What Are These Tiny Bugs in My Puzzle Box?

Dear Home Ec 101,

I was putting a puzzle together with one of my kids the other day and noticed, while looking for a corner piece, some tiny little bugs moving around.

I didn’t freak out, I just want to know what they are and if there is a way I can get rid of them?

Signed,
Slightly Skeeved in Slidell

Heather says

Those tiny bugs you found are insects, but they aren’t bugs. I have to clarify because some people out there like to get super picky about how we describe the creepy-crawlies we run into. Bugs are a specific order of insects. (Think back to Biology, do you remember: Did King Philip Cry Out,  “For Goodness Sakes!”) The little, hard-to-see colorless or gray insects you found are commonly known as booklice and belong to the order Psocoptera.

First of all, I want to assure you, that while a little on the icky side, pscoids like your new friends the booklice are harmless. They aren’t going to bite you, your kid, or your destroy your library. Psocids show up when the humidity is high and dine on the resulting mold.

Most commercially available insecticides won’t work on your barely visible pests, so it’s better to make your environment less hospitable to psocids in general. Who, by the way, may have non-traditional families -and I don’t mean of the taxonomic kind. Psocids can reproduce through a process called  parthenogenesis, which is a bit different than asexual reproduction. Animals that can reproduce via parthenogenesis have different sexes, but the females can reproduce without the presence of a male. I find this fascinating, which is probably just another reason why my favorite place is the nerd table.

So, I guess the question is what to do if you find psocids in your books or puzzles?

Option 1: Take off your glasses and pretend you never saw them in the first place.

Option 2: Freak out and hire an exterminator and pay a lot of money to get rid of a harmless cohabitant.

Option 3: Invest in a dehumidifier and make the living conditions less hospitable to your little squatters. The best thing about this option is that it also makes your home less of a haven for the much more bothersome dust mites.

The choice is up to you.

Send your questions to Helpme@Home-ec101.com.

Soap News: Microbeads and the Environment

Heather says

We spend a lot of time on here talking about cleaning things. Today those things will include you. A few years ago I mentioned the Voluntary Ban on Phosphorous in Automatic Dishwasher Detergent. While I don’t think this particular bill that will ban the use of microbeads in personal care products by 2018 will have quite the same effect, I thought I should mention it.

Apparently the beads in cleansing products with microbeads are made of plastic -I don’t know what I thought they were, I just assumed something that would break down with a pH change. It turns out those microbeads are getting into the water supply where they end up in the belly of fish and other aquatic life.

I don’t recall the last time I purchased anything with microbeads in it, but I thought the Home-Ec 101 Community should be aware of this.

So, if you love all the little fishies -stop buying and using shower wash with microbeads and if you hate the little fishies, be aware you won’t be able to wreak that particular environmental havoc in this way after 2018. (Since when did 2018 become something even on the radar? I ask as I am writing updates on a plane somewhere over Texas. Living in “the future” is pretty awesome sometimes)

H/T to The Consumerist

Staying on top of Everything?

Dear Home-Ec 101,

I came across your site from checking your book out on Amazon.  I love how you give every day a certain task or chore or area to clean.  I did not grow up in a home where I had regular chores.  Both my parents worked so daily cleaning and upkeep was mostly pushed to the weekends.

I am doing things differently!  I am a stay at home wife/mom.  I have a husband who works, and 3 kids, ages 5, 3, 1 and a baby due in October.  We are homeschooling our kids so my home is busy with kids all day long versus any of them going to preschool or public school settings.

My question to you is do you have any advice on how to keep up with these daily housecleaning tasks while having the constant needs and demands of 3 young children all day?  I am not happy with the state of my house and home and desire for there to be changes!  I have attempted to follow your weekly chore schedule.  I just can’t seem to do the tasks to their entirety.

I saw you have a husband, 3 kids and a dog (I have one of those too!) and wonder how you manage to get it all done amidst the care of the people in your home.

Thank you for your website for your time to read this email and for any ideas you can pass on.

