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Category Archives: Small Steps

Glorious Infestations

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Ok, so part of the reason that I’ve been away from blogging is because we have infestations in this flat, as in multiple ones.  Currently, it’s spider season, though the weather has been kooky enough this year that there aren’t many of them.  You may think that I might be happy about having fewer spiders, but I’m not, because the spiders eat the other little nasties.  We’ve also gone a couple of rounds with mites (not book mites, thankfully, at least that I’ve found) and a few moths.

By far the biggest infestation we have is carpet beetles, which look like little brown or black lady bugs/birds.  The irony of the entire situation is that we don’t have carpets, save the one polyester rug in Daughter’s room.  These little bugs are in our parquets, and their larvae eat everything – cotton, wool, leather, dust, food particles, and so on.  The larvae migrate too, so they get in between the mattress and the bed frame, behind the toilet, in the corners of kitchen cabinets, and anywhere else that is dark, dirty, and undisturbed (like under century-old parquets).  The only way to deal with these little things is to clean, everywhere, regularly.  Every drawer and cabinet has to be turned out and wiped down every six weeks, every bit of clothing and linen has to be shaken out and refolded, and even every book taken down and dusted behind.  Yes, it is a mighty load of work, and it keeps me busy.

However, this on-going war against migrating nasties has had some positive effects, beyond the clean flat.  After about six months, I started to get tired of turning out suits that Husband never wore, refolding the extra set of sheets and towels that never get used, and emptying out over-stuffed kitchen cabinets containing duplicate cooking wares.  So, I started to purge, and purge we did.  We didn’t have an exceptionally large amount of stuff to begin with, but it had begun to accumulate.  Those extra sheets are gone, as are the suits, my sweaters, shoes we wore less than once a year, table clothes that were never used, and quite a lot of the stuff from our kitchen.  We’re still purging, and I am going to start pulling everything out again and re-evaluating in the long winter months, but we seem to be getting a handle on things.

The only reason I’m sharing this is because it is nice.  It’s a nice feeling to be surrounded by things that are meaningful, useful, and few.  Husband has fewer clothes, but complains significantly less about having nothing to wear.  Daughter has fewer art supplies, but uses what she has.  I can cook much more efficiently, and I honestly haven’t missed a thing we’ve gotten rid of.  We aren’t done yet, but we’re getting there; and we’re learning about living with enough, which is the real blessing in all of this…

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Two quick ways to save on the stove

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Here are two related ways to save energy while you’re cooking on the stove, which is where a lot of the energy is used in my kitchen.

This first one comes from a Homefront pamphlet, and I was able to start doing it immediately, with visible results. Once something has started to boil (rice? potatoes? quinoa?), turn down the burner to as low as possible. The pot will usually keep right on boiling, and most grains actually respond better to lower boiling temperatures.

I can’t remember where the second tip came from, but it takes some practice to implement. In the last stages of cooking, turn off the burner. This works best if you cook with lids on, and is the only solution to not overcooking GF noodles. The pots and pans retain enough heat to finish off the last few minutes of cooking (say three ish, maybe five?), unless you are trying to do something specific, like caramelize. As an example, when I flip the last batch of pancakes on to the uncooked side, I turn off my burner. The pancakes finish off on their own from the residual heat, and I’ve save myself a bit of gas. This also works very well with pots of boiling grain and vegetables, as long as the lid is on.

I can’t tell you exactly how much energy would be saved by following these two tips, but every little bit helps, right?

Easing wear on shoes in the winter

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Ah, winter.  I’d forgotten that it snows in some parts of the world (apparently also in the UK regularly now too).  Here in Prague, we’re now buried under snow, along with the accompanying grit and salt.  Husband and I debated what to do about sparing his expensive work shoes, and then hit on an easy solution…

Husband wears his boots on his walk to work, and leaves his work shoes and a polish brush at work to change into.  This way, only the heavy winter boots are exposed to all of the grit and salt, and his nice leather work shoes should last longer because of it.

So far it has worked out well, and I’ll keep you updated if we come up with any other spectacular ideas.

Just in time for Christmas

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I’m going to moan about gifts, especially the ones Daughter gets.  Both sets of grandparents are a bit, um, enthusiastic when it comes to gift-giving, and I know I shouldn’t complain, right?  Right, I know, but I’m going to make a few observations anyway.

I’ve noticed that Daughter quickly becomes desensitized to gifts if she’s overindulged.  For instance, she once received nine (yes, nine) princess dolls in a box once.  We are now down to four, through various blessed acts of God involving mildew and vacuum cleaners, and Daughter really doesn’t care.  In other words, she frequently throws one away, because it is no longer new or perfect, or whatever.  I found this behavior troubling, and I think that if you have toys, then you should appreciate them, otherwise you have too many toys.

Daughter does have a few toys that are close to her heart and get a lot of love, and one grandparent or the other has tried to get similar toys for her, but I always stop it as soon as I can.  The reasoning seems to go, “if she loves one bunny, she’ll love two bunnies twice as much”.  In reality, Daughter really only loves the one bunny, and the second one ends up in a corner for a few months before I pack it off to the charity shop.

