Sunday, October 30, 2005

The Cervix and the Heart

MaGreen and I attended the first evening of a birthing class. When we walked into the teacher’s home, I suddenly felt nervous, vulnerable in this room full of strangers. The other couples had already settled into chairs. Our teacher, a woman named Lu, is also a midwife in the hospital-based group we’re going to for pre-natal visits and the delivery.

“This class isn’t outcome oriented,” she said with a New York accent, “it’s not if you do this, you get this. No, see, I’m going to help you build up resources that you can call on depending for whatever challenges that come up.” This sounded right to me.

Lu continued with some basics about delivery. She waved her arms around as she talked. She grabbed a brown doll and thrust it through her favorite prop – a fake pelvis. At one point, she rolled her index finger around the tip of her nose, “Normally the cervix is kind of like cartilage.” Then she opened her mouth and pulled at her cheek from both sides, “But when it’s dilated, it’s like aahhh, yeah nice and soft and flexible, aahh.”

Despite Lu’s unabashed use of her own face to explain the cervix, I couldn’t help but let my attention drift. Part of me wonders if I wasn’t able to focus because at some level, even though we have chosen to go with midwives and natural birth, I’m uncomfortable with the rhetoric of natural motherhood and whole mothers.

Lu asked us to talk about our fears. One man, whose wife looked like she might give birth any second, said, "My employers have better give me leave or I'm going to quit."

An expecting father who looks like a lawyer started explaining the Family Medical Leave Act when another expecting father, a guy with a crew cut and a drawl, said with astonishment, "You have to work and make money."

Then this man's wife, a rather shy woman, said, "I'm afraid that I won't be able to breastfeed."

After talking about breastfeeding and lactation consultants, Lu moved on. She asked each person to draw a picture that represented pregnancy. After about ten minutes, we shared our pictures with the group. Four of the first eight people drew big hearts.

The father with the crew cut had drawn his own big heart with his wife and child inside. He said, “Even though I haven’t seen the baby, I feel more love than I could have imagined.” I liked this guy. He was so earnest. But in light of his astonishment at paternal leave, his drawing bothered me. I could just see his wife stuck at home breastfeeding and the second-wave feminist inside of me started shouting, “See! All this talk about natural birth and motherhood is about keeping women out of the workplace!” It’s like the husband’s drawing of his heart, even though it symbolizes love, defined the strict and debilitating gender divisions in our society with the man as breadwinner and woman as caregiver. Heart as prison.

When my turn came, I blabbered as I held up my picture of a multi-headed, multi-armed version of MaGreen. Our baby is floating outside MaGreen and there are lots of miniature people clamoring around. One of MaGreen’s faces has a sardonic expression, another has its tongue sticking out like Kali, and the third one is looking up with a smile. One hand holds a book, another signals “no fear”, another “I give what you need”, and another holds a spinning, serrated discus that can chop off people’s heads. I’m a burning spirit blending into the background. I said that despite seeing the ultrasound, hearing the heartbeat, and feeling the strong kicks, the baby was like a possibility to me and not quite real.

Lu thanked me for describing how many men feel pregnancy is more of an idea than a physical reality. But I felt disappointed in myself. I couldn’t explain how pregnancy feels fraught with tensions; how it forces all my values, relationships, commitments, hopes, and limitations on the table; how it makes the gender inequities in our society personal; and how there are too many hang-ups, fears, and histories for me to think of pregnancy as a big heart.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Composting 101 – Compost Bins and the Third Eye

At first, burying things in the backyard, or trench composting as it is called, was fine. It’s basically free unless you need to buy a shovel. However, there’s a limit to how much you can bury. Burial is a good method for vegetable peelings and eggshells, but not for leaves, grass clippings, ashes from the barbecue, or whatever else. So MaGreen and I decided that we needed a bin.

There’s an overwhelming selection of bins at stores and on the internet that range in price from about $60 to $200. (Or you can have one designed and built to match your Japanese garden for $600 like MaGreen’s Aunt Patricia.) MaGreen and I, though, are cheap. And it seems a little counter-intuitive to me to spend money on a container to let things rot in. Maybe the “compost tea” that the expensive compost bins produce is the best thing since chocolate, but I would rather start out with something simple and FREE. We’d rather spend our money on a new organic cotton mattress or buy tickets for a vacation or donate to Oxfam.

