene before she gets down from her chair and wanders round the room.

Even after brushing her down and giving the room a through vacuum, I'm still finding bits of couscous.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Which Jane Austen heroine are you?

I am Elinor Dashwood!

Take the Quiz here!

You are Elinor Dashwood of Sense & Sensibility! You are practical, circumspect, and discreet. Though you are tremendously sensible and allow your head to rule, you have a deep, emotional side that few people often see.

Meet Elmer

No, not Elmer the patchwork elephant, but Elmer the flying monk of Malmesbury.

I am reading Great Tales from English History by Robert Lacey (review to come later), and came across this medieval character for the first time. Elmer (or Eilmer) was an eleventh century monk of scientific bent who developed a fascination with Daedalus, the ancient Greek who manufactured wings for himself and his son Icarus that melted when they flew too close to the sun. Elmer built his own "wings", jumped from the top of the church bell tower and managed to glide 200 metres before losing confidence or concentration and crash landing. He apparently worked out why after the event. As Robert Lacey puts it:

In his final years Elmer’s limping figure was a familiar sight around the abbey – and the would-be birdman would explain the failure of his great enterprise with wry humour. It was his own fault, he would say. As William [of Malmesbury] told it, ‘He forgot to fit a tail on his hinder parts.’
You can read the whole story here, as it is one of the sample chapters posted on Robert Lacey's website.

I love history.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Bookworm's Stitchery

As I launch into my various knitting projects I have been wondering whether to post about them here or start a separate blog. Finally I decided on a new blog, where I can post in more detail without boring non-knitting readers, and where interested knitters can read without having to delve through the rest of my stream-or-consciousness posts.

If you are interested in knitting, crochet and craft projects in general, come and visit me at The Bookworm's Stitchery, which I have begun with a repost of my knitting plans for the year and a review of this book:

Sunday, January 13, 2008

A Toy to Build a Memory

Tevye' mother's cousin is dying. He has always been very fond of her, and she did a great deal for him and his family when he was a child. Every year she sends our daughters money for their birthdays and for Hannukah. This year she sent more than usual. Angel and Star had their own plans, and in any case have their own memories of "Auntie" S. We decided it would be nice to use her gift to Little Cherub to buy her a special toy - something good quality and a little out of the ordinary, something she could use now but would not outgrow too quickly, a keeper that we can tell her came from Auntie S. I have been hunting around on the internet and think I have found something that fits the bill ... this all-in-one house from Myriad Natural Toys, which specialises in Waldorf-style toys and supplies.

This is the description: "Ingenious solid wood play set - house roof and walls make a frame and within is all you need to set up home! 2 benches, table, 2 beds, stools, cushions and coffee tables! An amazing 14 pieces altogether! Will suit our smallest dolls house dolls, woodland elves, pocket gnomes and other small figures. Solid alder wood with natural oil finish. 23 x 16 cm"

What do you think?

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Singing in the Rain

Yesterday was the day the walking started to bite ... it was wet and cold, thoroughly nasty English winter weather. The mile each way to Little Cherub's Jo Jingles class felt like three in the face of steady driving rain. My waterproof jacket did its job, but water dripped from the bottom leaving me with soaking wet jeans. Cherub was snug and dry under a rain cover, but cross - she gets very offended these days if we put her into the "wrong" coat. Unfortunately both her winter coats are wrong coats. The only "right" coats are two cheap, rather worn, thin fleece jackets that I have now hidden. Sometimes she forgives and forgets the offence to her person quickly; other times she complains with great persistence. The only way to stop her whinging yesterday was to sing to her. If I stopped, she cried. So I walked the mile there singing in the rain with entirely fake enthusiasm.

Jo Jingles cheered her, so I didn't have to sing my way home. As I walked I thought of the hobbits, and how quickly the gloss disappears from an adventure once discomfort sets in - damp, hunger, fear. As for poor Frodo and Sam, dragging their way through Mordor ... well, certainly there was more to those hobbits than anyone familiar with the Shire could have imagined. I also remembered my own worst ever day of walking. Many years ago I walked 120 miles from London to England's Nazareth, Walsingham to raise money for charity. With no experience of long distance walking I allowed myself a week. I did it. It hurt. Tevye, at home acting as mission control as he recovered from spinal surgery, kept getting plaintive phone calls along the lines of "if I ever suggest doing anything like this again ... stop me!" Worst of all was the day it rained heavily. To add insult to injury, part of that morning's walk was along the A10, a major trunk road with no footpath. Walking along a busy road in driving rain with heavy lorries trundling past was, to put it mildly, no fun. I cheered myself by deciding to stop for a hot meal at a pub marked on the map instead of relying on my own supplies as I had planned. I reached the pub. It didn't sell food. I felt much as the hobbits would have done if they had reached the Prancing Pony at Bree only to find it out of beer. I consoled myself with a brandy, which did at least make me feel a little better about the afternoon's walk ... for maybe fifteen minutes or so.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Walking to Rivendell: Progress Report

I'm doing it! I'm walking! Thirteen and a half miles so far, and feeling very pleased with myself. The little imaginative tweak of translating miles walked into the hobbits' journey has been just the incentive I needed to get myself moving.

