Thursday, July 21, 2011

Shut up

Don't know about you, but it's so windy these days, it's not making much sense keeping windows open. So, despite my mind screaming, "No, no, NO!", I unwillingly and with a huge sense of pathos, close the doors on my beautiful terrace and draw the little living room window shut. Because if I don't, all the spare leaves flying merrily about outside come to rest on my living room floor.

And whatever my depth of feeling about the terrace and the adorable plants on it, I cannot allow the living room to look like a trash can for leaves that nobody loves.

Dusting and regular wiping of surfaces commonly used around the house is of the essence in the monsoon. Shoes leaking from all orifices and generally smelling really nasty (to put it mildly) are banished to the terrace to dry up and think about their respective lives. If you don't have a separate drying area for clothes and shoes like I do, you'll have no choice but to clean up the offensive garment or shoes with detergent and a sturdy wire brush. Be sure to clean your hands out with disinfectant and scour your toenails and feet with a fine brush and bodywash.

Another useful tip, if you're looking to disinfect feet and skin on your legs after you get home, is to rub lime juice over it. This takes care of germs and odours, but do follow this up with a mild soap that will soothe already wet and puffy skin. Be sure to wash with warm water, if not hot water, and dry your feet immediately. Follow up with foot powder. If you have skin injuries owing to shoe bites, apply fresh aloe vera on the area and leave it open to heal. You may also opt for something like Soframycin, but creams keep the area wet, thus delaying healing.

Once in two weeks, get your feet professionally cleaned at the salon. They do this as part of a pedicure anyway, so do opt for one. Keep toenails short this season, and try not to paint your nails because you won't know when your nails are grimy and in need of a scrub.

Hair is another worry this season. Dry your head the moment you get home, and don't muck around much with fancy-ass shampoos and sprays and the like. Invest in a mild, daily-use shampoo and conditioner, and try not to wash your hair every day. A good idea is to get a trim or keep your hair as short as you can manage.

And while you're taking care of mind and body, sleep early and rest well. The season tires you more than you know, so take care.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Monsoon care

Frankly, this much amount of rain can drive anyone up the wall.

The landlady did not get the plastering on one external wall done properly, so mini splotches of water greet me every time I lie down on my bed and stare at my ceiling. Other than that, the terrace wall is overrun with moss, nothing - clothes, hair, skin, temper - dries up at all during the day, there is a damp smell all over the house, like socks in the wash, and basically, the weather is vile.

Plus, the flies. Sigh. The worst part of monsoons is keeping all surfaces clean and dry so that flies and mosquitoes don't settle.

Mumbai has the worst mutations of malaria this year, as also dengue and other mosquito-related ailments, so if you're in this part of the world, do yourselves a favour and discard all water in buckets and flower pots. Even one day of water sitting untouched is enough to start a breeding ground. While indoors, light a good vapourising insecticide or spray some bug spray every evening, when mosquitoes descend in droves, or if you're allergic to these, close the doors and windows, keep the fan on full and spray yourself with mosquito creams. After about ten minutes, the mosquitoes will be frantic to get out, which is when you crack the windows open.

Flies, unfortunately, are hardier than that, and they're more interested in food spillages than human skin, unless you've been dripping food all over your front again. However boring it is, wipe all spillages before they dry, and every morning, give such surfaces as washing sinks, gas stoves, tiles near washbasins and sinks and above cooking surfaces, washbasins and faucets and other wet areas entailing drains, a thorough fungicidal spray. I find the Mr Muscle kitchen spray works best for this purpose - leave it on for a while before wiping off. The sprays are irritating to flies and clean surfaces will not be too interesting to them to begin with.

Of course, you know all about keeping your food covered.

If clothes don't try up despite three straight days of drying on the line, you may have to move your clothes-stand under the fan or if you have a steamer, you can steam your clothes dry, though this is very cumbersome. However, steaming will reduce any resident bacteria in the clothes, especially surfaces recently washed for mud stains, so you could try it one article at a time. Ironing damp clothes is not such a good idea because I find the colour fades in the process, though why this happens is something I have not yet discovered.