Miah read somewhere on the internet that it’s easy to make a compost bin with shipping pallets. So we started looking for pallets on the side of the road, next to dumpsters, and behind strip malls. For about a month, we couldn’t find one. I’m not terribly skilled at scavenging. When my parents raised me they always discouraged me from using discarded or used stuff. “We can buy you a new one,” they would say. Having grown up in India right after independence, my parents saw scavenging as something people do to survive, not something that a person with an education and money should do for fun. It wasn’t until I started hanging out with artists, musicians, and writers that my third eye – the garbage eye – opened up.

Miah eventually spotted three shipping pallets in a lot close to our house. I shoved them in the trunk of the car – as in the dickey or boot for all you Brits and Indians - and drove them home. After that first sighting, we started to see shipping pallets everywhere just waiting for us. All of a sudden, the whole city seemed awash in pallets. Scavenging is sort of like birding. Once you’ve learned to spot your first hummingbird, you start to see them everywhere.

Well, to cut this story short, I picked a spot in the corner of the backyard to create the compost. I had to dig up an oleander bush, which MaGreen wanted me to do anyways because it is poisonous and she didn’t want our little girl to chew on the leaves. Then I dug little trenches to put the pallets into so they wouldn’t fall over. I made two four-sided bins with the neighbor’s fence as the backside. The front side swings open. I used an old plastic bag as a sort of hinge. I used the leaves from the dug-up oleander bush to inaugurate the pile.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Covet (and Love It)

If you’re anything like me, on a productive Saturday about fifteen years ago you might have gathered up the blue dress you never should have bought because you hated it in the store (but it made you look skinnier), and three or four T-shirts you don’t wear because you don’t wear T-shirts, and two or three of your Aunt Izzy’s old frying pans, and a grey wool rug, and the iron you retired since your husband came with a better one, and finally, some baseball hats your mother gave you so she wouldn’t have the problem that you do, now:  your give-away pile has sat in a dank corner for so long that you’re afraid to put your hand into the box holding it.  You fear worms might have moved in a few years back and started composting the textiles into a weird, nostalgic dust; or you fear something worse, something more spidery and venomous.  

Some people won’t understand this problem.  They send packages to far-flung friends and family whole weeks before important birthday and holiday deadlines.  They hoist their glass to glass recycling centers bi-monthly (instead of bi-decadely).  So it makes sense that these people, too, can collect give-away piles and distribute them in due time.  They just put them in the car and drive them to the nearest woman’s shelter;  maybe they even call up the Salvation Army and make an appointment to have the items picked up.  “What could be easier?” they ask. These are all good people.  But they aren’t like me, and they don’t understand my problems.  And the Freecycle Network does.

Freecycle is a grassroots organization devoted to reducing landfills by making it easy for people to give away what they might ordinarily throw away.  You join a local Freecycle network, which is basically joining an internet newsgroup/discussion list (directions are on the website).  I’m one of the nearly eight thousand HoustonFreecycle members, and also one of the 729 HeightsMontroseFreecycle members…and there are 2 million other Freecycle members in over 3 thousand communities throughout the world.  And incredibly, this group only started in 2003.  It grows astronomically.

This is how it works.  When you have something to give away you post an offer.  You’d send an email something like:

Subject:  OFFER: random box of books (Montrose Neighborhood)
Message:  Hi, I have about sixty books.  Half are gothic romance novels, some are early American captivity narratives, and there a bunch of reference books on writing.  Also one very surprising book for horticulturalists.  You need to take all or nothing.

If you want something somebody is giving away, you hit reply to their email.  And, by the way, most OFFERs are juicier than the above:  I’ve seen all sorts of furniture, washers and dryers, refrigerators, clothing, computers, gardening stuff (including trees & plants), party favors, pet supplies, and Star Trek memorabilia.  Sometimes something is broken and is given away for parts, and the OFFER’s author will let you know if that’s the case.  Some people post pictures.  I am, actually, this kind of person:  I fear stamps and mailboxes, but have no problem taking a digital photo, uploading it, and sending it off to Freecycle.  

There’s an art to writing a response to an offer that will procure you the offer, and the fun part is that it is a fluid art. That is, different people want different replies.  Some people would snarkily call your lengthy explanation describing why you NEED their IKEA couch cover a sob story and give it to the person who only wrote “I’m interested,” while others would call the latter poster rude and look for a story at least as sad as Old Yeller.  Still others don’t care what you write, they give it to the first person who emails.  But the point is, the offerer decides of his/her own accord who wins, and I think this is a good thing.  It’s unautomated and completely human, and unfair, and chancey.

