Saturday, August 1, 2015

Water Maker

I make my own water.

That's a strange sentence to write. It's true, though, in a peculiar way. I make my own water.

I had set goals for this year to do more for the environment and find additional ways to save money. Pouring the contents of yet another plastic jug into my ceramic water crock made for an obvious choice: It was time to change my water system.

Years ago, I switched over to Camelbak BPA-free "Eddy" bottles and stopped grabbing a plastic bottle at the store. I have them in 2 sizes and use them every day, be it at the gym or at work. I even took one to a box at The Hollywood Bowl. {Tchaikovsky and fireworks on a July evening requires hydration, and a generous friend -- thank you so much, AT.} Back then, I had a water delivery service to bring me purer water than what I got from the tap. Being one who can indeed taste the difference between Evian, Fiji, Smartwater, Arrowhead, Sparkletts and City Municipal, and did not enjoy the deplorable taste of Brita, I knew this wasn't going to be the easiest of transitions. So, I did some research on the subject.

As a renter, getting a water filtration system for my home wasn't going to be an option; though, I did find some affordable solutions. I read reviews of the various filtration pitchers. Brita was already out, so that left Soma, Zero Water and Mavea (yes, there are many others, but I wanted to keep away from the very expensive and the obscure).

Soma was beautiful, but I wasn't sure it was the most thorough. From some of the reviews I read, Zero Water was probably too thorough. That left Mavea. I ordered it in white and at a discount, then gleefully waited for its arrival.

It is a pretty pitcher, and the filtering process is rather quick. However, the one thing I don't particularly like is that you had to waste about a half-gallon of water "priming" the filter. It wasn't fully wasted; I watered the potted jasmine that lines my walkway. Still, sort of not the point.

Because I drink a lot of water and used bottled water for cooking as well, I kept my water crock and filled it from the Mavea. That way, I'm never out of filtered water or have to wait for more to brew.

While the Mavea flavor is better than Brita, it's still nowhere near the sweet, minerally flavor of spring water that I so enjoy. So, I embarked on finding a solution.

First, I tried adding trace minerals. While they are good for you, you need to drink the water right away, otherwise the minerals will begin to oxidize and the flavor will become off.

Back to the internet for more research. That's where I stumbled upon this recipe for Magical Alpine Fairy Water. How could I pass that up?

Feeling something like an alchemist, I gathered my supplies from Amazon. Measuring fractions of grams, I added the powder to a liter glass bottle and poured filtered water to it. While the recipe calls for Zero Water filtration, I stuck with the Mavea. I added 10ml of the elixir to a 1L Eddy bottle of filtered water and...joy.

While it isn't exactly like spring water, it's pretty darn close. I add the elixir potion only to a water bottle or a liter pitcher rather than my crock, because one of the ingredients settles at the bottom of the elixir bottle. I suspect it's the calcium. While this process is a bit more work -- and a slight additional investment -- to me, it's been worth it.

Before, I was spending about $6 per week on two 2.5 gallon jugs of spring water. That's $320 annually. My investment in the pitcher, a year's worth of replacement filters, and magical alpine fairy water supplies was $104.98. In the 8 weeks I've had my new "water system", I have saved approximately $48. In 9 1/2 weeks, I will have broken even on my investment and begin to save. At that time, there will be 13 weeks left in the year and that will put $78 back into the kitty.

A set of 3 replacement filters is about $22. I will save about $300 by using this water system. I'll have to check what the expiry dates are for the mineral powders. Even if I have to replace them, that will cost under $30, and that still gives me a savings of about $270. Not to mention at least 104 plastic jugs not going out for recycling.

So, yes, I make my own water. And I think it's smart, and delicious.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Home Second Home

via The Iguanas
It's become my annual pilgrimage to Sugartown in July. Leaving on a Thursday night after work to battle traffic (just to get to the freeway). I scramble that morning to finish packing, scramble to pack the car, scramble to get to work early so I can leave early -- sadly, I have yet to find the elegant way to prepare for an after-work departure. This year, my morning coffee was sacrificed.

Then, I spend the day running the inventory through my head. I have that. Drat, I forgot this. I grab a sandwich at lunch to serve for dinner, because the only stop I make is to refuel. (The only downside to my Fiat is that the smaller tank leaves me about two gallons short of getting there non-stop.)

