Monday, September 29, 2008

I'm on holiday!

Thanks for stopping by! I am on holiday as of now until next Monday.

Tomorrow morning at a ridiculous hour we are off to South Africa, with our doggie going on his own little holiday at some nice posh kennels in the UK. I'm visiting my family, and being a bridesmaid to one of my great friends - busy, busy, busy! I'll catch up with all of you soon!

Oh, and thanks to Debbie for my SMILE award, and to Melmel for my SUPER COMMENTER award! Two awards in one go - thanks ladies! I'll have to think about who I should pass these onto while I'm away.


Sunday, September 28, 2008

Cleaning the stairs

Most homes in the UK have a staircase, homes on one level are called a bungalow. I love stairs, don't ask me why, but I just love the look of stairs in a house. I especially like painted banisters with curly ends, and wonky staircases that twist and turn.

Stairs however are a bit of a pain to keep clean. It's not like a flat room where you can easily and smoothly push a broom or vacuum cleaner around, oh no, I'm afraid they have to be tackled one by one. So I thought I'd share some tips with you regarding stair cleaning, many of which I learned from the TV series and book by Anthea Turner... thanks Anthea!

To clean stairs always start from the top and work your way down. Whether you have carpeted/tiled or wooden stairs, you can use a small handheld broom to sweep the dirt from the top step down to the bottom step. However, if you've had some muddy boots climbing your stairs, use a dust pan to catch the dirt off each stair - you don't want to work the dirt into each step by letting it travel down the staircase!

Here is my step by step guide to cleaning stairs. Bear in mind this is for carpeted stairs, but if you don't have carpeted stairs, simply skip the bit with the glove and instead use a mop - see my post on cleaning hard floors here. I also have to warn you that our stairs are quite dirty because we have had the carpenter in to put up new doors, but I'm sure you don't mind (do you?).

You'll need:
Duster/dusting cloth/ old sock
A vacuum cleaner
Rubber glove
bucket/bowl of water
small hand broom

Step 1:

Use a duster or a dusting cloth to dust between all the banisters. An old sock is great if you slip it over your hand and use it to polish upright posts clean.

step 2:
You can use a short hand broom to sweep down some of the dirt, but the best way to really get the dirt out of the corners where the carpet meets use a rubber glove that you dip into bucket and shake off any excess water.

step 3:
Use small sweeping movements to lift the dirt from the corners with your gloved fingers. You should see the dirt on the glove.

step 4:

Sip the glove back into the water to remove the dirt from the glove, continue this down the stairs. Yuk! Look at that mucky water.

step 5:

Vacuum the stairs. If you have an upright vacuum, consider buying an extension hose if your vacuum cleaner is heavy. I know from experience that it can be quite tricky to balance a vacuum on the stairs while using an attachment. Have the vacuum cleaner lower down to the step where you are working and start from at the top step vacuuming the back of the step. Then move onto the tread. Use the small nozzle to vacuum the corners and sides.

Once you reach the bottom step, you should have a sparkling set of stairs! Now remember to tell everyone to remove their shoes before they go on the stairs and you'll avoid having to do that too often. Carpeted stairs should be vacuumed every three days, but once a week will suffice if you have a no shoes policy. Also, remember to add your favourite essential oil on a cotton wool ball to your vacuum bag for a lovely smelling home!

I'm off to pack my suitcase now. We are going to visit my family in South Africa (and I'm also going to be a bridesmaid for my friend's wedding!). It's only a short visit, but with an 11 hour flight just to get us there. I'll be back in a week's time next Monday and I'll make sure to catch up with all of your blogs as fast as I can! Have a wonderful week.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Some history behind whitening laundry

Thanks to Lorilee from Cackleberry Cottage who left me a comment on my last post asking if I've come across the fact that Victorians laid their laundry on the grass to bleach? Well Lorilee, you really sparked an interest there, and I've discovered a whole world of the history of bleaching linens. I'm not at all a history boffin, but I found some rather interesting facts and thought you might like to learn about it too. So take a quick journey through time with me, and then thank your lucky stars we have the Internet for tips and washing machines at our disposal.
Oh, and for those of you who are wondering about my 'cleaning the stairs' post, I am working on it and will be posting it sometime this weekend.

The history of bleaching

So it turns out that human have been whitening fabrics for centuries and as early as 300 BC soda ash was made from seaweed to whiten cloth.

In the 1800's sunlight was used to bleach whites, and this was in fact done, as Lorilee suggested, by spreading the fabrics on a grass area. They even set aside some land specifically for this purpose - sometimes this would be communal land, or on the private lands of large properties. But before the household linens were spread out on the grass they would be soaked in lye at intervals, rinsed and dried. This was a lengthy process called crofting, and was tedious especially for fabric mills where large areas of land that could have been used for farming had to be used. Of course, you didn't necessarily have to use grass, hedges could also be used, and for great smelling laundry lavender fields worked a treat as well as acting as a deterrent for bed bugs.

Lye soap itself is an interesting concoction! Lye soap was made from animal fat mixed with water that had run through the ashes from a fire. Some people even burned specific kinds of plants to get the best possible lye. But lye also refers to a different type of detergent made for washing. Chamber Lye for instance was made from urine collected from chamber pots and the lengthy process of soaking and washing laundry with chamber lye was called 'bucking'. Eugh! Can you imagine?

In Victorian times, there was also the tradition of washdays being on Mondays so that all items could be washed, dried and pressed by Sundays. But in big households washing would only be done on a monthly basis because households would pride themselves on having enough linens to last that long. But when washdays commenced for these households, it was a big household disruption taking up to four days even in good drying conditions.