Raj and I have given away:  an old sewing table (LOTS of crazy, beautiful, sad stories about why people wanted it…), hot curlers, Tupperware (I felt very guilty giving away all the plastic), unmatching flatware, an area carpet, a wardrobe, books, suits…lots of stuff.  When I first started, I found myself looking for things to give away.  It’s thrilling to do.  You choose somebody’s story, you email them and let them know they won, and then you have them come by your house and pick up their gift.  I’m often out, so I leave the item on my porch and it’s gone when I get home.  

This is an incredibly simple and fun way to be a Green Parent.  It’s something stay-at-home parents can do, even when infants are around...and on a side note, there are dozens of offers for cribs, strollers and baby-related things on the lists every day. It’s recycling in a fabulous way, that puts you into contact with your neighbors. It’s an ingenious use of the internet that doesn’t involve giving anybody any money, and that may involve you not having to go out and buy a brand new dresser (because somebody will give you one!).  

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Green Parenting in Panama – The Navas Family

MaGreen and I married last February. One of the gifts was a set of frequent-flyer tickets for our honeymoon, enough to get us out of the country. We booked tickets for Panama because we heard it had rainforests but was not yet overrun with tourists. After spending a day in the city, we took a cab to the bus station and asked for a ticket to a national park in the next province. The conductors talked among themselves and then walked us to the bus.

It was a rustic vehicle, as in no air-conditioning and a passenger holding a crowing rooster in his lap. We rattled out of the city, over the Panama Canal, and into the Coclé Province. We made a turn at the town of Penonomé and started climbing into the mountains. The conductor had us switch into a van, which strained its way up steeper roads. Horses started to outnumber cars and motorbikes. It was getting dark and there were no hotels. The conductor had us transfer again and we found ourselves alone in another van that truly suffered its way up an unpaved, boulder-strewn road into the Parque Nacional Omar Torrijos. The lodging in the park, however, was occupied. Our guidebook said there was one other place to stay – the home of the Navas family.

The Navas took us in and fed us plantains, rice, and chicken. They had a nice, polished concrete porch where we sat and talked with the family. They were a grandmother, grandfather, grown daughters and son-in-laws, and grandchildren. About ten in all. The youngest was a three-year-old boy.

The grandfather, Santo, said to us, “You know, we had some Germans visit, but they called first.”

Then his daughter, Nuris, said, “Yes and there were the Irish ones and they called first too.”

We got the idea. We should call ahead. Still, the Navas did everything to make us feel welcome and want to stay. Our room was off to the side of their family room. It was made of cinder blocks and a metal roof. We had our own toilet and little single bed. I’d like to say that MaGreen conceived there on a mountain where two continents meet, where two oceans nearly meet, but part of the wall with the adjoining bedroom was made from a piece of cardboard and the bed creaked with every move. I could hear the children murmuring in their sleep.

In the morning, a son (or son-in-law?) named Santiago took us into the rain forest to give us a guided tour. He carried a machete with him. “What kinds of things do you want to see?” he asked.

“What kinds of things can you show us?” we asked.

“I’ve taken snake scientists on snake hunts, but that must be done at night with lanterns. Some want to see this bird or that bird on their list.”

“What do you like to look for?” we asked.

“I love the frogs,” he said, “but the red ones, which used to be so common that it would be difficult not to step on them, they have all died.”

MaGreen mourned with Santiago as he told us how thousands of these frogs had died only a few months before and that they were nowhere to be found. We kept asking him about his life and he started to warm up to us. As he took us deeper into the jungle where it was nice and cool, he told us how he grew up tromping around the wilds. He had been a hunter and his family had been loggers until twenty-five years before when the government declared the area a no-cut zone.

“Were you a good hunter?” I tried to ask, but my Spanish came out garbled.

“Look,” he said, “I don’t hunt any more.”

His skills as a guide were extraordinary. He showed us at least five varieties of toucans, countless varieties of hummingbirds, an orange bellied tragon which is a cousin of the quetzal, a white ruffed manakin, a bay headed tanager, a bright blue frog with black spots, a bright green frog with black stripes, a salamander, a huge chameleon that changed colors before our eyes, parasitic trees that eventually swallow up and kill the host tree, ants that carry leaves on their backs, central american squirrel monkeys, and a sloth hanging from a tree with a baby on its belly. While we trudged along, he would suddenly thrust his hand under a plant and grab a frog.

Santiago also took us up to a peak where we could see the Atlantic on one side and the Pacific on the other. On the path, he pointed out abandoned logging equipment. On the way back to the Navas home, we picked fruit off the trees. We even got to pick a cacao fruit. Chocolate is made from the seeds. But we ate the sweet fruit part around the seeds.

