Saturday, June 26, 2010

Let food be thy medicine and thy medicine, food.

Go, Hippocrates! It's as true today as in 460 B.C., given the wide variety of foods (and food-like substances) now available.  As I enter my week anniversary of a nasty cold, health is much on my mind.  I have a pantry shelf that would look far better if not full of various vitamin supplements and herbal remedies.

These definitely fill the minimalist bill better than their allopathic counterparts considering their origins and lack of serious side effects - as long as they work
There is a backlash against vitamin supplements, and not just from the nasty old medical industries (who cause a jawdropping number of deaths as a byline to their services).   Highly respected (by me) experts in dietary therapy are publishing article after article on risks or ineffectiveness of vitamin supplements for their marketed purpose.  There's no question that alternative remedies are also big business.

If you are quite keen for details, here are some:
The point is that there is no magic pill, and there is no magic vitamin pill either.  The popular assumption:
  1. Some foods promote health
  2. These foods contain vitamins; therefore
  3. The vitamins promote health (not necessarily)
This is the assumption that supplement marketers hope you will not think through.  If derived nutrients do not deliver, I want to know.

With natural remedies, it's very true that there is insufficient regulation of dosages and sources even of substantiated substances.  It's a serious case of let the buyer beware...
  •  If like me, you believe herbal remedies can be very effective, it's a worthwhile investment to consult a local trained herbalist, whose business will generally include sourcing reputable herbs.
  •  Important!  Natural remedies are holistic, which means you have to pay as much attention to what you avoid as what you take.  (Hippocrates was big on holistic treatments too.)  Don't expect garlic and vitamin C and ginger to do much for your stuffy nose if you're comfort eating chocolate biscuits and drinking dairy milk at the same time.  This may be one reason why scientific tests get inconsistent results.
But let's not lose sight of the forest because of all those darned trees!  What is actually in my cupboard and why?

As a vegan, I have to take this supplement - regularly!  And my kids also must.  I've been B12 deficient before due to sloppy supplementation, and it's not pleasant.  My life might have taken a very different track had I not allowed this to happen.  (Easier to recover from than a heart attack or stroke though :-)

Luckily, there seems to be no debate about this one - again from Jeff Novick "The B12 issue for vegans is a separate issue and meets all my criteria for a supplement. The need (if one "chooses" to be a strict vegan which would be a personal choice and consumes no fortified foods) has been clearly established as has its safety and effectiveness."  More on B12.

Vitamin C (ascorbic acid)
This is a hallowed family tradition, at least for two generations.  My stark childhood memories include gulping down cold glasses of increasingly bitter juice with so much vitamin C that it wouldn't fully dissolve.  (I try to do better by my kids and make sure it has at least dissolved.)  As an adult, I now take mine in water with stevia and through a straw to protect my tooth enamel.  Hmmm, thin enamel, vitamin C, wouldn't be too crazy to theorise a link there.

Vitamin C is popularly considered to have no established benefits in curing or shortening a cold, or anything else beyond the levels required to prevent scurvy.  Yet here is a more comprehensive analysis, well worth a read.  Also thought-provoking is the entry from Wikipedia and the Cochrane review.

For me?  I'm still one of the devout.  Is it for the same reason some people say they believe in God - what harm does it do, and if you're right, then you win!  There's a certain parallel to the logic...   But I can feel the anti-inflammatory properties of a heavy dose of C immediately.  Also, both my parents could pass for 10 years younger, and lifelong daily doses of an antioxidant could have something to do with that.

The evidence is still too interesting for me to agree that there are no benefits.  One consistent finding is that vitamin C definitely provides immune support for people under extreme stress  - "think marathon runners or soldiers on subarctic exercises" - or, may I add, mums of small children.  I rest my case (with a big vitamin C).

Multivitamin/mineral (adult and kids)
Just in caseI find studies showing that multivitamins are helpful, dangerous, and useless.  If you can find something conclusive, please share.

Herbal cold elixir
I am addicted to this stuff!   Contains many of the better known immune boosters but more importantly, it contains peppermint and eucalyptus oils and when you take a spoonful, it hits your nasal passages and burns its way up through your brain.  Irresistible!

Zinc - maybe helps with immune system and colds (I doubt I'll replace this when done)
Evening primrose oil - bought 2 huge bottles of huge capsules and haven't finished the first bottle yet
Garlic and horseradish and stuff - mostly the DH uses these while real mums use real garlic!
Vitamin E - miraculous results (although sticky and smelly) applied to sunburn
Folic acid - already emptied as way past date and I'm not supplementing for a pregnancy
Slippery elm - bought for heartburn during pregnancy, ineffective as far as I could tell.  Someone tell me to bin it!
Cranberry - due to chronic yeast infections - ineffective against mine.  Will take the last few in the next few days rather than bin.

