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Recommended reading

The Way of the Wizard: 20 Lessons for Living a Magical Life.   - Deepak Chopra

 

 

Scripture for February

 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” – Gal 5:22-23

 

Saying of the month

"Late February days; and now, at last,
Might you have thought that
Winter's woe was past;
So fair the sky was and so soft the air."
-  William Morris

 

 

 

PAGE CONTENTS 

Bible verses for February

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Saying of the month

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Reading recommendation

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In praise of the simple dish rag.

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Get off-grid or reduce your dependence on it.

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A remake of some tired pillow shams.

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"From scratch" recipe of the month - Amazing almost meatless meatloaf

 IN PRAISE OF THE SIMPLE DISHRAG

 

 Last night I woke up from a dream. I’m not sure if it was a bad or good dream, but the last thing I remember in the dream was seeing a stack of old-fashion, red and white cotton dishrags. I reached for the stack, grabbed what must have been 5 or 6, felt a great sense of satisfaction, and then woke up. Now, I’m not someone to over-interpret dreams, but I think I know why it was so important to me to get hold of those dishrags. It has to do with both my past and my present. I have a lot of good memories about sharing tasks in the kitchen with my Mom and my sister. We washed a lot of dishes together and enjoyed doing things as a team. Somehow the humble dishrag must have become a symbol of family closeness and teamwork. As to my present and future, I'm constantly looking for more eco-friendly products to use in my home. Dishrags don't contaminate the environment. They work well, last a long time, and can be washed and dried with the rest of the household linens.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that I hadn't recently thought about the virtues of the tried-and-true cotton dishrag. I just hadn’t acted on it. So, here’s my “greener” living challenge to all of us (myself included) – stop using plastic scrubbers. There are several good reasons for doing it. First of all, we need to convince ourselves that that we do not need to buy those funky, green plastic things all the time. We save money when we use natural scrubbers, over and over again. But, more important, each time we say no to throwaway plastics in the home, we are doing our part to lower our carbon footprint.

You’ve also probably heard that the average kitchen plastic dish scrubber contains more bacteria than a toilet bowl. Ugh! So, what do most people do when they hear that? They go out and buy the same product, more often – not a good idea, at all. Think about those millions of times each week (or month) that people buy these little items. Yes, they’re cheap – a dollar gets you 6 or 8 in a pack (at the dollar-store). But they’re made from oil and end up as non-degradable plastic in our landfills and waterways.

Beyond that, any scrubber that has a label for anti-bacterial properties is likely to contain triclosan, a particularly toxic chemical (first used as a pesticide), or something equally damaging when concentrated in the environment.

But, the good news is that there are alternatives to plastic and pesticide soaked scrubbers. And, that’s the theme of this post – stop the contamination! Get rid of those plastic dish scrubbers, once and for all, and make the pledge to use only natural scrubbers.

One option – the cellulose sponge
We can purchase scrubbers that are made from cellulose fiber. The cellulose should be sourced from plantation forests or recycled. Read the label carefully because some cellulose sponges are covered with polyester, another type of plastic. For hygiene, it’s best to try to let sponges dry out between uses. To sterilize them, soak them for a couple of minutes in boiling water, microwave them for a minute or two, or easiest of all, just put them in your automatic dishwasher whenever you wash dishes and turn on the hot-heat, drying cycle. While cellulose sponges are natural and non-contaminating, they tend to break down over a period of weeks and have to be replaced. So, they may not be your best buy.

 

A better option – dishrags
You may remember - or not - the old-fashioned dishrag. Back when everyone washed dishes by hand (pre 1960’s, I believe), it was the almost universal rule to have a stash of loosely woven, cotton dishrags. They worked well and lasted for months, if not years. It seemed that they would never be replaced with any other product. But, what happened? We stopped using them because (perhaps) it seemed more modern to buy another plastic product (like all the rest of the plastic that was filling up our homes). Or, they disappeared because the cost of cotton went up too high for manufacturers to produce and sell them for less than a dollar each.