When we got back, the grandfather suggested that we go out with the kids to bathe in the Barrigon river. What can I say? We swam with the kids in a pool at the base of a little waterfall. They showed us how to slip behind the falls and then dive under the pounding water.

We kept shouting to the kids over the sound of the water, “You are so lucky to grow up in paradise!”

When we returned for dinner, we talked with Nuris, a very intelligent woman who has two young daughters. When the Peace Corps held a training program at the Navas home, the program director asked her to move to Panama City and work for his family as their nanny.

“I get one weekend off per month to visit my family here,” she said. Her kids were growing up in the care of their father and grandparents as she took care of American kids.

“I’m paid two hundred dollars per month.”

“That’s exploitation,” I said, “you need a union.”

“No, no,” she said, “that’s good pay and this is a good opportunity for me.”

Nuris kept talking to us about her life, about how dear the Peace Corp coordinator’s children were and that they might take her abroad with them. The others were preparing dinner. All their ingredients were fresh and locally grown. They ground and roasted local coffee beans. The chicken was raised locally. We took a break from our vegetarianism to share in their regular meals. One of the men in the family worked yucca farms.

When we actually ate, Nuris joined the rest of the family and the grandfather, Santo, came in her place to talk to us. I asked him how they started their business.

“When the government made the forest a no-cut zone, they told us there would be tourists,” he said, “so that is when we had the idea of hosting visitors.”

I detected some bitterness in the way he talked about the policy. They forged new lives as hosts to eco-tourists because their former way of life was outlawed. Their current work, you could say, is green-collar, but is it as dignified as before? I think it’s wonderful there is income generated by preserving or reclaiming wilderness, but would inhabited wilderness have been a better model than a strict no-cut law?

“Next time,” Santo said, “you must stay longer so that we can take you to La Rica. You can only get there by hiking for a day into the park.” La Rica, La Rica, La Rica. He talked about it whenever his mind drifted. That was where the old way continued. No electricity. Living in the middle of the forest in homes made from wood not concrete. There are even more rivers and more waterfalls. The water tumbles down the mountains into Caribbean.

Before bedtime, the children put on a little play for us. I picked at their guitar and sang a few songs. MaGreen sat with one of Nuris’s daughters and flipped through our Lonely Planet guidebook with her. The girl was especially drawn to the section on Panama City. She pointed to a picture of some shiny skyscrapers and said, “That’s where my mom works.” MaGreen tore the picture out for her to keep. Nuris was leaving the next morning to go back to the American children she cared for in the city. She had already taken an extra day off and had to return.

We left after another day. Santo came with us down the mountain to Penonomé so that we could draw money from the ATM machine and pay him. I think he asked for $160 for two nights, three days of meals, and the tours of the park. We gave him $200. After we said our farewells, he walked straight to a bank and deposited the cash. Earlier he had said that several of the grandchildren wanted to attend universities – one wants to be a biologist – and they were saving money for their schooling. We hope to see them again and bring our baby with us.

If you would like to stay with the Navas family, call ahead. Here's their number: 507 983 9130.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Principles of Green Parenting – Impurity is OK

Well, the week started off relatively green. I switched to using those weird little crystals for deodorant . MaGreen transferred her squash seedling from a little pot to our new square-foot, organic garden outside. We picked up MaGreen’s bicycle from the shop with new pregnancy-friendly modifications. I put screens up, opened our windows, and turned off the airconditioning. So far so good, right? Doing the green thing, reducing our energy footprint and having fun at the same time.

Then Tuesday, we discovered that an animal dug up our garden. I think it was a squirrel, a deceptively cute one that I’ve watched grow from a baby in our backyard. Betrayal! I wanted to hurt the squirrel, which would not be very green I suppose. Then it got hot again and MaGreen was feeling ill. We also got in a big argument. So I closed all the windows and revved up the central air-conditioning. Wednesday, after we had made-up, we rented the second season of Six Feet Under and basically watched four straight hours of television on the dvd player in MaGreen’s computer. For about two days, I felt like taking back all of our idealistic proclamations about green parenting.

I don’t feel bad about these “lapses”. We aren’t trying to reach some kind of pure state of greenness. Although we have hidden the television and stopped watching it, renting some dvds and vegging out – that’s part of life, at least in Houston. We pay a little extra money to get our electricity from a windmill company called Green Mountain Energy, but we’re not going to keep the air-conditioning off and suffocate on a hot Houston day by our own volition. Purity is not the objective. I think pure anything ultimately hurts people. If you read Gandhi’s autobiography, you get the sense that his wife suffered for many of his experiments with truth. Righteousness is a clumsy weapon.

