Finding treasures when the skies are clear

There are so many blogs, vlogs, books and other guidance on minimalism, money saving, and living simply these days, that it can be hard to distinguish between them and use the different techniques effectively.  Does this thing spark joy? Should I put things in different boxes and if I haven’t used them in six months, then throw them? How should I go about getting a minimalist wardrobe (if I haven’t got a stylist!)?  And how should I prioritise my day?  How can I save money when I want to buy organic goods?

The title of this post comes from an ancient Japanese saying, used by many Buddhist philosophers, ‘When the skies are clear, the ground is illuminated’.  It has become a key part of how I try to deal with everyday life, including clutter.  First, the concept is about clearing your mind, so that you can take care of the mundane- the things ‘on the ground’.  When your mind is free of worries and in an expansive state like that of the sky, then you can ‘look down’ and see what the priorities are. These include in order- treasures of the store house, the body, and of the mind.  As Nichiren, the Buddhist monk, says,

‘More valuable than treasures in a storehouse are the treasures of the body, and the treasures of the heart are the most valuable of all’.

What he is saying is that the most valuable things are what is in our heart- our intention, followed by our health and matters of our body and lastly, come the accumulation of stuff.  When our heads are clear, we can see instantly which work enables us to accumulate the ‘treasures of the heart’, then tend to our body, and then perhaps to material things.  If we follow this advice, then clearly accumulating stuff is the last thing we ought to do.

So, for instance, for last couple of days, I decided to see some friends and listened to what was going on in their lives.  Although they didn’t reciprocate and ask me what was going on in my life, curiously I wasn’t bothered as normally I would have been.  I was accumulating treasures of the heart which mattered more to me.

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My traditional Indian mortar and pestle 

Another simple thing I’ve been doing over the years for decluttering is the ‘non replacement’ technique. If something breaks down, then I don’t replace it. Usually I find I can manage quite fine without it.  So when my food processor broke down several years ago, I found this piece of stone which was going to be thrown away from an exhibition stand on stone products, and a traditional Indian pestle which my mother had given me.  The pestle had precious childhood memories for me.  I now use this to grind wet spices and herbs- remembering this rhythmical action from my childhood, the sound of the stone against stone, my mother’s hands where my hands are now.  I’ve not bought anything thus saving money (first by not replacing and secondly, by not using electricity); and also the hand pestle is a good way of exercising my arms and getting rid of tension (perhaps like kneading bread). Quite simply, as my experience with the pestle and the piece of stone proves, if you can associate something with the three ‘treasures’, then it is a keeper.

And what of the food processor?  I recycled the electrical part but kept all the other bits as they are quite useful for storing liquids and dry stuff.  One of the parts has become a an unusual plant holder for me.  As the food processor was given to me by my son, again this is part of my three treasures concept- each time, I look at the plant, I remember my son.

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Can you spot the food processor part?  The glass ‘vase’ was part of a tea maker and the tile it sits on was found in a rubbish dump in Caracas, Venezuela!  All marks and chipped bits on the tile tell me stories of the house it once was a part of.

 

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New beginning with new food

I’ve got an autoimmune condition which causes blood clots for many years.  I’ve had a stroke and several miscarriages.  Since then, I’ve been either on self injected medication or on tablets.  I need to have a blood test every week or so, depending upon the result to make sure my blood is at required level of ‘thinness’ or INR.  I also go for other medical tests every six months as well as eye tests.  Now all this takes up an awful lot of my time and attention- I’ve only forgotten one appointment in almost ten years (for which I apologised profusely). I’m also fed up of having so many medications, of not being able to  travel as much as I’d like to, unable to do some kinds of sports, and of constantly watching my diet because I’m not allowed certain foods.  Although I’ve made the most of it, it is a very restrictive life.  Last year, I had a setback when some medication I was given with another issue reacted with the warfarin and I was back on an increased dosage.  There have been two occasions when certain medications reacted so badly that I was back in the A&E on various drips with a BP of 35.  And another thing- the warfarin also leaches bones so I’ve developed osteoporosis in my spine which gives me terrible pain but I’m not allowed painkillers due to reaction with the warfarin.  It is an endless cycle of medication against medication!

