Elegant Survival Household Tips

New Additions, November 29th, 2007:
Microwave Safety
Always cook with glass dishes when using a microwave oven. Even if your crockery was made after the lead-poisoning alert, it could still be produced by a manufacturer whose products have slipped past the inspections/standards process. Pyrex and Corningware are safe, as are inexpensive glass dishes and cups made by Arcoroc of France. I have one glass mug in which I reheat my coffee.
Speaking of Coffee…
I’ve found that Douwe Egberts is my favourite brand of coffee in Europe, and I am also very fond of their Senseo pods which are used in the eponymous brewing system. I liked it so well that I bought them for two of my friends. However, the pods can be punitively expensive if one wants to have five or six cups a day of Senseo coffee. In my Utopian vision of a perfect world, that is what I would do. But, I’m loath to be so self-indulgent, and only use the Senseo brewer when I have guests. For daily coffee in the U.S., I recommend Yuban. You can purchase a two-and-a quarter pound can of Yuban Original Colombian Coffee for about $5.00 US. It smells heavenly–even more so than Chock-Full-O’Nuts in New York claims to do. I like to percolate it in a stainless steel coffee pot. It tastes wonderful, for those who don’t like their coffee beans blackened beyond recognition Starbucks-style. Speaking of coffees available in the U.S.A., I subscribed to Gevalia Swedish coffees for twelve years until I sensed that their quality had gone down–that was just before I discovered the Senseo system. If you use powdered, non-dairy creamers, avoid Coffee-Mate. It contains aluminum (see my health section). Brands that don’t are offered at Sam’s and Wal*Mart; anywhere else, you only have to read the ingredients and see that your choice doesn’t include aluminates (popular flow-agents) of any kind.
Thursday, August 23, 2007

Ironing a Man’s Shirt
My Swedish grandmother taught me how to iron men’s shirts. Like Scandinavians of all social strata, she adored being at the ironing board. I don’t know how other people do it, but here is our system:
Flattening and folding the yoke (found under the collar at the back of shirt) at its bottom seam, iron it. You can iron-out the resultant crease later, when ironing the whole of the back.Iron the underside of the collar, then its topside, then iron a crease at the seam where it meets the shirt.
Iron the insides and outsides of the cuffs, before doing the two sleeves. Then you are ready to execute the easy parts: the two front sides and the back.
Hint: keep a spray bottle of water nearby to mist the shirt’s stubborn wrinkles, even if you have a steam iron. Spraying with water is generally safer than using the shot-of-steam feature on your iron. If do you use steam, empty the iron, refill it, and test-run for rusty water which can be difficult to remove once it is on the shirt. Do not use the highest temperature setting: crispy brown edges are for tortes, not chemises!
Besides the great feeling of accomplishment one gets finishing each shirt, it saves money which one may have spent having a cleaning outfit doing the work. There is dignity in ironing; don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise.
UPDATE: The very best iron that I have ever owned is this one from Panasonic. I have owned irons from Germany that cost three times as much, and each one ruined my silk clothes by dripping on them. This one is totally reliable, and costs about $30.00 US. I choose the the Japanese over the Germans here, and if given the same choice in cars, I would do the same.
Washing Your Shirts
Your shirts will last much longer if they are washed by hand and hung to dry. Don’t use so much detergent that it takes a rinsing marathon to remove it. “A little dab’ll do ya”, as the old Brylcreem jingle said. Wet the grimy, sweaty and stained spots and rub them with a bar of Zote Soap (in the absence of Zote, a bar of Octagon will do). Soak them overnight in a small tub of water, then agitate and rinse by hand, preferably. Hang to dry. If you don’t want to get hanger-marks on the shoulders, just put wash-cloths under them, over the ends of your hanger. My husband has been treating his shirts this way for decades, and some of them have lasted for twenty years. The worst thing to do, even if you wash your shirts in cold water in the gentle cycle, is to dry them in a machine–doing so will quickly degrade your shirt’s fibers. You’d be surprised at how swiftly they dry naturally, and when they are just a wee bit damp, shirts are easy to iron. Sending your expensive or custom-made shirts to the cleaners may seem luxurious, but will sound an early death-knell for them. Getting up-close and personal with your shirts will ensure that they enjoy the good, long life that their maker intended.
~~Copyright M-J de Mesterton; August, 2007

