Eco-Conscious, Frugal Tips

Green and Frugal Home Furnishings

Is your sofa a little worn? Has your recliner declined? Does your coffee table look like it’s been attacked by a family of beavers? Maybe you need to redecorate, but that doesn’t mean you have to fill your living room with toxic chemicals or spend a fortune. If you’re willing to be flexible and a little creative, you can furnish your living room with cozy furniture that won’t outgas and doesn’t cost a fortune.

Do a search for patio furniture. That’s right. Find furniture that’s green, made of sustainable materials and sturdy enough to stand up to the elements – or your hyperactive toddler and Black Lab. Whether it’s made of bamboo, “polywood” which is a recycled material made from milk jugs and other plastic, eucalyptus or another sustainably harvested wood, patio furniture can be used to decorate a living room, den or even a dining room

Add some cushions to a wooden couch. Use a bookcase for a bedside table or divider. Put a bamboo lounger in front of the TV and really relax. Hey, there are no rules anymore. Anything goes, as long as you like it and it’s comfortable. Of course, if it’s eco-conscious and fits into the budget, it’s even better.

May I suggest that you investigate making your own cushions with kapok or natural latex rubber filling and cotton or wool coverings? If you’re not into sewing, maybe you can find some cotton slipcovers at Goodwill or have someone run you up some for a small fee. Or maybe you can barter. If there’s something that you have that a seamstress wants, you’re in business.

I once traded some healthy strawberry plants for a dining room table. There are all kinds of possible deals if you talk to people wherever you go. Let people know that you’re looking for a sustainable wood kitchen island, and you’ll be surprised at how quickly one will turn up. Start looking at patio furniture as less expensive eco-furniture for the living room and you’ll be sitting pretty in no time.

Natural Remedies

Flu Fighting Food: Mushrooms

Do you like mushrooms? This is a good thing from what I’ve been reading lately. Mushrooms are just full of beta-glucans. What’s that when it’s at home? Well, it’s a soluble polysaccharide, if you must know, and they’re some of the best immune-system boosters you can find.

They support your immune system by ramping up the macrophages, the white blood cells that search out and destroy invading viruses and bacteria. The quicker the macrophages get to the source of the infection, the sooner they destroy the germs that are causing your cough, sniffles or sore throat.

Although there are other foods like oats and barley and such that contain polysaccharides, they’re just not as effective as the beta-glucans in mushrooms, especially the more exotic – to us – mushrooms. That doesn’t mean that eating white button mushrooms isn’t good for you, it is. So if they’re your favorites, by all means add them to salads and sandwiches and your favorite recipes.

Most mushrooms contain a good amount of beta-glucans, but Shitake and Reishi contain the most. This is why they’ve been popular in both Ayurveda and Traditonal Chinese Medicine for centuries. Whether you get them from an extract or in your stir-fried noodles or in a Bella burger, it’s all good.

So, with flu season upon us, what better time than now to order in pizza with ‘shrooms, add mushroom soup to the menu or dine on pasta with mushroom sauce. And don’t forget the onions and garlic which are also good for fending off the flu and colds.

Eco-Conscious, Great Green Sites, Green Consumer, Health Alert, In the News

Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Go Into The Water – 1,4-dioxane

Sometimes I feel like the White Queen in Alice in Wonderland, running just to keep up with developments in Green products. Bisphenol-A is discovered, then it’s banished, then we find out it didn’t really go completely away.

We learn which companies to trust – then find out that some of them have been lying on their labels or just leaving ingredients out of their label list. What’s a concerned consumer to do?

Take 1,4-dioxane, a known carcinogen and petrochemical. Now, wouldn’t you think that companies like Seventh Generation, Ecover, Method, Nature’s Gate and Aura Cacia – to name just a few – would do the right thing and list it on their products that contain it? And how can they get away with NOT listing it if it’s in their products?

Well, there’s a little loophole in the labeling laws – one that I wouldn’t expect ethical companies to take advantage of – but they do. 1,4-dioxane is considered a “contaminant”, not an ingredient. So, it doesn’t have to be listed as an ingredient. It’s produced as a by-product when a process called “ethoxylation” is used to cheaply make products milder when they contain harsh ingredients.

So, it’s in the product, but they don’t tell you it’s in the product, so you don’t KNOW that it’s in the product and that makes everything all right. Right? After all, consumers won’t mind when they find out that they’ve been putting this carcinogen in their dishpan, in their washer, on their kids, on their pets and on themselves.  And, so what if a little bit of it gets into the environment and filters through to the water table and into the soil. It’s not on the label, therefore, it’s not really there and it can’t hurt anyone, right?

