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Category Archives: Soapbox

More on infestations

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I can’t promise that this will be the last post about infestations, but I will do my best to put pictures in next time.

There are a few more benefits about being at the mercy of carpet beetles, not that I would recommend welcoming them into your home or anything.  As I’ve said, we have purged a lot of things in the last two years, most of them still usable and in good order.  We’ve been lucky in that we’ve been able to give most of our things to a local parish that has a number of families in need.  They will take pretty much anything, and put it to use, including pens, plastic containers, stickers, mismatched socks, and so much else.  This is nice, because it means something destined for the landfill gets more use than it otherwise would, plus someone else benefits from having it.  Honestly though, you wouldn’t believe how many disposable pens, pencils, and markers we’d accumulated and never used.  It was disgraceful, ahem.

Further to my point, though, we actually got to hear some of the stories about the families who got our stuff.  There is a family with a daughter who has the same taste as ours, but is a size or two smaller.  There was the man who needed a suit for a job interview just when we donated some of Husband’s.  It goes on, obviously, but the stories stick in your head, and when you pull something out to decide whether or not you need it, the question becomes whether someone else can get more use out of it.  This helps quite a bit with cleaning out Daughter’s things, but the concrete image of someone else in need becomes ingrained in you, it haunts you, and it drives your purchasing and purging decisions.

This past June, Prague and its surrounding areas were severely flooded, though thankfully not as bad as in 2002.  Things were a right mess here, and emergency services were stretched to their limit.  When the Red Cross put out a call for towel donations, I didn’t have to hem and ha about whether we could live without a few extra towels.  I just opened our linen closet, did a quick mental calculation of how many we realistically needed, and dumped everything else into the donation bag.  I wouldn’t have done that before the carpet beetle infestation, because I would have been worried about our not having something.  Those stupid beetles have freed me from the worry of having to have something, and for that, I am grateful.


Ahh, water

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We had one of those classic Monday mornings, where we woke up to find that there was no water on the whole block.  Apparently the severe temperatures caused a valve to blow somewhere, as these things are prone to do in extreme temperatures.  Luckily, given our previous experience in London with blown water mains, I always keep a reserve of water on hand.  Generally, the water comes back on within a day, so I have limited our reserve to two gallons, but I regretted that this morning.

After I cheerfully made a pot of tea, proud of my resourcefulness and foresight, I wandered off to do something, and came back to find that someone had used the rest of the reserve water to flush the toilet. The issue was somewhat resolved with a quick run to the corner shop to snag the last two packs of water, but I was kicking myself.  My new plan now involves the two gallons of reserve water for drinking, and numerous cheap plastic bottles full of water for flushing (the plastic bottles leach chemicals, so are not good for storing potable water long-term).

More to the point of this blog, I was thinking this morning what it must have been like during WWII, to have survived an overnight bombing raid only to find out in the morning that you don’t have any water at all.  Of course, there were mobile canteens and water trucks, but it still seems that the mark of a truly civilized life is running water.

A look into an austere new year…

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Ah, 2012.  Most people look forward to the new year, looking at it as an opportunity to start anew.  Here in the Czech Republic, we woke up to higher prices, as the VAT was raised on January 1, even on food.  Somewhere in the deep recesses of my mind, I knew there has been some talk about raising VAT, but it never registered that it was also on food.  Regardless of whether it was denial or a language barrier, everything in this country now costs more.  To put a cherry on top of that, Europe seems to be in the middle of yet another recession. So, to sum up

increased VAT + inflation + no rise in income = less money to spend on everything

Oh, and we also have to start paying for the actual amount of water we use, as opposed to a flat fee per person.  Anyone  who has gone through this conversion will tell you that it never works out in financial favor of the person using the water. I’m not against everyone paying their way waterwise, but I do question the timing. And to top that whole lot off, there is serious talk of raising income tax and power costs this year as well.  Hear that squeaking noise?  That is the screws tightening.

Did I mention that my husband is most likely going to lose his lunch plan benefit?