Are you a dedicated herbal junkie?  Does it work for you?  Does your cupboard have a collection too?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Yo-yo day again!

 The last yo-yo is ready for donation and I'm brainstorming ideas for actually using the matched cup and saucer set...

You know the drill - vote on what I should do with this next yo-yo...

This feisty dragon lady was a gift from my mother.  In her previous home on a windowsill she fell victim to my underestimation of my son's climbing abilities.

She's missing a head spike and her tail needs reattaching.  She has a great expression, but I can't decide whether I want to display a broken piece.

It's up to you....

  1. Fix and keep
  2. Fix and donate
  3. Send to dragon happy hunting ground...
  4. ?

I also have some really good news!

Look!  Isn't it beautiful?  Sigh....

What do you mean?  Can't you see?  There's no cube shelf there anymore!  Hooray!

And many thanks to DH for his assistance in both phases of this operation.  Mwah, mwah!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Leftovers - minimise waste!

 I'm proud to say my refrigerator rarely surprises me with a Nobel-prize-winning science experiment.   
I'd like it to look like this fridge too, but it doesn't quite :-)

More like

And here's some more harsh reality:  the average American family throws away 14 percent of their food (according to a USDA funded study in 2004). That's almost US$600 every year!  Can you think of something nice to do with $600?  Me neither.  Good thing.  (Apparently in total 25 to 50 percent of the country's food is thrown away, so commercial food producers are at least as guilty and you can't solve the problem by leaving the leftovers to them.)

There are so many reasons to have a meal plan for your dinners, and leftover usage is just one.  Design your meal plan around tasty leftovers and you are so far ahead of the game, you might as well be brushing that winners' tape off your midsection already.  As an example from our meal plan, a simple (vegan) Italian tomato pasta sauce over your kid-friendly spirals or macaroni also makes a wonderful dish reheated with big chunks of steamed potato stirred in.  Or the original could be a thick pizza sauce, modified to be pourable for another meal.   

When I make lots of sauce at a time, I have to guess how many containers to refrigerate for use this week and how many to freeze.  As a rule, twice in one week is the limit - after that it doesn't matter what shape the pasta is underneath, I will get complaints!  Also see Cooking and freezing.

Extra rice refreshes pretty well, and any other fine restaurant would also agree that Chinese veggie stirfry over rice (with cashews) is a different meal from Rice with Lentil Curry Sauce and fresh green salad.  

Plan your produce purchases based on your known favourite meals, and keep it simple!  We vary (if you can call it that) between hot vegies: broccoli, cauliflower, courgettes, mushrooms and salad: lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, cucumber, gherkins and olives.  Perhaps not exciting, but relatively cheap and I know my family will, between us, eat all those and we won't have green slime from more adventurous vegetables puddling in the crisper.  More on keeping it simple:  Minimalist guide to eating.

Don't cook a full and separate meal every night of the week - that is the surefire way to join the queue (holding their noses and losing their money) from the fridge to the compost bin.

Leftovers for lunch

How can I be sure to have a nutritious homecooked lunch every day?  Eat yesterday's dinner leftovers.  If possible, feed them to the kids and husband as well.  Let me know your secret, if you succeed with that.  In any case, this solves your lunch menu problem while clearing your fridge too. 

Lunch leftovers and  scrapping it up
Now that I have two children in various levels of outside care, I regularly face the dreaded rattling lunchbox. It's a true potluck - at what point has DS lost interest in the available options except to mix them together?  We also have a snack bag habit for car trips.  In most cases, I'm more generous with loading than our appetites require.  For that investment in peace and contentment, I must pay the price of seeing sedimentary layers of stale biscuit and pretzel crumbs mixed with cashew bits and squashed raisins.

And like everyone, my family is prone to having more on their plates than they can handle at a sitting.  Food is love, after all.  While the compost bin is always an option, it's still a shame to waste food just because it is now unsightly.  

So savoury scraps get scooped into the "everything soup" freezer container and sweet scraps generally add a few extra spoonfuls of sugar to help my morning porridge go down.   

Knowing this food has a future purpose curbs my habit of eating the last leftovers off a plate just because they are there.  Some of you will understand this one already, and the rest of you might never understand.  But we can all understand that it isn't a good habit.