I will admit, I don't look forward to the drive. Would you like to spend six hours in a car after sitting at a desk for eight? Of course not, because you are a sane human being. But I have a secret weapon to make it almost enjoyable: The World's Greatest 10-Hour Playlist. A long forgotten digital mixtape I created years ago and re-discovered on last year's drive. I've been adding for the past few weeks anticipation. A great song after great song plays, each one still a surprise, because I only listen to it on long drives. With it, my car becomes a karaoke booth until I arrive on that sweet cul de sac.

Before pulling out of the driveway, I set Waze to "go" and pressed play to start the soundtrack. Bjork's "It's Oh So Quiet" is the opener and perfect to listen to as I meandered my way up Sunset Boulevard to the 405 North to more traffic. But, once I got to the 5, it was the easiest drive I can recall. As I came up the 580, the lights of Livermore danced on the black sky backdrop, rain fell and "My Ever Changing Moods" by The Style Council played. It couldn't have been more perfectly timed.



Sugartown is something of a second home. Debbie and Ted are such wonderful hosts, and have "my room" ready for my late arrival. It's a nice place to wake up in on a street with so many memories. And, for the first time in three years, it didn't hurt to be there.

The Novato Relay for Life came two weeks early this year. That seemed to throw me off my game a bit, especially with it occurring the weekend after the July 4th holiday. There was a last minute hustle to raise funds, buy supplies and get everything done before that Thursday departure. But, as usual, everything magically fell into place.

There is magic to the Relay. We have so many wonderful people on our team, we actually have to register as two. I think our tent village actually has its own ZIP code. While there is a sombre note to the occasion, we find a way celebrate our loved ones, and have fun. We succeed at both.

People, both North and South, have commented on my commitment to drive up each year, but I'm not the only one who makes the pilgrimage. Carolyn flew in from Portland, Mari drove over from San Fran, all to leave the comfort of their own homes and busy schedules to sleep in a tent and forego porcelain that flushes. It's very hot during the day (though, we did get a reprieve from intense heat this year), and freezing cold at night -- this is not a luxury weekend. But, it's also not a chore. We do this for Jennifer. And for Dennis and James. We do this for other loved ones we have lost or who have battled cancer. I think we also do it for each other.

When else are we going to have a reason to spend 24 hours together? When else would we see the humor in crawling out of tents, not to lounge lakeside, but to walk more? When else would I see James and his friends being such boys? When else would I get the chance to talk with Sphinxie and Switzerland, and dangle Trouble? This is a precious weekend. The Relay means something different to each of us, but there are many common threads pulling us in close. And that's the most beautiful part of it.



This year, laughter trumped tears. The long running punchlines still make us double over. "Where the cow went through the window," belongs on a t-shirt. And, when you ask Carolyn about the "big ol' dump", it's not at all what you might be thinking. But it will turn a smile into an out-loud laugh. Mari even got her home "work" done. The Sugartown team is sweet. And I look forward to returning next year.

Thank you to my Sugartown family, who provides the best bed and breakfast in town, who gives me a tent, who loans me a sleeping bag, who gets me vegan meals, who knows the importance of a strong cup of coffee, who listens to me gripe, who forgives my four-letter slips in front of their children and still says I'm a good influence, who welcomes me in with a cold beer after a long drive, and an even longer walk, and who, so kindly, asks me back again. I love you dearly and I miss you the minute my car heads south.

Thank you to my generous friends, who tolerated my cajoling and donated over $1,500 to me. Your unbelievable support warmed my heart and brought tears to my eyes. You helped our team come in first place as fundraisers, earning over $13,000 for the American Cancer Society. Thank you so much.

These are the only tan lines I'll have this summer. I walk the track in flip-flops. I find that to be a more elegant stroll than having to keep pulling over to get a rock out of my sock. Also: No blisters. {Got to love those Reefs.} Each time I look at those lines, I smile.

I didn't get in as much walking this year as I'd have liked. People think that ten miles is a good stride but it should be double that. That's the goal for next year.

And, yes, there are others I walk for, too. Each served to me as a great inspiration and really changed my life.


  


If you would be interested to giving to Sugartown, we would appreciate it. Giving closes on August 31st. Thank you. And, if you'd ever like to join the team, we'd happily welcome you aboard. xo

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

My Love of Laundromats

Few things are more polarizing than a laundromat. Either you appreciate them, if only out of necessity, or you loathe them as bastions of bacteria.

I, however, love the laundromat.

