Category Archives: Housekeeping

The Day I Set Myself on Fire and Other Kitchen Fire Stories

The cutie pie that prompted the flour mess which kept me cleaning in the kitchen and not in another room while our stove fire started! Thank goodness for messes!

You know how they say things come in threes?  Well, this week I finally added a third kitchen fire to my list of accomplishments.

Yes, you heard me right.  I’ve started three kitchen fires in my “quasi” adult life.  And I’m not a professional cook.

I know that fire is a serious thing.  I was a Girl Scout and often assigned the job of “woodie” as a camper.  (Stop snickering, you dirty minded readers.  A woodie is someone who gathers fire wood, starts the fires, maintains the fire-water bucket complete with stick so small critters can escape, and most importantly, cleans the latrines…)

I also know that there are many people who have been victims of fires in their life and who have had their person or property damaged by fire.  My heart goes out to those folks, and I would never treat those types of situations lightly.  But humor in life helps assuage tragedy and so I share my own rather ridiculous fire related stories with thankfulness as a way to laugh at my perpetual mishaps.

The first fire-related incident took place over Thanksgiving many years ago.  I was about 16 or 17 at the time and was helping my mother set the table for dinner.  Reaching over a candle, with what I thought was enough clearance, I set an item down for the place setting, then wondered aloud, “What is that smell?  Is something (meaning food) burning?”

The response my parents gave me was not what I expected.  Out of what seemed like nowhere, they threw me on the ground and started beating at me.  Apparently, I was on fire.  Smelling the singed ends of my hair afterwards, I realized that the sleeves of my 80’s style polyester sweater had just grazed the candle, allowing flame to travel up my arm to the tips of my hair.  Remarkably, aside from my hair and my pride, there was no damage.  The sweater had some crazy chemical layer that had burned off; not a mark remained.  My family loves to recall this event, dredging it up when I set the table near an open flame or reminiscing fondly over turkey about the time I caught myself on fire.

It was probably about 12 years later, in a townhouse apartment that I shared with my husband, that I started my next kitchen fire.  Absentmindedly preparing a BLT dinner, I had wandered into our dining/living area when I heard a loud bang in the kitchen and ran in to see open flames on the stove.  I had set a dinner plate on a hot burner and it had heated and shattered, setting the bacon greased towel and bacon pieces that it contained aflame. I seem to remember my husband dealing with this particular incident as I reacted hysterically.  Amazingly, once I catch things afire in the kitchen, I mentally block the aftermath.

Not quite 5 years later, (though I am averaging one fire per decade of my life so far) this week, I completed the cursed trio of kitchen fires.  Having a productive morning of baking three batches of zucchini bread with my daughter, making homemade smoothies and lemonade, cutting up the week’s fruit produce for easy eating, doing multiple loads of dishes, and cleaning up my daughter V’s flour sensory play, I popped some boxed mac & cheese on the stovetop for lunch.

While the water boiled, I busily vacuumed the flour mess off of my daughter’s booster seat and argued with her over the use of the vacuum only to have my senses send me a warning message as I said “What’s that smell?”  I turned around to find the cardboard mac & cheese box tipped into the gas flame burner and burning at an alarmingly quick rate.  I gasped, grabbed the box, threw it in the sink to douse with water, then opened all the windows and turned on fans to dissipate the smoke.

V was all in a dither.  “What’s the problem Mommy!”  “What’s on fire?”  “Come here Mommy, I show you where the fire lives.”  (Note to self:  fire belongs in the fireplace.  Even a two year old knows that…stupid, STUPID Mommy!)  Apparently, “you light a fire, you have a little picnic, then you blow it all out.”  That’s what you are SUPPOSED to do with fire.

Lesson learned, V.

Evidently, I have a problem in the kitchen.  Or I am cursed.  Hopefully, with the culmination of my third fire experience, I’ll be a little more aware and a little less distracted in the kitchen.  But with each mishap, I have to admit the dreamy, crazy multitasking aspects of my nature haven’t much changed.  Perhaps my husband should kick me out of the kitchen as a potential hazard to people and property.  Here’s hoping.

I hope you enjoyed a laugh with me today, but seriously, if you don’t have a kitchen fire extinguisher on hand, and you plan to invite me over…you are taking your chances.  Get a fire extinguisher, check the batteries and operation of your smoke detectors, and stay alert while cooking.  I’ve learned these lessons firsthand and thankfully, I’m here to share them with you today!