By the mid nineteenth century bluing laundry became popular. This would entail a blue bag being stirred into the final rinse on washdays - this method disguised any hint of yellow in fabric making whites appear whiter. By the 20th century Reckit's blue bags were being sold around the world. These blue bags contained synthetic ultramarine blue and baking soda.

At this time however scientists had already discovered a chemical that had the same desired effect as crofting but yielded quicker results. - it was the chemical element chlorine. But with dangerous gases and fumes being given off in the process attempts to use it was soon abandoned. By the Industrial era bleaching powder was invented by the Scottish scientist Charles Tennant. This discovery resulted in the mass production of sodium hyperchlorite, or what we now know as bleach. Although nowadays, we also know how bleach can damage fabrics, and we are lucky enough to have new discoveries such as Oxygen bleach as well as the good old household tip being passed around of the joys of using lemons and sunlight. How lucky we are!

If you would like to read more about the history of washdays and bleaching, do take a look at these great websites where I found some information and the images I've used; especially the Old and Interesting website - what a gem!

I hope you enjoyed this as much as I did. Thanks Lorilee for inspiring me to do this post!
Hope to see you all soon!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Whitening those whites

Not that I approve of laundry being hung this way - but isn't this a gorgeous photo? By House n baby on Flickr.

In our house we have lots of white laundry - almost all my bedding is white, and I love fresh white crisp tablecloths. As all of you know I'm sure, it's not long before whites can start looking dull and grey and that's when the time comes to bleaching them. There are different methods of bleaching, and different bleaches to use. I'm sure many of you are well informed about bleaching and have your methods that work for you. But for the rest of us (I'm putting my hand up to admit that I know very little about using bleach) I hope to inform us all about bleaching our laundry safely and effectively.

Chlorine Bleach/sodium hypochlorite bleach

Chlorine bleach is also commonly known as household bleach, and this is what we normally associate bleaching laundry with most commonly found in liquid form. When chlorine bleach is added to the wash, sodium hypochlorite reacts with the soil and organic matter. It can be used on cottons, linens and some synthetics, but do beware that chlorine bleach weakens fabric, and you can end up with holes in fabric if it is used improperly. Chlorine bleach should not be used on protein fibers like wool, silk and mohair nor on the synthetic fibre spandex. The bleaching action of sodium hypochlorite is essentially completed in about 5 minutes, even less time in hot water, but slightly longer in cold.

Chlorine bleach is however also a dangerous substance to have in your home. Annie Bond writes on the Care2 website that breathing in the fumes of cleaners containing a high concentration of chlorine can irritate the lungs. This is particularly dangerous for people suffering from heart conditions or chronic respiratory problems such as asthma or emphysema. And the risks are compounded when the cleaners are used in small, poorly ventilated rooms, such as the bathroom. NEVER ever use chlorine bleach with anything else - it can give off gases that are fatally toxic.

If however you still choose to use chlorine bleach for your laundry, don't let it come into contact with your skin (wear gloves) and only use in a well ventilated room and always use as instructed on the packaging - especially in regards to diluting it. Here is how to use chlorine bleach for laundry (if you must):

For best results, dilute bleach with a quart (0.95 L) of water and add about 5 minutes after the wash cycle has begun. Applying undiluted bleach directly to fabrics may result in color removal and/or weakening of the fabric. Adding bleach at the beginning of the wash cycle with the detergent destroys some detergent ingredients (FWAs, enzymes). This reduces the effectiveness of both detergent and bleach. Adding bleach after 5 to 6 minutes allows the FWAs to attach to fabrics, the enzymes to work on soils and the bleach to have maximum effectiveness.

Oxygen/All-Fabric Bleach

Oxygen bleach is available in both liquid and dry form.

Liquid oxygen bleaches contain hydrogen peroxide, which supplies the oxidizing agent directly. The hydrogen peroxide reacts with the soil and organic materials in the wash to either decolourise or break them up. Hydrogen peroxide provides a more gentle bleaching action than chlorine bleach. It is however a slower-acting form of bleach. This type of bleach can be used on delicate or gentle care fabrics that allow bleach. Not as effective as brightening whites as chlorine bleach, but can be used successfully for whites on a regular basis.

Water temperature affects the bleaching rate of oxygen bleaches. Hot water accelerates the bleaching action. As water temperature decreases below 130 degrees F, exposure time must be increased substantially.

Powdered oxygen bleach contain extra alkalinity which proves to be more effective as a bleach. Enzymes are also added to powdered oxygen bleach which helps greatly in removing tough protein stains. The great news is that Ecover do a Oxygen bleach - I didn't know! I love Ecover products.

How to Use Oxygen Bleach: Read and follow bleach package directions. Add oxygen bleach to the wash water before clothes are added. Do not pour oxygen bleaches directly on wet colored fabrics without testing for colorfastness first.
Oxygen bleach is safe for most colored washable fabrics. However, if the care label states "No Bleach," do not use any bleach _ not even an oxygen bleach.

Color Removers

Color removers, available as a packaged product. They have the ability to remove most colors, but most prints would probably not be able to be removed. In most cases, color will be reduced or removed enough to permit redyeing to another color. Color removers can also be used to brighten whites and to remove brown rust stains from clothes washed in water that contains iron and manganese. They can also help to remove transferred dye stains from whites washed with colored items. They can be used in the washer or in a stainless steel or enamel container on the stove. Read and follow package directions.

Lemon Juice

This natural bleaching agent can effectively whiten clothes. To use lemon juice, take a gallon of water that is as hot as you can get it and add 1/2 cup of lemon juice. Soak your whites for at least 30 minutes, or overnight. You can use this bleaching agent on cotton and polyester, but avoid using it on silk. It works wonderfully on white socks and underwear.

