Incorporating the Simple Living Review, the Preparedness & Self-Reliance Review, as well as the Outdoor & Survival Review

Put a stop to buying chemical cleaning products

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Instead of buying and using chemical cleaning products use vinegar instead.

Often it is said that you should use white vinegar for this only but the truth is that all vinegar, including the brewed malt vinegar, the brown one, that is common in Britain. White spirit vinegar, too, can be used.

Vinegar is great for cleaning floors, windows, mirrors, and laundry. It whitens, disinfects, freshens and softens all colors of laundry, and the smell goes away when dry. It reduces the cost of buying expensive cleaners as well as reducing your carbon footprint.

If you had an oven pan that has food burned into it, whether of glass, ceramic or metal, or food burned into a frying pan or skillet then pour on a little vinegar, of whatever kind, over the burned residues, leave it to sit for a while, and all you have to do then is to wipe off the burned in residue. In most cases no scouring will be required.

I have been using vinegar – about a 1/2 a shot glass full – with every bowl of dishes that I wash by hand and this saves washing-up liquid and also time. The dishes go sparkling onto the drying rack and they dry off in no time.

When wiping down counter surfaces in the kitchen I use hot water with some washing-up liquid and a good full to two shot glasses of vinegar in the water. That way the surfaces are cleaned and disinfected at the same time.

Vinegar is also a great cleaner for other things. Soak a rag with a little vinegar and use it to wipe off the sap residue on the blades of secateurs (pruning shears) and loppers. This can also be used for axes, pruning saws, etc. Plant sap and tree resin can cause corrosion to a blade and therefore the manufacturers of quality secateurs recommend the use of removal agent called, I believe, Sap Ex. Why, however, use a chemical compound when nature has given one to us already in the for of ascetic acid, aka vinegar. After wiping a blade clean this way apply some lubricant as a blade protector; some salvaged olive oil or other cooking oil will do nicely.

How to obtain salvaged cooking oil (no, this is not used cooking oil): Every bottle of oil always have a small residue left in it that you cannot get out without tipping it upside down for a while. I turn bottles upside down into a small glass jar and over time quite a lot of oil thus accumulates. This is use for oiling wooden handles, blades and such.

There are a lot more uses for vinegar and, as I said, even though people always seem to stress the “white wine vinegar” it does not have to be.

Here in the UK we rarely even get that sort of vinegar and the common one is Malt vinegar. At Sainsbury's a Basics version of this can be obtained for less than 20pence pint bottle. What a great price for a ever so useful product.

Vinegar also is great in first aid use as a disinfectant wipe, for instance, and, as said, for a variety of other uses.

© 2009

Make Your Own Laundry Detergent

Make your own laundry detergent, and enjoy clean clothes for less.

You will need:

Washing Soda
Fels Naptha Soap

To make your own laundry detergent mix together two parts Borax, two parts Washing Soda and one part grated Fels-Naptha soap. You can make as much or as little as you'd like, therefore I have not given any amounts here.

Use up to three level tablespoons per wash load of this homemade laundry detergent.

The rest store in a lidded container, well out of the reach of children and pets.

Be sure to label your detergent container, so others will know what's inside. Include a list of the ingredients as an added safety measure.

Zote, Ivory or castile soap can be used in place of Fels-Naptha.

Michael Smith (Veshengro), 2009

Mini Grow Bed from Lakeland – Product Review

Review by Michael Smith

Garland Mini Grow Bed
Lakeland Ref: 51193 Price: 22.91 GBP,
Lakeland Garden Catalog page 21

Stuck with a small garden but still want to grow an abundance of crops, or perhaps the soil in your area is poor and the seedlings always struggle?

Watch those plants wake up when you put them to bed, a Mini Grow Bed that is. The Garland Mini Grow Bed gives plants such as carrots, potatoes and onions the best start in life as the soil within the bed warms more quickly, giving earlier crops. The black surrounds also, I should think, contribute to this warming process.

The enclosed growing area protects, to some extent, against disease, pests and weeds, whilst offering excellent drainage and protection against soil erosion. However, the pesky birds and the slugs and snails will still try to do their best to get at your crops, no matter what. So you will have to think of protection such as netting and what have not. There Lakeland can help too, but that is a different story.

And not only will your vegetables be happier in a raised bet such as the Mini Grow Bed; the raised growing surface also makes it easier for you, giving easier access tot he plants and less bending for your back.

The Garland Mini Grow Beds are made from 100% recycled polypropylene and the bed is simple to assemble, requiring no tools.