Recently at a party, MaGreen and I were telling some friends and acquaintances about our green parenting plans. Some people were intrigued, others were aghast. It was when MaGreen told them we will try the diaper-free method that people kind of freaked. One woman who has two grown kids basically said we didn’t know what we were getting in to and implied that we would hurt the baby. I think she doesn’t understand us. She thinks we will be dogmatic, as many people are about parenting choices. That said, we are basically setting ourselves up. I’m not sure what it will be like when MaGreen delivers and we have a real baby to deal at 2 am. But we figure the greener our plans, the easier it will be to laugh at ourselves down the road.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Principles of Green Parenting – Understanding Your Fears and Transforming Them

We have focused much of our green parenting energy on removing toxins from our house, which is fear-based action. We are afraid of hurting our child and ourselves, so we get rid of the Windex. But green parenting, in my opinion, shouldn’t be the conglomeration of fears. If I focus on protecting our baby, keeping her safe, and making our home secure, then I am just reproducing all the fear in our society. I’m not saying that we can be fearless. That’s for off-road bikers. “Extreme Parenting Dude!” No, I’m all about fear. While the pregnant mother bears the overwhelming physical burden of pregnancy, I actually think the partner bears a huge psychic burden. My fears as an expectant father are as overwhelming as they are normal. I just don’t want to be trapped in a green prison of our own making. Our quest is to search out our fears and transform them rather than react to them.

What MaGreen has done with our cleaning supplies is a good example. It’s all about process. Researching the way people cleaned before the Windex era put us back into touch with traditions and with the chemicals we use. Mixing the ingredients ourselves is more engaged, not to mention cheaper and less toxic, than buying the latest spray with some new mystery chemical additive. But again, as MaGreen has written, it’s an ongoing process. The homemade dishwashing detergent didn’t work, so she bought the Seventh Generation brand. We went from being uninformed to fearful; but instead of stopping there, MaGreen is taking the time to find alternatives. That process of understanding our fears and transforming them is, in my view, a basic principle of green parenting.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Canned Spinach Beats Potato Chips: How Dorothy Saved Me

When my parents realized that I wasn’t growing, they fired my nanny and hired Dorothy, the first nanny I actually remember. I was two at the time. I was a shrimp of a kid, in the bottom tenth percentile for height and weight. My parents asked a doctor for advice and he told them to keep a careful diary of everything I ate for at least a day. It turned out that all I ate was sugary cereal, coke, potato chips, and cookies. My mom had taken a year off from work to breastfeed and care for me, but after that I was in the hands of the nanny. I don’t remember that nanny and how my parents fired her, but those first days with Dorothy are some of my earliest memories because the change in my diet was so sudden and dramatic.

Dorothy practically crammed scrambled eggs and toast down my throat for breakfast, canned spinach and grill cheese for lunch, and glasses of milk and apples for snacks. It sure wasn’t organic food picked fresh from a local farm and sold at a farmer’s market, but it was better than potato chips. I doubt anybody in Mobile, Alabama used the word organic at the time. It was the era of fake pine-board walls in the living room, TVs with dials next to the screen and no remote, and canned, processed everything. The canned spinach Dorothy fed me tasted bad and she had to persuade me to open my mouth.

“Popeye eats spinach and look how strong he is. Don’t you want to be that strong?” Dorothy would say. She had poofy, permed hair that I thought grew naturally that way on white women. Dorothy would sit down next to me on the floor by the coffee table and try to put the spinach in my mouth. “Come on, be like Popeye.”

It would be many years before I could sneer at clichés like the overeducated liberal that I am now, but even then as a kid, I knew Dorothy was playing on my desires and fears. To my own surprise, I found myself repeating her leading question as an assertion. “Mom, I’m going to be as strong as Popeye.” It was embarrassing to be played, but my resentment for Dorothy melted away. I would wake up at night and ask for her. She didn’t live with us. If it wasn’t yet late, as in grown-up people late, I would talk to Dorothy over the phone and she reassured me. Just knowing that she still existed, that she would force feed me with more canned food the next day, did the trick and I went back to bed.

