Saturday, May 30, 2009

Ahh, Laundry

Laundry is not a chore I look forward to. I have been known to choose my attire for the day directly from the dryer, where the clean clothes may have been sitting for days, just because I've been avoiding the folding and putting away. Now you'll wonder about my outfit the next time you see me. Did I select it from the tidy hangers in the closet, or did I pull it from a ball of rumpled-but-clean laundry and just shake the wrinkles out? I'll never tell.

But there is one thing that I do enjoy about laundry, and that is when I have a free Saturday, skies are clear, the breeze is moderate, and I can hang the laundry out to dry. It's the age-old green thing to do, don't you know.

Today was the first time this year we were able to do it, and now I have fresh-smelling clothes and the sun-pinkened nose to show for it. Since permanent clotheslines are not allowed in our subdivision (unfortunately true in many suburban neighborhoods these days), and there isn't much room for one in our yard anyway, we use a handy, waist-high, foldable drying rack from Ikea (pictured left and below).

Len also set up discreet, semi-permanent bases behind my raspberry bushes for inserting taller, removable poles; whenever we need to, we bring out the poles and string some extra line between them and our fence. I had two loads of laundry out there today. Now that's a crowded yard!

Of course, we make green laundry choices even when we can't dry things outside. We have a front-loading washer, which, as you know, uses less water and less detergent than the top-loading kind. It's also supposed to be gentler on your clothes. (Maybe, but the downside is that it twists all my pants legs together into a heavy pants chain that makes it tricky to extract one pair at a time without pulling out the whole ball of wet clothes.) And, of course, we use the high-efficiency ("he") detergent meant for front-loaders, choosing a dye- and perfume-free variety.

Also, we always wash everything in cold water, unless it is absolutely necessary to bleach the whites, which we very seldom do. Some of you hot-water junkies wouldn't dare wash your bed sheets in cold because you need hot water to kill the dust mites, right? I used to do that too, but no more! I'm no expert, but I've heard two different stories about that: a) the heat from your dryer will kill the mites just as effectively as the washer, or b) the hot setting on your washing machine isn't nearly hot enough to kill dust mites anyway. Whichever is true, I figure there's no reason not to keep the washer set on cold.

If you live somewhere that forbids the use of supposedly ugly permanent clothes lines (I don't think clotheslines are eyesores, but it's the only reason I can imagine they'd be banned by home owners' associations), be bold and get a portable clothes line or set of drying racks for your backyard (or your balcony!), even if you do it for just one load every once in a while. No, it's not as convenient as tossing it all in the dryer, but it's good for your clothes (just turn things inside out if you're worried about fading) and good for the earth. Clothes dryers themselves are not enormous energy hogs, but every little bit counts, and you will notice a decrease in your energy bills—always a plus.

Now for my least favorite part, taking all the clothes down and folding them. At least I get to enjoy the fantastic weather while I work.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

For Realists and Dreamers

For the last few months I've been perusing a book that a friend lent to me: The New Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency: The classic guide for realists and dreamers by John Seymour. Seymour established the School of Self-Sufficiency in Ireland and has written numerous books on living off the land. This particular book is a heavy one, good for decorating the coffee table.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the book is not only for people with five acres and a farmhouse but for anyone, even an apartment dweller, who desires to be more self-sufficient. You could be a full-fledged self-supporter, earning what little money you need by selling your own produce, or you might simply grow your own food and mend your own clothes. Inside the book, you'll find lots of inspiration for any degree of self-sufficiency, with plenty of illustrations to enhance the vast range of interesting topics. To name just a handful:
  • Which garden tools are used for which task
  • Methods of protecting your garden from pests
  • When to plant and harvest each vegetable/fruit and what it's good for
  • To-dos for each season to maintain your year-round self-sufficient lifestyle
  • How to buy, feed, milk, and slaughter a cow (not to mention pigs, goats, sheep, ducks...)
  • Keeping bees
  • Making beer, wine, cider, and vinegar
  • Composting
  • Building your own toilet
  • Drying produce in a solar dryer
  • Baking bread and preserving produce
  • Basketry, pottery, spinning wool
  • Building an all-purpose furnace/oven/water heater
  • The importance of chatting with other self-supporters in the local pub
  • Making the break!
And boy, it sure is tempting to make the break. I occasionally read a blog by someone who did just that and find myself green with envy.