Keep a bowl of neem or tulsi leaves submerged in clean water on dining tables. Change the water every morning. This discourages flies from settling.

Invest in a mosquito/ fly killing bat.

Do not leave dead flies, cockroaches and other pests lying around because ants will converge.

Plants may die if you let excess rain water sit on the soil. Drain periodically.

Use air fresheners around the house, and especially the bathroom and toilet to get rid of smells.

Footwear must be washed every single night. Leave to dry overnight.

Invest in a good floor cleaner. Mop the floors every day when activity is less. Preferably allow to dry under ceiling fans and try not to walk on the floor when it is wet to avoid contamination.

Heavy advertising notwithstanding, Surf Excel is really effective in getting rid of stains. Try it on muck.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

House, clean thyself

This is a rant of a blog, so don't say you weren't warned.

If you have a partner who lounges about merely being ornamental while you do ALL the cleaning and ALL the washing and ALL the dusting and ALL of everything else required to keep the house in order so that mountains of undone work don't collapse on your head over the weekends, I have a tip: start your day early.

I learned this the hard way. A habitual late riser, I realised that if I continued with my old, unmarried routine, I would have the aforementioned mountains of undone work collapsing on me every single evening. Besides, I was still working when I started being married, so that only compounded matters.

If you're one of those harried souls who work and balance a home, the trick is to designate all cleaning jobs to a maid who won't get in your hair the way a lounge-about partner will. If you can't hire a cook as well, do yourself a favour and keep next day's food halfway prepared the moment you get home from work. Of course, you knew that already, but it doesn't do to forget it.

Besides, some of us have babies or adolescent kids needing help with the homework, and since you can't do everything at once without wrecking all, devise a system with the kids. If your child needs help structuring an essay while you cook, spare just a minute over what the topic is, then continue your cutting-chopping-cleaning-cooking routine while you tell the kid what to write. It is a great idea to teach the kids to clean up after themselves, since you're pressed for time. If they don't do it, land a slipper on the seat of their pants.

If possible, do the same to your lazy partner.

I notice that most Indian men are brought up by the devil. Nobody bothers teaching them basic courtesies such as putting the tea cup in the sink after guzzling the contents, so don't expect them to jump up to do the dishes. Most have not heard of doing the beds, folding their own clothes and putting them away, stashing away the dirty laundry for washing, ironing their clothes, putting their shoes in the shoe rack and not outside it, putting their plates away after they've burped over their meal, or even switching off fans, lights, hot water geysers and the like after use. Why bother teaching a man these things, when he has a mother, and later, a wife to clean up after him? Indian men are put into the world to perform such vital tasks as scratching their crotch, lying in bed reading the papers while their wives slave about the house, make babies but not help in their upkeep, and why would such important souls need to know such old-fashioned ways as saying thank you or complimenting a tasty meal?

The point is, men are fortunate to live in houses that clean themselves while they pretend to be decorative items.

If you have such a partner, sigh. Try and discipline the person in small ways; for instance, firmly and kindly refuse to pick up tea cups, dinner plates, socks, shoes, and other things left lying around where they shouldn't be. Be equally polite when making him do such chores as folding up his shirts, ironing his clothes himself and even setting the table for dinner. Insist on good manners being cultivated as early in the marriage as possible, because you don't want your kids learning all the wrong things through no fault of theirs. If a MIL or FIL or any in-law butts in and tells you that "such chores" are not a man's responsibility, tell them to butt right out. If they did not teach their son anything, they should teach themselves to shut up.

In short, plan what needs to be done around the house on a daily and a weekly basis, and agree to split some of those chores with your partner. See to it that both sides stick to the bargain.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Go potty

I am currently in the process of planning the garden layout for the terrace. I don't have a lawn space for a garden, but the terrace opens up many possibilities.

So I am drawing up lists for medicinal herbs like basil and other useful ones like aloe vera, while I want just two flowering varieties, hibiscus and white lily.

When you decide to start your own square of garden, first clear out the designated area. If there is already some soil left over from the previous owner's efforts, clear all of it off if you're thinking of using the same soil bed. Soil left unwatered for a long while has close to no nutritive value for the plants, so remove all of it. Lay in soil thus - one layer of soil, then whatever manure you want to put in, then the top layer of soil. Do not pack the soil in too tight.