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It MIGHT Be Easy To Be Green…To Clean Green That Is!

"Green Babies Rule!"

In the spirit of continued green living, I hope to share a series of posts about my efforts to make our household more Earth-friendly.  Please note I’m not an expert in this area, just an average housekeeper and mother trying to change up some things; if you have recommendations or information to share; please feel free in the comment section.  Learning is the important focus here!

When we had V, we started babyproofing, and while babyproofing, I became concerned with all the toxic chemicals that were present in our home.  From makeup, to medicines, to cleaners, they were everywhere.  After happening upon a copy of Green Babies, Sage Moms, I learned that many of the household products we use are not only dangerous because of possible ingestion, but also that many of the ingredients and fragrances contained in these products are inherently toxic, linked to cancers, asthma, and neurological disorders.  I hope to post on the topic of health care products soon, as we made some major changes in that area, but this post will focus on the changed cleaning routines we implemented.  After reading this book, I went through a massive sweep of our house, discarding any cleaner or personal product that could be replaced by a healthier, more Earth-friendly alternative.  For me, protecting the Earth goes hand in hand with protecting my family; when I do the latter, I’m often choosing the healthier alternative for the former.

You can find many green cleaning options if you do a little research.  I chose to replace our cleaners with some simple alternatives that I use for almost every cleaning job in the house:  white distilled vinegar and baking soda, neither of which is toxic to small children.  I also tore up old shirts which I use along with cloth diapers as cleaning rags; I wash these and reuse. I’ve eliminated massive use of paper towels and Clorox wipes by reusing rags and cloths, though I probably wash a load or two of cleaning rags per week.  A tip is to squeeze water out of cleaning rags and let them dry over the edge of a plastic clothes basket before putting in the basket, so you don’t end up with a wet, molding mess until you accumulate enough rags for a load.    For the kitchen, instead of germ infested sponges, I primarily use brushes that can be thrown in the dishwasher to clean, and dishcloths that I wash and reuse.  I do own a kitchen sponge, but only for the tough jobs that require some vigorous scrubbing.  A note for either dishcloth and sponge users: wash your cloths out, do not let them sit saturated with dirty water, balled up and festering in the sink or soaking in a dirty dishpan (man, that skeeves me out and I see so many people doing this!)  Also, use a rag per job; do not use your toilet rag to then wipe the countertops, or vice-versa.  One area, one rag is my rule for minimizing the spread of germs.  Start from cleanest area (top of toilet tank, toilet seat) and work to dirtiest (behind the seat, around the rim under the lid).

For toilets:  I sprinkle baking soda then spray with a 50-50 percent vinegar-water solution that I keep in a spray bottle.  I let it sit and froth and bubble, then scrub.  I disinfect the seat and outside of the toilet with the vinegar spray and a rag which I wash and reuse.  Do not premix the baking soda and vinegar solution.  Apply them separately immediately before use.

For showers, tubs, and stainless steel kitchen sinks:  I use baking soda and spray vinegar here as well.  For mold or mildew problems, you can use “Natural Enzyme Based” Earthworm Mold and Mildew Treatment.

For countertops:  Vinegar will stain marble countertops.  I use Seventh Generation Disinfecting Multi-Surface cleaner with an active ingredient of Thymol (from Thyme oil).  I also use hot soapy water on a clean rag.  Remember, if your rag is dirty, you are spreading germs.  Frequently change out your rags and dishcloths.

For dishes:  For handwashing, I use Ultra-Palmolive Pure and Clear which has no dyes or fragrances or Baby-Ganics’ Dish Dazzler.  Incidentally, Baby-Ganics makes a great line of cleaning products that are “naturally non-toxic” and great to use around children.  I’m still on the lookout for a good dishwasher soap; I find that some of the less toxic choices leave a film on my dishes.  Any suggestions?

For stinking kitchen sink drains, you can use lemon juice.  I also grind up old orange or lemon peels in my dish disposal to clean out the scent.  Citrus oils are good natural cleaners, and I know there are some products that are citrus based, though I haven’t used them.

For laundry:  I use a few products:  Allen’s Biodegradable Liquid Laundry Detergent, which is fragrance free, gentle, and recommended for washing cloth diapers, Ecos (without fragrance), and a good old fashioned cup of baking soda.  I have read that you can use baking soda alone, 1 cup per load, and that will be sufficient.  We tried this for a while, and our clothes were clean, but I’m struggling to let go of the concept of detergent for ultra dirty toddler wear.  Try it out and see what you think!