My favorite part of the book, though, is the section on what you can do with however much land you have. These pages describe and even map out what can be done with a five-acre holding (pastures, animals, wheat, an orchard, farm buildings, everything), a one-acre holding (fruit trees, well-organized crops, and, surprisingly, hay and several animals), an allotment in an urban community garden (veggies and berries, making use of poles and strings for vertical growth), or an urban micro-garden (raised beds, more vertical supports—even for apples or plums!—and a beehive). Our yard most closely resembles this micro-garden, and I've taken Seymour's advice to use a combination of ground-level plants, raised beds, and vertically trained plants to maximize the three-dimensional space. Wonder if my neighbors would mind if I added a beehive?

All right, all you dreamers and realists. What kind of self-sufficient things do you dream of? What things do you already do?

Re-posted to linked up with Frugally Sustainable's Blog Hop!  
Also shared at Preparedness Fair #3.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

DIY - Edible Bouquet

You've probably heard of Edible Arrangements, the fruit "florist." They make those tasty bouquets of flower-shaped pineapples, melon balls, grape kabobs, and chocolate-covered strawberries. And they deliver. For this Mother's Day, my sister and I thought an edible fruit bouquet would make a great gift for our mom; she loves fruit, and she loves cutesy, crafty things like a fruit bouquet. But instead of ordering from Edible Arrangements (because it's kind of pricey and because we like projects like this—remember, food is a hobby), we created one ourselves.

It's not hard! My sister's boyfriend is a chef, so he had a handy collection of garnish tools that made it easy to ball the cantaloupe and to give the oranges that sunshine look by scoring the peel before slicing it, but everything else can be done with a paring knife. To make the flower-shaped pieces of cantaloupe, first trace your shape into the melon's flesh by making shallow cuts with the knife. Then cut it out for real. For the orange "blossom" at the bottom of our bouquet, cut a zigzag of wedges around an orange half (you'll see we speared some of the cut-out little wedges on the kabobs).

The strawberries and marshmallows are dipped in a chocolate ganache. Sounds like a fancy word; it's basically chocolate melted with other stuff so it will set when cooled but will remain soft. If you melt some chocolate chips with nothing else mixed in, the chocolate will harden again when cooled, and you'll be crunching through it to get to the fruit. I'd give you the recipe for the ganache we used, but the chef among us just whipped it up, so... I recommend you look up any simple chocolate ganache and start dipping! Or, if you prefer something beyond simple, look for a ganache in white chocolate, chocolate-orange, chocolate-raspberry, almond...

Some tips:

  • Stick your skewers of fruit into a half a head of cabbage. It's sturdy, foodsafe (duh) and biodegradable.
  • Remember to thread your fruit kabobs backwards, starting with whatever piece you want to be at the top of the skewer and sliding each piece up as you pierce it, leaving the pointy side of the skewer down, to be shoved into the cabbage.
  • Dip your chocolate-covered items first and let them set while you work on other pieces.
  • Sometimes the fruit will slide down the skewer, but grapes seem to hold their place, so slide a grape underneath pieces that won't stay put.

My next edible bouquet experiment: veggies!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Some Good News on the Green Front

Today, I'd like to direct your attention to four good news articles—they're not just good articles, they're about good news! Follow the links with me...

First, let's head south to balmy Mississippi, where it's spawning time. My friend's brother is the manger of the North Mississippi Fish Hatchery, which was recently featured on a local news website. He's making the world a better place for fish and fishermen both. To find out how, check out the article and video on the Clarion Ledger's Outdoors page.

Next, we'll visit London for a taste (not literally) of a chocolate-powered car, as reported by Yahoo! Green. This experimental racecar is hoped to be one the fastest biofuel vehicles out there and is even built out of biodegradable parts.

And now, something to mark on your calendar. This weekend is Mother's Day, commonly known in the midwest as the time to begin planting outdoors. The perfect way to start this gardencentric weekend? National Public Gardens Day, of course. Friday, May 8, our nation celebrates and promotes all public gardens, including botanical gardens, arboreta, farm gardens and even zoos. Visit a public garden near you to discover its unique commitment to education, research and environmental stewardship.

