Three Kitchen Hacks You Might Not Have Tried Yet

 

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Can you guess which ones are hard-boiled and which ones are uncooked?

Minimalists are always trying to figure out how to live well with less stuff. Not to make life an unbearable grind, but because we find it extraordinarily fun to be efficient, we like to use our creativity in the service of humanity/earth and we have discovered it is the path to freedom.

I figured out a couple decades ago that American-sized refrigerators are waste creators. They as so big that people overbuy fresh foods and restaurant meals and then park the hopeful meat and vegetables and take-home boxes on the vast shelves. Then life happens. Work goes overlong and there is only time for fast-food or microwaved pizza rolls. Someone ends up in the hospital and there is only time for vending coffee and chips. Someone breaks up with you and the only thing that makes you feel better is ice cream and Netflix. I get it. And all that food that you bought when you were full of energy and a plan-to-get-fit turns into refrigerated compost.

I am a huge advocate for small refrigerators. Parisians have the right idea, but think smaller. Think dorm-sized fridges-just don’t fill them with beer. I have been using a refrigerator that fits under my kitchen counter for a couple decades, even when I was cooking for a family of four. When you can see everything, you are not as likely to waste it.

Many fridges come with a plastic partition for holding eggs. It is there, taking up your expensive refrigerated space, whether you have eggs or not. My system, photographed above, does not waste space. If you take a few of your dozen eggs and boil them, just indicate it in some way-a Scarlet H, or Sharpie happy face or stickers that you removed from the avocados you bought. Also, if space is really tight in your half-fridge (which does happen from time to time, I admit) you can Trim The Carton To The Number Of Eggs You Have. Even the bits are recyclable.

And speaking of refrigerator compost–

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Where the compost goes before it makes it to the big container…about once a week.
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Where the yellow compost container goes.

Even in my half-fridge, I have room for the small compost bin that some people keep on their counter top or under their sink. I learned a long time ago that refrigerating the compost keeps down stink and bugs. The difference between me and the big-refrigerator folks is 1) my compost is all gathered together, rather than in individual plastic bags rotting in the produce drawer 2) My compost is what is left after I have used the fruits and vegetables that I purchased. Rarely does edible food go to waste here.

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See that small spring clip at the bottom?

Minimalists are always on the look-out for new tools that perform multiple functions. The mighty spring clip is one of those tools. You see it here as a prop for the recipe cards. (I don’t have a lot of recipe cards due to me simplifying our diet and virtually any recipe being available via an internet search.) It also works as a bag clip for spinach or frozen peas or any foodstuffs that come in a plastic bag. ALERT: not kitchen hint–It works great to hold fabric bits inline during an assembly of a creative reuse of second hand fabrics, whilst still being so creative that safety pins would be too much of a commitment. You can use it to hold bunches of paper together (boring!) or combined with a shoe string as an emergency tourniquet (I haven’t had to use this one yet-as a matter of fact in 30 years of nursing, the only time I have had to apply tourniquets was to plump up the veins to draw blood-no emergency.)

I know my readers to be the most helpful and creative of people. What are your favorite kitchen (or household) hacks?

P.S. I know a couple of you (i.e. 20% of my readers) signed up to follow the net-zero house story. I am spending a fair amount of my time tracking down the right property. I have real estate agents looking for it. I am looking for it, via online searches and then I drive to any viable listing. Other people, who are just excited about the concept of creating a net-zero house in boring old St. Louis, send me links every week. And I check them all out. So never fear, progress is being made…if it is only eliminating about 200 properties per week that will not work for one reason or another. I assure you, once we find the right property, the blog about it will be way more interesting. XOXO, Fawn

Retirement and Personal Goals

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My handmade bookmark.

“Whaatt?” You say. What does shirking all your responsibilities have to do with goals and retirement?

And I say, “Everything. And it is not shirking your responsibilities, but aligning actions with your core purposes. And letting the rest go.” A religious person might describe this as aligning one’s will with the Divine Will, but we don’t want to scare people off…so we can just use New Age language to describe the process.