Using lemon juice alongside some sunlight is a great way to bleach laundry without the use of chemicals. Add 1/2 cup of lemon juice into the rinse cycle, then hang your clothes to dry in the sun. The acid in the lemon juice provides bleaching power, and the sun will sanitize your clothes. This method can even be used on coloured clothes, and will leave your laundry smelling lovely and fresh.

Hydrogen Peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide can be used for bleaching delicate fabrics, such as items made out of wool or wool blends. Liquid Oxygen bleach contains Hydrogen Peroxide, but used on it's own is a much gentler form of bleaching. Use a solution of one part of three percent hydrogen peroxide to eight parts of cold water. Soak your laundry overnight and then wash as usual.


Bluing has been used in laundry since Victorian times. Bluing is made of a very fine blue iron powder suspended in water giving whites the appearance of whites being whiter. I personally have never seen bluing in the UK, but if you are interested in using it take a look at the Mrs Stewart Bluing website to read more about it. Apparently it is non-toxic and safe too. Hmm, might have to look into this myself.

Be sure to fully dilute bluing agent as per instructions since an undiluted drop on your laundry can actually stain it.

Bicarbonate of soda

I know, here I go again with the bicarb, but this stuff is seriously useful. Bicarb can be used as a natural whitener on white laundry and is also used successfully as a paste on stubborn stains and smells on most other laundry.

As a natural laundry whitener, use 2 teaspoons of bicarb soda in half a bucket of cold water. Soak items for 30 minutes then wash as usual. Dissolve two to three tablespoons of bicarb soda in a bucket of warm water to pre-soak cloth nappies and/or items with mould or stubborn stains. Allow to soak, then wash items in warm soapy water and dry in the sun.
Add half a cup to the washing machine for the rinse cycle to keep clothing and linen fresh.

Phew, there we are then. The quest to learn all about home keeping seems never ending, but so interesting too. I've never been into science, but I'm finding myself getting more and more interested in the science of home keeping. This is getting weird!

So that's it again for today. And a big thanks to everyone who so kindly stopped by my Mum's brand new blog Mamma Lalla! See you again at the weekend for another post about cleaning those stairs (I've been meaning to do this one for a while now and I'll be posting photos of the how-to's)

Here are the great reference I have found for this post regarding bleaching laundry...
Laundry Bleaches

Guide to Six Laundry Bleaching Agents

Household Uses of Baking Soda

Avoid chlorine bleach

Whitening your whites naturally

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sunny shiny weekend

Now I know I normally do informative, researched home keeping posts, but this weekend, the sun was out and so beautiful, that I hope you will forgive me for doing a 'what I've been up to' post - it's just been too lovely not to share.

I've been ill with a cold for the past few days, and I decided some sunshine will do my cold well so me and my quilt (and occasionally the dog) has taken to lying outside most of the weekend. It's my favourite thing to do - lying in the garden with a bit of sun shining on my back and reading or napping. But doing that all day is not my style either, so I have been keeping busy too. Here is a photo of our dog taking up most of the quilt (I made this quilt a couple of years ago and we use it all the time).

Home keeping is never done, and with this amount of sunshine, I've been hanging up as much laundry as my pegs would allow and finally took some photos for you. For those of who read my 'drying clothes' post, here you can see how I've adapted my own way of having laundry since writing that post. I love that along with doing my blog I am learning so much. I'd still prefer to get a long laundry line instead of the rotary drier, but for now this will do.

This is not normally how I hang trousers, but these are my husband's painting trousers, so I hang them upside down by the cuffs to weigh them down so I don't have to iron them.

Here in Oxfordshire it's the peak of the blackberry season, so every time we walk the dog I take a plastic bag with me to collect some on the way. My first attempt at making blackberry jelly failed miserably after I ended up with blackberry toffee - eek, I boiled it too long. So this weekend I tried again with a different recipe kindly passed on to me by a friend. Hurrah! It worked, and now I have two jars of blackberry jelly - my first time ever successfully making any sort of jam or jelly.

But I was not going to use ALL my blackberries for jam, so the rest went into an Apple, pear and blackberry pie... Mmmm, delicious. Although I must admit that I didn't make my own pastry because we still had some frozen pastry in the freezer, and the apples could have been softer. But still, it was yummy. (Naughty Mrs Laundrybasketcase, look at that dirty stove top - I see another post topic in the making there)

Lastly, I've just found out that my mum has started her own blog. My mum is an exceptionally good cook. She can cook anything from complicated traditional meals, to exotic salads thrown together at the last minute, so I'm so pleased that she will be sharing her recipes on a blog. On her first post she is sharing her South African 'Souskluitjies' recipe. It's a delicious and comforting sweet dumpling dessert flavoured with cinnamon. If you love food, please pop by her blog MAMMA LALLA. She's also hoping to post pictures along with her recipes in future posts, but this is a great recipe to get started with, and one that I requested from her - thanks Ma!

I hope you have all had a lovely weekend. What did you get up to?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

First Aid in the Home

So I went to see Mamma Mia last night - I really enjoyed it! The set and location is just gorgeous. I am seriously in-love with this blanket in the background of this shot! Every time it was in a scene I couldn't stop looking at it. I love red & white/cream.

Seeing the plaster on her leg in the picture take us nicely onto my post subject for today (well that's my excuse anyway to feature that picture in this post) - First Aid in the home. Coming from a family full of pharmacists I know that it really is essential to have some sort of a medicine/first aid case or container in a home, but it is so easy not to think of nasty things that can happen at home. I have to confess that as I write this we don't have a properly set up First Aid Kit at home... so this is something I'll be sorting out this weekend.

