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Archive for June, 2011

Save those cherry pits!

Here in Boston, the weather has really been warming up. You would think that makes it the wrong time of year to be thinking about making a heating pad, but I’m here to tell you that now is the perfect time to start working on this project. Why? Because cherries are in season.

I know this sounds really strange, but go with me here for a minute. You see, cherry pits do something awesome when you put them in the microwave: they will stay warm for like 3 hours. And they smell wonderful.

So start collecting cherry pits. Save them, clean them up, and sew a little cloth bag to put them all in. And come winter, when you need a little warmth or have a headache, this will be the best thing in the world.

This will also work well as an ice pack too if kept in the freezer. Just make sure to keep it in a Ziploc bag so it doesn’t get dried out.

You can use any number of things to hold heat or cold for long periods of time: corn (not popcorn of course!), soybeans, rice. But of all of them, the cherry pits definitely smell the best. Corn would be a close second, but it’s hard to find good dried corn outside of a farm town. (That’s what I used to make them when I lived in Ohio.) And when you do find it, it usually comes mixed with those animal feed pellets that you have to sift out.

An old cloth placemat makes a great heating pad

The downside (or upside!) is that you’ll need to eat a lot of cherries. And I mean a lot. The standard size bag I like to make is with a cloth placemat folded in half lengthwise and sewn shut. A bag that size takes about 5 cups of filler. And a 2 lb. bag of cherries will yield about ¼ cup of pits. So it will take a while. But if you like cherries as much as I do, it’s a good excuse to eat them.

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If you’ve been keeping up with my other household recipes, you probably already have all this stuff on hand. It’s not really hard to make, but it does involve cooking it on the stove. But it also makes a big enough batch that you’ll feel like you’ll never have to make it again.

Here is what you’ll need:

  •  1 quart water
  • 3 Tbsp baking soda
  • 2.5 tsp washing soda
  • 2.5 tsp lemon juice
  • 3 oz shredded Ivory soap (I used this as a substitute for Octagon soap. If you have Octagon, you can use that, but Ivory works too.)

Add the shredded soap and water to a large pot and melt it on the stove. Make sure all the little bits of soap are dissolved. Turn off the stove and add the remaining ingredients. Cool and store in a sealed container.

In my experience with this recipe, it makes a ton of soap. (And this was after I cut the recipe down to 1/5 of what it originally called for. The original recipe called for 5 quarts of water!) This smaller version refilled about 3 empty dishsoap bottles. So make sure you’ve been saving squeeze bottles for a while; you’ll need to have several on hand. Also, make sure that the shredded soap is completely dissolved in the water before you turn the heat off. My batch of this came out lumpy because the soap was still in shredded solid form after cooking, when I thought it had dissolved. That makes it harder to squeeze out of the bottle, more likely to clog the nozzle, and generally harder to use.

When you use the soap, you will notice it doesn’t foam or bubble up like soap you’re used to. This doesn’t mean the dishes aren’t getting clean. It cuts grease and works just fine. It does seem to me that I have to use more of it than the commercial stuff though. And next time, I’ll be sure to fully dissolve the soap, and I bet it will be even better.

EDIT: I’ve found that as this soap mixture cools, it separates: the liquid-y stuff sinks to the bottom and the soap forms thick chunks at the top of each bottle. The trick is to leave the mixture in the pan to cool (I just left mine overnight, but a few hours should do the trick). When it’s all separated in the pan, then mix it back together and put it in bottles from there. It won’t separate back out once it’s been mixed after it cooled down. That was a major reason I didn’t like this recipe, but now that I know what to do, it’s fine. I also gave up on putting it back into dishsoap squeeze bottles and opted for something with a bit bigger of a spout on it, since this soap comes out a little thicker than the commercial stuff.

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Lottery litter: a big problem

First, a little background:

Playing the lottery is an interesting thing to me.

I used to work summers at a local grocery store where I sold lottery tickets, among other duties, and I always found it interesting to watch people, especially their emotions, as they purchased and scratched off lottery tickets. Scratch-off tickets provide a clear window into a whole range of human emotions, one right after another. The numbers games also show these emotions, though in a more extended time frame, as one has to wait several hours or days for the winning numbers to be revealed. And while playing the numbers is perhaps more emotionally damaging (because one has more time to connect to the ticket itself and speculate about being the winner), scratch-off tickets show a more immediate reversal of emotion and offer more for a casual observer like me, who is just trying to figure people out.