For floors:  We have really old, stick-sheet linoleum floors, but they are easy enough to clean.  For a while, I was hand-washing using aforementioned Palmolive dish soap and a bucket of hot water, but I found a new gadget that makes my life SOOO much easier in between serious de-griming efforts.  It is the Rubbermaid Reveal push mop.  It has a canister you can fill with your own cleaner (I use vinegar) and a washable, reusable pad (goodbye, fume-filled, wasteful, Swiffer mop).  This is great for every day touchups and quick mopping.  Nothing beats the hands-knees-rags clean, but this will eliminate most of the spills and splatters that come along with kids and cooking in the kitchen.  Also, for rubbing shoe scuff marks off of the floor, besides the old tennis ball trick, you can use an old ripped up sport sock and rub the spot right off without any cleaner.

Dusting and polishing: There is a good recipe in the Green Babies, Sage Moms book for a furniture polish made from vegetable or olive oil and lemon juice.  I’ve made it and used it; the only issue is it doesn’t keep well, so only make enough for that use.  I tend to use damp cloths for dusting, which I wash after use.

For windows and mirrors:  I use a 50-50 percent vinegar-water solution in a spray bottle, a dry rag, and a decent amount of elbow grease.  You can also use old newspaper and vinegar as well for a streak-free shine, but elbow grease is the key!  This same solution is also great for faucets and showerheads.

Some other cleaning products that I’ve heard about:  Borax and Castile Soap.  I plan to look into these options and do a little more research about how and whether to use them.

My non-green cheat:  Clorox or Lysol wipes for those truly gross jobs.  I am working to deprogram myself from thinking that disinfecting means using harsh chemicals, but for cleaning up chicken goo on the counter, or really funky toilet messes (I have a potty training two year old), I sometimes cheat and use a disinfecting wipe.  This is my cleaning weakness, and I am proud to say that I have significantly reduced my reliance on these products since I’ve started my new regimen.

Overall, the cleaning switch has been great for our budget too.  Reusing rags instead of Clorox wipes and paper towels for cleaning is a huge savings.  Purchasing gallons of vinegar and bags of baking soda (you can get huge bags at Costco) saves both on packaging and also on expensive cleaning products.  I still use some of the premixed cleaners, but less frequently, so our expenses are reduced.  Going green (or greener) is a win-win-win for my family, my home, and our budget!  What are some of your green cleaning tricks?  I’m always interested to learn more!

References:

Green Babies, Sage Moms:  The Ultimate Guide to Raising Your Organic Baby by Lynda Fassa, http://www.greenbabies.com/gbsm.html

How Clean Is Your House by Aggie MacKenzie and Kim Woodburn

(While they aren’t strictly about green cleaning; they do have some tried and traditional tips for house cleaning that rely upon less toxic and more environmentally friendly methods.  Just don’t let their exacting standards stop you in your tracks; those of us with small children aren’t likely to achieve their level of sparkle and shine!)

 Healthy Child.Org :  This blog was a new find in doing some research for my post; I’m so excited to find it!

Disclaimer:  Um, none!  I would love to have some of these companies pay me to advertise products I believe in, but, it isn’t happening yet, so be assured, these are my own preferences and I’ve received no money to push them on you.


Accomplishing Housework with a Toddler and Teaching Them How to Help

Ways to Complete Housework with a Toddler and Teach them how to Help:

I’m a neat freak, but I don’t want to sacrifice time with my daughter for a tidy house.  At two, she is at the age where she wants to imitate mommy and do everything I do, so it is easy to involve her in household tasks. In the mornings, we talk about the plan for the day: where we will go, what jobs I need to accomplish, what things she might want to help with, what fun things she wants to do together that day.  I find that having a plan helps her know what to anticipate. I want to teach my daughter to be helpful and involved with the work of the family. We also have an overall routine for the week with some days more focused on play and some more task-oriented days (for example, we have what we call Working Wednesdays!).   We make things fun by listening to music, singing songs together, and she is free to participate for the length of time she is interested (which can be surprisingly long!).  By using creative strategies, I find I am able to spend time alongside my daughter while we work, freeing me up for time to play together.   She also learns about household duties and chores in a developmentally appropriate way.  With adequate time-ins for play mixed in, we can often have a productive day together. Here are some of the ways we clean together:

-Setting the table:  Toddlers can take some items to the table and learn to place them properly.  Forks, napkins, any plastic or unbreakable dishware are all items they can help with.  They can bring tubs of butter, loaves of bread, condiments.  This is a good way to get some extra hands carrying to the table and they feel like big kids for being allowed to help, rather than brushed aside in the pre-dinner preparations.

