The Empty Ocean Spray Bottle

Like a good little girl who suffers from frequent UTIs, I consume some form of cranberry juice on a daily basis.  In my experience, Ocean Spray has the right amount of cranberry goodness in their juice to make me feel all right.

Ocean Spray Bottle

As a result, I end up with a lot of empty Ocean Spray bottles.

So as a result of THAT, I recycle a lot of empty Ocean Spray bottles.

But you can do more than that.  The lovely squareness of the Ocean Spray bottle makes it a good fit for many things.

Currently, there is one, filled with water, inside the tank of my toilet.  It tricks my ancient toilet into thinking that it’s fuller sooner and so I don’t waste as much water every time I flush.

Ocean Spray Bottle

You can use them as  cooling packs as well.  Fill one about 2/3 full of water (because water expands when it freezes) and chuck it in the freezer.  Not only will it help you to keep your freezer full and thus working at peak efficiency (this is not a problem I have) but it will also make a handy cooler addition for picnics and camping.  The squareness of the bottle means it will fit anywhere, and as the water melts, it will keep your food fresh and provide a nice refreshing drink at the end.

Ocean Spray Bottle

Let’s not forget that you can re-use them for their original purpose, and put more juice, like the stuff you make from powder or concentrate, back in them.  They’re also a good way to store iced tea that you’ve brewed, or to flavour water.  I like to have an extra container of filtered water in the fridge for dinner parties, because we tend to get thirsty with all that talking and eating and my Brita pitcher just can’t keep up.

Ocean Spray Bottle

The squareness, again, lends itself to storage just as nicely.  Small pastas, like macaroni, or rice or any other small nodule-like dry good (jelly beans?), will be easy to find and compactly stored in your pantry — just make sure the bottle is fully dried out before you pour in your foodstuffs.

Ocean Spray Bottle

And if you want to get really creative, you can turn the empty bottle into a bird feeder to help out your avian friends over the winter.  Make it into a giant spare change holder.  Or  drum.  Or use it as a float (filled with air) or a weight (filled with sand) for keeping track of your dock moorings at the cottage.

Cut off the bottom and use the top as a funnel for birdseed, cat litter, sand … whatever you need to funnel.  Fill it with water and bury it in your garden to keep your tomatoes watered.

Ocean Spray Bottle

Use the square bottoms as drawer organizers that you can move around at your whimsy and fill with all your odds and ends.  Decorate them and keep them on your desk, in plain sight.  Make them hold pencils or buttons.

Ocean Spray Bottle

Many years ago I had a client who was a bit of a hoarder, and he had kept all his bottles, filled with water, and lining the shelves that ran near the ceiling in every room.  He was preparing for the apocalypse, I suppose.

That’s about all I can think of.  If you have any other uses, please feel free to add them in the comments section.  I would love to have more things to do with all my empty bottles!

Practical Alcoholism: Cutting Glass Bottles

Cutting Glass

This was actually a project that Cait came up with as a guest post eons ago.  Obviously, she took too long to do it, I got impatient, and now I’m going to go ahead and do it myself.  Because that’s what I do.  I do it myself.  It’s kind of the point of this here blog.

The City of St. John’s has just this past year instituted a city-wide curbside recycling program.  Yes, we are about twenty years behind the times on this one, but we’re making progress.  What the city does not recycle, however, is glass.  I’m not entirely sure I understand why, but that’s the way it is.  We previously employed a private recycling plant that would take absolutely everything, including glass, but they of course disappeared once recycling became free.  As a result we’ve now started tailoring our grocery shopping to buying items that come in cans and plastic containers, rather than glass.  But some of that stuff sticks around.  I re-use glass jars as much as I can, especially when it comes to the contents of my spice cabinet.  Even so, we still have a lot of glass that goes in the garbage.  And let me tell you, for a girl who has spent the last 25 years of her life recycling, it feels some weird, b’y, to chuck glass in the trash.