Last, but not least, the DIY portion of this news digest. A couple of weeks ago (on Earth Day, as a matter of fact), MSN's Slate posted this great examination of the common question (in our house, anyway): Is it cheaper to buy it or make it? And, in the case of making it, is it worth the trouble? The article does not cover the "duh" items like hamburger buns (make!) or pizza (make!), but instead tested bagels, yogurt, and cream cheese, among other staples. I'll let you read for yourself whether you should be making these things or leaving them to the pros.

Thanks for following along. See? Not all "green news" is about the ice caps melting.

Monday, May 4, 2009

DIY - The Easy Slipcover

I hear the word slipcover and think old ladies' couches, doilies and lace. But that's not the kind of slipcover we're talking about here. This is a simple, no-measuring-required, everyday-casual but nicely fitted slipcover for one cute little round footstool. (You'll want a sewing machine for this—stitching the cover by hand is possible, but it defeats the purpose of this simple project by taking too much time.)
No pattern, no measuring... This is my favorite kind of sewing—easy and improvisational. I'm good at simple curtains and pillowcases, and now I'm venturing into furniture covers. My grandma, on the other hand, has sewn those and a lot more in her lifetime: clothes for us from baby outfits to bridal party attire, a personalized Christmas stocking for every family member, and fantastically detailed Barbie doll clothes. Maybe sewing is in my blood, but I haven't challenged myself yet to more than a skirt—and I "measured" it by wrapping the fabric around myself. And I bought patterns for two cute shirts and a pair of capri pants, but that's as far as I got on those projects...
I know I said this project was no-measuring, but I lied. You may want to measure the circumference (that's around) of the footstool to make sure you cut a long enough piece of fabric. Or not: I eyeballed the length of fabric in the store by wrapping it loosely around myself (seems to be my go-to method) and saying, "Yeah, our ottoman is about this wide." The roll of fabric will probably be wide enough to leave room for the piece to cover the top of the footstool (unless your stool is very bulky), so that's it for measuring!
I should mention that this was my first time working with a stretchy textured fabric (mine has a soft t-shirt feel but is ribbed like corduroy), and I highly recommend it for such a project. It's easier to pull the cover off and on throughout the process, and in the end, it's more conducive to hiding imperfections. Dark, solid colors are also good for the latter.
Now to cut. Simply spread the fabric out on the floor. Set the footstool on its side at one corner of the sheet, leaving about an inch at each edge, and roll it completely over once. You've covered the portion of fabric you need to cut for the sides of the footstool. So cut it. Flip the footstool upside down over the remaining fabric, and cut around it for the top piece. Easy, huh?
To pin these pieces together before sewing, just pin them to the footstool in their appropriate places so they're lined up properly (and make sure the "wrong" side of the fabric—the side that will be inside when the cover is finished—is facing out). Then pin the pieces together by folding the edges up and pinning them so that about an inch of each "right" side is touching. The best way I can describe it is: pretend the seam is a mouth, the folded up edges are lips sticking straight out, and you're clamping the lips shut with pins. Shut up, seam! Goofy, I know.
. . . .
Using a zigzag stitch, sew the top piece to the sides first. It can be a little tricky sewing a curved seam, so go slow, removing pins and pulling the fabric smooth as you go. Just be careful not to stretch the fabric or the shape will be all messed up.
Pull the cover over the stool for a quick check. It's not too late to rip the seams out and start over, but hopefully you won't need to. Then, again with the zigzag, stitch up the straight seam on the side. Flip that puppy right-side-out and pull it onto the stool again. Tug in spots to line the seams up correctly.
OK, last step. The raggedy edge hanging at the bottom of the footstool. You have two choices: elastic band or drawstring. Just flip the footstool upside-down and fold that raggedy edge over one of those two items, pinning the fold in place as you go around. Remove the cover again, and sew up the fold. Careful not to run stitches over the elastic or string—you want it to be able to move inside the fold. Trim any excess. Stretch it back onto the footstool. Done!
For a more decorative touch, fabric glue can secure a ribbon (or, yes, lace) around the cover as a border. It's easiest to do when the cover is on the footstool. Just put some newspaper under the cover so you don't glue it to the footstool.
I wish you good luck in all your improvisational sewing projects (and in your traditional, more professional-method projects, too). I'd love to hear what you've finished—or left unfinished—lately!

Shared on: How To Tuesday