When I was a working stiff, my days revolved around the routine of working and all the support efforts that kept that lubricated: washing and ironing work clothing, packing work lunches, cooking food for the week on my days off work, using vacations from work to take care of the house and the kids. Anybody else use a Staycation to paint the exterior of their house? Or a travel trip to scope out prospective colleges?

Years ago I noticed that my life was deficient in play and spontaneous joy. And since then I have been finding my way back to that childlike innocent perception of the world that both sees what is true and delights in the variety and consistency of experience.

(Longtime reader Linda who asked about the diet plan is beginning to lose patience, I think.) Let me be as practical as I can be. I think workability is an excellent test for any theory that humans can devise.

Two years ago, I retired from paid employment because I was exhausted and Just. Could. Not. Anymore. I moved in with my mom and threw myself into helping her declutter her home after 46 years of hoarding. I helped entertain her guests and kept trying to figure out how to play. I took classes. I like yoga. I don’t like formal drawing. I don’t like Tai Chi. I don’t like Frisbee Golf. I like walking in the park. I like garden design. I like home design.

Then my son became ill and there was that one horrible week when he was in a hospital in one city and my mother was in a hospital in another city. Play? I have no idea.

But I do. Over the years I have discovered there is a Hansel and Gretel bread-crumb trail from where I am to the place I need to be.

Goals in Retirement (from paid employment-I’m not very retired)

Every day when I wake up, I ask my self first, “What does my son Mike need today to be as successful as he can be?” and secondly I ask myself, “What do I need to be my best and continue to be a good caregiver to Mike?” My counselor tells me I need to reverse the order that I ask these questions. But we have to start wherever we are, right? And let’s be really candid here, usually the first thing I ask is, “Coffee?”

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Photo of my calendar last week.

I would like to be around for a couple decades so I start with what promotes personal health.

Sleep– When I retired from nursing, I stopped setting my alarm clock on a daily basis. When I was working, I got up at 5am and went to the gym for a cardio or weight workout before I woke the kiddos and drove them to school and then on to work at 7:30am. Now I let my body wake up when it wants to, which is usually between 7-7:30am. But I am listening to my body in a way I was never able to before. So after spending 3 hours wielding  pick-ax on a landscape project, when I overslept the next day to 9am–okay, I get it. I am listening, beloved body.

Eat Healthy-For me this means organic, locally raised plants, which is why we have been members of a local CSA. But my son needs a lot of B vitamins, which are mostly found in animal products. So I try to keep the homestead meeting the needs of all the residents.

Minimizing Drug Ingestion-My favorite drugs are caffeine and wine. I’m glad that they are both legal for someone my age, but I recognize that some of my other goals are hindered by their ingestion.

Regular Movement-Some of us would call this exercise, but to peoples who live in cultures without access to cars, it is just getting on with your day. I want to live in a place that supports normal human movement (walking and more) and sometimes I need an intermediary support like a yoga studio, which supports my movement, local community and connection with others.

Connecting with others-Well, I have this blog, which connects me with you. I have my local church community (Yeah Quakers!), I have local friends I have made since I moved to St. Louis and I have recognized the importance for this introvert for creating down time from all these connections.

Play-Oh My Word…..this has been the most difficult part of the journey. What does “Play” look like for me? I’m completely bored by competition, so a retirement of golf would make me run back to work. It has taken a bit of effort to discern this but for me play includes: 1) a gift of service to community  2) a walk in nature  3) transforming something that is not functioning or beautiful into something that is both–this can be an article of clothing or an abandoned city lot or the decrepit tile situation in my current bathroom. Current arenas of play include: decluttering the Quaker Meeting house, planting native species plants there, hand-sewing projects, creating the zero-energy use house here in St. Louis.

What about all of you? What are your goals in retirement?

Native Species Plant Install

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Fawn & Mike taking an iconic break from the planting.

You know…when you have a pitchfork and a gothic window, you have to give it a try. For my international readers: this is the famous painting that we are trying to imitate.