Over the top
Being too particular is the enemy!  Tonight's dinner was a surprisingly pleasing melange of pasta sauce and stirfry sauce.  That and some quick-cooking rice vermicelli saved us from dropping $20 at the takeaways (and adding cold to our colds at the same time).

  • Not all my leftover experiments are as successful.  OK, DH?  I am sorry...and no doubt will be again.
I save  the salt from bulk bags of cashews and pretzels for cooking rice or soup, and I win popularity contests with iceblocks from juice poured from tinned fruit. 
Here's some extra help for Your refrigerator

Now please share your cleverest leftovers secret!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Brand new reality blog - it's Yoyo Day and YOU get to vote!

I have too many yoyos in my house.

What is a yoyo?  
This isn't like my marble collection - I bet you have yoyos in your house too.

Something catches my eye. I pick it up, turn it over in my hands, think "should I keep this?" can't really decide either way or a good way to get rid of it, and then whoops!  Down it goes.  Again.  Bingo, a yoyo!

I need your help!
Each week, on Yoyo Day, I will post a photo and history of a classic yoyo.   And you get to vote on what I should do with it.

Today's Yoyo

This is a really tough one for me.  This china was my grandmother's - it is vintage Royal Albert circa 1930 in OK condition and is probably worth something but I don't know what.  My mother shed it from her cupboards into mine and I have no china collection.  I have struggled with the choices:
  1. Post pic and sell on Trademe
  2. Donate and let worthy charity pick up whatever bonanza is in store
  3. Keep because it is pretty and does have sentimental value
It's in your hands - vote now!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Minimising exercising....

Exciting news which has been getting in the way of this blog - I'm the new editor of the La Leche League New Zealand magazine!  (The only way this would be cooler is if it paid lots of money, but the cause is well worth my time.)  For those of you enjoying my blog regularly, thank you because I've felt creatively unblocked and who knows whether I'd have fronted up for scary new opportunities...

So I am minimising other things, like my Facebook checking and double-checking (to see if anything interesting has happened), and I have several blog idea posts brewing but as yet unwritten.  But one thing I'm making sure to get in these days is my exercise.

Evolution of exercise...
We'll skip the part where I used to fool my gym teacher regularly during running by faking a contact lens emergency.  She was fooled, right?  Or was she paid too little to care if I cheated myself out of improved physical health...?  I'll leave that question to the childcarers among us, of all income levels.
At university, I was up and down with exercise levels and fitness, but I never did anything organised.  With my first office job (and my spreading office chair bottom), I joined a gym because that's what you do when you have an income and want to get fit, right?  Plus, it gave me something to do with my evenings.  Sad to say, this was necessary.  And I worked out lots!

But the gym and the workouts were boring.  It must have done some good, but I continued to be very overweight throughout my gym period.  Changing my diet - 1, expensive gym membership, 0.  Although my exercise routine has evolved, I have always found an enjoyable cornerstone in walking.
  • In this, I have obediently followed the cliche of turning into my mother, who is busy turning into my grandmother, a mighty lifelong walker indeed.  And I sincerely hope to visit the USA again before my grandmother turns into her mother, who is, of course, dead.  Hope this isn't too blunt - I need to be real about this so I remember how important it is.  We are a long-lived family (great-grandma was something like 94) but I don't want to push my luck.
Walking is reported as the most common exercise for successful longterm weight losers (for which I still qualify if imperfectly).  When I had reached quite a comfortable weight, I enjoyed rockclimbing and regular morning runs (both quite difficult to do when you're carrying too much extra). 

Post-baby: I walked lots - death marches with Alex in a pram around our local park (so he would spend at least some time asleep not physically attached to me).  This wound down, especially after Nadia was born, to not enough exercise at all due to exhaustion.  Very recently, with improved sleep, this has also improved to great long walks and even runs down to the beach, but never often enough!

I realised that the real challenge of the journey was the hill just outside our cul-de-sac.  The rest, while pleasant, was more of a meditative stroll (unless I really racewalked).  So I minimised again, and now perform the daily ritual of hauling ass up and down Hawera Hill a couple of times at my top speed (which is now running, except the steepest uphill bits.  It isn't a bad little workout before breakfast, while DH wrangles the kids through breakfast.  And I do it, rain or shine.  So far.

I love mornings
Studies often promote morning exercise as particularly effective.  And what I always loved about my morning dashes is that it's straight from my nightie into my workout clothes, then into the shower and cleaned up for the public.  What a timesaver - why clean up and dress once in the morning and then again after a later workout?