Maybe we can’t find the cotton dishrags very easily any more (or at a price we want to pay), but we can certainly make our own. As a knitter, I like to try making things that are useful in the home. Knitting dishrags is for me a way to fight consumerism and a part of my commitment to a “greener” life. If you make the scrubber change, you’ll always want to have two rags at the sink, one for washing dishes and one for wiping down surfaces. So, if you wash linens once a week, you’ll need 14 rags – fewer are needed, of course, if you wash more frequently.

Here's an easy pattern for a dishrag that you can knit up in an hour (or maybe two hours, if it’s the first time you’ve tried to do something like this).

What you’ll need

Worsted weight, cotton yarn. Leftover yarn is great, if you have some. (Personally, I like dishrags made with the two-color sequence yarns.) Plan on using about an ounce or so of yarn.

Needles, according to your choice. I like a loose-knitted dishrag so I'm using a size 9. This will give a finished size of about 6” y 6”.

Knitting instructions

Starting
Cast on 4 stitches
Row 1 - Knit 4

Increasing
Row 2 - Knit 2, yarn over, knit across the row.

Repeating
Row 2 until you have 44 stitches.

Decreasing
Row 3 - Knit 1, knit 2 together, yarn over, knit 2 together, knit to the end of the row.

Repeating
Row 3 until you have 4 stitches left on the needle.

Finishing
Bind off. Weave in ends.

(Note: This is a great first-knit project for children. The same pattern can also be a coverlet for a little doll's bed - it all depends on how you look at it.)  

 GET OFF-GRID OR REDUCE YOUR DEPENDENCE ON IT

For most people, paying the monthly utility bills is a time of frustration and worry. We all would like to see our utility bills cut in half or even more so. The fact is that most people are taking seriously their use of electric power and some of them are producing a part or all of their own energy. Well, this is where the concepts of energy sustainability and “getting off-grid" come from. By going off-grid or reducing our dependence on it, we can live more independent lives while limiting our reliance on the use of fossil fuels.


Remember the BP blowout in the Gulf of Mexico was not an act of God – it was the expression of reckless risk-taking in order to get colossal profits for shareholders while answering the self-serving oil addiction that is part of the "main-stream" U.S. life-style. (Of course, some of the population of the rest of the world also has the addiction, but just because there are a lot of people around who lie, cheat and steal doesn’t add up to our being blameless when we do these things.)


So, most people would agree that it’s time for greening our way of life. What we need is better public transportation, one gas-efficient family vehicle (if absolutely necessary), bicycles, and a resolution to get off-grid or at least reduce our dependence on it.


Well, it helps if you live in a rural or low-density suburban area because you will have more space and resources to help you. But did you know that a man and his family went off-grid in a high-rise apartment building in New York City? He wrote a book about his experience living for 12 months without a vehicle and no electric appliances, and almost no electronics. His only electric source came from a single portable solar unit on the roof of his apartment building, and this was used principally for his laptop computer. Check out the “no-impact man” in a search on the Internet. If he could do it, so can all of us – with the willingness to change our life-styles, some soul-searching, and a big effort.


So, if you're excited about changing your life-style and going off-grid, here’s what you might need – a bicycle, a cistern, rain barrels, a wood-burning stove (for heat and cooking), a couple of solar panels or a wind generator, and a septic tank (in some areas, a well and an outhouse are still basic options). But, if you’re living in an urban area, have no yard at all, or don’t have the money for all this investment, there’s still hope. The important thing to consider in all this comes down to the question: Are you ready to make tough decisions about your lifestyle in regards to your use of fossil fuels?


First of all to live a greener life – and with or without home-produced solar and/or wind power - you still have to limit your use of electric power in all the ways that you can think of. You need to make decisions. You must choose among your electric appliances and electronic devices and maintain only those that are absolutely essential. Get rid of the rest. This will probably be an uncomfortable process, and you have to get the whole family to understand the reasons for the discomfort.