Health and safety is an important part of home keeping, so choose a place for your first aid kit carefully. It should definitely NOT be within reach of children - at all! A good place for instance is in the top of kitchen cupboard. Choose a space where you can also keep any other medication, vitamins and things such as matches. Then designate that cupboard as being out of bounds for kids and make sure everyone understands this. Even if you don't have kids, do keep this in mind if you have visiting friends or family with kids.

There are lots of ready assembled first aid kits available, but you could just as easily put your own one together. Go for compact, and make it portable so that you can take it in your car or outside if you ever need to. But even if you do opt for a ready assembled kit, make sure it includes everything on the list below and adapt it to your family's needs. So what do you need in a First aid kit for the home? Here are some considerations, a list of the basics as well as some natural remedies to add to your kit.

First check the specific needs of your household:
- If anyone in your family has allergies, asthma or any other specific health conditions make sure to discuss with your doctor or pharmacist about what medication you need at hand in case of an emergency and add them to your kit.
- If you have children under 12, make sure you include medications that are suitable for use on them. An idea is to buy coloured stickers from a stationary shop, and label all medication not suitable for children or babies with a red sticker but make sure everyone in your household understands this system. Or colour code medications this way specifically for different family members.
- Buy an up to date First Aid Manual to keep near your First Aid kit. If you panic and you don't know how to handle a situation, at least you can look it up to see what the best approach is

The Basics of a first aid kit should include:
  • Adhesive dressings - Used for minor cuts and grazes and can be bought in boxes of various shape, size and types. These include waterproof, fabric, hypo-allergenic, antiseptic and for children there are character based sticking plasters. Keep at least one box in the first aid kit and another in a medicine cabinet as they are used frequently.

  • Bandages - For protection of wound dressings. Bandages come in various sizes and types, the most common being crepe or gauze. Keep at least three of each sort in a first aid kit, these being triangular bandages (which are also useful in making slings) and roll bandages (which are rolled around dressings to provide support to injuries). Other variants include TubiGrip, which is a tubed bandage designed to support an injury.

  • Cling film - Apply to serious burns liberally to keep the wound away from open air. This assists in pain relief and keeps burns from becoming infected. Seek immediate professional help after a serious burn has occurred.

  • Cotton balls/wool - Wet with water, useful for cleaning wounds. Do not apply cotton wool directly to wounds as the fibre will become stuck.

  • Cotton buds - Useful in cleaning wounds or removing obvious foreign bodies.

  • Slings - A triangular piece of fabric used to support affected limb injuries. Two or more are needed.

  • Sterile dressings - Non-adherent 'ouchless' dressings (some come with antiseptic added), gauze (light fabric squares used as dressings) and swabs (used to clean wounds). Keep lots of these.

  • Tampons - Useful for stemming blood-flow from puncture wounds (animal bites) and if cut in half are extremely effective for relieving epistaxis (nosebleed ). .. if not a bit embarrassing.
  • Adhesive tape - Micropore, Transpore or Elastoplast. A roll of each type is recommended as it used to hold dressings in place, but has many other uses.

  • Medi-Prep Wipes - Contained in small sachets and are useful to assist in the sterilisation of wound areas or with safety pins/tweezers for extraction of foreign objects.

  • Disposable gloves - For the first aider's use only. Keeps your hands clean and prevents cross-infection.

  • Frozen gel pack - Invaluable in reducing swelling/bruising. Place the cold pack in a cloth towel and apply to the injury. Frozen peas are also excellent for this purpose, as the packet will mould to the body. While this item is not actually kept in your first aid kit - it is a necessity2.

  • Measuring cup/spoon - For the measuring of medication given to children.

  • Scissors - For cutting anything - clothing, strips of gauze, dressings, tape.

  • Safety pins - Vital in pinning slings, but can also be used to remove foreign bodies if sterilised3.

  • Splints - Vital in keeping potentially broken digits or limbs in place. Small finger-splints and applicators are available for finger injuries4.

  • Thermometer - For measuring body temperature. Various thermometers are available, the timpanic being most accurate. This is placed in the ear, but can be an expensive addition to a first aid kit. The oral digital thermometer is best. Reasonably-priced, it can be placed under the tongue or arm for a approximate temperature reading. Forehead strip thermometers are also available, but these are notoriously inaccurate.

  • Tweezers - For the removal of obvious foreign bodies (splinters, bee-stings, etc).

Do not combine medicines and First Aid supplies. They can live in the same cupboard, but have a box of remedies seperate to your First Aid box. You really do not want to be sorting between your lozengers and cough medicines in an emergency. Important - when administering medication, read all labels, check use-by-dates and consult your first aid manual or a trained first aider/health professional.

  • Analgesic tablets or capsules - Paracetamol, Ibuprofen or Aspirin 5. For children, include some sachets of Calpol or other paracetamol-based suspensions. These are invaluable in reducing pain and fevers. Ensure you have some soluble analgesics too, as these are helpful for reducing the pain of throat infections like tonsillitis.

  • Antihistamine cream - For insect bites and stings. Helps reduce the swelling and pain after being stung by a bee or wasp.

  • Antihistamine tablets - To help reduce the effects of allergic reactions.

  • Antiseptic solution - For instance TCP/Betadine. Helps to clean a wound of bacteria. Useful if the injury has occurred on something like glass or metal, which could lead to Tetanus.

  • Calamine Lotion - For the relief of itch from sunburn or rash from insects/plants.