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty burned up about this. If you can’t trust supposedly ethical, Greener than thou companies like Seventh Generation and Ecover, who can you trust? I’ve been paying more for their products over Clorox and other mega-companies who’ve just jumped on the Green bandwagon, because I wanted to support the companies who were Green before it was popular. Now, I’m rethinking that whole idea.

Do they really deserve my loyalty if they’re willing to lie by omission about a known carcinogen? I expect this kind of thing from mainstream manufacturers who have been doing it for years and getting away with it. It’s not a shock when I find that Dial, Lever, Johnson and Johnson, Ajax, Palmolive and Olay, for instance, also sell products with 1,4-dioxane in them and don’t list it on the label.

I need to hear from these companies that they’re not going to do this kind of thing again. I want to be assured that they’ll tell me everything – and I do mean everything – that’s in their products, no matter if it’s an ingredient, a contaminant or something that leeches out of the container into the product.

In the meantime, if you’d like to make sure that your personal care and cleaning products don’t contain 1,4-dioxane, The Organic Consumers Association, where I got most of this information, has a really nice Pocket Safety Guide to Personal Care and Cleaning Products that you can print out and take with you when you shop.They also have a lot of information on this and other subjects of interest to Green consumers.

Or, if you’d like to read about alternatives to products with carcinogens and hidden ingredients, you can stop by “Best of Mother Earth” where my friend, Karen recommends and sells several. I’d like to thank her for her post which alerted me to the 1,4-dioxane scandal in products from “natural” companies and for all the posts she writes about something she’s passionate about – the earth and all who live on it.

Eco-Conscious, Green Consumer

A Little Idea That Could Change The World

Everyday, it seems that some big company or other announces “the biggest solar/wind power project yet” and everyone oohs and aahs. “We can power the United States with solar panels in the southwestern deserts”, they say, and everyone applauds. And why not? Wouldn’t it be nice to be out from under our dependence on foreign oil and dirty power plants? Well, yes, and no.

While I’m all for using the sun and the wind to produce energy, I’d prefer that it be a little smaller and closer to home, rather than from some huge, major grid project that has my Maine home’s electricity coming from solar panels in Nevada or windmills in the mountains of Vermont. And instead of covering acres of wilderness and mountaintops with solar panels and wind turbines, why can’t we use the rooftops of structures that already exist for solar panels and reclaim the mountaintops Big Coal scraped and scarred for wind turbines?

My idea of a better system for generating power includes more individual control. Allowing big corporations to control the oil supply for decades led to the mess that we’re in now in the Mid East and in the United States. Having a huge grid system to deliver power to each region of the country leaves us vulnerable to equipment failure and weather-related outages. No one owns the sun or the wind and everyone can use solar and wind power, as long as their location will support it.

So, am I saying we should all go out and buy solar panels, climb up on the roof and install them ourselves? Well, it’d be nice if we all could do that, but not all of us are spry enough or good at building things. Some of us can, if we’re able to afford the materials and handy enough with tools to follow directions like these at Your Green Dream, where there are several plans for DIY home solar and wind projects.

For those of us who are hammer and nail challenged, it would be very helpful if there were low-interest loans available for home solar and windpower – and hydro and geothermal also. There are new heat pumps that work even in cold climates and small hydropower generators that are suitable for homes or clusters of homes. How about a planned community – maybe Section 8 or for elderly people – with its own solar power, small wind turbines or hydro-generator?

Thin-film solar panels are competitive in price with metal roofing and there are new, more compact, quieter wind turbines that can be installed on the roof of apartment buildings, schools and factories. Because they’re vertical axis, they don’t pose a hazard to birds or ruin the aesthetics of a building’s roofline. I would think that wind power could be shared by several homes, also. What if developers included the renewable energy source from the beginning of the planning stage and included the cost in the price of the homes? If buyers realized that they’d be saving a bundle on energy costs in future, it could be a strong selling point.

More tax breaks to encourage consumers to use renewable energy, drive more fuel-efficient cars, use public transportation and conserve resources should be part of the next president’s plan to both free us from our dependence on oil and also address global warming and environmental degradation of our soil, water and air. Instead of giving millions to big companies, why don’t we invest money in many smaller projects on rooftops in every city and town? After all, freeing consumers from high energy bills would give them more money to spend and save, which would be good for the economy.