-Washing the kitchen table:  after dinnertime, have your child bring his/her plate to the sink/dishwasher for clean up.  Give them a soapy rag and towel and let them wipe off the table while you load the dishes.  Reward with a bedtime story with the extra time you have.

-Washing dishes:  While I do dishes, I fill a little dishpan with gentle Palmolive Dish Soap and give my daughter a dish cloth.  She fills the pan with her play dishes and they get a cleaning while I get my work done.  Make sure to put down towels and do this in a tiled area only.  Teach your child to crawl rather than walk on wet floors so they don’t take a spill.

-Unloading the dishwasher:  I give my daughter a towel and let her dry any plastic items or pots/pans.  She knows the appropriate cupboards for many items, and proudly puts away pans and colanders and her little toddler spoons.

-Dusting:  I give my daughter a damp cloth and let her help alongside me when we dust.  I give her simple areas to dust (rocking chairs, sides of dressers) that do not require she moves lamps or knickknacks.

-Sweeping and vacuuming:  My daughter LOVES to do both.  We take turns and I multitask during her turns by folding laundry or wiping counters.

-Washing the floor:  Use a gentle cleaner like Palmolive Dish Soap and warm (not hot) water.  Get some old rags and towels and let your toddler scrub with you.  A tip for safety:  have them walk not crawl, so they don’t slip and fall.  Also, you can have them wear swim diapers and t-shirts for easy clean up.  I usually have my daughter help me, then give her a warm bath afterwards!

-Folding laundry:  V loves to help by shaking out the laundry and bunching it into a semi-fold.  I refold when she can’t see because I don’t want to discourage her effortsJ  In the meantime though, I’m able to fold several stacks while she works on an item or two.  She also likes to help carry laundry to the washer and dryer, load the dryer with clothes that I hand her, and push the start button.

-Taking trash:  My daughter loves to take little trash bags from the bathrooms to the back door for me to run to our trash can in the garage.  The other day, without asking, she took the little plastic grocery bags from the kitchen after we unloaded groceries and put them in the bathroom for us to use in the bathroom trash cans.  I was so proud of my little helper’s initiative, I made sure to heap a bunch of praise on her for her thoughtfulness.

-Tidying the playroom:  This is probably my biggest area of struggle.   I don’t mind kid litter, as long as it’s in the playroom and we can walk through it.  When we start tripping through the room, or stuff migrates to other areas of the house (we have an open floor plan where the playroom connects to the dining and living rooms), it can sometimes bug me.   My husband encourages V to pick up her toys before she moves onto the next project, and I’m trying to be consistent with his initiative.  Minimally, we have a couple of sweeps of the playroom per day and we work together to return toys to their homes.  Then, we usually follow up with a time-in of some sort (like reading or playing puzzles or games together).

-Feeding and caring for pets:  We have a lop-eared bunny rabbit, Carmen.  V helps with Carmen by feeding her hay, greens, carrots, and timothy hay pellets.  I take care of litter and cage changes while she sweeps the extra hay around the cage with a little dustpan. She also helps brush Carmen’s fur.  Recently, she has become so excited to give Carmen a little peanut treat from her hand!

-Seasonally, we also enjoy gardening and raking leaves together.  V enjoys sweeping the garage and sidewalk and makes quite a cute impression pushing the giant push broom around with her little self.

Finding ways to make work fun and sharing it together teaches your child how to balance work with play from a young age.  It teaches the time and effort required to complete housework and hopefully builds a sense of responsibility and appreciation.  As she matures, we will talk with V about what household duties she would like to share, what roles we hope she will assume, and work out ways to involve her in household decisions and rewards that best befits her age and maturity.  We share work and we share play in our home.  One tradition I hope to always share, is completing tasks together; even the most mundane tasks, when accomplished  with someone you love, can become rituals to look forward to as conversation, music, and time are shared.


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