Over the years we’ve accumulated quite a few Crown Royal bags and a friend has even more to add to our pile! They are free to anyone who can use them. While they can be handy for things like storing scrabble tiles and while my mom and I made a quilt with some and my sister crocheted a rug/seat pad with others, we have more than I can ever use. For more ideas about what you can do with these bags, just do a quick Internet search. There’s a ton of ideas out there!
I thought, “When I’m 90 it’s not going to be so easy to fish out these pans and lids from a cramped lower cabinet.” Then I realized that it’s driving me nuts now! So I removed some minor irritations by using certain spaces and some objects in unconventional ways.
Pan lids are within easy reach, hanging just around the corner from the kitchen at the top of the stairway to the basement. Some lids hang on picture hanger screws. Others are resting on a two-dollar thrift store find, a rack we were using for mail.
The ledge along the staircase gives enough clearance so that the lids don’t obstruct the path or make it likely that they’ll get bumped.
Storage for pans, spices, paper towels, potatoes, onions, garlic…
Commonly used pans are where I can easily grab them.
In addition to saucepans, the shoe rack can hold often-used spices, a bowl for garlic (we’re out of garlic, it’s the blue and white bowl) and paper towels. More pans hang on the wall and sit on top of the radiator below. Baskets hang from a plant hanger and hold potatoes and onions.
Where do you put a kitchen utensil holder, knives and cutting boards when there is no counter space?
Storing the kitchen utensil holder in the cabinet freed up precious counter space. With open wall space also scarce, it’s a good solution for us. I also liked using what we already had. Brian’s Red Sox bucket was nice and roomy and lightweight. So instead of getting stored and forgotten as many souvenirs do, we get to enjoy it every time we reach for a wooden spoon!
Related to this, I have a friend who stores her cups and glasses in a drawer. When her kids were little she wanted them to be able to reach them so they could help unload the dishwasher. The point is, you can do what you want. Make it work for you. For me, I see the kitchen as a workshop.
Getting more room out of the pantry for canned goods
Putting canned goods on a sloping rack made the bottom shelf of the pantry more functional. I can see everything at a glance. I got the idea from another blogger (I’m sorry, I don’t recall which one) and it works great!
What’s next for my kitchen?
Painting – I’ve been painting the house and the kitchen will be included in this. Now that I’m mostly done with the basement and the living room, the dining room is next. Once that’s done, the color consultant will come back to help me with the kitchen.
New Counter Tops – Right now we have tile on the counter tops. I dream of grout-free counters.
Floors – The wood floors throughout the first floor of the house need to be refinished. I’m not sure when we’ll get to this, but that’s the plan.
Island – I can get more space with an island that can be rolled from in front of the dishwasher, where it would normally live. The extra prep space would be dreamy. I saw a good example of what I want at the Black Sheep, a pizza place in downtown St. Paul.
I’ve been listening to Love it or List It as I’ve been working on these shelves. On the show two people, usually a couple, disagree about whether to sell their home or remodel it. In the end they choose between their house that has been updated by a designer and a dream home found by a realtor. My messy shelves remind me of that show. Here’s a tip. Before starting fresh in a new house or even hiring a designer, try dusting off a few things. Put some stuff away!
The dining room is next. On the bottom of the dental molding will be red, like the fireplace. On the top will be “Inviting Ivory”, a buttery yellow, which will carry over into the stairway.
I think that my dad made this little train, but I do not know for sure. I keep meaning to ask him about it. I found it buried in a package. I love it.
So painting and putting the cabinet back together was supposed to be a treat. Instead I was met with frustration that made me want to spit. I knew enough to note certain things when taking the shelves out. But, I didn’t know, for example, to note that four of the 32 clear plastic shelf brackets were different from the rest.
If only I were as sharp as the superhero who changed my tire. Triple A sent her one morning when I woke up to a flat. She was no bigger than me, not big. She had red hair and I think that was key. I think that had something to do with her superhero powers, but I’m not sure. I loved her! I watched her change the tire. Focused. Every bolt had a place. Every step was deliberate. She paid attention. When something didn’t work as expected, she calmly figured it out.
Sometimes I can be like her. Other times I’m defeated by an extra layer of paint.
My house just turned 100 this year. Things aren’t straight. Get a grip. Deal. Deal with it like a superhero. Oh, and enjoy. Love it. I vote “Love it!”
There was a lot of angst over choosing a new wood stove insert. To keep the larger stoves in play, we entertained alterations to the hearth and the height of the mantel; this gave the salesman the idea that I might be a prepper.
“Maximum capacity is a thing with them.” He said.