  • Petroleum Jelly - Such as vaseline (alternatively, a water-based lubricant like KY Jelly). Assists in the removal of rings and so forth from swollen digits and has a variety of other uses6.
taken from the BBC h2g2 webiste

Natural First Aid

Here are some natural remedies to consider for your first aid kit or medicine cabinet All of the remedies are available at any well-stocked health-food store and by mail-order. Be sure to buy pure essential oils, not fragrance oils.

  • Aloe vera gel: Cooling and healing, aloe vera (Aloe vera) soothes the inflammation of sunburn and common kitchen scalds and burns.

  • Arnica gel or cream: Arnica (Arnica montana) flowers have anti-inflammatory and circulation-stimulating properties; the gel or cream is excellent for sore muscles, sprains, strains and bruises. Do not apply arnica to broken skin.

  • Calendula-comfrey salve: The bright yellow-orange blossoms of calendula (Calendula officinalis) have astringent, antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory and wound-healing properties. Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) contains allantoin, a compound that stimulates the growth of new tissue and helps heal wounds.

  • Chamomile tea bags: With its delicious distinctive flavor, chamomile (Matricaria recutita) makes a tasty tea. Gentle enough for children, chamomile has mild sedative, antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. It promotes relaxation, relieves indigestion and, when applied topically, soothes skin irritations.

  • Citronella-based insect repellant: Most herbal repellants contain citronella, a pungent citrus-scented essential oil distilled from an aromatic grass that grows in southern Asia. Herbal insect repellants work well, as long as they’re applied liberally and frequently (as often as every two hours).

  • Echinacea liquid extract: Rich in immune-stimulating chemicals, echinacea (Echinacea spp.) can be used for any type of infection. Liquid extracts are the most versatile because they can be used both internally and externally.

  • Elderberry capsules or liquid extract: Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) is essential for stopping a cold or flu from ruining your vacation. The berries contain compounds that prevent cold and flu viruses from invading and infecting cells. If you’re flying or otherwise potentially exposed to viruses, taking elderberry is a good preventive. If you do come down with a cold or flu, taking elderberry can hasten your recovery time.

  • Eucalyptus essential oil: A potent antibiotic and antiviral, eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus) is excellent for treating colds, flus and sinus infections when used as a steam inhalation. Dilute with oil or witch hazel extract before applying to the skin, and do not take internally. Ginger capsules, tea bags and crystallized ginger: The antispasmodic and gas-relieving properties of ginger (Zingiber officinale) soothe digestive upsets. Ginger also has been proven to relieve motion sickness better than Dramamine, the conventional drug treatment.
Taken from the Herb Companion website

Another important part of a First Aid Kit, is keeping it topped up. When you use something, put that item on your next shopping list. Keep a list of items in your kit, and when you do your yearly spring clean, check your first aid kit for out of date medications and things that need replacing.

Also, if you have children or intend to have children, why not take a First Aid course. There are lots of courses available all over so don't out it off. Hopefully you will never need it, but it will give you confidence to act in a situation where you need to think quickly. While we are on the safety of your household, do take the time to write down emergency numbers and keep them by the phone or on the fridge.

If you have pets, inform yourself about the methods of first aid that can help save you pet. Choking is a very real danger, so take a minute to read up about the Heimlich manoeuvre for pets here or search online specifically about your type of pet. Most vet's have an emergency number that you can call at any time of day - add that to your list of emergency numbers to keep near the phone.

Here are some great First Aid packs, kits and books that I've found online.

From left to right

Top: A very organised First Aid Kits devided by symptom with instructions about what to do, it's called Intelligent First Aid; An up-to date First Aid Manual by the St Johns Ambulance; A First Aid Kit for Pets

Bottom: First Aid especially for little ones by Medi bag; A homeopathc First Aid Kit from The Organic Pharmacy ; A compact Travel First Aid Kit

That's it for my post about First Aid in the home. I really intend to take this post of mine to heart and set up a well organised First Aid Kit in our home. I hope you will do the same, or at least check that you have everything you need. You cannot put a price on the safety of you and your family.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

I've been tagged...

Thanks so much for everyone who left a comment on my last post! I got more than 10 comments for the first time, and was so very pleased.

I also have to say sorry, because recently I've been given some blog awards from other bloggers and I have just gotten so carried away doing my other posts that I have forgotten to post about it. But I am so very grateful to all you friendly bloggers who pass on awards, tag each other and take the time to write your great posts. I've really been enjoying my blogging experience so far.

Anyway, Lesley from Notes from my Days has tagged me to come up with 6 strange/quirky things about myself. So before I go on to do another post, I'll do this one and pass it on... so here goes:

1. I am a fussy eater - I don't like my food piled on top of each other, and preferred to have it separated out (I know, like a fussy child!). But I don't mind my food touching :)

2. This one is not uncommon, but since I write a blog about neatness and cleanliness I thought you might like to know: I am not at all a naturally tidy person and never have been and as a student I never made my bed and once had the bedroom floor covered in clothes (I hang my head in shame).

3. I don't like sharp objects pointing towards me - I often turn forks across the table from me to point in a different direction. The worst by far is someone holding a sharp pencil that is pointing at my eyes!

4. I use to volunteer at a baboon sanctuary where I would help socialise orphaned baby baboons that would be reintroduced to the wild. So yes, I have been covered in baboon poo and wee on many occasions.

5. I seriously love condensed milk. I'll have it straight from the tin, I like it in coffee, and I love just about any dessert containing it... I've even mixed it with peanut butter and ate it.

6. I love the smell of my yoga matt - it's rubbery (it's an ecomat), and every time I just smell it now I start to relax because of my associating it with yoga.