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My cupboards are full of medications!

This year, I made a New Year resolution of being medication free by the end of the year. As it has been said time and time again, ‘Let food be your medicine’, I am trying a new diet which I have called my #cleancurecooking.  The idea is to use organic foods in season, cook using the least amount of oils, spices and salt, and thereby save money and time. I’ve watched many food programmes and read a lot of research on using food.  There are many spices and herbs which are reputed to thin the blood- turmeric, garlic, ginger, etc.  But one of the reasons that warfarin is used instead of traditional herbs or foods to thin the blood is because the dose can be controlled and managed.  As I’m being tested each week and every six months anyway, I wondered if I can use food to reduce and ultimately get rid of my medication.  The risk is minimal and if there are problems, the warfarin can be topped up.  I also eat more starchy carbohydrates than really needed and consequently feel hungry while putting on weight (although I’m small 5’4”, I am tending towards overweight on the BMI chart). I’m not a huge meat eater but if I don’t eat meat at all, I will need to have some more medications to increase iron and Vitamin B12.  So the recipes and ideas I’ve devised are not vegetarian or vegan.

Another thing I’ve done to reduce portion sizes is to serve food on plates with dividers.  I found that I’m not conscious of how much I’m eating if eating on a plain plate.  I’ve stopped having sugar, instead I’ve fruits in season. I have two cups of black, unseated tea with some cloves which gives it some sweetness (think mulled tea!)  Apart from cranberry juice mixed with some apple and pear juice, I don’t have any fruit juice or carbonated drinks.  My treat is dark chocolate which again is supposed to help with thinning blood.  I generally don’t drink although this Christmas I’ve had a few glasses of wine.  A few tricks from reading up and experimenting-

  1. Having lemon juice with protein increases absorption of iron and allows you decrease amount of salt without losing taste
  2. Keeping your room slightly colder than usual, helps to lose weight as well as be eco-friendly (from Science Magazine)
  3. Lentils help with gut biome which help with losing weight- they are also a good source of protein, especially combined with meat. Lentils with meat dishes are good because you can reduce the amount of meat used.
  4. Many spices such as cinnamon, turmeric and red chillies help with blood thinning as well as the immune system.  Think how the warming and spicy mulled wine is used in the winter. I like the taste and smell of fresh turmeric which although is expensive, is a luxury worth having. If you can’t find any, powdered will do.
  5. Herbs and foods such as corianders, onions, fresh chillies, and garlic are also good for boosting the immune system, so I often use chopped up coriander, spring onions and chillies to garnish my foods.  These foods also bring up saliva which is good for digestion.
  6. Drinking water is often good- sometimes when you are thirsty, you think you are hungry, so try the water first.
  7. Use distraction as a way of warding off snacks. I often make calls or do some engaging work and I find I’m thinking less about food!
  8. Chew your food more, that way you will feel satiated with less.
  9. Foods in season taste better and cost less. For example, I’ve now given up buying expensive tomatoes in winter- they taste like boiled potatoes. In summer, I buy less of lemons and oranges but use tamarind to provide sour taste.
  10. Use foods to provide sweet or salty taste instead of adding actual salt or sugar- so for example, raisins can make food taste sweeter and celery can make it salty.  Using more herbs can make the food more tasty than adding more salt.
  11. Dry frying onions and adding oil once the onions have turned translucent uses much less oil than normal frying.

Here is one dinner-

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mashed potatoes, with brown rice and okra. I’ve reduced the carbohydrate somewhat but it is still too ‘starchy’

Next I tried this one which seems to have worked better as it the portions of protein and carbohydrate appear to be better.

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Brown rice, leftover mashed potato and lentil and lamb mince- this appears to have been more of a success

I’m due for a blood test on Tuesday, so I will see if this diet is working or not!