Reduced healthcare costs
Exactly when I started getting out every day, I delayed my regular fortnightly chiropractic visit for one more week - and have maintained that 50% improvement ever since.  This is a big deal, since I've been addicted to the great feeling of chiropractic care since a sudden crippling pain seized me more than a decade ago, and a series of practitioners have tried to wean me to less frequent visits in the past.  There is a combination of reasons for my problems, but there's also no way to deny it.  You can't just say "I must get some exercise",  YOU MUST GET SOME EXERCISE!

More minimalist exercise
What about a marathon?
Wow, running barefoot!
Hitting the trail...

Monday, June 7, 2010

Even less housework

If the kitchen is king of housework, the laundry is the constant, nagging queen.   How do we keep our royal couple from getting too big for their britches?   Because although we do have a regular flow of laundry, we do escape the dreaded laundry mountains that I do hear tell...

My kids are messy but not very smelly yet (with obvious exceptions).  If their meals missed their clothes and the bark from the park shook itself off, fold that darling little bundle back into a drawer to fight another day.  Yes, I can do this with some of my clothes too - using a few of my common senses. Absolutely, positively, put clothes for rewearing back with clean clothes because that's the point.  They're clean enough, and I don't want my furniture or floor wearing my clothes.  
  • The clothes examination happens at the end of the day when the light is dim - every once in a while I discover my mistake in the morning light.  Oops!
Of course I don't do this with underwear or smelly clothes except for my exercise clothes.  My exercise routine is such that only I could possibly be bothered by them.  More on my minimal exercise routine later, and apologies if anyone finds this icky.  But I'm clean after my shower, I promise.

Drying?  (Hanging up, of course!)

Put it where the sun does shine!  Especially in winter, our yard surrounded by lovely trees gets very little sun.  If you should spot some sun, note also the small sad empty socket where the previous owners removed the clothesline.  (They left the trampoline, so why quibble?)  There's another sizeable frame line - underneath the deck, where only the feeblest of filtered rays venture.  So we started drying all clothes indoors one winter and just kept going.  We are as lucky with our indoor space as we are unlucky outdoors, and I don't have to take heavy baskets in and out.  I certainly don't miss the "peg it up, take it down, is it going to rain?" game I've lost countless times.

A plastic airer lives permanently in the dining room for the small and short clothes.  Uncool?  Very, as it has direct sun most of the day and the airer can be trundled to follow it if necessary.
You can see it in full use in this pic. 

While our table looks darned good here, I'm pleased to report that it isn't usually much worse than this, clutterwise.  (Stickiness?  That's another story.)  This is one successful example of "make it clear and keep it clear" and I enjoy having a clear table enough to chase off stragglers!  Like the kitchen zoning, I like being able to use it for dining without having to clear away everything else first.  Obviously the airer spoils the minimalist look, but so far no visitors have reacted visibly.  And I was heartened to glance up at a neighbour's east-facing window and spot another laundry airer basking in the beams.

Another funny little storage room houses our Victorian airer for the grownup clothes.  We bought this on special for about $90 from Early Settler and I don't care how you estimate your dryer costs, this baby has paid for itself long since.  (Unlike our other babies :-)  And one line strung by DH in the laundry room does well for sheets and towels that aren't needed urgently.  Those that are needed may end up over chairs on the deck on a day with any hint of sun.

We run laundry at bedtime: DH hangs them to dry - one of his many valuable contributions.  I (and my short team) put them away when dry. Most go on hangers (and some can go straight to the closet that way) and we don't need to use clothes pegs as it's not very gusty in the house.  I even try to load dry clothes into the basket roughly split into piles for their destination rooms.

We do have a dryer for emergencies, but almost never use it.  I last used it to try to shrink some comfy elastane trousers that are too big.  I have to try again, carefully.  Usually the advice is aimed at not shrinking clothes, so I'm fully experimental here.

Dressing direct
Like most people, we reuse the same favourite clothes in a cycle of a few days.  So they're often still drying when we look to wear them again.  It makes perfect sense to dress from these clothes, dry but still hanging about, instead of getting more clothes out of the closet to wear and also having to put the clothes we really wanted back in the closet (to be taken out again later...)

Try doing that when your laundry's hung outside!

I've read the opinion (might have been FlyLady, whom I do enjoy) that this is just not on.  Your laundry isn't done until it's put away.  That is true, but some things around our house just do not get done.  I accept that and I'm saving myself work, so I win!

Full but not fully full
When your drawers and closets have more than they can hold, you're making more work for yourself and often more laundry.  It's harder to put away laundry (especially if you're enlisting short help) and things can often fall out!  It's worth your time to sort for those clothes that are really doing their duty, and re-house the rest as appropriate.  Seasonal storage, donations, online auctions...