Light Box Tests

So how can we re-use it some more?  You can only deal with so many spare bottles and jars lying around.  Their function is practical but limited.  So let’s create some other sorts of vessels from these things by learning to cut glass.

I purchased Ephrem’s Deluxe Bottle Cutting Kit from Artistry In Glass, based in London, Ontario, for you Canadian shoppers.

Cutting Glass

This kit has been around, pretty much unaltered, since the seventies.  In fact I don’t think they’ve ever bothered to change the photographs in the little projects book that comes with it.  But why mess with something that works so well, right?

Cutting Glass

You need some glass for this project.  Anything that is round, really, with smooth sides will work for you.  Bottles, jars.  You name it.  The reason I bought the “deluxe” kit as opposed to the regular kit is because it comes with an adapter so you can work on the curved parts of bottle necks and stuff, instead of just the straight sides. But I haven’t gotten to that skill level yet.

In any case, you’ll need to clean and dry your glass thoroughly first.  This means soaking off the labels and rinsing the containers out well.  If you can’t get some of the glue off the glass, try peanut butter.  It works really well, I promise.

Cutting Glass

So now I’m all set.  With my little kit at the ready, I wanted to make sure I did this right.

I watched the video about how to do it the way the cutting kit company tells you to in the instructions, with a candle and an ice cube.

And then I watched another video about a slightly easier and more efficient way to do it with boiling and cold water.  I will show you both.

This is the result of my first attempt to cut beer bottles.  As you can see, it’s not perfect, but it’s not bad, either.  I needed more practice.  You are not going to succeed at this on your first try either, so make sure you have lots of practice glass around before you start getting into the stuff you actually want to use.

Cutting Glass

Beer bottles are the best to practice on, because generally beer is cheaper than the more expensive wines that come in the nice bottles.  Plus you can get several tries in if you buy a six-pack.  The other bonus of practicing on beer bottles is beer glass is thinner and more prone to shattering (unlike jars of preserves, beer is cold-canned, and the bottles are not designed for temperature shock).  So because the bottles break easier, you have to be more careful in your practice.

Light Box Tests

Scoring the Glass:

So this is how you do it.

The kit has all sorts of knobs and screws that you need to adjust first so the cutter is perpendicular to the cutting surface.  This is important. Follow the directions and diagrams in the kit carefully.

Cutting Glass

Now, exerting firm, even pressure (you don’t have to press very hard either) and without stopping, roll the bottle or jar under your hands.  You will hear the cutter making horrible gravelly noises as you do this.  It is scoring the glass.  Keep going all the way around, until you hear a distinct click.  This is you hitting your original score mark.  Now you can stop.  Don’t score over the same spot twice.

Cutting Glass

If you don’t hit your original score mark, then you’ve messed up that particular cut.  I do this often.  I guess the pressure from my hands is uneven or something so the cutter and the bottle don’t stay where they are supposed to.  This is where the practice comes in. Also make sure all your screws are tightened all the way so stuff doesn’t shift.

Once you’ve got your cut, you can start shocking the glass.  We want to do this slowly and evenly.

Water Shocking Method:

I put a towel in the bottom of my sink, just to provide a bit of a cushion should some glass happen to drop. It will also catch the hundreds of tiny flakes of glass that fall off your bottles, so make sure to wash it thoroughly afterwards.

Cutting Glass

I have one jug of water in the fridge, the other boiling away on the stove.

Starting with boiling water, slowly pour a small stream over your score mark.  Turn the bottle so you get all sides of it.  Keep going until you can feel the bottle warm in your hands.

Cutting Glass

Now, pour on the cold water in the same way.  You’ll start to hear some cracking — that’s the glass breaking along its score line.

Cutting Glass

Keep going, alternating boiling and cold water.  There will be more cracking.  Don’t try to force the two parts of your bottle apart.  If they’re going to come apart they will do so on their own.  Just keep alternating your water and it will eventually happen.