Every plant's root system is different, hence seeds may have to be planted either deep or not that much. Take an expert's help when planting seeds. Alternatively, head to the nearest nursery for advice and raw materials. They can tell you which plants to begin with depending on the current season, which plants require what kind of maintenance, how much space each plant needs, what not to plant next to each other, and so on.

If you're planning on getting pots, like I am, the task is quite easy. But be very careful when selecting the plants - most are already potted or ready to plant, and while you may be entranced by the purple hue of one flower or the fragrance of another, most flowering varieties do not yield any flowers after the first bloom. You might want to do some research on taking care of the plants you buy, as regards pest-proofing them and feeding them the best nutrients.

If you want plants inside the house, opt for a fuss-free creeper such as a money plant, or a small variety of pine, which looks simply fantastic in a nice planter box in the living room. For the kitchen window sill, opt for small pots with such plants that yield curry leaves or carrots or even tomatoes. Hardy plants are a must in the kitchen because the heat and the masalas from cooking will kill off most others.

For the bedroom, go for a fragrant variety of plant, but ensure that you arrange to keep it out of the window when you hit the sack at night. Not a good idea to have a plant in close proximity to the bed.

If you have a baby in the house or a toddler who typically puts his hands in everything, place all cacti on a higher shelf.

Have you made a square of green in your home? I'd love to hear how you did it.

Friday, November 20, 2009

How green is your home?

I don’t mean green just by means of the numbers of potted plants, though that is important as well. Let’s talk a bit about using electricity and water to as minimum a level as possible, apart from efficient garbage disposal, pest control and similar without using too many chemicals.

When you select a new house, first study the wind patterns. Throw open all the windows and note the wind direction and velocity. If you’re one of the many who’ve selected a house in a building hemmed in by other buildings, chances are you won’t have much to say with respect to views and wind. Hence, whatever breeze floats in should be maximised to give you the utmost in comfort and usability.

If you’ve purchased a flat, you can easily make a few adjustments such as reducing the width of a particular window which lets in the most air. There is a principle called Venturi Effect, in which a narrow opening placed in the direction of a gust or a moderately strong breeze, causes a pressure situation at the opening itself, hence causing the incoming breeze to gush in with force. The point is not the force of the wind, but that the Venturi Effect causes more breeze to come in due to the pressure build-up.

Here’s a tip: in place of opening the shutters to the widest, try sliding your window shutter leaving only a slit open. If you have wooden shutters, try tying them together leaving only a narrow slit open in between. This last is a better deal for those living on rent and who can’t modify the structure in any way.

Alternatively, try fitting a simple screen comprising a wooden frame and a thin cotton cloth. This is used in some cultures living in hot cultures and where cooling breezes are hard to come by. Simply use this screen by periodically spraying the cloth with water; do not make it dripping wet, moisten it. When any breeze ventures in, the wet screen keeps dust particles out and cools the breeze when it comes in, so do enjoy clearer air from this particular window.

Pest-control is the best option to begin with. Try this when the house is totally empty, or just before you move stuff into your wardrobes and cabinets. If you’re moving stuff from a previous place that may have been infested with pests, wait to call the pest control person till after all the stuff is put into shelves and cupboards. This way, you’ll ensure that any new arrivals are dealt with at the earliest.

Once the pest control is done, and depending on what kind you got done, the house should be free of pests for at least three months. In the meantime, get rid of mosquitoes and flies by burning neem agarbattis in a strategic corner of the room every evening. Close all the windows and doors and switch the fan on when you do this, so that the smoke permeates every surface. Flies can be gotten rid of by soaking neem leaves in a plate of water, especially at the dinner table.

Once a week, spray the insides of your cabinets with a bug spray, to remove all breeding sites.

Electricity usage:
These are basics, but please follow them through. Do not forget to switch off appliances the moment you leave the room, use hot water geysers only till such time that you need that much hot water, and do not leave your computers on forever. The appliances taking up the most power are computers, geysers, microwave ovens and such.

