Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Objects of our affection - five relationship rules

  1. What would a burglar take from your home?
  2. What would you miss?
The answers to these questions may vary depending on whether you can afford good contents insurance.  But it's certainly worth considering what your emotional attachments are to the objects in your home, should they disappear due to burglary, or fire, or some other mishap.

Burglary - a case study

We've never had a houseful of interesting late-model or high-fashion goodies. (A houseful of other stuff, guilty!) When we were burgled several years ago in our previous home, they scored a mixed haul including my husband's work laptop, a knife block with an incomplete set of pretty good knives (!) but only thing they took that I cared about was my good jewelry.

One pair of earrings was a gift from my sister and the rest inherited from our grandmother, including my specially-designed (me and sis) engagement ring with vintage diamonds from her ring that I did not wear all the time...to keep it safer!

These lived in the beautiful wooden jewelry chest my husband bought me as a gift, in the bedside drawer. Beautiful, thoughtful, and for the record for any other innocents out there, obvious target for burglars. It took me a very long time to accept that the ring was really gone forever.  Now, I always wear the replacement ring, and the other good stuff I have is in a small box somewhere else that is less obvious.
Also for the record, handyman DH had our house secure: doors and windows.  The burglars forced the wooden window frames until they broke.  At a certain point, if they want to get in, they will.
Losing your stuff

Losing your stuff is actually the least of it.  Far more disturbing is that it changes your viewpoint in a number of unpleasant ways.  I have nightmares where I arrive home and see the strange disarray that means someone has invaded my home and helped themselves.  And after the burglary, I felt silly and naive for using this lovely box and thereby gifting so much so easily to the burglars.  Now I only use it as a decoy for old costume jewelry that I don't wear due to nickel sensitivity.

So neither my husband nor I wear the rings we exchanged at our wedding.  Admittedly, he lost his on our honeymoon, which must be some sort of record!


Should we avoid owning precious items, so they will never be taken?  That is one way of handling the problem, but it won't suit everyone.  You can miss out on some of life's real joys by rejecting attachment entirely.  So remember...
  1. Enjoy what you have while you have it
  2. Anything you have, you might not have tomorrow
  3. Owning more precious items than you can enjoy will make your life less joyful
  4. Losing a sentimental item does not mean the memories are also gone
  5. People matter.  Actions matter.  Memories matter.  Places matter.  Things... looks like they are at best fifth place.
And one more rule, just for me
  • It's dumb to let burglars ruin my enjoyment of a treasured gift, along with their other damage
So I'm going to start using my jewelry box again! But I'm still not ready to put it by the bedside...

Have you any other pearls of wisdom for those of us who really love our stuff?
This post was brought to you courtesy of the letter A, the number 12, and the Everyday Minimalist.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Yo-yo day again...plus an update

Today's yo-yo is another keepsake from my grandmother:

It's very wee - about the size of a man's thumb tip, so you can see the detail is lovely.  Doesn't take up much room.

The tough thing is, although beautiful and sentimental it is not particularly useful or (as far as I know) valuable.  I can't think of anything really small I want to keep in it.

I wonder if one of my nieces would enjoy it...not that either of them need more clutter!

Suggestions welcome...  Do you have a limit on the number of sentimental items you keep?

Yo-yo updates
I'm making more progress than before, so I claim success, just not 100%.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Two tidying tips I taught myself

Even with my progress toward minimalism, I still have to do just a little bit of tidying, every once in a while...

I've l earned some great tricks from organising/time saving sites.  But here are a couple of my very own.

Tidying 20 items of clutter to 5 spots! Your room may vary.
Baby Central

When I have stuff scattered all over the floor, the temptation is to run around and pick up each piece as it catches my eye and return it to its proper home.

It's much quicker to push everything on the floor into the centre of the room (or into a box or bag) and only then take all the stuff back home.

I call it Baby Central because...well, make one and you'll see!  Youngsters will be drawn to this irresistible pile studded with their favourite toys. Even if you do nothing else with the pile, your room already looks better. And you can walk again or even vacuum it. Some days, Baby Central is all I can manage.
  1. Visit each messy segment of the room only once to push stuff into Baby Central. This saves you from  running 25 laps around the room, once for each item. 
  2. From Baby Central, it's simple to see 6 items that all belong in one shelf or toy tray or another room and take them in one trip.  Scattered all over the floor, you might only see 2 or 3 at once and take many trips.
  3. Even really small kids can help - they might not know where anything goes but they can sure run around the room for you and put everything in the middle.
  • I remember our last minute packing efforts under the amused eyes of our moving men.  I was still trying to organise the last few things to make unpacking easier.  The guy said, "You're running all over the house - just throw everything in a box!"  And that professional was right.  Not only had I run out of time to be organised, I wasn't even doing my organising efficiently.