I try to stop this by giving as many direct suggestions as possible without being Attila the Daughter (in Law), and Husband and I have put our foot down firmly several times, but I wish people would stop and consider what is going on.  Buying loads of gifts does not prove anything, frustrates the child and the parents, and just puts money in a shopping till instead of in a bank or charity where it could do some good.  As Sister-in-Law recently asked in desperation, how many outfits can a one-month old baby wear anyway?

I’ll offer a counterscenario, just to show I’m not a cold-hearted, tight-fisted mother who doesn’t want her child to have any fun in life.  We recently went to Disneyland, and Husband set me to the task of limiting toys and related debris since we were with my side of the family.  After a few days of consideration, I laid down one ground rule – Daughter could only have one souvenir of any kind from Disneyland.  I told this to Daughter, Husband, and everyone else on our trip well in advance and repeated it several times before we got there.  I didn’t actually think it would work, but it did.  Daughter was very careful in choosing her one thing (a dress up Minnie Mouse) and has played with it daily since we came back.  I have not once heard “I wish I had more” or “I want that and that” or “You didn’t let me get loads of toys and you’re a terrible mother”.  Minnie it was and Minnie it is.  Knowing in advance that she could only get one thing helped her focus on what she really wanted, no matter how cliche it seems.

So, sometimes we have to settle for giving and getting only one thing.  But it really is so much more satisfying…

Parsley, or something close to it

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I recently started shopping at a farmer’s market not far from our flat, and all of my carrots and parsnips come with the tops on.  The parsnip tops looked suspiciously like flat-leaf parsley, so I tasted it, and I’ll be darned if it didn’t also taste like parsley.  I’m not making any arguments about whether or not parsnip tops are actually flat-leaf parsley, but I will argue that parsnip tops make a good stand in for flat-leaf parsley.

Now, when I come back from the market, I wash the parsnip tops, chop them finely, and leave them to dry on a baking sheet on top of the radiator.  This supplies me with more than enough dried “parsley” to get me through the week, which means I don’t have to worry about buying it.  I love getting something from nothing, don’t you?

As a side note – I also wash my carrot tops and dry them whole on the radiator.  I use these in soup, one stalk per pot, to add extra flavor (I just don’t recommend eating them).

Triumphing over waste (?)

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I just wanted to share a satisfying triumph for today that really has nothing to do with me.  I took delivery today on two new divan bases (a long, drawn out story of trying to find an ideal bed) and the month’s groceries.  In that whole process, I managed to only throw one thing away, which is what I find satisfying.

So, the beds came wrapped in big, heavy recyclable plastic bags and cardboard ends.  I will use the plastic to wrap up the old frame, which is being sold on Ebay, and the cardboard ends will be recycled after Daughter has had a chance to play with them for a while.  (I see the potential for doll beds and houses, but we’ll see what she comes up with.)  So there are two beds, unpacked, and an old frame disassembled, with nothing going into the garbage.  How is that for a closed loop?

The groceries also came today, irritatingly bagged in plastic shopping bags, which I detest.  However, I can either pass the bags on to Daughter’s school, which uses them for taking things home, or recycle them by handing them back to the deliveryman.  I usually pass them on to Daughter’s school, but recycle any Daughter brings home.  All of the bags that produce comes in are recycled in a similar manner, and the clear plastic ones I can use again get washed and rotated into our plastic bag pile.

The majority of the month’s groceries are either in recyclables like plastic bags or tins, or in tetra paks, which are recyclable in our council if you take them to specific recycling points (I have a spotty track record on doing this).  One or two things are in non-recyclable film, which was what I ended up throwing away today.  Even better, almost all of the produce was from the UK, England even, save for a bag of apples from France and a bag of peppers from Spain.  Granted, everything I ordered was more or less in season, like potatoes, cabbage, apples, pears, carrots, leeks, and swede, but that is what is tasty at this time of year too.

I decided to share this not because I want you to have a window into my obsessive little world, but because this is how I think the world can and should work.  Packaging should be minimal and recyclable (tetra paks included, Southwark Council!), food should be relatively local and in season, and waste should be easily kept to a minimum.  Imagine how much easier life would be if you only had to throw one or two things into the garbage a day.  Clearly it is possible, so why isn’t it common?

Milly-Molly-Mandy

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In keeping with last week’s theme of a pink tea party, I wanted to quickly share a gift Daughter got that she loved.  I am still looking all over for those pictures, and I’ve gotten a bit frustrated because I had them, but oh well.  On to Daughter’s new favorite gift…

A neighbor who shares my penchant for literature gave Daughter Milly-Molly-Mandy, which is a series of stories from the mid-1920s about a little girl named, you guessed it, Milly-Molly-Mandy.  The stories are sweet, and Daughter can relate to them on any number of levels.  The stories are short enough that they can be read at almost anytime, but the pictures a minimal enough that you get to use your imagination too.  Finally, the stories aren’t overly moralistic, so Milly-Molly-Mandy has the same problems that Daughter has and handles them in a similar way too.

Aside from shamelessly plugging this book, I also wanted to make a point.  A well-chosen book, such as this one, makes a remarkable gift.  I can guarantee that we will be reading this book for the next few years, which is the sign of a good gift (and book, for that matter).  My point is that a gift doesn’t have to be expensive in order to be good or appreciated.  A good, classic book will fit the bill anytime.