That's my 6 quirks. Now these are the people I am tagging (if of course any of you have been tagged before for this then just ignore it)...

Judy at Brocante Etc

Have a great day - I'm off to see the sing-a-long version of Mamma Mia tonight.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

That under the sink cupboard

I hope you are all having a lovely weekend. We are finally seeing some sun again here in the UK. I hope it lasts!

I have some before and after pictures to share with you of my 'under the sink cupboard'. It wasn't completely disgusting to begin with, but there was no order, and if I needed a new sponge I'd have to dive in and rummage around hoping there weren't any mice. So, I unpacked everything (rule no 1. if you're going to tidy a cupboard). Then I threw away what we no longer needed, got rid of the bucket that was taking up too much space and I bought two cheap containers - one for my sponges and cloths, the other one is for all those bin bags and other plastic bags, including used plastic shopping bags. So here are my before and after photos:


Still the same stuff, just arranged better, and no unnecessary containers. The thing that made the biggest difference is how I took all our used plastic supermarket bags, and folded them small. First off I'd like to say that I have the best of intentions when it comes to plastic supermarket bags - I have two cotton string bags that can hold loads. But unfortunately I do sometimes forget to take them with me. However, it is handy to have some spare supermarket bags around (and by some I mean a maximum of 10-15 at any time, nobody needs 100s of plastic bags unless you run a shop). I use spare supermarket bags when we run out of doggy poop bags, or to take treats with to work. I even use spare plastic bags as small rubbish bags. But I also can't stand seeing lots of crumpled up bags stuffed in a cupboard. This solution of folding bags works a treat - I was shown this in South Africa where people now have to pay for supermarket bags, thus everyone saves them. Maybe you already know this trick, so skip the next bit if you do... but if you don't, I hope you find this as handy as I do. They fold up to just the right size so that you can pop a few in your handbag next time you go to the supermarket. Now that is not so un-environmentally friendly after all! :)

Step 1 & 2: Take a plastic supermarket bag and flatten it out neatly on a work surface.

Step 3: Take the edge closest to you and fold it over by about 2 inches.
Step 4: Repeat the folding in the same direction until your bag is folded into a long strip - fold in the bag handles and squash them down so that they lay flat.

Step 5: Now fold the right hand edge over at a 45 degree angle so that the side edge is now lined up with the top egde.
Step 6: Fold up along the 45 degree angle that you've just folded (you're just rolling the bag over to the left as you go).

Step 7: Repeat step 6 until you have a bit left at the end.
Step 8: Now tuck the loose end into a previously folded edge.

Oh gosh - I hope that makes sense, this was a bit harder to explain than I thought. My husband knows this fold because apparently they use to fold their crisp packets like this at school - maybe you did too? But let me know if you'd like me to post a video instead.

Have a great Saturday evening and Sunday, I'll try and post again on Wednesday.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Pests in the home: fleas

Hello again, I'm sorry for only posting again today, but all your other bloggers will understand how long it takes to put some posts together - especially when there are not-to-miss programmes on the TV like 'The Restaurant' and 'Lost in Austen' :)

As promised here is my second monthly post about PESTS - this one dealing with fleas!

Fleas can be a problem for people with and without pets. If you have a mouse, squirrel, bat, or for those folks across the pond, raccoon problem, fleas can infest your house via them, or you could even inherit fleas from previous home owners. However you are most likely to encounter then if you have pets since fleas will jump onto your pets coat outside and travel with them into your home. The scary part is that fleas spend the majority of their lives away from the host animal - meaning, they will live in your home, and occasionally jump onto your beloved pet to feed not to mention jump onto you too!

There are plenty of products on the market that can help you get rid of fleas, but you don't have to resort to chemical warfare. The effects of using pesticides in your house, can cause health issues for you, your family and your pets. So below is a list of natural ingredients you can use to fight of fleas. At the very end of the post are some steps you can follow immediately if ever you realise you have a flea problem in your home. However, if you find fleas on your pet or in your home don't panic - it is much easier to control a flea problem than you think. With the right natural ingredients, and a bit of regular vacuuming around the house, you'll be sorted in no time. You DO NOT need to spend a fortune on pesticides and poisonous powders since realistically most people will only ever have to deal with about a dozen fleas at any given time. So please please don't resort to hazardous flea bombs and powders!

The flea life cycle

This is crucial to know if you want to go to war with fleas.

Click on the picture to enlarge it, and read all about the life cycle of a fleas.

For your home
Fleas live deep within the fibres of carpets and fabric (yes, even your mattress). Fleas react to vibrations, which is why when you or your pet walks across the carpet area where the live, they jump up and feed. Therefor they come out of the fibres when you vacuum, and get sucked into the vacuum bag. Do however remember to empty the vacuum bag as soon as you have finished. If not the fleas might continue breeding and escape straight back into your home. You can add some cornflour to the vacuum bag to help suffocate the fleas.

Steam cleaning
Heat also kills fleas, but warm humid conditions is perfect environment for flea eggs to hatch, so make sure to follow steam cleaning with a once a day vacuum
If you don't have a steam cleaner, check with friends and family if you could borrow one, or invest in one. They are very handy - especially great for cleaning ovens and getting rid of bed bugs in your mattress.

I'm no scientist, so I don't know how true this is, but apparently sprinkling salt onto carpets and furnishings can help kill fleas or make them immobile. Something to do with it drying them out? And since salt is harmless, I reckon it's worth a try.