Worse than being outed as a screwball who believed that a complete economic collapse was possible within my lifetime, ruling nothing out added to the stress of making an expensive purchase that was expected to last forever.
When no one else could, the guy who came out to take the official measurements convinced me that it was possible to go too big. He regretted making the same mistake when he installed a new stove at his cabin on Lake Superior.
“It’s impossible to regulate the heat.” He told me as he sized up my living room. “Once it’s 90 degrees in here, it’s 90 degrees.”
But even after narrowing our choices down to two stoves, I was torn between giving up what I simply preferred and giving up 200 extra square feet in heating capacity. And while the stakes were low — to believe the salesman, we couldn’t go wrong — it was helpful to acknowledge that choosing one thing meant that I could not have the other thing. This is obvious. Nevertheless, noticing the fear, the cause of my indecision, aimed to quell it.
It felt good to put down the deposit and to know that we weren’t doomed to drag things out with false objections and the endless weighing of pros and cons. If we’d be met with buyer’s remorse, it would be a fluke with lessons that needed to be learned from direct experience; it would be life. It wouldn’t be for carelessness that we might somehow end up disappointed. “So enjoy it!” I kept telling myself. To celebrate, we followed a sign and ended up at an odd little place that served breakfast in seven tiny courses.
But still, I can kick myself over something as little as a failed 15-dollar purchase, a tortilla press to be exact. The selection at the mercado in Powderhorn was slim. I settled for a plastic model that had a grip that suited me and somehow seemed sturdier than the metal presses with their loose hinges. Once home, imitating a YouTube video, I promptly cranked down on the handle to achieve the desired paper-thin dough and snapped the sucker off. While it rankled me to be out the cash, chucking the broken press into the trash within hours of buying it seemed criminal, although I wasn’t sure where to place the blame. A mistake so easily corrected, Brian couldn’t be bothered with it. I, on the other hand, hail from the camp of there-ought-to-be-a-law, as in: “There ought to be a law against manufacturing junk!”
I had always been charmed by the fireplace and recall the house blocked out with a few bricks coming into focus for the first time. “Oh, there’s a house.” I said standing there in my socks and down coat. “Cute.” The realtor piped in from where he sat at the head of the dining room table to tell me that no one else had ever noticed it. While I didn’t care that the fireplace had been painted white, others — certain friends, the plumber — were easy to pronounce it an atrocity that spoiled the integrity of the old house. Their revulsion stirred my insecurities.
“We didn’t paint it.” I would say instead of checking my unsolicited critics. “It was that way when we bought the house.”
“Hideous!” the chorus would answer. “You should take it down to the natural brick!”
A quick Internet search suggested that it was unlikely that any of these assholes had ever tried to remove paint from brick. Still, I could imagine that the fireplace might look dingy next to the new stove. I wasn’t sure how, but I suspected that it could be better. So I consulted with a professional colorist.
Staring up at the fireplace that by now was covered with a gray primer, I asked Brian if he missed the white and he admitted that he kind of did.
The following week, I called Brian to warn him that his living room was starting to feel like the lobby of a McDonald’s. But he saw promise and favored sticking to the plan.
When my mom saw our new red fireplace, she was reminded of the cardboard one we used to set up at Christmas time when I was a kid. Here I am posing in front of it with our dog Rusty. Notice the stockings. There are seven. Seven? Six kids. Mom and Dad. Eight! I count eight!
And then came the walls. After finishing one side of the room with “Balmy”, a color from Sherwin Williams, I would swear that I loved it and would marvel at how beautifully it showed the woodwork. Then I couldn’t tell or sometimes I just felt like I was in someone else’s house and I wasn’t sure I liked that so much.
Hey, lady! It’s just paint!
And then I noticed a cup of ice in a photo, one of the before shots.
The photo was a haunting reminder of a time when I couldn’t be without my cup of ice. It reminds me of how Brian would wait for me to fish out the last cube before getting out of the car, patient no matter the weather and regardless of the thing that needed doing. After years of a crawling decline, so slow that it would redefine normal, I found out that my addiction was a common symptom of chronic anemia. So seeing that cup of ice reminds me of a time when I couldn’t carry a load of laundry up two flights without losing my breath. I thought I was out of shape. I thought it was age. It reminds me of the lawn mowers that hummed outside my window. “You can’t do that!” They taunted. It reminds me of being torn over invitations, only to have my skipping rare gatherings affirmed by yet another ruined pair of pants. Getting to the bottom of the problem was scary and full of decision points that can put the biggest of choices into perspective let alone the color of paint.