I'm very pleased!  Although I bought some gorgeous new clothes for my gorgeous growing girl, I immediately took unnecessary clothes out of the drawers to make room.  Also: spending more on girls than boys largely due to fashion - has this happened to you?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

It's the thought that counts....or what madness lies in the heart of the giver

I would love to have this as a timely Christmas post, but I can't possibly wait that long.  Plus, with kids, a gift-giving experience is always just a few sleeps away.

Gift-giving is so many ways.  It's a fantastic mix of fun and guilt, guessing and missing, happy surprises and award-winning performances.  It's also about overspending, confusing needs and wants, and often sadly, CLUTTER!

I say again, crazy.  I consider myself a rational gift-giver, and I still succumb to it.  My mother suggested we all contribute some $$ for my sister to get herself some special jewelry for her, ummmm, recent birthday.  (The adults in our family exchange birthday gifts but only do Christmas pressies for the kids.  I love this system.)  Great suggestion, and Mom even did the birthday coupon herself.  We anted up the dosh, and Whew!  Duty done for this important recent birthday!

That's not crazy, I hear you say.  But when Sis mentioned later that she'd used the money to buy herself some proper exercise gear instead, I had an genuine moment of "Huh? That was supposed to be for jewelry!" Didn't say it out loud, thank goodness.  Crazy!  If Sis wanted new exercise gear more than new jewelry, then of course that's what she should get.  All of us close to her know that what she's doing with that exercise gear is more flattering than another little sparkly.  Hello, the jewelry wasn't even my idea in the first place.  Yet gift-givers ownership madness had taken over.

There's not enough "Got you this, hope you like it" and too much "Verily, I have given thee a gift and therefore thou shalt please me in its dispensation!"  Of course we want to feel our gift was a winner and not an "Oh..."  I once gave a gift that made the recipient cry from its poignancy.  In the words of Jack Nicholson, I overshot a little - I was just aiming for personal and memorable.  But although I haven't seen that person for quite a number of years, I still remember this unusual achievement. 

For my kids' birthday parties, I love inviting lots of people, but I hate having lots of cheap toys arrive as my kids' new and temporary best friends.  After one birthday party for my son where he was simply overwhelmed by wrapping paper and gifts, I had to do something different.  My invites now include an invitation to bring a gold coin contribution (that's NZ$1 or $2) to a special family gift and/or donate a small amount to a favourite charity in the child's name.  No further questions asked, because I'm just as happy whichever they choose.

I hope that I'm saving busy parents a chore, saving the earth just a little bit, and saving myself from the hassle of having my children fall in love with a flashy toy today, crush it tomorrow, and wonder where it went the day after that.  I'm sure I'm not doing the Warehouse any favours.
  •  My favourite disposable, cheap and cheerful toys are stickers, colouring books or art supplies.  I'm not 100% anti-plastic, but I'm certainly not a fan.  And shouldn't a toy that will never biodegrade at least provide some years of service?  Not hours?
Most of us get a real thrill that someone cared enough to get us a gift, and do feel obligated. Add it all up, and this is what keeps unwanted gifts moldering away in boxes in closets, tucked at the bottom of drawers never to see the light of day, or hurriedly brushed off and shown off when a visitor is due.

Regardless of needs, credit-card balances, and room on the shelves, gift-giving runs rampant.  It's not just the Hallmark holiday problem - it's just plain fun to give gifts.  So how can you do it thoughtfully as a minimalist or for a minimalist?

Everyday minimalist has some great tips - Unclutterer always has good advice too!   And for me?
  1. Keep their values in mind, not mine
  2. Choose something they will enjoy using over something they must enjoy keeping
  3. Don't spend what I will miss
  4. Enjoy giving with love

In some cases, I just need to look at what I have and use it.  In my kitchen post, one clutter box was a snazzy chocolate lovers mug set with shaker and frother from my Mom.  Dunno exactly why I wasn't using it - some idea that we already have enough mugs?  We do, but I'm really enjoying having my own special one.   The kids are thrilled with their fluffies with choccie sprinkles on top!   And how can I have so many cute bottles of moisturiser and also have cracked heels?  (Pause for brief foot care break - I've stored them by the computer because that's where I'm most likely to have a spare minute.)

So what do you do with a well-meant but unwanted gift?  And if (totally hypothetically of course) my most recent present is right inline with one of my hobbies, but it would immediately be seconded as toys and ruined by the kids, how do I break that gently to my favourite giver?