It’s amazing that both my parents were conscientious doctors, but they still did not know how to control my diet, not until my growth had noticeably faltered. My older brother had been a glowing, chubby boy, but he was cared for in India for the first two years of his life, not only by my mother but by a house full of aunts, cousins, my grandmother, and servants. They fed him dal, yogurt, rice, mangos, shiro, milk, and chapatti. The disjuncture caused by moving from the middle-class life in India to the middle-class life in the United States contributed to my crummy diet.

Yet, I don’t believe that immigration is the whole story. Millions of kids in families that have staid in the same place for generations are living on cookies and potato chips. Women everywhere are working while trying to meet the same burden of caring for children and elderly without the old networks of support. The relentless onslaught of commercials and branding is everywhere. I was fortunate to have Dorothy. She saved me.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Natural Cleaning and Green Cleaning Solutions by Miah

I promised awhile back to put up the list of cleaning supplies on the web. It's a compendium of a lot of other people's ideas. If you search the web, you'll find thousands more whatever you do, since you’re already reading this on the web, don't go out and buy a book on making your own cleaning products. If you don't like my list, go out and search for others.

My proposal here is to post this, and then every couple of months I'll let you know how I'm doing: which mixtures I've nixed, which I like, and any tips I've found.

My primary problems so far have been:
  1. If I put a mixture of powder (Borax or Baking Soda) and water into a spray bottle, the bottle clogs. I am going to go buy a few garden bottles, which I think are meant to house chemicals, and see if this doesn’t clear up my problem.

  2. Powdery residues left behind. The obvious solution is to clean the powdery residue…but I’m aiming for making the simplest of solutions in terms of ingredients and use.

Any hints or recipes from readers would be very welcome…


VG[inegar]— naturally cleans like an all-purpose cleaner.VGis a great natural cleaning product as well as a disinfectant and deodorizer. Always test on an inconspicuous area. Improperly dilutedVGis acidic and can eat away at tile grout. Never useVGon marble surfaces. The smell disappears when it dries. Helps break down detergent in laundry. Use it to clean coffeepots, glass, paintbrushes, grout, windows and fireplaces.
LJ[lemon Juice] – Another natural substance used to clean your home. Can rot after 2 weeks.
Baking Soda [BS] – Cleaning agent even after used up as fridge deoderizer. Cleans, deodorizes, softens W, scours.
Soap – unscented natural soap in liquid form, flakes, powders or bars is biodegradable and will clean just about anything.
Borax [BX] - cleans, deodorizes, disinfects, softens W, cleans wallpaper, painted walls and floors.
WhiteVinegar [VG]- cuts grease, removes mildew, odors, some stains and wax build-up.
Washing Soda[WS] - or SAL Soda is sodium carbonate decahydrate, a mineral. Washing soda cuts grease, removes stains, softens W, cleans wall, tiles, sinks and tubs. Use care, as washing soda can irritate mucous membranes. Do not use on aluminum.
Ethanol or 100 proof Alcohol & water[RA} - is an excellent disinfectant.
Cornstarch - can be used to clean windows, polish furniture, shampoo carpets and rugs.
Citrus Solvent - cleans paint brushes, oil and grease, some stains.
Murphy’s Oil Soap, Bar Keeper’s Friend, Bon Ami



Benzene (paint, plastic, ink, oil): English ivy, chrysanthemum, Gerbera daisy
Formaldehyde: (plywood, pressed-wood, furniture, fire retardants in mattresses): Spider plant, golden pothos, bamboo palm, azalea, Aloe vera, Philodendron
Trichloroethylene: (printing inks, paints, lacquers, varnishes, adhesives): Peace lily, warneckei, Dracaena marginata