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I think we nailed it.

This silliness was just a breather from the hard work of getting our 144 native species plants into the ground.

Here is Barbara panting Rose Verbena in the front bed near the street.

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This bed was first planted last fall, but we lost a few plants to the shade and the snow plow and just happenstance.

While we were prepping the ground for the row of Little Bluestem grasses, a couple of neighborhood kids came by on their bikes and asked if they could help (they told us over lunch that they saw these old ladies working really hard and sweating and thought we could use their assistance.) And boy we sure appreciated it!  They worked really hard digging up the Zoysia grass, which has deep roots. Plus we found 2 pennies, a marble and a couple of cool rocks.

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DJ and Fafayette were a big help!
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Here you can get a sense of the scope of the plan–a soft wall of grasses between our parking lot and the neighboring parking lot.

Benefits to this landscape change include: native species will support local pollinators (bees, butterflies, moths, humming birds,) the tall grasses will drink up the rain run-off from the parking lot keeping it out of the local water waste system, taller grasses are able to convert more CO2 to oxygen than the low lying ornamental species, the grasses will create a wind block and collect some of the local trash for easy retrieval, it increases the natural elements in the local landscape making things prettily green for a good portion of the year, it increases local habitat for native fauna (though I am still trying to discourage the local squirrels-most other species are welcome).

I will post photos when the planting of the Little bluestem row is complete.

Less Stuff: A Book Review

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Image from the book Less Stuff by Lindsay Miles

I have read a lot of books on decluttering, minimalism and voluntary simplicity. I read them mostly because it heartens me to learn of like-minded people in the world discovering the joy of discovering “enough.”

The newly published Less Stuff by Lindsay Miles is one of the better decluttering books I have read lately.

Miles covers the standard topics of how pleasing it is to live in a calm, ordered space and how to process your objects room by room and category by category by sorting them into keep, donate, repair, reuse, recycle and trash piles/boxes and then getting them where they need to be.

Where her book excels is in dealing with the responsibility of letting go of those objects in a way that is not harmful to the environment. It was one of her original difficulties in decluttering until

“Then I had an epiphany, a realization that decluttering and caring about waste actually go hand in hand. Decluttering doesn’t have to be about wasting stuff. It’s about identifying stuff that we own that is going to waste (because we don’t use it, or don’t like it, or don’t need it) and finding a better place for it: a place where it will actually be used. Decluttering does not have to mean landfill. We can find new homes for our things, or places where the resources can be used again. Actually, it’s an important part of the process. Decluttering can be the opposite of waste.

… I’ve redefined how I think of waste, too. If I have things I no longer need, I can let go of them responsibly. I may not need them, but if they still have life in them, they can be passed on to someone who can make use of them. It is more wasteful to keep things I don’t need than it is to let them be used to their full potential.”  (italics mine)

She gives lots of resources in the book for places and methods for finding new homes for our stuff. She notes that this takes more time and effort than just dropping everything at the charity shop or the landfill, but that it helps us be more mindful of what we have accumulated that we don’t need. Then we can do the emotional work of discovering why we allowed ownership in the first place, which is important to preventing new clutter from coming in.

And lastly, I like that she advocates for responsible divestment, even when it costs you more money. If something is broken and you give it to a charity shop, it will likely end up in the landfill. If you fix it before you donate it, it has a much better chance of finding a new purposeful home.

Frugal Wall Art

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My daughter took this photo on a trip to the northwest states.

I printed it at a local office supply store in the 18″ x 24″ size, which cost $18 USD. I framed it with a frame purchased at the local craft store for $20 USD. I probably could have found something less expensive at the charity shops if I had been a bit more patient.

A New Home

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A paper map of the city of Saint Louis and surrounding suburbs.

Maybe it was the smell of cigarettes in the hallway. Maybe it was the natural gas bill that charges me $22.00 USD for the “privilege” of using their climate change creating fuel each month–before I actually use any product. A typical summer bill is $10 for actual fuel and taxes and $22.00 for access. Then the winter bill shoots up as the apartment has single pane windows and there is no financial incentive for the landlord to replace them.