The use of cornflour is similar to that of salt, it clings to the fleas and makes them move slower. I use a teaspoon or so of cornflour in the vacuum bag to prevent the fleas from escaping straight back into the house

Diatomaceous Earth (food grade only)
DE is a mineral powder that kills fleas by causing them to dehydrate. DE is not toxic to humans, but it can be dangerous if inhaled. Both eye protection and a dust mask need to be worn when applying it. If you decide to use DE, make sure your child isn't around when you first apply it, and be sure to lightly vacuum any loose dust left over after application. Since DE isn't as easily available as the rest of the ingredients listed and can be harmful (although not toxic), I would use this as a last resort.

Light flea trap
This method is not going to get rid of lots of fleas at once, but it is a great way to check whether you've won the war against fleas. You'll need a desk lamp (or a lamp with directional light), a shallow bowl or dish and some soapy water (dish washing liquid works great). At night, place the dish with soapy water directly under the desk lamp near the area where you think you have a flea problem, or near where your pet sleeps. Leave it over night, and if you do have a flea problem, you will most likely see a few fleas that have drowned in your water bowl - the soap helping to weigh them down.

For Pets
Apple Cider Vinegar
Fleas don't like acidity, so this is a simple way to treat your dog or cat for fleas. Add a teaspoon of it to your pets water bowl (that is if they don't mind the taste - most wont). You can even rinse their coats with some apple cider vinegar after a bath, or use a spray bottle with diluted Apple cider vinegar to spray onto your dog or cat's coat.
Dandelion and burdock root
These are the best herbs to treat against fleas, and can be added to your pet's diet by grating these over their food.
Brewer's yeast
I've not tried this for our dog, but brewer's yeast added to your pet's diet is also meant to deter fleas, and make them dislike the taste of your pets blood.

These great tips below are from the Canine Natural Cures website:
Citrus repellent
Cut a lemon into quarters and place in a pint jug. Cover the lemon with boiling water and let it steep overnight. Next day you have a flea repellent that you can use in a spray bottle. Spray over your dog remembering especially behind the ears and around the head generally (careful of eyes), around the base of the tail (once again keep away from delicate bits) and under your dog’s ‘armpits’.

Aromatherapy repellent
Using 10 ml. of sweet almond oil as your base, add 10 drops of lavender and 5 drops of cedar wood. Shake well and use 1 or 2 drops spread over the skin at least twice a week to keep the fleas away.
Homemade Flea Collar
A flea collar can be made by rubbing a few drops of one of the following into an ordinary webbing or rope collar or even a doggy bandanna: eucalyptus oil, Tea Tree Oil, citronella, lavender or geranium. Don’t forget to do this weekly. We now stock a product that makes this easy for you.
I've used Eucalyptus oil on our dog's collar, and it does seem to work. I've also used a couple of drops to put in the washing machine when I wash his bedding (but not his toys).
Taking action when fleas are discovered
As soon as you realise you pet has a flea problem, jump into action immediately by following these steps (if you don't have a pet, you get to skip trying to wash your pet!):
  1. Wash your pet starting by pouring water over the neck area (never submerge your pets face in water or use any soap near the eyes, mouths and ears). Move down from the neck area using lots of water at a luke warm temperature. This along with shampooing and rinsing should at least drown most of the fleas.
  2. Wash all your pets bedding, collars, toys etc on a warm wash cycle.
  3. Sprinkle salt on all soft furnishings and carpets or rugs where your pet frequents, and wash all removable fabric covers from pillows.
  4. Before you vacuum any surfaces, add cornflour to the vacuum bag as this will help to suffocate any fleas caught in the vacuum bag. Now vacuum all carpeting and furnishings thoroughly and empty the vacuum bag immediately into a plastic bag, seal the bag and place in an outdoor bin.
  5. Check your dog or cat again for fleas after he or she is dry from their bath - the best way to do this is by using a flea comb. If you feel that most of the fleas have gone, your pet may return to their bedded area.
  6. Repeat step 4 once a day for 10 days.

Now you'll know how to deal with fleas if you ever have the problem. I remember the fright I got when I first discovered our dog had fleas. I felt so bad that I hadn't done anything to prevent it. But I was quickly put at ease when I read that all pet owners have to deal with fleas at some point. So keep vacuuming and washing your pet's bedding, remember the lemons and hopefully you'll never be frightened of those litter critters again!

Next post will be about tidying that under the sink cupboard! You know the one I mean - and yes, I will be revealing my before and after shots of this.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Cleaning hard floors

Yesterday I had comment on my blog asking me to share how I clean my floors, and soon after Mandy from The Vintage Kitten blog, asked me specifically about slate floors. Mandy, I too have slate kitchen floors, they are not the easiest flooring to keep clean. But I will be dealing with all sorts of flooring in this post, so feel free to skip to the sections that apply to you in this post.

For any type of hard flooring, daily sweeping is essential in keeping the floors dust free, scratch free (stones brought in from outside under shoes are a big culprit), and will mostly avoid a build up of dirt. The important thing is to use the right type of broom. You can see my post about sweeping floors, and different type of brooms here, so I won't be dealing with sweeping n this post but rather the washing of floors... and cleaning carpets... well that's a whole different post, but I'll put it on my posts to-do list.

Lets' get to it then, below are tips on how to mop, different types of flooring and how to clean them followed by the different types of mops you can get, and what they are best for.

Mopping should be done on a weekly basis to avoid the build up of dirt and grime. Easier said than done, I know - especially with an uneven floor surface like slate tiles. Always, sweep the floor thoroughly, followed by dry dust mopping or vacuuming before wet mopping a floor. You can use two buckets of water - one with a cleaning solution, and another with clear hot water to rinse the mop in. Change the rinsing water when the water becomes dirty. When you have finished cleaning the floor, tie a cloth or an old t-shirt over a dry mop and wipe over the floor (thanks Anthea Turner for this tip!) to dry the floor and avoid streaking or cleaning solution deposits.