How to get ‘new’ shoes

Before the Black Friday deals, I had been toying with the idea of buying new shoes.  I justified the purchases by thinking that I hadn’t bought shoes for a few years!  I did try a pair of shoes at the store, and then realised that I had a similar pair at home, albeit in a different colour. I think this is what commonly happens- you end up buying the most comfortable type of shoe in several colours.  As I have a flat foot with an injury sustained as a baby, it is very important for me to have a comfortable pair of shoes.  I also have very small feet so it is difficult to find shoes that fit me, so I tend to hold on to ones I have.  I hardly ever wear heels- after having children, I found that my feet had changed.  So this is what I did. I changed the colour of the shoes I already had. One was a florescent yellow, still fine but a bit worn and going grey inside and outside. These shoes are seven years old.

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I dyed it blue and left the inside yellow as before. I think it looks good, perhaps even more expensive with the yellow lining inside.IMG_0347

I cleaned it first as best as I could and used Dylon blue dye for shoes.  Why blue? Because most of my clothes are blue so this works very well.

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Next with my tan brogues which were looking a bit tired (they are six years old), I tried a different technique using what I already had at home instead of buying.  I had seen this technique used in a Youtube video but I added my own twist to it.  This is the ‘Doc Marten’ technique where black shoe polish is used to make lighter shoes look more expensive.  Step one involved cleaning the shoe thoroughly.

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Next I covered them in black cream polish- I used Ecco cream polish.

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The next step was about removing the black polish after giving it a good ‘soak’ for 10 minutes.

 

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Buffing and buffing until I got this!

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I think both efforts look good! And so much better than either throwing them away or buying new shoes.  I know you can donate shoes but because these are so old and my feet are tiny (size 2.5 UK), they would have been more likely not used by others.

 

On taking other people’s junk

Let me say this straightaway, ‘Don’t ever do it!’  

It seems a bit strange to discuss the cons of taking what others have thrown out- in fact, there’s a saying to the effect that someone’s junk is someone else’s treasure. For many years, I took in stuff given by people and also those I found lying in the street.  I believed that it was good manners to not only accept other people’s gifts but also use them, whether they proved to a hindrance to my daily life or not.  I believed that picking what other people had left out on the street, not only could help me (just in case I needed those items suddenly!) but also helped to clean the streets and the environment, giving things a second life.  My way of thinking also came from having been brought up in great poverty and having too little.

For years, these objects lay in my home, in boxes when I moved, and in my new home.  Even if they were difficult to use, I had to use them.  The turning point came when I realised that I had become so tired of taking care of these things, storing them and cleaning them when they are so patently useless.  Of my gifts, I noticed that one of my friends had a knack of giving me stuff that cannot be washed in the dishwasher.  Hand washing is one of thing I hate, having done it from childhood and I love my eco-friendly dishwasher.  Dishwashing is one chore I would be gladly free off.  One gave me flowers and bowls which although very pretty did not last.  So I would be left with utensils (or broken crockery that I thought I would use for arts projects!) that I could not use and empty flower pots. I picked up stuff from the street, stuff I haven’t used at all- books, cutlery, glassware, etc.  Of the things I have picked up, furniture has been my most used item and I have even sold some antique stuff for profit.  But the money made is really negligible.  But the most despicable thing I have done is, giving my own unused stuff to my parents.  Perhaps out of love, they did not say they couldn’t use it and at times, they even tried to, but gave up.  These items have been languishing in their homes for years.

Now my eldest son having left home, and my father having died, I am now finding stuff stored in all corner of my own house and that of my parents. My mother is going to move to a smaller place.  I’ve spent more than two months trying to declutter and stuff keeps coming out of everywhere. I tried selling them on eBay and no one would have them (although they are either brand new, unusual or antique items).  It is also an effort of put items on the website and then keep checking and then having to post them.  I’ve had people who bought the stuff without reading t&c’s and told me that they thought I was going to deliver the item to their home!  Really!  I tried selling them at antique shops- they were interested but always told me to come back when their shop had a little more space. In the end I got tired of ringing them and waiting for them.  They also would give me very little money, which really wasn’t worth the effort.  Then I tried giving them to the charity shops which are also filled to the brim with other people’s junk.  But taking them on public transport to various charities, really tires me- I’ve got an incurable blood disorder which is debilitating.  So I’m now ‘freegling’ stuff which means people can take it away.  Bu that has been a great pain as well.  People promising to turn up at an agreed time and then not doing so.  One person even kept me waiting for two days giving all sorts of improbable excuses.