Don't forget how grandma used to do it
We have mixed surfaces - carpet, tile, and wood floors. And my vacuum has a setting for hard floors.

But a broom is much easier to use, especially under the table where the kids eat.  So I sweep my hard floor mess into a pile near the carpet, then vacuum it all up at once just before doing the carpet.
  • After sweeping, you can also get some water/cleaner onto sticky spots on the floor (under the table where the kids eat) that can work while you vacuum
  • It's also lots quieter and more enjoyable - I listen to music during housework and I don't enjoy VRRROOOOMMMMMM quite so much
  • It's actually safer! The noise of most vacuums is above the recommended decibel level for extended exposure. So unless you like wearing safety earmuffs (great look), you might as well keep the vacuum on for only as long as you must. 
  • There is some small savings in power too, and every bit adds up, right? 
Bonus vacuuming tip - do you feel lucky?
If you catch yourself thinking "That's big but I bet the vacuum can still get it" then STOP!  Slap yourself with your dustrag and pick that big thing up right away.   A clogged hose is no timesaver.

What sort of vacuum do you have and do you like it?  Anybody have a backpack vacuum?  That's what all the pros seem to use....
  • I like our Dyson but the Dyson co was surprisingly cagey when I enquired if they were ever going to release a backpack model.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

5+ a Day - help your kids eat their veggies!

Alex at his chubbiest ever!
My Secret 
Serve chocolate dipping sauce!

But Seriously....
I've posted some vegan dinners that I serve to my family.  But we all know that in today's environment of ample and (on average) unhealthy food, it can be a real chore to do your duty and get fresh fruits and vegetables that last step off their plates and into their tummies.

My children are no angels at my table but they do eat a pretty decent share of the good stuff.  Apart from sheer luck, it's possible that the following helped:  

1.  Start them young
My children were both exclusively breastfed until well after 6 months, and then I started with fruits like avocado and banana as well as kumara - all lovely and sweet!  I like my broccoli and cauliflower and courgettes and carrots cooked pretty soft (and sweet), so it wasn't hard to encourage an adventurous table-tyke to steal from my plate.

As vegans, we moved from baby fruit foods to baby grain foods, and they never had the baby foods with the strong and addictive tastes of cheese, milk, or meat.   This probably made a difference.

Several mums I know use baby-led weaning for introducing solids, and don't use mashed foods at all.  It's certainly easier for young children to eat veggies and fruits in this process than fibrous meats. 
2.  Walk your talk (well, eat it)
I've been vegan all their lives so they see me with a plateful on a regular basis.  There is no better teacher than example.

You don't have to be a vegan to set a good veggie example.  But you do have to eat them, and be seen eating and enjoying them. 

3.  Veggies first!
Starches, especially refined starches, satisfy your sweet tooth as well as being extremely filling.  Meats, cheeses, and other rich savouries overwhelm your taste buds.

Kids and grownups alike - eat a nice pile of veggies as the starter to your meal 
  1. You are hungrier
  2. They will taste better
  3. You will eat more veggies
  4. (Optional benefit) You will eat less of the rest of the meal
Expect no joy from reluctant foragers by offering the fronds of health after a big plate of chips and tomato sauce.  While my kids don't eat meat or cheese, they do love the meat substitutes that we have at some meals.  But they don't get them unless the veggies go in first.
  • One popular concern is that if you feed children too much fibre, they may not get enough calories.  If you feel your child is now eating too many vegetables and is therefore wasting away :-) please use your own judgement.  The opposite problem is way more common.
Mine eat too much starch, and now more refined starches than when younger.  Alex was more adventurous in his tastes when younger and Nadia is copying him in everything.

My kids' favourite veggies
For what it's worth...both of my kids vary quite a bit in their tastes so yours will too.
  • Broccoli and cauliflower cooked nice and soft
  • Nadia has joined Alex in the cucumber fan club
  • Alex eats the part of the tomato with not one seed please.  Nadia eats the seeds.  With a bit of "look over there" we can get through quite a bit.
  • Alex will eat raw carrot sticks under duress, but heaps shredded carrot and lettuce on wraps.  Nadia's also keen on shredded carrot
  • Black olives
  • Gherkins
  • Alex wishes corn on the cob grew year round.  Me too.
The usual kid preparation tricks apply: making it fun with shapes or dips can go a long way. 