Realizing that “it’s just paint” isn’t necessarily going to make me a more decisive person overnight. But as a second-guesser, an apologizer and worrier, I am starting to see the value of determining the gravity of a decision before applying a blanket worst-case scenario and giving my emotional well-being over to the whims of a tyrant. For example, I recall having a tough time proceeding with repairing a window because I was afraid that I’d break the glass. I mentioned this to a friend who asked, “What’s the worst that could happen?”
I’ll break it!
“Say, you break it. You’ll take some measurements and buy a replacement piece.” He made it sound so simple. I had been stuck for no reason. Sometimes this is clear. Sometimes it isn’t.
Even if I couldn’t bare to lose the antique glass with its imperfections that soften the southern light, casting wavy shadows on the walls and floors, it wouldn’t be impossible to harvest it from salvage shops or even from the alleys next to trash bins or from the random curb side. Sheets of college ruled paper hastily yanked from spiral notebooks are routinely slapped on these masterpieces with two dabs of masking tape; a semi-dry Sharpee barely manages: FREE!!!
Update: November 29, 2015
One of my favorite Thanksgiving Day holidays would have been the time my friend Jackie came over to my apartment to help me assemble a dresser-armoire unit that I had bought at a garage sale. The white laminated particle board furniture came with a matching dresser that had sticky glides and a lingerie chest that had the same problem. There were no directions. No diagrams. Just various pieces strapped together with blue painters tape, a stack of drawers and a Ziploc bag full of hardware and a hex key. Putting this thing together with one person holding something steady and the other tightening screws was comforting. How many friendships have been fortified by the quiet assembling of things?
The memory comes to mind because this Thanksgiving my friends Al and Craig and my sister Amy helped me take a huge step forward with making my bookshelf; it is the thing that needs to get done before the anything else can.
Craig and I went over to Al’s workshop where Al showed us how to cut the wood for the support boxes. Then he showed us a couple of different ways we could assemble them.
Amy and Craig assembled many of the boxes while I made pumpkin black bean soup and cornbread for dinner. The goal was to get them done in time to reclaim the dining room for Thanksgiving the next day.
I plan to add another shelf, likely in the spring. For now, I’m thrilled to have emptied several boxes of books that have been taking up floor space. It will help me see the room and figure out what to do next.
I love my bookshelf. I especially love the people who helped me make it. I love sitting in the chair next to it, tucked away where I’m not so easy to find. Once discovered, Brian will say, “You’re staring at your shelf again?”
Yes. Yes I am.
A last minute decision to make jack-o’-lanterns: This is why I have power tools. I’m impressed with the kids who recognize the cat.
Inspired by my neighbors who gave me some homemade raspberry jam and who assured me that it was easy to make (“Just get some Sure Jell or some other kind of pectin and follow the directions.”), I gave it a try. It was easy, although for one batch I forgot to skim off the foam, making for a cloudy product… or at least I think that’s what happened.
With a number of things to get done before Thanksgiving, I was looking for an even easier way to preserve the last of my harvest. In the past, I used a trick my friend Mary Ann shared. Just put the berries on a plate such that they are not touching. Pop them in the freezer. Once they are frozen, transfer them to a plastic bag and freeze. Pre-freezing the berries prevents them from clumping. It works perfectly.
This year I tried something even easier. I rinsed the berries and cooked them down on a low heat to make a sauce. Then I distributed the sauce into ice cube trays. Once frozen, I popped the cubes out of the tray and put them in a plastic bag for storage in the freezer. The raspberry cubes can flavor yogurt, oatmeal, desserts, and – one of my favorites – salad dressing. An added advantage is that there is no sugar added to the cubes. That can be controlled whenever they are used.
There was a website I needed to finish. Then there were raspberries to preserve before a quick trip to Rapid City. Oh, and what to do with the tomatoes? I couldn’t get everything done that I like to do before a trip – mainly cleaning the house. I didn’t sit down at 3 o’clock for a break as planned. Instead, I checked things off the list until the garage door shut and we sat in the alley debating whether to take a bucket of worms from my vermiculture system home for the nephews to see. I would have to find another way to be the fun aunt.
It turns out that wrapping kids up in a blanket and swinging them as if they were in a hammock (Hey! We forgot to say
One for the Money
Two for the Show
Three to Get Ready and
Four to Let Go!
or dragging them chariot-style across the lawn was probably more fun than red wigglers. Until Sioux Falls, I was certain that I would regret leaving them behind; I never did.
In the alley we also considered our route and made guesses as to which was least likely to be choking with straggling rush hour traffic. We sailed west on I-94 for about a minute and 20 seconds before I hit the breaks. It was stop-and-go until south of the suburbs.