I now look back at my time over the years, collecting all this stuff (dragging some huge pots or furniture from the street), looking after it, moving it, trying all sorts of creative ways of re-using or up-cycling it, trying to give it to others, selling it, donating it and having failed in all these ways, then storing it.  What a waste of time (and space) that could have been spent more creatively and usefully!  But I still will not litter the streets with my junk, even though I might have picked the junk off the street.  But perhaps something in me has changed. Today, my younger son, who is a hoarder, has given away two boxes of children’s books to someone who was very happy to have them.  He even hoovered and cleaned his room- a teenager doing this is very rare!  I am slowly decluttering- things that have been collected for years will take some time leave.  In Buddhism, the word ‘karma’ means action and also denotes the effects of the action. So I think I may have changed my karma. I have thanked all the junk that came my way for the lesson it taught me and how it has helped changed my ‘poverty karma’. I feel rich and full, without all the junk in my life. I will leave up-cycling, selling, organising and re-using to all those people who get paid for it, have time for it, and do it well.  My life’s work is different although it is still very creative. Also, I’ve made many friends by giving away stuff but disposing of junk does take a lot of time from my work.

As for picking other’s people’s trash, I will never do it again!  So here are some lessons I’ve learnt-

  1. Do not have a junk mentality- do not let junk enter your body and environment in any way- junk food, junk mail or junk stuff.
  2. Do not even consider a junk drawer- if you have stuff that you are unsure about, put it where you and your family will see it everyday.  If the sight irritates you or you haven’t used it for a month, give it away.
  3. Do not give junk to others, especially your family and friends. If you receive what you know is junk, accept it gracefully and then give it away. No one will care or ask about it!
  4. If you have no skills in up-cycling, re-purposing, or DIY, do not ever pick up junk that you think might be useful.
  5. Do not clear other people’s junk- their karma is theirs, they don’t need your meddling.

What are your lessons? Do you agree with me?

Making a good gift for your child leaving for university

The main premise of this blog post is about creating value using beauty, goodness and benefit.  So I was wondering how to make a suitable gift for my son who is leaving home for University.  In the UK, this is the time of departures for Universities, of leaving the nest and so emotionally this will be a sea change for us and him.  I wanted him to have something that was homemade and practical.  It was his birthday as well this month.  So I made him a cook book and a ‘cooking tool kit’.  It was in the form of two things- a cookbook (the software as I call it) and the toolkit (the hardware!)- plates, utensils, tools, etc.  It took me almost a year of planning and making, so here are the steps-

  1. The cookbook– This is actually a photo album that I found in a charity shop.  In it are my cooking, healthy living, and money saving tips, his favourite recipes and photos of him cooking as a baby and child.  I did a cull of photographs which was something I had to do anyway and found a treasure trove of photos that reminded me of the recipes that he has always loved. Of course, coming from mum, the tips and recipes have corny titles! So the making the recipe book also served many other purposes.
  2. The toolkit– Over the year, I ‘retired’ several items from the kitchen and cooked without them, just to get used to not having them.  These included cooking and serving spoons, bowls, pans, etc.  I rang up my son’s University and asked them what facilities he was going to have in his kitchen and based on what he liked to cook, I added some new items- either from charity shops or bought at sales.  Some items had even been picked up from the street!  Some items were repurposed from ready meals such as the china bowls from an environmentally responsible brand that makes chilled food and glass shot glasses from a French yoghurt brand.  These ready made food items were also reduced so this made for a double reduction!  Some items are also ones that came from my University days thirty years ago.  Most items can be used in at least two different ways, for example the wooden tray can be used as a serving tray, a rolling board and a chopping board.  Obviously this took a lot of planning and thought.