Because Swiffer-type cloths are expensive, and not re-usable after a certain point, I now use large microfiber cloths for dusting furniture and floors. They pick up just as much dust and hair as the aforementioned product. Large microfiber cloths are available in bulk at Sam’s Club, in blue, yellow, chartreuse and orange. At our last purchase, they were 15 USD for 25 of them. They’re soft and washable. Here is what I devised today for dusting floors and cars–it leaves those disposable electrostatic gadgets in the dust:

M-Jeanne’s Home-Made Microfiber Dust-Mop

Take three large microfiber cloths and lay them on top of each other, at varying angles. Center your stack of cloths over the end of an old broom/mop stick, and then, a couple of inches from the end of stick, strap them on with a tightly-pulled, heavy-duty plastic cinch (available at Sam’s and office-supply stores–alternatively, you may use a rubber band). Invert this and run it around your floor, under furniture, or over your car. Clean the mop by shaking it outdoors. You could even use a lint-brush on the cloth, then when you have enough dirty ones, wash them together in the machine. Repeat construction process after they are dry, using a fresh cinch (I use multipurpose ties/cinchos by Thomas Betts). Attach the Cloths to the Broomstick; Invert and Use Dust-Mop

Microfibre Dust-Mop and Photos Copyright M-J de Mesterton 2007

Update: I have found that a microfibre rag will adhere to a sponge-mop. Tie the ends and you will be ready to clean and polish a smooth floor with very little moisture. Fill a one-litre spray bottle with water, leaving room to add a third-cup of white vinegar and one teaspoon of lavender oil. Shake it. This is my preferred cleaning fluid. Mist the floor with it, and go over it with the dry microfibre mop until it is dry and shiny. This cleaning mist can be used on sinks and fixtures, mirrors, microwave ovens, jugs, anything that needs cleaning and shining about the house. It is also a deodorant. The scent of the lavender overpowers that of the vinegar. Careful–this method of cleaning is so easy that you may be cleaning as a hobby if you don’t temper your enthusiasm!

M-J’s Miscellaneous Hints

Keep newly-polished silver free of tarnish by storing it with a piece of aluminum foil (one of the safer uses for aluminum).

Omit the fabric-softener when washing and drying towels. It leaves a coating which reduces their absorbency. I prefer a sun-dried white cotton towel, which is excellent for an invigorating rub. Lightweight cotton towels for the kitchen and bath can all be washed in a solution of detergent and a little bleach. They dry much faster than coloured velour ones, and lend a look of sparkling cleanliness. Lightweight, white cotton towels may be bought in bulk at wholesale stores like Sam’s Club in the U.S.

To keep rarely-used garlic fresh, peel it and store it in a jar in the freezer.

Use salt in your wash-water to help remove stains.

To rid old books of odors, dust the pages with talcum powder, and let them sit for a day. Brush out the powder.

To make cake rise higher, add a half-teaspoon of white vinegar to the batter.

Use old-fashioned wooden clothespins to close bread and chip-bags. They’re cute, easier to manipulate than twist-ties, and are cheaper than chip-clips.

To remove red and burgundy wines from tablecloths after dinner parties, wash them immediately afterwards in the machine, with the laundry detergent of your choice, in hot water with the addition of a half-cup of white vinegar and perhaps some table salt. This routine has always worked for me.

Conserving Candle Wax
I have noticed a jump in candle-prices. Many candles are unusable before their wax disappears. Then, you may have a considerable amount of unused candle wax which could go to waste. I save old candle wax, scented or plain, and when I have enough of it, I melt it in an old pan and pour it into a container into which I have put a standing wick. Then I have a new candle. The wicks can be purchased at crafts stores.
Keep defunct candles in a plastic bag until you have enough to melt. A plain metal pot is best, and I recommend melting wax together from similarly colored candles. Shown are stubs from beeswax tapers and a yellow pillar candle. Old wicks and metal anchors for them are not a problem; just use a metal ladle to transfer hot wax, omitting the debris. Caution: don’t melt used candles in a microwave oven–there will likely be a metal wick or anchor in it.