What this means for this blog is that I have even more reason to write it.  As such, I will be focusing this year on cutting food costs and taking steps to save water and power.  To mark this, I would like to institute a new feature about low-cost GF menus, and I think I’ll call it Double Dip Monday, in honor of our new round of European recession and austerity.

So, wishing you all a wonderful year, and here’s hoping that we come out better than how we started!

GF sandwiches, in a store?

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No really, it’s true.  I saw it with my own eyes.  I even ate one.  Marks and Spencer is selling two types of GF sandwiches in its sandwich aisle.  I had the egg and tomato one, and I think the other was some cheese and ham combination.  The wrapping said that the GF sandwiches are in response to customer demand, which I can imagine.  It is really hard to eat GF when you’re running about in the city or on a train, and it’s nice to think that they would listen to all the GF people out there screaming for ready to eat food.

But…… But really, four pounds for a sandwich that had two cherry tomatoes and half a boiled egg in it?  Yes, four quid, which is something like seven US dollars, and more expensive than M&S’s high end sandwiches.  If you want a drink and some crisps/chips, that’s extra.  So boo on that count.  You might be thinking though, if you’re starving, you’d be willing to fork it out.  I agree, but the sandwich wasn’t that good either.  The filling was good, but the GF bread was kind of airy and really fell apart, more so than normal, which isn’t so pretty when you’re sitting on a train with a bunch of strangers, trying desperately not to look like you’ve never eaten in public before.  Plus, there was a kind of slimy bread coating on the bits that were touching the wrapper.  Apparently, regular bread absorbs the condensation in sandwich packaging, whereas GF bread just kind of bonds to it and becomes slick.

So, will I be buying another one any time soon?  Probably not, though the thrill of being able to buy a sandwich, just once, and eat it on the run was worth the four pounds.  Do I recommend these sandwiches?  Well, again, four pounds for the thrill of being able to grab a sandwich like everyone else is pretty compelling, just once, so by all means, indulge.

As an aside, the M&S GF baps are outstanding, not too crumbly, and not too expensive.  At just over two pounds for four, perhaps M&S could start making sandwiches out of those and selling them?  I would pay four pounds for that.  (anyone listening out there?)

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…

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?

Snowy Musings

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I’m sitting at the kitchen table, staring out at the calm peace that snow always seems to bring, except that it’s 7:30 on a Wednesday morning and I know that the world should be awake already.  I wonder if everyone has just thrown in the towel again and decided to stay in bed.  Remember, I live in London, and it doesn’t snow here, so for a place that isn’t supposed to get snow, we’ve seen quite  a lot of it this past year.

We’ve had snow, ice, and freezing weather since before Christmas, and it is set to continue on until well into next week.  Though I saw them out gritting yesterday (by hand no less), the infrastructure is simply not designed to handle snow.  As the BBC explained it, apparently Britain only gets wet, heavy snow, which packs itself into rail joints and brings down power wires.  Light powdery stuff gets pushed out of the way, but the heavy, snowball snow just sticks and causes chaos.  Incidentally, all of the snow has been ideal for snowball fights and snowmen, so at least we aren’t bored when we’re stuck at home.

So here we are, with a gas alert on and a bunch of snow on the ground again, and I think this is exactly why Europeans are much more responsive to green initiatives than Americans.  The gas alert means that national supplies have been somewhat depleted and more gas is being imported from the Continent.  Basically, we’re sitting here snowed in with below freezing weather, and we’re expected to moderate our use of heating as well.  On top of that, we are all wondering whether Russia is going to start up their gas shut-off antics again, which didn’t affect us last time because Britain rarely sees freezing weather.

So we can’t drill anything, and outside power sources are a bit, er, unreliable, which means the only things left to do are increase efficiency and create alternate solutions.  On top of that, the temperature has dropped below freezing, which it rarely does, and we’re snowed in again, which is only supposed to happen once every twenty years.  So yeah, most Brits look around and think that green initiatives are good, if it will keep us free of gas alerts and snow