Also check out:
And if you haven't succeeded on the veggie front, you can score some points with fruits:
  • apples, bananas, mandarins, kiwifruit, avocado...
  • dentists don't recommend dried fruits but they do pack well in lunches
Go forth and vegetate!  You won't regret it...

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Frugal family vegan feasts - all week!

Barriers to becoming vegan:
I know, I know...
  • No meat? No fish? No eggs? No cheese? No milk? What do I eat now?
  • My family would kill me. And then eat me.
So here's some help.  I'm not a recipe cook and there are zillions of great recipes online, so these are mere wisps of inspiration for you, from me and my experience at getting dinners into 2 vegan kids and a non-vegetarian husband with only a few complaints.

Even if you have zero, nada, no way nohow interest in going vegan, I challenge you to try just one of these meals once this week to see how delicious it can be to lose the cholesterol and saturated fat.
All these meals are
  1. Kid-friendly
  2. Recognisable to husbands and other tall variety people
  3. Easily prepared in vegan, vegetarian, or omnivore versions at the same meal
I encourage you to make all your ingredients from organic wholegrains and homegrown vegetables and herbs.  They will be much more nutritious...

Ha Ha!  And back in my world, these meals are our staples because the main ingredients are easily found readymade in vegan versions in a supermarket. (A quick label check will see you right.)  Even so, these meals are pretty good nutrition and value.  Move over chicken nuggets!   
  • With all these great fresh vegies to chop, my food processor is my best friend

Monday - Mexican Beans
You can serve the basic ingredients with corn chips, rice, or tortilla wraps (corn or wheat). Many flavoured corn chips have milk powder - read the label.

  • Beans, refried or whole - I buy El Paso refried beans and Watties mild chilli beans
  • Lettuce
  • Tomato
  • Cucumber
  • Olives
  • Gherkins (dill pickles)
  • Shredded carrot 
  • Guacamole 
OK, I lied.  Mexican night isn't Monday, it's whenever the avocado is ripe for the guacamole.  My famous guacamole is just avocado, generous squeeze of lemon juice, and salt.  Bet you didn't know that breastmilk containers (cylinders) are the best for saving extra guacamole?  Not much surface area to oxidise.

Tuesday - Chinese Stirfry
Thousands of good recipes are readily available by Googling, and here's what we do:

  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Mushrooms
  • Carrots
  • Courgettes (zucchini)
  • Soy sauce
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Honey (not vegan, use usual substitutes)
  • Ginger
  • Cornstarch/water for thickening once veggies are cooked
Serve over any variety of rice or rice noodles or bean thread noodles.

  • Cashews (we like ours added at the table instead of in the pot)
  • Tofu
  • Other meat substitute
This one (and Thursday's curry) is a bit of a cheat for the kids. They don't like my sauces but will eat steamed broccoli and cauliflower with plain rice (or with a bit of soy sauce and cashews).  In any case, we all get fed.

Wednesday - Waffles
Well, why not?  Win points with kids of all sizes by turning the day upside down and serving waffles (or pancakes) for dinner.  We don't often have time in our rushed mornings for a yummy cooked breakfast anyway, but it's a simple dinner.


Standard waffle and pancake recipes can easily use subsititute milk (rice, soy, almond) and omit any egg.

So this dinner doesn't feel nutritionally deprived:
  1. serve fruit and nuts and/or vegetable sticks with salad dressing dip before serving out the main course
  2. provide some nutty spreads as well as the usual sweet stuff

Thursday - Indian Curry

(same list as for Chinese stirfry...well, that's what's in the crisper!)
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Mushrooms
  • Carrots
  • Courgettes (zucchini)
My Sauce
  • Soy or rice or coconut milk
  • Small spoon of prepared curry paste
  • Big spoon of fruit jam
  • Salt or vegie stock to taste
  • Cornstarch to thicken
  • Optional tin of tomatoes

Friday - Soup and Sandwiches

OK, let's keep it simple at the end of a hard week.  Whether you've lovingly simmered your own veggie scraps and leftover scrapings into soupmission, or twisted your wrists round the tin opener, soup is good food.
  • I do both, but the rest of the family prefers the tinned soup - both Watties Vegetable and Pumpkin soups are vegan.
Pick your favourite filler upper on the side - my kids love toast fingers for dipping and I often serve extra veggies/salad if they're eating more toast than anything else.  Bread rolls with hummus, sandwiches, crackers, croutons....