Signed,
In the Trenches

Heather says:

I sent an answer privately, a week ago. I was going to leave it as that, just a private reply, but it has been on my mind since. Life has changed a lot for me since I wrote that book. My husband and I are no longer together, I work full-time, the kids are now 10, 8, and 6, and the dog passed away. I was open about my sisters’ passing last year, but I didn’t call much attention to the reason for the move, as it felt like a failure.

The funny thing is, even with all of those changes, I still run on the same chore schedule and when I don’t, I fall behind. Life doesn’t care, but my sanity does.

As far as advice, all I can say is in these next few years, give yourself grace. I really wish I had. There are going to be times where everything looks like it is falling apart, but you feel okay. Just don’t let there be times where everything looks okay and you’re quietly dying inside, nothing is worth that.

There will be seasons where the house is messy.  It is okay to ask for help from your spouse. Being a stay at home parent does not give the other adult a pass on all domestic chores. Raising young children is a tough gig, but you’re in it together.

Pregnant with a whole crew of little ones is absolutely one of those messy seasons, take the nap you need, the laundry pile will still need folding when you wake up. It’s okay.

It’ll probably get a little worse before it gets better. You’re going to have a newborn and three very young children.

Feeling Desperate is the post I reference whenever I am feeling overwhelmed. There are days where the have tos are the only things that happen. Those days will eventually be outnumbered by the good ones. There is a lot of good advice from the wonderful Home Ec 101 community in the comments. Unlike many comment sections out there on the interwebs, we’ve got a good thing here with kind, intelligent, and genuinely caring people. Some of those commenters are the reason I’m still standing  thriving¹ after the last year. I’ll never fully be able to express my gratitude.

I promise, over time,you’ll get beyond the have-tos and more into the should-dos and eventually you’ll even have time and energy for the want-tos.

Keeping on top of the dishes, the trash, and the laundry probably go the farthest in making the house feel more put together than any other chores.

The kids are more able to help, now that they are a bit older, but I absolutely remember what it was like when they were the ages of yours. I started this site when I was pregnant with my youngest and now she’ll soon turn seven.

Hang in there and congratulations on your newest little one.

Submit your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com

¹I took off a few hours on Friday and took my minions and their sitter to the beach. I took a long walk and reflected on many things – shoes, and ships, and ceiling wax- and it hit me, just how content and happy I am. Right here, right now. I’m no longer waiting for some change, milestone, or event to make it easier to be happy; I simply am. It’s not the life I planned, it’s the one I have and that’s all that matters.

Why Won’t My Gas Grill Get Hot?

Dear Home-Ec 101,

The other night I decided to grill burgers, but I couldn’t get my gas grill to get hot. It was extremely frustrating and I ended up cooking my burgers under the broiler (with a lot of spite and bitterness, I might add). There was plenty of liquid propane, I just couldn’t get the flames high even with the burners wide open.

Do you have any idea why my gas grill wouldn’t heat?

Signed,
Flummoxed in Florida

Heather says:

Actually I’m quite familiar with your problem and have had several frustrating evenings cursing my gas grill, too. (Hush you charcoal grill owners, I want one of those, too -not instead of).

A gas grill -in this case I’m solely referring to liquid propane-  has a safety feature built into the gas regulator that is on the tube connecting your bottle of liquid propane to the grill itself. This safety valve will not open fully until the gas pressure has equalized between the bottle and the grill. If the burners are in the on position, gas is leaving the lines in the grill and this pressure cannot equalize.

Thankfully there is a very simple fix.

Completely shut the valve on the bottle of propane.

Turn off all of the burners. Check to make sure none of your minions have turned on the rotisserie you never use or any other accessories.  Double check to make sure they are all shut.

Ensure the lid of the grill is open.

Open the valve on the bottle of liquid propane fully.

Wait a few seconds.

Do a little dance, hum a little tune. Something. Anything, except turn on a burner. If the hose from your bottle of liquid propane is short, you really only need 10 seconds or so unless you are trying to grill when it is VERY cold. If you have several feet of hose, you need to wait a couple of minutes.

Now turn on the burner and light the grill.

It’s like magic, no?

No?

Ok, now we move up to phase two. It’s time to check for a gas leak. -You should perform this check fairly frequently to comply with safety standards.

Turn off all burners and the valve to the propane tank, too.