Brian has never understood why thoroughly cleaning the house is part of the ritual of hitting the road and from what I can tell from the comedy channels on my Internet radio, he’s not alone (and neither am I!). While I thought this was about the simple pleasure of coming home to a clean house, I’m just realizing that it’s also about the surprise and the feeling of being cared for. While keeping a clean house is an excellent way to care for yourself (or someone you love*), it can be a grind. The laundry is done until I change my underwear. And by the time I’ve dusted a bobble head (ahem) in one room, a spider has begun reconstruction in the next. There is rarely enough time or the distance to enjoy the results of my labor. But if I change the sheets before getting out of town, when I come home not only will there be fresh linens to enjoy, there will be the perception that someone else made the bed (or vacuumed the staircase, or polished the baseboards, or shined the mirror, or washed the windows)…for me.
And then there are those household organizational tricks that you can keep rediscovering because they maintain themselves. For example, pictured here is another use for a desktop storage container, which has the prestigious honor of having not only been spared the Goodwill pile but of being something I did “find a use for someday.” The open bags of cough drops and the flimsy boxes of Band-Aids and other odds and ends that can clutter up the medicine cabinet were driving me nuts. This was a perfect solution. The clear containers make it easy to see what’s what and the rotating base maximizes the corners of closet shelves without compromising easy access. For better visibility, tear off and date the box covers to use for labeling the containers.
*There are many stories I could tell about helping people clean and getting help cleaning my house. Right now I am thinking of Dawn who had the good sense to make me wash the dishes after my dinner party, a distraction from an upsetting breakup. Late into the night, everyone except for Dawn started to file out. She stayed behind to help with the dishes, which was the last thing I wanted to do. I told her that I would take care of it in the morning; I wanted to go to bed. She would have none of it. In my depressed state, she feared that waking up to a mess would send me over the edge. So, she washed and I dried -or the other way around- until everything was in its place.
I’m going to try making some lists, adding to them as I get ideas. I could start with a list of lists:
- What I Like about Him – inspired by my cup of coffee and the sound of the stairs creaking under his weight
- Titles for Letters to the Editor that I’ll Never Write – inspired by an Environment Minnesota canvasser who rolled his eyes at me as he left without my signature or any money – the first thing on the list would be “Do politicians ever do the right thing just because it’s the right thing? Or are we really doomed unless I pony up to counter the pressure you’re getting from corporations? An open letter to Sen. Amy Klobuchar”.
- On the Run – How corporations let you know that you’re making a difference – inspired by Monsanto ads on television
- Why I’m Looking Forward to Winter – inspired by a similar list my friend Lucie and I made to cheer ourselves up. She has since moved to Phoenix. It appears that “wool sweaters” moved from “Why I’m Looking Forward to Winter” to “Things I don’t miss about Minnesota.”
- Apps I Might Use if I Had a Smart Phone – inspired by the dead rabbit I saw in the road on the way back from the community garden this morning – I imagined that a city worker would eventually take it away if another animal didn’t get to it first – I thought a person could use a smart phone to identify the location of roadkill, hence creating a map to make such clean-up more efficient
- Podcast Notes – inspired by my plans to produce a podcast – it would have subject and format ideas as well as things I like and don’t like about other podcasts – on the top of “don’t like” would be the inability of many hosts to let a guest (the reason I’m listening to your stupid podcast) finish a sentence.
Why lists? I just like the idea of them. Maybe having a place to put stuff will calm my mind or be a place to go whenever I feel empty and in need of a creative spark. George Carlin was a list maker, wasn’t he? I’m not thinking about The Seven Dirty Words You Can Never Say on Television. I’m thinking more about routines like the “Advertising Lullaby“. Unlike Carlin, I’m not collecting lists for the purpose of writing comedy. Oh, I’d love to be a comedian, but I’d settle for being able to hold your attention long enough to tell you something without you checking your text messages or looking up a fact with your smart phone because I mentioned that the corn chowder has chorizo in it and you want to know – right now – exactly what spices are in it.
So this list is “What I Like about Him.” I’ll add to it over time. Look at it as another form of journal writing (this calls for dating my entries, right?).
What I Like about Him
September 3, 2015
Typically when I get up, I have a nice breakfast before I do much of anything else, with the exception of putting the dishes away while the coffee brews. On a rare occasion I’ll be sucked into my computer before breakfast and even before the coffee is done. For example, today I’m trying to wrap up a website for a client and I wanted to get some tasks out of my head and onto a…list. Is it clear that I’m a list maker? …in any case… On those days, Brian might notice that the coffee is done. It’s hard to miss because the coffeemaker beeps no less than seven times when it’s ready, which reminds me of another list I need to make: “Shit that we don’t need!”, to which I will add, “Cars that honk when you lock the doors using a remote”.