Saturday - Pizza

Yes, vegan pizza is surprisingly delicious.   And most basic pizza bases in the supermarket are vegan, as are the pizza sauces.

Vegan toppings
You can use any of your usual favourite veggies - ours are:  
  • Olives
  • Mushrooms
  • Courgettes (zucchini)
  • Tomatoes
Remember there are good fake cheeses and meats out there too.  I sampled some astonishing vegan salamis tonight at the 2nd Saturday Vegan Potluck with Alice Shopland (of AngelFood) - when those babies hit the shelf we may have to indulge.

As I finally admitted to DH, you can have too many veggies on a pizza.  If you load it up too much, it won't cook well and it will be watery.  So long as you have a flavourful sauce, the pizza will be delicious with a light sprinkling of each veggie.

Sunday - Sausage, Mashed Potatoes and Gravy

Our whole family loves mashed potatoes (as compared to steamed unpeeled potatoes, which only mum  loves).  
The prep time compared to steaming up some rice in the microwave means that there must be some home time involved for this meal.  But it's not that bad.
  • Mash your potatoes with salt and your favourite rice or soy milk (soy is creamier)
  • Many powdered gravy mixes are vegan - otherwise you can DYI with cornstarch and veggie broth
  • The gravy is for us - my kids have tomato sauce with potatoes in every form and I've learned to live with it

The kids and DH love Fry's vegan sausages with this meal.  They are happy with them heated between two plates in the microwave - so easy!

Wait, there's more...
Hey, you made it to the end of the week!  And I didn't even cover our other regulars:
  1. Readymade spring rolls, samosas and oven chips
  2. Italian pasta (same hot veggies as with Chinese and Indian though the mushrooms and courgettes go in the sauce)
  3. Takeaways :-)  The rotten kids will happily eat takeaway Chinese and Indian sauces, but not mum's.
Any of your basic meals can be made more of a treat (for reluctant vegans, or almost anybody) by adding a modest amount of a favourite fake meat...for those whose waistlines and bank accounts can take it!  Remember that fake meats are not a terrifically healthy or ecofriendly choice, except when compared to meat.

So if I've inspired you to give it a go, let me know!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Five great time investments and five time wasters

Zen story - Wash your bowl
A monk told Joshu, "I have just entered the monastery. Please teach me."
Joshu asked, "Have you eaten your rice porridge?
The monk replied, "I have eaten."
Joshu said, "Then you had better wash your bowl."
At that moment the monk was enlightened.
I enjoy the artfully minimalist Zen koan story style.  (My son's middle name is Koan - he can thank his father when he's older that it isn't his first name)   From childhood, I also read and reread my parents' Sufi tales, which have a similar feel. 

This says to me:
  • What is the most important thing you need to do?  If you have done that, then what do you need to do to prepare for the next most important thing to do?  Repeat, for life!
For people in older cultures or just simpler ones, the answers mean life and death.
  1. You need to eat so you need to dig, or hunt, or preserve food for later
  2. You need to stay warm so you need to collect fuel
And so on.  But most of us who own computers with broadband connections are facing more choices and distractions from what we might honestly believe is the most important thing.

Rocks, Pebbles, Sand, Water 
One version of another great story (this time with a Western influence) about thoughtful time management of multiple tasks.
  • The lesson?  Unless you do your most important tasks first, your whole day can easily fill up with small and less important (or even counterproductive) activities.
Five things you will never regret spending time on

  1. Your family
  2. Your health - this includes improving your diet and your exercise and sleep habits and...
  3. Releasing unnecessary burdens (hint:  most of what you own are unnecessary burdens)
  4. Your education - never stop learning
  5. Your friends - remember, you chose each other and that must be cherished

Five time wasters

  1. 95% of online activity
  2. 99% of television
  3. Sweating the small stuff
  4. Organising things you don't need to keep
  5. Arguing with your loved ones
Can you get the big stuff in before the small stuff fills your day?

Other not-to-be missed reading on priorities:

    Tuesday, August 3, 2010

    What matters now? It's free!

    There's an amazingly minimalist free e-book available for all What Matters Now?

    Among all the essays, I think my favourite line is "Never compare your inside to someone else's outside" but picking a favourite is pretty hard.

    To me, what matters now is that we all keep thinking and trying.