Here are some of the essential rules for your new life-style. Use low energy appliances and electronics (Energy Star appliances ones are energy efficient). Change out to energy-saving compact fluorescent bulbs. Make good use of daylight by opening the curtains as soon as there is daylight. Also, low-wattage area lamps give good light for most purposes and help cutback on the use of higher-wattage ceiling lights. Switch off your lights when you leave a room. Put a timer on your fridge to switch off at night - or remember to do it yourself. (Your food won’t spoil in a closed refrigerator for up to eight hours.) Don’t keep electronic devices on standby. Keep them on a power-control bridge that can be turned off when they are not needed. And, remember thermostats up in summer and down in winter. Close off the heat in all little-used rooms in winter.


The next step is to make an inventory of the electric usage in your house. This will help you select what things you absolutely need. Gadgetry is to be avoided – most of it just takes up space, gathers dust, and doesn’t work very well.) So, do your inventory. Once you’re sure of what you simply have to keep for your physical and mental health, this will be your baseline for minimal energy use. You can give away or sell the rest.


What you probably need:

1 water-heater (There are relatively inexpensive, window solar units that supply the energy for this kind of heater. You may not need one at all in the hot, summer months.)

1 or 2 TVs and DVD-players (Make those small, regular TVs – you don’t need even one energy-hungry screen. You don’t need a TiVo box, either.)

A laptop computer (Unless you need a desktop computer for work purposes, get rid of it. It’s a lot more energy-hungry than a laptop and takes up valuable desk space. For safety sake, children should always use the family computer, and not have their own (and this only in areas of the house where they can be continually monitored.)

An energy-efficient scanner and printer

A cook stove (This could be substituted with a wood or solar stove. Propane or coal will get you off-grid, but still is fossil fuel. Topped, cast-iron cooking pots can be used for baking needs.)



 

1 small fridge (This, with or without a freezer component, depending on your needs. You’ll need to rethink your food buying and storage customs.)

Overhead fans or a whole house fan for the warm months (Unless your home is virtually windowless or you have a health problem, you can always open your windows, run around the house in your underwear and shorts, and live without air-conditioning.)

A home heating source - to be used with as low a temperature as possible in winter (You may substitute a fossil-fuel burning furnace with a wood-stove or small space heaters instead of trying to heat up the whole house. You should combine these greener alternatives for home heating along with the following tried and true measures: layering a lot of clothes, wearing insulated underwear, sleeping 2 to a bed, and using heavy comforters and sleeping bags.)


If you’re really serious about cutting back your home energy use, you’ve got to pare down as far as possible on the total number of appliances and electric devices– even if it causes some anxiety and pain. Now make a list of the other things that you now have and might be able to do without. These probably include:


Clothes washer (Even if you decide to keep your clothes washer, you can still use it less by only washing when you have enough clothes for a full cycle, hand-washing the lighter items in the sink. Take the big items like covers, rugs and heavy bedspreads to a commercial wash and dry place

Clothes dryer (This is a no-brainer. You can easily dry your clothes on a line or a rack. Get your children involved in hanging up clothes. )

Floor, wall, and table lamps (No regular–sized room needs more than 2 additional lights, and inexpensive solar lamps are available.)

Vacuum cleaner (A good mechanical carpet sweepers, broom and mop can do a lot to keep the floors clean. Wall-to-wall carpeting is not the best option, anyway. Area rugs will do fine in winter and can be cleaned and stored in summer.)

A telephone (There are still some home phones that do not need to be plugged in at all, just look for them, or use a computer phone.)

Home freezer unit (Store-bought cans and home canning and drying methods are really just as good for storage and food won’t spoil if the power goes out for a couple of days.)

Clock radio and CD-player (Laptops can substitute for a radio and CD-player. Cell phones can wake you up. There are inexpensive solar-powered clocks.)

All types of electric cookers. (A microwave oven is optional and is more energy-efficient than heating up a stove unit or conventional oven.)

Blenders, food processors, hand-mixers, and the like.

Electric dishwasher (Everyone in the family can take turns with simple chores like clearing the table, scraping plates and hand washing dishes.)