Twice this week I have walked to morning Mass - three miles in total - which means I managed a neat combination of physical and spiritual exercise. If I can regularly walk to Mass twice a week, added together with a two mile walk to and from Little Cherub's Jo Jingles class it will get me most of the way to my ten mile a week target.

Only one problem. I ache. My muscles are complaining about the unaccustomed exercise.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Gentle Learning: Art and Craft

One of my regrets is that I didn't do enough hands on activities with my older children. Books are easy - you pick them up, read them, and (eventually) put them away again. Art and crafts are harder. They make messes that need to be cleared up. They require preparation. Over planning can lead to frustration when the child doesn't want to do your project, your way. Under planning means nothing will happen. This time round I want to push art and craft activities right up my priority list and make them a regular part of our day, rather than an extra that may or (more often) may not happen. Art and craft has such a lot to offer young children - it aids concentration, helps them to develop fine motor skills, encourages creativity, and gives them the satisfaction of seeing something they have made. It can tie in with every area of education - I love the idea of Waldorf style "main lesson" books, in which the child records their learning largely in art (at least in the earlier years). While I wouldn't want to start main lesson books too early, I would like to start to develop the skills that would make them an enjoyable part of learning later.

So, where to start? A few ideas ...
  • Work creative activities into the daily routine. For me this is the biggest challenge!
  • First Art: Art Experiences for Toddlers and Twos by Mary Ann Kohl - this has many, many suggestions for open-ended creative activities for little ones. She has also published a series of Preschool art books.
  • Model creativity - draw, paint and create myself. I enjoy most crafts, but drawing and painting are a challenge for me. I manage OK with a nature notebook or if I have instructions to follow, but a blank piece of paper and a pencil frighten me.
  • Have an art centre with a selection of baskets and trays containing appropriate activities available, Montessori style, and rotate them regularly. (I'm thinking along the lines of these Christmas art activities from Theresa at LaPaz Home Learning.)
  • Buy good quality materials - I'm not a purist about art materials, but I do think it makes sense to let children use better quality materials as soon as they are able to make proper use of them. I love the idea of the beeswax crayons and modelling wax used in Waldorf education and will definitely want to add them to our art supplies.
  • Keep a file of liturgical craft ideas - but be prepared for Little Cherub to develop them in her own way (do not fixate on how the finished product "should" look!)

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

January Blues?

Not when I can enjoy a little post-Christmas indulgence ...

... the ultimate in dark chocolates washed down with a glass of sweet dessert wine.

(Calories? What calories?)

Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Bookworm Web Site

After long neglect, due largely to web editor software problems I won't bore you with, I decided the time had come to start again with my Bookworm website. After a lot of cutting, pasting and editing I have transferred much of what I had done to Google Pages and begun to add to it. So far you can find various themed booklists, a detailed British history booklist, and an outline for a Sonlight-style literature based British history course. I am also taking my blog posts on gentle early learning and compiling them into a page here.

Google Pages is very easy to use, so I'm hoping I will be able to add and update on a regular basis.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Good Reads

Yesterday I spent a late night with the computer - Tevye went to bed early to nurse the nasty cold / sore throat ickiness he has had since Christmas Eve, while I stayed downstairs and played - and followed Meredith of Sweetness and Light along to Good Reads. I'm not entirely sure how to describe this ... a virtual bookshelf? a virtual library? a literary community? a shared reading diary? Probably all of these things.

I'm planning to use it largely as a reading log for the year, for myself and for Little Cherub. I'm also looking forward to seeing what friends are reading, though I think it could mean I end up with a very long Amazon wishlist. Good Reads would also be a good place to collect together and share booklists, or to catalogue a home library ... but I'm doing the first elsewhere, and the second would be a useful but over time-consuming exercise.

You can find my bookshelves here. Not that there is much on them yet.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Laundry: Part 4

Am I obsessing? Possibly. I promise that after this post I will move on.

I was intrigued by a commenter who had heard that homemade laundry detergent had harmful chemicals, so I thought I would do a little digging (a.k.a. Googling) out of curiosity. The strongest chemical in the mix is borax. Like virtually every other cleaner, natural or synthetic, borax (sodium borate) has an element of toxicity. This article makes it sound quite scary, but ultimately recommends simply keeping it away from food and rinsing clothes and surfaces. However, it is widely recommended as a non-toxic alternative to commercial cleaning products, and can be used in dishwasher detergents, scouring powders, toilet cleaners and a variety of other home made natural alternatives. Essentially it is important to remember that "non-toxic" is a relative term when it comes to cleaners and detergents. As one website I found puts it:

This page offers non-toxic cleaning recipes for a safer home and cleaner environment. Non-toxic cleaners are cleaners that you can use relatively safely, as compared to other commercial cleaning products (which range from fairly safe to extremely dangerous). This does not mean that you can safely eat non-toxic cleaners or spray them in your eyes. Always label your home-made cleaners and keep them out of the reach of children.
In other words, borax in laundry detergent (or even dishwasher detergent) is fine ... but non-toxic is relative. Don't eat the stuff! And make very sure your children can't. That aside, it is safer than commercial products and also ecofriendly, with no nasty phosphates.