All that just burns my hide…and we don’t need THAT contributing to climate change.

I have decided to create a Zero energy building home as a sanctuary space for me and my disabled son, and also to demonstrate that it is not necessary to be rich to do so.

I have been poking around my current neighborhood, looking for a property that will fit my needs: either a empty lot that I can move a manufactured zero energy home like this to, or a older home that needs total rehab, so I can gut it and create the energy efficient space I desire. Since my son does not drive, we need to be close to public transportation.

Then, through a friend, I met the awesome architects at Virescentdesign.com link to Instagram photos, who specialize in sustainable architecture! When I described the project that I wanted to create, they were as excited as I am. They also were realistic about my budget, saying, “It is not impossible, but we will have to be creative.” Creative? Humans at their best!

They gave me some tools to work with. The Saint Louis Land Reutilization Development link which is a government body designed to help re-own abandoned properties in Saint Louis and the Walk Score which allows people in USA, Canada and Australia to evaluate the walkability of property that they are interested in.

All these online tools…. and still the old analog me felt a need to get a paper tool to map out what I am planning. Turns out that is harder to do than when I was a child. Back in the 1960’s every gas station had maps of the local area, state and national maps. But now we all have that on our phones. It did find a paper map of Saint Louis (see photo above) at a local bookstore.

I have been using a combination of the online tools and the paper tools to identify neighborhoods that I think might be good homes for me and my son. I have focused on the Metrolink electric train, as that is his transportation to school. But, he may be up to a short bus ride to the train, and if not, I can give him a hybrid car ride to the train station.

I  got in my car today and used my GPS to drive to 25 separate properties that might be the start of our new home. I could rule many of them out by driving by. Others seem more appealing when I view the “walkability” of the neighborhood.

I’m a little bit tired and a lot excited.

More later.

Fawn

A Serene Home

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My closet today.

A few years back, when I was getting ready to sell my home of 15 years, my mother lamented– “But you have created such an oasis of calm and peace here. How can you even think of leaving it?”

I replied, “I have that calm and peace within. I carry it with me. I can recreate it anywhere.

That said, the past year has not been calm or peaceful. But I still carry those feelings within me. And it is time to recreate it here.

As I have written before, I love the location of this apartment in a walkable city. I love being on the second floor up in the tree canopy. We are three blocks from the Metro train, which my son takes to school.

What I do not love is that the building manager smokes cigarettes in his workshop in the basement and the hallways smell like an ashtray. Also, the lady in the apartment below me is hard of hearing and in the evening I can hear her TV blaring. Ever the minimalist, I have solved two problems with one appliance: the air purifier. It cleans the air and the white noise of the fan cancels out the TV noise.

So how do we create “serene?” First we declutter. Then we clean. Then we add some nature elements.

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Here is the floor of the northeast corner of my bedroom. See the paint and scuff marks?

As a sometime renter, I have noted that most folks do not have the same standards for cleanliness that I do. To be fair, none of my roommates or husbands did either. So, I have always understood that cleaning to my standards was a beauty requirement that I needed, but others have not. No judgement. I’m just taking care of my own needs here.

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Same corner after a couple scrubbings and a wood restore product.

I’m not going to lie to you, this was a significant time investment. But I had recently attended an art show with a friend and we both loved a particular piece that had been created with a 24″ x 18″ piece of paper and a sewing needle. The needle had been used to poke holes in the handmade paper in a complex and beautiful pattern. I estimate that it took hundreds of hours of human labor to create.

And I asked myself, “What beautiful thing do I want to create this week?” And the answer was, “A serene home.”

You may see more serene home post in the coming weeks as I manifest that calm and peace from my heart to the apartment.

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Close up of His Royal Highness. He is made of jade and sits atop my dresser for now. I am told that he is a Feng Shui prosperity toad. I think that he is adorable, and if he increases my prosperity or romantic prospects…well then, Yeah!