CLEANERS (Kitchen/Bathroom):
All Purpose:
1. Simplest: 1 p. VG, 1 p. W in a spray bottle
bathtub, toilet, sink, and countertops. stovetop, appliances, countertops. floor. will eat away the soap scum /hard W stains/degrease.
2. Bleach-like: BX and LJ highly effective mixture for bathrooms. Sprinkle this combination on the surfaces of the sink, toilet bowl and bathtub and then scour with a brush.
3. Degreaser: Mix 1/2 c. VG and 1/4 c. BS into 1/2 gal (2 liters) W. Store and keep. Use for removal of W deposit stains on shower stall panels, bathroom chrome fixtures, windows, bathroom mirrors, etc. Degreases & Deoderize.
4. Mix 2 Tb BS with 1 pnt W in spray bottle. squeeze LJ orVGto cut grease.
1. BX, LJ, sunlight
2. Mix a quarter c. of BS with a few c.s of warm W and wash down the outside of white appliances. Allow it to stand for 15 min before rinsing clean and it will help remove yellowing of the appliances and restore the whiteness.
Carpet: Simplest All-Purpose. Let sit 5 min. Scrub.
Decal or Sticker Remover: VG. Really soak it in.
1. compound of 3% HPX andVG
2. Mix 1/4 c. BX into 1/2 gal hot W. Use for wiping surfaces.
3. Soap!
4. Dryness. Bacteria can’t live where it’s dry.
5. Alcohol.
Lime Deposits: You can reduce lime deposits in your teakettle by putting in 1/2 c. (125ml) VG and 2 c.s W, and gently boiling for a few min. Rinse well with fresh W while kettle is still warm.
Mildew Remover:
1. HPX
2. White VG full strength. Don’t rinse.
Midlew Inhibitor: BX
1. 3% HPX with V
2. Mix one p. HPX (3%) with two p. W in a spray bottle and spray on areas with mold. Wait at least 1 hr. before rinsing or using shower.
1. Moisten oven surfaces. Sprinkle several layers of BS and let sit set for 1hr. Rub gently with fine steel wool for tough spots.
2. Salt on Stain when it spills.
Scouring Powder:
1. Apply BS directly with a damp sponge for top of stove, refrigerator and other such surfaces that should not be scratched.
2. Vinegar and Salt. Mix together for a good surface cleaner.
3. LJ andVGand/or BS.
Soap scum/Hard W dissolver: LJ
1. Flush the toilet to allow the W level to go down. Pour the undilutedVGaround the inside of the rim. Scrub.
2. Mix 1/4 c. BS and 1 c.VG pour into basin and let it set for a few min. Scrub with brush and rinse.
3. A mixture of BX (2 p.) and LJ (one p.) will also work. A paste will eliminate stains.
4. Flush. Sprinkle BX. Drizzle over w/V. Leave overnight.
Refinishing Old Furniture: Vegetable Oil Soap, a simple, nontoxic solvent. Follow label directions.
Water Rings on Wood: Moisture is trapped under finish. Try toothpaste or mayonnaise on a damp cloth and rub into the ring. Once the ring is removed, buff the entire wood surface.
Window/Stainless Steel/Chrome:
1. ½ c.VGin 2 c. W
2. 1 c RA, 1 c W, 1 Tb.VG Using Rol and VGtogether makes a quickly evaporating spray glass and mirror cleaner that competes with national brands. a nice shines hard tiles, chrome etc
3. 1/4 cVG 1 Tb cornstarch and 1 quart W.

Dishwasher Cleaner: Pour 1 c. of BS into the dishwasher and run it through the rinse cycle. It will help get rid of some of the grime that collects on the inside of the machine, as well as freshen the smell of the dishwasher.
Dishwasher Detergent: Mix together 1 1/2 Tablespoons of BS with 2 Tablespoons of BX.
Dishwashing soap:
1. Sea salt, LJ, hot W, few drops of orange essential oil
2. Mix equal BX and WS, but increase the WS if your W is hard.
Dishwasher scrubber/stain remover: ½ Lemon w/ BS poured on it

1. Flexible metal snake, a plunger, salt
2. Pour 1 c. of BS down the drain followed by 1 c. of hot VG. Wait 5 min before flushing the drain with 2 quarts of hot W. Repeat.
3. 1 C. of BS and 1/2 c. of salt down the drain. Let this mixture sit in the drain for several hours, overnight is best, before flushing the drain with 2 c.s of boiling W..
Garbage Disposal Freshner:
1. 2 T. BX. Let sit 15 min, then run.
2. Citrus peels
3. BS down the drain without rinsing when you are going on vacation or even just a weekend trip. Flush the BS out of the drain with hot W or hot VG followed by hot W when you return.

1. general: VG, W, 5 drops eucalyptus oil, 15 peppermint, shake
2. vinyl and linoleum: soap. add a capful of baby oil to the cleaning W to preserve and polish.
3. wood: a.)apply a thin coat of 1:1 vegetable oil and VG and rub in well. b.) oil soap
4. painted wood: mix 1 tsp. WS into 1 gal hot W. (see POLISH)
5. brick and stone tiles: mix 1 c. VG in 1 gal (4L) W; rinse with clear W.
6. ceramic tile: Mix 1/4 VG (more if very dirty) into 1 gallon W.

Special problems:
1. black heel marks: the heel mark with a paste of baking soda and water.
2. crayon marks: Toothpaste. Will not work well on wallpaper or porous surfaces.
3. remove grease from wood floors: immediately place an icecube or very cold water on the spot. The grease will harden and can then be scraped off with a knife. Then iron a piece of cloth over the grease spot.