If this post has inspired you or if you already have solar in your home or life, here’s a link to a company that will give you a free t-shirt just for sending them a photo of your solar-ness. They even say that they’ll send you something if you draw them a picture of “an avenging sun god doing battle with an army of winged zebras.” I wonder if they allow stick-figure zebras?

Health Alert

Trash That Plastic And Get Real

I don’t think there’s any question that plastic is losing its appeal with consumers. Like a lot of other things, plastic’s true cost on the environment and our bodies is making it look a lot more expensive when compared to natural materials. Bisphenol-A leaching from baby bottles and soft drink cans has recently been identified as a health threat and so have phthalates, which are used to soften plastic. Baby bibs made of polyvinylchloride were recalled because they contained lead.

Many of us are trying to eliminate or at least reduce the plastic items in our lives, but it’s not easy. When you look around your kitchen and bathroom, it may seem as though almost everything comes in plastic containers these days. Detergent, lotions, potions and food. For instance, where in the world can you find a bottle of ketchup that isn’t made from plastic? Or a bottle of shampoo?

If you’re under 45, you may not remember a world without plastic, but those of us who grew up in the 50’s and 60’s remember when plastic was the alternative rather than the first choice for many things that are made from plastic now. The most common materials in those days were glass and stainless steel. Maybe it’s time to reconsider those two materials, along with other natural substances, as you try to remove plastic and its chemicals from your environment.

Impossible, you say, to find substitutes for plastic? Difficult, maybe, but it can be done. Let’s start with kitchen plastics. Many people started to use plastic when the microwave oven became the most common way to cook. Not a good idea. Heating plastic releases bisphenol-A and other toxins. Much better to use glass or corning ware. If you’re addicted to frozen dinners, at least remove them from their plastic trays and cook them on a dinner plate. I use an old glass crockpot cover over the plate also, instead of a plastic microwave cover.

For storing food, why not use glass jars? I use large pickle jars to store flour, grains and coffee. They make good cookie jars also. You can often find them or something similar at yard sales, where I find a lot of natural material containers. For drinking bottles, we use stainless steel bottles from Kleen Kanteen. Ditto for travel mugs for coffee. And for making the coffee, we use a stainless steel percolator that makes much better coffee – and keeps it hotter – than those drip coffeemakers with the plastic baskets and water reservoirs.

For dish soap, I use liquid glycerine soap. I bring it home from the local natural products store, where I fill my own glass container from a bulk barrel. At home, I use a funnel to pour it into stainless steel bottles with small tops. It’s easy to pour out a little at a time that way. One goes to each bathroom sink and tub to be used like any liquid soap, while one stays at the kitchen sink for dishwashing. I do the same for natural laundry soap, which I also buy in bulk.

Toiletries are a real problem when you’re trying to cut down on plastic, because almost everything comes in a plastic bottle, and glass isn’t practical in bathrooms, where it could be a safety hazard. One approach is to buy plastic bottles, but then pour everything into stainless steel bottles. Another approach is to cut down on unnecessary products by using dual purpose things.

Do you know that you can use one bar as a shampoo and a bath soap? Burt’s Bees Rosemary Mint Shampoo Bar With Oat Protein and Pro Vitamin B5 smells divine, lathers amazingly and cleans hair and skin without drying or irritation. There are other brands out there also. Shampoo bars don’t need preservatives because they don’t have water in them and they don’t need plastic packaging. They’re great for traveling and last just as long as a bottle of shampoo, if not longer.

But what about all those lotions and potions that we slather on our skin everyday? They’re all in plastic bottles and we need them, don’t we? Well, maybe not, but we sure do like them. So instead of giving up skin softeners, why not go natural and soften your skin at the same time? Olive oil, coconut oil (which is solid at room temperature and smells really nice), jojoba oil, almond oil, cocoa butter and shea butter are all wonderful for softening and conditioning skin and many of them come in non-plastic containers.

Buy them in large containers and put them into smaller containers that you can stash where you need them. I keep a container of jojoba oil in my shower, so that I can pour a couple of drops into my wet hands and apply it to my face. I have Rosacea and jojoba oil is very soothing. It moisturizes without making my skin oily. I have coconut oil in a little tin next to the sink, so that we can apply it after we wash dishes. My daughter, who gets chapped skin in the winter, has a small glass bottle of olive oil next to her bed, so that she can put it on her lips and cheeks at night.

