Friday, February 25, 2011

Put your phosphates back in your dish detergent

Have you ever noticed that every time something gets environmental attention, my life gets less convenient in that area?

Low flow toilets don't flush. Curly-cue light bulbs break and turn into toxic waste. Recycling makes garbage day disgusting and complicated. And let's not even get in to my city's mayor and his bicycle fetish.

So when my dishes stopped coming out clean, I should have suspected some green do-gooder at work. But I did not. I started supplementing with my various cleaning tonics. Nothing was helping.

Side note: one thing that will restore the shine to your glasses is a cup of bleach (stop before drying) and then a cup of amonia (run the whole cycle). They will take my bleach from my cold dead hands.

Anyhow, it turns out that someone got the idea to take away phosphates. Thanks guys. David Suzuki, the perpetually irritating, has a variety of ineffective solutions.

But I'm not David Suzuki. I want my phosphates back.

Cue trip to the hardware store.

Ahhh, that's the stuff.

Your previous dishwashing detergent had about 9% phosphate. Now it's 0.5%. I add about a tbsp per cup of Cascade dish detergent. Don't use too much; it's not good for your metal.

Ahhhhh. Clean dishes at last.

Saturday, February 19, 2011


Dear Internet,

I'm sorry I haven't updated this week. I didn't update because I was sealing my grout. Because I didn't seal my rount when the grout was new, I first needed to scrub the grout. This was rather a more intensive proposition than it had at first appeared. I have an awful lot of tile in my kitchen.

If any of my kids turn out 'funny,' it is probably because of the smell of the sealant, which really permeates the house afterwards.

In the meantime, Munchkin has started Kumon. They don't give me money for talking about it, fyi. Kumon is basically "doing sums," all that really boring drill that seems to have gone out of fashion. Since Munchkin is not in formal school, I figured the sooner the better. After all, it's better to start this stuff when they're too little to fight as hard.

Kumon involves an interview and a placement test. The lady ascertained that my brother and I both did Kumon as children. She asked what we did now, and I replied that I had become a lawyer and he an anccountant.

When Munchkin attended at the centre, the franchise owner pulled over her head teacher to gush, "Munchkin's uncle did Kumon, and hes an accountant!"

Nevermine me, and my law school going chopped liver self! At least I produced another generation for Kumon.

Kumon produced a few workbooks. This means that people now say that they are "doing Kumon" when they are working through the books. This is not "doing Kumon." Kumon is not a body of knowledge; they did not discover nor invention arithmetic. Kumon is a system, a deadening, miserable system that will have you saying your timestables in your sleep at age 27.

Except my daughter doesn't know this. She thinks that doing twenty minutes of math a day is great fun, that going to the centre is an excellent opportunity to obtain stickers and that the whole business is a fantastic idea. Yay! Math!

Genome even tries to do the little counting exercises. He gets a touch too enthusiastic, though. When he's done counting, he throws both arms into the air and says "yay!"

"Un, Ooo, Free, YAY!"

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

I hate Everett Bogue

Sometimes a zeitgeist is at work (a movement of the age) and I don't even notice. Actually, this happens a lot. It happens a lot because I've turned into that parental dottering type, wherein I remind myself as my mother and think that the music I grew up with is still "cool." Though even when it was cool, my age group's music sucked. Backstreet Boys anyone?

Anyhow, minimalism is one of those movements. Apparently all over this fine land, people are sitting about counting the number of things they own and trying to get under a hundred. By doing this, people in the third world will have bread to eat. Vegan bread. Or something.

A fun game can be had examining just what these lists exclude: most have no mention of cleaning supplies (12 bottles Dawn detergent, 2 boxes borax, 1 half-full jug vinegar, 1 large bottle bleach, 3 boxes baking soda, 1 box washing soda, 2 boxes cascade powdered dish detergent, 1 tin powdered alum, 2 bottles ammonia, 12 bars Ivory soap, 2 bars sunlight soap, rags, kitchen clothes, flannels, old diapers). They often include a brush, but few other personal hygiene items. They don't include cooking utensils. They don't include food items. Basically, the you can be minimalist as long as your possessions are not in the form of books (you should use a Kindle!), CDs (keep them on your hard drive!), clothes (you can have some, but not more than about 50 pieces, so try to keep your activities limited to things you can wear sweatpants to), or cars (strictly verboten, and we should all live in NYC).

Mr. Bogue, an early adopter and chronic self-absorbed jerk who blogs at Beyond the Stars, sums up the movement he helped midwife thusly:

"Minimalism can be reduced to a simple sentence:

"When you throw out all of you stuff, you free yourself to do anything.""

What a fascinating idea! Let's see how that would work.

If I threw out all my stuff, my baby would have no diapers, and he would pee on the floor. And I would have no rag to wipe it up.

(brief break as I realise baby actually has removed said diaper. Okay, back now.)

Therein lies the heart of the matter. Because what prevents me from being able to do anything is not my stuff. What prevents me from doing anything are my obligations, which are not to stuff but rather to people. I have three small children and a husband. I have a disabled mother and an aging father-in-law, a widow and a widower. I have a brother. I have a synagogue full of people. It isn't my three identical cast iron skillets nor my stockpiled bottles of Dawn that are keeping me from running off to Indonesia today. It's the people I need to cook dinner for and the dishes that need to be cleaned that are.

What Mr. Bogue actually describes is an extreme form of selfishness. He needs nothing because he does nothing for anyone, except that which he wants to do. Hardly an innovative way of life for someone in his mid-twenties (as I am), but hardly something to emulate either.

Most strikingly, I would not want to empty it because to me, his life seems empty not only of things but of purpose. My obligations shape and give meaning to my life. The objects of my life make me happy (in a general sense -- not every minute) because I enjoy fulfilling most of my obligations, and I enjoy the tools I use to do it. They remind me of my purpose. This life, domestic in the broad sense and not unusual, is meaningful and purposeful and fulfilling for much of the world. That seems to be something beyond Mr. Bogue and his ilk's comprehension.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Deeply uncool

Last week we ended up with a cluster of little girls at our house, all Munchkin's age. As girls will do, they all dressed up as princesses. They came out to the living room, which had been designated "The Princess Ball." I noted that Cinderella was missing. As mothers of girls know, where one girl is missing, odds are good that one girl is crying. I went in search of her.

I found her borrowing my two-year-old son's dagger. I asked her what she was up to. She said, "I'm bringing a knife to the princess ball."

Those Princesses hang in a rough neighbourhood.

Munchkin asked why her friend (not the dagger child) had, many months ago, wronger her in some way. I said, maybe she was having a bad day. Munchkin sasked, what's a bad day?

As it happened, the next day was a bad day. So now I can answer.

A bad day is when your two-year-old gets into your flour and treads it all over your house. Worse, all over your mother's house. She's unimpressed. Then her small dog eats the flour you're trying to sweep up. Then the small dog vomits into the flour. Then the two-year-old tracks through the flour-and-vomit mixture and spreads _that_ all over the main floor.

Then your husband calls and when you relate the story, he can't stop laughing.

Then that night you learn that garbarators do not like shot glasses.

Right now all three children have respitory colds. This has hit the baby the hardest. Babies are born as obligate nose breathers. This means that if their nose is stuffed, they become very unhappy and slightly panicked. He's also sprouted two new teeth. He is seriously crabby.