Read more on Green (Living) Review

Patio Planters from Lakeland – Product Review

Review by Michael Smith

Haxnicks Patio Planters
Lakeland Ref: 50948 (3 Vegetable Planters)
14.95 GBP

Those planters are another product from Lakeland's new dedicated Garden Catalog that caught my attention when going through it after I received my press copy for review/preview.

You don't need a garden to “grow your own”...

Especially for small spaces, this collection of durable polyethylene sacks allows you to have your own vegetable plot on a patio, in a yard, or right next to the back door. Easy to manage and to maintain, they are great way to introduce children to growing vegetables too. And they might actually eat those vegetables if they have raised them themselves. With drainage holes at the bottom to avoid waterlogging, they have carry handles and can be reused year after year.

Those planters are, as I had guessed, and described thus in my review of the Garden Catalog, similar to the so-called builders' bags, being from about the same type of material. The only difference is that the material is not as heavy and it is also, in contrast to the builders' bags, additionally coated.

I have used builders' bags in my garden for container planting already and found them to work very well. The only drawback with the builders' one, despite the fact that they can ge had by the ton for free from building sites, is that they are rather big and once filled with soil can no longer be moved. They also take rather a great amount of compost and soil.

Read more on Green (Living) Review

Grass Edger from Lakeland – Product Review

Review by Michael Smith

Grass Edger – Lakeland Ref 50965 – 21.96 GBP

This Grass Edger sold by Lakeland comes as a 2-part tube steel construction that is assembled by means of a bolt with a wing nut. The assembly cause no problems whatsoever as it was all too obvious and the device appears to be quite sturdy.

The circular cutter of the Grass Edger is not over sharp – but is probably intended to be in is way – and the cutter assembly too looks fairly robust as well. Obviously, as will all things, the proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating, meaning here that only over a more prolonged use would one be able to gauge how it performs and holds up to the rigors that some may inflict it the tool.

The operation of the Grass Edger is straight forward and it cuts the edge very well, even rather matted grass, as was the case with the overgrown edges at my garden areas, some about a quarter of an inch thick. I know, shame on me for letting it get that way.

Over time, when one gets used to the way that this device works, this tool will be a definite improvement over the speed and accuracy of an ordinary Edging Iron, and even more so as to neatness.

The test that I subjected this Grass Edger to is and was probably rather unfair as it is hardly intended to cut the kind of heavy matted grass, the result of neglect. It must be said though that the tool performed well, even under those circumstances though I am a little concerned that this may have put some undue strain on the tool, strain that it would not encounter under normal conditions.
In all fairness, the edges that I was cutting with this manual Grass Edger for a test would have been a challenge even probably for a motorized cutter of this kind. Thus, I made hard work for the tool and for myself. No problem though, as the Grass Edger performed well throughout.

This Grass Edger from Lakeland is about 10 GBP cheaper than the cheapest similar tool that I have seen in Garden Centers and other garden catalogs, and such.

While the real reliability and sturdiness, as I have said, will only be found in time and use, as far as I can see this is a good tool at a fair price.

© M Smith (Veshengro), 2009

Economic crisis may be worse than Depression

by Michael Smith

The global economy may be deteriorating even faster than it did during the Great Depression, Paul Volcker, a top adviser to President Barack Obama, said recently.

Volcker noted that industrial production around the world was declining even more rapidly than in the United States, which is itself under severe strain.

"I don't remember any time, maybe even in the Great Depression, when things went down quite so fast, quite so uniformly around the world," Volcker told a luncheon of economists and investors at Columbia University.

But still the likes of the head of the Federal Reserve is trying to con people into believing that the turnround will be with us before the turn of the year. Those with a proper link to reality are all aware that we are in a Depression and that it is NOT going to be over in a few months. We have seen nothing yet.

Given the extent of the damage, financial regulations must be improved and enhanced to prevent future debacles, although policy-makers must be cautious not disrupt things further while the turmoil is ongoing.

Had the old rules of banking been followed, that is to say that a bank would not; nay could not, was not allowed to, lend more that 80% of its deposit base. But what did they do? Yes, the exact opposite and anyone who has ever seen what happens in a financial trading room with dollars being sent to there spot overnight on 10% interest the night or pounds to some other places at 7% interest for the night will understand how quickly things could go wrong. The money that is transferred is only done so virtually and often it does not physically exist with the bank that is sending it either.