Get a spray bottle and partially fill it with very soapy water. (1/3 soap dish, 2/3 water -almost like you were going to blow bubbles)

Now spray the hose connections with your soapy water.

Open the valve on the tank of liquid propane and then carefully inspect each connection. If any bubbles are forming turn off the gas and reconnect and tighten the fittings.

That should fix most problems.

Good luck!

How Do I Keep Long Hair from Clogging the Vacuum?

Dear Home-Ec 101,

Okay so the long hair isn’t exactly clogging the vacuum, it’s all over the brush thingy and doesn’t work as well. What can I do to stop this from happening, it’s a pain in the butt.

Signed,
Lovin’ my Locks

Heather says

I feel your long-haired pain. It’s obnoxious and if you have more than one long-haired person in a home it adds up very quickly.

There are a couple of routes you can take prevention and regular maintenance of the vacuum itself. Please realize that prevention doesn’t negate the need for regular maintenance, it simply reduces how often you’ll have to take those steps.

Prevention:

1. Brush / comb your hair often and thoroughly, but only in one area of the house that is preferably not carpeted. Yes, you’ll need to sweep / Swiffer this  floor after each time. If you don’t, the strands of hair that are now on the floor will get tracked onto the carpet.

2. Invest in a rubber rake (like this) of course you’ll actually have to use it for there to be any effect. Pre-raking the floor can only be described as a which chore do I hate more option. Would I rather rake the floor before vacuuming or take the vacuum apart?

3. Ponytails and braids are your friend, they keep shedding hair more or less in place until you’re performing option #1.

I know, none of these are ideal, it’s just part of the “Responsibility of having long hair” <—that should be read in the  most disapproving maternal tone your imagination can provide.

Regular maintenance of your vacuum:

If the beater bar / brush bar of your vacuum is clogged with long hair it can’t perform its job. The brush’s job is to separate and agitate the carpet strands and throw the bits of dirt / debris toward the suction power of the vacuum. If two-thirds of the bristles are clogged with hair, it’s not going to do a very good job and you’re mostly wasting your time and energy running the appliance over the carpeting.

Depending on your vacuum you’ll probably need a screwdriver and a box cutter or seam ripper. (I’ve seen the seam ripper suggested, but I have really thick hair that would probably reply, “Stop it, that tickles,” if I attempted to use a one, your mileage may vary.

Unplug your vacuum and get comfortable with it on the floor. You may want to do this over an old sheet or section of newspaper.

If possible, use the screw driver to remove the bottom plate from the vacuum and then use the box cutter or seam ripper to carefully cut the hair off of the roller. You will want to cut away from yourself. (Please grip the roller bar below the box cutter, I am not responsible for your stitches and / or emergency room bill.) Try not to cut the bristles off of the bar, either. You should be able to slide the blade between the rows of bristles to get rid of the hair. The same goes for the belt holding the bar in place, please do not cut toward the belt, it won’t end well.

Reassemble the vacuum, throw away the hair, and marvel at the renewed efficiency of your vacuum.

 Please send your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.

The Freezer Was Left Open, Now What?

Dear Home-Ec 101,

My youngest decided to get a popsicle from my deep freezer and didn’t bother to make sure the door was closed. I know not to eat the meat products since I am not sure if they thawed and refroze, but what about the veggies? Must I throw out the ten tons of french fries and corn on the cob?

(And yes, I’ve invested in a freezer door lock with a padlock to guard against future booboos)

Signed,

Thawing in Thermopylae

Heather says:

I have good news and bad news, depending on whether or not you’ve already thrown everything out.

All of the food in your freezer is fine to cook or refreeze as long as there were ice crystals still in it. If your meat hasn’t reached more than 40°F it is still safe to cook and eat. Same with your vegetables. If there are still ice crystals it’s perfectly fine to refreeze them as well. What you don’t want to do is reach a point where bacteria can multiply quickly, freeze and not kill off all of those bacteria and then thaw again where the bacteria again have a good chance to multiply.

Just as an FYI, vegetables can also harbor bacteria. Have you seen the news from Europe? However, do not freak out contamination like that is much LESS likely in frozen foods that have to be blanched before freezing. I’m just noting this after someone was rather smug about not being affected by a beef recall.