Electric garbage compacter (This item is the antithesis of green thinking. What you really need to be doing with your garbage is classifying it, making compost or feeding animals with the food scraps, and further sorting and recycling the inorganic stuff.)

Power tools (Obviously some of these are extremely useful, so choose among them carefully.)

Electric can-opener (In the long-run, these gadgets have a very short functional life, aren’t very convenient to use and a lot harder to keep clean than a good hand-operated can opener.)

Fax machine (You can almost always scan and send whatever you need as an attachment to an email address.)

Video games (For anyone, and especially for children and teens, these take away valuable time that needs to be used for educational and constructive activities.)


If you’re still worried about needing any of these things, store them well out of sight, or for big items, unplug them for one month. Make a promise to your self not to use them for thirty days. Get the rest of the family on the program, too. If you didn’t have to get them out in the next month, they probably weren’t that important, anyway.


You’ve got the idea. Now get out pen and paper and make your home electric use inventory. If you make some eco-friendly changes right now, you’ll be rewarded by a great deal of personal satisfaction and a smaller utility bill as early as next month. And, after you’ve gained confidence in your greener life-style, begin brainstorming some ways that you can actually go off-grid sometime in the future, as a permanent way of life or at least for some period of time during the year.

 A REMAKE OF SOME TIRED PILLOW SHAMS

 I bought a comforter and matching pillow shams, just a couple of years ago. This was a bed set that I really liked – with stripes of dark red, burnt orange, and rust with a gold bamboo leaf pattern stamped on top.

Unfortunately, the cotton-blend material that the comfort and shams were made of didn’t hold up well. Within a year of use, the material began to look somewhat faded and definitely limp. This was less of a problem with the comforter, because the padding in the stitched sections helped maintain the shape. The slightly faded color gave the comfort a vintage look, which wasn’t at all displeasing.

On the other hand, the pillow shams just wilted. The outer part of the shams, the part that gives it its decorative touch, collapsed. Their appearance wasn’t at all “vintage.” They didn’t even look much like shams any longer and were so misshapen that "regular” pillowcases would have been more attractive.  I was really bothered. So, for a while, I put some other shams on the bed and tried to forget about the problem.

But you know Grandma, by now.  I hate to waste things that still have use and, certainly, wasn’t going to give up on those shams. My motto is: "Never throw anything out that has a potential remedy," and I’m willing to spend a fair amount of time thinking how to fix things up.

I came up with a solution to the tired pillow sham dilemma. Here it is.

I took 1.5-inch grosgrain ribbon, in a dark gold color, and sewed it to the outer part of the shams. I ran one border of the ribbon all along the seam that separates the pillow part and the decorative edge and the other border fixed to the edging. That left just a touch of the sham material still visible on the outer edge.

 

The ribbon gave the otherwise faded sham a bright touch. More important, it served to reinforce the shape of the edging, giving the sham its proper form. Then, I crocheted a decorative edge in the same color as the ribbon onto the outside edge of each sham. My pillow shams, now reinvented, are once again on my bed, along with the matching comforter. The bed set looks good again, and it only took a few dollars and a little effort.

"FROM-SCRATCH" RECIPE FOR FEBRUARY

Amazing almost meatless meatloaf

2 cups leftover, cooked lentils
1 cup quick-cook oats
3 TBS. minced onion and 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1 egg beaten
4 1/2 oz. tomato sauce
2 TBS. olive oil
1 tps. dried italian seasonings
1 cube of chicken or vegetable boullion

1 TBS. minced fresh cilantro or parsley
1/2 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. black pepper

Optional: If you have about a cup of veggie leftovers, cooked ground meat, or any amount of grated cheese,  add it in.) Mash lentils (and, if desired, add optional veggies, meat or cheese). 
Stir in onions, oats and garlic. Add egg, tomato sauce, garlic, and other seasonings. Mix well and put mixture in a well-greased loaf pan. Smooth top with back of spoon (and, if you like, drizzle a little catsup on top)
Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes until loaf is golden brown. 

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