These are just some of the ways you can reduce the plastic stuff in your life. As you add more naturally derived materials to your world, you’ll find that it’s easier to think of ways to do without plastic. The human race has only had plastic for about a hundred years, and it’s only in the last forty or so years that it’s become so much a part of our lives. Almost everything that’s made of plastic has a better, more natural counterpart. We just have to use our ingenuity and find it.

Eco-Conscious, Frugal Tips

6 Simple Ways You Can Save Money On Utility Bills

Utility bills are a big part of our budgets. Gas and oil prices are rising everyday and electricity is expensive. Trying to keep up with rising prices is hard enough without wasting money on energy thieves. Are you guilty of these cleaning mistakes that waste energy?

1.How about the baseboard heaters? When is the last time that you took off the covers and gave them a good vacuuming and then a wipe with a damp cloth? Did you know that dust build-up reduces heat output? So you’re wasting money on oil or electricity if your baseboard heaters are dirty.

2.What about your computer’s CPU? When you start thinking about places that dirt can build up in your environment, think about anything with a fan. Anywhere that a fan pulls in outside air – for instance your computer’s CPU – should be vacuumed at least every few days. When dust builds up on components inside the CPU, it takes longer for heat to dissipate, which shortens the life of the unit and uses more electricity.

3.Hairdryers also have fans. When is the last time you really looked at the intake on your hair dryer or gently vacuumed the lint and hair out of it? If you let it build up too long, it can actually catch on fire. Even if it doesn’t, just like the baseboard heaters, it has to work harder to do the same amount of drying, so keep it clean and save electricity and drying time.

4.When was the last time you cleaned your dryer vent? Especially in winter weather, many people forget to clean their outside dryer vent. Sure, the little door is supposed to open automatically and release lint into the air, but lint still builds up on the inside of the vent and even on the pipe inside the house. It’s very important that you check the vent regularly, clean the vent and as far inside the pipe as you can. There are long brushes that can do this and you can find them at hardware or home products stores.

5.Have you vacuumed your fridge lately? Not the inside; the coils. Either in back or underneath your fridge, there are coils of tubing that hold the refrigerant that cools your food. These are delicate and you have to be careful when vacuuming that you don’t break them, because the refrigerant is poisonous. Just gently vacuum the surface, because when they’re dust-covered, they don’t work as efficiently. It takes more time and electricity to cool the interior.

6.Isn’t this a bright idea? Clean your lightbulbs. When they’re off, just wipe them with a damp cloth. Dust makes them dimmer and can even make some of them overheat, which can make them fail sooner than a clean bulb.

It doesn’t take long to get the dust and dirt off these items. The time it takes is worth it when you think of the money you’ll save. And let’s not forget that using less energy is better for the environment, which is certainly as important as saving money is.

Safe Cleaning

6 Embarrassing Items You Should Never Leave Off Your Cleaning Checklist

Like most people nowadays, you probably worry about germs and carry hand sanitizer with you. And most of us would say we’re pretty good about keeping ourselves and our environment clean. All those commercials about antibacterial wipes and cleaners have most people convinced that they’ll get some dread disease from their counters or poison their family if they don’t use them. It’s not true, but it’s scary. The irony is, I’d be willing to bet that there are several very dirty objects that you and your family touch everyday, without even being aware of it.


EarringsDo you have pierced ears? Do you wear posts? Do you take them out everyday and clean them with peroxide? If, like many women, you wear the same post earrings for long periods of time, take them out right now and look at them. Chances are, they’re covered with skin oil, cosmetics, shampoo, soap and unidentifiable gunk. Soak them in some peroxide while you read the rest of this article.


RingsWhile we’re on the subject of jewelry, check out your rings. Look at the area around the prongs and anywhere there’s an opening. Again, most rings that are worn daily have a residue of skin oil, cosmetics and dirt that builds up in spite of the many times you put your hands in water everyday. How this fails to wash off is a mystery, but it doesn’t. However, inexpensive jewelry cleaner can clean rings, earrings and bracelets too, for that matter.


EyeglassesWear glasses? Clean them with that spray cleaner? Look at the hinge areas and in between the lenses and the frames. Nose pieces are very hard to clean without soaking and quick to accumulate grime. This is why just spraying them with lens cleaner won’t keep them clean. At least once a week, you should soak them in mild dish detergent and water. (Warning! Check with your optician first if you have coated lenses. Some of them need a special cleaner.)