Long ago, before I actually needed to, I started using a local laundrette. You see, the laundry room at my former residence was a battleground of machine hogs and little piggies. Our one washer and one dryer (for 6 duplexes), were always in use, and the room was always a mess. I would have to pick odd times to get my wash done -- obscenely early on a Saturday morning or late on a Friday night. Forget about Sundays altogether. I started making Friday nights work, until another machine hog copped on to that, and I had to scramble again. There's nothing worse than happily gathering up all your laundry -- including sheets and towels -- sorting it into piles, all set and ready to go, only to walk into a dirty laundry room with both the washer and dryer going, and seeing four more loads waiting to be done.

Swear words may or may not have been uttered.

Yet, merely two blocks away was a laundromat. I drove by it all the time. Walked past it when I went to the minimart next door. It practically waved to me on a daily basis. But, it was a laundromat. And I wasn't sure if I was ready for that.

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Those of us who have grown up in suburbia, with our family Kenmores, learned to accept public laundry slowly. First, we took our college dirties home (this is about the time one acquires a rather large collection of smalls). Then, you sought out an apartment with an en suite set. Finally, when real apartment life happened, you justified using the building's laundry room because it's just for tenants. They are your neighbors, and that's practically family, right? Fifth cousins twice removed? Still, you secretly rationalize, it's not a laundromat, despite feeding quarters into a commercial machine. It must be admitted: there's something of a Southern California stigma to them.

For example, I once went over to a friend's -- a mother of four who fell behind in her laundry duties due to a flu and busy schedule -- and found her laundry room drowning in clothes. With four kids, that doesn't take long. I saw what needed to be done and pitched in. I gathered the oldest and used it as a teachable moment to sort and measure. Unfortunately, my friend's "high efficiency" washer took over an hour per load (without knowing, she was using the wrong detergent and too much of it; that's what will keep your machine at work). I realized I might only get one load done before having to go -- not much help, if you ask me. But, my friend was in happy tears, glad just to get it started and the kids interested in helping out. While she was giving me a grateful hug, I told her if this happened again, she might want to take it all to the laundromat and, in less than two hours, everything would be clean and done. I felt her wilt in our embrace. She looked at me, forced a smile and a "thanks". Clearly, I had offended her. Those who have their own, nice laundry units simply do not frequent such places. Oh, my.

Another friend, who happens to manage her family's rental properties, told me of her disgust over shared washers just the other day (there was a laundry room matter going on, hence the subject). "Ugh," she exclaimed. "I don't know why anyone would use those. You know, there's always water left over from the person before and...yuck. That's disgusting." I put my hand on her shoulder and told her I had used laundromats for years, and have done so without contracting any diseases, or having anything fall off. She remained repulsed, and offered me her washer and dryer to use, because I shouldn't have to go to a laundromat. I fear she will never see me quite the same way. Oh, well.

When I first considered going to a 'mat on a weekly basis, all of those things -- those silly assumptions and judgments -- swirled through my mind. There were other considerations to contend with, as well, as I entered my first laundrette. Yes, it was more expensive. No, it wasn't fancy. Of course, it was esthetically displeasing. But, I could do my two loads at one time. In and out and over with. And that was worth the costs.

By the time I moved to The Mint Tin, I didn't even ask if there was a laundry room for the property (there's not). No matter; I had become a laundromat convert. As luck would have it, three blocks away, there's a large, slightly fancier laundrette that I've come to call my own. (And, this one even comes with a loyalty card -- every tenth load is free!)

Elegant? A laundromat? No, darling. I'm not taking it that far. However, there's something to be said for the elegance of efficiency. Time is a valuable thing. And, when friends have cajoled me into bringing my laundry to theirs to get it done "properly", I am reminded of how inconvenient one washer and one dryer is...and how long those HE machines take. Sure, if you are fortunate to have a laundry room in your home, you can take your time and do a load whenever you want. When you are busy, and just need to get your chores done, a laundromat makes much more sense to me.

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Laundry is my Sunday morning ritual. I have my system down pat. I used to be very rigid about getting there by a certain time, but have found that later on Sunday mornings is actually less busy and more quiet. Who knew? So, unless I have a pressing engagement, I take my time getting there, which makes for a relaxing way to end the weekend, and prepare for the week ahead.

The thing about visiting a laundromat is, indeed, preparation. First, shop around. Stop by the ones you've passed by a million times to see which one rings your bell, and follow up with reviews on Yelp. At my old place, I used 3 different 'mats. Now, I'm happy to call this one home.