If your freezer door was left ajar for a few hours and some foods partially thawed, not fully, they are safe to use. I’m actually more concerned about the motor of your freezer. I hope the freezer is the type that shuts off while the door is ajar so there wasn’t a lot of unnecessary wear on the unit. If your deep freeze was left ajar for several days, you are correct, most of the food is a total loss.

If you have a lot of ground beef to use, simply brown it and store. You can season it if you like, just be sure to label it for its intended future use.

If you have stew beef, go ahead and brown and stew the beef.

Poultry toss into your slow cooker and then separate from the bones to use in a bunch of different recipes. Then use the bones to make chicken stock.

Good luck, I hope this doesn’t prove to be too major of a loss.

Submit your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.

How Often Do I Have to Vacuum Anyway?

Dear Home Ec 101,

How often should you vacuum? I want to know to settle a debate and I’m going to have to vacuum my friend’s place if I’m wrong. And can you tell us WHY I’m right?

Sincerely,

I May Be OCD but at Least my Carpet Tracks are Straight

Heather says:

Friendly wagers on cleaning rules? Can we be friends?

Do you know my favorite part of living in my new place? Well, aside from being walking distance from some pretty cool restaurants and parks? NO CARPET.

That’s right, you heard me, I have no longer have any carpet in my home. I have a couple of mats to catch the dirt the minions track inside and I still let Gertie¹ take care of the floor most of the time. Yes, the human minions sweep, but that is more an exercise of my patience than an effective cleaning endeavor. Time will slowly swing that pendulum -I hope.

I do not miss carpeting and the whole industry guideline to vacuum once per week per person living in the household.  (And if you have a dog over say 20lbs, go ahead and count them as a person, too).

Keep in mind this guideline doesn’t mean you need to move the couch every time you vacuum. Just vacuum the heavily trafficked areas of the home frequently. Probably even more often if you have an infant or toddler, because they will eat dust bunnies.

Why should I have to vacuum frequently?

Vacuuming helps reduce crush damage, you know those areas of the hall where everyone rounds the corner in exactly the same place and it’s obvious by the wear in the carpet? That’s crush damage. Over time, uncrushing the fibers helps. Your vacuum is the tool for the job.

Dirt is sharp and pointy and everyone else stinks at wiping their shoes. You, of course, are perfect in every way and don’t track in a speck of sand or grit. All those other people? Well, the sharp bits of dirt they bring in on their shoes and feet cut the fiber of the carpet, a nick here, a nick there adds up over time.

Oils – of the body and pet kind. Know where Fido likes to lay? It’s probably a lot grungier than the rest of the carpet. Oils from the pet fur transfer to the carpet and the dirt that doesn’t get sucked up by frequent vacuuming sticks to it. Deee-licious. And even your perfect feet sweat.

And finally we’re back to our good friend, the dust mite. We’ve talked about dust mites in the past, just remember that the skin cells you -and every other living creature in your home- shed drift through the air and lands as part of that layer of dust that eventually coats everything. Vacuuming helps keep that layer of dust from sifting down through the carpet and into the padding where dust mites believe they have died and gone to heaven.

So, do you have to vacuum as often as carpet manufacturers suggest? Nope. You don’t have to. You’re an adult and can make your own decisions.

Submit your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.

 

¹Her full name is Dirty Gertie and yes, she is completely anthropomorphised in my imagination. I’m okay with that.

Easy Grilled Foil Vegetable Packets

Heather says:

Get ready to grill.  Today we’re using foil packets to to turn a pile of vegetables into a fantastic summer side dish. Actually if you look at the portions, the grilled vegetables were the main feature. I would like, at least while we’re rolling in produce, for you to consider treating vegetables as your main dish. Spend your time and energy planning your meals around the available, seasonal produce rather than treating slapping a can of green beans in the microwave as an after thought. Just give it a try, you may discover a new world of flavor or you’ll hate it, but you won’t have caused any harm.

 

This tutorial is a guide rather than a strict recipe as the amounts are going to vary widely, but the technique remains the same.