There is so much extreme emotion associated with the lottery: complete assuredness that THIS ONE is the mega winner followed by ecstasy and speculations on how the winnings will be spent, which immediately reverses to despair upon actually scratching off the ticket. This emotional reversal very often leads to an immediate discard of the ticket itself, wherever it may fall: on the bus, sidewalk, parking lot, train, or very often right outside—or even inside—the place of purchase. It immediately becomes worthless, even disdainful, a vile thing to expel as quickly as possible. Many people fold them up, tear them in half, or even shred them before throwing them on the ground.

After watching people scratch off lottery tickets for two summers, it’s very easy to see how gambling addiction gets started. You buy a ticket, experience the thrill of being a winner and spend all the money in your mind, scratch off the ticket, and are immediately brought back to the reality that you just wasted $10. And you’re so down, you need to buy another lottery ticket to get that high back again.

And now onto the litter part:

I walk a lot: to and from the grocery store, to the bus stop, to the subway, around the city, just about everywhere. And the amount of discarded lottery tickets that end up as litter is staggering. I mean really staggering. Once I noticed it, I saw them everywhere, like at least one every few steps on the sidewalk.

And then I began collecting them. My rule was that I had to pick up every lottery ticket I saw in my path. My eventual goal was to create something artistic from them to exemplify the manipulation, extreme emotional reversals, emptiness, and falseness that result from playing the lottery.

But something else happened too. I quickly realized that there were so many lottery tickets littering public spaces that I would have more than enough for my project within a few days. I mentioned earlier that the amount of tickets strewn about my neighborhood is staggering. Here’s an example. Husband and I would take a short walk (about ¾ mile) to the grocery store, and we would collect about $400 worth of discarded tickets, without ever having to leave the sidewalk. And this was just the way there. By the time we shopped and headed home, there were fresh tickets already littering the very sidewalks we had just cleared. And this was every week. I quickly learned that with any routine trip, I would gather about $300-400 worth of tickets, though it was gradually less as I continued to collect them, as I would often end up gathering them faster than they would accumulate. I began actually logging my day’s collections in my journal: how many tickets I picked up, how many of each cost bracket, the total cost of the tickets I picked up for that day, and the cumulative total cost of tickets gathered so far.

It quickly became more tickets than I ever thought I’d pick up. I gathered them for about a month, then I just couldn’t do it anymore. I gathered more than $2000 worth of lottery tickets, all wasted money, and I just couldn’t look at them anymore. Also, I was pretty sure I had more than enough tickets to make whatever I was going to make out of them.

I quickly began to be disheartened by what I saw, day after day. Among poorer areas I walked, I found more tickets. Among places where people were less educated, I found more tickets. Among places where people were more educated, I found less tickets. Among places where people had more money, I found less tickets. Were these people rich enough to not need the lottery? Smart enough to know it’s a scam? Conscious enough to throw their tickets away rather than toss them on the sidewalk? Well-off enough to not have to walk or take public transport? Are their cars full of discarded lottery tickets? I don’t know. And while all of those things are possible, I doubt they’re more probable than my guess that people who can least afford to waste their precious money buy (and discard) the most lottery tickets.

This lead me to not only feel that making my artistic statement about the lottery is super important, but also to feel very angry that the lottery sort of targets poorer, less-educated people.

I made a sculpture, “False Hope” as my statement. A statement that while playing the lottery feels exciting, welcoming, and thrilling, it only leads to emptiness. And upon closer examination, the lottery structure is unsound deceptive and exploitive, the thrill turns to despair, the foundation is weak, and the price tag is immense.

"False Hope" tower front, with windows and entrance door

"False Hope" price tag. Sculpture uses $500 worth of tickets. Cost: $500. Value $0.

Welcoming, bright entrance door...

Empty and dull inside, with cold "tile" ticket floor

But I’m still angry. I’m thinking about continuing to gather tickets and mailing my weekly findings to the Massachusetts Department of Whoever-does-the-lottery (State Lottery Commission?) to build awareness of this massive litter problem.

And in the mean time, I’m trying to come to terms with what in my mind now equates to a tax on being poor and less educated. It’s billed as helping local communities, but at who’s expense?

Anyone else now noticing discarded lottery tickets everywhere?

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Drain unclogging products can be some of the most toxic substances in your home. But you don’t really need them. A great way to unclog just about any drain is to use the good old-fashioned stereotypical childs science fair project. Yep, make a volcano in your sink. Start with pouring anywhere from ½ C to 1 C of baking soda down the drain. Make sure it gets good and down in the pipes, don’t just put it in the sink. Then follow that with about the same amount of vinegar. Sometimes I feel like it works better if I plug the drain so all the foamy “volcanic eruption” goes further down the pipes instead of back up into the sink, but it probably doesn’t make much difference. Give it some time for the foaming to die down (maybe about an hour or so, just to be safe) and then follow it with a bit more vinegar and let it foam up again.

Works every time, at least in my house!

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