WatchesThe back of your watch face and band pick up skin oil and dirt. If it’s a metal band, clean it gently with a non-abrasive cloth and jewelry cleaner that’s safe for metals. If it’s a leather band, use a vegetable-based soap or saddle soap. For plastic bands, dish detergent and water are fine.

Car Door Opener

Car Door OpenerMost of us use one of those plastic key fob door openers. One tap of our thumb and the lights flash, the horn beeps and the car is locked. Of course, our thumbs also deposit oil and dirt on the fob and how often do we really look at the thing? Like many items that we use several times a day, key fobs don’t really register on our “dirt” radar. They’re so much a part of our lives that we just don’t notice them anymore. Swipe yours with a cloth dampened with a gentle cleaner or a wet wipe, but make sure you don’t get liquid inside it.

Cosmetic bottles

Cosmetic bottlesThey’re not technically fashion accessories, but you probably use them everyday. They’re the pump or spray bottles on your dresser or your bathroom vanity and they’re usually covered with a film of product that attracts dust. Wipe them with a damp cloth once a week or so and don’t forget the cosmetics in your purse. Compacts, lipsticks and other cosmetic containers pick up all kinds of residue, which is why it’s a good idea to keep them in a little plastic cosmetic purse you can wash once in awhile.

Routine maintenance of all these little overlooked things doesn’t take all that long. You can do it every Saturday morning or in a few minutes, one evening a week before you go to bed. Not only will you cut down on germs, you’ll prevent the embarrassment of having someone else notice your dirty little secret before you do

Plants and Gardening

How To Transplant Native Plants

If you have a spot in your garden or yard that has about the same conditions as their original location, you may be able to transplant native plants. However, before you dig up that wild orchid or flowering ground cover, make sure that the plants aren’t on the endangered species list. Your local University Extension Service can help you determine that and they can also help you with planting tips for the native plants in your area. You should also make sure that you have permission from the landowner if the plant isn’t on your property.

Even if the plants you’re interested in aren’t rare or endangered, it’s best to make sure that there are enough plants of that type before you remove any. If there are only one or two, perhaps it would be better to choose another type of plant or check with local nurseries to see if they have any.

The next thing you need to do is make sure that the spot you’re transplanting to duplicates as closely as possible the setting the plant is in. If it’s growing in a high and dry woodland setting, don’t try to set it out in the full sun or in a spot with poor drainage. Consider how much sunlight it gets, how windy it is, how much rain it gets and what kind of soil it’s growing in. Is the soil acid or alkaline? Clay or sandy?

Preparation is everything when transplanting anything, but never more so than when the plant is growing in the wild. If possible, prepare the plant months before you actually move it. For most plants, this means getting the roots ready for transplanting by pruning them with a sharp spade so that they’ll form a compact root ball. This stimulates new root growth at the cut edges, with the biggest growth taking place about six inches out from the edges.

Then, when the plant becomes dormant in the fall and you dig it up, be sure that you take as much soil as possible beyond the new roots. I’ve had very good success with transplanting native plants, and I think it’s because I always go way overboard with the amount of soil I take with each plant. I don’t dig down deeply, but I do take about four times the circumference of the root ball in soil. A cardboard box can be handy to set the plant into to transport it to its new location.

After you dig up the plant, prepare the new location by digging a hole not quite as deep as the one the plant came out of, and as wide as the clump of soil you’ve taken with the plant. Put some of the soil that you dug up with the plant into the bottom of the hole and as you plant, intersperse the new soil with the soil that the plant came with. This will reduce planting shock and help the plant settle into its new home.

It’s best not to plant native plants too deeply, but you should firm the soil around them and stake them if necessary, to support them and so that you’ll remember where they are as the seasons progress and won’t step on them by accident. Fertilizer isn’t required, but mulch should be applied around them to conserve water and simulate their natural environment. Water, of course, as you would any transplant, but don’t overwater. Check the soil to see if it’s dry before watering and water deeply enough to soak the ground but not enough to saturate the plant.

With some effort, native plants can add a special, natural touch to your yard or garden. With the right planting method and some tender loving care in the beginning, they’ll give you many years of trouble-free beauty


A Bad Case Of The Bends

I think I’ve cursed myself. Remember my mantra, “I’m a willow; I can bend”? Well, as my ds would say, I’ve had to bend so much I’ve been pretzelized! It’s my own fault, because I will keep making these foolish plans and writing “To Do” lists. And then, to compound my folly, I actually try to follow them. What is that definition of insanity again? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting it to turn out differently? Yeah, that’s the one.