Gather your vegetables and slice or mince as appropriate. These vegetable packets will contain: bell peppers, zucchini, yellow squash, onion, garlic and mushrooms. *Note* Do not be lazy and assume your chef knife can go one more day without sharpening, even good cooks get distracted with less than fun results. Sharpen your knives regularly.

Place the vegetables in a bowl and toss with a little olive oil or homemade Italian dressing.  If you choose to omit the dressing and go with straight olive oil, don’t be scared to add a sprinkle of your favorite herbs, some rosemary, thyme,  basil etc. Choose your seasoning based on the other items being served. Try to carry the same flavors throughout. Since we’re serving these packets with grilled Italian sausage, I went with an extra sprinkling of Italian seasoning. If I’d had fresh basil on hand, that would have been in there, too. Let the flavors mingle for a little while. A pinch of salt can be added now or at the table, either way works. While vegetables have wonderful flavor, herbs and aromatics like garlic and onions can go a long way to making them even better. This was almost a summer version of one of our favorite recipes, sausage, peppers, and onions.

Grab a sheet of heavy duty foil, don’t get the wimpy stuff, you don’t need it tearing on the grill. Arrange a couple of healthy handfuls of vegetables in the center of the foil. Bring the long sides together and fold over in an accordion or pleat type fold. You want to keep the steam that will develop inside your packet. Fold the short side over a couple of times to close the packet tightly.

Do not juggle with your packets. They are not that sturdy. They should be sturdy enough to handle being turned over.

Heat your grill, these should be grilled 10 – 15 minutes per side on a hot grill. If you cut your vegetables very thinly or used butter, you may want to grill indirectly or pay close attention and grill for less time. Packets with tender vegetables like zucchini and squash will be done faster than packets with sturdier vegetables like carrots and celery.

Enjoy!

To Rinse or Not, That is the Dishwasher Loading Question

Dear Home-Ec 101,

My Mom, love her, former home ec teacher, but not strong as a housekeeper…recently I was at her house and as always the sink was full of dirty dishes. Just dishes, no water. So, I wanted to fill it with hot soapy water and the dishes , to have them soak a bit. I was having trouble getting a novelty sink stopper she had, to work, and asked her about it, what she usually did with it. Her reply – ‘I never fill the sink with water.’ (!) That explained a lot, mostly why about 1/4 of dishes taken out of her dishwasher are still dirty. I think many people just rinse their dishes right after using them and then put them in the dishwasher, but that’s not the case here, as she and my sister leave dirty dishes sitting around the house and stuff dries on.

So…is it necessary to soak dishes in hot soapy water before loading into the washer, or is it a waste of time, energy, and soap?

Thanks!
Crusty in Crumpler

Heather says:

I’m going to be a little blunt here: Your mother (and sister) needs to rinse the dishes.  But to be honest, I’m not always the best dish-rinser, either. Sometimes I take the risk. Yeah, I live on the edge, but I know and deal with the consequences.

Does anyone else remember the commercial where an entire cake was placed in a dishwasher? I doubt even Cascade (the brand in the commercial) could handle just the frosting if it were allowed to dry for a couple of days. And probably not at all now that the formulation for dish detergent had to change.

I’m not going to get too precise in the chemistry here, I’m on my first cup of coffee and it isn’t even 6am, but the goo in food is harder to remove as it dries. The longer food has had to bond with a dish, the more difficult the removal process becomes. This is why we can get away with doing a less thorough job of rinsing and scraping if the dishwasher is going to be run immediately. It’s science, people, science.

If you live in a small household, of just a couple of people, where the dishwasher is not run at least once a day, you’re probably going to have to do a better job rinsing the dishes than in a large household whose dishwasher runs after every meal.

Bob over there with his sandwich plate, he can probably just shake off the crumbs. And Suzy over here with her Dishy-poo 5000 with the built in food disposal can probably get away without even scraping before loading the dinner dishes.

The answer to the question: Do I have to rinse the dishes before loading isn’t a simple yes or no, it’s an it depends.

1. Is your dishwasher a cheap, My First Apartment model?

Always rinse.

2. Will the dishes be sitting in the dishwasher for more than a couple of minutes before it is run?

Rinse

3. Did you eat something gross?

Rinse.