Volcker, a former chairman of the Federal Reserve famed for breaking the back of inflation in the early 1980s, mocked the argument that "financial innovation," a code word for risky securities, brought any great benefits to society. For most people, he said, the advent of the ATM machine was more crucial than any asset-backed bond.

"There is little correlation between sophistication of a banking system and productivity growth," he said.

He stressed the importance of preventing financial institutions large enough to pose a threat to the entire system from engaging in risky behavior such as running hedge funds or trading for its own accounts.

I would like to interject here that, maybe, we should curb the activities of such banks by cutting them down to size and making them, once again, more or less local banks, dealing with more or less local activities. Time for a change in economics and tyme for a new way which is not new at all.

The current crisis had its beginning in global imbalances like a lack of savings in the United States, but policy-makers around the world were too reticent to take action until it was too late, Volcker said.

And despite the fact that there was a lack of savings in the USA, and Britain, I would hasten to add, the banks still dealt as if they had all the world having savings in their institutions.

Now that the crisis had erupted, it was important to take decisive actions, including a more effective regulatory structure and some movement toward uniform accounting systems, Volcker said.

He said all financial institutions that are deemed too large to fail should be subject to increased scrutiny, echoing the findings of the Group of 30, a panel of policy-makers and influential economists, which he leads.

One could use a slogan from a movie that was “Houston, we have a problem” for we indeed have a problem. While Houston will not be able to change anything there the fact is that we have a problem and this problem is not simply going to go away.

As I have indicated in a previous article, I believe that it is time that we looked at a new way of doing things; a way that is not that new at all. One of those is the economy itself, then the way we, the people, do things and then also the governments also.

© M Smith (Veshengro), 2009

Low-tech gadgets, tried, tested and true

by Micheal Smith

Do we rely too much on high-tech gadgets? The answer is probably a yes.

I have seen this in many instances at home and elsewhere such as in a catering establishment that just had to buy one of those professional catering potato peeling machines. Oh dear! Those things do not peel the potatoes, they seem to glass paper them, and you still have to do some removing of “eyes” and such by hand. The use of this gadget did not last long in that place and it ended up unused and unloved in a store. They reverted back to peeling potatoes by hand with a small vegetable paring knife or a vegetable peeler. This worked and much faster too.

The same is certainly true for so many other gadgets, whether for the kitchen or elsewhere.

My favorite peeve, I know, is the Palm PDA I once had and that caused me no end of grief with crashing and losing data, which led me to revert to pen and paper again, and I have written about that before.

My pen and paper note taking system I find much more reliable and I find retyping something a lot easier and faster than having to reedit something on screen. Also, I could, theoretically, though not that I envisage this happening, have an MBT, that is a main battle tank to the uninitiated, run over the notebooks without me incurring any data loss.

Maybe it is a sign that I am getting old or that I was born in the wrong age but I find myself increasingly appreciative of the simple, dependable little gadgets of life.

A little like the amount of billions spent by NASA to develop a ball pen that could write in space – enter the Fisher Space Pen, aka the Bullet Pen; a pen that could write in low or zero gravity conditions. The then Soviet Union, on the other hand, spending zero on a writing instrument capable of working in zero gravity as it did not even need to be invented, it had existed all along: it is called a pencil.

Sure I would not want to give up my computers – I need them for doing my writing - or my cell phones, but low-tech, no-tech, no-battery and no-plug items are frequently less hassle than "improved" stuff.

The previous mentioned Palm PDA was an example in point here for not only was the product unreliable, the customer service was nonexistent.

Another favorite of mine as far as low-tech gadgets are concerned are the pinch-type (wooden) clothespins. I have put the “wooden” in brackets as they no longer always are wooden but still do a great job even if plastic.

Not only do they hold clothes on the wash line, they also fasten plant row-covering to supports in the garden and pinch shut cereal and snack-food bags to keep the contents fresh. Clipped over a metal clothes hanger, they provide handy drying above the wood stove for the endless damp gloves of winter.

My all-time favorite clothespins, on the other hand, but then I am prejudiced for my People used to make them, are the split peg ones that used to be maybe by Gypsies, the People of which I stem. I have seen some that were made carved and tinned some 100 years ago and which still will perform as well today as they did then.

There are indeed some modern gadgets out there that can be very useful and handy, but most are probably more beneficial to the sellers than they will ever be to the buyers, especially if they need constant outfitting with new batteries.

Just another of the joys of no-tech or low-tech gadgets.

© M Smith (Veshengro), 2009