So, yesterday, the first thing on my list was paying bills and the last thing on my list was digging out the yummy sock yarn that I’ve been holding out like a carrot on a stick, to force myself to do what needs to be done. It’s three skeins of Fortissima Colori self-striping superwash wool that will make a gorgeous pair of socks for me to wear with my low-rent Croc-clone clogs this Spring.

Unfortunately, between the bills and the yarn was a list of several other things that I had to wade through, so I poured another cup of tea, sat down at the trusty Compaq and fired up Billpay. Or tried to. Actually, I never got as far as Billpay, because I couldn’t log onto online banking. The bank’s software was delusional and told me my computer wasn’t registered, so I’d have to enter my bankcard number and pin and issue number on the front of the card. Issues! I’d give it issues! I’m the one with issues because I knew that I had registered my dratted computer a long time ago and had used the online service almost daily since then.

Fuming, I entered my information. But the stupid software wasn’t buying it. Another error message flashed on the screen, this time telling me that my information didn’t match their information and if I tried to pull this stunt again, they’d lock me out of my account. An empty threat, I thought, since I was already effectively locked out of my account,because their idiot programmers had evidently been under the influence of hallucinogens or bad takeout food or something when they set up the damned site.

I called the bank’s help number, navigated my way through several levels of choice menus, none of which had the choice I wanted, and finally got to an actual person. In a slow, measured monotone, he introduced himself as Scott, but I didn’t catch his title. He may have been the janitor for all I know, but I was so happy to hear human-speak instead of robotic phonetics, I didn’t care at that point. I told him my problem, gave him my account number and he said he’d look at the log. That sounded promising. Now we’d find out where the bank had screwed up.

“The problem is that your computer isn’t registered,” he said.

“I registered my computer,” I said, “I’ve been using it since I registered it, so I know it’s registered.”

“You may have registered it,” he answered, “But it’s not registered.”

Ah, this certainly helped to clarify things. My computer was registered but not registered. No wonder I was having problems. Maybe it was one of those quantum physics things like quarks or antimatter or neutrinos. You know, where something is something and its direct opposite at the same time. Or maybe it’s that something is nothing and something at the same time. Well, we’ll have to go into that in my Stephen Hawking post and that’s slated for later. I bet he’d know what to do with a wonky banking site.

Well, anyway, Scott and I soldiered on, backing and filling until we got to a state of detente, only a little less shaky than the one between the Israelis and the Palestinians. We really could have used Jimmy Carter, but we had to make do with his supervisor, Emma, who spoke with a heavy Indian accent and only understood about one word in three that either Scott or I said. She suggested that the problem might lie in my “goo key”. There was a moment of silence after she said this, but then Scott jumped on the “goo key” bandwagon and said, “Of course, that’s almost certainly what it is.”

Ah. So, was my goo key stuck? Had I inadvertently hit the goo key by mistake, which would be easy to do since I wasn’t aware that I had a goo key until Emma brought it up? And, most important of all, I asked, what does one DO when one has a problem with one’s goo key?

“Well,” Emma said, “You must undo this goo key and then re-do the goo key with another goo key. But this time, you must make it a good goo key, not a bad one.”

Of course, why hadn’t I thought of that? I’m sure by now that – unlike me – most of you have figured out that “goo key” was Emma’s mispronunciation of “cookie” and that’s why my computer wasn’t showing up as a registered computer on the bank’s site. Fixing it was simple, according to Emma. All I had to do was re-enroll my account on the online banking site and I’d be paying bills like nobody’s bidness inside of five minutes. She and Scott even walked me through the whole thing, just in case I was as stupid as their impression of me indicated, so it only took about twice as long. Think Gandhi giving directions with Ben Stein doing a voice over – simultaneously.

The bank site let me in. I thanked Emma and Scott, profusely, hung up the phone and, with tears streaming down my cheeks (I was eating a sandwich of tuna and red onion because by now it was lunchtime), I clicked on Billpay and turned to reach for the folder of bills on the filing cabinet behind me. When I turned back, I almost choked on my tuna. There on the top of the screen was the Billpay payee list, where I keep all the information I need to pay all my bills each month. And there underneath the “Payee” tab was a small line of print that read, “You have no payees on your list”.