FRAGRANCE: Essential oils. You need a lot to cover the smell of vinegar…eucalyptus works well in small doses, though.

Fabric Brightener:
1. Add a 1/2 c. of BS to the wash when you add your regular liquid detergent. The BS has been known to give you whiter whites, brighter brights, and odor free clothing.
2. LINENS: Add ½ c to wash w/old, age-stained linens
3. 1/2 cup of lemon juice to the rinse cycle
Fabric Softener:
1. ½ c. VG in the rinse cycle. Breaks down detergent.
2. And Odor remover: ½ c. BS in the rinse cycle.
Stain Remover (Clothes):
1. Rub a paste of 6T of BS and 1/2 c warm W onto stained clothing before laundering. Be sure to check for colorfastness first.
2. BX and W
Acids: Drain Opener, Battery Acid, Toilet Cleaner, VGomit, Urine: Quickly rinse acid spills and then sprinkle BS on your clothing to neutralize the acid and prevent damage to your clothing.
Blood Stains: BS rubbed onto a dampened blood stain can help lift the stain from the fabric.
Crayons in the Wash: Crayons accidentally washed with clothing, there may still be hope. Rewash in the hottest W allowable for the fabric, adding a 1/2 box to a box of BS.
Fruit/Wine Stains: Treat immediately, in a hurry, pour a little BS on, and then later run hot W through the back of the stain.
Sweat: A BS paste. Rub onto the clothing. Tough stains may need to let the paste sit for 1-2 hours before laundering.
Vomit: BS.

Aluminum: using a soft cloth, clean with a solution of cream of tartar and W. brass or bronze: polish with a soft cloth dipped in lemon and baking-soda solution, or VG and salt solution.
Brass, copper and aluminum: Paste of LJ and cream of tartar
Chrome: polish with baby oil, VG, or aluminum foil shiny side out.
Copper: soak a cotton rag in a pot of boiling W with 1 tablespoon salt and 1 c. VG. Apply to copper while hot; let cool, then wipe clean. For tougher jobs, sprinkle BS or LJ on the cloth before wiping.
Gold: clean with toothpaste, or a paste of salt, VG, and flour.
1. Line a pan with aluminum foil and fill with W; add a tsp. each of BS and salt. Bring to a boil and immerse silver. Polish with soft cloth.
2. Aluminum foil, BS, Salt, Very hot W (boiling, maybe). Combine in clean sink. Put tarnished silver and silver-plated items in and let set a few min. Watch tarnish disappear, reappear on foil. Natural chemical reaction kids love & teaches them science!

Air Fresheners: Commercial fresheners coat nasal passages to diminish sense of smell.
1. Absorbtion. BS or VG with LJ in small dishes absorbs odors around the house. Houseplants help. Prevent cooking odors by simmering VG (1 Tb in 1 c. W) while cooking.
2. Vanilla. Soak vanilla in cotton ball place in car or anywhere. Reported to even remove skunk smell.
3. Ventilation. Open windows or doors in the house for at least a short period every day. This will also help to reduce toxic fumes that may be building up indoors.
4. Potpourri. Make your own potpourri from your
favorite herbs and spices. Place the potpourri in a small
basket or jar or in small sachet bags. Boil for more effect.
5. Sprays: Mix water and your favorite essential oils in a spray container. Freshens clothes, air, etc.

Odor Removers:
Carpet: a.) Sprinkle the carpet with a mixture of 1 cup Borax and 2 cups cornmeal. Let this mixture stand for an hour before vacuuming. b.) Use baking soda in same way.
General: BS.
Garbage: Put at bottom of garbage in newspaper to soak smells.
Laundry Hamper: BS at bottom of bag or BS sachets.
Musty Smell: Try mopping an uncarpeted floor/shelf with one gal warm W, 1/2 c. of VG, and 1/4 c. of BS.
Refrigerator: Put a box there. Wash w/BS & W. Sprinkle in bins.
Shoes: Sprinkle BS.
Baking Soda: Soaks up musty smells in fridge, garbage, etc.

1. 2 p. olive oil, 1 p. LJ.
Mix together in a clean new spray bottle. Use another clean cloth to polish the surface dry.
2. Mix three p olive oil and one part vinegar.
1. Banana Peel
2. Olive oil with a few drops of LJ can be applied to shoes with a thick cotton or terry rag. Leave for a few min; wipe and buff with a clean, dry rag.