If the house is your own, you could install dimmers for your light switches. A great idea to save power is to install CFLs instead of the usual light bulbs. They last longer and cut down on consumption.

Water usage:
In the light of the recent water cuts imposed on the city, it is more than a crime to waste even a drop of water. Storing water is also illegal, but that is the only way we can get through the day if we get water only for a few hours every day.

Some high-end building constructions install household taps with in-built sensors so that water wastage is minimised. Other ways of saving on water is to use waste water well. Dishwater can safely be used for watering plants, since the chemicals in detergents are broken down in the soil. The same applies to water left over from soaking clothes in soapy water. Alternatively, reuse stale water in the toilet or for a cold bucket bath.

Try not to wash your car, kitchen surfaces, bathroom tiles etc. with running water. Instead, spray the surface with a spray bottle, wet a big sponge and pour a few drops of liquid detergent on it. Use the sponge to clean the surface and wipe off the soap with a dry cloth. If there is a film of soap left behind, wipe off the same with a newspaper.

Yes, they’re not very nice, but do have bucket baths, not shower ones.

They’re not just pretty, they’re pretty useful. Put up such medicinal types like basil and kadipatta so that you can brew the same in your food and when making cough medicines. Put a small plant in the kitchen window so that it purifies the air a bit when you cook. Try not to have plants in the bedroom window if your bed is very close by – you should not be breathing in the CO2 coming out of the plants at night.

When you’re looking for manure for your plants, include the leftover parts of vegetables that you cut but cannot use, such as the stalks and rotted parts. Put these in the middle layer of the soil. Also, tea water and water left from soaking meat are good for watering plants.

Air purifying:
There’s no real need for airconditioners, unless you have very little ventilation available. But apart from fans and ACs, you can purify the air available to you by means of incense sticks. Also try keeping a bowl of potpourri. Like I said before, use neem agarbattis and also dhoop sticks – they keep mosquitoes away and purify the air. Even a neem water spray around the house once a day will keep the air pure.

What are your good ideas on the subject? Do write back with your suggestions.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Service with a smile

Right. You’ve just moved in. Next is what?

Next is, apart from putting the house together from scratch, to get essential services from external sources put together at the earliest.

You’ll need your usual newspapers delivered. You’ll require a daily supply of milk. You’ll have to alert the trash man to ring your doorbell every time he passes on his rounds. You’ll need a guy to iron your clothes, somebody to get you the groceries home if you can’t carry them yourself, even a maid servant if you’re not used to doing the household chores yourself.

For my part, I don’t need the maid and the grocery man, but we do need the others. So the very first morning in the new house, the husband and I went out exploring.

Maybe it was the fact that we’d had a cold night following an evening of intense activity brought about by shifting our stuff in one go. Maybe it was the general welcoming vibe from the new place. Maybe it was the fact that despite the mess and the many hours of impending cleaning, I was with the man I love the most in my life and we were heading out to explore the new neighbourhood together.

We went about looking for chai and breakfast. As a piece of fair warning, let me try and talk you out of partaking of breakfast at a zhunka-bhakar Kendra. Thanks to some curious cooking, we got basundi for chai and rocks for idlis. The sambar left us as cold as it was when served. But we laughed and promised to go someplace else the next day. From where we stood, we spied a tapri a fair distance away doing brisk business with breakfast items. Shelving that for the moment, we went to the newspaper guy just next to the zhunka-bhakar guy, and the newspaper stall guy turned out to be the newspaper vendor for the building we currently live in. So the paper issue was solved.

I don’t rely on milk delivered to my doorstep, mostly because I don’t fancy waking up early and groping about for the milk packet. I simply buy Milk tetrapacks. For those who don’t, I would suggest ringing the doorbell of the most approachable neighbour and asking him/her if they would do you a big favour and tell the milkman to ring your doorbell the next morning. In the meantime, stock up on extra milk packets in case the milkman forgets to call on you.