After a couple minutes of stunned silence, my brain managed to grasp the fact that re-enrolling had deleted all the information I had so painstakingly created over the years that we’ve had the account. The only way I could pay bills from Billpay was by entering each creditor’s account information into the payee list all over again. Of course, I didn’t have to do it all in one day. I only needed to enter the bills that were due immediately. There were five of them and it took me about an hour to gather the information and then enter it. True, if I was more organized and didn’t shove paid bills into a dresser drawer, stash vital information on the kitchen counter with one of my daughter’s Bratz dolls for a paperweight, and lose about one third of all the pieces of paper that come into the house, it might have been easier and quicker. Hey, so I’m not Martha Stewart. (On the other hand, I haven’t been to jail, never ask my friends to use my handmade Ultrasuede coasters and I’ll let you turn around in my driveway without calling the cops. So maybe it’s a draw.)

By two o’clock, the bills were paid and I had managed to unload and load the dishwasher, but I was definitely flagging in the stretch and there were still four things to do on my list before I got to cast on my socks. I won’t turn this blog into a book. I’ll just say that I cleaned the pellet stove, which consists of knocking the slag off the burn box with a hammer and chisel and washing the window with glass cleaner and paper towel. Then I helped my son cook fudge for his friend’s sleepover, which would have been easier if either of us had remembered to get butter the day before when we were shopping. Luckily, the little store four miles up the road had some when I boogied on up there, but by the time I got back, it was too late to do the last thing that separated me from starting my socks, which was re-hanging the homemade street sign at the end of the driveway. (Vandals stole the official one last Halloween.) That was, unless I wanted to do it by flashlight, and I didn’t.

So, no socks. No yummy self-striping yarn winding sinuously around my fingers and the bamboo needles, making little swooshy noises as it turns itself into k2p2 ribbing. Nope, I made myself a promise and I stuck to it and I’m a better woman for it. No one can say I neglect my duties to pursue my pleasures. But, today, I sent my son down to put up the sign and sat myself down with a cup of tea, an oatmeal goo-key and my yarn, and got to the second item on today’s “To Do” list. “Complete ribbing on two socks.” When I’m done, I’ll get on to the rest of my list – if I have time.


Can You Hear Me Now?

I’m still shaky from a bout with a flu-like illness that knocked me for a loop, so bear with me if I’m not up to Pulitzer Prize winning prose at the moment. However, that’s never stopped me before, now has it?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how hard it is for humans (that would be me) to let go of things, even when they don’t work for us anymore. I guess it’s the time of year that has me so philosophical.

As I approach 60, I find myself examining my life with an eye to streamlining it and removing the clutter that I’ve been dragging around with me like Marley’s chain. (No, not THAT Marley, the other Marley, the one in A Christmas Carol.)

My cell phone, for instance. I hate phones, even landlines. I find it very hard to have a conversation with someone I can’t see when I have to respond immediately. In an email, I can think about what I’m saying and avoid the dreaded “foot in mouth disease” that I’m so prone to over the phone.

When cell phones entered my life, I realized that one of my refuges from phone calls, the car, was now just another place where I was on a leash. But, because I had a sick kid and two other kids who weren’t always with me, I rationalized that I really did need to keep my cell phone on at all times.

Why, then, did I almost never get a call that couldn’t have waited? Most of my calls were from my geek husband who loves phones more than he likes interacting in person. Or from my teenaged son, asking me when I was getting home and could I pick up more chocolate.

After a while, I started wondering whether cell phones were a health risk. I read studies, many of which seemed to indicate that they are. I discussed it with Geekdaddy and he agreed that there might be some degree of risk with them, but disagreed when I suggested that we might be able to live without them.

Well, I’ve thought about it and read some more results from studies and I’m losing my cell phone – or almost. I’ll still have one in my car, but it’s going to be turned off. If I need it, I’ll turn it on and use it as briefly as possible. And it won’t be to tell my son that I’m on my way with more chocolate. It’ll be because there’s something that really can’t wait until I get home to be dealt with.

When I’m writing, I tell my kids not to interrupt me unless there are flames or blood. And more than a drop of blood at that. It’s the same thing with cell phones and me from now on. Unless I need an ambulance, AAA or a Saint Bernard, my phone will be off.

I no longer have a sick kid and my other two kids are 11 and 18 and well able to dial their geeky dad’s cell phone which is permanently welded to his belt. Or they can wait until I get home like I used to do when phones were black and came with wires.