Types of flooring:

Sealed laminate floors
This is what we have throughout the majority of our downstairs floor. The first time I cleaned laminate flooring I used dish washing liquid, and couldn't understand why the floor looked dull after I cleaned it. That's because a soapy solution will leave a film on the surface making the floor look dull. The best solution to use is 1 cup of vinegar in a bucket of luke warm water, this is what I use, and it works brilliantly. Tough stains can be removed with denatured alcohol and a soft cloth.

Vinyl & linoleum
Use a pH neutral household detergent such as dish washing liquid, but remember to wash away any soap with clear warm water.

Sealed with polyurethane
Most wood floor boards nowadays are sealed with polyurethane which is durable. But water should never saturate the surface as it can penetrate the cracks and damage flooring. Use 1/4 cup vinegar to a bucket of water. Avoid oil soaps that can leave a residue attracting dust.

Finished with wax
Use only plain tepid water to wash waxed wooden floors, but make sure the mop is only very slightly damp, not wet. Therefor it's best to use a mop that can be rung out easily and sufficiently so as not to saturate floors. Spills must be wiped up immediately, and small surface scratches can be buffed away with a soft cloth.

For almost all types of tiles, avoid an acidic cleaning solution (so for once forget the vinegar) as this can etch glazed surfaces and damage grout. Once again, it's best to use a mild detergent such as good old dish washing liquid, removing soap by following up mopping with warm water.
Unglazed tiles such as terracotta or unsealed slate are very porous, and can be damaged with water spills. These tiles should preferably be sealed, and can benefit from an additional layer of protective wax.

Stone tiles especially should not be washed with an acidic solution. Because stone tiles are often uneven, dirt can become trapped in cracks and crevices. Using a hard bristle broom with uneven bristles (such as a natural corn broom) to sweep the floor with regularly followed by a soft bristle broom to remove finer dust particles should prevent these floors from becoming clogged with dirt. But you will most likely find that a once a year scrub with dish washing liquid and a floor brush is necessary. For mopping, use a string mop which withstands uneven floor surfaces better.

Brick and concrete
As with stone floors, indoor brick or concrete floors need to be glazed to protect the porous surface from staining. Use warm water and a pH- neutral all purpouse cleaner along with a rag or string mop.

Cork floors are generally sealed with a synthetic plastic like finish. Never let water stand on this floor surface as it can seep in around the edges and cause the cork to swell. Use a well wringed mop that is only slightly damp and a pH neutral cleaning solution.

Have I missed out a type of flooring you would like me to write about? Leave me a comment and I will add it on.

Types of mops

Rag or String mop

The old-fashioned kind of mop. They are great for absorbing big spills immediately and can cover a lot of surface area. They are great for withstanding wear and tear from uneven surfaces and are more likely to get into the crevices to clean them. This is my choice for our slate floor kitchen. You do get rag or string mops that are self-wringing attachment, alternatively use a bucket with a wringer attachment. A cotton-rayon blend rag head will dry quicker than an 100% cotton mop, and looped ends will last longer resisting fraying. These mops also now come in synthetic microfibre mop heads, I've not tried these myself, have you?

Sponge mop

These mops tend to come with a wringer lever so that the mops heads aren't saturated with water, so these mops are best for wooden floors, cork floors, and laminate floors. They are best on flat smooth surface floors, as uneven floors can snag and damage them. Look for these mops in your local supermarket where they sell replaceable mop heads separately for when yours need replacing.

All-in-one mop

Wow, personally I've never come across these, they look great for quick touch-ups! They have an attached container for water and a spray nozzle attached to the head eliminating the need for a bucket. Most all-in-one mops come with disposable cleaning pads, and you can easily attach your own cloth instead. Mopping a large floor surface with one of these would be a bit of a pain as the cleaning pads may need to be replaced or rinsed out quite often. But for small smooth surfaced rooms where a quick mop is needed regularly, this is great.

Dust mop

Also known as dry-mops, can be used in place of a vacuum or soft bristled broom. Unlike brooms, they are often pre-treated to attract dust, rather than spread dust. Before using a dust mop, make sure any wet or sticky spills have been cleaned up. When you're done, shake out the dust, or vacuum the mop.

That's it for today on floors. I hope I've covered everything you might like to know about cleaning floors - but if you have any extra tips you'd like me to add, or anything I might have missed or even got wrong do let me know and I'll add it or correct it.

Now that reminds me, I better go clean our floors!

Next up is my monthly post on pests, and this time, I'm on about fleas. So if you have PETS (and as a result PESTS), then this post will be very handy.
Have a lovely Sunday!

PS: Thanks to Melmel from At Home with Memel who alerted me to the fact that Oxfam in the UK are selling bicarbonate of soda cleaning products and big boxes at great prices. And what a great tip to sprinkle bicarb on a mattress before vacuuming to leave it smelling very fresh! Thanks Melmel!

Many tips on this post was written with the help of the book Martha Stewart's Homekeeping Handbook, a wonderful resource for all sorts of home keeping questions.

A note on perfection

Many of the posts featured on this blog are about doing household chores the correct, or so to say perfect way. My intention is not to make readers feel that the way they are running their households are wrong. So if making the bed, or ironing shirts in a certain way doesn't fit your lifestyle, do not feel guilty about it. But by learning the correct way of doing things it might just come in handy for those times when special guests are staying, or when you need to iron that shirt perfectly for a job interview. So enjoy the learning, but skip the guilt and LOVE your homes. x

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