You can see here how I etched lines in parallel rings on this jar.

Cutting Glass

And then this is how it fell apart.

Cutting Glass

They didn’t fall apart completely evenly, but as I was only seeing if cutting multiple lines at once was even possible (as the book and the ‘net both tell you to do them one at a time), I wasn’t paying that much attention to my scoring.

Cutting Glass

Fire and Ice Method:

Cutting Glass

For argument’s sake, I also did the candle method as espoused by the kit itself.

Cutting Glass

Carefully hold the bottle just above a candle flame, so the flame nearly touches your score mark.  Rotate the bottle slowly to evenly heat all the way around.

Cutting Glass

When the bottle is heated, take an ice cube to the score lines and rub it all the way around.

Cutting Glass

You will find that you have to do more repetitions for this method, but it’s slightly more accurate.  Because the bottle is more gently treated your cuts will open straighter more times than not.

Cutting Glass

Of course, if you’re cutting rings, like I was here, the fire and ice method is very slow, as you have to do each ring individually.  The water shock method is much better for cutting rings, but I would use the fire and ice method for the lips of drinking glasses and the like, where a completely straight edge is important.

Cutting Glass

Finishing:

When you have finally achieved an edge on glass that you like, you will need to grind down the edges, because this is broken glass — it’s super sharp.

The kit comes with this silicon carbide powder, which you can pour on a sheet of glass that you don’t need to use for anything else, add a drop of water, and rub away until all the sharp edges on the glass are gone.

Cutting Glass

It’s a little messy though.  I prefer emery cloth, which is basically fine sandpaper, just the silicon carbide powder is glued to a sheet of paper.  You can still add a few drops of water to it (this keeps the glass dust down), and grind away!

Cutting Glass

Make sure to get the inside edges as well as the outside edge.

Cutting Glass

You can always dip a small piece of paper in water and sand down the inside by hand.

Cutting Glass

So my first successful efforts of today produced this lovely wee glass.

Cutting Glass

Which I filled with juice.  And which I plan to later etch and give to someone.

Cutting Glass

And these rings, which I will be making into another gift for someone else.  They’re not perfect, but they’re not bad.

Cutting Glass

Stay tuned for some gift ideas and things you can do with your upcycled cut-glass projects!

Cutting Glass

Vanilla at Home

I use vanilla extract in absolutely everything.  So I go through it like gangbusters.  And pure vanilla extract is the only way to go.

I also like orchids, and that’s where vanilla beans come from.  I kid you not.  A climbing orchid native to Central America, called Vanilla V. planifolia (or V. fragrans) is the source of that costly little brown bean. This is not a vanilla-producing orchid but it’s pretty enough anyway.

And the reason vanilla tastes so good in sweet things?  Well, the vanilla bean makes its own sugars:

Vanilla’s rich flavor is the creation of three factors: the pod’s wealth of phenolic defensive compounds, preeminently vanillin; a good supply of sugars and amino acids to generate browning-reaction flavors; and the curing process.  The plant stores most of its defensive aromatics in inert form by bonding them to a sugar molecule.  The active defenses — and aromas — are released when damage to the pod brings the storage forms into contact with bond-breaking enzymes.  The key to making good vanilla is thus deliberate damage to the pods, followed by a prolonged drying process that develops and concentrates the flavor, and prevents the pod from spoiling.

That’s an excerpt from On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee.  Doodle gave it to me for Christmas.  I highly recommend it if you are interesting in knowing why things work the way they do in the kitchen.  It’s a great blogging tool, as well.

Did you know you can make your own vanilla extract?  It’s super easy.  I already have some steeping that I put up in October in preparation for Chel and Invis‘ wedding cake in June, but I got this cute little bottle from my brother Ando for Christmas.  In it were two vanilla beans and all the tag said was “For Al: BLOG IT.”