A couple of other laundry detergent points before I get off my soap-box (groan!) ... home made detergent will not make lots of impressive looking soapsuds. This does not matter. Bubbles do not make things clean; they just clog up your machine. The first few times you use your new liquid it may leave a residue on clothes (this happened to me the first couple of times). Adding some white vinegar to the wash will stop this - I can't remember how much, or where I read it. Alternatively, just persevere and it will go away. If you want an even more non-toxic, non-toxic detergent you can leave out the borax. It should still get clothes at least moderately clean. And finally, for some odd reason soap flakes are no longer available in the US but are in the UK. If you live in the US you have to grate your own soap, whereas we can just pour it in straight out of the packet. I promise not to gloat as I pour.

Star's New Year Revolution

Star to Tevye: "I've made a New Year revolution. I'm going to improve my pronouncation."


Was she serious? Or was she joking?

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Laundry: Part 3

He came.

He saw.

He conquered.

Terry-the-very-nice-washing-machine-repair-man replaced the brushes (what brushes?) and the machine is now whirring round making whizzy happy washer noises.

And the cost of the repair was less than the amount I estimate my home made laundry liquid will save me this year.

The road goes ever on and on ...

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.
The journey to Rivendell begins ... only another 457 miles to go as I walked the mile into town this morning instead of taking the car. I was intrepid, setting off supported by my trusty pushchair (and occupant) into something cold and damp and sufficiently white to suggest it was trying to be snow. Not intrepid enough to walk back, I'm afraid - Tevye was working at home so collected us in the car. In Lord of the Rings terms I have now left Bag End and am heading westwards along a lane around The Hill.

I'm hoping this will add enough interest to encourage me to walk more than I do normally, and to make the essential walking (I only have limited use of the car during the week) a little more fun. I have added a "Walk to Rivendell" section to my Motivated Moms folder with printouts of this pathway mileage and descriptions and a map of the first 73 miles so I can highlight the amount I have walked. The menu-planning section has the Hobbit meal planner - very civilised with room for second breakfast and elevenses. In town this morning I bought myself a pedometer that shows distance walked - inconsiderately in very un-Hobbitish kilometres, but it can't be helped. I already have decent wet weather gear and some very ancient hiking boots, and I'm hoping to get in a few serious walks (10 miles or more) over the year.

My target for January: the 37 miles the hobbits had covered by the time they stopped to eat and rest in the evening of their second day of walking.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Laundry: Part 2

What happens when you economise by making your own laundry detergent?

Your washing machine breaks down.


(And no, the two are not connected. Or, at least, I sincerely hope they aren't!)

Thank God for Terry-our-very-nice-washing-machine-repair-man.

And please, God ... don't let Terry be away for New Year!

Cute Cherub

Bowling Cherub

Sleeping Cherub

Make-your-own laundry detergent

Back in the autumn Lucy at Our Very Own Little House experimented with making her own laundry detergent. It looked so easy and economical that I decided to have a go myself. It worked! Then life got in the way and I didn't get round to making a second batch until just before Christmas. I made about 8 litres of detergent, which can't have cost me more than £1 - a similar amount of Tesco's cheapest would cost about £15. It seems to work at least as well as any of the non-biological washing liquids I normally use (I buy whatever is on offer, but always non-bio and always liquid as powder clogs up my machine's dispenser and makes a horrid, yucky mess I loathe cleaning out). Some stains need a squirt of Vanish spray before washing, but then they needed the same when using "proper" washing liquid.

I used the same ingredients as Lucy but varied the method slightly, leaving the liquid to "gel" overnight before decanting it into bottles. Here is my version of the recipe ...

  • Add 1 cup of soap flakes to 1.5 litres of water and heat gently until the soap flakes dissolve.
  • Add 1/2 cup each of borax and washing soda and continue heating gently until they dissolve. (I think at this stage it had thickened a little but not a great deal.)
  • Tip glop into a bucket and add 6 litres of hot water (I used water from the tap, not boiling hot), stirring well after each litre.
  • Leave overnight.
  • By morning it separates out into thick glop and slimy liquid. Stir very well until glop and slime have more or less merged into something that vaguely resembles laundry detergent.
  • Pour into old detergent bottles.
The texture of my liquid is a bit lumpy, but it can still be poured without having to shake the bottle first and hasn't separated out. I think stirring with a hand whisk rather than the old wooden spoon I used would give a more even texture. It took around 15 minutes to make the mixture and then just a few minutes in the morning for stirring and bottling. I bought the soap flakes and washing soda from the supermarket, and the borax from a local hardware store. I love Lucy's idea of adding a scent, but didn't have anything suitable to hand so ours is "fragrance free".

I am still amazed at just how easy, economical and effective this is. Thank you for the tip, Lucy. I would never have thought of it myself.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year

May you all have a happy, healthy and blessed 2008!