You might need to fix such things as the gas connection and cable TV. Simply enlist your neighbour’s help for the latter and call up the gas agency helpline for the former. If you’re using gas cylinders, you’ll just need to change your address. If you’re depending on Mahanagar Gas, god help you (and I’m being polite). A good idea would be to call their helpline as soon as you decide to shift because they take about 10 days to address your complaint. The wait is long if you need a new connection installed in a building that already has a gas connection. Before they arrive, they will call you but will try and get out of coming at the last minute, so a bit of wheedling is in order. When they come, get the terrace keys from the secretary or watchman, and ask a neighbour if it’s okay to use her kitchen for a brief while when the gas guys need to solder a pipe on a running flame.

The cable guy will charge you for reconnecting a previous connection, and the money thus paid is non-refundable.

Keep an eye out for the guy who irons the clothes. They generally make two trips a day, so decide the time that is most convenient for you. Fix up a schedule with him, depending on how many times a week you do your laundry.

A maid to do the dishes, sweep the floors and even help in such tasks as cutting the vegetables and cleaning out the bathroom once a week is a must if you can’t do these things yourself. Ask around in the building and gauge how much each job will cost you on an average. There is no fixed rate; in fact, the money charged for each chore will depend largely on the area you live in, how many jobs the potential maid already holds, and how many tasks you expect from her daily. Generally, you will get a maid who holds many jobs in the same building. Maids are notorious about scaring other maids trying to get a job in the area where they work.

If you have a small child, research the area for crèches or playgroups. Your job should be about half done if there are kids in the same age group already living there. You might need to arrange transport so consider a crèche that is within walking distance of your home.

In the initial two weeks, your house might be a wreck owing to everything being anywhere but where you need it. It is a good idea to enlist the help of a professional tiffin service provider to get you through meal times. Every area has a woman or a small company providing these services; the yellow pages should help you out.

Also look for places that let out carpenters, plumbers, electricians and such. Here’s a good tip: places selling sanitary bath fittings and such like generally have an in-house plumber or somebody they tie up with. Ask them for their number and let them list your home address. Also, electric and carpentry hardware stores have in-house helpers who can do such things as fixing fans and levelling the doors. Find out where these services are available.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The cleaning lady

I kid you not - a woman's work is never done. Especially if she's just finished waving the carpenters goodbye and it is time to stash stuff away.


The thing to remember when surveying the sea of bags and suitcases with a sour eye, is not to panic. Yes, it's overwhelming not knowing where to begin and the rest of it, but shush. Start by cleaning out the floors - if you've just shifted, and what's more, had carpenters, plumbers and other persons working on the premises - chances are the floors will require two sweepings and may be the same number of washings. Alternatively, you could leave the floors for last. Wear a pair of comfortable and clean slippers or shoes around the house as you set about cleaning.

If it makes better sense, start with putting the clothes, shoes, bags and kitchen utensils away. Put one type of article away at a time, and don't stop till all of the stuff in that category is put away completely. Trust me, it's a big motivator to see the clothes all put away before you start on the kitchen stuff. Setting house is nothing if not a lesson in self-motivation.

Next, dry dust/ sweep all surfaces, vertical and horizontal. Take the duster inside cabinets and in the corners of shelves, inside bathroom traps and inside lofts. Follow this with a liberal amount of pesticide spraying, if you haven't already called the pest-control guys. If you're going to pest-proof the place professionally, I would suggest doing it when the house is empty and the stuff is still inside bags.

After this, start the next stage of cleaning all surfaces with a wet duster. There is nothing more satisfying than gleaming surfaces emerging from under a wet duster. Some surfaces such as the cooking range, sink, tiles around the washbasin, the washbasin, commode, bathroom tiles and so on may require a vigorous soap bath. Use an abrasive powder such as Vim to attack stubborn stains, but protect your hands when doing so. If your skin rebels against cleaning powders, go for detergents like Pril but use a cleaning pad.

Once this is done, sit for a while with a cup of tea/ coffee/ poison of your choice.

It makes sense to start on the tough parts of the job first. Leave such minor tasks as putting detergents and other things away for the end, and include making the beds, putting up the paintings, arranging your books neatly in the book case, going out to buy potted plants and such, for much later. Small things left at the end are very therapeutic and will help you relax from the stresses of all the cleaning.

Do write in if you did things differently or if you have better ideas on setting up the house.

Next: Optimum service.