So this is what I am doing.  I love presents for the blog!

Basically, all you need to do is fill your bottle (make sure it has a good seal) with two vanilla beans and some booze.  The instructions here call for vodka, but I have read elsewhere that rum makes a more mellow flavour that lends itself better to darker sweets.  You can use bourbon as well, especially if you have bourbon vanilla beans from Madagascar.

Then you seal it and store it away for about 4-6 months.

TADA.

That was so easy it was almost a non-DIY.  That’s why I had to give you some science.  I had to make you feel like you worked for it.

Trouncing our Tempermental Toilet

We moved into our house in August 2008, and even then our toilet (at least forty years old to look at it, probably fifty) didn’t work.  It ran.  And ran.  And RAN.

There was much jiggling of handles and lifting and bending of wires.  And swearing.  And stamping of feet.  And turmoil.

I don’t know why we didn’t make an effort to fix it.  Well, there were several reasons.  One, we always figured our landlord would get around to it at some point.  Two, this isn’t our house, and we were terrified that in attempting to repair an antiquated toilet (of which the landlord is inordinately fond), we might break something.  So we didn’t.

Three years went by.

Also, we kind of hoped that when the Elizabethan explosion occurred some months ago, one of the nice plumbers would take the old toilet away and bring us a new one.  But of course that didn’t happen.

This winter, the rubber tank ball completely disintegrated.  The Pie fixed it all by himself (as I was in Ottawa) and we thought the problem was solved (a running toilet is a sign that there is not a complete seal around your tank ball).  Soon after my arrival back home, however, the toilet situation got worse.  The toilet still ran, only now you couldn’t jiggle the handle to get things to fall back in place.

With an impending houseful of guests and only one bathroom, this was a problem we couldn’t ignore any longer.

Here you can see that the lift wires for the handle, and the handle itself, are all corroded.  So even though the Pie replaced the tank ball, the corrosion on the wires makes them rub against each other and won’t allow them to slide smoothly up and down, which prevents the tank ball from sealing itself and means that the toilet will continue to run as it tries to fill the tank unsuccessfully.

So all we had to do was replace the handle and the lift wires and we were set. 

Really, plumbing is a very simple thing, especially when it comes to toilets.  Don’t be intimidated.  And all the stuff you get comes with instructions anyway.  I just want to show you how easy it actually is. 

Even Gren could do it.  Only his legs are a little too short.

First, you turn off your water.  That’s the little knob under your toilet somewhere. 

Then you flush the toilet so that it will drain, but with the water off, it can’t fill again.  Now you can work.

First you need to remove the old handle. 

It’s held to the toilet with a simple nut, but the Pie had to use some RoboGrips and some man-strength to get it to turn, as it was very corroded.

Then you stick the new handle in and screw it in place.

Now the lift wire has two parts: the first one screws into the tank ball and moves up through a little guide hole.

It connects to the other wire, which is bent to loop around the handle.

This is how the lift wire screws into the tank ball.  I showed you here because you can’t see it inside the tank so much.

Then it loops through this other one and bob’s your uncle, you’re set.

So you put the tank ball in place, loop the second wire through the first, and feed the first wire through the little guide (different on every toilet).  Screw it into the tank ball.

With a pair of pliers, bend the second wire so it will loop through one of the holes on the handle. 

You will need to cut the wire with a sturdy pair of wire cutters in order for it all to fit.

You may need to play around with the wires and which hole they go into on the handle so that everything works the way it should.

Then turn your water back on and test it out!

The novelty of having a flushing toilet at last has us almost giddy. We have vowed to never be intimidated by a toilet again.

Because our toilet is so horribly ancient and inefficient, we have also placed a bottle of water in our toilet tank to save water.  The water in the bottle displaces other water, convincing the toilet tank that it is fuller than it actually is.  You end up with less water in your toilet bowl, but in older toilets the amount there is really wasteful anyway.