Next, get your system down. Find a way to organize that works for you, whether it's how you deal with your hamper, or a checklist before you leave. You don't want to get to the lavanderia and realize you've forgotten something. Here are my suggestions for any easy go:

Supply Kit

First, you will likely want to downsize your containers. While Americans are all about more is more, you don't want to lug around big bottles. (Also, no bypass the powders. Those don't fair well in industrial machines. More on that later.) Here's what you'll need:
  • Reusable tote
  • Liquid detergent
  • Liquid whitener
  • Fabric softener
  • Dryer sheets/balls
  • Measuring cup (for whitener)
  • Laundry bag
Additional suggestions:
  • Stash of paper towels
  • Cute coin purse
Tips:
  • Find a reusable tote that gives a bit of a snug fit to minimize movement/spillage. Pockets are a plus.
  • Remove dryer sheets from the box and put them into a quart-size zip bag. The box will not do well over time with the travel. 
  • While you're at it, grab a gallon-size zip bag for your quart-size bleach. I have found, the hard way, that those bottle leak at the slightest tilt. And leak a lot. Especially in that time between laundry days.
  • As mentioned above,  a stash of paper towels kept clean in a zip bag will eventually come in handy. Laundromats have a tendency to be out of paper towels at the exact moment you need them. 
  • Rather than lug your hamper or a basket back and forth, get one of those ubiquitous Ikea bags. They are large, fantastically inexpensive and durable. They hold a lot and then fold up small for storage during the rest of the week.

I found this tote at my natural foods store for $0.99. Note the pockets!
This is what it holds, storing nicely in my linen cabinet.


A best buy for all it holds and how small it folds.

Laundromat Basics

Sort your laundry before you leave. I know that sounds obvious, but I see too many people doing that at the 'mat. Also, you know those wonderful lingerie washing bags that you save for your delicates? Put your panties in a large one so you aren't pulling them out (or dropping them on the ground) in public.

Check the machines for forgotten items before you put in your clothes. Again, seems obvious, but -- if you're like me -- laundry tends to happen early in the morning and sometimes pre-coffee. Reminders are a good thing. After all, you don't want to wash your whites with another person's red sock. You also want to be sure it smells right. Trust me, you'll know.

Read the literature. Laundromats post instructions, rules and tips. Take a moment to read them and don't be afraid to ask a regular. That's how I got to know about the loyalty card at mine.

Don't use powders. I feel it must be repeated: Liquids are best for these machines. Also, stay away from Borax and other powder "boosters". I went through a phase of using them and can clearly see how they negatively affected my clothes, which faded and wore rapidly, despite all the tender care I thought I was giving them. In my opinion, avoid.

Use less. Use less detergent than you think you'll need. These machines are good at what they do. The more detergent you use, the less the machine can rinse out. Unlike home machines, these workhorses don't have time to spare, whether there's more detergent to rinse out or not. When you read the postings at the laundromat, they can give you a guide of what amount is best to use.

Wait to add your detergent to the load. Don't put your detergent in before the machines are on. The detergent will spill right into the wash basin and on to your dry clothes. Start the machine first and wait to be sure your machine actually fills with water (sometimes they don't). Once the water is flowing, add the detergent. Personal Note: I break the rules and add bleach to my whites at the beginning of the cycle, right after the detergent starts to suds up. I know. I know. But, I use less bleach since it has longer to work and, so far, it's worked fine.

Consider cold. I only use cold water to wash, and always have done. It's better for the environment and it's easier on fabrics. Think about making the switch. Your clothes will be just as clean. I promise.

Multi-Task

The wonderful thing about using a laundromat is all the wonderful things you can do while your clothes are getting clean. In the 30 minutes of the wash cycle, I run to my mailbox, get gas and usually throw in another errand or two (bank, CVS or my natural foods store). Then again, there are plenty of times I sit with my Kindle and read a few pages in a book (or play Scrabble). If you step out, be mindful of the time. You don't want to be one of those people, hogging a machine with your damp clothes. Also, your clothes are safe while they are locked in the wash. Who knows what could happen after the final spin?

Dry Time

After clothes are taken out of the washer, spin the wash basin to be sure nothing's left behind. This is when I separate the clothes that will be line-dried (my smalls, gym clothes or anything black never go into the dryer).

Here's a cheat: I put my whites and colors into the same dryer. Really. I do. Aside from any new, dark rinse jeans, of course (by three or four washes, those are ready to play along). In all the time I have done this, I've never had an issue with color bleed. Also, clothes dry faster when you have more in those industrial machines. Two loads dry in 30-40 minutes on medium heat for me. This method saves me about $1 every week, and that adds up.