IMG_9679These items were then packed into his dad’s old rock n’roll box.  The final toolkit looked like this when packed.  All neatly tidied up into boxes and bags, using tissue and paper and strong bags I had saved up.

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I know that some items might not come back and I am happy with that. Life is about loss.  There are items I haven’t put in, deliberately- I need him to make some effort too which I I know he will.  At least I know I have set him up, food wise!

Let me know if you’ve done similar things for your child when they headed off to University.

Why I don’t need apps to reduce food waste

Recently many apps have been in the news for reducing food waste- it seems in the digital age, we need our smartphones to tell not not waste food and share food.  But food waste is a relatively new phenomenon.  In the past, nothing really went to waste, despite not having fridges or freezers.  In my village, food was cooked fresh and as there were no fridges, it was stored for a few hours. Usually most of it got eaten, if not by us, it was distributed to the rest of the village.  Anything leftover after that was given to the cows, dogs, chickens, ducks and compost heap. I never saw any rotting mounds of food anywhere and generally everyone looked happy and healthy.  Even when we went there for our summer holidays of two months, we put on weight as we were generally malnourished in the city. I have also lived in communes and villages in the UK and have not seen wasted food.

So it seems food waste is an urban problem, which is where these apps come in. I also see many homeless and hungry people in the cities all over the world.  So there are people wasting food while there are people wanting food, similar to how I see there are people with second homes while some have none.  It isn’t an equitable world.

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We’ve had people sleeping here and foraging food from these rubbish bins

I’ve given to food banks and donated to charities which distribute food to the poor, and helped at soup kitchens which I think is a better way to do things.  Apps don’t really solve the problem of poor people going hungry, they are for the rich. So I think for those of us who have more than enough, there could be ways of reducing our waste.  This could not only help our bank balances but also the environment.  Here are some ways that I have done so-

  1. Using up all bits, i.e. roots to shoots cooking-  Some of my recipes use the broccoli stems, carrot leaves, beetroot leaves, potato skins and stems of greens such as summer greens, cabbage, etc.
  2. Using water left over from boiling pasta and vegetables- these make useful and healthy soup stocks and the pasta water is also very useful for mixing flours for bread and chapati making.
  3. Many preserves and pickles come in olive oil or salted water and these can be re-used.  The sardine or anchovy olive oil can be used with pasta or bread- it makes lovely base for bruschetta.  The salted water or brine can be used in the preparation. I’ve also used up the lemony mixture in the preserved lemons bottle in a chicken bake that had a Moroccan twist.  The vinegar that comes with olives has been used for ‘washing’ lamb that makes the strong smell disappear.
  4. I’ve saved up the fat from cooking bacon and burgers and used those for further cooking.  Sometimes I’ve added the pasta water to the hot pan with the lovely bacon fat and then put that away for freezing. The beauty of this is that the starch in the water soaks the fat away and it makes it quicker to clean.
  5. I use bits of bread to make croutons for soups and spicy mixes to sprinkle over baked potato, cabbage and spinach.  Birds can also have leftover stale bread
  6. Seeds and lentils can be used to make bird feed if you don’t want those.
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    Spicy Indian preparation with carrot and beetroot leaves, along with bits of broccoli stems and carrots

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    Even the stems of the lettuce can be used to grow more!
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Pasta and vegetable water are always in my fridge and freezer to make soups and bread

Sometimes I’ve used a tiered cooking arrangement that soaks away the fat and cooks food with it.  You see, my way is the lazy way to cook and clean!

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The fat from the sausage cooks the green below and saves them from being scorched.

I also carry ‘doggy bags’ for uneaten foods at restaurants and events- I’ve been told that much of the food at events gets thrown away after four hours because apparently that is when the food goes off.

Remember the best way to stop food waste is not to have food waste in the first place.