Submit your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.

PS If your dishwasher’s performance has gone downhill, a little maintenance may get it back up to speed.

PPS I realize I didn’t answer the bit about soap… only use soap if the crud formation has already occurred. Let the soap in the dishwasher handle the last little bit of non-rinsed food.

Hurricane Season 2014

Heather says:

The official start to Hurricane Season was yesterday, June 1, 2014. Last year I had so much happen that I feel very lucky not to have to had any hurricanes even pose a threat.

This year, I’m taking stock and getting ready, not because I expect a hurricane but because emergency preparedness is an important life skill and one of the many “shoulds” I couldn’t manage last year. Last year was about making sure I got the have-tos done.

You don’t need to have a category 3 hurricane hit your home to find yourself in need of a battery at 3am. (Smoke detector seek and find is never a fun game.)

Having a houseful of sick kids is plenty of reason to break into the stash of food set aside for a big storm rather than dragging them out and infecting the rest of town. At least I find it’s better for my sanity, anyhow.

The important part is to remember to replace what you used the next time you are out. Get into the habit of checking your blackout pantry (And while we’re talking about blackout pantries, you do have a manual can opener, right? RIGHT?)

The 2014 Atlantic Hurricane Season isn’t looking too active, but it doesn’t take a particularly active year to send a storm your way. Here is a quick reminder of what getting ready for a big storm looks like:

Be sure you and your family are safe should a storm make landfall. (Many of these apply to those living near fault lines or in tornado country who don’t have the benefit of prior warning.) Oh and if you’re a NYC resident, there is a pretty cool resource called Know Your Zone that has important information relevant to your location and storm preparedness.

  • Check your insurance coverage. Do you have adequate protection from both wind and water? Are they with the same or competing companies? Keep these documents in a safe, dry place and remember to bring them along if you must evacuate.
  • Have enough food and clean water for each family member to last at least 72 hours.
    • one gallon of water per person per day
    • rather than store lots of bottled water in my small home, I opt to keep an Aquapod on hand to fill.
    • 2 drops of unscented Clorox bleach purifies one quart of water.  This is a last resort if boiling is not an option.  Let any particles settle out, filter using coffee filters, paper towels or a cloth, then add the bleach, stir or shake well, and allow to sit for 30 minutes.  Your bleach must be at full strength, be sure to have a new, unopened bottle in your kit, rotate for a new one every three months.
    • food should be ready to eat or require minimal preparation. Please don’t forget to have a manual can opener on hand. You may end up the most popular person on your block.
  • Have propane or charcoal for your grill. And know how to use your grill.
    • I’ve brewed coffee using a grill in the past. My neighbors loved me for it.
    • NEVER use a grill indoors. The flames produce deadly, odorless carbon monoxide.
  • Candles, batteries, flashlights, and a crank or battery operated radio are a must.
  • Keep your gas tank filled at least half way at all times.
  • Keep an emergency cash supply on hand, as ATMs do not work without power.
  • Have an evacuation plan. Shelters are only for those in the most dire need, those who have nowhere else to go.
  • Have a plan for Fido and Fluffy as well. Most shelters do not take pets, know what you are going to do before a warning has been announced. As a pet owner this is an important responsibility that is frequently overlooked.
  • Have a well stocked first-aid kit.
    • Keep all prescription medications filled and take them with you, if you must leave.
  • If you live in a rural area, learn how to safely operate a chainsaw. This goes for you ladies, too.
    • Own one, keep it in good condition, and have gasoline on hand.
    • Have sturdy work gloves.  Keep an extra pair with your emergency kit.
  • Except for emergencies, stay put after a storm. Emergency personnel have enough to deal with: restoring utilities and rescuing those who were injured in the storm.
  • Curfews may be established. Obey all law enforcement personnel.
  • Check on your neighbors, especially the elderly.
  • Remember snakes and other wildlife may become disoriented after a storm. Watch where you step and never put your hands where you cannot see when removing storm debris.

What do you do to get ready for hurricanes? Anything at all?

Do you have any questions, I’d love to read them -now that I have my email account working again- send them to helpme@home-ec101.com.