…so he notices the coffee is done. In the meantime, I’ve gotten lost in whatever project I’m doing. What does he do? He brings a cup of coffee to me in my office. No matter how many times he has done this, it always surprises me and it’s always a little strange to see him – not a coffee drinker – standing there bare-chested with a cup of coffee in his hands. It’s no stranger than if he had been smoking a cigarette or had served me a McCafe from a drive-thru window. Has he taken note of the official coffee cup order of preference? Knowing him, it’s possible. And typical of me, I can’t say for sure.
Right before I had left my hometown to take a job in Saint Paul, I took a cooking class at my favorite restaurant in Rapid City. Veggies was a venture of Seventh-Day Adventists. Unlike Mary who was the owner of the restaurant and our teacher, I’m not positive that God intended for people to be vegetarians. Nevertheless, Mary did make a compelling case for being one (actually a vegan, it turns out) and eating whole unprocessed foods. She reaffirmed what I had read years earlier in a random book I found. Sugar Blues argued that sugar was a processed drug, not unlike (do I remember this correctly?) cocaine.
Maybe the book was overstating it. But, I’ll never forget the story Mary told us about a school that was having serious discipline problems. She claimed to have corrected the problem by taking over the cafeteria. She got rid of the sugar, the white bread, the dairy and – of course – the meat. She described a transformation where failing students with a penchant for picking fights became model citizens. Before they couldn’t concentrate or sit still. Now they could. And according to Mary, it was about the food. I believed her. After all, the reason I took her class in the first place was because I noticed that I felt better whenever I had lunch at her long-since closed restaurant. A meal there was always totally satisfying.
I still have the cookbook I bought when I took Mary’s class. The Best of Veggie’s has everything from main dishes like croquette’s with cashew gravy that will stand up to the comfort food of my childhood (think Grandma’s roast beef with mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, sweet carrots drenched in butter, rolls) to vegan mayo and homemade ketchup. So, I was surprised that something as basic as a hummus recipe didn’t hit the mark. Was the ¼ cup of lemon juice a typo? I made it work by adding more beans. But the hummus recipe that my mother gave me last week over the phone is better. From my post-it note to you, here it is with some adaptations:
- 1 can garbanzo beans - reserve juice
- 2 ounces sliced jalapeno pepper (I used one big ass jalapeno from my garden. It could have taken more)
- ½ TSP cumin
- 2 TBS lemon juice
- 3 cloves minced garlic
- 1 TBS reserved bean juice
- The above makes a dry-ish mixture that didn't seem quite right. I added a dollop of peanut butter (I would have used tahini instead if it had been available), a splash of tamari, and a little extra bean juice.
- Hummus (see above)
- Tortillas (buy or make, see below)
- Veggies of your choice: I used cucumber, red pepper, lettuce, tomato, and onion. Black olives, pickled jalapeno and crushed walnuts would have been a good addition. I put crushed walnuts on everything.
- Blend hummus ingredients in a food processor or mash by hand.
- Warm tortilla - I heat mine directly on a gas burner on the stove, turning it with tongs
- Spread hummus down the center of a tortilla and sprinkle with paprika
- Layer veggies on top of hummus and fold tortilla closed. Don't know how? Look it up on YouTube.
Brian knows that anything I cook is accompanied by the “How would I change this?” conversation. With the fresh tomatoes from my backyard shining in this dish, the obvious answer would have been to grow more of my own veggies. It’s easy to grow cucumbers, onions and peppers. Also, I could have replaced the canned garbanzo beans with cooking up some dried ones, which would have taken just a few minutes in the pressure cooker.
A more challenging improvement would be to make my own tortillas using just three ingredients as shown in this video. Is it really that easy? Or will my ambitions go the way of my pasta machine, which is rarely used even though fresh pasta is notably better than anything I can buy with the possible exception of what I can get at Cossetta’s?
The prominent “Handmade Locally” on the package of the tortillas I have in my fridge makes me feel good. The story on the back of the package about the family behind the business is also touching.
“…Together they worked long hours at low-wage job after low-wage job to support their family until they took a roll of the dice and began peddling an unlikely product: fresh corn tortillas.”
Never mind that it is flour tortillas that I have. After reading the list of 20+ ingredients of which I recognize three (bleached wheat flour, water and salt), these “locally made” marketing techniques quickly lose their luster.