More Multi-Tasking

While the clothes are drying, I can run my line-dried items home and hang them (I have 2 collapsable racks in The Mint Tin), then make myself to breakfast. Or I might dash over to Whole Foods for some additional groceries. Again, mind the clock. Dryers don't lock, so this is a bit more of a risk. Then, all that's left is a quick fold, a repacking of the Ikea bag (towel separating the line-dries, in case I didn't make it home to hang them) with the items organized into sections (bathroom, kitchen, by drawer, etc.). Back home, it's an even quicker unpacking, then the rest of "laundry day" is mine.

Which is precisely why I love laundromats. They might not be for everyone, but for all their practicality, they certainly don't deserve to be snubbed. Give them a chance, even if it's just to get caught up. You might be pleasantly surprised at whom you bump into there. Howdy, neighbor! xo

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Alterations

This much beloved but completely abandoned blog has been on my mind a lot lately. Right now, we are in that place on the calendar between two anniversaries: one of loss and one of creation. It's a tender space.

The truth is, while this blog has brought a lot of joy, coming here after the loss of co-founder, Jennifer, it brings a bit of sadness. Yes, Jenn stopped writing for PE when she started her own blog, Four Seeds, but this was something we started -- something I kind of cajoled her into for her to have an innocent and easy place to start writing again. And it worked! The question for me, though, has been: Has this blog served its purpose? Well, yes. It served its purpose years ago. But, still, I couldn't let it go. Because I love this place. I love what we started. It's been so much fun. And yet...

Each year, I come back to it with hopes and plans and promises (both public and personal). But, the fact is that the melancholy lingered. I would open a new post and watch the cursor flash, all the inspiration I had was stifled by an empty space. Then time would pass, and it passes so fast now -- before I'd know it, another month, and another, then a year had passed. Once again, nothing accomplished. What to do, what to do, what to do?

Well, when something doesn't quite fit anymore, the two most practical options are: pass it on to another, or make alterations so it will fit again.



And, so, Project Elegance will go through a refitting and take another twirl.

The foundation will remain living a live of elegance. That aspect of this blog has remained a constant in my life. However, I would also like to focus on other things -- like the challenges of fitting elegance into a teeny-tiny home as well as making more eco- and economically friendly choices. A little different, but mostly the same. But I need to write about the life I'm living now.

The door remains open to others (hello, you!) to contribute pieces on how they live elegantly. Consider this your engraved invitation. But it's time to move forward. Of course that will be done in kitten heels, with shoulders back and a smile.

I hope you will join me once more. xo

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Five

And so it was five years ago today that Jenn and I started Project Elegance. It's hard to believe that five years can go by so quickly. It seems more like five days. And while, in some ways, time feels a bit like it has stood still, when I reflect on all that has happened and all that has changed between that July 6th and this...maybe it's more like five months.

It was two years ago June 6th that we said goodbye to our beautiful girl. Perhaps it's between that June 6th and this July 6th that the most change has occurred. We had no choice but to change, because everything was different. Change is required to live a full life. We can't stay static, no matter how much we might want to hold on.

Jenn's dearest undertook turning her blog, FourSeed.com, into a book. Dennis turned over his old career for a new endeavor, Cooper's Public Market. And Lil J is not so little anymore. And he looks just like his mother.

For me, the changes have been slow but steady. But I hold on to Project Elegance and what it meant in the beginning to Jenn and me. Then, how much it meant when she started Four Seeds. It's the thread that keeps us connected. It's a thread that has woven friendships near and far. It's created a fabric of warmth that I deeply appreciate.

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In eighteen days, I'll be heading up to Sugartown, staying across the street from Jenn's. Debbie and Ted kindly give me a second home there. That's where the laughter will start. I can't wait to see just how many inches Lil J grew from last year. I look forward to visiting Cooper's Public Market and sampling their wares. I just look forward to being back.

Then, more and more people will trickle in and on that Friday evening, we will gather on the field centering the track to set up camp, fight with our tents -- because some never go up quite as easily as they should -- and we'll laugh and hug and chat. Saturday will start early; a full day of walking and talking with more laughter helping to abate our tears. Sleep that night will be short but deep. Then a few more miles on Sunday morning before the closing ceremony, and the disassembly of Camp Sugartown.

Sunday is really spent in a sleep deprived haze. Somewhere around dinnertime, and after a nap, I start to get it together. Then, it's time to get back. But, before I'll know it, another year will go by and then...

If you feel inclined to contribute to the Relay for Life, here is our team page. Select a member and give as you please. Thank you.

Today, I will watch TO CATCH A THIEF, the film that inspired PE. And, yes, I even have some fried chicken to go with it. xo